Movie Reviews postsSunday December 01, 2013
The Worst Movie Review of the Year, Part II
I'm sorry but I couldn't leave this one alone.
There are so many distortions in Kyle Smith's New York Post review of the film “Philomena” that it's hard to deal with them all. It's also difficult to extract the half-truth from the half-lies he's formed around them. But this one is easy.
Near the end of his review he writes:
Philomena spends the movie saying dumb stuff (at the Lincoln Memorial: “Look at him up there in his big chair!”), Martin is rude and dismissive, and we’re meant to laugh, I guess, at her being a rube and his being a journalist. You may be wondering why Coogan felt the need to play a cold and unpleasant a figure who isn’t (like many other Coogan creations) funny, but the answer is simple: Coogan hates journalists.
- Coogan is very funny in the movie, and identifiable. I certainly identified.
- Coogan, I imagine, hates bad journalism, particularly tabloid journalism, particularly the awful tabloid journalism revealed in the phone-hacking scandal that sunk News of the World in July 2011. His own phone was hacked, his own private life revealed to sell newspapers, and he's become a strong voice against the practice. He's testified before the Leveson inquiry into unethical journalism and has written Op-Eds for The Guardian about same.
- The man at the head of the phone-hacking scandal, still unaccountable after all these years, is Rupert Murdoch.
- Rupert Murdoch owns The New York Post, for which Kyle Smith writes his reviews.
Isn't that nice? Look again at the deft, shoddy way Smith raises the phone-hacking scandal without mentioning the phone-hacking scandal. Which, of course, would point back to his boss.
Bloody awful, really.
The Worst Movie Review of the Year
It belongs to Kyle Smith of The New York Post, writing about the film “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
Here's a snippet:
There’s no other purpose to the movie, so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now.
“90 minutes of organized hate.” I can't remember the last time I ran across such a mean-spirited review about such a gentle, and genuinely heartwarming movie. Here's Smith's full review.
And here's the real Philoemena's defense of the film.
I came across all of this last night after Patricia and I saw the movie, which we both loved. Can the film be read as an attack on doctrinaire (that is, anti-sex) Catholicism and doctrinaire (that is, anti-gay) Republicanism? Sure. But the greater takeaway is a lesson in the meaning of forgiveness, upon which Philomena's open letter to Smith concludes:
Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story. I do hope though that the families heading to the movie theatre to see the film decide for themselves – and disagree with you.
That Ben Chapman Scene in '42'
For once I'm in complete agreement with Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells. He has a good one-paragraph synopsis of “42”—why it's not particuarly good but why one scene is powerful—amidst his analysis of Marshall Fine's review:
42 is okay if you like your movies to be tidy and primary-colored and unfettered to a fault, but it’s a very simplistic film in which every narrative or emotional point is served with the chops and stylings that I associate with 1950s Disney films. The actors conspicuously “act” every line, every emotional moment. It’s one slice of cake after another. Sugar, icing, familiar, sanctified. One exception: that scene in which Jackie Robinson is taunted by a Philadelphia Phillies manager with racial epithets. I’m not likely to forget this scene ever. It’s extremely ugly.
Agreed. Alan Tudyk, who plays Ben Chapman, the taunting Phillies manager, should get some special kind of award for his performance. It's unblinking.
- My review of “42”.
- Alan Tudyk on playing Ben Chapman.
- My disagreement with Wells about the “42” poster and “Lincoln.”
Alan Tudyk: A good actor acting ugly.
Eulogies for Roger
I found out yesterday after lunch. I'd known, vaguely, about his “leave of presence” from The Chicago Sun-Times, because I'd heard, via his Facebook page, about the return of the cancer, the new radiation treatments, the hospitalization. We get this sometimes. It's like a harbinger that takes the edge off the worse news. Someone shot at Reagan and missed? OK. Wait, they hit him? Oh. Kurt Cobain OD'ed in Italy but he's OK? OK. Wait, he killed himself? Oh.
This harbinger didn't take the edge off yesterday. Roger was a voice in my life since 1978. He'd actually gotten louder in more recent years thanks to all this. He felt closer.
For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive ...
-- Pres. Barack Obama
We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.
-- Chaz Ebert, “Roger Ebert Dead at 70 After Battle with Cancer,” Chicago Sun-Times
It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.
-- Douglas Martin, “A Critic for the Common Man,” New York Times
He saw, and felt, and described the movies more effectively, more cinematically, and more warmly than just about anyone writing about anything. Even his pans had a warmth to them. Even when you disagreed with Roger you found yourself imagining the movie he saw, and loved (or hated) more than you did. ... I came late to film criticism in Chicago, after writing about the theater. Roger loved the theater. His was a theatrical personality: a raconteur, a spinner of dinner-table stories, a man who was not shy about his accomplishments. But he made room in that theatrical, improbable, outsized life for others.
-- Michael Phillips, “Farewell to a Generous Colleague and Friend,” Chicago Tribune
If not for them, I don't know what would have happened to me. I often tell Roger, “No Gene Siskel, no Roger Ebert, no film career.”
--Errol Morris, “Errol Morris on Ebert and Siskel,” on YouTube
But Roger made everything feel personal, didn't he? That's why we're seeing such grief upon the news of his death. We all felt as if we knew him. He turned the discussion of films that might've seemed too artsy or intimidatingly intellectual into comfortable conversations. At the same time, he remained capable of walking into a movie – any movie, in any genre – with an open mind after decades as a towering force in this business. He always wanted to be dazzled, just as he did when he was a kid.
--Christy Lemire, “AP Critic Remembers Colleague, Friend, Roger Ebert.”
Ebert argues that writing criticism is about expressing your values, so why not be honest about where you stand on the issues of the day? I didn't tell Ebert, 67, how I admired his productivity in the face of his serious health issues. He has already shrugged off comments like that in print, saying that the energy that once went into speech now is channeled into writing. He has written that he's not dying any faster than you or I, so why should he get special attention for doing what he loves?
-- Colin Covert, “My Afternoon with Ebert,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
In a wonderful mutual interview Ebert and Siskel did for the Chicago Tribune in 1998, Ebert responds to Siskel’s criticism that he tends to go too easy on “cheap exploitative schlock” like The Players Club with this telling reply: “I also have the greatest respect for you, Gene, but if you have a flaw, it is that you are parsimonious with your enjoyment, parceling it out as if you are afraid you will prematurely expend your lifetime share.” Joy—in movies, in conversation, in language, in life—was not something that Roger Ebert meted out parsimoniously. He had more than enough to last a lifetime ...
--Dana Stevens, “Roger Ebert,” on Slate
Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted — at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. ... Really, Roger was my friend. It's that simple. Few people I've known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. "We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn't make the loss any less wrenching.
--Martin Scorsese, in a statement reprinted in USA Today
Feel free to post your own below.
Quote of the Day
“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris ...
”Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. 'Faith' is neutral. All depends on what is believed in.“
-- Roger Ebert, who died today at the age of 70, from his book, ”Life Itself: A Memoir."
I couldn't agree more with this last part. Roger had faith that there's nothing on the other side and thus nothing to fear in dying. I wish I had that kind of faith.
Roger Ebert in 1987, mid-explanation.
Bob Lundegaard's Reviews: Les Miserables (2012)
First I reviewed Tom Hooper's “Les Miserables,” then my 11-year-old nephew Jordy did; now my 80-year-old father, Bob Lundegaard, formerly of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and one-time inspiration for the Coen brothers, has a go ...
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that three generations of imbeciles is enough. Although there’s no truth to the widely held belief that he was referring to movie reviewers, one can’t be too careful in a family in which grandfather, father and son have all aspired to the craft.
I haven’t reviewed a movie in 30 years — I was once the film critic at the Minneapolis Tribune – but recently an opportunity arose that was too good to pass up. Our family went to the Christmas Day opening of “Les Miserables,” which meant that I sat right in back of my grandson, Jordy, who’s a frequent movie reviewer on Facebook.
We decided to have a friendly competition, dueling reviewers, with a third entrant, Jordy’s Uncle Erik, who lives in Seattle. I’ve seen several stage productions of the musical, but Jordy had a distinct advantage over me: He’s been in it, so he knows all the songs, even though he’s only 11 years old. A local high school, renowned for its stagecraft, mounted a production two years ago, when he was in 3rd grade, and needed a chorus of street urchins for the revolutionary Paris scenes. And to our delight, one of the chosen gamins was Jordy!
I’ve always had mixed feelings about “Les Miz.” The rhymes usually are telegraphed way before you hear them. “Give” invariably rhymes with “live,” for instance. “Bring him joy” leads to “he is only a boy” Not exactly Ira Gershwin. And the sentimentality can get overwhelming.
Not to mention Victor Hugo’s coincidences, which can put Dickens to shame. Why does Inspector Javert always happen to show up wherever Jean Valjean is living? And when Valjean and his adopted daughter catapult into a religious sanctuary while on the lam from the evil Inspector Javert, who should be tending the garden but a man Valjean had rescued from death years ago in a village far from Paris?
Still, it’s a powerful story, and much of the music can make you feel like standing in your seat and joining the revolution, so I brought an extra Kleenex or two. Turns out I needed them. The story is even more overwhelming on film, spearheaded by an Oscar-worthy performance by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the ex-convict with a heart of gold and the strength of a Samson.
Director Tom Hooper has personalized the epic proportions of the story by unremitting use of close-ups, so close you can see the nose hairs on Javert. I also liked Hooper’s opening innovation: Thousands of convicts trying to tug a foundering ship onto land. The ubiquitous Javert is their overseer. When they can’t manage it, he orders Valjean to bring him a flag attached to an enormous, stubborn log. Valjean does more: he lifts the log as well and becomes emblazoned in Javert’s memory forever.
The stolid Russell Crowe as Javert was, I thought, the least effective of the leads, though admittedly it’s a difficult role to shine in. Anne Hathaway does shine in the tiny part of Fantine, though she does return (with almost everyone else) for Valjean’s insufferable deathbed scene.
All in all, a good day at the movies, if only because Hollywood is making MUSICALS again. As someone who grew up with “Oklahoma!” and “My Fair Lady” on Broadway, I really miss them.
Richard Brody on 'Marnie': As Insane as His Beard?
Richard Brody, the grand old blogger for The New Yorker whom I generally admire, recently wrote the following as part of a post on “The Girl,” an HBO movie about Hitchcock and Hedren, or Alfie and Tippy, which premiered last Saturday, and which was not bad if one-note. Here's Brody's sidebar:
I’ve long thought that “Marnie,” not “Vertigo,” is Hitchcock’s best film—and, as such, is one of the greatest films of all time. It, too, is about disguise, deception, crime, and desire, about mental illness and unhealed trauma. The plot twists in “Marnie” aren’t as elaborate or as surprising, but it captures, more harrowingly, a sense of derangement—inner and outer, intimate and widespread—that reflects a world on the breaking point. Nobody would mistake Hitchcock for a political filmmaker, but “The Birds” and, especially, “Marnie,” are the work of an American Antonioni, whose psychological dramas are matched by architectural and symbolic ones, by a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.
But, yes, these movies also feature the performances of Tippi Hedren, which are not only the ultimate Hitchcock performances but—and especially that of “Marnie”—among the very best in the history of cinema.
I've long known that Brody felt positively toward “Marnie,” but... one of the greatest movies of all time? Among the best performances in the history of cinema? “Marnie”?
It's a movie about repressed memories and feels as dated, and as relevant, as a late-'70s “M*A*SH” episode with Dr. Sidney Freedman. It's like that five-minute monologue at the end of “Psycho” where the shrink goes on and on about what's wrong with Norman Bates--but for an entire movie.
Here's my review of “Marnie” from a year ago. Let me know what I'm missing. Because I just don't get it.
“...a confrontation with the roiling chill of technological modernity.” Or a bad cold.
Anthony Lane on 'Argo'
First he gives us this laugh-out-loud line:
[W]e were wrong about Ben Affleck. Few of us, watching “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor,” could see a way out, or back, for an actor so utterly at the mercy of his own jawline.
Then he ties the film's super-dramatic ending to its earlier gentle mocking of Hollywood values, which include super-dramatic endings:
If you visit the C.I.A. Web site, you can read Mendez’s account of events in January, 1980. “As smooth as silk,” he calls the hostages’ passage through the airport, whereas Affleck, chopping up the action and spinning it out, insures that no nails remain unchewed. This is absolutely his right as a teller of tales, and “Argo” never claims to be a documentary. It struck me as a bit rich, however, to make such sport of Hollywood deceitfulness and then to round off your movie with an expert helping of white lies, piling on car chases that never occurred.
It helps, as it always does, that Lane and I are more-or-less in agreement about the movie. We're pleasantly surprised by Affleck, love ourselves some Alan Arkin, wish the last third had delved a bit more into character, particularly the character of the six embassy workers, rather than Spielbergian thrills--most of which, even as I watched them, I didn't buy.
But I bought “Argo.” It's one of the best movies I've seen this year: smart, funny, accessible.
Of course the year is just getting interesting.
Lane: “...and, most enjoyable of all, Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel, a producer so scornfully amused by Mendez’s request that he has no option but to obey it.”
Dana Stevens on 'Looper'
“Looper felt to me like a maddening near-miss: It posits an impossible but fascinating-to-imagine relationship—a face-to-face encounter between one’s present and future self, in which each self must account for its betrayal of the other—and then throws away nearly all the dramatic potential that relationship offers. If someone remakes Looper as the movie it could have been in, say, 30 years, will someone from the future please FedEx it back to me?”
--Dana Stevens in her Slate review, “Looper: Joseph Gordon-Levitt meets his future-self, and he’s Bruce Willis.” I agree with her, particularly on the above point (my review here), but we're in the minority. “Looper” is currently running at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Smashing Film Crit Hulk's Review of 'Dark Knight Rises'
My friend Tim directed me to Film Crit Hulk's review of “The Dark Knight Rises,” which I could barely get through. Hulk need editor. Hulk not use simple words but big college words. Hulk need to get to point. “BEFORE WE BEGIN” is bad way to begin. This made head hurt:
THE THING TO ALSO UNDERSTAND IS THAT MOST OF THESE THINGS ARE NOT THE KIND OF THINGS THAT PREVENT NOLAN FROM MAKING A BIG, ENTERTAINING MOVIE.
Hulk not rewrite Hulk's words? Hulk make plug for THING movie with so many THING words? Make Erik want to smash.
But the review did make me realize what “The Dark Knight Rises” should've been.
- In the first movie, Batman becomes a symbol of law and order in an anarchic world. In the second movie, the Joker represents an attack from the side of anarchy. So why not, in the third movie, have the villain, Bane or whomever, attack him from the side of law and order? Bane, or whomever, posits himself as a better vigilante and usurps Batman's role. Then he defeats Batman (who's wanted for murder, after all). Then he takes over Gotham to an unhealthy degree.
- A better option is closer to what we actually have. Batman is a symbol of law and order but also a symbol of the status quo. The new villain, or vigilante, could be, like Bane in “DKR,” more of a Robin Hood, and presented as such to us the audience. I.e., there is no Talia. There is no nuke. If there is an ulterior motive we don't see it until later. In the last few years the great criticism from the left is how, give or take a Bernie Madoff, none of those responsible for the Global Financial Meltdown are in jail. That would be Bane's criticism of Batman, too. He's fighting the wrong crimes. He's attacking the victims. He's maintaining a corrupt status quo. He's keeping the system unfair. Then you go wherever you go.
2) is more interesting to me but 1) would've aligned better with the ending of “The Dark Knight.”
Either would've been better than what we got.
“THE THING TO ALSO UNDERSTAND IS THAT MOST OF THESE THINGS ARE NOT THE KIND OF THINGS...” Who knew Hulk verbose?
Other People's Reviews: Alex Bradbury on 'Prometheus' (2012)
Patricia's brother, Alex Bradbury, a marine biologist who works and lives on the Olympic peninsula, and author of several books on Brazil and Belize, is, it turns out, a big fan of Ridley Scott's “Alien.” Its prequel? “Prometheus”? He had this to say...
The best thing to be said for “Prometheus” – besides Idris Elba playing the concertina – is that it has inspired me to see “Alien” again. I saw it six, maybe seven times in the decade after it came out in 1979, and I still consider it one of the greatest horror films ever made.
Science fiction has never really interested me, in either print or film. And for me, “Alien” was always a classic horror film that happened to take place in outer space, not a sci-fi film. Indeed, almost all the best elements of the whole movie could have been moved to Earth and it would have still been a great horror movie. The alien itself, for example, especially in its most horrifying and believable life-forms –- the face-hugger and chest-buster juvenile forms –- could easily have been a previously undiscovered parasitic creature from anywhere on this planet: a rainforest, or a remote research station in Antarctica (a la “The Thing”). Perhaps a tug in the middle of the Pacific could come upon a piece of tsunami debris with strange egg-like life forms adhered to it. The only important aspect of “Alien” that wouldn’t translate easily to Earth would be H.R. Giger’s gorgeously creepy interiors of the spacecraft and the the planet’s landscape.
All of these elements are present in “Prometheus,” of course. The problem is we saw them all back in 1979 in the original masterpiece. Granted, we’ve had 30-plus years of improvements in special effects technology since then. And if “Alien” had been filled with clunky clay-animation effects from the stone age of cinema, a remake might have been justified on technical grounds alone. But that wasn’t the case. “Alien” looks nearly as good today as it did in 1979, down to every detail of the creature and every piece of set design.
With nothing new on that score to offer, “Prometheus” instead heaps on all sorts of unnecessary sub-plots, characters, and confusing philosophical ideas. “Alien” had a simple plot similar to “The Thing”: a remote station with a small crew is infected with an alien parasite/predator – today we might call it an “invasive species” — that knocks them off one by one. There was only a single sub-plot: the android working covertly for the corporation in order to get the creature back home, possibly for future use as a weapon. And even that single sub-plot in “Alien” could have been dropped as an unnecessary distraction (although we would have lost the scene where Ian Holm loses his head).
But in “Prometheus,” we get all sorts of unnecessary distractions: humanoids that have apparently landed on Earth and left their DNA, archaeological themes, and all sorts of philosophical and religious mumbo-jumbo. There are also far too many crew members and characters in “Prometheus.” Nostromo had a crew of seven, a good number for suggesting isolation and helplessness, while at the same time supplying the necessary fodder for the creature to destroy. The crew of Prometheus is at least fifteen, probably more when the hidden character (Weyland) and his entourage are revealed. There’s less terror when you’ve got a crowd like that, and less chance to build a little empathy with your characters. And most of the extra cast is pointless anyway from a plot standpoint. What point does Peter Weyland serve, for instance, and why should we be shocked to learn that the Charlize Theron character is his daughter? (And why, for that matter, is he wearing that awful prune-face makeup?).
There are even too many aliens in “Prometheus.” I like monsters, and these film parasites remind me of the very real creatures I saw today at work, pawing through mud on the beach — wriggling segmented pileworms, for example, with a semi-circle of tiny biting teeth. Because they were all so thoroughly and horribly believable, I enjoyed the various creepy life-forms that the parasite took in “Prometheus.” And there is some basis in biological reality for a series of distinctly different morphs of the same creature as it grows. But in this film, those different forms became confusing after a while. Were there actually several different parasites involved, or is this still the same single species ? “Alien” showed the creature in, at most, four life-forms: the egg, the face-hugger juvenile, the chest-buster juvenile, and the fully formed adult predator. Here we seem to have more variations yet, and I got the feeling that Ridley Scott simply wanted to throw all the great slimy creatures he had in his special effects arsenal at us, and hope we wouldn’t ask questions.
Likewise, there is far too much frenzied action, and a dearth of quiet nail-biting terror. I yearned for just a single scene as terrifying as the one in “Alien” where Harry Dean Stanton follows the ship’s cat into the bowels of the spaceship, water dripping from the pipes. It was a quiet, gut-churning episode, and there is nothing at all like that in this noisy mess of a movie. There are vehicles speeding about, flamethrowers, fights, gunfire, and exploding spaceships. Worse, much of the violence and action in “Prometheus” seems pointless, or at least unexplained. Why, for instance, does the giant humanoid fly into a rage and kill both Weyland and David — other than to provide us with another android beheading scene to echo the Ian Holm episode?
And speaking of gut-churning, the most harrowing scene in the movie shows Noomi Rapace surgically removing a parasite from her own body. But much of this episode’s power is lost on us, for two reasons: First, we know pretty much what’s going to come out – we saw it come out of John Hurt 34 years ago. Second, there is no element of surprise in this new film. When Hurt sat down to dinner we weren’t at all prepared for his little episode of indigestion. Even before watch “Prometheus” you know you’re going to see, at some point, some variation on the chest-popping scene. And Scott gives us way too much preparation for what’s coming, as Noomi grabs her gut and runs toward the surgery station. It’s gruesome alright, but not anything as shocking as the chest-popping scene in “Alien.”
Even some of the small charms of “Alien” are gone, replaced by stock sci-fi formulas. In “Alien,” the Nostromo was a space-going tugboat, its crew mostly blue-collar workers on a routine mission towing minerals. It was a nice touch, much like the gritty, funky vision of the future metropolis in “Blade Runner.” Prometheus, on the other hand, is on a scientific and archeological mission, filled with scientists, scholars and even, as it turns out, a “seeker” (Peter Weyland). And thus we are back in the pompous, cliché-ridden world of “Star Wars” and “2001: Space Odyssey.” There is even a reference or two to the latter film in “Prometheus.” Unlike “Alien”, this new film can definitely be pigeon-holed in the sci-fi bin. And the most annoying, pointless yet puffed-up episode in the whole film involves a swirling light-show of planets, stars and swirling lasers. Like drum solos and dream sequences, it seemed to last forever.
I can’t say that “Prometheus” was disappointing since I wasn’t expecting much. Scott is at his most entertaining when he’s working in totally new territory that he hasn’t explored before – “Gladiator” is a good example --- and I had low expectations for a special-effects extravaganza prequel to “Alien.” But I was hoping for a bit more focus. This was a hodgepodge. I walked out of “Alien” absolutely stunned. I walked out of “Prometheus” bored and confused.
-- Alex Bradbury, Port Townsend, Wa.
The Reviewing Games
E-mail exchange Thursday night with my 10-year-old nephew, Jordy:
Jordan: I have dibs on The Hunger Games and The Lorax for reviewing!
Erik: No dibs on my site, Jordo. But I'll give you the Lorax. The Hunger Games is too big.
Jordan: I guess whoever is first gets it, then.
Erik: Agreed. Whoever gets it first, gets it first. Whoever reviews it second, reviews it second.
Reviews up in the next few days...
Jordy, left, with brother Ryan, last summer.
Movie-Review Quote of the Day: Ebert on Dick
“After an unpromising start as bicycle-riding cops on park patrol, they're exiled to an undercover unit investigating a dangerous new drug infiltrating a local high school. The captain in charge (Ice Cube) is the typical police veteran who can't believe the incompetence of these losers. I should mention that his name is Dickson — inevitable in a movie papered with dick jokes. The male member, having gone unmentioned during most of the cinema's first 110 years, now co-stars in many comedies.”
--Roger Ebert in his review of “21 Jump Street”
Gorgeous and Brilliant or Bombastic Propaganda? The Exchange of the Day
Comment from Jay: Speaking of overlooked movies, how about City of Life and Death? Gorgeous, brilliant movie.
David Denby: Richard, your move. I missed it.
Richard Brody: City of Life and Death seemed to me to be bombastic propaganda.
David Denby: Oh dear.
--from “Ask the Author: Live Chat with David Denby and Richard Brody on the Oscars,” on The New Yorker site this afternoon.
I'm with Brody.
One-Word Review of Madonna's “W/E”
It's the End of the World as Lars von Trier Knows It and the National Society of Film Critics Feels Fine
I’m bummed that my favorite critics’ group, the National Society of Film Critics, chose one of my not-favorite films of 2011, Lar von Trier’s “Melancholia,” as its best picture of the year; but you could see it coming.
“Melancholia” is the favorite of a certain type of non-narrative-leaning critic with a touch of doom about them. Plus, despite lauding them on MSNBC.com in 2005, the NSFC and I haven’t agreed on much in the past 10 years. They went with “Capote” over “Brokeback Mountain” or “Munich”; “Pan’s Labyrinth” over “United 93”; “There Will Be Blood” over “No Country for Old Men”; “The Hurt Locker” over “Up” or “A Serious Man.”
I can see why “Melancholia.” I admit its five-minute overture is one of the most beautiful opens in movies. I just didn’t like the movie because: 1) I don’t believe in half its characters; 2) its two parts don’t add up to a whole; 3) its misanthropy seems adolescent; and 4) its hand-held camera made me literally nauseous. But I can understand why some misanthropic, form-over-content, iron-gutted critics would dig it. It’s right in their wheelhouse.
Giving me a reason for dying, with characters I can’t relate to, is easy. Giving me a reason for living, with characters I can relate to, is tough. I’ll go with “The Tree of Life,” their no. 2 pick, any day.
“Melancholia” star Kirsten Dunst, who was also named best actress by the NSFC.
2011 Cinema: Looking Back to When We Looked Ahead
Before we look back at the top 10 movies of 2011—or forward to all of that 2012 cinema that isn't spoiled yet by viewing—let’s look back to when we looked ahead: to what we thought might be good in 2011.
In this post last March, I listed off 18 films I was excited about for the upcoming year. They make up the movie posters that have been fading in and out in the upper left ever since.
Of those 18, I saw 12:
- Captain America
- Of Gods and Men
- The Housemaid
- In a Better World
- The Tree of Life
- Uncle Bonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
- Win Win
I still haven't seen six of them:
- The Conspirator
- Gainsbourg: vie heroique
- Le noms des gens
- One Day
Of the ones I saw, four or five will be among my top 10 movies of the year. That’s not bad. I was excited about “The Tree of Life” and it delivered. I was worried “Bridesmaids” would be ordinary, a la “Horrible Bosses,” but it wasn't. I hoped “Moneyball” would be more “Social Network” than “Blind Side” and it was.
By the time “The Conspirator,” “One Day,” and “Super” arrived with their lukewarm reviews I couldn’t be bothered. The best foreign language film, “In a Better World,” wasn’t, while the 2010 Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, “Uncle Bonmee,” which most critics loved, and which has wound up on top 10 lists, I found not only incomprehensible but tedious. It opened up nothing in me. I’d love to read a good review that explains why it’s meaningful.
And what did my early-warning-system blog miss? A lot: “Drive,” “Hugo,” “Margin Call,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Buck.” Among others. Which is the way we want it. The future should be surprising no matter how often, and how much, we try to preempt it.
Movie-Review Line of the Day
“As inconsequential and virtually indistinguishable sub-Judd Apatow white-boy comedies fueled by prison-rape gags and pants-pissing anxiety around black people go, ”Horrible Bosses“ is pretty solid entertainment.”
--Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com.
His full review here. My review here. We have pretty much the same take on the movie - right down to its inconsequentiality. “The bosses are ... three caricatures rather than three human beings,” I write. “Farrell and Aniston's horrible bosses never remotely resemble real people,” O'Hehir writes. Add it up and it's 70% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Movie Review of the Day: Richard Brody on Bridesmaids
“Sometimes, expectations can do one out of a good movie-going experience. In the magazine this week, David Denby reviews “Bridesmaids,” praising the comic prowess of its star and co-writer, Kristen Wiig, but adding that, here, 'she gives a largely realistic performance… Playing quietly, Wiig is a decent and likable actress, but, for fans of her wild side, she seems diminished, her face a little blank. We wait for her to break out.'
”I didn’t wait for her to break out; rather, I watched the movie, thinking, early on, that it was interesting to see Wiig try out a new comic persona—then, midway through the action, I utterly and literally forgot that I was watching Kristen Wiig, and had the sense that I was seeing some new actress, who was neither Wiig nor anyone else I had ever seen. The role and the performance are utterly transformative, and put Wiig instantly into a different cinematic category ...“
—Richard Brody, ”'Bridesmaids': Something Blue," on The New Yorker site
Movie Review of the Day: Anthony Lane on Thor
“Some Gods have all the luck. When the hero of 'Thor' plummets to Earth, from a far corner of the cosmos, in a storming thunderbolt, the first thing he sees upon waking is the face of Natalie Portman. Not a sheep, or a branch of Subway, or a rainy day in Pittsburgh but, I repeat, Natalie Portman. He must think he has died and gone straight back to Heaven ...
”Once Thor stirs, the film itself comes belatedly to life.The first twenty minutes or so have been spent in otherworlds, reachable only by intergalatic wormholes. One is Asgard, a haven of golden towers ruled by Thor's father, the one-eyed Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and closely modelled on the cover of every mid-seventies concept album you wished you'd never bought ...
“'Thor,' in fact, is the year’s most divided movie to date; everything that happens in the higher realms, vaguely derived from Nordic legend, is posturing nonsense, whereas the scenes down here are managed, for the most part, with dexterity and wit.“
Welcome to Earth.
Movie Review of the Day: Macdonald on Bridesmaids
“Watch any of the scenes between Wiig and Rudolph and you'll see something rarely shown in the movies: that giggly, affectionate way that longtime female friends talk to each other; the way they completely relax in the other's presence, over the kind of breakfast-at-a-coffee-shop or wine-at-Lillian's-apartment date they've had a hundred times before. You completely believe the friendship between these two (the way we didn't believe Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin in ”Something Borrowed“) and it lights up the movie.”
—Moira Macdonald, in her Seattle Times review, “Bridesmaids: Comedy Says 'I Do' to Female Friendship,” describing exactly how I felt about these scenes in “Bridesmaids,” the best comedy of the year.
Reader Rebuttal: Hanna (2011)
Forgive me if this email is self-indulgent, but I liked the movie Hanna more than I thought I would, and, although your review would probably be understood as positive, I wanted to defend the movie as having more to it than you seem to suggest.
First, let me agree that I think a stronger movie would have come up with an ending other than a face-off to the death between hero and villian. That said, I think Hanna is a movie that Joseph Campbell would have loved because of its mythology and its symbolism. Hanna is never simply innocent, never simply someone who doesn't know who she is. I think she is meant to represent childhood and the experience of growing up. At a certain level, at the deepest level, none of us know who we are at that age, and at that age that lack of knowledge is often felt more urgently than at any other time because the insight is new rather than familiar.
Moreover, all of us with any integrity have to confront the startling and ambiguous realization that we are abnormal because, after all, “normal” is not meaningful at the individual level. In other words, Hanna, the movie and the character, is appealing to the same experiences that makes the mutants of the X-men so identifiable. Those lost, abnormal people are us - maybe not quite all of us, but many of us. Hanna is more particularly a symbol for those from broken homes. It is almost too obvious to say that Marissa represents the wicked stepmother, but I tend to think that that representation is iconic rather than cliched, universal enough to be readily understandable rather than merely common. More particularly still, Hanna represents those from broken homes who have experienced tragedy in the shattering of that home. She is curious about, and even mesmerized by, a “normal” family in a way that is, again, readily identifiable because it is similar to the way that those from tragically broken homes simply are mesmerized by “happy” families.
Maybe all of this is too apparent to be worth mentioning or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, maybe I'm reading too much into the movie, but all of this representation seems to work on several levels throughout the film, and, if that is right, then the screenwriters and director deserve credit for it.
For what little it may be worth, you are my favorite non-Ebert movie reviewer, and I enjoyed your review of Hanna even if it did inspire this apologetic. Good luck to you.
Movie Review of the Day: Ebert on “Atlas”
“I was primed to review 'Atlas Shrugged.' I figured it might provide a parable of Ayn Rand’s philosophy that I could discuss. For me, that philosophy reduces itself to: 'I’m on board; pull up the lifeline.' There are however people who take Ayn Rand even more seriously than comic-book fans take 'Watchmen.' I expect to receive learned and sarcastic lectures on the pathetic failings of my review.
”And now I am faced with this movie, the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault. I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand’s 1957 novel could understand the film at all, and I doubt they will be happy with it. For the rest of us, it involves a series of business meetings in luxurious retro leather-and-brass board rooms and offices, and restaurants and bedrooms that look borrowed from a hotel no doubt known as the Robber Baron Arms.
“During these meetings, everybody drinks. More wine is poured and sipped in this film than at a convention of oenophiliacs. There are conversations in English after which I sometimes found myself asking, ”What did they just say?“ The dialogue seems to have been ripped throbbing with passion from the pages of Investors’ Business Daily. Much of the excitement centers on the tensile strength of steel.”
-- Roger Ebert on “Atlas Shrugged”
Anticipating Guilty Pleasures
But it's not summer yet, you say.
But summer movies haven't been released yet, you say.
How can they know what's guilty, or a pleasure, if they haven't seen anything yet?
For the record, I thought Matt Singer's response was charming, Glenn Kenney's was funny, and Devin Faraci's incomprehensible. Who doesn't feel guilty over pleasure?
My favorite response, though, came from Jeff Wells. No, not “Super 8”—a movie that doesn't appear too guilt-inducing to me. Wells responded first on his own site, Hollywood Elsewhere, which is how I came upon the MSN piece in the first place. I love his impatience with the folks at MSN who waited 48 hours to post the piece. “I'm sorry,” he writes, “but in this era of instant worldwide expression the idea of writing something and having it gestate and cool its heels off-screen for 48 or more hours seems ridiculous to me.”
He has no idea. In the summer of 2008, I wrote a piece for MSN about a film opening that Friday. Submitted it on, I believe, a Wednesday. Was told it would be posted the following Monday. “But shouldn't we post it on Friday?” I asked. “Since fans of the movie will want to read about the movie over the weekend? Won't Monday be too late?” I was assured otherwise. I was told nothing could be done. Besides, how big could the opening weekend be?
That movie was, of course, “The Dark Knight.”
But it's not Wells' impatience with MSN that I loved. It's the summer 2011 guilty pleasure he writes about that MSN didn't post:
“My other biggie is Bad Teacher (6.24) because I've been nursing fantasies about secretly slutty, ill-mannered teachers (not to mention secretly slutty nurses and pre-vow nuns) since I was ten years old, and this looks somewhat fulfilling in that regard. Why oh why didn't a teacher try to take advantage of me when I was 14 or 15? Why do today's teenagers have all the fun?”
The response is itself a guilty pleasure.
Dueling Movie Critics: O'Hehir vs. Edelstein on “Your Highness”
“Gingival surgery would be more fun than watching this brain-draining, spirit-sucking attempt at a stoner spoof, which combines the cutting edge of frat-boy wit, the excitement of a mid-'80s made-for-TV action flick and the authenticity of a Renaissance Faire held in an abandoned field behind a Courtyard by Marriott. A bus trip from Duluth to Sioux City would be more fun, and don't think I didn't do my research: That takes 13 hours and costs 96 bucks.”
--Andrew O'Hehir, “Is 'Your Highness' the Worst Film Ever Made?” on Salon.com
“How low does Your Highness go? As low as the deepest pits of Adam Sandlershire, the darkest pools of Kevin Smithport, the coprophagic caverns of John Waterstown. As its title implies, it also soars as high as Mount Cheech-and-Chong. It features geysers of gore; bare boobs; Natalie Portman’s bum; and a long, stiff Minotaur knob, which is something you don’t see every day. The trick is that Your Highness is played like a straight sword-and-sorcery epic, with nary a whisper of camp — a cunning weave of low and high, regal and smutty, splendiferous and splattery. It conforms to popular (bad) taste in ways you might find alarming. But on the far side of alarm is nirvana.”
--David Edelstein, “'Your Highness' is Bad Taste Done Right,” in New York Magazine
Looks like O'Hehir on points: Rotten Tomatoes' top critics currently have “Your Highness” at 10%.
This is similar to the critical reaction, too.
How the French Feel Watching Americans Blow Up the Eiffel Tower
This weekend we get to see how dumb these guys are. And by “these guys” I mean 12-to-18-year-old boys. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” opens today in—Jesus!—4,007 theaters? My god. Enough of this. Wait til next week for “District 9.” Go out and play already. With a G.I. Joe, sure, just play. Just don’t hurt us anymore, kids.
The movie didn’t screen for critics, of course, but it did open earlier in the week in France, where the following review appeared in Le Monde. First my crappy English translation, then the French:
The distinctive feature of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” is that it was inspired, not by a comic strip or a video game—that’s become routine in Hollywood—but by children’s dolls; by toys to whom the film gives life. It goes withou saying that their origin myth is particularly poor.
You can’t say Stephen Sommers' film has much consistency. These G.I. Joes are special troops devoted to preventing a mad scientist and a rich and megalomaniacal arms merchant from becoming the rulers of the world—helped in this by hardened and cruel veterans who have at their disposal the most up-to-date and extreme technologies of death and destruction. (They destroy the Eiffel Tower!]
This production, consisting of shamelessly borrowing from everything in the universe, from comic strips to martial arts films to the inventions of the Matrix saga, contains numerous action scenes that are particularly confusing.
The use, ad nauseum, of digitalized special effects and infantile humor, quickly give this G.I. Joe the feel of a big cartoon.
La particularité de G.I. Joe Le réveil du cobra est de s’inspirer, non d’une bande dessinée ou d’un jeu vidéo, ce qui est devenu la routine à Hollywood, mais de figurines pour enfants, de jouets à qui le film a pour objectif de donner vie. C’est dire à quel point la mythologie d’origine est particulièrement pauvre.
On ne peut pas vraiment dire que le film de Stephen Sommer lui donne beaucoup de consistance. Les “GI Joe” constituent une troupe spéciale vouée à empêcher un savant fou et un riche et mégalomane marchand d’armes de devenir les maîtres du monde, aidés en cela par des combattants aguerris et cruels, disposant des technologies de mort et de destruction les plus récentes et les plus radicales (ils pulvérisent la tour Eiffel !).
Cette production, constituée d’emprunts éhontés à toutes sortes d’univers, de la BD au cinéma d’arts martiaux en passant par les inventions de la saga Matrix, contient de nombreuses scènes d’action particulièrement confuses.
L’usage ad nauseam d’effets spéciaux numériques et un humour infantile donnent des allures de gros dessin animé à ce G.I Joe. Le Réveil du cobra.
The Rise of Something Anyway
From Richard Kuiper's Variety review of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” which was not screened for most critics:
Playing more like a highlights reel from an established franchise than a movie intended to launch it, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” interrupts its barrage of CGI action for only the barest minimum of anything resembling character development. Still, young auds switched on to precisely this sort of entertainment should turn this futuristic, military-themed pic into a significant worldwide hit...
No they shouldn't.
LE CORBEAU (1943) et HORS DE PRIX (2006)
Saw two French films this week.
Monday, at the Uptown in Queen Anne, I checked out HORS DE PRIX (Priceless), a 2006 comedy about a gold-digger, Irene (Audrey Tautou), who, in a late-morning luxury hotel bar, mistakes the bartender, Jean (Gad Elmaleh), for a wealthy patron and sleeps with him. A year later she returns, and, despite getting engaged that day to her wealthy patron, sleeps with Jean again, only to get caught, and quickly disengaged, by her fiance. When she returns to Jean's “room,” Jean is subsequently caught by the hotel staff, fired, and left in the lurch by the now-wiser Irene. The steps Jean goes through to win her back among the obscenely wealthy along the Cote d'Azur are both sweet and degrading — immoral, some Americans might say — but the tone of the movie is adult and amoral (what is, is), even as the film eventually steers us from how they live to how we do, or would like to. For a comedy, its humor is dry and rarely laugh-out-loud, but it does end the way most such comedies end. Which, for me, is the wrong ending. It's ending just as it's getting interesting.
The other film, watched last night on DVD, is a classic I'd never seen before, LE CORBEAU (The Raven), made during WWII by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who would go on to direct QUAI DES ORFEVRES, LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR (The Wages of Fear) and LES DIABLOLIQUES. A doctor, Remy Germain (Pierre Fresnay), becomes the target, or the first target anyway, of posion-pen letters signed by “Le Corbeau,” in which secrets are revealed and falsehoods spread. As more people get these letters, as more unwanted information (true and false) winds up in the public sphere, distrust and anxiety mounts, and the village leaders will do anything to flush out Le Corbeau. It's both mystery and character study, with sharp dialogue, beautiful black-and-white photography, and a gloriously ambiguous ending that, in a sense, makes us members of the village. Seen as an indictment of the Gestapo in Vichy, France, it's more, and worth the quick 90-minute trip. Netflix it.
One-sentence review for “Black Book”
Saw Paul Verhoeven's Black Book a while ago, liked it enough (with reservations), but didn't think much more about it until I was researching 2007 U.S. box office and saw the poster again. Suddenly I was reminded of a line from Philip Roth's Zuckerman Unbound, attributed, in the novel, to a Warner Bros. wag, and used to describe Caesara O'Shea, a beautiful actress Nathan Zuckerman finds himself inexplicably dating after the success of Carnovsky. Turns out to be the perfect one-sentence review for Black Book:
“All the sorrow of her race and then those splendid tits.”
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