Sunday, January 15, 2012

Five Years, Five Peeves, Five Reasons to Go On

When we make the decision to publicly announce our fondness for the cinema, write about it in an open diary and allow others to engage us in a discussion of our opinions, we take a risk.  We take a risk that not only will someone, perhaps many people, disagree with us but that, at some point in the inevitable future, someone will violently disagree with us.



It's the chance you take when you become a writer of, or commenter on, opinion on classic or current cinema.  The toughest part, excepting sociopaths with a bloodlust for online sparring, is stating your opinion without denigrating the opinion of another.  Writers who spend much of their time insulting other writers' points of view develop a reputation for such behavior and, unforunately, that reputation often secures them well-paying writing gigs (because contrarianism pulls in the readers, I guess) while those they insult slog along writing with little to no exposure.

Obviously, I'm not going to point anyone out as an example, rather, I just want to assure that I am not that way, personally.  I don't believe getting into any kind of situation where you're writing pieces entirely about another writer, and the argument that you're having with him or her, is very constructive and yet, I see it happen often enough to know it's not relegated to rare instances of ire that flare up under extreme circumstances.  However, I have also noticed that this tends to happen almost entirely among paid writers, which would lend credence to the suggestion that, perhaps, they're simply doing it by request, as it were, to pump up the ratings.

When I look around the film websites and blogs, I see a lot of disagreement among cinephiles without ever seeing much vitriol and that's a good sign.  It's a good group of people, for the most part (that's my favorite generic caveat, by the way, because it allows for everything while saying nothing),   Mainly, I see people with a passion for discussing film, and engaging each other daily in an exciting back and forth of tastes, opinions and beliefs.

The thing is, I don't take part in most of it.  I used to, for a short period, way back at the very beginning but I really don't anymore.  I found that arguments in comment sections took up too much of my valuable time, cut into my writing and generally made me feel depressed.  When I first started blogging, I started by direct confrontation, that is to say, I originally blogged about politics.  Then, slowly, I worked film into the mix.  Eventually, I let my true love of cinema take over, got rid of all the political stuff and the crazy comment sections it inspired, and became a classic movie blogger.

Not long after, I took up movie arguing and did so, often, on Dennis Cozzalio's great page, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.  I spent so much time arguing with people there I had little time for anything else.  Then I migrated over to Jim Emerson's Scanners and argued with people there but that was tougher because the comments had to clear approval first so an ongoing argument required a lot more patience.

Finally, after a few good rows at different blogs, I decided, "I got to cut this shit out.  I'm not doing anything but arguing."  But it's still there.  It's still lurking under the surface, pent up and ready to explode.  I see opinions all the time that bother me to no end and I say nothing, so snugly nestled in my own complacency am I.  And it bothers me because I feel I'm not being honest but when I want to express it, it comes out angry and snarky and there has to be a way - has to be - to say it without raising anyone's defensive alarms.

So now, I'm going to try.

Let's begin.

1. THOMAS KINKADE HAS WON AND WE, ALL OF US, HAVE LOST

I have a problem with a lot of modern cinema.  I don't like the way most of it looks, I don't like the way it's edited (too choppy and frenetic) and I don't like the way it's acted (so painfully naturalistic that a wide range of performances are thoroughly interchangeable).  And I have that feeling with a frighteningly high percentage of modern movies.  But mostly, I have a problem with the way the movies look.  And when I say I have a problem, I mean even with movies I like.  We all know I don't like CGI very much (I even do a series on special effects before CGI took over) and this is a big problem because it's now everywhere, in practically all movies.  Take Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese.  I use this movie as an example because it was a movie I liked and thus, I can assure you it is not me reacting to a movie I hate or using it as an excuse to hate the movie.  No, I liked Hugo but I hated most of the look of it.



The opening pre-title-card sequence in Hugo takes us through all the mechanisms of all the clocks in the colossal train station that Hugo, the boy who lives, orphaned, inside the clocks, maintains daily.  It twists and winds its way through in a way that I know that camera actually couldn't so I know I'm not watching an actual set and scene presented on celluloid but a CGI construction.  This is thoroughly unimpressive to me.  The more elaborate CGI shots get (this one was reminiscent of the pathways taken by the winding camera that opens Fight Club) the less impressed I am by them.  It's like this:  When I'm watching Broadway Danny Rose, and Danny and Tina and Lou are walking along the hallway towards the camera as they discuss Lou's career and just before they get to the camera Lou announces he's leaving Danny for another agent and Danny freezes right in front of the camera, that hits me hard.  It's a great, emotional moment that hits the audience in the chest as squarely as it hits Danny.  Later, looking back on it, you can be impressed by how perfectly they timed their conversation with their approach and savor the fact that it was all about a vision that director and cinematographer had about how the scene would play out and look and then, by God, they rehearsed it, prepped it and did it.  With Hugo, CGI animators were given a frame presentation of how and where the "camera" (the monitor screen on the computer designing the scene) would be and began to busily draw and render and create the scene.   And the scene is quite elaborate, which is why, conversely, it is unimpressive. That walk in Broadway Danny Rose, that's impressive!  It's simple, not complicated.  It's not a Rube Goldberg construction designed to wow us beyond belief but an elegant play between actors and camera that performs its task so beautifully and, seemingly, effortlessly, that we cannot help but be moved.  By contrast, at the end of the opening sequence in Hugo, when they finally get to him looking out the glass from behind the clockface and show the title, I thought, "Thank god that's over."

But it's also the look.   Again, with Hugo, which I continue to use because I did like it, the skies all look like someone contracted Thomas Kinkade to do one of his famous paintings of light for every backdrop.  I'm tired of the glossy, overly detailed design of most modern film.  It's like we left modernism behind and re-adopted Late Baroque because we were tired of all that pesky streamlining and restraint and wanted every sky, in even the grittiest of dramas, to look like a Kinkade painting in every gaudy, gauche and garish detail. Most of the scenes in the movie, whether inside the clocks, inside Georges Méliès studio or the train station, all had an overly glossy, tinkerbell dust, magical realm feel to them.

Okay, it's Hugo, right? It's a children's story and we shouldn't expect it to look like The French Connection or Midnight Cowboy. That's true and I understand that but why, I would ask, is the glossy, Kinkadish look necessary even for a children's story? You can make something look fantastical (Willy Wonka, Return to Oz, every other movie ever made before CGI) and give it a nice matte finish with flourishes of light and shadow without making everyone nauseous at the same time.

Finally, my biggest problem, aside from the general look of movies these days, is the fact that I do often feel quite alone in this and since the whole reasons I got into blogging was to talk about movies with everybody, it's a problem I have a difficult time comprehending, much less solving. I feel alone because when people see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, they say, "Oh, the CGI doesn't look as bad as it does in the ads or the trailers. In fact, it was really good." Now, see, the problem here is that, when I saw it, I started to think a mix-up had happened and somehow I saw the rough-cut, not the finished product because, oh dear Jesus was that CGI bad! You want to talk about being taken out of the film? I was taken out of the film. Ninety percent of this movie looked like a fair to competent rendering of a cut scene on the latest PC game technology. Caesar, the lead ape character, never, ever, ever, EVER looked real to me.

But that's not the problem. The problem I'm having is I don't understand why everyone else isn't bothered by the awkwardly, physically wrong feel of CGI representation and movement of living things. How is it that anyone thought the apes in the movie looked good?

Let me say it again from a different angle. I don't doubt Rise of the Planet of the Apes uses the most advanced CGI technologies available to it, I'm saying that even the best CGI representations of mammals look like crap. And when I say "crap" I mean, doesn't look visually connected to the rest of the action. In other words. optically printing a stop-motion creation over a live-action scene looks more "together" to me than a CGI overlay. Everything starts to look airbrushed, like the actors are real and they're walking around with this fantasy-art performance piece, and the physics, the mechanics of motion, never seem quite right either. Close, yes, but far enough off that they distract. And it's as frustrating to me as when I go to someone's house and they're watching an Academy-ratio movie or tv show on a widescreen tv, stretched out, and don't notice or care about the difference.

So the look of movies, clearly, bothers me. It bothers me to the point where I have to start saying it so people stop wondering why I rear up when I see certain visuals.

But let's look at problem number two.

2. I'M BORED, BORED, BORED TO TEARS WITH THE POST-SEVENTIES TEMPLATE OF ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

The modern template for action adventure movies comes from, primarily, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. It's an influence so great that you can see the setups and payoffs from Jaws, The Terminator, Aliens and Jurassic Park used again and again and again. These two directors, unlike the lead-footed, ham-fisted George Lucas, have a real feel for action. Both of them shoot and pace it extremely well. The problem is, a lot of people who don't have the same feel have followed in their footsteps and are too unimaginative to take it anywhere else. Zack Snyder seems to think ramping (slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up) is an innovation so special it must be employed everywhere and always. Edgar Wright, not an action director but certainly a notable contemporary sometime-fantasy director (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) employs whiz-bang techniques in his stories like the hyper montages that show scenes of action!/no action/stillness/action!/no action/action!/no action and then the scene reverts to normal. It's his calling card and unfortunately, that's exactly what it feels like, a calling card. It doesn't ever seem to add anything to the surrounding movie.



Both of these directors have their supporters and I certainly don't think they are undeserving of such support. For right now, I'm simply calling out specific techniques. I think Snyder did a fine job as director of The Watchmen, even if I didn't love the movie, though I did like it, and as for Edgar Wright, I like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz both very much. But the top director (top offender, I suppose I should say) for me in this area is J.J. Abrams. I liked Star Trek and Cloverfield but, on the whole, Abrams style seems nothing more than Spielberg warmed over. Maybe that's why when most everyone else loved Super 8, I did not. It came up on Facebook when a posted a status update on how much a certain scene made me angry but then, I admitted to liking it a little or, at least, certain parts because I didn't want to have to explain all this but the simple truth is, if I never see that movie again, it won't be soon enough. I'm glad Abrams has such a nostalgia for seeing Spielberg in the seventies but I'd rather he just watch Spielberg movies from the seventies than try and emulate them and give me the ball-washing tripe of Super 8.

Let's use this to segway into number three.


3. WHEN WAS THE BAR LOWERED AND WHY WASN'T I TOLD?

Let's go back to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  As of this writing it stands at 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.  Personally, I hate Rotten Tomatoes but that's for another post.  Maybe.  For now, that means that 83 percent of critics reviewing it liked it enough, even if just barely enough, to recommend it.   It's average rating is a better indicator and it's a high 7.1 out of 10.

When did this happen?  When did a movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes start getting 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes?  It's average at best and I don't mean that as a bad thing.  What I mean is, it does what you would expect it to do, fairly well, although it is a bit predictable.  It has most of what one would expect (Intended-to-be-touching scenes between ape and grandfather figure slipping into dementia.  Caesar wondering if he is a pet, not an independent individual.  Animal shelter owner revealed to be uncaring asshole. Shelter's animal keeper and feeder a sadistic monster.  Caesar pulling together the other apes through strength and compassion, showing himself to be an enlightened leader who won't kill.  Corporate CEOs blinded by greed who get their comeuppance in the end. And the list goes on.) and doesn't exert itself trying to provide much more.  There's one predictable set-up and payoff every ten minutes or so, I'd say.

What entertainment value I drew from the origin story in the first few reels quickly gave way to the big action/battle climax for the last third as the apes make their way to their adopted redwood forest home.  The movie tries to draw out some profundity, I suppose, by revealing the evils/sins/dangers(?) of animal testing but for the most part, it's just an average, if well made, adventure/sci-fi movie.  And yet, it's got 83 percent.  Shouldn't we reserve the upper levels of our ratings for the truly upper levels of cinema?  Shouldn't four stars, or five or whatever the top amount given is, be doled out three, maybe four times a year?  I understand liking a movie and thinking, "Hey, it's pretty good, nothing great but kind of fun," but that's not what I'm getting here.  I'm getting reactions that should be reserved for much better movies.



I feel the same way about so much more.  Toy Story 3, Inception, the last several Harry Potter movies... wait, let's go back.  Toy Story 3.  There exists in the bizarro movie universe of moral equality a category of de facto villain where a movie doesn't really have one, or need one, but creates one anyway using questionable methods. TS3 does this in spades.  A discarded toy, Lotso, a bear that hugs a lot,  becomes this movie's de facto villain.   He was left behind, lost and replaced and became embittered, convincing the other toys left with him that they were purposely and maliciously replaced.  This sense of abandonment has made him bitter and provides the perfect opportunity for TS3 to above and beyond and really explore this angle for kids.  How a misunderstanding can lead you down the wrong emotional path but with friends (read: therapy through companionship) you can work through it and come out on top.

This doesn't happen.  Instead, Lotso becomes psychotic and rather than try to provide any kind of emotional resuscitation, the film makers go for a cheap, mean, nasty joke.  In the end we discover (and here comes the "joke") Lotso is tortured for the rest of his existence by being enslaved in bondage to the front of a truck.  Ha, ha, that's so morally filthy it's funny!  Oh wait, no, it's just morally filthy.

When I saw this,  I wondered, "Why didn't anyone bring this up?"  But, of course, I, myself, was equally guilty of not bringing it up.  I knew what would happen if I did so I didn't.  I knew I would get, "You're crazy for saying that a toy, who only turned out bitter because he was lost and replaced, shouldn't be tortured at the conclusion of the movie.  Sorry Greg, but they should in no way teach redemption by having the Lotso bear recover from his bitterness, they should get a cheap laugh by showing us that he will spend the rest of his existence in bondage.  What's wrong with you, Greg?!"  And I will get that, I promise.  I won't get, "Uh... oh, wait.  Yeah, that is kind of screwed up."   What I'll get is an apologist philosophy that roughly goes, "Sure, that part's bad but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."  And I'll think, "But that's its lasting and final image of Lotso bear and it's really kind of repulsive."  And then I'll think about how it's like reading a book on child rearing where they give you 10 pieces of advice and two of them involve beating your child.  And when you criticize that, you hear, "But, hey, those other 8 pieces of advice are pretty solid."

And yes, TS3 does have that other 80 percent that does work reasonably well.  I understand that, I do.  It doesn't work well enough for me, of course, and if I had given a proper review to the movie, I would have slightly split in favor of not recommending it for that plot choice as well as, if not more so, for doing little more with these characters than was done before.  In the end, it felt redundant to me more than anything else but I guess I just wish the Lotso choice bothered more people than it did (this has happened with Pixar before, only worse, as explained in this earlier Cinema Styles post).

The point is, it seems to me the vast majority of films released should fall in the mid-range.  We should only be getting "This film is GREAT" or "This film is AWFUL" a few times a year.  Most movies are well-enough made and there are plenty of entertaining ones each year but let's not hand out top ratings and glowing reviews just because a movie does what it's supposed to do.  Let's reserve that for movies that do so much more than that.  For the ones that really stun you.

Onto number four.

4. HALF OF US LIKE THESE DIRECTORS, HALF OF US HATE THEM

In a way, this one is a kind of hanger-on from the last one, only reversed.  Half of the folks I know and love like the movies in number three and probably half don't.  Or maybe only a small percentage don't.  But when it comes to directors, it's a different story.  I once did a whole post on how some people love David Fincher and others hate him while some love Christopher Nolan and others hate him and how both hate each other for liking the other.  I don't like doing this with directors and so, quite simply, I don't.  But others do.



For instance, take a look above.  Note my extreme distaste for Toy Story 3.  It was directed by Lee Unkrich.  He directed (co-directed, technically) Monsters, Inc and Finding Nemo.  I like both of those films.  See, I didn't hate them because they were directed by him.  Conversely, I didn't love Toy Story 3 because it was directed by him, either.  Or take note above of my unenthusiastic response to the filmic stylings of Zack Snyder and Edgar Wright and then, recall, that I liked some of their movies.   This is important because I get really tired of hearing about the Coen brothers being "frauds" or "hating their characters" or some such thing.  Or "it's the same old Woody Allen."  Or "here goes Fincher again, hating women."  Or maybe that's Woody.  Or it could be Christopher Nolan, who's so bad with action (and, actually, he really is, but he's good at other things) that we should hate everything he ever does.  Oh wait, I wouldn't want to leave off Quenting Tarantino.  "Dumb, predictable, talky Quentin Tarantino."

And it goes in the exact opposite direction, too!  Steven Spielberg?  "Never made a bad movie, ever." "Paul Thomas Anderson's a genius!"  "Todd Haynes is my personal hero!"  "Lars von Trier is God!"

The point is, seriously, just shut up.  If you purport to love the cinema and don't take it on a film by film basis - Just. Shut. Up.   Again, back to Toy Story 3.  I don't like a lot of Pixar but sometimes, I do!  So I keep watching them!  Wall-E, for instance.  I didn't like the second half but I did like the first half.  And, importantly, I didn't dislike the second half for any moral reasons, like the Lotso resolution in TS3, simply that I felt it took a very powerful and moving story and ramped it up into a high-energy chase/slapstick production that worked against, not with, the first half.

I also don't like every Coen brothers movie I see but I do like several and love some.  But mother of mercy, I've come across bloggers and critics on this here interweb who practically hate the Coen brothers.  They hate them!  I mean, there's some mediocre, badly done shit out there in movie land and we can be thankful that the Coen brothers at least give us quality films, on purely technical terms, because they are very skilled film makers.  To say otherwise is to be completely disingenuous.  Take TS3, again.  Do I hate its philosophy towards Lotso?  Yes.  Is it incompetently made on the technical level? No, of course not.  It looks beautiful.  Not even that Kinkadey.  So when the complaints against the Coen brothers lapse into how they're bad film makers, I just move on to someone else not trying to convince me the world is flat.

But for the record, the "I hate the Coens/Spielberg/Allen/Tarantino/Fincher/Nolan/Anderson, etc." statements are bullshit, plain and simple.  Cinema doesn't operate on averages, it operates on individual movies.  Stop using sweeping statements against directors as a lazy way to "critique" their movies instead of taking on the movie directly and honestly.

5. THE BACKLASH BANDWAGON

So sick of this one.  I'm sure I don't have to describe "The Backlash Bandwagon" to you but, actually, I'm thinking of it a little differently than you may be so, if you'll bear with me, I would like to explain.  This isn't about everyone loving a movie and then, over time, more people voice their suspicion that it was over-rated.   That's common and is often piled onto the "backlash" trash heap but it's really not the same thing, just eventual re-assessment.   Backlash is something much harsher, much meaner and more clearly shallow, transparent and phony.

Let's go back to Avatar.  When it was released, it received a fair amount of praise (Don't deny it, it did.  Look it up.)  Then it started making money.  Lots of money.  TONS of money!  And then a backlash occurred in which, essentially, it was called garbage.  It was horrible.  It was one of the worst movies EVER MADE!  Same thing happened with The Dark Knight.  Again, it received very good reviews and then a second side declared, not that it was, perhaps, over-rated (I felt it was) but that it was awful.  Abysmal.  Bottom-scraping flying rodent fecal matter.  And then everyone started yelling at each other and, even now, just bringing the title up can unleash a whole big mess o' smug from both sides of the movie aisle.



With both, I fell on the side of unimpressed but not hateful.  Here is my original review of Avatar.  I praise James Cameron's expert direction of action, critique its many character and story elements as poorly written but, on the whole, can only describe my response as middling, not vitriolic.  I never gave a proper review to The Dark Knight but I felt much the same way:  I didn't like it, but the "I hate it" camp seemed a little too extreme for my tastes.

There's a milder form of backlash that also occurs that I dealt with directly in this post last year on Black Swan (I'm nothing if not consistent about my online irritations).  It's the one where there isn't so much as an overload of money or attention or praise, like The Dark Knight, but a movie that some think is great, like Black Swan, but others find not so great and express this by ridiculing either the movie, its supporters or both.  It's happened many times, most recently with The Artist.  I saw a comment from one critic that even described it by typing "movie" with the quotes there to signal us that, despite using a camera and a full cast and crew, The Artist somehow didn't even qualify as a movie anymore.  I have seen some real hatred thrown at this very skillful, very well-performed, very entertaining movie and it feels all out of proportion.  I hate to keep going back to it, but look at Toy Story 3.  That has a story element that actually morally offends and still I can find the balls to say it's not a bad movie, just misguided in that element and redundant overall.  But when people don't like Black Swan or The Artist, why is there a need among some writers to insult the intelligence of those who do?  If you'd like a true template for how to handle this kind of thing properly, go to Ferdy on Films and read Marilyn Ferdinand's review of The Artist.  She didn't like it, explains why and avoids calling anyone who did an idiot.  We should all take a lesson.

FIVE YEARS, FIVE REASONS TO GO ON

I've been at this now for five years and in that time, the pet peeves I list above have gotten worse, at least to my eyes.  Maybe that's nothing more than a perception problem on my part.  Maybe it's the same as ever or has even improved but I'm so tired of dealing with the same old, same old, that it feels bigger to me now.  Maybe.  I do know that in my online experience I've started one blog after another and joined up with a few others to boot.  I've done movie blogging, political blogging, humorous blogging, photo tumbling, group blogging and even a short stint at entertainment news blogging.  I've stuck with two: Cinema Styles and If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger There'd be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.   I was also lucky enough to be asked to join the group of great movie bloggers at TCM's Movie Morlocks for which I am eternally grateful.

That's three reasons enough, right there, to keep right on going, despite the frustrations and irritations that sometimes yank me backwards like a dog being choke-chained but there are a couple more, too.  One, I wouldn't want to not converse with the online community of film lovers and friends I've discovered in this time and two, I've never learned more about the movies than I have in the last five years.  Before that, it was all isolated knowledge that seemed pretty impressive in a room of people who didn't spend every waking moment thinking about, reading about and talking about cinema.  But once I got online, I realized I was a novice.  Hell, I realized we all were and if we didn't learn from each other, no one else was ever going to fill us in on the 99 percent of film history ignored by the film history books.

If there's any vow or resolution to be made here it's only that I be more honest with myself and everyone else about how I feel about modern cinema and not worry about getting into arguments.  But if I'm to be honest now, right now, I have to admit that I probably won't.  Instead, once a year or so I'll write a piece about how annoyed I am at this or that and do my best, the rest of the time, to write about those movies that bring me joy.  If that's the deal I have to make to keep this blog going, I suppose I can live with that. After all, to not write about, talk about and share my love for movies would be to not live at all.  And that's not a choice I'm willing to make.

52 comments:

Dane said...

I'm glad you went ahead with this, it was, as ever, good reading. I agree with you about all of these but the first one - so few people seem to have a measured tone about things anymore, especially online.

As for the first one, I don't *disagree* with you, it's more that while the organic way of doing things appeals more to me too, I can live with the Kinkadey look as well. (Just not all the time, and it does seem like it's everywhere.)

Greg said...

Dane, thanks. I first started getting bugged with the special sky look around KING KONG in 2005. Every setting in that movie looked/felt fake and overdrawn. It's not a big deal, I suppose. I'm sure just as many people find the technicolor staginess of the fifties grating to watch, too. I can't provide much of an evidential defense of not liking it (it is what it is), I just don't.

The Siren said...

Greg, it's always a nice thing when someone makes a post that brings up things that have been on your own mind. In my case, trying to write about Margaret. It's a film that has been praised to the skies. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I thought it was a fiasco. My Margaret review started out at 1800 words and ended up around 1250 after I took out 550 words of acid-laced asides and jokes. I wasn't going to say "oh, it isn't the movie, it's ME," because as a matter of fact I don't think there is anything wrong with the way I see the movie, but I don't see anything wrong with its fans, either, and I don't want to insult them. Some pans reveal many more unpleasant things about the writer's personality than they do the movie. And you don't get a dialogue that way; you get people popping up to fling your nastiness right back at you. It's a cycle.

I guess it's the golden rule of blogging. Don't insinuate that other people are stupid, so they will refrain from doing that to you. Most of them, that is.

And I am officially out of words to describe what's happening with The Artist. I totally get not liking it (I had some problems myself) but how did this well-intentioned good-natured comedy become a THREAT TO CINEMA HISTORY?

Anyway, this is a great post...enough in here to spawn weeks of commentary.

Greg said...

Thanks, Farran!

My Margaret review started out at 1800 words and ended up around 1250 after I took out 550 words of acid-laced asides and jokes.

Ha, yeah, this piece has been edited about 12 times in the last two or three days. It's original version completely worked against everything it was actually saying by being too insulting of both movies and their fans. It's just too easy, and tempting, to let snark and sarcasm take over sometimes.

As for THE ARTIST, I don't know. I think Marilyn pretty well explains her views without insulting anyone. We even had a back and forth in the comments (civil, of course) because I completely disagreed with her opinion of it but she not only never insulted my intelligence, she said more than once that maybe she wasn't seeing something. Very gracious. The same could be true for me. I might be so charmed by its lead performance and good-natured ending that I'm letting too much slip by unnoticed. Fine, but that's what discussion is all about. We don't need to accuse movies of not being movies, for God's sake!

Ed Howard said...

This is a good post, Greg, I agree with much of what you have to say here.

I'm especially with you on the ending of Toy Story 3, which was pretty dismal. A lot of Pixar movies have those weird moral overtones. The treatment of the villain in The Invincibles was pretty similar, he's this guy who just wants to be special but because he isn't born special, the heroes reject and mock him, and he turns evil as a result. But the film never seems to acknowledge that if the "good guys" had just been nicer to him and maybe given him some respect for inventing things to give himself special abilities instead of just being born with abilities, he probably would have turned out alright. That movie drives me nuts with all the weird, conflicted messages it sends. Some of Pixar's stuff is cute, entertaining kids' fare, but I've never really understood why they're placed on such a pedestal by so many.

Greg said...

Ed, as evidenced by the comments by you on that UP post I linked to, it would appear you and I stand alone on Pixar. I understand liking Pixar movies despite certain plot elements, but the things you and I are complaining about are actually there!. So, you'd have to say, "Yes, that is morally very, VERY questionable but still I like it," and yet, I don't get even that. I get, "No, you're wrong, Greg." Okay. Sometimes you have to know when to give up and I haven't given up but I don't fight it as often anymore.

The Siren said...

Greg, I had just come back to say that after I read Marilyn's review I went to her to chat about the movie because what do you know, I did NOT get the impression she thought I was the enemy of All Silent Cinema if I happened to think it was pretty cute, which I did. Dialogue! Her review was very well-argued, and she brought up her own considerable silents knowledge without a trace of pomposity.

I think a sizable of my engagement with the movie was Dujardin, who is just wonderful, evoking all sorts of matinee idols without doing a straight-out imitation of any. He makes it look like he isn't doing anything at all, so he's getting less credit than the dog.

And yes, Toy Story 3; I didn't like it very much either, I found it mean in many spots (like the kids in the day-care center, yeeesh) and not in a way that added to the experience. The way the furnace scene was drawn out--you wanna talk about being taken out of a movie, that did it for me. And Ed warms my heart by pointing out the essential Randian nastiness of The Incredibles, too. I wasn't charmed by that movie at all; easily my least favorite Pixar.

Further to Greg's point about not having to buy a director's work as an all-or-nothing proposition, though, I will state that I loved Ratatouille, even though rats squick me out no end and the scenes where they're swarming had me hiding my face like I was at a grindhouse.

Ed Howard said...

Ratatouille is probably my favorite Pixar movie, too: I have some problems with it still but it is definitely charming. I will say I'm not a big fan of Pixar's animated human designs; they're better in this film than the horrible blobs in the second half of WALL-E, but even at their best, they kind of fall in the "uncanny valley" for me. I think that relates to Greg's complaints about CGI in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in that CGI and computer animation haven't yet gotten to a point where they can convincingly do human or human-like figures and, especially, faces. I felt the same way about the motion capture animation in Adventures of Tintin, which I mostly enjoyed but was definitely thrown off by the animation style. It's that middle ground between stylized/cartoony animation and realism that bothers me the most, and too many modern CGI-heavy or computer-animated films fall in that territory. I think it's distracting, because it's not stylized enough to be a cartoon but just enough "off" that it can't approximate photographic realism.

Greg said...

Farran - Dujardin is a big part of my liking The Artist. I'm sure he will be nominated for Best Actor (may even win but I'm betting Brad Pitt gets it).

I'm glad (okay, thrilled) to see you and Ed in agreement on Pixar. If there movies were slapped together, straight-to-video efforts I wouldn't care. But they're big budget, nominated, well-loved and so the weird moral stuff bugs me. I'm not as big a fan of Ratatouille as the two of you but I don't have anger well up in me when I see it. That's really reserved for The Incredibles, Up and Toy Story 3's Lotso joke. But especially Up.

Speaking of which, I was so glad to see this post at Cracked.com nearly two years after my original Up post. It confirmed that I wasn't crazy about the bizarre, borderline insane treatment the script gives the explorer Charles Muntz. And again, it's pretty clear so I wonder why it wasn't noticed by/didn't bother other people. Still wonder that.

Greg said...

Oh yes, almost forgot. Ed, the CGI for mammals especially (all the individual hairs just don't look right) has a long way to go. If there was anything good about Tim Burton's Ape movie (and there wasn't much) it was the excellent make-up. I would've preferred an actor in make-up as Caesar to what we got. I was never unaware that Caesar was drawn on a computer.

The Siren said...

Oh, well. Wall*E and Up are my favorites. What can I say. Sheila O'Malley did a beautiful post about Up, btw. But The Incredibles and Toy Story 3, that's where I step off the train.

Greg said...

I hate you.

Oh wait, I mean, sometimes we disagree.

(insert adorable smiley face emoticon here to signal the above was a joke)

Greg said...

I never read Sheila's post on UP. Now I shall.

I love the beginning of Wall-e very, very much. I was disappointed by the second half but still felt the movie was quite good based on such a strong opening.

Patricia Perry said...

Greg -
I love your post. It's caused me to think about how I write and when I've made lazy generalizations or haven't taken disagreement or challenge as graciously as I should have. (AS in earlier this week, when yet another Anonymous commenter stopped by to disagree with my post on MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Whenever I dislike a Woody Allen movie, I seem to get in trouble, starting back in the days when I wrote for the college newsapaper and my pan of STARDUST MEMORIES drew anonymous hate mail.)

I remain conflicted about THE ARTIST myself - I enjoyed it very much but I can't get on the bandwagon for its expected Oscar win. Marilyn's review is, indeed, one of the best considerations I have read.

Patricia Perry said...

Actually that should be its EXPECTED or ANTICIPATED Oscar win, as opposed to PURPORTED. See, when I write too fast, I don't even use the right words.

Greg said...

Patricia, have you seen Stardust Memories since? I watched it again about 3 or 4 months ago and would currently rank it among his best work. I'll be sending you hate mail later.

I have to catch myself in generalizations. I'll often tell someone in conversation that I "hate Pixar" when actually, I hate two of their movies, am so-so a couple of others and like some of them outright. It's an easy thing to do and I'm sure in five years of blogging I've done it here, and in comment sections, more than once.

My personal pic for Best Picture this year is Melancholia or Tree of Life. I loved much of The Artist but it would be further down my list for Best Picture.

Patricia Perry said...

Greg -

I have seen STARDUST MEMORIES several times since college, and I will admit that I've pretty much reversed my original opinion. It's a haunting film, and if it's derivative of Fellini, that's hardly a crime. I'd choose MELANCHOLIA for Best Picture if I had the opportunity, with HUGO and the South Korean film POETRY running neck and neck for second place.

Marilyn said...

Greg, Farran, and Pat - I'm glad you enjoyed my review of The Artist and that you consider it a reasonable view of the film, whether or not you agree with it. I fear that one fan of Ferdy on Films disagreed with me so strenuously that he has abandoned me, so it goes both ways. I take film seriously, but ultimately, people mean more to me than film.

Greg - Your pet peeves track with mine as well, and the abusiveness of the paid press has me staying with my chosen blog buddies, where I know I can share my love of film without being impaled on a pike for some of my opinions.

Neil Sarver said...

I keep trying to think of detailed things to say in response, as I enjoyed this post a lot and agree with the general thoughts.

For better or worse, it also reminds me how little I've seen. Now, this year being a new parent of an infant has seriously affected my ability to see recent movies... and the number of movies this fall/winter seemed disproportionately high in movies I'm interested in, such as a couple mentioned in here.

But even without that this year, I don't watch much new stuff. I'm not much for the side of complaining about them as a whole. In fact, I'm usually the first to bring up the usual defenses, starting with the number of bad movies from bygone days that are largely forgotten.

Just last night I passed a Redbox with a prominent ad for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and thought for a moment that I could raise some interest to grab it, because I should be interested. But I just wasn't.

The one that leaps out at me is the backlash issue, especially because I see it go on in my own head so often.

I was disappointed with The Dark Knight, for instance, but didn't hate it. Somehow, though, with all of the extensive praise, it's hard not to forget, because my reaction to all the praise is to remember all of the problems.

Greg said...

I'd choose MELANCHOLIA for Best Picture if I had the opportunity, with HUGO and the South Korean film POETRY running neck and neck for second place.

I haven't seen Poetry yet. It usually takes me about a year to finally see everything I should from any given year, sometimes longer. I've probably seen enough this year to just barely form a top ten list but it would only be because of the ten or so movies I've seen, I've picked the ones highly regarded.

But Melancholia was just stunning. Much as I like The Artist, it doesn't come close to that.

Greg said...

I fear that one fan of Ferdy on Films disagreed with me so strenuously that he has abandoned me,

Damn. I can understand abandoning a blog after an abusive fight but not after a disagreement over a movie. Oh well.

The bitter vile that I see professional writers spew back and forth on Twitter makes me wonder if, perhaps, that's why I haven't gotten any offers to be contemporary movie critic. Big money websites and magazines seem to prefer a certain orneriness or cattiness among their writers. High profile feuds bring in readers and get lots of free advertising by everyone talking about it. Sometimes, I look at the tweets and wonder, "How do these people sleep at night?" and I don't mean ethically, I mean from the ulcers they must have.

Greg said...

Neil - Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an entertaining enough sci-fi frolic that tried to be more than it was. If you're going to give me a message in sci-fi (and most sci-fi, to some degree, does) make it a heavy-handed message about nuclear weapons or computers taking over. I don't know why but when a sci-fi movie gets too serious about a message, it kind of ruins it for me. ROTPOTA gets a little too serious about animal testing and cruelty until you're pretty sure they think they're being really deep.

But outside of that and the CGI that doesn't translate well (yet) to animals, especially mammals, it wasn't bad. Just not great. And James Franco is snore-inducingly boring.

Also, the references to the 1968 original are plentiful, sometimes working, other times not. Little ones were fine (like when we learn the orangutan's name is Maurice) but when they rework the "Get your stinking paws off of me" line, it felt like they either weren't confident enough to make this movie thoroughly their own or felt they would lose the original POTA crowd unless they bowed their head to the original.

And seeing movies in a theater will become much rarer for the next few years of raising Conan as you've probably already figured out. Also, watching movies at home, uninterrupted, becomes difficult too. Once you get used to the fact that "uninterrupted" is a luxury and stop expecting it, it's easier. Fighting against something is usually what makes it bad. There have been times when it's taken Laura and I two or three times just to get through a 90 minute movie. But that was years ago. Now, with the youngest almost 11, it's getting back to where I can see movies out a lot more than I used to and catch many more movies on DVD as well.

Jason Bellamy said...

Greg: Thought-provoking post. A few thoughts ...

* Last part first: Sometimes, I look at the tweets and wonder, "How do these people sleep at night?" and I don't mean ethically, I mean from the ulcers they must have.

Amen!

* I think the most problematic argument in your piece is No. 3, mainly because you build from a Rotten Tomatoes example and end up solving the problem you suggest you're mystified by:

"When did a movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes start getting 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? It's average at best and I don't mean that as a bad thing."

The problem with RT is that if 83 percent think it's a hair over average, it gets an 83. It's pass/fail. So on the one hand you're saying, "How did the bar get so low?" And I get that gut emotion. But on the other hand it forces you toward arguing (implicitly), "If a movie isn't very good, we should hate it," which obviously isn't in the spirit of what you mean to be arguing at all and isn't an attitude I think you have for current movies (even if you liked 'em better way back when) or older movies. So as for the greater context of No. 3 ...

The thing that makes me uncomfortable about the suggestion that the bar has been lowered is that it approaches cinema with an attitude that there's inherent value in being first. In other words, a "very good, not great" talkie romance from the 1950s is better than the same thing now, simply because it was made earlier. I'm simplifying here, but you get the idea. And as much as I think we're all prone to become emotionally attached to our "firsts," regardless of when they were made, I try to avoid suggesting that cinema should be in a position where it needs to be better than where it has been already to validate being there at all. Again, that's not what you're arguing; I know that. But it leans toward that direction, which is the part that makes me uncomfortable.

* I'm more miss than hit with Pixar (although I still like those movies more than you and Ed, for sure), but while I don't have any special feelings about the Toy Story series I found your complaints about Lotso interesting. Yes, he was mistreated, but he responded to his victimization by becoming an abusive overlord who is portrayed trying to kill the heroes at least twice, including once after they saved him. Is that not worthy of some awful sentence? If this was an R-rated, non-animated movie about some thug named Lotso who had a rough upbringing and then became a very-real villain, would you be as offended when he gets his just due? (I ask that having no emotional reaction to Lotso's sentence one way or the other; I'm just interested.)

* On CGI, I think the only thing to remember there is that often people are raving about CGI while accepting CGI's limitations. In other words, when they're saying it's "realistic," they don't mean, "Holy shit, I really thought those apes were fucking real and took over the world; I'm stunned that wasn't a documentary!" They mean, "That was as good as I've seen CGI used for something like this." There are problems with that angle of approach, sure. But the same problems exist in praising "analog" makeup or effects, which often look more convincing in one way and less convincing in another. (And that's coming from a guy who desperately misses old-school makeup/effects.) If you're arguing that old-school effects were often better, I agree. But they were often much worse, too. So it goes.

* OK, gotta run. Hope those responses made sense. And I assume you'll forgive me for picking out my areas of disagreement rather than providing a long list of "Amens!" Again, nice post.

Roderick Heath said...

Greg...

...you know those movies that encompass the start of World War One, where former good friends who've been hanging around Paris being bohemians or teaching at schools together are suddenly forced to recognise that they're about to be on different sides of the war, doomed to be enemies, possibly fated to kill each in operatic hails of bullets?

Yeah, I think that's where you and I are now at.

Neil Sarver said...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an entertaining enough sci-fi frolic that tried to be more than it was.

That's about what I took it for.

James Franco is snore-inducingly boring.

Well, duh.

... the references to the 1968 original are plentiful, sometimes working, other times not.

It sounds like we're on the same page about what makes a good reference. The references in the Burton movie were largely painful for me, so when people started getting excited that this one had "plenty", too, I was not made more confident.

But outside of that and the CGI that doesn't translate well (yet) to animals, especially mammals, it wasn't bad. Just not great.

I think the rule I think seems to hold true through the ages, regardless of time technology and whatever, because it essentially has nothing to do with it. But on the DVD for the original King Kong, so I'm sure you've seen it, they discuss how the brilliant Willis O'Brien would continue changing up tricks, because the eye gets used to any trick.

I think the biggest problem with CGI is that moviemakers overuse it, because they get too confident that it fools your eye. They're wrong. O'Brien remains correct.

And seeing movies in a theater will become much rarer for the next few years of raising Conan as you've probably already figured out.

Yeah, it's dropped to nearly nothing. I expect within the next 6 months as he's able to eat without Kim, that'll go up a little tiny bit and then stay at that plateau for a long time to come.

Not being able to see Hugo in 3-D is the only thing that with a little time, I'm a tiny bit disappointed about. I'm sure that'll continue to fade off in time.

Also, watching movies at home, uninterrupted, becomes difficult too. Once you get used to the fact that "uninterrupted" is a luxury and stop expecting it, it's easier.

That one's a challenge for me still. Only in that it makes me more resistant to good (or "good") movies, which I want to be able to give more undivided attention too, but I'm getting there. The number of movies I want to see enough is going to jump up one of these days.

Greg said...

I found your complaints about Lotso interesting. Yes, he was mistreated, but he responded to his victimization by becoming an abusive overlord who is portrayed trying to kill the heroes at least twice, including once after they saved him. Is that not worthy of some awful sentence?

But a part of my problem is that they make him that way in the first place. If you go to the Cracked.com link I provided earlier in the comments about UP, you'll see they are complaining about the same thing. It's not that what Lotso does isn't bad and deserving of some kind of punishment, it's that it's questionable how he came to be so bad outside of the film makers deciding their movie required a trumped-up villain.

It would be like if you were watching A.I. Artificial Intelligence and David's response to being abandoned is to start a colony of mechas that tortures and abuses other mechas who enter into the fold so the movie could turn into a good guy/bad guy thriller, instead of the thoughtful meditation on abandonment that it was. You'd think, "What? I - I don't get it? Why did he do that?"

Toy Story 3 had that chance and they blew it. They could have turned the Lotso story into something special. There are so many kids who go through their parents divorce, a new sibling or, most terribly, a parent's death and they do, indeed, feel abandoned. This movie could have taken the Lotso story and turned it into a powerful story of redemption for them.

But doing something beautiful or special for children is the last thing on the minds of the Toy Story 3 makers. Cheap jokes, lazy plot developments and a "thrilling climax" are all they care about.

****

As for your RT argument, I'll have to read that one over again and provide a more thoughtful response later because, unfortunately, right now, I'm not sure what you're saying exactly. I think what I'm saying is that in the age of ratings (which is, what, seventies on, roughly) too many movies are ranked too highly. Like Roger Ebert last year, when he said that if you go through all of his ratings, year by year, he gives much higher ratings now than he used to. So, he's actually admitting to it, openly.

What I miss are the days when a James Agee, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbaum (take your pick, doesn't matter whether you like them or not) seemed to hate almost everything. They didn't, of course, it's just that they found very few movies deserving of the highest praise. I think that's how it should be.

****

I'm not arguing that old-school effects were better, necessarily, I'm arguing that make-up still works better than CGI in a case like this because there are no physical limitations in that there is never a point in Tim Burton's woeful film where you ask, "Is Tim Roth really standing there with Mark Wahlberg?"

The makeup technology has only increased since then. An actor in makeup for Caesar would have worked much, much better.

Greg said...

Yeah, I think that's where you and I are now at.

Ha, ha, well, Rod I just...

Wait, why?

Also, in Paris, you were the Prussian, right?

Greg said...

I think the biggest problem with CGI is that moviemakers overuse it, because they get too confident that it fools your eye. They're wrong. O'Brien remains correct.

Your eye does get used to it but real on-the-set devices or make-up remains impressive. One of the reasons Jurassic Park still looks so good is because the CGI was minimal while the puppets and full-scale T-Rexes were played up. The T-Rex scene at the truck will never look bad because it's a real, physical thing, right there with them.

Only in that it makes me more resistant to good (or "good") movies, which I want to be able to give more undivided attention too, but I'm getting there.

That's how I've been for years! Glad to see someone else say it, too. I'll put off a movie so long that I eventually don't see it because I'm waiting for these magically perfect conditions that will never arise. I have movies that I want to watch with Laura, and that I first expressed the desire to do so, years ago and we still haven't watched them because, with four kids in the house, I know interruptions will occur.

But it does improve, relatively quickly and the most important thing that children do for you is they give you a sense of selflessness you would have never acquired on your own. You give up your time more than anything else and you get to a point, and you will get there, where you become much more productive and efficient with your time because you realize when you have it, how precious it is.

I cannot tell you how many times I've held my tongue when I read or hear people without kids say they "have no time" to do something. I'm like, "What do you mean? When you're not at work, that's your time. When I'm not at work, I'm on someone else's schedule until 30 minutes before I go to bed. You've got ALL NIGHT!"

Time will become something that, when you have it, you will use much more productively. I picked up writing again five years ago, when the youngest finally hit five, entered the first grade and things started to settle down. I like to think I've used that time well ever since, or at least better than I used to.

Neil Sarver said...

Your eye does get used to it but real on-the-set devices or make-up remains impressive. One of the reasons Jurassic Park still looks so good is because the CGI was minimal while the puppets and full-scale T-Rexes were played up. The T-Rex scene at the truck will never look bad because it's a real, physical thing, right there with them.

I think your eye gets used to everything. There's always something better about something that physically exists and even better than that about something that physically exists inside the same space.

But barring that, which we often are, mix it up.

Obviously in a case where makeup could do the job, such as in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I favor makeup.

But in something like King Kong or Jurassic Park, where that's not a realistic option, then yes, do a little of everything available. Have a giant model leg and a tiny model item and some CGI. Don't stay on any one technique.

That's how I've been for years! Glad to see someone else say it, too. I'll put off a movie so long that I eventually don't see it because I'm waiting for these magically perfect conditions that will never arise.

Weirdly, I first noticed it with Sucker Punch, which I don't anticipate is good (or even "good"), but it does require your full attention, as it's so entirely visual. I've since struggled also with anything foreign.

I'm assuming I'll find time for these things again down the road, but right now it just seems too much.

But it does improve, relatively quickly and the most important thing that children do for you is they give you a sense of selflessness you would have never acquired on your own. You give up your time more than anything else and you get to a point, and you will get there, where you become much more productive and efficient with your time because you realize when you have it, how precious it is.

I'm already discovering this, and it's an easier transition than I'd have imagined before, because I want to be with Kim and Conan and share everything.

Greg said...

But in something like King Kong or Jurassic Park, where that's not a realistic option, then yes, do a little of everything available. Have a giant model leg and a tiny model item and some CGI. Don't stay on any one technique.

That goes a long way to explaining why Jurassic Park does still look so good, all these years later. Just when your eye might start instinctively looking for visual problems, CGI is substituted for puppet. Before that can take over, full scale mock-up appears. Then mechanical arm. Then CGI again. And so forth.

I think the best solution for ROTPOTA would have been lead actor in state of the art make-up, all the other apes CGI. I don't care about all the other apes or group shots of them on the bridge. But Caesar, the lead, make him real.

William Michael said...

I couldn't agree with you more about films today having to have that glassy look..and enough CGI to choke Cesar. And also to the fact that it seems like WAY too many films being given a 8 or a 9 or a 10 rating. You are right, why cant those ratings be saved for films that truly deserve them? Sorry, but most movies produced today are either a re-make of a re-make, some pointless romantic comedy, or have to be CGI enhanced. That's why I prefer classic cinema, Indie flicks, and documentary film as opposed to all the big box-office, corporate produced garbage that's out today.

Adam Ross said...

Great list, I agree with all of them. To add on to your first point, I find myself tiring not just of the look of CGI-heavy movies, but almost all new movies. It could be a result of the switch to digital cameras, but most new movies have this ultra bright sheen to them that's almost too perfect. I really started noticing it with THE HELP, when every object on screen seemed to glow unnaturally.

I have an overarching problem with the Toy Story movies. I find it hard to really commit to these anthropomorphic realities, especially when these toys can theoretically "live" forever or spend years "living" in a locked toy box. If they have all these feelings of abandonment and loss, what do they feel about being trapped in a box for long periods of time?

Jason Bellamy said...

* Toy Story 3 had that chance and they blew it. They could have turned the Lotso story into something special. There are so many kids who go through their parents divorce, a new sibling or, most terribly, a parent's death and they do, indeed, feel abandoned. This movie could have taken the Lotso story and turned it into a powerful story of redemption for them.

But doing something beautiful or special for children is the last thing on the minds of the Toy Story 3 makers. Cheap jokes, lazy plot developments and a "thrilling climax" are all they care about.


Thanks for your additional thoughts on Lotso. In your original piece you seemed more concerned with his fate than with his creation story, so that's what I was responding to.

I respect that TS3 isn't about what you want it to be about. But, as much as I'm not a fan of the series, I think there's overwhelming evidence in TS3 that suggests an interest in "doing something beautiful or special for children." Through the story of Lotso? No. (And, while I'm here, some people feel abandoned and alone and do become monsters as a result. So there's a real-world model for Lotso.) But with the other characters? Absolutely. I'm OK if not everyone learns their lesson, but that's me.

* I think what I'm saying is that in the age of ratings (which is, what, seventies on, roughly) too many movies are ranked too highly. Like Roger Ebert last year, when he said that if you go through all of his ratings, year by year, he gives much higher ratings now than he used to. So, he's actually admitting to it, openly.

What I miss are the days when a James Agee, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, Jonathan Rosenbaum (take your pick, doesn't matter whether you like them or not) seemed to hate almost everything. They didn't, of course, it's just that they found very few movies deserving of the highest praise. I think that's how it should be.


Oh, I'm in total agreement with you about the idea that too many movie reviews seem to fall into the camp of rave or rip, and one of the things that Kael, Sarris, etc., did so well was to convey a sense of wrestling with the great and the awful in almost every movie. You're right: very few films earned complete raves from them.

My point was simply that an 85% score on Rotten Tomatoes only means that 85% gave it a thumbs-up. So 85% doesn't equate to 4 out of 5 stars. It it equates to 85% giving a rating of 2.51 stars or better. And by that measure, I suspect that Kael, Sarris, etc, would have been in the "thumbs-up" camp quite often. So RT is simply misleading because a movie can get a flawless rating by convincing every critic its JUST BARELY worth seeing, whereas a movie that earns 60 5-star reviews (which would be a lot) but 40 2-star reviews would receive a lousy score.

(As for Ebert: He's a special case in that he's openly admitted that after facing death several times he's just glad to be going to the movies. So while he grades higher, I don't think he's ever implied it's because the movies have actually gotten better. He's just softened, and he's softened for some rather extraordinary reasons.)

* I'm arguing that make-up still works better than CGI in a case like this because there are no physical limitations in that there is never a point in Tim Burton's woeful film where you ask, "Is Tim Roth really standing there with Mark Wahlberg?"

I'm with you there. I was simply trying to point out that "realistic" might not mean the same thing when it comes to CGI vs. old-school effects. Personally, I'd prefer the filmmakers accepting the physical limitations of having actors in suits (which means no jumping off the Golden Gate and onto a helicopter) so as to give us the pleasure of two obvious physical figures in the same space. No argument there.

Greg said...

William, I really have become such a huge fan of documentaries in the last three years. Who would have thought that docs would become so big and go through such growth. I remember the seventies and eighties when a great doc, like Harlan County, came once every two or three years. Now, the opposite: Every year has two or three great docs. There's definitely a documentary renaissance going on right now.

Greg said...

It could be a result of the switch to digital cameras, but most new movies have this ultra bright sheen to them that's almost too perfect.

It's one of the reasons that lately, here and on twitter and fb, I've come to bemoan the fact that movies don't (and can't!) look like Mean Streets anymore. Even if you do film your movie in a gritty environment it still kind of looks glossed up and clean.

The Toy Story trilogy's biggest problem for me is redundancy. They keep getting separated and feel abandoned. That's a great theme to take on in a kid's movie but, okay, move on. Try something new. But they can't because there's nothing really interesting about the characters. Imagine if they did a movie where there was no separation. Just a new plot involving the toys in their life at home. Since the characters have only ever been setups to jokes based on what they are (Mr. Potato Head's only purpose, for instance, is to insert jokes about changeable parts) it wouldn't work.

Greg said...

Jason - Good thoughts on Toy Story and Lotso. It's true that I fall into the trap of wanting a movie to be about something as much as the next. The joke still strikes me as mean but, yes, if the story route they chose to go with doesn't involve redemption, that's their choice, obviously but I wish they had.

My point was simply that an 85% score on Rotten Tomatoes only means that 85% gave it a thumbs-up. So 85% doesn't equate to 4 out of 5 stars. It it equates to 85% giving a rating of 2.51 stars or better. And by that measure, I suspect that Kael, Sarris, etc, would have been in the "thumbs-up" camp quite often. So RT is simply misleading because a movie can get a flawless rating by convincing every critic its JUST BARELY worth seeing, whereas a movie that earns 60 5-star reviews (which would be a lot) but 40 2-star reviews would receive a lousy score.

That perfectly sums up why I hate RT but still felt compelled to use it for my point. I tried to say this in the piece when I wrote "For now, that means that 83 percent of critics reviewing it liked it enough, even if just barely enough, to recommend it. It's average rating is a better indicator and it's a high 7.1 out of 10."

I was trying to say that 83 just means that 83 liked it enough to give it a thumbs up but that their actual reviews come in at 7.1 out of 10.

This is why I should never look at Rotten Tomatoes again. A movie could get an average rating of 2.5 out of 4 stars and theoretically score 100 percent on RT.

Neil Sarver said...

It's a funny thing. I just used Rotten Tomatoes in an argument myself.

However, in this case the argument presented to me was that "All critics didn't like the Coen's True Grit."

As a resource as to whether True Grit is actually of value, it's worthless. However, as a resource to demonstrate the inaccuracy of that specific charge, it's remarkably perfect.

Pretty unique circumstance in which I was presented by a particularly banal argument to counter.

But still...

Greg said...

Hey, when it works, it works. Go with it. I get bugged by all the casual movie folks who don't a movie made before, say, 1998, exclaiming that some movie I hate is good because it got 93% on RT. Oddly, enough, when a cinephile uses it, it's more palatable.

It's like the Oscars. It's been pointed out many times that they can be used to judge quality ("She gives an Oscar-worthy performance") or express disdain ("She gives the kind of performance they give Oscars to").

Neil Sarver said...

It's like the Oscars. It's been pointed out many times that they can be used to judge quality ("She gives an Oscar-worthy performance") or express disdain ("She gives the kind of performance they give Oscars to").

I'm pretty sure I've even used them both myself.

It occurs to me an alternate theory on the "lowering of the bar". I don't think they're mutually exclusive, mind you.

One of the things I complain about regarding new movies is how many are made to "not suck". Everyone is struggling to ensure it's professional and not embarrassing to anyone involved, but that's kind of it. No one is taking a chance. Chances are necessary to greatness, but, of course, risk falling on your face.

It could affect the RT scores in much the same way, if everyone is shooting to be "not bad" that more critics will give a "not bad" review.

Greg said...

It's true, most movies, especially blockbuster action/sci-fi/thrillers, usually have at least one impressive set piece that has been purposely inserted to sell the movie. The rest can be humdrum but if that set piece is good enough, people will see it and critics will give it a slight recommendation.

They're made just good enough to not be bad, as you say, but don't really do anything else.

jim emerson said...

You Are Not Alone, Greg. I had to post this comment before I've even finished your entire piece. I thought "Avatar" looked like Thomas Kinkade but you made me realize that one of the reasons I have been so resistant to seeing "Hugo" is that I HATE the cotton-candy look of the stills I've seen. (Reminds me of Michael Atkinson's reaction to the look of "Avatar": "What, am I a forest animal, unthinkingly hypnotized by shiny objects?") Your comparison to that moment from "Broadway Danny Rose" is illuminating. Animation is fine. I like animation. But it is not (anymore, anyway) photography -- and much of what I love about cinema has to do with photographing real people and real objects in real space. (I can feel a blog post of my own coming on here...)

OK, now back to the rest of your piece. Thank you for making me feel less alone, too.

Greg said...

Jim, that line by Atkinson still cracks me up. I love the idea of film taking a real space and moving through it or, even better, observing figures moving through the space while we sit and watch, captivated. Think Omar Sharif's approach in Lawrence of Arabia or Valli's final walk towards the camera and past Joseph Cotten in The Third Man. So simple but powerful.

Hope you like the rest of the piece and would love to see a piece by you on real space vs animation at Scanners.

The Author Empiricus said...

"Finally, my biggest problem, aside from the general look of movies these days, is the fact that I do often feel quite alone in this and since the whole reasons I got into blogging was to talk about movies with everybody, it's a problem I have a difficult time comprehending, much less solving."

You're not entirely alone. A good piece all around. I shall certainly look in often.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Greg

You're just so, so wrong. You absolutely can't be a lover of film if you believe this...

...okay, seriously though this was awesome. Thanks for this piece (I don't know how I missed this when you first published it, but thanks to Jim Emerson I was able to find it) as a lot of what you said in regards to how "easy" film critics have gotten on movies may have something more to say about the state of movies today than the state of critics.

I've been on a kick lately of watching old Siskel and Ebert episodes lately, and I forgot how I always enjoyed their banter because Ebert seemed to see things within a certain context (his thumbs up review of Cop and a Half for example) while Siskel judged things on similar grounds.

I suppose it's just a style thing. I think I find myself going more towards Ebert's side of things while I appreciate the critics (especially the ones you mentioned like Kael and Agee and Rosenbaum) that have "stricter" standards...you know, I'm not even sure if that's the right way to say it, but there was a noticeable difference between Siskel and Ebert on those old shows.

I never read Siskel's reviews, so I don't know if his written reviews made him sound more like he was struggling with ripping a movie, but on the show he seemed to always be yelling at Ebert for having standards that slipped while Ebert was always yelling at Siskel for being too hard on movies and not seeing them with the correct context in mind. \

Anyway, I don't know where this is really going except to say that I am one of those annoying people that can straddle the fence pretty easily on a topic like the one you've broached here. I like to think I have standards, but I also appreciate when something I hate (3-D and CGI) is done well. I think the reason Hugo works and Avatar doesn't is because one has a story that feels real and has weight to it (Scorsese's film) and the other is a flimsy scaffold designed merely to hold up the effects (Cameron's movie).

Okay. I'm rambling now. Thanks for this, Greg, even though we may disagree on some of these things, you (as usual) always make your case in a way that is refreshingly honest and passionate.

Rob said...

Greg, first of all, loved this piece, found it sharp and funny and relatable even if I disagree in spots. I'm a longtime reader but first-time commenter, and I just wanted to get in on this as far as Toy Story is concerned.

I dug TS3 pretty hard (UP is the over-praised Pixar that I can't fully get behind), so take this with a grain of salt if you must, but I was completely ok with the treatment of Lotso, and I really, honestly, don't see it as morally messed up. This is because I don't think the backstory that we get from Lotso is meant to explain why he is the bad guy. We get the backstory all from his POV, and based on that and the fact, mentioned by an earlier commenter, that he betrays the heroes trust on multiple occasions, I am relatively convinced that we are meant to assume that he is villainous regardless of what happened to him.

The backstory brings in thematic resonance, drawing the situations of the good and bad characters a bit closer together for the audience and adding nuance. The point there is that often good and bad aren't as far apart as we think, that traumatic experiences happen to everyone and that they can lead us down dark and difficult paths, an idea echoed elsewhere pretty much all over the film. But Lotso is, inevitably, supposed to serve a plot function, and the megalomaniacal way he controls the toys in the daycare center and the general disregard for morality that he consistently exhibits throughout the movie more than justify his punishment. The backstory is so obviously ineffecient in "explaining" how he got to be so darn mean that I just assumed that it really wasn't meant to. He was just supposed to be a mean, nasty dude who went through some hard times, just like so many other villains.

This exact idea played out in TS2, where Jesse and the Prospector both incurred a similar abandonment, but one turned his sorrow into villainy and the other just kept her sorrow. The moment where they attempt to save Lotso and he throws it in their face is when we know that the story of his abandonment isn't the only reason why he does mean stuff. Call him underdeveloped if you want, but I don't think he's unfairly treated as far as villains go. I think he's just supposed to be an archetype.

Greg said...

Kevin, thanks for commenting. I know that Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote a whole piece several years back on Siskel and Ebert and talked about how Roger Ebert was a true cinephile while Siskel had merely fallen into the job of film critic while working at the Tribune. JR said that colleagues used to make jokes about how many things Siskel would get wrong about a movie (saying it did something no other movie had when in fact 17 had, for instance, he just didn't know enough film history to know that) but that, in the end, JR felt Siskel's insights into the movies reviewed on the show were every bit as perceptive as Ebert's and, statistically, they agreed the vast majority. Most movies got two thumbs up or two thumbs down. One up, one down was much rarer.

Greg said...

Rob, you'll have to forgive me on the Lotso thing. I have no doubt that what you're saying is a perfectly valid explanation for Lotso's behavior. You state your case well and it's convincing. I just react to jokes about characters being tortured or killed even if they're bad characters. Even if one could argue that Lotso deserved his fate, and I think you made a good argument for just that, I still hate the way it's casually made into a joke.

Anonymous said...

Mel Brooks put it best in Spaceballs: "Hopefully we'll all meet again in Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money". This thinking seems to dominate big-budget moviemaking (and there's almost no small budget anymore). I don't mind a well-executed formula pic---sort of like movie comfort food. Sometimes I just want to relax and be manipulated by an expert emotional masseuse). But most of the time, as captured perfectly by the HBO-Go commercial (the one on the boat), I'd like to "See something I haven't seen a thousand times before...".

My beef with Avatar was that it had the worst script of Cameron's career. Simple, predictable, patronizing, and lacking the clever repartee of his earlier films. After such a long hiatus, I expected more. I guess when you get big enough, people stop telling you when stuff isn't very good (or you stop listening).

I don't feel as strongly about CGI. It's a great addition to the toolkit and allows things that couldn't be done before. But it works exactly as much as you don't think about it (except in admiring cinephile mode). If you're thinking about it otherwise, then it (or the movie in general) isn't working. Too many films (see Transformers, and most Michael Bay) seem to let the tail wag the dog (as "Yeah, the story's nothing, and maybe the acting's weak, but hey, look at those costumes!"). It seems like a lot of the creativity these days has moved to TV. Less at stake. More opportunity to evolve and improve.

NRH said...

Ah, one of the interesting things to mention in regards to the "Thomas Kinkade look" is that pretty much everything you see, including movies shot on film, is color corrected with a digital intermediary, so that certain colors and "color looks" can be used to grade the film. The film stock is transferred to digital, colored, and then either transferred back to film or (increasingly) transfered to a lossless digital tape format.

Obviously this is a really powerful tool and much, much easier than dealing with pre-digital color grading techniques. But it does have side effects, the fact that many directors take the sledgehammer approach being one of them. It's certainly a strange intersection of technology and taste, and we'll see what happens as we move forward towards the complete abolishment of 35mm or 16mm film as any part of the film making process...

Big Guy said...

I like that your commenting about something that's often not in movie reviews -- how the picture looks on the screen.

What I dislike is more often on TV, but also happens a lot in the movies. When people are dancing, the camera moves in and out and different perspectives are shown. When people are dancing, I want to see their limbs and torsos move; I don't want to notice the camera move. I want to see the whole body, especially the legs. I don't want to see a shot of a knee, a close up of a face, a shot of a foot, full body shot from the left, then a close up of a face, than a full body shot from an odd diagonal right. All those different camera shots and camera movement distract from the dancing.

Dave said...

Your comments on CGI are right on. In my mind they've taken all the magic out of "movie magic" Gone are the days of "How'd they do that?" because the answer is always "CGI". I watched 2001 recently (it's a yearly ritual) and every time I see it I'm amazed at how well it holds up. The opening scenes using front projection are just as believable as any CGI creation you'd see today and the remaining FX even more so. I shudder to think what that movie would look like if made today.

Ezra said...

You write "Thomas Kinkade has won and we, all of us, have lost" and three months later he dies. It was you! You killed him!!!