Friday, November 02, 2007

Now Playing: Save Darfur, and Rock the Casbah

Darfur Now - Did yesterday's 20:07 give you a hankering to see more documentaries? And also, are you primed to save the world? I was embarrassed how hazy my specific knowledge of the Darfur genocide really was, so I went to see this year's other Darfur documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback during its late-summer theatrical run. That film grossed a whopping $122,521 and never played more than seven screens at a time, but it did debut on DVD this week, which may or may not be coincidental to the arrival of Darfur Now in three theaters in NYC and LA (with plenty of urban expansions planned for the next two weeks). The documentary follows six stories whereby a range of people—Darfur natives Hejewa Adam and Sheik Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, UCLA student Adam Sterling, actor Don Cheadle, international prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, and World Food Program officer Pablo Recaldo—as they learn about and grapple with the unfolding horror in the region. The possibility of progressive action, even on an individual basis, is a major theme here: Sterling, only 24 years old, drafts a bill that is eventually signed into California law, etc. I can't vouch for the movie yet, but let's get informed, follow some of the links and suggestions that the film and its website provide, and take whatever educated, active stances we can against the continuation of this global outrage.

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten - Should I stay on this political-soapbox tip or should I go see something a little more punk, namely this documentary on the recently deceased frontman of the Clash? What I mean is, should I stay or should I go? It's the beauty of movies, at least in major markets. You can do both.

American Gangster - In yesterday's IMDb poll, this movie emerged as by far the most anticipated November release, which was a little hard for me to get, because the trailer looks all right but doesn't bowl me over. Denzel's "They tried to kill my WIFE!" moment seems as ill-advised as Reese's "Just tell me he's okAAAAAYYYY!!!" situation. And look how well that one turned out. Still, we are talking about Denzel + Russell + Ridley + Jay-Z, with some Harris Savides thrown in for the film nerds, some Cuba Gooding for the Boat Trip fans, and some Buffalo Bill for the serial killers, who may or may not also be the Boat Trip fans. The point is, this movie has much for everyone. It's even got Fab 5 Freddy! And if you've spent the last twelve years chairing all the meetings for your local Virtuosity fan club, your Day has truly Come, my friend. (Seriously, the reviews are encouraging.)

Bee Movie - A regular bee has two compound eyes, meaning they see hundreds of images simultaneously with their eyes wide open, to say nothing of the three smaller ocelli or mini-eyes in the middles of their heads. That's 2 x (factor of several hundred) + 3 more eyes = at least 500 eyes. Which is funny – and you knew where I was going with this – because Somebody Who Must Not Be Named But Who Gives Her Voice To This Movie has zero eyes! Apparently Shark Tale didn't give a sister a sufficiently memorable experience of what it's like to bee on board a schticky and tacky-looking animated movie about sassy animals. That zzzzz sound you hear isn't the bees, honey. It's me, at home, not seeing Bee Movie. But feel free to correct me if I'm missing an actual party.

Martian Child - Now, I'm not even playing: somebody in Hollywood is trying to kill me. How many times have I seen this trailer, and how many times have I asked, "WHY??" I did learn, to my astonishment, that the spookily pale and severe-looking kid whom John Cusack adopts from inside a cardboard box is actually not played by the spookily pale and severe-looking kid from the Ring movies. (Seriously, can I get a witness?) Presumably, the same alcoholic at New Line who green-lighted Hoot and Shoot 'Em Up and The Last Mimzy and Tenacious D and How to Eat Fried Worms is the culprit behind this latest. I bet the popular kids who shepherded The Golden Compass and Hairspray and The Lord of the Rings totally ostracize this poor Martian Child exec in the New Line cafeteria. I bet even the bookish and venal Little Children team might give him the big brush-off—adding insult to injury by repeating their rejections in needless voiceover. I feel sad for the Martian Child exec, but sadder for us. Because even while buying a ticket for a different movie, looking up and seeing the showtimes for something like this and remembering that it even exists adds that razor edge of degradation, that nauseating brush with the uncanny, to an otherwise happy night at the movies.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead finally rolls into my neck of the woods, and I am all, all, all excited. By contrast, Wristcutters: A Love Story, despite some good notices and Indie Spirit nominations last year, just can't get me to sign on. I think the title is trying too hard. Plus, Patrick Fugit has never appealed to me, and speaking of The Ring, Shannyn Sossamon has been getting her Samara on at all the premieres. So, I'm out. But the movie does expand to 91 screens this weekend, so with whatever time you've got left after saving Darfur and calling London and running from the bee bombardment of DreamWorks advertising, you can sneak this in and report back to the rest of us.


Anonymous said...

No offense, but I don't see how you can't understand why AG is the most Anticipated release of November. Regardless of your personal feelings, most people could care less about what critics say (Which is good IMO)this just looks like a commercial film. It's getting similar reviews as 3:10 to Yuma. Not raves but good.

I mean I hope you're not surprised that I am Legend will probably be the most anticipated release of December. That one is pretty obvious.

NicksFlickPicks said...

You're right to make me clarify this. It's not that I don't see the commercial hooks behind American Gangster. But the trailer doesn't differentiate it that much from a lotta other Denzel vehicles that kind of come and go without anyone getting too excited. Even more than that, I'm surprised that the studios haven't drummed up enough good will toward any of their Thanksgiving releases for American Gangster to have some competition as the month's biggest ticket.

Same with 3:10 to Yuma: the fall's biggest hit until The Game Plan came along, and lots of reasons for big crowds to like it, but it was still a mid-grade performer at the box office when all is said and done, and you never hear anybody rave about how much they just LOVED it. And I bet I Am Legend will turn out about the same. It's not a knock on the films so much as an observation that they feel like the kind of silver- and bronze-medalist movies that usually do respectably well in the shadow of some huge blockbuster gorilla that steals most of the thunder. But this fall and winter just haven't had any juggernauts like that, and I don't see any coming.

Anonymous said...

I honestly think that I Am Legend will be a big blockbuster. I mean it's Will Smith ( Whoda thunk a film like Pursuit would make as much as it did).The R-rating might calm it down a little.

The Golden Compass-Then again that other kids fantasy movie did poorly ( The Seeker is Rising or Something).

I personally hope Enchanted is a big hit.

Sweeney Todd- Johnny Depp and his fangirls ( I like Johnny too, but I'm just saying). They don't seem to be marketing it as a musical.

Overall,I think I Am Legend will win the competition in Fall/Winter

Anonymous said...

i have seen the film and nat you are 100% right denzel's "they tried to kill my wife " scene and his line delivery and body language just seem ill at ease,it is obvious he is acting you can almost imagine him rehearsiong it,i do not think he got a handle on his character,never once even when he shoots someone in the head in broad daylight in a crowd does he seem remotely terrifying or intimidating,it seemed like a "movie scene" for the films sake,crowe is ok but def not oscar worthy and neither is the film,it is not the departed!!!!!

what is it with people and reese w in rendition and "that" line i saw the film and thought she was great.

Anonymous said...

is reese really that bad in rendition.


anon 2:09 --why on earth would it be good for people to ignore critics? So that they never have to be challenged to actually think about their reactions to the cinema?

Have you ever stopped to compare the annual critical rankings for a given year to the box office results?

I mean consider this year alone

top ten box office
7 300

top critics (using rotten tomatoes -100 or more reviews only)

it baffles my mind that people can't see the use of critics. even if you like the entire top ten list of what the public will let marketing drive them to (and why is it better to be subject to multi-million dollar ad campaigns as opposed to informed opinions?) you have to at least see the value of critics: I don't love all 10 of the critical choices but that's a pretty impressive list of movies that people would actually probably like if they went to see them.

PIPER said...

I'm cringing. Cringing, I say about Martian Child. Mostly because my wife has decided that the whole family is going to see this tonight and I have not read one good word on it. But the popcorn tonight will be fantastic.

I will say that American Gangster looks interesting, but doesn't look like new territory to me so I'm not really excited about it.

Anonymous said...

The critics also bashed Marie-Antoinette. Art is subjective and it depends on the individuals. I don't let the "critics" make up my mind about what I want to see. For example lots of critic's bashed Tyler Perry's latest effort. I personally thought while not great it is definitely his best pic to date. I tend to agree with those who say that the so-called critics who are mostly White don't understand the Black audience.

I also thought the Departed was overrated and I enjoyed American Gangster. I also found that Crowe was weaker than Denzel in the movie. That is MY opinion.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only one who thought the Departed was critics are saying that Denzel is better than Crowe. I'll see when I see the movie.

I'm not big on critics either to be honest. Some tend to be very biased. The only opinion that matter is MINE.

Anonymous said...

neither are at theoir best ruby dee has one great scene near the end of the film,denzel just does not know the character or how to paly him,crowe seems a bit 1 dimensional,there is not a lot of arc to his role but i would say he is the better of the 2 but neither will come within a whiff of a nom,imo.

Jason Adams said...

I don't know what it is about American Gangster, but I haven't mustered up a single itoa of interest in seeing it. Ever. That trailer - specifically the moment you point out, Nick, with Denzel's delivery therein - sealed the deal that it's an avoid-at-all-costs flick. I wish Ridley Scott would make something worth seeing again. He hasn't made a good movie in 16 years. I've all but given up on him. Hard to believe that I still feel any sort of devotion to him because of Alien and Blade Runner.

I thought Reese was good in Rendition; taking that scream out of context for the previews was a terrible move on the part of the marketing dept.; it's not at all indicative of her perf.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I've been cool about American Gangster (as is probably clear), but since I do care what critics think, the reviews are making me a little more excited. Plus, the other fall movie toward which I felt similarly apathetic leading up to its release was Lust, Caution, and I loved that one. So I'm trying to learn from my mistakes.

About Reese in Rendition: JA said it best. The isolation of that moment seems bizarre in the trailer, less so in the movie. If anything, I think she does the best work of all the principal actors (including the non-white performers whom the studio refuses to promote, even though their parts are as large as Reese's and Jake's and much larger than those of Meryl Streep and barely-there Alan Arkin). Still, given the weakness of the script and direction, and what I felt to be the tentativeness of all the performances as a result, being "best in show" among this bunch doesn't count for nearly as much as it should have.

Anonymous said...

The Departed was definitely NOT Scorsese's best. It wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't his best.

I think that like Nat said the critics can be useful. I also think that they inhibit less bias than everyday people ( only because they are trained to, not that I don't see some biased reviews of films sometimes).

Everyday people just don't like some actors, directors etc. So when they see a film of an actor that they don't like. They will automatically trash the actor and the movie.

Big Example, American Gangster. The Denzel fans say he is the best ( the critics for the most part agree). The Crowe fans or the Denzel haters say Crowe is the best. Not all everyday people are like this and some critics tend to inhibit this type attitude in their reviews. So I would rather read the critics reviews and decide for myself after I watch the film.

Since most of the reviews seem to be singling out Denzel. I would say that he may get nominated, but he won't win.

Here's why: The Academy is undoing past wrongs by including diversity ( I'm Black, so I hope I'm not offending anyone by saying this)
Every year (lately) there seems to be a few minorities (in terms of race)in the mix. This year what do we have? Lust, Caution, AG,Things & Javier Bardem ( I know he is a Spanish European, so he may or may not count).

Lust, Caution didn't get stellar reviews and I don't hear much about the actors in particular.

Things-Halle can forget it. Benicio was better , but B.O wasn't favorable.

AG-The reviews are better than Lust, Caution & Lars.It may be a B.O hit. So at this point Denzel is the only minority that seems to be headed towards a nomination.He won't win because the reviews aren't stellar and he just won 6 years ago.

If you say no, then look at last year. Will Smith, Djimon (SP?) Adrianna & Rinko ( Jhud was pretty obvious). Not many people had Djimon down in their predictions. Some had Rinko and Adriana.

So Denzel is their likely Choice and I won't be surprised if Ruby Dee and actors from Lust Caution get noms.

Talk to Me ( It really annoys me that this movie got the same type of reviews as a Mighty Heart, but no one cares about it) was a nice film. Don Cheadle may play a factor, but he is depending on the DVD's at this point. Taraji P. Henson could be in the running for BSA ( she was awesome in the film) & it is a weak category.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Critics is not that most of them are White ( that is just a reflection of the problem). The problem with critics is that most of them come from the same type of background. Birds of a feather flock together. People from different backgrounds have different tastes. A lot of minorities are from Urban areas and their experiences are different from a White person in the suburbs. So when most of the critics are White people from the suburbs a film like Atonement WILL have glorious reviews, while a Tyler Perry Film won't. Another example is Becoming Jane now the average person from the suburbs didnt think it was that great. Now people are saying that movie sucked and can't explain why. Seems like most people follow the general consensus and that is the consensus of a White person from the suburbs.It's NOT a fact that one film is better than the other, but that is the genral consensus.

If we had more equal representation of critics ( as in are posted on RT and Metacritic) from different backgrounds. Then we will have a more accurate idea of what the general consensus is on a film.

Even then most of the time the White Suburb person will be the one teaching the individuals from different backgrounds, then that person will follow suit.

I love movies, but the whole Academy Awards things in general is a whole bunch of BS. It is not fac,t it is based on a bunch of opinions and politics. So I could care less about who gets nominated or who wins.

Anonymous said...

Anon- I guess that would explain why The French or Italian ( I forgot which one) critics didn't care for Atonement?

Anonymous said...

Spiderman 3 was certified Fresh and got better reviews than a LOT of these so-called Oscar movies.

That is all.

Anonymous said...

on this whole "value of critics" debate, i just want to point out that by having reasoned discussion about the artistic (as opposed to the commercial) value of films, we are filling the role of critics. Even if you don't agree with what the critics specifically say, saying you "could[n't] care less" what critics say kind of negates your own ability to judge films artistically. the point is it's important to have the space for and assumption of discourse available, which the continuing influence of critics accomplishes. and if it's just the specific critics whom you're dissing, you should try to influence who does the criticism, or even become a critic yourself.

Anonymous said...

The reason why people won't see ( or talk) about Talk to Me is because it is a film about Black people and most of the actors are Black. If they did more promotion in the Urban areas more people would see it.

Same reason why some people ( the arsty types)are not interested in American Gangster this is based on the life of a Black man ( It is not like the Godfather or Scarface). These same artsy type of people are the same people who would go flock and see the Departed ( A REMAKE OF A SUPERIOR FILM). Talking about treading new territory. hah.People really amaze me.

As for critics everyone is a critic, but critics can only tell you what THEY like artistically.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Well, this is one of those comment streams that isn't at all what I expected. Is this the time or the place for me to say that I saw The Departed and Talk to Me in the theater, loved the first (yes, more than Infernal Affairs), really liked the second (especially the acting and the sound mixing and the editing), never saw Scarface, and I'm still not that psyched about American Gangster, even though I'm planning to go see it?

Assuming that critics, or black audiences, or white audiences, or anybody is "bound" to like one movie or another—or attempting to psychologize likes or dislikes based on identity categories—always seems pretty iffy and pretty dangerous to me. Attaching identity labels to a given movie is hard, too. American Gangster is written and produced by white Americans and directed by a white Brit, with a black American and a white Aussie in the leads.

I think a lot of the comments above make for thought-provoking reading, but I'm worried about generalizing too much about what "critics" or "artsy" types or "black people" or anybody always likes or always does or always avoids. Generalizations can start taking on lives of their own, even when the evidence in front of us suggests that people are pretty unpredictable in what they like or don't. (Maybe a little more predictable in what they choose or don't choose to see, but less so on this blog than in a general moviegoing public, I think. Lotta omnivores around here.)

As for the critics question, I think Anon250 makes an interesting point about most critics sharing a similar background and that more diversity of viewpoints would be great for film culture. At the same time, it's a hard thing when education and a deeper sense of film history and aesthetics get written off as elitism or a monolithic background. I'm not saying anyone's doing that here, but it's impossible not to sound like a snob if I say that I do think a "critic" needs to have more than a precise sense of one's own opinions and point of view: namely, some specific knowledge and training with a wide variety of film styles and genres and periods. I agree that this training shouldn't separate the popular from the rarefied, and yes, certain race and class and gender and national biases sure do pop up when you start looking at textbooks and "greatest film" lists, and at less official ways of "studying" film (including what's available at a given neighborhood theater or rental store).

At the same time, I think it's too easy to say "everyone is a critic" or to diminish the collective point of view of critics. I look at the sky every day and flush a lot of toilets, but I'm not a weatherman or a plumber. I know what food tastes good to me and what music appeals to me, but I don't actually know anything about food or music. I have a strong sense of my own political views, but I don't get to call myself a politician or a wonk. I'm willing to call myself a film critic because I've studied film for a long time from a lot of different people and a huge variety of angles. I'm not saying that makes me or any critic right all the time, and I think good critics love debating and being counter-argued or out-argued, but the point is still that criticism and argument are about more than taste. It's too bad that so many popular film critics, even/especially in major media, do go mostly on taste and surface impressions, because I think that only reinforces a negative and trivializing view of who critics are and what they're supposed to be doing.

Anonymous said...

I see what you are saying Nick, but the thing is art is subjective there is NO WAY to objectively say one film is better than the other. Sure people may value a critics opinion moreso than some average joe off the street, but Art isn't math or science. It is SUBJECTIVE and I personally don't value an Opinion of Roger Ebert moreso than I value my Father's opinion ( who loves movies, but didn't go to film school).

It's like saying Blue is better than Red. There's now way to prove that it is NOT a fact or anything. The only thing you can say is that you LIKED blue better than red. I do agree it is dangerous to put lables on certain types or groups of people that leads to stereotypes. I don't care what school ANY labeled critic went to in order to study film it is ALL SUBJECTIVE and depends on the individual.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the spelling error typing fast.

Anonymous said...


At the same time, it's a hard thing when education and a deeper sense of film history and aesthetics get written off as elitism or a monolithic background.

A lot of this is taught from a European point of view at MOST schools. I do think that it has a LOT to do with the way that critics view film. There just needs to be more variety and more teachers of different backgrounds with different methods. Just look at the list of top 100 films of history. "Gone With the Wind" while I can say that Vivien Leigh gave a great performance the film itself (IMO) has a major flaw. Slaves were happy to be slaves. lol. It just isn't the realistic image that I was taught in History ( Yes I was taught by Whites, Blacks and Asians that includes authors of textbooks). About 20 other films on the list are not of my liking either. This is an issue of many forms of art not just films. I especially have an issue with the books that are considered classics.

Critics can be useful in providing you with insight to films, but at the end of the day it is up to you to decide. To be honest, I've met people who have never read a review of any movie a day in their life and they can provide just as much insight as the critics can. I do think they are useful, but more of a variety would be even more useful.

All this talk about critics and the subjectivity of art makes the Oscars look

I just saw AG and I enjoyed it immensely. I personally thought Denzel and Russell Crowe were fine. I thought it was more like a character study than a Gangster movie. Stop with the comparisons to the Departed they have very little in common.

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Anon132: Fair enough, but doesn't it seem reductive to say that the most one can argue on a film's behalf is that you "liked" it or "disliked" it, on the model of red vs. blue? Can't a knowledgeable critic make an argument about technique, detail, specific aspects of craft or creativity, specific influences on style, etc., that somebody else can't. Please understand that I'm not for silencing ANYBODY about movies, nor do I think critics are by any means the only source of legit commentary, nor do I think the point of criticism is to be "right" or "wrong." I think criticism is the art of detailed and contextualized commentary. Many times, I don't want to read (or be) a critic when what I really want is to talk with friends about why I liked or didn't like a movie; I'm sure we all do this. But that's not the same as criticism.

An admiring critical appraisal doesn't necessitate the writer "like" the movie. (I don't like The Rules of the Game or Rashomon even though I admire them and understand their crucial achievements in the context of film as art.) A strong piece of criticism is never going to be "right" or "wrong," and it's never the point to be irreproachable. But I do think it's a skill that is different from taste.

I think it's worth noting that this argument usually plays out differently re: movies than it does in the context of other arts. It doesn't seem as snobbish to suggest that a trained art critic can observe and articulate more about a sculpture or a painting than most casual gallery cruisers, or that a trained music critic can pick apart a classical score in a way that those of us who only know how to listen can do. But movies are such a gloriously popular art form that it really feels delicate and rude to suggest that a trained critic can argue or observe things in a movie that many casual filmgoers can't. (To reiterate, this isn't an argument against casual filmgoers or against other ways of talking and arguing about movies—I just won't concede that every way of talking about tastes and critical responses all amount to the same thing.)

@Nicole: Your points about GWTW in particular and about the Eurocentric slant of (let's face it) nearly every aspect of higher education are impossible to argue with; I wouldn't want to. However, to take higher education seriously, can we acknowledge that the publicity machine of an AFI Top 100 list has nothing to do with what goes on in an academic film studies course, or a syllabus, or a filmmaking workshop? No one loves a movie list more than I do, and I obsess about patently silly things like the Oscars and the AFI lists as much as anyone, I'm sure.... but again, while I wouldn't trade these modes of discourse for the world, I also don't think they have much if anything to do with actual criticism as I'm trying to define it. And as blatantly racist as GWTW is, it also needs to be said that a critic writing about that film would need to engage with more than just its subject matter, performances, and political overtones. There's almost four hours of shots and edits and sound and sequence arrangements still waiting to be addressed!

Anonymous said...

Can't a knowledgeable critic make an argument about technique, detail, specific aspects of craft or creativity, specific influences on style, etc., that somebody else can't.

Actually, anyone who watches a lot of movies can do that. My Father can. All of that is still subjective anywho. I'm not trying to be mean. I actually find this discussion interesting.

Anonymous said...

I mean seriously my father can tell you about editing , style ,cinematography,tone etc. all of it. Never studied film a day in his life he's just old and watches a lot of movies.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say that there is some objectivity in music. You either hit the note or you didn't ( as far as vocals and instruments). Now whether you like the arrangement of a song or the lyrics or production etc. is based on opinion. There really isn't any sort of objectivity in film ( at least not that I can think of). I guess if you read the script and there are grammatical errors. You can say one film is longer than the other lol. Okay I'm being silly now.

Anonymous said...

"American Gangster" was excellent, and I hope it's nominated for best picture. It's a great film that deserved its huge opening box office results.

And the "They tried to kill my wife" line wasn't that big of a deal in the film, though Denzel played it fine and with ease. It's not as histrionic as it seems in the trailer when it's in its proper context.