Dear Charlize Theron,
Stop. Your acting has too much acting in it.
You and Spruell should share the wealth with Kristen. She needs it.
J. D. Hansel
P.S. And tell Kristen she is not a codfish. Thanks.
Dear Charlize Theron,
Stop. Your acting has too much acting in it.
You and Spruell should share the wealth with Kristen. She needs it.
J. D. Hansel
P.S. And tell Kristen she is not a codfish. Thanks.
Coincidences come up an awful lot in my experiences viewing movies, and one such experience happened not too long ago when I was watching a YouTube video by Doug Walker, “Can an Ending Ruin a Film?” I started watching the video sometime before my class on “art film” on Wednesday, but for whatever reason didn’t get around to finishing it until Thursday. Within the last five minutes or so before that class began, he decided to show The Straight Story, which is David Lynch’s Disney movie. The professor then explained for those of us who missed it, as I think I had, that the film had been subtly telling us everything about the character’s past and motivation, setting up the ending, without ever making it clear that any of the events of the first hour and a half of the film had a point. The ending is when the audience is supposed to put everything together. Interestingly, when I resumed Doug Walker’s video, I found I had apparently paused it just one second before he brought up The Straight Story, making the argument that the ending to this film turns it from a painfully boring film into a brilliant film. Some might take this as a sign of some sort, but I am not a superstitious man – I just see this as a great opportunity to explain why this film actually sucks, even with the ending.
This film is horribly, horribly boring. None of its characters are particularly interesting or likable – most of them are really quite forgettable – and the performances from the cast were not able to redeem the script in this area. There are a few interesting moments that seem a little bit clever, cheeky, or quirky, all in the way one would expect from David Lynch, but they are severely overpowered by the surprising amount of banality in the film. The plot is purposely slow and uninteresting, but as deliberate as this may have been, I have yet to understand what positive effect this was meant to have on the film as a whole. The list of moral lessons and sappy moments throughout the film is unbearably long, and the number of times that I’m supposed to tear up but don’t feel anything by annoyance is nauseatingly high. This is probably how most viewers feel about the film until the ending, but the ending doesn’t change anything for me.
The ending doesn’t tell us anything that isn’t part of a generic, cliché family separation story, so it isn’t exactly a big shock or an exceptionally moving moment. When the brothers are reunited, I’m waiting to see what happens – to get more specific information about what exactly makes their conflict unique – but the film ends with little time spent on the brother. The goal of the ending is to use the audience’s knowledge of Harry Dean Stanton (the brother, Lyle) and his previous film roles to fill in the gaps about what kind of guy his character in this story is supposed to be, ideally filling in the gaps about the conflict between the Straights. This is rather silly, because I haven’t seen any other film of his, and even if I had, that tells me nothing about who this character is supposed to be. It’s a gimmick that I doubt would work with the likes of John Wayne or Ben Stein, and it certainly doesn’t work here. I think the main problem is that Richard Farnsworth (Alvin Straight) just isn’t likable enough for me to care about the conclusion to his story, so the story entirely falls flat, and the film leaves much to be desired.
In my recent review of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, I explained that I finally understood just how impressive a director Kubrick was, and had come to respect him much more than I had after seeing 2001. While 2001 was agony, I have found that I enjoy some of his other films, such as Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket, and Killer’s Kiss isn’t all that bad either. Better yet, if I found 2001 to be so devastatingly lacking in both emotional satisfaction and intellectual satisfaction, Paths of Glory has made up for the emotional lack in spades, and A Clockwork Orange has done the same for the intellectual lack, with both of these films being brilliant, powerful masterpieces that redeemed him in my eyes. Unfortunately, just as the Israelites of the Old Testament made right with God just before they wandered back into their sinful ways, I was bound to find another Kubrick film that brought his score back down into the negative. This film is Barry Lyndon.
Conceptually, this film is essentially a remake of 2001, only this time it’s set in the world of old paintings instead of the future. Visually, it is absolutely stunning, and his technical innovating that allowed him to create such a fascinating visual experience is evidence of the man’s genius. Once again, however, Kubrick shows his taste for making human characters less and less human in a way that does not serve his film well. His characters are, as one would expect after 2001, mechanical and uninteresting, which I think it is safe to say was his goal. Also like 2001, the run-time is far too long for a story so incoherent and pointless, and there is really only one scene in the film that is particularly good (and emotionally captivating) as far as the characters are concerned. Naturally, these reasons I give for hating the film are, as I expected, exactly the same reasons that others love it.
Clearly, making me dislike the characters is the point, and in a way, making it boring is part of the point as well, which many professional critics have conceded. “[F]or all its dry wit and visual splendor,” wrote Time Out in a recent review, “this 1975 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel might be the great director’s least satisfying, most disconcerting film – and that’s what makes it extraordinary.” The film is considered fascinating because Kubrick uses the fact that the character has nothing that any sensible person would recognize as a “personality” (for most of the film) as his social criticism on how pathetic humans are. “Barry Lyndon isn’t a great success, and it’s not a great entertainment,” Roger Ebert adds in one of his two reviews of the film, “but it’s a great example of directorial vision: Kubrick saying he’s going to make this material function as an illustration of the way he sees the world.” I can understand and appreciate this effort, and I think I even strongly agree with Kubrick’s thesis – people really are pathetic machines with an utter lack of any devotion to living a good, reasonable life, and are hopelessly seeking a nonexistent state of total happiness; but even if I agree with his thesis, and even if I am impressed with what he’s done to achieve his goal for the film, I do not think that his goal for the film (making the audience annoyed, uncomfortable, and bored for three hours) is either a good goal for a movie or an effective goal for the purpose of supporting his thesis.
The fact of the matter is that critics do not really want what they say they want. Their desire for a blunt critique of how pathetic humans are and how meaningless their lives are, there is a well-known technique for doing that effectively while keeping the audience entertained. It’s called comedy. Comedy, when done properly, shows all intentions to be selfish, all ideas to be myopic, all peoples to be primitive, all societal conventions to be fragile, all masculinity to be non-existent, all propriety to be a joke, all nations to be powerless, all genius to be craziness, all traditions to be childish, all pride to be arrogant, wars to be inconsequential, all actions to be futile, and all humans to be stupid as swine. Yet somehow this is of no interest to critics, who are uncomfortable awarding films of this nature when they could instead award the dramas, which always pretend the feelings of one good individual can make all the difference in the world and which relentlessly hammer in the message that some people are simply bad people because they do bad things because they are bad people because they do bad things. (For more on this subject, I recommend Mladen Dolar’s essay “To Be or Not to Be? No, Thank You,” which explains this concept far better than I.) Dramas are allowed to be fatalistic or libertarian in philosophy, but the realm of determinism has always belonged to the comedy. This is why the most popular kind of film right now in critical, academic, and pseudo-intellectual circles seems to be, from what I’ve seen recently, the dramedy.
The modern dramedy attempts to make a drama film while borrowing the element of “pathetic determinism” from comedy. This offers the intellectual criticism of comedy with the sense of emotional weight and significance brought to a subject by drama. This, I argue, presents the sort of film that Barry Lyndon is – it is a predecessor to the contemporary dramedy in that it presents hopelessly pathetic, semi-mechanical humans (like characters out of a Coen brothers film) in the guise of drama, giving critics everything they say they want. I argue, however, that what they want may in fact be simply comedy: after all, it seems as though it has been much easier for a comedy to get a high score on Rotten Tomatoes recently than it has been for the dramas. I think that drama is not what they want, and it is not even necessarily what they say they want – it’s what they say they say they want. The numbers show that what they want is comedy, but have been trained by tradition to think they must want drama if they’re smart.
What critics (and perhaps most other people) truly want, or so it seems to me, is the chance to seem thoughtful while experiencing the thoughtless. This is what many dramedies do, but it is also what I think many practices in the world of “mindfulness” do. In short, people like to reach a “zen” state of hypnosis or “zoning out” in which they feel like they’re having an experience that is somehow elevated to a higher level of human consciousness. This is why critics have described it as “hypnotic” – it has a mesmerizing quality, and that is something that does not particularly appeal to me, but it appeals to a great many individuals who want to seem intelligent, wise, and/or spiritual. A hypnotic experience is not the same as experiencing genius, insight, or elevation. The problem is that people associate the significance and meaningfulness of something with emotion, and so we feel like something but be especially meaningful if it gives us a special, “higher” kind of emotional experience. For this reason, an emotionally distant comedy that’s very intellectual is often not as desirable to critics or audiences as a drama on the same subject would be or as a hypnotic film would be, simply because it is an emotional experience that makes us feel as though we are watching something important.
While I recognize that this review probably comes across to many readers as an arrogant, ignorant, and even sanctimonious display of hubris, I see no other way to write this review. Think about it: if I am to maintain my view that one’s assessment of a film is not merely a subjective feeling, as anyone who appreciates the function of the film critics ought to understand, but I am also to argue that I do not support the enormous (and almost unanimous) critical acclaim that this film has come to receive, I am logically required to explain some sort of reasoning for how it’s possible that I am right and all the professional critics are wrong. I regrettably have no other choice – without this explanation of my views, anyone could compare the number of stars I have given this film to the number that one finds in a Google search and immediately deem me a thoughtless fool. All of my above writing on the “critics’ delusion” is not to be taken as dogmatic facts from a know-it-all, but as a working thesis I have for what the many worshipers of the films I hate might be missing. At the same time, I obviously don’t mind if other people like films that I don’t, so long as I am not considered thoughtless for hating a film that the “cinema elect” has decided is perfect. I do believe that a large amount of diversity in tastes is healthy for a culture, but this notion that the dramatic and the hypnotic are (by default) artwork of a higher caliber than fun, entertaining artwork is one that I must militantly oppose.
Painfully slow and dreadfully boring, the basis of this spaghetti western is an odd mistake – so it’s no surprise that the whole movie feels like one. The director of this picture, an Italian by the name of Sergio Leone who’s apparently rather well-known in some circles, was under the impression that “duck, you sucker!” was a very common phrase among Americans. The entire film feels like it’s been made with this kind of mentality – someone who thinks he knows what he’s doing, but is actually getting rather absurd. The main characters are not likable, in spite of a good performance by James Coburn, and the story is entirely lacking in substance. The movie slows down some scenes to the point of absurdity, and the ending isn’t worth the wait. The one upside is the decent soundtrack, but apart from that, it’s a needless experience that I could have (and should have) gone my whole life without.
Hi. I’m J. D. Hansel.
Not the usual J. D. Hansel though – that is to say, not the J. D. who’s already seen the movie that he’s trying to review, and has had time to form an opinion about it. I’m J. D. in the middle of watching the movie. I am one hour, six minutes, and 39 seconds into The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and at this time I cannot say with certainty that I’ll be able to finish the film, because the protagonist has just been dared to do the unthinkable. While I do not wish to give it away, I need to make one thing clear – this is my worst nightmare. This movie is terribly horrific because it’s filled with my biggest social fears. I don’t feel safe while watching this film.
I haven’t been this uncomfortable in ages. What started as a seemingly innocent comedy has had me sweating in a cold room, and biting my fist to keep from yelling. I had to stop the movie because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve gone to do some chores, and I’ve gone for a walk, but PowerDVD is still sitting in my taskbar, eager to move on, and I still can’t muster up the courage to see what’s going to happen next. I even had to get the DVD case out of my sight, because just thinking about the film makes me shaky, queasy, and rather dehydrated. I’m trying to stall by getting other things done, so I’m in the middle of typing up an email to a Muppeteer I admire at the moment, because even that doesn’t make me quite as anxious as what I think I’m about to see if I play the movie for just ten more seconds. I might try to go play a video game to take my mind off of it, or perhaps I’ll do some packing to move back into my college dorm after spring break, but I still don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this nightmare.
It’s me again – the “normal” J. D. Hansel, under the influence of hindsight bias and time to overthink things, as usual. I’m glad that I’m back, because looking back on this film (which I watched almost a month ago), I can appreciate it more now than I could at the time when I was watching it. My problem, naturally, is that I cannot decide which opinion is more “true” or “pure” – the opinion formed while experiencing the film, or the opinion formed a little bit afterward while looking back at the whole. For this particular movie, I think that the answer is the former. Why? Because, I just now took a look at this movie’s trailer (as I often do to refresh my memory), and immediately my senses have returned to the state depicted in this video:
So, in order to recover a little bit, pardon me for a moment while I bang my fists on the keyboard and scream at the ceiling. SZAD.s.kaskssklksalaSZKLJsklkuhdkwkwqp’;wsikjnd9jhergpeehuefwmgwr,’l;wersdffeuhgdefrnklj4wert3pmoljmqhudf7yhegkmrergmk;vbdfidvbfzusdwf’l,ERT./dvslop;sdf.,lerg ,gert
In summery, this is one of the most important, absurd, genuine, horrible, amazing, beautiful, creative, bizarre, genius, unethical, idiotic, awesome, frustrating, glorious, deceitful, outstanding, terrifying, enlightening, enraging, cliche, original, heartfelt, heartbreaking, game-changing, life-changing, and stupefying works of art in the entire timeline of the galaxy. My inability to process such a thing fills me with unspeakable frustration. This is one of those rare films that will haunt me until I die. I know this is rather late in the article to present a thesis statement, but I suspect this aggravation is mostly due to the fact that it should just be a stupid, meaningless, unoriginal teen dramedy, but instead, it uses the deepest fears that were meant to be left unspoken to an extent that Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, and the original Snuffleupagus puppet combined could never parallel.
Since it seems impossible for me to figure out how many stars I ought to give this film, I’ll have to try to focus on some aspects other than the horror. The author of the book, Stephen Lucifer Chbosky, directed this film, and this has both good and bad effects on the movie. The good effect, of course, is that he knows how to tell the story, since it’s his story, and I firmly believe that the writing and directing of a film are generally best done by the same person. This film serves as evidence for this theory of mine, because much of the story is expressed excellently in ways that any other director would probably not try. Not to mention, one scene uses music even more powerfully than the average musical film in the scene featuring “Come on Eileen” – and this kind of perfection is what cinema was meant to be. However, since his background is in writing more than directing, and since he had not yet directed a film on this scale, some of his work is technically lacking. I’m specifically thinking of the scene towards the beginning in the bleachers (when Sam is introduced), because the editing is so unprofessional and awkward that I laughed so hard that I fell on the ground.
Still, it is the characters and conflicts that make a movie more interesting than the technical side of things, so these are what I’ll prioritize. The characters are largely likable when they’re supposed to be, and Charlie is as relatable as the author intended. Each of the actors performed completely believably, although frequently I found I couldn’t quite believe Watson’s American accent – not that I could have done a better English accent, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain. The characters and conflict had all been done in such a way that I couldn’t help but get really invested in the story, but I think this leads to my problem with the film.
One of the greatest sensations I have experienced is when I watch a movie or television program that uses the social anxiety of the audience to make a scene that is both terrifying and hilarious at the same time. The awkwardness of the situations towards the end of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam and the Next Gen. episode “Hollow Pursuits” can generate two very different emotional responses at the same time, one of which has me peeking through my fingers, and the other has me rolling with laughter. What must be kept in mind is that this only works if the balance is kept just right, with the laughter serving as a spoon full of sugar. In this film, it’s clear that the balance is off – I couldn’t laugh when I wanted to laugh because I felt far too uncomfortable; frankly, I felt violated.
I felt as though the movie had struck me right in the heart, and used my fears to destroy me. Even now, over a month after I watched the movie, the anxiety it induced is still too strong to be considered wholly ethical. Oddly, however, my problem with the film is not so much its attack on the audience, but the way it tries to make everything better with the ending. The ending is when the movie tries to seem caring for its audience by putting a little Hello Kitty Band-Aid on the bloody slash it slit. The happy ending is highly inappropriate, and is even deceitful, since the only friends he made in school (aside from the teacher) are only seen on occasion when they come to visit, meaning our protagonist logically should feel lonely and miserable during 90% of the school year. The worst part is that it’s in the guise of a very cliche young adult novel dramedy, making it the kind of movie that’s not supposed to be a masterpiece, which just adds to the disrespect I feel the film is showing me. If the movie is going to injure me this badly, it needs to finish me off, to put me out of my misery by making a depressing ending that will make the horrors I experienced worth something. I’ve often considered how fun it would be for me to make the most depressing film of all time, so it could be used as a tool to show what it’s like to have depression, but to do that I would have the decency to go all the way and end the film with a thought that will make the viewers wish they were dead – with none of Chbosky’s false hope for consolation.
While I am exceedingly tempted to give this movie four and a half stars (part of me even demands five) for being so powerful, impacting, and unbelievably moving, I’m afraid that I must give this a low, low, low rating for its cruel abuse of the medium of cinema. However, I must recommend it to everyone, and even tout it as a great achievement of cinema, because it’s a more elegant and beautiful abuse than I could have ever imagined.