January 02, 2006

Notes from the Trenches

Still on “winter break” as it were with the studios having screened us to death in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas and allowing us now to breathe a collective sigh before the avalanche of garbage too awful for release any other time of the year is dumped on us between now and sometime in the middle of March. There’s a reason that most professional critics I know take long vacations in the month of January.

For the middle states and outlying markets, however, this is the kick-off to a period of slow-releases for stuff like The New World (reportedly twenty-minutes shorter than the print screened for critics in December – and I don’t think that Malick is being pressured to make the trim), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Match Point, Caché, and so on. What’s really taken me by surprise this year is the sheer number of quality films that never had a hint of a screening in Colorado for any of the major critics (for me, neither) – films like Herzog’s The White Diamond and Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady that are both now available on DVD and are both serious flicks that deserve serious looks.

Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote once about how it’s not entirely a matter of the popular audience having no taste so much as it’s all tied up with the truism that the popular audience often doesn’t have a choice. Go to the one cinema in a one-horse town and you get to watch the penguin movie or Whale Rider for eighteen months. Even Denver, a two-horse town, only has around twenty screens devoted to independent film and all twenty of them are programmed by Landmark which is, I think, based in Seattle nowadays besides having other interests besides growing an audience in mind. The thought that we’re often not even allowed to indulge in our better selves when it comes to films gains a scary kind of mileage.

It’s a brave new world: made braver by the release of Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble in a couple of weeks, simultaneously on Pay-Per-View, DVD, and theatrically. The Mark Cuban’s experiment – it makes you wonder if it’s an idea that presages a seismic event, or if it’s just a ripple on the pond.

Speaking of Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial debut (from a script by Guillermo Arriaga of 21 Grams, Amores Perros fame), Three Burials is essentially Crash 2: Cormac McCarthy with the weight of cosmic ironies in its tale of racial intolerance and good, ol’ fashioned Old Testament retributive justice, handily submarining the mood of the piece which is, all things considered, pretty good. The gem is The Band’s legendary drummer Levon Helm in a bit part as a blind guy Jones and the comic-book super-bigot played by Barry Pepper come across in their odyssey across the border. He’s freakin’ amazing in a film that boasts as its only other real innovation the discovery of a new Bridget Fonda: flawless, aquiline, largely inexpressive January Jones.

Best Supporting Actor of 2005? Levon Helm

and, while we’re at it, Best Supporting Actress – always a tough call – I’m going with either Robin Wright Penn for Nine Lives, Amy Adams for Junebug, or Maria Bello for A History of Violence.
Best Actress would be Dina Korzun for Forty Shades of Blue: a genuinely affecting and unsettling performance that, in moments, demonstrates the physical manifestation of emotions in ways courageous and jaw-dropping. I loved Jennifer Connelly in the badly underestimated Dark Water, too, and Ms. Kilcher’s turn in The New World as the eternally un-named Pocahontas.

Charges of racism in The New World and King Kong, by the way, are largely kneejerk and off base in my mind: but they’ve inspired a flurry of white, middle-class critics across the country to finally take up the flag (including in my own backyard! especially odd because he’s not the paper’s critic, and the paper’s critic, curiously mum, is an African-American woman) when these same crix have been conspicuously silent for the most part on genuinely, maybe even willfully, appalling pictures (racist, misogynistic, badly done, the whole nine yards) like Hustle & Flow.
Best Actor? Let’s give it to Damian Lewis in a runaway race for Keane. The unlikelihood that he’ll even be mentioned come awards time should only magnify his esteem.

Best Gay Cowboy Movie: Brokeback Mountain
Best Gay Musical: Rent
Best Breakthrough Gay Movie: Tropical Malady

Caché, by the way, lives up to the hype. A film touted as without an ending that actually has an ending – and one of the most fascinating looks at the process, and innate aggression, of viewership since Peeping Tom. It’s a metaphysical horror film – a picture a lot like A History of Violence but without the soothing tones of a familiar infra-structure. Doesn’t make it necessarily better or worse, but it does make its audience smaller. I’m a huge fan of Haneke’s Code Unknown, The Piano Player, and the apocalyptic sci-fi’er Time of the Wolf - and Caché, scavenging the most elements from his legendary mindfuck Funny Games, represents something of a second-tier work by the Austrian. Which is, of course, pretty spectacular in any time.

The Best Munich: Batman Begins which, with one line about the escalation of freakism (Joker sighting) following Batman’s reign of righteous vengeance (spreading terror and destruction throughout the city he seeks to protect from terror), says with eloquence what Munich says for 165 minutes to steadily diminishing-returns. Give Spielberg credit at least that the supporting Jews in his film didn’t all slot themselves into the polite, well-behaved Jew stereotypes of Schindler’s rescued Jews (affecting only en masse said J. Hoberman, once upon a time) – though the one I remember most is the lovable Mossad accountant who gets the film’s biggest laughs demanding “Receipts! Receipts! Receipts!”. Hilarious, am I right?

I won’t pretend that my affection for gravid comic book movies doesn’t have something to do with the fantasy of dressing up in rubber and smiting evil-doers whilst gaining the doe-eyed attentions of hot, but sexually un-threatening women – but like a good fairytale, I think a good comic book premise allows for maturation, meat, and escalation if one were so inclined. Whether one should be so inclined is another matter, I guess, but I for one would love to see the proposed $100m HBO miniseries adaptation of Alan Moore’s astonishing The Watchmen come to fruition.

(this faux-teaser poster for a Batman Begins sequel is fan art from a German website, taking the visage of Conrad Veidt and photoshopping it to their Bavarian hearts’, and ours’, delight)

Two Random Thoughts and One Dire Prediction to Round Out 2005

The Dukes of Hazzard is exactly the same movie for dumb boys that Herbie: Fully Loaded was for dumb girls. Nearly identical, really, with the same soul-sucking emptiness, the same racing subplot and the same ear-blowing veneration of revving noises.

For the first time in ages, Sundance produced a couple of real gems: Junebug, Forty Shades of Blue, and The Squid and the Whale. It also produced the abovementioned Hustle & Flow and March of the Penguins which, incidentally, inspired some right-wing wackos to declare that these animals’ nightmarish journey was proof positive that theirs was a universe of intelligent design governed by a just and reasonable god. You could for a while download a checklist to take with you to the theater (flashlight in hand, of course) to mark all the places that God speaks to you through this stirring, Morgan Freeman-narrated testament. I like this article by Andrew Sullivan from London’s Sunday Times that talks a little about penguin monogamy, transgenderism, and homosexuality.

If I have one prediction for 2006, it’s that the success of this and Narnia 1 will inspire more directed marketing to groups like Focus on the Family which, and really folks I’m not going out on a limb saying this, is like making a film and crafting its marketing campaign explicitly for the enjoyment of the Taliban. Why don’t they make a movie about how the most visible/vocal factions of the Christian right are trafficking in fear-mongering, exclusion, ignorance, and hate? Oh wait - maybe they have.

Here’s screen capture #3.2, and the first of the New Year:


Jack_Sommersby said...

Screenshot: John Frankenheimer's Seconds?

Jack_Sommersby said...
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Jack_Sommersby said...
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Jack_Sommersby said...

Other thoughts:

20 screens for independent cinema in Denver isn't something to spit on, Walter. Before the Magnolia and Angelika theatres opened in Dallas in 2001, there were only 3 screens of independent cinema in Dallas, and all of them at the Inwood theatre. Here in Missoula, we've got a whopping 2 screens of indie cinema, and it's all at the downtown Wilma.

As for...

Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote once about how it’s not entirely a matter of the popular audience having no taste so much as it’s all tied up with the truism that the popular audience often doesn’t have a choice.

...I must time-travel you back to your The In-Laws review, where you correctly predicted that the very-good In-Laws would flop while the odious Bruce Almighty would grandly succeed at the box-office. Sorry, I don't ascribe to audiences seeing crap only because they're not given the exposure to non-crap. I wish I could, but I can't.

(By the way, I know In-Laws isn't an indie film, but compared to Bruce Almighty it's fucking Drugstore Cowboy by comparison.)

Chad Evan said...

Joe Dante's Matinee?

Jack_Sommersby said...

Something else:

It also produced the abovementioned Hustle & Flow and March of the Penguins which, incidentally, inspired some right-wing wackos to declare that these animals’ nightmarish journey was proof positive that theirs was a universe of intelligent design governed by a just and reasonable god.

I also read where Bushies were hypocritically praising the film in that it showed the penquins' innate monogamous relationships with one another, when in fact heavily red-state Texas has the highest divorce rate in the nation while blue-state Massachutes has the lowest -- and we all know that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce in this nation.

Alex Jackson said...

Screenshot: John Frankenheimer's Seconds?

Yeah, Walter. Even trying anymore? Jeez.

Haven't seen it yet, but I'll be very surprised if Brokeback Mountain doesn't win the Best Picture Oscar or at least get nominated. The "entertainment news" world has all but come out and said that gay is the new retard. Critics seem to love the picture and it seems palatable enough for the plebes.

I still watch the Oscars every year, but I think that I've grown a little more sophisticated a cineaste recently in that I find myself getting more excited about the editing and cinematography awards than the acting ones. Great moment for me last year seeing Thelma Schoonmaker win and thank Scorsese.

I will throw you a bone though, I'm not too thrilled about Gibson's latest. Passion's had a pretty terrible trailer also, but I'm gettin prepared to be embarassed. Hope he makes good with the splatter, his core constituents probably aren't going to keep him afloat this time.

Alex Jackson said...

I also read where Bushies were hypocritically praising the film in that it showed the penquins' innate monogamous relationships with one another, when in fact heavily red-state Texas has the highest divorce rate in the nation while blue-state Massachutes has the lowest -- and we all know that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce in this nation.

Err, I'd feel better about attributing it to lack of communication, an unresolved stressor (such as job loss or sudden death of a love one), and simply greater opportunity. As marriage is largely an economic relationship, it's easier to dissolve once both partners are able to be financially independent.

Adultery is likely more a symptom than a cause; as I'd want to look at what led up to the infidelity.

Jack_Sommersby said...
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Jack_Sommersby said...

In Texas, pal, it's infidelity -- plain and simple. By attributing it to "lack of communication" you're attributing way too much credit to marriages where the Neanderthal-like men marry women they don't innately love just so they can have sex on a regular basis and feel they're being "normal". They feel just because they're "bringing home the bacon" more than their women, they're entitled to fuck around on them; and this is especially after their wife gives birth, when they turn them into their mothers and view their vaginas as turn-off-ish baby passages. This is also "Bible-fearing" country with Southern Baptists who believe that men are superior to women. Used to work with a wife who actually bought into this shit; and I asked her, "How, then, could you possibly criticize your husband if he cheated on you being that, if he's supposedly superior, you can't possibly call his choice to engage in infidelity as inferior", and, predictably enough, she didn't have an answer for.

The Captain said...

I really don't understand the accusations of racism towards King Kong, likewise I don't understand how so many can suddenly become so verbal about this supposed prejudice while they so blissfully ignore actual racism and actual prejudice in films that are set in some kind of reality rather than the beautiful epic fantasy realm that King Kong thrives in. I've got Psychologist credentials now (graduation in March!) and for all my good knowledge and general empathy I simply cannot understand it. Can someone wager a guess or theory as to why these idiots who clearly don't understand what they watch have taken up the big ape pic as a standout piece of prejudice in our times?

Alex Jackson said...

Well, I would have never guessed that the Neaderthal culture would be high in divorce; given that the women probably wouldn't have the means to leave their husbands and, as they would buy into the bullshit as you say, they wouldn't want to. These women you talk about, they do divorce their husbands right?

I looked up the divorce rates for 2001 state by state though. Massacusettes still seems to have one of the lowest rates (Washington D.C has them beat). Texas isn't the highest, but it's numbers aren't very good and the south (along with the Mountain area) in general seems to have pretty high divorce rates. So I guess religiousness and low socioeconomic status doesn't really correlate with longer marriages.

That is a nice fuck-you to those bitching about Massachusettes legalizing gay marriage though, isn't it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Seconds it is, m'man. I do have to make these a little harder, don't I? Problem is, what's hard for me seems to be child's play to a few of the sharks in this pond. What you see here, of course, is poor Rock Hudson, about to be unleashed onto an artists' commune as. . . Rock Hudson. Seconds has one of the great continuity "errors" in all of film history. I wonder if anyone actually knows if the final shot of Rock on the dolly was meant as a mistake or not? In either case, the film gains an almost unbearable weight because of it. A nice argument against perfection if it was a mistake, and another proof of Frankenheimer's pre-1968 genius if it wasn't.

You're right, too, Jack, not to ultimately give too much credit to the audience. The classic example is the one cited in the prologue of Movies and Money, the book by David Puttnam and Neil Watson, where, in 1925, Battleship Potemkin and Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood opened simultaneously in Moscow on Christmas Eve. This is a world, remember, where the United States was only third or fourth in the production and export of film. And Eisenstein's picture plays for a few weeks in mostly-empty theaters before being pulled while the Fairbanks is booked in more and better theaters for months before packed audiences.

Not talking budget with the Eisenstein having the edge, you'd think, in that it portrays a central national issue that would have been still current in the Russian mind - what we see is quintessential Star Power and razzle-dazzle 80 yrs ago. The battle between a film that is one of the most landmark and influential, and one that no one would mistake for terribly important one way or another.

I always feel a little wary of condemning the public too harshly, though, because, look, something like 7 million extra people stayed home this year - a lot of movies that deserved to bomb, bombed conspicuously - and just when you think you're safe taking the group for granted, the group surprises you with its cunning.

Thing about the penguins' monogamy, by the way, and "love" as is so often touted in the film itself: they change mates every breeding season. Once a year until they die. They also don't take care of their young past the initial birth-to-spring period. Oh - and there's homosexuality.

I'm not saying that the penguins are a bad guide for human relationships - just that they're goddamn animals and almost anything noble about humanity has nothing to do with the bald act of fucking for the purposes of flat biological procreation. This documentary sports some amazing photography, I don't deny it, but you do them no favors by ascribing human values and motivations to them. I mean, seriously, what kind of madness is that?

King Kong is just an easy target, I think, is the obvious answer. One that seems chic to attack because once you take that stance with it, it seems as though it's air-tight. But it's not. Without discussing the casting of Pacific Islander natives in the role of the Skull Islanders - it's important to look at how Jackson transplants Cooper's native choreography in full for this Denham's Broadway spectacle. That, to me, is meta- in a really meaningful, tricky way. Ditto Malick's naturalism and how The New World eventually seems to be about the naturalness of our desire to paternalize aboriginal cultures than just a flat paternalization.

Films like Hustle & Flow that traffick in racism and misogyny in a feckless, reckless way - you talk about it and you open an obvious can of worms that I think most folks would just prefer leave off to someone else. It ain't hip and, more, I'm a little sympathetic, because if you're not black, you take on this issue at your own risk if there's any question of ambiguity. With Hustle & Flow, for instance, do you wonder for a second if black people really do venerate a violent pimp who becomes a violent pimp rapper? If you do, best not to jump into the ring, right?

But King Kong seems safe for the white folks to get all righteous about, I guess - wish I'd read all this about Bringing Down the House or Brother Bear, maybe, or how about some popular comment about the misogyny embedded in not just the film, but the trailers for Cheaper by the Dozen 2. "Welcome to the Boulders", indeed, and believe me that it doesn't come off as a reference to Carmen Elektra's chest in the picture: it's just edited to seem that way (followed fast by the dog humping her - as she deserves, right?) in the trailers to lure. . . who? The kids? Steve Martin fans? Who? The degenerates in the key demographic, yes? Young adult males which, if I recall correctly, never really have all that much money in the first place.

Jack_Sommersby said...


I forgot: spousal abuse is another big contributor. And, yeah, I know women who have left their husbands due to it and infidelity. There's one at the local video store who votes Republican, yet whose ex-husband -- a cop -- beat up on her and she left. (Note: She has 3 daughters, all of whom have had a baby as a teen, with the father not sticking around, and collecting welfare. And yet this family'll vote Republican and hypocritically gripe about federal assistance to those "welfare families" in New Orleans.) So you have high rates of spousal abuse and infidelity contributing to divorce rates, yet Texas recently passed a gay-marriage amendment to protect the sanctity of marriage????? Seems to me, if "sanctity" were the goal, they'd have passed an amendment making infidelity illegal. So when the number-one reason why people voted for Bush this last time around was "moral values", here in Texas -- and also among other southern states, which also have very high spousal-absuse rates -- it's pretty clear that they may say moral values but that they clearly include in that category what fits and jettison what doesn't -- sort of like they do the Bible, in citing the passages that support their case yet conveniently ignore the ones that don't. Something also interesting: There was this reader letter in The Dallas Morning News proposing that Dallas should be the "church headquarters" of the nation in light of it supposedly having more churches than any other city. I'm not sure if this tidbit is indeed correct; yet if it is, as I noted to someone, then Dallas has another proud distiction -- possessing the greatest number of "gentleman's clubs" in the nation. Basically, this is just another term for high-dollar strip joints, and if you did a political-party check of the patrons, I'd bet Republicans would make up the majority. And these aren't just places where women take off their clothes, but places where you can pay extra and get some action in the back. Suppose that more than a few of these patrons who are married drop a couple hundred on a Saturday night and show up at church the next morning claiming they're chock-full of "moral values". Sadly, yes.

And for the record, I'm not a liberal who despises religion and churchgoing, only the blatant hypocrisy and double standards of so many churchgoers who feel stepping into a church automatically absolves them of sin. (By the way, there's this great bumper sticker out there: "If going to church makes you a Christian, does going to the garage make you a car?")


Remember when Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape was seen as a turning moment in independent cinema in that a low-budget eccentric film such as this could earn quite a lot at the box-office. I saw it at the Dallas Galleria, but also a few weeks later at a cineplex in a Dallas/Ft. Worth suburb, where indie films never played. It certainly created a buzz (though if it didn't have "sex" in the title I don't think cineplex owners would've touched it, regardless of the buzz), and it was thought that this would be a drop in the bucket, with more and more indie films making their way into cineplexes. Kind of happened, kind of didn't. I'm still astounded that 1990's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover played at a Loews theatre in a high-traffic Arlington shopping center, but wasn't astounded when Memento closed after a week at a cineplex in Denton. With home video, a lot of moviegoers may not be exposed to indepedent films but have certainly been afforded the opportunity to be exposed to them. Blockbuster Video is no friend of mine, but they have carried their fair share of independent films in the New Release section for a while now. And yet we're still seeing non-indepdent films dominating cineplexes. Of course, there are some indies and documentaries that have done well at the box-office -- though I wouldn't call Fahrenheit 9/11 or Penguins even remotely "challenging" cinema -- and that can't be completely ignored. But still, audiences have tasted quality low-budget films and have still seen fit to ensure a fucking Focker sequel all the same and its ilk dominate the majority of cineplex screens.

I always feel a little wary of condemning the public too harshly, though, because, look, something like 7 million extra people stayed home this year - a lot of movies that deserved to bomb, bombed conspicuously - and just when you think you're safe taking the group for granted, the group surprises you with its cunning.

Here's what I'd like to know, and I haven't read an article that's explored this: While more audiences are staying home...

(though this article -- http://www.westword.com/Issues/2005-12-29/film/movies4.html -- calls the ramifications of this into question by showing that Hollywood ain't hurtin' like people may think), are they ignoring major-studio films at the cineplex yet shelling out their dough and still lining Hollywood's product by renting these very same films on home video? I've read where DVD sales have started to drop, but DVD rentals? Don't think so. In fact, before DVD became mainstream and high-quality TVs (LCD, plasma, etc.) became more affordable, there was just VHS and TVs with the most attractive feature being a flat screen. If DVD and these kick-butt home theatre systems of today didn't exist, would this same number or even close to the same number of audiences be staying home? I wouldn't bet on it. On the other hand, as Wilonsky's article points out, grown-ups are going to get tired of so many films geared toward the teen demographic, yet a good number of these same grown-ups will automatically load up the minivan and SUV to take the flock to a kid's film just because it was released by Disney, and not take a chance on a truly superlative non-Disney release like The Iron Giant. So some of these audiences I'll give my sympathy, and others still a few good kicks in the butt.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I fell upon "The Piano Teacher" on IFC a few days ago almost by chance. I saw the whole film, loved it, found later on imdb that it was Michael Haneke. Makes me wanna find more of his stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Tropical Malady" actually came out theatrically in Denver this summer, around mid-August. The papers ran reviews.

Alex Jackson said...

It is The Piano Teacher by the way and not The Piano Player.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, but it's not only middle-class whites that turned a blind eye to Bringing Down the House who think Jackson's King Kong is racist. (Reminds me of the people who say that only hetero male critics think Brokeback Mountain plays too safe--a convenient assumption to avoid an issue.) And it's not just the portrayal of Kong's natives, many of whom are played by white actors in friggin blackface. Jackson doesn't consider the 30s film's pro-segregation politics in any substantial way. Dark = Evil in PJ's universe... unless you're a Native-eating giant gorilla, in which case you can be tamed by a civilized blonde girl who can Walk Like an Egyptian.

Alex Jackson said...

And it's not just the portrayal of Kong's natives, many of whom are played by white actors in friggin blackface.

Source please.

Dark = Evil in PJ's universe... unless you're a Native-eating giant gorilla

Now this is just patently false. I don't recall Kong eating any natives in the Jackson version.

Of course, not all racism is the same and we need to think about what the specific message is before we condemn the picture. I think that it's progressive relative to the original, the natives are nasty here where in the original they were stupid and superstitious. Demonization is a form of deification; and so "evil" is considerably better than out and out marginalization.

Of course Jackson barely used the natives and I can't figure out what race they are allegedly representing in the first place. Please identify specific aspects of a specific culture that Jackson appears to be satirizing.

Walter_Chaw said...

Nice try, but it's not only middle-class whites that turned a blind eye to Bringing Down the House who think Jackson's King Kong is racist

Source? again, and while you're at it, how about being confrontational out from under the anonymous tag? It ain't much, but it makes me more inclined to wanna' talk to you.

White actors in blackface? I think it's actual Pacific Islanders in mud.

What are Cooper's pro-segregation politics? And what is a consideration of the original's treatment of the natives if it isn't a reproduction of their garb and ritual for the picture's ridiculous Broadway production?

When you talk about PJ's universe, too, are you saying all of his films, or just the Lord of the Rings and King Kong films? And is that a product in the case of the Tolkien of the Tolkien itself or did PJ soften that as well by making the Orcs look less Oriental (as described in the books) - and the Southrons less African?

Didn't know that Tropical Malady ran in Denver. Funny, that.

You'll like Haneke. He's not a hand-holder.

Walter_Chaw said...

Put in a few phone calls - no one in the Denver market reviewed Tropical Malady nor remembers having seen it or, in most cases, having heard of it at all. Searching the Denver Post, Westword, and Rocky Mountain News websites confirms that no reviews of the picture were published locally this year. The local NPR guy, Howie Movshovitz, might have seen it at festival or something - he's well-traveled and has discriminating tastes. I haven't been able to get ahold of him this afternoon to ask.

Of course, memories being what they are in 400-film years, all the rest of us could be batshit insane.

That'd be crazy cool, wouldn't it?

Source, please?

Bemis said...

In Jackson's defense: Chi McBride's character in The Frighteners is one of the small handful of African-American characters in film whose race is a source of humor while never condescending to either the character or the actor (he'd do that himself later with Desmond Pfeiffer, of course). So I think that counts for something.

Rich said...

In addition to the stage show send-up of the depiction of the natives in the original, I felt that the portrayal of the islanders in Jackson's King Kong was taken to such a stylized extreme as to appear fantastic and as a result any racism that may have existed in the original Kong was lost. Jackson deliberately depicted the natives as half-mad and desperate - a culture driven that way by the harsh environment of the island.

Chad Evan said...

There was a blogger I read about on Salon named Angry Black Bitch who went on a rant about Kong, but she was talking about the original and condemning Jackson's sight unseen, besides which, she came across as a blithering idiot.

The thing is, the picture came in long, anyway--was Jackson supposed to bring the picture to a holt to achieve an in-depth portrayal of Skull Island's culture? If not, how could he be "respectful"--show them dressed in ties, discussing politics?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I'm happy someone brought up the pint of the islanders looking like white actors in "black" face because that was my first reaction to it too, well that little girl was white. but then i noticed, from the face structure, that it was just faces from alot of races in "dark grey" face. I don't see any under-current bigotry there. To me they were scary as fucking hell, as intended. And the dark grey color, in my opinion, was more intended to show a culture that was living in such harsh enviornment(there is a giant fucking monkey and big funky ass bugs on the island, if you didn't notice... did I forget the dinosaurs?) that they have internallized the external conditions as the only survival technique. Maybe I'm looking too much into it but the skin color was exactly the same shade as the color of the rocks around. I thought of it as more of an artistic choice then anything. Also, I saw it as an influence of "Hearts of Darkness" reference in the movie. Natives are refered to be living in a pagan idolotary, in other words, hell in the book and I don't know about others but thats what people from hell look like to me.

Plus, people who are calling this film racist are numbskulls who don't have anything better to do then follow whatever the latest trend is. Because there were race issues attached to the earlier King Kong, the new one is an easy target. I wonder where these people go when faux-sensationalist films like "Crash" and casually racist Hollywod fares come out ?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I saw a horrible print of "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" in theatre a while ago. They really shouldn't show films that are so aesthetically dependant in bad print. It defeats the purpose. I fucking loved the movie though. Seemed like twisted Kubrick movie to me. Plus it has the one of the greatest fuckinf dialogues in movies history:

Try the cock, Albert. It's a delicacy, and you know where it's been.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Here's how Ebert chose to deal with the question about racism in Kong:

Q. We have just returned from "King Kong" bewildered, disappointed and even angry that you gave it such a great review without mentioning its stunning racism. From the moment we saw the dark-skinned, aboriginal child in the movie, we knew it was going to be bad. It was worse than we expected.

The African- and indigenous-influenced dance, drumming and rituals, the elaborate face piercings, the bloodshot or rolling-back eyes, the skulls everywhere, and the sacrifice of the pure white blond beauty by the nappy-haired old woman combine to produce an image that was so offensive, it was nearly impossible for us to stay interested in the rest of the film.

Maria Rosales and Tiffany Holland, Greensboro, N.C.

A. I am not sure the islanders would agree with you that their face piercings and dancing are racist. I agree that the stereotyping of the local population has been negative in the Kong pictures, and wonder why Peter Jackson didn't simply show the island as having been abandoned by its human civilization after the erection of the wall failed to contain the creatures on the other side. How long could humans survive on Skull Island with all of those dinosaurs, snakes, giant insects, man-eating slugs, etc?

That's because not everyone is a middlebrow dipshit like you, Mr. Ebert who thinks "Crash" is the best film of the year. You seem to think that if what one has to say can't make everyone happy then shouldn't be said. Well, maybe thats how it works in jolly, fat "everybody loves me" world you live in, but not in this "real" one.

Jack_Sommersby said...


Yeah, unless it's a suitable print, running a non-suitable one is simply doing the film an injustice, especially when it's one of the best-photographed films of all time, like The Cook. And it's one of those films that makes absolutely no compositional sense in a cropped or pan-and-scan version, because Greenaway puts so much visual information into the widescreen frame. If memory serves, when it debuted on home video on VHS, it did so in letterboxed format only, which was indeed rare. The great Anchor Bay Entertainment handled the DVD release, and though it got an anamorphic transfer, it was devoid of special features, unfortunately. And the score is fantastic, too -- used it for one of my student films at the University of Texas at Arlington, and people were red-face envious of my locating such an "obscure" piece of music.

As for that great line you quoted, it's uttered at the end, and the ending is the only real disappointing thing about the film. The Thief gets off way too easily in my book. Had he been forced to eat the entire body as well as the cock while reading a book (something he lambasted the Lover for doing so earlier on), it would have had a much nastier kick.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I agree about the ending. But the greatest pussying out on a natural conclusion to the story stays with "The After Hours" , yes it is till ok, but any dimwit could see where it was supposed to go. A lot of Speilbergian challenges to it but I'll stick with my choice.

Jack_Sommersby said...
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Jack_Sommersby said...

In that previous post, it should read "green-face envious". A couple of Long Island Ice Teas, and I'm George "Is Our Children Learning?" Bush.

Another note on audiences not being given a taste of quality cinema. In 1986, at the age of 16, I had my mom buy me a ticket for the R-rated At Close Range (see Bill's review)) on opening night, because, hey Sean Penn and Christopher Walken were in it! It played at the Central Park 8, a cineplex in the suburbs of Bedford, where I lived. And you want to know how many people were in that theatre with me at a 7p showing on opening night? Two. Given, the now-defunct Orion Pictures gave it a piss-poor ad campaign (interestingly, right when Orion filed for bankruptcy, they had back-to-back $100-plus-million-earning Best Picture winners in '90 and '91 with Silence of the Lambs and Dances With Wolves); but the subject matter and the film's two highly-substantial actors certainly exuded a quality impression -- which they certainly delivered on -- yet audiences shied away. Saw the film a second time the following Sunday (where there was one other person in the theatre with me), and it was gone within a week. Hell, Bob Clark's godawful Loose Cannons played at that same theatre longer than that!

(Of course, I can't claim I'm blameless in this area: In '89, Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line actually played at a dollar theatre in nearby Euless, and though my friend Joe urged us to see it, I opted for the Clint Eastwood star vehicle Pink Cadillac instead. Yeah, I know.)

And HSM, the greatest pussying-out is either in The Natural, where Roy Hobbs hits the winning home run rather than striking out, which he did in Bernard Malamud's magnificent, anti-sports-hero novel; or Fatal Attraction with that Friday the 13th-like ending as opposed to the sensible suicide/framing-Dan that test audiences rejected.

marvin.gardens said...

If you're going to remake King Kong you have address the issue of the natives, which Jackson did by making them possessed savages. He went so far in that portrayal, then juxtaposed his portrayal with that of the Broadway musical, as to suggest the differences between those found on Skull Island and racist stereotypes of natives. He took a good swing at it (and, I think, covered his bases with the casting of Evan Parke) but I'll say the ten minutes with the natives (and the absurd pole vault kidnapping) was some of the weakest material in the movie, and creates a giant loophole later when Kong smashed through the natives' cherished wall, which I think would cause them some consternation.

Oddly, I agree with Ebert - you could have cut the natives entirely and lost little. The strength of this new King Kong is post-Ann's capture to Kong's capture. It was the best isolated hour I've spent in a movie theater in a long time.

That Jackson would've used white actors (or black, or Islanders) and smeared mud on them doesn't suggest to me blackface. It suggests to me extras, smeared with mud, as to look like no race we know, but some group suspended between Kong and the rest of the human cast.


Now, completely unrelated question about "A History of Violence" - for any of its defenders, including Walter.

Tom is visited by Carl and Co. after he kills two crooks in his diner because Carl sees the news coverage of the killings. Carl comes to town, duplicity ensues. Fine.

So where the news coverage after Tom, a national hero just a week before, kills three gangsters on his front lawn ? Maybe that's quibbling, but I felt like at some point Cronenberg switched from a story grounded in reality (the news coverage, the coping family, Tom's genuine fear of exposure) to a "hypothetical exploration of man's nature." Because the reporters are all gone (and we all know they wouldn't be) and Tom would have no chance of slinking away to kill old bro in the night, then return to this family at the dinner table.

What's frustrating about this turn isn't so much that it's not realistic, but that Tom stands to lose a great deal more if he had pulled through the mud by the great ringer of the press, the justice system, etc. What you fear, and rightly so, is that total public humiliation that comes at the hands of the media and the courts. "A History of Violence" shifts into a movie that demands closure for Joey's abrupt departure from Philly - which to me seems mostly an action itch to scratch - while ignoring the genuine price of duplicity: That hour when, to all, you must go naked.

And for me the movie changes the minute he kills those gangsters, not a peep comes from anybody, and he's off to Philly to kick some bro ass instead of having to deal with the genuine public fallout of those murders: Who the hell are you?

I can enjoy "A History of Violence" to certain point, but I can't exalt if it has that gaping hole in it. If you want to make a litmus test that presses the audience's buttons, make it - just don't rely on some dumb contrivance of "media coverage" to get us there, then pretend, when the heroism's only bigger and more dramatic a week later, the contrivance (no longer needed) has mysteriously disappeared.

(Maybe I'm saying that Cronenberg being attached affixes some greater weight that wouldn't be there with another, lesser known director, in which case we may mention this gaping plot hole.)

Any thoughts?

tim r said...

Totally agree, and I'd add that the subplot with the son, which is just beginning to get really interesting, gets ditched then too. Why not follow through with all this stuff? The movie turns backwards and in on itself - back to its comic-book roots, I think - at the exact point when you want it to be socking its thesis home really provocatively.

On March of the Penguins, can I just say to intelligent design fans: flightless birds. As in birds which can't fly. One of God's off-days maybe?

George Nada said...
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George Nada said...

Seconds has one of the great continuity "errors" in all of film history. I wonder if anyone actually knows if the final shot of Rock on the dolly was meant as a mistake or not? In either case, the film gains an almost unbearable weight because of it. A nice argument against perfection if it was a mistake, and another proof of Frankenheimer's pre-1968 genius if it wasn't.

I feel embarrassed asking this as Seconds is one of my favourite films but...

What continuity error? I can't say I've ever noticed it, not conciously anyway.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that “A History of Violence” is ever “grounded in reality” (“reality” is a far too subjective concept for most movies). What’s more interesting to me is whether the filmmaker is scrupulous in following his agenda. Cronenberg is not a naturalistic director, so I never ascribed the traditional logic of police procedurals to the opening scenes of the film or the subsequent triple-murder. (Just as the scarlet operating robes in “Dead Ringers” or Spader’s oddly under populated hospital ward in “Crash” cannot derail the internal logic of those films) Cronenberg doesn’t ever seem interested in the schematics of traditional story construction, but is always faithful to his own, unique operating procedures. “A History of Violence” is not a cop movie, a thriller or a gangster film (although it has elements of all three) so—I didn’t give much consideration to plot elements that may seem more glaring in a more conventional film. “Violence” is wholly a blood and guts movie, in that Cronenberg is interested in surgically investigating Tom Stall and his marriage, he’s not simply following a policier to its natural conclusion. Recognizable landscapes aside, Cronenberg is driving this baby, casting a glance to the expectant audience in the backseat and asking: “Who said we were stopping here?”

My two cents, anyhoo.

Anonymous said...

Best source for Tropical Malady in Denver is this Google cache of a theater Web page, plus waaaaay down on this filmjerk.com page (do a Ctrl-F for "tropical malady"). Denver papers probably ran wire reviews, probably NYTimes.

Anonymous said...

Fact-checking for Walter: Landmark Theatres is headquartered in Los Angeles: 2222 S. Barrington Ave.

Also, Landmark does not program Regency Tamarac in Denver, if you're counting those among Denver's twenty independent-film screens.

(How "independent" Regency's screens are could be subject to debate, though they usually dedicate at least three screens to films you could also see at a Landmark venue.)

Anonymous said...

RE: Ku Klux Kong

The introductory sequence with the bizarre islanders (including the creepy, ghoulish “pole vault” capture) and the sacrifice ritual, were my favourites of the film; mostly because it was one of the few instances when I could see the maniacal director of “Dead Alive” peeking out from underneath all the expository rubble. The colonial subtext of the original King Kong is hard too miss, so it’s inevitable that PJ’s slavish recreation will not be able to avoid all of these criticisms. The “White Goddess Woman” iconography of the tribe owes significantly to prevailing, early 20th century attitudes towards Africa which is a big part of why the story is inherently dated (see: “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle”—Okay, don’t bother. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone). Jackson is not, however, reinventing the original film, he’s simply giving us a super-sized 1933 Hollywood movie, and so the presence of the islanders strikes more as fidelity to his source rather than willful insensitivity. (How can one make a film about a screaming white woman offered as ritualistic sacrifice to a misogynist monkey-god truly palatable anyways?) Whatever one thinks about the new Kong, it’s all movie. A movie based on a movie about making a movie, y’now? So, I think a more constructive response would be to unpack those “classic” film images and look for their modern counterpoints rather than hitting too hard on PJ’s harmless, pointless, paean to his childhood. Why attack the questionable subtleties of a self-proclaimed museum piece, when there are so many new, vicious models on the market? The preview for the new Queen Latifah movie is creepier than two hours with PJ’s Islanders.

Walter_Chaw said...

Thanks for the Google Cache - suspected if it opened at all it'd be at the Starz Filmcenter. Most movies just sort of fly by in there - Landmark uses it mostly as a second-run or an obligation-filler. It's too bad there wasn't a screening of it when it stopped through for a cuppa coffee.

Had forgotten all about Regency (formerly Madstone). Mostly second run stuff, right, except that they did open Touch the Sound for a while, which no one else in the area did. Of the twenty indie screens, I was actually just counting Starz's 12, Mayan's 3, Esquire's 2, and Chez Artiste's 3. Landmark, unfortunately, makes it hard for smaller theaters like Madstone/Regency to get titles and they tend to peter out pretty quickly. Not helping things is that they're right across the street from an actual dollar theater that sometimes shows exaclty the same movies as they do for $2.00 instead of $8.00. I'd be willing to credit them with a coupla' indie screens - it's probably one of the nicest places in Denver to see a film for sure. They don't, however, have any kind of ad budget nor inclination to screen their films. I found out that that Elijah Wood soccer hooligan flick had come and gone through Regence about two months after the fact. (Ditto countless titles through Starz.) At some point you get lapped so many times you just sort of sit down on the curb and watch the race pass you by.

On History of Violence - yeah - saw all of it as red-blooded American wish-fulfillment - the touch of media exposure/veneration, the forgiving wife/cheerleader, the son/bully comeuppance, the reunification of family, the smalltown cop that looks the other way at the right time, the dark past that taught the right skills, the successful small business owner - sort of a point-for-point deconstruction of the American dream and how it's all strung together with blood and bullets and paranoia.

Incidentally, Cache does a lot of the same things, but expands the conversation to include all "intellectuals" - including its audience of francophile arthouse connoisseurs.

George N.:
The "error" at the end of Seconds occurs during the long tracking shot of Rock on the gurney, being wheeled down that endless corridor. In close-up, you see him screaming and carrying on - in the long-shot, he's lying there, perfectly placid. Suggests that he, again, only thinks that he's offering some kind of resistence to his fate. One of the best mistakes, if it was one, in the history of the movies.

Chad Evan said...

That's really interesting about Seconds; if it is a mistake, it's just uncanny, as in Frankenheimer's Manchurian Candidate, there is a simialermistake--when a face goes out of focus--that was hailed as a masterful aesthetic touch. Either Frankie learned from this, or, for a brief period in the Sixties, he was God's favorite director.

Walter_Chaw said...

Yeah man - Frankenheimer was the shizzat in the early sixties all the way through to Seconds - touched by divinity. A good friend of Bobby Kennedy's, I guess (he drove him to the hotel where he was assassinated), his films after seem to have been stained by that event.

I'm disturbed about not knowing about Tropical Malady opening in Denver: more disturbed that none of my colleagues were much aware of it, either. There's a finite amount of money and man hours, I guess, and most of it's burned on big pushes for major films. Stuff like this that Landmark either passes on or dumps into the second-runs often just flies by off the radar. Makes me wonder what else we miss in this dash to get reviews of Doom and Last Holiday up in time to get lost in among the hundreds of other mostly-identical, mostly-predictable reviews. There're a lot of problems with this profession. If the crix don't see it because they don't know about it or don't care, and the public doesn't know about it without any kind of ad push or critical support - then the people who do see the film in its six days in town are either lucky and/or work at the theater.

That being said, no screening for real this time for the already infamous, sight-unseen, Bloodrayne which is really too bad - not going to see that movie about horny grandmothers nor Queen Latifah's, either. We're dark this weekend so I'm taking a well-timed breather - knocking off a few titles off my DVD commitment, maybe catching The Ringer and Aeon Flux at the dollars, perusing my Netflix, queue, and introducing and leading a discussion of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle this Thursday evening at the Douglas County Public Library. Spoon!

Jack_Sommersby said...

Two Frankenheimer films that don't get nearly enough love are The Fourth War and Dead-Bang (which showcases a classic comedy moment where cop Don Johnson peeves psychiatrist Michael Jeter by telling him he looks just like Woody Allen when the psych teels the cop to relax during the session and consider him "just one of the guys"; when the cop asks the psych later if the Woody remark is the reason for him deciding to take him off the case, Jeter replies, "No one responds well to ridicule, Mr. Beck -- even psychiatrists."). They didn't get outstanding critical notices, but they're very, very fun to watch.

Scott said...

Just to chime in with the Frankenheimer lovin', I have always absolutely loved FRENCH CONNECTION II, and especially Hackman's magnificent performance in it, Popeye Doyle, addled by drugs. The way Frankenheimer chose to end that film was brilliant, and by that I mean the very last shot. (SPOILER!) Hackman finally pops off the man he's been chasing through two films, and that's it -- that's the end. Not cut back to Hackman showing relief, no mournful look at the sun. Bang, he's gone, he falls, end of story, fade to black. Whether a sequel to FRENCH CONNECTION was ever necessary in the first place is debatable, but I thought Frankenheimer almost surpassed the original.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Re-watched FC2 a few months ago, and it pretty much reaffirmed my previous assessment: dynamic Hackman performance, mediocre film. Anyone ever see The Seven-Ups, the semi-sequel to FCI starring Roy Scheider's Buddy Russo cop character?

George Nada said...

I had never noticed that in Seconds before, that's given me some food for thought the next time I watch it...

Cheers Walter.

cory m said...

Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote once about how it’s not entirely a matter of the popular audience having no taste so much as it’s all tied up with the truism that the popular audience often doesn’t have a choice.

Sorry, I don't ascribe to audiences seeing crap only because they're not given the exposure to non-crap. I wish I could, but I can't.

It's probably accurate to say that most of the general movie-going audience has poor taste, but at the same time, I tend to agree with Walter's statement.

I come from a one-horse town that, until last year, had only a four-screen movie theater so horrible the entire population of our hamlet began to drive forty miles to a Cinemark in an attempt to put the bastard out of business. Worse, every theater in a three hundred mile radius (no exaggeration, I've searched), refused to play anything remotely intelligent or arty.

When an independent theater finally came to town, they began reserving one screen for films like Broken Flowers or Good Night and Good Luck, which was, at the very least, a step up. I saw Good Night and Good Luck in its fourth week at the theater, and to my surprise, the room was half full. Regardless of your thoughts on the movie, a talky political drama in black-and-white isn’t exactly typical for the audience my town represents. And remember, this was its fourth week at the theater.

For another example, a few days ago, my family unanimously recommended I see Four Brothers with the promise that I would love it. I have no intention of ever seeing Four Brothers, so I went out and rented 3-Iron and everyone sat down to watch it with me. The first thing they said after it was over was “How did we not know about this movie?” They were shocked that something that good had flown completely under their radar. And a few days later, they were still talking about 3-Iron, while Four Brothers never went beyond a ten second recommendation. They would never have seen it if I hadn’t tracked it down, but they knew quality when they saw it.

I think the point is that while these people do generally have bad taste, they know a good movie when they see it. The problem is that they don’t know (or don’t care enough) to seek them out. The only movies they really hear about are the ones with the largest marketing budget, and this has fed their bad taste, but they’re not completely lost.

Chad Evan said...

That was a beaut of a football game last night--nothing like seeing two unstoppable juggernauts going head to head.

And a hardy fuck you to USC for losing and costing me a couple hundred bucks in the office bowl game pool.

Walter_Chaw said...

What a game, I agree. Sort of surreal seeing Young sort of just "ease" his way for 10 yds/carry. What kind of madness is two-hundred yards on 19 carries? Still think the Texans are going to take Reggie Bush (because the Texans need a new GM more than they need Gary Kubiak) - even though, mark my words, Bush is a friggin' head case.

I'd draft Denver's own LenDale White before I draft him - now there's a guy who has a future in the NFL, man.

I'm torn, tell you the truth - I tend to believe that most will never dip a toe to see if the water's good - but I'd rather, all things being equal, they have the choice. Of course, I say this not being a theater owner needing to feed my family. It's a complicated situation - and I don't have the answers - but I can say that I'm glad for DVD's affordability and widespread availability.

It's a good time to be a movie lover - it's never been easier to pop in an obscure South Korean road movie/romance into a cheap (under $80 now) home player for the pleasure of friends and family.