December 19, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

With under two weeks to go now until FFC’s Top Ten, we find ourselves lagging well behind Roger Ebert’s Top Ten Part of that has to do with wanting to see everything before making any kind of decision – something that’s a luxury really only for Ebert who has full access to every single thing that had an opening date anywhere in the United States in 2005. It’s disheartening to me, then, that Ebert uses that extreme ease of access to champion mainstream (or indie mainstream) pictures while relegating documentaries, animated films, and “overlooked” pictures to their own oddly equivocal categories.

When he says that Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is “one of the most delightful films ever made” – something in my gut wonders first if he’s high, but next why, if it’s worthy of that kind of hyperbole, isn’t it in the Top Ten alongside a few pictures that, presumably, were not/could not also be ten of the most delightful films ever made. Or could they? It’s not that there’s a difference of opinion so much as there’s a lack of consistency and an ideological schism wherein the best “overlooked” picture of the year is suddenly not so overlooked if Ebert would only bump a stillbirth like Me, You, and Everyone We Know or Yes off his list. How is it that Miranda July’s film qualifies for the big leagues, anyway, while Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane is ghettoized somewhere south of the tropic of who gives a shit.

I want to start with number seven, though, Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives that I’ve seen a couple of times but haven’t written on (the only one of Ebert’s ten that I’ve seen and am not on the record for) – a series of nine vaguely interlacing short films about nine different women that counts two as genuinely excellent, one as genuinely awful, and the rest filling in the gray areas in between. A good cast including Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Robin Wright-Penn, a couple of the ladies from “Deadwood” (and Ian McShane in a wheelchair), Dakota Fanning, and on and on go through their individual motions of regret and fury. Issues revolve around infertility, long lost loves, abuse, women separated from their kids, and women separated from their husbands – the best of which the same segment that Ebert identifies: a cautious, heartbroken orbit around open wounds between Wright-Penn and Jason Isaacs, that ends with one kissing the other’s belly.
In a just world, it would win the two supporting actor Oscars – if it were a film by itself, it would be one of my top films of the year. The other great segment is the first one, involving a middle-aged woman in prison, dealing with a visit from her young daughter. But, alas, there’s a lot of dross in here.

I’ve had it with Fanning, though – I mean, she’s preternaturally creepy and all, but that doesn’t mean that she should be shoehorned into anything just because she’s available. There are limits to the best of actresses and if I have to hear that forced giggle (make up your mind, either she’s a middle-aged woman trapped in the body of an eight-year-old, or she’s an eight-year-old – you can’t have her doing her alien shuck and then ask her to act all silly – the only thing that Fanning can’t do is act her age) again, I’m going to get up quietly, and leave the theater. Enough’s enough. If I had to rate it, I’d go for 2.5/4 – it’s like the Rebecca Miller flick that never was which means that it’s just good enough to make you wonder why it’s not better.
But more on that ideological schism: I question, seriously, if these picks reflect the ten films that Ebert thought were the best of the year or the ten that he thought were the best for him, politically, popularly, to choose. More troubling, maybe his top ten are films that he believes you need – which would be fine except that he so underestimates “us” that it’s insulting. The write-up on Crash, in particular, mentions Asians and homosexuals in the film’s pantheon of fabulized minorities, but unless he’s talking about a different film than the one I saw, the only Asians in it were horrible pastiches denied redemption. (Rent, another film whining about equality and acceptance, has as its only Asian a glimpse of an Asian businessman in a strip club.) You can make an argument about 2005 being the year that gays got a lot of positive exposure – but unless you’re talking about the mess around Memoirs of a Geisha, the slants got the shaft again. In any case, Crash was a lot of things, but it wasn’t a battleground for these two groups and so, in the writing, I do begin to question the progress of the essay.

The suggestion, though, that Syriana is “apolitical” is close to the mark though nothing to be proud of; but then I have to confess to being flummoxed by his suggestion that “Syriana argues that in the short run, every society must struggle for oil, and in the long run, it will be gone.” I don’t agree. Well, I agree, but I don’t agree that Syriana is about this at all – from what I could tell, Syriana uses some ideas as a backdrop to the central issue of family that becomes the beginning and the end of the discussion. I don’t know if it’s liberal or conservative to say that you should spend more time with the kids, but that’s all that Syriana seems to be saying. (Also, Matt Damon "sells" his first son for $75m not $100m - it's the second son that gets the century mark.)

When you read Ebert’s review
he tells you that he doesn’t understand how everything fits and then proceeds to make suppositions about what he thinks the film might be “saying” about the amorality of the oil business. There’s a quote in the sidebar, it’s a speech from the film about the role of corruption in world affairs and it ends with the line “Corruption. . . is how we win” which a lot of people have equated with Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good” – one such person mentioned it in Ebert’s Answer Man column and so Ebert transcribes the speech in its entirety on his site. Have to say that the phrase is as good for describing this administration as the other was for the Reagan, but see, that’s me being a liberal sort of guy writing a liberal cheap shot about a middling review for a film that is, yep, apolitical. It is, and here’s me making a supposition, another film that Ebert thinks will make people better for having seen it.

Just like Crash, which is essentially apolitical, too.
Just like Brokeback Mountain. First thing (after “gay cowboy”) that people say about this film is that it’s beautiful. Well no fucking shit. Give me a camera and a day in the American West and I’ll come home with a goddamn postcard collection. It’s just not very good and only the fifteenth, twentieth film I’ve seen sort of like it (though it’s surely the prettiest). The only reason it’s a breakthrough is because the zeitgeist is ready to wonder how it is that Bush Jr. won another election (besides the fact that he was running unopposed). Pick up Prick Up Your Ears or My Beautiful Laundrette - or, as Bill suggested to me the other day, the Rimbaud flick Total Eclipse starring Leo DiCaprio and David Thewlis, buggering one another in the altogether instead of discretely, and in beautifully-worn denim.

Here’s another liberal take: the Democrats would stop getting mudholes stomped in them if they quit massaging the “apolitical” pump. I don’t think the democratic leadership are “flip-floppers”, I think they’re a bunch of fucking pussies.

Then there’s Yes which posits the theorem that the projection of film imitates the function of the eye while presenting everything in rhymed iambic pentameter. It gives people so inclined a lot of room to thrill to it, but at its essence it’s a class piece about the “invisibility” and wisdom of the working class (and the gentle mysticism of the Lebanese), Millions, a British fable about a dim child and the Catholic pantheon of saints, ends in Africa somehow with our heroic child relieving drought and famine – and then there’s Munich - a film I haven’t seen but now worry about. Even more worried than I was already, even. So five (maybe six) of the Top Ten are obvious middlebrow equivocations to hot-button topics that they pretend to address and the sixth is directed by Steven Spielberg.

Crash is a race melodrama using racial stereotypes that, regardless, reserves its harshest punishment for African-Americans;

Syriana is a modern intellectual potboiler about the oil trade that never mentions Iraq or the current administration (the head of which got his start in a couple of failed oil businesses that, mysteriously, turned tidy profits);

Brokeback Mountain is a gay cowboy movie that treats homosexuality like a chaste situation comedy;

Yes is pompous orientalism of a more discrete kind than Memoirs of a Geisha;

and Millions, besides being inspid and over-directed, is ultimately horrifyingly paternalistic;

And all of them, presumably, are films that Ebert believes you’d be a better person for watching. Thank you, Roger. Of what’s left, I’ll show my hand and say that Ebert and I are going to agree on at least one of these films (Munich’s the wild card) – and that I really liked Junebug, too, especially Amy Adams who’s good enough in it to deserve a look during awards season.

I do wish that he’d clarified which scenes he thought to be so risky that the “tightrope might break” – but maybe taking that tactic would have alienated the very audience he presumes and so condescends to. Populist, middlebrow, and after a while, I’m the one who’s an idiot for being disappointed year after year.

We talk a lot about Ebert around here, but the question I want to pose is what compulsion governs us when we recommend a film to someone else? Is it the desire to improve them as people? Something else, altogether? For me, it’s the desire to examine an experience and to learn through conversation and debate about that examination, more about myself and how I perceive myself in the world through the prism of art. Recommendation or not, in fact, just the act of writing on a film (if the film is really thought-provoking) provokes in me a kind of introspection that feels like a good therapy session. It is, in other words, essentially selfish. So is that better or worse than Ebert’s proudly-worn evangelical altruism?

Watched the original Producers on its new DVD last night and it’s just all kinds of sucks. I remember liking this a lot when I was twelve – but I’m just old enough to hate it now and not old enough to like it again. It’s stupid, reductive garbage, and this from a guy who not just loves Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety, but respects them, too. That the update is that much worse says volumes about how miracles are still happening every day.
Also watched the first season of “Project Runway” in one compulsive sitting: it’s the first reality show since the first season of “The Apprentice” that I actually enjoyed without a lot of guilt and, when all’s said and done, I think it’s better. It’s a show about product, and sweat, and inspiration instead of twelve monkeys in a glass cage with one banana. I believed it was about a functioning meritocracy – maybe I was duped – I’m going to assume that I wasn’t.

I thought of a lot of ways to handle a three-way tie with one to go in the event that one of the three doesn’t get the “tiebreaker” – but I’m thinking what we’re going to do is call it “first to three” – good luck, freaks, and let me just say that I’m not just a little bit impressed and intimidated that after that first screen capture, I haven’t had to give out one solitary clue.


Hot off the Presses

Bill tackles the DVD write-up on the mercurial Fox's screener of Transporter 2 and I tackle, with no little squeamishness, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.


Back from a screening of Munich and I like the words but not the music. Somewhere along the line, I felt like I stopped learning anything and in a film this didactic, that's poison. The idea that it's a bad thing to trample our ideals in the defense of them is, obviously, especially given the week or two we've just had in national politics, a topical one - and as far as it goes, it's better at saying what it has to say than Syriana - but it finally succumbs to its doubling tropes and matching shots. I mean, the weight of them is friggin' huge - you'd have to be Atlas not to be crushed beneath their aggregate compulsion. It's a movie that I sort of respect, I guess, but I wanted to be enthralled, captivated, outraged - I wonder if it's the film's fault that these little revelations start to feel mundane.

Not even an oblique little reference to The Conversation won me over.

Bill does DVD heavy lifting by actually watching Must Love Dogs just to see how it looks and sounds in your living room, and Travis is a Godzilla fan. Gozilla: Final Wars.

Hot off the Presses (12.20.05)

Two new releases, two new disasterpieces: Jim Carrey's desperate and useless update of Fun with Dick and Jane and Adam Shankman's Cheaper by the Dozen 2 - both of which with a shot at a certain end of year list, but getting a lot of heat from my realization that with one star, I may have tragically, tragically over-rated The Family Stone.

Hot off the Presses (12.22.05)

Munich

Plus, Travis' love for The Jazz Singer is on the rocks. I do appreciate his quotation of J. Hoberman's brilliant Vulgar Modernism (which we haven't reviewed, but is well worth a blind buy). Hoberman, by the way, also didn't like Munich - here's his review.

Hot off the Presses (12.24.05)

The tweaked and twisted, pulled and taffied drive-in double-feature of Wolf Creek and Hostel - two films that I'm beginning to suspect are heralding a new subgenre of the slasher flick. More than just the traditional "raped by nature (or the naturals)" movie, these films (along with Open Water) seem to have something else on their minds. We'll be watching with interest to see if this develops into something to chew over - just the Saw series by itself might perpetuate the trend. In a real way, these are the children of The Blair Witch Project.

And, of course, I'll be curious to see what QT and Robert Rodriguez come up with next year with their own double-feature of atrocity.

Travis, meanwhile, tackles The Nutty Professor: the one Jerry Lewis picture that I've seen more than a few times, and the one that's always given me the ever lovin' heebie-jeebies. Even before I knew who Dean Martin was.

Hot off the Presses (12.24.05 late)

Another reason to stay home this Christmas: The Producers. See, if they were going to just film the stage production but pretend it was a movie, you should sit about a quarter of a mile away and use opera glasses. It's a nightmare.

87 comments:

Jack_Sommersby said...

Screenshot: A wild stab -- Dario Argento's La Chiesa (aka The Church)?

Walter_Chaw said...

Alas, no - great guess, Jack.

shrug said...

Clueless. Meanwhile, if Christian Bale kills himself through unsafe weight loss this time at least the movie will likely be better than The Machinist:

http://www.gibraltarfilms.com/theatre/theatre_rd.html

But the trailer's no real comfort.

Chad Evan said...

Don't Look Now

Walter_Chaw said...

(by the way, I know you know it, but Argento just collaborated on the screenplay for The Church, that's one of Michele Soavi's - a director that our pal Mike Bracken reveres but I have to confess that I just never got him. Cemetery Man is his masterpiece and I confess that it's interesting, but it never gripped me the way Argento's seventies output did. Gotta give it another chance, though, too many people I respect have recommended it to me for me to be secure in my opinion of it.)

Walter_Chaw said...

Chad E. takes the booby prize!

Nicholas Roeg's great Don't Look Now with one of the most real-seeming sex scenes between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie (I know); with some of the most perverse cinematography of Venice in history; and one of the most jarring, nihilistic denouments I've ever seen. It's beautiful, it's terrifying, it's a must-see.

Shoot me an email, man, at walter@filmfreakcentral.net with your shipping address and I'll get you your schwag in the mail toot schweet.

Congrats to all participants - we start a new cycle of seven next week.

Chad Evan said...

I'm with you, Walter, in that I think an aesthetic response is essentially selfish, and I just plain don't trust films or books that are supposed to be good for me or for society. I constantly re-read Harold Bloom's introduction to his book The Western Canon in which he goes to town on the kind of ideological critique that is so common these days. Judge works of art by their politics and, it seems to me, you are setting yourself up to dismiss a whole lot of wonderful stuff. And there is so often an irritating vagueness to it--I can't count the number of times I've heard a work praised as subversive. Subversive of genre is one thing, I guess, in that it implies formal originality, but as for politically subversive--subversive of what? Is subversion of the status quo always a good thing? To me, that kind of talk stinks of lazy campus radicalism: check out how rebelious I am, I'm wearing a Che shirt and want to free Mumia or whatever his name is!This topic is kind of an obsession with me, and I'm anxious to hear how others here respond to your comments.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

FUCK ! I knew this one too.

Alas.. always late to the party.

Alex Jackson said...

Sorry Walter, but I deeply hate The Apprentice. In the first moments, the Donald says: "This city can chew you up, and spit you out" and when he says "spit you out" they cut to a homeless guy sleeping. And that part where we see his apartment? Ack! Not the tackiest reality show on television, but the tackiest of those widely accepted by our cultural gatekeepers.

Wonder if you saw that TV spot for The Ringer by the way, which offers Johnny Knoxville for Oscar consideration which is funny 'cause they say it's in the tradition of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, and Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot.

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter -

Knowing your contempt for lame people in audiences, I wanted to share this one.

One reason I don't see too many movies is that my wife and I subscirbe to the Seattle Rep Theater; so we're going to plays about once a month.

Tonight's play was one that adapted two restoration comedies. Though I love comedy, I HATE it when someone laughs boisterously at something that's not intended to be funny...like they're so eager to laugh that they laugh at anything..

Each play this season, I've had the same lunatic behind me doing just that.

Tonight she was wearing big red antlers.

Red antlers.

Who in their right mind wears antlers to a play?

Wife: Do I look fat in this?

Husband: No, the antlers totally distract from your girth.


The worst part is I have to sit in front of her three more times.

Seattle Jeff said...

Project Runway is EPIC reality TV.

What is better than putting already flamboyant designers under stress?

tim r said...

It's Don't Look Now!

tim r said...

Shoot, should have known...

Nate said...

Walter,

I haven't seen Prick Up Your Ears, but My Beautiful Laundrette does next to nothing for me and I think Total Eclipse is hateful, worthless garbage. Neither film has much to do with love in my opinion, and while that's not a criticism, the reason I appreciate Brokeback is because of its balance between the good and the bad aspects of a torpid romance. It also, in my estimation, has more emotional and intellectual truths than both of those other films combined.

My Beautiful Laundrette is fine; I don't have any solid complaints about it except that it all feels a little too hip and distant for my taste (not a big fan of Frears in general). But Total Eclipse? This is a movie about despicable people doing despicable things for no apparent reason. I'd have to watch it again to remind myself the myriad reasons I despise it (I have vague memories of poor pacing, editing, and direction), but I truly do despise it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Alex:
Never noticed that in the Apprentice opening and I'm only endorsing the first season for the fascination of watching Harvard MBAs give up already-lucrative positions to design and sell pizza on street corners. Learning that about the opening, though, I'm only swayed to opine that it's only as tacky as Donald Trump is and plays into this ultra-conservative bootstrap ideal that he espouses and represents. Kind of an interesting glimpse into the reptilian psyche of the enemy.

S-Jeff:
Red antlers, huh? I can't even picture it. What was the play?

Nate:
Only meant to offer examples of other films starring semi-famous young studs going through the same-sex motions. Brokeback has a lot of elements of traditional Waterloo Bridge, An Affair to Remember weepies and so has a decent chance to appeal across a wide demographic (gay men, young straight women) - but "breakthrough"? Only, potentially, at the box office.

I was more affected by Longtime Companion and Kiss of the Spider Woman or even parts of pay cable's Angels in America. But doesn't Dog Day Afternoon present a longterm, de facto, doomed gay love story? Maurice, Gods and Monsters, Before Night Falls, Crying Game, M Butterfly, My Own Private Idaho (with two beautiful young guys more famous than these two), Reflections in a Golden Eye, Velvet Goldmine, even that Harvey Fierstein/Matthew Broderick flick had a moment or two of juice. I liked Love and Death on Long Island a lot - not so much Wilde, but there is some frank gay sex in there, some of it including Jude Law. Love and Human Remains. . .

really what I'm talking about here is the danger and fallacy of calling Brokeback some kind of groundbreaking cinema event. It's just not that great but I can acknowledge its potential to excite a certain recognition in gay men, I guess, and in the kind of heteros that want to be seen as sympathetic to liberal causes/ideals. What it lacks for me is universality - too clumsily made, self-conscious, and embarrassed for me to identify and, god knows, being a minority in Colorado, I feel like there was a chance here in this storyline for me to connect on a human level. Again, save for maybe the last half hour of Ledger, it eluded me. (I love Gyllenhaal, by the way, just not so much here.)

cory m said...

Finally got a chance to see King Kong last night and...wow. Top ten material for sure. As easy as it is to complain about American blockbusters, but when they're done right, few things get my blood pumping like that.

Strangely enough, I couldn't help but be reminded of Sin City the entire time. Despite their obvious differences, they felt very much the same to me. They both achieve an artificiality that borders on absurd and dreamlike. Not to mention the fact that both are completely obsessed with their respective source materials.

nate:
This is a movie about despicable people doing despicable things for no apparent reason.

I happen to like films like that.

Rich said...

I saw King Kong last night as well. One of the best I've seen this year, but not sure if I'd call it 'great'. I got a whiff of the old Jackson's kinetic, enthusiastic moviemaking - but it still felt a bit stifled and dull at times (like the LOTR trilogy).

I wanted it to go away, but I couldn't get The Simpsons' 'Kong Homer' parody out of my head for some key parts of the movie.

On the boat:

Karl: Hey, I heard we're goin' to Ape Island.
Lenny: Yeah, to capture a giant ape.
Karl: I wished we were going to Candy Apple Island.
Lenny: Candy Apple Island? What do they got there?
Karl: Apes. But they're not so big.

Nate said...

Walter,

You seem to be railing against the popular perception of Brokeback more than the film itself. I certainly don't think it's groundbreaking, except perhaps in the possibility for it to cross demographic divides because of its stars and the inherently closeted nature of its approach. As for it being clumsy, self-conscious, and embarrassed with itself, I just have to flatly disagree with all that. It feels nothing if not sure-footed to me.

Interestingly, many (most?) of the gay films you mentioned are dark and/or violent movies about people with serious identity problems and other life-threatening situations. While I adore several of those movies (Love and Death on Long Island, The Crying Game to name a couple) I guess I grow tired of the covering up and distracting from gay themes with other extraordinary circumstances. The one thing unusual about Brokeback is its dogged determination to focus on nothing but the decidedly gay romance between Jack and Ennis. That it succeeds in making me care is why I love it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Nate:
There's some merit to what you're saying, Nate, but more I think that I'm reacting to my own reaction to it which was nothing special and mildly disappointed. "Meh" is the word that swims to mind. As to the idea of it being embarrassed of itself, I'd ask your opinion of the reunion scene that Michelle Williams walks in on - the whimsical "ha ha" score at that moment - and the standard reaction shot. Wondering, too, how you felt about the treatment of her character: first getting flipped on her stomach during sex, then during that reunion, then during Thanksgiving dinner with that ridiculous bit with the fishing basket. Why not just say that she saw him soul-kissing his best friend from Oklahoma? It makes her ridiculous and pathetic - and I don't think that's fair: something born of being uncomfortable with the central relationship. The scene where Heath is beaten up outside the bar, too, is badly edited with the scene that follows. There are a lot of examples - it feels rushed in the cutting room to me.

Good points about covering up and distracting from gay themes with extraordinary circumstances - I guess I felt the same way about Brokeback Mountain. When I thought Ledger was going to be killed in an act of road rage, I felt this twinge of pleased surprise - when it's revealed SPOILER


that Jake's gay bashed to death, you probably heard my sigh in Arizona. Dark, violent and Ledger with serious identity problems, right - closeted, the word you use, describes the flick well. I wish that it had worked for me the same way it worked for you, but I just had a tough time seeing the love between the two guys save the one line I mention that Jake has, and the funeral road trip that Ledger takes, of course - but together? Didn't feel it. That could be the difference between ambivalence and love.

Cory:
Interesting comparison between Kong and Sin City - I see what you're talking about. Closer similarity between Kong and New World.

Rich:
"The Simpsons" does so many things well. Their Planet of the Apes/Troy McClure musical is shot-by-shot, number-by-number the new The Producers film - only better.

Nate said...

Walter-

I'd ask your opinion of the reunion scene that Michelle Williams walks in on

I have nothing but sympathy for her character, and for every woman who unknowingly shacks up with a self-loathing gay guy. I like that scene because it somehow conveys the point of view of both parties - her shock and their elation - without exploiting any of them. I also like the tackle box scene because it's indisputable proof of his duplicity; if she had cited the kiss that she witnessed, Ennis could've shrugged it off as something she saw wrong and didn't understand. As for Ennis flipping her over during sex, I saw that coming, but it strikes me as true. Unkind, to be sure, but true nonetheless. The film is not about her, but I thought it showed her in a sympathetic light.

I don't know that Ennis having identity issues is the soul of the picture - certainly he understands and acknolwedges his feelings for Jack, even if he can't fit them into his life in any acceptable way. This, to me, says more about where and when they lived than any particular failing on the part of the character.

Nate

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter -

The play was "Restoration Comedy". It was amusing. However, the interesting aspect was that the play was adapted from two restoration period comedies.

The 1st play (which was the first act) was a ribald tale of a married rogue which ends with the rogue happily embracing fidelity and monogomy.

The 2nd play (which was Act 2) originally was a rebuttal of the ending of the first play. The rogue strays from his wife and self-righeousness and virute are rebuked.

As you may guess, I enjoyed th elatter half the most.

Walter_Chaw said...

They should've played them out of sequence to lend the first a bit of that piquant Betrayal lustre.

Dave Gibson said...

I’m not as enamored of King Kong as many of the top ten lists suggest. Brilliant set pieces aside, this Kong is far too long. The interminable ship voyage sequence offers pretense of ‘character development’ but, as this is in the service of what is essentially, a creature feature, the first act feels monumentally indulgent and ultimately pointless, especially since these characters still only serve the eventual body count. Geez, I think Fay Wray was almost back in New York by the time the 2005 crew gets to the island. Despite the pallor of thirties-style bigotry, I loved the horrific islanders—the capture of Ann Darrow and the sacrifice ritual struck me as great Peter Jackson moments in the midst of an average Spielberg movie. Kong himself is a magnificent creation, but again, the relentless creature attacks left my head throbbing and puzzling over how even a big monkey can endure so many T-Rex bites. Naomi Watts was luminous as always—and, thankfully, her moments with Kong were far more endearing than the overlong chase sequences. The “farewell” sequence in a snowy Central Park skates right up to the line between romantic and ridiculous, but Jackson carries it off. Had Jackson emulated the brevity of the original film instead of just Super-Sizing its noisiest key moments, I think the concluding sequence atop the Empire State Building would have been a memorably, raw and tragic moment rather than a fleeting moment of dead monkey pathos. I’ve always loved the people-eatin’, subway crushing “Kong” but, I’m not eager to embrace yet another hoary reworking of the “Beauty and the Beast” template. (Big, violent ugly guy tamed by beautiful woman has been done about 156,899 times—and yes, it aint more complex than that) So, I’m not surprised by the lukewarm box office. A love story, where any actual “love” would be creepy and awful, means a lot of the audience will be avoiding Skull Island and pitching a tent on Brokeback Mountain instead. Hey, don’t get me wrong—there are scenes in this film better than all of the summer superhero flicks put together. It’s been pointed out by others, but King Kong might be a great example of a film that would benefit greatly from a shorter directors cut. King Kong: Get To the Freaking Island Already Edition, would be welcome on my shelf.

Ian Pugh said...

I'd buy that DVD, Dave, if only for the title. That along with Sudden Impact: The Fewer Subplots Edition, Star Wars: Episode I - The Jar Jar Isn't In It So At Least It Sucks a Little Less Edition, and Dawn of the Dead: Petty Excuse to Put Out Another Edition Edition.

Though I must say I'm with you on that aspect of Kong. Really enjoyed the movie, but that first hour had me on edge for something to actually happen. I think it's just because Kong is such a looming icon in the movies that presenting a painfully-detailed version of human history (the Great Depression, etc.) seems a little less than larger-than-life.

-- Ian

Seattle Jeff said...

Just saw The Polar Express for the first time. There were numerous recommendations of how wonderful it was. However, knowing the Chaw review, I was distrustful.

I'd have to say the Chaw review was off the mark.

It was far too kind. Two stars?

There aren't words to express how much I hated that movie.

It was so bad, I started mocking it in front of the kids.

If I never see a sleigh bell again it won't be too soon.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

The interminable ship voyage sequence offers pretense of ‘character development’ but, as this is in the service of what is essentially, a creature feature, the first act feels monumentally indulgent and ultimately pointless, especially since these characters still only serve the eventual body count.

I don't see your point there. Doesn't "character development" lend reality to the peice ? I mean, fuck, ok there is a giant fucking gorilla in there but instead of making the whole activity a fantastic schadenfreude, I'd rather see some characters I know die. Makes the deal much more complex.

I can see you as the guy sitting in there after an hour going "Where the fuck is the damn MONKEY ?!"... I don't know how I would have reacted if I didn't know that King Kong doesn't come in till 70 minutes. For me, like Walter said, it was all just too much of a good thing. I saw the film as a demystification of the "Beauty & the Beast" template, not as a hoary reworking of it.

Alex Jackson said...

I mean, fuck, ok there is a giant fucking gorilla in there but instead of making the whole activity a fantastic schadenfreude, I'd rather see some characters I know die. Makes the deal much more complex.

I disagree, the movie isn't about them it's about Kong and Ann. Spending time fleshing them out dilutes the power of their relationship for me. The supposed added complexity, I'm guessing is that it reflects worse on Kong. Works nice in theory, but not in pratice. Serkin's depiction of the character itself has enough moral ambiguity built in.

It's funny, at two and a half hours it would be just right but at three hours it's too short.

Dave Gibson said...

Uh Oh. Now I’m in trouble…

Actually no, the “character development” (scare quotes mine) lends only a listless, meandering quality to the initial sequence, after all—these are well-trod action movie stereotypes (the kid, the noble captain, the cook) stretched well beyond their breaking points. If there was any complexity or originality to the relationships between the crewmembers—I might see why it could be interesting to spend more time with them (of course, see: “Jaws”)—but, again—the only purpose they eventually serve is dinosaur protein—though I’m game to hear anything involving a gigantic ape and man-eating slugs “demystifies” anything. Don’t buy it. There’s just no “there” there.

I knew I’d catch some flak for dissing the Kong, but KK is a prime example of what I don’t like about a lot of Hollywood genre epics, and most movies based on comic books. (And, I still dug a lot of it) Yes, I will go on record in saying that using over three hours to tell this particular story of a giant monkey running amok—is overly indulgent--just as I thought that “Batman Begins” was lethally somber and pretentious. This is not an all-encompassing value judgment you understand. I have a King Kong poster in my office and adore horror and science fiction films. Actually, I wasn’t the guy saying "Where the (expletive deleted) is the damn MONKEY?!” I was the guy saying: “Where the hell WAS the damn monkey?” when the flick was over. This should have been a Saturday Afternoon Popcorn cruncher folks. Kong is great, but, no Jimmy, Kong is not Kurtz.

Dave Gibson said...

RE: Recommending Films

Recommending films to others is a slippery, subjective process—which is why, I suppose, Ebert has made a lot of greenbacks through the coy altruism you mention. During my requisite tenure at the video store, I constantly found myself in the position of ‘recommending’ films to people, which, as Ebert has discovered, is more about understanding people than films. (Ebert, to his credit, knows a lot about both.) In the video store, the greatest pleasure (Aside from that big $124 bucks at the end of the week—woo hoo) was when the customer returned their films the following day—offering their particular take on whatever platter I’d recommended to them. Sometimes, this resulted in blank stares and “not my cup of tea” lamentations—but often, I’d end up having a pretty insightful conversation. (Still proud that I’m the reason that the cute, always mildly drunk couple watched and dug: The Last Seduction, Seconds, Videodrome, Red Rock West and (yikes!) The Piano Teacher on my recommendation) Those fresh reactions often tempered my own opinions of particular films. “Lost In Translation”, for instance, was a heavily rented film, which was frequently derided by the customers—forcing me, in part, to rethink why I (initially) offered mostly unreserved praise for that movie. Friends are a trickier proposition. One of my chums is an intelligent, talented writer who thinks “Me You and Everyone We Know” is a great movie—but, she also digs “The Royal Tenenbaums” so, I can forgive that one. More distressing, I know a lot of really smart people who thought “Love Actually” was great (including my literate, movie loving family) as Charlie Brown would say: Auuugh. So, I guess Ebert does have his thumb on something here—because, much as I’m loath to admit it, when people ask me to recommend a film, my first thought is: “Hmmm.what do I think this person will like?” Of course, when I’m among my unwashed brethren of geeks, I’ll let my hair down—but I tend not to participate in film discussions unless I know the people at the table can play hardball. Sure, that may sound elitist (actually, it is elitist)—but, hey..People don’t talk to me about sports, cars or video games, probably for the same reason. For the record though, I never recommended a movie that I genuinely thought was shit, just to placate someone or avoid argument. I’ve also relaxed my standard of: “If you don’t like Mulholland Drive—you can’t be my friend”. It’s a lonely world out there.

Alex Jackson said...

People know that I'm a movie nut, but I think sometimes I come off as picking reccomendations out of a hat. I fairly heavily recommended War of the Worlds and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I'm not sure that I could exactly prove why they deserved love whereas something like Hitch or Ring 2 did not. Or why The Aviator is better than Ray. I'm at a loss, I feel like I'm comparing McDonalds and Burger King. I mean, when you want a burger does it really matter?

I did manage to chastise people who liked Madagascar by asking "Was it as good as Finding Nemo or The Incredibles" or those who liked Chronicles of Narnia by asking "Was it as good as Lord of the Rings". Typically, it's a "no" and so I wonder why they would lower their standards.

Tim Norberg said...

I sometimes like recommending very flawed but interesting movies that will provide me with interesting conversations. Not really just good or bad movies, but movies that have something of substance to them, even if they aren't that great, or are in fact horrible. Such as "war of the worlds" and "the wiz", for one.

Seattle Jeff said...

Bill -

You are Caption deity!

The Michael Jackson double whammy was hilarious.

Bill C said...

Moi?

Seattle Jeff said...

Well, whoever puts the captions under the pics in the reviews. Kudos to you!

Jefferson said...

While I eagerly await FFC's year-end lists, I've had to revise my own 2005 rankings after watching Must Love Dogs last night. It's 12 degrees below awful. Actors with no commitment, a script with a thousand bon mots and no wit, characters who say they're miserable and behave happily, the obligatory women-bond-by-dancing-in-the-kitchen scene to the tune of "The Partridge Family" theme song, editing performed by someone wearing boxing gloves, a chase-and-resolution ending which is really just the first of three equally facile endings, and four (four!) fucking musical montages.

Fantastic Four, now bumped from my worst-of-the-year spot, at least had Michael Chiklis doing what he could. At some point in the making of that movie, somebody tried to care.

B. Earnest said...

...a southerner mainly because "southerner" is one of the last cultural groups (along with, say, Asians and gays) you can mock without much fear of backlash.

It's a throwaway observation, but trenchant and appreciated. Man, what a can of worms -- the South, and Southerners, the Red States (by gerrymandered electoral college, though the popular vote is a more complicated and ambivalent topic, you won't hear mentioned in Bill Maher monologues). Who in the mainstream with its NYC/L.A.-based gatekeepers has the interest or education to address it? Representative of the culture that gave us rocknroll, blues, jazz, country, Faulkner, O'Connor, Malick, Greene, and so forth, South is portrayed in cinma as Sweet Home Alabama, Forrest Gump, and for all its importance a rotten cradle of much ignorant shorthand, Deliverance. What else? Slingblade, the Apostle, O Brother and Ladykillers -- better, but all still deal in certain mainstream-approved quaintnesses and don't explore much beyond well-trod mythologies.

Man, I could go on. Anyway, it's nice to see such an observation uttered in what you call the popular conversation.

Bill C said...

Must Love Dogs is indeed complete shit. It actually rendered me inarticulate with rage, like Lynch's Angriest Dog in the World.

Walter_Chaw said...

Dave:
Appreciate your thoughts on King Kong; and I think it’s timely to revisit the topic because for as hailed as it’s been critically, it just isn’t doing all that well in the box office – not compared to expectations – so the things that you bring up about the pacing and the pretension of the first 35-minutes (it’s actually, believe it or not, at the 40-minute mark that we make landfall on Skull Island – felt longer to me, too, and I didn’t mind the tramp steamer sequences – well, I didn’t love the Heart of Darkness stuff). The film was originally meant to be two-hours-and-thirty but, at the last moment (I heard around August), they decided to allow for a three-hour cut meaning that, among other things, Howard Shore’s original score was cut with two-months remaining and that the last F/X shot was completed on Nov. 28, two days before its first screening to press and public. I think the hopes for a shorter cut on DVD might not be too far off the mark – I doubt it’ll be half an hour shorter (or shorter at all, come to think of it) but it may be a good deal tighter.

Alex makes the great observation that it would’ve been fine at 150min – but is too short at 180.

But the film as it is: I didn’t mind the character development because I guess I didn’t really see it as such. Oblique, I know, and maybe just argumentative (call me on that, sometimes I don’t know) but I felt like it was more a re-introduction to hoary types and a long-immersion so that we would be more willing/prepared to accept a lot of the cornball of the last third. I complain about the broadness of shit like The Producers (both versions), but with Kong, I bought the broadness. How do you get away with a line like “t’was beauty killed the beast!” – well, if you think that you don’t, you probably didn’t like the movie – but if you felt like the film made it work, then it works I think primarily because of the ham and cheese of the Steamer trip with all its romantic hiccups, blazing sunsets, and Sumatran Rat Monkey cages in the hold.

I did love the establishing shots of Depression-era New York (as Bill said to me, doing more to evoke the era in five minutes than Ron Howard and 120+ in Cinderfella Man, and I did love the visual schema of casting everything in degrees of Art Deco – even the creatures.

I loved the islanders, too – actually representative of several Pacific Islander groups, sprayed with muck. They’re representations fictionalized by the “savages” in Denham’s Broadway show (Jackson used the same choreography in that show as Cooper used in the original film for the actual Skull Islanders) – making this film, to me, sensitive to certain kinds of representation instead of exploitative of them.

When you say, Dave, about the Central Park ice skating thing skirting the line between romantic and ridiculous: I think you’re dead on – and more, I think the whole film can be defended/derided on those terms. For me, if I buy into a romance, I tend to forgive a lot of the other stuff. Rather than see the chases as overlong – I saw them as audacious; but I will say that I was less sad about the ending than ennobled by it. In other words, I felt like he’d died a noble death rather than the pathetic one I felt he’d died in the original.

It’s more than possible, too, Dave, that I’m just a fan of “lethally somber and pretentious.”

Ian:
Y’know – there’s actual a “fan edit” of Episode I floating out there that doesn’t entirely elide Jar Jar, but does give him (and all the other aliens) their own language with subtitles which, you can imagine, makes it all easier to take. It’s not great – not much to work with – but it’s almost a recommend. A google search should help you track one down if you’re interested.

S-Jeff:
Y’know what I really overestimated? The Family Stone. Watched it again the other night through circumstances I’d rather not talk about and it’s gotta be one of the worst films of the year.

What’s the message of The Polar Express, anyway? It’s so fucking martial and creepy, isn’t it? Always felt that way about A Christmas Carol, too, so maybe I’m the scrooge.

- - -

On recommending films – yeah, it’s a tough call and you do, well, I do, find yourself abridging what you say to the people that you’re talking to. It’s possible to do that, I think, and not be condescending – there’s a certain politeness involved in not telling your in-laws to rent Trouble Every Day because it’s good for them, but rather answering their question and recommending – what - Paradise Now because although it’s heady, it’s not revolting. I have some pals who have never spared anything like a second thought about movies and generally gravitate towards the two-hour lightshow, let’s go get drunk school to whom, when asked, I offer up “Well, it sucks, but it’s full of beautiful girls” or “it’s fucking awful, but it’s all explosions and shit so. . . “ and then I try to think of something that wouldn’t wither my soul any more than necessary, and recommend that. In any case – it’s possible to find stuff like Hong Kong John Woos or Luc Besson flicks that satisfy a lot of that bloodlust without also sacrificing sleep at night.

The conversation changes, though, when you write a review – in my mind, at that moment, it ceases to be about the readership so much as it is for your own benefit. If you’re good at it, reviews only ever tell about you – it tells about your prejudices, your education, your upbringing and ethnicity, sometimes even your gender or sexual orientation. I find it to be horribly condescending to write a review on someone else’s behalf – especially if there are more than one or two people reading the reviews. When you try to be all things to all tastes, you’re a panderer and a liar.

The rules are different, in other words, when you speak to an individual, and when you write something for the record. I wonder what kind of ethical quagmire that introduces.

Alex:
Big difference between McDonalds and Burger King.

Tim-N:
I tend not to do that mainly because I don’t always want to have a conversation about War of the Worlds or The Wiz - but as a general comment, I think that’s an interesting tactic to take: recommendation as a means towards debate and conversation. I’d be worried to presume that others would find fault with the same films that I do and so find out more than I wanted to know.

Jefferson:
Keep that bottom slot open, man, until you see The Family Stone.

B.E:
Only film I’d niggle about on your list is O Brother in that I think it was meant a lot as a collection of song traditions and folklore of the rural South (in the same way The Odyssey was that for ancient Greece) and not so much an actual representation – also, I thought that in Deliverance, the hill people were the heroes – but neither niggle does a thing to deflate the popular perception of the South and Southerners. I’m excited about the release of the Song of the South DVD, for instance, mainly because it’s got balls the size of cantaloupe – but it’s not helping, is it?

Have you seen Junebug?

And Must Love Dogs. . .

Christ almighty what a mutt. I hate, hate, hate that Cusack is in that flick - more that his fave flick is Dr. Zhivago. Dr. Strangelove I'll get on board with, but Zhivago? That's about as deep as the Ramones t-shirt he's got on (just like the Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt that Rachel McAdams wears by means of character development in The Family Stone).

Thing is that Cusack wears that fucking shirt every day for like a month. Painful to watch.

Seattle Jeff said...

Walter -

I reread your review of The Polar Express after my above comments and I do find your review on the money (I'm just too juvenile to grant it a star or two)...

I reacted so strongly because (as you state in your review) the film insists on keeping the little Aryan kid in line by pounding him to believe in something that is not true.

Being that I am no longer religious, that message irritates all the more.

What's even worse is my son's 1st grade teacher giving him a sleigh bell saying that only those that can hear it ring are those that believe in Santa.

Long story short: the kid, knowing that the wife and I insist that Santa is not real, was horrified that my wife could hear the bell ring. His quote was "Mrs. Solberg lied to me!"

Yep. it's a valuable Xmas lesson. Adults are liars.

Walter_Chaw said...

Yep. it's a valuable Xmas lesson. Adults are liars.

Is there another one?

Someone needs to take your boy's teacher behind the proverbial woodshed.

jer fairall said...

Nah, I'd say that 2 stars for The Bi-Polar Express (good one, Walter; I'll now never refer to the film in any other way) is just right. It's a very cold, creepy film which therefore--in ominous scenes like the ones of the kids sneaking around Santa's workshop as scratchy vinyl recordings of old Bing Crosby songs echo throughout the empty space like ghosts of Christmas past--makes it a kind of interesting one, but I always got the feeling that the creepiness was wholly unintetnional, and it never really lead anywhere. The kids are kind of annoying, and the introduction of a disadvantaged child as one of their friends only makes the emphasis on our bland middle-class protagonist feel wholly misplaced. The film clearly wants to be a new holiday standard, but it too often reeks of compromise, with Steven Tyler's sudden, inexplicable appearance (the most jarring and unnecessary since Macy Gray in the first Spiderman) and the insipid Josh Groban's closing theme.

Still, a better Chris Van Allsburg--a childhood favorite of mine; check out his haunting The Mysteries of Harris Burdick if you can--adaptation than the dreadful Jumanji (itself a better book than The Polar Express was).

Ian Pugh said...

Jer:

Even if you hated Jumanji, you might want to give Zathura a try. It pretty much is Jumanji... in Space, but it's got its moments, moreso than the Robin Williams such-and-such. As typical of a kids' film, it can get shriekingly/screamingly loud -- particularly during the childrens' shouting matches -- but there's a certain earnestness to its familial premise (not to mention the fact that it prods at -- i.e., never outright ignores -- the disturbing sexual undertones that it introduces).

Walter:

Ah, yes, the Sumatran Rat Monkey. I, sadly, haven't seen Dead Alive -- consider it Netflixed -- but I've become incredibly interested with Jackson's earliest works. As I've mentioned, Meet the Feebles collapses underneath the weight of its own disgusting premise, but I wonder if the fact that this man is making epic films and winning Oscars will jumpstart mainstream interest in his gross-out work... where he killed zombies with lawnmowers, killed aliens with chainsaws, and did unspeakable things with Muppets.

Thanks for the fan-edited Episode I rec -- I had indeed heard of it, but I'd never heard any kind of assessment on it.

Oh, and thanks to everyone for the Psycho II recommendation; it was truly a fascinating watch. (Just what does Norman want in that movie -- did he ever really want to be rehabilitated?) Psycho III ain't half-bad either. I'm currently making my way through the recommendations... it'll be a while!

Alex Jackson said...

I saw Must Love Dogs as the second half of a double feature with Dukes of Hazzard. I'm reminded of that gag in Family Guy where they hire a really ugly girl to stand next to Meg so she looks better in comparison. I mean it was about as bad as a movie could be (sort of hilarious for a 2005 release to base its premise on the "novelty" of internet dating, who exactly was this film made by or for), but I have to admit that it didn't make me nearly as angry as Dukes of Hazzard did. It's just sort of a dead zone.

I liked Polar Express, because of the way it looked I guess and because I was seriously unnerved by the scene ontop of the train, at how fast those snowflakes were wizzing by and how easy we could just slip and fall of it, and that has to count for something. (I'm way too big of a pussy to see this in 3D). It was hella infantile though. Anybody over the age of four is bound to be embarassed by it.

Chad Evan said...

Just read that apparently the Coen's next movie is going to be an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. I'm not sure how that makes me feel yet, but it sure makes me feel...something.

Dave Gibson said...

Keeping on the Kong for a moment, I must reiterate that I enjoyed a great deal of KK (and a lot of Batman Begins). My major misgivings for the recent deluge of comic book, and Gigantic Tent Pole movies—is that they are so bloody self important. Where’s the sense of fun in a movie about some rich guy who dresses up like a bat? Thing is, everyone on this site (I’d wager) was introduced to Batman, King Kong, Spiderman, Star Wars et al. when they were children. Why? Because these are children’s stories. There is such a resistance towards treating these works as the simple, timeless morality plays that they are. Just because they are children’s stories, doesn’t mean that they aren’t brilliant or that adults cannot derive great pleasure from them. But, by the same token, they are hardly psychologically or thematically complex. Neither is “Star Wars”—doesn’t mean that it isn’t great. So, those kids have grown up into Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson—and, because they are now adults, they compensate for the inherent simplicity of these stories by larding on heaps of cheap-Freudian subtext and gruesome violence until these delicate stories collapse under all of that self-important weight. Bob Kane took less than ten panels to introduce the world to Batman—and, you know what? It’s still the same story. Kane’s is better than all the Batman movies combined. Same with Kong. The rest is just a lot of impressive doodling. When I see these types of movies by near geniuses like Jackson, Nolan, Raimi (and let’s throw Singer in there for kicks)—I can admire their artistry, but usually, I’m left thinking: I’d sure love to see something more than yet another superhero story from these guys. The kinetic brilliance of: X-Men 2, King Kong, Batman Begins and the Spiderman movies, only makes me wish these guys were challenging themselves more. Are any of these films even remotely as good as: Evil Dead, A Simple Plan, The Frighteners or Memento?

Chad Evan said...

dave:
Good point, and I think you're on to something, but just because someone was first exposed to something in childhood doesn't mean there aren't depths to plumb there. For example, Martin Scorsese undoubtedly first had Gospel stories told to him as a child, by parents or in Sunday School (did they have Sunday Schools in 1950's Little Italy?) Anyway, what film do you expect of him, the searching-if-flawed The Last Temptation of Christ or the regurgitated splatter of Mel Gibson's flick? It seems obvious to me that Gibson hasn't thought much about the Gospel story and hasn't read beyond the most basic commentary on it, which is why the story reverberates with echoes that Mel can't or won't hear in his glorified zombie movie (and I say that as an orthodox, virgin-womb-and-empty-tomb Protestant.)

Point of all this being, sometimes there is a point to thinking through all these elementary-school myths and putting the tuning fork to them, finding the vibrations that move us even on an unconscious level (think about it--if swashbuckling is itself the attraction, why the almost universal preference among the moody, introspective types who grow up to be critics for Batman over his Kryptonian friend?) All of this isn't to say that Kong wasn't too long; it was--although I'll go out on a limb and declare it superior to the original, of which I'm a fan. Jackson found the heart of the story, what seperates it from Godzilla (sorry, Travis) and that heart is Kong and Anne. Walter's right, the death is improved here because Kong is enobled, although I must agree with the critic I read who wrote that he wished Kong had thumped against the building on the way down as he did in the original--there was something so tragic about that, the great ape broken by modernity--but there again, perhaps it fit better with Cooper's pathetic Kong than with Jackson's noble one.

In conclusion, if you want juvenilia inflated to absurd pomposity, look no further than Jackson's Lord of the Rings(or Tolkien's, for that matter.)

Forgive the rambling; I've got the flue and am relying on my old friend vicodin to get me through it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Interesting point, Dave, and well-taken in that my main problem with the new Woody Allen (Match Point - the guy's so prolific, I guess I should be specific - didn't he do Melinda & Melinda this year - and already complete the unreleased Scoop?) is that it's a great, simple, timeless little morality tale that he can't help but inflate with references to Dostoevsky and tennis.

I'd offer with this new wave of comic adaptations that there were dozens and dozens of comic books released the same year as Batman's Detective Comics - home of that amazing 10-panel Bob Kane - and that it's only three or four titles that have captured the imagination enough to warrant update and reconsideration. I think one of the primary reasons that Neil Gaiman's Sandman cycle has never gotten an adequate screenplay treatment has a lot to do with the fact that it's already mature and complicated. Not a lot of room, in other words, for evolution of a character's that's subtext is already textual.

With Spidey there's the adolescence thing (and Harry Potter, too), Batman there's the Oedipal complexity and mad existential duality thing, X-Men the queer thing - all that's pretty obvious, I guess, but their original tellings were so clean and without the heaviness of pretense, that I think for a lot of these artists, they grew in import and meaning as they, themselves, grew into complex beings. Compare the sort of work being produced from them to something already "whole" like the divisive Sin City for instance, which, for as much as I like it, identify mainly as just a really successful stylistic stunt.

It's an odd thing to me that what Quentin Tarantino seems to have contributed to the modern conversation is Sin City, Hostel, and The Devil's Rejects. He's the Farrelly Bros. of genre thrillers - I wish he were making more Jackie Browns which, by the way, gets better every time you see it.

I'm jazzed about the Coens taking on McCarthy's latest, by the way (is that true!? sweet!) mainly because I think Blood Simple is still a fabulous Texas noir. I wish they'd give us a DVD of their non-director's cut, though, it's so much better.

Alex Jackson said...

Anyway, what film do you expect of him, the searching-if-flawed The Last Temptation of Christ or the regurgitated splatter of Mel Gibson's flick? It seems obvious to me that Gibson hasn't thought much about the Gospel story and hasn't read beyond the most basic commentary on it, which is why the story reverberates with echoes that Mel can't or won't hear in his glorified zombie movie (and I say that as an orthodox, virgin-womb-and-empty-tomb Protestant.)

That's a sort of odd connection that you made there. Well, you know I never really viewed Christianity as a mythology until I saw Passion of the Christ. I'm not sure "childlike" is the correct term for it, but it might be the best that I can think of. It's certainly base and anti-intellectual; much unlike Last Temptation of Christ which scores high with secular atheists.

That's something to chew on though, I'll have to think about that.

Jefferson said...

I have a hard time with McCarthy, and a harder time seeing his stuff as good film material -- so much of it is internal monologue or voice-of-God interjection. I gave up on The Crossing at the first point where a simple, Hemingwayesque scene description gave way, for no apparent reason, to a string of left-field Faulkneresque simile. Completely hurled me out of the book, and there it sits on my shelf still.

Thornton might have had a chance to do something good with All the Pretty Horses, hd he not been saddled (snicker!) with Harvey Weinstein and Penelope Cruz.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I still consider "All the pretty horses" a masterpeice, despite it being choppy at places. I wish there would be a director's cut of it.

cory m said...

Seattle Jeff:

On a whim, I decided to look up some Van Allsberg books while I was at borders. I remember being in love with them while I was a child and I wanted to flip through a few. "The Polar Express" was in children's nonfiction.

cory m said...

According to rumor, the Coen brothers' next film will be either Hail, Caesar, about a troupe of actors in the 1920's putting on a play about Rome (with Clooney), or McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.

Also, it looks like Clooney will be directing a Coen brothers script!

Chad Evan said...

Alex:
Yeah, I've been making odd connections in my mind all day; not sure if it's the sickness or the medicine; probably both.

I think the Passion is childlike in that it doesn't think beyond what Christians are taught as children--i.e. Christ died for your sins and took all the punishment you deserve--and oh yeah, he came back to life. He made some connections they teach you in Sunday schoo--in Genesis when it is foretold one of Eve's descendants will crush the serpent's head, that's Jesus and Satan, and so forth--but he doesn't seem to really understand the texts on even a rudimentary level. For instance, after Jesus dies on the cross, Mark writes that "the veil of the temple was torn in two." Mel, looking for a cinematic effect, shows the temple seemingly being destroyed by an earthquake (I guess rendering the Romans in a few decades redundant.) What Mark was getting at, though, was that God has been reconciled to Man: the veil being what seperated the larger Temple from the Holy of Holies, where, according to ancient Judaism, the Spirit of God dwealt, and which was too holy for anyone but the High Priest on a single day of the year to enter. This is pretty basic exegesis, but Mr. Gibson apparently couldn't be bothered to study up, Aramaic not withstanding.

As for Last Temptation, it is indeed popular among secular atheists, partly, I suspect, because it pisses off fundies. There is actually not a single heresy I can think of in the film; as a work of historical fiction, it's actually pretty pious.

Jefferson said...

The heresy of Last Temptation lies in the concept that Jesus was without sin, and thereby without thought of sin. That he is seduced by Satan into believing himself wholly mortal, and therefore is allowed to have sex (even within the confines of marriage), is what chafes this school of thought.

That's the debate from a theological point of view; people have been arguing about the nature of Jesus' divinity (was he 55% God and 45% man, or half and half, or all God and therefore completely immune to sin?) practically since the day he died. The response of a theologically astute viewer to the movie probably lies in his or her position in that argument.

What pissed off the "fundies" -- and by this I mean those without real understanding of the movie, of the novel, and probably of the larger theological question -- was just the fact that Jesus has sex. That was really all ANYBODY knew about the movie at the time of its release. Many people were completely unequipped for the idea of a fictionalized take on the Messiah that happened to include bump-n-grind.

We know Jesus of the Gospels wasn't entirely above human concerns. The Gethsemane incident ("Let this cup pass by me") and the lament on the cross ("My God, why have you forsaken me?") point to a fear of death, which is a product of identifying oneself with the physical body. It's not a far leap to suspect he would have had other human concerns, of which sex is the second most basic, after self-preservation.

Like you, Chad, I think this is the difference between Last Temptation and The Passion -- the first forces a (Christian) viewer to think about faith in a different light, the second reinforces the outlines of that faith as it already exists.

(Which is kinda strange, if you think about it, because the idea of the Devil being visibly present at Gethsemane and the Crucifixion is arguably as fictionalized as any Mary Magdalene rumpy-pumpy. But it's a chaste kind of temptation.)

Chad Evan said...

Jefferson:
According to orthodox belief as set out in the creeds, Christ was fully God and fully man. The Gospels picture him as being tempted by Satan, so their is no heresy there; likewise, the sex scene with Mary M. is a fantasy brought about by the Devil's temptation, not an actual bout of coitus, so once again, no problem. The idea of Jesus being subject to human temptation is laid out not only in the Gospels but in Paul's epistles. The whitewashed Jesus who looks sin in the eye and laughs is a product of fundamentalist imagination and, ironically given the radical Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (sorry I made a D in Latin), has very little basis in scripture, with the comparatively late Gospel of John, viewed by mainline Protestants and moderate Catholics as the "Theological Gospel" beside the likely more historical synoptics, as the only thing they could really point to.

Like you, Jefferson, I think it was more a question of a whole lot of fundies being Puritanical prudes(and I was raised a Southern Baptist before converting to Anglicanism, so please, no accusations of prejudice.) So to bring this conversation to where it started, I think Jackson, Nolan, et al, like Scorsese, had respect enough for their sources to brood on them and dig out subtext, whereas Tim Story or Gibson or whoever made the last uninspired remake or adaptation were content to stick to the surfaces, forgetting what seperated these stories from now-forgotten contemporaries, which simialarly appealed to adolescent kids. Dave may be right, though, that the more cerebral meditations may lose something in the process.

Also, Dave, I sympathize with you wishing these geniuses and near-geniuses were producing more mature work, but Singer? He's undeniably skilled, and nothing more, in my view; he could serve as a case study on the difference between talent and genius, and X-Men 2 is the best he's done and the best we can expect of him in the future, in my opinion.

Bill C said...

My fundies have Superman on them.

Jefferson said...

Chad: For a guy on vicodin, your focus is strong. Thanks for clarifying my admittedly shaky theological history. I suppose in the age of "The Purpose Driven Life," when everyone is supposed to have a "personal relationship with Jesus," the definition of heresy becomes a personal definition -- or, in the case of the Scorsese backlash, whatever definition your politically-motivated pastor applies.

The biggest hurdle for Last Temptation upon its release probably consisted of explaining that it was an exploration of faith through fiction, not a document of faith itself. Passion succeeded in passing itself off as a document of faith -- more, as some kind of porthole through time to a view of Christ's life. Somehow, that belief gained a lot of traction with the religious audience.

Had Scorsese made the movie that lies in the novel, man, it would have been a lot more far-out. Kazantzakis is practically a magical realist. But then, I don't see Scorsese as a magical thinker. I came to believe that the bludgeoning Last Temptation received may be why Scorsese started chasing Oscars, with Aviator, Gangs of New York and the like. He's been diminished by his battle, where Gibson has been elevated (at least financially) by his.

As for Bryan Singer ... I dunno, man, he teases me with the implication that he's trying to say something symbologically with the X-Men films (take a count sometime, during X2, of how often a character is viewed from below through a clear barrier, a glass table, whatnot). But the more I look at it, the quicker it slips away. It may be all flair and no substance.

Bemis said...

"Hoberman, by the way, also didn't like Munich [...]"

Walter, I have to admit that this was jarring as, despite the two-star rating, your review read as positive (more positive than Brokeback Mountain). Either way, it's a strong review, and even if it is a negative one, I now can't wait to see Munich.

Alex Jackson said...

Some background about me. My mother was a lapsed Catholic and my father was a strict rationalist (his father never quite found a mean between relogisity and his rationalist nature). I was raised with little to no background in Christianity and didn't really get intimate with the stories behind it until I got to college.

I'm familiar with the Good News version of Christianity and I'm familiar with the intellectualized questioning form of Christianity (I think that Last Temptation of Christ is more of a Paul Schrader picture than a Martin Scorsese one, as it dogmatically follows his perception of evil as being borne of an existential fog). I wasn't really familiar with Christianity as a mythology.

I can't exactly argue that Passion of the Christ doesn't represent a Level One view of Christianity by turning into a bloody version of LOTR; but from my perspective placing the religion on the level of a (serious) superhero saga represents an evolution; as I never went through that process of childlike awe at the Gospels.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

To me, "Passion of the Christ" (why "the" by the way? I didn't know there were multiples) is like a Granma in thong. Exploitative cinema at its melodramatic best. Look ! We can make lambchop out of Jesus ! Now CRY, you heathens ! Oh li'l Billy, how I wish you hadn't jerked off on your 13th birthday.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Walter:

Surprised, you didn't mention Alan J. Pakula trilogy at all while referring to political paranoia cinema of the 70s in your "Munich" review. Haven't seen "Munich" and not planning to (one mistake is enough for a year, got suckered into watching "War of the Worlds" 'coz some friends were going, a film I hated every goddamn second of, not as much as "Crash" but close) and am not even sure how relvant it is but just an observation.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. Saw Charlie Rose yesterday about best films of the year. The usual dimwit chumps showed up. However, I did love what AO Scott had to say about "Crash". Although, fairly obvious to me, not a lot of mainstream critics have brought it up. Every asshole just wants to say, "... but ofcourse it makes not sense that all characers just happen to "crash" into each other (just so that they can feel something ...ha ha), it is not supposed to be real, it is operatic like Magnolia". What they forget is that one of the most major themes in "Magnolia" was the concept of co-incidence starting from the very first scene. It was like a nudge-wink from P.T. saying "Yeah, I know it doesn't make sense, so just play along". "Crash" makes no such atempt, maybe one reason behind that is that Hagis is "fruit of the month" hack.

Walter_Chaw said...

Bemis & H-Man:
Thing is - here's the guilty secret - I love Spielberg. It's beaten wife syndrome - but I go into each of his films with this wide-eyed yearn and, consequently, leave most of them with my tail between my legs. But I always go back when he calls. I accuse some folks for doing that with Lucas (and, of course, they do) - but I'm a junkie for Spielberg based probably entirely on Raiders, Jaws, Duel, and then moments of visual "holy shit" here and there. There's a second early on in Munich where that infamous shot of a terrorist on a balcony is recreated from behind as we see the image on the TV screen in the room behind him. It's fucking breathtaking from a cinematic viewpoint.

Consequently, though, even Spielberg films I dislike, I spend a lot of time with my miserable self trying to come to terms with what it is that hurt me about it. It's internalized, in other words, so a review for WotW or Munich is going to be longer and, more than likely, more thought out than a review for Brokeback Mountain. I just don't have as much at stake with Ang Lee and, especially with that film, didn't see his presence in there much at all.

Some see that as a virtue - I see that as weird. How can you not be present in a product of your hand? That's an alien concept to me.

Anyhow - didn't mention Pakula because, again, his "paranoia trilogy" is sacred text to me. Pakula's death on the L.I.E. to me was a black calendar day - the man, in his time, was amazing. (Heard the other day, by the by, that a new 35mm print had been struck for Klute.) Seems, though, that Spielberg was really going after the style and the major themes of Coppola's seventies output - I'm thinking he saw a lot of similarities between this island Corleone and this island Israel: their rises, and their decisions to play in the same sandbox.

I thought a lot about the people justifying any means necessary by saying "Well, the people on 9/11 didn't get due process! Well, they didn't worry about the civil rights of the people on 9/11!" and such jolly horseshit - and the easy rejoinder that "That's right, that's because they were killed by terrorists." - while I was watching Munich. For some I suppose that that's a revolutionary new way of thinking - for me, and I'm not that bright a guy (and, believe it or not, not all that political), it's just sort of old hat and obvious.

We should do a thing on Pakula someday at the muthasite if shit ever gets less hectic around here. You wouldn't believe the backlog of stuff building up. I haven't even started a New World review, for chrissakes, and I think it opens on Sunday! But for Pakula, I'd be glad to clear off my desk for a week or three.

Just another idea to toss onto that pyre.

Without having anything to add, by the way, wanted to say that I've appreciated the hell out of reading the Passion v. Temptation debate up there - and all without name-calling and childishness. Halle-fucking-lujah, folks.

Bill C said...

Apropos of nothing, anybody else notice that the Munich poster is a kind of mirror image of The Color Purple's?

Jefferson said...

from my perspective placing the religion on the level of a (serious) superhero saga represents an evolution; as I never went through that process of childlike awe at the Gospels.

Alex: If you want to introduce biblical awe to a child, turn him or her on to Bible comics at roughly age 8. That's when I got my set (I think the volumes were labeled "In the Beginning," "The Chosen People" and "Jesus and the Early Church.") Rocked my world, man, and although the editing of the overall story was necessarily subjective, it did a lot for my understanding of biblical history and Christian worldview. There were superhero stories like you wouldn't believe: Samson, Gideon, Elijah, shit people (specifically, U.S. Christians) just do not talk about. And the emphasis on Jesus was equally on the message and the murder -- you didn't wind up getting stuck with any one symbol, like the crucifixion or the resurrection. It was all there. IMHO, that's The Passion's problem -- it got stranded at the passion and disregarded the message. That's the kind of selective Christianity that really turns me off today. "Jesus died for your sins." Yeah, well, he forgave me for sinning too, so why don't you give it a whirl?

Bill: By your wit ("Funderoos! Now in Green Lantern variety!"), you've come perilously close to outing yourself as Caption Boy.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Off topic:

Just saw a preview trailers show for the upcoming Hollywood sensations. It makes me snicker just thinking about where Walter's "notes" will be coming from next year. Here's my take on some just from the previews:


"Glory Road"

Tagline: Winning changes everything.

Plot Outline: In 1966, Texas Western coach Don Haskins led the first all-black starting line-up for a college basketball team to the NCAA national championship.


Could they get any less original with taglines, by the way ?

During the trailer, I was struck with how often now-a-days casual paternalistic racism is being sold with a cherry (triumph of human spirit) on the top. Was reminded of Walter's thoughts on "Ali: Fear eats the soul" about bigotry vs. paternalistic racism. What's funny about it is that I think if Africa was the richest continent in the world, there would a lot of white people hanging on equatorial trees everywhere. That's a point a lot of people fail to mention. Coming back to the film:

For black people, there's basketball... yessum sir, because ofcourse that's the only thing that they like.

For white people, there's a white monkey-trainer taming a bunch of niggers.

For everyone else, "fuck you, you don't buy the tickets."



"Eight Below"


Tagline: The Most Amazing Story Of Survival, Friendship, And Adventure Ever Told.

Plot Outline: Brutal cold forces two Antarctic explorers to leave their team of sled dogs behind as they fend for their survival.


Could they get any less original with taglines, by the way ?

Yes they can.


Now this one really boils my blood. See the trailer for yourself and I guarantee you whatever food is in your stomach will be on your keyboard before it ends.

Before I saw this trailer I didn't know that dogs had peronalities, families and a mental compass. I could still barely forgive that knowing that it is disney trite, but then Ifind out that dogs can also play poker and fight anctarctic sea-monsters. If that wasn't enough, here's the punchline: "Inspired by a true story".

By the power vested in me by Werner Herzog, I condemn every single asshole behind this peice of shit to eternal ass-raping by King Kong.



"Last Holiday"


Tagline: She Always Thought She Was Somebody... And She Was

Plot Outline: After she's diagnosed with a terminal illness, a shy woman decides to take a European vacation.


And yet again, yes they can.

Problem with this kind of film is, if she doesn't die at the end (Remember "Life or something like it"... actually now that you remember, throw it back again into movie shitdom) the movie will suck. And if she does die at the end... just kidding. Another thing that struck me about this film is why in the good name of Mel Gibson's jesus would LL Cool J (I can't wait to hear Dame(?) Judi Dench say "And the Oscar goes to... is that really his name?") wanna fuck Queen Latifah ? So that other fat women in the audience can get there money's worth.



"The Benchwarmers"

Do we have to go there ? I mean really... haven't we seen enough of Rob Schneider's ugly, unfunny face ?

James Allen said...

H-Man:

Speaking of trailers, just saw the one for The Matador, which may be the funniest film ever made for all I know, but the trailer sure makes it look lame.

I wonder, is there a manual for trailer making? Because if there was one, this one hit all the boxes on the checklist: "Meet so and so (the weird guy) he's a hit man blah blah" and "Meet Joe Blow (the straight man), he's a yadda yadda in need of a break," and of course it leads to, "together, they are going to so on and so forth." Sprinkle in bits from the harried wife of the straight man, a bunch of one-liners that are unfunny out of context (maybe even unfunny in context), slo-mo at the appropriate points, and you have a trailer.

Re: The Charlie Rose Roundtable

About the only thing I took away from this is how annoying Lisa Schwarzbaum is and how utterly pretentious the guy from the New York Times is.

The chesnut of the evening was a couple of them taking Crash to task for being too pat in it's so-called contradictions, yet being glad that people are going to see it and are reacting to such reductive filmmaking. It struck me as mightily paternalistic, i.e. "I saw through the shallowness of the piece but the unwashed masses will be warmed by the liberal ideals that I generally support, so I don't mind all that much." Phooey.

Bemis said...

Consequently, though, even Spielberg films I dislike, I spend a lot of time with my miserable self trying to come to terms with what it is that hurt me about it.

I hear what you're saying. I'm generally more positive on Spielberg, but when something like Always or Amistad lets me down, it sure does sting. The downside of early brilliance is having to compete against oneself - I think it eventually took its toll with Hitchcock, and while I don't think Spielberg's there yet, you can feel him fighting it. In any case, while I really liked War of the Worlds and I'm looking forward to Munich, the best Spielberg movie I saw this year was a midnight screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ian Pugh said...

The worst trailers, to me, aren't the formulaic ones that reflect on their formulaic tripe that they're pushing, but the ones that are deliberately misleading. There was Wicker Park, which was a fairly good flick about cosmic misunderstandings and emotional tragedies, but was pawned off in the trailer as some kind of hyperkinetic kidnapping/psycho thriller. More recently, there was The Ice Harvest, which was shown as some kind of ha-ha comedy, instead of a neo-noir. I assume that Joe Sixpack just doesn't like film noir anymore, but as far as I'm concerned the movie is a poor attempt at the genre anyway; particularly considering the ho-hum cast. Lord knows John Cusack has played enough Lloyd Doblers, and that Billy Bob Thornton has played enough Bad Santas.

And speaking of Raiders, you think we'll finally get a theatrical re-release for its twenty-fifth anniversary? Certainly a better idea than a sequel to Sahara.

Meanwhile, in the "makes me want to claw my eyes out for even considering it" news, there's this. Worse than Denise Richards? Yes.

Bemis said...

How's this for one-upmanship? Jim Emerson, the editor at rogerebert.com, has a much more solid ten best list than Ebert (and, as he admits, he hasn't seen nearly as many movies as the Rog this year):

1. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
2. Brokeback Mountain
3. The Squid and the Whale
4. Cache
5. Munich
6. Grizzly Man
7. Keane
8. A History of Violence
9. Murderball
10. Capote

Dave Gibson said...

Spielberg suffers from a rare malaise which afflicts only enormously successful, pop-culture icons. Despite his extraordinary talent, he’s always been acutely affected by his detractors—who claimed from early on, that the kid, while talented, was not exactly deep. So, soon after “Raiders” and “E.T.” he began his self-conscious reinvention as a “serious” director and, the work has suffered ever since. Much like his literary counterpart, Stephen King, Spielberg has worked very hard at silencing his uniquely accessible muse in favour of these well-intentioned “prestige” projects and overdone popcorn movies, ironically becoming a less serious director in the process. “CE3K” is a far more assured and dark vision of American paranoia than “WoTW” and “Raiders” a much more damning and subtle indictment of the Nazism than “Schindler’s List”—fact’s which unfortunately, seem lost on Spielberg as well as many of the critics. I guess because even his bad films contain moments of stunning visual poetry (WC has mentioned the burning train car in WotW) we still find ourselves queuing up to his latest compromised work-in-progress (many of his recent films don’t even feel finished). I’d love to see Spielberg make a film for 15-20 million, without John Williams and Janusz… and see what happens.

Jefferson said...

The holiday's taking me away from technology for a weekend, so, to all FFC staff and visitors, whether you align yourself with The Passion or Temptation, Spielberg or Lucas ... Merry Christmas.

Alex Jackson said...

Not making this up:

Government officials are looking at filmmakers like Michael Bay to predict where the terrorists are going to attack next. But that's not the best part.

Showbiz Tonight interviewed Bay about this and he mentioned how "Some people have said that September 11 resembled a Michael Bay movie". He then offers that he had an asteroid hit the WTC in Armageddon and admits that he found the semblance with September 11th pretty eerie.

Yeah, those people who said that September 11 resembled a Michael Bay movie.. that was THE ONION!

The Captain said...

Alongside poor overly-cliche'd hack trailers for shitty films and those annoying misleading trailers are those that show a film's promise, the potential to be something fantastic, when it's only more misguided tripe which unfortunately has the bonus of some talented people in the editing room (or some fantastic music to inject into the montage - see Nightwatch and the Matrix Sequels). These are one of the reasons people say they like trailers more than the movies themselves; at the very least, trailers are shorter.

I have nothing to add, just wanted to wish all the Film Freaks and others a Merry Christmas and enjoyable holiday celebrations!

Bill C said...

A Happy Holidays in return to all our readers; sorry for not preparing something more formal. Just learned that there's only one copy of The Film Freak Central 2005 Annual left in stock at Amazon, which means we sold quite a few copies over the past few weeks. An extra glass of egg nog to those of you who chose to feed the monster by buying the book, especially during this frugal time.

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

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

(If your name isn't Charlie Brown, insert appropriate name.)

Anyone have a favorite movie you watch this time of year? It doesn't necessarily have to be a Christmas themed film. For example, when I was a kid, for years a local station would show A Hard Day's Night and Yellow Submarine around the 25th, so I have this natural urge to reach for my Beatles DVD's about now.

"Has success changed you?"
"Yes."

Bill C said...

You should be able to access the main site, James. Hopefully you're not still having trouble.

Every year at Christmastime I used to watch The Godfather. That's become more difficult to squeeze into the holiday-viewing schedule, but I still get the urge to spin it whenever we finally put our tree up.

James Allen said...

Merry Christmas again, everyone!

Just came back from The Producers with my wife, she wanted to see what it was about and I was very curious about it myself. Rare is it that you see critical opinion virtualy split down the middle (51% on Rottentomatoes.)

I am writing this without having read Walt's review (although from previous blog comments, I have a feeling where it's going.)

First, I'd like to say that 1)I've never been all that big a fan of the original 1968 film, and 2) I saw the Broadway production (albeit without Lane and Broderick) and found it to be a twisted take on a "traditional" musical, something (as someone who's worked in theater for about 20 years) I kind of appreciated on the face of it. I did have some problems with it (for one thing, the stereotypical gay characters were rather obvious and cloying), but some of the songs were fun, and the quick show-biz patter got a good number of laughs out of me.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from being too damn reverent to the Broadway production. You'd think first time director Susan Stroman never saw a film before. I know films based on plays are inherently stagebound, but this one is practically hamstrung by the flat staging, the camera angles that range from front to front-and-slightly-to-the-left, and the obsession with tight close-ups as a way of mixing things up (I think I saw every pore on Matthew Broderick's face.) When the number "We Can Do It" broke out of the office set and worked its way out to the real Central Park, it felt like a release ("Wow! Open spaces!") Unfortunately those moments are few and far between.

As far as the performances go, Lane is the driving force in this film, and he does a reasonable job of pulling off the slimy Max Bialystock. Broderick is less successful as Leo Bloom, the more timid of the two. The overtheatricality of the delivery has been commented on quite a lot, and I agree with that criticism up to a point. Given the material, it's hard to really soft play it all that much, but there are times when Broderick goes way too far, not helped at all by Stroman's extreme close-ups that make his hysterics at losing his security blanket (which played fine onstage) look practically terrifying on screen.

Will Ferrell is OK (as the Nazi playright), I guess, but he does absolutely nothing to distinguish himself. I've seen him do this kind of screaming schtick 1,000 times before.

Uma Thurman (as Ula, the Swedish bimbo character) rose above the material about as much as one can expect from such a limiting role. At least she knows how to act in front of a camera, and her big number ("If You've Got It, Flaunt It") is done with a spark that some of the other numbers could have used. (I think the film has a couple ballads too many, especially given that the film excised a couple good uptempo numbers that were in the play.)

Overall, what worked as a sort of meta-throwback Broadway play-within-a-play doesn't nearly work as well as a 2005 big movie musical. It's big and it's broad and I doubt a lot of people can really get (or really want to get) what is going on here. Not that I blame them. It was a very odd experience watching a show I kind of liked transformed into something fairly flat and engaging only in a limited way. There were at least some pleasing moments that rose above the director's limitations, and all that points up is what some other better, experienced director might have done with this. It still wouldn't have been everyone's cup of tea, but it could've had a lot more life.

Now I'm going to read Walt's review.

Holy shit. Don't mince words, Walt, what do you really think?

I understand where you're coming from, of course. The biggest disagreement I have with you is that I thought Uma Thurman was far from embarrassing. And I was going in with the vision of Thurman as The Bride still pretty firmly stuck in my head, but she quickly dispelled that and at least brought a smile to my face.

rachel said...

One special I caught over the weekend, which Cartoon Network has on fairly heavy rotation, was "Olive the Other Reindeer". Just sweet and silly and charming as hell. A Matt Groening production, it's got many of Futurama's VAs (Dave Herman, Billy West, Tress MacNeille), that same sort of geeky, ref-laded humor, as well as Dan Castellaneta basically reprising his role as the Robot Devil. Plus, Futurama alum Christopher Tyng composes the awesome, awesome music.

And I dare say, as the titular dog determined to save Christmas, Drew Barrymore easily delivers her best performance!

Alex Jackson said...

USA used to show the original Star Wars trilogy every Christmas. Don't think they do that any more. The LOTR trilogy might be fun.

Post-Santa Claus, I think that sci-fi, horror, and fantasy films should be on any Christmas viewing schedule. I had planned on watching Passion of the Christ, Parents, and then breaking into my cheapie "ten film noirs for five dollars" package (noirs being good enough to substitute for horror and fantasy); but somehow I got distracted, as I do too often, putting the finishing touches on my Viddied review of King Kong, calling my mother, doing the dishes, et cetera.

Fuck Logan, Utah by the way. Fuck it in the ear. Munich and Wolf Creek aren't playing anywhere in the entire city, I have to go to Ogden thirty-five miles away and my wife has the car. Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and Memoirs of a Geisha? They have you covered.

jer fairall said...

Sorry guys, but I gotta say it:

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Not only, I think, the best of this series (though most would argue that their are only either one or two good ones to begin with, if that) but also a surprisingly deft light comedy in its own right--perhaps even more influenced by the success of John Hughes' then-recent Planes Trains and Automobiles than by the relatively dark original Vacation. The film offers Chevy Chase's funniest, most humane and overall best performanec (though again, most would argue...), the moments of poignancy are rather surprisingly unforced and effective and the scene of Clark being trapped in the attic is, I think, a minor masterpiece, slapsticky resolution or no.

Now feel free to yell at me.

Bill C said...

I wouldn't yell at anyone for thinking that. I think Christmas Vacation is one of the better Hughes-scripted/somebody-else-directed movies (probably the third-best after Vacation and Some Kind of Wonderful), but I do think it's overstuffed with supporting ciphers who serve no purpose except to egregiously misuse solid character actors. (Do E.G. Marshall or Diane Ladd even have any dialogue?) Randy Quaid's family would've been enough by themselves. Like the plaintive ending a lot, though.

The Captain said...

Props to you - Christmas Vacation is genius. Pure, wonderful insane genius. I can't think of a single joke across the entire film that falls flat - my personal favourite, the cat that gets wrapped up as a gift, and then the perfect piece of slapstick insanity that is the SQUIRREL! scene.

Darn, now I'll have to order the SE off Amazon..

cory m said...

It may be a bit of a cliche at this point, but I think A Christmas Story will always be my holiday favorite. It's such a wonderful representation of family life and Darren McGavin is just perfect. I'm one of those people that isn't annoyed at all that it's played for 24 hours. It makes me so happy that I can tune in any time and catch a piece of it--or just throw my old, battered tape into the VCR.

Blogger said...

Sprinter - Function One (160BPM)

Blogger said...

I have just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the best virtual strippers on my desktop.