March 23, 2007

Mortal Thoughts in the Trench

March 22, 2007

This weekend’s update delayed, I’m afraid, as Bill, our fearless leader, was rushed to emergency surgery tonight. I’m assured that the procedure went well and that he’s improving steadily. Our thoughts are with him and his family at this time.

It’s a shame that mortal thoughts seem at times the only ones that turn our eyes from the nominal prize – and it’s a stern reminder of how temporary all of this is no matter our attempts at legacy through these letters. I’m sure Bill’s going to be back in the saddle soon – until then, the inmates are running the asylum.

You can find my reviews of Reign Over Me and TMNT here. I reviewed Shooter, too, though the final form didn’t find its way online before Bill was stricken. Highlights from it, such as they are, include me calling it the redneck Bourne Identity and generally appalling in every way except that it seems to have its heart in the right place. It’s a film from the far left that proposes the same tactics as the far right – I suggest that it’s a shame that subtlety and intelligent discourse just doesn’t carry the same weight as all those dead patriots. Interesting as an exercise in re-calibrating one’s moral compass – interesting, too, as a companion piece to 300.

I skipped something like twenty press screenings of Pride for many reasons. Let’s see if you can help me articulate them.

While watching Nicholas Roeg’s fascinating Performance, I was reminded of his exceptional Don’t Look Now with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Which then posed the question of which are the best, most erotic, sex scenes in all of moviedom? I received a couple of letters asking if the sex scene in Factory Girl between Sienna Miller and Hayden Christensen was real: something I really thought about because it was prosaic enough to just possibly be real – I challenge anyone to get just one rock off watching non-professionals have sex (see Tommy & Pammy, or Paris & that poor bastard). Anyway – my nominations would begin with the love scene from Don’t Look Now - maybe the ménage a trios from The Hunger?

As to the previous post’s thread about it sucking to go to the movies nowadays. . . yeah, it well and surely does. Not putting a gravestone on it, just saying that I’ll see Jeff’s twenty bucks and raise it another fifty for babysitting and a ticket for the wife. The frickin’ Globe had a common pit, though, right? So it’s not like other people being hell is a new thing – it’s just that I think there’s weight to the idea that the older one gets, the less shit one’s willing to eat. There’s still no sub for seeing a film projected – there’s actually a different physiological, much less philosophical, reaction to the same images projected vs. broadcast – but, man, it gets hard sometimes with the seat kickers, text messagers, and narrators. Solution? Don’t got none. One thing’s true for me regarding my home theater, though, is that I spend a lot of time marveling at the technology and less time just watching the goddamn movie.

Did speaking gigs with the dreadful The Sum of Us and the surprisingly wonderful Yesterday; both part of the Douglas County Foreign Film series. Did the latter with my friend Tom Delapa, curator of the Denver Art Museum’s film program, the first program we’ve collaborated on since way back when Madstone Theaters was still a viable corporation. Bleh – long story there if anyone cares to hear it one day. Also finished up a series that included titles like Blowup and Aguirre: The Wrath of God - and am prepping a media satire series including Face in the Crowd and His Girl Friday.

Coming up: a series in July of Shakespeare on film that will include, if all goes to plan, Welles’ MacBeth and Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet. Would love to do Stacy Title’s “Hamlet”, Let the Devil Wear Black someday – anyone here seen it?

Anyway – get well soon, Bill, we’ll leave the light on for you.


James Allen said...

Best wishes to Bill for a speedy recovery.

Craig said...

Long time reader, uh, second time poster...

Walter, I sympathise with the idea that you feel you're wasting your time. Was it you who expressed not so long ago that you were thinking of packing the theatrical-review side of your work in because of all the crap you have put up with? (I might be thinking of someone else.) This would be a shame, for it would simply prove that, as Charles Dance once said, in this world the bad guys can win.
Here in England, there are practically no critics who write with such consistency and intelligence (an arguable exception would be Mark Kermode, but a) he doesn't do enough writing, and b) I've been suspicious of him ever since he expressed an admiration for Haggis' Crash), so your site is a little slice of heaven.

I apologise if the answer is head-slappingly obvious, but why do you and Ebert, to name but two, rate out of four stars instead of five?

Best wishes to Bill for a quick and full recovery.

James Allen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Allen said...

I apologise if the answer is head-slappingly obvious, but why do you and Ebert, to name but two, rate out of four stars instead of five?

I'm not speaking for Walter here, but from my experience it seems that most American critics that use a star system use a 4-star scale. Walter (and Ebert, et al) are just probably using the convention they're most familiar with (or the one their editors ask them to use). Why 4 is generally preferred over 5 (or any other number for that matter) I have no idea.

As a pointless aside, when I wrote film reviews for my college paper, I used a 0-10 scale. I guess I liked the olympic judging style. Or just more numbers.

And for some reason, it seems letter grades (A-F) are getting more popular these days. Maybe because they are more relatable to people's personal experiences in school.

Anyway, I don't think I really answered the question, but I was able to throw a few things out there. Is there a "standard" scale in England you are accustomed to, Craig?

Cap said...

Also best wishes to Bill!

Craig said...

Is there a "standard" scale in England you are accustomed to, Craig?

Fives or tens. Four just seemed a random number, and I've noticed it only seems to be American critics who use it. I just wondered as to the tradition behind it. (Alex also has a list of his 'four-star' choices on the Viddied website.)

Seattle Jeff said...

Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Bill...

As for my vote for sex scene in a film...I've always had a soft spot for Sean Young and Kevin Costner's limo ride in "No Way Out"...though I don't think "soft spot" is the right phrasology.

Anonymous said...

Bill-Best wishes for good health and a quick recovery.

As for great sex scenes? Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive tend to boil my potatoes. Dern and Cage in WAH also steam up the joint.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Get well soon, Bill. I know you'll be perfectly up and running in no time at all, buddy.

Seattle Jeff said...

Has anybody here partaken of the Lily Tomlin vs. David O Russel youtube clip? Pretty insane stuff

Alex Jackson said...

Lots to talk about.

Bill: What can I say? I'm not very good at all at this sort of thing. Seriously, my best wishes.

I did see the David O. Russell thing. More the pity in that this is something I would really like to hear Bill's thoughts on.

Four stars just seems more professional to me than fives or tens. Economy is always a virtue. Also the four star system excludes a middle. You have to come down one way or the other and you have to have an opinion. Technically, **1/2 is a recommendation at FFC (or for Rotten Tomatoes at least), but I like the option of setting the bar at three stars.

Great sex scenes? I actually love the candle wax scene in Larry Clark's Bully. Wasn't a great movie, but I remember liking a cuckolding scene in Sex and the Other Man with Kari Wuhrer. Of course, I was much younger then. Speaking of cuckolding, the telephone scene in White was pretty startling to me.


Don't Look Now loses points because Donald Sutherland, great actor he is, is punishing on the eyes in that one. I actually can't remember much of the sex scene in Mulholland Drive. Just that they were nekid.

Anonymous said...

Walter, this is neither good nor bad, but I've noticed that your reviews have gotten more and more angry over the last year. Has this been intentional, or is it just me?

Kevin said...

Sorry to hear about the health situation. Get well soon, Bill.

Jefferson said...

Feel better soon, Bill.

I don't remember a menage a trois in The Hunger, although there was a spouse-swap that opened the film and the justly adored lesbian scene with Deneuve and Sarandon. Could that be the one you're thinking of, Walter?

I think Sex and Lucia may be the sexiest movie I've seen in the last five years, although its inside-out plot structure was a bit of a chore the first time through. Still, if any one scene in that particular movie doesn't make your teeth sweat, just wait a minute and there'll be another.

theoldboy said...

Call me biased here because it's the name I use for here and the Viddied board, and also call me somebody you probably do not want to think about having a daughter one day, but I love, love, love the sex scene in Oldboy. Transgressive? Hell yeah. Beautiful? You bet your ass. It's so honest it's borderline heroic. Remake that scene, The Man.

The only thing I can imagine necessitating Bill's hospitalization involves an alien bursting out of his chest cavity. I don't know what's wrong with me. Get well soon, don't spend a year out of the game like Ebert, who is a pussy, which you are not in my opinion. (I've distressingly found myself appropriating Vernisms into everyday conversations)

I find myself reading Walter's reviews to people sometimes (they are somewhat unwieldly at times to read aloud--cut down on the parentheticals, with which my writing is similarly afflicted, and words I've never heard anyone say out loud and thus have no idea how to pronounce and help a brother out a little) and I rarely end up winning him any new fans. Mostly I get people who go "Why would anybody spend so much time ranting about something they don't like? It's just a movie." He does sort of feel like the Grouch at times, but bitch, he lives in a fucking trash can--the plight of the intellectual in American society, angry and yelling from the sidelines about atrocities commited against everyone but only noticed by a marginalized handful. I'm grateful that I can see through some of the shit I'd otherwise be lapping up, but at the same time I can't help but feel nostalgic for the more innocent times when my cinematic experiences were pure and uncritical, before this lovely crowd yanked me out of my drooling middlebrow complacency.

corym said...

Get well soon, Bill. A comfortable bed, DVD player, and a stack of movies will no doubt aid in your quick recovery.

On another note, the trailer for Vacancy can be found here. This is the new film from Nimrod Antal, who made the pretty great Kontroll a few years ago.


James Allen said...


While you recover, and if you haven't already seen it, maybe this will give you (or any Star Wars fan out there) a good laugh. What happened after the Death Star blew up.

Hope your midi-chlorian count is up, Bill.

Chad Evan said...

Thoughts and prayers are with you, Bill.
Best sex scene? It's not a sex scene, exactly, but the scene in Welles' F for Fake in which Oja Kodar drives Picasso insane with lust...let's just say that I sympathize with Pablo's plight.

Walter_Chaw said...

Hey yeah, maybe it's just a lesbian scene. Anyway, it involves Sarandon's perfect breasts and Deneuve sucking on her elbow. Ah. . . 'scuse me a minute.

As to the parentheticals. . . you're right. They're a fuck of a crutch, y'know, sort of how I think and not at all how I talk. Will work on it: it's a good edit.

As to words that no one uses. . . well. . . I use them. Just sort of slip them in there because, mainly, they're the right words and if you think I'm wordy now, wait 'til I use ten little words where one
will do. Harlan Ellison has a good rant about this somewhere.

Chances are good though that I don't know how to pronounce them, either.

I don't feel angrier. . . maybe it's that I'm writing fewer reviews so it's less distilled? Maybe I'm just not that perceptive.

There was a Helen Shaver lesbian scene in something called Desert Hearts that I used to think was
hotter than a rug burn. And do I tell too much by saying the Darth Vader on the Moon scene in Revenge of the Nerds never fails to elevate the ol' loin cloth? Funny thing about that one is, as Bill pointed out a week or so ago, is that it's a rape scene.

The opening sequence of Dressed to Kill, too, the shower fantasy. . . is that a sex scene?

And then there's the Bibi Andersson monologue in Persona that remains one of the most sexually "explicit" - and erotic - moments of the sixties.

Nate said...

...before this lovely crowd yanked me out of my drooling middlebrow complacency

Heh...I wrote to Walter after his review of Red Dragon way back when and criticized him for being hard on movies that don't warrant that much thought. He called me a Brett Ratner apologist and sort of changed my perspective on criticism in the process. I'm sort of surprised (and relieved) that I didn't end up in the hate mail section of the site, which was semi-regular at the time.

Bill - hope everything goes well and that you get well soon.

theoldboy said...

Walter--not particularly serious about my demand to cut down on the lofty verbiage, I don't want to be one of those people who email and complain about your grasp of the English language being too much for them to handle.

As for sex scenes, does the lust kill in Seven count? :D

tmhoover said...

We are all forgetting the greatest sex scene in the history of cinema: the bit where Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson demolish an apartment with their violent lovemaking in The Tall Guy. It's sexy AND it's funny- that's gotta count for something.

aron said...

Really wish you the best, Bill - that must have been an awful shock.

As for the sex scene, Walter, I always liked both the Don't Look Now scene and the one with Victoria (can't recall the actress' name) in Antonioni's "Identification of a Woman". For truthfulness, not being "Hollywood Sex".

Rick said...

Travers and Roeper both declared The Lookout a masterpiece. I think this means the filmfreak guys will go in wanting to destroy it. Eh, hopefully it lives up to the hype.

Vinnie S. said...

Best wishes, Bill, for a quick and full recovery. Hope you're back soon, better than ever!

Anonymous said...

Online film review is suffering with your absence, Bill. Get well soon.

Patrick Pricken said...

Best wishes for Bill. Nothing more to say right now, nothing less either.

Patrick Pricken said...

...or maybe there is something.

"I apologise if the answer is head-slappingly obvious, but why do you and Ebert, to name but two, rate out of four stars instead of five?"

First off, to me a 0-10 scale is the same as 5 stars, as you can give .5 stars, so you'd just have to multiply the stars by 2 to get to the decimal scale.

I don't like the 4 star system because I find it even more unwieldy than the 5/10 scale. Not only do you have 9 different sum totals, but you also have the mathematically more difficult scale of eights (nobody includes the zero in their calculation, face it) instead of tenths in degree. An optimal scale, I think, would be closer to 5 grades, but that of course would leave you with movies that you'd have to rate the same but don't like equally well – and that's what the .5 stars are for.

"I'd give Oldboy just as many stars as Revenge of the Sith? Damn, just put it half a star up, that's not gonna change much, and the problem has gone away!"

On my site, I rate on a 0-5 star scale simply because people like a scale to go with their reviews. It seems "This movie is pure shit!" doesn't cut it unless there's a zero star rating attached to it. That, of course, leads to me watching movies a few years later and, while agreeing with the text of my review, wanting to change the star rating.

Recently, I've used a suggestion I heard on CBC's "Definitely not the Opera" (the podcast here – Link goes directly to mp3 feed!) where someone suggested using a monkey scale based on the old adage of infinite monkeys and infinite time creating "Hamlet" – so when you take Hamlet as comparative basis, you can then determine the time and amount of monkeys needed to create any given work of art. The monkey represent the creative part of it, and time represents the craftsmanship parts. And if something is inconsistenly good, then maybe the monkeys were there, but they was a shortage of typewriters and the monkeys had to fight for space. So, "Pride and Prejudice", for example, could have been written by 63,000 monkeys in 475,000 years.

"Also the four star system excludes a middle. You have to come down one way or the other and you have to have an opinion. Technically, **1/2 is a recommendation at FFC (or for Rotten Tomatoes at least), but I like the option of setting the bar at three stars."

Well, on my site I decided against a dichotomy of good and bad. If you search by stars, there's bad (0 to 1.5 stars), mediocre (2 to 3.5) and good (4 to 5). I don't need a middle.

As for great sex scenes, looking at my DVD board makes me say the build-up to the sex in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was very nice, but I wonder if that counts.

dennis said...

Regarding UK critics, I really dig Neil Young at Sometimes I think he's way off base, but I also find fairly often that he's one of the few critics who I agree with regarding some movies. For instance, he was one of the few that liked The Bourne Supremacy as much as I (Walter was another naturally), and he was one of the even fewer who actually liked Domino (a guilty pleasure of mine). Seriously, how many critics admitted to liking that? Dargis, Johanson, and I think Charles Taylor? Well anyways (went off on a tangent there)... he's cool.

Seattle Jeff said...

On the topic of the rating sytems -

Why use stars?

Anonymous said...

The link to the Saw III review leads to Decoys 2. Hmm, I wonder who reviewed it, and what their reaction is... either Hoover with *.5, Chaw with **, or Jackson with ***.

Anonymous said...

Bill, all I can say is, I hope you get well soon. Your site has overtaken every other one as my favourite reviews site on the 'Net in the past two years.

I thought I'd make a point about UK critics. The best is probably Mark Kermode - he's one of the few on these shores who never liked the first Pirates film and also one of the few who's dared to criticise Borat. (Sacha Baron Cohen is a huge critical darling over here.)

Worst? Cosmo Landesman of the Sunday Times. Watch as he lavishes praise on The Edge Of Reason (seriously) and 300 (which I found a confused mess) while trashing Casino Royale and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Although - was I the only one who bought the relationship between Daniel Craig and Eva Green? Maybe it's because I find Green so easy on the eyes...

Kenneth said...

On the topic of Saw III: While it's as plothole-ridden as the first two movies, I found it weirdly affecting as a character drama. And seriously, they went all out with it, like they sat down and said, "Let's make the best damn Saw III we can make."

reel2reel said...

All the best, Bill!

Does it make me a sick bastard to say I liked the sex scene near the end of Louis Malle's Murmur of the Heart? I don't want to be more specific, in case anyone hasn't seen this amazing film. But anyone who has will surely know the one I mean.

I, too, have very fond memories of The Hunger. Also, anything featuring Nancy Allen or Naomi Watts. I'm just a horny bastard all around, I guess.

theoldboy said...

Saw III is so hyperbolically nasty that I can't imagine how more gruesome the franchise can get. The first two were enjoyably retarded, but the third has flickers of low intelligence and is a geniunely grueling and upsetting experience. I don't remember the last time I really cringed in a theater to a movie like I did to it.

The Captain said...

theoldboy - what parts particularly made you cringe?

Did anyone ever see Hannibal Rising?

Alex Jackson said...

Did anyone ever see Hannibal Rising?

Actually, I did.