October 30, 2005

Notes from the Trenches




The year winding down means, later than usual this time, the curious Denver International Film Festival: a city festival misidentified in The Denver Post as a “regional” festival (I don’t know of anyone caravanning down here from Aspen much less the out-of-state “region”), and one that seems for whatever reason to emphasize volume over quality. I don’t think it’s a philosophical problem, not entirely anyway, but you have to believe that they have a harder time than some other, sexier festivals in getting titles.

When they first started 28 years ago now, Sundance was nothing, Telluride was in its infancy. . . in fact, before the anti-homosexuality Amendment 2 passed in Colorado, I seem to remember Redford mulling the Mile High City as a home for his now-monolithic fest – what I’m saying is that there was an opportunity for the DIFF at the beginning to carve their own niche (much like Aspen has with their spectacular shorts fest – or Vail, in only their second year, with gaudier stars earlier in the year). What’s happened though, I fear, is that in trying to compete with festivals that indeed found a fertile plot in which to plant themselves, the DIFF has tried to be all things to all people and, in the process, become almost like an afterthought while their peers thrived.

Where Telluride has the advantage of offering unofficial first looks in an (allegedly) non-industry setting (it’s slipping a little – I do wonder if in a couple of years, the last vestige of their elite philosophy is going to be a continued unfriendliness towards the press) – they promise not to divulge their films ahead of time in a weird handshake deal that guarantees them films with the semantic contract that those films’ North American “debuts” will still be at Toronto – and Aspen and Vail have the advantage of being ski resorts that are home away from home for talent and their guests. The problem as I always thought of it for Denver was that it (in October – they used to be in the Spring) was competing against Venice, New York and the Hamptons while being, most years, just a few days after Toronto.

Hence the move this year away from crowded October to the relative doldrums of November – its closing night just a few days before Thanksgiving. It’s the struggling sports franchise that finally decides to burn the house down and start again at the foundations. I wonder at the timing of this reorganization, though, because last year’s fest had reasonably strong films with guests like Morgan Freeman, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Foxx & Taylor Hackford, Albert Maysles and so on. In any case, the move hasn’t seemed to have helped in attracting prestige festival films and top-line talent that I think event organizers had hoped that it would.

Though the three featured pictures (Opening Night, Centerpiece, Closing Night) aren’t pictures that are going to open the Friday after their Thursday festival debuts (as White Oleander was a couple of years ago, and The Human Stain last year. . . was it last year? no, two years ago, last year was Ray - eh, who can remember) – none of them save, perhaps, Ang Lee’s Closing Night Brokeback Mountain are pictures that I was particularly interested in seeing. The new Anthony Hopkins flick The World’s Fastest Indian opens the fest (sans Hopkins who did show up in Denver for a festival once, but incognito and in a leather bar on Broadway nowhere near the festival’s venues. . . or so local columnists claimed) and the new Heath Ledger (the other new Heath Ledger) Casanova is the centerpiece presentation. The trailer looks dreadful which, I guess, is better than non-descript.

I’m sort of vaguely interested in the Eugene Jarecki documentary – and sort of excited to see Bob Rafelson introduce what’s supposed to be a new print of Robert Wise’s The Set-Up (never count prints before they’re projected – there’s been a precedent at this fest for prints arriving with the wrong subtitles, for instance, or not arriving at all and the films being shown on VHS). I always like Michael Winterbottom and his Tristram Shandy is coming (though he is not) – Neil Jordan and Cillian Murphy’s picture (Breakfast on Pluto) is coming (and so is Jordan). The key for me, though, is that looking over the schedule I can honestly say that not a one of them makes me nervous.

The President’s Last Bang is fabbo, sure, another wonderful film from South Korea – but it’s hard not to comment on a few of what seem to be the major omissions:

Park Chanwook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Laurent Cantet’s Vers La Sud
Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence
Michael Haneke's Cache
Sturla Gunnarsen’s Beowulf & Grendel
Steven Soderbergh's Bubble
Phillippe Garel's Les Amants Reguliers
Richard Grant’s Wah Wah
Cristi Puiu's The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu
Shinya Tsukamoto's Haze
Stanley Kwan’s Everlasting Regret
Mary Harron’s Notorious Bettie Page
Song Il-gon's Spider Forest
Eli Roth’s Hostel
Thomas Vinterberg’s Dear Wendy
Abdellatif Kechiche's Games Of Love And Chance (L'esquive)
Takeshi Kitano's Takeshis
Hou Hsiau-Hsien's Café Lumiere and Three Times
Dardenne Brothers' L’Enfant
Terry Gilliam's Tideland
Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War
Kim Ki-Duk's Hwal
Hur Jin-Ho’s April Snow
Alexander Sokurov’s The Sun
Liam Lynch’s Sarah Silverman’s: Jesus is Magic
Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven
Baltasar Kormakur’s A Little Taste of Heaven

The tribute this year is to Japanese cinema which doesn’t appear to include new pictures by some of Japan’s top filmmakers (Beat Takeshi, Shinya Tsukamoto, Takashi Miike). Neither does it have a whisper of a Kurosawa (Akira nor Kiyoshi), Kenji Mizoguchi, the recently-deceased Nomura Yoshitaro or Ichikawa Jun’s Tony Takitini which has played everywhere, it seems, except for Denver.

And therein lies the problem for me, I think, because there’s no joy in poking at the DIFF – they’ve asked me to be on their juries (still the only internet-based goon in 28 years that they’ve bestowed this honor upon), invited me to program and introduce a favorite film, and I could honestly say that I like every single person working for the Denver Film Society. But it troubles me that I’ve never read one article vaguely critical about the festival when it occurs to me that if you really care about a thing, you should care enough about it to want it to be better. The silence isn't for a lack of problems, any festival this sprawling has problems – I think that it might be for a lack of respect: I think that we never expect the DIFF to fall too far out of a prescribed range and so just we just keep on keepin’ on, as they say. Then again, on a macro and micro basis (from a critical perspective), there's a whole lot of justifiable "what's the point?"

As for me and my silence, I think I’ve been worried about losing the respect and access that they’ve given me (and injuring my relationships with the people who work so hard on it every year) at the expense of what is, hopefully, the kind of candor and – yeah – anger that earned their respect in the first place. It’s the problem of becoming friendly with that which you’re enlisted to cover – you let it go long enough and you get forgiving about the warts. Worse, though, is apathetic and, until this year, I never was. Ironic.
So, look, I have a hard time wrestling with a festival that boasts of its size and scope (hundreds of flicks, ten days, dozens of countries) in an annual press release, but doesn’t get films like Beat Takeshi’s Takeshis, or the two Hou Hsiau-Hsien flicks that’ve been released since Millennium Mambo (and still don’t have a distributor) – or the new Kim Ki-Duk who, I thought, was at least becoming a critical darling in the United States even if he’s still under the radar for most people. Not even talking about the Dardennes, the Vinterberg, the Gilliam, the Sokurov, the Park, the friggin’ Soderbergh: it’s hard, in other words, for me to believe that they didn’t ask. They must’ve. Complicating things, though, is the certainty that roughly 90% of the Denver festival audience doesn’t give a ghost of a shit one way or another, and then we’re thick into another gray area: thick as soup.

There’s possibly no other way to see these films projected in this region if not at festival – these titles that I look forward to seeing from the moment I hear a whisper about them early in the festival season. (Too often, I end up buying Korean bootlegs so I don’t have to wait the three-four-five-more years before they find their way to the United States again.) They’re festival films, naturally, and their migration routes are limited and dwindling. Without a few fruitful back alleys, why venture there just to get knifed in the gut and kicked to the curb: poorer and disillusioned? There’s merit (and exhilaration) of course in unearthing gems – it’s just that past experience has taught me that there aren’t all that many left to unearth after a year’s festivals (and festival-goers and critics) have already methodically, obsessively sifted this loam in search of the dark horse to champion. Looking back at the four years now that I’ve covered – fairly extensively – the Denver festival (this is my fifth, maybe last, year); I can claim just a handful of treasures from out amongst the unknowns-for-a-reason:

Hybrid: Montieth McCollum’s astonishing documentary about his grandfather.
Roger Dodger: Dylan Kidd’s smash-up.
Bloody Sunday: Paul Greengrass’ blurring of the documentary line.
Dragonflies: Marius Holt’s disturbing love triangle in the wilderness.
Dallas 362: Scott Caan’s amazingly accomplished hyphenate debut.
Noi Albinoi: Michael Tolajian’s complicated look at teen life in Iceland.
Kontroll: Nimrod Antal’s dip into the subterranean.
Tradition of Killing Lovers: A surreal Iranian fairy tale from Khosro Masoumi.

8 films over four years (four that subsequently found distribution) and roughly 120 pictures screened. It’s a lot of work and I was glad to do it, but the prospect of doing it again this year is weighing on me pretty heavily. If I do it again (and I’ve already looked at eight festival films), if I should screen thirty+ flicks for this year’s iteration in search of the two gems to shine – I can’t imagine that another year will restore my will to the point that I’ll want to do it again. That’s not the DIFF’s fault – maybe it’s 2005’s.

The weakness of this program is indicative of an institutionalized lack of respect from the people whose job it is to decide which festival gets what, and which festival is just over-exposure at this point in the year. (It’s one thing, viewer-fatigue, that makes the date change a bad idea – I don’t know jack, but if you asked me, I’d wonder if it wouldn’t be more advantageous to move the fest earlier in the year to trump other fests, rather than later, for instance, when assholes like me already have a list made up in their heads.) What it boils down to is that I’m not going to get to see what I want to this year at my local festival: and I’m upset about it.

Maybe, too, I just got off on the wrong foot with the thing because the festival’s theme this year is the cringe-worthy “Be Your Own Critic”. With the state of modern film criticism being what it is (with most everyone already believing that film critics are superfluous and not uniquely qualified for their positions – and hell, maybe they’re right) that sort of thing doesn’t help. Maybe it’s too late to make any difference one way or another anyway. And, more, maybe the DIFF has it right in shifting the balance away from cinephiles and towards the bulk of festival-goers (dilettantes and socialites); a make-up that marks festival audiences as just as blinkered and maddening as mainstream crowds. The only thing separating the air up there from the rabble everywhere isn’t discriminating taste – just more money, just enough education, certainly arrogance. “Be Your Own Critic” could be a mandate to shake shit up – an ideological Bastille. It could be a way to empower audiences to actually wonder why they’re not seeing the best that this year’s festival circuit has to offer.

At least it could somewhere other than here.

The only thing I dislike more than sitting in a crowded, hooting, free-to-the-public screening of a film based on a video game is sitting in a mindlessly adoring, self-satisfied, smug festival audience that will adore something because it’s French, cost a couple of dollars more than a mainstream picture to see, and is in an “artfilm” venue that they couldn’t see fit to support with their self-congratulatory, mean-to-the-volunteers, sense-of-entitlement, liberal-arts-education selves the other 355 days of the year.

For all that, the truth is that I hope as the festival unfolds that it uncovers a bounty of gems; a “mystery screening” or two revealed to be stellar (and not just I Walk the Line); some surprise, astounding last minute guest (as Francis Ford Coppola was a couple of years ago);

what I hope is that they make me eat every single word of this on a platter: cold, sideways, and with crow, besides.
Quick breakdown: industry screenings of Sam Mendes’ expert and expertly disappointing Jarhead (a film about nothing that honors its subject – I liked it anyway, I guess); the amazingly uncomfortable Three. . . Extremes; the excellent Palestinian film Paradise Now (the second suicide bomber flick of the season after the good but less-successful The War Within); public screening of The Weather Man (well-behaved, with six lucky walkouts); couldn’t make a screening of Saw II (that I’ll catch in a couple of weeks in the second-runs), and skipped a screening of Prime and Chicken Little (it was on a Saturday morning, the morning of my kid’s birthday). Chicken Little will screen again this week. Also saw Shopgirl which I don’t anticipate writing on – Bill’s capsule from Toronto says it all and in about 800 words less than I would’ve. Two best films this week? Lodge Kerrigan’s extraordinary Keane and Paul Etheridge-Ouzts beautifully-executed “gay slasher” flick HellBent.

Keane’s about a guy who has lost his kiddo and gone off the deep end: shot like the Dardennes’ The Son (another flick about a loss of a child) and in four-minute takes. Reading too much into it, four minutes is the same amount of time as title character Keane left his daughter alone the day of her abduction. Damian Lewis: superstar in the making. Mark my words. Talking with Mr. Kerrigan later on this week. HellBent on the other hand, does something amazing to the slasher genre: it comments on it with fluency, it honors it with high proficiency, and it makes itself over in re-figuring the sexual transgression tropes of traditional slashers into self-actualization moments. The guys make themselves targets at the moment that they’re the most satisfied/confident/happy - or, at the least, the most self-aware and naked – a strong, devastating statement about queer as folk in these United States.

Fruitful discussion of Robert Wise’s The Haunting at the Gilpin County Public Library – not a great film, through careful – sometimes frame-by-frame study of it this weekend amongst a very bright collection of film-lovers, I’ve come to a new respect for its use of mythology and “Lewton-isms”. The Medusa head turning, turning on the doorknob of Theo’s (Claire Bloom) room, for instance, echoing a remarkable moment in Eleanor’s (Julie Harris) boudoir wherein the pattern on her bed’s canopy spreads behind her head like a nimbus of snakes. The idea of beauty corrupted by sex and made monstrous and forbidden – echoed again in the strange statuary of the greenhouse and the repeated images of seraphim and, even, mirrors. It’s a lesbian hysteria piece first, of course – but if that walks there, it doesn’t walk alone. Next week: The Sixth Sense.

DVD queue? Save the Green Planet and the Martin Scorsese Executive-Produced Frankenstein.

Not much time to read this week or shuffle the shuffle, still going through Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Here’s this week’s capture – another win by Captain starts us over at one (#6/7):

New Reviews:
Jarhead
Chicken Little
Save the Green Planet!
Paradise Now and The War Within

66 comments:

The Captain said...

Not sure with this one, but I'll wager a guess Night of the Demon?

Walter_Chaw said...

Le sigh - okay - next contest's gonna' be harder, I swear it. The clip is, indeed, from one of my all time fave fright flicks, Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (called Curse of the Demon in the United States' recut version - either answer would've been good). Dana Andrews and the great Niall MacGinnis as mysterious Dr. Julian Karswell.

One of those rare mood pieces that delivers the goods in a completely unexpected way.

Capt - send me your real-world address (walter@filmfreakcentral.net). You're the winnuh! Expect a parcel full of crap flying to you on winged feet.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

"As the spirit wanes, the form appears"

-- Bukowski

Paul Clarke said...

Darn it! This was the only screen cap I knew. I love Night of the Demon ever since a viewing of it as an impressionable youth, many moons ago, as part of BBC's Horror Double Bill, a series that was a hotly-anticipated summer staple.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Walter:

I saw Birth again on t.v. the first time i saw it in theatre i didn't quite know what to make of it. it seemed to have a pat ending but i wasn't sure. i'm still not sure but now i'm over-run with the idea that there is something in the subtext that i don't quite understand. then i read your 4-star review. what do you make of the ending ?

Alex Jackson said...

You didn't ask me, but I'll tell you.

The ending IS pat. It's simple and logical and the only problem is that it doesn't answer motivation or reason. And so you either accept it and feel dissatisfied afterwards or you don't accept any solution at all and keep insisting on the fantasy.

Walter_Chaw said...

I wonder though about its patness after a few viewings - I was reminded a lot (and if I wrote this in the review, forgive me, I try not to read what I've written after the fact) of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" that ends similarly "pat", but stains with an image of an unattended camera on a beach. I thought of that a lot - that trickiness of ways of, and layers of, seeing wrapped up in this story of a man in love, impossibly, with the image/ideal of a child. This sort of unmanned sign, y'know, is hopelessly romantic to me, so that when Birth closes on Kidman's character against the backdrop of an ocean, dressed in a wedding gown, and screaming/laughing - I got the same sort of "blank screen" suggestion of the Mann.

My idea about Birth (and it's been a few months since I saw it last) is that at the end it's about the mad hopelessness of love, the slipperiness of perception, and the essential human desire to compartmentalize and control that chaos of human emotion.

I'm not convinced of Anne Heche's revelation, and have a hard time even after multiple viewings remembering where the narrative leaves off - but what I am left with is this feeling about the profound impossibility of trying to understand what, by its nature, is beyond understanding. Not reincarnation - but rather the insanity of love in a temporary world. Something like that.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Hmmm... interesting. I think I loved the film for the same reason Alex did and just for the same reason I loved "Capturing the Freidmans". It doesn't give a solution, but then asks us why we need one. Why do we desire some sort of structure when the only underline order to seems to be chaos. I floated off during the movie (maybe that has something to do with the mother of all weeds I had smoked) into a thought about how different people would watch this movie. It really breaks down to either you believe the kid or not. Ofcourse you got Anne Heche, but then that does not explain how he recognizes people at the house he wasn't inroduced to (and also the friend). Love letters don't come with pictures last time I checked.

Also, one thing that I noticed was Anne Heche says "She may have been your wife, but I was your lover. If you were really him then you would have come to me" or something like that. Can we really take that on face value ? Wouldn't all mistresses believe that the guy loves them more then his wife ? Plus isn't it just cultural programming that one man can love only one woman ? Maybe he loved both. But why he goes to Nicole Kidman can also be explained.

When the fiance asks the kid "How do you know what you know ?" , he says "You know what a deja vu is ? It's like that". But an essential component to deja vu is that you have to see something from the past to have them. He sees Anna first and that's who he loved. But then he sees Anne Heche and he realizes the flaw in his argument that Anna shouldn't marry the dude 'coz he loves him. So he backs off. I never bought his last monologue.

Maybe my argument has holes but what the hell, I was stoned. I'm definetly seeing it again though.

This film reminded me of "American Friend" in it's evocation of the idea that if you remove the plot from the plot, all you have left is life.

This film definetly goes on the list of films that I rediscovered.

Anonymous said...

As a movie about love and obsession Birth is exceptional. As a film about reincarnation it is a dissappointment.

As the romantic I am I focused in on the love and obsession. I think the stillness and introspection of it, especially the scene with Anna watching the opera, mark it as a film about what goes on inside.

I agree with Alex that the ending is pat, but it didn't bother me much. Anne Heche's part and the boy's reaction to it, seem just other aspects of love and obsession to me, really.

The more I see this movie and think about it, the more I like it.

~Emily

Anonymous said...

As a movie about love and obsession Birth is exceptional. As a film about reincarnation it is a dissappointment.

As the romantic I am I focused in on the love and obsession. I think the stillness and introspection of it, especially the scene with Anna watching the opera, mark it as a film about what goes on inside.

I agree with Alex that the ending is pat, but it didn't bother me much. Anne Heche's part and the boy's reaction to it, seem just other aspects of love and obsession to me, really.

The more I see this movie and think about it, the more I like it.

~Emily

Alex Jackson said...

One thing that I neglected to mention. From the little bit that we saw, adult Shawn was NOTHING like young Shawn. Young Shawn was doom and gloom, and adult Shawn seemed to have a bit more blood rushing through him.

More unavoidable logical evidence that the kid was not the reincarnation.

Walter_Chaw said...

What I sort of like is the inference that adult Shawn was no great shakes - the mother didn't seem to like him, he was cheating on his wife and his wife seemed a little browbeaten though, to be fair, that could be a result of never getting over the death of her husband.

H-Man, I like your comparison of the film to American Friend - seems tonally correct.

Walter_Chaw said...

Jarhead

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

American Friend is a film I refer to a lot and yet it didn't make an impression on me. But as more days pass, I think I'm starting to understand what it was trying to do.

p.s. Dennis Hopper fucking rules. He did the movie right after Apocalypse Now (which actually released two years after the prior, no wonder) and soon went on to make "Out of the Blue" which I consider his best film. Linda Manz owned that movie. I don't know if a lot of people have noticed but that film seemed to have a great impact on Harmony Korine (there is a homage in "gummo" where Harmony, himself, pours beer on his head while trying to make with the gay black midget. That is funny 'coz that scene was Hopper's homage to some other old movie whose name I can't remember). I think Hopper is probably one of the most under-rated 70s film-makers. As a film-maker his sensibility reminds me alot of Herzog, maybe that has something to do with both being nihlists, but not entirely. There is a scene "Out of the blue" where a street-musician looks at the camera and asks Hopper about how his performance was and Hopper answers ! And he wasn't even in the movie ! Only great film-makers can do that, to allow life to seep into cinema. I think that is one of the things I really hate about Kubrick films, they are so... dead. But we've had this convo before so don't wanna get into that.

And no, I can not answer why I have subjected all of you to my ramblings. Maybe the same reason Walter is a film critic, to be on the record.

Chad Evan said...

Walter,
God I hope you're wrong about Jarhead. I don't know why I'm so excited about it; directors are just about the only thing that can get me excited about a film (well, directors and comic books I read as a child) and I'm no great fan of Mendes; American Beauty bowled me over as a tenth grader but within a year or so I realized that the Ricky character was laughable and the ending, to borrow one of H-man's tropes, unforgiveably pat. And then the Road to Perdition: a series of pretty pictures lifted from better films (especially Godfather part II, which I'm pretty sure Mendes is on record as being his favorite film, absolutely positive it's in his top ten--and it's my favorite too, which is why I get pissed when it's style is used as a prop to mediocrity;)grafted on to a mediocre oscar bait film, and once again, the ending, complete with a happy dog (I love dogs, but as cinematic devices they are very tricky) is once again unforgiveable.

And yet, I was (and, indeed, am) excited about Jarhead--maybe because mainstream films are about all I can watch in a theatre without making the drive to Jackson, I pin alot of my hopes on them.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I want to pick out and shoot the asshole critics who called "american beauty" top film of 25 years.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

chad:

talking about animals as cinematic devices, i was reminded of the greatest: the cat in "the long goodbye".

Walter_Chaw said...

screened opening night at the DIFF today: World's Fastest Indian, the new Roger Donaldson-directed vanity piece for Anthony Hopkins.

Dreadful Heartfelt Pap.

Chad Evan said...

Yeah, that's how you use a pet.
Good cat in the Godfather, too.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

How about the croc in Thin Red Line ?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

This one a little different: Cats in Gummo.

Bill C said...

Hmmm, what about the dog in The Thing? The scorpion at the beginning of The Wild Bunch?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Me likey scorpion in The Wild Bunch. It actually wasn't written in until the filming started.

Bemis said...

American Beauty is great. Ricky Fitts is laughable in authentic way - he's a teenager. You loved it in the tenth grade because to tenth grade ears, the plastic bag speech is poetry. To older ears, it's a overly earnest teenage kid's awkward attempt at poetry, but to me it still rings true in regards to the ideals of the young. Have you read The Catcher in the Rye lately?

Walter_Chaw said...

Oooh - Dog in The Thing is a good one. Wasn't there some kind of feline ex machina in Sliver? Also that voodoo monkey in Indiana Jones 2 - no, the other one.

Walter_Chaw said...

Saw Chicken Little tonight, speaking of animals. Surprise, it's bad.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I dislike American Beauty a whole lot but the bag scene holds up.

--Kim

Walter_Chaw said...

American Beauty actually reminds me a lot of The Weather Man in that if you're interested in this sort of thing, you should probably just go rent Happiness. Something else that bothered me about Weather Man (SPOILER) which, I guess, is a non-issue because it had one of the weakest openings of any mainstream picture this year (4-and-a-half million or so), is that the fat daughter character is called "camel toe" at school. This leads to Michael Caine explaining the term to Cage in his impossible New England accent (Caine's great, don't get me wrong, but he's not a yank: blue blood or not) - it also leads to a montage of camel toes ending with a shot of an actual camel's hoof. Fine and good, whatever as they say, but later it's revealed that the daughter thinks that her peers are calling her that because they admire her toughness. So, in fact, there's nothing much to fix about her: self-esteem seems fine, energy level seems low for a normal human being, but fine for an adolescent - she appears to have at least one good friend with which she hangs out - so what's wrong with her?

A: She's not fashion-savvy and she's overweight.

Tie that with the son's illness of maybe being homosexual and you've got a truly disturbing message in here.

Anyway, here's Chicken Little.

Bemis said...

The "why talk about A when you could just rent B" isn't really satisfactory to me. I haven't seen The Weather Man, but if I do then I'll be sure to chime in. As for American Beauty vs. Happiness, I love both for different reasons. I admire Happiness for the thoroughness of its acidic worldview. But I relate more to American Beauty, because it acknowledges the yearning for ecstatic truth, whether real or invented, even in the most banal settings. Happiness does touch upon this in its best scene, the "All Out of Love" scene, but then immediately negates it with Camryn Manheim's confession.

Walter_Chaw said...

I'd rather a film aspire to "ecstatic truth" than its characters. One's much easier than the other, yes?

And I'm not suggesting "A" instead of "B" - just stating that "B" is "A" unadorned with gallons of patronizing pap. Everyone should see everything (not one instead of the other) - that way everyone'd be as weary of condescending middlebrow garbage and as hungry for films that tweak them out of their comfort zone for more than two hours.

Walter_Chaw said...

That being said - it may all boil down to a matter of taste and that, as they say, is only addressable by agreeing to disagree.

Bemis said...

"Everyone should see everything (not one instead of the other) - that way everyone'd be as weary of condescending middlebrow garbage and as hungry for films that tweak them out of their comfort zone for more than two hours."

Strangely, I find that much more condescending than anything in American Beauty. But yes, there are justifiable reasons to dislike the film. Let's agree to disagree, indeed - I assure you I've seen and appreciated a great deal of films, which is largely what brought me here. It's only enlightening and fun to debate these things who care about cinema with equal depth and zeal.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I think what is wrong with shit like "American Beauty" is their self-contradiction. They try and show perfectly articulate imperfect people. But then the problem is, if they are so articulate then why are they so imperfect ? there comes in the family history with a drunk mother, child molester father, suicidal brother etc. so the characters remain nothing but wasted sperms of post-modernist artsy-fartsy schlock. they become just the product of their enviornment and hence hold no water of their own. shoot it like "godfather" or "ordinary people" and put in some garbage about ecstatic truth, suburban white-boy teenage angst, bullies, mid-life crisis, failed marriage, oblique refrences and witty "i'm such an awesome writer" dialogues and you got yourself a quirkfest. Intellectuals love that shit 'coz it makes them congratulate themselves for knowing the oblique references to populist artsy garbage that they learnt at arts school. Masses love it because intellectuals love it and it is "relatable". Peice of shit wins 10 nods and 5 wins. The whole shebang becomes an orgy of mediocrity.

It is a shame that Herzogian terms like "ecstatic truth" are used to justify the indie big-nothings while people who make these movies have no idea what it exactly means other than the fact that it's hip to use it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. happiness sucks too. Infact, I don't like anything ever made by assholes like Todd Solondz, Neil LaBute and Mike Nichols. They are just so interested in the ugly side of humans and I just don't really wanna see it. Not because I don't wanna acknowledge that it exists but the fact that I just don't wanna see these miserable bigots fuck each other over for 2 hours. Hell, that shit just depresses me. i love the "dark" but not the ugly.

Walter_Chaw said...

Bemis:
No intent to offend nor, in fact, to condescend. To me, how you end your comment speaks to how I feel at heart - that you always discuss as though you're discussing with equals and, so, oblique references, proper usage of language and the right words for the right situations, and demanding of a higher standard for discourse should be the norm and - really - just the opposite of condescending. Modifying your speech downward so as not to confuse an imaginary audience is condescending - and so is presuming that if everyone were as dipped in what passes as pop culture wouldn't develop a better appreciation for art that takes risks. Certainly didn't mean to impugn your experience.

H-Man:
Give Palindromes a try. I don't much like Mike Nichols and LaBute's last couple either, but Palindromes has a soul.

Walter_Chaw said...

Certainly didn't mean to impugn your experience

Though I see, in re-reading, that the implication is inescapable. Hope you'll accept my apology for the bad turns of phrase. A hazard of haste and terminal lack of sleep.

Seattle Jeff said...

I loved Happiness when I first saw it. I thought it captured how we all want love, but are too corrupt and flawed to do anything but flail around in search of it.

However, I didn't have kids when I saw it. I did try to rewatch it after siring a couple and...I couldn't make it through the picture. My ability to not be bothered by the pedaphile storyline had diminished substantially.

It's one of those movies you can love, but completely understand why somebody else would despise it.

Kind of like Weird Al's UHF

Nate said...

I think what is wrong with shit like "American Beauty" is their self-contradiction. They try and show perfectly articulate imperfect people...

Holy crap, what a cavalcade of nonsense. Sorry, man, but people like American Beauty because they relate to it, not because some intellectual told them to. It's not a great film by any stretch, but I can see why someone would enjoy the hell out of it. And what does being articulate have to do with imperfection? Are you really making this argument? Have you seen The Squid and the Whale? The most articulate people are often the most emotionally screwed up. It sounds to me like you're really just pissed because the Oscars never award the best films in any given year. But calling American Beauty a "piece of shit" is a gross exaggeration, especially in a world where movies like Elizabethtown exist.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I'm sure Elizabethtown is not a peice of shit in a world where Hillary Duff films exist. It's where you hold your standards and what pushes your buttons. I'm sure there are people who relate to "maid in manhattan" too. Fuck ! I got one right at my home (my mom). Doesn't mean that it desrves any respect from me for it. There is no difference between all that hollywood trite and these "indie" films. It is the intellectuals and who give the "indie" crap ligitemacy while there may be tons of sublime in places that are ignored. Example, for Alex it is the slasher flicks. "Indie" films and "Prestige Projects" like bottom-feeding triumph-of-human-spirit melodramas (Seabuiscit, Cinderella Man)and "realistic gritty suburban dramas" like American Beauty (all it's qualities described in the post above)get more critical ligitemacy and pat-your-own-back middlebrow upper-middleclass professionals flock to see them, while there kids flock to see what they classify "hollywood" films. It's moral hypocrisy.

I may sound like a snob and an elitist from the above paragraph, but I assure you I'm not. Anyone who sees any movies is cool with me. I just find it hypocritical to classify "holywood" films from "indie" films. I'm sure "American Beauty" is relatable to you, it's not to me. There are other "urban/suburban angst" films that I love (Elephant, Chungking express, Millenium Mambo, Kids). Infact the short that I'm planning to shoot can be loosely classified in the genre, but doesn't mean I have to like all trite in it.

Walter:

Didn't see Palindromes but I'll get it. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm a closet-romantic that I just can't stand too cynical stuff. It depresses me. To me there is nothing more depressing than watching Selma Blair bent over in Storytelling. It's just such an ...ugly side of human condition and the world.



I may have had the Grady Tripp Syndrome in this post so pardon me.

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter, I love it when you pan movies, in general, but it's so depressing when its a supposed "family film" that gets the deserved ire.

There's rarely anything worth taking my son to go see. The advertisement, errrr article, in Time got me excited that the Disney film would be good.

But, hey, why take him to Chicken Little when we could just rent Happiness...

Seattle Jeff said...

I liked Selma Blair in Storytelling, but I couldn't handle the whole rationale for the film.

It's entire existence is because Sam Mendes criticized Solondz?

I just can't rally around that.

Walter_Chaw said...

S-Jeff:
I'm wholly sympathetic with that take - having a kid makes you soft for certain subject materials. The wife and I almost had to turn off Lodge Kerrigan's Keane because it deals with a lost child. I can get some distance if I know about it beforehand, but if it blindsides me, I reel. Still have trouble with animal cruelty in a flick - just can't wash them liberal hands clean. You're kidding about people not liking UHF, right?

We're in this weird Twilight Zone culture, man, where the only things we make for our kids tend to be full of scatalogical humor and mis-directed attempts at winking adult asides. My fave is that Cat in the Hat flick where some genius spells "shit" with the idea that only kids younger than four are going to see it - or how about Jim Carrey's and Opie's Grinch popping a switchblade? That was a nice touch. Whenever Pixar doesn't release a picture, there's a huge sucking hole in the middle of the "family" landscape - and remember that Pixar flicks aren't exactly sweetness and light - but neither are they obnoxious and empty. The key is respect for the audience- I mean, I don't know about you, but my kid's a fucking genius and she deserves better than to be talked down to and riled up for 80 minutes. She's got grandparents for that.

H-Man:
Like S-Jeff again, I can sympathize with your not wanting to dip into the ugly. I really admire Catherine Breillat's flicks, but always recommend them with some pretty strong caveats. Thing about Solondz, though, is that I always detected some heart in his stuff (not so LaBute, for instance, not necessarily anyway) especially in the character of Dawn Wiener I guess it goes without saying.

Storytelling, though, is sort of his response to his critics and, as such, strikes me as shrill and defensive and, as you point out, ugly to the point of grotesque. The broadsides in it aimed at American Movie, especially, are peculiar as hell.

Nate:
I've been accused of being articulate sometimes and man, you do not want to see the contents of my coconut. Point taken.

What'd you think of Squid and the Whale?

Walter_Chaw said...

By the way, S-Jeff - have you and your boy rented Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro? He may be too old for it (best for kids probably between 4-9), but I saw it for the first time when I was about 26 or so and I wept like a cold drink on a hot day. Princess Mononoke is grand (though there are a few lost arms here and there, and lots of pigs' blood) - and there's always Spirited Away.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Miyazaki is great.

Chad Evan said...

bemis:

Point taken about Ricky Fitts, but the problem I see with your argument is that the film swallows his bullshit hook, line and s(t)inker, and it wants you to, as well. And I'm sorry, I just don't. Mendes portrays him as some sort of messiah when in fact he's a creep who spies on naked girls and smokes too much turbo dope (that looks like plain ol' schwag to me, by the way--another flaw in the film.) I used to smoke too much grass and spout nonsense, and it didn't make me a hero.

Don't like Salinger, either.

Seattle Jeff said...

We did get our hands on Spirited Away and enjoyed it greatly.

I'll make a note of those other titles.

Seattle Jeff said...

Yeah, I was kidding about UHF. How underrated can you get?

It has Fran Drescher in it, and it still manages to be funny. That there is what you call greatness!

I also love Al's commentary on the DVD.

Bill C said...

That reminds me of a great film in the American Beauty mold, Paul Brickman's Men Don't Leave. I think it has more integrity than almost any to mythologize nuclear-family quirk, and I'm frustrated it isn't out on DVD.

The Captain said...

Great review of Chicken Little, btw. Hey, tell me about Catherine Breillat - I've seen Romance and Fat Girl and found both of them pretty appalling - both exploitative, demeaning and untrue, featuring breaking free of oppression via going out and being more oppressed through graphic sexual awakening and being degraded? I could be misreading, but I've always thought of Breillat representing the worst kind of Nazi Feminist, the type who instantly took offense to a man declaring himself a feminist and egalitarian in a Woman's Studies class, with her films doing as much for the feminist cause as the "Girl Power!" crap at the other end of the scale, like The Sweetest Thing and Charlie's Angels...

I'm actually really fond of Storytelling, if only for the horrible scene where the son goes into a coma playing American Football, and the payoff scene in which the documentary is screened. Horrible, but confronting and darkly amusing..

Rachel said...

I feel that kid's films are as bad as they've ever been, only in different ways- my favorite children's movie growing up, probably "The Chipmunks Movie", fluidly animated with songs catchy as hell, and the kind of appalling racial stereotyping that puts Breakfast at Tiffany's to shame (although, I'm not sure how the Eurotrash couple fits into it all, if it compounds of alleviates the sin).

As for Mononoke, my dad took me to the theater to see it when I was ten. I remember being both kind of shocked by the demon-pig sequences, while also kind of awed by seeing such an "adult" film (my dad had to explain to me that the women were prostitutes, that flew over my head), while also vaguely aware, how beautiful and amazing it was. Definitely no harm done, there.

It's weird now, how few kid's films I can remember, that I loved, that I know to still be worthwhile. Roger Rabbit. The Secret Garden, Maggie Smith version. I always loved Mary Lennox, how she chewed out her gutless cousin. Also nice, in leiu of the archetypal girl-narratives- Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz- for the story not to end with the girl waking up. All the adventures, just dreams. Those endings bummed me out.

Jefferson said...

Chicken Little: the great Joan Cusack, typecast as the ugly-duckling best pal even in animation

Funny, I just saw Corpse Bride for the first time the other day, and was amazed at how Tim Burton had used animation to turn Helena Bonham Carter into Lisa Marie. That man's mind is right up there on the screen. I wonder if Helena likes what she sees?

Nate said...

Walter-

I absolutely loved The Squid and the Whale - my favorite film of the year so far, though that's not saying much. Then again, I've only seen about 40 2005 releases so far; I've been concentrating on a large backlog of DVDs.

H-Man-

Yeah, you sound like a snob, but that's beside the point in this particular forum (aren't we all snobs?). In any event, I assure you that Elizabethtown is just as bad (if not worse) than any given Hilary Duff film. Its incompetence and lack of focus is staggering, sinking to depths rarely achieved by even the worst Hollywood schlock.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Haven't seen it. I like Cameron Crowe, guilty pleasure you may call him. I guess I remember him better than he is. Saw it again lately with devil on one shoulder and walter on the other. They both wouldn't shut up during the movie. At the end I realised, yes, it is flawed, but there are some films that you see at the right time in your life and it sticks with you. Now I can see through all the meet-cutes and the witty transactions that seem to be ripped off from halmark cards, but fuck, it also reminds me of the time when I didn't and how much I liked it. I guess that is what you call a guilty pleasure.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

* by "it" I meant "Almost Famous"

Nate said...

Hey, I like Crowe a lot - I really enjoy Almost Famous (even the Untitled version), I adore Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky is better than Abre Los Ojos, and Singles is a really nice movie in general. Never got around to Say Anything, strangely.

But Elizabethtown - oh, man. You can't even call it a waste - it was a mistake from the first moment he started "writing" the screenplay.

Bemis said...

Though I see, in re-reading, that the implication is inescapable. Hope you'll accept my apology for the bad turns of phrase.

Don't worry, I didn't take it to heart at all, I just figured you would certainly enjoy the irony (it's a trap I've fallen in countless times, and I try to laugh at it).

Chad: If you don't like Salinger, than I can't fault you at all for not buying American Beauty. I can only say that I did, and that when faced with the alternative of high school, smoking dope, filming pretty girls, and taking a stab at some poetry (however awkward) might not be a bad way to go. In any case, I assure you that I don't like the film for "go with the flow" reasons (I think the way you feel about American Beauty is how I felt about Chicago).

Bemis said...

As for Breillat, I really liked Romance, an authentically daring film. But I was let down by Fat Girl - I was expecting more than it delivered, and after an elusive first hour, the ending is strangely matter-of-fact. My favorite of Breillat's so far is Sex is Comedy, a really underrated movie where the director does a far better job of dissecting herself than Woody Allen or Todd Solondz did in their respective attempts.

Walter_Chaw said...

Capt:
I find Breillat's frankness to be sort of exhilarating. Romance is like a sledgehammer all of anger and bile - and Fat Girl reminded me a lot of Yeats' "Leda and the Swan". I like how I feel watching her stuff: indicted and uncomfortable. She doesn't have my point of view (I think you make an interesting point in that respect) but she does have a point of view. Ditto on Sex is Comedy, by the way, a really wise, self-reflective picture.

Rachel:
That's a sad post, there, and true. I can't think of that many children's films that stand the test of time very well, either. The thing about comparisons of quality is that we have the misfortune of being in the year that we're in. I'm not talking 2005, just trying to be clever in noting that we're comparing the aggregate of all the crap out there without the benefit of time's forgetfulness. There are hundreds and hundreds of films from the thirties, forties, fifties that we just don't remember anymore. There aren't showings on TCM, no festival revivals of The Egg and I (the top-grossing flick of 1941 I think), and no afternoon appreciation societies at the local film school.

In fifty years, I'm hoping that we've also collectively forgotten the bulk of Rob Schneider's production, any Adam Sandler that's not Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison, and so on and so forth.

So - yeah - I think you're right that film is only ever as good as it's ever been. It's all the same although everything's changed. I love The Secret Garden, but most of the shit I liked when I was a kid is just that: The Great Mouse Detective, The Rescuers, Pete's Dragon, Unidentified Flying Oddball, Condorman, The Love Bug saga, Disney's Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, '80s Bond, on and on, dangerous to dip a toe back into that pond.

H-Man:
Sympathize with the time-of-life thing (something Bemis is talking about, I think, with ol' J.D.) - I still have a warm spot for Say Anything, for god's sake.

And just a point of personal clarification: I don't like people who don't see the difference between Evil Dead II and The Toolbox Murders or John Woo's The Killer and John Woo's Broken Arrow or Dario Argento's Suspiria and Lucio Fulci's anything - those are snobs in my mind. People who are closed to new experiences and ideas. It's why it irks me so when people accuse me of hating movies when I pan Dreamer or some shit - I mean, you talk to most serious critics and you'd be hard pressed to find a group of people who are more open to a wider range of film than the average joe. We hated movies, we wouldn't screen six or seven a week, 54 weeks a year.

Walter_Chaw said...

Jefferson:
Hilarious observation (and true) about Burton's Lisa Marie fixation. A little o' the ol' Hitchcock in that guy, I tell you. He'll have my loyalty, though, for laughing like a loon on his commentary track for Sleepy Hollow when the horseman goes back and gets the kid under the floorboards.

Jefferson said...

Walter: Methinks Helena must have an open mind toward corseting if she wants to keep her relationship strong.

I meant to say something earlier about Breillat's Romance -- it's the only film of hers I've seen, but to me it's a sexploitation update on Bell de jour. She's aping/satirizing/paying homage to Buñuel's film, carrying forward the statements the older movie makes about men and women ... and throwing in some spurting cocks for good measure.

I found the movie compelling enough to yell at Blockbuster for renting me, without my knowledge, their trimmed version (you should see how hard the telecine operator has to work to keep the hard-ons out of frame), and hunt down the unexpurgated version at another store. But I guess I didn't find it worth my time to seek out more Breillat. I remember sitting on the couch thinking, "Huh, it's Belle de jour. Hey, is that Rocco Siffredi? Man, a lifetime of too much sex can really make a guy haggard."

Bill C said...

A lot of the old Hitchcock in Burton, I suspect. Winona Ryder used to tell a story about how Burton's body language totally changed around her on Edward Scissorhands when she was wearing the blonde wig, which started out as a dress-up lark and became the look for her character. He's got that same platinum fetish; just look at Kim Basinger in Batman, the love interests in Ed Wood, Christina Ricci in Sleepy Hollow, Alison Lohman and Helena Bonham-Carter in Big Fish...

Bemis said...

Don't forget Catwoman.

Jefferson said...

Yeah, although the idea of a blond fetish makes sense to me, I was originally thinking of the nigh-impossible female body type that recurs in Burton -- wasp-waisted, bullet-bra proportions. See Vampira in Ed Wood, the Martian Seducto-Girl in Mars Attacks! ... I'm sure there are others, almost always played by Lisa Marie. And now HBC in Corpse -- the transformation is complete.

As to Basinger in the first Batman -- the story I heard at the time was that she was dating Jon Peters, who was producing the film, and he insisted on her as the female lead. Whether Burton tried to fight him on it, I don't recall.

Dave Gibson said...

If memory serves correct--wasn't Sean Young actually cast then replaced with Basinger when she broke her arm? Why I know this, I don't know.

I do like Sean Young tho'...more for her kookiness than her acting.

Jefferson said...

And then Young campaigned hard and publicly to be Catwoman in Batman Returns! I think she even showed up on Oprah (or some commensurate show) wearing a homemade Catwoman outfit to try and make the point.

Maybe the whole Basinger-Peters thing is explained on some DVD commentary track ... although perhaps not, since directors seldom like to acknowledge the influence of producers on their finished films.

Anonymous said...

Seriously - is every third comment by the author of the original post? Oh, maybe not quite the right ratio ... walter_chaw only posts 16 times in the first 65 comments. Plenty, nonetheless.