July 28, 2006

The Book: Final Specs

On sale next month, THE FILM FREAK CENTRAL 2006 ANNUAL will include:

-Foreword by Lodge Kerrigan, writer-director of Keane

-Introduction by Bill Chambers

-'Overture' by Walter Chaw

-Previously-unpublished reviews of The Future of Food, The Intruder (L'Intrus), Joyeux Noël, 9 Songs, Prozac Nation, and Reel Paradise

-"The Black Hole: United 93 and the New Nihilism," a book-exclusive essay by Alex Jackson

-Plus: reviews of over 230 films and year-end top 10 lists

Get salivating! In the meantime, check out the mother lode at the mothersite: Walter reviews Miami Vice and Scoop; and Travis writes the best and only monograph for Enzo G. Castellari to date.

July 21, 2006

Reader Mail

Knocking up against a deadline for new material for the new Annual – regret to inform that the Trench will be delayed a couple more days.

In the meantime, though, amid well-wishes for the Hollywood Reporter mention and a couple of surprising notes from filmmakers that would probably like to remain anonymous (and one or two who won’t in a couple of lines), here’s an unofficial Reader Mail without much in the way of response from me. Came a point that I realized that reading, much less responding, to much of the psychotic hate mail I collect is one of those things that’ll drive me right away from this job in time. Self preservation in the form of willful ignorance – helluva business where knowing what to ignore is a prerequisite for longevity.

It’s a good time for this entry, though, given the release of M. Christ Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water: a good quarter of which is devoted to taking the piss out of critics. At the least he’s affected by the criticism (even if he hasn’t appeared to have heeded it), but I do wonder why he chose to target Manny Farber of all people for the source of his ire.

What’s really surprising to me is that I continue to get hate for my review of that piece of shit, The Sandlot.

Anyway, catch up with the mothersite (new reviews of Monster House, A Scanner Darkly, Lady in the Water, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Gabrielle, Porn King, and Nanny McPhee) in the interim and enjoy this lovely selection of Reader Mail.

I saw your review for The Sandlot. Your a real piece of work. Its a kids movie and you broke it down like you were fucking Ebert and Roeper. Get a fucking life.
- chaz.bombenger@ndsu.edu

And North Dakota State University beams with pride.


After reading your review of The Grudge, I decided not to go and see it at the cinema.

Recently I have had the opportunity to see it on dvd. And it was the most frightening film I have ever seen. I must have jumped out of my seat a dozen times.

Anyway, I just want to thank you for saving my life. Because if I had gone to that film and seen it on the big screen I would have had a heart attack and died.



Mr. Chaw, if you are arrogant enough to suggest that the Christian Bible is dumbed down for illiterates and the gullible, maybe you have some issues with Christianity to deal with. I honestly do not mind it when people don't share my beliefs. Who am I to tell them where to commit their souls? But they should at least be mature and respectful of the beliefs of others (mine included). Oh, I'm sorry. That counts for everyone except the Christians, correct?

-Daphne ivoreequeen@hotmail.com

Which version of the Christian Bible? The Good News version or the Bibles Made Easy version? How about the idea that early translators of said survey mythology took into consideration the conversion and awe-ing of illiterates? Ah, never mind. By the way, it’s not all that mature to do that rhetorical question thingy. Ah, never mind again.

Hey Walter, I suggest that you tone down the "Englishness" of your criticism of X-Men 3. Why don't you just simply say that the movie lacks luster and appeal instead of going through something like "the director has this obsessive-compulsive, egotistical desire to create a grand statue of himself in the halls of Hollywood fame"? These are not your words, but that's similar in tone to the way you write.

The reason why many read Roger Ebert and why he is a Pulitzer-award winner is that he avoids glossy language. This does not mean that you cannot be metaphorical. Your "Michael Bay's Schindler's List" is awesome. But to fill your entire critique with a lot more gloss than what is required can turn off readers, or worse: it can create a mistaken impression that you write THAT way merely to get attention, in the same way that Ratner has created the impression that he's such a godly director by helming X-Men..

You have mastery of the English language; your vocabulary is deep, which is really admirable, but if you wanna reach out to the masses, I suggest that you trim down what would otherwise be mere surplusage.

I hope that you take this advice from me, a simple English college professor. Simple words which strike a chord so clear make much more sense than a thousand words conjured to create a foxhole.


Gerard imthelaw20@yahoo.com

You have something like 200 choices a week for Pulitzer Prize-winning prose describing X3 as “lackluster” – you have only a very few, like FFC if I do say so, that presume of their readers a basic education and ration of outrage and taste while even bothering to consider the mainstream. For us, the idea is that it takes no insight to laud the canon: for us the real trick is to find the sublime in the mundane without the passage of thirty years time. You should consider teaching complex English instead of “simple English”, Gerard, you can learn simple English any old place.

First off....wow.

Your review on X-Men:The Last Stand was outrageous. Your vocabulary alone shows that either A.) you try too hard to sound like you know what you're talking about or B.) you do know what you're talking about and was obviously looking for some deep inner ladened message from a comic book adaptation. Seems like you really have it out for Bratner. But what bothers me is...what's with all the sexuality talk? You took the movie to a whole other level that no one else is even thinking about, let alone applying. However, I do give you kudos for catching my attention. I walk away from your review thinking...WTF?


I read your review of X-Men 3, and I believe you complety missed the point that it is a summer "popcorn" movie. It's meant to be entertaining, not a social commentary or a commentary of anything for that matter. It's the kind of movie where you can turn your brain off for 2 hours and simply enjoy the ride. I can't even begin to understand how you could try to compare X3 with Schindler's List, on any level. You are entitled to your opinion, of course, and having an opinion is actually a part of your job, but I doubt many moviegoers will go see X3 looking for deep thruths about today's society. I believe critics should review movies for what they are (in this case a mindless action extravaganza), not what they want them to be.

Eric Paquette Eric_Paquette@Intuit.com

The weird implication being (among many weird implications) that I wanted X3 to be Schindler’s List.

Mr. Chow,

Your review of x3 was one of the most pretentious, poorly-founded reviews I have ever read. Please only review films in the vein of "Pride and Prejudice" from now on which you can commend for their strong female leads. I can't believe you ended that talking about how the kitty pryde character was wasted, good lord.


And the, um, Jamaican Music University (?) beams with pride.

Thank you. It was remarkably reassuring to read your review after seeing this really, really awful follow-up to two solid films. I went in a group of twelve, all big comic book geeks in some degree, and my girlfriend and I were the only ones walking out asking any questions. Conversations as such made me disappointed in humanity:

Me: "Right, she was really uber-powerful. But the entirety of her character had to do with being controlled by men."
Friend A: "Well, she was too powerful, she had to be."
Me: "Too powerful? To threaten the male characters, maybe. To allow for anything other than being penetrated to kill her."
Friend A: "..."
Friend B: "You need to get out more, man."

I just hang my head. Keep fighting the good fight.

Brian brian.schiller@gmail.com

Dear Walter,

I've just come across your review of the new X-Men film (I can hardly bear to call this a "film"), and I just wanted to say "Congratulations." You have eloquently put into words all the thoughts I have had over the last 48 hours after seeing this movie, and how it rages in my head. You've hit the nail on the head, and anyone who actually appreciates "filmmaking" such as this is really devoid of any brain capacity, intelligence and empathy. This movie is not just Ratner's fault (though he contributes heavily), this movie is everyone's fault. Everyone involved in making this picture deserves heavy criticism, for letting what was initially a thoughtful, dramatic, intelligent throughline of the first two pictures disappear under the weight of blockbuster expectation and hubris. This movie is not only a disaster, it's an insulting, offensive disaster, with misogyny and (dare I say it) masochistic treatment of its women, and nearly everyone else. I don't know how I got through 'Red Dragon,' but I can't see myself ever submitting to another movie "by" this man (or should I say, man-child), and the state that Fox and producers (yes, I'm talking to you, Mr. Jackman) have let this third film sink into is a travesty. Anyone who actually "likes" this movie needs serious help, preferably education (in cinema and life), and a brain that actually works.

Keep on fighting the good fight.

Michael mr.murdoch@gmail.com

I just wanted you to know that I saw Superman Returns tonight and I couldn't agree with you more! Bryan Singer really knows character development (as substance) over visual effects. The effects were awesome set pieces, but without solid acting, storyline, and attention to detail, that's all you're left with. That is what made the first two X Men fillms so great. It's too bad Roger Egbert didn't see the film the same way. He probably should seen it again.

Brian M. Dayton, OHthx1138gl@yahoo.com

Walter -- Having seen Superman Returns last night, I jumped on rotten tomatoes.com today to see what the "expert" reviewers had to say. Coincidentally to the film, I did not want to feel "alone in the world" about my thoughts on the film. After reading several, I finally got to yours. It will be the last. No other reviewers seem to get any of the mythological and archetypal aspects of the film. I feel like sending all of them copies of The Power of Myth although I doubt most of them would read it. Most assumed the "christ-like" elements were some sort of right wing propaganda, forgetting all of the pagan references and that maybe -just maybe that the elements within the christ mythos represents something altogether more meaningful than wearing khakis to church on Sunday and the republican party. I'm a huge fan of reconciling myth/religion to the present day human condition and like you found this movie a bold and poetic statement. Thanks for putting into words my feelings about the film. Oh, pardon my literary ignorance, but what did you mean by the phrase "poet of the devil's part.."?

Eric Tidball Cyclopean1@aol.com

Blake called Milton a poet of the devil’s part without knowing it as he was illuminating a text of “Paradise Lost”.

.....fantastic job on putting Superman Returns into a glowing review that is both literate and filled with in-depth explanations about Brian Singer's use of mythology, iconic images, and the super hero as martyr and godlike being at the same time. On top of it all your writing is just terrific! Also, thanks for just lauding it for what a great piece of movie work it is. I think the public at large is bound to embrace it big time!
In the future I will definitely be looking out for your name at the bottom of any other in-depth review I might happen to find myself enjoying as much as I did this one. Kudos indeed!!

Arthur Offen, Cambridge, MA

I enjoy your site but with your opening quote of "Aquirre" in your "Oldboy" review you reveal the central plot point and one of the best twists I've ever seen in a flick. As a critic you should realize that's a big no-no. I'm glad I didn't read your review till after I'd seen the film, otherwise I would have been plenty pissed. You should change that or put a spoiler warning in, as a simple courtesy to your readers.


Ah, bullshit, Harold. I suspect that you’re just writing to prove that you caught an allusion. Again, here, the idea is that you can go any number of places; scores of places, to get the kind of review that you’re interested in – if you want to talk about Oldboy in terms of the Oresteia and Aguirre, you’ve got a handful. Let’s not snuff out the handful – we’ll snuff through attrition soon enough.

walter, say it isn't so?! you've been the only critic i've trusted for years. your clear-eyed thrashing of overrated movies (napoleon dynamite, garden state, love actually, cold mountain, sith, million dollar baby, crash -i could go on) has been a godsend. you've been there to ease my bad film bitterness, your scathing reviews have provided needed morning after validation, and you've saved me from much cinematic suffering. but now, i am shaken.

please, please tell me you were either drunk or just had some sort of emotional chat with your pa before you wrote about superman, cuz buddy.....it sucked! please watch it again and make sure you didn't feel it was ungodly boring, too long, had no chemistry or tension, and key characters were woefully miscast (i'm talking about you miss bosworth, ye who is to lois lane what sandra bullock is to lauren bacall ). i mean, didn't you feel the whole movie was rather unappealing: from the washed out murky look, to kate bosworth's frail thinness, to superbaby's 'special child' lilt, to the fact that superman was stalking and trying to lure lois away from her family! yuck! and the big superbaby revelation, wow, who saw that coming?! there wasn't anything in this movie that wasn't telegraphed; there was no wit, no sense of any real peril at any point, no spunk, no spirit, no colorful costumes, NO FUN. superman goes to the ER, maybe in the next installment he and lois can go to couples counseling. count me out. and please, please walter, tell me you've reconsidered this film, even just a little, because i feel like i just caught you in bed with bryan singer and our relationship is on the line.

okay, i'm mostly just venting. you are still my favorite critic, by far, but, god, i hate to say it, i think roger made the call on this one. thanks for all the good times,


HA! That’s brilliant.

Hi there Senor Chaw,

I just wanted to pop in and write a quick note of thanks for so ably articulating the things that I found moving about this film, from an intellectual, moral, and emotional place. I held off reading your review prior to the film, partly because I tend to find your arguments well thought out enough to make me at least see your point of view, even if I don't always agree. I read several other reviews before seeing this film though, and I somewhat expected a by the books, interesting but not challenging summer film.

Amazingly, this is not what I got, but rather a subtle, underplayed, and melancholic (as you say) look at nostalgia.

When I was a child (we're talking like five here, I'm not a weirdo, hehe) I used to dress up as superman and ask people if they "cared to step outside." The iconography of Superman was etched into my consciousness from an early age, and it is true that upon hearing the Williams score again it brought up overwhelming emotions of memory.

And then, the story begins, and instead of this comic, lighthearted, and superficial of good guy vs. bad guy I get this very real (to sad effect often) portrait of a mythic hero put in a world which is not mythic. When Clark steps back into the office for the first time, the sheer number of computers, the hurried workers, and the BUSINESS of the daily planet seems so much more prominent than any of the earlier films. It's what a paper really is, isn't it? At least nowadays, it's what sells not, often, what is important. Blackout - means nothing when you've got this sensationalistic piece to be covered by EVERY fact of the media juggernaut.

I lost my father several years back, and perhaps that is why the heart of this movie rings so true. I think that every son faces the desire of the father to imprint himself on his son. Sometimes this is what the sons want, sometimes not, but it is always hard once a father is gone (our parents are our first gods aren't they) and we don't have a model anymore in this physical plane to instruct, wisely or unwisely.

Of course this is my own personal experience speaking, but I find the difficulty inherent in the struggle of this alien to be very real and very true. He tries for five years to find his home, and when he returns, the place he thought was his home has moved on. His real father his dead, as is his surrogate, the people he loved in disguise and otherwise have moved on too.

But, in the end, I think his son allows for hope and perhaps that's what the most moving thing about this film is. Within his son there is a chance for a true home, even if it's not for himself, and I think that's about the truest _expression of love a father could give to a son.

Well . . . um . . .that was more than just a quick email. Ultimately, just wanted to say thanks for recognizing the surprising depth of this film, in a sea of critics who seem to have no clue.

Take it easy, have a great weekend!


P.S. BTW Prometheus brought two things to humanity, in the original myth, and people always forget the second: blind hope.

Actually, his brother, Epimetheus, was the one who married Pandora and, through his provence, allowed the box be opened, springing Hope on mankind. Prometheus warns his brother of his new bride (a subtle revenge exacted by Zeus), but Epimetheus, having no foresight, marries her anyhow.

Dear Walter:

Ubiquitous salutation but oddly appropriate considering the subject matter. Dear? hold-over from the era of Superman's first appearance on our planet. Walter, after reading your review I can honestly say to you dear(italics on dear) Walter.

Upon leaving the theater last night, I was disconcerted--I knew there was great mythic depth in the
overt Christ-iconography and allusion--the Prometheus ref. and Atlas vignette. But, the grand deep hole of
echoing emptiness--yes alienation--confused me. Still connected to my own (loud)everyday world and expectation of big screen cinematography and that old wry (Donneresque)wit I just couldn't sort it out.

Plus, the sheer ballsiness of the dead-center Christopher Reeve knock-off performance made me a little angry. I had hoped for an expansion.

Expansion, it seems, however, was there, just not in the portrayal. In the EMPTINESS.

Thanks for your thorough exegesis.

Goodnight, Lois

I think this is not a hate mail and also in English.

Hello There Walter,
I was just browsing thru reviews and came across yours for Nacho Libre. As I'm guessing your NOT a Napoleon Dynamite fan (and I have some opinons regarding that movie as well) , I can understand where you would see Nacho as a harsh movie that only stupid people would pay money to see. I still go to the movies expecting my "citizen kane" and I understand that these days, those movies are harder and harder to come by. I don't think for one moment ANYONE walks into a movie like Nacho expecting anything other than a movie to forget about life for awhile. I can also agree that fart jokes are much, but to say in the

"Battle Royale towards the end of the film features a tall black wrestler named "Snowflake" and a Chinese guy named "El Chino"--satire, if you want to call it that, of either the lubricated showiness of pro wrestling or the callow stupidity of the audience for the same"

...these people are REAL wrestlers. All of them down to the duo of little people (actually a father, son team in mexico.) They ALL take their jobs seriously, and told me (I will get to that later) that Nacho Libre was one of the only films that respected that. Nacho never won a fight up until the end (and YES liberties had to be taken at that point to give the movie a happy ending, but they weren't easily overpowered and Nacho's character learns that)

I also think this movie (as well as Dynamite) does something that hasn't been done in a LONG TIME. Make a movie that children, as well as their parents WANT to go see, and can go see together and there is no fear of nudity, or profanity, blood, etc..Please don't think me prude (I'm not but ANY stretch of the imagination) but I think we've become so desenstized to what's shown in movies these days, that I find a movie that can deliver humor, and touching content refreshing (and yes this is in the eye of the beholder...I liked the message Nacho delivers at the end)

I, myself found alot more in it the second time viewing. I think something you failed to see in Napoleon (if I might go back to that movie a second) and which can also resonate in Nacho as well...is that Napoleon's character might be "geeky" but in NO WAY did he ever let himself feel that. He didn't LET himself be bullied (which is a BIG difference) He was a strong character that happened to live that life in that town. He was odd, but he had friends. I think the point in Dynamite is that all the "odd" characters you saw were people who were just going thru the motions in life. When his grandmother got injured, it showed that she had more of a social life than he or his brother, or uncle did. By the end of Napoleon each of these characters were happy and working towards making their lives better ( I don't see how that message also says that these people are slow witted and must be laughed at) Even as he garnered respect from the school at the end of the movie, I never once felt sorry for him or thought this is cruel.

Okay, so I'm not here to change your opinions about anything, or tell you how wrong you are for disliking these two movies (but I think they should be watched again with an open mind). I wanted to say thanks for what you wrote about me in Nacho Libre. It's a simple thank you that you took the time to know who I was before you put me in your review.

"but its one saving moment is ineffably Chuck & Buck-like: an amorous senorita (Carla Jimenez) pursues Nacho's sidekick Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez) through a series of "secret tunnels" unaccountably burrowed into the walls of a palatial villa. The image of it is so delightfully bizarre that all at once the forced, almost Brechtian, artificiality of the piece comes clear as intent rather than sloth--if only for a moment"

just so you know...Star wars (at the drive inn with my family...I believe i was 2yrs old ) was the first movie I saw as well) –

Carla Jimenez

But what of the “brown face” of Black’s portrayal? What is the source of humor in Napoleon Dynamite? The heroes’ perseverence in the face of adversity – or their humilation at the hands of the very group or tormentors from which they desire acceptance? And what of Pedro?

I have been reading your reviews, off and on, for a couple of years. While I generally agree with you when you dislike a movie, I find that I disagree with you pretty much every time you like a movie (you have a unique knack for dropping all criticism when you are predisposed towards liking a particular director and/or actor - see your favorable review for the travesty that is "A Scanner Darkly", or your inexplicable acceptance of the awful "Lost in Translation").

However I find your reviews very repetitive. I imagine that if a person were to gather all your reviews and remove the words "racist", "homophobic", and "misogynist", they would easily lose half their length. You have discussed being Asian; your proclivity for calling everything you see "homophobic" suggests to me that you are gay; but I find it difficult to believe you are a woman. Perhaps you can understand my confusion. I can explain away the inanity that leads you to label anything you don't like with the first
two epithets by guessing that you have a persecution complex. But the last confuses me much more greatly.

One is left wondering what your perfect movie would be like (barring, of course, the inclusion of any actors or directors you fawn over). Apparently nobody Asian could be involved, because if anything negative happened to them - as often does to people in life - it would be racist. If there were a gay person involved and they were not portraying Jesus (or Mother Teresa), it would be homophobic. And if there were women involved who were anything less than the President of the United States ... well, we all know what
would happen. Perhaps you should watch that horrible Geena Davis show? I understand later this year our illustrious fake female president will be suggesting an amendment to make gay marriage not only legal, but

One wonders where you would find the anger to write such scathing reviews without your persecution complex and bizarre attitude towards equal treatment for women (after all, if women are equal, should they not be equal targets for humor?). So by all means keep foaming at the mouth and decrying every film you see that isn't shot on 8mm by a Norwegian transsexual for $3.00 as propaganda for the white male power system. Perhaps such a conspiracy theory explains why you were delisted from rottentomatoes.com

Yours truthfully,
Straight White Male Oppressor #1178


Walter’s film critic career alive and well and living in hell. Rottentomatoes personal page alive and well, too – the rest of it is also bizarre, cross-eyed badger shit.

July 15, 2006

Return of the Great Canadian Cinematic Hate-On

Coming soon to a website near you is a review of a wretched Canadian item called Fetching Cody. It's totally undistinguished in the annals of CanCon: lazily name-checked "social issue" (street kids), thoroughly flubbed archetypal resonance (fairy tales), ill-advised attempts at humour (wait for the gay kid who blows his head off), all adding up to one more patient dead on arrival. The amazing thing is not that it came out bad, but that it came out at all.

There was no real reason the movie had to happen. Any half-intelligent person who read the script would know that its head was planted firmly up its ass, and if director David Ray had a highlights reel it would almost certainly have shown him to be tentative and imprecise. Yet the movie got made- and there are scores of movies just like it, from people with the same unformed ideas and the same clumsy execution. One doesn't just get the idea that the system is broken, but that by and large Canadians do not know how to make movies.

The simple truth is that Canadians are unconsciously suspicious of carefully-crafted aesthetics. We're big on annexing those great "social issues," but we're too timid to take the next step and provide a visual/sensual/structural representation of those issues: the mere mention of an important subject is sufficient for a Canuck filmmaker to break out the Dom Perignon and congratulate him/herself for his/her heroism. Doing anything beyond that would somehow seem frivolous: instead of deepening the argument with fine-tuned, well-observed details and an emotional core to give it urgency, we see it all as window-dressing to be discarded.

I have nothing against dealing with big subjects, but then you better not dishonour them. The Dardenne Brothers are a case in point: nobody would accuse them of being frivolous, but their films are extremely careful in how they use the camera and how they sketch the damaged world they depict. You could write papers on the sociological detail, the Christian resonances in The Son and L'enfant, and the strategic use of long traveling shots. The Brothers know their craft, and they use it to give their stories complexity and resonance. But in Canada, all you have to do is show up and they'll pour on the grant money.

The extent of the damage can be measured by the recent, disastrous Stursberg regime at Telefilm. You'll recall that Richard Stursberg was hired to build audiences by greenlighting pop movies- but look at the sorry films that resulted and you'll know that our fear of frivolity had an unusual blowback. We had taught ourselves that the feeling of pop was useless that we taught our filmmakers that a pop film was something that was inherently crappy. That was the unspoken definition, and the results were the crappy films we demanded they be. Say what you like about Michael Bay, but he knows how to shoot and cut to make you feel something. But in Canada, feeling itself is suspect- seriousness rules. And not even seriousness: the name-checking of seriousness, which is perhaps the most deadly frivolity of all.

The rule of mediocrity makes it impossible to establish any kind of organic film culture. On the one hand, there is the fact that most Canadian films die on the table, making it hard to follow truncated careers; on the other is the vast indifference of the Canadian public, which makes attempts to critique the problem all but invisible. The dialogue between filmmakers and critics isn't there- not just because we live in anti-intellectual times, but because everyone is atomized and nobody communicates with anyone else. So directors exist in an intellectual vacuum: nobody pushes them, and the fact that the rest of cinematic Christendom is doing the same lazy things only encourages them- on those rare occasions that they're paying attention.

So I find myself exasperated once again with a situation that keeps getting worse. Canadian filmmakers continue to protect themselves from aesthetic complexity, and there's nobody around to tell them different. Any suggestions on how we could change this?

July 11, 2006


So yeah, Superman Returns.

I wanted to see it on the biggest screen that I could, because I never saw any of the Christopher Reeve films theatrically; Superman is one superhero who demands a large canvas, because he can contain the entire globe in his periphery. During the IMAX pre-show at the Paramount in Toronto we were informed that four sequences would be in 3-D, as well as that blinking icons would tell us when to put on our glasses. Fitting that these icons, laser-projected, turned out to be kryptonite-green, as their increasingly-dreaded appearance had a habit of weakening the movie's grip on the audience as people fumbled for their eyewear and giggled at the William Castle corniness of it all.

The first sequence to get the 3-D treatment, a flashback to Clark channelling his inner Peter Pan on the family farm, encapsulates the absurdity of transforming an image photographed for 2-D exhibition into a stereoscopic one: with Clark leaping neither towards nor away from the screen but instead across it, inappropriate emphasis is placed on the crops swaying in the foreground. And so instead of taking some sort of vicarious thrill from this joyous defiance of gravity, you're pushed further into the position of spectator. (This is especially detrimental considering the common complaint about Superman as a character is that it's impossible to put yourself in his shoes.) The 3-D becomes a tool of disengagement.

The airplane rescue, a significant portion of the helicopter climax, and the epilogue are similarly reconfigured for 3-D, which in the case of the first two renders unintelligible what is by most accounts superior montage filmmaking. I've said it before and I'll say it again: HD is not ready to replace 35mm, and the ghosting artifacts introduced in the transfer to celluloid--magnified enough as it is by the blow-up to IMAX--prove an insurmountable gremlin in the conversion to 3-D.

But it wasn't until the final sequence of Supes zigzagging around outer space that I realized why I have felt ripped off by IMAX 3-D, at least when it comes to live-action: rather than give the image more depth, it divides it into planes (which is why it works marginally better for stuff like The Polar Express, since depth in animation is inorganic to begin with), transforming the screen into one of those elaborate Victorian stages with cartoonish water waves on pulleys out front and a glittering sun in back. The irony of adding 3-D to IMAX is that it effectively dwarfs the image by making us hyper-conscious of scale; since it's hard to look simultaneously tangible and larger-than-life, that final solar system tableau evokes nothing so much as a science fair project with styrofoam planets.

Update (7/13)
Word to your mothersite: Walter caps a prolific week with reviews of A Scanner Darkly and the Running Scared DVD, while Travis slogs through all four discs of Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll - The Ultimate Collector's Edition.

July 05, 2006


Last week I was interviewed on camera for Don't You Forget About Me, actor Matt Austin's upcoming documentary about the legacy of John Hughes. Now, according to Walter and Alex, I'm a card-carrying Hughes apologist, and I suppose I wouldn't have been inclined to participate if that weren't true, but let's face it: I'm a child of the '80s, and at least part of me did it to be able to say I'm in a movie with fellow interviewee Ally Sheedy.

Appearing in the doc also afforded an excuse to watch all of Hughes' movies (i.e. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, She's Having a Baby, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Uncle Buck, and Curly Sue) consecutively, something I'd wanted to do for a long time. Herewith, five of the many things I learned (or rediscovered) over the course of this task:

1. With one exception, Hughes' movies are a little like William Inge plays...
In that their narratives span a day or two (The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off flirt with unfolding in real time) and usually centre on a gathering, be it a wedding (Sixteen Candles) or Saturday detention (The Breakfast Club). This suffuses them with a humility honoured by a favouring--almost to the exclusion of plot--of character over message, however political the personal might ultimately be. The aforementioned exception is the joyless She's Having a Baby, which bites off way more than it can chew in going, for argument's sake, from womb-to-tomb instead of dawn-to-dusk. It's one of those crazy-quilt attempts to say everything about men and women that wind up saying nothing at all.

2. John Hughes was the Quentin Tarantino of his day...
In that he loots the pop-culture graveyard for tonal cues diegetic and otherwise. Think of how Hughes alternates the themes from "Peter Gunn" and "Dragnet" for Anthony Michael Hall's "Geek" in Sixteen Candles, or the 2001 and Rocky riffs that open and close, respectively, Weird Science. Like Tarantino, he's also unfairly maligned for the many pretenders to his throne that have cropped up over the years.

3. John Hughes is an artist.
You read vintage reviews of Hughes' pictures--which make them sound like the Rob Schneider vehicles of their day--and you think, What am I missing? Hughes has said that working with veteran cutter Dede Allen on The Breakfast Club was like going to film school, and indeed he became more editorially conscientious thereafter. (Ferris Bueller's Day Off carefully layers rhythms into its blocking.) But there's a shot in Sixteen Candles that shows a prodigious talent, whereby Molly Ringwald is stranded on a bus with Anthony Michael Hall, who's clumsily putting the moves on her: on the opposite side of the frame is a young Joan Cusack doing nothing more than staring off into space--but she's wearing a neck-brace. Because Hughes never leaves the master containing the three of them, the sight of Cusack becomes increasingly absurd and transcendently funny. (It's positively Lynchian.) I think of this TV-unfriendly sight gag, or the Dreyer-esque close-ups of Molly Ringwald during the 'group therapy' sequence of The Breakfast Club, or the detours into Dennis Potter territory in She's Having a Baby (a movie notably edited by Alan Heim, who won an Oscar for Potter contemporary Bob Fosse's All That Jazz), and I can't for the life of me figure out why the phrase "sitcom-style" turns up again and again in criticism of Hughes' oeuvre.

4. The '80s: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
With such corporations as Coca-Cola now in charge of the studios, the suits were eager to make not movies, but products, and research/experience told them that their buying public was the youth of America. Along comes Hughes, screenwriter of the popular National Lampoon's Vacation, expressing an interest in tailoring films to the teen demographic--a marketing exec's wet dream. And he proved a mostly responsible ambassador to puberty, eschewing the era's T&A crutch (there's nudity in the PG-rated Sixteen Candles, but it's used to illustrate Molly Ringwald's Carrie White-like inferiority complex) and, by extension, giving teenage girls a point of entry through female characters who weren't simply there to be coveted. (This is really where the Hughes-scripted Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful enter the conversation.) Alas, Yellow Peril and homophobia reigned back then, and Hughes was no more immune to it than, say, Steven Spielberg, with the grotesque caricature Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe, the Asian Stepin Fetchit) staining the surprisingly sweet Sixteen Candles like Breakfast at Tiffany's' Mr. Yunioshi. But though Hughes' films are generally lacking in minority representation, he makes up for it by taking a quintessentially Marxist view of high school.

5. John Hughes stopped directing for a reason.
While the "rich" and the "poor" always learn to get along in Hughes' films, there's no question that his allegiance lies with the latter. Consider the quietly devastating passage from Uncle Buck wherein the slovenly, unemployed Buck, flipping through an album at the suburban mansion of his wealthy brother, notices a wedding photo that has been folded to crop Buck out of the picture: Hughes keeps the scene subjective by lingering on the photograph instead of on Buck's reaction, effectively turning sympathy into empathy. But even at that point, his identification with the underclass was starting to seem a little disingenuous, and once you get to Curly Sue, the last film with Hughes at the helm, his portrayal of poverty is downright paternalistic. I firmly believe that a fear of looking like a hypocrite drove him out of the director's chair--you can be Ken Loach or you can be a multi-millionaire (as Hughes had become by crassly exploiting his ability to churn out a screenplay a week).


In closing, I'm proud to be a part of this long-overdue project, which is definitely in good hands. My thanks to Matt and producers Kari Hollend and Michael Facciolo for inviting me to take part. You can learn all about Don't You Forget About Me at the film's official website.

Walter's review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is online at last. And if you missed them, check out his piece on the second wave of Anchor Bay's "Masters of Horror" DVDs; Alex's analysis of The Untold Story of Emmett Till; and Travis' take on the clunky cult item Lifespan.

July 03, 2006

The Trench

Fractured thoughts for a fractured week:

- All set to crack wise about how Rob Schneider collapsed on the set of his new film due to some combination of heat stroke and food poisoning and, tragically, survived – what should I read but that Roger Ebert had been rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to correct complications from his recent cancer procedure, and more, that Argentinian director Fabian Bielinsky had died of heart attack at the ridiculous age of 47. Nothing like a cold bucket of water to soothe the great white snark.

- Let me disclaim that the only thing that I really have against Schneider is that he, like buddy Adam Sandler, are almost single-handedly perpetuating the comic-Asian stereotypes in the mainstream (with assists from the Olsen twins and that idiot who directed Freaky Friday and Mean Girls) – and confess that I liked the first Deuce Bigalow film because of the way that it dealt (not entirely stupid and surprisingly sensitive) with female body image and disability. But that – and the full-page ad he took out in Variety to dimwittedly lambaste one of his critics (Uwe Boll/M. Night Shyamalan/Wayne Kramer-like) – is enough. (What, you think we don’t get pages of hate mail expressing the exact same idiot-think in what's often the same words? How proud you must be.) Oh, that and he’s not funny anymore, his suckling at Sandler’s teat becomes increasingly unseemly, and his The Hot Chick flick functions as an example – perhaps the example – of the theory that film doesn’t exist anymore as a phenomenon that’s not entirely dependent on itself for definition.

- And let me offer that for all that I come down on Mr. Ebert’s inaccuracies and critical condescension – it comes at least in some part from a place of sadness because without Ebert, I never would have gotten started on this path and then from a place of sympathy because I suspect that a lot of what’s been sanding off Ebert’s edge in the last decade or so has to do with his illness and the new lease on life that surviving cancer, so I’ve heard, offers the survivor. If he survives, we’ll blame it again more on other things. But I can’t resist barbing that it doesn’t explain his misogyny (getting more pronounced) – even as it might explain to some extent the venom with which he’s rejected the weaknesses demonstrated by Singer’s version of the Man of Steel.

- But Bielinsky’s death really hurts. I wasn’t a particular fan of Nine Queens (far less its English-language remake Criminal), but I was a big fan of Bielinsky’s. I interviewed him four years ago in Denver and had already made inquiries as to whether I could chat with him again upon the debut at the LA Film Festival of his new film El Aura. Hard to believe it’s been four years between films for him – when we talked, he had a lot of projects in the works, but he’d expressed a great deal of pessimism in regards to the direction in which the Argentinian film industry was headed. The last published line of our interview together haunts me now. I guess those fears were borne out by his absence, and the absence of Argentina as the film power that they seemed poised to become.

But Bielinsky. A bear of a man, we talked off-record and at length about the American ‘70s – I guess he was a film professor and his curricula often included Hackman, Sutherland, Pakula, Coppola – you look at his film and you see the influences but, more, you see them employed with knowledge if a little self-consciousness. His eyes shone when I broached The Conversation with him, if he was guarded a little to start with (battered by a morning and afternoon of journalist dickwads like myself asking him the same retinue of questions), he was warmth personified after. I wanted to recruit Bielinsky for our side because he liked the right things with the right amount of passion and for as frustrating as it can be writing out our words in dark rooms for largely anonymous readers – it can’t have been better butting up against an unsupportive industry shunting you into commercial work. Failing that, I wished for him prolificacy: the ability to tell as many stories as he could before his time was up. Maybe, even better, I hoped that he’d have the time to teach a few more classes so that this movie love of his wouldn’t die from the world. Maybe he did.

I pulled out the tape of our interview and listened to it again. If you’re in the right mood, there’s nothing sadder than the sound of a friend (as much of a friend as you make being one of a hundred, over a tape recorder, and with just one hour alone) you’ll never speak with again clearing his throat.

When we wrapped it up, he gave me his phone number and email which, out of embarrassment, I never used. What an asshole I am. I’ll miss you, Bielinsky – I’m looking forward to the new picture.

- Moderated a screening/discussion of Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey this week and was stricken again by how topical this seventy-year old film has remained. It alternates between screwball (Lombard is the quintessential screwball, of course, and my review of her six-flick set is on the horizon) and serious social commentary with William Powell never better as the titular hobo/butler/savior. The recent Criterion Collection release of the picture blows away my unlicensed transfer – it’s easily worth the upgrade as if there’s any question.

- Found a copy of Huston’s Beat the Devil on DVD in, of all places, the $3.99 bin of my local supermarket. This after my Huston/Bogie series this last Spring in which we couldn’t find an “official” copy of the flick to show. What a shame. Gina Lollabrigida is stunning as always – but my favorite film of hers remains Jules Dassin’s The Law (1959).

- Gave a two-hour lecture on Stanley Kubrick, tracing his major themes through three keystone films: The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Looking at the latter after Superman Returns revealed a lot to me about Singer’s film. I begin to wonder if Supes isn’t a straight homage – it’s worth considering if the Kryptonian hasn’t been imagined as a spiritual step in our development as a species. If he’s pure moral, then you’ve got to wonder if the picture, like 2001, can’t be divided into quarters. My main source material aside from the films themselves is Michael Ciment’s Kubrick: The Definitive Edition and, as it happens, Alex’s fascinating write-up of 2001.

If I’m ever in the position to do another Kubrick series – I think I’d go with Lolita, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket.

- Attended a filled screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 which left me with two words: Matrix Reloaded. But, err, not as good (?).

- Attended a press screening of Elisha Cuthbert’s The Quiet which left me with one onomatopoeia: ick.

- In other news, got a weekly fifteen-minute gig on the nationally syndicated Bill Press show on Sirius Satellite Radio. 8:45am EST. Tune in if you can – from what I understand, there are potentially 4.3 million listeners out there who might find out about FilmFreakCentral.net through this outlet.

- Hope to get quite a few DVD reviews logged in the next couple of weeks (I know Bill’s hoping so, too) as well as a new opinion piece for the upcoming Annual now that a tighter part of my speaking schedule has come and gone. Among the titles up to bat: Nanny McPhee, Magic, Running Scared, M.A.S.H., and several sci-fi television series including the new BBC “Dr. Who.”

Question of the week: tell me about a promising up-and-comer who either never had a chance to fulfill their potential or, worse, betrayed their debut/s with dud after dud. My first thought of the latter is Michael Lehmann who, after Heathers, began his decline with Meet the Applegates and then Hudson Hawk. Of the former: Steve DeJarnatt who gave us the exceptional Miracle Mile. . . and then what? Also, wherefore art thou Antonia Bird?