March 12, 2006

Notes from the Trenches

Had intended to get the Robert Towne interview transcribed for this weekend, but real life and illness intervened as I came down with a killer flu that, in addition to all the other appalling biological fallouts, led to a sort of existential fatigue that made it tough for me to keep my attention on any one project for more than a few minutes. Attention span like a hamster: made worse by a cocktail of over-the-counter cold medications and too little sleep. Meanwhile – that queue gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.
I did get to see, in a private screening, V for Vendetta which is, no kidding, the ballsiest excoriation of Bush Jrs’ administration that I’ve ever seen (and entertaining, too) – also Lucky Number Slevin and a very cool documentary on musician Daniel Johnston. A good week: with the exception of The Hills Have Eyes (go here for my review of the original) - I liked all the films I saw.

Watched Hills, by the way, with a packed screening audience that cheered (some stood) for every single slaughter of a bad guy. I don’t wanna’ give too much away, but sufficed to say that Aja hates Americans with a singular passion and has created a film so contemptuous of the folks he gets a rise out of that it’s not only pointless, but very much a part of the problem. It’s hard to know how to react when four-hundred people whoop in joy when a German Shepard rips apart a helpless guy in a wheelchair – but it’s pretty easy to react to a filmmaker who shoots such a scene with heartening music at the end of a patriotic payoff. Too pointedly, he makes the avatar of “right” a guy established as a “wussy” Democrat at the beginning while the Republican archon has his .45 used messily against his own wife and daughter. I thought of Straw Dogs a time or two and, you know what, this ain’t no Straw Dogs.

No one here gets out alive, I guess, when the pussy is a sociopath and the psychopath is ironic. A hateful little screed that, a lot like High Tension, would’ve done well with a lot less bestial, ill-thought-out vitriol and a lot more reasonable consideration. You wanna’ successfully tear down this government’s ideology? Take a page from V for Vendetta. The greatest shame is that Aja is actually a pretty good technical filmmaker. Now, if someone who’s seen it will give me some thoughts about the treatment of women in the film. . . I’m exhausted.

Moderated a nice discussion post-screening of Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday: a film that only gets more topical day by day (and I’m finding, more’s to the point) that there’s less disagreement with my politics these days. The polls seem to bolster that grassroots observation. In any case, Bloody Sunday is dead brilliant. I’d forgotten how good and hope to dig up his earlier flicks (not Theory of Flight) – most of them ITV documentaries and docudramas produced in a similar vein.

This week: scheduled for an interview with Wim Wenders – a director that I adore beyond all reason though, curiously, I never liked what is perhaps his second-most-lauded film: Wings of Desire. Begs the question – what “classics” do you not get/like? (Add Casablanca to my list, too.)

Here’s this week’s screengrab:

68 comments:

Scott said...

Even though everyone goes ga-ga over PULP FICTION, it doesn't seem as deep or as 'cool' as it used to for me. (Does that mean I'm getting older? Can it even be considered a classic?)

John Irving once remarked that most people forget the plots of most stories, but what they remember most vividly is the emotional connection and resonance that was created. I look back on films like PULP FICTION and THE USUAL SUSPECTS and remember that they were 'clever', but outside of that, there's no emotional, heartfelt reverberations going on. This is not to discount the mystery/suspense genres; I can never remember the exact plot of CHINATOWN or THE EXORCIST either, but boy oh boy do those films resonate with me.

The point is, for a film to linger, for me, it has to be about more than what it's 'about', and the flicks that reach for some kind of emotional connection, however tenuous, either fall flat on their face in sentimentality or kick you in the stomach and let the pain fester.

Oh, and on the subject of Towne, CHINATOWN can never be overrated enough, that's how good it is, but I still maintain that THE TWO JAKES is vastly underrated...

Jack_Sommersby said...

Screenshot: No idea.

Far-from-impressive "classics"? Dr. Zhivago was the first to cross my mind. Impressive production values, yes, but I didn't find the love story between Omar Sharif and Julie Christie even remotely involving or possessing so much as an iota of spark.

Rachel said...

Network.

Bill C said...

You know something? I fucking hated the Hills Have Eyes remake--forty-thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of hate make up my sum--and I despise Alexandre Aja. He's a monkey with a loaded gun, you just can't trust him. He's undeveloped as a human being. He makes me long for the casual ignorance of Brett Ratner. I want to dance on the motherfucker's grave.

Walter_Chaw said...

yeah - he's a black hole.

James Allen said...

Looking at AFI's top 100, I've never cared for the following: The Silence of the Lambs, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven, My Fair Lady (one of the more stiff movie musical adaptations), and last, and least, Giant a film only really remembered because it's part of James Dean's rather limited filmography.

Great to hear that you think V for Vendetta kicks ass. Can't wait to see it.

Jack_Sommersby said...

I second Silence of the Lambs; man, how I despise that. As for The Usual Suspects, it's more complicated than complex. Pulp Fiction? Not nearly as "hip" and clever as it seems to think it is. Forrest Gump -- pu-fucking-lease! But hell, one can go on and on. I know people who'll forever go agog over how indisputably great The Day of the Jackal and Dial M For Murder are, when I think they're stiff and rote, while they're remakes, while flawed, are infinitely more enjoyable.

Bemis said...

I fucking hated the Hills Have Eyes remake--forty-thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of hate make up my sum--and I despise Alexandre Aja. He's a monkey with a loaded gun, you just can't trust him. He's undeveloped as a human being.

I basically agree about Aja, but because he's a horror director, I think that untrustworthiness is a virtue. I was genuinely unsettled during long stretches of both High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes, largely because I did not know what that venal motherfucker would do next. And yeah, his worldview is callow and ugly (the early exchange between the two brothers-in-law was particularly scummy), but so was Peckinpah's. Both of Aja's movies have tons of problems, obviously, but I still can't wait to see what he does next.

Ian Pugh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ian Pugh said...

You're tough, Walter. Poltergeist?

All things considered, the original Matrix and Fight Club were okay movies, but I'll complain of their "modern classic" status. Every time I see them (which is, for one reason or another, more often than I would ever want) they appear to me as pretender's philosophy -- the kind of stuff that everyone can get behind because it features fights and explosions. Sure, The Matrix might be a nice intro to existentialism (just the original now; I'm trying to blue-pill the sequels out of my memory), but never really touched upon is the fact that Neo's shooting spree near the end of the film is really a massacre of the innocent people who have no choice but to see him as a gun-toting lunatic. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"? Maybe, but why orchestrate the scene as the ultimate of cool?

And as for Fight Club, the movie speaks tough, but it fails by its twist ending -- a concept that I have come to hate because of movies like this, which spend inordinate blocks of dialogue explaining the hows, whys and whens of its big twist. Everything that has come before it strikes me as a feeble ploy leading up to its not-so-amazing revelation. Sort of begs the question (spoiler warning) -- why would you follow the philosophical ramblings of a man who punches himself in the face in the middle of a parking lot?

Chad Evan said...

Let's see, un-c;assic classics:
Easy Rider: terribly dated, and while I give it props for helping to kick-start the American New Wave, my all-time favorite cinematic movement, Bonnie and Clyde got there first and holds up a whole lot better.

High Noon--tedious and pretentious. Hawks criticized better than I ever could simply by making Rio Bravo.

Walter_Chaw said...

Enjoying the thread, but no correct guesses yet. Will post a second screen grab along with a hint later tonight if there are no winners.

Film I actually actively dislike that's in the pantheon? Gunga Din.

raphael said...

Ben Hur remains unwatchable except for the race.Didnt matter wether i was ten or twenty,i was still bored to death and never made it to the end.
The less said about Robert Wise´s two musical the better.Sound of music is so grating it´s not even campy anymore.
Rosemary´s baby though interesting didnt scare or upset me at all.
Finally, Cocteau´s Orpheus films are too cryptic to be rewarding.I have a peeve with art that is so self centered and navel gazing that it´s unatainable for anyone who doesnt have a prior knowledge of the artist and his biography

Chad Evan said...

Ian:
I agree absolutely about The Matrix: even as a fourteen year old watching it in a theatre and enjoying it, I kept thinking to myself "I'm going to be hearing how brilliant this movie is from stoners (can't throw stones, I was one at the time) for years. Lo and behold, I was correct. I also hold the bullet-speed thing against it, which immediately became the most over-used directorial trick in the business, the visual equivalent of that annoying I'm-rolling-on-ecstacy effect that was popping up on every song at the time, perhaps most obnoxiously in Cher's "Do You Believe in Life After Love."

Agree about Fight Club, too, which is more of a shame since I'm a big fan of Fincher--Seven is one of the best films of the '90s and the best of the post-Silence of the Lambs cerebral psycho cycle. Fight Club is compulsively watchable, but the twist just blows it big time, and once again, trendy assholes are blown away.

Ian Pugh said...

Guess #2: Dancer in the Dark, hopeful that Von Trier can lead me to another screencap win.

Chad:

Yes, that self-satisfied 360 camera motion. Made me die inside for years after the fact, the concept that people considered themselves clever for spoofing it a hundred times over. I think that the folks over at Onion AV Club had it right in their review of Date Movie: parody, these days, means congratulating an audience for watching movies that made 250 million at the box office. What's there to congratulate? (I've invoked the unholy name of Date Movie several times on this blog, but believe me, if you saw it, you'd have an even better grasp on what's wrong with comedy and film today.)

cory m said...

Walter:

Glad to hear that you liked V for Vendetta. I'm cautiously optimistic.

I heard that they've changed the conflict from Fascism vs. Anarchy to American Liberalism vs. American Conservatism (as you said, to take a shot at Bush). Do you think the film loses anything in the change?

Alex Jackson said...

I sort of liked The Hills Have Eyes actually. I really wish that it was better than it was though, I really like grand guignol horror movies and when one comes out I try to make it a point to see it. But yeah, this movie is no The Devil's Rejects. It's just not that great. I love your review Walter, which seems to attack the film's revisionist critics ten or twenty years from now. You see today nobody is really mentioning the anti-American sentiments, they're all complaining that they're slickifying a grindhouse classic. It's bullshit, they want to find a safe way to indict true glorifications of violence. I admit to having not seen the original, but I doubt that the grimy filmmaking is as viscerally affective as the big-budget remake. This is real criticism though.

The satire is both obvious and underdeveloped, and the mutants don't leave too much of an impression. The only thing I can really praise is the nastiness. Aja really has raised the bar for depravity and I kind of have to admire that.

Attitudes toward women? It was interesting to me that when the father left the younger son was the man of the family and his younger sister had to listen to him. Sex trumps age in this system of social stratification a lot like fundamentalist Muslim countries. That's a rare potent and subtle dig by Aja.

Petra B said...

Guess: The Others

Jared said...

It looks like The Deer Hunter but that's 2:35:1, my guess: Heaven's Gate. I'm so totally wrong.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

RATCATCHER !!!

Bill C said...

Thinking of posting a full entry about The Hills Have Eyes but I don't particularly want to wade in it anymore than I already have. Nevertheless, want to preempt any notion that I disliked it so for slickefying a grindhouse flick that did leave room for improvement. That's sort of why I hated the Texas Chainsaw remake, but what I also hated about that film was that it imposed revenge-movie values on a splatter template. What makes those seventies movies so sad, particularly the first TCM, is that it's just about escaping with your whatever semblance of your life you can scrape up off the floor. The remakes are not simply about getting away, they're about getting even, and that kind of conflation of genres requires a director with a moral compass.

Walter_Chaw said...

H-man takes it! The capture is from the opening moments of Lynne Ramsay's difficult, brutal at times/beautiful at times, Ratcatcher. Big fan of this filmmaker's.

I wouldn't (re: V for Vendetta) say that that the transference is as stark as anarchy v. facism for american lib v. american con - but then again insofar as the situation today reminds of Alan Moore's vision of Thatcher's England anyhow. Am re-reading the graphic novel now prior to a review and am finding more similarities than discrepancies. . . maybe I'm just looking for them.

Alex Jackson said...

I remain very cynical about V for Vendetta. Usually these things are too broad and cast their net too wide to really offend anybody's poltical orientation. That Ayn Rand Young Republican that I talked about ages ago mentioned how this is the number one movie that's he's looking forward to.

I might be wrong, but I think Guy Fawkes (whose mask V for Vendetta is wearing) was attempting to assasinate King James because Catholicism was being outlawed and his fellow Catholics were being persecuted. I've seen some claim that he was trying to make England into a Catholic theocratic state. I wonder if the whole American liberalism/American conservatism dichotomy really applies as much as something like the Iraqi insurgents/Hussein's Iraq one (much like the Star Wars prequels). Does everything always have to be about the United States?

A few other things, Scott, yes Pulp Fiction is a classic like The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Psycho, The Godfather, and Star Wars; and like all of those films it's very signficant that you don't like it. Pulp Fiction is a very significant part of the indoctorination of any film fan. Rejecting it means that your entire perspective toward the cinema is just slightly slanted. This is a very good thing, it means that we can rely on you in seeing things that we've been conditioned to accept.

Classics that I dislike: three from Hitchcock have always left me cold: Vertigo (cowardly), Notorious (talky), and Rope (cowardly and talky). I second the pick of High Noon, it doesn't get enough shit for having Grace Kelly shoot. I always found From Here to Eternity and Ben-Hur to be dull. In genderal, I tend to think that the 1930s were the worst decade for American cinema. The modern gangster pics beat the ever living shit out of Public Enemy, King Kong isn't that great, I hate hate hate hated 42nd Street and have gotten in the most soul-crushing arguments by very intelligent people who insist that no, 42nd Street is a masterpiece.

And yeah there's stuff in Easy Rider I like, but yeah not that great.

cory m said...

I only say American Conservatism vs. American Liberalism because that was how Alan Moore described the changes.

On a side note, I'm also glad that you liked the Daniel Johnston documentary, Walter. It looks pretty interesting. I'd read about him, but never really felt the need to give his music a listen. "Story of an Artist" from the trailer made me an instant fan.

raphael said...

If i´m not mistaken the beautiful song in before sunrise´s end credits is a cover of a Daniel Johnston song.Reason enough to get me interested in this doc.But I probably wont get to see it in this far end of Europe.

Jefferson said...

I just watched Cool Hand Luke for the first time. I have to say I don't get it. Maybe it slots in nicely with the antihero trend of 60s-70s cinema, and maybe its ultimate "classic" status rests with the baby boomers who would rush to cinemas at the time to consume whatever Paul Newman laid out for them (was he the Tom Cruise of his day, only with Method chops?).

But why the generational embrace of a character who pretty clearly has a death wish from the early going, even before the death of his own mother? Are we supposed to love Luke because he can take multiple punches from George Kennedy? Because he can eat fifty eggs? Because he can return the stare of the Man With No Eyes? Throughout, Luke is praised for never giving up. But that's only because he's committed the ultimate act of giving up -- essentially, secondhand suicide. Shit, he doesn't even die for anybody's sins, which is the least I expect of a movie messiah.

i'm looking forward to V for Vendetta in a way I haven't looked forward to a comics adaptation since the first X-Men. My girlfriend made me go see Eight Below last weekend, so this weekend is my choice. And the next twelve weekends too, if I had my say after that experience, but ...

Ian said...
... why would you follow the philosophical ramblings of a man who punches himself in the face in the middle of a parking lot?


Because you don't want him to then turn around and punch you?

tcebula said...

Reds? Would that qualify as a modern classic? If so, I still harbor deep-seeded feelings of resentment for my parents making me sit through THAT in its original theatrical release.

Anonymous said...

I don't particularly care for The Usual Suspects, Blue Velvet or A Clockwork Orange.

Chad Evan said...

More anti-classics:

Gone With the Wind: This rightly catched alot of shit for its' treatment of black people, but really, it's a cartoonish picture of all Southerners, black and white (hell, the self-consciously cartoonish O Brother, Where Art Thou? (which I love) is more authentic.)

I love Hitchcock, but the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much is much less stylish and inventive than the original; as one reviewer put it, the original is two-thirds the length and twice the fun.

The Deer Hunter: deadly boring, and stylistically derivitive of the Godfather.

Nashville--I've tried twice, and twice I've failed to see the end of this one.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Finally I win one !

And that to for one of my top 10 films for this millenium.

Jared said...

Is Spielberg a sacred cow? I've never been more bored in my life than the 2 hours I spent watching "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" for film interpretation, it felt like the inspiration for a billion even worse Ron Howard and Robert Zemeckis atrocities. Richard Dreyfuss is absolutely unbearable, in Jaws at least he didn't get so much screentime. I genuinely don't care for much Spielberg short of the incredible Saving Private Ryan (his masterwork to be certain), Temple of Doom, Jurassic Park, and parts of Schindler's List. I've always found film fans to fall into two camps Scorsese fans and Spielberg fans a la Elvis men/Beatles men from Pulp Fiction, you can like both but you like one more than the other. I think Scorsese fans like visceral experience and like their films to be confrontational and shocking. Spielberg fans like spectacle and like to be overwhelmed, count me in the former camp. I thought "War of the Worlds" was terrible but I was amused by Alex's defense of it on his site that it's great because it's so disjointed it's hallucinogenic (Sort of like how some people talk about Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"). I don't know if Close Encounters is held in the esteem The Godfather or Star Wars is or anything but I know people take it pretty seriously.

I hate Memento and City of God which are two flicks that ride really high on the IMDB top 250 and tend to be big talking points for pseudo film buffs. I find Memento to be gimmicky and indyish, I dislike how City of God glamourizes the slums and the realities of its 6-year-olds-with-guns violence. Leon/The Professional that is high up on there is also pretty hacky, it's trashy cinema but it's at least prettier to look at and more gutsy than some beloved trash.

Oh by the way, Larry the Cable Guy now has a movie, I just saw the ad on TV, oh good lord. it just makes me so disgusted when I think about how hard it is for some talented artists to get a film made and then to think of how quickly Larry The Cable Guy: The Movie was probably greenlit. I just want to vomit. We so don't need comedians like him around dumbing people down any worse.

David said...

I'll second The Man Who Knew Too Much, which seems, if only because of Doris Day, much too chirpy and wholesome (and yes, long) for Hitchcock (or anyone), although it has its token Hitchcock-mastered scenes. Still, I think that that 10-or-15 minute concert hall scene--in which Hitchcock tries to build drama through music and editing, with nothing happening--while perhaps the most daring scene he ever did, fails miserably. It makes me think of the much better scene Kubrick did in Barry Lyndon, where the Lyndon stands ready for a duel, and once again--as throughout that entire movie--nothing happens except music, cutting, and pretty pictures.

I'd also add in Grand Illusion, which seems meandering, gratuitous without ever being indulgent, generous, with little to give but sympathy. It's lame, in other words, to me anyway, although Von Stroheim gives it some feeling for me. Actually, I'd thow in any of the other Renoirs I've seen (The River, Bete Humaine, Day in the Country), which also all seem too gratuitous and meek, if we're to make generalizations, with the exception of Rules of the Game. I'd have a tough time arguing that that one isn't the greatest movie ever made.

Dave Gibson said...

If I'm being honest, I have stronger affection for the SCTV and Woody Allen versions of Bergman classics ("shrimpkin") than"Scenes From A Marriage" or "Persona", though it seems that Bergman has fallen a little by the wayside in more recent evaluations of "great" movies. Not really canonical stuff, but I've never liked most Peter Greenaway films. "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" is pretentious claptrap--but, not quite as horrendous as "Prospero's Books"--possibly the most boring film I have ever seen. I love Cronenberg, but have never liked "Scanners" or "The Brood". "Pulp Fiction" probably had the same electric affect on me as the original "Star Wars" which is why I'm wary of revisiting it--seems to be very much a piece with my early-twenties, and--as "Star Wars" showed me--going home again is not usually a good idea. Of course, I'd also re-watch any of these films again than watch any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies (yes, you heard correctly) Full disclosure: I didn't even see the last one. Elves, magic rings, heroic trolls---blech. As a Science (Don't call it Sci-Fi) Fiction guy--my distaste for epic fantasy runs too deep to be altered by the director of "Dead Alive".

"Close Encounters" and "Vertigo" remain my favourite Spielberg and Hitchcock respectively, however. Which reminds me I didn't like "E.T.", even when I was eleven--as for Hitchcock, "Rope", "Dial M", "North By Northwest"....just some I could easily forget...

Postscript--Spielberg or Scorsese? I think I'm meeting hanging out with the Franco or Fulci? crowd too much.

Jared said...

Well I guess that's the crowd you're hanging out with, only one of my good friends has more than a passing interest in film, and I'm trying to make an analog to Elvis and the friggin Beatles, so I should go with directors everybody knows, right?

Rich said...

Jared:
are you sure that Elvis/Beatles thing is from Pulp Fiction? I really don't remember that. The idea sounds familiar, but not from that movie.

Jefferson said...

It's in the deleted scenes. It's Mia Wallace's personal theory about how people can be categorized.

Alex Jackson said...

The Elvis/Beatles thing is from a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino rightfully cut it out because it sounded "more like somebody trying to write like me than me". How fucking big does a movie have to be for its deleted scenes to reach canonical status.

I still love Gone with the Wind, I think it's both smart and hilarious. The film's attitudes toward race could be defended, but not by much. Mammy is the second smartest character in the picture, the first being Rhett Butler and one of the few to see right through Scarlet O'Hara's shit. When push comes to shove though, she knows her place. It's humbling to think that in 1939 this passed for progressiveness; Joe Breen's keeping the N-word out of the picture and Hattie McDaniel's Best Supporting Actress Oscar and all.

I definitely cannot argue with it's cartoonishness, it's a matter of opinion as to whether or not that's a good thing.

Glad to see mentions of City of God (why oh why has this movie gotten so much love), I'd also throw in American History X. I wouldn't think that I would have to mention it, but I swear to God the kids eat that shit up like it's pudding. That and Fight Club (which I like in spite of the third act) are probably responsible for more film school applications than any two films in history. Damn you Ed Norton!!!

Didn't much dig Grand Illusion. Or Pickpocket or L'Aventurra while we're at it. Not a big fan of Altman but I was actually kind of happy to see him being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Oscar if only for Short Cuts and Gosford Park(which I really like).

Jared said...

It's referenced in the movie and I watch the deleted scenes all the time. Plus the deleted scenes were even on the VHS tape of the movie! Yeah I really like Pulp Fiction, oh well, it's one of those things that 9 out of 10 people agree upon.

Jared said...

Oh, biggest problem with City of God: Main character is meaningless. I'm serious, if you deleted ALL his stuff from the film and just made him a background character you'd trim about 30 minutes off the bloated thing and it might be more interesting. In the most violent and poor slum in the world why do I care about this average kid who can't get laid and wants a job at a newspaper? The movie gets so bogged down in his story that they don't introduce the movie's hero, Knockout Ned until it's almost time for the third act! Every time something big happens to him he's like "Why should you care, this isn't my story" EXACTLY! So why is this fly on the wall the focal point?

George Nada said...

Some movies are a product of their time, Pulp Fiction and Fight Club are very much so. If you didn't see them around the time of their release, or weren't of a certain age then that's why you wont "get" them.

Then there are the people who will take a classic film and call it shit purely for the reason of being in the minority and to appear "hip" and trendy. I call these people sad bastards.

And as for Fight Club, the movie speaks tough, but it fails by its twist ending -- a concept that I have come to hate because of movies like this, which spend inordinate blocks of dialogue explaining the hows, whys and whens of its big twist. Everything that has come before it strikes me as a feeble ploy leading up to its not-so-amazing revelation. Sort of begs the question (spoiler warning) -- why would you follow the philosophical ramblings of a man who punches himself in the face in the middle of a parking lot?

The twist ending is in the book, it isn't a movie trick. This is more apparant when rewatching the film being aware of the twist, which makes it even miles better than the first viewing.
As for your final question, it's a black comedy and that's one of the many funny moments.

To get a real response you're striving for my guess is you don't get it as a result of your age (an assumption of course). When I first saw that movie it spoke to my generation on so many levels and deeply moved me. Reaching that point in your life when you've done everything you've been told to do all your life so that you've got the house; the car; the money; the products, and realising it's all empty and bullshit. This leads to most men of our generation becoming very apathetic, the fun of the movie was that they actually got angry and did something about it!
Why follow a mad man? Because he was offering a better alternative to the apathetic, empty shit they were living in.

Chad Evan said...

george nada:
"It was in the book" isn't any kind of defense. Isn't it possible that the twist was every bit as contrived and cheesy in the book as it was in the film?

Fight Club spoke to me as well--until that ending. I still like the movie for the brilliant beginning and middle, but the end is a gimmick, pure and simple.

George Nada said...

"It was in the book" isn't any kind of defense. Isn't it possible that the twist was every bit as contrived and cheesy in the book as it was in the film?

Fight Club spoke to me as well--until that ending. I still like the movie for the brilliant beginning and middle, but the end is a gimmick, pure and simple.


It isn't contrived or cheesey in the book (which is top class, although not Chuck's best), nor is it in the movie when watched within context.

No, it isn't a gimmick "pure and simple", it's the entire point of the movie and book. I'm afraid you're just flat out wrong, and that isn't an opinion it's fact.

Watching the movie again knowing Tyler's 'condition' is what makes it such a great movie. It's those poor souls who skipped out bitching about "that twist ending" that missed out, being all elitist and "oh, I so saw that twist coming...it sucked!" which is fine with me, your loss.

Chad Evan said...

george nada:

I would pursue this discussion with you, but since you're interested in passing down "facts, not opinions" from the lofty heights you share with Chuck Palahniuk, I won't mention that I've seen Fight Club many times, agree that the twist adds a bit of fun to repeat viewings (albeit of the cheap, "Oh, I get it now!" variety) and simply disagree with you as to the thematic resonance of the twist.

And yeah, I am an elitist; I figure someone who converses in facts rather than opinions would sympathize.

jer fairall said...

I really hated Fight Club when it was new (the one and only time I saw it, as a double-feature with Dogma, which spoke to my then-nineteen-year-old's moralistic/humanist sensibilities much more loudly and clearly), but I should probably give it another shot. I actually though Ebert's view on it was one that should have been taken up by more people. The film struck me at the time--and still does now even in retrospect--as being much more pro-thuggish violence than anti- anything. The average Fight Club fan tends to be much more thoughtful, critical and politicaly-minded than the average Scarface fan, but there was a degree, at the time, to which I was kind of afraid of anyone who liked the film *too* much. I'm at least way over that now.

I'd much rather watch Pulp Fiction and Citizen Kane (both of which I own) than Oz, Casablanca, The Godfather and Star Wars, but can't say I actually dislike any of those films. Never seen Gone With The Wind.

Walter_Chaw said...

What I dislike about Fight Club the movie is the destruction of buildings at the end. I'm pretty pleased with the idea of blowing up credit card buildings, but there you have it - the transformation from anarchists to drilled terror cells defeats the point for me. V for Vendetta is a nice 2006 analog.

I still have really, very fond feelings for Fight Club, finding the excoriation of the support-group culture of the '90s to be spot-on and hysterical and self-serving. Dr. Phil seems to be the love child of that moment in time: a zeitgeist life preserver. Chuck P. is good at that sort of thing and Fincher, for 9/10ths of the pic, is well on board. The casting, too, is brilliant: nebbish = Norton and male fantasy of self = Pitt and transsexual = Meat Loaf.

I was thrown by the twist and got a good deal of pleasure the second and third times through by knowledge of it. Could be my age. I also enjoyed the DVD wherein I could pause on the subliminal appearances of Durden. As cult flicks go, it's fly - it even prefigures the recent penguin craze in the spirit creature's advice to "glide."

I'm sympathetic with the idea of "fact" in discussions of liberal arts - the belief that there are only opinions in lib arts has destroyed the discipline, frankly, but then so has hostile discourse and the "shouting down" mentality of cable news forums and, yeah, the Internet. So, fellas, I love the conversation and the passion, but mutual respect here is the last thing we have that separates us from the AICNs.

Also want to offer that The African Queen is straight garbage produced by one of my favorite directors, John Huston. Stagy and artificial, and more than a little sad - and I die a little every time I see it programmed into retrospective series for Bogie, Kate, or Huston. Also not a fan of Key Largo or, really, The Big Sleep except for maybe the first twenty minutes. The Big Lebowski is miles better.

Chad Evan said...

The African Queen, absolutely. Love Huston, but when he got bored with a flick, his long leash with actors could grow deadly, whereas it can look almost proto-Altman on something like Beat the Devil. There is just no excuse for a picture directed by Huston and photographed by Cardiff to be so visually boring.

As for The Big Sleep, I prefer the Maltese Falcon and Lebowski, but I think the Sleep is just fine if you view it for what it is, a comedy posing as a noir. I think all of Hawks' movies are comedies, even when they are pretending to be westerns or gangster pictures.

One picture that's definitely not over-rated is His Girl Friday, which has as much energy and wit as any comedy this side of Shakespeare.

Rich said...

Totally agree with your point about fact in the arts, Walter, but it's a difficult stance to take. Canadians (and Americans, probably more so) hold on extremely tightly to the premise that their opinion is sacred and untouchable by the facts until they decide it is so. Any time I've begun to challenge this idea that their opinion is not the ultimate say on matters with someone it has been met with quite a bit of contempt.

As far as overrateds go, I'd like to add Requiem For a Dream to the list. I don't think it can be considered a classic (in fact, it seems to have faded out of most discussion and 'bestever' lists these days), but I really hated the passion with which certain groups of people proclaimed it was cinematic genius beyond a doubt at the time of its release. I didn't really hate the movie, though, so I guess this is more a reaction to the reaction than an attack on the movie, but I still can't get over being told by numerous film students that it was the best thing since sliced bread.

Jared said...

Never read the book of Fight Club mostly because it's always checked out of the library and I don't feel like wasting money on buying it but in the DVD commentary it's said that Palahunik's book ends differently and he prefers the ending chosen for the movie. Can someone who's read the book tell me what's different about it.

And I think Ebert hates "Fight Club" because it's nihilistic, the movie sees everything as being empty and bullshit. And the character's we're supposed to I guess, empathize with are nasty and evil. Also see his review of "A Clockwork Orange".

I've never seen "Gone With The Wind" but this is making me think I should borrow my friend's copy of the big honking four disc box that Warner gave it. Didn't "The African Queen" have a famously troubled production and a lot of animosity between its stars?

George Nada said...

I would pursue this discussion with you, but since you're interested in passing down "facts, not opinions" from the lofty heights you share with Chuck Palahniuk, I won't mention that I've seen Fight Club many times, agree that the twist adds a bit of fun to repeat viewings (albeit of the cheap, "Oh, I get it now!" variety) and simply disagree with you as to the thematic resonance of the twist.

And yeah, I am an elitist; I figure someone who converses in facts rather than opinions would sympathize.


I have no problem with how you percieved the film, after all that is all down to personal "opinion". What I was saying was that the whole story to Fight Club in both book and film form is centred around his condition, and it is not simply a "gimmick" to fuck with audiences. That is a fact regardless of how you see it, that was my point. To assume I'm applying this to every opinion you have on film is rediculous, although I'll admit I was slightly baiting you so apologies.

Also, I was not calling you an elitist, just referring to the many that instantly shot the film down. I wouldn't say "those" people whilst addressing you now would I? Again apologies if you took it as such.

The average Fight Club fan tends to be much more thoughtful, critical and politicaly-minded than the average Scarface fan, but there was a degree, at the time, to which I was kind of afraid of anyone who liked the film *too* much. I'm at least way over that now.

It's weird, whenever I think of Fight Club the violence in it is always the last thing that comes to mind to me (except in the case of Jared Leto's character being beaten senseless through jealousy). I always just assumed this was the case with everyone until a couple of years back I was talking to some guy I knew and he said "I want to start a Fight Club, it'd be so cool". To say I cringed is an understatement, what a tool. I can definately see where you're coming from there though.

Ian Pugh said...

Point taken, George, but as stated I don't really hate the film. Sure, there are brilliant concepts that, frankly, shouldn't be forgotten. Several minor examples: The "a dildo not your dildo" scene is like some sort of modern-day American comedy of manners in itself, and Pitt is simply astounding. My favorite moment in the entire film is Lou's beating of Tyler -- where he just responds with the most chillingly insane laughter I've ever heard. It really speaks for the general apathy of materialistic life that you're citing. While the rest of the film features men beating each other numb, that scene is the best example of this concept that you've become so tired with all the bullshit that you just don't care anymore.

But it's not so much the twist, in itself, that kills my taste for the film as much as its treatment of said revelation. No, I didn't see the twist coming (nor do I think it a "bad" twist), but at the same time, I think the script goes overboard in its explanations. There's a point within Tyler's paragraphs of dialogue where it stops being an organic "conversation" and becomes something for the sake of our audience, who, as the film sees it, might not get it otherwise -- I think right around the point when he starts explaining where the narrator really was when Tyler took over.

Admittedly, my final comment was more of a desire for a bit of the funny, but it also represents a hole in the film's treatment of this revelation, and why the movie is ruined for me. I can accept its logic, but when it starts lobbing that much extravagant explanation at me, I think it's leaving itself open for criticism for what it can't/won't explain. It stops being a matter of "open for interpretation," because, hey, there's gotta be an explanation for everything, right?

Obviously, the movie was more influential to modern-day film than the book to modern-day literature, and I think it was for the worse. The popularity of The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, and Memento (the latter of which also features that same "explanation" folly), taken in tandem, had a serious effect on cinema today: the idea that drama film/horror film/anything can't be mindblowing unless it features some big, unforseeable twist. More perception from the masses than anything, but bolstered by the films' self-importance.

Alex Jackson said...

I always thought the problem with the third act of Fight Club wasn't that it didn't make sense or that it was cheap; but that it was essentially sloppily moralizing otherwise decidedly immoral material. It was A Clockwork Orange with the 21st Chapter in tact; they're all for depravity and anarchy to begin with but they won't carry that through near the end.

I don't like the third act, but I love the ending. "What's the smell", holding hands while The Pixies' "Where is my head" comes on the soundtrack. Wonderful.

Jefferson said...

I really don't understand the distaste others have expressed here for The Big Sleep, Casablanca and other points in the Bogart oeuvre. I mean, Sleep is just a wonderful sleuthing story with great characterizations. I respect others for thinking it loses something by forgetting about one of the murder victims, but it's such an engrossing overall tale that it never bugs me. As for Casablanca ... well, that's just a wonderful ensemble piece, with phenomenal dialogue and characters, and it set the template for the kind of movies we're still seeing today ... magic letters of transit and all.

I realize that Lebowski and other entries have effectively satirized the Chandler sleuth genre, and that Casablanca ... well, it feels like we've all seen it a hundred times. But that's because we have, and we have because it's just that good.

Jared said...
Never read the book of Fight Club mostly because it's always checked out of the library and I don't feel like wasting money on buying it but in the DVD commentary it's said that Palahunik's book ends differently and he prefers the ending chosen for the movie. Can someone who's read the book tell me what's different about it.


Can I put his here without fear of spoiling things ...?




The bombs do not go off, and the narrator winds up institutionalized.

Alex Jackson said...

I love Casablanca and I think I still like Key Largo. Harder they Fall is underrated.

The Big Sleep puts me to sleep though.

Jared said...

Fight Club will never be on my shitlist for opening me up to the wonderful world of The Pixies's music. Casablanca is wonderful, I wonder why it gets trampled on a lot in these quarters, I don't find it visually boring, it does have marvelous scope and the acting is amazing. Really I think that one deserves its classic status.

I've always been kind of bored by The Godfather (not so much by Part II) but Alex and Bill C's reviews are kind of making me feel like maybe I'll appreciate it more when I'm older or something along those lines. I've read the book too and I found that to be decidedly overrated actually. I'm certain the book isn't as good as eveyrbody says it is. The Godfather is not as visually satisfying as "Apocalypse Now" for sure, which is why I think Coppola is so canonized.

Anonymous said...

Just putting it out there, but since there's so much Matrix/Pulp Fiction/Fight Club debate on this thread, it's really started to make me notice that, regardless of the merit in these films, there are huge pushes to lionize all three, and a hard fought, knee jerk backlash against that lionization. That probably doesn't secure them as classics, but they're obviously somewhat important, or we wouldn't still be discussing it.

Personally, I'm glad for the existance of all three pictures (and I like each one, to varying degrees)-- not every movie made advances film another step down the pipe. No matter what the flaws in (chose random one of the three out of a hat) The Matrix, for example: do you remember where the bar had been set for action movies before that film? Though there are plenty of people... er... "influenced" by The Matrix that just don't get it, but pushing into the mainstream that an action film can even contain a philisophical question moved us away from a stale buffet of Van Damme and Die-Hard clones.

A similar argument can be made for the other two pictures.

cory m said...

Full Metal Jacket was nothing but a collection of great moments for me. I've never met anyone who cared about a single frame of the film not containing R Lee Ermey or Vincent D'Onofrio. The film blew its load waaay too early. In the end, I think it amounts to little more than a highbrow college stoner movie.

Bill C said...

Regarding Fight Club/The Pixies, the song is actually called "Where Is My Mind," just in case this discussion inspires anyone to track it down.

Never been much for Casablanca, and while I dig The Big Sleep, it gets tedious on repeat viewings after the great bookstore scene. Of the contemporary designated classics, The Shawshank Redemption has worn out its welcome for me, ditto Schindler's List and, drumroll, Star Wars. And I find haven't had a craving to watch Donnie Darko again since putting it at #2 on my Top 10 of 2001.

Chad Evan said...

Seems like the two dominate threads of the un-classics being nominated are middle-brow flicks from the Golden Age and, as Cory M. put it, college stoner movies.

Wonder why? Perhaps these two types of movies are the ones we adored at a younger age, and we feel we've outgrown them? Any other thoughts?

I've never understood the rap against Casablanca--it's visually boring--either. To my eyes, there was not much depth to Curtiz' style, but it was slick as hell.

Anonymous said...

I will also second My Fair Lady -- as dead and inert a movie I've ever seen, the transition from dialogue to songs has never ever seemed so awkward, many of the best songs slam the brakes on the plot.

Jefferson said...

Anonymous said...
Just putting it out there, but since there's so much Matrix/Pulp Fiction/Fight Club debate on this thread, it's really started to make me notice that, regardless of the merit in these films, there are huge pushes to lionize all three, and a hard fought, knee jerk backlash against that lionization. That probably doesn't secure them as classics, but they're obviously somewhat important, or we wouldn't still be discussing it.


Well said, anony.

Jared said...

The Matrix shot itself in the foot for canonization with it's hilariously bad, impossible to follow excuses for sequels. Not to mention that everybody who saw the first one was pretty friggin sure that Neo shut the Matrix down at the end, it seems like they put a "no but..." on the end of that with the sequels so they could milk some cash out of it as a franchise. "Revolutions" was even a flop domestically taking in less than it cost to make.

Bemis said...

This thread hurts - about a dozen of my most beloved movies have been mentioned - but I guess that's the point. Reminds me of the "academy of the overrated" scene in Manhattan.

I'll echo High Noon, From Here to Eternity, and Gone with the Wind, and add Triumph of the Will; I've never understood why my peers bend over backwards to defend filmmaking that I find overwrought and elephantine.

Bill C said...

It's funny, I was so late in coming to Gone with the Wind and From Here to Eternity that the backlash actually worked in their favour, steeling me for disappointment and therefore making pleasant surprises out of both.

Rachel said...

The last "great" film to actively draw out my bile was probably The Philadelphia Story. The model of a well-made film. Shame about its abhorrent morals.

Walter_Chaw said...

Key for me with Casablanca is that I don't feel the love story between Bogie and Bergman. If there's no love in that flick, then it's just slickified studio reactionary jazz. I'm aware of the background, of the extras, of Curtiz's status as favored place-stopper, but man, I find it to be boring and ineffective on almost every level and difficult, too, to appreciate.

If you feel a sort of attraction in there, though, all bets are off. For my money, Notorious is the better version of Casablanca though, as Alex sorta suggests, it's talky, too. Difference for me is that there's enough Hitchcock in there that I don't mind waiting for it. Harder for me to like as time goes by is North by Northwest - I tell you though, the more I watch it, the more bitter it seems to me. There's something embedded in there: some real anger at the popular audience - and that famous flub late in the game with the little boy plugging his ears? I think there might be fruit in examining the entire film around that error.

Jefferson said...

Bogie's drunken, heartsick rant ("Of all the gin joints ...") helps sell the romance for me. And Bergman is so luminously shot in closeup that she closes the deal. It's just got its hooks in me, I guess.

As for North By Northwest, Walter, there may be some fruit in your analysis -- starting with the fact that the title means nothing, not only in context of the film but also as a phrase in the English language. Grist for a larger think piece, your readers dare to hope.

Carl Walker said...

If North by Northwest is my favorite Hitchock out of the four that I've seen so far, does that mean that I'm representative of the popular audience that he's so angry with? Notorious was good too, but I agree with Alex about Vertigo (and The 39 Steps was too long ago).

Alex Jackson said...

I just plain like Bogart better than Grant. The "all the gin joints" spiel and the "here's looking at you kid" spiel always make me melt. He's so sincere, you know that he has to be sincere he wouldn't make himself that vulnerable otherwise.

Grant's just boring. Meh. Won't dismiss Hitchcock's 40s work since I saw so little of it (needs to see Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, and Spellbound), but I think he was still shackled in being a studio workhorse and couldn't quite evolve into the super-auteur that he was in latter years. Rope and Notorious are nearly as interesting "failures" to me as North By Northwest or Vertigo.

North By Northwest has some really great cinema in it but it's just so glib. I like Walter's description of it as being hateful toward the popular audience. Makes sense also if you buy into the idea that the previous year's Vertigo was his most personal film. It bombed at the box office of course. Better than Charade, it goes without saying though.


*VERTIGO SPOILERS*






For me, the problem with Vertigo, by the way, was that Madeline and Judy were the same person. It kind of derailed from there, Scotty's cruelty and the supernatural elements were kind of neutralized unrepairably. Everything made too much sense.

I do love Hitchcock films by the way. I absolutely adore Rear Window, Psycho, The Birds and Strangers on a Train. Those pictures are unbeatable and difficult to improve on. I haven't yet seen Brian DePalma ever make a movie as good as those four.