May 16, 2006

The Trench

Went to an early screening of Pixar’s Cars this morning and, aside from the really hit-or-miss A Bug’s Life, gotta say that this is the first of the company’s flicks that I just flat didn’t like. Bloated, possibly racist. . . there’s a lot to say about it, but I’ll save it for the review proper. Sufficed for now to indicate that the trailer seems accurate: it just ain’t no good. I did have the pleasure of sitting in front of some yahoo with press credentials who laughed heartily every couple of minutes whether or not there was a joke: the studio’s gotta get better at planting their ringers. Wonder if the summer of NASCAR (with Will Ferrell’s racing flick coming up in a couple of months) will leave me further out of the proverbial loop.

What’s disturbing to me is that lately I’ve had the opportunity to be more in contact with the “average” audience member and the suspicion
that I’ve been harboring that I’m way out of whack in terms
of the popular taste has been brought home to me in a real personal kind of way. Seems like I should wear it like a badge of honor, right, but it really just makes me feel sort of melancholy and lonesome.

Presided over a great discussion of the Slovenian film Spare Parts, released in limited fashion a couple of years ago and dealing with the ever-topical issue of illegal immigration and the smuggling of people. It reminded me in look and focus of
Taxi Driver: keying in on a pair of drivers whose small lives lived in the middle of the night and on the fringes of society played poignant against the backdrop of a tiny ex-Yugoslavian town which has as its main distinguishing points a nuclear reactor and a motorcross track. The participants at the Lone Tree Library and I watched the film together for the first time that night and the freshness of that approach was a welcome relief from the hyper-prepared stuff that I do with classic cinema or films with a pedigree’d director at the helm. The fresman director, Damjan Kozole, with a documentary background in tow, demonstrates a tremendous amount of chops – scenes where our anti-heroes hide out in the forest as cops look for them in the middle of the night are lit and shadowed like an aquarium. The visual theme is “oppression” and the picture feels close and claustrophobic. Excellent stuff – non-didactic, too.

Discussion for The Big Sleep went less well as most of my comments about Hawks’ film had to do with the two versions (the 1945 pre-release and the 1946 theatrical), the much-documented salvation of Lauren Bacall’s career after her disastrous turn in Confidential Agent. The dialogue is bracing for the most part, but the racing scene written by Epstein to me seems dated and embarrassed: in stark contrast to the quicksilver of Chandler’s (and Faulkner’s and Leigh Brackett’s) dialogue. The convolution of the plot never bothered me – less so when you see the more-explicated original in all its deadening glory – but what gets me is its essential nihilism and, then, the not-quite-convincing appearance of an angel in the middle of all that Gehenna.

I was accused of not liking happy endings more than once the last couple of weeks (what with my excoriation of
the last twenty minutes or so of The Fisher King, especially) – begging the question of what your favorite non-ironic happy endings are in the movies (thus knee-capping
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Soderbergh’s Solaris, and even Wilder’s Some Like it Hot and Curtiz’s Casablanca to an extent)? My difficulty coming up with titles might prove their point – begging the larger question of what a happy ending is, anyway – I mean, is the ending of Poseidon a happy one? High Noon? Dogville?

It's more than possible that the only happy endings that I like are better described as bittersweet.

Will finesse a few more DVD reviews coming up this week – but I may not get a Da Vinci Code review to Bill until middle of next week, unfortunately. The grind is just getting grindier as projects here and at FFC HQ pile up: here’s hoping for some relief (and inspiration) in the coming months.

Here’s the capture:


Anonymous said...

Guess at the screenshot: Argento's Deep Red?

Anonymous said...

Wait wait, I retract my first guess completely. That's Suspiria, I'm sure of it.

- David H.

Anonymous said...

Happy Ending question = Harvey.

Even the bars that close over the final shot could be construed in a positive living-inside-the-dream sort of way.


George Nada said...

Off the top of my head, a non-ironic ending in a movie I love would be Punch-Drunk Love. It certainly earns its ending.

Seattle Jeff said...

Would you say A Face in the Crowd's ending is happy? Is the fall of an anti-hero happy or sad? What about the ending of Hud?

Yes, Patricia Neal is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Oh geez. When Harry Met Sally, Say Anything... I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has a happy ending.

rachel said...

Happy endings:

High Fidelity? Office Space? Tezuka's Metropolis?

Lee said...

The ending of "Rushmore" is one of my favorite recent happy endings. Also very fond of the wrap up to "The Truman Show."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Truman Show's got a very triumphant ending that it fully earns, IMO. I guess there are probably other happy endings I like, but none spring to mind.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

add 3-iron to the list

dave said...

Wild at heart

raphael said...

Happy endings:
It´s a wonderful life,Singin in the rain
but above all the endings to Modern times and City lights|

Chris said...

Magnolia has one of the best endings, happy or otherwise.

Jack_Sommersby said...
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Jack_Sommersby said...

Happy endings:

In Country

Blind Date

Alex Jackson said...

Intolerance and Birth of a Nation. 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The original Return of the Jedi, Blue Velvet probably. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The Truman Show always kind of bugged me. The whole "individual fighting the system" stuff was gobbled up by the Truman Show audience and he kisses off the Christoff character with his stupid catchphrase; indicaiting that the ending is not genuinely happy but a carefully nurtured one by the television show creators to please their audience. That was a strange movie, but I have a strong distrust of it.

Anonymous said...

Happy endings: Bad Boys 2

Erin said...

did someone really just say One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

I would say, It's A Wonderful Life, and I'm eagerly looking forward to other people's responses.

Erin said...

PS I would totally count High Noon!

Alex Jackson said...

PS I would totally count High Noon!

The anti-Quaker sentiments and all?

Anonymous said...

Happy Endings:

Blade Runner (original cut)
Life of Brian

OK, maybe I'm kidding...

rachel said...

speaking o' Python/Gilliam: Meaning of Life, A Fish Called Wanda, Baron Munchausen.

Erin said...

I didn't see High Noon as being anti-Quaker but I can certainly respect why someone would read it that way.

Carl Walker said...

Well Walter, since you brought it up, all those previous Pixar movies you've liked have unambiguously happy endings, being that they are, despite their quality, mainstream, "family" films. While you might not consider any of them to have especially great endings, I would have to imagine that you don't begrudge any of those films their endings, or wish they had ended differently. Maybe I'm wrong.

I am sorry to hear about Cars, but not surprised.

Chad Evan said...

The end of Chinatown always warms my heart and brings a smile to my lips.

In other news, apparently The DaVinci Code was boo-hissed off the screen at Cannes. Two flops in a row from Ron Howard? Let the Schadenfreude commence!

Walter_Chaw said...

David - another win for you, man, with the correct identification of the prelude to the maggot scene from Argento's Suspiria.

Thing that's wonderful about so many of these happy endings (Blue Velvet, Punch-Drunk, 3-Iron, 2001 and so on), is that they're wondrously fucked up. Ditto Alex's observations of Truman Show, so much of that resolution has been predicted by what's come before (including the scoring of certain scenes with Phil Glass actually in the frame!) so that the film, ultimately, becomes its own "truman show", manipulating emotion and audience taste. It's the llorando sequence from Mulholland Drive where all the dialogue and action points to the illusion: and then it gets you anyway. Fascinating picture.

But happy? Not entirely. Just like Punch-Drunk is two sociopaths finding one another (like Bonnie & Clyde with fewer machine guns), or the theatrical cut of Blade Runner, right, when they go off into an illusory countryside on a deathwatch. I'll buy High Fidelity, though, almost just on the strength of that rapturous Stevie Wonder song that plays out over the end-credits ("I Believe if I Fall in Love"). Even It's a Wonderful LIfe is off-kilter a tad with the thought that the bad guy does, indeed, get away with it. I love the flick, don't get me wrong, but the ending's a lot more complicated (and rewarding) than just "happy".

Walter_Chaw said...
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Walter_Chaw said...

P.S. Interview with me over at Matt Zoller-Seitz's blog:

Walter makes an ass of himself, again.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview there, if albeit somewhat brief, but then again probably wasn't especially the place for a hundred question epic.

But, sad to hear that's it's such a challenge to land or even directly contact for that matter the "bigger" folks for interviews and such, since it seems quite frankly FilmFreak would be one of the few that could extract a suitable, engaging conversation from these people so used to tepid junkets and such. Wes Anderson anybody? Remembering that Comedy Central-aired Zissou-oriented exchange with him still makes me cringe.

Anonymous said...


Just my luck, then, that the first Argento that I decide to see (and so far my only Argento) is Tenebre. Don't get me wrong, though, I love Tenebre. Spectacular, twisted little parable that both criticizes and trumps formulaic whodunits and their authors. One of the most effective uses of synthesizers I've ever heard -- even
beats out Carpenter, methinks.

In the way of happy endings, I should probably mention Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, the entirety of which is filled with such undeniable whimsy that its instant happy ending, complete with balloons and confetti, just melts the heart. Then there's the final title overlay reading This was based on a true story, which comes as a self-conscious cry of triumph: "Yes, I actually made a silent film and got it released in theaters... and you loved it." Not ironic so much as it is appropriate. Cue the A-list stars of the '70s goofily waving to the camera.

A brilliant film, really, in that it doesn't parody silent films (any idiot can make a b&w film falsely aged with a honky-tonk piano) so much as it purely subscribes to its aesthetic. Only too bad that Brooks followed up on Silent Movie with High Anxiety, which claims to be a take on Hitchcock but really doesn't have a target. Kind of a grim precursor to today's Scary Movie spoofs.

Incidentally, have you ever read the original graphic novel A History of Violence? Olsen and Cronenberg were wise to divert from the source material; it's kind of a silly, junior version of The Godfather or Goodfellas, and its own ending -- which resolves too much, and is just too pat for its own good -- makes me pine for the film.


Anything involved with Comedy Central anymore should make anyone cringe. When did screaming out obscenities and racial epithets become synonymous with satire?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Good interview.

p.s. Not that anyone asked but I saw "The New World" again on dvd in hopes of reverting on my initial reaction to it. I really wanted to like it this time around given that everyone who's opinion I respect seems to love it, but alas, it's my official worst film of the year. Yessir, it beats Crash. I hate Crash a million times more but this one really broke my heart. My film-God now finally walks the dirt with us mere mortals. This film is one of the peice-of-shits like "Mullholand Drive" that are tailor-made for bad viewing and great reviewing. I just had to turn it off in the middle because I couldn't take it any more. Today I was watching "Days of Heaven" for probably the twentieth time and for the life in me I couldn't understand how the same person could have made both these movies.

Bill C said...

Interesting, H-Man. I had the exact opposite reaction: saw it theatrically, thought it was pretty much a wank, then found I really could appreciate it on DVD. Can't say I agree that it's worse than Crash, but it's refreshing to hear any kind of iconoclastic stance against New World. Hoping you'll expand on it.

Bill C said...

Speaking of Ivory Towers and such:

Lucasfilm confirmed today that the "Original Trilogy" Star Wars DVDs would be non-anamorphic, sourced from the LaserDisc masters created circa 1992. In other words, they're going to look like shit, and they won't even have 5.1 audio despite the fact that Star Wars and its sequels pioneered six-track sound.

Merry Christmas, Star Wars loyalists.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So I guess Lucas is throwing "exactly as they appeared" right back in our faces, huh? Is there a person alive who embodies a supervillain so ably?

Don't come crying to me when he attends a press conference dressed in a tuxedo adorned in question marks.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Oh, my gosh! The man behind the words. Great to see a pic of ya, Walter. And Zoller Seitz used to be the film critic for Dallas Observer, and it was awesome reading his stuff every weekend. I know you can read it now at New York Press, but there's something about reading great film criticism on the actual page that still thrills me. Anyway, great interview of a great critic.

P.S. I'm so glad you've changed your opinion on In the Bedroom. I just really hate, hate, hate that piece of puerile crap.

The Captain said...

I'm a huge fan of In the Bedroom, but I've only seen it once. Maybe a second viewing will tear it down for me.

Just got back from Howard's Da Vinci Code - it's flaccid as hell. Safer than Brokeback Mountain and completely dull, derivative and taking no chances whatsoever. It's sure to please the idiot fans of the book but will leave most of us checking our watches every 5. Pray X-3 will serve us better next week. I love Brett Ratner. (Gag)

Alex Jackson said...

I'm a huge fan of In the Bedroom, but I've only seen it once. Maybe a second viewing will tear it down for me.

I think I've seen it two or three times. I still don't want to purge it from my body, but I'll admit that I haven't watched it for years unlike say, Mulholland Drive or The Royal Tenenbaums. Or Donnie Darko or Bully for that matter.

Yeah it might be a good number 5 or 6 from 2001. Certainly the best of the Best Picture nominees that year.

I go back and forth on Ebert. Now I think that the reason I still read him is for the same reason I watch the Oscars, it's nice to see my hobby and obsession of choice being celebrated out in the mainstream. And there aren't many categories in which he bests his webmaster Jim Emerson but he kicks his ass on their Sight and Sound Top Tens.