February 02, 2010

Professional Commentary on the Oscar Nominations

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Avatar = inevitable
The Blind Side = barf
District 9 = anything but The Hangover
An Education = lucky
The Hurt Locker = yay
Inglourious Basterds = big yay
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire = Oprah
A Serious Man = rent Barton Fink
Up = sadly inevitable
Up in the Air = yawn

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart = lifetime achievement award
George Clooney for Up in the Air = male Oprah
Colin Firth for A Single Man = barf
Morgan Freeman for Invictus = yawn
Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker = interesting, but dude's a TV actor at heart

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side = ROTFLMAO
Helen Mirren for The Last Station = never saw
Carey Mulligan for An Education = can do better than Shia LaBeouf
Gabourey Sidibe for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire = and all I got was this lousy T-shirt
Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia = telegraphed

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon for Invictus = wha?
Woody Harrelson for The Messenger = yay
Christopher Plummer for The Last Station = like you've seen this movie
Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones = uh...no.
Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds = they've already engraved the plaque

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Penélope Cruz for Nine = WTF
Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air = sexy beast
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart = hand a mirror to a narcissist why don't you
Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air = yay
Mo'Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire = inevitable

Best Achievement in Directing
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker = yay
James Cameron for Avatar = Bigelow's bitch
Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire = lucky nobody saw Shadowboxer
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air = barf
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds = yay

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
The Hurt Locker: Mark Boal = fine
Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino = yay
The Messenger: Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman = gimme a break
A Serious Man: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen = no, seriously, Barton Fink said it all better
Up: Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy = barf

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
District 9: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell = barf (sorry)
An Education: Nick Hornby = whatever
In the Loop: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche = yay
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Geoffrey Fletcher = that's gonna be one long-ass nomination to read off the teleprompter
Up in the Air: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner = finally, recognition for the guy who wrote the remake of The Longest Yard

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Avatar: Mauro Fiore = there were cameras involved?
The White Ribbon: Christian Berger = the obligatory black-and-white nom
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Bruno Delbonnel = curious
The Hurt Locker: Barry Ackroyd = fine
Inglourious Basterds: Robert Richardson = yay

Best Achievement in Editing
Avatar: Stephen E. Rivkin, John Refoua, James Cameron = it was edited?
District 9: Julian Clarke = barf (sorry)
The Hurt Locker: Bob Murawski, Chris Innis = yay
Inglourious Basterds: Sally Menke = yay, save one appalling cut in chapter two
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Joe Klotz = for having to sit through the rushes I guess

Gonna stop before we start getting into categories where I've only seen one or two nominees. Also who cares.

68 comments:

Dan said...

Pretty much on the same page with all the YAYs, BARFs, YAWNs, and other snarky comments. But where's the love for A SERIOUS MAN? Of course we've all got our personal Coen Bros. favorites, but it sure seemed like a lot more than a simple BARTON FINK retread to me - and it improves with repeat viewings. At any rate, it's one of the few noms that doesn't seem completely off the wall this year, both for Picture and for Screenplay (neither of which it will win anyway...).

Bill C said...

I like it, too, Dan; I just feel like BARTON FINK's been lost in this ongoing dialogue about the Coens "finally" grappling with their essential Jewishness. Also, like a lot of their recent stuff, it feels like a first draft to me.

Patrick said...

I feel a little bit bad because I don't hope solely for Bigelow to win, but also Tarantino. And please no award fro Avatar except effects. Please...

Ryan said...

Like last year, I mostly agree with everything here, Bill. Especially the question of whether they even used cameras in Smurfs in Space, which I honestly asked myself a couple of times in the theater. But no love for Up or District 9? Dissing Jeremy Renner? And what's this bad cut you speak of in Basterds - I watched it again over the weekend and noticed nothing of the sort.

Daniel said...

Bill to what "appalling cut in chapter two" are you referring?

Duncan Derry said...

Bill, you love it all.

Bill C said...

re BASTERDS: I wish I had the wherewithal to retrieve the timecode for it. It's when the camera is doing these triangular pans between the Basterds and the Nazi snitch and the map (iirc), and just as another tilt is starting, it cuts back to a static shot of Hitler interrogating said snitch. It feels like somebody got cut off mid-sentence and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in the bad way.

Daniel said...

Bill, here's a hypothetical question for you: IF Melanie Laurent had been nominated (for either lead actress or supporting) would you have rooted for her to win? I ask because I think her snubbing was the biggest disappointment to me.

Bill C said...

I think a few people were robbed, Daniel--Laurent definitely among them. (How great is her exhale after the strudel scene?)

BLH said...

So, the expansion to 10 nominees basically did what the Academy was hoping it would do, right? If we assume the five pictures nominated for their direction would be the nominees in a normal year, the five extra spots allowed them to nominate some crowd-pleasing, lowest-common-denominator garbage (The Blind Side, District 9), some stuff that wouldn't normally stand a chance due to lack of public interest (A Serious Man, An Education), as well as finally freeing them up to guiltlessly give a nod to the perennial Universally Beloved Pixar Classic. So...something for everyone?

Alex Jackson said...

crowd-pleasing, lowest-common-denominator garbage (The Blind Side, District 9)

WTF? I like District 9, but I mean seriously, this is a profoundly ugly film. It's very very ugly. It's ugly. The aliens are ugly. There is no sense of wonder to it. I'm not quite sure I would go as far as to call it a racist film, but it certainly employs a great deal of racist imagery. As much if not more than Precious. There's a sloppiness to it. It begins as a mockumentary or somthing and then seems to drop that. The central role is overacted and the satire is obvious.

If this can be called crowd-pleasing then I do not understand the crowd. I mean wow.

The conventional wisdom should be that this is an unwatchable piece of shit and we should come to its defense, particularly as an antidote to Avatar, and embrace it as a cult film. We should be stunned that it was nominated for Best Picture.

I mean Avatar panders to the lowest common denominator. By definition, it's designed to reach the most people possible. District 9 though? Shouldn't a lot more people totally fucking hate this movie?

O'JohnLandis said...

District 9 is garbage and is roughly as bad as The Blind Side? We saw different movies, which is not to say I think District 9 is a possible Best Picture, but it does seem no worse than the sixth best of the ten. Bill & BLH, what's the case against District 9? I don't think it's ugly at all, wasn't hoping for wonder in the first place, and think the structure is very clever. (It's the structure that something like Blair Witch or Cloverfield should've used.)

I was unaware that The Last Station existed, so it's hard to know how I feel about those two categories. I was pulling for Laurent, too, but I'm guessing she fell victim to being too small a Lead and too large a Supporting? In any event, I'm much more upset about The Blind Side being nominated for Picture than I am about Bullock being nominated for Actress. Am I wrong?

Everyone should see Shadowboxer--it's the sort of thing that should have ended a career.

If you haven't seen Anna Kendrick in Rocket Science, you should. It's wonderful.

Don't understand the Gyllenhaal remark--literal, sarcastic? I guess I don't know much about her...

I am glad that Delbonnel was nominated for Harry Potter 6. It was gorgeous, and not in a modern way, despite all the modern effects.

More than anything, I hate the expansion to ten Best Picture nominees. I think the intent is to prevent interesting/independent titles from winning--the votes scatter as people pick their favorites.

It really sucks that Up is the first Pixar movie to get a Best Picture nomination. Since the Shrek fiasco, Cars is the only Pixar movie to lose Best Animated. Any possibility now that Up will be a Picture nominee and lose Animated?

DaveA said...

Re A SERIOUS MAN: I loved it. I didn't have the feeling of a first draft at all. Instead, I think that A SERIOUS MAN continued a theme which began with MILLER'S CROSSING. Their MAN WHO WASN'T THERE already built upon that, bringing quantum mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle in the mix, which is now continued more strongly in A SERIOUS MAN. Maybe it's because I'm a physicist, but I'm really fascinated by that, and I cannot think of any other movie which manages that without just using quantum mechanics as a tool for "mysterious" or "unexplicable" events. Instead, it's all about uncertainty and how we connect states with meaning.

In MILLER'S CROSSING, meaning is constructed through intersections (crossings) of people and their actions and interests, and it is often uncertain, on which side those people are and if they even know themselves. In THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, Ed only exists so that things can happen around him. In A SERIOUS MAN, it seems that Larry Gobkin is even *before* any actual decision, and because of that, he always remains in a state of uncertainty. "Please. Accept the mystery". It's like trying to adjust the antenna without the possibility to see the picture (=to measure), and it's only through an accident that something is decided for him (like in Musil's "Mann ohne Eigenschaften").

Ah well, I don't know if my English is sufficient for stuff like this. Anyway, it should become clear I loved it.

DJR said...

I love discovering worthy DTV efforts amidst all the crap, and the hype for Universal Soldier Regeneration (primarily from Outlaw Vern) convinced me to give it a shot, despite being shot by Peter Hyams and directed by his son. In any case, it turned out pretty marvelous as these things go, probably better than most of the glossy, undisciplined crap Hollywood churns out. Peter may be a crappy director, but his son displays loads of talent here, outdoing his father's overrated Van Damme collaborations from the 90s on a fraction of the budget.

Si said...

O'John... I'm with you about the structure of District 9. I feel to this day that it achieved the effect that Cloverfield was looking for, but didn't quite find. It's actually my second favourite film of the year after Basterds, so to see you dissing it here, Bill, is one heck of a surprise. Is Walter the only one of the critics on the site who loves it, I wonder?

Re: Up, now there's a trickier beast. It's a lot like The Departed situation, really, in that the Academy are just giving Pixar a sympathy vote in the same way they gave one to Scorsese. My hugely positive response to it in the cinema in November might be down to the fact that, after seeing Walter's star rating, I wasn't expecting much from it to begin with. Anyway, Finding Nemo and Wall-E were far worthier Best Picture nominees.

Now, my brief opinions on the nominees. All debate welcome:

Avatar = This was a slightly worse Star Trek '09, in that as a cinematic experience - especially in 3D - it's fun, but it doesn't look like it will hold up. Ah well, at least it's not Titanic.

The Blind Side = Haven't seen it, will avoid now I've read your review.

District 9 = Pretty much in agreement with Walter, although perhaps the second half is a little too conventional. Also, Sharlto Copley was one heck of a find - like Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent were in Basterds.

An Education = Been meaning to see for an age. Have thought highly of Carey Mulligan since her guest appearance in Doctor Who three years ago, and have read three of Nick Hornby's novels.

The Hurt Locker = Yeah, I know, I ought to see this. Especially since I recently checked out - and was pleasantly surprised by - Bigelow's Near Dark.

Inglourious Basterds = The only nominee I now have on DVD. Big yay, indeed.

Precious = Haven't seen it, probably won't. Looks like this year's Slumdog Millionaire. (What's the bet it'll upset Avatar, too?)

A Serious Man = Will probably give it a chance at a later date.

Up = I agree with Walter's review.

Up in the Air = Will give it a chance. Although for all I know it might be as superficially appealing as Juno (or for that matter, American Beauty).

Additionally: Why the dislike for Vicky Cristina Barcelona? I thought it was pleasant enough, if not really memorable. (Even if you ignored Penelope Cruz, there were more than a handful of positives.)

Alex Jackson said...

I don't think it's ugly at all

Still baffled. I don't know how to argue this, I honestly thought it was self-evident that District 9 was an ugly film just as it was self-evident that Avatar was a beautiful one. The alien slums, the casual massacre of the alien babies, combined with the mugging over-the-top central performance by Sharlto Copley and the obvious satire in putting the aliens in Johannesburg. John broached all of my complaints except for how the film portrays the Nigerians, so I wonder how he defends that.

Again, I liked the film. And I liked it because it made me feel sick and uneasy. I liked it because it's ugly, and to be utterly reductive about it, poverty and racism are ugly things. But it IS an ugly film. I don't understand how it could be a popular hit (maybe everyone likes to be repulsed). Then again, I was surprised that Precious found acceptance as well.

So I dunno. The idea that District 9 is such an obviously good film that John can't even conceptualize why people might not like it throws me for a loop.

For the record, and I think this is a real flaw in the film, the switch between mockumentary and conventional narrative struck me as cheating. Each format has freedoms and limitations that the other doesn't and Blomkamp is only exploiting the freedoms without addressing the limitations. I found it disorienting besides.

I kind of understand what John means when he says Cloverfield should have been made this way, but saying that about Blair Witch is so bizarrely off-the-wall contrarian that I don't think I can entertain it. At it's core, it strikes me as something an archetypical cigar-smoking studio executive would say when he wants to turn something original accessible to a mass audience ("What would really make this movie a hit is if we saw who killed Heather and where those little kid voices were coming from"). It challenges core values that I take for granted, is all I'm saying.

Bill C said...

I feel terrible about my lack of D9 love, hence all the "sorry"s. All my smart friends like it. Personally, I hate the structure, the way the documentary structure just kind of melts away but never fully looses its grip on the aesthetic of the thing. I hate that this metaphor for racism/apartheid/whathaveyou hypocritically hasn't a single black character who isn't vile and opportunistic. (On that note, I hate that the aliens themselves are so undignified.) I didn't really understand why siphoning liquid for the spaceship was a years-long secret operation when it looked like all the prawn had to do was step 2 feet from his house to collect the last batch. I think Sharlto Copely's perf is overrated to a fault. It is the anti-AVATAR for sure, but I frankly didn't hate AVATAR enough to want or need an antidote.

Alex Jackson said...

And everybody, please give Precious a chance. I seem to be the only FFC'er who liked it and I'm also the one who logged the capsule on it so I haven't been coming to its defense. I've said my piece, you know.

It's a "feel-good" movie, but it's not pandering and great stretches of it are genuinely uncomfortable and embarassing to watch. Armond White is a nut to think that white people find it assuring to see a fat black girl steal fried chicken and get raped by her father and mother.

Again, I'm baffled that it's gotten acceptance by the same popular audience that liked Avatar. I wouldn't think that it's for greenhorns. (Jim Emerson's response that the abusive mother was the role Divine was born to play is a very sane response to the picture).

At least, you know, give it a shot and make up your own mind. What do I gotta do to get people to trust me?

Will try to check out The Blind Side if I can scrounge up some ticket money.

Bill C said...

Oh yeah: @O'John, I just find the Maggie Gyllenhaal persona--that sense of entitlement she projects in the most innocuous line readings--insufferable. Her performance in CRAZY HEART is ridiculous, because she doesn't have the humility to play anything other than her archetypal supercilious self. Or, as Nick Davis much more eloquently and civilly put it: "...Gyllenhaal, who lately keeps impersonating a more limited actress than the one she'd been embodying for five or six years, has a hard time looking ready to play this script as easily and loosely as Bridges does while still filling the quiet moments with minuscule, palpable details, and without dropping the crucial connections that will explain her character's dramatic reversals."

Daniel said...

Does anyone here think Inglourious Basterds has a chance to win (Pic or Director)?

BLH said...

District 9 has obviously proven itself a crowd-pleaser in action, if not in theory. I think it's ugly in an entirely accessible way. I mean, apart from the actors involved, how does the film's ugliness differ greatly from that of Transformers 2?

The last hour of D9 is essentially a routine buddy/survival picture. It's a video game. And the first half-hour of the picture is political allegory intended for an audience that considers nuance an obstacle in the way of understanding.

The picture is still a fair-shake better than Avatar, in any case. At the very least, the improvisatory nature of its dialogue gives District 9 the appearance of having been written by someone who's had intimate contact with other human beings in the last decade.

Alex Jackson said...

I mean, apart from the actors involved, how does the film's ugliness differ greatly from that of Transformers 2?

The sense of irony and that the whole thing is a joke. Also, let's not forget the Nigerian cannibals....

Alex Jackson said...

Eek, I misread that to say Terminator 2.

Yeah, I still maintain that Transformers 2 is a shinier consumer product, gives us a protagonist we can safely identify with, and doesn't have the alien baby genocide.

corym said...

I think Sharlto Copely's perf is overrated to a fault.

I really liked Copely's performance. D9 really flew over the heads of audiences, most critics, and maybe even the filmmakers. It's definitely and ugly film--and what I like about Copely's performance is that he's one of the ugliest things in the whole movie, but most people miss it. A lot of actors have done the Smiling Bureaucratic Evil thing (Christoph Waltz got nominated for it this year), but Copely's smile was so good that a whole lot of people missed the evil. I love that D9 is basically about a white man who really, really, really doesn't want to be a minority--and is willing to kill a bunch of people to stop that from happening. Have any reviewers mentioned that?

And as for there being no noble black characters, I think Wikus' assistant comes off as pretty good. It is a small part, though.

Tom N said...

bill: i think that making the majority* of the aliens undignified and savage might be the best and bravest decision in the whole thing. i like that the hatred and fear of the humans is made totally understandable. without these kinds of things it wouldn't be a sticky(ish) mess, just a cheesy allegory. frankly i'm amazed that you feel differently.

*the fact that the most dignified character of all is an alien seems to completely negate that particular criticism anyway?

that said, the descent into action clichés and cartoon supervillainy totally killed the thing for me. i DO hate how the humans are represented, and frankly copely's whole david brent thing was a class above the rest in that regard.

Bill C said...

Touche, TomN, but how did those fuckers ever build a spaceship and cool guns in my opinion. (I know, I know.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I think it's outright stated that these are directionless drones with no queen. There's plenty of indication that these guys are the dumb grunts of the working world.

I can deal with the questionable portrayal of black people, the cartoonish supervillainy of the bad guys, but the switch between mockumentary and narrative was infuriating to me. I'm still on its side, and if it won I think I'd cheer, but that whole fucking thing with the camera -- it's just DISTRACTING as hell. Even after the switch was obvious I couldn't help but wonder who the hell was filming this. I don't see how its defenders can brush it aside.

--Kim

Emmitt said...

I had a problem with the shift to an action movie when I first saw D9, but it kind of grew on me. It's rejecting the "dry and intellectual" of the documentary segments for something more straight-forward and populist. It reminds me of Inglourious Basterds, actually.

That, and I still think that the rocket grab is all kinds of awesome.

O'JohnLandis said...

Even after the switch was obvious I couldn't help but wonder who the hell was filming this.

Do you wonder this about all omniscient films--in other words, 98% of films? No, so why pick on District 9?

There are lots of ways to tell a story in a film. In this discussion they've been called "narrative" and "mockumentary" (an awful word--I'd choose primary document, though I can understand if that doesn't sound sexy). But really, primary document footage (news reports, interviews, background information) have been creeping into narrative films for decades, and I think this is for the best. These structures have obvious analogues in literature, and I don't think switching between them bothers people as much in a novel because people aren't trained by theory to believe that a novel has to pick one narrow structure and stick to it no matter what. People believe this about films, so they create desperate, hilarious things like Blair Witch that require no ability or imagination. They hide behind these limitations and dare you to ask for information. So no, I don't need every noise on the soundtrack explained, but I do need a plausible reason for a person to keep filming while running. Without that, you're way below Michael Bay's level of incoherence and idiocy.

(Even without logic, these films give some people headaches. No theory explains why you should exclude a portion of your audience for medical reasons. The people who like these movies best are the people stupid enough to think they're real, and the one with by far the most potential was Paranormal Activity, because they used a fucking tripod.)

If you go to a film willing to see a story told to you in an efficient and interesting way, it makes way more sense to combine omniscient and primary document footage then it does to stick to one, or to relegate the documentary footage to a TV in the background. I guess I have to believe people if they say the switch is jarring, though it certainly isn't for me, and I really believe that it's a philosophical stance people feel like they ought to believe.

Anyhow, District 9 has been pretty well defended, but I'd add that there's a difference between ugly images and images of ugly things. District 9 depicts some ugliness, but also some very unique and terrified emotion, and I'd say it's compositionally striking--with a moving camera that tries as hard as possible to be still and give you the information you need. All action scenes are easy to follow and the effects are fantastic. The main character is redeemed not entirely because he finds morality, but more because he runs out of other options and decides to give the right thing a chance. It's clever, but not a Best Picture. The Hurt Locker isn't either, but if I can't have Inglouious, it's better than nothing.

Si said...

Corym:

"I love that D9 is basically about a white man who really, really, really doesn't want to be a minority--and is willing to kill a bunch of people to stop that from happening."

O'John:

"All action scenes are easy to follow and the effects are fantastic. The main character is redeemed not entirely because he finds morality, but more because he runs out of other options and decides to give the right thing a chance."

These are both very good points about D9 and are worth repeating. I'll add that the final shot - of the fully transformed Wikus holding the metal flower in the scrapyard - is staggering. Especially on the back of the comments made by Tania and Wikus' assistant, which I believe included: "He was an honest man, and didn't deserve anything of what happened to him." And yes, Tom N, Wikus does seem very David Brent now, come to think of it.

Re: Copley, though, I wonder if there may have been so much buzz about his performance had he not been a virtual unknown before the movie. Ditto with Ahney Her (yes, Ian!) in Gran Torino, and even Waltz and Laurent, for that matter.

A final matter worth bringing up is this comment from a poster on Berardinelli's forum about D9. It's about the portrayal of the humans: "They are all just plain evil. I understand that was the point, but in a movie that seemed so concerned with trying to give such a preposterous situation a very real sense of authenticity, this overly simplistic depiction of the human race felt incredibly unreal. There was a slight mention of an alien rights group, but other than that, all of the people seemed a bit too purely evil."

Harsh? But then I thought about the sadistic army colonel, and thought maybe he had a point...

Patrick said...

There were plenty of thinks I feel uneasy about in D9 – the shamanistic Nigerian cannibals complete with their own witch maybe the foremost of it. I didn't mind that the bureaucracy was overwhelmingly white, because, well, I think that's realistic.

I also didn't mind the change from mockumentary to "real film", but O'John, I can see where people mind it. I don't think this: "Do you wonder this about all omniscient films--in other words, 98% of films? No, so why pick on District 9?" is a fair point.

For example, I like novels told from third person, and I also like novels with many different narrators, changing from chapter to chapter. Still, I have seen many stories told from changing viewpoints switching every few paragraphs without warning, and I think that is a sign of a bad writer and I hate it. And I can hate it without hating every novel that is told from 3rd person, or every novel that has more than one narrative point of view.

And while it made me queasy that yet again, D9 tells the story of the white outsider who gets to help the poor minority (see that Sean Penn/Nicole Kidman thing, Blood Diamond, etc. pp ad infinitum) – I loved the character of Wikkus because he starts a dick and he remains a dick. Until the very last moment Wikkus is out for himself and basically only cares for the aliens as much as he has to and as much as it concerns himself. He doesn't do the right thing – only when that's his only chance does he try and get Christopher to freedom. I liked that.

Stephen Reese said...

Not that this adds anything substantial to the discussion (you guys are all smarter than me, anyway), but I agree with Bill on D9. Thought it was the most overrated flick of 2009. I enjoyed the first 45 minutes; felt like they were doing something different and interesting at that point. Then Wikus transforms into an alien and the movie transforms into a standard actioner for the balance. It worked far better as a mockumentary short, in my opinion.

On a different note, I don't know much about Maggie G's performances, but she's still ultra-hot. Bill, my GF was wondering if you'd seen CRAZY HEART, and it appears from this chat that you have, so may I ask for your overall impressions? Cheers.

Anonymous said...

"These structures have obvious analogues in literature, and I don't think switching between them bothers people as much in a novel because people aren't trained by theory to believe that a novel has to pick one narrow structure and stick to it no matter what."

Like what the guy above me said, I don't mind different perspectives and different styles, but I don't like the movie treating different perspectives as if they're the SAME perspective. There's no transition and no distinction between the two different modes.

"So no, I don't need every noise on the soundtrack explained, but I do need a plausible reason for a person to keep filming while running."

Well, I'll certainly back you on that; it didn't bother me so much in Blair Witch because nothing happens in Blair Witch, but in Cloverfield that was a constant nagging concern -- especially on the rickety bridge crossing between the two buildings. (It occurred to me while watching that a third-person perspective of that guy trying to balance while staring at his feet through the camera would have been hilarious.)

Bill C said...

@O'John: C'mon, man--this "do you wonder this about all omniscient films--in other words, 98% of films" crap is beneath you. 98% of movies don't unceremoniously abandon a documentary structure/aestheic 20 minutes in. Save the wilful obtuseness for arguments about the year zero.

@Stephen: CRAZY HEART is appalling. The director is like 9 years old and you can tell--it's all counterfeit gravitas and poseur been-around-the-block-ness. I hated pretty much every second of it. That's likely why Maggie G. is so terrible, because 'this assclown's gonna direct me?'

Alex Jackson said...

I also felt that the real problem with the switch between mockumentary (the term "primary document" isn't only unsexy, it's also cumbersome and a little misleading) and conventional narrative film was the lack of clear demarcation. I don't have any issue with the use of mockumentary as long as it's distinct from the rest of the film. Like, perhaps, shot in a different film stockn or on video?

Two other things-

I accepted that they kept filming during Blair Witch Project to distance themselves from what was happening. And also, I believe there was a light on the camera.

And man, conventional wisdom time--Blair Witch Project is a much better film than Cloverfield.

Speaking of Maggie G. I really wish that Away We Go got more love. Everybody's forgotten about it. So sad.

BLH said...

re: Away We Go

I thought it was more a case of everyone having hated and summarily disregarded it than having gradually forgotten about it.

I haven't seen it. This is just the sense I get.

The Voice said...

On a stoned, half-drunk late night in front of the television a few nights ago, I was watching IFC and could not lull myself out of my couch to change the channel when the 2010 Spirit Awards special came on. Everything that can be said about Crazy Heart was said by director Scott Cooper here - paraphrasing - "It's just so great that such a small, seven and a half million dollar production has received so much attention."

I don't have much to say about District 9 at this point in time. I recall enjoying the aforementioned ugliness in theaters, but I also made the mistake of seeing it before a second screening of Inglourious Basterds which occupied the majority of my headspace. The second opportunity I had to see it wasn't a particularly inviting one, as I was winding down with a friend from a viewing of The White Ribbon when some others came over and we were forced to drastically change the palette. I didn't pay much attention.

Arlvy said...

Alex Jackson, just a quick question about your capsule review of Winter's Bone. If the motivations withing aren't about sex or greed as you state why do you feel it's trying to be half film noir in the first place? I only ask as the film seems to be getting rave reviews and while I'm pleased to see some dissent (if only to lower my hyped up expecations) I couldn't grasp why you felt it was trying to bolt on a film noir template. Was it the atmosphere? The direction? I'm a little confused is all.

The Voice said...

I second ArIvy's motion. As excited as I was to see, as I am every year, a Sundance fave taken down a few notches (even with this one's stellar cast, though I'll go ahead and assume that the underutilized talents of Garret Dillahunt are forced onto one of the meth-consuming/dealing characters), the review left me a little bewildered as to why Alex was taking it down a few notches. It's possible he left the screening as frustrated and confused as I am concerning the review, and these capsule reviews generally don't allow for the time or consideration that a full write-up would.

Alex Jackson said...

I couldn't grasp why you felt it was trying to bolt on a film noir template. Was it the atmosphere? The direction? I'm a little confused is all.

Yeah, I blame the 450 word limit. Also wish that I could have addressed the film's depiction of an army recruiter who is refreshingly cautious about exploiting the poor and desperate.

I hinted in the capsule why Winter's Bone has noir aspirations, but I yeah I guess that didn't have enough space to establish it concretely enough.

It's not as much the atmosphere and not as much the direction, it's the plot and though I didn't mention it in the capsule, the dialogue. Afraid that I can't give you any samples of the dialogue, but it's very hard-boiled and stylized in the Hammett/Chandler mold.

Winter's Bone is a detective film. Like Chinatown. Like The Long Goodbye. Like Kiss Me Deadly. Like Brick as a matter of fact.

The film has a southwestern correlate to the Sidney Greenstreet role. There's also a correlate to the "nosey fellow" scene in Chinatown. She doesn't get her nose cut, but she does get the crap beaten out of her for not letting sleeping dogs lie.

But even in these detective movies, the detective is self-interested and morally ambiguous. There's usually a femme fatale who entrances him into the mess, right? Again, the problem with Winter's Bone is that she is a Mom Who Will Do Anything for Her Children. No moral ambiguity. No human weakness.

Come to think of it, calling Frozen River a granola noir was probably a little more questionable. It's not as saavy regarding film history, though again it's about a normal person entering the crime world but she's a Mother Who Will Do Anything for Her Children and so there isn't really any moral ambiguity.

What the hell was up with Frozen River anyway? Extremely straight-forward surface-layer DTV fare. Very much the movie equivalent of a dime novel you might once have picked up from a vending machine. Baffling that it got so much respect. Let it be said that Winter's Bone is much more sophisticated, though I'm not sure that that's a good thing.

O'JohnLandis said...

There is very little that's beneath me.

A film either defines its camera or it doesn't. Most films don't and no one complains. Why is a clean line of demarcation better? Were people concerned for the safety of the documentarian?

And my comment was appropriate. Kim said, "Even after the switch was clear..." That really suggests to me a problem with theory more than a problem with the film. I have no patience for theory.

Blair Witch is worse than Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, Quarantine, Cannibal Holocaust, and The Last Broadcast (the best of the bunch). It was one of the worst films of its year, and would be one of the worst films of any year. Cloverfield has multiple scenes that seem professional, and I don't mean effects. Paranormal Activity has a few scenes that at least manage to engage on a simple level--it just barely qualifies as a film. Blair Witch has only one such scene--the last scene--and by then it's been too silly to forgive. And you really think mockumentary is a good word to describe these types of movies?

Away We Go, by the way, is really quite charming. The Maggie scenes are fun, too.

A 450-word limit seems reasonable for a capsule, no? I certainly haven't seen the film, but if any genre has really specific rules for membership, it's noir.

Justin B-H said...

@Patrick: The depiction of the Nigerian cannibals made sense to me as a parallel to that of the white guys in the corporation, who basically wanted to do the same thing to Wikus for exactly the same callous, selfish reasons, but rationalised it as scientific advancement. I'd say the intent was to hold a mirror up to the audience's specific reaction to the "savage African" stereotype, not to indulge it...

Anonymous said...

"Kim said, "Even after the switch was clear..." That really suggests to me a problem with theory more than a problem with the film. I have no patience for theory."

I have no theory. About anything.

I mean, sorry, even during the action scenes, I was waiting for someone to turn back to the cameraman and start talking. In the world of District 9, that would have been a perfectly logical move.

"Cloverfield has multiple scenes that seem professional, and I don't mean effects."

That was exactly the problem, wasn't it? It didn't seem like a "primary document", it seemed like someone carefully thought of and blocked the shots, not to mention noted exactly when this character should die, this character should die, it's basically a perfectly conventional monster movie with a handheld-camera gimmick. If you want to complain that Blair Witch was unengaging, that's one thing, but if you want to complain that it's not "professional," well, that's the entire point, isn't it?

--Kim

Alex Jackson said...

A film either defines its camera or it doesn't. Most films don't and no one complains. Why is a clean line of demarcation better? Were people concerned for the safety of the documentarian?

A clear line of demarcation is better in that there is an overarching objective perspective that doesn't really change. In Citizen Kane we know that the newsreel isn't "officially" part of the film and we are simply seeing the same thing that the journalists are seeing.

What's wrong with the word mockumentary? I dislike "primary source" because it suggests that it hasn't been consciously designed and has been found as-is. And of course because it's cumbersome. Have you entertained the notion that you find "primary source" to be sexy because it is so "unsexy" and not necessarily because it's the best possible word for the subject.

I admit that the reason I use "mockumentary" is because everybody will know what I'm talking about.

John, when exactly is something incompetent as opposed to "clever"? When is the problem with the viewer and not with the film? How do we know?

In regard to this specific issue The Blair Witch Project is more professional than District 9 because it sticks with one clear perspective. Staying with one clear perspective is essential in that I cannot suspend my disbelief and "get into" the film otherwise.


A 450-word limit seems reasonable for a capsule, no?

450 words is entirely reasonable for a capsule. I hope I wasn't suggesting otherwise.

The problem was with the capsule format itself where choices have to be made regarding what I want to say and I'm limited with how much time and space I have to support my assertions.

That could just be a problem with me as a writer. I think that Bill's capsule review of The Wrestler takes care of The Wrestler perfectly well. He says something unique and interesting about it and doesn't need to say anything more about the topic. So I know writing short can be done and 450 words or less can be sufficient. I'll admit I'm not there yet. No pity party though.

John, are you suggesting that films can't borrow or cross-breed with film noir? That noir either is or it isn't?

Also, glad you liked Away We Go.

Alex Jackson said...

No, I'll modify my self-criticism about the capsules to say that festival coverage is most appropriate in the capsule format and I'm right in the thick of it as of the moment so I'm not really in an objective frame of mind.

I think that the quality of my coverage is improving every year and I'm pretty embarassed about much of what I wrote in 2006 and possibly 2007. But I think I did pretty good with American Teen. And Be Kind Rewind. And Moon. (Precious was a good effort at least, but I find it to have too much plot summary and not enough discussion about the "welfare problem" much less the film's use of racial caricaturing). I read those as a reader and find myself nodding my head and satisfied that the writer nailed what was good or what was bad and gave me enough to digest.

Probably being unattractively defensive here. I can't claim that the capsules are completely self-sufficient. You know, feel free to talk to the writer.

The Voice said...

Did the banner just roll over? Looks like Anna Paquin in 25th Hour, but I don't play the "name this screencap" game often enough.

O'JohnLandis said...

I don't find primary document sexy or unsexy--I find it accurate. I'm not opposed to sexy language. What is Cloverfield mocking? I know what Spinal Tap is mocking.

You can't suspend disbelief if perspective switches? (I think you actually mean something different, but I don't want to dwell on this point.) But I can't suspend disbelief if the documentary footage is absurd. In Blair Witch, much of the footage is conversational--nakedly intended to establish mood or tell a story and not to resemble how people would try to film a documentary about a subject that gradually starts to threaten them. A professional filmmaker doesn't stick to a bad idea out of some misplaced obligation. The Blair Witch guys heard once that the smart kids give extra credit to horror movies in which the monster isn't clearly revealed, and lacking any ability of their own, exploited the intellectual insecurity of a specific group of people and made something truly terrible.

The Cloverfield scenes are sometimes professional because they sometimes accomplish what is needed in a film that tells a story--the scene sets a mood, offers some suspense, showcases some decent performances, isn't entirely implausible. A reasonable person might get choked up a bit at the last scene of the movie. Blair Witch has less than three minutes of those things. Switching from the documentary footage to standard omniscient footage would have helped a lot. It wouldn't have been the same thing. It would have been a better thing.

And if you think the Blair Witch method is valid, what do you say to the thousands of people who get motion sick from these types of movies? (I am not among those people.)

Bill C said...

@The Voice: You are correct.

Mike A said...

I think characterizing District 9 as a racist film is superficial and inaccurate.

"Muti murder" is an extant cultural phenomenon which, in the film, is directly compared to the (white) corporation's illegal organ harvesting. In both cases, the point is the catastrophic consumption of of the individial, which is contrasted with the gradual 'contructive decay' of the alien fluid. The mutilation of hands across the whole of the film is a metaphor for loss of agency.

It presents the same issue as the natives in Peter Jackson's King Kong - in that in order to use cannibalism as a metaphor, what else are they going to do? Depict muti killings as a product of John Carpenter-esque multiracial street gangs? Pretend it doesn't exist? Give us, condescendingly, a token good-guy nigerian?

The film takes the most sensible stance of depicting cannibalism as something all cultures can and do engage in, in certain circumstances. Then it specifies that in this particular case it's practiced by black nigerians and white south-africans, with the only crucial difference being the level of technology they are each using.

The film also puts emphasis on their motivations, and how similar they are: the literal consumption of the lower classes for political and financial power.

The alien approach functions differently, because instead of consuming Wikus, it generates a hybrid that is influenced by the alien point of view (it literally infects his mind), but still retains a degree of the character's agency - as is the case in its obvious source-material, The Fly.

Also, the 'documentary' footage in the film is always demarcated from the 'fiction' footage using time-codes, lower resolution film, black-and-white, onscreen graphics and other contextual cues. If those aren't onscreen, it's not the documentary. I didn't find it difficult to follow.

The film uses the division to satrize the flaws of the liberal talking-head documentary. No aliens are interviewed, no black experts are interviewed, the white experts are inert and placating. All their other footage appears to have been supplied by the corporations they're trying to indict.

The 'fiction' footage fills in the gaps in our understanding, but retains the Paul Greengrass style because it is emphasizing that this is the raw, subjective experience that the (white) privileged documentarians were unable to capture.

A single perspective is generated by the editing, which mashes these disparate sources together in order to build a coherent philosophy from the juxtaposition. It's not really any different from the approach Verhoven's Starship Troopers, besides being relatively subtle about it.

Altogether, it's one of the better films on the best-picture list, though I'm personally rooting for Inglourious Basterds. It's really under-rated, despite the hype, for the complexity of its science fiction philosophizing and its satire.

Alex Jackson said...

I don't find primary document sexy or unsexy--I find it accurate. I'm not opposed to sexy language. What is Cloverfield mocking? I know what Spinal Tap is mocking.

Time to drag out the dictionary. Primary in its adjective form means "basic", "firsthand" or "original". I feel that this is a misleading way to describe "fictionalized documentary" (a neutral term that I don't think either of us want to adopt), in that these films are usually as consciously and deliberately made as traditional narrative films.

That's particularly true of the ones that you like. If any film could legitimately be called a "primary document" it would be The Blair Witch Project. The Blair Witch Project wasn't really written or directed and when something is written or directed it ceases to be a "primary document".

The verb form of mock does indeed mean treating somebody or something with scorn. But in its adjective form, and the "mock" in mockumentary could certainly be considered as being used as an adjective, it simply means imitation (like mock leather), pretend (as in mock disapproval), or practice (as in mock exams). In other words, we just mean a "fake" documentary.

So, OK.

In Blair Witch, much of the footage is conversational--nakedly intended to establish mood or tell a story and not to resemble how people would try to film a documentary about a subject that gradually starts to threaten them.

The Cloverfield scenes are sometimes professional because they sometimes accomplish what is needed in a film that tells a story--the scene sets a mood, offers some suspense, showcases some decent performances, isn't entirely implausible

So Blair Witch is terrible because it nakedly tries to establish a mood and tell a story and doesn't resemble how real people would film a documentary.

Cloverfield is semi-professional because it sometimes establishes a mood and tells a story. Which I suppose would mean that it resembles a real documentary even less than The Blair Witch Project.

You're saying that the problem with The Blair Witch Project was that it was done poorly, but I don't think you believe it should have been done at all. The whole notion of "We found this movie in the woods and we're presenting it to you the public unadorned" just doesn't sit with you.

It's predictable that you wouldn't like the film, John. I know you're very much into objective standards of quality and that if you could do it yourself that means that it isn't art. I disagree, but I mean there's nothing wrong with that.

But you are REALLY stretching your credibility when you imply that the documentary footage in Blair Witch is more absurd than that in Cloverfield, much less District 9. Or that something is more realistic when you can tell that it has been designed.

What would I say to the people who get motion sickness from watching The Blair Witch Project? They're dogshit unfit to kiss the feet of a cinematic genius like Daniel Myrick or Eduardo Sanchez.

Nah, just kidding. I think it's a pretty superficial reason and it's pretty much a conversation killer, but there's nothing that I can do about it. I'm not interested in movies that are for everybody anyway and I certainly believe that The Blair Witch Project would not be as a good of a film if it used a tripod. So I feel fortunate that I don't get motion sickness watching it and I can enjoy the experience.

Alex Jackson said...

As for District 9, I appreciated Mike A.'s defense and I'd probably have to see the film again to give a stronger argument. I probably went too far in saying that it lacked a clear line of demarcation, but I really liked Bill's description of how the documentary format never "looses its grip on the aesthetic of the thing". That sounds more appropriate. I don't really see how the "fiction" footage shows us a truth that isn't seen in the documentary footage. It's no surprise to us that the aliens are intelligent and have families they care about. We've already been filling in the gaps and haven't been taking the doc on surface value.

DaveA said...

God, Bill, could you please, please switch the banner?

O'JohnLandis said...

Remember, I think Cloverfield is a bad film. But the main difference is it wasn't supposed to be a documentary (with a film crew) at all--a guy was filming something else and a monster attacked New York. There's a tiny sliver of credibility as to why a story (with incident and feelings and shit) might organically be captured on video under those circumstances. The Blair Witch documentarians seemed to be documenting their own deaths within the first ten minutes and the damn thing is an edited composite of two different cameras--why wouldn't that be jarring and break the suspension of disbelief?

I think I know what mock means, but the term mockumentary was created for the Spinal Taps of this world and not for the Blair Witches. I think it's a little weird even assuming that mock would have a part of speech in this context, so I default to the original meaning without anything else to go on. And remember, I hate this word a lot.

Obviously when I call a narrative structure a primary document structure, it doesn't at all imply that the primary document is real. Otherwise we have a word for that--documentary. Primary document films have writers and directors, and they're usually pretty dim.

I am not 100% opposed to the idea of a primary document film. The Last Broadcast uses elements of this style, and of course it was made before the style got popular, but structurally it's more like District 9 (with much, much less talent) so it doesn't really count. Paranormal Activity, though, had real promise conceptually. No reason at all to wonder why a camera keeps running when people are in danger--it's on a tripod watching them try to sleep. You even can almost buy that the boyfriend just wants to bug the girl with the camera, and manages to get some exposition that way while they're awake. But there's just not quite enough there there.

Whether I have a reputation as a philistine, a contrarian, a technophobe, or just an asshole, the ideal primary document horror film would have much less continuous footage, next to no "And what do you think about our predicament, Sebastian?" dialogue, and despite being very realistic in an avant-garde (for me, at least) way, would be created by filmmakers who knew that achieving the illusion of realism is not the only battle.

Bill C said...

@DaveA: Why?!

Alex Jackson said...

I think it's a little weird even assuming that mock would have a part of speech in this context, so I default to the original meaning without anything else to go on.

I don't know what "have" a part of speech means, but if a word isn't a part of speech then I don't know what it is.

Obviously when I call a narrative structure a primary document structure, it doesn't at all imply that the primary document is real. Otherwise we have a word for that--documentary.

That's certainly not obvious to me. If something is primary that necessarily means that it is "real". More real than most documentaries actually in that, again, primary means that it has not been written or directed and is found as-is. If anything is truly a primary document it might be the Andy Warhol films of people eating bananas and sleeping. Once something is written or directed, it is no longer primary.

What am I missing?

But anyway. I'll concede that Blair Witch has heavier foreshadowing than Cloverfield and this makes it less realistic and less believable. Ditto for Paranormal Activity.

Of course, Cloverfield suffers just as much from "why-are-you-still-shooting" as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity simply postpones the problem for a while. (While the last shot just strains our disbelief a little, the camera shouldn't have been filming the Ouija board thing). Not that you were arguing otherwise, just want to establish that.

But I think that Blair Witch Project gets away with it precisely because these were documentary filmmakers. This is broached in the film, the reason to keep filming no matter how scared you are is so that the experience becomes "part of the documentary" and as such becomes more manageable. The director character gets to feel that she is still in control. That was enough for me. I bought it.

DaveA said...

Bill: Because I can't stop looking at it and it gives me a queasy feeling in my stomach. I mean, the shot from Mulholland Drive was hard enough, but this...

Mike A said...

Thanks for reading, Alex.

I think I should clarify by pointing out that the cues used to tell the types of footage apart in District 9 do contribute to the overall aesthetic differences. The news footage is detached from the action, shot from helicopters and given labels. The intercutting of those shots with the chaotic ground-level action is similar to the style in 28 Weeks Later, where the frequent 'god's eye' shots mimic the military panopticon. Both films also use 'security camera' footage to frame the protagonists as suspects. The point is the dehumanization caused by these detached, clinical perspectives.

There's a shot in 28WL, though, where the security footage dissolves into the film proper. It's indicting the audience, putting them in the position of being the omniscient-but-powerless observer. That film is subtly placing you in the mindset of the villains.

The 'fiction' elements in D9 use higher resolution though, along with more stable handheld work. Extreme closeups, slow motion and other expressionistic effects provide more clarity in depicting the characters' internal psychologies. There are also sharp cuts, keeping these scenes distinct from the rest. The subjective experiences of the victims are being privileged here.

We're initially encouraged to laugh at the atrocity in the 'documentary' because its format provides an Office-like intellectual distance. More enlightened folk might be able to infer that the documentary is terribly one-sided, but we still don't actually see the other side of things. That simply doesn't happen until the sincere, righteous vengeance movie kicks in.

The same rough dynamic is at play in Basterds. But like that film, the righteousness is undercut by the hint that audiences may just be amorally cheering for whoever is dominant at a given moment. So that's where it forces you to contemplate.

I guess you can sum it up by saying the one half is impressionistic while the other is expressionistic. That's the aesthetic and moral conflict that defines the film. The hybridized, transition-between-opposite-viewpoints structure of it makes a great deal of sense to me, given the subject matter.

Jefferson Robbins said...

Mike A's given the best off-the-cuff assessment I've read on District 9 so far. My compliments.

DaveA: Anna Paquin has never looked more gorgeous than in that shot, not even all True Blood nekkid.

Patrick said...

Okay, so I got hooked on True Blood in early season 1, then kind of turned off at the end of it. Now, being sick, I decided to watch Season 2, and by episode three, I'm hooked again. So, just as a general question, is S2 better than S1, i.e. can I hope for the best?

MichaelL said...

Just wanted to say that I've been following the debate on District 9 with great enthusiasm; I felt similarly ambivalent after seeing it in theaters, but I think Mike A's analysis helps neutralize some of the drawbacks I had with the film.
I, too, am still rooting for Inglourious Basterds, although I wouldn't mind a Best Picture win for Precious. I agree with Alex in that it's actually a pretty solid film, and unapologetically nasty; not that that's a virtue in a vacuum, but it's not exactly feel-good tripe, and approaches the material with a kind of uneasy honesty that I respect.
Haven't seen Hurt Locker yet, but I probably should; I feel as though it's the favorite to win, were it not for Avatar.

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Dan said...

@Patrick: True Blood S2 is more fun than S1 (overall), but once the show returns to focus on one storyline in Bon Temps for the final 4 episodes, it turns very silly and they don't quite know what to do with half the characters who spent the majority of the season in Dallas.

jer fairall said...

Given the quality of the writing at both the site and even in the comment section here at the blog, I thought this might be a good place to pass this call for papers on to:

+++

Directors Spotlight: Oliver Stone

Pitch Deadline: 23 February 2010
Final Deadline: 2 April 2010
Contact: Matt Mazur and Sarah Zupko
Email: mazur@popmatters.com AND editor@popmatters.com


After launching our inaugural Directors Spotlight Series with a distinctive bang last November with a look at Pedro Almodovar's storied career, we think it is time to cast our critical gaze closer to home. PopMatters will profile filmmaker Oliver Stone in the next installment of this series.

With this week-long special feature, PopMatters is excited to provide a platform for cinema scholars, film historians and/or social theorists of all varieties to help us and our readership reconsider the significance of iconic American film director Oliver Stone's body of work.

This feature will run in late April, leading up to the release of the auteur's newest film, a sequel to his landmark 1987 tale of greed Wall Street – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Shia La Beouf and Carey Mulligan will star).

We are so excited to work with our fine film features staff (as well as new friends!) to present a unique look at Stone's body of work. Essays running between 1,000 and 3,500 words will be due no later than April 2. Please do not commit if you cannot make this date. Earlier submissions are lovely, too. Quality is of the utmost importance with this feature, I cannot stress this enough -- this will be read by a savvy international audience of film lovers and attention to every detail is a must.

These are a few of the features we would like to see developed for the week-long series and are absolutely receptive to any of your creative ideas that could tie in with our vision:

Stone at a Glance – The Canon: Exploring Stone's Filmography (At least 500 incisive words on each film -- I would also like to see something on Midnight Express here too)
Full Disclosure: Stone's Role as a Curator of Moden Political History
The Look: Stone's Unique Eye for Casting
War Child: Stone's Perspectives on Vietnam
Presidential Suite: Male Leaders Through the Eyes of Oliver Stone
A History of Violence: What the use of crime means in Stone's films
The Role of Drugs and Drug Use in Stone's Films
Misfiring: The Negative Critical Response to Stone's Films
All correspondence should be addressed to: Matt Mazur, PopMatters Contributing Editor, mazur@popmatters.com AND editor@popmatters.com.

We look forward to assembling this feature series and hope that you find it both interesting and worthy of your participation!

john mirabella said...

it appears that the conversation has moved on at this point but just in case it hasn't, here's my two cents:

the shift in perspective halfway through DISTRICT 9 was distracting and bothersome for me not so much because it changed the perspective of the storytelling but because it changed the tense. the fake documentary footage was clearly meant to have been shot well after the events of the film had taken place. but then, out of nowhere, the film throws the audience into the middle of those events as if they were happening now. and that made the shift really obvious and distracting and kept making me wonder when we were going to shift back.

on top of that, after the fake documentary aesthetic had largely been discarded in favor of the present day action stuff, there was still the occasional shot of surveillance camera footage (something that featured heavily in the fake documentary portion) that confused the issue for me to the point of taking me completely out of the movie. i know we're not meant to think the film had suddenly switched from the present day stuff to the fake documentary but it initially struck me that way and i had to think for a moment about what was going on.

in short, it seemed clumsy to me and less like it was done for a reason and more like it was done because it seemed like it'd be cool.

john mirabella said...

oh, and in my opinion @Patrick, season two of TRUE BLOOD is some of the silliest television out there.

O'JohnLandis said...

"It seemed like it'd be cool."

Sounds like a reason to me, but if you need a better one, it's to tell a story from beginning to end by giving you all the information you need at the moment you need it and without contriving exposition or back story in any omniscient footage.

What issue was confused by this supposed change of tense? What didn't you understand? The story plays out in sequence using a combination of primary documents (fictional primary documents, of course) and traditional omniscient footage. The time line isn't fractured--what possibly could be confusing? The answer is: you want to philosophize about how gauche it is for a film not to follow structural rules that don't exist. This film's structure isn't fashionable and it's the better for it. Would anyone actually prefer a version of District 9 that was exclusively primary document or exclusively omniscient? Are you so trained to expect dull expository devices that an exhilarating alternative is so scary?

True Blood S2 is very silly, but in a fun way. It hardly resembles the unique and emotional drama of the first season, and it contains way too much dull exposition. (And no, documentary footage wouldn't have helped.) But it's hard to get too mad at it either. It turned into an adventure of Iterative Orgy Escalation®, and that's just swell.

john mirabella said...

okay, yes, 'it'd be cool' is a reason. perhaps i should've added that that's not a good or justifiable reason.

and i suppose it's possible that i want to 'philosophize about how gauche it is for a film not to follow structural rules' but this wasn't something that i thought of after the movie ended or that i read about in a review. it was something that i was initially very jarred by (when the first cut to the omniscient footage occurred) and something that, every time it subsequently occurred, knocked me out of the film a little bit so that i wasn't as caught up in it as i might have been otherwise. whatever the reasons for that might be (even if said reasons are my allegiance to structural rules that have no real basis in anything other than that's the way things have always been done), it's undeniable that it decreased my enjoyment of the film as i was watching it. i wouldn't necessarily have preferred that the film had been all one or other (either all traditional omniscient narrative or all fake documentary) but i certainly would've preferred the film not switch back and forth between them at random. i guess you can argue that that's a failure on my part if you really want to...

i do, however, take issue with the idea that these 'structural rules' don't exist. on the one hand, i mean, of course there aren't any actual rules. but on the other, films are made a certain way (a consistent point of view, for instance) that, if it's going to be challenged and mucked about with, ought to, in my opinion, have a damn good reason behind it. the stated reason in DISTRICT 9 is, i suppose, that it allows the film to 'give you all the information you need at the moment you need it without contriving exposition or back story.' i fail to see how randomly cutting to surveillance camera and fake documentary footage does that in way that couldn't have been done equally well while also maintaining a consistent point of view. again, i guess that could just be me, but i feel strongly that this approach was absolutely not the most efficient one that could've been taken. and because of that, i didn't love the film (though i certainly didn't hate it either).

Bill C said...

@Shilpa: May your children be born blind and hunchbacked.

Fucking spambots. I really don't want to have to start moderating comments.