November 30, 2005

Fear Eat Soul

It’s not too early to start speculating about the Oscars.

2005 is the first year in the five that I’ve been seeing everything (well, about 400 a year) that I will say is a drag across the board. There are good films, and bad ones, but the good ones aren’t as good and the bad ones aren’t as bad – the missing ingredient this year is passion.

The secret word is “apathy.”

I had a lot of high hopes for the fall – but I’ve seen most of ‘em now with the notable exceptions of Munich and King Kong, and I’m not too hot under the collar about any of the ones that I’ve seen, either. It’s a year where everything has tended toward the middling ground – everything’s safe. If you touched a tongue to 2005, it would taste like plain oatmeal.

I mention all this because I think that Spielberg’s Munich - not even done yet – is going to sweep the major categories – mainly because it’s going to run unopposed and because Spielberg is an idiot savant when it comes to movies. Its chief competition will either be King Kong or Crash depending on how well people suffer Kong’s three-hour running time. Thank god March of the Penguins has its own category. My rooting interest is in Kong because, basically, I’m a big fat dork – but each time Spielberg makes a movie, I confess that I get a tingle of hope because, basically, I’m also a big fat idiot.

Best Pictures nominees: Crash, Munich, Match Point, Brokeback Mountain, King Kong - possible dark horse going to History of Violence.

To prep for Munich, I watched Fassbinder’s transcendent Ali: Fear Eats the Soul after a speaking engagement last night, and was transported once again by his meticulous framing, his disciplined camerawork, and what might be, still, the best portrayal of the acidic heart of racism in modern cinema. It’s a melodrama in the best sense of the word, the tale of a mid-thirtyish Moroccan laborer Ali (El Hedi ben Salem) who falls in love with sixtyish cleaning lady Emmi (Brigitte Mara), to the horror and disgust of all her neighbors, family, and co-workers. A scene in the mid-point set in a sea of yellow chairs set up in an open-air café’s courtyard marks the turning point of the film where the pressures of race and age begin to tell on Emmi and Ali – leading eventually to the statement that “together, we’re strong.” It’s simple, touching, remarkable – a picture that the amazingly prolific German filmmaker (dead at 35 from alcohol, I think) marked as his gentlest. I wiped away more than one tear more than once during the course of the film – when Emmi watches Ali take a shower, for instance, and says, simply: “You’re very beautiful, Ali” – or when Emmi calls herself an old woman and Ali says “No, you’re a good woman. You have a kind heart.” – but most when Emmi, crying (unattractively – nothing “Hollywood” about this picture), is awkwardly comforted by Ali who says to her “Oh, baby” then “oh, baby” again.

It’s one of the best movies about love, too.

The film was made two years after the murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich when Arab/German tensions were at their height in the Berlin of the picture. Until I see Spielberg’s film, it is in my mind the definitive picture about that awful moment in time – and, it goes without saying, that watching it now as an American in the middle of chapter 2 of Bush 2, the echoes are deep and our fresher scars are still sensitive to the touch.

Hot off the Presses (12.1.05)

Travis continues with his tour through the highlights of Jerry Lewis' filmography with my personal fave (not for quality reasons, perhaps, but nostalgic ones for sure), the abrasive, and ain't they all, Cinderfella and offers his thoughts on cult giallo Seven Deaths in a Cat's Eye.

Bill, meanwhile, writes a DVD addendum to the loathsome - but now fascinating for its setting (New Orleans), Skeleton Key.

Hot off the Presses (12.3.05)

Sarah Silverman breaks my heart with the stilted, unfunny (impossible!) Jesus is Magic and our interview with the great Neil Jordan for whom we just don't have enough reviews at the muthasite.

feed the beast (the beast is hungry) - buy Film Freak Central's 2005 Annual

60 comments:

James Allen said...

Re: Best Pic nominees

You don't think Walk the Line or Good Night and Good Luck will get nods? They seem like naturals to me. Crash seems like it came out ages ago, which will hurt it, and are they really ready to nominate another Allen picture for the top award?

Nate said...

Did you hear that Grizzly Man won't get a nomination for Best Doc (it didn't even make the top 15) because it "didn't have enough supporters"? Gee, I wonder what will fucking win.

Bill C said...

I doubt History is even a darkhorse, but it would be lovely to see Viggo or Ed Harris or William Hurt or Maria Bello get a nod.

I also think Walk the Line stands a better chance than Match Point, though Woody should score his perennial screenplay nod.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it really hasn't been the best year. I've looked forward to way too many films this year, and they were almost all disappointing. War of the Worlds was irritating (though you were right: the destruction was truly awesome).

And if Spielberg somehow brings about a happy, uplifting conclusion to Munich (especially considering the subject matter), I'm either going to privately call him a genius of comedy filmmaking or a fucking moron.

In fact, the only film that lived up to my expectations this year was A History of Violence. (I'm a bit mystified wondering how you can call that a safe picture, however.) Also, I did end up enjoying Land of the Dead a lot more than you. I admit that it's definitely the dumbest of the quadrilogy, but I still have a soft spot for it (most likely being that I attended the Ottawa premiere - would have been even better if I'd somehow made it to the Pittsburgh one).

As for Munich and King Kong, I have no hope for either. In fact, I saw a clip from Kong on The Daily Show. The special effects were jaw-droppingly bad, especially one shot in which the camera swoops across the ship's crow's nest. Looked like it was meant to establish a video game's landscape. Abysmal stuff that I wouldn't mind only catching on video. I honestly think Jackson's lost his talent for effects, especially after having seen The Two Towers and Return of the King.

As for King Kong winning Best Picture, I think it's possible though not likely. Heck, even Spielberg coming off Schindler's List wasn't given attention for The Lost World. Granted, it wasn't the best film ever made, but it was a special effects movie like Kong is. (Fine, it's a bad example.)

I hope that A History of Violence wins. Would finally prove that there still is some kind of artistic merit in winning an Oscar.

I hope to see Viggo or Bacon take home the statue this year, and I'd probably go for Knightley or Bello as well.

- David H.

James Allen said...

By the way, I checked out Alex's site that was linked to by Walt for his Cabaret review. Great stuff there, particularly his rundown of The Star Wars Holiday Special which is examined on more levels than I ever thought possible.

Jefferson said...

I wonder whether Pride and Prejudice has a shot at any above-the-line awards? Conventional wisdom (Ebert) says that the Academy loves them some British costume drama.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I found this information on Cronenberg's next project. (If this isn't new to you, sorry for the repetition.)

http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/index.php?Show=5302&Template=newsfull

Wow. I personally think this could be incredible.

- David H.

Dave Gibson said...

I'd also bet on Pride and Prejudice over Match Point, which despite it's apparent quality (haven't seen it yet) will likely not be seen by too many folks. I'm still a fan of Woody though I think his appalling private life will not allow anything beyond a screenplay nod."Walk the Line" has done pretty well, even in the midst of the Harry Potter cyclone, so--I'd probably bump King Kong too-for which I have my fingers crossed (remember all the bad pre-release press for Dances With Wolves and Titanic? And yes, count me as a fan of both--sorry folks)I'd love to see "History of Violence" get a BP nod--but I think its chances are limited to a Cronenberg directing nod (bumping probably Mangold or ??? behind Pride and Prejudice) in the David Lynch/Robert Altman--"We know you made the best movie but, we got shareholders to think of" nomination and maybe Viggo who and the Hurt/Harris combo (both quintessential supporting performances)

Also, look for Oscar luvie Jodie Foster to get a best actress nod--that's my controversial, cynical pick for now.God, Spielberg is fast becoming my personal Ike Turner ("C'mon baby, I promise to be good this time) but, I'll still be leaning forward in my seat as "Munich" unspools, with memories of CE3K dancing in my head--like most 70's movie geeks, I tend to still dance with the one that brung me.

Walter_Chaw said...

Yeah - you're right about Walk the Line over Match Point. I didn't much like Match Point I have to admit - it's ugly (which is good) but it also felt fairly pointless. I'll watch it again, though, I didn't see it under the best of circumstances. He's a shoo-in for a Screenplay nod, though, agreed, no question - not for quality necessarily, just that it's the thing to do.

Speaking of which, I don't think that History is a "safe" film - there are exceptions to the general analysis of 2005. That being said - there are several movies from the last several years that I like better than History of Violence (including, Cronenberg's own Spider) - so the thought that the good's not as good holds.

Confess that I didn't remember how well Walk the Line was doing at the box office. That oughtta' do it.

Have to say that I'd be pretty shocked if Viggo were nominated for Actor (though he deserves it). Though Hurt or Harris sneaking in there for supporting feels possible, I guess. Bello, too, maybe even as Actress because after Reese Witherspoon. . . who? Theron? Dunst? I think you can count on Jodie Foster in there because hers is the only girl-centered flick this year that grossed more than fifty mil.

Hope you're right about Crash being too early in the year, but something tells me that it's going to be the torch the Academy carries this year.

I did see that Grizzly Man missed the cut for not only the top five documentaries of the year, but the top fifteen documentaries of the year. I'd be a lot more upset about that except that it feels like some kind of validation of taste that it's been rejected. Didn't Hoop Dreams miss the cut, too? And Stevie and everything Errol Morris has done except for Fog of War? It's as bankrupt a category, Docu, as the rest of them. What bothers me more is that Arthur Dong is one of the governors of the category and Dong is sensitive, intelligent, and brilliant - and still helpless, I'm guessing, against the tide of populist opinion. We'll do an auteur's corner for Mr. Dong one day - he's the real frickin' deal.

Finally, yeah, King Kong looks cheesy, but I'm holding on to hope for it. Seriously - if it's got any kind of soul, I'm going to go, to coin a phrase, apeshit.

Anonymous said...

I hold on to hopes that Sin City will be nominated for something.

Also, I hope tomorrow that I will wake up with superpowers and millions in the bank. Dreams are fun.

--Kim

Jonathan said...

The Oscars are harder to predict in years, like this one, where the mainstream films and even the prestige indies are damn near impossible to get behind. Looking at the early FYC ads that have run, I'd say Munich and Brokeback Mountain are both locks for Best Picture nominations, but it gets muddled in a hurry beyond those two. Walk the Line is certainly safe enough and has two of the acting frontrunners, so it's likely next in. And I'm not convinced that the entirely justified attacks on Memoirs of a Geisha will hurt its awards-season momentum. Those four, at this point, I think are the most obvious contenders for the short-list.

Which leaves the would-be-mystical fifth slot. We have two embarassing early-year prestige films in Crash and Cinderella Man (which, conveniently, will be just-out on dvd for the entirety of the voting season). The well-regarded (not so much here, but elsewhere) studio indie biopics, Good Night and Good Luck and Capote. The two films positioned as blockbusters for the holiday season in The Producers and King Kong, plus the actually great A History of Violence and the predictably divisive Match Point.

And the one possible contender that no one-- particularly not the subhumans who write on this so-called "internet"-- has seen yet: The New World.

I wouldn't be surprised to see any one of those-- with the possible exception of A History of Violence, since we're talking about the damn Oscars, after all-- as a Best Picture nominee. From the blog chatter, it seems like Good Night and Good Luck has the best buzz-- that it affords a keen self-congratulatory opportunity and that it has a political agenda AMPAS is likely to find sympathetic only strengthen its case.

To recap, then...
Bet the farm:
Munich
Brokeback Mountain
Next in:
Walk the Line
Memoirs of a Geisha
Good Night and Good Luck
And then:
Crash
The New World
The Producers // King Kong
etc.

It's going to be a particularly dreary awards season, in other words, and that's not even getting to the snub of Grizzly Man-- and, yes, Stevie didn't make the semi-final cut for Best Doc, either. Perhaps if Morgan Freeman had narrated it.

cory m said...

The trailer for Munich makes me hope the film is an interesting conversation about compromised justice and moral relativism (perfect for the times in this country, especially where terrorism is concerned), but the cynic in me doesn't think Spielberg is even capable of such a discussion. It is nice to see Ciarán Hinds, though. I hadn't really picked up on him until Rome. I did a quick IMDB check and was amazed at how many of his films I'd seen.

Alex Jackson said...

To recap, then...
Bet the farm:
Munich
Brokeback Mountain
Next in:
Walk the Line
Memoirs of a Geisha
Good Night and Good Luck
And then:
Crash
The New World
The Producers // King Kong
etc.


I'd say that Good Night and good Luck would be my number one dark horse, but I pretty much agree with that assessment down the line.

Oh, and my Star Wars Holiday Special review is linked to on that film's Wikepedia entry. Same with the two Ewok movies. My proudest moment.

Bill C said...

I think King Kong is gonna be pretty good. The thing Jackson had on this movie that he didn't have on Rings (because of logistics) is the privilege of supervising all the 2nd-unit stuff. I suspect it's gonna hang together better than anything he's made since The Frighteners.

James Allen said...

Alex:

I recently revisited The Star Wars Holiday Special this past summer. I hadn't seen it since it's original airing, and even then I don't think I watched all of it. I had since read various articles about it (a good one being The Bootleg Files entry from Film Threat) and was fascinated to see if it was a bad as I remember or as bad as it's supposed to be.

I managed to download it from somewhere, and I watched the whole thing on a lazy summer morn, rather dumbstruck. Nothing I read prepared me for it. Nothing.

It's barely funny in a bad way even, as you point out, you get over that feeling early on. I actually felt bad for Art Carney, a comedic actor I truly adore, pathetically trying to replicate his Ed Norton schtick with an imperial guard. Just the idea is incredibly stupid, that Carney actually went through with it is mind-numbing. I wonder if that was Bruce Villach's idea? (He's one of the credited writers.)

About the only jollies you can have is getting off on the notion that the great George Lucas let this happen to his baby. It thoroughly punctures Lucas's pretentions more that Jar Jar Binks ever could. It's a piece of shit, but I'm glad it exists. That Lucas wants every copy wiped out of existence makes me like its existence even more. God knows I'll never watch it again. Well, maybe in another 25 years.

cory m said...

Bill:

I also have very high hopes for King Kong. But I became a little afraid after I heard its length. Three hours? It's not a question of attention span--I simply can't imagine what King Kong needs three hours for. Especially when the principal relationship of the film is between a woman and a gorilla.

While we're on the subject, does anyone remember the April Fool's prank where Peter Jackson talked about a Song of Kong movie that featured Kong fighting Nazis with manned machine guns mounted on each shoulder? Am I an idiot for thinking that would be totally fucking awesome? The image just seems so interesting in my head.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

The New World would get nominated but won't win. Malick is hollywood's mistress. They still go back home to the wife (Speilberg). I don't know about you guys but Speilberg really isn't worth my 15 bucks anymore. So I'm never seeing one of his in theatres again. I'll see it on the second run on TV.

Bill C said...

The idea of a giant ape wielding machine guns reminds me of the werewolf in Silver Bullet. Like, you're a werewolf, okay? So why are you pummeling your victims with a baseball bat?

Scott said...

Is an 'uplifting' conclusion always a sell-out, an example of hackery, a nod to sentimental dreck? I dunno. If films reflect life, then they should also reflect the good parts of life, the hopeful parts of life. I'll probably get a lot of flack for saying this, but I feel that too many cineastes are in favor of nihilism for nihilism's sake -- i.e., if there's even the hint of earned, honest sentiment, it MUST smack of sentimentality.

I would argue that the best moments of Spielberg's work are the moments that celebrate joy and togetherness and compassion. I'm not saying that MUNICH will have these moments or even SHOULD have these moments -- but let's not judge it before it comes out, and let's not allow our baser natures to declare anything that hints at happiness and hope to be disgraceful to cinema itself (or Spielberg himself). If Lynch's modus operandi is dreamlike confusion, and Wes Anderson's is saddened whimsy, perhaps Spielberg's is the naive optimist. Again, whether it's appropriate within MUNICH's political context I don't know, but let's wait and see. I'd rather fault a filmmaker for being TOO sentimental than not sentimental enough, frankly, because it appeals to the better sides of our natures.

Too many filmmakers don't even TRY for any honest sentiment, it seems. Why? Because it's hard to NOT revert to soap opera theatrics. And yet, for me, the most moving stuff is the most hopeful stuff. It seems to me that we're suspicious of any filmmaker trying to 'move' us. 'Aha!' we say. 'I won't be fooled by your cinematic tomfoolery! I'm too sly for your pandering moves!'

I say, screw that. Give me the end of HOOSIERS and the end of E.T. and Costner's closing speech in J.F.K. where he gets the lump in his throat and the beginning and end of HEAVEN AND EARTH and Ossie Davis's eulogy in MALCOM X and Marty looking back at his parents in the doorway at the end of BACK TO THE FUTURE. Give me the reasons we got into movies as a kid, because we want to know if the Goonies will be able to keep their home.

Give me the end of CHINATOWN, too, yes, but let's not negate the very IDEA of hopefulness and goodwill in a cinematic context, because that's what we go to the movies for -- to get a little taste of what may be lacking in our own lives. John Irving said once that even HE forgets the plot of his own novels, but what he remembers are the emotional impacts that the characters have had. I forget the plot of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and I'm not left with much emotion; I forget the plot of PULP FICTION and KILL BILL, and I'll be damned if any of those scenes resonate (other than Jackson's Ezekiel speech at the end of P.F.); I take away nothing from films that don't try to move me except vague remembrances of some plot twists being 'clever'. I may go back to those flicks again, yes, but there's always something lacking, something human -- maybe it's the lack of attempt at empathy with me and other moviegoers, I don't know.

And yet I sure as hell remember how I felt watching BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and EMPIRE OF THE SUN Kurosawa's DREAMS and THE GODFATHER, because those are all films that allow us to feel and breathe the lives of the characters; they are all films that try, deliberately, to move us. As I mentioned above, it seems like we're all so savvy about the filmmaking process now that we are actively looking for a filmmaker trying to 'push our buttons'; the more covertly they do it, the more we applaud their ingenuity and artistry. Filmmakers like Spielberg and Stone lay their hearts on their sleeves, repeatedly, and we don't value their aesthetic as openly as we do directors like Cronenberg and Lynch who are more restrained and reserved in their approach.

I want to go to the movies to live and breathe with characters, and with filmmakers who are not afraid to try to make us feel.

Rich said...

Cory:

Is Rome any good? I read a review or two and decided to give it a miss, but I'd be willing to watch a few episodes if there is love for it on this blog somewhere.

Alex Jackson said...

King Kong sold me with that teaser shot of Naomi Watts approaching the ape on the night streets of 30 era New York.

Come on people, how can you not be blown away by that?

I ammend my previous comment by the way. Walk the Line, Munich, Brokeback Mountain, Memoirs of Geisha and Syriana. The Academy dug Traffic afterall. Crash is too old and the backlash is too healthy. And Good Night Good Luck is too weird. I see that The Squid and the Whale picked up some of them there "indie" awards and so it's possible that that might substitute for Brokeback Mountain.

Jefferson said...

Alex Jackson said...
King Kong sold me with that teaser shot of Naomi Watts approaching the ape on the night streets of 30 era New York.


But will there be a magic moment, as in the DeLaurentiis remake, when Kong lightly pokes at her dress with a huge, stubby finger and somehow causes her breasts to fall out?

Scott: Seconded, overall. But if I have to put up with the bookend scenes of Saving Private Ryan to get to the emotional core of the movie, I feel ill-used. The value of what I experienced (vicariously) and felt (personally) at Dog One beachhead, across the French countryside, with Mellisch in the ruined church, is diminished -- greatly -- when Ryan has to ask his wife if his value as a human being is worth all that bloodshed. Gosh, I wonder what his spouse of 50 years will say?

My savvy about the craft of film doesn't enter into it -- it's a sensation of some wisdom being received and understood, and then being assigned to read the Cliffs Notes version of that wisdom. I got it! What's more, I enjoyed it! Even though it made me feel wrung-out and punched in the guts! Trust me! I'm your audience!

Spielberg is an easy target for these accusations of sentiment undermining his art, but he's not the most consistent offender, nor even the worst. People gripe about War of the Worlds, but how do you get away from Wells' ending? (I will say he went too far to build his homage to The Searchers, and leave it at that. On topic, WOtW it is also no contender for a non-technical Oscar, since Tom Cruise is awards poison until he goes back to work with Paul T. Anderson.)

I think fears of sentimentality eroding Munich are probably premature. I think SS can do it right. But I don't want long instructive shots of the Israeli flag, flapping over the gravestones of the Olympic athletes before the credits roll. That would be a betrayal of all that's come before.

(... Ryan's granddaughters wuz hott, tho.)

Walter_Chaw said...

Alex:
Ditto. Blown away.

Scott:
I love sentimental movies, man, films with uplifting endings or unreserved mawkishness - seriously. Muppet Movie, for one, but even stuff like In America, Karate Kid, Rocky, In Her Shoes, Corpse Bride, Junebug, Spider-Man 2, Unleashed, Kung Fu Hustle, Iron Giant, Incredibles and on and on. What I don't like are movies that treat me like a child. I didn't even like those when I was a child.

I have no problem with the ending of E.T. - all of E.T. is brutal, after all - but I do have a problem when the ending of E.T. is grafted onto the ending of Schindler's List. There's a difference - I know you know it. But I do want to second the idea that it's nice to feel good after a movie sometimes, for what it's worth.

Jefferson:
Wells' ending stinks - but the ending I hate (hate) from SS's War of the Worlds is the one where Granny and Gramps and Jr. are a-okay at the end. Suddenly, the death of billions of people means diddly shit and more than SS being a simpering little toad, it's SS being irresponsible. The ideological equivalent of Lucas making the bad guys in the prequel trilogy a bunch of androids that "don't feel pain" - thus invalidating his own universe in which droids did, indeed, feel pain. We should have a responsibility to our created beings - it's the same reason I have such a burr under my saddle about The Interpreter, fer instance. Tell me again why all those Africans died in that film. . . it couldn't have been just to get Sean Penn some flirt time with Nicole Kidman, right?. . . Right?

Dave Gibson said...

I'm always in favour of well-earned sentimentality in movies and fiction (dig Charles Dickens still)--my theory is that everyone who loves the movies is a romantic at heart. I'm receptive and sympathetic to most criticisms of "The Shawshank Redemption" for instance, however, to crib from William Goldman, "Shawshank" moved the shit out of me. Anyone on this site could offer credible argument to its hoary melodrama and lack of realism, but, fuck it..it makes me cry and I love it.Movies have a unique power to transcend even the most hardened, wizened heart---but, as you point out, you have to earn it. Along with Lucas, I've idolized Spielberg since I was a ten year old begging my folks to let me see "Raiders of the Lost Ark". My wariness of recent Spielberg work is rooted in some of my most formative experiences as a film freak. I remember how I felt during the scenes of family unrest in CE3K, the welling tears during the dinner table scene in "Jaws" (when Brody's son imitates his father) and God, even the bit in "Jurassic Park" when the kids say: "He left us" and Sam Neill responds: "But, that's not what I'm gonna do." More recently, Spielberg still seems to behave like the company man--forgetting that he IS the freaking company. "The Terminal" was cloying and cheap--with its offensive working class stereotypes and a bizarre Yakov Smirnoff riff from Tom Hanks (who I usually love), "A.I" was Spielberg's game to lose until the robot kid dropped into the water, and Stevie decided to tack on a Captain EO tribute, "Saving Private Ryan" was a brilliant opening sequence in the service of a SGT. Rock comic book and, "War of the Worlds"---gack, what a letdown--if this film was directed by anyone else, I'd accuse the studio of tacking on a jarringly inappropriate conclusion--but, who am I kidding? Spielberg can do whatever he wants, but still acts like he's trying to please the ghost of Sid Sheinbeg. Nonetheless, his films still betray his brilliance (no matter how much he wants to supress it) and, I'm still looking forward to "Munich". As for most your examples Scott, no arguments here, I loved "Back to The Future" and "Hoosiers" (even though it wasn't about baseball)--wish we got more of that good stuff. As an addedum, I want to defend the Daves I know, and challenge you to watch "The Fly" or "The Straight Story" (or "Wild At Heart") without busting a tear duct--those boys aint as reserved as you might think.

Cheers Y'all

Jefferson said...

Wells' ending stinks - but the ending I hate (hate) from SS's War of the Worlds is the one where Granny and Gramps and Jr. are a-okay at the end.

That's the Searchers homage I meant. The grandfolks I can forgive; the snotty punk kid, I cannot. Nothing was lost for Cruise's character, and therefore, nothing was gained.

Carl Walker said...

Scott, the problem I have with Spielberg is that so many times, at least lately, the whole film will grind to a halt with an "unhappy" ending that seems to be, more or less, the organic conclusion to the piece, then suddenly the whole film will lurch into motion again and provide this rather long coda in which everything bad will be undone and suddenly we are left with a happy ending.

When I saw this in Artificial Intelligence, I just somewhat blindly assumed that the unhappy ending was what Kubrick wanted (I'm still not sure how much of that he'd actually planned out), and Speilberg tacked on his own bit at the end. Then I saw the same thing happen in Minority Report and started to get suspicious. Then I hear from Walter about him doing more-or-less the same damn thing in War of the Worlds. It's like he knows how the films should end, but he can't help himself... here comes the happy shit.

cory m said...

Bill:

Ah, but it's not the ape wielding the machine guns, it's two soldiers--one mounted on each shoulder. I can't explain why I like it. It must come from the same part of me that wants to buy an oil painting of Christopher Walken building robots (Walken Goodness).

Scott:

There's nothing wrong with uplifting endings. I would've preferred unhappy endings to AI and Minority Report, but I suppose that's because I'm a cynical person (and I kind of felt both films were leading to that). But in the case of War of the Worlds, we apparently have billions dead, and we're supposed to be happy in the last ten minutes because three generations of Tom Cruise's family are fine? Not only that, but the grandparents were in Boston, which would've been one of the first places wiped off the map. If the grandparents had a cabin in Saskatchewan I'd at least believe it.

Rich:

The production design is typically good, and there are some great characters and performances. Ciarán Hinds hit the right notes as Caesar (his performance made me wish this Caesar was fleshed out a little more) and Max Perkis as Octavian makes me interested in a second season. It's all worth a look, but a bit melodramatic. I doubt I'd rewatch this season. And it's made worse when you begin unconsciously comparing it to HBO's other shows--the second season of Deadwood might be the best season of TV I've ever seen, for God's sake (and why, why, why don't more people love the The Wire?)

cory m said...

By the way, the great Alan Moore solved the WoW ending problem perfectly in the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: biological weapons. He even had a nice snappy exchange that weaved it into the original ending.

Campion Bond: "The official explanation is that the Martians died of the common cold."
Captain Nemo: "And what about the people!"
Campion Bond: "The official explanation is that they died of Martians."

Walter_Chaw said...

Alan Moore's great, indeed, but that solution's common enough for me, of all people, to have mentioned it in the review:

"the problem isn't solved by Spielberg's film despite that the use of biological weapons would've found a cozy home in a film that is essentially about 9/11"

A simultaneously-released WotW, too, directed by David Michael Latt and starring C. Thomas Howell had the hero injecting the baddies with rabies vaccine.

In the Spielberg, I would've liked the Cruise character to volunteer to be exposed to syphillus just prior to getting eaten by the tripod. Problem solved, no?

I lament the loss of that particular Caption Boy contribution, by the way, it has Cruise in a spotlight looking up and it says something along the lines of "L.Ron? Is that you?"

Jefferson said...

I write the captions for my newspaper's entertainment rag. Our WOtW picture was that exact same one, and the caption read "Muh ... muh ... Mister Hubbard? I-is that you?"

Great minds, I swear ... not plagiarism.

Bill C said...

Not to sound like an echo, Scott, but all I can say is that I think there's an organic ending for every movie and some filmmakers consciously avoid it. My brother insists on a happy ending and presumes I insist on the opposite because I can embrace a movie like--oh, Edward Scissorhands is one we always fight about. But for me it's all about the earned happy ending. If you can honestly find a way to have me walking on sunshine after a screening of Platoon (my favourite joke in The Naked Gun) without violating its infrastructure, more power to you.

A few years ago a friend of mine spent a day with John Landis and worked up the courage to say to him, "You know, An American Werewolf in London has a completely unsatisfying ending that's also the only correct ending for that movie." And in reply, Landis said something like, "Yep, and I'd move Heaven and Earth to find another way out of it if I were making that movie today. I was a different guy back then." Artists ripen, they go soft.

James Allen said...

Re: Happy endings (insert massage joke here)

Someone mentioned Kill Bill thusly:

I forget the plot of PULP FICTION and KILL BILL, and I'll be damned if any of those scenes resonate (other than Jackson's Ezekiel speech at the end of P.F.)

I agree 100% on this observation of Kill Bill and maybe it was one of the reasons I didn't like it as much as lots of other people. For as much as I admired Uma Thurman's performance, the moment of truth came when she finally sets eyes on her daughter, a moment that should've packed at least a reasonable punch, and I wasn't all that emotionally moved. All that build up, 4 fucking hours of it, and nothing. (I have some other problems with it too, even though I don't really hate Kill Bill; maybe some other time.)

Anyway, I agree with the general notion that an ending, good or bad, has to be earned. I hate the phony happy ending just as much as the tacked on post-modern downbeat one.

As far as great happy endings go, hooray for The Muppet Movie (I agree with Walt wholeheartedly on this one, Jim Henson was never one to talk down to his audience.) I love the opening line to the finale ("Life's like a movie, write your own ending"), hopeful without being trite.

I also liked The Shawshank Redepmtion even though I kept thinking I shouldn't, if that makes sense. (As an aside, I think I'm going to hire Morgan Freeman to add some narration to my wedding video.)

Speilberg? He made his first career misstep messing with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a tremendous film not helped one iota by us seeing inside the ship, as if that's what the film was about.

Now he seems content to either second guess himself and/or have his cake and eat it too. Strange, really, even after making a friggin' holocaust film he doesn't want to be remembered for being a downer.

Bill C said...

Bear in mind, James, that you didn't see inside the ship in Close Encounters, only in the since-disowned re-release (aka "The Special Edition"). That ending was tacked-on in order to fulfill a contractual obligation that allowed Spielberg to take E.T. to Universal.

Close Encounters actually has one of the bravest, most subversive endings I can think of.

James Allen said...

Bill:

Sorry if I wasn't clear, but what I meant was that I did indeed see the original version, which is great. I recall the absurd hype around the added shots of the inside of the ship, and after seeing the thing I realized someone, be it Speilberg, the studio, or some of the many fans of the original film, entirely missed the point; or at least missed the point that I got out of the thing. The journey, of course, was the thing, and the ending with Dreyfuss being led in the ship by the aliens was amazing, the sense of wonder of what he was going to encounter was left to our glorious imaginations. Dreyfuss breathing heavy and seeing a bunch of flashing lights inside the ship was a total anti-climax.

cory m said...

Speaking of the ending to Close Encounters, in a recent interview (think it was in Wired, but I can't be sure), Spielberg said that if he made the film today, Dreyfuss wouldn't get on the ship.

Bill C said...

Yeah, he said something similar about Duel as well. Would we be talking about Close Encounters today if Dreyfuss chickened out and rejoined his family? Probably not. Minority Report is only three years old and who talks about it?

James: yeah, I gotta hand Spielberg a 'get out of jail free' card for selling-out Close Encounters for the Special Edition, because he did it not only to reclaim the rights to E.T., but also because it fulfilled the studio's option on a once-imminent Close Encounters sequel. He disfigured his baby to save it from a life of prostitution, as it were.

James Allen said...

Bill:

Yup. One of the amazing things about Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the level of risk and sacrifice Dreyfuss has to make (be it conscious or not). He literally gives up everything. The drive in his character is so great and compelling; he can't go back.

It doesn't surprise me that had he made the film today, he'd sell out the ending so that he and Teri Garr and the kids could drive off into the sunset.

mirabella said...

I know this was back up a ways but since I almost never see it mentioned, and becuase there are no official reviews of the DVDs on the site, I wanted to know if any of you guys have an opinion about The Wire.

For my money, that show, especially the third season is as good as filmed entertainment gets

Alex Jackson said...

Now he seems content to either second guess himself and/or have his cake and eat it too. Strange, really, even after making a friggin' holocaust film he doesn't want to be remembered for being a downer.

And even then...

Walter is fond of quoting Stanley Kubrick on Schindler's List: "That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler's List was about six hundred people who don't."

So by it's very conception, Schindler's List can't be that much of a downer.

Then again, one of the interesting things about Iris Chang's Rape of Nanking is how she presses that the story be told in a mainstream Oscar-baiting Hollywood film even if it were with a great white saviour as the hero. She even gives a few examples of potentional candidates for the canonization.

The whole argument and discussion about the proper treatment of this material, I guess, is one that is only made about subject matter as overexposed as the Nazi's Holocaust.

Anonymous said...

I guess the thing that really irritates me about the way Spielberg chooses to end a lot of his films -- Schindler's, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, WoW, etc. -- is that there's a pretty healthy portion of the online community that gripes about it but, when interview time comes around, nobody in the mainstream press has either the clearance or the testicular fortitude to call him on it. Least not that I've seen. They're all too busy asking him how he got to be so awesome. I really wish somebody would ruffle his feathers, because I cling to the hope that he's capable of greater things.

James Allen said...

Ebertwatch:

When last we spoke, we were trying to predict Ebert's ratings for new releases, well today's 3 are in:

Kid and I- 3
First Descent- 1.5
Christmas in the Clouds- 3

I got one for 3. I should've just guessed 3 across, I would've at least gotten 2 right. First Descent must really suck. Too bad the snowboarders didn't wear masks that looked like ex-presidents.

Dave Gibson said...

Hmm…wonder if he will wag his thumb at “Aeon Flux” for the late press screenings? Seems unlikely that he will bat a critical eye at his beloved Charlize---gawd, has anyone seen this one yet? Frances McDormand must be buying a new house or something.

cory m said...

As much as I dislike Ebert, even I don't think he'll like Aeon Flux. Harry Knowles on the other hand...

Scott said...

As someone who really likes Ebert's prose, I'll stick up for the man and just mention that there's a really long and interesting profile of him over at:

www.chicagomag.com

(An alcoholic? Loves women with big boobs?)

Whether you agree with his opinions or not, he's one of the most readable writers out there. And readability should not be taken for granted. Hardest thing there is.

Bill C said...

There's actually a direct link to and discussion of that article in the previous thread, Scott.

Walter_Chaw said...

Meh - Ebert doesn't need any defenders. His defenders are legion, including the writer of that puff piece. The guy apologizes for film being a popular medium which, to me, seems like a zero sum game. Nobody's denying that it is - isn't the actual valor in fighting the machine? So they do everything according to the bottom line - it's not exactly the kind of thing that requires a defense, does it? What's the point of that?

Do you defend big tobacco for its bottom line-driven tactics? You could, I guess, but why would you unless you were in their pocket in some way. If I were getting paid 3.5 million dollars a year, it'd be hard to keep biting the hands that feed, for sure - I'm not saying all things being equal that I'd necessarily be any more virtuous. But I'm afraid Ebert's prediction forty years ago that continuing as a film critic would make him a moron might have come true. He's lost a lot of social consciousness and grace now - enough so that his inconsistencies are getting real easy to spot and dissect.

And defenders of his "readability" - take a look at his reviews for The Squid and the Whale and Just Friends and get back to me. Seems to me that "easy" should only get you so far: trenchant should count for something, worth something more than a breezy read another.

Re: Spielberg never getting any tough questions. Well, man, it'll happen the day he hires Tom Cruise's sister as his PR representation - not before. There's no free press in the United State of Hollywood.

tmhoover said...

Just getting into one of the other threads in Walter's blog entry: Always had conflicted feelings about "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul". Despite my crazy love for Fassbinder ("In a Year of 13 Moons" is in my top ten), I've sort of had my doubts about the character of Ali- whatever the emotional wallop of that movie, there's no denying he's kind of a sad little sheepdog who doesn't have the dimensions of Emmi. The whole thing hinges on Emmi's sphere dealing with him; she absorbs him into her world and he jettisons everything to pad after her.
There's no comparable attention paid to the Moroccan gastarbeiter community from whence Ali comes (its presence is pretty much confined to that one dingy bar), and there are no attempts by Emmi to bridge the two cultural spheres, which to me compromises Fassbinder's critique just a touch. It's not enough to invalidate the movie, but enough to make me rate it lower than its canonical status would insist. My two cents, anyway.

Re "Aeon Flux": Caught a night-before screening for the good folks at Exclaim (it took place at 10 PM, which should tell you how much they wanted critics involved), and I can say with some authority that few will praise its kabuki health spa aesthetics and stereo-instructions dialogue ("How were your modifications?" "Useful"). It's the kind of thing addled twelve-year-olds will think is the greatest thing they've ever seen after stumbling upon it on cable- all others need not apply.

Scott said...

The problem I have with the Ebert-bashing is that it basically seems to boil down to: he likes different movies than we do. He likes bad movies and that's a bad thing.

Well, fine. He's a mainstream writer who likes mainstream movies. He's a sixty-something writer who likes different movies than the thirty-somethings. Big surprise. He's gone soft in his old age after a midlife marriage and a few cancer scares. (Who wouldn't?) He likes what he likes, and since his opinion is different than our opinion, than he's obviously over-the-hill, a sell-out, in Disney's pocket.

Fine. All of which may be true. All I know is that Ebert is the first critic I ever read, and he got me thinking about movies and reading about movies in a different way. And now when when we all have different opinions about movies than Ebert, and different ways of expressing those opinions than Ebert, we decide that he's the one that's changed, not us. (Instead of giving him credit for helping to articulate and expand the kinds of opinions we now use to discredit him.)

It just seems like a tired refrain -- Hemingway/Stephen King/Kubrick/Woody Allen/Ebert have all lost it in their old age. Become repetitive. Lost their mojo. In my opinion, this is merely the young railing against the old, one generation mocking the older generation for its sins. Kind of like saying Milton Berle and Bob Hope aren't funny anymore compared to Sandler and Sara Silverman. Different generations, different views, different journeys through life.

Maybe Ebert is well-loved because he's a good guy who's done a lot for the movies and pens down prose that people (occasionally, not always) learn something from. Why not celebrate the good stuff? So much of criticism is just tearing down and ripping apart others. Why can't we just say: "Yeah, he's not what he used to be, but boy has he brought a lot to the table over the years."

Chad Evan said...

Off-topic, but did anyone catch Joe Dante's "Homecoming" on Showtime? Just aired on the Masters of Horror show...holy shit. Didactic, but awesome. All I'll say is that it starts with the execution of Anne Coulter (more or less her, anyway) and that two of the ressurected soldiers are named, respectively, Jacque Tourneur and G.A. Romero. Dante is uneven, but sometimes he's just the KING.

Seattle Jeff said...

Here's an Ebert thought:

Maybe the guy needed Siskel. Maybe Siskel stimulated him intellectually (I can't imagine that Roeper does). The battle between Siskel and Ebert for the opinions could have kept him sharp and on edge. On his "A" game so to speak.

Without that, maybe the old codger is comfortable and content to toe the Buena Vista line.

Seattle Jeff said...

battling for their opinions , not "the oponions".

Goddamn typo.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Undoubtedly, Ebert has gone soft over the years but does that mean we should love him because he is like a three-legged puppy on the front porch on a rainy day ? I personally think he does more harm than good by providing seemingly intellectual justifications to bottom feeding mindless trite. That just deters the progress of the society to one that is more intellectually stimulated and stimulating. Eventually all we get is buch paternalistic glib assholes yakking about all the big nothings that have the "human" element. If stopping my brain activity makes me "human", well then fuck it, I'd rather be inhuman. Everything from "War of the Worlds" to "Cinderella Man" is just a 120 minuite collage of fart jokes. Don't get me wrong, I love fart jokes, but I prefer atleast a few chunks with my diarrhea.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I have to watch "Ali: Fear eats the soul" again. I turned it off last time after just a few minuites, it looked ugly, people acted funny and too much melodrama. Not my cup of tea. Hell, I just found it boring. My opinion mught be ignorant, but it was the most visceral one. I see something like "Aguirre - the wrath of good" and I instantly react to it, it's got a jungle, a river and dude who's off his fucking knocker. And then I see "Ali: FETS", it's got a bar with red lighting and a bedroom. I'm really just like an 8-year old when it comes to visuals, i like seeing some "things" and don't like to see some others. I have to change that though, I miss out on lots of shit.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Walter is fond of quoting Stanley Kubrick on Schindler's List: "That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler's List was about six hundred people who don't."

Now that's just just fucking brilliance.

cory m said...

h-man:

Walter is fond of quoting Stanley Kubrick on Schindler's List: "That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. Schindler's List was about six hundred people who don't."

Now that's just just fucking brilliance.


Interesting quote, but that's no reason to dislike the film (if that is, indeed, what everyone is implying by its use). It is certainly representative of Spielberg in that he chose an uplifting (so to speak) story, but even that choice is not worthy of derision. Schindler's story was certainly worth telling--even if it was about six hundred people who weren't murdered.

Bill C said...

Indeed. I think Kubrick was more or less defending the movie against the straw man that Schindler's List is a failure on the grounds that it isn't the definitive Holocaust movie. By the same token, I can't imagine Spielberg arguing that his film is no, say, Shoah, so it's definitely a humbling thing for one friend to say about another's work.

The Captain said...

The thing that strikes me about Ebert nowadays is that about 25% of the time, he gets it right, and then the other 75% he's a child - wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and completely ignorant. He's stunned and amazed by the flashing lights and bright spectacle that he'll only talk down to something that offends his sensibilities or angers him.

It's going from one extreme to the other, and while that means he is getting it right a quarter of the time, his power is annoying and problematic, foistering meaningless garb like M$B to the center of attention and earning it public and Oscar praise which it would likely have not garnered had it not been for his glowering and yet totally meaningless review.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I feel the same way about "Monster". Yet he does get right sometimes like in case of "Monster's Ball". So yeah, confusing it is.

Ofcourse, the Kubrick quote isn't enough to pull down "Schindler's List", there is a whole film there to do that. But the quote made me think about how some people would choose to look at the lotus and not the huge swamp of dirt around it. Speilberg saw what he wanted to see, not what there is. He definetly does suffer from myopia. That made me think of "Thin Red Line" and why it is so brilliant, compared to say... "Saving Private Ryan".

Bemis said...

From a description of Kubrick's 1994 treatment of A.I.:

"After an idyllic day, Monica finally falls asleep, telling David the words he has been always waiting to hear: 'I do love you, my sweet little boy. I have always loved you.' Holding her in his arms as she sleeps, David hopes for a miracle. The next morning, his wish comes true: Monica wakes up. The robots search for an answer to why, for the first time, a resurrectee has survived more than one day: 'Was it the love of a robot child? No other resurrectee had ever before had someone who loved them to hold onto them.' The treatment ends as Monica waltzes around the room with David 'as she had done the day of his imprinting.'"

Dave Gibson said...

Hey WC:

I’m looking forward to your review of “Syriana”, seems like you had a similar reaction. I’m getting very tired of these “cast of thousands” holiday films, which often tread on some interesting territory—but, are shallow by necessity when the filmmakers have to give cursory service to multiple storylines. (And wrap them all up with a nice “Syd Field” bow) “Syriana” struck me as a Cliff’s notes version of a text which doesn’t exist. Most of the interstitials were moderately engaging in themselves (except for Matt Damon’s ludicrously naïve “bagman” and his cynical “something for the ladies” storyline) but, pretty toothless for a movie about the oil industry—Stanley Kramer would have hit harder. Not abominable, but kind of….feh. Jeffrey Wright needs to be a bigger star however…

Someone else on this thread brought up Berandinelli’s (sp?) dismissal of the “Geisha” casting controversy. I guess he’s not factually wrong, and I’m sure that type of cynicism and casual bigotry is at the root of the filmmaker’s logic—but, validating that sort of ignorance is exactly the problem. Who is that type of comment for? The conservative retirees and rednecks who just LOVE internet film criticism? If he’s right, then his logical conclusion is that most North Americans are isolationist, anti-intellectual morons. I don’t think an audience member is automatically an idiot if you don’t know that the lead actresses are not Japanese, but—instead of reading more books, traveling more often, eating at different places, going to different movies, talking with different people---your answer is, “Well Gosh. They all look the same, who gives a flying fart!” Then you’re on your own. Not being curious is worse than not knowing.

But then, I'm Canadian. Sleeping in an igloo and eating back bacon and maple syrup must be affecting my brain.