November 21, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Attended the closing night of the Denver International Film Festival last night to see Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain - something I was forced to do when Focus Features and the Denver Film Society denied me access to a press screening a couple of weeks ago. Before the closing night show, a parade of DFS presenters announced the winners of this year’s juried awards. The jury that I was on: the Kieslowski award for best foreign picture, had a conference call on Saturday morning that I wasn’t told about – and the level of hostility greeting my query about it (about an hour after the event), told me that my making this call, on my own, about something that they should have been calling me about was proof, somehow, that the bad communication was all my fault.

I had to ask a week previous for a screener for the last entry, informing them at that time that I hadn’t been getting any emails: including an invitation to a dinner for the jurists that took place earlier in the week, including a complete guest list, including any responses to my two queries about screeners for Chinese films and something called Fateless that I'd intended to cover. . . on and on.

I’m not arrogant enough to believe that the DFS are being vindictive because of two earlier blog pieces about the failings of this year’s festival – so maybe it is as I was told, something wrong with the email system (probably mine) and nothing personal. I’m willing to forget that the only publicist who talked to me this year during the fest was from out of town and had worked with me in the past and had somehow not forgotten my cell phone number after a year of not using it (nor my work email, nor my home phone) to get in touch with me about coverage of her clients and so on. And I'm willing to believe that sometimes computers are weird and I might get all the festival daily PR pieces with no problem, but none of the internal memos that would have meant greater participation.
I'm going to go with the idea that since I made the mistake of declaring that we’re not going to do much coverage this year of a subpar fest that I’ve fallen right off the call-back/follow-up list during the one time of the year that they would have anything to call me about. It's only fair, in all honesty, that if I've given up on them that they give up on me as well.

But anyway, the closing night, and this is a problem for me: Al Maysles is there to present the documentary award named after him and was introduced as, along with his brother David, the inventor of cinema verite. An assertion wrong and potentially insulting to a legendary documentary filmmaker, wouldn't you suppose? I think the term is “direct cinema” and, y’know, it ain’t the same thing because among other things, one refers to fiction, and the other to non-fiction.
We can talk about the slipperiness of that distinction, but we should make the distinction. Particularly with Mr. Maysles who makes the distinction so sharply.

It’s not important to everyone, of course – to most it will appear to be picking nits – but it should be important in this setting, and in this company.

Okay, maybe we should put the egos on hold and start to talk about how to turn the ship around instead. Jesus, look at what I say when no one’s asking – can you imagine if someone asked?

Brokeback Mountain is a disappointment, by the way. Middlebrow and squeamish – not in its sex scenes which are puzzlingly brutal – but in the way it puts an exclamation point behind every gay moment. If you’re going to make a film about aliens, just make a science fiction piece – romances should be about people. At least it’s better, a little, than Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha which, besides describing one character as a war hero for being injured in the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (the sort of thing that irks me if no one else except two billion other Chinamen), has Chinese woman Zhang Ziyi and Malaysian-born Michelle Yeoh cast as Japanese Geishas. It’s the equivalent, not to put too fine a point on it, of a fine Jewish actress happily playing a heroic Nazi prostitute – bless Maggie Cheung for turning down the opportunity to sell out her culture. (And for what? Memoirs of a Freakin-Geisha? There’s not even the question of subversion here.) At least they give Zhang a pair of blue contact lenses, right? Racial tensions aside, it’s silly in an unfortunate po-mo way in that it could’ve been called “The Katie Holmes Story” for its tale of a little girl who idolizes a grown man and, after her breasts are no longer sore from growing, seduces and marries him! Hurray!

Biggest non-surprise: there’s a voiceover narration. Biggest surprise: it’s not Morgan Freeman doing it.

Four speaking engagements: the first, The Sixth Sense as part of a ghost series, shepherding in autumn to the Rockies. Gilpin County, I should mention, where I do a lot of these shows, is at an altitude of about 8,900 feet, meaning that I get really light-headed and confused sometimes. Even more so when I’m up there, even. A close scrutiny of the film, at times scene-by-scene, reveals an incredibly arrogant picture as well as an amateurishly-directed one. Lots of push-ins and over-scoring take on the burden of the emotionality of the piece, leaving the twist as all that’s left to consider. Saving it on not-too-close looks at the mechanics of the picture are the performances of Willis, Osment, and especially Toni Collette. It can only be read in any case through the prism of a film about the sacred-ness and the need to protect the cult of childhood – but even that is betrayed by the bully humiliation at its conclusion: a devouring need by Shyamalan to appease as broad an audience as absolutely possible. My estimation of the picture has dropped precipitously after this engagement – but my fascination with its popularity at the epicenter of our most recent fin de siecles is stoked hotter.

Next, The Others - a beautifully-directed picture that uses negative space and the template of The Innocents to lovely effect. It’s scarier than I remembered, as well, and Kidman – doing the film so soon after her divorce and a highly-publicized miscarriage – turns in the first of a series of courageous performances. Then, A Tale of Two Sisters: the culmination of all the films of the series (The Innocents, The Haunting, The Sixth Sense, and The Others) in its use of an isolated house used as a metaphor for a woman’s psycho-sexual traumas and repressions; the oppression of children; striking use of color; cold spots; inciting events; on and on. And all of it skewed ever so subtly south of true by its distinctly Asian sensibility. Of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most tactile; flat out gorgeous pictures of the last several years.
Did a show, too, for the Denver branch, of Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain.

Before it, I realized that I had loaned out my copy and so went to the local video store in search of a copy. They had it, but only on a battered VHS copy – so I went to Blockbuster. . . to Blockbusters: all four of them that are within about a three-mile radius of where I am – not a one of them had it. One of them stocked it, but it was “lost” and it was an old issue of it in any case (though it would have done). None of the people in any of the Blockbusters seemed to have any idea what I was talking about when I asked for it. You know, I didn’t know that that store only had categories for “Drama, Comedy, Action, Horror, Family, New Release,” sometimes “Foreign” and then the inexplicable “Special Interest” which includes exercise videos and Errol Morris. There’s a lot of talk lately about Blockbuster having to declare bankruptcy any day now – for all the harm that they’ve done catering to what people “want” (editing movies, putting indie video stores out of business, etc), they well and truly deserve everything that happens to them and their brand.

But the show itself: afterwards, a young woman with her young daughter contributed to the discussion by saying that her mother used to sing her Freed & Brown’s songbook, a lot of it used in this picture (folks who diss Moulin Rouge! for mining top 40 – as if there aren’t other things to diss the film for – look no farther than Singin’ in the Rain for the template) – and that she wanted to experience (and share with her own daughter), and to understand what it was like to hear the tunes in a public setting with a group of others. (“And did you?” “Oh, yes.”) Of the 60 or so in the audience (a surprisingly small number, but it did compete with the very popular festival – more tickets sold this year than ever crows the DFS! Meaning, of course, that it’s good!) only one hadn’t seen the film before. I don’t think that it’s a perfect film, but I do feel like every time Kelly performs in the puddles and on the lampposts of MGM’s ‘50s backlot, that it’s the first time. Ground zero of a landmark in our popular culture. Oh what a glorious feeling.

Saw a screening of Rent, packed with the public and theater geeks who knew every single word (and sang along! joy!), which did not prevent eight lucky walkouts. Because I’m guessing this was largely a theater-crowd, it was relatively well-behaved (save the sing-alongs, of course), but I should say that the kid taking tickets at the door to the Denver Pavilions was the rudest little punk I’ve ever had the misfortune of asking a question.

- Hi, I’m here for the screening of. . .
- Harry Potter? Get in line over there.
- No, Rent.
- Where’s your ticket?
- I’m a member of the press.
- Stand over there. And you have to stand behind those people.
- Can I talk to your manager?
- You don’t need to talk to the manager.
- Can I talk to the publicist?
- She’s not here.
- But the show’s starting, when will she be back?
- Don’t know, don’t care.
- What theater is it showing in?
- Don’t know, don’t care.

At which point I walked past him, asked his manager (who was about fifteen in a bad suit and didn’t give a shit, either), and then went and watched the film. The creme? The little punk didn’t care that I’d walked over to his manager. There are a lot of reasons that people don’t go to the movies anymore. Here’s another one. Customer service is non-fucking-existent at these places: they pay minimum wage to these little assholes and then they pay minimum wage plus a dollar to their managers – all of whom spend detention after school together and could give a fuck about customer retention and satisfaction. I’ve heard stories about this kid before: that he’s still gainfully employed at this establishment tells me that there’s a bad case of institutional rot going on here and why in heaven’s name would anyone looking to have a nice evening out even think about going to the movies here?

And speaking of getting bent over a turnstile, Rent made most of my orifices bleed. Why is it that people with AIDS are canonized? I’m not assuming that they’re not saints, see, but why must I be assured that they are? Between this and Brokeback Mountain, I’m still waiting to see a high-profile film that doesn’t treat gayness as some kind of “neat” thing, something quaint and adorable, some sort of wondrous theme park ride instead of just a matter of banal fact. I’ve known a few gay gents and not a one of them struck me as particularly dazzled by the fact of homosexuality. I've been Chinese now for 32 years and not once has a mystical gong gone off when I've come into a room. I’m waiting, in other words, to see a gay movie that isn’t just about being gay – can’t gay men and women on film have relationships that are every bit as boring and dysfunctional as breeders? Or must they all end in disease and outrageously non-PC murder subsequent to hilarious sequences where they’re walked in on by their friends and family? Catch a scene in Brokeback Mountain where you’re encouraged to have a chuckle at the expense of a totally innocent character (who’s later vilified again at the weirdest time for no reason at all). At least they’re not helper elves in these pictures – or quirky best friends. Oh, wait. Rent. Never mind.

Still reading FitzGerald's astounding Way Out There in the Blue - here's this week's screen capture (2.3) - I believe the tally so far is Jack S. - 1 and Chad E. - 1:

Incidentally, Bill's long-awaited (by me and anyone else in the know) take on the first season of "Leave it to Beaver" is in the can and on the site. Just as he opened my eyes to John Hughes in the years that I've been familiar with his writing, he's opened my eyes to "Leave it to Beaver" - and there may be no more important work done on either than right here in our own, as they say, backyard. The review is well worth the wait.

And how much is left that you can say that about?

Hot off the Presses - November 23, 2005

Just in time for Walk the Line, Travis kicks La Bamba around for a while, but finds a little soul in The Buddy Holly Story before doing yeoman's work on Wim Wender's compromised noir, Hammett.

And then there was Rent. Kudos, by the way, to Caption Boy who has really outdone himself with the hilarious, and point-on "AIDS of Aquarius" line. That's really fucking brilliant - you can (and oughtta, probably) just skip the review body as these six syllables do all the slaying that needs to be done.

Hot off the Presses - November 24, 2005

We wrap up the 28th DIFF with a capsule of something Ebert calls "another Sundance gem" which, if it sounds backhanded, might only sound that way to a genuine asshole like me: Love, Ludlow. I had intended on wrapping with a review of Lars Von Trier's Manderlay or the Holocaust drama Fateless, but scheduling being what it was, missed both screenings. Our doing this picture is a testament to creative and persistent PR as not only did the team behind it send me a screener, but the publicist sent a personal note as follow-up and the screenwriter sent a handwritten, and personal again, postcard! Critics are sort of used to being reviled and ignored - when you get this kind of attention, it doesn't always get results, but it's always appreciated. I was glad that a combination of factors this year opened a slot for the picture. It's not great, but it's not awful, either, and I'm not sorry to have seen it.

Over in the other column, Hans Petter Moland's Malick-produced The Beautiful Country comes to DVD and, in a rare (for a reason: I suck at them) happening, I write up the DVD specs on the new, infernal, Cheaper by the Dozen: Baker's Dozen Edition.

Hot off the Presses - November 26, 2005

Travis continues his Jerry Lewis safari with The Bellboy and my interview with Lodge Kerrigan goes live.

125 comments:

Vikram said...

Walter, your point about the casting in Memoirs of a Geisha is an interesting one. I can understand that one can't always cast along national or racial bloodlines but do you know if they even tried to cast Japanese actors? I wonder if the people who cast the movie even thought about or knew consciously what the implications of casting the film the way they did for any amount of time.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Talking of horror films, saw Ravenous tonight. great flick. It's a less haunting Zero Kelvin really. What really stuck out for me though was the soundtrack, I was half-expecting it to be Phillip Glass. Loved this dialogue:

Morality. The last bastion of a coward.

bhuvan said...

The pic: a colorized version of Polanski's KNIFE IN THE WATER? ;-)

Bill C said...

Danke for the "Beav" props. Hard review to write because with five more seasons to go, was afraid of blowing my wad.

And bhuvan, if my mental guess is correct, how close you are...

tim r said...

The grab is Alain Delon as one Tom Ripley, in Rene Clement's Plein soleil. Wonderful movie.

Alex Jackson said...

Walter, your point about the casting in Memoirs of a Geisha is an interesting one. I can understand that one can't always cast along national or racial bloodlines but do you know if they even tried to cast Japanese actors? I wonder if the people who cast the movie even thought about or knew consciously what the implications of casting the film the way they did for any amount of time.

I remember Roger Ebert poo-pooing the idea in his Answer Man column that they should have gotten a Japanese actor arguing that Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh are the world's most well-known and marketable Asian actors. Uh, yeah.

It's probably worse than having a Jewish actress playing a heroic Nazi prostitute; the war crimes of the Japanese against the Chinese are considerably more underexposed and there is a greater threat that they'll be marginalized and white-washed.

That Leave it to Beaver review is award-winning material. If it doesn't give you the urge to Netflix the series, nothing will.

Jack_Sommersby said...

bhuvan,

If it were, Walter would have written a caption below that read, "What the hell is the world coming to!?

Jeremiah Kipp said...

Walter:

For God's sake, pull yourself together, man. I continue to greatly admire your reviews and interviews, even when I strongly disagree with the content -- and respect your integrity as a critic. But your blog has been an excuse to sound off about things that irritate you about the state of the movie industry and movie theater chains. Readers seem to tune in to either commiserate or watch the train wreck.

My advice: stop going to the movies so much. Read a book by George Eliot. Go to the museum. Watch nothing but Buster Keaton movies for a week. Do something to restore your faith in art, for God's sake!

What sort of cultural obligation are you hoping to accomplish by deliberately putting yourself through the paces and watching movies you know will induce your misery? Or going back to certain industry professionals with the false hope that they won't be vultures this time?

Amidst all this, you made a great and prescient point about the casting in "Memoirs of a Geisha" that few cultural commentators will make reference to. For that, and all the rest, I remain grateful for your place in the film critic community -- a group I am often sour grapes about myself.

Thanks for being there -- and for crying out loud, get a grip, maaaan!

Yours in candor,
Jeremiah

Bemis said...

While this does not change the main issue, I just wanted to note that Werner Klemperer was Jewish.

Walter_Chaw said...

Huzzah Tim R.! The grab is from Purple Noon - the antidote to The Talented Mr. Ripley (and so is Ripley's Game) - must sees if you ain't.

Jeremiah K. - you don't know how right you are - this gig is killing my soul a little and I'm lookin' at this blog here as either therapy to rejuvenate the tanks or explanation for why, suddenly, I'm no longer writing reviews on the black version of Mr. Ed: The Movie or the white version of What's Happenin'?. You get involved in this gig, I think, because you love movies enough to put yourself on the line for them - doesn't take a lot of time to realize that that love isn't reciprocated.

Better to cut back to one or two a week than to cut out, as they say.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Kipp's work, by the way, he does a lot of stand-out stuff for Fangoria and Slant Magazine.

H-Man:
Ravenous is awesome - but I really appreciate your mention of Zero Kelvin. What a movie that is - what's Stellan Skarsgaard doin' nowadays, anyway?

The Captain said...

Hmmm. Jeremiah, we've been through this before. Most of us here really enjoy what Walter has to say here, in this blog - I don't think anyone would disagree that it's occasionally indulgent, but hardly masturbation - we're tuning in to this, his blog, to read about his life as a critic beyond just the reviews, and that's what we get. None of the 'blogging' (hate that word) is empty outputting, and although there's anger on occasion there is passion to it and underlying points/issues/ideas to be addressed as well.

Ultimately, I know the reaction to the writing will come down to personal preference, same with the reviews, and oft people are put-off by venom and other uneasiness, but I think if Walter self-censored anything, then we'd all be missing out.

Personally, I think it's not just the anger that bothers some people, but the difference in reaction to something that we'd take with a grain of salt, found to be mutinous here. To some it might not reflect so well on the person we all read, like and respect, but as explained through the articulation I don't think that the feelings are not unfounded. I draw attention to Ebert's writing, which tends to be painfully "safe" and lacking the passion and insight that Walter creates through his gig - Walter's work is much more exciting than taking a more crowd-pleasing route in discussing film and the surrounding terrain.

(Hope this makes sense, and isn't too wordy, masturbatory or plain old ass-kissing-ery.)

Walter_Chaw said...

Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh are the world's most well-known and marketable Asian actors. Uh, yeah.

Alex:
Clearly, that really disturbs the fuck out of me. So what we're talking about here is marketability? I'm not saying that's not why they were cast, I'm wondering why it is they took the roles - and Ebert making this apology on behalf of studio groupthink is a large neon flashing sign pointing to what's gone sour in his reviewership. I know that no one cares about my falling out with the Denver Film Society (I'd be worried if someone did, after all), but whenever your guardians of the medium begin to point to box office as the indicator of quality then you need to be very, very worried. Or very, very tired of fighting a losing fight.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, the most respectful major Hollywood movie that protrayed a gay couple in a respectful way may have been Big Daddy.

Bill C said...

Reminds me, just saw Happy Endings--Uncle Tom-ism at its finest.

Anonymous said...

about Blockbuster, I remember some comedian had a thing about how they have a thousand titles and three hundred of them are [insert title here of latest megadollar release]. What really bothers me is that all those copies of DVDs eventually find their way into their 3-for-$25 or 2-for-$20 cutout bins. I remember that there were some accounting discrepancies for home video grosses for The Incredibles and Shrek 2 and wondered if the big retailers like this and Wal-Mart have a lot to do with that bookkeeping difficulty.

What is nice, though, is that we can sometimes benefit from that. We bought Ravenous from our Blockbuster for $7.00. I'm not sorry to hear that they're having trouble staying afloat, though. Schadenfreude.

Dave Gibson said...

The depiction and attitudes towards gays in mainstream films and television have markedly improved since the eighties (“You’re not going to tell me you’re a faggot are you?”-Teen Wolf) but, I doubt that mainstream films will be diverting much from the iconic images of gay people as either sexless, queenish neighbours or Versace-clad versions of the “noble savage” so beloved by Hollywood. Of course, the concept that we’re supposed to treat the idea of GAY COWBOYS!!! as deeply subversive, is pretty ridiculous in the first place —but, I shall reserve judgment until I’ve seen the flick. As for Ebert’s apologia for the casting of “Memoirs of a Geisha”—well, that’s just Rog up to his usual tricks—(check out his review of “The Weather Man” for more studio pandering disguised as transgressive critique) he sure got into a lather about the city of Toronto standing in as his beloved Chicago for Rob Marshall’s last movie.

The customer service at movie theatres is abominable. I think it’s probably not much different than the service at any major corporate chain—but, the theatres seem to breed a unique type of bored incompetence. On the occasions I have an inexplicable need for a six-dollar Coke—the concession dude usually snarls at my unjust demand that he: “Fill the cup”. And, for that age-old policy of retaining your ticket stub? Fuck that—is there really a rash of thirtysomething guys sneaking into the 3pm Showing of “Shopgirl”? Sigh.

Alex Jackson said...

Ironically, the most respectful major Hollywood movie that protrayed a gay couple in a respectful way may have been Big Daddy.

Meh. That was pretty dumb; overly self-reflexive on Sandler's part in defending against charges of homophobia.

"Look, I don't hate gays! I mean look at these guys going at it!"

L.I.E. and Love and Death on Long Island are great "gay" movies because you kind of forget that they're gay. And then when you acknowledge that they're gay, you realize that they couldn't have been made about straight characters. And that's really where "gay" cinema should want to be. Universal and free from tokenism or idealization, but with a unique sense of identity all the same.

Anonymous said...

Whatever Sandler tried to do in Big Daddy, if anything, it was effectively destroyed by The Longest Yard, which gets my vote for worst of the year for its utterly disgusting displays of macho superiority and proudly unmasked misogyny. Tracy Morgan is playing a gay guy, get it?

-- Ian

Alex Jackson said...

Here's the Answer Man segment for the interested. To be fair he only said this about Zhang, but I would think that it goes for Yeoh too.

Why would they agree to be in the film? Because neither of them have ever played the lead in an American film I suppose.

Actual quote from Zhang from the IMDB: "I always think it's really hard if you are Asian or Chinese to be really in Hollywood. There are not so many really great characters for you. I always think you are lucky to get offered [something like] 'Memoirs of a Geisha', but I don't think it will happen all the time."

Yeah, that Roger. Thirty years of this and I guess you just get to embracing the cynicism of the process.

Anonymous said...

Ever look stuff up?

Wikipedia: "Cinéma vérité is a style of filmmaking, combining naturalistic techniques that originated in documentary filmmaking..."

About.com: "Cinema verite exists in both documentary and fiction filmmaking..."

About.com: "Cinema verite documentary filmmakers include... Albert and David Maysles..."

Bill C said...

Ever post sarcasm non-anonymously?

Speaking for myself, I tend to not to consider About.com as a go-to authority on cinema verite. And Wikipedia confirms Walter's assertion that cinema verite is a method of fiction filmmaking that employs documentary technique.

Anonymous said...

Ever get busted by an anonymous studio lawyer for renting a VHS tape from Blockbuster to show at a public library?

Bill C said...

Ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah - see - the tape wasn't rented for show at a public library. I'm not sure how you got that from the post unless you were just trying to be an asshole on purpose.

I just like to research a little before presentations by watching the film again - funny little habit, isn't it. And preferably on DVD so that I can mark time counts on scenes that we can go to during discussion for examples of style or theme. You make an accusation like this, oh brave anonymous poster (you work for the film society by any chance? If you do, you can just put in a phone call to the DPL - they're not the ones that show things on VHS, by the way, but the film society has been known to on occasion without telling their audiences - and then without refunding admissions - examples? The entire Fellini retrospective last year didn't materialize and you showed 8 1/2 on V-fucking-H-S - and this year, you lost the print to the Neil Jordan film for an hour and begged for a VHS Screener Tape to exhibit in its place) and you impugn dozens of people besides me who have jumped, believe me, through every single legal hoop. They've purchased license and permission (it's pretty easy for a public library to do so) to exhibit every single one of the films that they show. It's always on DVD (they don't have the capacity to project on VHS and only a pinhead would want to - or want to see the result) - and all the shows are always very, very publicized in print and radio. Funny how you accuse me of talking out of my ass.

So, anonymous studio lawyer (who are they giving JDs to anymore? hell, that's right, the same people they always did), I gotta thank you for being such a beauty and proving with your inferences, your lack of reading comprehension, your personal and pointed ugliness that I'm not exagerrating one miserable thing about this miserable fucking job. It's not the movies, it's the ignorance and pettiness of all the goddamn people.

Last - whatever you want to say about CV - Al Maysles refers to what he does as "Direct Cinema" and he makes the distinction himself. More, he would never say that he invented Verite - though he does claim DC as his and his brother's.

I do like this piece about the Maysles Brothers from Bill Moyer's Now series.

From it:

"Their style came to be known as "direct cinema," a nonfiction variation on French cinema verite."

In speaking with Mr. Maysles on three separate occasions in the last year - the conversation turned often to himself, Robert Drew, D.A. Pennabaker - always in reference to DC and not CV. In fact, a proposed collaboration with Godard in the sixties was, in his words, an "interesting attempt to marry the theories of cinema verite with direct cinema."

The horses mouth - and probably how he would have preferred to have been introduced.

Chad Evan said...

Anonymous:
I don't have the authority to tell anyone how to act around here, but this blog has been remarkably free of the pettiness and adolescent bravado that mark so much internet discourse, and I pray it stays that way. Please learn how to act.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Walter,

Just wanted to say that this is my first time responding to your blog. I've read you for three years now and you've changed the ways I think about movies.

Now that the bj is over...

I am currently a theater employee. I have written a film, I have been a movie critic, and now I'm here. And I do agree, most of the service is terrible. I try to go out of my way to make people welcome, knowing where every film is, honoring the tickets of all and making sure that everything moves forward in an admirable fashion. I also find time to give my own opinion on what's a good film in a civilized, quiet manner, and working at a 21 theater Loews, that's a big deal. I'd like to think that, while I'm not working there for the long term, I can influence those around me to improve their customer service. Sorry for the shitty time you had, and the declining theater results suggests you are far from alone.

Walter_Chaw said...

By the way - in poring over your links, mystery guy, I'm still looking for the "Al Maysles invented cinema verite" line that would have spurred the introduction. I'm still going to guess that you're with the DFS somehow because, frankly, I can't think of one other group of "film aficionados" in the known universe who would seize on the idea of projecting a VHS tape in a public venue as a super idea.

Here's a link that allows for the possibility for parallel development of verite and direct cinema.

Here's one that refers to the Maysles' body of work as a whole.

Here's one to an article published at Turner Classic Movies that discusses in brief the Maysles' self-dubbed "Direct Cinema method"

Here's an interview with Al Maysles during a UCLA workshop in 1998 in which he refers to his theory as one that "came about as America's response to Jean Rouch's cinema verite"

Here's a listing for a 2003 show of Charlotte Zwerin's work with the Maysles and by herself at the Museum of Modern Art ("the filmmaking group that pioneered “direct cinema” in America").

Here's a similar listing for Maysles at the 30th Toronto International Film Festival.

And a nice article from Moviemaker Magazine that actually takes a minute to draw the distinction between verite and Direct Cinema: "Yet the Maysles’ approach differs from other verité documentarians, moviemakers like Frederick Wiseman, in that the material which is recorded so passively and objectively with the camera is often shaped into a more dramatic and identifiably pointed whole in the editing room, incorporating some techniques that other verité documentarians might be relucant to embrace (on the commentary track for the Criterion Collection DVD of Gimme Shelter, co-director Zwerin even expresses some ambivalence toward the infamous climactic freeze-frame/zoom on Mick Jagger)."

Wow, you're right, it is fun to look things up. But more than just making a point, it's interesting reading about one of the few verifiable American filmmaking legends still kicking.

Anonymous said...

Amazing stuff about "Leave it to Beaver". Maybe the best that I ever read about any show from that period or on dvd.

It looks like some people do refer to cinema verite in regards to documentaries, but in practice, from what little I understand, you should be more specific. It looks like Maylsles is pretty clear on what he thinks he represents anyhow.

Purple Noon is one of my all time favorite movies. Keep up the great work, it makes my work day a lot shorter.

- Paul

Scott said...

Walter,

I'm not sure what to make of your comments regarding Maggie Cheung 'not selling out her culture'.

I lived in Japan for four years, and am under no illusions as to the Japanese ability to whitewash the past. I read THE RAPE OF NANJING, so I have at least a little bit of knowledge of what went down there. (Boy, the above sounds pretentious, but there it is.)

But I don't see how a non-Japanese actress playing a Japanese role in any way diminishes their own culture. (I, too, think it was foolish to cast non-Japanese in the part, given how complex and subtle the world of the Japanese geisha is, but that's the studio's decision.)

I'm not sure I understand your logic. Should no Asian actor or actress ever participate in any Japanese production because of World War II sins, occupations, tyrnannies? Should nobody in Asia every do business with Japan until they apologize again and again for what went down? Should you not rent KIKUJIRO? Should Jews not participate in German works of theatre or film? Where does it end?

Perhaps I'm overextending your point to the point of absurdity, but it seems to me a little bit off the mark. Having lived in Asia for the past seven years (Japan, Cambodia, Philippines), I recognize the animosity and face-saving that still prevents various cultures from reconciling with each other. But these are actors acting in an international production at the start of the 21st century. What would boycotting a film with Japanese subject matter actually prove? That we hang on to the grudges of our grandparents?

I (think I) understand the intent behind your comment, and, not being Chinese, I can't pretend to fully appreciate the complexities of other Asian countries (and their diasporas') relationship to Japan.

It leads to a larger discussion, I think -- Can a Malaysian play a Japanese? Can a young man play an old man? Can a lefty play a right? A black a white? Where do we differentiate between who can play what -- at age, race, ethnicity, sexuality?

Hope I made sense, and I do understand the sentiment behind your reaction. These are issues that us white folks don't deal with or think about all too much, like it or not, so your willingness to air your very real, personal viewpoint in a public forum is very much appreciated.

Nate said...

Walter,

I'm disappointed that you were disappointed with Brokeback Mountain, though I still have high hopes for it myself. Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet is probably my favorite gay film, though many critics found it asinine and annoying. I find it absolutely true, and I have a hunch that Brokeback will work for me (the preview alone makes my husband tear up).

As for your general hopes for a gay film in which being gay is not the central issue, the country has a long way to go before it can look at gay people as "normal" - in a time when we're observed as godless heathens, why on earth would anybody make a movie about how boring and common most of us are? In spirit, I agree with you, but you're being too idealistic for 2005. There are many, many stories to be mined from the simple fact that gays are still vehemently despised by the majority of our citizens and political leaders.

Funny, as I type this there's some ridiculous "news" item on MSNBC about how gay men tend to have strange breeds of dogs.

Walter_Chaw said...

Nate:
Love Wedding Banquet. Predictable, formulaic in a lot of ways, but it felt honest to me - and true in a sense more essential than Brokeback which, by the end, started to feel a little creepy and fetishistic. I actually shed a few tears each time I watch Wedding Banquet because of the acceptance at the end of the parents - something I was always looking for from my own.

Check back, though, I wanna know your thoughts on it.

As to being too optimistic for 2005. . . yeah, you're right. Just got back from The Producers and holy shit. Stone age.

Scott:
I have no real problems with Chinese playing Japanese roles, I guess, in a general sense. I mean, black people playing white people is a no-no, right - and white playing black? (And whites haven't played Asians since 1970 or so - longer ago than whites playing blacks (Soul Man) and such) - and of course, gays play straight and heteros camp it up and that's fair, right? So when I say I don't mind in a general sense, I guess what I'm saying is "whadda you gonna' do" and "you gotta pick your fights". I remember being unhappy that a Chinese actor played a Korean character in that Star Trek series with Janeway - but not because I dislike Koreans so much as, Christ, an Asian role finally with a Chinese actor that isn't B.D. Wong, and he's playing Korean? Why?

It doesn't make much of a difference to this hemisphere - it makes a lot of difference to that one. For a lot of folks, I think, it's the difference between Norweigian-born and English-born: the difference between a Chinese guy and a Korean - but the cultures are distinct and extremely proud.

I don't complain about this much because, again, you have to pick your battles and, often, who are you fighting, for whom, and to what end? If I spouted off on all my pet peeves, there wouldn't be any room left for movie review. Maybe there's not already.

In any case - the subject matter of Memoirs of a Geisha in particular is egregious and, I think, humiliating in a lot of ways to women in particular and the Chinese in general given that the film is about war profiteering in one sense. Having read The Rape of Nanking - you ken why that would be galling. I grew uup hearing firsthand accounts - the family reserve if you will. My mom's family was from Nanking.

Reading the Geisha book now in preparation to writing the review and. . . oh man. Listen - you just can't be calling people war heroes for the occupation of Manchuria just like you can't be calling people war heroes for the occupation of Warsaw. Volunteer armies and all. Well, actually, I guess you could - I mean, they do. Just like U571 gave the Yanks credit for capturing a working Enigma machine and breaking the code. You can, but how could you - is what I guess is what I'm stumbling around here - and that idea of being too optimistic raises its head again.

Dave Gibson said...

I think that the casting of Memoirs of a Geisha is more indicative of Hollywood’s chronic lack of imagination than racism—but, those two things go together so often don’t they? The producers of Geisha are being insensitive, but they are betting that no one much will notice (or care). I don’t think Roger Ebert is racist (and no one here has claimed as such) but, I think that it’s tricky for him to offer this substandard, flippant excuse of “box office” as the rationale behind the casting. Of course, there are magnificent and highly recognizable actors from every major film producing culture—so, Ebert is really defending the mainstream ignorance of the North American public (which is his job) I don’t think its inherently or always wrong to cast outside racial or cultural boundaries—but, it’s pretty evident that Ebert’s argument is cynically based on the correct assumption that the majority of North Americans know very little about Asian culture or history (or French culture, or Italian culture, or Scandinavian….etc) I don’t know, would Ebert make the same argument if Keira Knightley was cast as Pocahontas in The New World? (She’s a bigger star after all) Geez, remember that short period when Spielberg was musing about casting Haley Joel Osment as Harry Potter? You could hear the screams from Lubbock to Lancashire. Let’s also not forget that becoming a “star” or just a working actor is not some elusive mystical process, it’s a business model. If Hollywood powers can collude to wrestle a miniscule talent like Colin Farrell to “stardom”—they certainly could have done the same for one of the countless acclaimed actors more suitable for Geisha. Bigotry, whether it’s formed by design or ignorance—is most easily dissolved through experience—but, I think that has to start before one even step into a theatre. When people actually interact with people from a variety of backgrounds, it becomes far more difficult to stomach the reductive, pandering characters which are typically featured in mainstream films. I take responsibility for the fact that I laughed at Sixteen Candles when I was twelve, but, I couldn’t watch it now or brook any mention of it as a ‘classic’ (and not just for Long-Duk, have another look at that charming conclusion when Anthony Michael Hall essentially rapes the prom queen) Intractability seems to be a popular cultural value, which I suppose is why we have to sit through horrid crap like Bringing Down the House which base their premises on the assumption that everyone in the audience is already a bigoted jerk or Man On Fire which offers Mexico as a corrupt Hades that swallows little white girls. (Or was that CNN?) Bigotry can take the form of a sweaty idiot with a Confederate hat flag—or, it can take the form of a “prestige picture” which may pander more tastefully—but no less hurtfully. It’s great if there are more “independent” and smaller films focusing on more complex characters—but, when it’s still mincing queers and minstreling under the big top—that’s the show people remember. I eagerly await Ebert’s four stars.

Carl Walker said...

All that said, I feel that, in essence, there is no reason why this movie should have been made. I mean, a book about geishas by a white guy (sued by the geisha he interviewed, no less), adapted into a movie directed by a white guy, acted in English with a lead that had to learn the language as she went along?! The fact that she's Chinese is just gravy.

My point is, if I wanted to watch a film about geishas (and I don't, not especially) I would rent a Japanese film. I view a film like this to have never had any chance of being good. I'm not saying that a white American director couldn't do Asian American characters (I hear Harold and Kumar was decent) but a project like this is inevitably going to be nothing more than foolishness. And orientalist, that goes without saying (ooh geishas... the east is mysterious blah blah blah). Although what with the voice over they had to add, it sounds like Hollywood overestimated white folks' interest in such things. Maybe test audiences aren't responding to it because Zhang Ziyi is trying to get with Ken Watanabe and not Tom Cruise (the fact that there's no noble-whitey character in this film is the only surprising thing for me, but maybe that was so obvious of a detriment that the author was able to avoid it).

Alex Jackson said...

Ebertwatch: In regard to Rent, the Big One changed his thumbs up for from his show to a **1/2 thumbs down while writing the review. Pretty brutal review, I can't pick which bits to quote, every paragraph seems to score a salient point against the film. It's all tempered though by an affection for the actors and a desire not to piss of the film's core audience. It's bizzarre, and kind of sad, how hard he works at giving this film a marginally positive review.

Walter_Chaw said...

Sorta tying the two lines together: for as multicultural as Rent aspires to be - the only Asian in the picture is wearing a suit and stuffing a dollar bill into Dawson's g-string. Speaking just for myself, when I'm stuffing dollars into Rosario Dawson's g-string, I'm wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and a sense of titillating superiority. Maybe he's an amateur gynecologist - more likely he's just another stereotype of Asian businessmen and sleazy stripclubs. But there I go being overly sensitive. Takes some doing, though, don't it - to be the one minority kicked to the curb by fucking Rent of all things.

Referring to Ebert's review - isn't 2.5 stars a marginal thumbs up? Or is it a marginal thumbs down? What was it Dave G. said a while back? That a man of Ebert's certain age starts to look a little insane quantifying the level of excitement of his thumb.

Alex Jackson said...

2.5 stars is a marginal thumbs down.

The AIDS of Aquarias gag was funny, but I was meaning to say that Caption Boy's finest moment in recent memory had to be the gerbil joke in regards to Bee Season.

Bill C said...

Just went to fill up Caption Boy's water dish and passed on your adulation. Perhaps we'll let him see sunlight one of these days.

Anonymous said...

The dark secrets of Film Freak Central. Could make a great movie poster: "WHO IS... CAPTION BOY?" (Nice little roundabout back to the last blog post.)

Also, Walter, I was intrigued by your brief, foreboding words on the new Producers -- haven't seen the new play nor the new film, but I'm a big fan of the original '68 film; care to share any thoughts on this new version?

-- Ian

Vikram said...

Alex touches on this in an above post but I think the reason Ebert has in recent years been ridiculously forgiving of bad films is that I suspect that someone like Ebert, having been in the biz for so long, tends to befriend and be befriended by - whether he realizes or not - the people who act and make major studio movies because he always sees them at festivals and at events through the year and he gets to know them over the course of time and I am sure that they all kiss his ass. It's the human tendency of not wanting to criticize people that you know or like and who are nice to you. I think that after so many years of doing this that he knows so many mainstream actors and directors that it bothers him to be negative in many instances - far easier to go after a marginal or fringe player like Vincent Gallo for the "Brown Bunny" than the many, many horrible mainstream studio films and their backers.

I remember Walter mentioning in a previous blog about a director who was upset with him for giving her movie a bad review when she thought that he got along well with her in their interview together (or something like that). I suppose that this is an issue that a critic must regularly face - stay steadfast and be honest to oneself or succumb to the (human) tendency of not wanting to criticize the efforts of people that you know and may even like. Over the course of time, I suspect that critics like Ebert become "corrupted" - often without even realizing it...

I'd be curious as to Walter's take on this subject of familiarity impacting a critic's work. I am quite sure that this is something that has a large effect on Ebert's recent criticisms. I remember some piece that he wrote recently where he was gushing about Rosario Dawson whom he was talking to at a film festival (where he is now in the habit of taking pictures of the celebs that he hangs out with and posting them on his website). I wouldn't be surprised if that type of thing impacts the number of stars or the size of his thumbs that he gives to films - and to a film like "Rent" in particular - and hence the strange dichotomy in terms of the writing and the ratings. Another example of this is his "Revenge of the Sith" review. As Walter and others have pointed out, the review reads like a criticism but he gives it 3.5 stars and a Thumbs Up.

Alex Jackson said...

far easier to go after a marginal or fringe player like Vincent Gallo for the "Brown Bunny" than the many, many horrible mainstream studio films and their backers.

Or, on the other hand, cynical Hollywood cash grabs that can't possibly be affected by negative press. Like Just Friends or Doom.

Eh, I know that we're beating a dead horse and not saying anything new and I'm trying to restrain myself, but yeah that review seemed that it was worth sharing.

I think that Stephanie Zacharek bugs me more than Ebert actually. Unmentioned that she gave both Harry Potter 4 and Walk the Line raves (I liked Harry Potter actually, but both were pretty middle-of-the-road). She's honest and critical, but her orientation is so aggressively middle-brow. She doesn't bend to the middle-brow mind you, she IS middle-brow. There is something that just makes me squeam when I meet somebody who genuinely believes that Before Sunset and Ray are great cinema and Kill Bill and Dogville are not. Or that Fantastic Four is a better film than Batman Begins. She provides intellectual backing to an audience demanding their movies sweet and inoffensive.

Ebert on the other hand can't be taken seriously to any extent and he's relatively harmless.

James Allen said...

Re: Walt's review of Rent

Don't let Rent get you down all that much on Broadway in general. If anything, Rent is an atypical Broadway musical, that has, amazingly, run close to 10 years on Broadway. It appeals to a certain New York theater crowd, I suppose, but I live in New Jersey and work in New York (for a childrens theater company) and have seen Rent and what you saw on the screen is not much different than my experience watching it live. The thing that stunned me the most was the awfulness of the music, not really rocking, not really melodic, screeched at high volume. And I agree about your cannonization comment; it's all just so patronizing. I guess I'm suppose to feel like a jerk for not buying into it all.

It's popularity perplexes me, and I don't particularly see the film making all that much money, given the piece's limited appeal.

You alluded to The Producers, a show I also saw on Broadway, and I must say I was in two minds over the thing. On the one hand, the general style was a throwback to some older musicals which I like; the patter between Max and Leo was brisk, the inside show biz jokes fun. But unfortunately the bimbo and the mincing gay characters show up, and I got a bit lost. The thing is, there was an opportunity to be ironic or subversive with such things, but these days Mel Brooks wouldn't be able to find irony with an "Irony Finding" machine. The stereotypes are played straight up for all their worth, and the show suffers as a result. I'm not a snob or anything, I like a good tatseless non-PC joke every once in awhile, and I did laugh at some of it; but I must admit it made me feel uneasy after the fact; that's how far this stuff has been drummed into my head.

Judging by the trailer I saw, it seems the adaptation is faithful with some cast changes. I guess Will Ferrell is required to be in every major studio comedy (oddly enough, Ferrell is the most bankable star in the thing), and to see Uma Thurman play Ula so soon after seeing her kick all kinds of ass in Kill Bill seems wrong on so many levels.

Vikram said...

I don't want to appear to be picking on Ebert, because as you say Alex, that is a dead horse - but I since his name has come up as a reviewer whose more recent work seems curiously compromised, I am suggesting it is because he is now too close to the orbit of the people who make mainstream studio films.

That's the part I am somewhat curious about - How does a critic stay professionally uncompromised after personal familiarity of his subjects? Is this is even possible after a career like Ebert's?

I directed my question to Walter since he has interviewed some of these people but really I am offering the question to anyone who writes on this site - Walter, Alex, Bill, Travis etc...and who understands this dilemma that I'm sure all serious critics face.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Not much of Linklater fan myself either but I just revisited "Waking Life" and thought it was great. Somehow it being animated allowed for things that irritate me in Linklater films to irritate me less, if that makes any sense. Plus he was talking about stuff that's interesting to me.



I was sort-of kind-of working on an idea that involves a were-wolf (or were-bear to be specific). But he is used more as a cinematic tool then the stereotypical horror-genre character. I know some of you guys love horror and creature movies (Walter & Alex for sure) and I have very little knowledge of this genre. So, can you guys name some good places for me to start. It doesn't have to be a werewolf movie, it can be anything where people are hunted down by creatures.

Dave Gibson said...

I enjoy reading Stephanie Z more than Roger—although she is afflicted with the faux Dorothy Parker glibness which seems to afflict many of the limousine liberal critics who write for our tonier publications. I’ve mostly sworn off Salon.com after too much indulgence led me to actually believe Kerry was going to win—at times, it’s really not much different than FOX news for the Volvo-set and naïve fools like myself. Before Sunset, was a great film however.

I revisted "The Producers" a few years ago--and, unfortunately--it's taken its place alongside "Murder By Death" and "The Watcher in the Woods" as films I should have left in childhood where it belongs. Some great gags admist the idiotic hippie and chick bashing though...

Bill C said...

Check out the fairly recent Dog Soldiers, for starters, H-Man. Then there's the compromised but interesting Wolfen, which I reviewed at the site ages ago. I know a dozen more will occur to me the second I hit "send."

Speaking for myself, Vikram, I've befriended the odd filmmaker through the site. There's one director I'd classify as a friend and I'm in the middle of reviewing something he was involved with long before I met him, but since it's not an auteur project I don't really have any qualms about saying anything negative--or positive--in regards to the work. To be honest, the ones I'm occasionally in touch with would respect brutal honesty more than sycophancy, but if I ever feel myself compromising I just don't publish it.

Alex Jackson said...

I'm still pretty green, so I can't say I've met many filmmakers. Fortunately, only one got mad enough at what I wrote to try and get me shut down and I didn't even like her anyway. I'm pretty small potatoes.

I imagine that this is what I would tell a filmmaker friend whose film I just ripped apart is and is upset about it:

1. If I were to give out praise like it was candy it would be wholly meaningless wouldn't it?

2. It's good that you are mad, because that means that you did your job and that means that I did mine.

3. That said, probably the healthiest attitude for a filmmaker is Ed Wood's from the film of the same name: "The worst movie you have ever seen? Well, my next one will be better!" The criticized work is done and in the can and the best thing to do is just go make another movie. Hopefully one that you can be proud of.

Monster movies? As far as Freddys and Jasons go, I would of course recommend NOES 4 and 7; F13 2, 4,5, and 8; and Freddy vs. Jason.

The first Jack Frost and the first Leprechaun at least; Dr. Giggles. See Halloween of course, and Neil Jordon's The Company of Wolves is pretty weird. I agree with Walter that High Tension deserves some consideration.

Walter will probably have more to add and better recommendations.

I would remember that the general foundation of the F13ths and Halloweens is that the monster is a physical manifestation of the protagonist's subconscious desires.

The general foundation of the NOES and Jack Frosts is that the post-modern approach is a closed system that accentuates the innate omnipotence of the killing party.

Bill C said...

H-Man: You want straight-up monster movies, shit, we can go all night. Wasn't sure--sounded like you wanted movies containing multiple creatures and people at their mercy, which narrows the field a bit.

Chad Evan said...

Alex:
Stephanie is the perfect writer for her audience: the pious "progressive" types that read Salon (I read it every day, mind you, but the fact remains.) Middlebrow is these folk's middle names. Whether this is worse than Ebert's agressively lowbrow perspective is a matter of opinion; for my money, I'd rather read Zakarek, as for all her limitations I at least never feel she's talking down to me (as I do feel Ebert does.)

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Yeah sorry, i was a lil blitzed when I wrote the earlier post. I want just normal monster movies where there is one monster chasing people down . but i really don't wanna see the same thing over again. so I wanted more of the ones that killed people creatively. I want the formula without the formula really.

Chad Evan said...

Just to clarify, I probably prefer lowbrow to middlebrow, but Ebert is a middlebrow at heart who stoops to conquer--if he'd be honest about his taste, like Stephanie is, I wouldn't mind so much.

Dave:
Good point about Salon being a FOX news for limousine liberals; I keep reading out of habit more than anything else (and strangely enough, I find myself tuning in to the dreaded FOX a whole lot.) I finally realized what a sham they were during their coverage of the last presidential election, specifically the stupid "bulge in Bush's coat" "story." Pure partisan hackery. These people are every bit as set in their ways and oblivious to fact as creationists.

Walter_Chaw said...

Vikram:
You make a good and interesting point about the dangers of getting to know the people that you cover a little too well - we have sort of an unspoken rule at FFC to log the review before we conduct the interview so that our meeting with the people in question doesn't taint the review for good or ill. After you've done an interview, though, how do you maintain objectivity when you review it?

Hopefully, you know yourself well enough to, as Bill put it, just excuse yourself if you find yourself compromised. I like to think that in certain situations I'd just go a step further and recuse myself just for the appearance of being influenced overly by what I perceived to be a personal relationship. The truth of it is, though, is that these people are professionals (especially the actors) and they're on a tour to publicize their films. Bad behavior, in other words, is very, very rare. If it ever happens, it happens with the first-timers and so, as a consequence, I used to try to interview a lot of first timers. The scar tissue hasn't formed into armor for them, yet, and you can get some good honest copy that may not even be off the record.

It's a more complicated issue than you'd think, though, because the talent will complain about you if you write a bad review of their film and question local publicity as to why they set up an interview with a "hostile" interviewer. Next time a PR tour comes around - some little black duck may not get a call. Knowing this - and it's common knowledge - suddenly it's in your favor to give good reviews for people you think might be visiting to insure an interview opportunity.

You know all those shows that are just junket pieces? All media journalism seems to be tending towards that: no criticism, just a platform for canned publicity. It's why so much of our film criticism is consumer reportage nowadays.

So in answer to your question - it's very possible that Ebert has been softened by too much familiarity. (Remember, too, that he has an annual cruise/festival sponsored by Disney - and then take a long look at his track record reviewing Disney films.) If he has, it's only one thing of many that has blunted his critical capacity, I think - the others more clearly elucidated elsewhere, having to do with appeasing the middlebrow and apologizing for the non-artistic machinations of the film industry.

James:
The Producers. Man o' man. The problem, besides Mel Brooks' prehistoric sensibilities (it's not shocking or offensive so much as quaintly stupid - stupid in the way grandpa is stupid when he calls someone a jap) is that everyone's been instructed to perform as though they were still on stage. The acting is so hysterical that it's actually grotesque - this was meant for the back row: not thirty feet high and in your face. It's so invasive, so aggressive, that it feels like an assault - and it lasts for 2+ hours. Watching Broderick wheezily hyperventilate while cuddling a blanket about ten feet away from your face is no one's idea of a good time.

To Dave & Carl's attacks on Geisha, by the way, amen and amen, and thanks for going there.

H-Man:
Monster movies, huh? Obvious (and great) ones that swim to mind are things along the line of Jaws, The Terminator, Alien, Aliens, American Werewolf in London and so on - but less conventional stuff could run from Bill's mention of the fun Dog Soldiers and the classic, not-to-be-missed Raw Meat to hit-or-miss stuff like CHUD or Pumpkinhead, Rawhead Rex, Xtro, Blood Beach, Ginger Snaps. . . Tourneur's Cat People is a real nice, subtle, personal monster flick - ditto Night of the Demon (also called Curse of the Demon) - and something like the three Creature from the Black Lagoon films are, taken as a whole, a remarkable cycle.

I'd really recommend a film called Ninja Scroll - not really a monster movie (though there are monsters in it) more a hero's quest tale - it's anime, and it's one of the best action films I've ever seen. I sort of like Kibakichi which is a Japanese samurai/werewolf piece; am a big fan of the much-derided Phantoms; ditto the fascinating God Told Me To; of course Blair Witch Project; Fright Night. . . wow - this is a big topic, isn't it?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Thanks, Walt. That would keep me busy for a while.

Walter_Chaw said...

Oh shit - you gotta' see Dagon, too.

Anonymous said...

Well whoever Caption Boy is, or if he's more than one of you FFC boys, they're always (ALWAYS) hilarious. I think my favorite caption is on Walter's Hostage review.

Anonymous said...

Also, there's a stereotype about Asian businessmen and strip clubs? I'm not sure I've ever heard that one before.

Bill C said...

Wait--you forgot Prophecy: The Monster Movie! A hilariously stupid nature-run-amuck flick (particularly fond of Walter's review of that one), but sort of a must-see in that it can be used as a bad example. And I can't imagine a better one to watch stoned, H-Man.

James Allen said...

Walt:

Re: The Producers

Yeah, it doesn't surprise me that the film is so stagebound in its approach, it is, after all, directed by and starring the people who did it on Broadway. You see this kind of thing a lot when stage actors start doing film, someone has to tell them to dial it waaaaay down. When a stage director starts doing film, it can get even more uncomfortable.

As far as Brooks goes, yeah, he's a rather blunt instrument and I would assume he's glad all kinds of people are offended by The Producers, I suppose he thinks that's the point. And yeah, I have such a twisted sense of humor that I tend to laugh at the brazeness of it all. But when there's nothing underneath the surface that's when my mind does a doubletake. When sterotypes are subverted and turned inside out, I think it's genius (the "racial draft" on Dave Chappelle's show or The Kids in the Hall various takes on gay characters for instance). But offensiveness simply for its own sake just doesn't wear as well, and for me, it can get pretty damn boring (like, say, The Aristocrats, which I liked more than you, but still tired me out towards the end.)

James Allen said...

Oh yeah, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Everyone have some turkey. Speaking of turkeys, I'm going to go watch the 70's remake of King Kong.

The best to you and yours.

James Allen said...

Bill:

You mention Prophecy, how about Food of the Gods which actually showed up on one of my movie channels this past week. If you think dirtied up mice running amok over minature houses is terrifying, that film is for you. And how about that Marjoe Gortner? He's an actor that's really going places.

Alex Jackson said...

Quickly, I second the God Told Me To recommendation. My first viewing was on Captain USA's Groovy Movies when I was five or six. I'd like to think that it made me the man I am today.

I would seriously recommend looking at the F13ths and NOES that I mentioned, they are sterling examples of what it is they are.

And I thought that Walter recommended High Tension because he gave it three stars. In any event, I would recommend it for anybody who wants to see the old standard tweaked a little with some good filmmaking and some good gore.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS THAT AREN"T GONNA OUT AND OUT SPOIL IT FOR YOU

Anti-lesbian? Well, maybe but since the heroine wants to be seen as a savior and since the monster is a male truck driver I think that it could be a feminazi movie. She's not suppressing her lesbianism but her lantent violent distinctly MALE sexual desires. Then again by switching that around again there might be something anti-lesbian or at least straight forward misogynistic about attatching on a feminazi perspective.

As sociology, and as fodder for somebody who is writing a monster movie I think that it's pretty good stuff. I wouldn't argue that it's not immoral though.

Alex Jackson said...

But offensiveness simply for its own sake just doesn't wear as well, and for me, it can get pretty damn boring (like, say, The Aristocrats, which I liked more than you, but still tired me out towards the end.)

Yeah, it's difficult to get offended by anything after you see The Aristocrats. Not because you know that you'll never see anything as offensive, but simply because the gig seems to be up.

Walter_Chaw said...

Oh yeah - High Tension - it's a long friggin' list, isn't it? Sort of danced around the slashers and neo-slashers because it seemed like H-Man was looking for straight-up, somewhat literal versions of creature-feature flicks. Dagon is one of my faves, I want to pimp again: a Stuart Gordon H.P. Lovecraft that's beautifully lurid and just fucking bleak. All three of Gordon's Lovecraft adaptations are worth a spin: Re-Animator and From Beyond being the others I'm thinking of. His recent King of the Ants is fantastic, too, but not a horror movie in the traditional sense. It's sort of an iteration of Clive Barker's "Dread" short story.

The second Hellraiser film could probably be considered a monster movie. It certainly has one of the more original visions of Hell. Failed to mention John Carpenter's The Thing, too, but hopefully y'all seen that one already.

James:
That racial draft kills me - the Colin Powell/Condaleeza Rice package is one of the bright moments in the history of television. I like that the Asians get Wu-Tan Clan, too, that seems only right.

Brooks though is such a codger. I really like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (speaking of racial subversion) - but his material positively reeks of mothballs. I wish I was offended by The Producers - I was just bored. And it's not 'cause I'm too cool for school, it's 'cause those jokes are about fifty years old.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Thanks you guys again for all the recommendations. I figured I was gonna see the NOES and F13s anyways, Alex. but thanks for some other names that I didn't know about.

Hated King of Ants by the way. I thought it might get brilliant when they started smashing the guy in the head with the baseball bat. I honestly would have loved it if they would have kept him in there for rest of the movie and shown his mental landscape as a result of the torture, then it would have been interesting. even in the little bit that they did show, it was cheesy (if you get smashed in the head, you halucinate ugly monster eating his own shit. really?). when it became a "revenge" movie that's when it lost interest for me. The dude walks out after getting his head smashed in multiple times without a sign of repercussion on his old noggin'. COME ON !

But I'll check out the other ones from the guy

Dave Gibson said...

Happy Thanksgiving to all the American Film Freaks---the official first day you can justify watching Holiday films without fear of reprisal. Here’s part of my extended lineup.

1. A Christmas Story (1983)
Still the champ for me and probably one of the few movies I continue to watch with the whole family. One of the most tender, loving portrayals of a married couple (Melinda Dillon and the great Darren McGavin) I’ve ever seen.

2. A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sim)

I enjoy watching grainy, public domain prints of this one after midnight—the way it was meant to be seen.

3. Scrooged (1988)

Dated and some of the jokes fall flat—but, I love Bill Murray’s closing speech—and Karen Allen? Woo hoo. What eighties-vintage lad doesn’t love Karen Allen?

4. The Royal Tenenbaums

Not really a Christmas movie, but the wintry, melancholy scenes of Wes Anderson’s New York, along with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Charlie Brown theme—fill me with the delicious melancholy of Christmas cheer. Also one of the best American films of the last ten years—but, y’all know that.

5. Die Hard

Nothing says Christmas like a wise-ass Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman as the Holiday Ham. Love the unabashed machismo of the movie too (Holly Gennaro reverts to Holly McClane—after hubby takes the terrorists to the mat). Yippi-Ki-Yay.

Chad Evan said...

Walter:
Did you see Gordon's Lovecraft adaptation for the Showtime Masters of Horror series a couple of weeks ago? Pretty damn good, can't recall the name--about a kid renting a room in a house that is the nexus of the universe or something.

I'm sure no one wants to hear me bitch, but I'm working on Thanksgiving. It sucks.

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah, Dave, y'old softie!

Let's go an alternative route (though we're both ending on a Bob Clark flick):

5. Christmas Evil - Oh Lloyd Kaufman, how I love thee. Find his elfin fingers behind Lewis Jackson's "misunderstood monster" flick that finds a devotee of the true faith of "better watch out" giving to the moppets in a children's hospital, but jamming toys into the eyes of the bad boys and girls teeming in our capitalistic dystopia. Moody and interesting and you'll never look at foil Christmas Tree stars the same way again.

4. Jack Frost - Not to be mistaken for the Michael Keaton family flick of the same name (or mistake it, why not, it's the same movie in a lot of ways), find our titular re-animated Snowman/zombie/Child's Play serial killer vessel stalking the streets of the suspiciously not-snow Snowonton. You'd think this would tip people off that that snowman in the neighborhood Griswald's yard ain't right (or that the immoble snowman puppet ain't right) - but no. Tongue-in-cheek sometimes to its detriment - there's some nice genre subversion going on here (including a melted-snowman-POV that had me in stitches) - well worth a look though I'd skip the sequel.

3. Silent Night, Deadly Night - Charles E. Sellier Jr.'s notorious take on the anniversery/psychosexual slasher mythos is long on exploitative nudity and plentiful gore. Get it just for prototypical Scream Queen Linnea Quigley getting, um, boned? Antlered? Whatever. One of the best posters of all time, too, it's cheap and gratuitous but. .. but nothing.

2. Day of the Beast - Alex de la Iglesia was poised for a while to take over the world - his Crimen Perfecta this year funny, but nowhere near the audacity of his Mutant Action or this, Day of the Beast, in which a priest discovers on Christmas Eve that the antichrist will be born before dawn. Funny, gory, and sometimes just flat scary.

1. Black Christmas - But not as scary as Bob "Porky's and Christmas Story" Clark's Black Christmas. The "first" slasher film and the souce of Scream's telephone anxiety - the picture is oppressively skeezy. That mood of naughtiness (Margot Kidder's in it, for god's sake) is just the kicker. It's a classic, yo. I mean, yo ho ho. Wait - that's a pirate.

Rich said...

Chad:

Agreed on Gordon's Masters of Horror episode. It renewed my interest in the show after that first episode by the Bubba Ho-Tep guy which was kinda hit-and-miss. I can't comment on the one by Tobe Hooper, though, as I couldn't bring myself to watch it after I read somewhere that it looked like something by Tony Scott. Gonna give Dario Argento's episode a shot, though.

I'm really looking forward to Carpenter's episode. Somehow I still have hope - even after Vampires.

Chad Evan said...

rich:
Yeah, the Corascelli or whatever ep was mediocre, and words can't describe my dissapointment with the Hooper episode--it did, indeed, look like a Tony Scott, a proposition more nightmarish to me then anything in Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Argento was the best so far, in my opinion, but bear in mind that I tuned into it an Argento virgin, so I don't know what his fans will think of it. Personally, I think it is a near masterpiece, and it's the only thing I've seen in a long, long time that's haunted me as I turn out the lights to go to sleep at night. So the shows 2-for-2, which is pretty good considering that the auterist design of the show is going to guarantee varying quality. I also await Carpenter's Cigarette Burns with glee (although I think Joe Dante has me the most excited,) but, alas, we have to sit through an episode by Stephen King's bitch this week.

Bill C said...

Yeah, I'd forgotten Walt gave High Tension 3 stars, hence my deleting that post. I dunno, I think it's a pretty offensive movie for all the wrong reasons (not so much anti-lesbian as ignorant of its potential to be read that way), and the epilogue has to be the dumbest thing I've seen in quite some time. I guess ultimately I feel out of place in this Dolbyized wave of horror movies, a la Nispel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre; they're nothing but adrenaline.

Black Christmas, on the other hand, is just about the scariest movie ever made. If I were watching Thanksgiving movies, though (and I ain't, 'cause we Canooks already had our Turkey day), I'd give Planes, Trains & Automobiles a whirl.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Hey, Walter! Another Silent Night, Deadly Night fan, eh? Me, too:

http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3194&reviewer=327

And also it's first sequel:

http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3195&reviewer=327

I keep looking out for a used copy of the Anchor Bay DVD which has both of these films in its package. And let's not forget on the exploitive-nudity front that the beautiful young woman who plays the title character's slain mother in the original is played by the actress who played the beautiful young woman who was Mickey Rourke's unwitting date -- the one whom he stuck his penis through the popcorn box at the movie theatre -- in Diner!

And for the record: I've watched Robert Towne's Tequila Sunrise every Xmas Eve since I first saw it on Xmas Eve at the teatre in '88. Something about watching 3 immensely talented, gorgeous stars in gorgeous locations in a gorgeously irreverent piece just makes me giddy during the otherwise-depressing holiday season. I mean, how can you not like a film with sprightly dialogue like:

"You eat at Orville & Wilbur's once every Christmas, right? You throw your Porsche keys down on the bar, he throws his Chevrolet keys down on the bar. You pick up your drink, you're wearing a Rolex, he's wearing a Timex. Even if he wasn't a cop he'd have to hate your guts."

"Generally I recommend my men stay away from vodka and stick to scotch and bourbon...so the brass'll think they're drunk and not stupid."

Bill C said...

Completely off-topic, just watched Match Point. It's Woody Allen's best movie in years; I just wish that meant something. All things considered, he's a hateful little man.

Hey Jack, love Tequila Sunrise...right up until the last ten minutes, which are just so transparently Frankenstein'd on by the studio that they become even more subversive than what Towne had intended. Still, you can't beat Kurt Russell saying: "I'm probably gonna have to bust my friend. And I hate that." That man is our generation's Lee Marvin, I tell ya.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Off-topic, Ebert's review of Just Friends is probably one of the most pathetic reviews I have read off him. That's really his MO now, give shit like Rent a pass with condescending 2.5 star review while beat up on the stupid comedy with all the glib wit that he can muster. Plus the digs on the movie were so fucking unfunny. Sample this:

Sam is supposed to make us think of Brittany or Britney or Britannia, or whatever her name is. Now I remember: Her name is Paris Hilton. The other night at dinner, I met a Motorola executive who told me Paris Hilton is their best customer for cell phones because she has gone through 70 of them. As Oscar Wilde once said, "To lose one cell phone may be regarded as a misfortune; to go through 70 looks like carelessness."

James Allen said...

Re: Christmas films

Someone mentioned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a nice modest film that you can use to cleanse the pallate after watching Steve Martin in such crap as Cheaper by the Dozen and Brining Down the House. I mean, what the hell happened to this guy?

As far as other Christmas films, hmmmm, I have to go with the obvious. I like Miracle on 34th Street (the original, of course), which gets the nod over the more popular It's a Wonderful Life. I like the take on commercialism and cynicism of the former more than the heart-on-its-sleeve emotions of the latter.

I agree with someone above that the Allistar Sim A Christmas Carol is the best, but I thouroughly disliked Scrooged, Bill Murray's detatched style actually worked against him; plus a lot of the jokes were just bad, and attempts at sentimentality just strained. However, I am one of the few fans of Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney). Maybe it's just because I like Finney, who knows?

Blackadder's Christmas Carol is a nice twisted take on the old warhorse.

As for other TV special, the Peanuts one is a must, of course, and I must put in a few words about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which I, when I was a kid, never realized had so much subtext. I mean, not letting a kid (Rudolph) play with you because he's different? Herbie wanting to be a dentist? (I guess they couldn't get away with "hairdresser.") "The Island of Misfit Toys"? Rudolph, for all intents and purposes, wanting to commit suicide? And then the ending, which, lacking in any kind of redeption, basically says, "well, if your oddness makes you useful, we'll let you back in?" If I were Rudolph I would've told them all to go fuck themselves. Buy some headlights.

Someone also mentioned A Christmas Story, which is also a must this time of year. Elf is mildly amusing and inoffensive, although the last half-hour gets bogged down in sentiment (hardly surprising for a Christmas film). It's Will Ferrell at his most restrained, if that was ever possible. Peter Dinklage has a great cameo that is almost worth the price of admission.

James Allen said...

Walt:

By the way, I just saw a great line from your Cheaper By the Dozen DVD review that had me laughinmg for about 5 minutes and my wife wondering what the hell was wrong with me:

On the bright side, being forced to watch this film three times has engendered in me a nervous tic and a strong urge to have a vasectomy.

I'll take that over Ebert's dropping of Oscar Wilde quotes anyday.

Bemis said...

I love the Albert Finney version of Scrooge. The problem with A Christmas Carol is that its become too reassuring an experience - audience go to seasonal productions or watch various film and tv versions because they are warmly confident that all will turn out well in the end. In Roland Neame's film, there are some very eerie moments, like Marley and Scrooge's flight through ghosts and the entire sequence set in Hell (!) that fit with Dickens' tendency towards stark sermonizing.

The Captain said...

... and, in a rare (for a reason: I suck at them) happening, I write up the DVD specs on..

No! I love your DVD reviews - your fantastic Resident Evil: Apocalypse / Species III DVD review, for example, is not only much more fun than actually watching the films, but is essential reading, nailing several key points usually unrecognised in these genre films whilst providing the best damn reviews of the two movies ever and a hilarious deconstruction of the crappy DVD extras.

Not trying to toot your horn, though - the real reason I'm writing this is because I still really want to read your words on the Lost DVDs - yes, the new season has left me cold, but I still long to read your thoughts, and since you disliked it thoroughly, I'm imagining many laughs at the expense of the show.

Anonymous said...

Bill:

Yeah, Match Point. I've generally skipped the recent Woody Allen movies, so this one came as my disturbing revelation that he is indeed a dirty old man. How difficult it must have been for Scarlett Johannson to engage in scenes of foreplay knowing that Allen is watching. Still, I know enough of the man's work to see his autobiographical "casting a young attractive man to represent myself" bullshit when it comes (yes, Woody, more life-is-meaningless folderol). Once the movie got to its own point, it started up again, but then old Allen switches gears and acts as if he was writing a play (consider the final scene with Johansson, Rhys-Meyers, and little old lady).

I love his older slice-of-lifers myself (Annie Hall beat out Star Wars at the Oscars for a reason), but I miss his straight comedies. Anyone remember Bananas?

H-Man:

That must be the twentieth time he's used that particular Oscar Wilde line this year.

Christmas movies:

I admit that my Xmas film tastes are pretty strictly mainstream. It's a Wonderful Life ranks up there...

Which reminds me that while I pride myself on my taste in movies, I could use more obscure titles in my possession. Now, I don't mean to hijack the convo, but H-Man's and Dave's requests have brought this to the forefront for me. But how about just in general: your favorite movies that you think deserve a second look? Not necessarily movies that failed in their time (though certainly welcome), but great, underrated movies that could use a fresh critical eye. Old, new, foreign, domestic, comedy, drama, whatever. Call it part of my own personal project (despite the fact that it sounds a tad generic), but I could also use the help to broaden my horizons.

-- Ian

Bill C said...

Yeah, totally, Ian. I found the scene where our protag oils up Nola for a bout of lovemaking especially unnerving. (You want to be turned on, because it's shiny, naked Scarlett, but knowing who directed it is such a buzzkill.) The movie is really just Crimes & Misdemeanors without the cushion of a B-plot, which makes it one of the most revealing apologias this side of Polanski's Death and the Maiden. But as much as I'd love it if he just got really silly again, I'll take Match Point's scuzziness and misanthropy-cum-irony over the limp self-imitation of Anything Else or Melinda and Melinda, which, believe me, you're better for having missed.

Dave Gibson said...

Ian, RE: Overlooked Films

Far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to make a list, I’m going to exclude financially unsuccessful gems like The Iron Giant, Babe: Pig in the City and The Stunt Man as all of you know those are great. Actually, maybe you like some of these—I’m sure I can think of more…

Here are a few that come to mind.

1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Roundly booed at Cannes and mostly ignored by fans of the show—FWWM contains some of Lynch’s most disturbing imagery and a great performance by Sheryl Lee. I hated this one the first time I saw it, now I’m convinced it’s among Lynch’s best.


2. The Coca Cola Kid

An obscure Eric Roberts movie that pissed off the titular corporation so much that the film was virtually buried. A great little film with some big (uncharacteristic for the eighties) ideas about cultural brainwashing. Much parodied as he is, Eric Roberts has always been one of my favourites.

3. Psycho II

A melancholy, grim continuation of the Norman Bates story. Maligned by critics back in the days when sequel-izing and remaking old films wasn’t commonplace---“II” boasts stellar camerawork from Dean Cundey, Anthony Perkins in a role he was made for and, a sad, plaintive score by Jerry Goldsmith. Can anyone imagine a current, major studio film featuring mostly actors over fifty? (Vera Miles and Robert Loggia are also good). The horror film as domestic tragedy.

4. A Taste of Cherry

One of the best films of the 1990’s and probably a masterpiece while were at it. A preposterous and snide review from Roger “Bee Season” Ebert sunk much of its North American box office chances. Not so much underrated, as under-seen.

5. At Close Range

A great crime story containing one of Christopher Walken’s best performances. Eclipsed mostly by Sean Penn’s relationship with Ms. Ciccone.

Bill C said...

No word of a lie, I almost posted a blog entry back in September about Psycho II. Terrific picture; sort of a precursor to Sling Blade.

Rich said...

I've not seen much of Woody Allen's really recent stuff. I caught like 30 minutes of Curse of the Jade Scorpion and it sort of lead me to give up trying with his new stuff.

I kinda liked Deconstructing Harry, but it's been a while since I've seen it, but it made quite a lasting impression on me. Though extremely dark and gloomy in tone, I remember it having moments of sheer comedic genius reminiscent of the Allen of the 70's. Robin Williams as the out-of-focus guy is pretty memorable (I think he seems like less of a ham here than usual here because we can't see his face) and ditto Billy Crystal as Satan. I also seem to remember Celebrity was alright, but I think I need to see both of these movies again. I also need to check out Sweet and Lowdown, which was recommended to me a few times.

Love his older stuff, though. I think Crimes and Misdemeanors is my fav of his.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I second Taste of Cherry. Whatis your take on it's ending, Bill ? The other Iranian film I really love is Crimson Gold.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Some names i thought of:

- Electra Glide In Blue

Fascist, did they call it ? Fuck the French.

- Stroszek

Under-rated Herzog.

- May

under-rated horror film with brilliant subtext.

- Run Ronnie Run

Great fucking comedy. Over-looked.

- Mystery Train

Overlooked Jarmusch classic. His best in my opinion.

- Fool in Love

Overlooked Altman. Classic Sam Shepard.


I'm sure I'll remember a few more names just as I press Send. Not very esoteric names but some I find under-appreciated.

Bill C said...

I'll defer to Dave, H-Man, since he's the one who brought up Taste of Cherry. It certainly is a big one around FFC HQ, though.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Dave,

I think Twin Peaks, the movie, a botch, but Sheryl Lee is quite extraordinary in it, isn't she. I did a top ten of '92, and she won my Best Actress award for it.

Psycho II is awfully solid stuff until the last 15 minutes or so, when it forsakes tactful suspense for go-for-box-office gore. (Incidentally, I finally got around to watching the director's much-herladed Austrailian comedy-thriller Road Games, and was hugely disappointed in this 1-star mess.)

As for At Close Range, both Bill and myself marveled at the beautiful 2.35:1 letterboxing the DVD afforded us for the first time on home video. For the record, even though its theatrical release was apppallingly miniscule, I saw it twice it's opening weekend.

And someone cited Bill Murray's Scrooged!. One of my all-time favorite Christmas-film moments is when Murray flips that old lady the bird when he steals her cab in that cold Manhattan night. Makes me feel so good I should be struck down by lightning, I swear.

Walter_Chaw said...

Wow - tons of underrated stuff - Birth fer instance, to cite a recent example. A few guilty pleasures come to mind though like Night of the Creeps and Miracle Mile. Taste of Cherry is miraculous and Crimson Gold made all three of our top tens last year. . . it's something to think about, though, definitely - Code 46 I like a lot, largely overlooked Warren Beatty gems Winter Kills or The Parallax View or the exceptionally unusual (and great) Mickey One.

John Huston's Fat City, a trio of Ivan Passer flicks: Cutter's Way, Born to Win, and Law and Disorder are surprising - and I confess to being kind of a sucker for Coppola's One from the Heart. I like the weirdness of Vampire's Kiss (still the benchmark Nicholas Cage performance), and adore the three Samurai films that Toshiro Mifune did with Hiroshi Inagaki.

Not so much underrated, those three, as not talked about much anymore/enough.

I always thought Paul Schrader's Mishima was underrated: ditto The Mosquito Coast (his collaboration with Peter Weir). And speaking of Weir, The Last Wave is pretty cool - even with Richard Chamberlain.

Deep well. . . will continue to stew when next the urge to procrastinate strikes.

Walter_Chaw said...

Oops - trio of underestimated Jack Nicholsons:

The Passenger
The Last Detail
The King of Marvin Gardens

Bill C said...

The Muppet Movie. I don't know how people can cling to Star Wars and leave that one flapping in the breeze. Also off the top of my head: F for Fake, Loving, Homicide (David Mamet's only great movie as a director), Blue Collar, A Simple Plan, All That Jazz... Also must second Fat City, a movie I can't shove down enough throats.

Bill C said...

Ooh, and speaking of Peter Weir: Fearless. (And of Bob Fosse: Star 80.) One last one: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the very strange, very strangely moving Bad Boy Bubby, in which every single scene (!) was shot by a different world-class cinematographer and the lead actor was miked from his scalp (!!).

Anonymous said...

Thanks, all. This should keep me nice and busy for a while. (But if you can think of any more, keep 'em comin'.)

-- Ian

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Yeah... I second Fat City too. Great film. It's supposed to be one of Harmony Korine's favorite films.

Didn't like King of Marvin Gardens that much but most definetly recommend Five Easy Peices. Absolutely hated Simple Plan. One of those compromised middle-brow "indie" films.

Walter_Chaw said...

Double and triple Muppet Movie and the great Fearless which still doesn't have a widescreen DVD release. I think the negative ratio is the academy standard of 1.37:1, but I saw it projected three times in the theaters, each time at around 1.85:1. The only WB DVD release, though, is one of the first forays into the format (May of 1999, I think): lacking any and all special features. I'm surprised, vaguely, that it's not a flipper like The Wild Bunch was. The Laserdisc release, though, was in 1.85:1 - and there's no premium on it yet - there may never be.

Truly underrated. It's one of the best films of the 90s and a high point in Jeff Bridges' fantastic career. You could do a whole underestimated film cruise festival based just on Bridges films that didn't get their due - maybe because Bridges is so natural he might as well be unconscious. I even like Starman. Whoever mentioned pitching 80s tents and Karen Allen - amen, brother, and hallelujah.

Also check out Hal Hartley's Trust and anything by Bela Tarr or Aki Kurasmaki or Maurice Pialat. Check out The Killer of Sheep, early Maysles Bros. stuff like Paint it Black, Salesman, Grey Gardens - early Roeg like Performance and Walkabout - anything by F. Wiseman, too, Titticut Follies of course, but even his shit don't stink.

Anyone seen Brando's lone directorial effort One-Eyed Jacks? Excellent.

Phew.

It occurs to me that a lot of film geekism has to do with wanting to share "secrets" with people and so we harvest titles like secret gardeners with their misshapen crops. Weird thing - one of the groups that hires me to program series asked me once if I'd be interested in doing a set of my favorite films and I demurred, saying, and I think rightly, that no one would be interested in sitting through a series of my favorite movies. Not enough people, anyway.

Which reminds me: Godard's Alphaville is underestimated in his portfolio, I think.

Bill C said...

H-Man: Compromised middle-brow "indie"? I think you're confusing A Simple Plan with The Station Agent.

One-Eyed Jacks is incredible. And The Missouri Breaks isn't nearly as terrible as people say; no career has ever imploded as compellingly as Brando's in that film.

It's very annoying that Fearless is the only Peter Weir film mistreated on DVD when even his TV movies have received TLC from the format. I wish I hadn't passed up the LaserDisc, even though I bought A Perfect World instead. (Speaking of underrated...)

Jack_Sommersby said...

Underrated Nicholson pic: 1982's The Border. Though problematic, it's still a good film and showcases Nichsolson's best performance. As for Fearless, whenever it's concentrating on the Bridges character, it's masterful; but I think the film stops dead every time it switches to the counseling scenes and the Rosie Perez character, even though Perez is uncommonly good in her role. Just watched Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock the other day for the first time, and was shocked that the Criterion DVD wasn't an anamorphic transfer. Watched it on my portable DVD player at the library, and when the DVD is non-anamorphic the image is flattened out a bit, which is not the way I wanted to see this film after such a long wait.

When asked about underrated films, I generally have a bountiful array of faves to cite: Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (a rare recommendable Albert Pyun film), The Cold Light of Day (starring Richard E. Grant and superior to The Pledge, both of which are based on the same novel), and Raw Deal (a very funny and breezy Schwarzeneggar pic), to name a few.

Used to love The Parallax View, but I re-watched it recently and was bothered by the numerous plot holes in it -- which is weird, because i haven't had a problem with them before. Winter Kills is a blast, and the 2-disc Anchor Bay package more than gives it justice.

Chad Evan said...

Hitchcock's Family Plot is much, much better than it's reputation would suggest (ditto his Rope.)

Dave Gibson said...

I used "All That Jazz" and the luminous dance sequence with Ann Reinking ("Everything Old Is New Again") for a mise en scene project in a first year film course. What a fantastic picture. a my 1st year "mise en scene" exercise.

"Fearless" is probably Peter Weir's greatest film--aside from the always underrated Bridges (check out "American Heart" as well folks) lordy, I do love Isabella Rosellini--she has more movie star in her index finger than Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron combined. Count me in on the petition to get a proper DVD of this one (still have the VHS proudly displayed---Jeff Bridges is the greatest American film actor since Stewart, Cooper amd Mitchum) "A Simple Plan"--great flick. Love the bit where Bridget Fonda talks about "restaurant desserts"---one of the best films about greed--ever. "A Perfect World" I'd like to revisit. I initially thought the Dern/Eastwood scenes really dragged==but, loved the stuff with Costner and the kid. But, then I may be one of the few who saw "The Postman" in the theatre--and fucking admired a lot of it--must be my ma's midwestern genes, but Costner is the real deal in a world where real deals don't seem to get a break. "Star 80"? Eric Roberts is fantastic in that one (as in "Runaway Train"--probably another candidate for the underrated film list)--venal and cheap, without ever being truly sympathetic--he still makes you feel a little bit sorry for Paul Snider.

Dave Gibson said...

BTW--please forgive the spelling/grammar errors in my last post--little bit o' pre-Christmas cheer.

jer fairall said...

Favorite underrated/unsung movies?

L.A. Story (Mick Jackson)
Last Night (Don McKellar)
Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain)
Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener)
Six Degrees of Separation (Fred Schepisi)
End of the Century (Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia)
The Butcher Boy (Neil Jordan)
Wit (Mike Nichols)
Love Liza (Todd Luiso)
The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy)

A few of those were critically acclaimed, I realize, and at least one (Wet Hot American Summer) is attained minor cult status by now, but I still imagine most of the above drawing blank stares at their mention.

As for recent Woody, I didn't mind Melinda & Melinda, even if it was more interesting as a thought-experiment than an actual story, and Anything Else can't really be defended, but I'll stand up for Hollywood Ending, a Hollywood satire that was actually affectionate and non-bitter. Currently slavering in anticipation for Match Point.

Chad Evan said...

By the way, I think that the reason so much second and third-tier Hitchcock is underestimated is that upon viewing that first few Hitchcock's--usually one of the four "big ones" (Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, Rear Window,) when they start digging deeper a person in dissapointed that some of the films aren't mind-blowing like those and the great ones from the 1940's--an English proffessor of mine once said "the problem with Hitchcock is that you expect every movie to be Notorious, and when it's only good instead of great, you are inevitably dissapointed." I think this sums it up pretty well, but once you get past the expectations, there is much to be admired about just about all his films--I've yet to see a single one of his films that didn't contain at least one moment of such stunning virtuosity that my jaw dropped.

Chad Evan said...

Oh yeah, and Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys is wonderful.

Scott said...

Underrated films?

I actually really like THE TWO JAKES. It's not nearly as good as CHINATOWN, of course, but if you watch the two of them back to back, you'll see that the sequel acts as interesting counterpoint to the original film, a thoughtful meditation on aging and loss.

TRUE CONFESSIONS, with DeNiro and Duvall. Great, understated flick.

EMPIRE OF THE SUN.

And HOOK. Maybe me and Armond White are the only folks that love HOOK, but...

Burt Reynolds in CANNONBALL RUN II. Reynolds had such a joy of performing that leaps out of whatever he's in, no matter how dreadful the material. (I think Kevin Spacey has that same joy, but it doesn't work for me in dramas -- takes me out of the movies completely, whereas Reynolds seems to let me in on the joke.)

I know Water hated it, but I loved SPARTAN -- a wonderful, terse film about personal responsibility, and how far one will go to live up to one's obligations. ("There is no 'they'.")

I also think PSYCHO III is pretty damn good. Gives us interesting insights into Norman Bates' psyche.

Jack_Sommersby said...

I love the first 20 minutes and last 20 minutes of All That Jazz, but in between it's insufferably self-indulgent. Would have been interesting if Richard Dreyfuss, who dropped out early on due to creative differences, had played Fosse. (Scheider was fine, though lacking in the lifeforce that presumably bled out of Fosse). The Two Jakes has a very fine performance from Nicholson, but the plot has absolutely no momentum; I'll watch it before many, many other films, but I can't even remotely call it a good film.

Some more underrated films:

Jennifer 8, an illogical but mesmerizing serial-killer thriller that's one of the most atmospheric films I've ever seen. Should have catipulted Andy Garcia to stratospheric star status, but, like Bridges, he's never gotten the accolades deserved.

Deep Cover. With the exception of To Live and Die in L.A., no film has better explored that thin line between cop and criminal.

Alex Jackson said...

I remember that this was a discussion that we had in another thread.

Coming sideways from planet Mars I offer Jackass: The Movie which I thought was very funny and something really new; and Johnny Got His Gun which has Donald Sutherland as Jesus Christ. Cabaret Balkan I really liked, A Perfect Candidate really deserves a DVD release. Also Scorsese's Life Lessons which I wish I could get on it's own since the other two films in the anthology (New York Stories) aren't really very good.

Walter_Chaw said...

Deep Cover oh yeah, oh yeah. To Live and Die in L.A. is all kinds of cool, too.

Fond of Jackass, fonder of Freddy Got Fingered which fails, ultimately, I think because it tries to be way too conventional. Real soft spot for Edward Yang flicks - just watched Yi Yi again the other day.

Saw True Confessions years and years ago - but it made a mark - would love to revisit. I well and truly love the first hour or so of Empire of the Sun.

Butcher Boy is just great - I like all Jordan films a little anyway - particularly In Dreams, though. And then there's Stephan Elliot's slandered Eye of the Beholder which has come up somewhere already but bears repeating. Also the Dennis Potter-scripted Dreamchild as well as Derek Jarman's Last of England, Edward II, and Wittgenstein.

Wanted to check back in with another Charles Burnett: To Sleep with Anger - a film that Bill actually turned me on to a couple of years ago. And to urge y'all to go on and get yourself Larry Fessenden's horror trilogy: Habit, No Telling, and the beautiful Wendigo. His new film The Last Winter, looks like some kind of thriller, is in post-, and I can't fucking wait.

AdamN said...

Couldn't agree more, Walter: Wendigo is one of the richest, most moving and most underrated horor films I can think of, and I don't just mean in the last few years. It's exciting to know Fessenden is on to something new.

Speaking of awesome genre directors doing exciting new things... one of my editors up here in T.O. did an interview w/ Joe Dante last month about his episode of Showtime's new Masters of Horror. (SPOILER ALERT... how very AICN of me). Anyway, if you want to be surprised when it airs/you buy the DVD set, don't read on...

Apparently, the ep is about dead American soldiers who rise from the dead and...wait for it... vote Democrat in 2008. Seriously. And the Karl Rove manque gets it pretty viciously at some point. The interview is reportedly a riot -- Joe Dante is hilarious, and with regards to this thread's topic, he's virtually Captain Underrated (Small Soldiers, Looney Tunes: Back in Action.) And the episode sounds killer.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I own Jackass: The Movie. It's fucking hilarious. If goal of a comedy is to make me laugh, this one wins hands down. i have never laughed so fucking hard. Run Ronnie Run! comes close. David Cross is a comedy god.

To Live and Die in LA is my favorite bill freidkin film. and yes I know about the other ones. Beyond cool. Reminds me of Manhunter. Another under-rated great. For everything that could have gone wrong with that film see: "The Red Dragon" (a perfect example of what happens when mojo jojo makes a film).

Add Zelig to my list.

But probably the most under-rated film, atleast of the 90s, has to be Thje Big Labowski. What a great film about nothing. Coen Bros. cleverness never irritates me because its not dictative, now Kubrick I don't know about.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

By the way, saw both Ravenous and Exotica on recommendations from 1998 top 10 list. Liked 'em both. Liked the first one a little better. Boy! that Robert Carlyle can act.

Exotica is not entirely my cup of tea, too much talking irritates me, but even otherwise it seemed too very derivative of other stuff, especially Paris, Texas and Blue Velvet. Even the screenplay was Sam Shepardian, meaning a lot of psychological babble and complex (often misleading) plot turns followed by a climactic long conversation that gives the back-story simplifying the story. I like the way Sam Shepard does it, but I don't think I'm sold on Egoyan yet.

This film definetly confirmed for me that Egoyan has big hard-on for teenage girls. It's the same theme running through all his films. No wonder the french love him. Stupid cheese eating fucks.

Anonymous said...

With all of these fantastic titles being thrown out, it would probably be fair of me to throw out a few of my own by now.

The Great Dictator never gets what it deserves. I notice the Chaplin talkie proponents always seem to move towards Monsieur Verdoux -- which was quite good, but the mawkish sentimentality and long speeches don't quite work as well as they do in The Great Dictator. Truly a daring piece, this; somebody really needed to give Hitler the parodic treatment before Pearl Harbor and I doubt that anyone else could do it better than the other fellow with the toothbrush moustache. The movie was given about three seconds of thought in the biopic Chaplin (as opposed to the four given to City Lights) -- but I would say just as potent politically as Chaplin's silents are emotionally.

Bob Clark's Vietnam/zombie horror film Deathdream really does it for me; the psychological-effects-on-soldiers subtext is actually pretty obvious, all things considered, but it doesn't make the sting any less potent. Bill's got it right in his triple review with The Manchurian Candidate and Uncle Sam -- John Marley is spectacular and heartbreaking, and Richard Backus' dead yet intentful stare is one of the most unnerving I've seen.

Darkman, Sam Raimi's first box office #1 (only to be knocked off the charts by Ghost two weeks later), one of the few true cinematic comic books, complete with delightfully obvious logical fallacies and strange, fiction-driven specifics. Synthetic skin that lasts for 99 minutes... love it. (Beats the pants off of Batman, I'd say.) Check out pre-prestige Liam Neeson, hamming it up like no tomorrow. Big fan of the current Neeson, but I kind of miss that one. Wasn't afraid to put a jester's hat on his head to get the point across. Best line, re: a carnival prize -- "Take the fucking elephant!" Superhero silliness at its height.

-- Ian

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Oh... also add Joyride to my under-rated list. Vanilla Sky is another one. Documentary DiG! is great. Vernon, Florida recently changed my life.

Bill C said...

Yeah, I find myself sticking up for The Great Dictator a lot. Not that I've ever heard a particularly cogent dismissal of the movie from its hipster detractors. (Look Ma, I'm Armond White.)

Jack mentioned The Pledge above. Haven't seen the Richard E. Grant version (the Friedrich Dürrenmatt novel has actually been adapted numerous times in Germany), but I sure do love the Jack Nicholson one.

True Confessions is terrific, but I think I'm a bigger fan of the same director's Straight Time--probably the last time Dustin Hoffman was remotely cool in a motion picture.

Looking forward to Masters of Horror's eventual DVD release, but for my money, the best of Joe Dante's many underrated movies is Explorers, followed closely by Matinee. And if someone says The 'burbs, it's clobberin' time.

James Allen said...

Overrated/Overlooked, eh?

Some nice choices above. I'll add the following:

Q
-Just saw this again the other day, a wildly odd monster flick with Michael Moriarty.

The Great Train Robbery
-Of all the action/adventure films Sean Connery has been in, this one seems to be the most commonly left by the wayside, which is a shame, because it's fun, unassuming, breezy period comedy/adventure.

The Long Riders
-Got ho-hum reception when it came out, but really not at all that bad a western. The stunt casting of actually brothers (4 sets of 'em) gives it an unusual footnote.

Glengarry Glen Ross
-I guess you have to be a Mamet fan (which I am) to like this, but if ever there was an actor who has mastered Mamet's cadence, it's Al Pacino, who nails Ricky Roma dead on.

Barbarosa
-Another forgot western from a time when almost none were made.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
-Amazing look at the making of Apolcalypse Now. The idea of FFC's wife taping him without his knowing is amzingly twisted.

Other People's Money
-Not a wholly successful adaptation of the play, but still pretty good, Danny Devito effectively walking away with the picture and Gregory Peck giving a reasonably measured performance.

Top Secret!
-The lesser cousin to Airplane! but still pretty damn funny.


I could go on, but that's enough to crew on this Sunday morn...

Chad Evan said...

Speaking of Dante:
I think his Gremlins 2 is very undervalued, and still the definitive transplantation (is that a word) of the Chuck Jones/Tex Avery aesthetic to the feature film form, rendering his later Looney Tunes:Back in Action redundant. Who else would end a movie with a character getting a blowjob from a transvestite monster?

James Allen said...

"Enough to crew on"? Christ, my typing is lousy early on a Sunday morning.

And speaking of Gremlins 2, I think it's better than the first. The Jones/Avery observation is apt, and that approach improves on the original's general mean-spiritedness.

Jack_Sommersby said...

The 'burbs is a bad film, Bill, but I'd recommend it just for Bruce Dern's rip-roaringly manic performance as that crazed Vietnam vet who falls through a rickety porch with a plate of brownies in his hand. And that long one-shot of Hanks being intensely stared down on the living room couch by that weirdo neighbor makes me spew beer out of my nose every time.

Prefer Burnett's near-perfect The Glass Shield to his To Sleep With Anger.

Barbarosa was cited. Sadly, the film, directed by astute widescreen framer Fred Schepisi, is available only in a bare-bones, fullscreen DVD.

Am also throwing in James Bridges' Mike's Murder in the underrated list. One of my favorite films of the '80s.

jer fairall said...

Matinee

Yes!

Gremlins 2

Yes!!

Wonder Boys

Yes!!!

I suppose I thought of the latter as having been critically heralded enough not to be considered truly underrated. Hell, I think the studio even tried releasing it a couple times to give it another shot with audiences.

Big Joe Dante fan here, but my very favorite thing of his is still his 1991-92 Eerie Indiana TV series. I was ecstatic enough to finally have that on DVD that I didn't even care that it was such a bland, featureless package.

Good thread, here.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Saw Company of Wolves. Loved it. Great film about use of folklore as a means of societal repression of female sexuality. made me think about why red riding hood is "red".

Rich said...

The mention of Joe Dante reminds me of another underrated director: Paul Verhoeven. He and Dante both make films that have a kind of satirical style that borders on the surreal at times while still being really viscerally entertaining. Dante's Small Soldiers reminds me a shitload of Verhoeven's Starship Troopers - both pretty underrated, I think.

Lee said...

Underrated:

I'm glad to see someone brought up "Top Secret!" Always thought that was the Zuckers' best.

Also underrated:

"Exorcist III"

"Bubble Boy"

"Gerry"

I know someone mentioned "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," which I thought was really good.


On Walter's recommendation, checked out "Mimic: Sentinel," which I thought worked really well considering it's limited resources.

Just saw "Don't Look Now" for the first time, and thought it was pretty incredible. That climatic scene is fucking intense.

Loved Jack's nod to "To Live and Die in LA."

I miss getting to read your reviews, Jack. Where are you writing these days?


LEE

Bill C said...

Always happy to see some love for Exorcist III. Brad Dourif is brilliant in that movie.

Dave Gibson said...

Boy, this is a gas. RE: Dante, I've always been a fan of Gremlins 2: The New Batch--I thought "Matinee" went off the rails about halfway through, but I still have much affection for "The Howling". Someone mentioned "Deathdream" which is a nifty, nasty little film--why the hell didn't Bob Clark have a more consistent career?

I'd also throw my hat in for:


After Hours and The Age of Innocence

My two favourite Scorsese films which hardly ever get mentioned.

The Atomic Cafe

Good doc about cold war paranoia

Freeway

Rees Witherspoon at her best, might be a good one to see after "Company of Wolves"

Tucker: The Man and His Dream
Underrated Coppola.

Tapeheads
The quintessential eighties movie.

The Shout
Creepy as hell film with Alan Bates.

Housekeeping
Bill Forsyth's best and the always underrated Christine Lahthi.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death
An underseen, moody horror gem.

And, let's not forget some great films from those "Stupid cheese eating fucks" so reviled by Hollow Man ;)

Les Yeux Sans Visage
Brotherhood of the Wolf
Red Lights

Gack, I could go on forever...

Jack_Sommersby said...

Lee,

Have been taking a hiatus from writing. Haven't dashed out a review since April, my bud. Will let you know when I get the juice back, pal.

Lee said...

Look forward to it, Jack!

I was always haunted by Dourif in "Exorcist III." The movie has several scenes that still give me goosebumps.

LEE

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

"After Hours" would have been great but for it's last 5 minutes. It's still a masterpeice when it comes to film-direction but it really lost it's balls at the end. Unlike both "Taxi Driver" and "King of Comedy", the happy ending seemed more like a tag-on it-was-all-just-a-dream, then the logical conclusion.

One of the suggested endings on special features was that the guy goes back into a vagina, a good way to end almost all "kafkaesque" films.


i wrote all this because i guess that film is to me, what "war of the worlds" was for Walter, an intercourse without climax.

Jefferson said...

Maybe not underrated, but definitely underseen: The Harder They Come, 1972. Peopled with nonprofessional actors, with its story emerging from Jamaican street culture, you see Jimmy Cliff's country boy go from naif with a dream (musical superstardom) to the island's most wanted after being exploited by a series of authority figures -- first in the church, then in the music industry, finally in the ganja trade. Interestingly, although all the characters are black, Cliff seems to be trapped in a caste system based on skin tone. And it's aware of itself as a movie, and of movies' influence on self-image: a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western acts as a key reference point. The music is great, but it's more than just a reggae wank. Criterion did its usual fine job on the DVD edition. You will need to activate the subtitles, unless you're far more familiar with Jamaican patois than I am.