Let me share a few last cinematic heresies, with some annotations this time because it’s 8:00 and I’m fresh as a daisy compared with my recent blogging sessions:
American Beauty. I know, you picked it, too, but I couldn’t resist. From Kevin Spacey, playing the single role he always plays, to Annette Bening, as a gay screenwriter’s idea of a castrating hag; from the ridiculously worshipful depiction of a teenage pothead to the implication that a Marine World War II vet is a repressed homosexual Nazi (it was people like Spacey, Alan Ball and Sam Mendes, of course, who actually stopped the Nazis from conquering the world), this breathtakingly mendacious picture of American suburbia takes the cake.
Thank you. I’ve been really gratified to see how many people actively dislike this movie. I saw it in less than ideal conditions: in a promotional preview on a college campus with Spacey, Mena Suvari, Thora Birch, and Wes Bentley in attendance. The starstruck college kids in the audience hooted and clapped through the whole thing, egging on Spacey’s character. My alienation from my surroundings was complete. I’ve avoided the movie ever since. But judging from what many of you had to say, I wasn’t simply swayed the unfavorable circumstances–there was a kernel of discernment at work, too.
Leaving Las Vegas. It seemed like an exercise in piling on the gratuitous misery and despair, and I’ve realized of late that I think gratuitous despair is much worse than gratuitous sex and violence. (I’m of the Jane Austen “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery” school of thought.) Watching it, I got the feeling that all the critics who praised it were congratulating themselves for being brave and
tough-minded enough to watch something that depressing. Blech.
Not having seen this one, I’m not qualified to comment. But what the hell: Blech!
The Natural. Here’s the movie I hate that most people like and it usually ends near the top of best sports movies. Honestly, I can never forgive Redford for what he did to this story. Roy Hobbs doesn’t hit that home run, he doesn’t win the game; no, he fails and everyone thinks he was paid off by gamblers.I don’t expect a movie to be 100 percent faithful to its source material, but there has to a point where someone says “You know that story we’re making into a movie? This is no longer that story.” Yeah, I know Malamud himself seemed OK with it, mainly because he said the movie would cause him to be thought of as something other than a Jewish writer. Sorry, can’t find the exact quote. Robert Redford is one of those people I thought would have more respect for the story. For me, his reputation is forever sullied and I’d just like to ask, “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING? JUST GO MAKE SOME OTHER FREAKIN’ BASEBALL STORY YOU HACK!”
Reading this struck an deep chord in me. I read Malamud’s novel as a teenager, right around the time the Detroit Tigers had their Cinderella season. Being caught up in baseball made me especially attuned to Roy Hobbs’s plight, and I was devastated; it was one of my first truly intense encounters with a truly bleak literary vision. Close on the heels of that, the movie felt like the worst kind of betrayal, and continues to stand as an all-time low in my movie-viewing history.
This next one also loudly rang a bell.
About Schmidt. Look, I grew up in Palo Alto, California, and go through a tin of flavored hummus a day, but the sneering condescension that pervades every shot in this film had me yelling to my friends about the elitist values of Hollywood on the way out of the theater. Oh, look at those poor people in Omaha with their bleak, meaningless lives. I’ve heard people talk about how sympathetic this movie was, but is there one character who isn’t presented as either an asshole or a desperate loser? And does anyone actually still think that Jack Nicholson is a serious actor?
Well, I’m not sure it’s Jack Nicholson’s fault that for a while now he hasn’t been able to play anyone but Jack Nicholson. It probably is. But more to the point, this movie vexed me no end because I was such a fan of Election and Citizen Ruth (and, more lately, Sideways, though–don’t write–I’m fully aware of the case against; I’m not convinced, however, that this case, or the one against Lost in Translation, would have gathered so much steam absent the movies’ success). I was fully prepared to like Schmidt. I loathed it. Coming from a director who is usually such a precise ironist, the false note of the final scene, especially, left me shocked and disgusted. And yet I suspect that the tonal difference between this film and Election was a matter of millimeters–millimeters that just happened to fall across some crucial line separating lampoon from contempt. (Speaking of Election, Quiet Bubble mentions in passing that it’s one of his cows. I’m curious why, but in a way I don’t want to know since QB has great taste and I wouldn’t want to be talked out of my love for it.)
Next, two brave souls dissent from the common wisdom on a film that I personally have never heard a heartfelt negative word about, Waking Life:
– Earlier this week the Onion A.V. Club blog tossed out the question of what movies have inspired people to walk out of the theater, which got me thinking about this kind of stuff. So I thought I’d mention Richard Linklater’s atrocious Waking Life. When it came out, I was in the middle of an extremely rigorous self-imposed academic hell at the University of Chicago, so the sight of Ethan Hawke or Julie Delpy standing on a pseudointellectual soap box spewing out “chicken soup for the soul”-brand political and social philosophy made me physically ill. I think this is a controversial choice, not because I’ve gotten into arguments about it with my friends (in fact, I haven’t allowed any loved ones to see it if I could help it), but because of the rapt expressions of those around me when I was stumbling over them to get myself out of the theater as quickly as possible. I am sure they wouldn’t agree with my assessment.
– When I read your post about attacking movies that everyone else loves, I immediately thought of Waking Life. I am alone among my friends who have seen this movie in thinking that it is 90 minutes of repetitive, self-impressed, pseudo-intellectual tripe. For some reason, the pretty pictures and elementary analyses blind the rest of my friends to its shallowness.
Conveeeeeniently, I haven’t actually seen the movie and can’t take a side. I’m a fan of Linklater, though that principally means I’m a fan of Dazed and Confused (as is the friend who wrote the first of these comments). So this should have been a natural choice for me, but something kept me from seeing it. Now–perhaps–I know what.
Next is another movie I’ve never seen. In this case, however, I’ve been congratulating myself on my judgment from the get-go.
Forrest Gump. The idea of the novel (I’m told) is that