Here’s the problem with Akeelah and the Bee tanking its opening weekend: Roger Ebert. Having given it the four-star benediction and the kind of patronizing double-speak that also indicated his defense of Crash last year (“This is a tragedy in some predominantly black schools: Excellence is punished by the other students, possibly as an expression of their own low self-esteem” – an astonishing thing for an extremely wealthy, extremely isolated white man to opine based on the machinations of a sub-par, slope-browed uplift formula flicker), there will be the inclination now for Ebert to rally and attempt to rally others, around the non-issue of this film’s failure to capture hearts and minds. He says this to tantalize the waffling:
"What is ingenious about the plot construction of writer-director Doug Atchison is that he creates this moment so that we understand what's happening, but there's no way to say for sure. "
And as is so often the case with Mr. Ebert in the last five years or so, he’s either willfully misleading his readers (because he’s become evangelical about neo-/sub-Stanley Kramer films like this) or he just wasn’t paying attention. There’s no uncertainty whatsoever about the moment that he describes. The venerated director Atchison goes so far as to insert a flashback to a scene to explicitly clarify the choice that Akeelah is making – then he shows reaction shots of her arch-nemesis; then of her mentor, registering surprise-into-understanding. If this is the yardstick for subtlety in Ebert’s purview, then I guess I’m starting to understand his affection for broadly-telegraphed, insulting, cut-rate garbage.
The end-note of the review is almost as predictable: “. . . they will want to live better.” Ebert on a crusade, same as post-Crash, for folks to see films that are good for them. I don’t know that I want this person to be the judge of my moral standing. The more you hear him speak at events like Boulder’s Conference on World Affairs about the primacy of tits, the less you will.
After watching Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly again for the first time in years with a captive audience at the Denver Public Library, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mickey Rourke is probably an underestimated performer, and that Schroeder is no question a shitty director. Barfly isn’t dreadful, but it is a shrine to Charles Bukowski written by Bukowski (featuring a cameo by Bukowski) and playing a lot like what my friend called “a best-of collection of Bukowski quips”. It’s a glorification of the drunk’s lifestyle, a fairy tale, and an egomaniac’s fantasia that grows increasingly wearying as it un-spools. Oft-lauded for its realistic dark, I found it instead to be a projection of a dangerous, puerile ode written by some dude to himself. Would’ve much rather shown other Rourke pics like the only Alan Parker film worth a shit, Angel Heart or, perhaps, Kasdan’s Body Heat or definitely Walter Hill’s awesome Johnny Handsome: find therein the blood ancestor of his Sin City Marv performance.
Still haven’t had a chance to see Silent Hill. Still want to.
Also presented John Huston’s masterpiece, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for a small but appreciative audience at the Gilpin County Public Library. It’s a film that only gains in relevance as time goes by, this doomed search for gold on foreign soil, beset upon by demons external and internal. It’s telling to me this time through that the emptied bags of the picture’s MacGuffin are found “In the ruins, outside the city” – and I caught myself with a tear on my cheek watching Walter Huston do the jig that Eugene O’Neill taught him while they were doing “Desire Under the Elms.” John would say late in his life that the one perfect moment he captured in his long and storied career was this twenty-second dance.
Bogie, too, was never better – his decline into madness is the prototype for his own Queeg, but still full of the pathos of lost minds and better natures. Looking back to see him not being nominated for this picture is as painful as looking back to see him beating Brando for the Oscar in The African Queen (Brando in Streetcar of course – and Clift, too, in A Place in the Sun).
The discussion of three classic westerns at the DPL went well: not much to report there save the burning desire to do a Sergio Leone series that would include the three Clints, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America. (If you haven't read Bill's write-ups of Leone flicks, do yourself a favor. Seriously. Seminal stuff.)
May get a chance to do Hana-Bi in a couple of weeks – something I’m geeked about, to be sure.
This week, a screening of Mission Impossible: III as well as discussion/screenings of The Fisher King (compromised by a bad ending, methinks) and the puzzling, uneven to say the least, Key Largo.
Question I’d like to toss out for discussion is a programming question. If you were putting together a series for discussion/screening, taking into consideration run-time (110min and under), with the intention of presenting over the course of five films a good overview of a major theme running under 1970s American cinema – which five films would you choose? Without checking run-times, I’m definitely going for Parallax View, The Conversation, and Night Moves for starters.
I'd also love to hear about your favorite underestimated performers.
Here’s the first capture of our fifth contest:
Back at the mutha-site: Bill supplies the DVD specs to my review of the abominable The Family Stone, Travis writes a funny review of childhood fave Blue Thunder, and I express my ignorance in a review of King Vidor's The Champ.