March 19, 2006

Notes from the Trenches

Spent about an hour with Wim Wenders this week and it was immensely gratifying. Can't guarantee the interview will read as gratifyingly, but I felt as though he and I really hit it off. He told a few interesting Werner Herzog stories (reminding me that I’ll feel complete in a lot of ways in this career should I get to do a long-form interview with the guy) and we talked about his time as an etcher’s apprentice in France during the height of the Cinemateque Francais. I love Wenders’ work, tending to be an apologist even for the pieces that get critically mauled. I never completely understood the hostility towards The End of Violence for instance, and we spent some time talking about Bill Pullman and then his favorite film of last year. Bet you can guess what it was: makes perfect sense if you’re familiar with Wenders’ stuff.

Light screening week – at least it was for me – but I did get a chance to take in the Dardennes Brothers’ The Child and Nicole Holofcenter’s Friends With Money. This week should find me at peeks for the new Spike Lee Joint, Thanks for Smoking and Academy Award-winner Tsotsi, all that contingent on the alleged “record snowfall” that’s supposed to come tonight, holding off or, as is often the case, just never developing.
Look for reviews of the first season of “Grey’s Anatomy” and the second season of “Arrested Development” sooner than later (so long as all these drugs hold out) – the hell of writing on “Grey’s Anatomy” isn’t that it’s a tough nut to crack, but that there are so many extras on there that getting through all of it is a little like touching my tongue to a weasel carcass. I do like to refer to the show now as “Puked a Little in My Mouth: Season One”. My wife wondered why – until she watched one-and-two-thirds episodes.

Speaking of which – our second child is due on April 10, a week ahead of schedule. Just another reason/excuse the writing/screening’s been a little spotty to start off 2006.

Led a discussion post-screening of the Israeli film Yellow Asphalt from a few years ago, directed by some yahoo named Danny Verete. Fair to say that I hate this film in every way that it’s possible to hate a film, and the discussion felt like a thunderstorm with me the lightning rod. It’s tough to do pictures that others program, sometimes; an uncomfortable evening all around. Next month in this series, though, we’re doing Grave of the Fireflies so it all evens out. If you haven’t seen this film, you’ve gotta’. This is also the series that, last year, allowed me to program Takeshi Kitano’s Hana-bi which has become one of my favorite films of all time. Early next month, a deal’s come through for me to do a one-shot with A History of Violence at a smaller library branch. Also working on a deal to do movie-talks at a local Starbucks which, with their partnering with Lion’s Gate this year, could lead to something big. A boy can dream.

“Masters of Horror” is finally coming out on video courtesy Anchor Bay. I can’t help but want to get the whole shebang at once on bootleg off eBay, though. Anyone out there have a Tivo and a willingness to dub off a copy of the entire run? I’d be glad to repay with a couple of promo t-shirts and press kits for stupid movies.

I’m a big fan of Stuart Gordon’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptations in particular. Anyone seen Dagon? Begs the question of great “unknown” films by “known” filmmakers: something like Coppola’s Rain People for instance, or Targets by Bogdanovich.

Here’s this week’s capture:

Hot off the Presses (March 19) -

Catch Alex's excellent look at the cult of Shirley Temple in his reviews of Dimples and Mad Hot Ballroom and Bill's review of the great-but-wait-for-the-director's-extended-cut DVD of Peter Jackson's King Kong. Travis, meanwhile, takes on the Jap inanity of Prime and Bill tackles Egoyan's insane Where the Truth Lies. And then there's my not entirely pleasant interview with Robert Towne.

Hot off the Presses (March 21) -

The omnibus review of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Arrested Development", now on-site along with Travis' take on Occupation: Dreamland and Bill's specs on Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro.

Hot off the Presses (March 22) -

Travis kicks The Losers right in the shortpants and Bill does the DVD treatment on our latest FFC Must-Own, Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale. I did intervew Mr. Baumbach a few months ago and was sure that he was gonna get a little Oscar lovin' for his screenplay (and Jeff Daniels for his turn) because I, sir, am an idiot.

Screening of Inside Man last night during which some epileptic retard kicked my chair until I threatened to shove it up his ass and, tonight, of Thank You For Smoking during which the smug, self-congratulatory audience for these kinds of films, proceeded to pat themselves on the back for knowing that smoking is bad for you. Sort of made the greater ironies of a picture about manipulation and misdirection just that much more poignant. Throughout, whenever there was any kind of sex scene, some young woman embarrass-shouted "GEEZ!" which made me wonder how it was that someone so very liberal could be so very hung-up about fucking. Geez, indeed.


Anonymous said...

Whatever that movie is, Walter, that red-and-white polka-dot dress is going to haunt my nightmares.

Alex, your dissection of Dimples and its modern reviews reminds me of a bit of time spent with the recent Harold Lloyd DVD Collection. There certainly is no comparison between the films of Lloyd and Temple, but your comments about contemporary reviews about early 20th century films brought to mind Haunted Spooks (1920). Basic plot: Boy and girl get married, must spend the night in supposedly haunted house to get an inheritance, villainous uncle tries to drive them out. Of course, the title should partially give away the villainous uncle's intentions: spread some rumors about ghosts amongst the black servants within the mansion to foment fear around the house. Knocking knees, hiding in closets and "black dialect" title cards (complete with drawn Sambo caricatures) ensue. Lloyd is hilarious as always, but there's that perpetual stain.

What's really intriguing about the DVD, however, is the audio commentary for Haunted Spooks. The commentators (two of whom are Lloyd's granddaughters) do mention the racial stereotyping, as a product of its time. About five seconds' worth, really: "You'd never see this in today's films," I believe the moderator says off the cuff. Ten seconds, maximum.

Now, there's something that must be said about this film: it was the first Harold Lloyd film after the actor had two of his fingers blown off by a bomb during a publicity shoot. So there's a simultaneous problem and saving grace in a commentary: a commentary must exist, simply because of its historical significance, but it also provides an easy scapegoat away from the content onscreen. It's an important topic, but the film is twenty minutes long, and they clearly stretch the idea to the breaking point: I believe that it's truly, painfully noticeable right around the time when they start talking about how much more "joyously" Lloyd performed in the scenes post-surgery, simply because he was back to work. Probably true, but the elephant remains in the room.

Of course, at the same time, from an unlearned perspective there may be only so much you can say about 1920's racism, but you must really rent the disc, watch the film, and listen to the commentary to understand how awkward it can get (Volume 3, Disc 1 of the Collection). Essential listening, I think, as an example for what Alex is speaking out against in the review: unspoken embarrassment and attempted ignorance of a racist past.

Anonymous said...

All I can think about when someone brings up Shirley Temple is my shrill feminazi bitch of an Adolescent Literature teacher on her insane tangent about how the stupid and insipid Corliss Archer stories were made into stupid-er and inspid-er and misogynistic Shirley Temple films and the class's complete confusion as to what the hell she was talking about (I'd wager that half of them don't even know who Shirley Temple was, by the way, is she still alive?)

Scott said...

Since Spike was brought up, I'll just mention that I saw him interviewed the other day on BBC'S HARD TALK EXTRA, and he said that, as an academy member, he voted for MUNICH.

And from what I've heard, INSIDE MAN is said to be pretty damn cool...

(Then again, I also think GIRL 6 and SHE HATE ME are genuinely interesting, offbeat films.)

Anonymous said...

I saw Shirley Temple in one of her adult roles, in the 1948 John Wayne/Henry Fonda movie Fort Apache. I guess she did passable work, but what I noticed was that she was hot hot hot.

Bill C said...

Oh shit mate, that cap is from what I got you for your upcoming birthday! Back to the drawing board...

Chad Evan said...

Is The Rain People good? I've been wanting to see it for a while, but can't find a copy.

Masters of Horror is worth a look, but it is very hit or miss. The best episodes were Dantes' political satire "Homecoming", Lucky McKees' lesbian-themed "Sick Girl," and Carpenters' super-gory "Cigarette Burns." Tobe Hoopers' "Dance of the Dead" was easily the biggest dissapointment, a seizure-inducing piece of shit that looks to have been influenced by Tony Scott. Was Tobe a one-hit wonder? Was the brutal verite style of the Chainsaw Massacre a happy accident of economic necessity, like the cheap b&w that gave Night of the Living Dead that unnerving newsreel feeling?

Great unknown films from legendary directors:
Hustons' The Dead, an elegant take on my favorite short story.

I retain a stubborn fondness for Paynes' oft ignored or maligned Citizen Ruth.

Fords' The Horse Soldiers.

I don't know if any Hitchcock qualifies as "unknown," but I am a fan to varying degrees of Rope, Frenzy, Family Plot and even Topaz.

Jefferson Robbins said...

Shirely Temple graduated from little darlin' to hot hot hot to Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the UN. Contrary to her child-star reputation, she was unable to engender world peace.

Walter: If you haven't seen Dagon, it's essentially the same approach as all Gordon's other Lovecraft flicks -- the bare bones of the story "Shadow Over Innsmouth" used as a framework, with a lot of sex, gore, and sexy gore ladled on top. In this one, an American dot-com millionaire and his girlfriend (Racquel Meroño, speaking of hot hot hot) sail into a coastal Spanish fishing village and encounter the worshipers of the titular fish-god. Filmed in Spain; a nice gloomy mood with lots of screaming. It's a fun little ride.

Congratulations on your coming iteration, by the way. Two kids in a house where Dagon is featured viewing! They're gonna be the most interesting high school students ever.

Stephen Reese said...

Jude. Love to Bill, props to Walt - congrats on the nearing kid, dude!

Walter_Chaw said...

Hey - congrats, Stephen, on identifying a still from Michael Winterbottom's exceptional Jude - an adaptation, of course, of Thomas Hardy's novel.

Hardy, seems to me, to be particularly sympathetic to adaptations with Winterbottom's The Claim (from The Mayor of Casterbridge), another of my faves.

Sitting at the piano is Kate Winslet in what was, until Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, perhaps her defining performance. She's marvy in Heavenly Creatures, too, of course.

Anonymous said...

Ah, of course! How could I forget (somehow I missed that little two sentence paragraph in the post)! A hearty congratulations to you and the missus, Mr. Chaw. All the best.

Stephen Reese said...

P.S. Thought you guys might enjoy this:

Anonymous said...

Brian Yuzna's Lovecraft flicks are good too, of course everybody love Gordon's movies and why not, From Beyond desperately oh so desperately needs a DVD release and Re-Animator is one of my all time favorites. Isn't Dagon the last film featuring Francisco Rabal?

Bill C said...

From Beyond has actually just been restored and remastered in HiDef and Sony is apparently planning a DVD release for later this year. Monsters HD in the US will be showing that version, a never-before-seen Director's Cut, in June. Tim Lucas did a feature on it over at VIDEO WATCHBLOG last month with images; looks like it's gonna be a gorefest par excellence.

Stephen: Thanks for the link to the Peckinpah piece. Glad it was you who got to guess Jude.

Anonymous said...

Damn, Walter, you're having a kid? It was nice to read your reviews and blog entries. Good luck bro.

Anonymous said...

Good, good, From Beyond is in it's 20th anniversary this year so i figured the time was here for it. The Necronomicon film with Combs as Lovecraft could really use a DVD release too, especially since I no longer own a VCR.

Glad to see some more love for Arrested D around here, I heard Showtime is picking it up...I was joking with my friends about how they could easily crossover Uncle Oscar onto Weeds. Arrested Development is proof that we're in the TV golden age when even the networks had something good and at least took 3 seasons to kill it, Grey's Anatomy is another reminder of how stupid the viewing public still is. Watching both back to back must be like those blocks of Wheel Of Fortune up next to Jeopardy.

There's still HBO, even if the first two episodes of Sopranos Season Six were awful and Six Feet Under is gone.

Alex Jackson said...

I hope that you don't hate Scrubs Walter. In case you do, at least give them credit for definitively skewering Gray's Anatomy before it was even fucking released.

I like Arrested Development, it's just that... it's so clever that it ties itself into a knot. It pretends to be always going somewhere while in fact it never goes anywhere and that's part of the joke. I don't know, I watch it and I wonder why so much energy talent and intelligence is being invested into something so dedicated to being minor.

I absolutely adored Season Five of Sopranos, I thought that they had finally gotten on track after the middling fourth season. Too soon to say much about Season Six, just that the twist at the end of episode one was one of the funniest moments I've seen on TV on a long time. You could argue that the second episode was kind of a weaseling out of it, but still I thought there were some good character-revealing stuff with Tony and AJ.

Still for fuck's sake, why am I not hearing anything about Big Love? I actually considered writing this whole big thing about the first episode. The second episode one was lacking, but wow what an opener. I'm not Mormon, but I actually had sympathy pains. Particularly the fact that the whole culture revolves around sex either suppressing it or using it to procreate, and the fact that polygamy is always seen as this dark facet of their collective unconscious, constantly trying to burrow up to the surface. I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that they sort of regard it like the Germans regard their Nazi past. If the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping didn't actually happen it would have to have been created. Too perfect, the good Mormon Eloi being kidnapped by the bad Mormon Morlock.

The show is cutting and not in a gratioutous or mean way. Which of course makes the cuts go all the deeper. Best show I've seen on TV since Nip/Tuck.

Bill C said...

Alex, man, consider this an open invitation/solicitation to blog about "Big Love". I've been dying to read something substantial about it.

For what it's worth, Walter did touch on "Scrubs" in an earlier draft of that omnibus, essentially wishing it were more sedate. I'm noticing that's a trend in single-camera sitcoms--two new Fox shows ("Free Ride" and "The Loop", which is actually quite funny) are edited and performed at such a breakneck pace that they actually give me heart palpitations.

Anonymous said...

On the evidence of the first episode, “Big Love” has a lot of potential but, I’m hoping for a lot more of the moral ambiguity that made “The Sopranos” so effective. As the family evolves from their “Pilot Show” templates (harried dad, the mom, the flake, the wild child etc...) I hope the writing allows for greater moral complexity and psychological realism. There very well may be some wealthy, polygamous families populated by strong willed, independent-minded women—but, this is certainly not the norm—and struck me primarily as creative timidity. In typical television fashion, it’s crucial that the family is rich and attractive—a choice which I find downright boring (if inevitable) and one of the main reasons I don’t watch a lot of television. It’s a conscious choice to maintain audience empathy with Paxton’s character that I believe will ultimately undo the show without some calculated creative risks. (I.e.-I like Paxton’s character today—I’d hope that I can also hate him as well) However, it’s got some strong stuff—and of course, The Stanton—is that dude ever not an asset?

Admirable that anyone got through a single episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” another show filled with too-pretty walking haircuts and the casual narcissism so often confused for self-awareness. (Its hard bein’ rich, beautiful and smart doncha know) I’m also totally nonplussed by “House”. Stephen Fry is good—but, can anyone believe this show for a second? CSI, with its million-dollar laboratories and high-ranking 22 year old detectives is more credible.

Rich said...

That's Hugh Laurie in House, MD, not Stephen Fry - easy to confuse the two as they've been in tons of shows together. Having grown up in England watching him (and Stephen Fry) quite a lot, I cringe whenever I see him hobbling around on that show spouting dialogue in that shitty accent.

This brings up a question I've often wondered about: do Americans not recognize shitty American accents put on by (usually British) actors or do they just excuse it? Americans are certainly not cast as Brits in English television, especially not in crucial roles on big shows. Perhaps I'm just more aware of it having lived for big spells on both continents, but I find it a highly unnecessary distraction.

Anonymous said...

Re: American accents on American television. The Arrested Development arc with Charlize Theron perfectly addresses this question inversely. When she first appeared I thought to myself "my thats a horrid british accent". Her character turns out to be a "mentally retarded female", and this is not picked up on by the characters (or presumably the audience) because of her british accent.

So I think you can infer from that arc that AD thinks most Americans don't care about accent accuracy, British, American, or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Shitty American accents by Brits are awful, like Jude Law in I Heart Huckabees where he isn't even trying.

The Sopranos Season Five was of course, wonderful as Alex already stated, The Test Dream is the most Lynchian thing not to be directed by David Lynch, and "Long Term Parking" and "Irregular Around The Margins" were my favorite episodes since the Fargo-esque "Pine Barrens". Uncle Junior's pose and exclamation before the episode one twist made up for how weak the rest of the show was and how they tried to make us care about Eugene who had been a background character who had maybe three or four lines up until this season. I still really miss Tony Blundetto and Ralph Cifaretto.

Arrested Development minor? Que? "Oh Tobias, you blowhard!"

Alex Jackson said...

There very well may be some wealthy, polygamous families populated by strong willed, independent-minded women—but, this is certainly not the norm—and struck me primarily as creative timidity. In typical television fashion, it’s crucial that the family is rich and attractive—a choice which I find downright boring (if inevitable) and one of the main reasons I don’t watch a lot of television.

Well, we do see Bill's family on the compound; but the way that I justify the rich polygamists is that the practice of polygamy was retired among Mormons largely because of pressure from the federal government and largely because by doing so the Utah territory could become a state. There is a strong desire to assimilate in with the rest of the country, and strong feelings of guilt when they compromise their core identity and values. I don't see the show as a documentary or an ethnographic study, it's abstractly about Mormons burying this dark but integral aspect of themselves so they can join mainstream society.

So that to begin with is why I like that they live in big houses in the suburbs.

jer fairall said...

The show, then, is a commentary on terrible television and how we were all raised by it like it was a cathode-tube nanny; it's about popular culture in a larger sense (and ironically the series missteps by bringing in Ben Stiller and Martin Short to sketch one-dimensional caricatures at odds with the deceptively-complex Bluths), thus at its best, it's about the universal embarrassment we have with our family dynamics and the difficulties of raising a child.

Wow. I try not to post raves about every single excellent piece of writing that appears on this site, because if I did I'd be doing it frequently, repetitively and boringly, but this was just flat-out brilliant. No one trashes a movie more viciously and poignantly than you, Walter, but I really do think you're at your absolute best in pieces this, highlighting the greatness of things like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,, The Incredibles (can you tell I've been reading the Annual?), "Sports Night" and now "Arrested Development," all of which I enjoy even more in light of your insights into them. I always knew why "Arrested Development" was screamingly funny, for example, but now I know why it's *great*.

Have never seen Grey's Anatomy, and I can't say I intend to start now, even out of curiosity. And is Sandra Oh *really* that bad in the show? I guess I have a kind of soft spot for her on the grounds that a) she's from around here somewhere, b) she was once married to Alexander Payne, and c) she was in Don McKeller's Last Night, a favorite of mine. All varying degrees of greatness-by-association, I admit, but probably enough to cloud my judgement.

Bill C said...

Out of curiosity, did anyone try the sidebar Pop Quiz in the "Grey's" review?

JG Friend said...

On the topic of accents...

Americans don't have them. Well, except for southerners.

And New Yorkers.

And Bostonians.

And people from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Then there's the Carolinas.

But out West here? None.

Alex Jackson said...

I got a 4 out of 6. Misattributed A and C.

Jefferson Robbins said...

My money was on A and D as Cho-speak, but I missed B because it's so inane as to read exactly like bad TV voiceover.

I'd like to throw in: I just saw V for Vendetta, and I'm utterly shocked at how few critics are really getting this film. It's not a masterpiece, but it's the ballsiest big-studio new release in the last year or so. Yet David Denby at the New Yorker seems repulsed at a film that would make a hero out of a masked terrorist (that's been the drumbeat of most of the critics I've read -- offended by the idea, and passing that off as offense to the film as film), and the New York Times said "You want radical? Wait for the next Claire Denis film." Oh, for Christ's sake. And no one has even mentioned my favorite passage in the movie -- the "Valerie" section, which makes the human cost of bigotry far plainer than anything else in the mix.

The only two critics who seem to really have thought about V for Vendetta, and put those thoughts into coherent analysis, are Walter and Ebert. Strange bedfellows.

Anonymous said...

re: British actor, American accent

You know, I've actually been thinking about this for a while and I still don't have any answers. It's rare that I recognize a bad American accent by a British actor--especially if I don't know they're British. Hugh Laurie in House, Clive Owen in Sin City, Jude Law in Huckabees. I've heard people complain about them, but I don't find them the least bit false. Dom West was bad on The Wire, but he was just slipping into his own accent. I can recognize a bad southern accent, but that's it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the assessment of critics and V for Vendetta. I also think that the Ebert review is incredibly bland and like so many 3+ star reviews he writes it contains only exposition, no reason to see the movie or not. I think a lot of the reason why the movie is avoided by critics is that they don't want to come down on the pro-side of a movie about a "Terrorist". Which seems to be precisely the point of the movie, which is to ask "Is a man a "Terrorist" if the victim of terror is the government rather than the populace?" The question is asked against the back drop of Newspeak and government control of speech. That so few critics discuss this feeds the notion that they don't "get it".

I also find Hugo Weaving's performance to be amazing. I found myself staring at the mask and being wowed at how his body language and voice seemed to change the expression that clearly wasn't changing. Both Weaving and McTeigue did a great job of making a static mask say things; where Ebert found the mask a weakness, I thought it was a great strength.

Anonymous said...

V For Vendetta isn't radical -- or good. Audacity doesn't equal insight, which seems to be going around lately American Dreamz and Inside Man are both insane without being successful, which I think describes V For Vendetta to a T. And incidentally, I can't wait for the next Claire Denis movie.

Walter_Chaw said...

Actually, it's radical and it's good, too, if we're talking "good" from a technical perspective. Success? Difficult to measure, but for me it told a story, made a point, and had me wide-eyed throughout. Maybe I'm a chimp - audacity and insanity were what made Peter Jackson's King Kong so lovely to my eyes.

Audacity doesn't equal insight, but audacity is in short supply and a valuable commodity besides. I'll take audacity over another corporate humjob, in any case. I'll agree that there's not much that's terribly insightful here (nor in Inside Man), but there's something to be said about its "insane" audacity. Refashioning the Abu Ghraib atrocities for the purposes of mass popular entertainment (like "Arrested Development" did, for instance), is a tricky thing - just like shooting a dialogue in front of a "We Will Never Forget" 9/11 poster in Inside Man - and, hell man, good for you for having the balls to do that. I think it's interesting that these flicks are coinciding with a popular disgust with our beloved POTUS leading to the only solution: a campaign of press conferences and public appearances.

The kids at Kent State didn't do anything original, after all, did they? My problem is with films like The Hills Have Eyes that are also insane and audacious, is that they're also ugly and brimming with hate and intolerance. Make films that are batfuck crazy (like New World say, or Cache) and also about ideas like desiring freedom, or aspiring towards an ideal of truth, or dealing in a complex way with homophobia, misogyny (gotta love Spike's tit fetish) and racism, and I'm gonna pile on board.

Defenders of The Passion of the Christ make the same point. And it's a good one. If you're gonna' do an old story about a homily-spouting revolutionary, do it with brio, man.

And I'm looking forward to the next Claire Denis film, too, who isn't? Her shit's audacious and insane. Without those elements, Trouble Every Day is French Underworld. Saw The Child this week, by the by, and if it weren't audacious and insane (because it's surely not terribly insightful), it'd be so diaphanous as to just blow away.

Guess what I'm saying is that matters of taste aside, I wouldn't underestimate the value of audacity in art. I guess what I'm ultimately saying is that audacity does, in fact, equal insight. I didn't learn much about the state of our world from the picture - but I did learn a little from the bugfuck way in which it's been presented.

Anonymous said...


Nobody thinks you're a chimp...and I liked King Kong a lot. And I love Arrested Development, which is startlingly topical without being strident about it.
My first problem with V For Vendetta is one you didn't have: I thought it was flat-footed, inconstant, and badly made. No establishing shots, poor continuity, atrociously staged action scenes. I'm as thrilled as you are to see anti-establishment ideals being espoused in a movie that cost a lot of money -- a friend of mine made the excellent point that V for Vendetta may be a more subversive salvo than Brokeback Mountain with regards to making homophobia seem ugly to mainstream audiences -- but the film is an annoying cop-out. Revolutionary ideals are more or less reduced to a fashion choice: don't be part of the herd, but hey, put this cool mask on, and be part of the herd. I had the same problem with Fight Club (and in the LA Weekly, the excellent critic Scott Foundas makes a viable comparison of VFV w/Rent). Also, the film rehabilitates Guy Fawkes as a folk hero without explaining WHY he tried to blow up the British parliament -- I know the Smiths' album has a hidden message that Guy Fawkes was a genius and all that, but he was sort of a religious ideologue, which, while not objectionable in and of itself, doesn't really grog with the film's simplistic assessment of religious fervor (that it's bad).
The film has no real interest in how repressive regimes rise to power -- it's too easy to invent Reichstag-type incidents, and too challenging to take up V's own assertion, early in the film, that the blinkered populace needs to look in the mirror. In the end, V For Vendetta (like a lot of bad, but well-intentioned liberal films) doesn't really charge us with doing anything. Neither do most movies, I guess, but most movies don't herald themselves as a bold call to arms.
Interesting that you say L'Enfant isn't particularly insightful -- I think it's an amazing treatise on materialism and the way money flows in a community where nobody has much of it. It is (stylistically) audacious, but it's also of a piece with itself, something that neither V for Vendetta or Inside Man (which I'm very curious to read your review of) can really claim, in my opinion.
Speaking of the latter -- what was our ever-picky Ms. Foster doing in that movie? It couldn't have been the opportunity to get called a "magnificient (unmentionable,)" -- although, in Spike Lee's universe, that's almost a compliment.

Walter_Chaw said...

Good points, Adam, and I'm not going to go too far in laying myself out for this one - but to quibble that the revolutionary V struck me as a madman just out for vengeance throughout. Hence the title. Does it call the populace to arms? Nah, you're right, it doesn't do shit - if this administration can't do it, this film sure as hell isn't going to do it. Did you see the John Carpenter Masters of Horror episode, by the way?

Nothing unmentionable about "cunt" by the way - but, no, I don't have the first idea why Foster was in this film. She's freaking awful in it.

Reviews of Inside Man and Thank You For Smoking up now.

Jefferson Robbins said...

My last word on V for Vendetta (beyond one more swipe at the general response by critics, which I found cowardly, pompous and self-serving) will be to say that I did not enjoy the JFK-like hint at a financial motive for the fascist takeover. The filmmakers seemed to assume that the audience wouldn't understand why a totalitarian state might take hold, unless there was corporate greed at issue. What's more, that became the most convoluted plot point in the entire film. (Also, in a society where surveillance, fear, rationing and disease were the norm, why did everyone seem to be living so well?)

Walter, since you deal with the Denver Public Library so frequently, I wondered what your take would be on this story from IMDB ...

Denver Library Allows Movie Downloads

The Denver Public Library on Tuesday became the first library to allow patrons to download movies and television programs over the Internet to their PCs or portable media players, Home Media Retailing magazine reported. The initial films made available by the library online are limited to a few classic films, including Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief, and D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation. The software is timed to void the movies after the lending period is over. The Denver library's Michelle Jeske said, "Downloadable video gives our patrons 24/7 online access to exceptional films and allows [us] to have this type of format without the space, handling, and damage issued normally associated with DVDs and tapes."

Anonymous said...

Hey Walter,

Well, I guess it's not unmentionable --I say far worse things during poker games and watching the Raptors lose every other night -- but it's one of my least favourite words. Come to think of it, it's the second time Foster's had to put up with this -- remmeber Miggs in Silence of the Lambs?

I did see the Carpenter MoC, and I didn't like it -- it didn't work well enough as a story to pique my interest in its themes. The gore's good, I guess, but the lead performance is so off, and the dialogue was just so bad (a film critic is introduced with "he was a follower of Kael..." uh huh) that I tuned out. Carpenter is spent. I did like Lucky McKee's episode Sick Girl, and of course, Dante's installment, while unsubtle, resonated far more (with me) than something like for V for Vendetta. I believe in specificity in satire, and Homecoming had it in spades.
I like your review of Inside Man, even if I gave it a harsher one myself (it'll be up at the eye site later today). Basically, I'm with you on 25th Hour (I liked it more the second time) but I thought Inside Man just got slack as it went along, too much for me to forgive. And when Owen says he won't repeat himself and then, at the end, in the interest of clarifying a lame-o twist ending, repeats himself... well, it's the most prophetic voice-over since the "failure vs. fiasco" monologue that opened Elizabethtown. Cuz I thought Inside Man was doubly redundant: it's nothing we haven't seen before in an urban thriller (16 Blocks wasn't good, but Donner is better at this sort of thing) and it's nothing we haven't seen before (and better, and sharper) from Lee.
glad to hear TYFS doesn't suck.

Walter_Chaw said...

when Owen says he won't repeat himself and then, at the end, in the interest of clarifying a lame-o twist ending, repeats himself

Yeah, that really sucked.

Bill C said...

By all means, cunt away, but how 'bout some kind of spoiler warning if we're going to be discussing the end of Inside Man?

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah - sorry - nothing crucial revealed, by the way, I found the film impossible to decipher (largely, still) and from the moment of the opening narration, you know that it's going to recur. The heist is besides the point and Lee makes sure that that point's hammered in deep.

Alex Jackson said...

For the record I don't feel that the ending of Inside Man has been spoiled for me. I still don't know what's going on.

And cunt's a great word. The only other word I can thing of with trumps it in power, both in meaning and sound is "kike". That "k" sound is all forward momentum.

James Allen said...

I saw V for Vendetta last week, and I thought it was pretty good, with a couple of reservations. A few of the criticisms levelled above are fairly valid, but I still admired the dystopia as it was presented. It's not as good as the comic, but it at least caught enough of the tone. (My friend, on the other hand, thought it was boring as hell. Maybe being aware of the source material helps.)

And if we're speaking of "bad, but well-intentioned liberal films" my friend dragged me to (OK, he got me into a free screening, working in NYC has its advantages on occassion) American Gun (the new one with Donald Sutherland et al, not the one from 2002 with James Coburn), and what Crash is to racism, American Gun is to gun control, only worse. I mean, are these the type of simplistic/reductive indy "message" films we're going to get ad nasuem?

JG Friend said...

One of my more regrettable moments on the net was when I called some 19-year-old, Christian, myspace girl a cunt.

I was just so annoyed. It seemed like the only word powerful enough to destroy her.

Ended up taking down the whole group...

Hey, anybody seen the documentary "DiG!"?

Anonymous said...

Putting aside everyone’s favourite misogynist and anti-Semitic epithets for a second (for the record, I wouldn’t dare use either one in my house—I still prefer the old standbys like: Jackass and Republican) I also revisited “25th Hour” a second time after hearing enough contrary support to question my initial opinions but, I still can’t get behind it. It’s a beautifully made film (as most of Spike’s movies are) but, Norton is just so unbelievable as a drug dealer (no amount of stubble can hide his preppy I’m afraid). Norton has a strangely prolific track record with these committed, but unconvincing performances (of a piece with his Skinhead in “American History X” and grizzled cop in “Red Dragon”—both watchable but impenetrable performances) Norton isn’t really the problem though. As with Lee’s natural bedfellow Oliver Stone—it’s a potentially decent thriller buried in tangential politics and unwieldy, overwritten dialogue. Norton’s infamous mirror soliloquy has a great future as an amateur audition piece, galvanizing to some I suppose—but, struck me an end-zone moonwalk (“Ma! Lookit me actin’!) The less said about Lee’s requisite vacant female characters, the better. Lee can never be underestimated however, and I’m looking forward to weighing in on “Inside Man”.

BTW—saw the second “Big Love” the other night—think we might have a winner here. It’s already found a nice balance between the inherent creepiness of the scenario and the innate likeability of the family. It’s so strange to see people rather than “types” on American TV. Also, watched one episode of “Huff”—what turgid and glib nonsense. Give Oliver Platt his props though.

Bill C said...

Marathoned the first season of "Huff" last week. For years, I've been saying that Oliver Platt--Oliver "Three Musketeers, Lake Placid, Three to Tango" Platt--is as overrated as Sandra Oh (if infinitely more tolerable), but for some reason, he and that show really click, and eventually I found he was the only thing keeping me watching. Can we have a moratorium on TV protags conversing with ghosts and/or figments of their imagination? And lotharios-redeemed-by-unexpected-pregnancy subplots? And martini-sipping moms who've followed their sons out of the empty nest?

Walter_Chaw said...

Huff = terrible
Platt = great

and speaking of which, Ice Harvest would've been one of the best last year if it hadn't totally fucking copped out at its end.

Anonymous said...

You really think so, Walter? Frankly, I couldn't stand the movie from start to finish. It took all the safe routes: noir-derivative (not homage), Cusack playing the nebbish, Thornton playing Bad Santa. There are actors out there who I can watch in the same basic roles over and over again; these two get on my nerves pretty quickly. (How wonderful would this have been if they had switched roles?)

(SPOILER WARNING from here on in.)

Best part of the whole film is Randy Quaid, if you ask me. His final monologue, so brilliantly thoughtful; unnervingly calm with a face full of rock salt.

But maybe you're right: I would have been happier with the product had Charlie been just totally flattened at the end. How much of a nice little shocker could that have been? The Witchita Falls line being the last thing he sees before he cracks his head open on the pavement. They set it up as a death; methinks a test audience may have been the end of that.

Walter_Chaw said...


Yeah, test audiences almost definitely killed that little black duck. Noir-derivative perhaps, but I saw it as more respectful than parodic or even post-modern. Platt is priceless, too, his testicle line is one for the ages. Something about Cusack in these pitch black flicks really makes me happy, I must admit. Grosse Point Blank is one of my closet faves - and maybe the last time that Joan Cusack is something other than an older sister in films.

Whadda you think of Randy Quaid suing Ang Lee?

Kirk said...

Just saw Inside Man. At first I was thinking there isn't too much they could really bring to the table. I agree with your review, Walter, but I have one nitpick: Kanye West's/Jamie Foxx's "Gold Digger" isn't what I'd call "hardcore gangster rap"--It's kinda getting close to Fresh Prince-era notoriety, like your grandma knows about "That boy whose head got too big for him and that other sweet young man who played Ray Charles." Anyway, It didn't dawn on me until that final scene that this was pretty much Shaft, done better than Singleton could muster, the detective that's really one step ahead of everyone and out to get his above all at the same time.

The most telling jab at anything, for me, was the young kid playing the Grand Theft Auto-style game and the message therein. I bet Lee could pull an entirely different movie out of that PSP--one which I'd like to see someday, Maybe.
I can't get that Sukwinder Singh tune from the credits out of my head, though. The score was pretty decent as well.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Re Randy Quaid: Ah yes, Not really sure what to think of that one. The real question here being, did Lee and company really expect the movie to hit it as big as it did? Who can really tell what the next liberal cause celebre will be anymore? It was all over the board at this year's Oscars; racism, homosexuality, Iraqi war allegories, et cetera. Now, I thought the film was pretty good, but the real reason for its explosive success was because of the stupid uproar, and how incredibly reductive everyone's idea of "gay cowboy movie" was. As if it was going to be a genuine Western, some Old West parable with John Wayne and Walter Brennan locking lips. (Just read most of the shitty political cartoons on the subject.)

Admittedly, however, my bias does lean towards Quaid. Outside of the moronic comedies he's best known for, Quaid is really a fine actor, deserving of more than what he gets. Certainly more than his brother. I think their careers are inversely proportional: isn't it Dennis, now, doing the awful comedies for Nickelodeon, and Randy doing the serious and praised work?

Side note that I just saw George Romero's The Crazies. Not one of his best works (it's kind of Night of the Living Dead by way of Dr. Strangelove; in plot, not tone), but few directors can portray humanity putting the kibosh on itself as well as Romero can; the military vs. civilians vs. mental and external insanity. It's really something. Doubtful that the Romero of the '70s would have allowed test audiences to get in his way.

Alex Jackson said...

It's really something. Doubtful that the Romero of the '70s would have allowed test audiences to get in his way.

I think that it was David Ansen that said that bad movies were better in the seventies.

The Crazies is not a good movie. It's pretty much the exact same film as his subsequent Dawn of the Dead only the zombies aren't dead, rotting away, and gross. Dead gross rotting away zombies are better. Incredibly formulatic Romero film, but hey it's not anybody's film but Romero's.

Rich said...

I thought The Crazies was actually quite good. Loved the frenetic pace, which reminded me of Armageddon or something by Tony Scott (argh), but under Romero's control seemed appropriate and purposeful. Also saw Martin a month or so back, which was pretty awesome as well.

By the way, you haven't seen bad Romero until you've seen Monkey Shines (though Land of the Dead could count, too, come to think of it).

petalumafilmcenter said...

All right, I know I'm late to the V For Vendetta discussion, but I have one question for anybody who saw and admired it:

If I say the name "Timothy McVeigh," does that alter your opinion of the film?

This is a column a colleague of mine wrote back in 2001 while we were in college, when McVeigh was sentenced to death. I'm not posting his name, but it wasn't me. It's an interesting take, and in my opinion, far more pertinent than attempting to equate the 9/11 terrorists with the movie.

If you're prepared to applaud V, I think you have to be prepared for guys like McVeigh

Here are some excerpts of it:

McVeigh's actions aren't really justifiable even by the consideration that he felt he was "at war" with the government, since most of those people in Murrah were innocent of any raid and probably not even associated with the ATF.

But it is his intent we should consider as McVeigh prepares himself for his end.

The ATF was invading the Branch-Davidian compound because the Branch-Davidians were stockpiling weapons, some of them illegal. The discovery of a shipment of grenades was what finally prompted the catastrophic raid. Trumped-up charges about child molestation and abuse - while perhaps relevant and valid - were not the primary consideration.

The ATF was raiding for weapons.

Now, consider the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

It states that we, as citizens, have the right to keep and bear arms. The U.S. government has already infringed upon this right by not allowing us to own certain weapons. It further attempts to do so constantly by introducing legislation that regulates even the weapons we are allowed to keep.

The government's main rationale is that it is attempting to fight crime - crime that it happens to exasperate by perpetuating an over-funded (and racist) drug war - by taking away devices which we can use to kill other people efficiently and easily. This rationale has its faults, but that is not the point here.

The point is that the government is trying to register and control our weapons - weapons that are not only guaranteed us, but that are guaranteed us explicitly for use against the government.

(I should point out here that the second amendment was not passed as a fluke experiment or as a guarantee for hunting freedom. The oppressive colonial pre-Revolutionary government would control weapons in a way our government seems to be approaching. Guaranteeing our right to bear arms was the ultimate "check" on the government. It is our right and responsibility to revolt when and if the government becomes tyrannical.)

And the government has shown, through the Waco raid, that it is willing to use deadly force to make sure that we are not capable of even stockpiling the weapons necessary to inflict damage against it.

The tactic is, quite simply, something you would see in any unstable third-world country where a leader wants to maintain power. Force the citizens to use sticks and keep the guns - it's the easiest way to keep rebellion to a minimum.

So McVeigh was rebelling against a government that is ravenously power-hungry. And it isn't just in arms that our rights are constantly and routinely infringed by the government.

Take the income tax - legalized by the 16th Amendment in 1913 - or the prohibition of alcohol - a policy so disastrous even the government couldn't stand by it - or the drug war - which has resulted in prison figures that disgrace the nation - or infringements upon our privacy in communication - justified by the drug war and attempts to stop internal terrorism. All of them, infringements on our freedoms - the non-enumerated freedoms implicit in the 10th Amendment.

Sum total, we American citizens live on a scant archipelago of state-granted "freedoms" that is itself disappearing as global warming increases the level of the sea (and to think some of the Founding Fathers thought the Bill of Rights unnecessary - it has saved us from total inhumanity).

This outrageous condition is what McVeigh was rebelling against. It was anti-government sentiment he was hoping to incite by bombing Murrah.

But he failed.

His failure probably had to do with timing - things just aren't bad enough yet.

Maybe when 33% percent of our weekly paychecks are going to the government - this is the level George W. Bush claimed was the highest acceptable rate to be taxing Americans - we might care. Maybe when the only kind of guns we are allowed to have are waterguns and BB guns - we might care.

While McVeigh can't be commended for his action or even commended for his strategy, he was hitting on a vein of anti-government sentiment that will surely grow.

So it's a shame he will die without having incited at least a national self-examination. We hate the rebel, we identify his Christian Identity connection and we have nothing more to do with it. We don't ask, why did he rebel?

Revolution will become necessary, someday, unless radical government reform is enacted - and current social trends don't seem to favor this.

As long as we believe the government is here to solve our ills, as long as we think of the government as a "safety net" or an "Aunt Maude" or as a figure that has any more jurisdiction in our lives other than to protect our lives and our property, the government will continue to grow.

And as it grows, legislation will be piled upon legislation, fat notebooks of paper covering the divine light that is human freedom, until we will have no choice.

We will have to clear it out, totally.

Jack_Sommersby said...

I, like Alex, am not particularly enamored of The Crazies. Not that well-made, choppy and overlong. Wanted to like it, though. When Blue Underground releases a title, I'm inclined to give it a look-see. Hell, I rented My Brilliant Career simply because BU put it out.

Bill C said...

Yeah, The Crazies pretty much feels like a placeholder for Dawn of the Dead, though I think I might actually like it better than Land of the Dead. (I need to see both films again.) Personally, I think Romero's worst might be The Dark Half, which got butchered up by Orion at a time when they were making last-ditch efforts to save the studio.

Anonymous said...

Damn, thought I'd get more support for the film. Sure, while The Crazies doesn't -- and can't -- hold a place in my mind like Night or Dawn can, what I really admire about the film is how it manages to mix government paranoia with an alien invasion picture told from the aliens' perspective. With the whole "your government is trying to help you" perspective that the military characters take while shooting and burning the crazie-fied populace in dehumanizing white HAZMAT suits, is it heavy-handed in that regard? Yeah, but it works.

But how this film really distinguishes itself is its ultimate treatment of humanity. Dawn of the Dead is about the horror of humanity as a whole, while The Crazies works as horror within the self: realizing that you're helplessly succumbing to irreversible insanity. In Dawn, Romero forces us to identify with the monster, and compare our own methods to theirs; but in The Crazies, we are the monster, and we are forced to cope with it as our mental faculties diminish into nothing.

(SPOILER WARNING for The Crazies and (possibly) Dawn of the Dead.)

I also mention this because "the horror of the self" often applies to how Romero essentially puts himself in his own crosshairs, in a figurative and literal level, both applicable here: figuratively, as the loudmouth scientist discovers a cure to the disease, only to be mistaken as one of the crazies by the guards; the resulting scuffle destroys his discoveries and kills him. While you could blame humanity here, there's also a certain self-conscious "unfairness" to the affair that leads us to point a finger at Romero himself as the one who pulls the trigger of the apocalypse in The Crazies: giving the scenario a glimmer of hope with the expressed intent to smash it to pieces. A similar concept exists in a literal sense, of course, because Romero plays the role of the town's exasperated mayor, who appears briefly in the film's final minutes afflicted with the disease, along with a few other characters dispersed amongst the crowd of crazies. When the characters of Dawn are killed and resurrected as zombies, it feels like a sad inevitability; in The Crazies, it feels unfair and arbitrary -- again, pin the blame on Romero.

Now, off I go to watch Knightriders.

Rich said...

The Crazies, Day of the Dead SPOILER WARNING

Hadn't thought of it until you mentioned it in your last post, Ian, but that bit in The Crazies with the scientist finding the cure for the disease and then subsequently being mistaken for an infected reminds me a lot of the military faction's killing of the sorta-near-to-a-cure scientist in Day of the Dead (actually my favourite of the Dead flicks). The Day scientist isn't mistaken for anything, just misunderstood by a radical military more concerned with power and control than science and reason: something Romero seems to have a nagging dread of - evidenced by the theme recurring in quite a few of his movies.

However, despite my love of The Crazies, I've gotta agree with the general consensus here that most of the things it wants to say are said with a whole lot more clarity and effectiveness in Romero's Dead series.

Anonymous said...

Side note about the scientist, by the by: he's played by Richard France, who also played the "logical, unemotional" scientist in Dawn of the Dead (with the memorable line "Dummies, dummies, dummies!"), and is an Orson Welles scholar. (Funny how he actually tries to act like ol' Orson in his two most famous roles.) He can be found in the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane on that spectacular two-disc Citizen Kane DVD.

Alex Jackson said...

I'll go on record for saying that I liked Land of the Dead better than Crazies. I actually thought that it was, um, kind of good. Slick. I liked that two shot where John Lequizamo shoots a zombie and you saw it on the opening monitor. Great opener too. I thought the underground zombie fights were kinda cool. The political satire was weak though give you that.

I at least felt that the film had some kind of human center. Character was never really Romero's strong suit, but I seriously can't remember any of the central characters of The Crazies.

Kind of like the opening of The Dark Half too. That eyeball..yeek. It doesn't help matters that it's third-rate King to begin with.

Rewatching Romero sounds like a pretty good idea.