Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: ‘Great’ Movies You Just Don’t Like

I suspect everyone has a list — figuratively at least — of movies he or she considers overrated. You know, movies you’ve been told are great for years that you either actively dislike, are bored by, or simply “don’t get.” I don’t mean movies that were the big thing for a few weeks last year. Rattling off enormously popular films from 2007 that I thought were rubbish is child’s play and ultimately futile out of the context of that year. Without thinking too hard about that, I’d toss in 300 and Transformers, but what’s the point? Does anyone beyond the most hardcore fan really think these movies will be even a blip on the radar 20 years from now?

What I’m looking for here are those movies that have been around a reasonably long time — say, 20 years as an arbitrary figure — that are almost invariably thought of as “great.” I recognize a few pitfalls here. For example, a lot depends on the circles you travel in. It’s common in classic horror circles, for example, to find the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi Dracula (1931) considered overrated. (I don’t agree, but that’s a side issue.) Outside of those circles, it’s debatable that the film is even much watched these days, let alone discussed. (That hasn’t stopped Universal from putting out three different editions of it on DVD in the last few years.)

There’s also the possibility, assuming you’re at least moderately open-minded, that your own tastes may have changed or (gasp!) matured over the years, and that movies you originally disliked might seem different to you down the road. A prime example for me would be Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967). I originally hated the movie. A few tries over the years didn’t change that. Then a couple summers back I watched it again for a special showing and I suddenly got it, and its place in film history. Part of that came from finally seeing it in a beautiful copy that was properly letterboxed, but part of it came from changes within myself between 1972 when I first saw it and 2006.

So bearing in mind the limitations of my own frame of reference and the fact that I might suddenly have an artistic epiphany somewhere down the road, I offer for your amusement — or argument — a small selection of “great” movies I just don’t like and haven’t liked for years.

The Birth of a Nation.  Although I’ve started to “get” D.W. Griffith a little bit over the past few years, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the supposed greatness of his 1915 Civil War epic. Even granting that it’s from 1915 and therefore qualifies as groundbreaking, it simply strikes me as a not very good movie. I’m not so much talking about the movie’s unblinking racism, though that’s certainly a valid sticking point.

I mean, after all, we’re talking about a movie that deems it preferable for a woman to leap to her death than be raped by a black man, glorifies the Ku-Klux-Klan, relegates any black role requiring acting to white guys in blackface, etc. (It’s interesting that Griffith tapped into the works of Richard Wagner as concerns the layout of the music to accompany the film.) But all that to one side, the movie strikes me as a riot of hammy acting (much less subtle than that found in Griffith’s earlier films), technical shortcomings and appallingly bad editing. The technical shortcomings I can overlook because of its antiquity, but the editing — the much praised editing — is another matter. Much has been written over the years about the precision with which Griffith edited his movies. I can’t buy it, especially not in this case, where almost any given edit could have occurred several seconds to either side of the cut and made almost no difference. Add to this the fact that the movie clocks in at 187 minutes and you have a fine recipe for a deadly evening at the movies.

Gone With the Wind.  Saying a I don’t like Gone With the Wind (1939) is probably an overstatement since I don’t exactly dislike it, I just don’t get all the fuss. OK, so it’s in Technicolor (a novelty for 1939, but hardly a first) and it’s really long (a mixed blessing and even less of a first). Let’s see, Clark Gable gets to say “damn” on the screen.

Big deal. Al Jolson (Mammy (1930)) and George Arliss (The Green Goddess (1930)) got there first, as did a few others. What else? It was an “event” film (again, not new). But it is an epic for what that’s worth. (I’m always amazed when people use “epic” to denote quality when all it means is it’s really big. So is a beached whale.) It has several amazing set-pieces like the crane shot over the wounded men up past the tattered Confederate flag and the burning of Atlanta. And I don’t see how anyone could fail to get a kind of chill as the words “GONE WITH THE WIND” move across the screen to Max Steiner’s music at the beginning of the film. Also, the William Cameron Menzies production design is breathtakingly beautiful in its very artificialness. The acting is close to flawless. Well, that’s with the exception of Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, who is quite honestly awful — an even bigger problem since we’re supposed to buy that Scarlett is mooning over this simpering weakling for most of the film. But step back from the whole movie for a moment and look at it. Look at it without even considering some of its more dubious socilogical implications. What do we really have here? Is this the great drama about the Civil War? No, not really. It’s four solid hours of pop soap opera about two folks with really bad timing. When Rhett wants Scarlett, Scarlett doesn’t want Rhett. This shifts back and forth throughout the movie with only slightly less regularity than possession of the Ark of the Covenant between Indiana Jones and the Nazis. By the end of it all, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Fantasia.  OK, so I freely admit I’m just not a Disney fan. Maybe it comes from being terrified by Sleeping Beauty (1959) when I was 4. Maybe it comes from that extra 10 cents the theaters used to charge for Disney releases in my childhood (regular movies were a quarter, Uncle Walt was 35 cents). All the same, I spent my formative years hearing about what a terrific movie Fantasia (1940) was.

I was told that seeing it would change my entire attitude about Disney. I suspected that was an exaggeration, since I’d already decided that the seven minutes of the Fleischer Brothers Betty Boop cartoon of Snow White (1932) was much more entertaining and interesting than Disney’s 1937 feature. But I was willing to give Fantasia a solid chance. The very idea of a film that matched classical music and images appealed to me no end. Then I saw the film. Yes, parts of it were, and are, brilliant, especially the more abstract concepts, the Bachanal set to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and, best of all, the penultimate sequence using Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. These, however, are a fairly small percentage of a film that is full of the usual Disney catalogue of cuteness like hippopotami in tutus and an extended Mickey Mouse cartoon (Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). This last also offers the spectacle of Mickey thanking conductor Leopold Stokowski for playing the piece and Stoki shaking hands with the cartoon character, saying, “Thank you, too, Mickey,” which makes me cringe. I don’t really think that setting Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring to dinosaurs was such a hot idea either, but considering the nipple-challenged centaurs in the Beethoven sequence, it might have been better than trying to depict the ballet’s pagan rituals. And Disney’s insistence on having Deems Taylor explain how an optical soundtrack works is just deadly dull. I was later informed that my disappointment was the result of not having dropped acid prior to watching the movie. Yes, well, what is one to say that?

Rebel Without a Cause.  The James Dean cult completely mystifies me. If ever a performer achieved the status of “greatness” due to an untimely death, James Dean strikes me as that performer.

The man left us with only three features of which this 1954 Nicholas Ray (whose reputation also mystifies me) opus was the first. The movie is not without its interesting points, but it finally seems little more to me than a depressing teen angst drama with a few good set-pieces that seem better than they really are thanks to some interesting location choices. The film itself is overheated on every level from its bombastic Leonard Rosenman score to its silly portrait of hopeless adults to its hysteria-pitched acting. At the center of that last is Dean himself — looking every day of his 23 years as a high school kid — who is on a rampage of overacting at its finest. I know it’s supposed to be some kind of definitive iconic moment, but Dean screaming, “You’re tearing me apart!” is one of the funniest moments in film. All that to one side, I do enjoy nervous fanboys still arguing that there’s no gay subtext in this movie 53 years after the fact.

Vertigo. It’s supposed to be Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but Vertigo (1958) has always struck me as an overrated bore. I’ll grant you that I prefer Hitchcock’s British films to nearly all of his supposedly weightier Hollywood work, so I have to admit to a certain bias. However, that’s a bias that came about through a comparison of those two eras — and I saw all of his Hollywood films long before his once hard-to-see British films. Vertigo strikes me as a special case. It starts out fine, but it’s ultimately something of a cheat, since it’s a mystery-thriller that gives up its mystery long before the ending.

I mean, we find out that Kim Novak’s character is part of an elaborate, and unbelievably convoluted, plot to murder someone else fairly early on in the proceedings. That’d be OK in itself if it weren’t for the fact the film’s status as a psyhological study in obsession just ain’t all that deep. There’s some terrific technical stuff in the movie, not the least of which was the development of the now overused dolly zoom shot where the combination of moving camera and a zoom lens creates a weird perspective. But as drama, the movie’s always left me cold. The first thing I think of when I think of Vertigo is Jimmy Stewart endlessly driving around San Francisco. Interestingly, when the film was restored and re-issued in the late 1990s along with Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), audiences had a much stronger positive reaction to the earlier film, which had previously been largely written off as a stunt picture (the film is made in long ten minute takes) and a failure.

2001: A Space Odyssey. As a technical achievement, Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science fiction film is a stunner. As an expression of an artist being given more artistic control over a mainstream release than seemed imaginable, it’s certainly noteworthy. There are moments of unbelievable brilliance and beauty in the film. The “earthrise” set to the excerpt from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra is as amazing now as it was in 1968.

The general use of music is fascinating throughout. The “star-ride” that leads to the film’s climax has lost little of its power in the intervening years. As drama, however, 2001 has always struck me as a combination of the deadly dull and the maddeningly opaque. I first saw the film in 1968 — complete with someone who had read the book and insisted on explaining what was going on to me. I was 13 and almost certainly too young to comprehend some of the Big Ideas in which the film traffics. These many years later, I can comprehend those ideas, but I’ve yet to be convinced that they can be grasped without recourse to the book—and that strikes me as a weakness in what ought to be a self-contained work. But worse than that is the simple fact that I don’t care what’s going on very much because I don’t care what happens to the film’s boring, undefined characters. However, so many people whose opinions I respect greatly love this film and think it’s the bee’s knees of science fiction cause me to keep trying with 2001. As a result, I dutifully trot it out every few years — unless I bump into it on Turner Classic Movies — and have another look at it to see if I finally understand their admiration. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m about due to have another go. Who knows?

So there you have a half dozen movies that I’m supposed to like and just can’t quite manage. I could throw in another six titles, but I think that’ll suffice for the moment. Instead, let’s leave the door open for discussion on the matter. Surely, there are folks out there who’ll take issue with these choices, and probably even more who have their own titles to add.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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112 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: ‘Great’ Movies You Just Don’t Like

  1. I recently saw Black Orpheus for the first time, and found it a lot less interesting than I’d been lead to believe. Great cinematography and an interesting enough premise, but ultimately not a very deep or satisfying movie. I guess it was a monumental thing for Marcel Camus to use an all-black, all-Brazilian cast in the late 1950s, and there’s an undeniable exotic and hedonistic feel to much of the film, but taken out of that historical perspective, it just doesn’t hold up all that well. It’s kind of like looking at an old Playboy; it’s interesting that people used to get so worked up about something that, by today’s standards at least, is relatively tame.

    Another film I’ve always had the same feeling on (and for similar reasons) is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I get the whole thing about its place in film history, but I’ve never felt that it’s that great of a movie. It’s kind of fun to go o a live version, but more as an excuse to throw toilet paper and toast around rather than as an actual film experience. I’m sure others will disagree, however.

  2. I actually was going to mention FANTASIA on your article about movies that changed your life. I saw it VERY young, about four, and it sparked my love for dinosaurs, horror films, classical music and bare chested centaurs.

    A more recent film that I just didn’t like was LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. “Indie” filming 101.

  3. ncain

    I don’t know that there are words to express my hatred for Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara is easily the most hateful, worthless character in the history of fictional characters, and the movie traffics in a deeply immoral Confederate romanticism that in this day and age can only appeal to people who, deep down, hold some very ugly views. All I see when I watch that movie is a sick society of would be aristocrats, content to profit off human suffering. Have I mentioned that I live in Atlanta, and work for the state of Georgia, so I am forced to take “Confederate Memorial Day” off work. It’s this Monday. I’m packing up and coming home to the mountains. If I don’t I might go burn down Margret Mitchell’s house in protest.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Steve — actually I disagree about both the assessment of ROCKY HORROR as a film of genuine merit and as being overrated. In the latter capacity, I simply mean that I don’t think the film is itself generally regarded that highly. The phenomenon of it is, but not the film itself. And that, frankly, is exaggerated, ‘cuz it ain’t the original midnight movie — PINK FLAMINGOS and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE at least preceded it — it just happened to hit at the right time (when midnight movies were a pretty big deal) and catch on. As a film, I’d go so far as to say it’s probably underrated.

    Marc — I don’t entirely disagree about LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, though I liked it a lot at the time I saw it. Subsequent attempts at watching it, however, failed.

  5. More “Phantom of the Paradise” references, please, at least one an article. Paul Williams will not have died in vain.

    My film I’ve always despised though everyone else hails it a classic is “Wings of Desire”, petulant overwrought disaster. The change from black and white to colour forced me to walk out.

  6. boob screen

    Agree COMPLETELY with your opinion about Rebel, Birth of a Nation and Vertigo, and thank you for saying it. Dean one of the most overrated actors of all time, and I’ve been thinking that about “tearing apart” for years. If Rebel has any value it’s culturally. I think Hitchcock too is overrated, The Birds is the only film of his I found the least bit interesting. As for Birth, historical value only I’d wager (though I haven’t seen it in about 20 years).

    Re: GWTW, I think romance is the make or break element for the viewer. The production and design is there, but not enough to account for the film’s mass appeal. A big production version of Children of Paradise…for many that is enough. Re: Scarlet persuing Wilkes, he’s simply her perceived ideal, I think his character is more effective for his “whimpering” in illustrating that there’s no accounting for taste with the kind of romance Scarlet is subject to.

    Oh but now we come to 2001. There’s a lot I could say in its defense, being one of my top 5 films of all time, but no great work of art can of course claim universal appeal (or universal comprehension). I will however quote John Boorman who said Kubrick was trying to transcend the medium: I think he succeeds, and this is no small accomplishment. I should clarify that I’m not really referring to form as in Stan Brakhage, though as we know there were stunning technical achievements that continue to amaze.
    It’s a poem – not a plot – and a lucid narrative was not the point. At the very least, the film has provoked much discussion…reading some of it (and some of your comments), I wonder if we always hurt the ones we love?

    One last comment I have to make in response to your article. I read elsewhere your slight of Fantastic Planet – for SHAME!

  7. TigerShark

    >>Outside of those circles, it’s debatable that the film is even much watched these days, let alone discussed. (That hasn’t stopped Universal from putting out three different editions of it on DVD in the last few years.)

    Universal has put out three different editions in the last few years.

    And you don’t think people are watching it?

    What was Universal doing, then. “Oh, this eiditn didn’t sell, but if we release it again, this one will sell. Who cares if it costs us a few thousand bucks to release it again. Oh… that version didn’t sell either. What a waste of money. Well, guess we’d better try again. It’s failed twice in a row, no one’s watching it, but we’ll sink some more money into it…

    Somehow, I don’t think that’s a very believable scenario.

    Of course, they could all be going to University film programs that just put them on a shelf without watching them.

  8. Chip Kaufmann

    While I have never liked the title nor the politics of BIRTH OF A NATION (the original title THE CLANSMAN tells you flat out what it’s about), it should be pointed out that compared with Shelby NC native Thomas Dixon’s original book the film is positively restrained. In the original both the mother and the daughter are actually raped before they kill themselves. As for the erratic editing, while certainly not up to today’s standards, no original print of the film exists and it has been constantly edited and altered since it first appeared. This is true of most of Griffith’s major films between 1914 and 1924. The acting of the principal characters is restrained by the standards of the day especially when you consider the barnstorming nature of the play it was taken from. Griffith chose THE CLANSMAN because 1)it was the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and more importantly 2)it was breaking box office records on Broadway. Never overestimate the public’s taste in subject material as the recent success of ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS clearly shows. A remarkable movie for when it was made and one that still has several memorable sequences if you can get past the politics. TRIVIA NOTE: Hwy 74 thru Shelby on the way to Charlotte is named Dixon Blvd after Thomas Dixon who is buried there.
    After all that regarding one film on your list, I concur with your other choices and your assessment of them. I loved FANTASIA when I saw it in 1962 but now I only admire it. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE has always been overheated (just like BIRTH OF A NATION) but it’s effect on those who saw it in 1955 and the impact it had on films that followed (also like BIRTH) cannot be denied. As for VERTIGO, I have always felt that Hitchcock’s color films are terribly overrated. His best work was done in black and white. Stanley Kubrick is one of four major filmmakers I respect and admire but whose works I rarely like and never love (the other three are Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, and Orson Welles). 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY remains a technical marvel and a great exercise in detatched filmmaking but for me it never went beyond that. I consider myself to be a film historian (as opposed to a film critic) and I always try to put an important film within the context of it’s time. After all that’s what made it an important film in the first place.

  9. Vince Lugo

    Ken, I understand your comments about finally “getting” a film you used to hate. For years I detested Citizen Kane. I could never understand why, out of all the movies in history, AFI chose it for their number one pick. Of course, being a film studies major, Kane showed up in almost every class, the bane of my existence. Then a peculiar thing happened. In most classes where I watched it, we focused on all of the groundbreaking technical elements. But earlier this semester, I watched it in a class on great screenplays and was asked to ignore the technical and pay attention to the writing. When I did that, I realized that it’s a pretty darn good movie after all. Not the greatest ever (I would vote for Double Indemnity over Kane), but good. I suppose it’s because when you focus heavily on the visual aspects, it’s easy to miss the story. An interesting lesson.

  10. Ken Hanke

    “More “Phantom of the Paradise” references, please, at least one an article.”

    That might be kind of tricky…

  11. Ken Hanke

    “Oh but now we come to 2001. There’s a lot I could say in its defense, being one of my top 5 films of all time, but no great work of art can of course claim universal appeal (or universal comprehension). I will however quote John Boorman who said Kubrick was trying to transcend the medium: I think he succeeds, and this is no small accomplishment.”

    If he indeed succeeded, I’d say it is no small accomplishment, too, but, for me, he really doesn’t. I think Boorman was probably correct, however. In the end, though, one man’s “poem” is another man’s crashing bore, which was actually the point I was making in the first place. I’m certainly not trying to make you — or anyone else — not like 2001. Now, I might try to make someone dislike FANTASTIC PLANET, but that’s an entirely separate matter.

  12. Ken Hanke

    “What was Universal doing, then. “Oh, this eiditn didn’t sell, but if we release it again, this one will sell. Who cares if it costs us a few thousand bucks to release it again. Oh… that version didn’t sell either. What a waste of money. Well, guess we’d better try again. It’s failed twice in a row, no one’s watching it, but we’ll sink some more money into it…

    Somehow, I don’t think that’s a very believable scenario.”

    Well, it’s actually not quite the scenario, but it’s surprisingly not that far off from what’s more or less happened. The Browning DRACULA certainly has a niche market, and that market — which, by the way, I’m part of — will buy the same film over and over if there’s any perceivable reason to do so.

    The first DVD release came hot on the heels of the DVD release of FRANKENSTEIN (1931), which was a stunning disc of the film — complete with not just the missing footage from the creation scene, but with all the lines intact (“Henry in the name of God!” “Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it is to be God”) for the first time since 1931. Expectations ran high for DRACULA…and weren’t met. The transfer was deemed inferior to the one used for laserdisc and, in fact, to the copy being run on TCM. Music that had been stripped off the film to make room for that atrocious Philip Glass score a few years earlier had not been replaced, etc.

    As Universal put less and less effort — or so it seemed — into each release, the enthusiasm for these movies in DVD incarnations waned. So they tried selling stripped down double-features, and then putting everything into “Legacy” sets. As a result, DRACULA popped up again in a “Legacy” set — and this time in an even worse transfer taken from an old TV print. There was much outrage in fandom.

    So in 2006 Universal decided to try once more with a “75th Anniversary Edition,” which fixed most of the problems of the earlier releases. So, yeah, it’s three releases being sold largely to the same pretty small group. I should know — I’ve bought every one of them. And, if the rumor turns out to be true (looking unlikely) that a pristine lavender positive (fine-grain print) complete with the long-missing curtain speech has surfaced at the Library of Congress, they’ll sell it to us one more time.

  13. “I think Boorman was probably correct, however. In the end, though, one man’s “poem” is another man’s crashing bore”

    Zardoz?

  14. Dionysis

    I agree with Ken’s picks as being over-rated (2001, GWTW and the rest, including Disney films (I’ve just never been able to get into animated films, even as a child). I would add THE EXORCIST to the list; I recall going to see it in a theater packed with screaming people, accompanied by my (then) girlfriend and another couple…he and I laughed so hard we were nearly thrown out, and we weren’t even stoned).

  15. Spot on about Birth of a Nation – I remember having to watch part of that in a film class I took years ago, thinking “and this is a good movie… how?” It’s a wonder that I ever discovered Way Down East or Intolerance at all, because Birth wasn’t exactly a film that would make me want to investigate anything else in his filmography…

  16. Ken Hanke

    “As for the erratic editing, while certainly not up to today’s standards, no original print of the film exists and it has been constantly edited and altered since it first appeared.”

    True enough, but two points ought to be addressed here. The first is that these changes appear to have often been the result of Griffith himself tinkering with the films — supposedly in some cases at theaters showing them, resulting in a variety of director’s mood-of-the-moment cuts. The second is that none of what I’m complaining about really falls into this category, since subsequent cuts wouldn’t have added footage, and much of what strikes me as especially ragged are shots that would benefit from ending sooner or starting later.

    “Stanley Kubrick is one of four major filmmakers I respect and admire but whose works I rarely like and never love (the other three are Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, and Orson Welles).”

    I love two Kubrick films, but otherwise am pretty much in accord there. I love several Altman pictures. My problem with Scorsese is that I’m just not all that interested in 90% of his choice of subject matter, e.g., RAGING BULL may be a great film and a technical marvel, but I don’t give a damn about Jake La Motta. Not sure if I really do love any Welles film. I’d have to think about that, but I think I might love CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.

    “I consider myself to be a film historian (as opposed to a film critic) and I always try to put an important film within the context of it’s time. After all that’s what made it an important film in the first place.”

    Depending on what I’m doing, I consider myself either, or sometimes even both. And, yes, I try to put a film into the context of its time, but that’s not enough for me in and of itself. I think it’s equally important — maybe more so — how it plays now, even if “now” is always changing, too.

  17. Ken Hanke

    “Ken, I understand your comments about finally “getting” a film you used to hate. For years I detested Citizen Kane. I could never understand why, out of all the movies in history, AFI chose it for their number one pick. Of course, being a film studies major, Kane showed up in almost every class, the bane of my existence. Then a peculiar thing happened. In most classes where I watched it, we focused on all of the groundbreaking technical elements.”

    Film classes have probably ruined as many movies for people as literature classes have ruined Shakespeare. The truly odd thing about this approach to KANE is that it’s become credited with inventing a lot of stuff that existed ten years or more before. Sets with ceilings? Take a look at James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931) for starters. Overlapping dialogue? Look at any of a number of Howard Hawks pictures. And so on. Of course, what happened with KANE is that Welles packed all these elements into 119 minutes of movie. That not only made it all seem that much more impressive, it made it a swell teaching tool. Funny thing is if I had to teach a class on film, I suspect I’d go for Rouben Mamoulian’s LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932) as the most compact collection of cinematic tools around.

  18. Ken Hanke

    “I would add THE EXORCIST to the list; I recall going to see it in a theater packed with screaming people, accompanied by my (then) girlfriend and another couple…he and I laughed so hard we were nearly thrown out, and we weren’t even stoned).”

    I have an on-again off-again affair with THE EXORCIST, though I find I much prefer the 2000 cut to the original, since it reinstates much of Wm. Peter Blatty’s thematic concerns. That said, I like Boorman’s misbegetton 14 and a half million dollar “art film” EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC better — or at least, I find it more interesting and better to look at. Even so, I think Blatty’s own EXORCIST III is easily the best of the lot.

    My own experience THE EXORCIST was catching it for the first time in 1975 at a drive-in, which had the unfortunate addition of this rather…uh…not to bright young man, who somehow ended up going with my friend and myself. Whatever shock or horror value there was to be gotten out of the film was definitely thwarted during the (in)famous scene with Linda Blair and the crucifix when he loudly asked, “What’s she stabbin’ herself in the stomach for?”

  19. Harper

    Cameron’s Titanic would top the list for me . . .possibly the most bloated and annoying film ever to lumber across the silver screen.

  20. Louis

    We’ve only touched the surface of how they play “now”…

    The Great Escape- The omnipresent “musical score”–and I use that term loosely–sounds canned. McQueen spends what seems to be a 1/3 of the movie riding around aimlessly on a motorcycle. To say it’s too long is an understatement.

    Midnight Cowboy- Terribly dated.

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid- For this to enjoy the honor of being called a “Western” is an affront to westerns everywhere.

    Close Encounters of the Third Kind- Speaking of Kubrick’s 2001…this is a follow-up lesson in detached filmmaking. Yawn.

    The Deer Hunter- In retrospect, I don’t think it’s unfair to conclude: Michael Cimino has nothing to say, unless, of course, we’re talking about “Heavan’s Gate.” Talk about underrated. ;)

    Driving Miss Daisy- Yes, it’s been 20 years. Best Picture winner, 1989. Racism is bad. Thanks for the insight.

    And when the requisite “20 Years” has passed you can go ahead and place your bets on these movies:

    Silence of the Lambs
    Forest Gump
    The Shawshank Redemption
    American Beauty
    Crash

  21. “Cameron’s Titanic would top the list for me . . .possibly the most bloated and annoying film ever to lumber across the silver screen.”

    I’m sure I would list TITANIC if I ever saw it. FORREST GUMP too.

  22. Ken Hanke

    TITANIC and FORREST GUMP — especially FORREST GUMP — would be on my list, too, but they fell out of this particular list, since neither is 20 years old. Not sure I believe that either one is destined for actual “classic” status anyway.

  23. Ken Hanke

    “We’ve only touched the surface of how they play ‘now’…”

    It opens a new can of worms with the direction you’re going, not in the least because “dated” is a slippery concept that gets blanket use as a pejorative term. Unless we’re so arrogant as to think that we’re the last word in modernity — that it’ll never (God save us) get any better, hipper or more artistically profound than right now — then we realize that what we’re doing will also date. Everything dates because everything is hemmed in to some degree by its era, especially on a technical level. With this in mind, a Shakespeare play and a Beethoven symphony are dated, because no one writes that way these days.

    I don’t have a special fondness for Midnight Cowboy, and, yes, it’s dated, but does that make it irrelevant? Or does it have an emotional resonance that transcends its dated quality? Does it not perhaps date in a worthwhile way that now functions to some degree as a document of its time? Even without being one of the film’s greatest admirers, I’d say, yes, to both questions.

    Similarly, there’s probably nothing that’s as dated as Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, but it throbs with energy and life on its own terms, and provides the best moment-in-time capturing of Beatlemania I can imagine. And it would be in the top half of any list I’d make of the top 50 movies of all time.

    I watched the 1930 film WHOOPEE! last night. Talk about dated! Two strip Technicolor, a 1920s stage show brought to the movies complete with its silly plot, bad expository writing, and some appallingly racist attitudes. It also — for me — has moments of pure magic and it’s as close as we’re — or our descendants or their descendants — likely to get to seeing what a 1920s Ziegfeld show was like.

    That’s in part what I’m getting at when I say I try to keep both historical and current perspectives (these too will date) in mind.

    Having said that, I don’t especially take issue with your choices — all of which I’d call overrated, though I can remember that BUTCH CASSIDY seemed pretty fresh at the time (haven’t seen it in years), but the very fact that I don’t care much for westerns may enter into why it doesn’t bother me.

    As for your impending choices, I think they’ve largely been taking out of the running before the 20 year mark.

  24. Gulley Jimson

    Anything with Orson Welles is still worth watching. Loved Citizen Kane when I first saw it 30 years ago and still love it today. Also enjoy Touch of Evil and his comedy, The Third Man.

    Kubrik is bloated. Never liked anything he ever did. Didn’t even like Malkovich’s Colour Me Kubrik. Truly awful director, Stanley that is.

    I’ve never been able to watch GWTW. It’s just awful. Ten minutes into the film I’ve got to ingest massive amounts of saltlick to get rid of the sweetness of the Confederacy. How many directors were needed to film that crap? I wish all copies had burned with Atlanta.

    James Dean? Imagine Keanu Reeves dying at an early age and you get James Dean.BTW, still love The Matrix, dude.

    Enough crapping on bad movies.

    Party on dudes.

  25. But there ARE good movies, REALLY good movies which makes it all worthwhile. “High Noon” and “Shane” — the best two westerns… and ANYTHING starring Hoot Gibson, no matter how low budget or stupid in script he reaches down and pulls up a gem by his bootstraps! (watch Tex Ralph on URTV for all the great old westerns).

    “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca” … the first “Star Wars” (and none of the others), ANY Mark Brothers film, a few of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd — one is the best comic of all time and the other should be (just not sure which is which, they’re both so good). … the first Godfather … and, disagree with Ken, “2001” but ONLY if you realize you don’t understand it and why (read a lot of Arthur C. Clarke for this to dawn on you, then you’ll start understanding)… believe it or not, “The Sound of Music” … “Support Your Local Gunfighter” with James Garner, much underrated film… Anything Al Pacino eats the scenery in (does not make it a good movie but darn fun to watch)… “The Mouse That Roared” but the books are a LOT better, you rock Duchy of Grand Fenwick! They shoulda made a lot more of those.

    “Ice Age” is a mammoth film! … well… it is.

    Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York.”

    Abbot and Costello, Hope in the Road Pictures, John Wayne in just about everything he did, even the four or five he SANG in (and he sure couldn’t).

    And let me mention Hoot Gibson AGAIN!

    “Witchfire” with Shelly Winters, 1984 … hey, bad movie but I worked on the script and did the movie novelization … also a shout to “Ghost Town the Movie” which I got to do some work on (comes out this fall). Worth watching to see Cowboy and Bill McKinney together again (they were the villains in “Deliverance” … if you hear banjos, paddle faster!).

    Grace Kelly in “The Swan” (filmed here in Asheville). “The Last of the Mohicans” (which my wife had a bit part in) …. and, well, a LOT of others.

    Don’t even ask me to start listing books I like. ;-)

  26. Louis

    Yes, indeed, to call a movie “dated” is a pejorative term. And, provided the person making the observation has an informed point-of-view, that’s as it should be. “Dated”…in the sense that it doesn’t inspire me to contemplate the time & place that it depicts, or, better yet, what the movie is really about.

    In “Midnight Cowboy’s” case, I simply think the story is irrelevant and, therefore, dated. So, in this sense, it’s understood, or at least in a perfect movie criticism world it should be, that “dated” is indicative of a movie that, due to the passage of time, has proven to be, in fact, not worthy of additional looks.

    Mind you, this opinion has nothing to do with “Midnight’s” content (sex & drugs depictions) that was “shocking” at the time–X Rated–and now, with the passage of time, is perceived as “mild.” This, I would agree, would be unfair to hold against the film in and of itself. In the case of movies, “emotional resonance” always trumps dated-ness, technical and otherwise.

    All this said, if being a noteworthy representative of it’s time is a primary consideration in determining a movie’s worthwhileness then “Heaven’s Gate”–e.g., culmination of an era of out-of-control budgets and untested & unchecked directors–would be considered a great movie. It’s not. But, ironically, it’s dated-ness does function to make it a worthwhile document of its time.

  27. Ken Hanke

    “James Dean? Imagine Keanu Reeves dying at an early age and you get James Dean”

    A pretty fair assessment, and one we could say we got from the Horse’s Mouth in this case. (I’m sure the poster will get it if no one else does.)

  28. Back to Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” The film was significant not for its message but for its groundbreaking popularization of feature length movies and its technical innovations, including a color section at the end! Not bad for 1915.

    As has been pointed out, author Thomas Dixon was from Shelby… here’s an interesting tidbit from the Wikipedia:

    “Griffith, whose father had been a reputed Confederate Army hero, agreed to pay Thomas Dixon $10,000 for the rights to his play The Clansman. Since he ran out of money and could afford only $2,500 of the original option, Griffith offered Dixon 25 percent interest in the picture. Dixon reluctantly agreed. The film’s unprecedented success made him rich. Dixon’s proceeds were the largest sum any author had received for a motion picture story and amounted to several million dollars.”

  29. Ken Hanke

    “In “Midnight Cowboy’s” case, I simply think the story is irrelevant and, therefore, dated.”

    But that, by its very nature, is — as is all of this really — highly subjective. I would counter that of all the things that might be irrelevant about the film, the story isn’t one of them. Also, though this probably isn’t the place to discuss it, you’re not making it clear why you think the story is irrelevant.

    “All this said, if being a noteworthy representative of it’s time is a primary consideration in determining a movie’s worthwhileness then “Heaven’s Gate”–e.g., culmination of an era of out-of-control budgets and untested & unchecked directors–would be considered a great movie. It’s not. But, ironically, it’s dated-ness does function to make it a worthwhile document of its time.”

    I don’t see that, because the movie in question doesn’t in itself capture anything about the time it was made in. The circumstances surrounding its making do, but not the movie itself. It’s not the movie that’s a document, but the circumstances. The real irony is that HEAVEN’S GATE was hardly a solitary case. It was just the last one — or the one that got singled out. The whole thing is too complicated to be laid at the feet of one bad movie, though it’s been simplified to appear that way. Even more ironic is the fact that much more money has subsequently been lost on more expensive films without creating a comparable uproar.

  30. Ken Hanke

    “But there ARE good movies”

    I don’t think that was ever at issue, even if I might not agree with your definition of good movies (or you with mine) in every instance.

  31. Ken Hanke

    “Back to Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” The film was significant not for its message but for its groundbreaking popularization of feature length movies and its technical innovations, including a color section at the end! Not bad for 1915.”

    A color section? Maybe hand-colored or toned and tinted (that dates back to 1903 at least), but I don’t think there’s any actual footage shot in color. Again, though, no one has said that the film is without historic import.

  32. It was color toning, Ken … a not uncommon photographic technique in that era but rather tedious when applied to film, hence (I suppose) the shortness of the color section.

  33. Ken Hanke

    “It was color toning, Ken … a not uncommon photographic technique in that era but rather tedious when applied to film, hence (I suppose) the shortness of the color section.”

    I suspect it has as much to do with the expense and tedium of having to color each and every frame by hand as much as anything (and bear in mind, that would have to be done to every print). From a viewer standpoint, there’s the drawback that the coloring isn’t going to be exact from frame to frame, which at best is distracting.

  34. supermom

    RALPH: I was going to suggest “Support Your Local Sheriff” as a highly underrated movie!

    I also really like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”, but that’s a whole nother discussion…

  35. Right, Supermom! James Garner is one of those understated, underrated actors who has been around forever simply because he CAN act.

    Killer Tomatoes and movies like “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “Jessie James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter,” “Teenagers from Outer Space” (the latter two I’ve presented on URTV), are all so BAD that they are GOOD. ;-)

  36. Not to un-derail the theme here, but I’ve rarely liked anything I’ve seen by Robert Altman. Every film I’ve seen of his has a kind of half-baked feel to it, like he had all the ingredients to make a good film but couldn’t figure out the rest of the recipe. I’m not saying there haven’t been a few bright spots, and I realize that he has made some brave decisions along the way, but I’ve never really connected with his work.

    Also, since Kubrick’s work has been tossed around, I thought I’d chime in and say that I’ve rarely seen a film of his that I didn’t find a cold, distant masterpiece of its genre. None of them are particularly friendly films, but nearly all of them have a level of craft and vision to them that have pushed the art of film in compelling new directions. I’d go as far as saying that many of his films have even helped to both define and deconstruct their genres. Consider the sci-fi films that existed before [i]2001[/i], or politically cynical black comedy before [i]Doctor Strangelove[/i]. For that matter, put [i]The Shining[/i] up against any other Stephen King horror-story adaptation. That said, I do feel that a lot of his films are made to be more important in terms of message than they were probably intended to be. (That’s true for a lot of films, though. You could say the same for [i]Star Wars[/i] or [i]Logan’s Run[/i].)

  37. [b]Steve—actually I disagree about both the assessment of ROCKY HORROR as a film of genuine merit and as being overrated … [/b]

    When I was growing up in the very late ’80s and early ’90s, [i]Rocky Horror[/i] was presented to me as a kind of groundbreaking and brilliant work on par with the greatest films of all time. I expected a kinky musical with an explosive cultural vision; instead, I got a few mild allusions to alternative sexuality, some goofy Broadway (or West End, I guess) song-and-dance numbers and Tim Curry in fetish gear. It’s a fine film for what it is, but it wasn’t really intended for me or my generation. I didn’t think it was great or horrible, just kind of silly and overblown.

    I’ll also go on record here as saying that I’ve rarely loved anything Woody Allen has directed. Some of his films are good, but for the most part, they all live in the “7 to 8 out of 10” rating rut for me. Even the “great” [i]Annie Hall[/i] didn’t do it for me.

  38. Ken Hanke

    “Also, since Kubrick’s work has been tossed around, I thought I’d chime in and say that I’ve rarely seen a film of his that I didn’t find a cold, distant masterpiece of its genre. None of them are particularly friendly films, but nearly all of them have a level of craft and vision to them that have pushed the art of film in compelling new directions.”

    Well, no one — or almost no one — actually suggested that he was without merit. I would quibble with the kinda free use of the word masterpiece, and I’d point out that rarely can you say he pushed the art of film in any way that extended beyond himself — with the possible exceptions of 2001 and CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which you could argue were influential. That’s not always a good thing, since a lot of what 2001 spawned was stuff like a light-show introduction to ABC’S TUESDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. It’s not like we were flooded with imitation BARRY LYNDONS or, God knows, ersatz THE SHININGS. If the latter were true almost all Stephen King movies — I’ll exempt CARRIE (which predates THE SHINING anyway) and THE DEAD ZONE — wouldn’t be crap. In the case of EYES WIDE SHUT, I’d question if Kubrick even pushed the art of film for himself.

    “That said, I do feel that a lot of his films are made to be more important in terms of message than they were probably intended to be.”

    Almost certainly, but then a lot of that has to do with the scarcity of output, so that his films came to be events (real or perceived). There’s also the fact that WB gave him carte blanche as their personal “prestige filmmaker.” There’s a lot in Kubrick’s films that strikes me as in there only because he thought it was cool, or it presented a fun technical challenge. Even a film I grearly admire like CLOCKWORK ORANGE is full of such things. Of course, it helps that these actually are pretty cool.

    “When I was growing up in the very late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Rocky Horror was presented to me as a kind of groundbreaking and brilliant work on par with the greatest films of all time.”

    Well, of course, I was well into my 30s and pushing my 40s in the time frame you’re citing, but I can’t help but wonder who was making these claims. I can’t imagine they were coming really film-centric folks. At the same time, I could easily see it having even more cache at that time — in the reactionary 80s, it probably looked more subversive than it did earlier. Still, I’ve almost never encountered anyone who had all that much good to say about the movie (including Richard O’Brien) outside of the overall “Rocky Horror experience.” Then again, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you are largely not in tune (pardon) with musicals in general.

    “I’ll also go on record here as saying that I’ve rarely loved anything Woody Allen has directed. Some of his films are good, but for the most part, they all live in the “7 to 8 out of 10” rating rut for me. Even the “great” Annie Hall didn’t do it for me.”

    Do you feel better now?

    Granted, I’ve loved most of Allen’s oeuvre from LOVE AND DEATH (1975) on (oddly, I’m not that keen on ANNIE HALL), but really even if your final assessment is on the money, just how many — or how few — filmmakers even live in the “7 to 8 out of 10” range? I can’t name more than a handful. Good Lord, even with a filmmaker I greatly admire like Danny Boyle, there are some dreadful films. I forced (and it was forced) myself to sit through A LIFE LESS ORDINARY a couple months back and thought it wasn’t just bad, but absolutely awful.

  39. [b]Then again, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you are largely not in tune (pardon) with musicals in general.[/b]

    Guilty as charged, although with notable exceptions. [i]Moulin Rouge[/i] is near the top of my list of all-time favorite films, and I have a slight soft-spot for the odd Gene Kelly MGM song-and-dance flick.

    As to Woody Allen’s work, I think there’s not much in his films that I find easy to relate to. I respect that he was an innovative filmmaker and fresh voice for his time, but Woody Allen the character was a pop-culture cliché for me long before I was ever exposed to his work. I’m sure it prejudiced my views of his films to an extent.

    I’ve also found him a little repetitive, and could barely get through [i]Match Point[/i] because the entire way through I kept thinking that it was just a tarted-up remake of [i]Crimes and Misdemeanors[/i].

    Then again, I was in my early 20s when I saw most of the films that formed this opinion, and perhaps it’s worth giving his work another shot.

  40. Ken Hanke

    Guilty as charged, although with notable exceptions. Moulin Rouge is near the top of my list of all-time favorite films, and I have a slight soft-spot for the odd Gene Kelly MGM song-and-dance flick.

    Interestingly, we agree on MOULIN ROUGE!, but I’m oddly resistant to all but a handful of MGM musicals — and that mostly comes down Rouben Mamoulian’s SILK STOCKINGS (1957), which is a Fred Astaire picture, not Gene Kelly. (Kelly’s a little off-putting to me. I think it’s the squinty eyes.) That said, I love a great many musicals — they just don’t happen to be those MGM 1950s things. I’ll have more to say about musicals in this week’s Screening Room. You are warned.

    I’ve also found him a little repetitive, and could barely get through Match Point because the entire way through I kept thinking that it was just a tarted-up remake of Crimes and Misdemeanors.

    I disliked MATCH POINT intensely — and for much the same reason you cite, except I think you’ll find my review calls it a laugh-free CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. As for repetitive, that generally strikes me as yes and no. The Woody character is pretty much the same (it’s a limited range creation and it depends entirely on how you respond to it). But there’s a very wide range of filmmaking styles there. LOVE AND DEATH is nothing like ANNIE HALL, which is nothing like MANHATTAN, which is nothing like STARDUST MEMORIES, which is nothing like A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY, and so on. I’m strictly speaking styles here, though there’s a variation or three in thematic content.

    Then again, there’s a certain repetitiveness with most directors and almost all screen comics. It’s not necesarily a bad thing.

  41. Gulley Jimson

    Love and Death..
    ————————————

    Don’t you know that murder carries with it a moral imperative that transcends any notion of inherent universal free will?

    That is incredibly jejune.

    That’s jejune?

    Jejune!

    You have the temerity to say that I’m talking to you out ofjejunosity?
    —————————–

    Need I say more?

  42. Louis

    Agreed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and, in the case of the biggest and best movie stars is, I would argue, an asset rather than a liability. Off the top of my head… think Lemon (the everyman), Hackman (sardonic, and never gets the girl) , Beatty (the people pleaser) …these are examples of movie stars that essentially played the same “character” moving from one “novel” story context to the next. Does this qualify as repetitive, or mining an artistic point-of-view? With these types of “established” movie stars, it’s this developing character thread that draws us back to see how they will respond “this time” to a new, fresh set of circumstances.

  43. Jesus DeJudea

    Over rated movies.
    Just about anything and everything by Steven Spielberg including Jaws, E.T. and Schindler List. I have to rewatch Raider of the Lost Ark but I’m pretty sure it probably belongs here too.
    I like Ang Lee but both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain were highly over rated.
    Lars Von Trier’s Dogville was completely unwatchable and in that same vein of Dogma 95 film making, Harmony Korine’s Gummo and I don’t care if Herzog likes him.
    Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient stole 162 minutes of my life that I wish I could have back.
    And while I’m thinking about it, the entire Star Wars series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are overrated too.

  44. Todd

    Interesting discussion. Has the column “Movies That I, A Film Critic, Shouldn’t Like At All But Do” already been penned? Smokey and The Bandit, perhaps? The Bridges of Madison County?

    Altman’s love of “chatterscope” has always rubbed me the wrong way–except in MASH.

    Where’s the double feature of FANTASIA and THE WALL?

    More on topic, the last third or so of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA loses me a bit. Maybe I’m just tired of Peter O’Toole at that point. And I just saw DON’T LOOK BACK, and enjoyed all the concert footage but grew weary of young Bob Dylan continually thumbing his nose. That may not be a reaction to the film so much as the subject matter, or is there a difference?

  45. [b]You have the temerity to say that I’m talking to you out of jejunosity?[/b]

    Yup, that’s pretty much what I was talking about when I said there’s not much in Allen’s films for me.

    You know, I’m a little surprised no one has come out swinging over the works of David Cronenberg and David Lynch. When I think of polarizing filmmakers who have been called “great” by people in a position to be taken seriously, both of them come to mind.

    The last Cronenberg movie I saw was [i]eXistenZ[/i], which was enough to make me wonder why I kept trying to like his movies at all. His “great” and supposedly groundbreaking film [i]Videodrome[/i] struck me as something that would have been far more effective as a novel, but which failed to do anything for me as a film other than wonder why the thought this particular story was worth investing millions in getting on a screen somewhere.

    I gather his most recent films are a bit more audience friendly, and I’m tentatively planning on giving his work another shot. I’ve had [i]A History of Violence[/i] in my NetFlix queue (sorry Marc!) for eons now, and keep knocking down the list in favor of things like [i]Biodome[/i], which is telling on a number of levels.

    Lynch is a filmmaker I really want to like, largely because he’s a masterful visual stylist and it’s obvious he has something to say with each film. The reason I don’t really enjoy his works, and rarely am compelled to seek them out, is that while he does have something to say, he never actually gets around to doing it while he has your attention.

    [i]Mulholland Drive[/i] was a smart, perfectly paced and hard-not-to-watch film, but at the end of it, I felt like Lynch didn’t give a damn whether the story made sense to anyone. It’s like he’d rather be cryptic than clear, because when it’s unclear he gets to gloss over content and pretend it’s art rather than just lazy storytelling. And don’t tell me that this was the whole point of [i]Mulholland Drive[/i], because he does the same kind of thing in every film, even his beautifully awful adaptation of [i]Dune[/i], which took a perfectly straightforward story and made it into a total mess.

  46. Ken Hanke

    Does this qualify as repetitive, or mining an artistic point-of-view? With these types of “established” movie stars, it’s this developing character thread that draws us back to see how they will respond “this time” to a new, fresh set of circumstances.

    It can be both, but it’s part and parcel of the whole movie star thing when you get down to it — and there’s almost always a reaction against it when they depart from form. Chaplin could do no wrong till he decided he was too old to play “The Tramp,” whereupon he became very controversial — to an exaggerated degree. Cary Grant gave what was often considered his best performance in None But the Lonely Heart (1944), but the public pretty much hated the movie because he wasn’t being Cary Grant. Look at Bob Hope trying to be more serious (part of his eternal quest for an Oscar) in The Seven Little Foys (1955) and Beau James. No one was much interested. Woody Allen himself has been blasted on and off since Annie Hall by people wanting “the early funny ones.”

    In some cases, it’s the artist with a genuine need to grow — and then, it becomes a separate issue for the audience to be able to grow, too.

    There’s also a tendency — as in the Cary Grant thing — for praise to be way overstated just because someone has done something different. I’m not sure I agree that that’s all that big of a deal. People went lollipops over Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt because it was different from your usual “Mephistofeles Jack,” but isn’t just as — or maybe even more — remarkable when he can be effective doing what’s effective?

  47. Ken Hanke

    Harmony Korine’s Gummo and I don’t care if Herzog likes him

    I don’t care who likes him, I find his work utterly repellent.

  48. Ken Hanke

    Interesting discussion. Has the column “Movies That I, A Film Critic, Shouldn’t Like At All But Do” already been penned? Smokey and The Bandit, perhaps? The Bridges of Madison County?

    No, it hasn’t, and while those titles wouldn’t be on it, it’s a pretty good idea — for starters, I should probably be ashamed to admit how many times I’ve seen House of 1,000 Corpses and Eurotrip. Of course, then I remember that Ken Russell liked Deuce Bigalow and don’t feel so bad.

  49. Ken Hanke

    Yup, that’s pretty much what I was talking about when I said there’s not much in Allen’s films for me.

    The mere fact that someone would write a comedy film with a discourse of “jejunosity” strikes me as encouraging.

    You know, I’m a little surprised no one has come out swinging over the works of David Cronenberg and David Lynch. When I think of polarizing filmmakers who have been called “great” by people in a position to be taken seriously, both of them come to mind.

    I’ll weigh in slightly. I greatly admire Cronenberg — at least once he gets past those awful “art” films like Stereo and Crimes of the Future. In fact, with the exception of Crash, I’ve never seen a Cronenberg picture I though was a waste of my time.

    With Lynch, it’s more dicey — and I’ve never been able to really decide if he’s a genius, a nut, or a fake. Sometimes I think he’s all three. I had a very odd response to Mulholland Drive in that I liked it a lot when I first saw it and it made no sense to me. On a second viewing when it made more sense to me, I liked it a lot less. Maybe I’m caught in the trap of “I didn’t understand it so it must be art” here.

    I’ve had A History of Violence in my NetFlix queue (sorry Marc!) for eons now, and keep knocking down the list in favor of things like Biodome, which is telling on a number of levels.

    You know, there’s just nothing polite I can think of to say to that…

  50. Ken Hanke

    People went lollipops over Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt because it was different from your usual “Mephistofeles Jack,” but isn’t just as—or maybe even more—remarkable when he can be effective doing what’s effective?

    Oh, for editing capability! In case anyone can’t untangle that, it ought to read: “but isn’t it just as — or maybe even more — remarkable when he can be effective doing what’s expected?”

  51. [b]You know, there’s just nothing polite I can think of to say to that…[/b]

    C’mon! When I drop something that awful in conversation, I fully expect to be brought to task for it, preferably with hilarious results. The only film I could have referenced that would have been more make-fun-of-able would be [i]Epic Movie[/i].

  52. Ken Hanke

    C’mon! When I drop something that awful in conversation, I fully expect to be brought to task for it, preferably with hilarious results.

    You think I’m going to reward you for saying something that inane?

  53. “I gather his most recent films are a bit more audience friendly, and I’m tentatively planning on giving his work another shot. I’ve had A History of Violence in my NetFlix queue (sorry Marc!) for eons now, and keep knocking down the list in favor of things like Biodome, which is telling on a number of levels.”

    Ain’t no big thang. It’s those people that live within walking distance to my store that still have Netflix that I take issue with.

    AND we recently stocked our first Pauly Shore film… BIODOME.

  54. [b]In the case of EYES WIDE SHUT, I’d question if Kubrick even pushed the art of film for himself.[/b]

    I missed this earlier. Let me just say that at 71 and knocking on death’s door, for me it’s forgivable that Kubrick’s best work was behind him. But, I would argue that the original edit of the film, pre-digital insertions (rather than the biological ones they were covering up) was a rather edgy choice for any film. This was in 1999, well before arthouse hits like [i]Shortbus[/i] or [i]9 Songs[/i] started bringing real sex back onto the screen in a trench-coat free environment.

    It’s a shame that [i]Eyes Wide Shut[/i] was otherwise kind of dull.

  55. Louis

    Forgivable? One could make a strong argument that film director is one of the few lines of work in which your work should be getting better, not worse, as you grow presumably wiser with age and, thus, are capable of telling stories with increasing gravitas. Clint Eastwood comes to mind. Though, the fact is, age has little to do with it. This is it — as director, Do you have anything compelling to say? 21, 51, 71, or 91…age doesn’t matter. It’s not blasphemous to conclude—evidenced by Eyes Wide Shut—that Kubrick simply had nothing—at least nothing compelling, or even entertaining for that matter—to say. This is the work of man who evidently thinks that having extras standing around naked for no obvious reason is somehow erotic. A man who self-exiled himself to England and then, when committed to a script that takes place in Greenwhich Village, recreated the streets of NYC on a soundstage. Visually, the film is underwhelming, to say the least. It looks like it was shot on the backlot of a television show. As far as the pre-digital “nudity” insertions go…this implies that placing naked people on screen is somehow “edgy.” At best, it was pretentious and pseudo-arty hollowness with Tom & Nicole woefully leading the way. If your looking for “real sex” on screen consider pornography on DVDs. More nudity, better acting, and comparables set-pieces, all in the quiet comfort of your own home.

  56. Ken Hanke

    AND we recently stocked our first Pauly Shore film… BIODOME

    Did you lose a bet?

  57. Ken Hanke

    I missed this earlier. Let me just say that at 71 and knocking on death’s door, for me it’s forgivable that Kubrick’s best work was behind him. But, I would argue that the original edit of the film, pre-digital insertions (rather than the biological ones they were covering up) was a rather edgy choice for any film. This was in 1999, well before arthouse hits like Shortbus or 9 Songs started bringing real sex back onto the screen in a trench-coat free environment.

    I’m not sure I don’t forgive a filmmaker a mistake regardless of his age — unless he keeps making that mistake — but I’d question that this was really all that edgy, at least as concerns a choice. Bear in mind, Kubrick was part of an era of filmmakers who came to take that kind of freedom as a matter of course. I doubt he even paused to consider his choice of material in terms of being or not being an edgy choice.

  58. Ken Hanke

    Clint Eastwood comes to mind

    Oh, dear…if Eastwood is the example of the wisdom of age, mark me down for a supporter of the arrogance of youth.

  59. [b]Louis:[/b] I disagree, and I think that age is a factor when you are talking about someone’s creative catalogue. It’s perfectly understandable that someone would have said most of what they had to say in life by the time they get around to putting out their last major work. It’s kind of simple on the audience’s part to say “Well, I didn’t like that last film you made when you were old and tired, so obviously you were always a hack and I just never realized it until now.” At what point is it enough?

    I’d make the same argument for one of my favorite directors, Kurosawa. His last film was [i]Madadayo[/i], which was easily one of the least dynamic of his career. I mean, a film about an retired schoolteacher’s eccentric relationship with his students by the same guy who gave us [i]Seven Samurai[/i] and [i]Ikiru[/i]? I was a little peeved when I saw it, but then I realized that it was also possible that there was a message there for someone other than me. Maybe ol’ Akira made a film that you can only fully appreciate when your best years are behind you.

    So, I’ve not ruled out that [i]Eyes Wide Shut[/i] is a film from the perspective of a dying, jaded genius trying to make one last nihilistic stab at the world. Or, maybe it’s even more meaningful than that, but I won’t grasp it until I’m 70.

    As far as the sex on-screen goes, I highly doubt Kubrick was trying to be erotic in any way. I gather that the whole point of that film was to show a kind of hollow brand of hedonism in an explicit and unflinching way, balanced by a kind of painful and sexless intimacy.

    And if you don’t think that showing sex on screen in a mainstream film falls under an “edgy” decision, I’d be very curious to know what qualifies.

    I’m not saying that adding genital penetration to a film somehow makes it art — I’m not Lydia Lunch fan or anything — but when that same film is made by one of the most famous directors in the history of film, starring two of the best-known actors in the world, I’d say that there’s probably a little more going on that a dirty old man making a porn. It’s not like [i]Eyes Wide Shut[/i] — which I didn’t even like, by the way — is even in the same shallow and exploitative vein as [i]Caligula[/i].

    I can’t speak to Clint Eastwood’s growing abilities, as I’ve never really liked most of his films all that much, and have never considered him to be a “great” director. I think of him as a slightly less insulting version of Ron Howard.

  60. Sidney Lumet is one who has kept his edge. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD holds up well against his body of work.

    Recently there has been several articles begging readers to watch EYES WIDE SHUT again. To some, time has been kind to the film.

  61. Louis

    Ron Howard compared to Clint Eastwood? Ouch. I respect your right to not care for Eastwood’s work. Nevertheless, even Hanke would have to agree that Eastwood is, at the very least, oftentimes making (“Space Cowboys”& “Blood Work”—Uggh—notwithstanding) the noble effort to try—and I would submit oftentimes succeeding—to deal with worthwhile, archetypal themes. Ron Howard’s idea of having something to say is “Parenthood,” “Backdraft,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

    With regard to showing sex in a mainstream film and “edginess,” I suppose we differ on the meaning of edginess. I guess this means Harvey Keitel’s full-frontal work in “Bad Lieutenant” was edgier than I realized? Hmmm. The flaw in this argument is that it implies subscription to puritanical sensibilities. Showing sex—even unsimulated—in a “mainstream” movie is not necessarily edgy. It might be. It might not be. Would you make the case that “9 ½ Weeks” is edgy? Cause that’s a case I would love to hear. How about a cheaply executed commercial ploy…? Yes. How about “Showgirls?” Madonna’s “Body of Evidence?” “Wild Orchid?”

    Movie folklore holds that Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange had unsimulated sex on the kitchen table in the remake of “The Postman Always Rings Twice;” sex so explicit that an urban legend of sorts holds that the two were really having sex. Have you seen it? True or not, strangely, edgy doesn’t come to mind.

    On the other hand, how about this for edgy– Maggie Gyllenhaal in “SherryBaby?” If you, or anybody on this message board, have had the pleasure of seeing this, then you get a sense of the delineation I’m making.

  62. Justin Souther

    “Sidney Lumet is one who has kept his edge. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD holds up well against his body of work.”

    Here’s a recent film I felt overrated. It wasn’t so much Lumet’s direction that I had a problem with (and for the most part appreciated), but rather the material itself. I never felt the slightest inclination towards feeling for these people and I thought some of the scripting was sloppy and drawn out. Saying that, I can still appreciate the film simply because it’s so rare for an 80-plus year old to still be allowed to make films.

    As far as older movies, I’ve never gotten what the big deal is about THE GODFATHER films. This isn’t to say I dislike or hate them, I’ve just never seen what their supposed greatness is supposed to be, other than how firmly entrenched they are in pop culture. Then again, I haven’t watched them in about 5 years, so maybe it’s time for a reassessment.

    And speaking of edgy, at least Ron Howard’s movies have his brother Clint in them.

  63. Ken Hanke

    Nevertheless, even Hanke would have to agree that Eastwood is, at the very least, oftentimes making (“Space Cowboys”& “Blood Work”—Uggh—notwithstanding) the noble effort to try—and I would submit oftentimes succeeding—to deal with worthwhile, archetypal themes.

    I’m no fan of Ron Howard. He’s not my kind of filmmaker, but at the same time I’m not sure I think that Eastwood has done anything that’s especially better than, say, A Beautiful Mind or Cinderella Man — neither of which I particularly admire, mind you, though I think they’re perfectly fine mainstream middle-brow movies. I grant you I haven’t seen all of Eastwood’s filmography — including the much-praised Unforgiven — but I’ve seen a good sampling and all of the more recent work. Blood Work was junk, but it didn’t really seem to pretend to be anything more. Mystic River I found grotesquely overrated. Million Dollar Baby I merely found grotesque and embarassingly bad. Flags of Our Fathers was ham-handed, trite and repetitive in its theme. The big exception is Letters from Iwo Jima, which I thought was pretty fine. Of his earlier work, I remember when Play Misty for Me was virtually shouted off the screen as a “drive-in movie” at Cannes, and that seemed a pretty fair assessment to me. Did kinda like White Hunter Black Heart and to a lesser degree Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I’ve seen several others, but my impressions of them are vague at this point. I guess all that makes him higher on my scale than Ron Howard, but it’s really not a comparison that would have occurred to me in the first place.

    As far as the age thing goes…well, first of all, I know 80 year olds who never seem to have gotten any smarter, just older, and I know 25 year olds who are already pretty darn smart and mature. As for filmmakers, I’m not sure how to think about this. Really, most filmmakers have one or two periods of great creative activity that they rarely, if ever, top. There aren’t that many filmmakers who get to keep on working without serious compromises and lower budgets and other constraints, so it’s often hard to assess their later work fairly — if they even have any. One of the more consistent, who may have gotten better with age, has been given short shrift around here, so it probably won’t get us very far when I cite Robert Altman. Of his final three films, only The Company struck me as being without merit. Gosford Park was excellent in my book, and A Prairie Home Companion not only was as good as anything he ever made, but was the most graceful swan song I’ve even seen.

    The flaw in this argument is that it implies subscription to puritanical sensibilities.

    I don’t think so because the argument as I understand it from Steve’s point is that the use of sex and skin is edgy owing to the puritanical sensibilities of the mainstream audience — not because he personally finds it a turn-on or whatever. Unless I’m reading him wrong, it’s the gesture he’s endorsing. I do know I’ve seen enough walk-outs, enough audiences and been on the receiving end of enough mail to say that, yes, there are some pretty puritanical sensibilities out there. I’ve been personally blasted for recommending filth. Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Almodovar’s Bad Education and David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabee’s all drew angry responses from readers who were shocked and disgusted by these films. Good God, just look at the current fuss of the full-frontal male nudity in Forgetting Sarah Marshall — you’d think no one ever saw a penis before.

    In and of itself, sex and nudity is nothing one way or the other, but there are an awful lot of films I’d call edgy — or maybe I should say transgressive — that use it. I’d concede, however, that Kubrick dropping some frontal nudity into Eyes Wide Shut impacts me neither one, nor the other. Warner Bros.’ silly decision to digitally cover it up, however, I find quite appalling.

    Not having seen Sherry Baby I can’t comment on it. Would you consider — just to name a few — Ken Russell’s The Devils an edgy film? What about his Crimes of Passion? Or how about Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien? Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange?

  64. Ken Hanke

    Saying that, I can still appreciate the film simply because it’s so rare for an 80-plus year old to still be allowed to make films.

    This is very much key to any such discussion — still be allowed to make films — and let’s be honest, Lumet wasn’t here being handed the keys to the kingdom to make some huge movie, but was trapped in a very low-budget realm. That said, Lumet — for whatever qualities he has — is a pretty graceless filmmaker. He’s not a great visual stylist, or even a particularly stylish filmmaker. In fact, the only stylish film of his I can think of is Murder on the Orient Express — and I have memories of Bye Bye, Braverman as fairly stylish or at least quirky, but I haven’t seen that in 30 years and it’s not available on video. He’s a solid, straightforward craftsman and fine with straightfoward material. Check out The Wiz sometime to see how wrong he goes when he tries to be stylish.

    As far as older movies, I’ve never gotten what the big deal is about THE GODFATHER films. This isn’t to say I dislike or hate them, I’ve just never seen what their supposed greatness is supposed to be, other than how firmly entrenched they are in pop culture.

    I have to say that’s pretty much where I am on these films, but I think a lot of my feelings about them lie in my complete indifference to the subject matter. I’m just not enthralled by mafia stories and have always been mystified by the hold they seem to have on a lot of people. They simply don’t resonate with me, no matter how well made they are.

  65. Justin Souther

    “That said, Lumet—for whatever qualities he has—is a pretty graceless filmmaker. He’s not a great visual stylist, or even a particularly stylish filmmaker.”

    While I don’t have as much the same frame of reference in regards to Lumet films as you do, the thing I found the most interesting about BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD was that — despite the modern day setting of the film — is that it somehow looked like something that would’ve been made thirty or thirty-five years ago. I’d have to give the film another watch to really pinpoint the reasons why, stylistically, but there are certain aspects of its look and the way that it’s filmed that just doesn’t resemble what’s made today. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s interesting to me, at least.

  66. Ken Hanke

    the thing I found the most interesting about BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD was that—despite the modern day setting of the film—is that it somehow looked like something that would’ve been made thirty or thirty-five years ago.

    I only saw the film once and that was months and months ago, so I’m not going to try argue the point, but I’m guessing that the look you’re talking about has much to do with a tendency to shoot in natural light and the almost offhand approach to nudity, both of which are of the time you cite. That and a certain hand-made quality. So much of what you see now is so slickly produced that it sometimes seems that the filmmaking itself was untouched by human hands.

  67. bobaloo

    With Lynch, it’s more dicey—and I’ve never been able to really decide if he’s a genius, a nut, or a fake. Sometimes I think he’s all three. I had a very odd response to Mulholland Drive in that I liked it a lot when I first saw it and it made no sense to me. On a second viewing when it made more sense to me, I liked it a lot less. Maybe I’m caught in the trap of “I didn’t understand it so it must be art” here.
    I’ve greatly enjoyed this discussion and haven’t chimed in because any of the opinions one has on movies can always be argued (unless it’s with someone who likes “Meet the Spartans”. No sense arguing on that level). But I have to chime in on this.

    You suggest Lynch could be a fake? Good Lord, sir.
    How could you see something as brutal and beautiful as, say, Blue Velvet and think the filmmaker could be a fake?
    Some of his films have been somewhat self indulgent, like Inland Empire, but never less than honest.
    If you want fake try Vincent Gallo or Uwe Boll.
    I’d even accept Tarantino.

  68. Ken Hanke

    You suggest Lynch could be a fake? Good Lord, sir. How could you see something as brutal and beautiful as, say, Blue Velvet and think the filmmaker could be a fake?

    I would never take issue with him as concerns Blue Velvet. Maybe “fake” is too strong, so let’s just say that there are moments in Wild at Heart and Lost Highway that set off my BS detector in the realm of “this is just weird for the sake of weird.”

    Some of his films have been somewhat self indulgent, like Inland Empire, but never less than honest

    Inland Empire is not fake, no. I wouldn’t even use the term self-indulgent (which strikes me as meaningless anyway).

    If you want fake try Vincent Gallo or Uwe Boll. I’d even accept Tarantino.

    I could accept all those, but I never thought they were geniuses either.

  69. bobaloo

    there are moments in Wild at Heart and Lost Highway that set off my BS detector in the realm of “this is just weird for the sake of weird.”

    Well, yes then.
    But weird for the sake of weird is not without its own artistic merit.

    I could accept all those, but I never thought they were geniuses either.
    That’s the point isn’t it? They think they’re geniuses.
    Actually, Boll is just a douchebag.

    Again, great discussion.

  70. Louis

    Should I be ashamed to say I don’t get the significance of “Blue Velvet?” When I saw it I all could think was, “I can’t believe Lynch put his (then) girlfriend–together 7 years– Isabella Rossellini, in this humiliating role and, conversely, I can’t believe she agreed to play it.” A rated “R” version of “Twin Peaks.” Although, I must admit, I would’ve liked to have seen Lynch’s version of “The Return of the Jedi,” had he accepted. Now, that would have been a trip. “Velvet’s” most redeeming feature is that it was filmed in North Carolina.

  71. Ken Hanke

    Actually, Boll is just a douchebag.

    Again, I wouldn’t argue that point, but I think he might actually be unbalanced to a spectacular degree. It takes a special kind of mind to make Bloodrayne.

  72. We as film lovers need a director to hate. This director needs to be inept and conceited and his films need to be laughably bad. Personally, I prefer M. Night Shamalamadingdong to fill this role but Uwe Boll will do.

  73. Ken Hanke

    his films need to be laughably bad

    Oh, you mean Robert Zemeckis.

  74. Ken Hanke

    Should I be ashamed to say I don’t get the significance of “Blue Velvet?”

    Might depend on how old you are and your politics. For me, at any rate, much of its strength comes from it being the first mainstream film to attack the whole Reagan era fantasy construct of an idealized 1950s as some kind of magical period that we ought to be trying to regress to. It presents a world that appears to be as sanitary as a Disneyland vision of existence and then proceeds to show the vileness underneath that facade. That was my original response to it 1986, and it’s pretty much the same one I have to it now. Assuming — and this may be incorrect — that you’re not all warm and fuzzy over Reagan and that mindsent, the film is a welcome comment. It was even more welcome at a time when film had become — with very few exceptions, and those mostly low-budget horror or exploitation — very tepid indeed.

    Stylistically, the film is interesting as well. I’m not sure I can think of anything before it that mixes time frames — one minute we appear to be in the present, the next there are things that suggest we’re not — and does so to good, unsettling effect.

  75. Speaking of polarizing directors, anyone feel like weighing in on Gilliam’s work? I’d go so far as to say that [i]Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas[/i] was a masterpiece (even if it was a work-for-hire), and that [i]Brazil[/i] is a genre-defining film (bleak, dystopian, sci-fi black comedy). But, I know a number of people who find his work over the top and visually off-putting.

  76. Justin Souther

    “…I’d go so far as to say that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a masterpiece…”

    As far as I’d go is saying it’s a half-baked NAKED LUNCH (though reading your opinion Cronenberg I’m sure you’d take issue with that) or saying that it’s an obnoxious mess. I spent most of the movie waiting for their to be some sort of a point and never got one, though I did enjoy the giant lizards.

  77. Ken Hanke

    Speaking of polarizing directors, anyone feel like weighing in on Gilliam’s work? I’d go so far as to say that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a masterpiece (even if it was a work-for-hire), and that Brazil is a genre-defining film (bleak, dystopian, sci-fi black comedy). But, I know a number of people who find his work over the top and visually off-putting.

    I have very mixed feelings about Gilliam. I haven’t seen it in ages, but I didn’t like Jabberwocky at all. I found it unfunny and strangely depressing. I like Time Bandits, but I’m never sure how much of that hinges on Ralph Richardson’s Supreme Being and the George Harrison song at the end.

    Brazil is, I think, something of a masterpiece, though I’m not sure I would call it “genre-defining,” because I’m not sure there’s really a genre you can place it in, nor can it be said to have really spawned one. Gilliam-defining, perhaps.

    Baron Munchausen is a technical marvel, and an interesting piece of critical nose-thumbing/self-justification (“He won’t get far on hot air and fantasy”). But it always seemed to me to be a lot of effort to no real point. Perhaps I should try it again.

    I really, truly, deeply disliked The Fisher King, which not only strikes me as a phony, dishonest work, but one in which the director is off-base with the showiness of his fantasy bits. By that I mean that every fantasy insertion makes its point and then just goes on and on for no reason — and in not very interesting ways.

    I’d have to see 12 Monkeys again to say much more than that I thought it was overrated.

    As for Fear and Loathing, it almost made me like The Fisher King. I found it shallow, superficial, annoying and obnoxious. In fact, it took me three tries to even sit through it. Am I conveying the sense that I didn’t like it much?

    I’m in the minority in actually liking The Brothers Grimmhttp://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/brothersgrimm.php

    And I see that by reading that review, you could have saved yourself reading my other Gilliam comments. Oh well.

    I haven’t seen Tideland — largely villified, I know — but I need to.

  78. You know, when I first saw [i]Fear and Loathing[/i], I utterly hated it. I thought it was shallow, aimless and grotesque. Then, a few years and a considerable education in Thompson’s work later, I give it another shot, and I was completely won over.

    As far as my genre-defining comment about [i]Brazil[/i], I think it’s fair to say that I was overreaching a bit. What I was getting at is that it has become part of that dystopian canon of films, such as [i]Blade Runner[/i], [i]City of Lost Children[/i] and [i]1984[/i].

    I will say that I’ve often found Gilliam’s work a bit on the broad side, thematically. He’s tends to go for the least-subtle way of getting his point across — smacking you in the face with it at times — but it’s just that quality that makes his work stand out so starkly from mainstream films.

    Interestingly enough, I hated [i]Tideland[/i]. Although the basic concept of the film was interesting (an increasingly horrible situation as seen through the eyes of a total innocent), in the actual viewing experience it was a fun-and-fantasy free, significantly more depressing version of [i]Time Bandits[/i].

  79. And before I forget, it’s probably worth throwing in another pair of names for the eviscerating: Ridley Scott (with “great” films like [i]Alien[/i], [i]Blade Runner[/i], [i]Gladiator[/i], [i[Thelma and Louise[/i] under his belt) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (with [i]Delicatessen[/i], [i]City of Lost Children[/i] and [i]Amélie[/i] under his).

  80. Ken Hanke

    Then, a few years and a considerable education in Thompson’s work later, I give it another shot, and I was completely won over.

    I already had a fair education in Thompson’s work and I still hated the film.

    What I was getting at is that it has become part of that dystopian canon of films, such as Blade Runner, City of Lost Children and 1984.

    Then wouldn’t Blade Runner be the defining film? (Though I’ve no idea what version of 1984 you’re referencing.) Still, I’m not sure these films are really of a piece, nor are the terribly similar stylistically.

    Interestingly enough, I hated Tideland.

    As noted, I haven’t seen it, but, as is not uncommon with these things, all this has prompted me to visit Amazon. I also decided it was time to upgrade from laserdisc on Brazil and Blue Velvet. I suspect there’s a plot afoot here, involving an Amazon shill in our midst getting me to spend money.

    And before I forget, it’s probably worth throwing in another pair of names for the eviscerating: Ridley Scott (with “great” films like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, [i[Thelma and Louise under his belt) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (with Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Amélie under his).

    I don’t care for Scott, though he can be an interesting director visually. Jeunet, on the other hand, strikes me as a pretty major figure in modern film.

    Thing is, almost any filmmaker worth discussing is likely to be polarizing.

  81. [b]Then wouldn’t Blade Runner be the defining film? (Though I’ve no idea what version of 1984 you’re referencing.)[/b]

    Well, it’s not like Ridley Scott invented the form. He was beaten to punch by arguably lesser works in the same vein, like [i]Soylent Green[/i], [i]A Boy and His Dog[/i] and [i]THX-1138[/i]. You could even make a fair argument that [i]Metropolis[/i] is the defining film of the advanced but increasingly soulless future.

    [b]Still, I’m not sure these films are really of a piece, nor are the terribly similar stylistically.[/b]

    I was talking about the Michael Radford version of [i]1984[/i]. The common theme — and it may be a stretch as well — was that of a dark, almost nightmarish and usually futuristic version of a world that is only a few degrees out of sync with our day-to-day reality. In that sense, I’d argue that they’re all very similar, although they come at their subjects from very different perspectives.

  82. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s not like Ridley Scott invented the form. He was beaten to punch by arguably lesser works in the same vein, like Soylent Green, A Boy and His Dog and THX-1138. You could even make a fair argument that Metropolis is the defining film of the advanced but increasingly soulless future.

    Well, if you’re going to call what amounts really to a kind of Luddite theme that runs throughout movies depicting the future, you’re going to be spending a lot of time making a list, ‘cuz you haven’t scratched the surface. In any case, you’re more and more disproving your own statement that Brazil was genre-defining. Of course, a lot of things I’d name and that you already have named are either too obscure, or too culty to have defined anything.

    Really, most futuristic movies are dystopian whether they mean to be or not. I sure don’t have any desire to live in the future of Things to Come (1936), and how much drabber could the future be than the one depicted in 2001. It kinda goes with the territory. There’s a reason why religion is mighty good at describing the endless torments of hell, but not so hot at selling the joys of heaven. All in all, we’re a gloomy, distrustful bunch, who are more apt to think in the negative.

  83. [b]In any case, you’re more and more disproving your own statement that Brazil was genre-defining.[/b]

    That’s because I’m increasingly uncertain that it is. For [i]me[/i] it was, but that’s largely because it was one of the first such films I ever saw. But, the more I step back and look at it, the more I think there’s a bias I didn’t realize was there until we started discussing it.

    On to your second point about how “we’re a gloomy, distrustful bunch, who are more apt to think in the negative,” I’m trying desperately to think of a film where the future is shown in any kind of consistently positive light, and I’m having a lot of trouble with it. The only one that comes to mind at all is [i]Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure[/i], which only alludes to a peaceful and pleasant time to come (and even then, they’re stuck with George Carlin). That’s a weak counterpoint by any standard.

  84. Ken Hanke

    That’s because I’m increasingly uncertain that it is. For me it was, but that’s largely because it was one of the first such films I ever saw. But, the more I step back and look at it, the more I think there’s a bias I didn’t realize was there until we started discussing it.

    Then all my hard work ain’t been in vain for nothing. (Good Lord, I don’t even much like Singin’ in the Rain and I’m quoting from it.) Seriously, though, maybe Brazil helped define you — or helped you define you. It was obviously a defining moment for you.

    A lot of it comes down to the fact that we use words and terms so willy and nilly without examining what they actually mean. (Believe it or not, I’ve done it myself.)

    Now, granted, we’re not talking about someone who’s ever likely to get slapped around for being too deep, but Richard Roeper has called at least two movies “instant classics” in the past six months. Now, unless they came in a box and you added water and stirred — et voila! — what is that even supposed to mean? I guess it means that Mr. Roeper is claiming some kind of ability to see into the future and knows that Forgetting Sarah Marshall (one of the two so tagged) will be considered one of the great comedies of all time — on a par with City Lights and Duck Soup — 50, 60, 70 years from now. Hell, I’m not always sure I’ll still like something I just saw two weeks from now.

    Remember all those folks wrote that Purple Rain was “the Citizen Kane of rock movies” back in 1984? Yes, well, I bet they wish you didn’t.

    This is why I like to stick with “bee’s knees” or some not dissimilar animal possession. If you’d said that Brazil was the “polar bear’s nightshirt of dystopian cinema,” I’d simply have nodded — and wondered why you were talking like me.

    I’m trying desperately to think of a film where the future is shown in any kind of consistently positive light, and I’m having a lot of trouble with it

    Exactly. I take heart that there will always be — in reality, if not the movies — some kernel of truth in the immortal words of Billy Wilder, “No world that gave us William Shakespeare, the Taj Mahal and Stipe toothpaste can be all bad.”

  85. Ken Hanke

    That’s Stripe toothpaste — not some R.E.M.-endorsed dentifrice.

  86. Louis

    Your point regarding movies set in the future– not being cast in a “positive light”–is most certainly valid. The fact of the matter is there is no “conflict” in a futuristic world that depicts a utopian-like setting–a utopia being a snapshot of a perfect world. No one wants to see a perfect world. The story is in the “chink” in the armor, not in the armor itself. A dystopian world presents endless possibilities to explore.

    Having said that, I came up with two that do:

    “Demolition Man” (The past is depicted as being crummier than the “peaceful,” crime-free future).
    “Back to the Future II” (remember the “hoverboard?”).

    Do the Jetsons count? ;)

  87. Justin Souther

    I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who calls them self a Ridley Scott fan (though I may just run in the wrong circles). I know people who love BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN, but it never seems to be because of Scott — and I doubt that the BLADE RUNNER / ALIEN fanbase are the same people who went to see THELMA & LOUISE.

    Sure, he’s stylish, but has no real thematic concerns as a director that run through his work, so to me, he’s just sort of exists as a guy who makes movies sometimes and happens to be a name as opposed to a movie director. He lives in the same realm as Michael Mann in that sense.

  88. Ken Hanke

    Sure, he’s stylish, but has no real thematic concerns as a director that run through his work

    I’d actually take this a step further and say he only marginally exists as a stylist. Why? Simply because — apart from filling his sets with incense smoke — there’s no stylistic consistency that I’ve ever been able to determine. Look at Hitchcock, Sternberg, Rouben Mamoulian, James Whale, Lester, Ken Russell, Boorman, and even on to folks like Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry — there’s a visual consistency. There’s a specific way of looking at things and constructing a scene that links all the films together, even if they didn’t have anything to say, which, fortunately, they do. You’d have to stretch a point, I think, to say that Lewis Milestone or Brian De Palma have much to say, but their styles make their movies pretty consistently idenifiable as theirs. I can’t say that about Ridley Scott. Maybe someone else can.

  89. Justin Souther

    ““Demolition Man” (The past is depicted as being crummier than the “peaceful,” crime-free future).”

    But at the same time, the — as you put it — “peaceful” future is too sanitized and boring, where no one can have sex or swear. It’s a pessimistic idea that even a Utopian society would ultimately be a failure.

    I can’t believe I’m debating DEMOLITION MAN.

  90. Ken Hanke

    Your point regarding movies set in the future– not being cast in a “positive light”–is most certainly valid. The fact of the matter is there is no “conflict” in a futuristic world that depicts a utopian-like setting–a utopia being a snapshot of a perfect world. No one wants to see a perfect world.

    Even those rare attempts that try to depict a better future world — like Things to Come and, presumably, 2001 — don’t paint an enticing picture. You’d think that a utopian setting could be achieved, since the society itself wouldn’t preclue personal conflict. But I’ve yet to see it. I’m not big on reading science-fiction, so perhaps it happens on a literary level. I do know that regardless of how one feels about Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on a philosophical level, the weakest part of the book dramatically is the part that takes place in John Galt’s dreary utopia.

    “Back to the Future II” (remember the “hoverboard?”).

    I have successfully blocked this from my mind.

  91. Ken Hanke

    I can’t believe I’m debating DEMOLITION MAN.

    Don’t feel bad. I once found myself sitting between two people who were fighting over what the best Motley Crue album was. I wondered why I even knew these people.

  92. [b]But at the same time, the—as you put it—“peaceful” future is too sanitized and boring, where no one can have sex or swear. It’s a pessimistic idea that even a Utopian society would ultimately be a failure.[/b]

    Not only that, but the peaceful and placid culture is also a sham, as there’s an underground and disenfranchised culture living in the remains of the old city. The whole plot revolves around the “good” leader being corrupt, and bringing back Snipes’ character to gain total control. So, even in this utopia, there’s still plenty of authoritarian manipulation afoot.

    [b]I can’t believe I’m debating DEMOLITION MAN.[/b]

    The first time I saw the film, it was at an upscale, somewhat art-house cinema in Managua, Nicaragua, and it was presented as a cultural event for the well-to-do (that is, anyone who can afford to go to one of the country’s two movie theaters.) Not only did most of the jokes fail to connect (the Taco Bell gag, the gross-out of having to eat rats), but various aspects of [i]El Demolidor[/i] were seriously debated by the audience afterwards. I can only guess at the insights the film gave them into the American sociopolitical mindset.

  93. Ken Hanke

    I can only guess at the insights the film gave them into the American sociopolitical mindset.

    Let’s hope — and it’s probably a stretch to hope — that Demolition Man is not a valid barometer of the American sociopolitical mindset.

  94. [b]Let’s hope—and it’s probably a stretch to hope—that Demolition Man is not a valid barometer of the American sociopolitical mindset.[/b]

    And yet we keep making movies about authority-flouting, innocent-endangering cops who are less interested in due process than they are in making sure they blows up as many things as possible while attempting to catch an only slightly more egomaniacal criminal with a half-baked scheme.

    To me, the message is simple: Americans don’t care who gets hurt, as long as self-righteous good beats self-absorbed evil and lots of things explode in the process. I don’t believe that to be true, but it’s certainly the story we’re presenting, both to ourselves and the world. It’s like our collective unconscious is that of a 13-year-old bully crowing about how tough he is while giving noogies and wedgies to a bunch of second-graders, and hoping that the rest of the kids around the playground get the message that he is too “crazy” to messed with, because you never know what he’ll do.

  95. Ken Hanke

    To me, the message is simple: Americans don’t care who gets hurt, as long as self-righteous good beats self-absorbed evil and lots of things explode in the process. I don’t believe that to be true, but it’s certainly the story we’re presenting, both to ourselves and the world. It’s like our collective unconscious is that of a 13-year-old bully crowing about how tough he is while giving noogies and wedgies to a bunch of second-graders, and hoping that the rest of the kids around the playground get the message that he is too “crazy” to messed with, because you never know what he’ll do.

    In all fairness, I think it should be pointed out that this applies to a certain type of film, and not to all American cinema. Granted, it does pertain in many respects to what may be called the “Processed Cheeseburger Movie” or “Exploding Cinema,” and those are what we’re known for. (Actually, your description seems an assessment of Mel Gibson’s career.) I would like to think that the other films we make somewhat balance that out. I would also like to think that at least a percentage of the folks who go to these exploding movies are aware that this stuff is nonsense and not to be taken seriously even for a moment. Alas, I do remember the onrush of people proclaiming how Dirty Harry Callahan could “solve this nation’s problems” back in 1971 — and they were in deadly earnest.

  96. [b]CONTINUED FROM ANOTHER THREAD{/b]

    [i][b]”Out of curiosity, how did Brazil hold up? And did you watch the original ending, or the “love conquers all” studio cut?”

    This’d probably be a better fit on the overrated column, but to answer your question, it holds up beautifully. In fact, it is, unfortunately, more relevant in the age of “Homeland Security” than it was 23 years ago. I’ll also happily note that its relatively basic special effects are better looking than any CGI I’ve seen.

    Does the studio ending even exist anymore? I’ve actually never seen it. I did notice one difference between this and the version I remember. And the disc claims to run 142 minutes, which is about 5 minutes longer than the laserdisc (which also had the bleak ending).[/b][/i]

    I think it’s available on the complete Criterion release, but I haven’t seen it in quite some time either. I think the only time you’re likely to see it at all is when it runs on cable, which is more-or-less never these days.

  97. Justin Souther

    The three-disc Criterion edition has the cut down, 94 minute version of BRAZIL.

  98. Ken Hanke

    The three-disc Criterion edition has the cut down, 94 minute version of BRAZIL.

    That’s not the one I bought, is it? I can’t say I have any great desire to see it — any more than I feel a need to see the European cut of John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic with its 125 cuts. (Since Boorman’s second cut only reduced the number of unintentional laughs, Warner Bros. wouldn’t cough up the money to replace the U.S. prints other than to send out the new ending, but they did release this self-inflicted hack job in Europe.) Having said that, I am still curious to see the TV print of Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion. Does it run 10 minutes?

  99. Justin Souther

    “That’s not the one I bought, is it?”

    No, that’s the $60 version I told you about.

  100. Ken Hanke

    No, that’s the $60 version I told you about.

    I see…for an extra 30-odd dollars I could’ve had a copy of a version no one wants to watch as a bonus. An interesting proposition.

  101. harstearn

    How about the inverse: movies you’re supposed to loathe, but (I) can’t resist:

    The Chase (1965)
    Lady in Cement
    Bandolero
    PJ
    The Fortune
    Ishtar
    Heaven’s Gate
    Rough Night in Jericho
    What a Way to Go
    Sex & the Single Girl

  102. Ken Hanke

    I have to admit I’ve always kind of liked The Fortune — or did last time I saw it, which was ages ago. The rest of that list, I can pretty much live without, though I’m probably one of the few people with a (Region 2) copy of Ishtar — even if I did only track it down in order to hear Tess Harper groan (which she did something swell) by including a clip from it in her retrospective “reel” at last year’s film festival.

  103. Sean Williams

    The Birth of a Nation
    Weirdly enough, socially conscious President Woodrow Wilson adored the film.

    Gone With the Wind
    I, too, regard Gone with the Wind as rather…bloated. Its greatest flaw is the use of the Civil War as a backdrop with only tangential relevance to the plot. There’s nothing wrong with romance set against war, but if the Old South is going to pieces around the characters’ heads, one would expect them to notice the fact more prominently.

    Loved the all-chicken remake, though, with the part of Rhett Butler acted by Cluck Gobble.

    These, however, are a fairly small percentage of a film that is full of the usual Disney catalogue of cuteness like hippopotami in tutus and an extended Mickey Mouse cartoon (Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice< .i>).
    Don’t forget Sunflower, the vanishing Negroid Centaur…and never mind the fact that in Greek legend, Centaurs were exclusively male! And as intensely as the Night on Bald Mountain sequence terrified me in my youth, it is probably the movie’s single inspired moment.

    However, so many people whose opinions I respect greatly love this film and think it’s the bee’s knees of science fiction cause me to keep trying with 2001.
    I agree that 2001 isn’t a particularly good film, but it’s notable as one of few deeply adult science fiction movies. And its technical details are scrupulously accurate — even the chess strategies were replicated from the matches between Deep Blue and Kasparov.

    Unfortunately, such fixation on realism often precludes good storytelling. If screenwriters all adhered strictly to the laws of physics, the heroes would never leave the solar system in the first place, much less fight interstellar wars. The happy medium, as exemplified in New Space Opera, is to create a great drama first and then mask its scientific improbabilities with plot devices. (As Larry Niven once observed, it’s best to have an educated character explain, “This technology seems physically impossible — but for reasons I can’t explain, it obviously works!”) For all we know, maybe there is one extremely rare hydrogen allotope that fuels superluminal travel!

  104. Ken Hanke

    The Birth of a Nation. Weirdly enough, socially conscious President Woodrow Wilson adored the film.

    Yes, didn’t he call it something along the lines of “history written with lightning?” This, I think, is along the lines of “You had to be there.” I’ve no doubt that in 1915 the film was a mind-blowing experience.

    I, too, regard Gone with the Wind as rather…bloated. Its greatest flaw is the use of the Civil War as a backdrop with only tangential relevance to the plot.

    Plot-wise, the film never strikes me as remarkably different from those God-awful Old South dramas John Barrymore is shown staging in Twentieth Century (“Oh, Lawdy, Lawdy, Miss Mary Jo, your daddy just shot Mr. Michael!”). I think what we’re missing is how popular the book was at the time. (Frankly, I gave up on reading the book after I found much verbiage spent on the number of counties that Scarlet’s waist was the smallest in.)

    And as intensely as the Night on Bald Mountain sequence terrified me in my youth, it is probably the movie’s single inspired moment.

    I wouldn’t argue that.

    Unfortunately, such fixation on realism often precludes good storytelling.

    That’s probably a large part of my problem with the film. Then again, when it goes all mystical at the end, it seems like a different movie. Of course, the impact of the film on popular culture of the time — maybe even to this very day — is impossible to discount. I happened to be listening to the Moody Blues’ 1969 album On the Threshold of a Dream the other day and noticed that its last section — the connected “Have You Heard Pt. One,” “The Voyage,” “Have You Heard Pt. Two” — seems heavily influenced by 2001 even to the point of incorporating something that sounds most awfully like the final chord of the part of Also Sprach Zarathustra used in the film. (Of course, culture vultures that the Moodies were, this isn’t all that surprising.) I’d also readily concede that 2001 actually qualifies as an “event” in the strict sense that it changed film in significant ways. Can’t say I get that sense from many of today’s “event” movies.

  105. Sean Williams

    Yes, didn’t he call it something along the lines of “history written with lightning?”
    Precisely. Now, imagine if a modern politician uttered those words in public!

    Of course, the impact of the film on popular culture of the time—maybe even to this very day—is impossible to discount.
    No doubt one could apply the same conclusion to Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind: whatever their flaws, they were groundbreaking cinematic exercises. I’m even willing to throw bones to inferior movies like 300 and Cloverfield on the basis that they have fundamentally altered the manner in which disposable blockbusters are filmed. Surely that counts for something, if only insofar as it provides material for Messers. Friedberg and Seltzer.

    On second thought…

  106. Ken Hanke

    I think it has to have some kind of lasting impact that finds its way into more than one aspect of one genre. (By that standard, I’m not sure GWTW would qualify.) And really, Cloverfield didn’t do much that Blair Witch hadn’t already (unfortunately) done, and all it seems to have spawned so far is the appalling looking Quarantine (or is past tense), which I’m kind of hoping will go straight to video.

  107. Sean Williams

    I think it has to have some kind of lasting impact that finds its way into more than one aspect of one genre.
    Ideologically, I agree. But on a practical basis, many bad movies are remembered for their technical achievements (or, in the cases of Blair Witch and Cloverfield, deliberate lack of polish).

    This list is a testament to the fact that the movies that survive the ravages of time are not always the movies that viewers like you and I would prefer to survive. Even if Cloverfield doesn’t spawn as many misbegotten offspring as critics originally predicted it would, it’ll remain unique among the legions of monster movies. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a question for another column….

    which I’m kind of hoping will go straight to video.
    How many rabbits do we have to sacrifice to the cinematic gods, and do they prefer black or white? Frankly, after the announcement of Disaster Movie, I’m beginning to doubt their existence entirely.

  108. Ken Hanke

    Even if Cloverfield doesn’t spawn as many misbegotten offspring as critics originally predicted it would, it’ll remain unique among the legions of monster movies. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a question for another column….

    I really wonder if it will remain in any real sense. That’s a hard call. I’ll get back to you on it in 20 years and we can see if anyone remembers it or cites it as a great picture. I confess I’m skeptical.

    Frankly, after the announcement of Disaster Movie, I’m beginning to doubt their existence entirely.

    A reasonable point, but my lot in this is worse because Justin reviewed Superhero Movie. That means it’s my turn in the barrel for one of these “parody” movies. You can presumably spurn it as you would a rabid dog.

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