Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room:The year, in hindsight

Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room:The year, in hindsight-attachment0

There are still some 2008 releases that have yet to to make it to the hinterlands. (Most of these I’ve seen, not a single one got near whelming me. One — Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road — I positively loathed.) For that matter, there are some movies that were slated for 2008 and moved to 2009. (Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom is a potentially interesting such film. The Accidental Husband is less so.) But for all intents and purposes, 2008 is a done deal cinematically speaking. And despite the fact that that means we’re staring down the barrel of the studios’ January White Sale of movies no one is likely to want to see, I don’t think anyone is all that sorry to see it go.

The movie year of 2008 just happens to mark the 70th anniversary of 1938 (imagine that!), which has long tended to be viewed as the worst year the movies ever had. That’s as much a box office assessment as an artistic one, but it was no great shakes on either level. I recently got suckered into a discussion of doing “Ten Best by Year” lists — starting with 1930 and going forward — and I was fine till I got to 1938, at which point I had to do some stretching to find 10 films that struck me as really qualifying as the best, except on a wholly relative basis.

At least that wasn’t a problem with 2008, which is kind of amazing since it was a year that found us with many of our best filmmakers — Alfonso Cuaron, Pedro Almodovar, Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Neil Jordan, Julie Taymor, David O. Russell — absent. What we did get from Michel Gondry, Danny Boyle, Gus Van Sant, Stephen Daldry, etc. certainly offered something far more than mere consolation.

And there were more good films than those that made my Ten Best list. A couple of them — Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna and the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading—made it onto co-critic Justin Souther’s list. (And while I can’t quite share his enthusiasm for the Wachowski’s Speed Racer, I do appreciate what the film attempts and am glad to see it on a list.) I mentioned that Claude Lelouch’s Roman de Gare and Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla nearly made it onto mine.

Still, there were even more truly worthy films — Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit (one day I may regret its absence on my list), Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters, Michael Raford’s Flawless, Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, Pierre Salvadori’s Priceless, Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Anand Tucker’s When Did You Last See Your Father?, Julian Jarrold’s Brideshead Revisited. In fact, at various points in the year, all these were on my tentative Ten Best list. And for that matter, I really liked Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (most of it anyway), Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job, and I have a hunch I’ll be one of the first in line for the DVD release of Frank Miller’s much-maligned The Spirit.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice a “glaring” omission on the lists and the also-rans. This is deliberate on my part, but we’ll get to that in due course. Staunch supporters can fume about it for a while.

What surprises me about 2008 more than the high number of worthwhile films (it sure didn’t feel there were this many while living through it!) is the scarcity of middle-ground entertainment. It was a year that largely fell into one of three categories—the really good, possibly great, films, the ambitious failures (think Eastwood’s Changeling), and the fairly-to-completely dreadful. The modestly entertaining film was not in huge supply — though some highly-praised films that were “good for what they were” in my book (Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, anyone?) probably belong there. The usual run of good, but less than stellar romantic comedies just weren’t in evidence. The only exceptions that come to mind were David Schwimmer’s Run Fatboy Run and David Koepp’s Ghost Town, both of which fell through the cracks—probably due to their unconventional leading men.

Even for a somewhat unspectacular year, the movies were not without their educational value. Consider what useful things we learned over the course of 2008. In 10,000 B.C. Roland Emmerich taught us that the pyramids were built with the assistance of woolly mammoths — and this was done some 7,000 or so years earlier than pyramids existed. (Darn those pesky timelines!) Jeff Wadlow clued us in to the fact that engaging in a fight with Cam Gigandet could only end with us “looking like a bitch” in Never Back Down. (I know a couple folks who’d pay good money to end up that way, but we’ll let that pass.) Dr. Uwe Boll introduced us to the concept of leather-clad arboreal lesbians and Burt Reynolds as an ancient kingdom monarch in In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, inadvertently proving — at two-plus hours — that it is indeed possible to get too much of a so-bad-it’s-good thing.

M. Night Shyamalan (taking a page from Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow) proved that it’s possible to outrun the wind in his cosmically silly The Happening—a film that’s so big and dumb and worthless that it’s as hard to hate as a blundering Newfoundland puppy. At the same time, he offered the valuable warning that if you’re involved in a head-on collision and John Leguizamo is seated in front of you, you’ll fly right over him and through the windshield. The moral is clearly that one should not sit behind Mr. Leguizamo in a moving vehicle. This is knowledge that could one day save your life.

The animated Belgian film Fly Me to the Moon proved once and for all that European culture is not automatically superior to American culture. Howard Deutch’s My Best Friend’s Girl demonstrated that, yes, it is possible to make Dane Cook appealing—all you have to do is cast Jason Biggs as the alternative. (This is known as an experiment in the relativity of things.) On the other hand, Steven Spielberg’s torturously titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull offered conclusive proof that Shia LaBeouf could be out-acted by CGI monkeys.

In Catherine Hardwick’s Twilight we discovered that vampires love baseball (they even have the uniforms to prove it), but that they can only play during thunderstorms because then the sound of their bats smacking the ball will be mistaken for thunder. A friend asked me yesterday how it was possible that such a powerful hit wouldn’t pulverize the baseball. I could only conclude that vampires have very resilient balls. I’ve yet to decide whether this or — Spoiler Alert! — Gabriel Muccino’s Seven Pounds with its suicide-by-jellyfish is the damn stupidest thing I encountered all year. It’s a tough call, but both make me more ready to accept Burt Reynolds as the king of some ancient mythological country.

Education to one side, I think the most striking thing about the year lies in the strange dichotomy of hopeless nihilism and a more optimistic outlook. In this regard, the movies seem to present a snapshot of the times we live in. This, by the way, is where we’re going to get to my notable lack of appreciation for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a film I am supposed to find quite wonderful — only I don’t.

Yes, The Dark Knight was the big hit of the year. That’s undeniable. Is it well made? Yes, I think that’s undeniable, though I stop far short of thinking it’s brilliantly made. My feelings toward it are the same as they were when it came out—it’s a solidly crafted movie in most regards, but it’s also a wildly unbalanced one that makes most of its points by virtue of one showy, but admittedly effective, performance. How effective and faithful it all is in terms of comic books is here beside the point. A film doesn’t end up with this kind of box office or this degree of critical acclaim solely on that score alone.

In broad terms, The Dark Knight is a singularly long variant on the last Batman/Joker outing, Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), and it comes equipped with the same internal problem as that film—a wildly over-the-top Joker who overbalances the film itself. Much as with Nicholson’s Joker in the older film, Heath Ledger’s Joker is so much more alive than the rest of the movie that the movie just kind of lies there and dies there whenever he’s offscreen. There is a difference, however, and that’s what makes the film an off-putting experience for me—even a disturbing one.

I was quite shocked when several people told me how much “fun” they thought The Dark Knight was—and I wondered if they’d seen the same movie I had, or if they’d actually thought about what they’d seen. Taken overall, The Dark Knight struck me then and strikes me now as the most thoroughly depressing comic book movie ever made. Nolan flirted with this in Batman Begins where the only person in the film who seemed to be in on the fact that he was in a comic book movie and not a Shakespearean tragedy was Cillian Murphy.

In The Dark Knight this is taken to new heights—or lows, depending on your outlook—with Ledger’s Joker. Yes, the old Nicholson Joker was a homicidal sociopath, but it was leavened by a larger than life silliness. The Ledger Joker is still larger than life. He’s as manic as Nicholson—maybe more so—but it ends there. This Joker is merely sadistically insane. The humor here isn’t dark—it’s black. And it’s mean and a total downer, which perfectly fits the film that houses it, but I’m not sold on the greatness of it all. What—besides embracing rampant nihilism—is the point? At the risk of coming across all Pollyanna and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, I’m simply not getting the good out of it. But then I’ve always had a problem accepting the downbeat as important just because it’s downbeat.

Setting aside all questions of the quality of the film or its accurate portrayal of the comic book, I do find its popularity fascinating, since it’s quite the grimmest motion picture I can recall to attain anything like this level of popular adulation. What intrigues me—and what I’m not about to try to answer—is what it says about us as a society. Anyone who wants to tackle that one, have at it.

There’s a similar hopeless mindset at work in the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, a film I much prefer to The Dark Knight. Why it doesn’t bother me in the same way may lie in the fact that it’s presented in a wholly satirical manner. However, I think the biggest differences have to do with the fact that neither the Coens, nor anyone else is taking its dark view of humanity as heavy drama of deep significance. More to the point, though, is the movie’s portrayal of the monumental vanity and ineptitude surrounding us. There are no clear sociopathic monsters here. The closest thing to one is the completely deluded John Malkovich character, and he’s too much of a bungler to pose that much of a threat. Evil geniuses need not apply in the world of Burn After Reading. The “controlling” forces of society are just as much clueless bozos as the rest of us. There’s something oddly comforting in the concept that even if we are being driven over a cliff, it’s more from bumbling stupidity than outright evil.

That these dark, dark movies are the product of the same year that gave us such blessedly non-gooey hopeful—utterly un-nihilistic—movies as Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Gus Van Sant’s Milk poses a duality of tone worthy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Oh, sure, things like it have happened before, since both types of films always coexist, but rarely in such stark contrast. It’s a contrast that seems to me to represent us both sociologically and politically. Again, yes, this isn’t in itself unusual, because movies—most art, in fact—tend to be a reflection of the eras in which they were made, but judgments on that are generally more easily made years after the fact. Not so here. It’s easy to see without historical perspective. That the year ended on the hopeful notes rather than the nihilistic ones is to my mind as encouraging as the films themselves. Regardless of what comes next either in the real world or the reel one, this where I’m content to leave 2008.

 

SHARE
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."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

17 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room:The year, in hindsight

  1. Louis

    Setting aside all questions of the quality of the film or its accurate portrayal of the comic book, I do find its popularity fascinating, since it’s quite the grimmest motion picture I can recall to attain anything like this level of popular adulation.

    Perhaps grimness is in the eye of the beholder?

    The EXORCIST? — A priest’s crisis of faith, his mother’s terminal sickness, vulgar language (one’s offensiveness to the side) by any reasonable measure (being sputtered by a 12-year-old little girl), blasphemy, divorce, demonic possession, violent death, etc. Not exactly a pick-me-upper. And, culturally speaking, you might say it ‘scored’ on two fronts of concern — as a wildly popular movie and novel that sold a 11 million copies. As a point of comparison, the novel of JAWS sold 9-10 million copies.

    However, I think the biggest differences have to do with the fact that neither the Coens, nor anyone else is taking its dark view of humanity as heavy drama of deep significance.

    The Coens this year — dark view of humanity as heavy drama — with BURN AFTER READING? Perhaps not. But we’re only one year removed from
    NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN? Just as nihilistic as THE DARK KNIGHT and labeled ‘heavy drama’ by all, most notably by the Coens and Oscar. So, while the Coens may dodge indictment in 2008, they’re not innocent of these charges in the greater context of this cynical trend.

  2. Ken Hanke

    The EXORCIST?—A priest’s crisis of faith, his mother’s terminal sickness, vulgar language (one’s offensiveness to the side) by any reasonable measure (being sputtered by a 12-year-old little girl), blasphemy, divorce, demonic possession, violent death, etc. Not exactly a pick-me-upper.

    Well, I have to say that some of those things don’t particularly bother me in and of themselves — blasphemy and divorce, for instance. But I think there are some significant differences. On a simple level, good vanquishes evil (or so it appears) — and it does so by self-sacrifice on the part of a priest. Also — unless you count the sometimes humorous limitations of the effects work — the possessed girl isn’t designed to draw laughs from the viewer. The intent is to shock you when the girl has her intimate moment with the crucifix. In The Dark Knight the intent is to make you laugh when the Joker does his magic trick of making a pencil disappear. That’s a very different proposition — and a much less cynical one that doesn’t presume to trade on the jadedness of the audience. Did viewers emerge of The Exorcist (by the way, I’m not a huge fan of it) saying that it was “fun?”

    But we’re only one year removed from
    NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN? Just as nihilistic as THE DARK KNIGHT and labeled ‘heavy drama’ by all

    I’d have to disagree with you because I don’t find No Country itself to be nihilistic — that’s kind of the exact opposite of the final scene and Tess Harper’s character actually. Also, once again, there’s the question of intent. And I’m seeing a world of difference there. There’s also the singular difference that it actually was “heavy drama” and not a comic book movie getting bonus point by pretending to be one.

  3. Tonberry

    Most have already seen it, but *SPOILER WARNING*

    I am a big fan of The Dark Knight (mostly due to it’s cinematography, wish I saw it in IMAX) but I can freely admit that I’m not some hardcore fanboy. I’m fully aware of it’s flaws and agree with your reasons. I’ll try and make a stab at the ‘getting the good’ out of The Dark Knight (and maybe an epic failure). The ‘social experiment’ boat scene is the best example, and in my view, the point and reason of the film. This outcome isn’t about Batman and the Joker, it’s about the people. Setting the law abiding citizens against criminals,we as an audience side with the law abiding. If forced in that situation, where it was you or a criminal, what would you choose? So when it’s an inmate that comes forth and asks “Give it to me, and I will do what you should have did” for the bomb detonator, you judge him, and think he’s going to blow up the other boat. But he does the exact opposite, throws the detonator out the window, and goes back to pray with his fellow inmates.

    Neither side chooses to blow each other up, and prove the Joker wrong that ‘when the chips are down, these civilized people will eat each other.’ Instead there is hope in all of us, the people stand against the Joker, and ‘willing to fight for good.’ That’s pretty life affirming to me. Add to that, that the cities hero sacrifices his reputation so that the people will go on believing in said hope, is courageous.

    *SPOILERS FOR HELLBOY 2*

    I have always liked Hellboy 2 much more than The Dark Knight for plenty of reasons. It is a lot more fun (And I could not describe The Dark Knight as fun, I think ‘gripping’ is a much better term), inventive, and has the best beer drinking scene I have ever seen. Yet there is such a looming darkness at the end, I find it’s subtext a lot more grim than The Dark Knight. Our main characters aren’t willing to make sacrifices when it comes to their loved ones, they are pretty darn selfish. Liz chooses the apocalypse of the world in order to save Hellboy, Abe chooses to give up the last piece of the crown, (granting Nuada the right to summon the golden army) in order to save the princess. It’s all about what we do for our loved ones, and that’s very romantic, but at what cost? What does that say about our attachment to love?

    Nicely written column, as always, I was in a panic too when the year was halfway through and In Bruges, Speed Racer, and Son Of Rambow were the only movies that ‘wowed’ me (I liked Miss Pettigrew, just never sat me on fire.) I didn’t guess that the glaring omission was The Dark Knight, never even thought of that, my first guess was ‘Wall-E’, or ‘The Wrestler’.

    It was a good year, but no 2007 (or to be more exact, the fall/winter of 2007). Also, please try to continue a top ten list for every year of film, I am always up for improving my film education.

  4. Ken Hanke

    The ‘social experiment’ boat scene is the best example, and in my view, the point and reason of the film.

    Yes, I’m aware of the scene. At the time, I even cited it in my review, “Were it not for the ferryboat sequence, the whole film would be such an exercise in nihilism that they might as well give out razor blades with every ticket.” And the further I got from the film and the more I thought about it, the more I found the sequence a false piece of Hollywoodification to pull away from the overall tone of the film. Indeed, I would have had more respect for the film had it gone into the abyss. At least I would have believed it. And part of the problem stems from…

    So when it’s an inmate that comes forth and asks “Give it to me, and I will do what you should have did” for the bomb detonator, you judge him, and think he’s going to blow up the other boat. But he does the exact opposite

    Did you even briefly think this wasn’t what was going to happen? Maybe I’m too jaded here, but this was just so Hollywood at his Hollywoodiest that it had no credibility for me.

    It’s all about what we do for our loved ones, and that’s very romantic, but at what cost? What does that say about our attachment to love?

    It says that we’re human — something I could never say about the characters in The Dark Knight.

    I was in a panic too when the year was halfway through and In Bruges, Speed Racer, and Son Of Rambow were the only movies that ‘wowed’ me (I liked Miss Pettigrew, just never sat me on fire.)

    Son of Rambow was the film never set me on fire. I liked it and I wanted to love it, but I only loved parts of it when all was said and done. Acid test for me — I’ve had no desire to see it again.

    I didn’t guess that the glaring omission was The Dark Knight, never even thought of that, my first guess was ‘Wall-E’, or ‘The Wrestler’

    I don’t think enough people have seen The Wrestler for that to be too glaring. WALL-E was a good guess — and I’m surprised I haven’t gotten more grief about it than I have.

    Also, please try to continue a top ten list for every year of film, I am always up for improving my film education.

    I’ll keep doing ’em until they stop me or I drop dead, whichever comes first. On the board I moderate, a few of us (it really came down to two of us ultimately) tried to do top 10 lists by year starting with 1929. Now, that was a daunting experiment.

  5. Sean Williams

    Anyone who wants to tackle that one, have at it.

    Okay, I have a Ph.D. in armchair psychology from the University of Wikipedia, so let me see if I can unravel the mysteries of the fanboy psyche — and aren’t we all fanboys to one degree or another?

    Basically, we want to be taken seriously, because it makes us feel less self-conscious about our interests. The sillier the object of our affections, the more intensely we have to fight to convince ourselves that it’s acceptable.

    My consistent experience in the fan community has been that my fellow fans hate authors who attempt to create sensitive character dynamics. Authors are considered to have “mature characterization” when their characters are motivated solely by anger, grief, guilt, and insecurity — not invalid emotions, no, but emotions that are grandiose and easily romanticized.

    When fans use the word “classic” to describe films, what they mean is “self-serious”. God forbid that anyone should crack a smile in a
    movie about a man who fights crime in a rubber bat suit.

    Of the hundreds of comics I’ve read, I can only name two authors who have attempted to depict superheroes having fun with their powers: Paul Chadwick in Concrete and Grant Morrison in All-Star Superman.

  6. Louis

    In The Dark Knight the intent is to make you laugh when the Joker does his magic trick of making a pencil disappear. That’s a very different proposition—and a much less cynical one that doesn’t presume to trade on the jadedness of the audience.

    Well, it may have been the intent, but, at least in my case, it wasn’t the outcome.

    I reacted to it as a point to illustrate to the mafioso sitting around the table — and the audience at large– that the Joker is a psychopath that doesn’t value human life; as such, he’ll flippantly end a human life to perform a kid’s magic trick.

    How people react to a movie in the context of a social situation, like inside an auditorium with a group of like-minded moviegoers, and how one responds inside to a movie in the friendly confines of their living room shouldn’t be overlooked here. Expecially in the case of the seemingly oxymoronic: wildly popular nihilistic entertainment.

    I saw DARK KNIGHT in both settings — theater and home. Upon viewing it home alone, and being even more underwhelmed by the whole dog-and-pony show, it occurred to me how easy it is for one to get caught up in the pop-culture momentum of it all and drink the Kool-Aid, as it were. Although, I’m pleased to report, that in the case of DARK KNIGHT I never ‘walked the plank’ upon existing the theater.

    These ‘print the legend’ themes were explored to greater effect in the THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

    THE DARK KNIGHT will no doubt be to Nolan’s pending BATMAN trilogy what THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was to the original STAR WARS trilogy. (installment one) Boy learns of greater destiny, (installment two) Boy fights to keep destiny from being derailed, (installment three) Boy fulfills destiny.

  7. Ken Hanke

    aren’t we all fanboys to one degree or another?

    An interesting question, and, yes, I think we are, though when I use the term “fanboy” it has a specific meaning. I don’t mean an enthusiast or a mere fan. I don’t even mean the person who spends the night in a sleeping bag in order to be the first on his block to see Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Geritol. No, I mean the ones who never got past a certain schoolyard mentality. You know — the ones who hang out on websites and “defend” movies they haven’t seen by calling critics who actually have seen the films “tools,” “douches,” “homos,” etc. I mean the ones who go to the IMDb and “vote” 10 out of 10 ratings for movies they haven’t seen, so that a film that hasn’t been released is “the greatest movie ever made.” (And then they turn around and call critics who don’t love the film “biased.”) A few years ago, someone I’d call a fanboy was telling me how wonderful Date Movie was (really for no other reason than it had some Buffy refugee in it). When I said it was vile, crass, stupid and spectacularly unfunny, his response was, “Well, you know that movie you like so well — the one about the Irish drag queen? Well, I think it sucks.” (He meant Breakfast on Pluto.) This was supposed to put me in my place and undermine my belief in the quality of the film. It might have done so — if I’d been 12. That it was the arguing technique of a guy in his mid-30s made it purest fanboy to me.

    Basically, we want to be taken seriously, because it makes us feel less self-conscious about our interests. The sillier the object of our affections, the more intensely we have to fight to convince ourselves that it’s acceptable.

    I hate to say it, but that’s pretty much my take on the need people feel to sell their religious beliefs.

    When fans use the word “classic” to describe films, what they mean is “self-serious”. God forbid that anyone should crack a smile in a
    movie about a man who fights crime in a rubber bat suit.

    Fans might like to stop and consider that a film like Bergman’s The Seventh Seal — surely, one of the more serious movies out there — has moments of both comedy and simple humanity. So for that matter does Citizen Kane. The idea of a thing being important solely because it’s deadly serious every inch of the way belongs to bad TV writing — and it ought to stay there.

  8. Sean Williams

    No, I mean the ones who never got past a certain schoolyard mentality.

    See, when I use the word “fanboy”, I mean someone who has tremendous enthusiasm for a particular subject — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it overpowers all other human sympathies. In that regard, I am an unapologetic fanboy.

    Twits with a “schoolyard mentality” I call [i]Talifan[/i]. Unfortunately, it’s the Talifan who dominate the popular perception of fandom by virtue of their sheer noisiness. Most disinterested observers perceive a dichotomy between obsessive fans who are jerks and casual fans who are well-rounded and psychologically healthy. That’s frustrating to me as someone who is unapologetic about his mania but at least tries to project civility.

    I hate to say it, but that’s pretty much my take on the need people feel to sell their religious beliefs.

    Well, I am religious, but I don’t hate to say it! What I see in Charismatic Christianity is a desperate attempt to artificially generate passion that its adherents don’t actually feel for their religion.

    It’s easier to reduce religion to material terms — the false dichotomy of Us versus Them — than it is to study abstract spirituality. That’s why so many evangelicals fixate on divisive non-issues like the use of “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”: the only way they know to demonstrate their piety is by insisting upon the preeminence of their values even in the secular sphere. They come to regard all non-Christian culture as specifically anti-Christian. People who can’t accept their own beliefs seldom accept others’.

    And ultimately, yes, the same insecurities motivate Talifan. Introspective analysis of one’s fandom forces one to acknowledge its silliness. It’s far easier to argue about details like the length of the Executor-class Star Dreadnought. (Don’t ask.) And yes, I do care about the length of the Executor-class Star Dreadnought, but I try to keep that concern in perspective.

    The idea of a thing being important solely because it’s deadly serious every inch of the way belongs to bad TV writing — and it ought to stay there.

    Ideologically, I agree, but that’s not going to happen. Over the next century, I predict that we’ll see popular culture become increasingly grim. The only counterculture will be in the form of exaggerated sentimentalism — an attempt by the Concerned Suburban Mothers of America to reclaim the imagined innocence of previous generations.

    In my most cynical moments, I feel like the Culture Wars are fought entirely between the censors and the filmmakers who oppose censorship on the basis that boob jokes sell more movie tickets.

    But that’s probably another false dichotomy.

  9. Tonberry

    Son of a Rambow did it for me because it reminded me of my childhood. One camera, my friend and I, set out to do a gangster movie. We didn’t know about the fake blood Karo syrup recipe, so we used the next best thing in the fridge, ketchup. My grandmother was furious.

    Another scene we did involved my grandfather at the grocery store, the employee’s there thought we were robbing him. I guess at camera point?

    We couldn’t afford to blow things up, so for every explosion we would edit in the “Independence Day” scene with the exploding white house.

    I’m guessing that Miss Pettigrew set you on fire because it’s a film that feels like a great movie of the forties the way it’s shot and written. Ironically, I bought Pettigrew over Son of Rambow. I love Frances McDormand, what can I say, that’s the fanboy in me speaking.

    Wall-E gets enough praise as it is. And Hollywood must have got the best of me when it comes to The Dark Knight. But better that be the big hit, than, I don’t know, Twilight?

  10. Ken Hanke

    I saw DARK KNIGHT in both settings—theater and home. Upon viewing it home alone, and being even more underwhelmed by the whole dog-and-pony show, it occurred to me how easy it is for one to get caught up in the pop-culture momentum of it all and drink the Kool-Aid, as it were.

    I think there’s a good deal of truth in that. And it perhaps that I first saw the film with a relatively small group — no more than 20 — that I didn’t get caught up in it. At the same time, I suspect the fact that I wasn’t swept up by Batman Begins was a very mitigating factor. Did I dislike the first film or give it a bad review? No, but it ultimately had no resonance for me. Warner Bros. sent me a copy of it (Begins, I mean) on DVD for awards season. I think it’s still in the shrink wrap. I simply couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to tackle it again.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Well, I am religious, but I don’t hate to say it! What I see in Charismatic Christianity is a desperate attempt to artificially generate passion that its adherents don’t actually feel for their religion.

    I put it squarely in the realm of shoring up one’s own doubts by getting someone else — the largest number possible — to believe what you believe for validation.

    Over the next century, I predict that we’ll see popular culture become increasingly grim. The only counterculture will be in the form of exaggerated sentimentalism—an attempt by the Concerned Suburban Mothers of America to reclaim the imagined innocence of previous generations.

    We already did that. It was part and parcel of Reaganism. Maybe I’m simply too old to be quite so cynical about it all, but I prefer to think that the existence of movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Be Kind Rewind and Milk suggest at least the possibility of something else.

  12. Ken Hanke

    We didn’t know about the fake blood Karo syrup recipe, so we used the next best thing in the fridge, ketchup. My grandmother was furious.

    I was similarly in the dog house over setting fire to a field behind our house when some “pyrotechnics” got out of hand whilst making science-fiction spectacular about a hundred foot tall robot (in reality a G.I. Joe covered in tin foil — those “21 moveable parts” were sorta perfect for stop frame). I was nine at the time.

    I’m guessing that Miss Pettigrew set you on fire because it’s a film that feels like a great movie of the forties the way it’s shot and written.

    Well, late 30s actually, but that’s part of it. The real kicker, though, was the simple fact that I kept wandering into the theater and watching the last hour of it, which was more grounded in the way I responded to the characters.

    Wall-E gets enough praise as it is. And Hollywood must have got the best of me when it comes to The Dark Knight. But better that be the big hit, than, I don’t know, Twilight?

    I can’t actually argue that — though Twilight is certainly a big enough hit that it’s kind of depressing.

  13. Sean Williams

    We already did that. It was part and parcel of Reaganism.

    Very true. Maybe the new Democratic regime heralds the advent of a more intellectual culture, but I remain cynical.

    Then again…see my comments below.

    I prefer to think that the existence of movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Be Kind Rewind and Milk suggest at least the possibility of something else.

    Okay, now is as good a time as any to tell you:

    Over the holidays, my family dragged me along to Bedtime Stories (which was agonizing) and The Tale of Despereaux (which felt sincere but cinematically inept). Finally, finally, I convinced them to see Slumdog Millionaire. Everyone expressed the hopes that it was awful, since I had been insufferably critical of everyone else’s pet films. (Come on, if you’re going to call it a good film, shouldn’t it bear some depth of analysis?)

    As it turned out, Slumdog Millionaire was so good it was physically painful. Every single member of the family — adult, senior citizen, teenager — was literally on the edge of his or her seat. I was breathing so hard that my skin was buzzing. When we left the theater, we couldn’t even speak without whooping and hollering. Every conversation degenerated into incoherent shouts of “Did you see –?” and “It was so stylish when the camera –” and “I nearly cried when –“.

    My elderly father never talks about movies he’s just seen. He broods in silence and then speaks one comment that, like an utterance of Almighty God, defines the film for all discussions henceforth and forever.

    He didn’t speak in the car. He didn’t even open his mouth. The rest of us would have been holding our breath except that we were still hyperventilating.

    As soon as we stumbled in the door, dear old Dad picked up the telephone and dialed his brother-in-law half a continent away.

    My uncle was watching a movie on T.V. Dad didn’t care. “Listen, Bruce. No, just listen. You’ve got to see this movie. There’s not going to be another one like it — ten, maybe twenty years. It’s called Slumdog Millionaire.”

    My parents asked me to convey their thanks to “that man from the internet”. There was some suggestion of sending you fudge, but Dad and I polished that off as we were raving about the sequence in which Salim sees Latika moving through the glass. Thank you from the bottom of the hearts of the Williams-Moorhead family.

    I think there’s hope for the world after all.

    “D.: It is written.”

  14. Ken Hanke

    Thank you from the bottom of the hearts of the Williams-Moorhead family.

    The Williams-Moorhead family are more than welcome. (Pity about that fudge, though — unless it had nuts, I prefer fudge sans nuts.) In the meantime, I am basking in the concept of being “That Man from the Internet.” It makes me feel all secret-agent-like, or at least like Jean-Paul Belmondo in That Man from Rio.

  15. Sean Williams

    Who in his right mind would put nuts in fudge? If our fudge had nuts in it, we would send it to Peter Travers for recommending Hancock.

    It makes me feel all secret-agent-like, or at least like Jean-Paul Belmondo in That Man from Rio.

    Now you just need a trenchcoat!

  16. Ken Hanke

    Who in his right mind would put nuts in fudge?

    Heathens. Only heathens.

    Now you just need a trenchcoat!

    Which would only make me look like Roy Kinnear in Paul Morrissey’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

  17. T_REX

    Great article! I only disagree on one point and that is about the Joker in The Dark Knight. Yes it was an amazing job but there were other great performences.The story of Harvey Dent was the heart of that film.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.