October 09, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

So against all expectations I like “Desperate Housewives.” It reminds me of “Soap” a great deal in that it seems to understand all of the twists and conventions of trashy WE-Network prime time soaps and packs them into a sort of ironic parcel replete with gorgeous women, hot men, and sordid situations. If I have a major problem with it, it’s that it doesn’t seem to have the chutzpah to be utterly shameless instead of just sort of kitschy shameless – more preening in its self-awareness than actually nasty in any indicting kind of way – it’s the kind of drug that approves of you enjoying it in a detached, intellectually-removed fashion. What I appreciate is the show’s willingness to solve its problems and present new ones: revealing identities, resolving the central mystery of the season’s first half even as it unfolds the intrigue that I presume will drive its second half – all with an arch, airy tone that hasn’t yet gotten shrill in my ear. It could have something to do with all the shots of Eva Longoria in bra and panties, sprinting up and down stairs. And then again, I’m only on episode 12 out of 23. What I can say at this point is that by midway through “Lost”, I was ready to put it in the fireplace. (Or I was until they gave us another Terry O’Quinn-centered episode that made it all worthwhile for another “week” or two.) The real star of “Desperate Housewives”, though, is the great Felicity Huffman – still looking for a real show since “Sports Night”, but until she finds one, this one (at least so far) could’ve been worse.

ADDENDUM

So, er, just finished watching episodes 13 and 14 and the whole thing's fallen on its own sword. Forget I said anything.

END ADDENDUM

Tuesday last saw me at the last of the Denver Public Library’s road series: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 summary/introduction North by Northwest - a 135min. (or so) picture that squeezes discussion time afterwards at the library (it closes at 9:00pm for a few more weeks until such time as the library once again opens seven days a week, but with shorter hours and a cast of librarians commensurately boned) – so through the magic of my new DVD recorder (under $100.00 at K-Mart, a $300.00 machine on blue light special. God bless America), I was able to prepare a DVD of scenes to discuss to grease the process of post-flick stop-start. Even still, security kicked us out before we got to the little montage of the three Saul Bass title sequences he did with the Master. Lots of people see the building that the crossed lines resolve into in the opening of North by Northwest, I tend to see lines of a ledger that feeds into this bitterness in the piece about money, numbers, and people reduced to the same. I have a theory that the financial failure of Vertigo and The Wrong Man fed the subtext of
North by Northwest a lot more than that it’s Hitch’s most conventionally accessible picture. Don’t let its breeziness fool you: there’s at least a week’s worth of material in the film. Just its chronological placement between Vertigo and Psycho speaks volumes to its sneaky complexity.

Sad to report that someone stole the library’s best digital projector a couple of hours prior to the show along with a couple dozen Cokes and a few Snickers bars. Some homeless guy has a new stool, is what I’m thinking, or is trying his level best to hock a digital projector inscribed with “Denver Public Library” at the ARC. Quick-thinking salvaged the night, but Jesus man, call me old-fashioned but there’s got to be a special room in hell reserved for jackholes who steal from libraries and museums.

Heavy screening schedule last week with industry shots at In Her Shoes, Elizabethtown, Separate Lies, The War Within, Prime, Paradise Now, Wallace & Gromit, and Domino - plus, screeners for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Hellbent, and The Future of Food were circulated, leading me to muse a twofer with the latter and the similarly outraged Darwin’s Nightmare for possible publication this week. Working meanwhile on a five-fer mega-piece on five direct-to-video horror/slasher flicks that will cut into my backlog considerably (believe it or not, except for a lot of “X-Files” and “Green Acres” to watch, I’m not all that far behind anymore) – I don’t hardly know what I’d do with myself without the panic and terror of getting chewed up by the machineries of my own procrastination and manic depression. Probably ease up on my meth habit a little now that my sinuses have started bleeding. (HA, a junkie joke – who snorts meth anymore! HA! Ridiculous!)

Already on the record with
In Her Shoes and Wallace & Gromit, let’s just say that I can’t imagine that I’ll see a worse film this week than Elizabethtown. What a mess. Supposedly chopped down from an epic 135min runtime at Toronto (some have placed that time as fictional, too), it’s the kind of movie that has a conversation about who “They” are as in the “they” of “they say that…” – and has a line that goes something like “I’m impossible to forget but hard to remember!” This without even mentioning the eulogy that Susan Sarandon delivers (and can we have a dialogue about when it was decided that her character would even fly to Kentucky? She just sort of appears there when it seems about time that she should) that includes a boner joke and a tap dance to “Moon River.” I wonder if anyone remembers anymore what “Moon River” was all about in the first place.

As I managed to avoid going to any public screenings this week that were anywhere close to packed, I also managed to avoid any notable instances of audience rudeness. I did like the intense security scrutiny at Domino, however, it’s always the absolute worst pictures that get the most security. I tried to strike up a friendly patter with one of the ladies wanding my privates for recording devices to no avail. Could be the old Chaw charm doesn’t work on women wanding my privates. So is this a none-too-subtle commentary on what it is the studios think we’re most likely to want or surprisingly-humble commentary on what the studios suspect people will only want to see at an extreme discount (if at all)? Either way, it smells a little like evil.

Watched Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart’s 1955 The Man from Laramie on TCM this afternoon just before settling back to watch my frustrating Denver Broncos win a squeaker from the over-rated Washington Redskins. There is no better between-films spit bucket for me than professional sports live or on television – I tend to watch as much as I can. Online, bought a bootleg DVD of an Anthony Mann/Barbara Stanwyck western called The Furies (1950) for ten bucks as a booby prize splurge for my tape of three obscure Carl Dreyer films snapping while I was transferring it to disc. Didn’t work: still hurts.

On my bedside table this week: Pete Dexter’s grueling, hard-as-nails, and all-around great Train.

Here’s this week’s mystery capture. Running tally:

The Captain – I
Earnest – I
Asokan – I

Music Addendum

By the by, in rotation now:
New Pornographers - Testament to Youth in Verse
Neutral Milk Hotel - Ghost
Patty Griffin -Kite
Nina Simone -Since I Fell For You
Richard Thompson -I Misunderstood
Rachels -Southbound to Marion
Lisa Germano -You Make Me Wanto Wear Dresses
Decemberists -Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
Arcade Fire -Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Billy Nayer Show -The Skinned Rabbit
The Beach Boys -God Only Knows
Rilo Kiley -Hail to Whatever You Found in the Sunlight that Surrounds You
Bjork & the Brodsky Quartet -Unravel
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead -All White
Smashing Pumpkins -This Time
Cat Power -Rockets
Radiohead -Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin
Unit 4 + 2 -Concrete & Clay
Curve -Doppelganger
Fiona Apple -Oh Well
P J Harvey -Driving
Sufjan Stevens -A Good Man is Hard to Find

103 comments:

Rachel said...

That might be my favorite New Pornographers song.

I actually just picked up the new Fiona Apple (having heard the leaked version once)-- it's fantastic. I only wonder about the order of the songs. It feels curiously backloaded. (Also wish she'd excised "Window", the one weak track.) "Not About Love" is sort of genius.

Bill C said...

Glad you finally cracked the spine on that copy of Train. Told ya you'd like it.

bhuvan said...

Reading the first lines of your post, I was all like, "What? Walter likes them Housewives? My American Studies Professor said it starts out interesting, but then gets worse, but Walter likes it? I guess I better check it out. But then, thanx for the addendum. My world is back to normal again, or seems to be, at least."

Dunno about the pic, though; looks a bit like a western I'd never want to see or one of those experimental flicks about a man's/woman's journey into himself/herself by stipping naked and running through the ladscape. But then again, I could be wrong.

Nate said...

Glad to finally see your review of Crash, though I think it deserves even worse than you gave it. God, I hate that fucking movie. About your Ayn Rand dig: I like her, if only because she can own the shit she dishes out. She was an impoverished Russian immigrant who learned English as a second language, and her perspective on the world is at the very least earned. Plus, her books are infectious. Paul Haggis is an Oscar-winning white boy who probably had a black friend once and thought he should make a movie about that. Whooptie-fucking shit.

In any event, I really like that you're posting your weekly playlists here. You've listed some amazing stuff - New Pornographers, Neutral Milk Hotel, Arcade Fire, Rilo Kiley (their new album is pretty shitty, though), Trail of Dead, PJ Harvey, Sufjan Stevens. There's just too much good music in the world. I'm listening to the new Broken Social Scene album right now - divine.

guile said...

can't wait to see wallace and gromit..

Jefferson said...

WC: If you want some good head-bobbing, storytellig tunes on that iPod, try The Hold Steady. I once characterized them as what it would sound like if Green Day and the Rolling Stones bukakked all over Bruce Springsteen. Gross, I know, but it's the best descriptor I could come up with.

Seattle Jeff said...

Yep, I think episode 13 or 14 was where we gave up on Houswives too.

We went back to watching Vincent D'Onfrio on his cop show. How can you not watch a guy who can bend himself into a 90 degree angle?

Do you have any Nick Cave in there to go with your PJ HArvey?

Rich said...

That Beach Boys tune is great, as is the rest of Pet Sounds. I love how that song erupts at the end. Awesome.

Alex Jackson said...

Won't put my balls on the line again with Crash, but even though I liked the movie I really enjoyed Walter's review also. Good writing is a seperate issue from good criticism, but having them both is always a treat. Gives the dissenters something to fall back on.

Holy trinity of Larry King, Jay Leno, and Roger Ebert. Beautiful.

jonathan said...

Re: Elizabethtown. To modify a comment from a few weeks back, it turns out that Cameron Crowe did actually shoot one day of the film in Elizabethtown, though it's still probably worth noting that all of the filler shots of the town were filmed in the no-more-picturesque-but-closer-to-the-major-airport town of Versailles, so I stand by my accusation of Crowe's laziness without even approaching the "dialogue" he's written for the damn thing.

Needless to say, I've already been labeled a heretic for calling bullshit on the film. But so it goes.

Surprised by the lack of a reference to Hotel Rwanda in the review for Crash, but perhaps that would've been just as obvious as either film?

Anonymous said...

Mystery capture guess: Haxan?

-- Ian

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter,

Like the Curve selection. I have their "Come Clean" disc. Heard Doppelganger is good.

Do you think Garbage stole their act? Many Curve fans alledge this. However, I don't get the strategy of alledging a sucky band "stole" the sound of the band you like.

James Allen said...

Walter:

I like your take on "Crash." I remember, as I was watching it, having this sort of strange feeling I get when a film trying to be "important" just isn't registering with me. I wasn't able to put it into words at the time (and not as well as you did), but, upon reflection, I will in my lowbrow way say it was like an ABC Afterschool Special for adults with a bigger budget and a better cast.

Laughed out loud at your holy trinity bit. Roger Ebert as the holy ghost? He he. And a holy ghost that gave a coveted "Thumbs Up" to "Into the Blue." (I poke at Ebert a lot but I do faithfully watch his show, so there's something obviously wrong with me.)

I have a feeling that "Good Night and Good Luck" will give me a similar feeling as "Crash," but who knows. (It, predictably, got two thumbs way up). I must admit I get trepidacious at films about real-life reporters ("Veronica Guerin," anyone?). More to the point, I have to ask myself, what is this film going to tell me that I don't expect it to? I doubt Clooney really has anything up his sleeve here, but I suppose I'll find out.

James Allen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Allen said...

Oops, almost forgot to guess. Is that pic from "The Island" (1980)? (Michel Caine film based on a Peter Benchley novel.)

Walter_Chaw said...

Rachel:
The new Fiona Apple is, indeed, sorta genius. Good observation that it's backloaded though, to be honest, I've only ever had the version I downloaded illegally almost a year ago and don't know the final sequence. I wonder if CD sequencing, once so important, is a thing of the past with this new age of shuffles and mp3s..

Bill:
Sorry I waited so long. To be honest, I had a feeling I'd love it and wanted to get to a place where I really wanted to love something.

Nate:
Ah, Broken Social Scene - they're up to like four or five albums now, aren't they? Great band.

Agreed about Rand to the extent that she was brilliant and earned her platforms at the least. Didn't go farther with my dislike of Haggis' Crash mainly because I didn't want to come off as hysterical. Seems to dilute the message sometimes when I get all weird like with that Episode II review.

Jefferson:
Always thought I'd be the one to introduce the term "bukkake" into this blog. Will look into The Hold Steady, thanks for the tip.

S-Jeff:
Taking up your challenge, I attempted today to bend myself into a 90-degree angle and found to my chagrin that even bending over at the waist, I could only approach about 73-degrees. I blame real butter on my popcorn and microwave cheese sticks.

Love Nick Cave. Will have to do a low-RPM mix for next week. Leonard Cohen, William Burroughs, Blind Boys from Alabama, and Barry White.

Rich:
Have you heard "Smile"?

Alex:
Thanks for the kudos - especially on a movie I know we disagree on.

Jonathan:
Wasn't Hotel Rwanda from last year? Already can't keep it straight. In any event, I think that Hotel Rwanda at least tried to tell the right story.

Ian:
Fantastic guess, but no.

S-Jeff:
Curve is awesome, really fantastic. The "Doppelganger" disc is how I was introduced to them so I'm not all that objective to which is their best, but "Come Clean" kicks ass, too. Garbage, to the extent that I know about them, seems to be taking a cue from Curve, but ripped off is a little strong as I don't think I've ever once caught the same vibe off one of their songs as I did off any number of Curve's. The formula of alto soprano over industrial dance noise, though, you could credit to a bunch of folks.

James:
Good Night, and Good Luck. is surprisingly lightweight. You're right that it holds no surprises and I think, more than that, it deflates itself to apply to only one aspect of our modern situation and so loses all historical context it might have played with. It's not a biography of Murrow and it's not a historical piece so much as it's kind of like a Brechtian allegory for the Patriot Act. Heart's in the right place, but c'mon.

Nope, not The Island.

Walter_Chaw said...

OBSCURE HINT #1: Passionate.

Seattle Jeff said...

The Blue Lagoon 2?

Hey Walter,

As a Bronco fan, what was it like watching Super Bowl XXII?

I grew up as a Redskins fan and that game is one of my all-time favorites.

I know it's kind of obnoxious to ask that, but it's a lot less obnoxious than calling a random telephone # after that game and singing "Hail to the Redskins".

Walter_Chaw said...

God - it was sort of like heaven when we went up 10-0 in the first quarter, I mean, who the hell is Doug Williams, right? Then it was like every other goddamn Super Bowl until the Green Bay game. I still cry when I watch my tape of that one, by the way. The Atlanta Super Bowl was just sort of a fait accompli, but that first championship: wow.

Anonymous said...

Another shot in the dark: Pasolini's The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.

-- Ian

Walter_Chaw said...

(not Pasolini, Ian, another good guess)

OBSCURE HINT #1: Passionate.
OBSCURE HINT #2: Iconography.

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter,

If it makes you feel any better, Timmy Smith just got busted for trafficking coke.

Another guess:

Virgins of Sherwood Forest?

The Captain said...

Dead Man?

Nate said...

Ah, Broken Social Scene - they're up to like four or five albums now, aren't they? Great band.

This is their third official LP, but only the second as a "band" in the strictest sense of the word. The new album is incredible - really advanced and subtle for a pop record, and loud as hell.

Walter_Chaw said...

Only three, huh? Loud as hell is right, but the melodies are intricate and pleasingly complex.

Not Dead Man though I'd thought hard about sticking a Dead Man still up there.

OBSCURE HINT #1: Passioante.
OBSCURE HINT #2: Iconography.
OBSCURE HINT #3: Russian.

jer fairall said...

Nate: How can you call the thoroughly brilliant and wonderful new Rilo Kiley album "shitty?!" We're so very much in line on the other bands you listed ('cept Soof-yawn, but I'm getting used to being alone on that one) that I have to wonder what it is that you dislike about this one. Yes, More Adventurous was enough of a shift away from their first couple of records towards a more classical singer-songwriter pop sound that it put them in the position of losing some old fans, but I thought they pulled it off so beautifully that no one would care.

I'm quite looking forward to that new Broken Social Scene, too.

Anonymous said...

OK, another shot, concerning all hints: Andrei Rublev.

--Ian

The Captain said...

Andrey Rublyov

Nooooo!!! I was just about to post it! Darn you, Ian!

Nate said...

Nate: How can you call the thoroughly brilliant and wonderful new Rilo Kiley album "shitty?!"

Hey, Jer - long time, no talk. I really hate the new RK album, because the focus went from interesting music and production to Jenny Lewis's (admittedly beautiful) voice and (increasingly inane) lyrics. Some of the songs are bad in the way Sheryl Crowe is bad, and that just isn't acceptable. Some good songs, sure, but crap like "Me/A Man/Then Jim" and "Love and War (11/11/46)" (those titles!) make the album generally unlistenable and borderline awful. If it makes you feel any better, it's an ongoing point of contention between my spouse and me.

Chad Evan said...

Concerning Hotel Rwanda, I have not seen it, so I don't know if this flaw applies to the picture itself, but one aspect of the reviews that I found irritating that was that every reviewer reffered to it as "a stinging indictment of the West for allowing this genocide to occur" and suchlike. One review actually said something along the lines of "The film is about the horrible genocide that occured in Rwanda as a result of years of colonialism." Does anyone else find this type of thing disturbing? In addition to turning a story about African history into a film about white liberal guilt, this attitude strikes me as paternalistic (it basically says that only Western whites are to be held responsible for their actions, whereas Africans, like children with bad parents, just don't know any better) and borderline racist. Is this line of thinking present in the film itself, or was it merely a case of lazy critics falling back on a familiar, comfortable critical mode?

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - Ian, good show, m'man. This is getting to the point now where the first person to get a second capture right gets the first prize!

The capture is, indeed, from Tarkovsky's haunting 3.5 hour-plus masterpiece Andrei Rublev.

Chad:
Great questions concerning the reception and the reality of Hotel Rwanda - in truth, as soon as I read your post, I went back to find my take on Hotel Rwanda to see what I said about it. I'll tell you the truth that I don't have a really easy answer about it in that while I was watching it and Steven Silver's The Last Just Man, that the only point of view I could take was one of "what the hell could we have done to stop this and why didn't we?" - I do wonder if I didn't fall into the very trap that you describe (and the very trap of our situation in the world) of thinking that we should have intervened somehow. Searching my feelings, I think that I'm more inclined to wonder why the press was impotent: my outrage seems more directed at the co-opting of our news agencies rather than the decision by our administration at that time (Clinton, yes?) to refuse to even acknowledge that a genocide was occurring so as not to piss off. . . someone.

As to what the film depicts: it decpicts very little. It's almost shy in its outrage and presents a story about a plucky guy who courageously shields who he can from the waves of mutilation lapping at his doorstep. The true story is complicated, I suspect, as Paul Rusesabagina worked for a large Belgian hotel chain and used the influence gained through that association to forestall the inevitable for long enough to facilitate escape. I can say that the crux of my thoughts about Hotel Rwanda are here:

"White Europeans, such as Red Cross worker Ms. Archer (Cara Seymour) and Belgian hotel owner Jean Reno, are provided to register moral superiority and offense while a finger is wagged, with every justification, at an international community led by the United States under Clinton that refused to intervene"

In a film about an African problem, this sentence, indeed, strikes me as both me saying that it's racist - and me being racist in supposing that we have the moral superiority to intervene. It's hard to separate the paternalistic liberal asshole at my core from the paternalistic liberal asshole in recovery, I guess. I wonder if that struggle doesn't get the best of our policy-makers, too.

Anyway, thanks for the catalyst for a reconsideration. Still not a very good flick, though, for what it's worth.

Walter_Chaw said...

new tally, by the way, with four more captures to go. . .:

The Captain - I
Earnest - I
Asokan - I
Ian - I

Walter_Chaw said...

whoops - as to the "Obscure Hints": the full title of the film is "The Passion according to Andrei Rublev" - the title character being a painter of religious iconography - and of course Tarkovsky was Russian.

Chad Evan said...

Walter,
Interesting comments. I don't think, though, that racism is implied in thinking the Western powers should have gotten involved; that's a tough, complicated call. Rather, it's that the righteous indignation films like Hotel Rwanda (again, from what I've read; haven't seen the flick)are meant to stir seems to be aimed squarely at the West for lack of involvement. To me, it's akin to making a Holocaust film about how the world looked away from atrocity, meanwhile brushing over the Nazi butchers as unfortunates who were driven to these extremes by the enormous penalties they were saddled with by the Allies after World War I. It seems to me that the critical community was afraid to take the Rwandan killers to task for their actions, possibly out of fear of being seen as (or feeling like) racists, when in fact this shifting of the burden onto the the west is itself racist, denying as it does the responsibity and culpability humanity entails.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I think Walter was too kind to give Crash 1 star. i also think it is necessary to be harsher on pseudo-intellectual, faux-liberal, morally-reductivist "indie" crap like this one and Levity from last year then it is to bash not-so-ambitious hillary duff films, which is tendency for a lot of current critics or "entertainment writers". I mean, any asshole with shit-for-brains can bash a film like that, but it's the films that pretend to be intelligent but are increbidly mediocre in their core that hurt the artform and a society for that matter the most. It's this attitude prevellant that one can make a film about a "hot-button" issue and get away without offending anyone and get mass acclaim that pisses me off. Haggis has nothing to say about racism, so he decided to give us a 2 hour handjob instead. The holy trinity of mediocrity liked it, i didn't. They also liked Seabuiscit and Cinderella Man. I rest my case.

bhuvan said...

Uhm, at the risk of being outcast by all those who hated CRASH, I'm gonna say that I didn't think the movie was all that bad. I can say that I actually enjoyed it. Which marks me as one of those people who usually write Walter hate mail.

For while I didn't like it as much as Walter's hilarious criticism of it, I thought it was overall compelling stuff with some strong performances (Ludacris and Terrence Howard) and both funny (Keith David's little speech) and touching moments (that girl with her invisible cloak).

It's nothing mind-blowing, sure, and clichéd, and contrived, and everything you can throw at it - but, hell, it worked for me, just like most of Ron Howard's please-like-me-work before the annoying A BEAUTIFUL MIND did. It's mostly mediocre stuff when compared to genuinely profound work, but slick and enjoyable nonetheless.

So crucify me for liking something so superficial and crowd-pleasing as CRASH, and NOT being all too thrilled by the oh-so-dazzling (but really pretty obvious) subtext of BATMAN BEGINS.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I should actually be rather embarrassed to finally get the answer after three guesses. Just saw Rublev over the summer, and was so mesmerized that I watched it through its entirety in one shot. It's all so clear to me now: The capture, if I recall, comes from the "hedonist scene," where a young woman looks upon our iconographer with a curious eye.

One thing that kind of irritated me about the reviews for Hotel Rwanda was that they all mentioned Joaquin Phoenix's "'oh that's horrible'" line without mentioning how superfluous his role is. They just needed a rational white man to say things like "they could be twins!" when referring to a Hutu and a Tutsi woman. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, myself, but it bothered me immensely how few people picked up on it.

Crash, I missed. Will probably have to, considering that it is another simpering Oscar dark-horse nominee nominee, so to speak, alongside Cinderella Man and maybe Dreamer. Kurt Russell seriously needs to make another movie with John Carpenter and revive the floundering careers of two of my favorite movie people. If not, we might just be subject to The Computer Wore Loafers or some such.

-- Ian

Seattle Jeff said...

Ian,

Kurt Russell starring in cheesy Disney movies. Has another actors career ever come full circle in such a way?

Dave Gibson said...

I was think the same thing about Kurt Russell the other day...man, he was great in "The Thing" and "Big Trouble in Little China". Unfortunately, Russell's career seems to only be artistically floundering--"Sky High" and "Miracle" were both mid-size hits and "Dreamer" will probably do even better. As for Hotel Rwanda, all I needed to know was that Richard Roeper thought it was the best movie of last year. Yeech. Even the Oscar-friendly, medicinal "Serious" movies seem to require candy-coating for easier swallowing. Bhuvan--though I can't agree with you on "Crash" I offer you kudos for calling out "Batman Begins"--I thought it was enormously entertaining, but still burdened with the grim pretentiousness endemic to the recent sucessful superhero movies--a malaise so widespread that I've come to label the "arty moments" in the same way as I did the "mushy moments" as a ten-year old. Ewwww! Close your eyes! It's the "Christopher Nolan" moment!

Hollow Man--I totally agree that a lot of mainstream critics waste their time bashing sick cows like Rob Schnieder and Hilary Duff (witness Eberts' recent campaigns against the obscure "Chaos" and the "Deuce Bigalow" movies) in order to preserve some illusion of balance while doling out four stars to "Proof" and "An Unfinished Life".

Dave Gibson said...

I was think the same thing about Kurt Russell the other day...man, he was great in "The Thing" and "Big Trouble in Little China". Unfortunately, Russell's career seems to only be artistically floundering--"Sky High" and "Miracle" were both mid-size hits and "Dreamer" will probably do even better. As for Hotel Rwanda, all I needed to know was that Richard Roeper thought it was the best movie of last year. Yeech. Even the Oscar-friendly, medicinal "Serious" movies seem to require candy-coating for easier swallowing. Bhuvan--though I can't agree with you on "Crash" I offer you kudos for calling out "Batman Begins"--I thought it was enormously entertaining, but still burdened with the grim pretentiousness endemic to the recent sucessful superhero movies--a malaise so widespread that I've come to label the "arty moments" in the same way as I did the "mushy moments" as a ten-year old. Ewwww! Close your eyes! It's the "Christopher Nolan" moment!

Hollow Man--I totally agree that a lot of mainstream critics waste their time bashing sick cows like Rob Schnieder and Hilary Duff (witness Eberts' recent campaigns against the obscure "Chaos" and the "Deuce Bigalow" movies) in order to preserve some illusion of balance while doling out four stars to "Proof" and "An Unfinished Life".

Dave Gibson said...

I was think the same thing about Kurt Russell the other day...man, he was great in "The Thing" and "Big Trouble in Little China". Unfortunately, Russell's career seems to only be artistically floundering--"Sky High" and "Miracle" were both mid-size hits and "Dreamer" will probably do even better. As for Hotel Rwanda, all I needed to know was that Richard Roeper thought it was the best movie of last year. Yeech. Even the Oscar-friendly, medicinal "Serious" movies seem to require candy-coating for easier swallowing. Bhuvan--though I can't agree with you on "Crash" I offer you kudos for calling out "Batman Begins"--I thought it was enormously entertaining, but still burdened with the grim pretentiousness endemic to the recent sucessful superhero movies--a malaise so widespread that I've come to label the "arty moments" in the same way as I did the "mushy moments" as a ten-year old. Ewwww! Close your eyes! It's the "Christopher Nolan" moment!

Hollow Man--I totally agree that a lot of mainstream critics waste their time bashing sick cows like Rob Schnieder and Hilary Duff (witness Eberts' recent campaigns against the obscure "Chaos" and the "Deuce Bigalow" movies) in order to preserve some illusion of balance while doling out four stars to "Proof" and "An Unfinished Life".

Nate said...

Haggis has nothing to say about racism, so he decided to give us a 2 hour handjob instead.

Most flummoxing for me is that many intelligent people whom I respect really like the film. Go figure.

Interesting side note, a professor of mine screened a clip from Kasdan's Grand Canyon as an example of an effective screenplay set-up, and I was shocked by how similar it is to Crash. I thought it was pretty good when I was 14, but something tells me it wouldn't fare so well if I watched it today.

Seattle Jeff said...

Thanks to whoever recommended The Arcade Fire. Man, I'm enjoying their Funeral disc.

Dave Gibson said...

RE: Canyon/Crash--That’s an apt comparison--. Both “Grand Canyon” and “Crash” share the same gauche liberalism and “Healing through Extended Monologue” framework (and similar, blindingly obvious metaphors at their core) but the Kansan film is not nearly as schematic and it does have a good turn from Steve Martin—so, I think you’re relatively safe. Speaking of California Dreamin’’’… After reading about it for twenty years, I finally saw Altman’s “3 Women” the other night—it’s still rolling around in my head so, I probably won’t write about it until I watch it again—but, anyone who has seen it—I’d love to get your two cents. Right now, I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that this movie was released by a major Hollywood studio.

Dave Gibson said...

By the way. I don't think that my words are so deathless they desrve such repetition.I apoogize for the duplicate posts--as usual, I'm doing six things at once.

D

Bill C said...

I've said before that 3 Women is the bridge (tunnel?) you need to cross to get from Persona to Mulholland Drive, and yeah, the really interesting thing about it is that Fox bankrolled it. Of course, they never actually did anything with it, because by the time Altman turned it in, Star Wars had done its damage to the auteur-centric film industry of the '70s.

It's a brilliant movie from beginning to end, but I also think there's a stream-of-consciousness aspect to the conception that turns a lot of what one's inclined to say about it into Psych 101. Real Rorschach blot of a flick, but luckily one made by a filmmaker who empathizes, deeply, with women.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I've rented "3 women" twice and coincidentally gotten stoned before both times turning it on, and then i fell asleep. it's pissing me off too because i've been meaning to see it for my altman-reviseted period. honestly, i'm such a retard for giving up on altman a year or so ago after seeing "mash" and "nashville. now that i've seen mcCabe & mrs. miller, long goodbye, california split, fool for love and images, he and lynne ramsay are the best finds for me this year.

about crash, i have said so much on posts before, it's not fun anymore. oscar season is about to begin so i'll have a lot of shit to bash now. (what kinda fucking assholes would actually nominate "finding neverland" ahead over "eternal sunshine..." ?? )

Oh.... I can't wait for dreamer. it's got a "disney" horse and Dakota Fanning. I theoretically don't even have to go to the theatre to hate it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

"A pawn is always a pawn, and a chessboard is always just sixty-four squares."

Fucking brilliant, Walter.

Walter_Chaw said...

Chad:
That is a sticky wicket, the process of assigning blame to the actual participants – in rethinking your comments through that prism, I think that what Hotel Rwanda tries to do is have the white characters express moral outrage at the actions of the perps while also representing the western audience’s moral outrage at their own governments’ inaction. The former, of course, is terribly patronizing as I think someone mentions a little further down, particularly when the finger-wagger isn’t a major player, but a cameo on hand just for that sole purpose. Have you seen Downfall by the way? Great picture about, as it happens, the last days of Hitler.

H-Man:
The hard fact remains that you have to bash the garbage (Duff and Schneider and so on) but your point’s well taken that a lot of critics use those whipping boys to get away with not criticizing films that really “deserve” it: films, in other words, with expectations. It’s a large part of my rationale for end of the year bottom ten lists in that you’re really just wasting time putting Uwe Boll and Peter Hyams flicks up there: everyone knows that Uwe Boll and Peter Hyams flicks are terrible sight unseen. Better to use those precious few slots on movies that actually do some damage on their way in and out the ol’ eye-holes.

Bhuvan:
Thanks for offering a dissenting opinion (which is actually the majority opinion, I think) – brave and principled. Know that Alex Jackson is an eloquent defender of Crash so you’re not, by any means, alone. There’s something to be said for melodramas that just work (and I’m not immune: In the Bedroom slew me a couple years back), but the I think where there’s a big hang-up for many in regards to the Haggis flick is that “slick and enjoyable” shouldn’t be ways one can describe a serious treatment of race and racism.

Ian:
Yes on all counts (echoing your admiration for Andrei Rublev and the capture’s appearance during the hedonism sequence), I sat through it all in one sitting once at our huge lecture hall on the campus of the Univ. of Colorado @ Boulder though there was an intermission during which one could flirt with all the pretentious coeds. Ah, the life as it was. Still the only time I’ve seen it projected (on 16mm, unfortunately, but you take what you can get) – the Criterion DVD is wondrous, though, truly a treasure. Have to say that it’s my fave Tarkovsky, followed by Stalker and then Solaris. Crash is a shoo-in for Best Picture nomination along with Capote and Walk the Line - I wouldn’t even call it a dark horse. Dark horse this year might be A History of Violence or Good Night, and Good Luck.. What I’d really like to see is a sequel to Big Trouble in Little China. I think “The Onion” did an article about what something like that would entail a few weeks back. Sounded good to me.

Dave:
I have my doubts, actually, as to how well Dreamer is going to do. It feels a lot like one of those flicks that the critics can’t figger out why it didn’t do any business, goldurnit! Perhaps a few hacks will squeeze an end-of-year feature article out of it detailing the head-scratchers of why pieces of shit like Cinderella Man and Dreamer just couldn’t find an audience. As to the moments of portentous pretense in Batman Begins, all I can say is that sometimes I like that kind of pretension. There’s a graphic novel painted by Dave McKean and written, I think, by Grant Morrison that has a rorschach test administered by the Joker on a captive Batman. “What do you see?” he asks and the next page is a full panel of a pretty terrifying looking bat in mid-flight. Leaden Freudian claptrap? Yeah. But slicker’n snot in my book. Appeals to the dork in me, I guess, and so I find myself being really forgiving of similar moments in my comic book entertainments (the Oedipal problems in Spider-Man, too) – and I like that Batman Begins ultimately seems to work as the follow-up to Memento that Nolan never made.

Repeat 3 times.

Nate:
Lawrence Kasdan told a pal in confidence once that he couldn’t figure out where his audience went. Sad.

Bill/Dave/H-Man:
Ditto thoughts on 3 Women. Pretty amazing stuff.

What kind of assholes, indeed, would nom. Finding Neverland over Eternal Sunshine…? Says it all pretty much right there.

Walter_Chaw said...

re Altman at the Oscars, by the way, a defining image has to be Opie getting an Oscar while David Lynch and Altman sit in the audience chatting with one another. Opie has one more Oscar (and Clint, two) than, among dozens of others, poor Martin Scorsese who actually seems to care.

Chad Evan said...

Never heard of Downfall; sounds pretty interesting. Speaking of liberal problem pictures, Twelve Angry Men is on TCM at the moment. Big fan of Dog Day Afternoon, but these films-as-shallow sociology are exactly the kind of films that don't appeal to me--teaching us things we already know so we can feel good about ourselves as fine, compassionate people. Hated Crash, too, by the way--I don't think there was a single moment I was believing in the characters on screen. And the scene where the angry Persian thinks he's killed the Christ-like Mexican (thanks Walter) is just unforgiveable.

Rachel said...

I saw "Three Women" over the summer, which I loved. I was actually reminded of it as I began my beginner's fiction workshop this fall. Everyone is terrible at writing girl parts, the girls worst of all. It's strange; typically the male students will simply write female chars that act as plot devices, or silly archetypes. But it's the female students who really bring the misogynist aesthetic home. Already we've had stories about the successful career woman who decides that, to be fulfilled, she must emulate her poor artist sister who died, and a woman who falls for her technician when he offers her his coat. It's kind of gross.

What I guess I mean to say is, I've read articles where male writers/directors bemoan that, being men, they are unable to write for women, when it seems like such a piss-poor excuse. (Where was the female gaze in "Lost in Translation"? Charlotte was as blank as anyone.) I'm wondering if "empathy" is even the write word for Altman, if it's not rather a particular distance where the Difference between men and women are diminished, to the point where he can actually get something truthful done.

Alex Jackson said...

I just saw Downfall not too long ago. Great picture; slick and cinematic with a fresh and well-needed perspective toward Hitler and the rise and fall of Nazism.

The only problem is that it doesn't really trust itself. Know that the film humanizes Hitler, but at no point do we ever feel that it excuses him. Also know that the film emphasizes the sense of failure that mestacized into the bones of post-war Germany, but it never reads as a plead for sympathy. The film's moral perspective is evolved, refined, and healthy.

But they begin it with a clip from "Blind Spot" describing Hitler as a monster and they end it with a title card describing what happened to the other major players and the info, that um, they killed a whole lot of Jews in that there Holocaust. It really does fall victim to that problem some might have with Crash and Hotel Rwanda in that it sort of wants to be the definitive film on the subject.

Small problem for me, but I know that it'll give some critics ammunition against it.

By the way, anybody see Martin Scorsese's "Bob Dylan: No Direction Home"? That was one hell of a movie. Go see it if you haven't already. Yowza! Not sure I can look at it critically, I was just hypnotized through the whole thing.

Chad Evan said...

Alex:
Here here on No Direction Home. The first half was your pretty standard biodoc, but the second half, with Dylan collapsing into an exhausted skeleton, was just incredible--reminded me of Goodfellas. Perfect ending, to, with a defiant Bob urging the Band to "Play fucking loud."

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Walter,

How fucking stupid was that spat between rob schneider and ebert. i mean for christ's sake ! dude is flashing his pulitzer to fight big bad hollywood machine by waging war on... rob schneider ? why even waste your waste your breath on trite like "european gigolo". i understand that it is the right of all those who love cinema, critics included, to bash stupid hillary duff crap but if that's as far as a critic is willing to go, then it's a sorry state. if your exestential crisis comes while writing a review for "longest yard", then maybe the shoes have gotten too old and it's time to hang 'em up.

bhuvan said...

Walter:
Come to think of it, doesn't CRASH seem like one of those movies Stanley Kramer could've done back in the 50s/60s when he churned out films like THE DEFIANT ONES, INHERIT THE WIND, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? All of them I actually liked for their craftmanship and splendid performances, but I guess most of the CRASH-haters would equally condemn for their preachiness, eh?!

Alex Jackson:
I was very disappointed by Downfall. It was probably the best-reviewed movie of the year over here in Germany, but the few who disliked it had problems with it wanting to be the definitive film on the subject (much like most people disliked SCHINDLER'S LIST for the same reason). I found it dull and involving, mostly because of the pseudo-documentarian storytelling, the stock characters and that really annoying, preachy subplot of the Nazi youth who in the course of the story turns from a firm believer to a kiddie rebel.

Rachel:
I have yet to see 3 WOMEN, but I really wonder of there really is anything like the female gaze in the movies. The closest I ever came to discern it in a movie was in Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS which is always accused of being a misogynistic man's movie, but in the middle section actually identifies mostly with its female lead, Amy, especially in that horrid rape scene. What are your thoughts on that?

AdamN said...

If you're interested in the female gaze, check out some films by Claire Denis.Particularly Beau travail, which is a movie explicitly about men and masculinity, yet feels palpably female. She's one of the best directors we've got, and when her latest film, L'Intrus, finally comes out on DVD, anyone with even a passing interest in envelope-pushing cinema must see it.
Also, there's a young Argentinian director named Lucrecia Martel whose two films, La Cineaga and La Nina Santa, suggest a similar point of view.
As far as contemporary American male directors go, it's slim pickings. But I think that Hou Hsiao Hsien, from Taiwan, has a knack for writing and framing his female characters in a way that feels truthful, empathetic, and yet never cloying or precious.

James Allen said...

Re: Stanley Kramer

I was wondering when someone would bring up Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in regards to Crash, one of those movies that seemed important at the time but hasn't held up all too well in my eyes (another Sidney Poitier film dealing with racial issues, In The Heat of the Night, still kicks ass.) It's also odd that the modern take on it (Guess Who?) was done as basically a screwball comedy. I'm not exactly sure what that means.

I just recently saw On the Beach again, and, although flawed (it's extremely inferior to Chute's book), still works pretty well. It's unfortunate, though, that Kramer's heavy-handedness somewhat blunts the message.

My take on these kind of films is that they generally work better if the message isn't the whole film, but an underlying theme to a much larger story with characters you can hook into. I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder, but when the word "meaningful" is practically emblazened on the screen in big red letters I've gotten the point and want to move onto the next thing.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

One current filmmaker I feel is in love with females and their gazes in his films is Wong Kar Wai (chungking express, in the mood for love, 2046). claire denis (friday night especially) and hou hsiao-hsien (millenium mambo) are two other obvious one. also recommend morvern callar and all the real girls.

but the best film with female gaze is "vagabond" by agnes varda.

Chad Evan said...

Would anybody care to explain what all this about the female gaze means? I don't read much feminist criticism (I don't like most postmodern "theory," at that--I think each film or novel or what have you demands its own approach)and so I'm not really up on the jargon.

bhuvan said...

Re: Female Gaze
I haven't read much on the female gaze in cinema per se (yet), but if one had to write about it, one would always have to refer back to Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", in which she argues that the identification with an on-screen character and the voyeuristic pleasure inherent in the cinematic experience is rooted in the patriarchal ordering of filmic form: pleasure in looking has been split in active/male and passive/female.

Especially traditional Hollywood cinema offers the viewer a male gaze, by enforcing an identification with the ideal ego the narrative hero stands for (here she refers back to the Lacanian "mirror stage") and presenting the female body mostly as a sexual spectacle in need of punishment or rescue or whathaveyou.

Quite recently, I wrote a paper on Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS (also happily quoting from Walter's DVD review of it) and argued that the movie is so disturbing because it starts off by aggressively pointing to the male gaze that dominates the filmic form (the first third is all about the men staring at various parts of the central female's body), but then disturbing the (male) viewer by forcing him to identify with the female victim during the rape and the aftermath (POV-shots galore, almost all from her perspective).

Dave Gibson said...

The existence of female gaze seems to naturally arise in discussions of the well-documented “male gaze” which, I interpret as a way of seeing inevitably couched in the natural and socially determined manner in which males objectify females and the inherent disparity between the status of men and women. In feminist theory then, the “male gaze” can imply an unequal power dynamic which men employ passively as well as overtly. “Female Gaze” would suggest to me, an inversion of this dynamic. There are some critics who would suggest that a female gaze cannot truly exist, as males cannot be truly objectified while remaining the dominant sex. This also gets tricky when our film culture applauds “positive female role models” when a director simply switches the gender of a traditional male icon (this, I suppose is why someone like James Cameron is lauded for his “strong female characters” while not being a feminist director in any other evident way) I’d suggest that there is a marked difference between a film with “a female gaze” and a film with “a female protagonist” or a film with “complex female characters” --even in discussions of Robert Altman’s films there is still the implication that the text of his films is inevitably controlled and designed from a male perspective. “Male Gaze” for me, is something I feel I cannot fully control, but I must be critically aware of its existence and, most-importantly, allow myself to be self-critical when necessary. A good recent example for me was “Sin City” a film I found visually striking but loathsomely misogynistic. Anyways, I agree Laura Mulvey’s essay seems like a good place to start.

Alex Jackson said...

>>Quite recently, I wrote a paper on Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS (also happily quoting from Walter's DVD review of it) and argued that the movie is so disturbing because it starts off by aggressively pointing to the male gaze that dominates the filmic form (the first third is all about the men staring at various parts of the central female's body), but then disturbing the (male) viewer by forcing him to identify with the female victim during the rape and the aftermath (POV-shots galore, almost all from her perspective).<<

Ah, and if I remember it correctly she gets it up the ass, to put it in particularly undelicate terms, thus playing to some extent on men's fear of rape.

One thing I'm constantly struggling with in regard to feminist theory is this idea that power is an innately masculine trait; that idea seems to internalize feminine submission.

"I Spit on Your Grave" is a particularly sticky movie as it suggests, in no uncertain terms, that the world is divided into the fuckers and the fucked, the oppressors and the oppressed, and it's a foregone conclusion. It's just a matter of who is going to be doing the fucking.

Notice that the last line in the film was a taunt spoken to Camille Keaton while she was being raped, now being repeated by her to the men she is getting her revenge on. Revenge then is not a means of even-ing the score, but of transferring the balance of power. Rape is good and she has become the rapist.

She started out with the power on her side by virtue of her superior socio-economic status, they took it away from her through rape (affirming their superior masculinity and her inferior (vulnerable) femininity), and she took it back through revenge.

Anonymous said...

Walter ~ I must get some new music... I am sadly behind... I will probably take some clues off of your list... and my other favorite smart aleck critic internet person molly knight....

*fondly wondering where that mix tape you made me EONS ago is... I thinker there was some Depeche Mode on it*

I really enjoyed Wallace and Gromit... Loved watching it with my hubby who helps me get all the British references...

I will still see Elizbethtown as I am seriously in need of something to HATE this month...

~Emily

Anonymous said...

P.S. I just read your interview with Mike Mills and Lou Pucci... good and also sad and scarey... I think the reason I decided to sit on the sidelines in the creative world is I can't stand the "business" people that sell it. Like most marketing fools they don't know how to sell more than one thing and if your creation is not a known flavor you have to PRETEND it is... just... yuck.

~Emily

Walter_Chaw said...

Rachel:
Yeah – Faulkner was so bad at writing women that he decided somewhere along the line to just stop trying. Seems like the reasonable solution, truth be told. Interesting what you say about the women in your workshop being the worst sinners in that regard – reminds me of stuff like Bringing Down the House and Soul Plane. How outraged can you be, I mean seriously, when it’s the aggrieved perpetrating the crime? The bulk of the hatemail I got for both were from African-Americans – recalling that Bill’s positive review of the surprisingly poignant Fat Albert attracted a few similarly puzzling zings. What can you do?

Alex:
Agreed on the ultimate timidity of Downfall as well as its body’s moral healthiness. Love the Scorsese/Dylan docu – talk about definitive films on a subject.

H-Man:
Agreed on Ebert laying the smackdown on Rob Schneider: was a time he would have saved the big guns for something genuinely hateful instead of just predictably dreadful. Great point about his existential crisis being triggered by The Longest Yard, too.

BHuvan:
Crash does seem like a Stanley Kramer film – I think I even said so in the first sentence or two of the Crash review. Just because I thought it, though, doesn’t make your observation less true. I think that craftsmanship might even be going a little far with Kramer, but, in any case your point’s well-taken.

What I really like about this post is your suggestion that there may not be such a thing as a “feminine gaze” – and I have to say that this is closest to my thoughts on the topic. I’ve read a ton of feminist criticism (Mulvey’s the headwaters in a lot of ways as has been noted), but most of it stems from a distinct school of feminism that seems to diminish men to elevate women – the sort of tactic that men are accused of using. If that’s the place you start the conversation on the male gaze, then it follows for me that what they refer to as the “female gaze” is actually a woman appropriating the male gaze and employing it in the same way – it’s here that Alex’s discussion of I Spit on Your Grave (as well as other rape/revenge cycle flicks like Ms. 45) become films in which the young adolescent males that function as its primary audience, sutured to the victim-woman who takes on the phallic mantle to, as Alex says, “rape” her tormentors. Rape is “good” because rape is equivalent to the male “gaze” – the will to penetrate.

Still – when you talk about directors like Claire Denis in particular – you begin to scratch the surface on what might be an extant “female gaze” that’s free of any sort of association to the function of the “male gaze” – suddenly you have a way of looking that has nothing to do with penetration and a lot to do with consumption. Sort of a eureka moment in examining the films of Denis (and Lynne Ramsay – and even, good call H-Man, Wong Kar Wai): movies structured around a ravishing devouring (and look at another woman director’s masterpiece, Ravenous) instead of the standard spiked narrative arc. What I like best about Vertigo is that it deconstructs the process of looking and the function and power of the gaze even as it employs it to devastate the “femme fatale”. It’s a film that challenges the way that we make icons of our sexual desire and it does it in an elliptical, almost avant-garde story structure that comes perilously close to the Ouroborosian style of a throat eternally-swallowing. (Emblemized in the flick by the pull/zoom shots representing Scotty’s literal vertigo.) It’s a film by a male director about the omnipresence/-potence of the male gaze that is presented in something close to what I’m farting around about a possible “female gaze.” Staying with Hitchcock, there’s a fascinating moment in The Birds where Tippi Hedron’s character gives up her “male gaze” to Rod Taylor and, in the next five minutes or so, gets attacked for the first time by a “bird”. The whole film (another tone poem/feminine structured picture) is about a woman being attacked for allowing her own domesticization. Unfolded carefully, most of Hitch’s work seems to be at least a little interested in punishing women for surrendering to a social structure (and way of looking) that is essentially hostile to them.

James:
Love Chute’s On the Beach enough that I could never quite get my head around the Kramer, I fear, but am open to giving it another shot. Agreed whole-heartedly that the message can’t be the film because ultimately that makes the film, with a few marked exceptions I’m sure, a big giant proselytizing piece of shit.

Dave:
I found Sin City to be rapturously (rather than loathsomely) misogynistic: an explosion of the animalism in the noir genre and a bracingly lawless bit of brinksmanship. I can’t defend it overly (girls’ heads mounted like trophies don’t leave all that much room for conversation), and will say that repeated viewings blunt the illicit thrill of the first time, but just like a certain pretension in comic book adaptations, there’s something about the treatment of stereotype in Sin City that engages me in an exciting way. Difficult topic, though, for sure.

Emily:
Hate to be this kind of person, but I have to say that there’s almost no way that I can describe how perverse is the relationship between art and lucre in movies. It’s almost like Ticketmaster and bands, or the Teamsters and the UPS – everyone knows the dice are loaded, but you subtract one from the equation and the whole house falls down.

ADDENDUMS

1. Screened Capote and followed it fast with a screening of Brooks’ In Cold Blood and a reading of Capote’s book. I’m suspicious of the film. I think I liked it a little more than Bill did, but more because Phil Hoffman reminds me a lot of Charles Laughton and this might be his defining moment as an actor. As filmmaking, it’s a little bush league and the screenplay is so obvious that it veers close to being patronizing. It’s one of those films where you can identify a dozen lines that, were they just gone and replaced by silence, would instantly improve the film tenfold.
2. Review is up for Good Night, and Good Luck./Domino.
3. Announced that there are no screenings for the remake of The Fog (I really like the original – especially Dean Cundey’s amazing cinematography), and Saw II which, let’s face it, just can’t be any damned good if there’s anyone from the first film involved. What was the flap with Cary Elwes, anyhow? Didn’t he sue or something?

bhuvan said...

Oh, sorry, Walter, yes, you did mention Kramer in your CRASH review. Must've slipped my mind.

What I can gather from the notion of the "female gaze" is this so far: if it ain't a gender switch assigning male attributes (like the penetrating male gaze) to a female, there is no specifically feminine gaze in the movies. The exception being some more experimental filmmakers who show the female gaze as being a passive one that absorbs its objects without penetrating it. That way femininity remains synonymous with passivity. Ah well, I guess you need some Deleuze to question this.

Anonymous said...

Walter ~ I agree about the relationship between "art and lucre" as you put it. It is a necessary bloodsucking sort of relationship, which is why I just could not do art for a living... Because, of course, the same thing is true in publishing as in movie making.

I can still be creative as a hobby, but I just don't have it in me to suck blood and say YUM... which you have to do even if you create GOOD art... bleh...

I think I am much happier being a consumer of art... so I can bash what I don't like about the business part while not feeling too hypocritical...

I always was a bit of a chicken.

~Emily

Anonymous said...

On The Feminine Gaze ~ I have no education in film, but it always struck me that feminist criticism of any art form necessitated believing that women and men are NOT equal when it comes to viewing art.

That said, I would think feminine gaze in movies would have more to do with how the story is seen than just the camera work.

~Emily

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i just saw sin city rtwice in 2 days a couple of days ago. fucking brilliant. there is nothing cooler to me than people designing complete mythologies from ground-up. anything from LOTR to kill bill to matrix (despite it's chosen mediocrity)is so fascinating for me because of the creativity involved in modelling a micro-universe. sin city is much darker then either of the above mentioned but in its own contorted way it does have rules of morality and even when everyone is bad, there is bad we root for and the bad we don't.

most films in this "genre" never really take off. good examples would be duds like Sky captain and the world of tommorow (another one goes down to ebert's over-hype) and secondhand lions (let's admit it, the writer was a ragin' fairy).

Anonymous said...

Your link sucks, Chaw. Fix it.

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - well, that was brusque.

Try this one: Good Night/Domino.

Walter_Chaw said...

here's Elizabethtown

Rich said...

Man do I ever loathe Tony Scott's work. As well as Spun, some of his work also sort of reminds me of The Boondock Saints in the way he seems to be setting his sights for 'cool' and trying really, really hard at it but failing miserably.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I FUCKING HATE TONY SCOTT !

(I say that alot but I do mean it with this prick)

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter -

Great, now I'm going to have to watch The Royal Tennenbaums this weekend.

Nice review, btw.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

So Walter,

best films of this year so far ?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. for those who have seen Elizabethtown, I'm probably not going to but how was Paul Schneider in it ?

Dave Gibson said...

OK. Ebert has ladled three stars on "Elizabethtown" and "Domino"--his transformation to Leonard Maltin is now complete.

bhuvan said...

I stopped understanding Ebert's reasoning for his star ratings when (if I remember correctly)ERIN BROCKOVICH got two stars and NUTTY PROFESSOR II got three stars.

Satchmo said...

Hi Walter

Couple of music notes -

I just got into the Decembrists - funny
stuff.

I had a leaked version of the Fiona Apple album, and it was pretty bad. Just not very inspiring, fairly bad mixing, not very much vocal range. The remixed version (now released) is quite a bit better. How do you like the rest of it?

And a note on Desperate Housewives

I thought the premise was good. I thought the first few episodes were quite hilarious, and the writing was surprisingly sharp as well. But somewhere along the line it just fell into being a cycle of cliches, kind of like what happened to Sex in the City after Season 3. Any thoughts?

Alex Jackson said...

>>I stopped understanding Ebert's reasoning for his star ratings when (if I remember correctly)ERIN BROCKOVICH got two stars and NUTTY PROFESSOR II got three stars.<<

That could be justified.

Not a fan of Arid Bralessbitch; she sits alongside Michael Alig and Caligula as one of the most repugnant movie protagonists in film history.

I still find Ebert and his star ratings highly inspirational. Honestly. Looking at his "One Minute Movie Reviews" you really sense the depth of love he has for the medium. He loves all movies; the good, the bad, the sacred, the profane and feels that they are all important.

I also like how subjective he can get. Anything that resembles, in any way shape or form, Goodfellas or Magnolia gains praise. And because he thinks of himself as a former alcoholic, movies about addiction consistently get extra love. I love that shit, he tries very hard to use his power for the forces of good (Great Movies column, his saturation of indies on his top ten of 2004 and their complete absence on his bottom ten) but deep down you know that he's just a kid.

For the record Ebert has given thumbs down to: Donnie Darko, Blue Velvet, The Tin Drum, Videodrome, Rushmore, Full Metal Jacket, and A Clockwork Orange.

He has given thumbs up to: Out to Sea, Spun, My Girl, The English Patient, Hollywood Homicide, and Robots.

Yeah, the central problem is more that he's too middle-brow for my tastes. But still I'm finding him more useful than Stephanie Zacharek as of late.

Chad Evan said...

Alex:
I usually like ol' Steph; she can be astonishingly wrong-headed, but she's always got something to say, and she can be quite witty while saying it.

Walter:
Been to Disneyland lately? Two Hall of Presidents references in back to back reviews. Not a criticism, just an observation.

Yet to see Elizabethtown, and I'm kind of dreading it now. In addition to being dreadfully boring, it's also apparently insulting to my neighbours--I remember in a review of some crappy comedy or other that you wrote, you observed that Asians are the one ethnic group left that America at large feels comfortable ridiculing; I guess you could throw white Southerners into that group (not quite an ethnic group maybe, but the point still stands.) I've learned to grin and bear it when folks express astonishment that not only can I read, I actually enjoy it. Then there was the lovely statement that all the people left homeless or dead in the wake of Katrina deserved it because alot of them voted for Bush. Rant ended.

Walter_Chaw said...

Wow - never let it be said that FFC readers aren't sharp - both things I wanted to rant about today have already been taken care of: Ebert's 3-star reviews and the fact that I mentioned the Hall of Presidents ride twice, back-to-back. Both evidence of encroaching madness, methinks.

H-Man:
Best films of the year so far, the ones that will probably make it through to the top ten unless the fall is really spectacular. . . hmm - Grizzly Man and Nobody Knows for sure - and in retrospect, probably Kung Fu Hustle. Head On and 3-Iron are up there - Sin City and Oldboy hangin' on - sure like Unleashed - and then there's sort of a few in limbo like Junebug, Last Days, Broken Flowers, The World, Kontroll, Palindromes and so on. Having seen a few early fall flicks like Dreamer, Capote, Pride & Prejudice and North Country, however, I'm still waiting to be blown away. I've got a good feeling about Jarhead by the by, and of course, I expect King Kong to kick all kinds of ass.

Which brings me to my next point that you can love films and be a fan of spectacles without being a fucking idiot. 3-Stars for Domino doesn't strike me as inspirational, it strikes me as panderous and ultimately damaging to his credibility.

His review - finding astonishment that a quartet of crooks dress up like recent first ladies hearkens back to the 3 1/2 star review he gave Point Break wherein, at exactly the same point of a similar review, he marvels that a quartet of crooks dressed up as the recent presidents, themselves - does indeed point to a magical formula that'll make Ebert dance. Alex mentions similarities to Magnolia and Goodfellas - add to that, latex novelty masks of political figures. I wonder if his harsh treatment of the run-of-the-mill bad Deuce Bigelow 2 would have been tempered by a quartet of gigolos in Supreme Court Justice masks. A helluva thing to be geeked about.

60% of the films he reviewed this week got 3-stars. 30% got 3.5-stars. That leaves 10% (1 film) to get 1.5 stars (Waiting...) - that must make Waiting the worst fucking film of the year, conservatively speaking, to get so roundly spanked by The Gospel, In Her Shoes, Separate Lies, Two for the Money, Wallace & Gromit, Domino, Elizabethtown, Touch the Sound, Untold Story of Emmett Till. . .

What does it even mean anymore to get 3-stars from Ebert? "Yeah, it's bad, but it's in a genre I like" or "Yeah, it's terrible, but it reminds me of a movie that I liked"? His Bell Curve isn't from 0-4, it's from 2.5-4 - woe to you to fall below the Menendez line - things like Mirrormask (2stars) which is the actual kind of "alive" and "ambitious" that Ebert claims is Domino - or 2046 (2.5stars) that is the romantic that he claims is Elizabethtown. "Middlebrow" is one way to describe him - I think "bought and sold" is another. There does come a point when a curious dedication to championing garbage because it does what it means to do (be bad and be for dumb people) becomes condescending. How does it sound, for instance, if you come to me and ask me what I like and I say, I like good things, but I can also recognize the things that you will think is good but is beneath me but will also call them good because I wouldn't want you to miss out on something you'll probably enjoy. Does it sound principled or does it sound like I want to snuggle?

More, week of 9/23/05:
Flightplan 3.5/4
History of Violence 3.5/4
Everything is Illuminated 3.5/4
Corpse Bride 3/4
Thumbsucker3/4
Roll Bounce3/4
Dear Wendy1.5/4
Dirty Love0/4 (!!)
Proof4/4

Do a rough tally and Ebert appears to like about 70% of everything he sees. My theory, unsubstantiated, is that it's going to wash out over the course of a year at 75% positive. Does this make him a man of the people? I dunno - if the average human were asked to watch 400 films this year - would he like 300 of them? I don’t think so – I think the average guy will like about half of them. This makes Ebert an apologist for the decline of conversation about cinema. It makes him a part of the problem. Pauline Kael’s lovin’ this wherever she is.

To me, his putting mostly indies on his best of and mostly mainstreams on his worst of doesn't defend him - to me that's just more pandering. All it means is that you don't have the inclination anymore to be hard on bad movies because bad movies are just trying to make money and not trying to make art. You recognize this and you calculate from it how best not to offend people because, frankly, there’s nothing people like less than to be told that they’ve been made the patsy.

Now you're Variety and writing reviews that try to predict box office except instead of predicting box office for the industry, you’re trying to predict how people will like a film and then writing your review accordingly. Give zero stars to Jenny McCarthy’s Dirty Love (does it even have a distributor?) and express outrage that this “pretty girl” thinks that menstruation is funny (“I feel sorry for her”) rings disingenuous to me – and patronizing as all hell – coming from this guy who champions Bunuel in his Great Movies columns (and whose review for The Andalusian Dog reads almost exactly like his review for Freddy Got Fingered - except one gets 4 stars and the other gets zero). More, it falls square in the category of blowing your wad on someone who just doesn’t deserve it the same way as Tony Scott or Peter Hyams or Will Ferrell or, jesus, Cameron Crowe does.

Say you had a pal who recommended that you take in Elizabethtown and Domino this weekend because they’re the kind of things that you’d like – either the guy’s a well-meaning idiot (which Ebert ain’t), or he just doesn’t think all that much of you and god knows what his intentions are.

Did he used to be good – does he occasionally write the good article – are his Great Movies columns decent pop scholarship? You’re preaching to the choir. But you write me 400 reviews and, what’s 60% of 400? 240? and 240 of them are 3-stars and another 100 are better than that (340/400 = good stuff!) – and I’m looking at you like you’re from another planet. Probably not to be trusted even if you do still, from experience if not discretion or consideration any more (who has the time?), to write pretty well – at least pretty well for the standard for major daily columnist that you, yourself, have established through years of glad-handing garbage for a cruise and a few million.

Paul Schneider, by the by, is wasted in Elizabethtown - what a better movie it would have been with him in the lead and Bloom in felt tights and another chain mail tunic. Good point, too, about southern white males being fair game.

Anonymous said...

Any chance you can link to his review of The Andalusian Dog?

Anonymous said...

Eee, ignore that - I never knew what Un Chien Andalou actually translated to in English..

bhuvan said...

Alex Jackson, what I meant by "not understanding Ebert's reasoning" for giving ERIN BROCKOVICH two stars: he claimed to have been too distracted by the heroine's breasts to enjoy the film. As a guy, he has my sympathies, but that doesn't make the film any less good, does it?! And NUTTY PROFESSOR II just wasn't funny.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

nothing more to add about ebert after what walter wrote. the fact is i don't truely hate him because he still seems to have his heart in the right place when it comes to really good films (despite his taste for indie schlock like crash). and while saying this i don't mean the usual "i'd like to thank my agent" shit, i mean the really good films that he believes in. i don't love him either, mostly for his indifference towards mediocrity, wether it is chosen or not i don't know. the point is, the dude's got a network show and he has to give 3 stars to 75% of the crap to remain america's film critic. he's not stupid, just recreationally cynical.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Surprised to see in kungfu hustle in the mix, Walter. Seemed like a good time to me, but that's about it. Two films that i really wanna pay to see are Last Days and The New World (Why Colin Ferrel ? Why? Why? Why? ). Rest I'll see as it comes along. I think I'll add Batman Begins to that list. Didn't see The World (don't like Zhang Ke Jia) or Palindrome (Really don't like Todd Solondz), but other than that list looks good.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. But ofcourse 3-iron is the best film in last five years (tied with punch-drunk love).

James Allen said...

Walt-

Re: Ebert

Wow.

Not much to add to that. The thing I would say is that despite all our collective misgivings about ol' Roger, we still watch him and read him faithfully. But I suppose we have to, given his noteriety (I don't know if he's the most influential critic, but he is definitely the most well known). In other words, it's hard to talk about film criticism in general without talking about Ebert. I guess that makes his descent into the middlebrow somewhat disappointing but not particularly surprising. That he can still make some good observations and write some good essays about film (mostly past films) makes him even more of a conundrum. He's never been a hack.

I wonder, if Roger is still alive 20 years hence, will he be writing a Great Movies column about Two For the Money or other somesuch film?

And, for the record, I also dislike his general tack of lauding mediocrity simply because that's all that was aimed for (Into the Blue for instance.) "Hey, if you're stupid, and you want to see a stupid movie, there's nothing as stupid as (movie X)!!! And for that reason I'm giving it a thumbs up!"

James Allen said...

Walt-

Oh yeah, one little silly observation: did you mean "Mendoza line"? (In MLB, batting below .200 is called being below "the Mendoza line." Anyone curious can Google it for a full origin of the expression.)

Menendez line (as in "Menendez Brothers") sounds kinda funny, but for the wrong reasons.

James Allen said...

Me again, with more pointless info:

Eberts ratings for 2005 (you can search his reviews on his site by year and star rating, so this was rather easy)

4 stars (22)
3.5 stars (43)
3 stars (81) - by far his most favorite rating, what a shocker
2.5 stars (19)
2 stars (28)
1.5 stars (8)
0.5 stars (0)
Zero (3) (Dirty Love, Chaos, and Deuce Bigalow 2 in case you're curious.)

So 3+ stars 146 out of 204 reviews, which is 71.5%, almost exactly as predicted by Walt.

Of course if you bring this up to Ebert, you'll get his standard bit where he decries the star ratings and asks you to read the reviews. I'm not sure that helps him in most cases, but who knows.

Alex Jackson said...

the point is, the dude's got a network show and he has to give 3 stars to 75% of the crap to remain america's film critic.

That's...that's the rub. Simply by being a celebrity film critic, one who really seems to care about film, Ebert gives it legitimacy. But of course his celebrity is contingent on him not being terribly critical.

Ebert's Great Movies section turned me onto M, Night of the Hunter, and Days of Heaven at a very early age; but that question of whether it is necessary to do evil in order to do good is a fine one to ask.

By the by, Zacharek gave a positive review of Domino as well although her piece actually isn't as interesting a read as Ebert's.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I'll always be greatful to Ebert's Great Movies section for telling me about some of my favorite films. Now, from a more mature outlook, his selection for this section seem populist but that's the thing that is really good about it. i don't know how much ebert loves all the films in there, or how many films he would've liked to put in instead; the fact remains that his "great movies" section contains a collage of films that are considered to be great. That is what allowed me to pick films that i really liked and find more like it (days of heaven is a great example). ofcourse i moved on to find better resources (including FFC) but i think that section is still essential for kids who really like films and know of ebert as the only critic.

Walter_Chaw said...

H-Man:
Kung Fu Hustle - didn’t think all that much of it the first time, either, but watching it again the last couple of weeks, I was really sort of blown away by it. Reminded me in a lot of ways of what the French were doing during the New Wave: not so much the way it’s made, but the philosophy that governs the way that it’s made – this borrowing of genre and images from American popular cinema, melded together with sentiments that are uniquely of a culture. Chimeric cinema – feels like a next step along with something like Kings and Queen and even Oldboy and 3-Iron - films that put on the clothes of another culture while retaining the heartbeat of its own, essential core.

James:
Mendoza line, holy shit. See what Bill puts up with? I have this problem with mnemonic malapropisms – things sound right in my head and then, whoops, out they come without a second thought. I’m spoiled. When I write for other editors, I have to be a lot more careful – with Bill, seems like he knows what I’m talking about before I talk about it. Saves me a lot of embarrassment for all my little embolisms – though I’m sure it doesn’t do much for Bill’s ulcer.

If you consider, by the way, that about half of the 2.5 star ratings Ebert gives are positive – I think we’re into the 75% positive range I’m always foaming at the mouth about. That I still care is a testament to how important Ebert was to me growing up in movies (echoing the warm sentiments here about his pop scholarship) – apathy is watching someone else’s heroes lose their credibility, what I have is closer to heartbreak. Ebert as a gateway drug, though, is still vital and compelling. He does a weekend stop-start annually at the University of Colorado, by the way, I don’t know if he does it around the country or not – but generally he’ll come and watch a movie, frame-by-frame with an audience of laymen (for free). It’s a terribly reductive and repetitive ordeal depending on the audience as you can imagine – but for a lot of people I think it’s something like a revelation. I saw him do Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, and Blow Up (and his commentary track for Dark City was culled in large part from the same program from a different year) – but don’t have the constitution for it anymore. A local guy was doing stop-starts in town for a while, but I always thought of him as sort of a lightweight so declined to go. How you do Vertigo in one night in any case is both beyond me and an act of supreme hubris to even attempt.

James Allen said...

That I still care is a testament to how important Ebert was to me growing up in movies

Exactly, Walter. I don't know how old you are, but I think I'm older than you, and I remember first encountering Ebert and Siskel way back when they did "Sneak Previews" which was carried on PBS stations (about the only incarnation I missed was their slightly earlier local Chicago-based show.) This was 1978 (I was 11), mind you, and the film criticism landscape was rather small for me (and pretty small in general compared to today). I'd never heard of Pauline Kael or Anrew Sarris, I don't think I actually read print reviews at the time. All I knew were local guys like Joel Seagel and Jeffrey Lyons who got their 60 seconds on the local news, and made themselves as quotable as possible. "Sneak Previews" was a revelation to a youngster like me: a whole half hour of talking about movies! Imagine that. And done by two odd looking but energetic dudes from Chicago on PBS, the network that brought me Sesame Street and Zoom and other fun stuff. It must be good for you, huh? The gateway drug analogy is very apt.

And as the show got more popular (and moved to commercial stations in syndication) and the guys started showing up on Letterman, SNL, etc. it felt good that a show I got in on the ground floor, as it were, was cool to everyone else.

I think the major turning point for Ebert (as a critic) was the death of Gene Siskel. The show's balance was thrown forever out of whack, it became 100% Ebert's show regardless of who they put in the other chair (and a lightweight wannabe like Roeper was a pretty lame choice anyway.) Now he knows it's all on him (to paraphrase Airplane!, he's the top dog, big cheese, head honcho, number one), and he seems to be responding accordingly like the brand name that he is.

The Captain said...

I'm pretty much lowbrow in any conversation, but how would the FFC villagers feel about the idea of having Richard Roeper axed in light of creating the new show Ebert & Chaw At The Movies? If, by some amazing miracle of the gods, you were offered a chance, Walter, would you give it a shot?

James Allen said...

"Ebert & Chaw"... he he. I would pay good money to be in the room to hear Walter say, "Roger, you can love films and be a fan of spectacles without being a fucking idiot."

Not that he would, mind you, I would a expect a more diplomatic approach, but it's nice to imagine.

The Captain said...

Maybe "Chaw & Ebert", rather, rolls off the tongue better. Gags that he'd eat you for upstaging him are now in poorer taste due to the mass weightloss he took part in post-Brown-Bunny post-Bill's-comments.

Walter_Chaw said...

Let's face it - I'm way too poor not to jump at the chance to become the most hated man in America. Believe me - a giant dose of me spattered across Ebert's core constituency would result in me getting spit on and accosted just about everywhere I went in almost no time flat. But - I'd take it in a flash - I'm just about at the end of the period where I think it's still a fight worth having, but right now, and for as long as I had the opportunity, I'd try to bring Roger back from the darkside. A couple of weeks of infamy would do the heart good. Besides, what a great way to pimp the FFC Book!

Buy a copy, by the way, it's excellent. And, more, you should be able to get it properly through your local booksellers by the middle of November. (/Shameless Plug)

Dave Gibson said...

I’ve always been wary of Ebert—although I too have fond memories of his PBS show (Especially “The Dog of the Week” segment—invariably trashing some awesomely terrible horror film or Kung-Fu epic) I’ve usually found his print reviews relentlessly formulaic—(I don’t have official numbers on this, but I suspect that Ebert has referred to a film as “sweet” approximately 134,556 times) and his reactionary stance on horror films, early Cronenberg and David Lynch angried up the blood of this budding geek. I come from a movie and book loving family so, I was fortunate to have exposure to the better writers and the classic film canon without any help from Messrs. Ebert and Siskel. Nonetheless, I continued to buy his yearly film annuals and watched his show more or less regularly over the years. Siskel was a good foil, but not a particularly gifted writer—so; I tend to believe that the decline began soon after those fucking thumbs were officially trademarked. The late, great Jay Scott once wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail damning his papers’ editorial choice to begin assigning “star” ratings in the early nineties—making the point that this would encourage people not to read the reviews. Though Ebert characteristically waves off criticism of his “star” and “thumb” rating systems—he’s being downright disingenuous by trivializing the effect that these numbskull classifications have had on film criticism. Ebert often refers to said “thumbs” or “stars” in the text of his reviews—so, he’d be wise to stop using his: “read the review” defense. If the stars are unimportant, why is there a search function on the Ebert website that allows you to filter the reviews by star rating? I realize that a standardized rating system has become a necessary evil—but, I think its contingent upon the critic to be conservative with those bloody stars (Toronto’s Globe and Mail rarely gives out more than two and a half for most releases). As for those “thumbs”, sometimes I wonder if Ebert doesn’t regret those nasty little marketing gimmicks—watching an educated, grown man wax philosophical on the meanings of half-thumbs, big thumbs and enthusiastic thumbs is a little disturbing.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Geoff Pevere is a good critic (or atleast a good writer) from Toronto Star. Often makes sense.