I appreciate that Iraqi ingratitude must be grating to those who have seen friends fight and die in Iraq. I really do. The point, though, is that the Iraqis, by and large, would rather not have had 4300 Americans die on their behalf, or had some half a million of their countrymen slaughtered in order to “ensure Iraq’s freedom and future place as a responsible partner on the world scene.” It’s not a sacrifice that they asked for, or that they asked to pay, so it’s not quite fair to accuse them of being ingrates.
Most anyone who has ever taken a class from me knows that I have a deep and abiding affection for Hunt for Red October, in spite of the fact that the film channels a river of Team B bullshit about Soviet and American naval capabilities. A few years back, I was discussing Hunt for Red October with a Ukrainian graduate student, and she told me that she much preferred K-19: Widowmaker. K-19 dispenses with the nonsense about crew members spontaneously singing the Soviet National Anthem, officers having casual conversations about the contrariness of privacy to the Soviet public interest, and the dread superiority of the Soviet military-industrial complex. Rather, K-19 is about a group of sailors and officers testing a submarine that doesn’t quite work right, and trying not to get killed or have their careers destroyed in the process. As such, my Ukrainian friend argued, it was much closer to the reality of Soviet life than the Connery film.
With that in mind, I’ve been following the Nerpa story with great interest. Galrahn has a detailed post with the latest information, the most intriguing of which centers around the fact that the fire suppression system may not have deployed by malfunction. Of course, much remains to be learned, and the Russians have a vested interest in claiming crew perfidy instead of manufacturing defect. Nevertheless, it appears that the story of the Nerpa incident will serve to increase the cinematic appeal of the Russian submarine service…
A fair number of folks have been linking to this A.O. Scott piece on comic book genre films; it’s interesting enough, but I thought that the final paragraph undermines the point that Scott is trying to make. The core of Scott’s argument:
Still, I have a hunch, and perhaps a hope, that “Iron Man,” “Hancock” and “Dark Knight” together represent a peak, by which I mean not only a previously unattained level of quality and interest, but also the beginning of a decline. In their very different ways, these films discover the limits built into the superhero genre as it currently exists.
He later develops the argument to say that the comic book genre has a certain set of rules, and that these rules serve to place something of an upper limit on the quality of the genre. For example, the genre requires a climactic battle sequence in which the superhero prevails, and in the three films (Hancock, Iron Man, and Dark Knight) that sequence is the weakest part of the film. Fair enough, but the “limits built into the superhero genre as it currently exists” is a curious statement; is there any reason to believe that the next superhero film (Watchmen, for example) won’t transcend those limitations? I’m particularly curious because Scott ends with this:
The westerns of the 1940s and ’50s, obsessed with similar themes, were somehow able, at their best, as in John Ford’s “Searchers” and Howard Hawks’s “Rio Bravo,” to find ambiguities and tensions buried in their own rigid paradigms.
But the cowboys of old did not labor under the same burdens as their masked and caped descendants. Those poor, misunderstood crusaders must turn big profits on a global scale and satisfy an audience hungry for the thrill of novelty and the comforts of the familiar.
I’m sure that Hawks and Ford would be surprised to learn that Rio Bravo and the Searchers didn’t need to turn a profit; I’d expect that the studio heads would be even more surprised. I’m glad that John Ford didn’t need to “satisfy and audience hungry for the thrill of novelty and the comforts of the familiar” and therefore didn’t need to hire John Wayne to play what amounted to different facets of the same character in several dozen movies. The problem is that Scott can’t engage in a general bashing of genre film, because he recognizes that probably a third to half of the best American films ever made belong to either the Mobster or the Western genre, but he doesn’t give a convincing explanation for why it was possible for the great Westerns and mafia movies to transcend the limitations of their genres, but won’t similarly be possible for the superhero movie.
For my own part, I think that Spiderman 2 is considerably better than any of the films Scott discusses, and as such that this year’s crop doesn’t really represent a peak. At the same time, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that the superhero genre has seen, beginning with Tim Burton’s Batman, a rather radical leap forward in quality, mostly as the result of the presence of real talent in writing, screenwriting (in adaptation), and direction. Scott doesn’t provide me a compelling reason to think that this trend has been arrested.
Again, I can’t say whether this is applicable to The Dark Knight, but I strongly applaud the arguments about how Bay and Tony Scott seemed to have killed the competent, intelligible action sequence. The idea that commercial-style quick cutting represents a technically competent way of shooting and editing action scenes (even if it makes it impossible to tell where the characters are, or who’s doing what for who, not for any artistic reason but because it draws attention to the director) needs to die as quickly as possible.
David Edelstein gets, as one would expect, a considerable amount of negative feedback for being a Dark Knight detractor (I’m not endorsing his view; I haven’t seen it yet.) In the course of the post, he says that “It took awhile for the fanboys to come around to the consensus that The Phantom Menace was inept — I got death wishes for that review, too.” As I’ve said before, it wasn’t just fanboys but a remarkably large number of professional critics who for whatever reason were compelled to be apologetic: check out the number of 60+ scores for a stupefyingly dull movie with a level of acting and writing well below the standards of a typical made-for-Lifetime joint. To correct the historical record, it was Masterpiece-A-Week Maslin, not Elvis Mitchell, who slobbered all over Lucas’s stillbirth in the Times.
Rest in peace. Strangely enough, I kind of preferred his acting to his direction.
UPDATE (BY SL): As I think I’ve said before, I agree with the above (TS joins the consensus.) I especially liked his turns in Eyes Wide Shut and Husbands and Wives, with a special favorite being his cameo in A Civil Action (“Oh. Cornell. Well…that’s a…good school.”)
Heston occupied an iconic space that was weirdly similar to that of John Wayne, but with an important difference. Although Wayne the actor eventually became lost in Wayne the icon, at the various points along his career you could tell that he was a fantastically talented performer; his Ethan Edwards is one of the finest creations in American cinema, and I even quite like his performance in The Shootist. Heston the icon emerged very early, but Heston the talented actor… not so much. Some of his performances (Touch of Evil, Planet of the Apes) are quite memorable, but not really because I thought that there was any great acting appearing on screen. My favorite Heston, oddly enough, is his turn as Long John Silver in the 1990 TV version of Treasure Island, which I honestly think is the best film version of the novel. Loomis is mildly less charitable.
His politics are well known; he walked the familiar path from left to right between the 1950s and 1980s, although he ended up in rather a unique place.
Didn’t see the ceremony. Glad to see No Country win Best Picture; it wasn’t my very favorite picture of the year, but as I said last year it’s again the best movie to win Best Picture since Annie Hall, and the class this year was unusually strong.
To the extent that Wasserman points to the wingnuts’ winning the abortion rhetoric war, he’s right. This is something I have complained about before, and will continue to complain about. For a long time, we on the “pro-choice” side bought into the “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” rhetoric. It was a mistake (as Lakoff has argued). We’ve started to try to undo that (reproductive justice, anti-choice, etc.). But we still haven’t figured out the appropriate moniker for the hyperventilating hypocrites on the other side, and we still haven’t been able to move any but the most mindful toward this new way of speaking. Juno and Knocked Up are just one symptom of this.
A quite different film that I’ve recently enjoyed re-seeing and studying is “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) from George Lucas’ “Star Wars” saga. The climactic light-saber duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the volcano planet of Mustafar (with footage of actual explosions and lava flows at Mount Etna in Sicily) is nearly mystically sublime in the High Romantic sense. The convulsive, manly passion between the two tortured Jedi is hyper-sustained by John Williams’ powerful music. Then there’s Anakin’s shocking mutilation and Wagnerian immolation, leading to the grisly Frankenstein surgery that turns him into Darth Vader and that is cross-cut with a parallel hospital sequence, as Anakin’s wife, Padme, dies while giving birth to the twins Luke and Leia.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say. To paraphrase Hugh St. John Alastair Parkfield, I’ve attempted to enjoy this passage on a personal level, on an ironic level, as a novelty, as camp, as kitsch, as cautionary example… nothing works. And just to seal the deal, the film she was discussing just previous to Revenge of the Sith was The Sorrow and the Pity.