November 14, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

A hard week: only part of it due to the workload.

Fourteen screenings this week – that’s four days with three screenings/day and one with two – plus one interview with personal hero Neil Jordan that precluded a fifteenth. The showing for Jim Sheridan’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was attended by a minimal-capacity crowd, rowdy and unhappy not for having to go through the usual security gauntlet but having to share space, I think, with two armed and uniformed policemen. There’s a matter of consent (and I’m not talking about willful consent necessarily, but tacit or even unconscious) in situations like this sometimes. I saw a sneak of Candyman in college at the school’s largest auditorium and the entire football team was in attendance (at the University of Colorado at Boulder, almost the only black students are the football players) - when a black cleaning woman made an appearance in the film, that section of the audience erupted into hoots and jeers. As a relatively young, relatively stupid man, I learned a fairly valuable lesson about a lot of the images pushed in our culture that I was not conscious of being offensive – for me, that the cleaning woman was black was an “of course she is” – and for the black audience I was seeing the film with, that she was black was an “of course she is.” I think that kind of consent has a lot to do not only with why almost no professional critic in the United States comments on things like that, but with how audiences respond to riot police being preemptively deployed to a screening of a film about a black rapper who, I guess, owes at least part of his fame to being shot three times.

There was a murder in the lobby of a theater showing this film this weekend, the Loews Cineplex in West Homestead Pennsylvania. Read about here at The Hollywood Reporter, and though the theater has admitted that they have not been able to establish a direct connection to the film (the victim is a 30-year-old man who got into an altercation waiting for the bathroom – not exactly the typical gang-banger stereotype, but what do I know), Loews has decided to yank the picture from their lineup regardless. Here’s what else is showing a the Cineplex: A History of Violence, Capote, Chicken Little, Derailed, Doom, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, Flightplan, G, Good Night, and Good Luck., Jarhead, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, North Country, Prime, Saw II, Shopgirl, The Legend of Zorro, The Weather Man, Wallace & Gromit and Zathura.. You can probably let Shopgirl, Prime and Good Night and Good Luck. off the hook, but the rest of the pictures are at least hyperkinetic and at worst (Saw II, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Doom, Derailed) actually in love with bloodlust.

Derailed, especially (sharing the same weird “gather ye rosebuds” message as Saw II, oddly enough), is woefully nihilistic and packed with disturbing imagery – more so, I’d say, than Get Rich or Die Tryin’. But Derailed is only about a white guy killing without consequence to protect his wife and his mistress from a French ponce and a black thug (played by a rapper – the white guy’s black guy is also played by a rapper, incidentally) – while Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is a rather boring biopic about the idiotic rise of a black rapper whose success is mostly owed to chest-pounding, and pointing out the same sort of darkie menace-hysteria and feckless racism as has accompanied the opening of his film. He’s made a mint, in other words, by being a racist prick rhyming about other racist pricks – ain’t the world a complicated place?

In any case, I felt miserable and depressed during the show – with no reason to believe that it had much, if anything, to do with the film itself, I felt like it wasn’t fair to write on it until I have a chance to see it again.
Besides the flicks I’m on the hook for already, also saw Walk the Line and Harry Potter 4 - neither of which blew my skirts up though I liked the Cash biopic a little tiny bit better than I liked the Potter. Joaquin Phoenix is very good (so is Witherspoon) but to what end? Here’s the drill, say it with me: childhood-struggling early adulthood-singing-big break-marriage-drugs-groupies-singing-divorce-drugs-singing-reconciliation-rehab-singing-end titles-end credits. Here’s one-fifth of the nominees for Picture, Actor, and Actress, though, all in one place in any case and almost by default, so if you want to get a head start on looking at the films Oscar gets a woody for this year, here’s your chance. In all likelihood, however, the best picture noms are films that we haven’t seen yet (or aren’t finished): Syriana, Munich, Match Point, Memoirs of a Geisha, King Kong, The Libertine, and so on. If you think, like I do, that Oscar is a load of incestuous bullshit – consider that I’d be hard-pressed at this point to name more than one or two mainstream films that even have a chance of cracking my top-ten so far when all’s said and done (and is History of Violence even a mainstream film?). First time that’s happened in five years or so this late in the year. Fingers still crossed for King Kong, though. Three hours with a big monkey and a T-Rex and Naomi Watts? Sounds like picture of the year material to me.

Anyone taking bets on how Spielberg will provide Munich with a cozy, familial, happy ending?

For Harry Potter, well, it’s the first time that I’ve been bothered by the kids’ acting (they took a lot of acting training under Mike Newell’s dubious tutelage, and it shows in their self-consciousness and budding pretention), and it’s the first time that I’ve been bored to tears by it. The scenes don’t so much end as drop off a table to be replaced, clumsily, by more scenes that aren’t edited worth a shit and go on forever. Worst culprit is the formal ball: complete with a band that sings a "wizardy" song with "wizardy" lyrics. Yep. The setpieces are fine, but the series has reverted to looking at special effects. I loved Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter 3 - it makes the fall this time around just that much more precipitous.

The DIFF started this week on Thursday with their gala Red Carpet opening night. The press release is fairly hilarious as was local news coverage that showed first the head of the Denver Film Society, then our mayor, then a group of Japanese industry professionals that no one knew who they were, then some guy who was maybe Claude LeLouch, and then a bunch of bikers from a local Indian Motorcycle club invited to be guests at this $75/ticket (or $250/ticket) screening of The World’s Fastest Indian. Roger Donaldson flew in, I guess, and I have no reason to believe that he didn’t, at the last minute – but I didn’t see him on the “carpet” as it were. Last thing and then I’m most likely done talking about this fest except to give a few blog-exclusive capsules on some of the films we’re not going to bother covering officially, the Film Society this week announced that their plans to join in a renovation of a historic theater in Denver and share the space with a huge bookstore (the venerable Tattered Cover) and music retailer (Twist & Shout) had fallen through.

What I suspect is that the intention was to announce that negotiations on the project (touted for some time as the cornerstone restoration project in Denver’s rundown East Colfax area) had reached a fruitful resolution on opening night – instead, on the day before their 28th festival, news breaks that it’s all come tumbling down. Here’s an article from The Denver Post last week

detailing the struggles to that juncture. Everybody’s saying the right things now – and so they have for almost three decades – which is, you’ll agree, a lot of talking. Fingers are pointing: most of them at the Film Society for having bigger eyes than fundraising capability. The Rocky Mtn. News reports on the fiasco here . What’s the truth? What difference does it make? Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark – and a city the size and education level of Denver should have more serious cinema-culture/educational opportunities for the rest of the year than, oh, next to none.

Quis custodiat custodium? Who's even keeping score, anymore?

Currently reading Frances FitzGerald’s amazing Way Out There in the Blue:

Here’s this week’s capture – (2.2) – winner last week, Jack S.:
New Reviews:

A capsule for the new Lasse Hallstrom disaster, Casanova , Bill's DVD write-up for the astonishing new War of the Worlds (2005) DVD, and Alex's takedown of poor Monster High.

Hot off the Presses (updated 11/15/05):

Check out Bill's take and DVD review of Ozon's 5 x 2 - a film I missed in its eyeblink tour through Denver (sans critic's screening) and Bill's review doesn't make it much of a priority that I catch it, no matter how tantalizing the description of it as "Irreversible-lite."

Another capsule from the DIFF, this one James Ivory and Kazuo Ishiguro's The White Countess, find in it Ralph Fiennes and Natasha Richardson (and both of the Redgrave girls) in antebellum Shanghai, decomposing in the decadent way of potpourri in velvetine sitting rooms.

Hot off the Presses (updated 11/16/05):

New reviews of Richard Gere going all Kabbalah on our asses in The Bee Season, and Joaquin Phoenix going to a funeral in the suspiciously familiar Walk the Line. Over in capsules, we find Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear take the bull by the horns in The Matador.

One of my favorite reviewers, Duncan Shepard, takes a few of these films apart in ways more eloquent than I'm capable - check it out here if you promise to come back. Especially like the part about 50 Cent being a "two-bit" actor. Arcane, and funny - and true.

Hot off the Presses (updated 11/17/05):

The one you've all not been waiting for: Harry Potter 4.

35 comments:

Jack_Sommersby said...

Screenshot? You got me. Damn, Walter. If the words were handwritten and read "...you honor me..." rather than "...you rat...me", it'd be Manhunter. Going by the paper and typeface, it's from an older film, yes? Oh, rambling. I don't know what the hell it is.

And if you'd seen Roger Donaldson, Walter, I'd have had you tell him that he's got at least 1 forever-fan of his underrated White Sands and that he won the 2000 Sommersby award for Best Director for Thriteen Days.

The Captain said...

All work and no play...

No, wait, The Owl and the Pussycat!

Jack_Sommersby said...

I think that kind of consent has a lot to do not only with why almost no professional critic in the United States comments on things like that, but with how audiences respond to riot police being preemptively deployed to a screening of a film about a black rapper who, I guess, owes at least part of his fame to being shot three times.

I went to an opening-day showing of Malcolm X with my African-American history professor at a theatre in surburban Bedford (located between Dallas and Ft. Worth), and he was quite pissed at 2 police officers posted at the back of the theatre. He asked them why in the world they were there, and they were hard-pressed at coming up with an apt answer.

Chad Evan said...

Barton Fink?

Re: Get Rich or Die Trying,
I don't know that cinemas are afraid this particular movie is going to spark violence so much as they are afraid it will attract a rough crowd of young, black males. It was almost hilarious how the cinema manager in an article about the movie jumped through hoops to avoid discussing race: he said that they had increased security because they knew it was going to attract a large audience of "young males" (presumably, they also had armed guards on hand for showings of Kill Bill?)
Anyway, I'm of two minds on this whole thing--I know I'd be insulted if I were black and at, one of these showings, and the gesture is certainly built on a gross generalization, but the picture is by design going to attract a segment of the African-American population among whom crime is rampant, and most of us tend to shed our finer liberal leanings when our own well-being is on the line. It's a truly sticky situation, and I quite honestly feel uncomfortable even discussing it--but the worst thing we as a society can do is look away rather than observe and discuss.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

All the President's Men ? maybe...

tmhoover said...

Yep, there were cops at my showing of Malcolm X too (in friggin' Toronto!) The response to that movie was a whole 'nother can of racist worms, however: I remember vividly the fear and loathing with which the white press treated Spike Lee for flogging that movie, reaching its peak with Esquire's notorious "Spike Lee Hates Your Cracker Ass" article. Not that I have much love for that mediocre biopic (and you would have gotten a review out of me had the disc not been stolen by a disturbed housemate), but the simmering resentment with which Lee was treated had nothing to do with the quality of the film.

Maybe the Norman Jewison version would have made them feel all tingly- and no matter how bad the Lee picture was, just think of how much worse the Jewison take would have been. But it would have no doubt been praised for Jewison's liberal virtuousness (in Canada, if nowhere else). Because when it comes to movies about race, whites would much rather see something about themselves being good to black people than black people being good to themselves.

Nate said...

I'll take a stab - The End of the Affair?

Walter_Chaw said...

Congrats to Chad for his guess of Barton Fink (sorry for the delay, hit with a bout of sleep) - my favorite Coen Brothers film by a slim margin - nice job by Jack, identifying the age of the typeprint as well. The tally so far:

Jack S. - 1
Chad E. - 1

"Sticky" is exactly the way to describe the situation, I think, particularly when the number of theaters showing the thing was reduced dramatically by leary exhibitors and now by one more by Loews who has presumed (perhaps rightly, who knows?) that this flick had something to do with three men jumping on a fourth and killing him in their lobby. The response to this is very clearly a race thing and, y'know, I'm not even particularly against racial profiling in certain situations so color my hypocritical, I guess - but here's the rub for me: as articulated above, lots of movies attract violent young men - probably about 80% of summer films, for instance - and this weekend Derailed featured two, that's double, the rappers in its cast. I'm not ignorant of the difference between the films, but neither am I willing just to paternalize the issue - push it aside as a case of the way things should be.

To get dramatic about it, I think about Kent State a lot when I think about shit like this - I think back, too, to a CU/CSU football game at old Mile High Stadium in Denver that ended with police firing tear gas cannisters into the "visitors'" stands. Something that ended with the local bulls apologizing for what appears to have been a case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You send out the riot police and a lot of rich white kids get a little torqued off, too.

It's pretty ugly, though, when the studio distributing the 50 Cent flick actually pays for extra security at some of the theaters consenting to show it (have there never been biopics about violent men?) - because at a certain point, it starts to seem like a panderous publicity stunt. Why not put a nurse at the exits, too?

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter,

The mention of King Kong leads to my current thoughts on the pic:

I fear Jack Black's performace. I like the guy, but a) he's been very overexposed and b) I couldn't take him seriously in the trailer for the film.

Am I the only one that worries the guy was w terribly miscast?

James Allen said...

Re: Jack Black

I haven't seen the trailer, but all I can say is that I'm somewhat down about the whole thing, as I don't "get" Jack Black. In small doeses he's OK, I suppose, but in general he does absolutely nothing for me. That kind of bizarre stare he employs about a million times a film just makes me want to see him get punched in the face.

Anonymous said...

And what bizarre stare would that be? I think Jack Black gets a raw deal from the Illuminati. No, he's not the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he's a pretty decent comic actor, in my opinion.

The thing about 50 Cent's situation being "sticky" is, well, that you can't necessarily use formulas to try and figure out why one movie would invite a more violent audience than the next (this movie is violent, but then again so is this one, and here's TWO rappers in this one). Yes, Derailed had two rappers in it (speaking of profiling, were they even rappers who flaunt their "street cred" as shamelessly ass 50 Cent does? I don't know, but that's another difference to keep in mind), but come now: do you really think that anybody (well, generally-speaking) who idolizes rappers wants to go see Derailed? Of course not. Get Rich or Die Tryin', on the other hand, not only makes 50 Cent (the ultimate g-rapper/macho male avatar) the star but glamorizes his life even more than he does in his lame raps. This is more likely to get the attention of people who like to think of themselves as 50 clones, and what's more, it's the type of movie that they're allowed to get excited enough about to go see opening weekend. That doesn't mean anybody's likely to be shot, though. This kid Flowers was probably unfortunate enough to run into people he really doesn't like at the movie theaters. It's happened to us all, I'd wager, although not the shooting part.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Jeff,

Not only did I have a similar reaction to Black in the trailer, but also a similarly bad one over the CGI, which looks just so horribly fake. (Then again, the Oscar-winning F/X for the 1976 version wasn't exactly something to get out of bed for.) Black is very acceptable in short doses yet considerably less so in starring roles -- he doesn't have the variety and control to sustain a full-length characterization, so he becomes monotonous at the 20-30-minute mark. And being that Peter Jackson has never shown a particularly adriot handling of actors, I doubt Black will break expectations. But, hey, I'm always willing to be proven wrong.

Anonymous said...

P.S., and shifting gears, there's only one line of Jack Black's in the Kong trailer that you're supposed to take seriously.

Walter_Chaw said...

Love Black in Jesus' Son, Orange County, and High Fidelity - not so much in School of Rock and Envy and any extended exposure to Tenacious D. So, point supported for the most part, I think. It's not a matter of "the Illuminati" being down on the dude - if anything, he was the ultimate counter-culture hero for a while (being midwife to a roadkill bunny will do that to you) - but in long doses without a strong director, Black starts to bludgeon.

The deciding factor for me is Shallow Hal in which Black is reigned in very carefully and delivers, as a consequence I think, a very fine serio-comic performance in a severely underestimated film. He reminds of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams in that way - you need to put a bit in their mouth and lean back on 'em to make sure they don't run away with your picture, frothing and spitting all the way.

I don't know, really, how strong an actor's director is Peter Jackson (I do know that Return of the King spun right off its rails - but not in regards to the performances, exactly), but I wonder if the F/X-heaviness of King Kong won't require that Black turn it down and screw down his chops. It can't hurt that rumor from the set has it that Black was intimidated to be Jackson's first choice for the role. Maybe that humility will pull it out of him, too. I hope so.

As to cheesy F/X - I don't mind it, really, I figure even the "best" F/X (like in Lucas' prequel, I guess) looks cheesy in a few weeks (like Tron and Willow did, for instance) - proof of the pudding is the rest of it. Still a huge fan of The Frighteners by the by, so if anyone can juggle a film with 2000 F/X shots, it's the freshly-svelte Jackson. Now let's see what he can do with Halo: The Movie.

As to the chat about the difference between the 50 Cent flick and Derailed - no argument here - I mean, Christ, what kind of idiot doesn't see the difference in the two? Is there a difference between Die Tryin' and Malcolm X, though? How about something that wallows in rage and sadism like Passion of the Christ? Has there ever been a bloodier kingdom than Christianity? Why no bouncers at those screenings? How about for 8 Mile? Michael Collins?

Let's try this from a different angle - you seem to have a clear idea of who the audience is for a Jim Sheridan-directed biopic of 50 Cent (which doesn't really glorify the dude, by the way - dude's too boring for glory) - who's the audience for Derailed? For Death Wish? For Four Brothers? Who goes to vigilante movies, anyway, or flicks that depict a fairly violent "fake rape" of Jennifer Aniston?

I'm not trying to pick a fight, I'm just curious as to where PR should put their dollars when they decide on an ad campaign for the next thrill-murder-without-consequences flick. Scary shit - but at least the general consensus on Derailed has been that it's an ugly piece of work.

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter,

I've read your positive comments on Shallow Hal a few times over the years and I'm finally going to put my two cents in.

I was massively disappointed in that film.

For perspective, I love Dumb and Dumber because at the core there is some real truth about infatuation. As a teenager, I was Lloyd Christmas at times.

There's Something About Mary also captures some male truth in how it portrays the extent of weasel-ness guys can obtain in competing for a female.

But the ending of Shallow Hal where Hal finds out that Paltrow is really fat but loves her anyway, is nice sentiment, but not indicative of any male experience I know about.

I think it would have been far better with a very strong misogynistic ending.

Call me crazy, but I look for truth in Farrelly brothers movies.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Black didn't really do it for me in Shallow Hal, though I know Walter and Bill have quite the affectation for that film. (Sorry, but when a character brags that his just-deposited excrement is in the shape of a Klingon, I tend to turn the other way -- just like when a character in the recently-viewed George Washington brags that he's elated that his vegetarian excrement is blue, because of his vegeterian-and-fruit-cup diet). Black certainly doesn't annoy me when he's onscreen; heck, I welcome his presence a lot more than I did, say, Chris Farley (though I will forcefully aver that, contary to public opinion, Black Sheep is oodles better than Tommy Boy!), but in starring roles he's simply left vulnerable to eyes and ears as a talent who simply isn't commanding with that much screen time. Not surpised that Black was egged on to Jackson as his ultimate leading man, but it's a wee bit why Jackson, after his Ring success, didn't have the clout -- not to mention, the balls -- to tell the studio execs to go fuck themselves. As for The Frighteners, it still remains my favorite and only enthusiastically-receommendable Jackson film (Heavenly Creatures might have been if Jackson had managed to rein in Kate Winslet's obnoxiously-hammy performance), and if you by chance you have the special-edition LaserDisc and want to be rid of it, do so now, for, in light of the bare-bones DVD, it was going for something like $325 on eBay last I checked.

As for bad CGI, what immediately comes to mind is the godawful stuff in Backdraft; and what, in good-CGI terms, comes to mind is Peter Berg's underrated The Rundown, which showcased the most disciplined, creative use of CGI in a long time.

Chad Evan said...

Walter:
No argument concerning Christianity's bloody history, but let's be honest: it's pretty much par for the course. Two "kingdoms" that come to mind as being at least as bloody as Christendom are 1)Atheism (Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism) and 2)Islam (pity the black Sudanese, just for starters.)

Good points on Get Rich vs. all of those other movies, but as I said, I think it is undeniable that there is prejudice involved, but holding up Michael Collins as an equivalent is a straw man: there's not a whole lot of Irish terrorism in the U.S., whereas black gang violence is a fact of life. That hardly excuses racism of any kind, but the guards are it seems to me the result of excessive fear of a real phenomenon rather that hysterical fear of an imaginary boogeyman. I agree with you, however, that the arms guards probably did more harm than good, creating a hostile atmosphere that leads to self-fulfilling prophecy.

Walter_Chaw said...

Straw dog!?! Didn't you see The Devil's Own or. . . um. . . Patriot Games? Maybe we should all be looking at Harrison Ford - yeah - that's the ticket.

Interesting takes on Shallow Hal - me, it always made me feel a little misty-eyed when someone was "seeing past" Paltrow's character's obesity - especially like the dinner scene wherein daddy reveals the source of a lot of that brain tumor.

Toss me in with the defenders of Black Sheep and, more fervently, The Rundown. Peter Berg, man, he's just the kind of asshole I like. Very Bad Things is something like a masterpiece of a certain kind.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how to respond to that. But whether or not I can objectively "prove" it, I'd assume that a 50 Cent biopic is more likely to bring out people with guns than either a Malcom X or Jesus one.

And I don't think this Jim Sheridan movie was made specifically to appeal to people who like 50 Cent. If anything, I don't think that had much to do with its being made at all. It was made because, in the tradition of Hollywood, it followed in the footsteps of another commercially successful movie (8 Mile in this case) that was enough like it to imply similar bank. Probably the same thing with Derailed, although I can't understand who thought that movie was a good idea to begin with.

Seattle Jeff said...

Jack,

Just watched Heavenly Creatures the other night. I think reining in Winslet's performance would have been a mistake.

She's playing a teenage girl.

That's pretty much the beginning and end of my argument.

There's nothing "reined in" about a teenage girl, let alone one given to fantasy and murder.

Rich said...

Speaking of Jackson, what do you guys think of his early early stuff?

I think I'd watch Meet the Feebles or Braindead again sooner than any of the LOTR series. I just didn't find the Ring movies all that interesting. I don't think they were particularly bad; just lacking the imagination and wit of his earlier stuff.

Don't remember much of Heavenly Creatures and I haven't seen The Frighteners.

Dave Gibson said...

Alex--RE: Monster High

Despite your initial claim, you’d have to take the “watching your wife get raped” metaphor lightly, otherwise you wouldn’t think of attaching it to your review of Monster High-- a film I have not seen, will likely not see, and will go on record as saying that watching it is absolutely nothing like watching your wife get raped. An ugly beginning to what is otherwise a great review. Grotesque hyperbole and violent metaphor is the trademark of internet film review hackery (see: Knowles, Harry) and, no one at Film Freak is a hack—so, knock it off. Trust in your vitriol my friend--it will take you further than being gross.

Very Bad Things is so gloriously demented, that I can't help but love it--probably one of the most honest films about the ugliness lurking under the veneer of male bonding I've ever seen.

Speaking of gross, I just read Ebert's condescending little piece on the Sarah Silverman film, "Jesus Is Magic" (did he really call her "Honey"?)

Alex Jackson said...

It's funny, Meet The Peebles just crossed the line for me. It's not that I found it offensive as much as it just made me depressed.

The rabbit's sex addiction, the subsequent AIDS, the Asian Indian who gets his head stuck in his ass, the rape of the poodle and her subsequent rejection for it. It was just mean, and I think that they thought that they could protect themselves just by virtue of the fact that their film was peopled entirely with puppets. This is easily Peter Jackson's worst film and for some reason I think that he might agree.

Dead Alive is brilliant though. And Bad Taste is pretty good for a "let's all get together and make a movie to make ourselves laugh" picture. I like Jackson considerably better than Sam Raimi whose post-modern hipsterism strikes me as deeply cynical and spiritually vacant.

The gore is Jackson's film is scatological and through it's scatology it's powerfully humanistic. In a lot of ways, Dead Alive is a pretty great children's movie. I sure would have adored it as a kid.

Bill C said...

I think The Frighteners is Jackson's best picture; something melancholy brewing under its freneticism. Jackson comes to grips with his mortality in that movie (note the genuinely affecting use of "Don't Fear the Reaper" over a final image of Trini Alvarado using a blanket to pretend she's a ghost for boyfriend Michael J. Fox), which may be why so much of the Rings trilogy felt warmed-over to me.

Alex Jackson said...

Despite your initial claim, you’d have to take the “watching your wife get raped” metaphor lightly, otherwise you wouldn’t think of attaching it to your review of Monster High-- a film I have not seen, will likely not see, and will go on record as saying that watching it is absolutely nothing like watching your wife get raped. An ugly beginning to what is otherwise a great review. Grotesque hyperbole and violent metaphor is the trademark of internet film review hackery (see: Knowles, Harry) and, no one at Film Freak is a hack—so, knock it off. Trust in your vitriol my friend--it will take you further than being gross.

In my defense, I'm still very young. With youth comes, first of all, a certain callow disregard for all forms and systems of moral thought (see Trey Parker and Matt Stone). One of the formative challenges of adolescence is dealing with the impermenance of cause and effect and realizing that parents, teachers, and other authority figures are far from omnipotent. That you can do something terrible to somebody else and/or yourself and quite possible suffer no negative repercussions. Good taste is one of the many things to quickly go out of of the window. I suppose that I'm mature enough to recognize this but it seems not quite mature enough to free myself from it. (You'll also notice that I use far more profanity than any of the other contributors to the site). And so you win on that regard.


These reviews more or less go direct from my brain to yours, employing the internal censor and fearing what the feedback will be from the peanut gallery is the most surefire way to acquire writer's block.

But then again with youth also comes the idea that film is still important enough to take seriously. Embedded in your comment is this idea that all films are silly and no film could possibly be bad enough to compare to witnessing your wife's rape! I figure that in the hierachy of terrible audiovisual experiences, there has to be a nadir for really bad 80s films. Sure, I'll admit that there is more than a small degree of oneupmanship in finding new ways to describe horrible movies, but I honestly could not think of a better analogy to describe the film. I used to think that bad simply meant that you would rather be staring at a blank wall. This... I actually felt terrified watching it, cuckolded even: the rudderless goofiness seemed to be rubbing the entire act of film criticism-- of finding meaning in a meaningless world, it seemed to be rubbing it in my face. The more you think about it the more despairaging it all becomes.

Thanks for the feedback though, I really don't get nearly enough.

Rich said...

Alex:

I can certainly understand how you were depressed by Meet The Feebles. The film wallows in the grimy and grotesque. However, I think passing it off as a simple swim in the muck is a mistake.

Firstly, the sex-crazed rabbit is actually redeemed (albeit only for a few minutes before the 'finale'). You're right that for the bulk of the movie both he and the viewer believe he has AIDS (or at least Jackson's puppet equivalent - 'The Big One'). However, near the end of the film he's told it was actually a case of 'Rabbit pox' (or something like that), so his sexual promiscuity is sort of excused. Also, the poodle who is drugged by the rat is not raped, she is saved from this when the main character (Robert) bursts in (and believes she is having consentual sex). Robert is disgusted and feels betrayed, but in the end saves her. The truth about her encounter with the rat is revealed to him and they are together again.

I think these two characters, Robert and that sex-crazed rabbit, fit in with others to form a sort of broad picture of human sexuality. Also to be included in this are the gay theatre director who finally outs himself (to us) with his (hilarious) song, the 'nasal sex' anteater thing whose fantasy is enacted by starring in the 'snuff film', and the elephant who finally has to face up to the fact that he fathered an illegitimate child with the chicken. This lot of characters finally discovering and accepting their sexuality (their place in the 'Garden of Love') is contrasted by the case of the fat hippo diva who superficially has the most 'normal' of all the film's relationships, but finds out she was just used by her lover and has now been replaced. I think that perhaps with this, Jackson is saying that the worst situation is not to know love at all.

All of this is shot with dirt smeared over the lens, though, and this may be why you reacted so negatively to the film. Nearly all of these characters are painted as disgusting creatures with deviant habits, but Jackson doesn't ask us to like them just to realize that they are happier accepting their sexuality than suppressing it.

Dave Gibson said...

Yo Alex-
No need to defend yourself too
much—aside from your opening line, it’s an insightful review—though I will take strong issue with your comment that: “(Embedded in your comment) is this idea that all films are silly and no film could possibly be bad enough to compare to witnessing your wife's rape”. I’m not sure how you conjured up that particular value judgement. Use whatever language you see fit--if you t believe that using that type of analogy is the best way to express yourself—go for it. However, I’d suggest that words like “rape” (or “Nazi”, to offer another overused example) which describe a particularly heinous and horrible act can easily be devalued and trivialized when used only for effect so, you’d better be prepared to take full responsibility for what you write, without resorting to the tired defense that you’re “young and full of beans” Since this analogy can be easily cut from from review without any structural damage, I’m humbly suggesting that you really didn’t put much thought into it—since by using that type of analogy, you are asserting that watching Monster High was a horrifying, psychologically damaging event which you will remember for your entire life. If that’s actually true, I’m genuinely concerned for your health. Profanity and scatological rhetoric can be used to great effect (“South Park” etc) or wielded as the first resort of a dull mind (Aint It Cool). There are plenty of web reviewers who truck in loving descriptions of corn-studded shit in order to make their inane points, and I can heartily assert that, unlike you, not one of these reviewers can write worth a fart.

By the way, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are older than I am.

Keep rockin’.

Alex Jackson said...

“(Embedded in your comment) is this idea that all films are silly and no film could possibly be bad enough to compare to witnessing your wife's rape”. I’m not sure how you conjured up that particular value judgement. Use whatever language you see fit--if you t believe that using that type of analogy is the best way to express yourself—go for it. However, I’d suggest that words like “rape” (or “Nazi”, to offer another overused example) which describe a particularly heinous and horrible act can easily be devalued and trivialized when used only for effect so, you’d better be prepared to take full responsibility for what you write, without resorting to the tired defense that you’re “young and full of beans” Since this analogy can be easily cut from from review without any structural damage, I’m humbly suggesting that you really didn’t put much thought into it—since by using that type of analogy, you are asserting that watching Monster High was a horrifying, psychologically damaging event which you will remember for your entire life. If that’s actually true, I’m genuinely concerned for your health.

You know what, you're right, I should stand by myself. What use are words if they aren't used for effect? Rape and Nazism have long since been devalued as concepts without my help. (I mean why didn't I mention the Sarah Silverman thing before? "I was raped by my doctor. Which for a Jewish girl is kind of a bittersweet experience". C'mon!)

Upon your suggestion I did read the first paragraph without the first sentence and I certainly felt that it was missing something essential in conveying my hatred toward the movie. I'll admit that I've been able to move on from seeing Monster High; but "horrifying" and "psychologically damaging", yeah that still fits the bill.

Part of me still thinks that the remark was callow and immature and I wonder if I really would have been so glib if something like that actually happened to me, but yeah overall, I have no regrets. I think I made the right choice in that opening line.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Jeff,

Just because the Winslet character is wild and uninhibited, that doesn't necessarily mean that the performance itself isn't privy to discipline. I caught Winslet "acting" too much of the time, even in light of her eccentric, striving-for-attention character, and it threw me right out of the film too much of the time. Drew Barrymore, who I'm not particularly enamored of, gave a superb, much-better performance of an attention-striving extrovert in Mad Love.

Walter,

Another Black Sheep fan, eh? Good to know. So it wouldn't be lost on you if I quoted out of the blue, "It's a wonder we can't trust a guy who lives in a school bus surrounded by land mines."

jer fairall said...

Black Sheep has fans?! Walter Chaw and Jack Sommersby are among them?!?! Granted, all I know of the film is Siskel and Ebert's review of it, in which Gene Siskel admitted that it was only the second film in his professional career that he walked out of (the other being something called The Million Dollar Duck). And this was on the very same show that Ebert persuaded him to change his Thumbs Up vote on Broken Arrow. Man, I miss Siskel.

Tommy Boy, though, is kinda funny.

Dave Gibson said...

With comedy, sometimes all that matters is whether you laugh or you don't. I've always loved Chris Farley since his "Motivational Speaker" left me in stiches many Saturdays ago. Also recall that defining moment when this particular film snob found himself howling at Billy Madison--you know what? I still do. Dig Sandler despite "The Longest Yard" God, I even tried to like "Spanglish" (no luck).I'd nod my head to any and all assertions that these two flicks are slapdash and puerile--but, so were the Marx Brothers--and, god help me--Gary Busey is just the shit (Point Break? Lethal Weapon? Awesome junk)
On the other hand, I don't particularly think Chris Rock is all that funny (sacrilege!).

Walter_Chaw said...

Agreed on the "laugh test" - sometimes I go against it when I laugh at something that makes me sick. I guess it's the kind of laughter that matters to me - but I've often defended a comedy (like Black Sheep for instance) with a "hey, I laughed." There's no accounting for taste, I guess - in retrospect, I feel like giving Old School better than I did. If only for that scene where Ferrell sings "Dust in the Wind" at Blue's funeral.

And Chris Rock has no place in the movies - none. I do like his stand-up, though, and his television projects have, by and large, seemed like successes to me. His new show seems sorta safe in a way that I get bored with pretty quickly, but the show he did for HBO was good.

James Allen said...

Aside:
I wonder how long these threads last after the next one has begun? Is anyone going to read this? Oh, well.

Re: Chris Rock

The Trouble with Chris

I have been a fan of Chris Rock's stand-up for years, but I think his level of celebrity, domesticism, and Hollywood has slowly but surely ruined him. Even his last stand-up special for HBO ("Never Scared") came up short in many departments for me. The edge was mostly missing, the white/black dictomy jokes tired and unincisive.

Chris Rock, the Hollywood writer/director/star is a disaster. He simply has nothing to say in the film form (Head of State, for example, was amazingly toothless satire), his direction is slack, his acting mannered and lifeless. I don't blame him for trying, though, for I know the pay is good.

"Everyone Hates Chris," is, as you say Walt, safe as all hell and even more infuriating to me. And of course it's well praised, given that it's still better than most of the shitty sit-coms on TV. The potential is there still, so maybe they'll use it if it goes to a second of third season.

I miss the days of his HBO talk show, which was Chris at his most personable and fun. It seems the less he gets filtered through too much processing, the better he is.

Walter_Chaw said...

James:

Good Q - I don't know how long these threads go - but I usually glance at the tallies of the last three or so just to see if there are a few late-shots.

The best thing I've seen from Rock lately - and this makes your point, I think - is his riff on "who the F is Jude Law" during his Oscar's gig. I also liked his "if you can't get Russell Crowe. . . wait." riff - both of which seemed to be born of a little desperation. You're doing something right when you piss off Sean Penn.

Rock in movies, as you say, is a total fucking disaster. Didn't even like his voice work on Madagascar. Not even the potential there for him to be something on the big screen. He's a small-screen vampire. . . maybe even a night-club, small-venue vampire. Anything else turns him into a pile of ash.

Chad Evan said...

Head of State might be the worst movie I've ever seen--incompetently directed, painfully unfunny, and, as stated above, toothless as satire. I howled with laughter upon seeing the credit A Film by Chris Rock--talk about self-incrimination. Also, I don't think he's ever been good in an acting role, ever. He should really stick to stand up.