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15 January 2005

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James Russell

Regarding the post title: aren't all awards ultimately a letdown? Really, all they do is let people snipe about the fashion on display at the ceremony and piss and moan about what should've won the award instead. (Nice thing about living in Australia, parenthetically: the O

James Russell

As I was trying to say before I got cut off: the nice thing about living in Australia is that the Oscars happen during the afternoon, our time, so the results come through during the afternoon and we don't have to actually watch the ceremony to find out who won.

As for Huckabees

James Russell

ARGH. This is starting to piss me off now...

As for Huckabees, I didn't expect to love it as such, but most of the buzz surrounding the film (that I read anyway) was mostly positive and the concept struck me as a good one, so I did expect to like it more than I wound

James Russell

... up doing.

JESUS. What is up with the comments on this thing? *kicks Typepad*

Matt

Oh, Aaron! Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events was hands-down the best children's film -- containing one of the best and most misunderstood performances -- of the year!

But I admit that it's definitely one of my more esoteric favourites of the year and I can very quickly accept that it just doesn't float some people's boat -- likewise with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which I think is both a minor masterpiece of absurdity in the vein of Monty Python [though not on the same level, of course] and the best film to come out this Hollywood boy's club to date -- a club that consists of Ferrell, Vaugn, Stiller, the Wilson brothers and any combination thereof [Wes Anderson-directed pictures aside, of course].

I, uh, don't know why I brought that up.

Matt

I think the problem is yours, James, not Typepad's.

And, for the record, I almost never check the results online during the afternoon -- I always watch the ceremony, just because.

Dave Heaton

I do think we inevitably compare movies to what we expect of them - to me the generally negative reactions to "The Life Aquatic" (one of my favorite films of the year and one of Wes Anderson's best films) have everything to do with comparison...but I dont know if that's a bad thing. It just is. Sometimes I wish we could see more movies without any of the baggage that we take to our viewing, but in this day and age that's pretty impossible, especially for people who like to keep up with film news.

Take "Million Dollar Baby", for example - I'm resisting seeing that just because of the associations I already have with it, not just from articulate negative reviews but from Clint Eastwood's name on it as director. I already assumed it'd be heavy-handed before I even read a word about the plot, just based on his other films ("Unforgiven", "Mystic River", etc.)

And sure, we react more strongly against movies we expect to like, or movies that other people tell us we should like, than against movies that everyone accepts as 'dumb but entertaining' or whatever.

Aaron

Matt: I don't want to sound overly-harsh about Lemony Snickety -- I didn't hate it. However, I would disagree that it's such a great children's film. But this movie does present an interesting situation for me, especially in relation to "expectations."

Have you read the books upon which the movie is based? I have. And when I walked out of the theater, I had two reactions. (I wrote about this a bit before.) First, if one hasn't read the books, the movie is quite enjoyable. Personally, I don't think Jim Carrey's performance is misunderstood; I just think it's a bit too much. It's a recurring problem when a director doesn't reign in Carrey. The same thing happens with Robin Williams. The two of them are hypertalented -- unless a director places a firm grip on what they're doing, they take over, and distract from the movie.

But if one has read the books, I can't imagine not experiencing some degree of anger as to how Silberling and company basically mangled a wonderful series of child empowerment stories. Talking about adaptations is tricky because most people won't have read the books, and any movie, of course, needs to stand on its own. I'm not saying a filmmaker needs to be a slave to his/her source material. However, I found myself angry at how Silberling and screenwriter Robert Gordon diminished the soul of the story. In part, this is directly due to the presence of Carrey whose Count Olaf was more of a supporting character, while still being an ever-present villain, in the books.

The changes made in the adaptation didn't improve on the story that was being told, and actually detracted from giving these kids the credit they deserve for their own strength and ingenuity.

In the books, the adults continuously disregard what the children know to be true regardless of the evidence. An expression of adult arrogance , it is also a representation of the feeling every child has at times of being invisible in the midst of any important discussion. This recurs whenever Olaf shows up in disguise: the kids are always able to see through it in no time at all, but the adults won't listen. Mr. Poe, the executor the children's estate, embodies this characteristic most of all. He's the primary adult witness to all of Olaf's machinations, yet he still doesn't listen to the children.

Additionally, an entirely new element was added to the story -- that involving the spyglasses and the search for some huge conspiracy – which also gave the adults too much credit for having a clue, when really the point is that none of them do.

Obviously, if you haven't read the books, you can't know any of this, and the movie is fine. But going to the heart of my overall question regarding expectations and disappointment, I think even if the resulting film was fine, the filmmakers did a disservice to the source material, not because they changed things, but because they did so comparatively for the worst.

Eddy Faust

I think the "life" missing from Life Aquatic was probably due to Owen Wilson not working on the script. Apparently, bringing the "life" was his department. Of course, expectations play a role here as well. I thought Life Aquatic was a very good film, but like many, I was disappointed. After Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums (the latter being a "perfect film" in my opinion), a let down was inevitable. Bill Murray, per usual, was brilliant in Aquatic and he definitely held the movie together. Alas, the rest of the cast were underused in my opinion...although I got a kick that Cate Blanchett was still doing Hepburn (especially since I saw The Aviator only a few days before Life Aquatic).

House of Daggers is definitely a lesser film than Hero, mainly because unlike Hero, Daggers is merely a lesser Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although both Hero and Daggers suffer greatly from Zhang Yimou’s need to end all his films with woefully over-the-top, maudlin death scenes. Everyone MUST suffer, everyone MUST weep, and everyone MUST die. The Story of Qiu Ju was his only film that didn’t have a tear-drenched body count at its climax…and not coincidentally, it was his best film to date.

dvd

I think the only films I was honestly disappointed by this year might have been The Ladykillers and Alexander. In the case of the former, I had high hopes for a 'real' Coen Brothers film, not some faux-Coen effort like Intolerable Cruelty. It was not to be (they really need to stop writing these scripts for hire and then deciding to direct them themselves). With Alexander, I smelled disaster early on, but maintained some degree of hope that Stone's mania would be the glue holding all the bad wigs and accents together. No such luck. But even in these cases, my disappointment was not in any way crippling -- my expectations had already been lowered. On the other hand, the lackluster trailer for The Life Aquatic and a fear that Anderson was merely going to keep repeating himself left me wide open to be amazed by the film itself.

I've only read the first Lemony Snicket book, and while I thought Silberling did a decent job, I think a much better movie could have been made (particularly now that you've revealed, Aaron, that the spyglass element was a figment of the screenwriter's imagination -- that seemed so damned tidy). I don't see how Carrey's performance could be misunderstood -- it's a widely accepted fact that, without the benefit of a great director, he's a ham. The malevolence he showed when he wasn't hamming it up showed how great he could have been without his 'little additions' -- but alas, them cameras, they did roll on.

Matt

I've not read the books, Aaron; maybe I should before I discuss the film any further. I see where you're coming from. Certainly, to an uninitiated audience, the adults' stupidity, the children's ingenuity -- Hell, even Olaf's status as a supporting character -- all remain very much intact. One of the things that I thought was best about the movie, and the reason I call it a great children's film, was the fact that I never felt it was talking down to its audience at all -- the kids were equal to it; not below it; not lesser beings. Perhaps it would have been even more so if the film was more faithful to the source. Of course, I can't say, except to say that the elements you felt were missing were very much there for me.

And in regards to Carrey's performance being misunderstood, what I mean is that Carrey -- in this film more than any other -- and quite seperately from and with disregard for the plot [and that's probably what some of you have a problem with] -- is working like a madman to catalogue the infinite possibilities of the human body. Lemony Snicket's is not only a children's film, but a filmic document about the elasticity of one man's body. Mind you, I don't for a minute believe that it was consciously planned this way by actor or director! But that what I see when I watch the film.

Or maybe I'm just being a pretentious blow-hard.

dvd

"...a filmic document about the elasticity of one man's body."

Hasn't he provided many similar documents in, like, almost all of his 'popular' movies, and often to a greater extent than in this one? Anyway, I think we'd all agree that Carrey was far more exciting in a certain movie that's already received a great deal of digital ink in these pages.

On another subject: I suppose I was disappointed by Team America -- I wanted something really unequivocally vicious, not so gosh darned blue -- but I still thought it worked well enough, overall, and the craftsmanship was consistently impressive even when the humor was not. And there must be a movie that had better original songs this year, but for the life of me, I can't think of one.

I didn't even realize it was Golden Globes -eve until this morning, though. I don't think I've ever watched the ceremony -- it's time that could be better spent reading or watching a movie or something, since it lacks a.)the (bloated) spectacle and watercooler-value of the Oscars and b.) frequent irreverence of the Independent Spirit Awards.

Matt

"Hasn't he provided many similar documents in, like, almost all of his 'popular' movies, and often to a greater extent than in this one?"

Yes, but I'd argue over the "greater extent" bit.

And of course he was better in Eternal Sunshine. I'm just saying is all.

As for Team America, my God: blue is right -- the satire's aim was way, way off on that one.

David Hudson

Lemony Snicket opens here in Germany at the end of the month, and both of my kids want to see it, so there I'll be. I would have been kinda dreading it if Matt's enthusiasm hadn't intrigued me. I'm actually looking forward to it now.

But any dread I had before was all about Silberling, not Carrey. Carrey's one of those brilliant loose cannons the industry just hasn't figured out what to do with yet. I know I'm in wild disagreement with the cinetrix and Liz here, but there you go.

My favorite Carrey performance is in a less than mediocre movie, actually, Liar Liar. But there more than ever, you couldn't help thinking: Oh, my, what are we going to do with this neutron bomb of talent?

gwenda

I'm surprised no one's talking about A Very Long Engagement yet. I just saw it and found it one of the most beautiful -- both in terms of cinematography and emotion -- of any movie I've seen this year. Not to mention the most complex. Anyone here seen this?

Peter

I also just saw Engagement this afternoon. It's great, but I'm not sure how great. I had a bit of trouble trying to read the subtitles while catching everything that Jeunet crammed into his frames. Sometimes I almost prefer watching subtitled films on DVD: I can see the whole frame and read the subtitles at the same time, rather than having to flick my eyes back and forth to catch it all. I always find I'm missing one or the other when I watch subtitled films in a theater.

I'll give Engagement the award for the most beautiful film of the year, and Jeunet's take on classic romance is pretty moving too. Watching Tatau walk that final path, the tension was pretty amazing. I couldn't wait to see them meet.

I also like that his films are unafraid of sex; for him, it's both more romantic and lusty than in most American films, which rarely find the same humor or vigor in it that he does.

gwenda

I need to see it again, too, but it's a rare war film I'm willing to watch again... so that says something about how much I loved in and of itself. One of the things I loved best about it was how it honored the book (which is fantastic, one of my favorites ever), while still becoming its own living, breathing entity. I heart this movie.

Filmbrain

I can't help but wonder how much better a film The Life Aquatic would have been if Noah Baumbach hadn't contributed to the screenplay.

dvd

I haven't managed to pinpoint exactly what Anderson brings to his screenplays, and what material comes from his co-writer. My first assumption, regarding what Baumbach/Wilson contribute, would be: a sense of humor and congeniality. I think Wes has a great sense of melancholy that's growing more and more with each film; if he writes one by himself, it might be fairly painful.

Peter

I would hazard a guess that Anderson brings a lot of the fantastically dry one-liner/insults to the script. Aquatic seemed to have more of those, and - maybe this was because of the character - they seemed to be more cutting than usual. Knowing how he loves to take small visual details and use them to succinctly encapsulate a wealth of meaning, often both humorous and sad, it'd make sense that he's the one who gives the scripts their ferocious-yet-compact, understated bite.

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