July 17, 2010

Meme Streets

So, It's out.

What'd you think?

Here's a meme to fill in as you're formulating a response:

1. Stupid movie for Stupid People: ________
2. Smart movie for Stupid People: ________
3. Smart movie for Smart People: ________
4. Stupid movie for Smart People: ________

an example:

1. Grown-Ups
2. Inception
3. There Will Be Blood
4. Evil Dead 2

Yes? And, expanding that, which of these four is most likely to make a bajillion dollars? I mean, isn't Avatar a prime example of #2? But Titanic is #1, right? And where does that leave Star Wars? #4 says my nostalgia, but, eek, #1?

Oh - and the new trailer for The Social Network? It was better the first time I saw it when it was the Parallax Test.



Daniel said...

Well I'm on record as saying that I really enjoyed it.

As far as your meme goes:

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

2. The Matrix sequels

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

4. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Hugh said...

1. Sex and the City 2

2. Donnie Darko

3. Memento

4. The Jerk

Raphael said...

1.Fantastic Four


3.Master and commander. the far side of the world

4.Tropic thunder

Patrick said...

Too many films for the meme... but okay, and without echoing Master and Commander, even though I really want to as I love that film. I'll do a Nolan-specific one...

Stupid for stupid: Insomnia (okay, but what else would fit here? At least it's a remake)
Smart for stupid: The Dark Knight
Smart for smart: Memento
Stupid for smart: The Prestige

Arlvy said...

Kung Fu Panda
A Beautiful Mind
No Country For Old Men
Smiley Face

As for Inception, I enjoyed it quite a bit but as has been said already, a great deal of the supposedly emotional stories of father and son/husband and wife were rote and boring.

Bill C said...

1. How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
2. Smart People
3. Curse of the Cat People
4. The People Under the Stairs

Max said...

1. Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
2. The Green Zone
3. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
4. Dangerous Orphans

Dan said...

Off the top of my head:

1. Stupid movie for Stupid People: Norbit
2. Smart movie for Stupid People: The Matrix
3. Smart movie for Smart People: The Truman Show
4. Stupid movie for Smart People: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

Kyle said...

boy, i hate these things, but i haven't seen inception. so

1. The Blind Side
2. Crash (Haggis)
3. Synecdoche, New York
4. The collected works of Brian de Palma

Alex Jackson said...

1. Dumb Movie for Dumb People: BOONDOCK SAINTS!!! This is a surefire way to weed out the dumbasses in casual conversation. I was a little, well not devastated but embarassed, to discover that an old friend from the second grade listed this as his favorite movie on his Facebook page.

Favorite answer so far: Arlvy- Kung Fu Panda (most of these seem a little too easy)

2. Smart movie for Stupid People: Fight Club, which is the good version of Boondock Saints. People who like Fight Club at the very least have some potential.

My favorite answer so far: Raphael's-- Watchmen. A truly brilliant novel adapted by a gifted visual filmmaker who nonetheless has atrocious taste.

3. Smart Movie for Smart People: Marat/Sade. I like that it's dense and a little shocking and that it keeps you on your toes. I don't think that it's one of those things that you can pretend to like. I mean I drank the Kool-Aid regarding Synecdoche, but I feel vulnerable to the attacks by the haters who say that people who like it like it to be fashionable.

Most Lars Von Trier would fit pretty well, too, but I think Marat/Sade is a better answer.

One of the more difficult answers to give as it really reveals the limitations of what you consider to be "smart".

Favorite answer so far: Gotta go with Arlvy again. No Country For Old Men. I would actually claim that film demands a little more sophistication than the Charlie Kaufmans.

4. Stupid movie for Smart People: Signs. I saw it again fairly recently and I just read Jim Emerson's take on it. This is the only Shymalan that I like. It's almost as nuts as Lady in the Water, but I think at this point he was able to make a film that was so awful it's actually pretty enjoyable as opposed to one that was so awful it was just godawful. The theology is extremely superficial granted, but you know, you smart people should be able to accept it semi-ironically.

Best Answer So Far: Bill C's-- The People Under the Stairs. On "Siskel and Ebert", Siskel relished in recounting a review that claimed the film was really an allegory for the Reagan administation.

To Max, I think that Bad Lieutenant: POCNO fits better here than in Smart Movie for Smart People. I genuinely liked it, but you know if somebody claimed that this is really an awful film that is only respected because Werner Herzog directed it and it's really a massive step down from the man who made Aguirre. Well, they aren't exactly stupid for not being receptive to its smarts. You can defend the ending, sure, but it does take some fancy footwork.

Anonymous said...

2.Schindler's List
3.The Grey Zone

Kyle said...

I feel vulnerable to the attacks by the haters who say that people who like [Synecdoche] like it to be fashionable.

mind if i asked for a little clarification on this statement, alex? i've yet to hear from anybody whose positive reception was anything other than a direct, emotional one.

permazorch said...

To an idiot like me, this is a lot harder than it looks. I mean, how to differentiate between stupid-ass and absolute shitty?

Checking memory for memorable movies.
Stupid bullshit movie for no human but a select, narrow band of stupids (dupe-tards):
Smart people made this movie. It's horrible. I always preferred THE SWEET HEREAFTER to EXOTICA (the latter a likely candidate for stupid movie for smart folk, in my book).

Smart movie for stupid people (All I can think of are tv shows I've been watching via hulu, like "Glee".):
This movie is still fucking amazing. If stupid people are going see a smart movie, it has to be a blockbuster, right?

Smart movie for smart people:
There are better movies to fight over, but this is the best, most recently striking, for me. At the downtown sidewalk sale, last Thursday, a lot of people touched, then passed on this title ($5 used-expensive!). One guy said, "I don't want to have to read half of the movie."
So, to enjoy this movie you need to: 1) adore pretty pictures and great music; 2) be interested in thinking about violence and war past the initial visceral pleasure; 3) be interested in film's (and all media's) impact on society when it calls for, or condemns modern war; 4) dig reading, sometimes.

Stupid movie for smart people:
I mean, duh! "There's that fag-talk we were talking about again."

Patrick said...

Alex, yes to everything you said about The Boondock Saints.

permazorch: Forrest Gump I'd put in a category for stupid people as well, but then I gag on its sweetness and love that essay where it compares Forrest with Leatherface.

Alex Jackson said...

mind if i asked for a little clarification on this statement, alex? i've yet to hear from anybody whose positive reception was anything other than a direct, emotional one.

Really? Yeah, it's more admiration than love for me.

The movie is a little much, you know. When I'm thinking why exactly I didn't have a direct emotional reaction, I think of the scene where he reunites with the dying Olive who has fallen in love with her (stepmother?) who had given her an infected tatoo. And Olive accuses him of abandoning her for his homosexual lover. And the whole conversation is through a translation machine.

The horror of losing a daughter and having her hate you is real enough, but it's comically exaggerated here. I mean, that's novel and interesting. And slippery. And I think I respond to how grotesque the whole thing is. But the tragedy behind this scene kind of levels out for me.

I don't see what is being said here as particularly unbearable. Synecdoche New York is interesting to me aesthetically and as a...puzzle to be figured out, I suppose. But no, I didn't respond to it the way that Walter did. This isn't a movie that could make me cry.

Bill C said...

@Alex: To quote you: "NO!!!"

SYNECDOCHE makes me cry harder each time I revisit it. For me, it's no individual scene, but the cumulative weight of them all.

Not to be one of THOSE guys, but talk to me again in 10 years. It really is a movie for people in a little more advanced state of physiological deterioration.

For the record, I have never had anyone accuse me of liking it to be fashionable. Fashionable is INCEPTION, not SYNECDOCHE.

Alex Jackson said...

Not to be one of THOSE guys, but talk to me again in 10 years. It really is a movie for people in a little more advanced state of physiological deterioration.

Yeah, that's valid. I thought about mentioning that. This certainly could be a movie you need to kind of grow into.

Walter_Chaw said...

You know what really busts me up about Inception-lovers, too? This constant declaration I'm hearing about the film's originality. You're smart folks: in addition to the films that I mention in the review - what other pictures can you think of that deal - and deal better - with these topics of dreams and dream-manipulation?

I'll start you off fresh:

Total Recall
La Jetee
yeah, The Matrix...

It's long been this truism that if you ask a group of younger folks what their favorite movie is, most likely it'll be something that they've seen in the last two years. I guess it follows then that their memories are commensurately short in regards to every aspect of film culture. Jesus critics are terrible nowadays, aren't they?

slars said...

Yeah Inception was bloated and self-indulgent. Futurama did all of this with better emotional arcs in the episode "The Sting". One of the criticisms of the movie is unfair, however. According to the logic of the film, the dreams should be grounded in reality because the point is to make the subject believe they aren't actually dreaming. Everyone flying around might negate this. Oh well, at least it got you guys talking about Synecdoche again.

Bill C said...

I'm gonna go ahead and state the obvious, 'sfar as dream-flicks are concerned: Neil Jordan's astonishing IN DREAMS.

slars said...

Another superior dream movie: Paprika

Raphael said...

Coraline is as creepy as a bad dream should be.And of course, Nightmare on Elm street;Freddy never lost the power to unsettle me.

Dan said...

1984's Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid is a good "dream movie".

Patrick said...

Paprika, of course.

Since Nightmare on Elm Street is mentioned, here's what I don't get about contemporary dream worlds in film (NoES remake, Inception): when I dream, *anything* can happen and it still feels normal. I would go to a university class with people I haven't seen for ten years, and a talking beaver would hold the seminar, and we would write our notes on the naked backs of the person in front of us, but it'd just seem like a normal university day for me. NoES managed to do a little of that weirdness with cheap-ass effects. And now, with CGI making anything possible, with films doing CGI even when they wouldn't need to, why do the dream worlds come out looking nothing like a dream?

I admire Nolan for going the practical route when he could because he wanted to make the audience feel the weight of things; Lord knows the gravity corridor would not have such an immediate effect if it was bullet-time cgi. But you can put it in the background; heck, the cityscapes were probably computer manipulated anyway. Why not have people flying? Why not have a fiery sky?

I mean, "Buffy" did it with "Restless", where Xander walks from one set to the next and in his dream seemingly enters school through his closet or something, just using the way the stage was set up and still giving a great dream imagery. And millions and millions of dollars can't do it with Inception or NoES?

(Buffy might be a good addition to better dream episodes than Inception, incidentally; Restless, of course, but even [Superstar], Normal Again, Nightmares deal with those kind of alternate realities).

Also, Eyes Wide Shut.

Walter_Chaw said...

How about (cringe) The Cell?

Kyle said...

Meshes of the Afternoon

Otto said...

When it comes to brain hacking, Ghost in the Shell #1 (and to a lesser degree #2) are my favorites.

Alex Jackson said...

1984's Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid is a good "dream movie".

No, it's not. Have you seen it lately? An absolutely ungodly piece of shit.

Dan said...

@Alex: I haven't seen Dreamscape in a long time, but I don't remember hating it. This was 20 years ago, though.

Kurt Halfyard said...

Paprika suffers in the exposition as much as Inception, but it is a far better dream movie than Inception because it focuses on the characters and how bloody messy the subconscious is. (Paprika and Chungking Express were my personal deal-makers for upgrading to Blu-Ray!) Inception is all about crafting Swiss watches and Japanese origami and forgets to add the sex and overall insecurity (We have the 'falling in a dream' explained as the 'kick', but never the 'naked in front of the classroom.'

Another great DREAM movie is of course, Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT, a film that I notice has been slowly getting its full due over the past 4-5 years.

Frankenheimer's SECONDS could also play like a surreal Dream movie. Ditto Aronofsky's THE FOUNTAIN. Ditto Martin Scorceses' AFTER HOURS (and SHUTTER ISLAND)

Both of Lynch's post-millennial flicks MULHOLLAND DR. and INLAND EMPIRE are superior in -BURROWING- where Inception is all handsome images and puzzle-boxing. I'll take the cold sweat and anxiety of a good dream movie over the slickness. That being said, Inception still stands out as one of the best mega-budget blockbusters, but in the world of Michael Bay and Zack Snyder that's not saying much, now is it?

Lastly, having read Walter's Review of the film, glad he mention eXistenZ as it feels like a much more 'raw and icky' version of the collective dream. "Death to the demoness Allegra Geller!"

Anonymous said...

"Inception-lovers?" That's a term already? Seems to me like a movie has to be out for more than two days before it becomes fashionable to say you like it.

And methinks Walter Chaw doth protest a bit too much when it comes to the film itself. I read the review and while I agree with several of its points (and also agree with the point made here that it's not very original, unless you go by "most original $150 million movies"), I could tell that he was bristling against some slight he imagined the "Inception-lovers" were handing superior films even before a visit to this blog confirmed it. Not that any critic (professional or otherwise) is completely objective, but that has to be one of the more scathing 2-star reviews I've ever read. "A kick, a jolt -- ah, idioglossia"? Really? You're going to take a cheap shot at the imaginary jargon of an imaginary job because it sounds too simplistic? It's a decent movie that's more popular than it maybe deserves: deal with it. This isn't the first time I've seen Walter bring out the big guns specifically because the perceived fanbase of the material in question fills him with contempt. Your belief in the virtues of "elitism" is pretty well-documented and I understand that even if I don't entirely agree with it, but sometimes you play some pretty dirty pool. There's a pretty distinct line between using words people don't know to describe feelings they're not interested in exploring and just calling people names, which you seem to cross with increasing frequency.

Walter_Chaw said...

Here you go. I don't do this much anymore because it's exhausting and boring and, with the advent of RT's message boards, I just don't get a lot of hate mail anymore which is really nice, but here goes.

No, "Inception-lovers" isn't a term already, it's just a term that I used to be brief and to be dismissive. You call it out not out of concern, of course, but because you want to demonstrate your weariness with my weariness by pretending to be stupider than you are. That's not something that I ever do. I'm exactly as stupid as I appear because, see, I don't presume that you're dumber than me.

So - what words am I using that you don't understand? Put your cards on the table, chum, because if you're fessing up that English is hard, much props - and if you're suggesting that my readership is too dumb to understand me then what you don't understand is that if they didn't understand me they either stopped reading me a long time ago or they only just stopped in for this one to peek at the thirty people in America with this job that didn't like this movie.

Deal with it? I'm not struggling with it - you could actually say that I don't give a shit if it makes money because, after all, what does it confirm that I didn't already know? Why is it, if I struggle with this shit, that I give out good reviews for Dark Knight and Kick-Ass? Why doesn't the fanbase for those movies fill me with the same kind of contempt? I presume, basically, that they're pretty much the same fanbase in fact.

Y'know - I say about Robert Rodriguez in the Predators review that he's the kind of guy that likes the right things for the wrong reasons and I guess if I'm frustrated sometimes, it's because sometimes smart people get fooled by bad movies... well, for a while anyway. Time seems to out the shit one way or another. I got a lot of word-for-word flack just like yours for Episode II, my friend. Who's embarrassed now?

Besides, what currency is there in being equivocal about stuff like this? "Some was good, some was bad, I liked it" is exactly what passes for criticism in "everyone's entitled to their opinion" city. Y'know, that place where people hug a lot and butterflies fly out of peoples' asses and shit. I'm not paid to be equivocal, objective, any of that stuff - if you like "critics" that pretend that they are those things, you're a doorknob. Here's a flash: no one is objective. At all. Ever. Your insincere belief that anyone is objective is a deeply dangerous kind of cupidity.

Last thing - among the most scathing two-star reviews you've ever read?

So you haven't read the reviews here for Avatar, Twilight: Eclipse, The Karate Kid (2010), Robin Hood (2010), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Public Enemies, Rachel Getting Married, Watchmen, Doubt, Timecrimes, The Young Savages... 2-star reviews are negative reviews, yes? - there's a lot wrong with these fucking pictures and, generally speaking, that's all they have in common.

Dirty pool is trying to find a common theme that ties together the stuff I hate beyond its quality. Dirty pool is suggesting that I came to the Inception table with anything less than a raging hard on for a movie to save this shit-poor year at the movies. Inception was literally the only movie that I had any expectation or hope for this summer - I'm steadfast against the Dark Knight backlash, I thought Inception would kick my metaphysical ass. Imagine my surprise when it's derivative, boring, and unimaginative. That being said, I went into Twilight 3 expecting it to suck eggs. Imagine my surprise again when I liked both movies about the same.

Dirty pool is also pretending that people have been loving this movie for just two days. Fact is, most of my colleagues have been loving this movie since it was announced last year.

Walter_Chaw said...

"Idioglossia", by the way, doesn't mean "simplistic". It reveals a lot though, that that's your contextual connotation. You're the one looking down at my readership - I don't do that. It hasn't made me all that popular because, given the success of condescending movies, certain kinds of people like to be looked down upon.

But it has made me consistent. You beat me out of the bushes this one time because you came in here to challenge my integrity. I guess this is me saying fuck you, Charlie, Inception is a two-star marginal failure lacking in originality and suspense - if it was great, I'd be at the front of the parade. It's nicer out there.

And if anyone's calling names it's you with your misquotation of Hamlet and Queen G referring to her play-within-a-play doppelganger, referring to me, methinks - and you're doing it passively like a little douchebag liberal pseudo-intellectual bitch.

And anonymously besides. Did I forget coward?

How's that for a line for ya?

Patrick said...

So... I understood "idioglossia" as describing how the film uses / appropriates its own words, the criticism being that it uses these not to establish meaning, but just to be different and instead of offering depth.

I hope that wasn't too far off base.

I have another question: say Inception is "Smart film for stupid people" (just like I would put the Dark Knight into that same category) – would that be bad, per se? Or would a blockbuster that makes a lot of money and at least has some smarts to it be actually a good thing in allowing for more smart/smart films, and in giving even a less educated audience something to think about?

jer fairall said...

High-five to Kurt for mentioning After Hours. No film better captures the paranoia, randomness or absurdity of a dream state, to my mind. Seeing the title Shutter Island next to it actually nails part of what makes it such an inferior film for me: it's obsessive need to explain itself.

Watched Aguirre again recently with Herzog's commentary, and found it interesting that he characterizes the film as a "fever dream". Plenty of dreamlike elements there--the monkeys and the boat in the tree, obviously, though the haunting scene of the horse abandoned by the shore remains the one I can never get out of my head. I find it interesting that I lent the DVD to a friend recently who says he's been dreaming of swarms of monkeys ever since watching it.

Arlvy said...

"A smart film for stupid people?"

Ok, now to me, that question is asking for a film that stupid people believe is smart or deep etc etc but isn't actually any of those things. Cod profundity as it were.
The Dark Knight isn't in that category though of course there's still plenty of stupid people who will enjoy it (though I'll bet their complaints about the film will range from "Batman's stupid voice" to them thinking The Joker's plans throw up plotholes when in fact The Joker just relys on the systemic faultlines inherent in any largely corrupt city(-state).)

I guess "A smart film for stupid people" could also mean a film that smuggles it's own intelligence undercover of 'splosions or violence and in that category I'd put something like A History of Violence. But I wouldn't put TDK there because it doesn't ever really appease the "ooh look, shiny" set save for one or two sequences across a pretty hefty running time.

Patrick said...

No, Arlvy, I actually meant The Dark Knight to be the first kind, a film not as deep as people seem to think.

Arlvy said...

Damnit, just posted a longish response to Patrick and it got swallowed up.
Here's the review I wrote a couple of years ago instead hopefully it at least clarifies why I think it's genuinely smart movie:

The thing is, it doesn't feel like a Batman movie, now that's not down to the opinion (as I’ve read here and there) that Batman isn't in it enough. But rather because it doesn't behave like any superhero film I've ever seen. Nolan has really pulled away everything that's been standard to these kinds of films and got to the fundamentals. What makes criminals and vigilantes tick, what makes them afraid? What price is justice worth and who can deliver it? It's one of the important points of the film that no matter the facts of Dent's case against the mob, if people know he became a killer the case falls apart. Everything is built on a cult of personality nowadays. The Joker is a cult, the young thugs and the mentally ill being "the minds that the Joker attracts". Batman is a cult - with his hapless copycats inspired by his actions. Symbols lack nuance and as such they are corruptible. It sounds like the opposite of Begins message but it's just the logical conclusion.
I think the key line in the film is The Joker's "I'm not a monster I'm just a head of the curve" In my opinion not only is it the one truthful thing he says in the film it's the essence of the last scene in Begins. In that film Batman was the man ahead of the curve, the criminals knew nothing like him. But now it's Batman dealing with something he doesn't grasp. For all his noble intentions and violent righteousness he isn't smart enough to see that unless you have a scorched earth policy the opposition will evolve, even though he's one of the key points of the graph charting the escalation of the dark side. It’s the enantiodromia of the coming Dark Age.
Dent, well the man is a dick from the get go, right? Tell me no-one was actually rooting for him, please? A square jawed politician with a martyrdom complex is not going to save anyone. In trying to triangulate where Batman, The Joker and Two Face would stand in relation to each other what I got was the idea that Two Face is the child of Batman and The Joker. In the sense that he is partly an agent of chaos but also a believer in some sort of justice and retribution for the person he lost.
Heath Ledger's The Joker might be read as Al Qaeda etc but he can be read as The US too. If Batman was the mob's 9/11 then The Joker is surely the law breaking nihilistic scum in the White House destroying any idea of real justice. The fact that the Joker attracts troubled young men could be an allegory for the thousands of people who joined the military after 9/11 And then there’s the second most important line in the film, when Bruce asks Alfred how they found the outlaw in Burma and he says they burnt the jungle down, well he could could easily have said “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”
Nolan covers the feelings and processes of what happens when reality shifts to incorporate heretofore unimagined horrors and how some can make hay while it happens.
Batman isn't made to look cool all the time, he looks kinda goofy sometimes because someone dressing up like that in reality would look goofy. Nolan wasn't interested in appeasing 14 yr old boys here, not at all in fact. I'm just waiting to read someone moaning it was an anti climax because the boats didn't blow up or there wasn't a prolonged fight with a recently disfigured mentally ill man at the end.
It’s superbly edited, the fight scenes are still chaotic but you can tell who’s who a lot easier, the practical effects are amazing, the best I’ve seen in the last 15 years.

Jefferson Robbins said...

Kurosawa's Dreams comes to mind, although I haven't seen it in years. My favorite vignette is either the world inside the Van Gogh painting or the army officer confronting the regiment he led to their deaths.

Haven't seen Inception, avoiding spoilers, so I can't come in swinging. Sorry.

Jefferson Robbins said...

Oh, and Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.. It's a narcotic dream, a not-at-all pleasant one.

Richard said...

Inception reminded me most of Dark City. It's not explicitly about dreams, I guess, but is about perception in a similar way and also does that whole thing where shit goes boom in an ever-changing slo-mo world. However, if Inception is in category 2 then Dark City goes in 3.

Patrick said...

The Dark Knight has a boat of convicts where the big bad black prisoner throws the remote control overboard and shows us prejudiced folk how wrong we are, a scene where I feel like Nolan had gotten a big iron sledgehammer and bludgeoned me repeatedly with it.

It has a terrific moment where Batman becomes Big Brother and then immediately negates it with the off switch so that God/Morgan Freeman can pull the plug. You know, because losing civil rights is okay as long as it's the good guys taking them away.

It has a great scene where Batman goes into a foreign country to extradite a prisoner, a moment that is immediately afterwards forgotten. It has Batman being loosed on the Joker in the interview room, beating him to a pulp before getting exactly what the Joker wants him to get without it being adressed again later.

In that regard, the film is afraid of its own possible smarts, it shies away from really following through on anything, it just throws stuff out there and maybe you nod and take the Joker as Al Quaida, or as the US Government (which would make Batman into 9/11?), or as a metaphor for filmmaking with Nolan's Batman pitted against studio executives who just want to see the screen burn, or maybe you just not and read it as a right-wing story for unlimited government power – or as a left-wing cautionary tale? It's arbitrary.

Patrick said...


It has in the Joker someone with supernatural abilities to set up situations. It has the woman in a refrigerator. It has the Joker attacking a party from which the film simply cuts away – did he kill everyone there after Batman went out to save the one woman he would later lose anyway? Who knows, who cares? It's lazy.

And then in the end, the film has the gall to somehow talk about public opinion about Harvey Dent as if we'd seen public opinion before in that movie, just to take a last stab at depth and a tragic hero, an undeserved epilogue spoken by Oldman on top.

(Also, it's not about the case being lost, the way I read it, but about people needing hope, and Harvey Dent being the epitome of hope. You know, like Barack Obama mobilizing millions of people and then when he proves to be just another industry-friendly power-hungry politician, finding a scapegoat so people don't get disillusioned.)

The Dark Knight is not about characters, it's not about politics, all it does is tossing out several different tidbits of psychology or sociology, not caring what sticks, and hoping you get suckered into it. It has great individual shots (or should I say snatches?) but also incomprehensible moments of editing.

And when you come down to it and ask, what does it mean, well anyone's guess is a good as anyone else's. Now, Adorno would probably say that the only true work of art is one that foists no meaning on the audience, but there's a difference between films that transport meaning without handholding you (Synechdoche, NY) and films that don't mean anything. Just because that stain on your cracker looks like the Virgin Mary doesn't make the cracker into a relic.

The Dark Knight is an interesting film, but ultimately a wasted opportunity because it neither appeases pure-blooded blockbuster fans nor those who want more. It is an artifact of its time, with the torture discourse and wiretapping and terrorism and so on, but it doesn't have anything of its own to say about all of that. The silliness of Bale's voice and the grandeur of Ledger's joker may blind you to it, though.

An interesting case you point out in your review is Harvey Dent. You say he's a dick from the get go. I'd say he's an honest man believing in justice and the rule of law, but also burdened with hubris, one of the classic tragic flaws. But the film doesn't give much for me and you to argue about. Is Dent a corrupt politician playing the part, or is he true before he gets burned? We get neither the unmasking nor a tragic story, we just get the plot points and may think what we want to.

The joker tells different origin stories, which is a great idea but also a good image for the whole film. Think what you want, Nolan/the Joker doesn't care. And from Walter's review, that sounds a little like Inception to me. Also, I just heard someone explain Inception as a personal story mirroring Nolan's relationship to filmmaking, with Mal being his wife and long-time collaborateur. Make of that what you will.

Kyle said...

I saw it, I (think I) liked it, I have a lot more thoughts I'll compile here for no one to read tomorrow, time to sleep.

Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo said...

What do you guys think of the theory of the entirety of Inception taking place in a dream? That it has more in common with 8 1/2, with Leo's character as a stand-in for Nolan dealing with his film-making process. And how the characters in Inception are analogous of the relationship between filmmakers (dream-makers) and the audience (dreamers).

Max said...

Get ready for some fancy footwork...
While I agree on the point that Bad Lieutenant:POCNO is arguably not as cohesive as, say, Fitzcarraldo, I would argue that it's still leaps and bounds (in terms of actually asking something of its audience) than say Grizzly Man (though I liked that movie). I don't automatically like something just because a particular name was attached to it: I loathe Even Dwarves (sp?) Started Small. BL:POCNO presents a deceptively simple set-up and subverts preconceived notions regarding the subject matter at hand: namely the futility in attempting to find a moral equivalence to this particular character's actions to an average set of personal ethics (of course I'm making a big generalization here). The audience is forced to confront their ideas about the function of (law and) order in the face of direct proof (Katrina, in this case) that our environment is not merely indifferent to our presence. There are several facets of the plot that tie into this central concept.
BL:POCNO has its wacky moments, true. It didn't emotionally move me as much as Wild Blue Yonder or Up. But I can't shake the idea that there's an audience that can take away only a strange performance and a few trippy laughs, and another audience that can take away a lot of thematic complexity and emotional depth. I don't think that a film needs to be an elaborate labyrinth (such as The 5 Obstructions) to be "smart."
To be immodest, I consider myself a relatively smart guy, and if a film gives me sincere pause to ruminate on its significance (as opposed to, say, the bullshit sycophantic "reviews" of Inception) then I would call it smart.
I'd revise my list to say that a Stupid Movie for a Smart Person, as opposed to the NZ neon-noir of Dangerous Orphans would be better represented by The American Astronaut.

The Brave Little Poster said...

"Stain on your cracker"= the name of my first album.

Does someone up there actually like Batman's voice in TDK?

And did someone else up there get called a coward for posting a comment without a name attached?

Haha, internet forums, true tests of bravery.

"The only thing of real interest in the picture is that it appears to be trying to define itself (that is, the medium of film itself) as an analog to the dream life--a pursuit it shares with far, far superior essays of the uncanny like Mulholland Dr., Last Year in Marienbad, and, yeah, Synecdoche, NY."

But Mulholland Dr., Last Year in Marienband, and Synecdoche, NY aren't blockbusters. Is it possible that Inception isn't only interesting for defining itself as an analog to the dream life, but for asserting a relationship between the dream life and the blockbuster? Something about Hollywood's colonization of the subconscious (duh duh duh)...

In other words, I took Nolan's choice of the action/heist formula as just that, an artistic choice, rather than a cop out. I could be giving the film/filmmaker too much credit here, but after TDK, I don't think it's much of a stretch to say Nolan is highly aware of the blockbuster as a genre, and enjoys working with that awareness (like any genre director). The most interesting question the film brought up for me was the question of the blockbuster auteur: is it OK for an artist to choose to use "broad, garish strokes" as a means of commenting on the power of that style?

What does it mean to understand the dream life as a heist film?

Alex Jackson said...

But Mulholland Dr., Last Year in Marienband, and Synecdoche, NY aren't blockbusters. Is it possible that Inception isn't only interesting for defining itself as an analog to the dream life, but for asserting a relationship between the dream life and the blockbuster? Something about Hollywood's colonization of the subconscious (duh duh duh)...

You mean its mechanical plot-driven view of the subconscious is a comment on how the blockbuster (and I guess the "Digital Age") has destroyed the mystery of the human mind?

Eh, could be.

This strikes me as Nolan's weakest film so far, but then again I thought that about the Prestige, for similiar reasons, and that one grew on me.

The thing about the Prestige is that it was a very plot driven film, with lots of twists and curves, but the novelty of the surprise ending doesn't gel with the emotional weight of what we're seeing. It's still vibrating long after we've seen the solution to the "puzzle". The film, I've been told and I think I concur, is basically how the transition of magic to science transformed the amusing into the existentially terrifying.

I don't feel any such tension in Inception. I really liked that "white blood cell" idea and how the dreams in the movie are so banal that the line between dream and reality is very naturally and effortlessly blurred. I consider that proof that left-brained Nolan can bring something interesting to the "dream world" genre. (Also, I think that you "Inception haters" have somewhat underestimated the combined wattage of Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

But yeah, the whole thing is rather anesthetic. Following the story is the only thing I found challenging about it.

I guess the film's "heart" is localized in the "dead wife" thread and that doesn't work in part because Shutter Island has unfortunately rendered it redundant, but also because we don't really like the Leonardo DiCaprio character and this appears to be a transparent attempt to make him palatable.

I basically said as much when recounting the film to my wife. She was really turned off when I told her that it was about corporate spies and the film doesn't have any real villains.

"Why should I care about this guy", she asked me.

"Well, his wife committed suicide and he never sees his kids".

The blandness and the cynicism don't gel together like they did in The Prestige. They just stay as blandness and cynicism.

Paul S. said...

Alex, looking at the movie that straightforwardly does certainly make it seem bland. Check out what Devin at Chud says about it's hidden meanings - he makes a very compelling case to look deeper into the movie, and thereby opens it up to far more interesting interpretations that make the film not just less bland, but turns it into Nolan's most thought provoking film yet.


Kyle said...

thanks for the link. i've been having a harder time writing about inception than i thought i would (personal problems and chronic depression don't help, of course) but between the several new films i've seen in the past week - exit through the gift shop (a spectacular invective against the nature of art appreciation in modern society), life during wartime (an interesting failure) - inception is the one i can't get out of my head. sorry for the run-on sentence.

Alex Jackson said...

Alex, looking at the movie that straightforwardly does certainly make it seem bland. Check out what Devin at Chud says about it's hidden meanings - he makes a very compelling case to look deeper into the movie, and thereby opens it up to far more interesting interpretations that make the film not just less bland, but turns it into Nolan's most thought provoking film yet.


No, fuck that man. Fuck it. I take offense to the idea that I watched the film superficially or I wasn't receptive to it or whatever.

I wrote: I really liked that "white blood cell" idea and how the dreams in the movie are so banal that the line between dream and reality is very naturally and effortlessly blurred. I consider that proof that left-brained Nolan can bring something interesting to the "dream world" genre.

Meaning that I understood that the "banality" of the dreams blurred the line between reality and dream and I understand that it could very well all be a dream and that Nolan's banality was an artistic choice. In short, this essay isn't really getting me to "look deeper".

So dreaming is filmmaking and filmmaking is dreaming. So what? You know, I hated Inland Empire for equating the two. There is a sense in which if you see dreams in filmmaking terms you are neutering the real power of dreams. Inland Empire is the electronic sheep that androids must dream of. Full of signs and signfiers but meaning nothing. The "movieness" of Mulholland Drive at least existed as "movieness" and wasn't self-cannibalism in its self-reference.

Faraci unfortunately references Fellini's 8 1/2 which I find a considerably better
(and more thought provoking) blurring of "dream" and "filmmaking" than Inception. The line it draws between dreams and filmmaking is that they both attempt to order and organize one's personal emotional and cognitive chaos. Dreams and filmmaking are shown to have a necessary function and their own parallels to an even broader spiritual yearning.

Faraci reveals Inception to be a mere parlor trick in comparison. Why is it important for this character to have this dream? Faraci says it's so that he can come to terms for losing his wife, but going through a dream like this to accomplish that seems like trying to kill a termite with a sledgehammer. (And why exactly did he lose her? If she really died then how did she die and under what circumstances? If she left, why did she leave? Are those really irrelevant questions?)

You see, the problem is that I can still buy into all of that and the film still doesn't mean a thing to me. Where is the ethical dimension of The Prestige or The Dark Knight?

So, the wife kills herself because she thinks she knows that she's living in a dream. Cillian Murphy is made to believe, through his created dream, that his father really loved him enough for him to not continue his legacy.

The question we should be asking: Is this thinking nihilistic or merely pragmatic? I then see the film a step up and a step down from The Dark Knight, which argued that the only meaningful heroism is the heroism of martyrdom. By branching this out into the realm of metaphysics, the dillema is abstracted and made less important.

What's reality and what's a dream is, indeed, the kind of smart question that only stupid people ask.

Gorgon said...

Can I suggest that all these suggestions about stupid this for smart that and vice versa is the kinda pseudo-smart crap only stupid people waste their time considering.

Kyle said...

first of all,

batman = bush
joker = "terrists"
alfred = karl rove
lucius fox = rumsfeld
latina detective = powell

second of all,

a second viewing of inception finds the work much improved, especially with the "dreams as film" approach that's been discussed here and on CHUD taken into consideration. that said, i think that my positive reception came from experiencing it as a strictly academic exercise, rather than an emotional one. clearly none of us were really touched by the daddy issues or the more prominent dead wife guilt, yet one of the film's lines is, as chaw pointed out, "the stronger the issues, the more powerful the catharsis." it's a dead giveaway as to the purpose of this seemingly cluttered mess of concepts - what is more cinematic than daddy issues (spielberg's trade) or dead wife guilt? where else but the movies, not dreams, do we witness the car chase in the rain, the paranoid hotel intrigue (the mr. charles sequence is one of nolan's finest moments, methinks), a shootout at a fucking snowbase - why not? the top continues to spin until the cut to black, until the "dream" is truly over.

Kyle said...

i accept that such a reading could be considered the end of the argument for alex - it still won't mean a thing to him, there's no ACTUAL catharsis, no "ethical dimension" as he says. but me, i enjoy looking at films through this reflexive "movies as movies" lens. i'm a tremendous fan of brian de palma, does it show?

John said...

@ Gorgon:

"Stupid for stupid" is a film that is completely without worth, but appreciated by some nevertheless. Master of Disguise is an example.

"Smart for stupid" is a film with intellectual substance that is peppered with action sequences and crude effects to make it palatable to "the masses". The Dark Knight and Se7en are examples.

"Smart for smart" is as above, but without the violence. It takes patience to get through these ones.
Synedoche, New York is an example.

"Stupid for smart" is a film that is intended to be silly, funny and exhilarating. It is often the same as "smart for stupid". Kick-Ass is an example.

Patrick said...

...and now we're in time wasting mode because I read this totally different than John:

Stupid for Stupid is a film that has nothing at all to say and makes no pretensions towards it, a piece of cultural garbage. See: Gamer

Smart for Stupid is a film that has some promise, but dare not follow through on that and therefore *lacks* substance – it is widely hailed as smart, though it's really not that smart at all. See: Inception

Smart for Smart is a film not afraid of its implications, a film takes its potential seriously. It totally does not have to lack violence. And since people say Inception was a great film about filmmaking nowadays, here's some recent counter programming: Inglourious Basterds.

Stupid for Smart is a film that doesn't talk down to its audience but nevertheless doesn't go for substance and depth. It is entertainment in a form where smart people don't feel embarrassed liking it, or where they don't feel pressured to shut off their brains. See: Get Smart.

Nyarlathotep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Jackson said...

And yet a third interpretation:

A "stupid movie for stupid people" is a movie celebrated by a segment of the population that you see as being beneath you. Pretty straight forward, my example was Boondock Saints.

I interpret "smart movie for stupid people" as meaning a genuinely smart movie that has something to appeal to stupid people but has depths that can be better appreciated as they get smarter. I agree very much with John's interpretation, I guess, just that I would want to stress that the Smart for Stupid isn't compromised and is not itself a stupid movie. It works on different levels. I said Fight Club, but The Dark Knight is a good example.

Inception kind of fits in also, though I think calling that Smart for Stupid suggests a different definition of Smart for Stupid. Arguing metaphysics, if reality is perception or if exists independent of perception, has some meat to it; but it is still just a schoolboy's game since the answer doesn't have any impact on how we live our life. It doesn't matter.

Same with arguing semiotics, I guess, though I don't know if people actually argue semiotics. I know enough to know that it's not important and like I said, these are smart problems that only stupid people argue about.

I'm still subscribing to the first definition though I'm toying with this second one.

"Smart for Smart" is the dangerous stuff. Of course anybody who answers these questions automatically believes that they are smart. Gorgon is probaby correct that this whole conversation is very much "smart for stupid". A "Smart for Smart" movie pushes you, very sincerely, to your absolute limits. It's a movie that you haven't yet conquered or figured out. You should be defensive of it when people dismiss it. Because after all, your "smart for smart" movie is a smarter person's "stupid for stupid"! My pick was Marat/Sade though the popular answer of Synecdoche is a very good one too.

Everybody is wrong about "stupid for smart" though. These are "bad" movies that smart people can create elaborate defenses for in explaining why they are only bad to the untrained eye.

People smarter than "stupid for stupid" but not as smart as you will see these movies as just stupid. Because you are so damn smart though, you will know how to read these things through a semi-ironic prism.

My pick was Signs, though much more adventurous souls may pick Lady in the Water. Brian De Palma movies work pretty well. Basically, the low brow usually likes these movies and the high brow is able to like them. They alienate the middlebrow. It's for either the extremely naive or the extremely sophisticated.

So "stupid for smart" is sometimes mistaken for "stupid for stupid" and is mistaken for "smart for stupid" even more often.

I took offense to BL:POCNO being called a "smart for smart" instead of a "stupid for smart" because you know, I think you need to be kind of detached from the movies in order for the film to work. I cannot see it as being as pure a work of art as No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, or Synecdoche.

Alex Jackson said...

Here's the test: if it's truly a "smart for smart" movie you should be enraged when people call it "stupid for stupid" as though they had just said your baby is ugly.

If your response is just a condescending smile and a shake of the head, like they hadn't quite learned how to appreciate it, then what you have is a "stupid for smart".

Max said...

If your initial argument that BL: POCNO being a "stupid for smart" film is based upon the premise that its positive reception is colored by Werner Herzog being somewhat in vogue as a director, then could that argument not be applied to No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood or Synecdoche, NY? Certainly all three of those directors could be considered to be “hip” at one point in time or another. While I agree that all three of those movies are truly moving and destined to be classics, I find your argument that "you have to be kind of detached" to be hypocritical if you intend to always be so offended by someone denigrating them. Do I care whether or not you agree with me on the issue of BL:POCNO? Yes, in the sense that I enjoy reading your reviews and I think you provide interesting insights. But I don't presume to know everything about the movies I care about: that's why I read reviews. You have to care about a film in to some degree in order to write about it, but that's precisely why I would re-watch a film, even if I didn't care for it so much.

Dan said...

Joining this meme rather late, but these would be my 'dream film' choices:

1. What Dreams May Come
2. Minority Report
3. Belle de Jour
4. Dreamscape

Alex Jackson said...

If your initial argument that BL: POCNO being a "stupid for smart" film is based upon the premise that its positive reception is colored by Werner Herzog being somewhat in vogue as a director, then could that argument not be applied to No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood or Synecdoche, NY? Certainly all three of those directors could be considered to be “hip” at one point in time or another.

Eh, I can imagine that people who dislike the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson could like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. They strike me as much more sincere and less "movie brattish" than their earlier work. Liking something such as Raising Arizona or Boogie Nights leaves you much less exposed. Synecdoche is very difficult stuff, but ultimately its "braininess" and use of artifice doesn't distance us from the material and instead extrapolates something that would have otherwise been left hidden.

Herzog's Lieutenant though... I think it's a stupid movie for smart people largely because of the ending. The deliberate laziness in trotting out fix after fix to all the Lieutenant's problems is as alienating as the last laugh in Murnau's Last Laugh.

That's being a little reductive though, there is something in the writing and the very way the thing is blocked, shot, and edited that suggests "direct-to-video pot boiler"; but I can't dismiss it with those terms. There's definitely something there, but it's something I think I'd have to put a lot of elbow grease into discovering.

Would we try and justify it or look for deeper meaning if Herzog's name wasn't above the title? I don't know. I'd like to think so.

I should ask my Mom what she thought of it.

Patrick said...

Finally saw Inception... and I disagree with your review. It pains me to say this, since I was pretty much convinced this would be a two-star film.

It's not perfect, no way – the action sequences are too unexciting for that –, but at least it's something I can point to for those postmodernist idiots I know who always go around saying reality might have started to exist mere moments ago or similar bullshit (you know, God could have planted those fossils to trick us into believing evolution). And I can say, see the spinning top? See how it cuts before it would fall? Because it doesn't matter if it does. It doesn't matter if this world is just the dream of a sleeping hamster – without evidence to the contrary, we treat it as reality.