Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Four on the Floor
2006-10-21 23:35
by Jon Weisman

Working at Variety full-time has compelled me to see movies at the rate I used to see them, rather than my rate as a parent (which was, you know, one in the theaters every month or two, then catching up on the rest on cable or DVD six months to a year later).

In the past several days alone, I've seen Flags of Our Fathers, Babel, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Running with Scissors. I might go into further detail later on some of these, but for now I'll just say that I found the first two not quite as good as the buzz that preceded them and the second two not as bad. All have merit; all have flaws - none is a hands-down winner.

Quick comments on the two that are in public release:

  • Flags of Our Fathers gets its message across quite effectively, but in a somewhat distancing manner. It didn't sweep me off my feet. Though Adam Beach gives a standout performance and Barry Pepper, among others, is completely convincing, Ryan Philippe and Jesse Bradford were (in key roles) on the bland side. The cinematography is sharp, distinctive, but I'm not sure the movie's back-and-forth structure is all that it's cracked up to be. I also think the movie suffers from throwing a great many characters at you at the outset and assuming you'll remember all the key names. Maybe it was my fault, but I found myself at key points in the second half of the film going, "Now, which one was Franklin again?" It's a meaningful movie and I'm glad I saw it, but I have no passion for it.

    Something to ponder: Does "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (I only know Johnny Cash's version) accomplish a good deal of what Flags does, in about 3 percent of the time?

  • Running with Scissors has been getting hammered pretty hard in the reviews, enough that we would have seen something different had the timing worked out. As it was, I liked it the most of the three people I saw it with (one of us truly disliked it, two were mixed). Atmospherically, it hits you a little like a real-life version of The Royal Tennenbaums (complete with eccentric Gwyneth Paltrow character), with a dram of The Ice Storm. The people I saw it with thought it was over the top; I'll certainly concede that it was near the top, but I thought it sustained itself. It was the least message-y of the four movies I've seen during this spurt and (this is saying something) the least depressing, and I think I was grateful for that - after the others, I was ready to throw myself under a truck. I can't wholeheartedly recommend Scissors, but I'll certainly speak up for it if few others will. It was quite a tale.

    I'll tell ya, I'm ready for something lighter, though. I need to get to Stranger Than Fiction as soon as possible.

  • Comments
    2006-10-22 13:33:21
    1.   Benaiah
    I really didn't think much of Flags of our Fathers. The ending was pretty much a straight rip-off, word for word almost, of Band of Brothers. The structure was terrible, the acting was nothing special and the larger message was what? "War is terrible and people do and see things that they would never imagine doing normally?" Mindboggling. I had no idea going into the movie that Paul Haggis had anything to do with it, but boy was I not surprised when his name rolled up with the credits. It isn't a BAD movie, just mediocre and undoubtably sure to be overrated.
    2006-10-22 17:15:15
    2.   trainwreck
    I am interested to read your review for Babel. I am looking forward to that film. I am a big fan of Inarritu since seeing Amores Perros.
    2006-10-22 18:57:54
    3.   Marty
    I saw "The Prestige" this weekend. I liked it well enough. I respect the director because Memento is one of my favorite movies of the last ten years, but this one didn't quite engage me.

    I'll go to see Flags Of Our Fathers, mostly because I was so disappointed in The Thin Red Line. I was really looking forward to TTRL because my father was at Guadalcanal. He wasn't on Iwo Jima so I don't have the same emotional connection. But, even though I'm very anti-war, I still have a visceral attraction to the Marine Corps because of dear old dad.

    2006-10-23 10:54:29
    4.   Sospiro0
    I saw Flags of our Fathers last night with three friends. Two of them were very disappointed, but only because they were expecting an action-fest a la "Black Hawk Down." That being said, I was somewhat disappointed. The narrative seemed disjointed: is the spine of the narrative the son's investigation of his father, or the battle itself? Also, none of the characters were fully fleshed out. Phillippe's redemption, or what it might be called, did not feel earned in part because we learn so little about his character. I thought the film could have used the same edits that the second Godfather was rumored to have: jump back and forth through time less and focus on individual scenes longer.

    In the past decade, the best war films I've seen are the underrated "A Thin Red Line" (sorry Marty) and the episode of Band of Brothers that focuses on the medic.

    And Benaiah, I have the same problems with Paul Haggis. The best part of Million Dollar Baby was the directing, by far, and I had some serious issues with "Crash".

    2006-10-23 18:17:01
    5.   Bob Timmermann
    Just call him drunken Ira Hayes, he don't answer anymore. He's just a whiskey drinking Indian, a Marine who went to war.
    2006-10-23 19:05:55
    6.   Benaiah
    My question is: has there ever been an artist like Paul Haggis? He is unquestionably the hottest writer in Hollywood right now, since he wrote the last two Best Picture winners, yet, a huge segment of movie fans and critics (perhaps the majority?) seems to strongly dislike and discredit his work. He is thus regarded both the premiere popular genius within his field and also as the most overrated. I can't think of an analogous person, though obviously most of this debate just goes to show you how worthless the Oscars are at determining what exactly is good.
    2006-10-23 20:53:44
    7.   Sospiro0
    6 Spielberg is easiest and best example I can think of. Though his three serious films, Amistad, SPR and Schindler's List are all better than Crash (Color Purple just sucks).
    2006-10-23 21:53:28
    8.   Jon Weisman
    6 - Spielberg immediately came to mind for me.
    2006-10-23 22:52:22
    9.   Greg Brock
    Wes Anderson is pretty 50/50 among critics and fans.
    2006-10-24 07:10:34
    10.   Benaiah
    7,8 - Spielberg is a good call, though I have to note that most of his movies aren't supposed to be "high art". In other words, no one went to Jaws, ET, Jurassic Park et al expecting an award winning movie (in anything other than special effects anyway). Spielberg is probably at his best when he is just making "fun" movies (Catch me if you Can and the ones noted above), but he has shown the ability to make very solid "serious" movies as well (Munich, Shindler's List, Saving Private Ryan). On the other hand, Haggis seems to consciously write movies in "serious genres", and they are all conspicuously overwritten and (for lack of a better word) "un"-transcendent.

    9 - I think Wes Anderson is a completely different case. Most casual moviegoers have no idea who he is and many people have never seen or heard of any of his movies. He hasn't won any major awards and his best movies (Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore) would probably be grouped as comedies, despite their high artistic quality. He has a passionate, but relatively small, group of fans and critical opinion has always been good (at least until Life Aquatic which was panned).

    But then, I love Wes Anderson's movies above almost all else (the Coen brothers are his only real competition in my heart), even as I can admit that he is not the best filmmaker around.

    2006-10-24 08:21:22
    11.   Sospiro0
    M. Night overrates himself as an artist.

    As war films go, who's seen The Big Red One? I've been wanting to see that.

    2006-10-24 18:11:10
    12.   Bob Timmermann
    I know to the disappointment of many here, but I have to admit that a Wes Anderson film leaves me cold.
    2006-10-24 20:05:17
    13.   Sospiro0
    "I like your nurses uniform."
    "They're O.R. scrubs."
    "Oh...Are they?"
    2006-10-25 06:54:55
    14.   Benaiah
    12 - Well, I think you're wrong...
    You heard me, Coltrane.
    You wanna talk some jive? I'll talk some jive. I'll talk some jive like you've never heard!
    2006-10-25 23:45:21
    15.   overkill94
    My expert reviews of Wes Anderson movies:

    Bottle Rocket - promising
    Rushmore - very good
    Royal Tenenbaums - excellent
    Life Aquatic - had its moments

    2006-10-26 07:23:23
    16.   Benaiah
    15 - I agree except I would upgrade Life Aquatic to "very good". A lot of critics panned it because they felt it was more of the same (daddy issues), but it is a very good movie in its own right and its climax on the submarine is fantastic.
    2006-10-26 17:17:43
    17.   Linkmeister
    I wrote a bit about "Flags" over here, mostly recommending an earlier film about Ira Hayes. Tony Curtis played him, and it was a gut-wrencher, even for a 13-14 year-old like I was when I saw it.

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