Thursday, January 05, 2012

My review of YOUNG ADULT

I’d hate to be a movie critic. You have to spend hours and hours watching awful movies and you can’t leave. On your death bed when you only have a few precious moments of life left you'll think back to those two hours you spent reviewing JACK & JILL.

And then there must be a certain amount of pressure. The best critics are perceptive. They pick out themes and see things that the average reviewer (and certainly Joe Popcorneater) doesn’t see. It’s not enough that you like or dislike a movie. You have to see the bigger picture.  You have to perceive nuance. And to a certain extent you have to fall in line with other critics. If most major reviewers rave over something and you thought it was the dog’s breakfast then you’re obviously not as deep and qualified to judge cinema as they are. I call this the “Woody Allen” syndrome. I often wonder how many free passes he received on bad movies because critics thought if they didn’t like his picture it was their fault not his. Same with the Coen Brothers. Once a filmmaker has made one or two gems they are sometimes treated with kid gloves when the next one is a stinkburger.

(Ultimately, it evens out at the end because once these same critics decide the filmmaker or artist is no longer the flavor of the month, the backlash is way over the top. I call this the “Nicole Kidman” syndrome.)

Anyway, I bring this up as a way to make sense of the positive reviews I've seen for YOUNG ADULT. (By the way, no SPOILER ALERT necessary.) 

Now understand, I couldn’t wait to see this movie. I looked forward to it the way fanboys are already in line for the new Batman movie that doesn't open for six months. I love director Jason Reitman. I love Charlize Theron. I love Patton Oswalt. I love dark comedies. And I really love screenwriter Diablo Cody.

I read the reviews. Critics called it brilliant, brave, breathtakingly cynical, mesmerizing, bold, pitch-perfect, hilarious, wickedly funny, fearless, and my favorite – the film’s messiness is a virtue. Huh??

I was practically salivating!  

And my reaction: what a dud .  Either I’m not as insightful as movie critics or this is the Emperor’s New Clothes.

First of all, the film was slow. It was only 94 minutes but felt like two-and-a-half hours. And yes, I applaud Charlize Theron’s performance but she’s always great. And Patton Oswalt was funny but he's one of the funniest people on the planet. (In fairness, he’s also a surprisingly terrific actor), but I just didn’t connect with Theron’s character. Now granted it’s a hard-sell going in when your lead is a raving bitch and only wants to break up a happy marriage with a newly arrived baby. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel. Was I supposed to be sympathetic to her because she was so damaged? Or was I supposed to take delight in how this ultimate "C.U. Next Tuesday" was getting hers?

I think back to another movie, THE LAST SEDUCTION. Linda Fiorentino played an absolutely hateful shrew, but the part was so delicious and she was so shockingly devious that it was great fun. I love anti-heroes if they’re entertaining. The more unredeeming the better. Give me Dabney Coleman’s “Buffalo Bill” or “J. R. Ewing”, Ben Kingsley in SEXY BEAST, Aaron Eckhart in IN THE COMPANY OF MEN,  “the Black Adder”, or Joan Crawford in everything she was ever in.

Maybe if Theron’s character were funnier or more audacious, or more… something.

Half of the movie we see her drink herself into oblivion, order and eat junk food, brood, apply make up, select clothing, and drive by Staples. Am I missing the brilliance or are some critics just covering their asses?

Perhaps my expectations were just too high. If this was some little indie feature I saw at the Death Valley Film Festival I might’ve shrugged and said, “Way too long but good air conditioning”. But as a movie vying for Oscar nominations and considering the pedigree involved I think calling it brilliant, brave, breathtakingly cynical, mesmerizing, bold, pitch-perfect, hilarious, wickedly funny, fearless was overly generous. The film's messiness is absolutely not a virtue.

"Don't waste your time on this one.  Go bowling instead."
                                  -- Ken Levine
                                      stupid blogger


What did you guys think?

86 comments:

bmfc1 said...

Thank you Ken. Juno was great and, as you said, this has a terrific cast so I had high hopes but I hated this movie. The lead character was so despicable that I didn't care if she got well or threw herself in front of a bus. The worst movie I saw all year.

Jeremiah Avery said...

I stayed away from the movie since the premise was a turn-off. I enjoy a lot of Patton Oswalt's work but I wasn't going to spend around $11 for a movie that I had no other interest in.

If the character trying to break up a marriage was some guy, I think the reaction would have been a lot different by some critics.

I rarely take seriously what critics say. I can make my own decision based upon a trailer or two and reading a plot synopsis.

I remember when the first "Spider-Man" movie came out and there was this reviewer for the local news saying how bad the movie was but then after it was released and broke opening weekend records, this same twit was then praising the movie. Apparently it must have been shocking to him and other critics that often times their opinions don't matter to anyone except other critics and to studios looking for quotes to put into their advertising.

Jeremiah Avery said...

I stayed away from the movie since the premise was a turn-off. I enjoy a lot of Patton Oswalt's work but I wasn't going to spend around $11 for a movie that I had no other interest in.

If the character trying to break up a marriage was some guy, I think the reaction would have been a lot different by some critics.

I rarely take seriously what critics say. I can make my own decision based upon a trailer or two and reading a plot synopsis.

I remember when the first "Spider-Man" movie came out and there was this reviewer for the local news saying how bad the movie was but then after it was released and broke opening weekend records, this same twit was then praising the movie. Apparently it must have been shocking to him and other critics that often times their opinions don't matter to anyone except other critics and to studios looking for quotes to put into their advertising.

Kirk D G said...

Ken. Speaking of movies, do you think the movie title is important? I ask because I saw a trailer last night for the upcoming Liam Neeson movie about a group of men stranded in Alaska being chased by wolves.

I thought that it looked like a good popcorn movie then came the title "The Grey". I felt my interest lessen instantly.

I guess I was expecting a really cool title.

Is a lot of thought given to titles?

Thanks.

Blaze said...

I also feel sorry for movie critics. Movie after movie after movie. Just as a "Joe Popcorneater", I'm getting jaded with recognizing similar, tired cliches and formulae. I can only imagine how whackadoodle with boredom an experienced movie critic must be. It's not that they have special insight or keen acumen. It's that they're eating bowl after bowl of tasteless sludge. Finding anything different in the bowl is a WONDERFUL treat, even if it's a dog turd.

David O'Hara said...

Walked out on Juno. (another critic's darling)

Kids don't/can't talk like that. They may try, but they don't have the help with the words the writer gave those characters.

Sorry, but if you can't buy into the characters....

Maybe the clothes are coming off another emporer. (imporer?)

Debby G said...

Well, I loved it. And it's not just because I'm a young adult author.

I also thought the acting was great. I laughed a lot at the dark humor, and liked the plot twists (the announcements at the baby naming party that turned things on their heads) and the relationship between Oswalt and Theron's characters, and the exploration of small town life.

I also liked that this was different than most movies in that the ending wasn't a feel-good tidy wrap-up and that the protagonist was hard to like but fascinating to watch.

What you wrote about movie reviewers is true about book reviewers too. Once an author has a critically acclaimed book, his next books get praised all over the place. But with this movie, my high expectations were met.

A few hours after I saw Young Adult, I watched Friends With Benefits. Every scene in Young Adult seemed true. Every scene in Friends With Benefits rang false. I'd much rather watch a compelling but unlikeable character like Theron's who seemed genuine, than nice characters like the ones in Friends With Benefits who were standard issue rom-com phonies.

andrew said...

the conceit of going forth to break up a relationship isnt new. But i think this one, breaking up someone else's marriage all because they just had a newborn.. didn't quite hit the mark. it just didnt go all the way dark the way todd solondz would have done. there was another movie called My Best Friends wedding...now THAT was awesome.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen this one, but have you seen IN THE LOOP? Peter Capaldi plays a great and terrible character in that one. Good little film based off a UK tv show the same character was in. I thought the swearing in Deadwood was good, Capaldi blows it away.

Richard J. Marcej said...

I liked it, mainly for it's main characters' refusal to learn ANYTHING.

I tended to compare it to "Bridesmaids". Both films featured a main female character who spends the movie spiraling downward (mostly through their own doing). The difference is, in "Bridesmaids" she pulls herself out of it while in "Young Adult" she learns nothing and more than likely will continue to sink even lower.

While I'm no professional critic, (I do see about 60 films in the theaters each year) I have, I think, a unique way of reviewing them. In comic form: http://www.theblabbingbaboon.com/

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, Ken. For the life of me, I couldn't understand all the praise Young Adult was getting. Ultimately, the movie adds up to nothing. You don't walk away with any clearer insight on any of the characters. Thank god, I got a screener and didn't have to pay to see this unfocused and uninteresting mess.

Fred

Terry said...

Ken, I'm surprised - as a screenwriter yourself - to hear you profess your love for Diablo Cody. I think she is one of the most overrated screenwriters in recent memory.

Juno was okay, but again overrated. The cutesy dialogue really got on my nerves after a while. It would be one thing if it was just Juno talking that way, but it seemed like everyone around her talked that way, too. None of the characters had their own distinctive voice. They all sounded like Diablo Cody was talking through them. And "Honest to blog?" Really? One of the most horrible lines ever written. No way did that screenplay deserve an Oscar.

I think Diablo Cody is far too in love with her own sense of cleverness, which is why, in spite of the presence of Patton Oswalt, Charlize Theron and Jason Reitman, I can't bring myself to see Young Adult.

David Schwartz said...

I actually had nothing of interest to say since I haven't seen the movie, but when reading the comments, I noticed my word verification was "trugh." And I thought that if this were a word, it would be the perfect description for Ken's view of this film!

jbryant said...

"Kids don't/can't talk like that. They may try, but they don't have the help with the words the writer gave those characters."

In and of itself, I don't see that as a problem at all. Most comedies have sharpened, somewhat artificial dialogue and repartee that sets the characters apart from the average nonverbal doofuses we encounter in real life (unless the film is deliberately going for a realistic vibe).

I haven't seen YOUNG ADULT yet though. Hoping to work it in today actually.

Anonymous said...

The nicest thing I can say about Young Adult is that five minutes after I turned off the DVD player, I didn't remember a single thing about the movie. Just a paper thin story about not very much.

An (is my actual name) said...

I've had zero desire to see this and your review confirms my suspicions completely. Thanks for saving me the $ I'd have spent futilely trying to see what the other critics are seeing in it.

I did see Sherlock Holmes and really enjoyed it-- much more than the first, actually. I thought Ritchie did a terrific job this time around, and I was able to follow the story-- at least enough to be able to feel somewhat less of an idiot than I did in the previous outing. On another note, Holmes and Watson are becoming the ultimate big screen slash pairing, and this film seemed to embrace that with gusto. Lots of fun.

A Helpful Citizen said...

I'm glad you brought up what you refer to as Woody Allen Syndrome. In the automotive realm, there is a similar phenomenon for which my colleagues and I use the term "badge", as in "there is quite a lot of badge going on there...". Certain manufacturers are seemingly immune to criticism for half-arsing their current projects, secure in the knowledge that by virtue of being an Aston Martin or a BMW or what have you (to cite two of the more egregious perpetrators of "badge"), that the car will be afforded a measure of credibility and even accolade far above its relative merits.

In Woody Allen and the Coen brothers, I think you've correctly identified two of the most Teflon-coated "badge" perpetrators currently working. Not the only ones, by any means---not so long as Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke are still drawing breath---but in American cinema, there are perhaps no other filmmakers more seemingly immune to criticism than they are. And it drives me absolutely batshit. This is mainly because of how seemingly arbitrary it is: The Coens, for instance, are not the only purveyors of idiosyncratic quick in the jungle, but they are almost certainly the only ones *guaranteed* to receive a rapturous reception for it regardless of its actual merits. The comparatively few dissenting critical voices are summarily dismissed as contrarian attention whores. The idea that a filmmaker, however skilled and of however much historical significance can effectively a reach a point of being entirely beyond criticism is maddening, and yet it is becoming increasingly prevalent in critical circles, professional and amateur alike. An amazing number of people who should fucking well know better seem to have three-quarters of their review written the instant they see the director's name on a picture.

Take, for example, DANCES WITH WOLVES. The critical backlash that has come about in the twenty-two years (Christ...) since its release is fairly astonishing, and seems entirely the result of it having won seven Academy Awards at the expense, as the popular narrative would have it, of Scorsese's GOODFELLAS. Now, regardless of which side of that particular debate you come down on, do bear in mind that DANCES WITH WOLVES was the first film Kevin Costner ever directed...the first *thing* he had ever directed, full stop. On its own merits, it's impressive enough. As a first feature, it's astonishing. And you can bet your last fucking penny that if Werner Herzog's name had been on it instead of Costner's, even if the finished product was *exactly* as it stands now, that critical response would be very, very different. The film itself, no. The perception of it, yes.

Along similar lines, badge-perpetrating film bitches, how's this: I know you believe Stanley Kubrick to be the improved 2.0 version of God, and that he could simply do no wrong, and that it's inconceivable that the guy who directed FLASHDANCE could ever make a better version of LOLITA than Kubrick did...but guess what? He did. Adrian Lyne's version simply IS better, in every significant respect. Without changing a single frame, try to imagine the 1962 version bearing the screen credit of an unremarkable ham-and-egger journeyman, and the 1997 version bearing the name of an indie darling. Think the perception of the two otherwise-unchanged pictures is altered? If you don't think so, I'd like a few minutes of your time to discuss an exciting real estate opportunity with you...did you know that the Brooklyn Bridge has quietly been on the market for years? Well, I think we can swing something...

Charles said...

I'm with you 100%, Ken. I loved everyone involved, but didn't like the movie. I think I can see what they were going for, but it ended up just being unpleasant, and not particularly funny either.

100% agree with your evaluation of The Last Seduction, too. Totally marvelous, underrated gem.

I review films on a casual basis at http://fatguyson.com, but have gotten behind on my reviews. It's my New Years' Resolution to be more punctual. :)

MBunge said...

I actually liked Young Adult, though it did feel at times like Cody was working out some of her own issues regarding her rise to relative fame and fortune. On my own little blog I called it "superbly acted and wickedly observant", which I think is true.
But "brilliant"? "Hilarious"? "Brave"? "Mesmerizing"? What movie did these people watch? Overly praising stuff like Young Adult is just as bad as being overly critical of stuff like Sherlock Holmes 2.

Mike

DJ said...

Adrian Lyne's version simply IS better, in every significant respect.

In fairness to Kubrick, Lyne had the advantage of having the freedom to make his film closer to the source material. There was no way Kubrick could have done so in 1962. No one could.

Mel Ryane said...

I was not a fan of JUNO for the reasons cited by another of your readers. Every character sounded exactly the same.
I did like YOUNG ADULT. I'm in longing for leading female characters of the less-than-perfect variety. These roles are celebrated and accepted when written for men...the Hangover franchise,for example.It's been a long time since we were graced with Barbara Stanwyck and DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

SkippyMom said...

I am so glad someone said something about Woody Allen. I have been waiting 20+ years. I always thought it was me, but really - some of his movies are pathetic and sorry, I know it isn't film making, but the whole Sun Yi Previn thing squeed me out enough to never give the man another dime. Yick.

I didn't like Juno and am none to anxious to spend 12 dollars on Y/A. I have to really want to see a movie to skip a car payment to take the family in the theaters.

RCP said...

I haven't seen Young Adult yet (may go bowling instead), but agree that anti-heroes are great when they're entertaining.

Tim W. said...

It's funny that you mentioned The Last Seduction, because I remember being quite disappointed with it when I saw it. I'd heard such good things about it and I just thought, eh, it wasn't bad.

Now, I didn't love Young Adult, but I did like it. I thought Charlize Theron was fantastic, and while she did play a character with few redeeming qualities, I felt I at least understood her a bit.

I enjoyed the story about a woman who never quite moved on from high school, which is either due to, or helped her, writing books about high school.

And the scene when she finally opens up to her parents and tells them she thinks she's an alcoholic, and they just laugh, said a lot.

And I actually laughed more during that movie than I did at some actual comedies. They were belly laughs, but they were laughs.

I did like Juno and especially Up In The Air better, but I'm glad I saw Young Adult.

Harold X said...

I liked it.

I also liked The Last Seduction. And, for that matter, whatever else I've seen by John Dahl.

What I didn't like was "Seinfeld," until I read in an interview with one of the principals that none of the characters were supposed to be likeable.

Believe it or not, that turned it completely around for me, and the show now ranks among my favorite series.

I Saw Her Standing There was also one of my least favorite Beatles songs, 'til something kicked in for me (hard to explain, but it has to do with the rhythm) and I suddenly understood. Maybe not what they had in mind, but something I could relate to, positively.

Not to say that you or anyone else is going to have that sort of a revalation regarding Young Adult or anything else, but sometimes all it takes is a little nudge.

Elizabeth H said...

Is Charlize supposed to BE the young adult? Because she's 36 years old. Seems like a stretch to me. Or have I missed the point? (it happens all the time...)

I too agree about all things Woody Allen. I sat through almost all of The Jade Scorpion, and that was enough. If I want to listen to people stammer and whine, I'll tune in to talk radio.

Ken, I love your blog. And your commentators. (Why does spellcheck like that word better than "commentors" "ers"? You've seen me through a really challenging year at a job I must, must get out of..., so thanks.

Rafe said...

I don't try to stay with other critics in my opinions, but I loved it. I can definitely see your points, Ken, but I thought it was a much better movie than you did.

Yes, we see her doing a lot of mundane things, but I think the brilliance is in her reaction to those things - how disaffected her responses are. This is a girl who is seriously out of touch with reality, which the climactic part of the film reinforces (not spoiling anything).

Patton Oswalt isn't supposed to be funny in this. Yes, he gets some good one-liners in, but he represents someone who was literally scarred by his high school experience. As a result, he's stuck there. Mavis, on the other hand, has "moved on," but in many ways is equally scarred by her young adult life. They prove effective foils for each other.

Personally, I think this is the best script Diablo Cody has written - certainly a bit more nuanced (to use Ken's word) than Juno. I also liked that it continues thematically with what Jason Reitman did in Up in the Air.

That's just my take (my full review can be read at widescreenwarrior.com) but I am surprised you didn't like it a bit more. I was hesitant to see it but it wound up being one of my favorite movies in the past few months.

Rich Norton said...

I'm with you on this one. Had high expectations, based on cast, writer, director, but I just squirmed through most of it. There were three middle-aged women behind us in the theater who were laughing their asses off, but I found it to be one of the saddest movies I can remember.
RichN

-bee said...

I really liked it - with reservations. I think the direction/editing unfortunately underplays some key moments though, and therefore people are not picking up on what the film is about.

Trying to avoid spoilers here, but those who have not seen the film, be warned...

Late in the film during a disastrous party Mavis (Theron's character) reveals something which I felt should create a whole 180 degree turn on everything that had preceded it.

You know how people went back to see the film "The Sixth Sense" a second time because of the big reveal - I feel once you know Mavis' 'secret' it throws an entirely new light on everything that had taken place before.

While Mavis is still a delusional, mess, I think it turns out that everybody else in her town is delusional too, but in a somewhat more insidious way. They sweep unpleasant truths under the rug in order to maintain a cheery facade - but at a sometimes great cost of sacrificing both sanity and emotional health. Denial is not just a river in egypt....

Not that Mavis is completely a 'victim' - but she is a product AND a player of her society.

Personally MY big problem with the film was that Cody had no idea how to end it, and so ended up taking the path of least resistance for the 'climactic' moment.

So I can't say I LOVED the film cause for me the narrative pieces didn't add up to a satisfying whole, but I liked it, and man, I thought Theron was just PHENOMENAL.

ChicagoJohn said...

Thanks for being the writer brave enough to say "I don't get it", when talking about other people's critically acclaimed movies.
You made your point without coming off like a writer who was jealous of other people's critical acclaim.

Regarding Juno: a few other posters stole my thunder, but I'd like to add to it. It wasn't just that Juno had that cutesy, sarcastic, over-the-top intellectual references in-everything-she-said, or even that "everyone" in the cast had that voice. It was that _most_ of the cast had that voice. So I couldn't attribute the voice to that character, or even use the excuse that it was the way that everyone in that world talked. Because it wasn't everyone.

That's my #1 complaint in indy films; most of the characters talk with an over-the-top sarcasm/intellect. Its like the writer was trying to prove that he/she was really smart. Honest. Like... they read both comic books AND poetry. And shit.

Which is sad to me, because Juno was beautifully directed and acted. But there was always this part of my head that wanted the screenwriter to get out of its own way.

(I think that's my next Friday question, if you'll indulge me another. How does a screenwriter remember to get out of his/her own way?)

Erich Eilenberger said...

I attempted to write a response to this in the comments, but apparently it was WAY too long, so I created a Google document for people to check out: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DccQpcEZL4jj15nUrK_B0-MZhct_25p_z2kkmU4ZuW0/edit

I have actually given this a lot of thought and have tried to be very specific about points from both films, unlike critics who can be vague at times.

Tim W. said...

Elizabeth H.

It appears you're not the only one who missed the point. One thing I liked about the movie is how well it showed a woman who had not emotionally matured since high school. She was in such a hurry to leave the town that she grew up in, but she never moved beyond it. In just about every way, except physically, she was a teenager, possibly because that was the only time in her life when she was happy.

She was able to immerse herself in her emotional immaturity because of her career writing books about high school. It obviously hurt her in real life, but she excelled at writing in a world she still existed in.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I didn't even realize there WAS dialogue in the movie. I couldn't take my eyes off of Charlize. Talk about perfect looks. Did that seem creepy?

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Elizabeth H said...
Is Charlize supposed to BE the young adult?


She's the immature adult, but the title refers to the types of books the Theron character writes: "Young Adult Literature," in other words, drippy high school romantic novels for overweight tweens who've read all the Twilight books.

(You'd think someone would write a series of Young Adult books that suggested that perhaps you won't meet the love of your life until AFTER high school, so cool it on the "We are fated to be together forever!" crap between 16 year olds. You'll meet someone better in college.)

I just finished reading the new biography of Pauline Kael, and stepping in line with other critics was so NOT what she did. She rose to fame in part by bad-mouthing other critics in her early reviews. When William Wallace hired her for The New Yorker, his one condition was no more bad-mouthing other critics in her reviews, so she stopped referring to other critics whose opinions she violently disagreed with by name. (In return, she got no space limitations. A real luxury.)

She had feuds that ran for decades with Andrew Sarris and Vincent Canby, neither of whom she respected, and her friendship with - yes - Woody Allen came to an abrubt end when she eviscerated one of his movies. Suddenly she was no longer welcome at Woody's New Years Eve Bashes. (I agreed with the eviceration in question.)

Sometimes her contratian opinions got her into trouble, worst of all, when she published a highly negative piece on the holocaust documentary Shoah, which she had found insufferable boring. And she DEEPLY resented being expected to rave over it simply because she was Jewish. Her being Jewish did not, to her, mean she had to like a movie she found tedious in the extreme.

Funny to me though, that Woody's critic-proof status should come up today. I'm in the midst of preparing a blog review of Midnight in Paris, which has gotten great reviews all over the place, and which left me feeling "Huh?" I will be posting a very negative review of this movie, which most critics seem to love, in a day or two. Ebert gushed over it. Honestly, how good could it have ever have been? It stars Owen Wilson, and it never recovers from that, though the whole movie has major problems.

So you won't see me at Woody's on New Year's next year either.

Mike said...

I totally agree and I did not give it a good review. Theron was good in the role but as you say, she always is. Her character is just so un-likable and their is absolutly no character growth. I think that is why it seems so long, she and the audience don't learn a thing.

Andy said...

Hated "Young Adult." As for Woody, prolific though he may be, he doesn't always have something new to say, even though he keeps churning out new movies. And many of them seem like first drafts. I'd like to see him comment about today's world, not his own insular world.

RCP said...

Am I wrong, Tallulah (of course I could just look it up), or did Pauline Kael help usher out "out-of-touch" critics like Bosley Crowther of the NYT - an example of how she was not "in line" with other "establishment" critics. She was one of the few to initially praise "Bonnie and Clyde" while Crowther hated it.

As for "Shoah" - I wonder if length had something to do with Kael's opinion. I went to see it years ago and if memory serves, it was over 8 hours long divided into two 4-hour showings on consecutive days.

jbryant said...

Those of you suggesting Woody Allen gets an automatic pass from critics clearly haven't been reading many reviews of Woody Allen films for the last 20-odd years. Few directors have generated more "how the mighty have fallen" talk than Woody in that time, to the point that several decent films have been unfairly dismissed, in my opinion. The general praise for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS has been an exception that proves the rule, though VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA and MATCH POINT got mostly positive notices, I think. But CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION, HOLLYWOOD ENDING, ANYTHING ELSE, MELINDA AND MELINDA, SCOOP, CASSANDRA'S DREAM, WHATEVER WORKS and YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, to name a few, received mostly poor to mixed notices. Some "Teflon"!

The Coen brothers have been luckier, but I don't recall much praise for THE LADYKILLERS, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and, to a lesser extent, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY. Most critics dismissed those without being labeled "contrarian attention whores." Even BURN AFTER READING got decidedly mixed reviews, and A SERIOUS MAN seemed to be a love-it-or-hate-it film. And in fact it doesn't take much effort to find a number of noted critics who can't stand the Coens, whom they consider condescending to their characters and overly cold in their technique.

As for Kubrick, almost all of his films were panned as much as praised upon first release. Their reputations have grown, but again, there are plenty of haters, and they aren't hiding.

A Helpful Citizen said...

@DJ

You're absolutely right that the era in which Kubrick was working likely had a great deal to do with where he was able to go with the material. Had he directed it even ten years later, it would likely have been very different indeed. Two observations about that, however.

First, Kubrick tended to march to the beat of his own drum, and rendering faithful adaptations of source material was always pretty far down his list of priorities. So while a later adaptation would likely have been more sexually explicit (as we can infer from Kubrick's later work, from 1971's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE onwards), it may not necessarily have been more faithful. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a discussion for another day.

And second, the issue is not so much whether Kubrick would have been capable of directing a version as good as Lyne's was, but rather whether he actually *did*. As two reasonably intelligent adults, we can view Kubrick's work within the context of the era in which it was made, and do likewise for Lyne's work. But an amazing (and, frankly, depressing) number of viewers will champion the 1962 version *solely* because it was directed by Stanley Kubrick. Whether they believe the work itself to be superior or not, the reviews tend to start by acknowledging the unspoken assumption that any critic worth his or her salt is going to find Kubrick's work essentially unimpeachable, and from that point on engage in endless dick-riding. The issue isn't whether Kubrick had a better LOLITA in him (I'm sure he probably did, though whether objectively it would have been legitimately better than Lyne's, "badge" notwithstanding, is anybody's guess); rather, it's whether those same critics would still be holding the existing 1962 version in the same regard had the direction been credited to Stanley Kramer or Otto Preminger, let alone to Michael Anderson or J. Lee Thompson or some such.

At the risk of sounding like a cynic, based on almost every scrap of film criticism I've read in my time (and it IS rather a lot...), and secure in the knowledge that damned near every working critic is largely incapable of *not* playing favourites, I'd wager the answer is probably no.

pumkinhead said...

What jbryant said.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Haven't seen it yet. I respect your opinion (though I disagreed with you on Bad Teacher, which I loved -- go figure), so with any luck you've lowered my expectations enough for me to enjoy it. Thanks in advance.

And this just can't be said often enough: Carson Daly is a waste of space. For the life of me I don't understand why he hasn't been hounded into burger-flipping.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

And I second Anonymous (@7:06 AM)'s rave for In the Loop.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

And In the Loop screenwriters Simon Blackwell and Jesse Armstrong's follow up, Four Lions, is also a hoot.

sephim said...

Well, this makes me feel really good that Sam Raimi gave her the job to write the EVIL DEAD remake.

Pete Grossman said...

Was good friends with a well-known movie critic. Being a big fan of the flicks and having worked on features with Academy Award winners, (including one of your faves Ken, "The Verdict"), wanted to see things from her POV. We were to take in 2 movies in screening rooms and then attend a preview that night. After the 2nd picture, which was only okay (the first one dragged on endlessly), I told her "I'm done." "You have no stamina," she replied.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"RCP said...
Am I wrong, Tallulah (of course I could just look it up), or did Pauline Kael help usher out 'out-of-touch' critics like Bosley Crowther of the NYT."


Well, she was certainly glad to see him go, but the NYTimes didn't usually consult her on whom to hire or fire. Anyone who loves movies was glad to see Crowther gone. That man was consistently, stupidly wrong in review after review for some 30 or 40 years. Bosley Crowther is the very epitome of the idiot film critic.

The Bonnie & Clyde review was what landed Kael her New Yorker gig. (Imagine Crowther watchng Last Tango in Paris. His head would have exploded.)

Lorre Lyons said...

Thanks for the save. Maybe I'll take a chance on it when it is shown for instant watch on Netflix. Besides, the premise seems to be the day in the life of someone in my little town. I'll pass.

Debby G said...

Tallulah, please don't disparage young adult books. A book is young adult when it's told from a teenager's perspective. There are bad YA books, just as there are bad books for adults. There are also amazying YA books that are great literature. The National Book Award as well as the American Library Association's Printz Award recognize wonderful YA books every year.

YA books include Sherman Alexie's poignant award-winning novel about growing up on an Indian reservation; the kick-ass Hunger Games and its sequels; Mary Pearson's award-winning sci-fi novel and award-winning novel about growing up with an alcoholic parent; and many books that aren't anything like Twilight, including my YA novels.

Dave said...

I think a lot of people misread YOUNG ADULT -- particularly Mavis's character.

I have a blog post about it (linked to my name), but to sum it up:

People seem to think that Mavis was supposed to arc -- to go from being mean to being nice. But that's not what the movie is about -- the movie is about moving on from your past.

Both of the leads -- Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt -- are playing characters stuck in the past. They haven't been able to move on from who they were in high school, for differing reasons.

Mavis was never supposed to become likable. She wasn't supposed to change from mean to nice. Her story isn't set up like that -- she's set up to learn that she has to mature and no longer be a "young adult".

I won't argue about whether or not a movie was good (I liked it) -- for the most part that's subjective. But I think a lot of people failed to dig deep enough when they were watching it and look at what's going on under the surface.

They left the movie with the surface judgement of "she's a bitch (and she totally is)" instead of the thematic judgement that the movie was about putting the past behind you, and how it affects those who can't do it later in life.

It's fine for your average audience member to do this, but to be honest -- I expect more from critics. Critics are supposed to dig into things like theme, they're supposed to look beyond the surface of a movie, and I feel like they failed to do that (both in positive and negative reviews).

It's like everyone was so shocked that there was an unlikable female the rest of the movie didn't matter.

And I definitely agree that critics go easier on directors that are seen to be "good".

I have a theory that even if Michael Bay made a brilliant movie, he wouldn't get credit for it.

Pat Reeder said...

Dave said: "I have a theory that even if Michael Bay made a brilliant movie, he wouldn't get credit for it."

I have a theory that if a brilliant film came out that was directed by Michael Bay, the "Directed by" credit would probably be a typo.

Johnny Walker said...

It'd be a pretty awful critic who succumbed to peer pressure... Although I bet it happens.

cadavra said...

I agree that Cody is hellaciously overrated--that hipper-than-thou dialogue is like root canal without an anasthetic--but I have to confess that I thought YA was fairly okay. It was very well-acted (as one would expect from Reitman) and did have the courage of its convictions by not going all mushy at the end, but still, compared to her other films, it's just another example of Moe-is-the-smartest-Stooge Syndrome.

jbryant said...

I dunno, it seems to me at this point Cody gets as much or more criticism than praise. Are you still overrated if an ever-increasing number of people are calling you overrated?

TJinTO said...

I liked Juno even though everyone spoke too cleverly to be real. It reminded me of Damon Runyon, who wrote the Guys and Dolls stories using a fake but fun dialect:

"Miss Missouri Martin makes the following crack one night to her: 'Well, I do not see any Simple Simon on your lean and linger.' This is Miss Missouri Martin's way of saying she sees no diamond on Miss Billy Perry’s finger."

Nobody talks like that, not even a Cockney. Like science fiction, you have to accept the conceit or move on.

Based on the comments and reviews, I'll wait for Young Adult to come to DVD (or Netflix in Canada)*.


*That's right, we have Netflix in the frozen North. We just have to thaw out the cable periodically.

MBunge said...

"the movie is about moving on from your past.

SNIP

Mavis was never supposed to become likable. She wasn't supposed to change from mean to nice. Her story isn't set up like that -- she's set up to learn that she has to mature and no longer be a "young adult"."


But in what way does Mavis mature, start to mature or even give an indication that she's going to mature at the end of the film? She's just emotionally teleported back to where she was before getting that e-mail birth notice. The basic problem is that Mavis' personal story and the overall metaphor of Young Adult don't really sync up.

Mike

A Helpful Citizen said...

@JBryant

"...VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA and MATCH POINT got mostly positive notices, I think"

They did indeed. The latter, in fact, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay (which, I will concede, has little to do with critical reception. I was going to say "nothing to do with critical reception", but that seems a bit naive). The question isn't so much whether every critic responds to every one of his films, or any of the other examples cited. The question is whether you honestly believe that those same pictures, bearing the name of another, lesser-regarded director, would have achieved the same level of acclaim...or, in the case of some of the lesser Allen films you cited, even greater scorn.

The post-MATCH POINT critical rebound for Allen (since, as you noted, he wasn't wowing anybody for a period of seven or eight years, which for Allen is seven or eight films) has as much do with the fact that a twenty-something time Academy Award nominee (!) made something that isn't undeniable dogshit, like CELEBRITY for example, as it does with the relative merits of an unremarkable trifle like VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (82% on Rotten Tomatoes, incidentally). The issue isn't whether or not VCB has an 82% RT score or a 52% score. The point I was making, beyond Ken's original point, was a filmmaker without Allen's track record wouldn't be getting the courtesy of even a lowly 46% score for a mediocrity like CASSANDRA'S DREAM.

Similarly, although the Coens didn't receive contemporaneous acclaim for either THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (56%, as per RT) or THE LADYKILLERS (55%), you're a fool if you believe that the latter score, in particular, would not have been decidedly lower still had the same picture, unchanged, been credited to Tom Shadyac or Dennis Dugan. Oh, and A SERIOUS MAN has an 89% positive consensus at present, and of the twenty or so reviews linked off of its RT main page right now, ALL of them are positive. Every one. A SERIOUS MAN is indeed a polarizing work...though clearly not as polarizing as you seemed to think. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY? 75% positive. And of course I'm certain that had Andy Tennant or his ilk been credited with it, that 75% would stand...

(To be fair, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY is one instance where I think the critics got it right and the diehards got it wrong---I think it's about as much fun as anything they've ever made. If this is them "selling out", they should do it more often. And I'm still absolutely positive that if a journeyman hack had his name on it, as is, it would have been roundly kicked in the balls across the board)

Lastly, Stanley Kubrick was indeed a love-him-or-loathe-him director while he was still active, and with each passing year, the number of dissenters for each film got smaller and smaller. I do not mean to suggest that no one every said an unkind word about Kubrick. I mean to suggest that they haven't uttered them in the thirteen years since his passing, in which time he's gone from a polarizing figure to an unimpeachable filmmaking giant who can do no wrong. Feel free to cite the examples of the hating-in-plain-sight you believe exists, because I sure as hell never see it, although I certainly am old enough to remember it existing when the work was new. As a reward, I'll point you to twenty-five or thirty unbelievably shameless examples of post-lionization dick-riding for every one you can find.

Again, the issue isn't whether the work itself is deserving of praise or not. It's whether the same work from a director with a lesser reputation would receive the same acclaim. And if you genuinely believe the answer is yes, do please tell the Tooth Fairy I said hello.

Tim W. said...

Ken,

You should do a blog post in defense of Diablo Cody. What seems to be the biggest complaint among her detractors is that her dialogue is not realistic and too stylized. That bothers me because there are few writers that actually seem to have a unique voice and when one does, they get jumped on.

WHile I'm not comparing the two, imagine someone complaining about Shakespeare because his dialogue wasn't realistic and too stylized.

Philipp said...

Thank for the heads up Ken. I will avoid this movie and try bowling instead. By the way, you are not a "stupid blogger", your opinion is as valuable as any other crtics opinion, if not more. Thank you for all the time and effort you put in your blog, I really appreciate your insight and humour.

Mark Fearing said...

Glad to hear your thoughts. I too was very excited about seeing it, but I kept seeing and hearing an undercurrent of bad reviews from various people I trust. I will let it wait until some VOD night when I can turn on a game if I get bored with it.

MBunge said...

"That bothers me because there are few writers that actually seem to have a unique voice and when one does, they get jumped on."


Agh. I hate that "voice" dodge whether its applied to Cody, Sorkin or that Gilmore Girls woman. There's a segment of the public that likes dialog they think sounds smart and makes them feel smart for liking it. Everyone's entitled to their preferences but that's not good writing. It's just shtick.

Mike

Harold X said...

Whatever. Diablo's "voice" just got a WGA nomination.

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

>"Walked out on Juno. (another critic's darling) Kids don't/can't talk like that.,"

One: I've never walked out on a film in my life...maybe I'm just cheap, but I would rather give the film a chance to surprise me, even if it's over credits;)

Two: Not only do some kids speak like the characters in Juno, but i own a couple. 17 and 18 year old "kids" can be funny, caustic, self-deprecating, brilliant and nuts all in the same sentence. That's the beauty of Juno. Not all kids represented in TV and films should be precocious, dumb and/or rocket scientists.

Okay, that's all from me, that comment just caught my attention...no harm no foul, David:)

Peace and Happy New year,

Bob

PS-Ken, I haven't seen Young Adult, (in spite of the fact the screener is three feet away from me), but my wife, who doesn't read your blog, was AGHAST by your review when I showed it to her. I'm guessing she didn't Bookmark your site...not that you need the hits;-)

Anonymous said...

TJinTO said...
I liked Juno even though everyone spoke too cleverly to be real. It reminded me of Damon Runyon, who wrote the Guys and Dolls stories using a fake but fun dialect:


The difference is: Within the context of Damon Runyon's stories, the way the characters speak is "believable."

D. McEwan said...

"A Helpful Citizen said...
Stanley Kubrick was indeed a love-him-or-loathe-him director while he was still active, and with each passing year, the number of dissenters for each film got smaller and smaller. I do not mean to suggest that no one every said an unkind word about Kubrick."


Good, because I'm not dead yet, even if Pauline Kael (Who loved Lolita and loathed just about everything else he did thereafter) is. Barry Lyndon will remain, I hope, THE MOST-BORING movie I have EVER had the misfortune to sit through. (I believe there is a shot where Marisa Berenson moves slightly, a blink or an inhale, but I could be wrong. It is gorgeously photographed, if only there were a reason to have photographed it.

His The Shining is a butchery of a wonderful book. I saw the first public showing if it at Grauman's Chinese, 10 AM the morning it opened, despite not getting off work the night before until 2:30AM. That was how much I wanted to see it. I came out of the theater wanting to find Kubrick and kill him.)

Full Metal Jacket was certainly not a bore. It also wasn't coherent or well constructed, the characters looked human but did not behave like humans, and its Vietnam created in a studio in England was less convincing that the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. (I have to agree with every word of Kael's blistering review of Full Metal Jacket.)

Is there anyone who could ever find a good word to say about the absolute phony-balony crapola that was the excuciatingly terrible Eyes Wide Shut? It was like a sex movie made by the never-seen aliens of 2001: A Space Oddyssey, with Tom Cruise as the blank, black slab.

Late Kubrick, some mighty bad overpraised botched films. Every director makes a bad movie or two. Woody Allen makes one or two bad movies every year. But Kubrick never made a good movie again after 1968. Of course the ones before 1969 are all excellent.

jbryant said...

"Again, the issue isn't whether the work itself is deserving of praise or not. It's whether the same work from a director with a lesser reputation would receive the same acclaim."

Um, this isn't an "issue." Because, you know, it's unprovable. Movies are directed by their directors. Not by other directors who didn't direct them.

I guess we could give critics a "blind taste test" the next time a Woody or Coen film comes out -- show them the film without telling them who made it. Then maybe if their reviews are significantly more negative than those of other critics, it might prove something. But I doubt it.

I'm sure we could both scour the internet and various film magazines to anecdotally "prove" our positions, so I abstain. I do know that Rotten Tomatoes might not be the best proof of anything, simply because mixed reviews don't often fit comfortably into either the "Fresh" or "Rotten" categories.

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

To think I wasted all that time enjoying every frame of Full Metal Jacket, without knowing Kubrick didn't make a "good movie after 1968" Damn.

A Helpful Citizen said...

@D. McEwen

"Barry Lyndon will remain, I hope, THE MOST-BORING movie I have EVER had the misfortune to sit through."

Providing you never have occasion to watch Derek Jarman's THE LAST OF ENGLAND, this is entirely possible. The lone point in Jarman's favour is that his picture is half as long as BARRY LYNDON. Of course, LYNDON is also roughly three and a half million times more beautiful, and THE LAST OF ENGLAND *seems* even longer than LYNDON, so I suppose it's a wash. Of course, Ridley Scott's THE DUELLISTS (which Scott admits is a stylistic lift from LYNDON) is also half as long, better acted, and damned near just as beautiful to look it (and, interestingly if irrelevantly, achieved its look on one tenth the budget). Technical excellence notwithstanding, the critical re-evaluation of BARRY LYNDON leaves me genuinely perplexed, too.

I would disagree about Kubrick never having made a good film after 1968, however---A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is still a stunning piece of work forty years on, particularly from a technical standpoint, and outside of DR. STRANGELOVE it's the only film he made in which his rather nasty sense of humour is both present and accounted for, but doesn't actually serve to undermine the material (THE SHINING is *almost* killed for me by its broad, if dark, humour. Almost). THE SHINING guts King's novel, to its detriment, but he doesn't have topiary animals come to life, which is one in the plus column. I think it works, but it's got some big, big problems, starting with casting Nicholson. You might as well have had a title card in the first reel that says, "TORRANCE IS BATSHIT!". Worse still is that Kubrick used the biggest and broadest takes from him in every scene...not very masterly, really.

FULL METAL JACKET is exactly what the popular narrative suggests it is: Forty minutes of spellbinding brilliance, followed by another eighty minutes of episodic, deadpan wheel-spinning. It's far more cerebral and elegant than PLATOON, and about a thousand times less powerful, first act notwithstanding. My reaction to EYES WIDE SHUT is sort of the inverse of most reactions to Kubrick's films: I was hooked through the bag the first time through (though I'd be hard pressed to explain why, exactly), and found it equal parts laughable and boring as shite on the second go-round. Weird.

I wonder if its reputation would be better or worse if it turned out Tommy Wiseau had directed it...

Tim W. said...

MBunge,

Wow. In one fell swoop, you managed to put down two of my favourite shows of all time, West Wing and Gilmore Girls. And the funny thing is that both those shows were widely praised for their writing.

I also love how you say everyone's entitled to their preference, but append that by saying that it's not good writing. So which is it, our preference or not?

Finally, since you're obviously final judge of what is good writing or not, could you maybe let the award shows know, so they don't get anything wrong. Thanks.

jbryant said...

Would CITIZEN KANE still be topping best-of-all-time polls if Ed Wood had directed it? The world will never know.

A Helpful Citizen said...

"Um, this isn't an "issue." Because, you know, it's unprovable. Movies are directed by their directors. Not by other directors who didn't direct them."

Um? Really? Anyway, "issue" in this instance was, I would have thought, quite clearly meant to convey "the point central to the original discussion". It isn't a problem meant to be solved, and as it pertains to subjective opinion, of course it cannot be proven...any more than my contention can be *disproven*. And while your dogged determination in noting that "movies are directed by their directors" is sort of charming in an "awww...he thinks he's people!" sort of way, it is also bewilderingly obtuse: The point, which you *still* seem unable to grasp, is that many (dare I say, most) critics seem to be reviewing the films entirely on the basis of who *did* make them. That's the fucking point. They aren't reviewing the films. They are reviewing the filmmakers. Perhaps you don't have a problem with that. Good for you. But to suggest that it doesn't happen, which I can only assume is the thrust behind your obtuse denial, makes you look either charmingly naive, or bafflingly stupid. Your choice.

No, it isn't practical to stage some sort of Pepsi Challenge to "prove" what is to me, and indeed to anyone with a modicum of critical thinking skills, entirely apparent---that most critics allow their preconceptions to cloud their critical judgement---but I am genuinely curious about something: You mention that such a blind test "might prove something, but I doubt it". What exactly are you basing that doubt on? Is this, again, some sort of wide-eyed naivety? Or is it simply willful ignorance? "It obviously can't be proven, but even if it could, it wouldn't really prove anything". Really? That's what you've got?

Well, I'm sorry, my son, but I'm afraid I'm just not quite as willing as you are to invest in the idea of supernatural powers of objectivity in film critics. And given that subjectivity rather than objectivity is obviously at the root of all criticism, good or otherwise, I really am at a complete loss to explain how you could seem to think that their subjectivity doesn't extend beyond the art to judging the artists themselves. And once that leap is made, I'm not quite sure how you would "doubt" the likelihood that many critical decisions are informed as much by the "who" as by the "what".

Or maybe you just really are that naive. Well, more power to you, I guess. Your mileage may vary.

jbryant said...

Wow, for such an impressively verbose fellow, your reading comprehension may be no better than you think mine is. I'm not saying critics don't have preconceptions, nor am I saying that they never give slack to pet directors. In fact, I thought what I was saying was pretty clear, so I'll try not repeat myself too much here. Interested parties can scroll up.

But I'll admit I'm not terribly interested in what "many (dare [you] say most)" critics "seem to be" doing. That very construction suggests at least the slight possibility that your powers of perception could be -- on rare occasions, of course -- in error.

I think what got my goat in the first place with you was the idea that critics who love the Coens or Woody Allen are -- "seemingly," of course -- inane Kool-Aid drinkers, blind to what you call those films' "actual merits." Use of the word "actual" there made it sound as if you think the ultimate truth lies with you. So now imagine my surprise that you're lecturing me about the nature of subjectivity.

I'm guessing we're at an impasse, especially since you've resorted to blatant insults that strike me as a rather excessive and unsporting reaction to my mild snark ("mild" being my subjective assessment -- your mileage may vary).

cadavra said...

It should be obvious, but I'll say it anyway: "stylized" dialogue is not the same as "unrealistic" dialogue. Runyon is the former; Cody is the latter. GUYS AND DOLLS does not take place in "the real world;" JUNO does.

Much also depends on the actors' core personalities (Steven Wright and Don Rickles are both comedians, but the resemblance ends there), as well as the way they're directed and the milieu they're placed in.

D. McEwan said...

"A Helpful Citizen said...
@D. McEwen

'Barry Lyndon will remain, I hope, THE MOST-BORING movie I have EVER had the misfortune to sit through.'

Providing you never have occasion to watch Derek Jarman's THE LAST OF ENGLAND, this is entirely possible."


It's McEwan, with an "a," not an "e."

I have never seen The Last of England or The Duelists. Thanks for the warnings.

"I would disagree about Kubrick never having made a good film after 1968, however---A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is still a stunning piece of work forty years on."

You are correct. I goofed. I should have said 1971. My error. I watched A Clockwork Orange again only about 6 months ago, and it remains a great movie. Had I disliked it, I would have said so when I was criticizing his lousy later films inndividulally. If it's any consolation to me, Pauline Kael hated A Clockwork Orange.

"My reaction to EYES WIDE SHUT is sort of the inverse of most reactions to Kubrick's films: I was hooked through the bag the first time through (though I'd be hard pressed to explain why, exactly), and found it equal parts laughable and boring as shite on the second go-round. Weird."


You actually watched Eyes Wide Shut a SECOND time? Wow! Why? It was hard enough to make it all the way through one showing.

"Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...
To think I wasted all that time enjoying every frame of Full Metal Jacket, without knowing Kubrick didn't make a 'good movie after 1968' Damn.


Well, as of above, I'm updating it to 1971. I didn't know Kubrick didn't make a good movie after 1971 when I saw Full Metal Jacket either, merely that I had loathed his last two movies. It was something I discovered for myelf watching Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, when the longed-for return to artistic glory simply never happened.

But I merely disliked Full Metal Jacket quite a lot. It didn't make it to full-out loathing. But it's pretty bad.

It's never a waste of time to watch something you are (somehow) enjoying. This is why a masochist is not wasting time when he's being flogged, or watching Full Metal Jacket. However, your masochism will not turn that pig's ear into a silk purse anytime soon.

BTW, if you are two people, why do you refer to yourself with singular personal pronouns? Shouldn't you be a "we," not an "I"? Or did one of you say: "Hey! Leave me out of defending that wretched Full Metal Jacket?"

About the director Pepsi Challenge, well, we have Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. That's about as close as you could come. How would you conceal from someone that Woody Allen directed something? Even omitting all credits, his style is perfectly recognizable. At the very least, a critic would have to say: "Well, it's like a bad Woody Allen movie imitation, only with Owen Wilson instead of someone funny."

jbryant said...

You know, I hope it's clear that my Director Pepsi Challenge (TM) was not a serious suggestion.

But funnily enough, D., I once said of a song my girlfriend was playing that it sounded like "some U2 wannabe," only to be told that it was in fact U2. :)

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

THANK YOU! I felt the same way.

And I agree with Terry's criticism at Juno, except I want to level it at The United States of Tara. Nobody had his or her own voice, including Tara's alternate personalities. But neither did the members of her family, her neighbors, anyone.

It was a real problem for me.

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

jbryant: Great job saying what I wanted someone to point out. Woody Allen and The Coen Bros have received plenty of bad reviews, as did Kubrick. (It's strange that people should forget the general sense of disappointment that Eyes Wide Shut was met with - it was a big deal at the time, and not very long ago.)

Not sure I subscribe to Woody Allen Syndrome... I can't think of a film that received general praise that I completely disagreed with.

Matt Patton said...

Having seen both Juno and an episode or two of The United States of Tara, I think the best description of Diablo Cody's style of writing is "Tries Too Hard." It's a label I'd past on a lot of stuff by Noel Coward and George Bernard Shaw as well.

Personally, I think Kubrick stopped being a director worth taking seriously after Lolita, although the major virtues in that film were the performances (James Mason, Shelley Winters and Sue Lyon were all fantastic, and although Lenny Bruce would have been better suited to the role of Quilty than Peter Sellers--really -- Sellers is so funny that you mostly forget about the miscasting and go along for the laughs. Also, it's great seeing the ubiquitous -- at least in British movies -- Marianne Stone as he companion Vivian Darkbloom).

One of the great problems with Eyes Wide Shut, besides the casting of Tom Cruise, which is truly beyond forgiveness, is the fact that Kubrick set a novel (Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle, which roughly translates as "Dream Story") out of its setting in 1900's Vienna and dumps it into the middle of late-90's New York. Well, a weird backlot-of-Pinewood-Studios version of late 90's New York. Doing so not only renders some of the sexual tensions in the stories rather pointless (it was virtually taboo in such times for a "good" woman to admit to having sexual feelings), not to mention the study of how sexual urges can endanger the ever-threatened assimilation of an ethnic minority into a society that basically dislikes him> (The main character in the novel and his wife are Jewish citizens of a majority-Catholic country.) As for the orgy sequence, the novel quickly makes it clear that it's staged as a blasphemous parody of the Catholic Mass, by a group of Austrian aristocrats who are allied to the church only because it's one of the pillars of a society that has kept them in positions of wealth and power. Finally, EWS is a supreme example of Dirty-Old-Man moviemaking--He treated the actresses in this film as little more than starlets in one of those 70's skin flicks that used to run on Cinemax after midnight.

MBunge said...

"Wow. In one fell swoop, you managed to put down two of my favourite shows of all time, West Wing and Gilmore Girls."


Poor baby. I didn't say those shows were poorly written. What I said was that I'm tired of that "voice" dodge being applied to such programs. When you point out that not only does every single character on The West Wing sound the same but every single conservation they ever have sounds the same, defending that by bringing up how much you like Sorkin's "voice" doesn't really cut it.

If a writer's "voice" makes all of his or her dialog sound the same, that's not good writing. It's shtick.

Mike

Zach said...

@mbunge

So not a big fan of Mamet either?

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

>"BTW, if you are two people, why do you refer to yourself with singular personal pronouns? Shouldn't you be a "we," not an "I"? <"

We're just bad writers...at least I think we are;)

Sarah Knapp said...

So I wasn't the only one completely underwhelmed? Good to know. I too was waiting anxiously for this movie. Love Juno. Love DC and JR. Love quiet little character pieces with funny piece (PO, to name one). I paid big bucks to go to a fancy theater on opening day. And when the credits rolled at the end, I wasn't smiling. I wish DC could go back to Tara.

Patrick said...

I really enjoyed this movie overall, and I think specifically for the reason with which you had a problem: I felt both empathy for Charlize Theron's character AND delighted in the times when she got her comeuppance.

Of course, she did get her comeuppance at the baby naming party, though she wasn't fazed, judging by her conversation in the kitchen with Patton Oswalt's character's groupie sister. But I thought the movie was one of the most realistic that I've seen all year, and I've somehow managed to watch it three times by choice.

Then again, several of my friends have nearly physically attacked me for having recommended the film so vociferously to them. So you're not alone!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't stand this movie. First, would someone really think that their ex-boyfriend is going to leave his newborn for you? Second, how many wives would really let their husbands hang out with their ex-girlfriend? The answer is none. This movie was not funny and none of the characters had any depth.

Luc Reid said...

I was relieved to find this post, because after such a positive critical response and an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought the story in this movie was absolute crud.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody apparently decided to write a script about a woman who was trashing her life and who would continue trashing it because "people don't change." Fortunately, there's plenty of research showing that people are very much capable of changing. For anyone who might be interested, my post about it ("If You Think People Don't Change, You Need to Get Out More") is linked through my name, above.

Philip said...

My beef isn't with the direction of the film or with its performances -- I'm disgusted by its message. Just take a close look at the closing moments of the film (look at what Patton Oswald's sister says to Charlize Theron). In essence, we're being told that living an ordinary life as a family man or woman is nothing compared to the thrill of being one of the pretty, vacuous, and heartless. In fact, your selfishness is a virtue because it means you're fearless and determined. Bleech. All the artistry in the world can't make up for such a vile, irresponsible message.