Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Right Way to Like a Movie

With the release date of Christopher Nolan's Inception fast approaching, the time has apparently come to fight about him again. The last time this happened was in 2008, when The Dark Knight was released, to howls of both approval and derision. It is not my intention to rehash, or recap, or re-ignite that particular internet-only foofaraw, and even if it was, I've already been beaten to the punch.
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On July 5th, David Poland wrote a piece on his blog that bore the typically, for Poland, breathless headline "The Inception of Rage". What it had to do with was, see, Poland hasn't seen Inception yet. He could have gone to a screening the previous Friday, but he chose, instead, to kick it with some friends, because unlike some people he has his priorities in order. Which I'd say is fair enough, but the trouble begins when he talks about all the critics who did go to that screening, and the wave of very positive reactions to Inception began rolling in. Poland describes his reaction to that positivity, and the ensuing rage-filled battle that was waged on Twitter, like so:

I tweeted... "I'm sure that Inception will be THE studio movie for adults this summer... but when everyone starts drooling like this, I get nervous."

And thus, the anger began.

I don't know what it is about critics and film writers who are now critics because every fucking person who ever had an opinion about a movie is now a critic, a misnomer that includes professional journalists who have not developed the rhetorical skills to process much more than "yea" or "nay." (And believe me, plenty of veteran crix want to hang that same weight around my neck.) Thinner skin than Larry King's literal skin.

I'm not prejudging. I'm not setting up a backlash. I'm not making a personal attack or attacks.

It's really simple. When EVERYONE agrees... that which they agree on is almost always suspect. It's true of EVERYONE being negative or positive.

What Poland implies this is all about is the moronic fury that crept into any discussion of The Dark Knight two years ago. It's absolutely true that certain fans of that movie, when faced with a dissenting opinion, went plain bugfuck, hurling insults and even making threats, in various comments threads around the web. But what that in turn led to was the perception that everyone who liked the movie was the same kind of repressed fanboy, and that, by extension, nobody could be trusted who expressed enthusiasm for Nolan's Inception.

Poland later writes:

And when i read a handful of reviews and they were written with florid language that would, as Mel Brooks might write, outdo a $20 whore, my alarm bell went off a bit. As I wrote in one of my own tweets, "I would love EVERYONE to be right... EVERYONE almost never is."

But we'll see how I feel when I see the film.

That last line is mighty big of him. But my goodness. He'd love everyone to be right, but everyone almost never is? Meaning what? That he will decide, finally, the true quality of Inception? So everyone, go ahead and read those positive reviews, but don't make too much of them, because Poland hasn't spoken yet. (And if you think that is a self-serving quote from Poland, check out what he has to say in the comments section. If they weren't out of this post's focus, I'd quote from them liberally. Suffice it to say, he's quite sure that he's the one good cop in a bad town.)

Skepticism is a highly prized attitude these days, and its opposite, enthusiasm, is just as highly maligned. If you're really looking forward to a certain film, and even if you've seen it and really like it, then something might be off with you -- so the reasoning seems to be. And Christopher Nolan, and his admirers (of which, Gentle Reader, I am one!) is the current whipping boy for this attitude. Never mind the glowing reviews of The Dark Knight from the likes of Manohla Dargis and Andrew Sarris -- only nerds could really like that movie. It's a nice movie, it's a fun time, but anyone taking it seriously simply does not understand movies (or, perhaps, le cinema). Also never mind that out of six films -- not counting Inception -- only two of Nolan's films could realistically be categorized as action films, because, I've learned, the most damning, and, apparently, really the only sayable statement one can make about Nolan is that he can't direct action.

The point of all this defensive rambling, I suppose, is that the backlash against Inception has apparently started already, with record speed: before anybody except a handful of critics have even been able to see the thing. And according to Poland, because they all liked it with varying degrees of enthusiasm, it's probably not that good. Not bad, Poland is quick to point out -- he expects to like it! He even said so! It's just that a large number of positive reviews means the movie he thinks he's going to like will probably be bad. But only a little bit bad. But still bad. And I guess my question is: why Nolan? Why is a guy who, at least as often as not, tries to bring his own original concepts to the screen, and who, for a summer tentpole guy, is pretty bracingly dark (I mean, The Prestige?? Come on!), and, in just a broad sense, has a unique sensibility that is basically otherwise completely absent from big-budget spectacle movies, hitting this kind of critical brick wall?

Not that he's feeling any kind of pinch. He's rich, he gets to make the kinds of movies he wants to make, and it's hardly as though respect for his work is entirely absent. But as a fan myself, I will admit that I do not like the attitude that now flows through any discussion of his movies, the one that implies that Nolan and Michael Bay might as well swap faces for a year, and by the way that Avatar was something else, wasn't it?

Yes, I expect to like Inception. Or, rather, I very much hope to. And for that, I humbly beg your forgiveness.


The Collection Project Film of the Day:

Nolan’s breakout film was his second, Memento. I watched it again a few months ago, and was struck by a couple of things. One is how dark it goes, how horrible are the implications of its big reveal. My surprise over this has to do with the fact that I simply hadn’t remembered where the film ended up, in the years following my first viewing (I was also mildly surprised by its patient, occasionally to a fault, pacing). And it occurs to me now that where Memento ends up is not actually all that different from the ending of The Prestige – think about what Memento reveals about how Leonard (Guy Pearce) has been spending the time since the accident that robbed him of his short-term memory, and then consider what we learn about Hugh Jackman’s desperate magician in that final shot of The Prestige, and it will be no surprise that Nolan was drawn to adapt, in the case of the latter film, Christopher Priest’s novel.

The other thing that struck me about Memento – and what follows should prove to you that, like David Poland, I practically ooze integrity – was that I was finally able to pin down what bugs me about the film. The premise – a story of a man with no short-term memory hunting the man who murdered his wife, told (and this part is actually incidental to my point) in reverse – is practically begging to be picked apart, and what most people have settled on is “How is this guy able to remember his own condition?” In other words, if he has no short-term memory, how is he able – absent of any medical care, or any friends or family to remind him – to remember that he has no short-term memory? This, however, never bothered me. Leonard’s ability to recall the past memory (a false one, as it turns out, but still) of a man he dealt with through his job, who had a similar condition, paired with the obsessive notes (and tattoos) about his investigation, solved that problem well enough for me. No, my problem (which does tie into the above) is with his attitude. Every time Leonard’s brain restarts, all he has to do his look at himself in the mirror, read the tattoos, check his notes, and his back on the trail. Realistically, since he can’t make new memories, shouldn’t he look in the mirror, think “What the fuck??”, and sit on the bed while his brain tries to process what the hell is going on? The tattoo about the other short-term memory patient probably wouldn’t even be noticed half the time (it’s sort of small), because he’d be too overwhelmed by everything else thundering through his brain. And this consciousness reboot is supposed to happen every twenty minutes or so. How is he supposed to regroup in enough time to figure out what’s going on, what he’s doing, and still make it to the diner in time to meet Carrie Ann Moss?

So that’s my beef with Memento. I’m still carrying water for Christopher (Chris?), however.

50 comments:

Denise Bettis said...

I read it. :)

bill r. said...

And you are...?

Anthony said...

Great article.

The whole "I'd like everyone to be right (EVERYONE!) but that rarely happens" is a kind of "read my review, folks!" dig (which you pointed out) but also a truism that applies to everything: common, popular opinion is rarely right. Which is to bad. Cause a lot of people believe a lot of very nice things.

I think, were I writing this review-of-review, I'd mention that at most, this is a sort of bland assessment of the power we-who-more-or-less-live-on-the-internet wield these days: so high numbers of opinion versus, too often, consensus of those opinionators.

I read his article and took that phrase to be more: let's all talk about this movie, once we've all seen it, rather than jump on another bandwagon.

Again: that's fair, but not very incisive.

Ryan Kelly said...

Wow. That's incredibly arrogant. I'm no fan of The Dark Knight, but would never suggest that all its admirers are immature, juvenile, and inarticulate. Like they're suckers, like Poland seems to be implying any fan of Inception is. Just as no one should suggest that anyone who dislikes it is doing so to get attention or anything like that. It's about the quality of the argument, not the argument itself. That being said, even though I'm not the biggest Nolan fan, I'm really looking forward to Inception.

My problem with Memento isn't so much the leaps in logic that its concept forces you to take - similar criticisms could be made of many very good movies - but that I can't see beyond the storytelling concept. I'm not saying that it's told backwards is all there is to it, but I've struggled to find substance because I can't see beyond the gimmick. Have you watched the chronological edit available as an easter egg by any chance? That really intrigues me, and may help me see the movie differently.

bill r. said...

Anthony, I think you're being awfully generous with Poland here. While it makes perfect sense to take a wait-and-see attitude about pretty much everything, the idea that a variety of critical sources agreeing on a film's quality makes him suspicious is just being willfully aloof, and betrays the possibility that Poland doesn't actually expect to like the film, and might, in fact, hope he doesn't.

Plus, really, check out that comments section. The guy's on an ego trip there that would make Jeffrey Wells blush.

Ryan - Poland never comes out and says that about DARK KNIGHT fans, but it's more than strongly implied by the fact that he's essentially saying "Uh oh, we got another DARK KNIGHT thing brewing!" It's just obnoxious. Poland's lukewarm reaction to that film really bothers me not one whit. What bothers me is the idea that anyone who liked the movie a lot must not be trusted when it comes to INCEPTION.

As for MEMENTO - which, by the way, I do like overall - I never really saw it as only a gimmick. I mean, Guy Pearce is really good in it, and the film takes its own (strange use of time) to deal with him and his method of existing. The film is too often too quiet for it to play to me as just a gimmick.

Having said that, no, I haven't seen the chronological version. I'm very curious. I used to wonder if it would play too choppy, but really, one scene does connect to the other, merged by individual shots and specific moments, so, I wonder...

Kevin J. Olson said...

This is really interesting, Bill, and hell, I'll take a stab at figuring this whole anti-Nolan thing.

You ask:

why Nolan? Why is a guy who, at least as often as not, tries to bring his own original concepts to the screen, and who, for a summer tentpole guy, is pretty bracingly dark (I mean, The Prestige?? Come on!), and, in just a broad sense, has a unique sensibility that is basically otherwise completely absent from big-budget spectacle movies, hitting this kind of critical brick wall?

Welllll, I think part of it is that, much like Aronofsky, he has kind of been adopted as the spokesperson for the generation of filmmgoers who think that the IMDB top 150 (or whatever it is) is the best barometer for how good a movie is. And I'm not just being a cynical bastard here.

Four years ago I was a senior in college (I was a few years older than my peers since I took some time off of school after high school), and a lot of the "kids" in some of my Lit classes would talk about how films like CHILDREN OF MEN and THE FOUNTAIN were "the best movies they've ever seen". And I guess that's where some of the backlash starts from hardcore cinephiles.

Nolan's films, especially THE DARK KNIGHT, is no different than some of these other commercially arty films like the aforementioned films; they're films that the masses who are not stupid enough to pay money for TRANSFORMERS, but not well versed enough in film to seek out something better than what's playing at the multiplex (and that's not to say that there can't be great films at multiplexes). There's this kind of haired-trigger hyperbole that plagues that ilk of filmgoer, and I think it irks a lot of people because they don't reason out their reactions to these films, they simply claim how rad it is, and that's enough.

Now, that's a good start, and we should cut SOME of these people some slack as there are worse movies they could be so avidly defending, for these people as maybe the films of Nolan -- who you point does make some pretty dark material for a commercial filmmaker -- will usher them in to something better, something that will give them a sense of what cinema evolved from.

Anyway, that's the best I can explain it: it's a culture of people out there, mostly young (20 - 26) filmgoers, who think that these are the only examples of what great cinema is. They're born out of a culture that is increasingly disinterested in reasoning, critical thinking, and well articulated arguments -- which are being replaced by status updates and tweets. And when you grow up in a culture that limits you to 140 characters, you're not going to fine tune your craft of reviewing a film. Everything is going to be what boils down to a soundbite.

It's sad, because I don't think Nolan deserves the backlash. He's trying his hardest. I personally don't think he's anything TOO special, but I also won't begrudge those who are excited about his latest project. It's an inevitability with each subsequent film that people will be excited for something from the director of THE DARK KNIGHT. People should deal with it and worry about how they feel about the film.

Neil Sarver said...

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this...

I've really enjoyed all of Nolan's movies leading up to The Dark Knight. Frankly, I was greatly disappointed by The Dark Knight, but I think I liked more than I disliked overall.

But there was something about it... Man, it turned even people who aren't usually heavy movie partisans into Internet jerks, even in my day to day interactions with otherwise normal people. Somehow it was like suggesting it was flawed in some ways, it was like I peed on their holy book.

So as much as I'm trying to resist the urge, I'm finding it difficult to look at Inception through eyes uncolored by that experience.

For whatever it's worth, their actions probably had the opposite of their intended effect. I suspect a decent percentage of reasonable debates and I would have been interested in returning to The Dark Knight, seeing how it played in my living room, but I feel now like it's pretty unlikely I'll revisit for a very long time, if at all.

Greg said...

I've seen Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige and The Dark Knight and except for Batman Begins didn't like any of them. I'm saying this because I didn't like them based on the fact that none of them really did anything for me and all felt a little on the dull-to-average side. Except for The Prestige, which I felt was a crushing disappointment, his films have left me feeling very blaise on the whole. In other words, even though you and I are on opposite ends of the like/dislike Nolan bar, I find no reason why this director should cause much of a stir at all.

Now, if his movies were awful I could see getting annoyed that they might get good reviews. If they were great I might get annoyed that they had negative backlashes. But, for me, they're neither, so I don't get it. I think he's a director who has a lot of skill and some talent and that's a hell of a lot more than the 90 percent of directors out there with zero skill and zero talent. He's a good, solid director who has made some good, solid efforts, just none that I've found to land on the side of excellence.

Except maybe Batman Begins which I felt was one of the best comic book movies I'd seen in a while. And speaking of which, did anyone ever notice that Batman Begins also got many positive reviews, like The Dark Knight, but didn't cause any fervor. Why is that? What was it about The Dark Knight that caused people to go apeshit?

Roderick Heath said...

I'll settle for being blunt: I don't like Nolan's films, and I'm not looking forward to Inception. Moving right along...

Ryan Kelly said...

Why no love for Following? It's awesome. I don't even really like anything he's made since too much (I like but don't love Memento and Batman Begins, don't like The Prestige and The Dark Knight, but Following is really special.

bill r. said...

Kevin - But who ARE these people who claim that THE DARK KNIGHT is the greatest film ever made, but don't know anything else about movies? I've never met one of these people? According to myth and rumor, they exist, but I've never spoken to one. Of course it's ridiculous to claim DK is the best movie ever made (as a beside the point kind of statement, I do not understand how THE FOUNTAIN counts as being somehow similar to DK, or how it's commercial in any way, other than that it has Hugh Jackman in it), but while some people did go nuts regarding dissenting viewpoints on DK, in a particularly internet-y sort of way, I have never encountered the kind of person you describe.

they're films that the masses who are not stupid enough to pay money for TRANSFORMERS, but not well versed enough in film to seek out something better than what's playing at the multiplex

Sorry, but that's pretty condescending. This is the kind of broad generalization that bugged me so much about the Poland piece, and it implies that only a certain kind of middlebrow filmgoer could love Nolan's films. That's not true.

Neil -

Man, it turned even people who aren't usually heavy movie partisans into Internet jerks, even in my day to day interactions with otherwise normal people

It sure did, but why does everyone only remember the pro-DK assholes, and not the anti-DK assholes? Because brother, they were out there. The idea that only those in the pro camp had the capacity to lose their shit and speak ill of the other side is, well, false.

I also don't really get what that has to do with Nolan's films. He didn't log in at HOUSE NEXT DOOR and call Keith Uhlich a faggot.

Greg - Fair enough. I know you're not a fan, and I'm not trying to argue anybody around to my opinion of Nolan. I mean, I don't know what else to say to your comment -- you're not a fan of Nolan, so you're not interested in INCEPTION, but you're not being two-faced about it, not trying to have it both ways, like Poland.

And I don't know what caused people to go apeshit over DK, as opposed to BATMAN BEGINS. I think, honestly, I liked the two films about equally, and with BEGINS, it seemed like people were just all happy to have a new, good Batman movie. And then DARK KNIGHT came out, and there was blood in the streets.

Rod - See above, under entry for "Greg".

Ryan - I actually didn't really care for FOLLOWING.

bill r. said...

PS - Anybody else noticing how bad Blogger sucks lately?

Greg said...

PS - Anybody else noticing how bad Blogger sucks lately?

Well, it's serving somewhere around 100 million blogs for free so... but, yeah, I have noticed all the glitches lately.

Kevin - But who ARE these people who claim that THE DARK KNIGHT is the greatest film ever made, but don't know anything else about movies? I've never met one of these people? According to myth and rumor, they exist, but I've never spoken to one.

Not to answer for Kevin but they're there on IMDB. They're the ones who give it a ten and (if you're registered with IMDB and can follow the chat) you'll find many comments saying, yes, it's the greatest film ever made. You'll also find writers like that one that Jim Emerson linked to back then (cannot remember who) who wrote that it was not only a gamechanger (you know, like Avatar and whatever blockbuster comes out next year) but one of the most important films ever released.

I haven't met them either, but they're clearly there. However, they are also there for just about any big blockbuster (almost every big blockbuster has someone on IMDB calling it the greatest film ever made), it's just that The Dark Knight, for whatever reason, had them coming out in droves.

And to answer my own question about why TDK got all the fervor while Batman Begins didn't is because, I think, TDK had an attempted profundity to its script about political ethics and wiretapping and so on that could and did cause fans to do that whole "wow, this movie is really about something" schtick where the misperception is always that the subject matter makes the movie. You know, Ghandhi is better than Jaws because it's about Ghandhi and the other one's about a stupid shark. That kind of thing. As Roger Ebert never tires of saying, "it's not what the movie's about, it's how it's about it."

Ed Howard said...

It's the Armond White syndrome: if everyone says the sky is blue, it must actually be purple, and only Armond White (or David Poland) is smart enough and perceptive enough to notice. I get it, taking a contrarian stance gets viewers, but at least Armond has the decency to see the movie (I assume, anyway) before he throws out his half-assed opinions.

Anyway, I think Nolan is a solid filmmaker, I like Memento, I like both Batman movies, which are really good, reasonably smart superhero adaptations, and I'm looking forward to Inception. Even when I don't like his films — The Prestige is kind of a mess and Insomnia was just unnecessary in relation to the original film — I appreciate that he approaches mainstream blockbusters with such obvious thought and intelligence, all too rare qualities at the multiplex. The corrolary to that is that he inspires such virulent reactions on both sides in part because he occupies such a privileged place in relation to the mainstream, so on one side you get these hyperbolic pronouncements that he's the savior of cinema, and on the other you get the people who say that he's the cinematic antichrist. Neither's anywhere near true.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

I can't really blame Poland, either for his skepticism or for his prejudging. On the latter: Once you've hated a film by a director, you're naturally going to be suspicious of other films by said director. And on the former, once you've hated a film by a director that lots of other people loved, you're naturally going to figure that people loving another movie by the director doesn't have much to do with you.

And yeah, I imagine he is feeling burned by the fanboy madness around The Dark Knight. The sheer ferocity swirling around such a mediocre-to-poor movie (Ledger was great, but the direction was just terrible) can leave one thinking of Nolan the way a lot of people think about Godard: the adoration he gets has nothing to do with his movies, so to hell with him and his movies. I'm not saying such an attitude is right, but it's understandable, especially from someone who's been on the receiving end of dumbass fanboy rage.

I don't even think Poland is being particularly arrogant (by movie-critic standards)---just saying that he didn't like previous Nolan films, and isn't expecting to like this one, and the love it's getting from other people who liked films he didn't like isn't doing much to impress him. I mean, yes, there's an inherent arrogance in proclaiming one's taste to the world, but geez, isn't that what any film writer does?

bill r. said...

But see, guys, here's my point: does nobody really see a similar mindset, flipped around, among a certain segment of those who disliked DARK KNIGHT and Nolan in general? You really don't see that? The attitude that people who liked the film do not understand films, cannot express themselves well, and so forth? You've never encountered it? And if you have, why don't they get singled out, as well?

As for Poland -- Fuzzy, there is an immense arrogance in saying something like "EVERYBODY is usually wrong", as it implies YOU are usually right. It also sets up an objective right/wrong premise regarding opinions on film.

Tony Dayoub said...

First thing, I don't have much love for Poland, but I think you really have to dig deep into Poland's post to find anything offensive. I mean, dude admits his own failings in saying he blew off the preview screening so he's not declaring he's coming from an authoratative position. He's just kind of being a gossip. Who in this comment thread hasn't done that before? Except you, Greg.

Second, for better or worse, flawed films or not, it's pretty hard to deny Nolan, along with Aronofsky, Cuaron, Fincher, and maybe someone else I'm leaving out, are the best directors of their generation the American studio system has to offer. So naturally, people kind of get excited about the film. One can argue about whether mass entertainment is really considered art and what not. But you know, the same was argued about Hitchcock and the audience won out over the critics that time. Same thing's happening with Spielberg lo these many years later.

I had many problems with TDK, agreeing with most of Jim Emerson's well reasoned criticisms pretty much across the board. I especially thought the third act was a mess. Still... I loved it. It didn't make my end-of-year list that year, but it just missed it. It finally captured the tone of the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams/Dick Giordano Batman I grew up reading in the seventies.

A major part of its power is not inherently part of the movie proper but its pop culture component. The timing of the film's release post-Ledger's death played a big part. His haunting performance was another part. The current popularity of superhero movies and Nolan's attempt to break from those conventions with a large-scale feel and plenty of location shooting (even defying expectations by simply leaving the word BATMAN out of the title) like the last superhero film I loved this much, Donner's SUPERMAN, played a role as well.

Some movies have glaring flaws, like weak dialogue, incoherent allegorical non-sequiturs, weak acting, but they are still important films. The fact TDK got even grandmas to park their butts in theater seats in a time when most people wait for the DVD says something about it. We may not like how it's saying the film is important, but nonetheless, it is.

I didn't like STAR WARS much even when I saw it in its opening week. But 33 years later, despite its trite script, people accept its importance from a cultural context. I have no doubt TDK will go through the same rehab over the next thirty years also.

PS: Bill, if you really like MEMENTO, a film I made the mistake of dismissing when it first came out, you must see the chronological edit. It reveals Nolan as much smarter than he's given credit for. The film would have made for a nasty little noir even had he not used the reverse chronology gimmick.

Tony Dayoub said...
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Tony Dayoub said...
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bill r. said...

Tony - Poland says this about skipping the screening:

I skipped the Friday screening because I had plans with friends from out of town and was already scheduled to see it this Wednesday and the studio warned me that reviews would land today and well, I'd rather not know how anyone else feels about it, but I was not going to abandon friends so I could join in a clusterfuck of reviews released like it was a national moment of celebration.

I have no problem with him skipping a screening to hang out with friends. It's how he presents it. He's already announcing that people are going to overrate INCEPTION, and that he wants no part of that nonsense. Without ever seeing the film. That's arrogant, plain and simple.

As for everything else you say, I pretty much agree with you. I still don't get how Aranofsky has been lumped into this -- he's only made one movie that could be called mainstream (THE WRESTLER), and that hardly broke the bank. But otherwise:

Nolan, along with Aronofsky, Cuaron, Fincher, and maybe someone else I'm leaving out, are the best directors of their generation the American studio system has to offer.

Yes. "Studio system" is the key phrase here, and I have a hard time understanding how anyone can deny that. Then again, that's their taste, so be it, I won't argue the point. But I also don't see why anyone getting excited about seeing INCEPTION is in any way suspicious. Guess what? I can't wait to see it. Sorry.

I do like MEMENTO, and I will check out that front-to-back version. The last time I watched it, I really thought the film would probably work pretty well that way.

bill r. said...

Ed - sorry, I missed your comment somehow. Anyway, yes, you said it all, more succinctly, and less defensively, than I did.

Except that THE PRESTIGE is brilliant.

Greg said...

But see, guys, here's my point: does nobody really see a similar mindset, flipped around, among a certain segment of those who disliked DARK KNIGHT and Nolan in general? You really don't see that? The attitude that people who liked the film do not understand films, cannot express themselves well, and so forth? You've never encountered it? And if you have, why don't they get singled out, as well?

I'm a little confused here. Isn't that what we're talking about? Aren't we all saying we have seen it, with Poland as the lead example? Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're saying there but to my mind that is exactly what we're all discussing right now.

As for The Prestige, I thought it was entertaining at times but my main problem with it was the failure, in my opinion, of the end. Magic is all about misdirection and sleight of hand and without warning, at the end, we're told this is a sci-fi movie instead of a mystery. If we're watching sci-fi and people are teleporting we accept it. If we're watching a Sherlock Holmes mystery (which would be around the same period) and suddenly, after having everything rooted in reality, learn that Moriarty teleported Watson to his death, well, that would be the kind of lazy cheat the Simpsons make fun of where, after writing everything into a corner, God comes down and says, "Oh yeah, he has the ability to teleport."

I just found the whole thing rather messy and unfocused. There are unnecessary non-linear sections that have no purpose outside of being non-linear, like directors who use ramping in action scenes to... use ramping. Had there been a tighter focus on the Hugh Jackman character in pursuit of his goal it may have succeeded but even in the end Nolan doesn't seem to want to show the audience the drowned doubles. He seems, very oddly, to do everything in his power to just barely give us a glimpse of one, kind of, like he was embarrassed of the ending. It's odd, irrational visual choices like that that turn people off from Nolan which is what Jim Emerson was doing with his video posts.

So, I'm not saying anyone has to agree with me that Nolan isn't great or that those who hate him have to admit as I do that he has talent, I'm just trying to explain what it is about him that does bug people. And if I had to boil it down to one thing, it, in fact, would be that he consistently makes visual choices that seem off. Like a chef with talent at preparing food but when he brings out the entree and it's steak with whipped cream on top you kind of scratch your head and say, "Well, the steak's great and all but you do understand Chef Nolan that the whipped cream goes on the dessert, right?" And then he furrows his brow and you realize, "Oh shit, he doesn't." In other words, he's got talent and skill but maybe not as many natural instincts as other directors.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Bill:

I didn't mean for the tone to come off condescending. I was speaking specifically to a section of people who hype up Nolan's film, and they do exist where I'm from: They're not a broad generalization because I've encountered them in bars and coffee shops, and I've heard them talk about how shit the Coen's are, but how great and artistic THE DARK KNIGHT is.

Look, people can have their opinions, I'm not railing against that, and I don't care if others liked Nolan's film (I liked it too, and didn't think it was nearly as problematic as Keith Ulrich or Jim Emerson), I didn't mean to suggest that only one kind of person could like his films.

What I was trying to get at was that there is this culture/generations of younger filmgoers that see Nolan and some of his contemporaries as THE artists of their generation. I was only invoking Aronofosky and his film as another example of the type of film this culture/generation clings to: art exercises disguised as message movies.

Now, a lot of the time I've had conversations with people who can reasonably explain why it was they liked the movie and what parts made it so great; however, there are times when all a person will say when I tell them that I can't stand THE FOUNTAIN is that I don't "get it", usually followed by some form of insult about my lack of intelligence in my ability to understand the meaning of the film.

This was the same kind of ad hominum attacks that were happening when THE DARK KNIGHT came out, and even though I liked the film, the community of zealots defending it on message boards almost made me dislike it.

I think INCEPTION looks pretty neat from the trailer, and I think it's kind of damn impressive that said trailers haven't really spoiled what the movie is about (woo hoo, some sense of mystery heading into a movie!), and I'm looking forward to the conversation about the movie after it has been released. Because then we will see if all of this is still a comic book/Batman thing or a Chris Nolan thing.

Fuck, I don't know if that helped explain anything. It's too damn hot here in Oregon. This is Oregon, come on, I live here so I don't have to deal with hot weather.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Oh, and yes, Blogger has been been horrible lately.

Tony Dayoub said...

Magic is all about misdirection and sleight of hand and without warning, at the end, we're told this is a sci-fi movie instead of a mystery. If we're watching sci-fi and people are teleporting we accept it. If we're watching a Sherlock Holmes mystery (which would be around the same period) and suddenly, after having everything rooted in reality, learn that Moriarty teleported Watson to his death, well, that would be the kind of lazy cheat the Simpsons make fun of where, after writing everything into a corner, God comes down and says, "Oh yeah, he has the ability to teleport."

...in the end Nolan doesn't seem to want to show the audience the drowned doubles. He seems, very oddly, to do everything in his power to just barely give us a glimpse of one, kind of, like he was embarrassed of the ending.


First, I don't feel like THE PRESTIGE's ending is a cheat because he clearly shows that Bowie's Tesla is experimenting with teleportation, the duplicate hats, etc. So it's not like this comes out of nowhere.

But you are getting at something with your reference to embarrassment. Nolan knows too much on the technical side to be as dumb as you suggest (see Emerson's recent post where he puts up a video with the BBC's Mark Kermode to understand what I mean). I often feel like Nolan is purposely trying to be oblique in order to complicate the story because he bristles at the fact that he is so popular. In other words, he is consciously being "arty" so as not to be accused of being "commercial," which is an insecurity. Own it. I like your movies, you don't have to be deliberately obscure to get me to respect you.

The last shot in THE PRESTIGE is a great example of this, Greg. Nolan wants to leave the audience shaking their heads a bit in order to get them to ask, "Does that mean what I think it means?" But it comes off as confusing rather than profound.

In a way, this is what I allude to when I say to Bill that one must see the chronological edit of MEMENTO to truly grasp how smart he is. Sure, MEMENTO's gimmick works the way it is. But the chrono-edit is a great, nasty noir, that in my mind is even more damning of Guy Pearce's antihero in a way which recalls old school film noir. The reverse-edit mitigates that sentiment considerably, making him feel more like a misguided hero. In editing it this way, I think he sacrifices the emotional honesty of the piece in an attempt to muck it up for the sake of being "arty."

While I sound a little pointedly critical above, I do like Nolan and his films. I just feel this is an inhibition he has to let go of in order to fully realize his potential.

Greg said...

About The Prestige, I think Ebert says it better than I do so I'll just use one of his passages:

What you will learn in the movie is, I believe, a disappointment -- nothing but a trick about a trick. With a sinking heart, I realized that "The Prestige" had jumped the rails, and that rules we thought were in place no longer applied.

In the end, this is I think a personal argument either you take one side or the other. I feel it was a cheat. As to the visuals, I don't agree with you there, I think his instincts are off. Which leads me to:

Nolan knows too much on the technical side to be as dumb as you suggest...

Whoa, no, wait! I'm not saying he's dumb, I'm saying he has talent and skill but many times visually his instincts aren't there. The chef in my example made a great steak, he knows what he's doing in the kitchen, it's his presentation that's off. That's a far cry from dumb. I'm saying he's talented in one area, not so much in the other.

Greg said...

I don't agree with you there, I think his instincts are off.

I should elaborate a bit more. I don't actually disagree with what you said, I do think he is trying to be "arty" at times, but that is one of the ways I'm saying his instincts are off and betray him.

bill r. said...

Greg - Sorry, yes, you've said it, and I'm probably unfairly jumbling too many comments together (for some dumb reason, I didn't think I'd get so much traffic on this post, and I can't keep up with it today). It does feel to me as though many of the comments have weighed towards marveling at the vitriol from DK offenders at the time, and not the other side, which is the only side I ever see anymore. But yes, you're right, you haven't been part of that. Will you -- can you -- forgive me?

Kevin - I see where you're coming from. I admit again that I'm a bit defensive on this topic, because I've felt the DK backlash from people who I thought knew me better than that, and that if I liked the film, even if they didn't agree with me, then maybe I had a sound reason.

For the record, I have read those comments, at HOUSE NEXT DOOR and so on, myself, and they are depressing. I just wish there were more acknowledgment that this was hardly the only kind of defense the film received.

Also, I'm going to stay clear of the PRESTIGE debate, because some time I want to do a full-on post on that film, and I don't want to give it away for free here! I mean, come on! But you guys have at it.

Greg said...

Will you -- can you -- forgive me?

No. Okay, yes.

Also, I'm going to stay clear of the PRESTIGE debate, because some time I want to do a full-on post on that film, and I don't want to give it away for free here! I mean, come on! But you guys have at it.

You should do a post on it and incorporate how brilliant Tony and I are into it, somehow. As such, I will comment no further on it to keep my ideas hidden from view as well. In fact, forget everything you read! I never said it!

Tony Dayoub said...

Greg concedes, and so does Bill. So even though we agree on many points, I win! Last man standing wins!

No, really... we'll table this discussion till Bill has a chance to think of something smart to say about the film... hurm... I mean...

Greg said...

What film? See! I'm totally with this whole thing.

Bryce Wilson said...

Bill I'm launching a Nolan Blogothon on Sunday, would it be alright if I linked this?

Steven Santos said...

As someone who thought both sides of the Dark Knight "debate" behaved rather poorly, I appreciated that someone wrote about this. While there were plenty of rabid fans on the internet who resorted to name-calling and threats, if you read most of the dissenting reviews, many of them resorted to personal insults and generalizations about the movie's supporters in place of actual arguments. Try to read any of the pro and con reviews of "Dark Knight". Hardly any of them presented much in the way of arguments.

I have been dreading the debate over "Inception" for months because, much like "The Dark Knight", I think everyone will fight over what the movie represents rather than genuinely discussing what the movie actually is. That the debate has already started with one side characterizing the other with false assumptions is not a good start.

Re: "The Prestige". It's the one movie Nolan has made I cannot get into at all. I think the central twists (the doubles) just got a bit silly. And the way Nolan tries to shift sympathies between both characters does not work when I lost any sympathy for anyone about halfway through the film.

bill r. said...

Bryce - You certainly may. I'm sorry I didn't notice you were doing this sooner, I might have done more. Although, I guess I still can.

Steven - Thank you. That's been my exact experience, hence my frustration over too few people noticing that there were actually two sides to this nonsense. For various reasons, I'm not going to be reading any reviews of INCEPTION (although I should point out that Poland has now seen and reviewed the film, and while I only skimmed it, and the comments, it would seem that he liked it pretty well), because I just will not got drawn into this again. I just want to see the movie, write it up, or not (depending on my mood), and let the movie be the movie.

Incidentally, all this dissent against THE PRESTIGE is really surprising to me, especially from other Nolan fans. I thought almost everyone liked it.

Bryce Wilson said...

@Bill: Many thanks. And yeah, it starts Sunday and ends Saturday, so you've got plenty of time.

Anything you could do would be fantastic.

Jason Bellamy said...

Bellamy Rambles, Part I...

Can I take a moment to say that this, right here, is why my movie-watching life is so much richer thanks to the blogosphere. First there's Bill's post, and then there's sustained intelligent debate that evolves, touching on multiple issues, but always stays close enough to the original topic that you can go back to it at any time. I'd saved reading this post for when I had time, and I'm sorry to have missed an opportunity to join the ongoing discussion at its peak. But I got the benefit of reading all these smart analyses. Good job, all.

OK, so let me jump in ...

First thing I was going to do was to remind folks about Bryce's Nolan Nolan blogathon, which is here now. I was hoping to contribute to it but won't have the time this week, so I hope others will use it as an opportunity to explore some of their Nolan thoughts in greater detail.

Second ...

A smaller point: For what it's worth, I thought The Prestige was a letdown, too. And then I watched it again. It's one of those movies where knowing how/where it ends makes it all the richer, in part because it allows you to appreciate the way Nolan lays the groundwork, and in part because it allows the "mystery" to fade to the background a bit and let the themes come forward. I'm not proclaiming it great, but I think it's worth a second look.

Jason Bellamy said...

Bellamy Rambles, Part II ...

Third ...

Steven and others have touched on some of this, but I think The Dark Knight chaos was related to several things in about this order ...

1) Batman Begins was, among fans, hugely popular, reviving a much beloved franchise that thanks to Joel Schumacher was almost better left forgotten. This created anticipation.

2) Everyone knew Begins was somewhat of an appetizer, a stage setter for the arrival of Joker. This increased the anticipation.

3) Prior to his death, photos of Ledger's Joker circulated around the Web, indicating the dark interpretation that was to come. This further increased the anticipation.

4) We cannot ignore that Batman is comic-related and that comic-related films have rabid fan-bases that include (but are not entirely made up of) younger people who are well connected via the Internet. A biopic of, say, Julia Child doesn't have a target audience that spends as much time engaging with one another online, so The Dark Knight was set up to explode in our modern coliseum of controversy: the Web.

5) Ledger dies, making The Dark Knight a societal curiosity, a must-see even for people without interest in the franchise.

6) HUGE MARKETING CAMPAIGN.

** Please notice that none of the above has much of anything to do with Nolan specifically, other than the fact that he'd made a film that had given people hope about the rebooting of the Batman franchise. **

Jason Bellamy said...

Bellamy Rambles, Part III (fucking free Blogger) ...

7) The movie comes out to almost universal praise, which only highlights the dissenters. The first wave of chaos, in my memory, was all related to reviewers who dared to dislike the film. And this backlash was notable for two reasons: 1) Some of the "fans" ripping the negative reviews HADN'T SEEN THE MOVIE. This rankled critics, understandably, and made the backlash news in and of itself, increasing the friction. 2) The common theme of those ripping the dissenting critics was the charge that they must have an agenda, which would seem perfectly preposterous and a sign of just how moronic the dialogue around art can be these days ... EXCEPT to anyone who has ever read Armond White. Point is, those ripping the likes of Uhlich were being childish (and I'm not even talking about the attempted slurs) but their charges weren't entirely unfounded in the broader picture, because there DO seem to be critics who try to make a name for themselves by standing out, and so to some degree the so-called fanboys had a reason to be suspicious of the dissenters, just like we often feel suspicious of universal praise or negativity. (I'm not endorsing this, just trying to understand it.)

8) In my opinion, it was only after the initial, general firestorm when the debate centered on the issue of symbolism. And what was special about that symbolism? Well, it had something to do with, at that time, a very unpopular president amidst a very unpopular war. And that has to do with politics. And so the possibly politically minded Dark Knight came out in a time when Americans were as politically engaged (which isn't to say informed) as they have been in my lifetime (I'm 33).

9) In addition we saw things like Emerson's great, thoughtful series about his objections to Nolan, which I agreed with in large part even though in a few cases he seemed to be saying there was a right and wrong way to make a movie, and even though I like The Dark Knight, in spite of its faults. The Emerson stuff was significant because it furthered the debate, and did so in a way that kind of rubbed some of the film's supporters' noses in the dirt. (And I'm describing effect there, not Emerson's intent.)

All of the above is my interpretation of what made The Dark Knight an unusual case, a kind of perfect storm of controversy, if you forgive the cliche. And while some of that has to do with Nolan, I think for the most part it was isolated to discussion of The Dark Knight specifically and to issues that Nolan had an effect on but that, so often, weren't really focused on Nolan.

None of this is to disagree with the idea that Nolan's films have inspired debate (making a backwards-moving film helps). But I'm still not sure I've come across a lot of comprehensive analyses of Nolan, other than general observations like the fact that he doesn't know how to shoot action in a comprehendible way. So I'm not really sure that Nolan is the key ingredient in the controversy surrounding several of his films.

Jason Bellamy said...

Bellamy Rambles, Part IV, The Search for Spock ...

Before I go, I just wanted to highlight a comment from Greg ...

... the misperception is always that the subject matter makes the movie. You know, Ghandhi is better than Jaws because it's about Ghandhi and the other one's about a stupid shark. That kind of thing. As Roger Ebert never tires of saying, "it's not what the movie's about, it's how it's about it."

I think Greg is on to some thing here. At the same time, I believe Ebert goes against his maxim all the time. I think we all do. I think it's difficult not to.

I'm not going to ramble here or to cite examples (because this is one of those cases where I could cite 100 examples that support this argument and just as easily cite 100 that oppose it). I'm just going to say that, broadly speaking, I think most of us tend to place a higher value on films that we think have greater weight or depth. So, to use Greg's example, if you make a movie about a shark it's gotta be really fucking good, or else it's hardly worth talking about. I just think we all have a natural tendency to ascribe added value to movies with greater meaning if for no other reason than they tend to give us more to talk about. And meaning is often tied directly to subject matter, sometimes unavoidably. Greg's example is perfect: It would be almost impossible to make a Ghandi movie without meaning. To remove the meaning, would be to remove the thing that makes Ghandi worth making a movie about. On the other hand, it would be very easy to make a movie about a shark that had little meaning, as those Jaws sequels proved.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with Greg and Ebert: The subject matter should not make the movie. And yet often it plays a much bigger role than many of us would probably like to admit.

Jason Bellamy said...

Bellamy Rambles, Part V - Fuck It, I'm On a Role, When Am I Going to Get Co-Author Credit at this Blog?

Here's an idea that's been running through my mind for the past year, but I've never dedicated the time to thinking it all the way through. Maybe someone else can run with it.

In the above, comments by Kevin and Tony (I think), touch on Nolan's place within his generation and, just as significant, the place of Nolan's movies within a certain generation. That is, there's a generation of people who are being exposed to Nolan (or Aronofsky or whoever ...) long before they are exposed to other filmmakers, even not so distant ones like Early Spielberg, for example.

My thought is this ...

I wonder if many of us, say those at the end of the Baby Boom generation and through Generation X, are at a significant tipping point in terms of cinema history. Many of us came of age in the advent of home theaters ... BETA, VHS, DVD, OnDemand, Blu-ray. We are the first "generation" that could easily go back and watch films that came before our time. And the technology inspired some otherwise lost films to be revived. We are of an age where it's still somewhat reasonable to trace cinema back to its beginning, because we naturally grew up with certain films, didn't have to go far back for a renaissance with others, and that left not so much history before that to dive into and come to understand on a fairly knowledgable level.

I've got two (half) brothers who are 13 and 18 years younger. The older of the two has grown up on Nolan. He's having the reaction to many of his films that some people of my age group had to Tarantino. And what I'm wondering is if it's realistic for him to ever appreciate the waves of cinema to the degree that I think I could. (Not to imply I've got it all figured out. I don't. I have huge blindspots. I just think I have a distinct advantage over younger generations.)

Anyway, what I wonder is if somehow this will lead to some divide where future generations will grab on to the films of their era even more tightly than I feel like people of my generation grab on to films of our era. That is, for the most part, I feel like savvy film fans my age don't feel like the best, most innovative films were made in the 80s or 90s when we were growing up, but the 60s or 70s. And I somehow doubt that younger generations will feel about the 60s or 70s the way we do, and I doubt that the 80s or 90s will take their place (which might say more about the films, I admit).

These are rough ideas, gut feelings that something is now or is about to be different, that we're at some kind of tipping point. Not sure if this strikes anyone has interesting or trite (or maybe it's just incoherent). Anyway, there's the end of my ramble.

Tony Dayoub said...

Way to hog the comment thread, Bellamy.

About your theory, I believe the big difference between my generation (I'm 38) and today's generation actually stems from the opposite of what you propose. Yes, we were the first generation to have easy access to films of the past through, cable, home video, and what have you. But we were also the last generation to have limited choices before the explosion of the video age.

Here's what I mean. I grew up with a television landscape which consisted of exactly 3 network channels (no FOX) and 4 local channels. Sometimes, I had no choice but to watch those old, B&W movies I considered so yucky as a kid. But you know what, it broadened my horizons through such points of reference like the Creature Feature's Universal Monsters, Godzilla Theatre, the Little Rascals, the Late, Late Movie, and other venues which ran films I just wouldn't have necessarily have chosen for myself at that age if I hadn't been forced to out of necessity to avoid from being bored. I discovered I liked a lot of stuff which would be off the beaten path for today's kids.

What do you have today? Narrowcasting. Channels with no scope beyond that oftheir target demographic. The Cartoon Network, MTV, CNBC, even a network channel with supposedly broader based appeal have a strongly defined identity now based on their respective constituencies: FOX aims for a hipper Midwestern audience with AMERICAN IDOL, etc.; CBS goes for the older folks with their police procedurals, CSI, NCIS, etc.

The other major difference between my generation and theirs is the utter disappearance of any movies which aren't pre-sold in some way. This one is arguable because the "Age of Sequels" began back when I was a kid, and my childhood is littered with them. But even then, their was more diversity and risk in the alternative mainstream studio fare than there is now. Look around at the cineplex now, and try to find five movies which aren't sequels, remakes, adaptations of novels, video games, etc. Even auteurs are pre-sold. Nolan is "the director of THE DARK KNIGHT." Aronofsky's films are "from the director of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM." Maybe this second line of reasoning is a little more tenuous than the first, but I think that combined with the former, there is something to it.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Jason says:


I've got two (half) brothers who are 13 and 18 years younger. The older of the two has grown up on Nolan. He's having the reaction to many of his films that some people of my age group had to Tarantino. And what I'm wondering is if it's realistic for him to ever appreciate the waves of cinema to the degree that I think I could. (Not to imply I've got it all figured out. I don't. I have huge blindspots. I just think I have a distinct advantage over younger generations.)


Yup. I think the comparison to Tarantino is apt. Although I would argue that Tarantino's film's encourage the viewer to look back at the film's being referenced, and to seek those films out, too. While I don't think Nolan is too concerned about that. However, you're right in that I am one of those people who will slavishly look forward to something by Tarantino, no matter what the film is about. I suppose that's what this younger generation of filmgoers is doing with Nolan. So that's understandable.

Oh, and your comment makes me think about my initial comment, and I don't want it to seem that I know all of the answers in regards to cinema. There's still TONS of stuff, from famous/important filmmakers (Ozu or Godard), that I haven't seen. I'm not condemning them for not looking to the past, but it does seem curious that they're growing up as fans of film who are (perhaps, I don't want to generalize) thinking that the medium goes as far back as something a MEMENTO.

Okay, I may be stacking the deck there, but I agree with Jason and Tony that I find it weird that even early Spielberg isn't being explored by this generation of filmgoers.

Anyway...Jason and Tony said it better than I ever could...

Jason Bellamy said...

I love how I couldn't spell "Roll" correctly in the header of the previous post. Ah, typos. Without them, spellcheck would making writing too easy.

Tony: That's a great point about being 'forced' to see things beyond your hoped-for scope in the pre-cable days. In addition to the multiple channels, there's also YouTube. So much distraction. Anyway, we come to agree by thinking about it from different angles.

Kevin: I don't think you came off as if you were all-knowing on the subject, so no worries there. And I think you're right about the difference between Tarantino and Nolan. Of course I also know plenty of people who love QT movies who have neither spotted nor explored his influences. That's not a criticism, actually, it's a compliment. His films are often richer if you spot the influences, but they stand alone, too.

The other thing I wanted to bring up that's related to my last bit of rambling above ...

We've all been there when someone, let's call him Young Joe Moviegoer, says "X is a great movie," and we know that part of the reason is that Joe hasn't been exposed to much film. Perfect example from my own past: I saw the American version of The Vanishing before I knew an older version existed. I loved it. And because of that early love I still have a soft spot for it, even if I recognize (and agree) that the original is superior.

Point being, all of us have an attachment to our discoveries, even if later on we learn that the film that felt so new to us was really a retread, often even a tired or uninspired one.

So the other thing I wonder is ... The generation that grew up with 60s and 70s movies ... is it possible their taste and knowledge of film history is no better than the rest of us? Is it possible that they were lucky enough to be born in a time when film -- for a number of reasons -- happened to be going through a genuine renaissance?

If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, apply that logic, which repeatedly demonstrates that timing isn't everything, but is pretty close to it. So if you spin that out, against the other factors we've considered, maybe people from my younger brother's generation are being no more ignorant, no more closed-minded, no more narrowly focused when they celebrate Nolan than previous generations of moviegoers have been. But where as some of us lucked out to catch the wave of Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Star Wars or even Pulp Fiction, others have been born into Memento and The Dark Knight, in an era when it's harder than ever to be original.

This is a further tangent, but it's almost getting to the point where filmmakers might be best evaluated the way athletes are: against the peers of their own generation.

Adam Zanzie said...

Kevin's first comment was a masterpiece. Addressed the issue better than I possible could. I should know, after all... since I'm still in college and still study among those ill-educated "cinephiles" that Kevin talks about!

Kevin J. Olson said...

Jason:

You're right-on, man. Great comment.

Adam:

Thanks! I'm glad someone else in who is in college understands where I'm coming from.

David Poland said...

I haven't had time to read all the comments... was just sent here... but I am fascinated by how "what David Poland thinks" gets parsed in such detail by someone other than me.

Keeping it simple... we ALL get to decide what we think of each film we see. All opinion is valid, even if we disagree strongly.

It wasn't just that there were 100% positive reviews... it was the hyperbole in a number of them that led me to a generality... on Twitter... in 140 characters.

And I have to say... I never gave Dark Knight a single thought. None of this had shit-all to do with Nolan or his movies... aside from the comparisons to Kubrick being ignorant of both Kubrick's work and Nolan's.

But even the Kubrick thing, fought in other places, was turned into "they're saying Nolan is not worthy of a comparison to Kubrick." I can only speak for myself in saying that the Kubrick bar is high... but it is also about the kind of work he does. The comparison, for those who love Kubrick, is very specific and therefore, invalid.

I will try to get back and read more of this later...

bill r. said...

First of all, thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment.

Second:

but I was not going to abandon friends so I could join in a clusterfuck of reviews released like it was a national moment of celebration.

What you wrote here is very simple to understand. You made a very reasonable, and none-of-my-business choice to not ditch your friends. Fine. Why you bring it up, I don't understand at all, other than to get say that you KNEW the reviews were going to be hyperbolic, you'd already decided that, and you didn't want to associate yourself with that. That's an attempt to raise yourself above those who went to that screening and (hey, you predicted it!) loved the film.

Next:

And I have to say... I never gave Dark Knight a single thought. None of this had shit-all to do with Nolan or his movies... aside from the comparisons to Kubrick being ignorant of both Kubrick's work and Nolan's.

If you didn't give THE DARK KNIGHT a single thought, then how did you come to write this?

And I am pretty sure that the last time I walked into a fast-moving shit storm for questioning perfection was The Dark Knight.

Commercially, I was wrong about the film. I thought parents would think twice before taking the 10 year olds to see the murdering clown. They did not. (Even so, it's not like i thought it would flop.)

Aesthetically, I think I was dead on. It's beautifully made.... lots of great stuff... but the great intentions that The Nolans brought to it as screenwriters were not fulfilled. The Harvey Dent thing just didn't work at a level anywhere close to The Joker and The Joker's thing about choosing loses its focus (or nerve) a bit in the third act.

I am not the only one who feels this way about this film... but I seemed to be in a very small minority when the movie opened. And I was attacked - as people are on the web - as some sort of hater. I didn't hate The Dark Knight. I quite liked it... and never said or wrote otherwise. But I didn't think it was perfect... and that was some sort of New Media sin
.

That's a lot of words about DARK KNIGHT that you apparently were able to write without thinking about it at all. So I don't really know how to respond to your claim that it wasn't on your mind, other than to say, well, of course it was. You were setting up those early, glowing reviews of INCEPTION as the 2010 version of all the DARK KNIGHT bickering. You said it yourself, when you wondered when we last saw such a "shitstorm". Which term, by the way, tends to relate to something highly negative or unpleasant. So if the early INCEPTION reviews remind you of a "shitstorm", those reviews that were written before any of this stupid-ass fighting and insult-hurling even began, who exactly, in this instance, is playing the part of the angry DARK KNIGHT fans? Because it sure as hell ain't me.

David Poland said...

Thing is, Bill, the entry you are writing about was responding to a wave on Twitter that had already gone on.

Explaining why I didn't review on Monday or go to the screening was because I was already being accused of tweeting what I did because I was not part of the group.

Bringing up Dark Knight happened in that piece, long after the Twitter fight, and was a natural step from bringing up movies that had strong, one-sided responses. At that point, I was writing about the phenomenon, not about the movie or the specific event.

But no, when I was thinking about the reviews, I never once thought, "These Nolanites!" or "This is like The Dark Knight" or "We're we go again."

You know, I have been doing this for a fairly long time. I have been the first negative voice a studio hears from press many times. And I can't think of a time when I ended up being the only one.

And then there is the general geek rage I have seen when questioning the tone of marketing on movies like Kick-Ass or Watchmen.

I would love to have a long, real, public conversation with Jeremy and Drew and Devin and anyone else about the issue of how a wave can start. As I have written before... happens to the effete NY snobs and happens to geeks and happens to mid-brow folks and happens to guys like me. Everyone who is outside of the wave seems to be able to see it happen... including the guys who are so angry at me in this case.

Also...

"'EVERYBODY is usually wrong', as it implies YOU are usually right"

Uh, no. I may agree with EVERYBODY, as I do on Toy Story 3... or Avatar. It's not about me. It's about when the wave become monochromatic.

And finally... this perception that I HATED The Dark Knight is simply false. I wasn't disappointed by Nolan. I just thought he aimed high on both the visual and idea level and succeeded in the former and got lost in the latter. I said then, a longer film - two-parter - with more time to develop Two-Face, might have been The Godfather with effects.

Likewise on Inception. Good movie. But not the second coming, for me, as it falls short emotionally. Some people love the emotional content. And some HATE it.

Finally... not sure if you have noted my actual review or the piece about Edelstein being chased through the e-streets like Frankenstein for truly hating this movie. I think both add balance, as far as the issue of me and how I feel about all this.

I don't think there is a right way to like a movie. But before we get all high and mighty about judgment, perhaps we need to consider that, for instance, almost everyone judges junket people harshly, and almost everyone holds some critics above the rest. Judgment is not arrogance.

Take care...

David Poland said...

Sorry about the multiple posts... I got error messages and tried again and tried splitting the message in two. Please feel free to erase the extras.

bill r. said...

To begin:

Thing is, Bill, the entry you are writing about was responding to a wave on Twitter that had already gone on.

Explaining why I didn't review on Monday or go to the screening was because I was already being accused of tweeting what I did because I was not part of the group.


Okay, fair enough, but can’t you allow for the possibility that you sorta started that? You hadn’t seen the film at that point (I acknowledged your review in an earlier comment), and you’re already saying, in essence, that you’re suspicious of the judgment of those who had. You may not have intended this, but there are strong, and rather insulting (to those critics), implications in what you originally wrote that started that wave.

And, again, I don’t know what to make of your claim that you were not thinking about the DARK KNIGHT situation when you wrote this piece (not talking about your review, you understand), because YOU brought up that situation! I know, because, as I’ve pointed out, you called it a “shitstorm”, and mentioned “the last time this happened”, which doesn’t so much imply as outright state that we’re dealing with it again.

I also never once claimed that you hated DARK KNIGHT, nor would it matter to me if you did. The whole point of this is the early strike mentality, the suspicious condescension towards those who like Nolan and the need to call them on whatever it is you see is wrong with their early reactions. It’s all very strange, since you did like the movie, but I don’t understand how you can’t understand why people would take issue to what you wrote prior to seeing it. This is all becoming, and will no doubt continue to be, a very circular argument, because you can’t see in what you wrote anything to get annoyed about, and I can’t see how you can possibly miss it. But I do appreciate you stopping by and giving your side of things.

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