I have never pictured Jack Aubrey as looking even vaguely like Charlton Heston, but apparently Patrick O’Brian did. I suppose that I might be more open minded about that possibility if I hadn’t seen Master and Commander before reading the first Aubrey-Maturin novel; the film obviously has its failings, but in general they concern the Maturin character (which is a completely and utterly different animal in the film than in the books), and the related issue of Aubrey being just a trifle too clever. Physically and in mannerism, though, I thought Crowe captured Aubrey almost perfectly. Even Crowe’s performance in Gladiator isn’t particularly Heston-esque, and his turn as Jack Aubrey just didn’t remind me at all of Heston.
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.
- Self-Styled Siren on Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (and the number of great movies still unavailable on Region 1 DVD).
- Michael Wood on David Lean.
- Glen Kenney on Bresson.
- 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.”)
Redbeard writes in an e-mail:
The F-22 is all over Iron Man. Probably gets as much screen time as the Audi driven by Tony Stark. Wonder if that will get Congress to buy a bunch of them.
I don’t know; the F-22 also got tooled pretty badly by a dude in a homemade metal suit. If I were Congress I’d just buy the suit….
Old Man Heston has passed away.
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.
Rest in peace.
But, just in case, Howard Wasserman at Prawfsblog has an interesting post up about the change in the portrayal of abortion in popular films, and how this change echoes the anti-abortion/forced pregnancy movement’s expanded control over the social conversation about abortion.
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.