Friday, September 24, 2010
"The reason I cited my use of the Tomatometer was to say that sometimes I will weigh more heavily the audience percentage than the critic percentage because I believe these people are going into a film with fewer preconceived notions and prejudices. These are folks who either like something or they don't- film watching is a much more visceral experience for them, more honest sometimes."
There are a few elements to this assertion, which I will list and elaborate upon.
1) "fewer preconceived notions"- I did not say "no preconceived notions" and I did not make any claims about what types of preconceived notions the mindless hordes were bringing into the theater with them. I believe that "fewer preconceived notions" is an accurate statement because a film critic can add intellectual and learned academic preferences and prejudices to the list of instinctual ones they share with the masses.
2) "film watching is a much more visceral experience for them"- At it's core, film is about pleasure. Yes, there are messages of life and there is beauty and there is craft, but we wouldn't be watching films if it didn't feel good to do so. The masses respond to films on a much more primal level that cinephiles do- they like what they like and they don't like what they don't like and they disregard what they don't understand.
3) "more honest sometimes"- This instinctual response to film is more useful to me as one who analyzes films more thoroughly because I can layer my own thoughts and theories and opinions on top of gut-level reactions in a way that I can't with more intellectual analysis. Those layers are already there- the critic's own intellectual experience with film clutters my own thinking and makes it harder for me to know what it is that I like or don't like about a film and why. That's not to say that I'm not ever interested in those kinds of opinions, just after I've had an opportunity to form my own opinions first. Because of this, I feel that the audience's general consensus is more useful to me initially.
I have a rough guide to how I use the Tomatometer (which is not always, for sure- I use Fandango's "so-so" and "must go" ratings system in a similar way)- high audience and critic ratings generally mean a good film, but not necessarily a thought-provoking one. It is a film that does everything right, but possibly plays it safe on a number of levels. A film with a high audience rating and a low critic rating usually means something that is entertaining but likely forgettable. A high critic rating and a low audience rating usually means something slow and dramatic, with great characterization. I've found that the best films are ones with a high score in one category and a so-so score in the other. This means that one side or the other is not quite sure what to do with it-it's either entertaining, but with a soul, or well written and crafted and dynamic to boot. I really don't want to know a lot about a film before I go to see it- I even try to avoid trailers if it's by a director I'm familiar with. But I Iike knowing what a film's aura is, and in my opinion the best way to get that is by getting an average score of the reviews. Rotten tomatoes is unique in that it separates the paid critics from the mindless hordes, and thus gives me an even better sense of that aura.
Other than that, dear John, I appreciated what you wrote about films like Tall in the Saddle, about your start as a cinephile (it was Ben Gallman's fault in my case, combined with the excellent selection of films at the Houghton library), and about why you are negative about more modern films than older ones. Actually, your explanation of the last part made a lot of sense- presumably if you had watched as many films from 1944 as you had from 2010 we'd be exposed to a lot more of your negative ramblings where the so-called "golden era" is concerned.
I'm quite pleased that we've had this discussion, I must say. I feel like I have a much better understanding where both of you are coming from and what you're looking for, and I would go out on a limb to say that I think we're looking for a lot of the same things. We differ in where we think we're finding them, but that's what makes the whole thing so interesting. Thanks, fellas. This is good stuff.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
A few points of clarification:
1) The reason I cited my use of the Tomatometer was to say that sometimes I will weigh more heavily the audience percentage than the critic percentage because I believe these people are going into a film with fewer preconceived notions and prejudices. These are folks who either like something or they don't- film watching is a much more visceral experience for them, more honest sometimes.
2) I hope that you are getting that I DO very much enjoy slower paced foreign films. It's just that if I try to start one at 10pm, chances are it's going to put me to sleep, where more mainstream horror, action, or comedy won't. It's all about stimulation, not so much about quality or likes or dislikes... After ten is about the earliest I can start a film that my son can't watch because of when he goes to bed. Occasionally if he's at a friend's house, my wife and I will watch something together, and she often enjoys foreign films. So it happens a lot less often than I wish it would.
3) I enjoyed Lady in the Water, but not necessarily because I thought it was a particularly good film. It's Shyamalan's weakest, in my opinion. But I loved his f$%# you attitude towards critics and the movie business in general. The movie had an underlying sass and I really got a kick out of it. I mean, how many times can you take someone telling you you can't make a better film than your first before you just want them all to shut up? The fact that it was in his fifth film that he finally broke says something about how having to put up with it for so long may have affected him.
4) I read Bordwell last night and was impressed. I like how he does focus a lot on technical aspects- frame counting, cinematography, and the like. I picked an entry that I thought I'd have some knowledge of so I could analyze it intelligently: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=2713. This is one on superhero films, particularly Dark Knight, which didn't impress him. He's not a fan in general of the genre, and he says so pretty outright, but you don't get the feeling that he's not going to let the reader be a fan, either. He admits that he has a lack of knowledge (or interest) on the subject of superhero comics and it underlies the tone of his post really clearly. He even adds a postscript that includes some new information he learned since writing the post and how it altered some of his opinions. I liked it a lot, and I was taken with how unassuming he comes across for someone who clearly has watched at least three craploads of film, and then some more.
5) I have not seen Tall in the Saddle, obviously, but descriptions of the whiskey drinking scene made me think of a shot in All the Pretty Horses that has stayed with me even though I haven't seen the film in probably ten years. The scene takes place in a Mexican prison (I think) and one of the characters asks an old guy in the prison a question. The old guy doesn't answer and the camera just rests on his craggy beautiful face for a bit longer than you'd expect it to. The film didn't get great reviews, but it really made an impression on me because of how skillfully it was shot (despite, apparently, suffering heavy cuts). Could we say that a powerful moment like that could be compared with similar little moments like those in Tall in the Saddle? Could we leave room for modern films that don't blow us away initially to age better than some of the more high profile Scorceses and PT Andersons and the like? That maybe some kid in 2030 might be writing about All the Pretty Horses and saying that "there's nothing comparable being made today"?
Monday, September 20, 2010
The reason I'm not interested in The Killer Inside Me is the same reason I'm not into torture porn horror so much anymore. Horror tends to be a step removed from reality due to its extreme and often unbelievable violence. I needed only to watch a few films like Hostel, Wolf Creek, and House of 1,000 Corpses to realize that they were cutting a bit too close for comfort to that line between real-life horror and fantasy horror and that I needed a break. I haven't yet seen Hostel 2 or Halloween 2 (or The Human Centipede, god have mercy), which may call into question my devotee status for Rob Zombie or Eli Roth, and their ilk. I've watched a lot more vintage than modern horror since then, with the exception being ghost and zombie films, which tend to stay more in their "fantasy horror" fences these days. It doesn't mean, though, that I don't respect what directors like Roth and Zombie are trying to do to add to the genre. I can just only take so much.
Incidentally, I was looking to see if Julien Donkey Boy was in the library system (sadly, it's not) but a book about Dogme 95 came up. I read a little about it (interesting movement- would make for a fun "watch all the Dogme films" project) and discovered that Cabin Fever is a Dogme film. This swings my Eli Roth pendulum (wow that sounds bad) once again towards the genius side. I maintain that he knows his film history; this seems to be more evidence of it.
Tell me more about Tall in the Saddle, John. My impression is that you would be more positively inclined towards an older movie without knowing much about it than you would a modern film, if you put the two side by side. Is this a true statement do you think? How much weight do you give nostalgia when considering a film? In what way is there "nothing comparable" to Tall in the Saddle being made today? It sometimes seems that you hold contemporary films to higher standards than you do Golden Age films. How might you might respond to that assertion, I wonder? I hope you don't take my questions/comments as being antagonistic; you and Brandon both seem to have a preference for older films, which I will admit I have not seen as many of. But it seems like it's almost too easy to eschew what's out there now for what came before. Just because something's stood the test of time doesn't make it a better film than one of equivalent quality made in the present, right? It just means it's an as-good film but for more years... You're just taking more of a chance that a film you're comparing to a classic isn't actually going to stand the test of time...
Finally, John, you overestimate my "love of The Phantom Menace." You hate it, while it is merely my least favorite Star Wars film. It does improve over repeated viewings, but it will always be a latrine for Empire Strikes Back.
First of all, I appreciated both of your posts. The idea of standing on someone else's shoulders to see better (figuratively speaking, anyway- at 6'2" I usually have a pretty good view of whatever I need to :D) is not one that's foreign to me. I'm not trying to say that no one has anything to tell me about film. But in my little experience with academic-type film critics, I have encountered a lot of negativity and cynicism. I haven't yet checked out the link you shared, John, but I will.
You wondered what I meant when I made a statement about "why people go to films." Of course I don't know why everyone goes to films, but the basis for this statement has to do with Rotten Tomatoes. When I am interested in a film, I don't want to know a lot about it ahead of time, so rather than reading reviews, I will go to Rotten Tomatoes and look at the critic rating and the user rating. A film that has low critic ratings but high audience ratings I will still seriously consider paying money to see. It is fascinating to see how widely sometimes the two percentages diverge. And we're talking about people who are at least motivated enough and literate enough to be able to manage a user account on Rotten Tomatoes. I realize that encompasses a WIDE range of intellects, but I still have a hard time with the phrase "mindless hordes" and what that implies.
My son had a hard time with North Face. I'll admit it was my failing for not doing my homework. I'd read that there was some language and intense scenes, but I didn't see "everyone dies" in anything I read. Of course, I didn't bother to look into the actual history of it. Nevertheless, my son was pretty upset after having watched the film. I was trying to console him by reminding him that "in real life when you make dangerous decisions, sometimes these are the consequences." His response was something to the effect of "that's why I don't like watching movies about real life." I think that we can all agree that that's a fairly common sentiment when it comes to your average filmgoer. There are many times when that's why I myself go to the movies. I get to see the good guys win, the lovers reunite, and the villains get justice. And I LIKE it. Precisely because real life isn't like that. And sometimes I come out of a film like that with a renewed sense of idealism and purpose- that there still is that kind of goodness in the world and maybe I can be a part of making it happen. I also LOVE films about real life. Films that show me, as you said, truth and beauty despite tragedy. Or sometimes that just show me tragedy and ground me and give me purpose for a different reason. Sometimes I don't want a renewed sense of purpose; I just want to watch a good story. I thought Dogville was an excellent film, challenging and unique. But holy hell it was a LOT of work to watch. I can't do that all the time; in fact, more often that not I watch lighter fare because it's all my mind can handle after a tough day. I lament that I don't have more headspace to watch the half dozen French new wave films that are still sitting on my shelf at home, because I REALLY want to watch them, too.
I feel like hard-core critics don't give enough credit to mainstream fare. I know I'm lumping together a HUGE subculture and that my opinions to some degree represent misinformation and stereotypes (I can't help but think of Lady in the Water and how utterly thoroughly I enjoyed the critic's demise- this is one of the reasons I like M. Night so much. His movie making is so from-the-gut, so even when it's not masterful, it feels genuine somehow. He's telling a story that HE wants to tell). But when I think of a film like Gentlemen Broncos and read review after review about how Jared Hess is mean spirited and making fun of people who are like his characters and how terrible it is because the potty humor is so cheap and pedestrian, I think to myself, "You have NO IDEA what you just watched. Jared Hess IS his characters. His movies are love letters to misfits and social pariahs. How many of his films do you have to see before you realize that?" It's honestly really upsetting, especially when I think of how refreshing it is to see a movie where the idiot is the hero. How often does that happen?
One thing that I appreciate about your reviews, Brandon, is that they're precisely how you describe them- your opinion based upon your experience. I don't mind someone being critical if they're saying "I didn't like this"- but if they're saying "this is a worthless piece of trash", well, I don't think that anyone has the right to say that about anyone else's art. Period. I hear voice saying "Can you qualify mainstream film as art?" Maybe it doesn't fit some person's description of art (is Danielle Steel art?) but it is someone else's creation- something that (and I'm sure there are exceptions) someone put time and effort and energy into trying to make as good as possible. I will admit that studios that interfere endlessly with directors because they (studios) are trying to put out a money-maker to the detriment of a good film are VERY bad for the industry. But I've been hard pressed to find a director (remember I watch a lot of making-of special features :)) who doesn't give a crap's ass about the film he's making. SO, if I'm reading a critic who is saying "I didn't like this and this is why" I'm going to be a lot more interested in what he has to say than if he's trying to tell me that his vision and standards for film are absolute somehow because he studied it in college and writes about it in the newspaper.
All that to say that I will admit that my lack of knowledge and exposure to good film criticism leaves a gap in my undestanding of film and film history and I am interested in learning more about it (as long as it doesn't make me think too hard and use too many big words). But I also think that film speaks very capably for itself and that sometimes the best film education is watching a crapload of films. And then watching some more.
As a postscript, I will say that I appreciate film writing that synthesizes ideas and does compare/contrast with films on an objective level- that kind of analysis I find very useful.
Friday, September 17, 2010
In other news, when I read your mention of Margot at the Wedding, I had not to that point realized that it was a Baumbach film. Then, the next day, I discovered that The Bad Lieutenant was a Herzog film. And I had seen both of them at the closing-down-Blockbuster! So I called and had an employee set them aside for me- only $2.99 each. Score! I don't feel quite so jealous of John's loot from Hollywood now, though he did get a number of nice foreign films, which were more in short supply at Blockbuster.
Has anyone seen Gentlemen Broncos? I'd be really interested in discussing it if anyone has anything to say about it. It's a rare case where I loved a movie that was pretty universally reviled.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
2) I recently purchased the original Last House on the Left and am curious to see how it compares to the remake. Craven knows what he's doing, doesn't he? I'm sorry you had to endure the remake, but at least you validated my opinion :).
3) Speaking of horror directors who know what they are doing, say what you will about Roth- he knows his horror. Cabin Fever was such an underrated, irreverent, middle-finger-homage to horror (can there be any other true kind?) that I can't speak highly enough of it. It is not the best horror film ever made by a long shot, but it has a self-awareness without self-consciousness that really makes it stand apart from others like it. I thought that Hostel was a natural and logical progression to Cabin Fever- it did suffer from being slightly less tongue-in-cheek, but it was well-informed and executed horror. Roth's genius is that he is intelligent about horror and it comes out in his films, but his intelligence doesn't turn his horror into drama, if you know what I mean. It's still stupid horror. It's kind of a paradox and I don't know if I'm stating myself well. I am disappointed with the existence of Hostel 2 (which I have not yet seen), but I see it for what it is: capitalizing on the success of its predecessor with a lesser sequel. Again, something that horror is fantastic at. Again, genius on the part of Roth. Or selling out. Or both. I was tickled at your statement of dilemma about whether or not to like or hate the protagonist. In your review of Piranha 3-D, you talked about characters' sins being avenged by death; this is classic horror. Roth creates a dilemma by allowing the ignoble character to triumph, thus turning our expectation of the film (due to our conditioning by the genre) on its head. But, you see, it's still crappy horror. It makes points about itself without rising out of the muck. I can't imagine that's an easy thing to do. And Roth may not even be doing it consciously, but because he has steeped himself in horror lore and because he perhaps is a prime example of the mindless hedonistic/moralistic characters horror is so good at portraying. I love that he makes obvious cameos in his films and if you've ever seen him interviewed, he doesn't take himself or what he does so seriously. He's just screwing around like he did when he was a kid, going for shock value, going for the jugular.
True horror doesn't set out to be social commentary. It's lack of self-awareness is why it often becomes such good social commentary. It exposes the fragility of our societal moral construct- a simple sex act is all that lies between us and a gory death- because it stetches it to its most extreme conclusions.
I liked Roth's Grindhouse trailer and thought it was a tantalizing promise of what's to come. I am eager and anxious to see what he does next to see whether or not I'm making more of him than I should be. The beauty of it is that I don't know if he's a good horror director or not- his films have a way of sliding unnoticed into the fray.
4) I want to clarify that the thing that I thought was brilliant about House of 1000 Corpses was the way that Zombie was able to create even the slightest bit of sympathy for his characters. We're talking classic Leatherface evil murderer types, but with a shred of humanity. I've said this before, but if I find myself even accidentally sympathizing with a psychopathic killer, how terrifying is that for me? What Zombie has done with Michael Myers is really an obvious and natural progression of this theme. He is trying to break through the wall of objectification and disassociation that is pretty standard for those of us who like horror- it's all other. These evil characters are other. At the end of Devil's Rejects, when the protagonists (see what I mean? the bad guys come across as protagonists) are running from the police, for the briefest second you feel what you do when Butch and Sundance burst out of the building, six-shooters blazing. And then you feel queasy because you were just rooting for a bunch of sick f*&!%ers to escape. Genius.
5) Snatch is one of my top ten favorites. I never get tired of watching it. Leap Year was not a great film, but Amy Adams is great. I love her. I love Amy Adams. Have I mentioned that already? I liked The Suburbs so much that I gave it away. And then bought another copy. I'm currently listening to Mumford & Sons and the Weepies' new album. New films on my list: Ghost Writer and Sweetgrass.
1) I tried to skim your Greenberg comments, because I didn't want to know anything about the film beforehand. One of the downsides of these blogs- we try not to give away any spoilers, but it's hard to talk about a film if you can't talk about all of it, right? And we are all watching such different things that we'll criss-cross on a film maybe one out of ten (you and Brandon more perhaps). It becomes impractical to say "I'll wait to say more until the others see it." In any event, I just got Greenberg today and will see it soon. I still have Brandon's blog to catch up with as well [update: I am waiting to read Brandon's thoughts now until after I've seen it], so my head will be filled with others' ideas when I see it :). Oh well.
2) I will not be here on the 18th. My sister is going to England to study for a year and this will be my last opportunity to see her for a while. I hope that if you do come up, you will not have used up your going-to-Rochester bucks, because I'd really like to see you before too many more years go by. And I'd like to meet Brandon very much as well.
3) I am still posting to Flixster on Facebook. I do wish that you both were more frequent users, but I have compromised finally and cut and paste a number of my Flixster mini-reviews in my earlier post. Please reward me by noting and commenting on them. I could say more about Scott Pilgrim than my mini-review if you wanted to start a discussion about it, by the way.
4) I am absolutely not interested in seeing The Killer Inside Me. However, I am intrigued by Edge of Darkness and The Last Exorcism. I am on the fence about Dragon Tattoo. Mostly, though, because it and all of its ilk are all the rage right now and I want to be defiant about it.
5) I really, really liked Date Night. I laughed hard and often. Is this a matter of taste, or do I really not know how to determine good film? I always have thoughts about films, but the truth is that I tend to generally like most of what I see. I'll take issue with this point or that, but even if I'm initially turned off by a film, simply watching the making-of special feature will result in my developing a respect for the film's process at the very least. You and Brandon often have very clear-cut opinions on whether or not you've liked a film and it's a curious thing to me. You both certainly have done your research- I tend not to read film criticism. I think it often over-analyzes particulars of a film to the detriment of a bigger picture- the bigger picture of why anyone goes out to watch a film in the first place. I don't always get film criticism, honestly. But I have watched a lot of movies on a lot of different topics and lot of different genres. So I do think that I have a leg to stand on. But what is the nature precisely of the leg I'm standing on?
Please don't think this is a reaction to anything either of you has made me feel. It just seems like I am looking at films differently than either of you sometimes and I'm trying to put my finger on what it is that's different... I can't figure it out.
Here's a list since the last time I posted:
The Blind Side (well done, don't understand how it's an Oscar movie)
Surrogates (a one night sci-fi stand- I need my fix. Read the comic, don't worry about the film)
Night at the Museum 2 (utterly illogical and ridiculous, but I laughed my rear end off)
Transformers 2 (Entertaining, great special effects- no disappointments there. Can I lambaste a movie for having a lame-o storyline when I went into it fully expecting it?)
Legion (awesome special effects- I love how horror FX guys are so committed to doing it without CGI as much as possible. It really does make a difference in a film, I think. But the content of this film was deplorable. "You gave God what he asked for; I gave him what he needed." BARF)
Pirate Radio (This doesn't work at all as a linear narrative. Too much feels forced because it tries to fit into that framework. I didn't really like it at all until I watched the deleted scenes and realized how much good material there really is in the film. Curtis should have presented it as a series of episodic snapshots into their lives- more open-ended, day-in-the-life kind of stuff. Otherwise, who cares? It's not even historically accurate, so why even play that aspect of it up at all?)
Extract (I like Mike Judge, I like Bateman, I liked the film. Judge's most thoughtful work to date. and he does it without sacrificing the unique sense of humor he is so well known for. The infidelity stuff made me sad and uncomfortable, but I found myself very forgiving of the characters because they were all so genuine, even lovable.)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (I hated how they messed with the original ending- I mean *really* hated it. So I've been recommending that folks read the first 5 volumes then watch the movie. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more had I done it that way. Still, until the end, I was fully on board and throroughly enjoyed myself)
Gentlemen Broncos (This film totally doesn't deserve all the bad reviews it got. Hess loves his characters and presents them without guile and affect. We laugh not because we are mocking them but because we know that deep down there's a little of them in us. This film was an unpretentious breath of fresh air. I'm actually really curious if either of you have seen it, J and B, and what you thought of it. I think Hess is onto something really important where characterization is concerned and he doesn't get the credit he deserves for it)
Hogfather (I got this to watch with the family, and while it requires several suspensions of disbelief, it was a lot of fun. I read Pratchett's novel a number of years ago, and figure any adaptation of a book of his has to retain at least some of his trademark humor. The character of Death is really a hoot.)
Nordwand/North Face (Intense, tragic. Starts slow but finishes furiously. I did a bit of reading of the history afterwards and was impressed at how well the fictional elements were incorporated into the facts if the account. The love story was not overdone at all and added a real human and cinematic element to the narrative. I'm a sucker for mountaineering drama and thought this was on the level of Touching the Void, which may be the best mountaineering drama movie I've seen so far. Highly recommended.
I'll try to catch up soon and post with responses and such. Here's to hoping John hasn't publicly flogged me again.