This Chicago Sun Times article would not only have us believe that columnist Laura Washington had never heard of Kevin Smith when she wrote it, but that her editors didn’t advise to skip the part about being ignorant of Smith’s fame. Where’s the upside in confessing to this level of cluelessness? All it does is distract from her message about the pitfalls of obesity and make other journalists ask, “What’s her problem?”
The German-born Douglas Sirk has long been considered a world-class, pantheon-level filmmaker. That’s because the film dweebs have been telling us for years that the dreadfully banal soap-opera acting, grandiose emotionalism and conservative suburban milieus in his films are all of an operatic pitch-perfect piece and are meant as ironic social criticism. (Or something like that.)
The dweebs are playing an old snob game. They’re basically saying that you have to be a serious cineaste to recognize Sirk’s genius, and that if you don’t recognize it then you need to think things through because you’re just not as perceptive as you need to be.
There’s no winning against this mindset, which is somewhere between a schoolyard bully move and an intellectual con. The dweebs (and I’m talking about a very small and cloistered group of big-city critics) have put one over on us. And I’m suggesting, due respect, that the time has come to push back on Sirk and to consider him once again as the Guiding Light-level director that some (myself included) believe that he always was.
Sirk was mostly dismissed by critics of the ’50s and early ’60s for making films that were no more and no less than what they seemed to be — i.e., emotionally dreary, visually lush melodramas about repressed women suffering greatly through crises of the heart as they struggled to maintain tidy, ultra-proper appearances.
In his praise of Written on the Wind, Roger Ebert wrote that “to appreciate [this film] probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman‘s masterpieces, because Bergman’s themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message.”
Aaaah, the old concealment game! John Ford used to do this also, but you can watch Ford’s films, or at least savor what’s good about them (despite the Irish sentimentality). If Ebert’s comment isn’t Orwellian film-dweeb speak, I don’t know what would be.
I’m told that certain British exhibitors and theatre managers who’ve seen Tim Burton‘s Alice In Wonderland feel it’s “a true stinker of a movie…an unmitigated disaster,” as one correspondent puts it. “It’s no shock that Disney want to release this on DVD as soon as possible. Not sure what can save this though the promotion so far might guarantee it a great opening before poisonous word of mouth kills it.”
To which I replied, “Wait…a stinker? Burton might be off his game, but I can’t believe it’s a disaster…c’mon. Burton is no chump, he knows what he’s doing.”
To which the exhibitor replied, “Saw a screening last week, Jeff. Will let you wait to judge it but the movie is a mess. No real plot to speak of and some terrible acting from the likes of Crispin Clover. Even some of the CGI is messy. Cinemas not wanting to show this due to early DVD terms from Disney might not [realize] how lucky they are long-term. There was also a screening last week for critics and that didn’t go well either.”
A Manhattan-based critic friend adds the following: “Alice sucks. Visually amazing [with] many familiar characters but none of the story from the books. No wit, no tension — an action-fantasy, if you can believe that, minus comedy.”
Vulture reported two days ago that AMC, America’s second-largest theater chain, “is threatening to boycott Alice in Wonderland because of Disney’s plan to shorten the film’s theatrical run. Disney wants to keep Alice in theaters for twelve weeks rather than seventeen in order to capitalize on the DVD appeal of this family-friendly movie about pigs that serve as footrests.
“An AMC boycott would seriously harm the box-office returns for Alice, which would lose revenue from the company’s more than 4,500 screens worldwide. And because of that, AMC and Disney are expected to work something out before the movie’s March 5 release.”
London Update: “I see there are already doubters accusing me of lying,” the exhibitor says. “Just wait until you see the movie, Jeff. I was hoping that this would be great as Burton is perfectly capable but alas, this is an expensive disaster. Critics who have seen it are under embargo at the moment. Reviews are going to be interesting.”
Further Update: BBC News is reporting that Alice in Wonderland “will not be screened at Odeon cinemas in the UK, Irish Republic and Italy, the cinema chain says. The move is in response to the Disney studio’s plan to reduce the period in which it can be shown only in cinemas from the standard 17 weeks. The plan would allow Disney to release the film on DVD at the end of May.
“Odeon said this would ‘set a new benchmark, leading to a 12-week window becoming rapidly standard.'”
It’s being asked which of this year’s Best Picture nominees will be watched by film buffs 50 years hence. Just as I’ve watched (and will watch again) a 50 year-old Korean War film called Pork Chop Hill, I can’t imagine The Hurt Locker not being a fascinating timepiece for those looking to absorb what the Iraq War was for U.S. troops. And just as Ben-Hur is a necessary flick to own (especially when it finally comes out on Blu-ray) or at least see once, who can imagine Avatar not being a essential sit in 2060?
“This week President Obama is hosting a bipartisan gab-fest at the White House to try to tease out some Republican votes for health care,” Salon‘s Robert Reich wrote this morning. “It’s a total waste of time. If Obama thinks he’s going to get a single Republican vote at this stage of the game, he’s fooling himself (or the American people).
“Many months ago, you may recall, the White House and Dem leaders in the Senate threatened to pass health care with 51 votes — using a process called ‘reconciliation’ that allows tax and spending bills to be enacted without filibuster — unless Republicans came on board. It’s time to pull the trigger.”
Three reactions to the weekend’s box-office tallies: (a) Shutter Island began the weekend with $14 million earned on Friday, but it was down to $10,792,000 — a 34% drop — on Sunday, which of course is due to word-of-mouth and grumbling about that Marshall Fine guy leading us astray; (b) Public opinion also resulted in The Wolfman earnings plummeting 76% from last weekend; (c) Avatar’s domestic cume now stands at $687,851,000 — only $13 million shy of the $700 million mark.
I have to see Avatar in IMAX3-D one more time before it gets pushed out by Alice in Wonderland. It’ll be viewable in other 3D formats down the road, of course. Cameron reminded me during the Santa Barbara Film Festival that there are now stereoscopic 3D laptops hitting the market, and of course we’re seeing more and more displays of 3D flatscreens. But I can’t imagine the IMAX 3D presentation I saw last December at Lincoln Square being topped by anything. One last time, one last time…
After Hurt Locker wins with the PGA, DGA, WGA, BAFTA, BFCA, NSFC, NYFCC, LAFCA, ACE, GIFA, and IPA plus a co-leading nine AMPAS nods including vital ones for directing, acting, screenwriting, and editing, “we can now say with more than a fair degree of certainty that we know which film will win the top Oscar,” writes And The Winner Is columnist Scott Feinberg.
“Sure, arguments can be made for other films (and both studios and pundits are making them), and upsets can happen (you don’t have to remind me). But the fact of the matter is this: the raw data (precursor awards) and anecdotal evidence (conversations with actual voters) have rarely, if ever, given the same indication as clearly and consistently as they have this year: The Hurt Locker will win the 2009 Best Picture Oscar. Believe it — It’s true.”
Notes on Season‘s Pete Hammond half concurs, but he also says “not so fast, Sherlock.”
“The Academy’s new list of 10 best picture nominees, rather than five at BAFTA, plus the unknown effect of the preferential voting system (which BAFTA does not use) make it more difficult to gauge the influence of some of these precursor awards, save for PGA, which used the new Academy system this year. Of course we should remember Locker won a shocker of a win there too.
Plus Mark Boal‘s WGA win “was done without key Oscar nominees Inglourious Basterds and Up (both ruled ineligible by the WGA) as competition, so Boal was a lead pipe cinch to win there. He’s in a much tighter race for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar with Quentin Tarantino. But it should be noted that both Up and Basterds were against him at BAFTA where he had another victory for his script.
“Before either the WGA or BAFTA awards, I spoke to a producer and former studio head who told me he very much understands the psychology of Oscar voting. He predicted Hurt Locker would go all the way at the Oscars and said he voted for Carey Mulligan for Actress. I also keep hearing from others who say they are voting for Avatar, but as the above-noted producer points out, the ‘cumulative’ factor of a series of pre-Oscar wins can be a powerful aphrodesiac for Academy voters.”
The Wrap‘s Steve Pond adds this to the conversation:
“Avatar is the reason the Oscar show will see its ratings increase dramatically, and Academy voters know that. Which makes Avatar the film that could possibly, conceivably throw the usual rules out the window and grab a win that hasn’t been indicated at any of the significant precursor awards.
“I don’t believe it will. I look at all the other awards and see unmistakable indications that the people who decide these things think that The Hurt Locker is the best picture of the year.
“I think The Hurt Locker will win. I think it deserves to win. And I think that win will be extraordinarily popular within the Kodak Theater in two weeks. But over? Even after the events of the weekend, I can’t go there. Not yet, anyway.”
There’s a riff about cops that I may have read in a Joseph Wambaugh book. It goes something like “poets, priests and politicians talk about what people might be, could be, should be, try to be. Cops deal with people as they are.” (If it’s not from Wambaugh, fine…whatever.) In this sense I feel a kinship with the law. No offense to 98% of HE talkbackers, but dealing with the talkback uglies really does affect your view of humanity to some degree. I’ve had the talkback thing going for almost four years now (it began in March ’06), and dealing with dozens of Mr. Hyde types, year in and year out, starts to affect your emotional makeup after a while.
At the just concluded BAFTA awards in London, Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker has taken the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (won by Mark Boal), Best Editing, Best Cinematography (Barry Ackroyd) and Best Sound.
On top of which An Education‘s Carey Mulligan won for Best Actress, and A Single Man‘s Colin Firth won for Best Actor. Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique, of course, won for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.