January 30, 2008

Spillover

Out of respect for Travis, howzabout we move further discussion of Juno, etc., out of his goodbye thread? These tangents risk trivializing what was indeed a heartfelt and courageous post.
For what it's worth, though Travis' last official review for FILM FREAK CENTRAL was The Jazz Singer, there are a few more pieces of his I haven't got around to publishing yet, so don't be surprised when his name periodically turns up at the mothersite.
Anyway, carry on. And buy our book.

41 comments:

carl rennie said...

(I apologize, the spillover thread started between when I'd started this comment and when I posted it.)

The Garner character annoyed me too (I'm honestly really tired of women being redeemed through motherhood), but I really enjoyed what they did with Jason Bateman's character. That he turns out sleazy went a long way towards endearing the movie for me, especially after they set up his extended adolescence as such an unmitigated positive early on.

I like the comparison of Breach to Juno; both rely fairly heavily on their script & actors for their appeal (i.e. neither is a visually flashy movie). Both feature more or less equally unbelievable dialogue; I think people get on Juno's case more because the way people talk is less conventional in a Hollywood sense.

I think debating about whether or not "high school students really talk that way" is missing the point when it comes to Juno. Yeah, it's self-consciously clever, but many of my favorite movies (such as the Wes Anderson films) draw attention to their own artificiality visually. I don't see how drawing attention to the artificiality of the dialogue is significantly different, or at least especially deserving of disdain. Besides, one of my favorite movies from a couple years back (Brick) had teenagers spouting hard-boiled detective one-liners circa 40s noir, and it worked fine.

P.S. Bought the book, about 2/3 of the way through the unpublished reviews, it's totally worth it.

Toker Castleberry said...

Nicely said Carl. I feel the same way about the language and was a bit distraught over Walter's less than enthusiastic review.

Juno's wit has grit and it's as sly as it is harsh. But it's also as brave and groundbreaking as it is hollow and weightless. Juno's vernacular is the product of her inward unawareness, her self-doubt and her seemingly obscure yet highly camouflaged naivety. The wittiest and most cunning vocabulary in the world wouldn't help Juno feel older; it would only make her look it. And even then, only to those that didn't know better. Her jarringly suave and savvy persona is brittle and bleak and more of a defensive mechanism than anything else. This juxtaposition between the way Juno acts and the way she feels sets up the film's theme. Juno, although witty and at times verbally impressive is an immature, unaware, stupid 16-year-old. Age is nothing but a number, but wisdom and maturity take time and experience.

jer fairall said...

I didn't think that either Brick or Juno worked, but where Brick's 40's-speak I found to be simply an annoying affectation, Juno was considerably more problematic for me. I admit a lot of my negative reaction to the film was personal. It's not that there aren't high schoolers that know what McSweeneys or Dario Argento are, but rather that in my experience, teenagers who know such things aren't the paragons of cool that the character in this film is. High school outsiders--and I was one--don't have anything like Juno's invulnerability, and Diablo Cody's script is far too self-congratulatory to actually paint her in anything like human terms. If it seems like I'm being unfair in dismissing the film because I was unpopular in high school, this may very well be the case. I simply point to back to Ghost World as a film that gets it far more right.

I will give the film credit for lending Garner and Bateman some actual dimension, and the film works far better when Page is on screen with Bateman than any other time. But the film's absolute blind love for it's main character leaves a hollow center.

DJR said...

I don't think anyone is confusing what Juno is about. The problem is how disingenuous it comes across. Watch Aaron Katz's recently released independent features for this sort of material done right.

Dave G said...

Didn’t plan to inspire a whole “Juno” thread or intend to diminish TMH’s brave post—thought that game was on once AJ started posting Sundance backlash. RE: Juno---Interesting to view the scene as a “redemption” scene, or that Garner is an inherently unlikable character who shifts to the “positive” end of the spectrum by the end of the film. Hardly a tonal shift, I saw that scene as the culmination of Cody’ sly positioning of Garner as the true “heroine” of the piece, I think that speaks mostly to the superficial expectations which Cody/Reitman are toying with throughout the film; especially given that we are in a sense asked to empathize initially with the “cool” Bateman character who ultimately abandons our good graces by the end of the film. In other words, it’s a stereotype infused with the whiff of truth; and probably most profoundly, it’s that rare film where the motivations of the female characters ultimately form the spine of the piece—which I think is partly at the heart of the film’s success. As a point of comparison with Breach---the Linney character is far more the superficial plot device, existing solely to push the serious, manly business forward, when she…um, feels sorry for Ryan Phillipe ( Her One Bedroom Apartment and “cats” are indeed the inevitable fate of the Hollywood career woman). Would be great to get more female characters that don’t have to be a stereotype to get attention---but, guess there is always Julie Christie.

OK. Now I've officially said way too much about Juno.

theoldboy said...

That's an awesome picture, Bill. One of my favorite parts of Juno is, rather inexplicably, the fact that she has a pipe. In general I hate to admit that I liked the thing as much as I did.

Bill C said...

Thanks, Oldboy. (And thanks for your patronage, Carl--glad you're digging the book.)

BTW, wasn't pointing fingers, Dave. And if I were, they wouldn't be pointed your way.

Dave G said...

No worries Bill--more bemused that I've positioned myself as "Juno-lover" than anything else.

Speaking of finger pointing, NOW magazine published my bit o' sass directed at legendary film critic Susan G. Cole.

http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=161548

joseba said...

completely off-topic - but i thought walter might be interested in the first trailer to john woos red cliff that just appeared on the net. its in shitty youtube quality, but who cares:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=vFi4Uz5oojg

Kevin Koehler said...

i really have a hard time feeling passionately one way or another about this picture, though it does represent another step in a solidifying indie dogma, a genre with its own set of rigid conventions. quirkiness substituted for humanness. its oscar nominations are bizarre, but in my opinion atonement is a hell of a lot worse.

http://pretentiousmusings.com/juno.html

Love Gorilla said...

Bill, Walt, Alex, love the book. Special mention to Walter for the Silent Hill and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning reviews, the latter of which made me reexamine the film, putting to shame the piece of shit review I did for it over on the website I write for. Anyway, just a quick question, was there a review of the original Hitcher on FFC at some point, or am I just imagining things again?

Bill C said...

Glad you dig it, LG! For what it's worth, nope, we've never reviewed The Hitcher--original or extra-shitty.

davea said...

I just got the book and only read the forewords so far, but they're great stuff!
By the way, some information for people sitting in Europe (like me): shipping is only 3EUR and really fast since Lulu does also print in Spain, and with the dollar doing down the drain it's pretty cheap anyway.

Anonymous said...

Great work at Sundance, Alex!

I hope Walter wasn't too discouraged by the attacks on him in one of the recent comments threads. I miss his writing.

Here's to another year of criticism. I just bought by the book, by the way.

Alex Jackson said...

Thanks anon.

Here's me picking a fight with the Choke fans if you're interested.

Dave G said...

Read the "Teeth" stuff first...hmmm...

I'd tread cautiously when validating the fringe concept of "misandry" which is highly dubious and in its most "mainstream" evocations, mostly just a wing of gold old fashioned misogyny. Not to say that there aren't many examples of it in spirit; but, I'm usually cautious because I've never heard the concept explicated from anything other than the willfully wounded stance of an anti-feminist flipping some of the gender rhetoric on its head to suggest that there is some sort of equivalency with "misogyny"--easily validated by symbolically "switching genders" in a questionable film--that's a facetious tactic (akin to the old, imaginary screed of "reverse racism")

"Teeth" does sound yukky though.

D

Love Gorilla said...

Ian, excellent Blue Harvest review. I dig the coda, and I dig the Robot Chicken chatter, even though I hate Robot Chicken. Hate hate hate.

Did anyone see AVPR? Any thoughts?

Ian Pugh said...

Thanks, LG, but no love for "Robot Chicken"? Here's their Star Wars special, for anyone who's curious. You can really feel the contempt for Lucas' lame attempts to bring backstory to where it isn't needed--the man's own personal involvement in it sort of makes me wonder if he really knows when he's being insulted.

Anonymous said...

That's no moon; that's yo momma.

Alex Jackson said...

Read the "Teeth" stuff first...hmmm...

I'd tread cautiously when validating the fringe concept of "misandry" which is highly dubious and in its most "mainstream" evocations, mostly just a wing of gold old fashioned misogyny. Not to say that there aren't many examples of it in spirit; but, I'm usually cautious because I've never heard the concept explicated from anything other than the willfully wounded stance of an anti-feminist flipping some of the gender rhetoric on its head to suggest that there is some sort of equivalency with "misogyny"--easily validated by symbolically "switching genders" in a questionable film--that's a facetious tactic (akin to the old, imaginary screed of "reverse racism")

"Teeth" does sound yukky though.


Not sure that I follow you completely. I believe that misandry exists, but I think we might actually be on a similar page. A better film than Teeth is actually Hostel: Part II where the rape and murder of women (misogyny) is explained as revenge for the emasculation they have subjected men too (misandry). Then in reaction to being raped, the heroine castrates the man and buys her way into the organization (misandry) again. The whole misandry/misogyny thing devolves into a contest of "who hit who first".

I don't think that gender discrimination is really as clear-cut as racial discrimination. As mothers, and even in the volatile role of sex object, women have a lot of real power. Whites could theoretically survive without non-whites and hyper-marginal belief in racial cleansing is not inherently self-destructive. But men need women.

Fathers' rights is one of the biggest subsets of male rights and it's intriguing to think of the family as a social institution that men are still somewhat on the outside of. I'm thinking of men not having a say on whether their partner will have an abortion (though I admit that I don't know how this could be practically sorted out) and judges biasing mothers in custody cases, but also the stigma that continues to be attached to stay at home fathers.

Bill C said...

Just a quick heads-up to anybody out there with TCM, tonight @ 10:30pm EST they'll be airing F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise. Absolutely vital viewing if you haven't seen it, and the DVD is OOP.

Also, I have only one question for the Juno defenders: what the fuck is it *about*?

Jefferson said...

I'm setting my DVR. I'm intrigued. Thanks, Bill.

Did anybody get into the Scorsese Val Lewton bio on TCM a few weeks back? I meant to record it and forgot. Did I miss anything stunning?

(I still remember my dad making fun of me when I was a kid for wanting to stay up late and watch a movie called I Walked With a Zombie. Even at age 8, my film radar was set to 'art.')

djr said...

Juno defenders tend to argue that it's about her maturation, in which she learns that hiding behind a veil of smug pop culture references and the company of like-minded others doesn't prepare you for the complexities of the world, or something. Of course, I can only assume they watched a different movie than I did.

theoldboy said...

I'm not exactly a Juno defender, in fact a second viewing intensified all that irked me about it, but I think the reason it's succeeded so overwhelmingly is the surprising slipperiness of the answer to "What the fuck is it *about*?" Because I don't think the answer is "nothing" because that would suggest that it's an empty movie, when it really isn't. There are indeed at least two really bad scenes (the abortion clinic, the ultrasound), and several more that are very annoying (the convenience store), but these just seem like the mistakes of a freshman/stripper screenwriter and I can't really hate the movie much for them. I think the inordinate amount of praise this very flawed, but rather lovable little movie has received has led critics in this circle of sites and blogs towards attacking it with an almost equally inordinate amount of brutality, a brutality that seems borne more out of a disenchantment (fairly justified) with the Sundance of The Almighty Quirk that's held up as the be-all-end-all of independent cinema by the mainstream than from the failings of the movie itself, which has clearly hit a nerve with Generation Y.

Alex Jackson said...

Just a quick heads-up to anybody out there with TCM, tonight @ 10:30pm EST they'll be airing F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise. Absolutely vital viewing if you haven't seen it, and the DVD is OOP.

Dammit! Don't have TCM any more and Sunrise is my biggest blindspot. It's included on AFI's Top 100 Greatest Films (2007 edition), They Shoot Picture's Don't They?'s Top 100, Roger Ebert's The Great Movies, Paul Schrader's Film Canon (Gold Level), and of course the FFC Must-Own Index. But since the DVD is OOP, it isn't carried by Netflix.

Curse the heavens!

Alex Jackson said...

Juno defenders tend to argue that it's about her maturation, in which she learns that hiding behind a veil of smug pop culture references and the company of like-minded others doesn't prepare you for the complexities of the world, or something. Of course, I can only assume they watched a different movie than I did.

Oh, that seems to me to be a pretty good defense in that most of the quirk is concentrated early in the film, and when she gets into that whole love triangle with Bateman we can kind of see how she is essentially a dumb and naive kid.

My response to the film is more mixed than yea or nay, but pushed I'd lean more toward nay. I think it still subscribes a bit too much to the Teenage God genre and pales in relation to Ghost World, Rushmore, Marie Antoinette, or Roman: A Suitable Case for Treatment.

Rick said...

Ian really nailed the FAMILY GUY: BLUE HARVEST review, but I am not certain that there was ever a time where Seth MacFarlane and his crew weren't lazy.

Bill C said...

The Scorsese/Kent Jones Lewton doc was pretty sweet, scholarly without being dry. Normally I cringe at re-enactments, but Elias Koteas acquits himself well as the voice of Lewton. It's actually already on DVD if you can find it.

James Allen said...

Re: Ian on Family Guy: Blue Harvest

Interesting review, Ian. I can't say I disagree with your overall assessment (it was on the weak side), but I don't think I would describe it as "hostile." If anything, the episode was clearly straightjacketed by two things: 1) The need by all involved to be waaay too faithful to the film to the point that many Star Wars shots are practically replicated to little purpose (an absolutely no sense of irony)* and 2) The need to follow the complete narrative, including the general assumption that everyone watching can quote the film verbatum (and they probably can.)

Only a few of the meta-lines were funny, my favorite being the following exchange:

Luke: You don't believe it the force, do you?

Han: Oh, you mean that thing you just found about like three hours ago and are now judging me for not believing in it?

At least that joke has a point, unlike many of the other uncreative ones like, "maybe we should head for that small moon that's clearly a small moon and not anything else."

A couple bits that broke away from the plot worked: Han and Chewie retreiving the couch, for example, but I think the overly reverent tone prevented it from being much more that it was.

I agree with you on the Robot Chicken episode, which was miles better mostly because it didn't restrict itself so much. Jar-Jar as a force ghost was a scream, of course, as well as the now famous Vader/Palpatine post-Death Star destruction phone call.

*Hardware Wars, the 13-minute mock trailer made in 1977 will probably never be topped as far as Star Wars parodies go, made as it was before an entire generation memorized the film, and thus is not hamstrung by a ridiculous need for faithfulness. In fact a big part of the joke is that it looks cheesey.

Jefferson said...

Speaking of TCM ...

Love Gorilla said...

I think Robot Chicken is, for the most, uninspired and cheap. It goes for easy laughs, which it wouldn't get away with if it was, say, a live action skit show rather than staged with action figures. I'm a toy collector, btw, and many of my collector associates love the show solely because it's all done with toys in stop motion, and I think that's where a lot of the appeal lies. The show gets away with cheap, pathetic, unfunny skits because of the "Hey, we're using action figures to do this!" gimmick. Like, hoo boy, imagine if we had Voltron in a battle, but it ended up being a dance competition, like in You Got Served!! It also falls back on cheap ineffective vulgarity, sexual references, pop culture references, and scenes of "shocking" violence rather than taking part in actual parody - you know, the type that understands the things it satirises so that it can make fun of what doesn't work about them, which is what you say the Star Wars special does, and in some scenes that's true. It's definitely true that Blue Harvest is a total waste of time, nitpicking at the irrelevant in the same way that Roger Ebert would once attack horror films for being violent, but Robot Chicken still flails about with really unfunny, cheap gags; consider "The Aftermath of Darth Maul's Death", in which a janitor is cleaning up the floor where Darth Maul, and later Mace Windu, and then Darth Sidious, fell to their deaths. Oh, I get it, lots of Star Wars characters have fallen to their deaths, and this poor sod has to clean them up, and he really has to get a transfer to another planet where that might never happen again!! But it DOES!! What a zany skit with a hilarious punchline. Or, imagine if during a duel a lightsaber got dropped, and it kept falling through the floor, and there was no punchline at all!! Or if Ben Kenobi was a jerk and chose to kick Luke in the goolies when he got him blinded for lightsaber training!! What if the final fight between Luke and Palpatine is a "Yo Mamma Fight"?! These jokes don't work because the setup is the punchline, and they take no imagination whatsoever to come up with, and they're not clever or funny. At best, they're obvious, at worst, they're painful. Fleeting moments of cleverness executed with flair, such as the Empire Strikes Back spoiler part (always embrace the attack on the ever-stupid-notion of midi-chlorians) are lost inamongst tons of filler crap. I rarely laugh, I can't get behind it. I consider Robot Chicken to be akin to Epic Movie/Meet the Spartans/etc. On the website I write for, the Adult Swim DVDs for review get snapped up almost instantly, but Robot Chicken Seasons 1 and 2 have been sitting on the pile for months - no one wants to review them at all.

Fuck the TCM and their film snobbery. Joke aside, I hate people who refuse to watch current movies under the notion that all the best movies are classics, ignoring the fact that pretty much 95% of movies, be it mainstream, classic and arthouse, are total shit. I also hate people who only see arthouse films, and those who worship the mainstream, no mix, a refusal to acknowledge that good films are out there from all times, places, budgets, cultures, etc. Except Bollywood. Which sucks entirely.

Alex Jackson said...

Agree with everything you said Love Gorilla! Though Ian makes a convincing case, I found the Robot Chicken Star Wars special excruciatingly bad, certainly on the level of Date Movie/Epic Movie/Meet the Spartans(?). The "Yo Mamma Fight" segment has to be one of the ugliest most unfunny bits of parody I have ever had the misfortune to see.

One of the discoveries of List of Bests is how infrequently a lot of the really hard core film buffs, who have seen all the classics and completely put me to shame, how infrequently they seem to watch new releases. In my book, you're not much of a film fan if you can't attend the movies at least once a week.

But with that said, about two or three years ago (soon before DVR) I set my VCR to record six consecutive hours each of TCM, Encore, and IFC. TCM was clearly the best and IFC was clearly the worse.

Comparing my annual adventure at Sundance with the drive-in season when I see nearly every major summer release, I'm convinced that art house cinema produces a lot more crap than Hollywood and moderately more great art. And that time is the best filter of the two besides.

Ian Pugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian Pugh said...

James: I suppose it is an inevitable problem when you take an entire narrative structure head-on, but I think "hostile" is the appropriate word for "Blue Harvest". Its attempts at meta-comedy are a little like snarking at those old Hostess minicomics from the '70s--at a certain point you have to stop and consider that stories about superheroes beating the bad guys with stale spongecake already know that they're a little loopy and improbable.

LG: No argument here that "Robot Chicken" too often fires wildly and indiscriminately at pop culture, but more often than not the Star Wars special finds a nice balance. The linchpin of the janitor scenes, I think, is his final exasperated mutter: "What are they doin' up there all the time?" It's the same mentality that drives the Ponda Baba sketch, the Vader/Palpatine call, and quite a few other scenarios--taking Lucas' excessive explanations to their logical conclusion and presenting the fallout from the main characters' actions on the rest of the universe. It's funny here, but it's a cold shower on what Star Wars is all about, and "Robot Chicken" understands that.

In that same vein, consider the double-edged sense of violation to be found in "Boba Fett Wins"--the obvious sexual advances forced onto helpless Han Solo, and that little unwanted shock you receive when Fett takes off his helmet to reveal Temuera Morrison's face. Then you've got "Admiral Ackbar Cereal," "Empire on Ice" and their hilariously cynical view of Star Wars' merchandising of exceedingly minor characters and inappropriate adaptations, respectively. "Yo Momma Fight" is, admittedly, less defensible in a comedic sense, but it does boil down Luke and Palpatine's tiresome fuck-you-no-fuck-you exchanges in Jedi rather effectively.

In terms of sheer comic timing, however, "Slight Weapons Malfunction" takes the cake for me. It would have been funny enough for such a drawn-out extension of Ford/Solo's vamped speech to end with a return to the script (just start back up at "boring conversation anyway" and continue on as if nothing happened), but the last line--a forced application of the ruse--puts me in stitches every time.

Anonymous said...

I found the Robot Chicken Star Wars special excruciatingly bad, certainly on the level of Date Movie/Epic Movie/Meet the Spartans(?).

Oh fucking please. At the outside, maybe "Shrek 2." Robot Chicken is admittedly hit-or-miss and Love Gorilla certainly pinpointed the special's weakest moments, but still, if you can't find the humor in Darth Vader sleeping on Star Wars sheets, the problem is you, not it.

As a side note (and yes, I do realize that the comparison is not entirely unjustified), I get the feeling that Epic Movie is going to inspire online film criticism's own version of Godwin's Law.

--Kim

Anonymous said...

I think Walter may have been overly hard on The Hills Have Eyes II. Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but I enjoyed seeing what essentially boils down to a straight exploitation slasher in our age of neutered remakes and faux-philosophical sludge like the Saw series and Hostel II. Sure, it exploits our modern Middle East interventionism for "commentary" that is both cheap and highly dubious, but that just strikes me as part of the fun. It's nowhere near as blatantly misanthropic towards the US as Aja's movie, it keeps the kills coming at a reasonable pace, there's no self-aware humor, and it's over before you know it. Most of the allegedly classic 80's slashers weren't this good.

a fan said...

How Walter can accuse Seraphim Falls of being a retarded sermon on the toll of revenge, only to praise the egregiously simple-minded Sweeney Todd for its dead-end nihilism take on the toll of revenge is beyond me. Oh, but it reflects our "dismal tide", and it ties in to his 2007 thesis about the past being a lie that he harps on about in every other freaking review, so of course it's brilliant. If Seraphim Falls is only worthy of twelve-year-olds, then Sweeney Todd is for toddlers.

Anonymous said...

If there's a Godwin's Law in current criticism, it predicts the occurrence of our commonest and most meaningless epithet: "hipster."

theoldboy said...

Uh-oh, a fan has questioned The Chaw.

Dave G said...

RE: "Juno" what's it all about?

Juno is about ninety-five minutes. A glib response, but still the one that seems the most appropriate answer to Bills’ question. My own modest praise of the film stems mostly from my expectations that it was going to be unbearably awful—and the subsequent surprise that it really was halfway decent. The overwrought and occasionally downright clunky dialogue (Yes: the abortion clinic, ultrasound and opening convenience store bits are the worst) bears the mark of a very talented writer who could have benefited from a few more drafts (Think PT Andersons’ glorious, indulgent mess “Magnolia”) Hardly a mere stripper hyphenate Cody has some serious chops. When I hear accusations of “amateurish” work I tend to think that those crits need to attend a few local Fringe Festivals and rent some more DTV DVD’s to bear witness to some genuine amateur work. Ah—“Juno”. It’s not so much about the song (it’s an old song) its just about listening to the voice. The handmade quality of the writing greatly appealed to me, primarily because I can rarely identify the writers’ voice in the vast majority of mainstream films, usually because it has been subsumed by the myriad of other writers who worked on the film or by the authorial aggressiveness of the director. We all can easily name that tune when we are putting on a John Sayles, Kevin Smith, QT, David Mamet or Charlie Kauffman. Anyone really know what a Steve Zaillian or a David Koepp sounds like? All those folks I mentioned (except for Kauffman) are also directors, which I think makes it all the more remarkable that a genuine voice has emerged from a mainstream film solely from the screenplay. Not to say that this automatically makes a film worthy—Haggis’ has a identifiable voice too and it’s the off-key, half-drunk mezzo soprano drowning out the trumpet solo (see “In the Valley of Elah” and marvel as a great actor wrestle a lousy writer into submission) My favourite example of this very personal phenomenon is Mamets' “The Edge” a film where we listen to David Mamet characters behave as David Mamet characters while speaking David Mamet dialogue. If you like listening to Mamet—you are in heaven. If you thought “The Edge” was monumentally silly and pretentious—well, you’re probably right too. I was in heaven. So, Juno--- essentially—I was entertained by listening to the dialogue, watching the words zip across the blank pages in my mind and spoken by a truly impressive ensemble. What the fuck is it about? Its jazz, baby, an hour and a half of Jazz. We can talk about whether its great (no) or good (yes) jazz--- but in the meantime, just groove on it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Hmm. Yeah. But Seraphim Falls is bad art and Sweeney Todd is good art. I only started talking "dismal tide" after I heard it in No Country so blame the Coens for having the finger on the pulse, not me. I'm just a good student. Being bad art, though, doesn't make Seraphim Falls exempt from the zeitgeist. In a lot of ways, you make my point.

But why'm I wasting my time with this bullshit when I should be writing instead?