Here’s another piece of evidence indicating that somewhat older women, who presumably constitute the majority of the membership of the Women Film Critics Circle Online, are not favorably disposed towards Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan. This view is sharply disputed, however, judging by nominees put forward by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. How to explain the disparity? Does the latter group skew younger?
Everyone knows what this frame capture is from so I’m not going to explain it. But the first time I saw this still a few days ago a voice told me that some kind of caption or cartoon thought-balloon needs to be created. Something that applies to today’s world and terms. Maybe something that alludes to movie production or online journalism or politics…I don’t know. But I know there’s at least one good one to be had.
The Fighter “is a souped-up indie film about family, drugs and boxing, and probably in that order,” ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote two weeks ago. The 12.10 piece was called “Sports Movies Continue To Evolve,” and the main point was how common boxing movies have become since the 1976 success of Rocky. Since then we’ve seen an average of one per year. So what’s the big deal with The Fighter?
Mark Wahlberg in David O. Russell’s The Fighter.
“Your best-case scenario for a boxing flick?,” Simmons asks. “The Million Dollar Baby route — fantastic reviews, multiple award nominations and enough buzz that you churn an unexpected profit as one of the adult choices during holiday season. (Baby had a $30 million budget and grossed $100 million domestically.) If that doesn’t happen, you’re screwed. But much like Baby, the two stars of The Fighter carry the film.
“I especially enjoyed The Fighter‘s unflinching portrayal of Lowell, which could easily be called ‘Deep Massachusetts’ (much like someone would say ‘the Deep South’). And you can’t take your eyes off Christian Bale in any scene. He dropped 30 pounds, crushed the accent, nailed the sparring scenes, managed to be likable and unlikable at the same time, and pulled off the single hardest task as a famous actor: making us feel like we’re watching a character instead of a famous person playing a character.
“With Crowe’s star fading, Bale might be first in the ‘talented actor/difficult perfectionist/hothead who can play everything from a leading man to a barely recognizable indie character’ power rankings.
“As for Mark Wahlberg, we’ve seen him thrive as the “endearing, soft-spoken, lower-class underdog who maintains his dignity and resolve in the bleakest times” character before, but his performance as Ward was good enough that I’m finally ready to forgive him for The Happening.”
To hear it from Matt Damon, Steven Soderbergh wasn’t just going through a temporary blue patch when he told Esquire‘s Stephen Garrett (in a piece posted in January 2009) that he intended to retire at age 51, or three years hence. Soderbergh is now 48 years old. He’ll be 51 on January 14, 2014.
“He wants to paint and he says he’s still young enough to have another career,” Damon has told L.A. Times Geoff Boucher in a piece posted yesterday. “He’s kind of exhausted with everything that interested him in terms of form. He’s not interested in telling stories. Cinema interested him in terms of form and that’s it. He says, ‘If I see another over-the-shoulder shot, I’m going to blow my brains out.'”
I respect what Soderbergh is saying — most people of any creative fire or ambition tend to succumb to that “I’ve really and truly had it” feeling at least once or twice — and I wish him well as a painter, if that’s what he really wants to do. But any way you look at it, retiring at age 51 is a backslide move.
Soderbergh says he’s not a storyteller and that he hates being in a profession that insists that directors do just that — tell stories, be “theatrical,” break their movies down into acts that lead to a climax, etc. I totally get that. I feel his pain. But it’s precisely Soderbergh’s dislike of and aversion to telling stories that has made many of his films — particularly The Limey and Che — so worthy and exciting. He’s succeeded at making a few of his films work according to his own terms and requirements, and in defiance of the industry’s. And in so doing he’s made it better for millions because he’s expanded the language and goaded people into realizing that you don’t have to make the same kinds of movies the same old way.
The best kind of artistic friction and payoff comes from unreasonable people balking at confinement and finding ways around the rules. Soderbergh has failed at times and at other times made rote entertainments like the Ocean’s films, but some of his movies have significantly contributed to hints of a liberation mentality over the past two decades that has made things “better” for filmmakers and filmgoers alike.
And now Soderbergh wants to come down off the cross, like Willem Dafoe did in The Last Temptation of Christ. Which is another way of saying that he more or less wants to be “happy.” Well, due respect but happiness isn’t all that it’s crocked up to be. Dafoe found that out at the end of Martin Scorsese‘s 1988 film, especially when Harvey Keitel pointed at him and said, “Traitor! You were supposed to be crucified! What are you doing here with a wife and a home and a life? Rabbi, you broke my heart.”
Mark my words that if Soderbergh does retire in three years, it’ll be a Frank Sinatra retirement — and that he’ll back two or three years later, batteries recharged, begging to be forgiven, desperately looking for another chance.
All real men understand, as Montgomery Clift once said in From Here To Eternity, that “a man should be what he can do,” and that happiness, sad to say, isn’t necessarily a payoff for each and every person who fulfills his or her potential. Happy or not, you have you do what you must and do it well, and if you come to the end of the road with a feeling of fulfillment or at least the knowledge that you gave it hell, great. But if you throw off the yoke you risk being hit with the realization at the end of the road, as Dafoe did in those traumatic last minutes of The Last Temptation of Christ, that opting for “happiness” was a terrible error.
I’m happy now but I wasn’t that happy in the ’80s and was only sporadically content in the ’90s, but the point is that I manned up and buckled down and stuck it out. Don’t think I wasn’t on the verge of bailing. If the internet hadn’t come along I might well have. But I learned one thing for sure, and that’s that God doesn’t like quitters. At all. I think Soderbergh’s spirit was gradually watered down by the Ocean’s films and then broken by negative response to Che and then by the Moneyball debacle. Those were definitely rough episodes for him. He can chill and/or disappear for a couple of years, fine, but eventually he’ll have to pick himself up and get back in the race. Ask Frank Sinatra.
The Winklevoss twins didn’t invent Facebook, and if Soderbergh really had painting in his veins he would have painted by now.
A lack of fair proportion is evident in today’s Rotten Tomatoes ratings. 88% for The Fighter, okay. Black Swan is also at 88%, Biutiful is holding at 81% and Somewhere is at 78%. I might dispute this or that but I can live with these estimations. What I don’t get is True Grit‘s 96% rating.
I’m not a huge fan but I respect Grit for being an expertly made “straight” western with two or three exceptional set pieces, some wonderfully flavorful 19th century dialogue and a gamely spunky debut performance by Haillee Steinfeld. But it’s just not a 96. It’s not a real Coen Brothers movie, for one thing. It’s not playful or darkly funny or wicked or perverse or ironic. It’s basically about honoring the Charles Portis novel and in so doing is a dry and rather cold thing — a high-end “meh.”
The reason it has a 96% rating is that critics have been cowed by the Coens’ reputation as first-rank filmmakers. The Coens are now enjoying the same kind of wave-through reviews that Clint Eastwood has been getting since Unforgiven. Many critics have become the Coen’s bitches, in effect. And most of them have taken the easy way out with True Grit and waved it through despite the fact that it’s obviously not a brilliant and/or groundbreaking effort.
Highly proficient, yes. Full of that exacting Coen-esque current. But very few critics have had the grit to call a spade a spade, which is that True Grit is a first-rate thing that doesn’t say or mean a damn thing other than the fact that the Coens are superb filmmakers.
To me, some of True Grit‘s reviews sound absurdly overblown. IGN Films‘ Jim Vejvoda has called it “the best Western since Unforgiven.” Aisle Seat‘s Mike McGranaghan wrote that True Grit “is done with such inventiveness that I was in moviegoing ecstasy.” Total Film‘s Philip Kemp said True Grit “is the first great movie of 2011.”
Let’s come down to earth, shall we? Here are some review excerpts that challenge these hat-in-the-air sentiments.
The Toronto Globe & Mail‘s Liam Lacey: “Though No Country For Old Men and True Grit are westerns, and have their share of sardonic humour and carnage, Grit is a much tamer offering, wry rather than comic; melancholy rather than weighty. Though handsomely made and well acted, the film never completely escapes the sense that it’s an exercise in genre excavation.”
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn: “True Grit mainly functions as an elaborate homage that results in [the Coens’] most conventional outing behind the camera. It’s hard to shake the feeling that they settled for consistency over innovation…[it’s] obvious that they can do better.”
Mark Reviews Movies‘ Mark Dujsik: “True Grit, nearly on par with the original [Henry Hathaway] film, is a reliable, if insubstantial, genre piece.”
Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips: “Craft this strong should not be taken for granted. [But] It feels more like an assignment fulfilled than a passion pursued.”
Roger Ebert: “I’m surprised the Coens made this film, so unlike their other work, except in quality. This isn’t a Coen Brothers film in the sense that we usually use those words. It’s not eccentric, quirky, wry or flaky. It’s as if these two men, who have devised some of the most original films of our time, reached a point where they decided to coast on the sheer pleasure of good old straightforward artistry.”
Boston Globe‘s Wesley Morris:
“The Coens…have declawed themselves. They’re playing it straight. The sensationalistic wickedness of their most provocative work has, for one movie, been banished. This isn’t a rousing movie as much as a reassurance. The brothers prove they can play it straight, but they’re preferred, for better and worse, at a sharp angle.”
San Francisco Chronicle‘s Mick LaSalle: “My only reservation about the movie…is that watching the film it’s hard to see why the Coens wanted to make it. It’s a respectable, entertaining Western, but it’s not so radically different or innovative that their need to make it seems overpowering.”
Coming Soon‘s Ed Douglas: “The Coens do their best to mix iconic Western tropes with their own sense of style and comic timing, but their adaptation of True Grit feels fairly uninspired compared to previous efforts making it fairly blatant they should stick to their own original material in the future.”
Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum: “What keeps us at arm’s length…is the almost reflexive Coen instinct to favor controlled surface style over emotional mess and to dote on weird slapshots of violence that don’t leave room to feel real horror. And while No Country for Old Men and especially their stunning personal drama A Serious Man nudged these always erudite, often insular filmmakers out of their comfort zone into fresh air, this more climate-controlled Western retreats to safer ground. It’s just tasty enough to leave movie lovers hungry for a missing spice.”
A 12.22 HuffPost piece has listed 20 things that have either disappeared or are on their last legs since 2000. Texting has overtaken phone calling but it will never disappear, but travel agents are all but gone, of course, and so are bookstores (fading), phone sex, maps, print classifieds, dial-up internet, encyclopedias, CDs, landline phones, film cameras, yellow pages, address books, printed catalogues and fax machines.
I for one am fine with the separation between work and personal hours have completely dissolved. Buy watches will always be cool in my book, and hand-written letters should never disappear.