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Nick
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 09:24 am:   

Gordon: I was going to post this on Mr. Shephard's own board, but it occurred to me that I actually want to address my views to the magazine and not to Mr. Shephard. I just finished reading his review of King Kong, which I assume F&SF will be publishing shortly. Towards the end of it, Shephard writes "you might think I hated this movie, and I did." This, of course, was to be expected. After all, Mr. Shephard hates EVERYthing. Why do you continue to publish film reviews from a man who hates every film ever made by Hollywood? He's entitled to his opionions, he's entitled to write them down, and you're entitled to publish them. But here's the voice of one subscriber who's simply tired of reading constant negativity from this snooty elitist.
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R.Wilder
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 10:12 am:   

I disagree with Shepard's review of King Kong, as I did his review of War of the Worlds. But I laughed more than once while reading them. He's got funny fangs.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 10:31 am:   

Nick---

A few fast points:

1) As of right now, we have no plans for running Lucius's review of King Kong. In fact, this month's review column is Kathi Maio's.

2) Lucius clearly doesn't hate everything---witness his reviews of Donnie Darko, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or the first Lord of the Rings film. His next column (to run in the April 2006 issue) recommends three horror movies.

3) But it's clear that Lucius holds movies to a high standard. A lot of people value that. Last year I sat on a panel at a science fiction convention, Lunacon, where people in the audience said they wanted to see more reviewers taking a strong stand and they cited Lucius as the one example of a reviewer in the field who (like him or hate him) takes a strong position and sticks by it.

4) Like R. Wilder, I think Lucius is often very entertaining when discussing a film he didn't like. He trashed Sound of Thunder in the February 2006 issue and I laughed out loud several times while reading it.

5) Last summer, an industry insider said to me, "All the good writing nowadays is being done in television. The movies are so bloated with blockbuster expectations that no one has any freedom to take a chance---the writers and directors all feel locked in." As a movie lover who would like to see more films come out of Hollywood that attain a high standard, I feel it's good to give a platform to someone like Lucius who speaks out regularly in favor of films that aim high.

I hope those five points start to answer your question.
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Nick
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 11:37 am:   

Gordon: Thanks for the response.

1. I'm glad to hear you won't be publishing the Kong review. And it may not ever be your intention, but I've always appreciated how you balance Shephard's negativity with Maio's more positive views.

2. The fact that you were able to pull three films to mind that Lucius actually liked makes me wonder if you remembered them so readily because he likes so few... He liked the first LotR film? So, you mean he hated two thirds of the trilogy, right? He recommends three horror films in the forthcoming issue? Any of them American, or have budgets of more than twelve dollars? I'm not saying low budget or foreign films are somehow inferior. But Shephard is the embodiment of that ridiculous idea that film critics only recommend movies with subtitles.

3. I would never take to task a critic for simply holding movies to "a higher standard." Critics are often accused of being "out of touch with the mainstream." I don't think it's their job to BE in touch with the mainstream. As Roger Ebert once said (though he may have been quoting someone else), "The job of a critic isn't to reflect popular opinion but to inform it." I agree with that. But Shephard takes it to the extreme! Out of touch with the mainstream? Shephard isn't even in touch with the critcs! Kong is a great film and virtually every critic realized it.

4. I agree that negative reviews can be entertaining to read. Ebert's "zero star" reviews are great fun. And for a while I did enjoy reading Shephard's barbs, but the Kong review kind of pushed me over the edge. Enough is enough.
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Laird
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 12:14 pm:   

Hi, Nick.

His name is spelled as Shepard.

He champions John Carpenter's "The Thing" and that's good enough for me. ;)

Best regards,

Laird
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 12:16 pm:   

Oh, comon man. What're you whining for?

I prefer Lucius' reviews because they're entertaining to read, insightful, and I like how he's not afraid to speak out against shitty hollywood movies and upset people like you.

I guess I share his negative outlook on mainstream movies, but we're clearly not alone. I know other people who simply don't bother to go see movies anymore because most of them suck. Lower ticket sales reflect this. I just don;t get being positive for the sake of being positive. Some people feel they have to like a movie, simply because they want to justify the 12 bucks and two or three hours of their time.

But Lucius recommends plenty of films he likes, some of which you might not hear about otherwise. And he calls it as he sees it.

Although, sometimes I wonder why he even bothers with the big hollywood blockbusters...
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Nick
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 12:49 pm:   

Guys: First, sorry I misspelled his name.

I did not mean to imply that Lucius should be positive for the sake of being positive, and I'm not saying that just because a movie is a hit at the box office that it's necessarily a "good" movie. In fact, I tend to think the opposite - most box office hits DO stink to high heaven. I agree with that. But, jeez... Let's just stick with Kong, I guess... You can tell me that Kong was too long or that it was bloated, and you can even bring up the racial undertones as Lucius did, but if you're a critic and you say you "hated it" you've just lost all your credibility with me. This is proof positive that Lucius will not like any big budget Hollywood movie, period.

I'm not saying that his reviews aren't thoughtful, well written and entertaining. I've found many of them entertaining. But eventually I got to the point (with the Kong review) where I questioned (like another poster mentioned) - why does he even bother watching a big budget hollywood movie? Doesn't he go in knowing he's going to hate it?

Sorry, after a couple dozen negative reviews (during the course of which he makes sure to mention another few dozen movies he hates) I just got fed up with him. It's as simple as that.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 01:53 pm:   

Well, I think it's mostly because it's his job to cover some of the major genre flicks.

So he didn't like King Kong. You did. What's the big deal?
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Nick
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 02:13 pm:   

Grrrr....the big deal is it isn't just Kong. If you're a regular reader of F&SF, you can't tell me you haven't noticed that he hates about 90% of the films he reviews for the mag. Is that overstated? If it is, it can't be by much. I'll take a look through my back issues tonight for the hell of it and see what I find. And like I said, in the course of his negative reviews he always refers to boatloads of other movies he's hated, so it's not even so much that he's giving a negative review to the given movie, it's the overall impression he gives that he does indeed hate everything that has ever come out of Hollywood.

As a reader, the Kong review was simply the last straw for me. There have been plenty of other straws before it.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 02:29 pm:   

Well, whatever man. Some of his reviews cover movies he likes, some are pans of the latest blockbuster, some a combination of both.

Hollywood sucks. Deal with it.

Like I said, Lucius reviews plenty of flicks that he likes. Did you read the review on Korean films? The one on horror movies, which Gordon's already mentioned? How 'bout the one offering alternatives to the Lucas machine?

Seems to me that you're only seeing and dwelling on the negatives in his reviews. Why don't you try out some of the movies that he recommends? You may just like some of them...
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 02:37 pm:   

Nick---

I haven't seen Kong or many reviews of it, but I was just at Mumpsimus and I noticed Matt Cheney cites a blogger (Gwenda Bond) who says Kong is a movie you either love or hate. http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/

I can name other films that Lucius Shepard has liked, but you're correct that the majority of his reviews are not favorable. And I understand that his review of Kong is the breaking point for you, but here's what I'm wondering: do you love all the movies that Lucius hates? Or do you hate all the films he loves?

When I lived in Manhattan, there was a free newspaper that ran reviews by the former mayor, Ed Koch. And I came to love those reviews because I knew that crazy Eddie liked a movie, I'd almost certainly hate it and vice-versa. (And when we both liked a film, it was for opposing reasons.) For me, a reviewer whose taste is that consistent with mine is like gold.

Is it possible that when Lucius slams a movie, you know you're always going to love it? Or is the case more like what I have with one of the reviewers in The New Yorker---he always reviews the films I plan to see, but his commentary drives me batshit crazy with its wrongheadedness?
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Nick
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 02:57 pm:   

Gordon: I think with Shepard's reviews I had a progression that started with me saying things like "Wow, he hated Minority Report? That was a great movie. Wow, he hated A.I.? That was great until that terrible ending... Oh, he hates virtually everything Spielberg has ever released? Wow, that's pretty harsh." And it eventually got to Kong where I said "How could he hate THAT movie? Screw that snob!"

Sometimes we agree. I think he's rightfully bashed plenty of bad movies: Hulk, Van Helsing, A Sound of Thunder...

So, I think what got under my skin mostly was the hatred for Spielberg and now the King Kong review. But I will take a look through back issues - I'm sure there were others that contributed to me boiling over with the Kong review.

I can tell ya, I never had a reaction like this to a critic before and I read TONS of film reviews.
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Bruce
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 03:36 pm:   

I suppose this is as good time as any to tout 'Weapons of Mass Seduction' brought to you by Wheatland Press and, of course, Bob Kruger's Electric Story website where among other interesting selections you'll find Lucius Shepard's film reviews.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0975590316/qid=1135034703/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2 _1/102-9461023-6078556?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

Mr. Shepard's opinions diverge sharply from mine with some films but even so, I can always count on being entertained. I haven't seen 'King Kong' yet but am pretty sure my opinion will land somewhere between Lucius's disdain for Peter Jackson's excesses and Howard Waldrop's ovation.


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Mastadge
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 04:52 pm:   

When I link to Shepard's reviews elsewhere, people always go off on them, railing at him for being a "pseudointellectual" trashing films to make himself sound smart, or, mainly, for daring to hate a film that they love -- which seems to be every event movie that they know they're expected to love. For me, even when I disagree and like a movie he hates, I almost always get at least a laugh out of his reviews, and I can usually see where he's coming from. Then again, people on other boards tend to accuse me of hating everything. . .

I'd guess that Shepard probably continues going into movies he'll mostly likely hate because he does love movies, and is hoping and maybe even somehow expecting each time that this movie will be one that isn't insultingly stupid.

As for Kong, I didn't like it. I thought there was a 90-100 minute pretty adventure flick in there somewhere. If they released a 100-minute director's cut I might even watch it again, but rumor has it that the DVD edition will in fact be extended by another 30-40 minutes! The effects were across the board from brilliant to laughable -- but then, so was everything else about this movie. I enjoyed a several sequences while I was watching it, but there's nothing there that would draw me back to watch it again. *shrug*
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Mastadge
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 04:55 pm:   

Oh, and I forgot to mention Spielberg: he's made maybe one or two movies that I've liked in the last twenty years. He's obviously a talented filmmaker, but he uses those talents to provide increasingly sickeningly saccharine dreck that doesn't interest me no matter how many awesome special effects or big-name movie stars he can afford to bring in. I don't mind sentimental fairy tales once in a while, but I don't need them shoved down my throat by the same guy once every year or two and told that they're Great and Important Cinema.
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Byron Bailey
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 05:03 pm:   

"If you're a regular reader of F&SF, you can't tell me you haven't noticed that he hates about 90% of the films he reviews for the mag."

I believe Theodore Sturgeon said, "Ninety percent of everything is crud." If so, Lucius Shepard seems to have pretty close to the correct ratio. Now you better not be having a problem with Theodore Sturgeon, Nick. :-)

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Mastadge
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 05:04 pm:   

John Gardner said pretty much the same thing, but everyone ignored him, and all his fiction but for Grendel seems to be out of print. :-(
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Nick
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 05:46 pm:   

Byron: No problem with Sturgeon whatsoever. :-)

I just took a quick gander through my back issues and found a quote from 4/03, which may very well be the quintessential Lucius Shepard critical paragraph. In reviewing Solaris (a film I liked very much, though I wouldn't suggest it was unassailable) he writes:

"Solaris [is] . . . the latest in a line of movies (a la American Beauty, AI, Road to Perdition) in which the studios have taken a ponderous stab at doing art and produced instead a series of pompous, self-important, expensively mounted Technicolor belches."

So, not only does he hate "event" movies like King Kong, and everything Spielberg has ever directed, he also hates American Beauty, one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, filmed from one of the best screenplays I've ever read. If you're going to desribe American Beauty as a "belch" I just don't know what to say. I wish I could belch a screenplay like that.

We all disagree with critics all the time. And I do understand people who have a problem with Spielberg's sentimentality. But when you hate everthing from American Beauty to King Kong . . . man, that's a pretty broad range of stuff you don't like. Why bother?
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PM
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 05:48 pm:   

I can understand the backlash.

Lucius does more than squeeze the teats of sacred cows...

One supposes that from a 'commercial' point of view that there might be an advantage to publishing two reviews: Lucius' and then the comfortable positive review that some demand.

I wish that Lucius' reviews were in each and every issue...
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John E. Rogers, jr.
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 08:19 pm:   

Nick,

There's no point in going on about the guy's reviews. They are what they are, and that ain't gonna change. Your job is to have some fun. It's pretty simple to figure out the movies he's gonna take on. I task you as follows: anticipate his choice, then write a review worthy of His Majesty. See it the way he does. Write it his way. No holds barred, to state the obvious. See just how close you can come. I'll wager you end up within spitting distance. After all, slamming movies is a lot easier than praising them. To make it fair, you should email a neutral escrow officer* with your review ahead of time. Otherwise, the readers won't be assured of its authenticity.

--John

*I volunteer
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Iron James
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 08:27 pm:   

I can't speak for anyone else, but I love a great many big budget Hollywood blockbusters. Still, I hated King Kong. The ending was very good, but I spent the rest of the time checking my watch to make sure it was still working. I haven't been so bored in years. I dozed off for about ten minutes, which is not an easy feat in the seats that particular theater had. My wife had to elbow me awake. The great ending did not make up for the twelve hours of boredom that preceded it. King Kongw as a bit more than twelve hours long, wasn't it? Sure seemed like it.

My wife felt the same way about the movie. My youngest son loved it, however, so all was not lost.

I generally disagree with many of Shepard's reviews. I don't think high standards are the problem, I think he's simply a bit snobbish about movies. His tastes are not those of the general public, either in books or movies. But this time I think he was dead on.
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Thomas R.
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 08:41 pm:   

Personal feelings aside his reviews are talked about more than most reviewers of any kind in SF and he has a knack for it. True I both hate movies he likes and like movies he hates, but that gives him some value as a critic. That and I don't think you should ever read a critic just to go along with whatever they say. You should use them as a guide. If read right you might get a sense of why something he hates might be something you'd love. Or vice versa.

That to one side I'd agree his bias against Spielberg is too intense. Even the movies Spielberg did that are about universally seen as being in least okay are basically hated by him. For example I know people who felt Schindler's List was overrated, and a case can be made for that, but I'm not sure I've seen anyone just dump on it the way he did.

Anyway here's some genre films that got 100% at Rottentomatoes and were also in the "Top Movies" sections" for the SF or Fantasy sections of IMDB.

Alien
Aliens
The Terminator
Blade Runner
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Mad Max
Repo Man
Forbidden Planet
The Invisible Man 1933 version
Star Wars

Interestingly Star Wars is the only one of those I like so it's possible he'd be less negative then me on the ones near-universally accepted by critics.
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Thomas R.
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 09:07 pm:   

And American Beauty did have its critics. Stanley Kauffman of New Republic, the Village Voice reviewer, and a few others. It got 89% at Rottentomatoes.

The first two Godfather films and Kurosawa's Seven Samurai are the only films I find in the IMDB top ten and RTs 100%
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 09:46 pm:   

Porky's didn't make the cut?
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 12:25 am:   

I always get a chuckle when people call me a snob. I like kung fu movies, cheesy sci fi films, and a lot of lame-ass romantic comedies. I liked OFFICE SPACE, PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, POOTY TANG. et al. I even liked UNDERCOVER BROTHER. In other words, I'm mostly middlebrow in my tastes. I do like some art house films, but by the same token I dislike many others. Most of the subtitled films I enjoy and review are mainstream thrillers and dark fantasies with tight scripts, films such as Hollywood used to make, but has forsaken. The studios, like publishing, have been taken over by bean counters who are looking to maximize profits by making movie after movie that will appeal to the widest possible audience. That's not inherently wrong, but it has led to a diminution of attention given to story and script, and I mourn that. I go to every movie with an optomistic outlook, with hope -- I have to admit I'm usually disappointed. My tastes may not be those of the general public, but that doesn't make me a snob. A considerable portion of the general public thinks Donald Trump is the president of the United States...and if you don't believe that, you haven't been watching Jay Leno.

Now I have good reasons why I didn't like Kong, AI, American Beauty, etc. some of which are stated in reviews. What are your reasons for liking them? I'm curious. If you're gonna call someone a snob, you ought to say why you think that person is wrongheaded, don't you agree? I mean, something more precise than just saying they're great movies, how can he dislike them?

Speilberg, I think he was the most gifted director of his generation and the biggest sell-out. That's why he annoys me. I admit I go off on him, but hey, he's a pet peeve. I feel I'm entitled to one of those.

The reason I review so many blockbusters...because sometimes that's all there is to review. Sometimes I ask for them because I have a thought they might be good -- for instance, the CHRONICLE OF RIDDICK. I thought PITCH DARK was a good little B-picture and the guy had made a couple of interesting pictures like the Arrival. If I could review non-genre films for F&SF, there'd be more positive reviews, but there just arent that many genre films worth reviewing if you rule out the straight-to-video shit. Some months we have to dig to find something to review.

I didn't like the second and third parts of LOTR, but I said in my review that I thought one would have to wait until the extended versions were available to make a real judgment. I think that was fair.

To the guy who suggests it's easier to slam movies than praise them: If that were true, more people would do it. Slamming movies permits one to be funnier, but it isn't any easier. I'm acquainted with several reviewers for major dailies. I envy them their salaries, but they envy my freedom of expression. They feel more-or-less the same about some movies I review but can't write what they feel generally speaking, because they'd be fired. They all, BTW, hated KING KONG and a couple wrote negative reviews. Sorry. But I guess not everybody loves the big monkey,


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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 06:46 am:   

Slammer,

Point well taken. I conditionally withdraw the remark. Condition: your reviews continue to be funny.

Praiser
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R.Wilder
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 07:08 am:   

Lucius, I got to know what lame-ass romantic comedies you like. (And...POOTY TANG?? UNDERCOVER BROTHER?? You just made my morning :-) )
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Nick
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 07:45 am:   

Lucius: In King Kong, I may have chosen the wrong film to champion this entire argument. But as I said, it was simply the one that pushed me over the edge. I liked it, the vast majority of the critics liked it, and it may very well be nominated for best picture. We've already established that you hated American Beauty, which won best picture, and I know you also hated Million Dollar Baby, which also won best picture. Most critics will tell you that the best film of the year rarely wins best picture. Fine, I buy that. But it would be rare to find a critic who consistently HATES the best picture winner, which it seems you do.

This may be the first time I've ever taken what would be considered the "populist" position in an argument. In my own circle *I* am usually considered an elitist because I tend to listen to the critics, and I refuse to watch Adam Sandler movies. But we're not talking about Mr. Deeds, we're talking about American Beauty for chrissake.

But to have this discussion on a film-by-film basis is a bit pointless, I think.

As someone else pointed out, your reviews are what they are and I don't expect them to change. I'll be avoiding them more often because I'm simply tired of the negativity. But that's OK, I don't read F&SF for the non-fiction anyway.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 09:16 am:   

I liked Undercover Brother as well, but I remember there was something about the ending that I didn't like as much as the rest.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 09:17 am:   

Nick: So why did you like those movies? Because the academy gave them best picture?
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 09:43 am:   

"But to have this discussion on a film-by-film basis is a bit pointless, I think."

Well, movie by movie the only way to go as far as I'm concerned. That's how I review 'em.

I have to worry about _your__ negativity, man. I like two Adam Sandler movies, Punchdrunk Love and the one where he gets punched out by Bob Barker. :-)

But since you don't want to discuss it, I'll retreat with this last comment. The Oscars are not a good measuring stick. In the last couple of years, the only movie I've thought decent was MASTER AND COMMANDER. As far as Million Dollar Baby goes, I couldn't believe the critics who raved about it had ever seen a movie, it was such a collection of cliches, inaccuracies, and manipulation. But I would read with great interest a review of MDB that instead of simply praising it, saying that it was wowee REAL good, talked about its virtues in some depth, that analyzed it terms of tone and pacing and directorial touch. I read a lot of reviews, too, and I never have read a review that did that for MDB. I don't think one is possible. And I know that reviewers for the major dailies are under intense pressure to review big films positively.

Ticket sales are off 8 percent nationwide this year from last. Even Kong so far is not performing up to expectations. There's a reason for that. When most movies are targeted at teenage boys, that leaves a large percentage of the population with few choices. But Hollywood's going to go on its merry way and I suspect it's going to a long time before they get the message.
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 09:46 am:   

John, I will do my best.

R, well, I like most of John Cuzak's romantic comedies, Grosse Pointe Blank being a favorite. More I will not say. :-)
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 09:57 am:   

That's Happy Gilmor, and it's his best movie (though I haven't seen Punch Drunk). The rest, I haven't really liked 'cause they'rethe same old.
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Thomas R.
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 10:00 am:   

This could actually be what's going on. Mr. Shepard differs from critical concensus and that seems to make you uncomfortable.

Take the American Beauty example you often site. No one is required to like that film. No one is even required to like films that most critics seem to like. I remember reading an interview by Orson Scott Card saying how Citizen Kane wasn't very good and I've heard other authors express the same. The reviewer for Salon describes The Graduate as "A simple romantic comedy whose 'countercultural' message, insofar as it has one, is decidedly retrograde." "It reduces a legendary figure to conventional movie-hero size amidst magnificent and exotic scenery but a conventional lot of action-film clichés," Bosley Crowther of the New York Times describing Lawrence of Arabia. "Despite scrupulous attention to expository detail, Lee fails to dramatize the conflict within Jen, or any of the characters," Amy Taubin Village Voice.

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Thomas R.
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 10:02 am:   

And I agree with LS that movies are off a bit the last few years and that the Oscars aren't a great judge of things. Very weird.
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Bruce
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 11:10 am:   

Happy Gilmore? O.K., I laughed when they did the plumber's butt gag. And Bob Barker's one tough old hombre.

Gee, why are ticket sales off? Let's ignore the manipulative, shallow scripts, the 'let's sell the suckers the action-figures, VHS/DVD releases and any other media tie-in we can possibly concoct' mentality and the fact that bean-counters rather than artists bring the movies to theaters.

Home theaters are omnipresent, as are DVD players, satellite TV, Playstations, and a billion other distractions vying for the paying audiences attention.

All that aside, the $12 popcorn, the morons on cellphones, the obnoxious 'no outside food or drink' signs and the endless commercials prior to the previews keep me out of the theater, excepting wide-screen extravaganzas.

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Nick
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 11:14 am:   

Guys: Here's why I said I didn't think there was a point to discuss this film-by-film. We can ALL bring up particular movies that were critically acclaimed that one or more of us didn't like. My point was, when a critic is so overwhelmingly negative, as I've found Mr. Shepard to be, as a reader I come to a point where I no longer view that critic as someone who "holds movies to a higher standard" and I begin viewing that critic simply as an angry crank who hates everything. That's the point I got to with the King Kong review. Sorry.

An example: I'm sure Lucius despises Roger Ebert. I happen to admire the guy; I think he's a damn good writer and a pretty perceptive critic. He didn't like Gladiator, which won best picture. Knowing Ebert's track record, I took his view of Gladiator seriously, and I didn't go nuts because he didn't like it. I respect his opinion. But if Ebert had also hated American Beauty, and Schindler's List, and Million Dollar Baby, and despised every blockbuster from Spider-Man to King Kong, I'd start wondering why he bothers to watch films at all.

And I wouldn't read his reviews any longer.

So, do I really need to write a detailed defense of why I love American Beauty? Please, what would be the point in that?
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 12:23 pm:   

the point would be to have a dialogue and because I'm interested. I'm not a crank, I have a reasonable and considered basis for every movie I pan, every movie I like. It's fine you don't read my reviews, and I'm not asking you to defend anything. I simply asked why you liked these movies. Million Dollar Baby, for instance. I didn't like it because A) the boxing detail was so inauthentic as to be risible; B) because the voiceover repeated (sometimes for the third time) info we had been given in the script, as if the writer looked at us as if we were all a bunch of idiots; C) because many situations in the film were cliched, even for a sports movie. Take the girl's family--an absolute caricature of white trash. D) I found the acting substandard, particularly from Eastwood. E) because of the manipulative quality of the script. I can go into detail if you wish. That's all I wanted. For you to pick a movie I don't like and give a brief summary of why you thought it was a good movie. Then I might understand where you're coming from. If you don't want to, well, that's okay too, but it sort circuits the dialog...which maybe you didn't want, anyway.

I've liked a few Blockbusters -- X-men 2, LOTR 1 -- but I you seem to like almost as high a percentage as I dislike. I worry about your positivity. :-)

I admit I have an agenda. Hollywood used to make great movies off great scripts and I'd like to see them get back to focusing on story rather than consider it an afterthought. I don't expect to change anything, but hey, there are enough people who like almost everything out there.

Oh, well. I never intended to please everybody and it's quite evident I've succeeded. :-)

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Bob K.
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 12:23 pm:   

Well, it would help me if you did. I thought American Beauty was bad, too. Of course, I had help arriving at that perspective -- namely Lucius nudging me with his elbow every few seconds to indicate pretentious nonsense onscreen. What was good about it? The bag floating in the wind, the goofy kid looking rapturously at the dead guy, the hugely telegraphed homophobia angle? I didn't get it either.
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Bob K.
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 12:40 pm:   

Whoops, that was to Nick. Lucius must have hit send a few seconds before I did. Anyway, you're not alone in being bummed out by the negativity in the reviews. You don't need to defend that, and I've heard it before from other people. I still enjoy every pan review (they suit my sense of humor). Yet I also enjoy many of the movies he's panned, even when I'm in total agreement about his individual points.

Best,
Bob
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Nick
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 01:12 pm:   

Lucius: I did intend to have a dialog here, and I did think that was what was going on...otherwise I would have posted the initial comment and ran for the hills. To address specific films may move the conversation in other directions but it really is besides my initial point. But, OK, if you insist:

In M$B I completely disagree about the white trash family. I didn't think they were cliched, I thought they were dead-on portrayals of people I have had the misforune of knowing. I thought they were very, very real. So real in fact that I've avoided re-watching the movie simply because I don't want to be in the presence of those characters again. That says something - about me, yes, but also about the power of the film.

The boxing scenes fooled me. Shoot me - I've never been inside a gym like that in real life. Sure felt real to me. I particularly liked an understated scene where Eastwood is teaching Swank to work one of the bags. They could have given us scene upon scene of him teaching and training her - instead they give us this one little scene that, to me, established that Eastwood's character knew what he was doing. I liked the choice. Was it unrealistic? Again, I'm not qualified to judge that as a boxer. As a viewer? It convinced me.

I was touched by the ending and didn't feel unjustly manipulated. Of course I felt manipulated - stories are supposed to do that, no? But when it's done well, the reader/viewer doesn't resent it. I didn't resent it in M$B. You did. We disagree.

We could go through this for a dozen films. But I think it's more constructive really to discuss your own general view that Hollywood has completely lost its way. Of course, you're not alone in that opinion. My bewilderment stems from the fact that most people would point to something like The Dukes of Hazzard to illustrate that point. Instead, you (often) point to Oscar winners... It's a bit hard to swallow.
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PM
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 03:36 pm:   

But Nick that's the point. If you're a musician and you watch a film about musicians and they're holding their instruments incorrectly it takes away from the movie.

Lucius is familiar with boxing and when the movie gets it wrong it's blatantly obvious to him. And turning him off.

But so much of Million Dollar Boohoo is not about boxing of course but is about pounding a message home. There are going to be those whose bells ring as that message is mercilessly being pounded home. Winning the Oscar is more about the 'politics and message' of the film.

This is not a pro-boxing film and if you're a boxing fan then you failed to protect yourself at all times...
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 04:15 pm:   

That principle, the Iron Statute of Unusual Knowledge (or, "I-SUK", as it is known to cineastes), is what makes most teen slasher movies unenjoyable to me. I sit there squirming in frustration, occasionally blurting out, "C'mon - gimme a break: a standard meat cleaver would never cut that deep," or "Human entrails always splatter in a counter-clockwise pattern, you idiots."

Having specialized, first-hand experience with a movie theme really can spoil the show...





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Matt Hughes
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 05:43 pm:   

Gladiator.

Very early in the movie, as I saw Roman legionaries advancing into battle holding their soft-shanked throwing javelins as if they were thrusting spears, I said, "Oh, it's that kind of flick." Boundless millions for special effects, but nobody thought to spend a measly few grand to hire an expert to tell them how Romans fought. Or if they did, they just didn't listen to him cause he was just some nerd with a bad haircut.

Of course, I felt the same way when the old Burton/Taylor epic about Queen Cleo popped up on the Turner Classics channel. Every Roman I saw was wearing his sword on the wrong side. Made me wish some grizzled old decurion could pop out of time and slap them all around.

Then I remind myself: it ain't supposed to be real; it's just another romp through the collective unconscious.

Some of those old forties noir movies on Turner are worth staying awake for.

Matt Hughes
Black Brillion now in paperback
The Gist Hunter & Other Stories now in stores



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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 05:44 pm:   

Are you from the south? Cause I am and that family was a joke to me, as was Swank's Actor's Equity accent. I know she's from Kentucky, but that accent was...I don't what it was. But if you thought it was realistic....Anyway, the boxing, You don't seal a cut by letting someone hit it. Simple logic should tell you that. A punch just opens it wider. You don't kneel in front of a fighter and probe at his cut with a swab, because the fighter will jerk his head away. You get behind him, hold his head, and probe the cut. That may seem like nitpicking, but to me it's sloppy filmmaking, not to get the details even close to right, especially when the director is supposed to be a boxing fan. And sloppy filmmaking on one level usually translates to sloppy filmmaking on every level. The fight with Lucia Ryker was an unrealistic as any fight in the Rocky films and would have been stopped long before the end. That was MDB in essence, a female Rocky with a downer ending, The teaching scene you mention was okay, but nowhere near as good IMO as Morgan Freeman working with her, The ending. Where to start. If you didn't feel your buttons being pushed...Well, I can't argue. But you don't shoot someone up with adrenaline and turn off the respirator and they just close their eyes and drift away. They'd panic, flail about. Common sense should tell you that. That's what I see in all these movies. They're too lazy to get the details right. But that's not the only reason it's a bad movie. The endless repetitions. Yew remind me of my daddy. You remind me of my daughter. Then Morgan chimes in with something like, They were like father and daughter. Didn't you feel like they were hammering this stuff home unduly? With Morgan pontificating all the while, I was torn between leaving and laughing out loud. That was manipulation of the most hamhanded variety. and that is bad writing and bad filmmaking. They tried to pass off a soap opera/melodrama (the underdog making a run at the title, the villainous nemesis, the tearjerker ending, et al) as a naturalistic film set in the millieu of boxing, and it didn't fly. They tell the same old story over and over, and people react as if they've never seen it before.

If you ever feel like watching a naturalistic and effective movie about the sport, try Huston's FAT CITY with Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges.

You speak of the Oscars with a certain reverence, yet the Oscars (any awards for that matter) are all about politics and who likes who and who the Academy approves of, and have little to do with good movies. I mean, for Christ sake, Barbra Streisand has an Oscar.

Anyway, long about the time they started making the James Bond movies, which were a great success, Hwood started to change, to look for scripts that favored violence and explosions and quips over stories. Then came Diehard, and that kicked the trend into second gear. Story became unimportant. Characterization became unimportant. As I said in one review, I saw a treatment for a big budget film that used as one of its selling points the fact that there would be no depth of characterization or secondary plots. In other words, keep it simple for the idiots out there. Give em stunts and FX and they'll be happy. And they are. Happy. There's nothing wrong with this sort of thing in small doses, but the ethos behind it ihas taken over the industry. Remakes, recycled ideas, TV shows, movies that feature explosions, monstrous inflated balloons that have at their heart a wisp of a story. Most that are character-driven or have any sort of complexity wouldn't get made today by the studios--you'd get chucked out the door for pitching them. Everything's marketing. The studios look for ideas they can turn into franchises, selll toys and T-shirts and etc and so naturally they turn to comic books. That's why you get crap like Aeion Flux. The big brains at the studios figure you can sell anything to teenage boys with T&A and a high body count. Then every once in a while they get together and say let's do a prestige movie and out comes something like American Beauty. Groundbreaking. A movie that says life in the suburbs is banal. John Cheever did this to death and The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster had a lot more soul. I like some of that guy's work on Six Feet Under, but this...

The thing is, you wonder why I see these movies. I see almost everything that comes out, I see movies that most would turn their noses up at and find something to like in most of them. I very well may like more movies than you. What I hate is pretense and arrogance -- the arrogance of a Speilberg who leaves gaping plot holes in Minority Report because he knows most won't notice, the pretense of a Jackson who seeks to dignify his Kong by alluding to Joseph Conrad, the paper bag in American Beauty. I hate the waste of Hollywood. If Chinatown were made today it would be an indie film or it wouldn't get made at all. A movie about incest and a water scandal? They'd throw you out of the offices if you pitched it. I saw a really good film last night, Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a contemporary western, an indie picture. Twenty years ago it would have been a studio film, but the studios have abandoned the small picture in favor of movies targeted at teenage boys. I'm tired of comic books, tv shows, American Pie 12, etc. I'm tired of pretense and arrogance.

That's the part of my response. Got to break this off now.

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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:01 am:   

Part of this has to do with the anti-intellectualism in which our culture has been steeped. It's gotten to where if anyone breaks lockstep with the majority opinion they're labeled a snob or a psuedointellectual, even if what they're talking about is something as unintellectual as sports or movies or rock music. You, Nick, can't imagine that anyone would dislike such wide range of movies as I do and not be an "angry crank," "a snob," "a pseudo-intellectual." Why can't you imagine it? Millions of people throughout the country like Cheez Whiz? I don't. It tastes like melted plastic. Does that make me a pseudo-intellectual? It's the same with these movies, these Oscar winners and blockbusters. They taste like melted plastic to me. And I give reasons in my reviews why they taste so. When I asked you give reasons why I should take another look at these movies, you said, basically, that they worked for you, and not, obviously, for me. Case closed. That's not enough. Surely you can point to virtues in these films, to elements that make them cohere as good moves. That's not being intellectual, psuedo or otherwise; that's simply being analytic, and if you can't be analytic about something you like, if you can't analyze what made it good, well, maybe you need to think about that. If I demand of a movie that It have a tight script and coherent direction, that it not be full of plot holes, that it has some hint of originality, if I don't go YAY at every explosion, does that make an angry crank? No, that makes me a guy who has a variant opinion.

Variant opinions used to be valued for the dialog they created. Now, in criticism, in politics, in everything, they're shouted down by name-calling. The last few administrations have been evidence of that -- if you're not with 'em, you're immediately labeled unpatriotic or some other buzzword. People are looking to be comforted, it seems, not challenged. I could get into why this happened, about how market forces have encouraged this mentality, but I don't have time, I need to get to work.

If you don't want to read my reviews, that's fine. If blockbusters do it for you, then god bless. But all I'm doing with those reviews is saying that there's better out there and offering alternatives. If that pisses you off, well, that pisses you off. But I would think that as a movie lover, you might want to look beyond the multiplex and seek out some of these alternatives, and check them out. If we were sitting over a beer, I'd ask you if you'd watched the original Solaris, if you'd seen movies like The Quiet Earth and various others. That's all I'm doing with the reviews. Trying to start a dialog.

One more thing. You asked how I felt about Roger Ebert, I don't much like this incarnation of Roger, but back in the day, before Roger moved to commercial TV and started liking most of what he saw, he had a show with Gene Siskel on PBS. I really liked him then. He hated everything.
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:31 am:   

Both the original Solaris and The Quiet Earth are well worth watching, though I could probably have used a little less of the seemingly endless night drive through Moscow in the former.

What's the consensus on Tarkovsky's later, at times harrowingly artsy, Stalker?

--John

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Michael Samerdyke
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 07:07 am:   

Wow, there's someone else in the world who's seen and liked "The Quiet Earth."

I have to admit that I don't especially like Lucius' movie reviews. Much of this has to do with his tone rather than whether he liked the movie or not. To me, it often seems like he is using a sledgehammer to kill an ant. Generally, I agree with his take on a film, that it was good or bad, but his permanently enraged tone ends up making me more sympathetic to the film that is the target of his invective.

Of course, nobody can agree on everything, and not everyone recognizes a great film on first release. I once looked through a library's collection of F&SF from the Fifties. Charles Beaumont wrote the movie reviews then. To my surprise, he was less than impressed by "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." To him, it was just another alien invasion movie, and he was sick of them all by then.

What I have suggested to Gordon Van Gelder before is that the whole movie review column be rethought. Since the reviewer can't catch the movie while it is still in the theaters, and since DVDs of most everything are available, and since it might be better to light a candle than curse the darkness, why not use the movie review column to call attention to good SF/Fantasy movies that people might be unaware of, movies like "The Quiet Earth"?
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Thomas R.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 07:13 am:   

I liked Stalker better than Solaris which kind of surprised me. I think in the case of Stalker I hadn't read the book first which helped. (Later I did read the novella it's based on, Roadside Picnic by the Strugatskies, and liked it quite a bit if for different reasons) However I also just kind of found it intriguing. There was this magical thing at the center yet most everyone was basically ordinary. And also completely unattractive looking. That might sound unimportant, but I'd gotten used to Hollywood movies where even what's supposed to be "the ugly girl" is an attractive brunette who is just slightly overweight and has a bad haircut or wears glasses. Ordinary looking people in his movies were definitely ordinary looking.

That said I did kind of find it a tad pretentious and too slow at times. Although Solaris I think was more pretentious and slower.
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Nick
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 08:02 am:   

Lucius: Wow, so much to respond to. It really is getting clearer to me that we do agree on more than I would have thought. So let me take a step back and bring up American Beauty again.

How does any part of your screed against mindless explosions and cheesy dialog and lack of realism and inattention to detail and sacrifice of story and one-dimensional characterization apply to a movie like American Beauty? You hated it because you thought the paper bag scene was pretentious? Maybe I didn't think so because when I watch that scene I put myself in the shoes of Lester Burnham's daughter - not the Ricky character. I'm not sitting there saying "Wow, the filmmakers want me to think that paper bag is a thing of beauty, so I guess it is." I'm thinking along with the other character and saying, "What the hell does this guy think is beautiful about this bag?" And at that moment, what's beautiful to HER is simply the fact that HE thinks this dancing paper bag is beautiful. I think the bag works as a contrary symbol to all the roses everywhere - the obvious, safe, accepted versions of beauty we have shoved down our throats every day. And it works for HER because he is offering her a way to see the world that is entirely antithetical to what she's been surrounded by every day of her life. I like the scene. It's not the most important scene in the movie, and if you found it pretentious, I don't think that's enough to condemn the film.

I thought all the relationships in the film were portrayed realistically and the film doesn't flinch from Burnham's lust for a 16-year-old girl. He comes THISCLOSE to statutory rape... wouldn't you agree that that was a bold move for a major studio picture to take? I don't recall them adding any explosions there to dumb it down for the masses...

And I found the movie very often to be damn funny. Do I really need to point out everywhere I laughed?

I know people who say things like "Dem critics don't know what they talking about. That Ashton Kutcher movie was sooooo funny and that Vin Diesel movie rocked! Critics are just snobs who only like stuff with subtitles." Your post about the dumbing down of the masses (which I completely agree with) makes it sound like that's the position *I* took. You'd really compare American Beauty to "cheez wizz"?

I usually come to the defense of critics. I simply think the critics tend to get it right. I think good movies tend to get good reviews, and bad movies tend to get bad reviews. Note the qualifier.

It seems that you believe that bad movies OFTEN get good reviews and, not only that, REALLY bad movies tend to get REALLY good reviews. I can't agree with that. That's the only reason I brought up the Oscars - I could just as well have brought up films that got 90% favorable ratings on "rottentomatoes.com" to illustrate my point.

It would be easy to find a critic who disagrees with 90% of the average schmucks on the street. But I think it would be hard to find another critic who consistently disagrees with 90% of the other critics - as it seems you do.

Is there something wrong with that? Well, again, from a reader's point of view, I simply got tired of enjoying a movie, seeing that 90% of the critics shared my view of it, and then reading the Lucius Shepard review to discover I must be an idiot.
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gary wassner
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 09:10 am:   

I thought I posted this earlier, but it never showed up.

It surprises me that you are all talking so seriously about movies that were conceived and created for the sole purpose of making money. What studio is going to provide in excess of 75 million dollars to make an art film? This should tell us that we need to judge the merits of Hollywood movies based upon a different standard. Just the fact that they are scripted and filmed does not a basis for comparison make.

I was bored to death by much of King Kong. I couldn't believe how long it was and how top heavy with special effects. It teetered dangerously close to collapse because of that. Parts of it were fun. That's the most I can say. But to compare it to something like Everything is Illuminated simply because they are both shown on movie screens in theaters makes little sense. It's like comparing a billboard in Times Square to a painting at the MOMA. (not that anyone is comparing those two movies). Some small movies stink as well. Small, low budget isn't a key to the classic's door. And some are terribly overrated. I disliked The Squid and the Whale as much as I did King Kong, but at least with Kong I didn't have to suffer the shattering of expectations. Talking about realistic interpretations of behavior, I didn't believe a moment of Jeff Daniels acting, contrary to all the critics opinions it seems.
Hollywood is all about hype. That's what drives it. It shouldn't be a surprise that the movies are usually shallow. They tell us who is beautiful. They tell us who is cool. They tell us what we need to like. Half of the time they are lying. But that's business.


Lucius, you speak about the Oscar's negatively and your comments are perfectly reasonable. How do you feel about the WFC awards and the others given out in the publishing industry?

It often astounds me how for 100 million dollars, a studio can't more often make an incredible film. I love the movies, and I admit that my tastes vary tremendously. I can enjoy blockbusters if my expectations are controlled. I want to be entertained when I go to one of them, not bored. I'm not so interested in realism. I'm much more interested in having a good time, and if the director pulls the right strings and manipulates my emotions correctly, I'm a sap. I didn't give a rat' ass whether M$B was accurate in its depiction of boxing. I didn't go to it to learn about the art of boxing. It was a HOLLYWOOD movie. Why should I expect anything different? There's a board room full of suits and ties dictating those releases. On the other hand, when some 'star' produces a small budget movie with no restrictions, I do expect more. Much more.

Nick, I understand why you might be put off by negative reviews of something you loved. And Lucius, what do you really expect from Hollywood? Honestly? It's all about effect, not accuracy, though it wouldn't hurt anyone if they cared more about some of those details you mention. Nick, did you ever read the reviews in PW about forthcoming books? Rarely are they negative and that bothers me. It's not that I want negativity. I want an honest review, and they seem so timid, too timid. They need to take some lessons from Michael Musto. I would rather someone like Lucius pans most of what he sees, with humor and honesty, than bland, boring language that offers little opinion in the end. How are we ever to distinguish the really good things from the mediocre if not for strong opinions, prior to seeing them or reading them ourselves. We all gravitate to critics whose sensibilities we are in tune with. You probably just need to find someone else to read.
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Matt Hughes
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 09:39 am:   

I understand that even that old curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, liked children -- though only if thinly sliced and smothered in mushroom gravy.

Matt Hughes
Black Brillion now in paperback
The Gist Hunter & Other Stories now in stores
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Bruce
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 10:31 am:   

Yep, I liked 'The Quiet Earth' as well though I could've done without Bruno Lawrence in a dress. Can't please everybody.

I believe it was W.C.Fields said he liked children...barbequed.
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 10:34 am:   

This impossibly erudite and well-informed analysis of American Beauty, a movie I celebrate for its acting not its symbology, somehow misses the central-most question: Would you have stopped when Spacey did with Mena Suvari?

I find, to my shame, that I cannot answer...
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Matt Hughes
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 10:53 am:   

Speaking as a fifty-six-year-old, I probably would have stopped myself even sooner. One does not care to look ridiculous, even to oneself.

Matt Hughes
Black Brillion now in paperback
The Gist Hunter & Other Stories now in stores
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 11:10 am:   

Matt,

Damn good point. Perhaps blindfolds?

John
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 11:25 am:   

John, speaking as a twenty-four-year-old, I can say that I'd be uncomfortable with a girl that age. I've actually gotten into a huge fight with my friend over that. If she's eight-teen, she's fair game.

As for American Beauty, I can see that it has some merit, but I can also see that it's way over-rated and pretentious. Better than some of the Oscar winners, but not as great as the critics would make it seem, or popular opinion would dictate.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 11:32 am:   

Lucius gave Constantine a good review, which was alright for a Hollywood comic book movie. Most of the mainstream critics panned it. That's how me and my friend figured it'd be actually decent. Though, I don't think they gave the character justice
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 11:56 am:   

StephenB,

Yes, those are indeed valid concerns; very valid concerns. However, I was speaking of something, ahem, more primal; something animal, not rational. Here, on this austere, some might say sterile*, electronic message board, it's easy to weigh the options; consider the ramifications; balance the risks against the, uh, benefits; invoke our higher and more noble selves; and step back - hands raised - shaking our heads - muttering "No, I really can't. I really have to go."

But there, in the living room, after a few drinks, in the groping dimness, with the hot wind of promise at your back and the raging inferno ahead, could we pull back?

I wonder.

Of course, this is all academic.

Merely something to pass the time.

John

*so to speak
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 12:13 pm:   

You're sounding a little creepy.

I'm familiar with getting intouch with my primal side, and being irrational after lots of drinks. But I have some basic moral issues against it, so I don't think I'd go there. And that's comming from someone who's less academic about booze and wildness.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 12:17 pm:   

Kubrick's Lolita, now that's a good Hollywood movie.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 01:02 pm:   

I don't mean to be insensitive John, but what you're doing, is intellectualizing that you may very well do it, without actually being caught up in some heated moment. But you're also claiming that intellectually you'd, muttering "No, I really can't. I really have to go." Do you see the subtext?
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 01:07 pm:   

StephenB,

That last bit was just for shock value.

But I may actually be a little creepy.

Now, insofar as Stalker versus Solaris is concerned, I might agree with you, Thomas R. Though I very much need to see them both again if I'm to render a meaningful verdict. With Stalker, I recall the ending very well - but not the meat of the film. Parts of it, I dimly recollect, were dismally slow and grim - kind of the antithesis of say, Run Lola Run.

-John




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Iron James
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 02:46 pm:   

Lucius, I do think you're reviews come off as quite snobbish. That's just the way they read to me. Yes, I know you like movies of all types, butto be honest, even the King Fu movies you like are not exactly what i'd call run of the mill, made for plain old entertainment movies.

I didn't like American Beauty or AI, either, but I can tell you why I like a great many movies that you don't, and it's a very simple reason. They were fun, they kept me entertained for a couple of hours each, and they were worth my money.

I don;t break down movie sthe way you do. I think that's self-defeating, and to be honest, I couldn't care less whether or not a movie has any artsitic merit. For me, that's where I see the "snob" in you.

If you can call someone a snob without it being an insult, that's the way I mean it. I just can't think of a better word. I don't think you're wrongheaded where movies are concerned.

You views are perfectly valid, your breakdowns are usually very accurate, and there isn't a thing wrong with what you look for in a movie.

But I do not in any way think what you look for in a movie is what the majority of people who go to movies want or care about. Maybe this is a bad thing. Maybe this is why there's so much junk out there.

I didn't like King Kong because it bored me stiff. I didn't like American Beauty because I tought it overly pretentious, not terribly realistic, and had a cop out ending. I didn't like AI simply because I didn't buy it at all.

All I ask of any movie is that it entertain me for a couple of hours. I love the LOTR movies. I don;t think they could have been done better. Why? Simply because each kep me watching from beginning to end. I loved the story, loved the characters, and was glad I spent my money on them.

But I don't analyze why. I don't care why.
Same reason I love most of Spielberg's movie. They were fun. They had a story I'd like to have have happen to me. I watched from beginning to end, wasn't disappointed, and was glad I spent the money.

For me, movies aren't something to be broken down, analyzed, dissected, etc. I don't care in the least about artistic content, I fully believe the old saying "If you want to send a message, use Western Union" should be followed, and I think "escapism" is the best word in the English language.

I have to spend most of each and every day thinking hard, working hard, and dissecting this, that, and the other. I go to the movies purely for entertainment and escapism. I believe this is why the vast majority of the public also goes to movies.

Where movies are concerned, I am truly one of the great unwashed, an unrepentant Philistine. I'm a bit cleaner where books are concerned, but not a great deal cleaner. I guess you could say I was my hands for books, but I don't take showers.

I'm as likely to love a category romance novel, a run of the mill mystery, or a great classic, but I require exactly the same from all of them. . .if I can put myself in the place of the protagonist, and enjoy being there until the book is finished, I am a very happy camper.

I'll also freely admit that this probably means the fault is within myself, rather than in you,
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R.Wilder
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 03:04 pm:   

If a flick has no humping and pumping I hate it.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 05:48 pm:   

Well, you don't have a gig where you're supposed to analyze movies, do you? That comes with the territory, I guess, But i don't break down movies to see, necessarily if they have "artistic merit." I do it to see if they hang together, if they're cohesive. And I definitely disagree about kung fu movies. I just bought the Streetfighter collection starring Sonny Chiba, and if you think they're anything but plain chopsocky...well, that's what they are. I watch a lot of wuxia, which are Chinese sword and sorcery flicks made for the masses. But when I reveiw a movie, I have to put on my critic's face, or else I wouldn't have much to say except That sucked or that was cool. That would leave me about 2000 words short of a column. Anyway, no offense taken.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:15 pm:   

"Kong is a great movie and virtually every critic realized it."
Nick

"...a sparkling treat..."

Elvis Mitchell
on PlANET OF THE APES
NY Times

The second quote is proof, if none other existed, that critics are pressured into giving good reviews, that they often give a bad movie high marks. The first quote is at least as irresponsible as my saying I hated the movie. Many critics say they love a movie, why isn't the reverse acceptable?

The following are lifted from the first page of the KING KONG section of rotten tomatoes, all excerpts from "positive" reviews. I submit them as further proof that my view of the film did not differ wildly from a sizeable minority, if not a majority of critics, men and women who are required by their editors to write good reviews. TV critics...Let's not even go there. They might as well be in the employ of the motion picture industry.
  
  "Spectacular, clumsy, hilarious, ludicrously self-indulgent, terrifying and far too long, Peter Jackson's remake of the 1933 classic is a monster in every sense."

"Made with consummate imagination and skill, but still largely superfluous."

  "It is too bad that Jackson and his co-screenwriters, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, felt the need to turn a simple adventure story into a bloated three-hour extravaganza."

"Despite all the overkill and side trips, the film still succeeds at telling the story of a woman and the gorilla who loves her."

Just shows to go, some positive reviews ain't all that positive. Scratch many of those positive reviews and you'll find a negative review trying to get out. In a world without payola and pressure, I guarantee you there'd be a lot more guys like me, and then you'd be pissed off at me for not agreeing with fifty percent.

Now, AMERICAN BEAUTY...

You complain about my reviews, and I tried to engage you on KONG and MDB, but you slipped away and chose a movie I did not review. Fine. I'll give it a shot.

Spacey, who I grant you is terrific in the movie, was in a movie a few years before AB called THE REF, where he played more-or-less the same character in the same circumstance. He gives good suburban middleaged angst. It's awfully hard for me to sympathize with him, however. His job sucks, his marriage sucks. Boo Hoo. He lives a life of priviledge, of leisure, which he's achieved, partly, by blackmailing his boss. There are several billion people who would trade lives with him in a minute. The filmmakers were savvy enough to cast a charming actor as Lester, but this stuck in my craw nonetheless. Movies about privileged people finding redemption for their petty sins don't endear themselves to me.


"I thought all the relationships in the film were portrayed realistically and the film doesn't flinch from Burnham's lust for a 16-year-old girl. He comes THISCLOSE to statutory rape...wouldn't you agree that that was a bold move for a major studio picture to take?"

Hardly. Lolita went a lot farther, as have any number of lesser films.

"You hated it because you thought the paper bag scene was pretentious? Maybe I didn't think so because when I watch that scene I put myself in the shoes of Lester Burnham's daughter - not the Ricky character. I'm not sitting there saying "Wow, the filmmakers want me to think that paper bag is a thing of beauty, so I guess it is."

I gather you've watched this movie a lot, because that sort of take comes only after many viewings. I only watched it once (well, twice....I watched it on cable when I had the flu and was too enervated to find the remote), and when I saw it I wasn't doing ROCKY HORROR and being a character, I was just sitting and letting the movie happen.

I thought the film in its entireity was grossly pretentious, but the paper bag scene was egregious. Say what you will, Rickey is the POV character of Mendes and Ball, the voice of the filmmakers intruding. And what you disparage in your last sentence is exactly what they're doing. They're telling you that this lousy paper bag is beautiful, and by extension the lousy paper bag of Lester's life is beautiful, a commentary Lester himself repeats at the end in a voiceover...as if it hasn't been hammered home enough already by Ricky who, with the vast wisdom of his eighteen years, seems to know all about beauty. He's not a character, he's a f**king Greek chorus, though less subtle by degree.

Sure, Lester's life was a sparkling treat and, as he intones, he wouldn;t change a thing. Embittered, hated by his family, shot to death by an insane homosexual colonel (another stereotype, the repressed homosexual macho man)...who could ask for anything more? The subtext here bothers me no end. We're being told, as in Orwell, to be happy in our work, to be grateful for what we have. It's oddly propagandist and smacks of an abhorrent condescension.

Carolyn isn't a full-blown character, either. She has a couple of good moments, but she's basically a stereotype with her motel adultery and her gun fantasy. Spacey's wife in THE REF was far more fully realized in dialog and was similar in nature. This is a sitcom family: maladjusted daughter, disaffected father, bored, mouthy wife. Slatternly cheerleader. That's the ultimate cliche. The movie starts as a black comedy, but in its situations it devolves into a twisted sitcom. A precursor to Desperate Housewives. Only Spacey's character is given real life by the author and the actor.

And what's new or illuminating about the revelation that the suburbs are not the pristine environ they appear? THE ICE STORM did at least as good a job, maybe better, in depicting that. THE SWIMMER, FAR FROM HOME, etc. This has been done so many times, going to back to THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, the depraved suburbs, seat of murder and lust, it was old in the seventies.

The real villain of the piece for me was Mendes. I assumed he was going for naturalism, but then he got to chukking in all kinds of angles, shooting through windows, rose petals...I can't recall all the tricks he used, but he contrived a helter-skelter artsy-fartsy type of filmmaking that I despise if it isn't done to perfection, and this destroyed the tonal coherence of the film with its excessiveness and pretension. I would have thought a guy like you who assumes that subtitles mean an arthouse film and anyone who watches them is a snooty elitist...I would have thought you would have been put off by this.

I knew where this picture was going every step of the way, as Bob K will attest, because I kept giving him the heads up, and maybe that means I've seen too many movies. By the same token, maybe you need to broaden your horizons and see a few more, maybe even ones that have subtitles. Who knows, you might even find some you like.

Take it easy....
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:20 pm:   

Gary, I think about all awards pretty much as I do about the Oscars.

I don't expect anything from Hollywood, but I'll keep on banging for more small quality films, no matter the lack if response.

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Patrick M.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:33 pm:   

I don't read your reviews so I can't really comment. I have my theories on why they have their priorities screwed up on SF films, part of that is group think writing.

The thing is, some people read comics for the artwork. When that happens, you have a bunch of artists starting their own line of comics...


Do you really hate Cheez Whiz?
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:41 pm:   

Yeah, but I love fried Spam.
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Patrick M.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 06:44 pm:   

Well, that's ok then. Can't be to snobbish and still love fried Spam.
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John E. Rogers, Jr.
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 07:12 pm:   

A Spam sandwich, if properly fried, and a six-pack of Lone Star beer, if properly chilled, can do a lot for a man.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 08:05 pm:   

Careful now Lucius, lest you sound pretentious.:-) Relatively speaking, you are one of the privledged.

It's true that the problems of suburban North Americans are trivial compared to the extremely impoverished. From a narrative standpoint, there are some relationships and conflicts worthy of exploration, that you just wouldn't find with people who are so poor that they're starving, simply because they have much more immediate needs to worry about. Although I don't think the characters presented in American Beauty are all that worthy or interesting. And I agree, it's a whitebread suburban crowd pleaser, full of cliched characters that could be taken out of a sitcom (although, as we know, relative to some sitcoms, it could be worse) which whitebread suburban people love to watch. It ultimately comforts instead of challenges.

Oh, and when you've got nothing else to eat, cheese whiz spread on a ritz cracker with a sweet pickle on top can be pretty decent.

I suppose there's an analogy to relate with movies here. Once you go chedder you never go back. But it may take you awhile to work your way up to blue...
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 09:07 pm:   

"...a sparkling treat..."

Elvis Mitchell
on PlANET OF THE APES
NY Times

The second quote is proof, if none other existed, that critics are pressured into giving good reviews, that they often give a bad movie high marks.>>>

Sorry Lucius, I don't buy that at all. I read all of Elvis Mitchell's reviews while he was at the NY Times and he hated most of the movies he saw. He had no compunction saying what he thought. I have no opinion on Planet of the Apes as I didn't see it. It may have sucked, and I don't remember Mitchell's review of it but I'm wondering what the rest of his review of the movie was like.
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2005 - 09:42 pm:   

He hated most of what he saw, huh? That may explain why he's not at the times anymore. They used his blurb on the advertising for the movies, so I doubt it was out of context or he would have bitched. If that's so, the fact he hated everything and called that piece of crap a sparkling treat makes it proof even more. As I recall, that was near the end of his tenure at the times. Be that as it may, I know Shawn Levy at the Portland Oregonian and many of his review are cleverly disgurised pans that parade as positive reveiws and it's clear that many of the reveiws listed on rotten tomatoes as positive are not all that positive. Proof enough.

Okay. I'm outtta here. I have a novel to finish,
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 06:55 am:   

There are plenty of pans by reviewers still at the Times. I don't believe you read the Times every day Lucius. I do. ;-)
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Nick
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 07:50 am:   

Lucius: If you're off finishing your novel, I wish you luck and thank you for continuing with this as long as you did. I do appreciate it. But I do want to respond to a few of your last comments.

First - I thought I did respond to some of your concerns with M$B. And I only brought up American Beauty in the first place because, though you may not have reviewed it, you did mention it in the body of your Solaris review.

I've actually only seen AB twice, believe it or not. And upon second viewing, that's when I analyzed my own reaction to the paper bag scene, wondering why it worked for me, and I realized that it's because I went along with the connection the characters share at that moment. I did not feel obligated to think this paper bag was beautiful because Sam Mendes was telling me it was.

I've also only seen M$B once. You brought up a scene where Eastwood and Freeman tell Swank to allow herself to get hit so it will seal a cut. You're absolutely right - that scene did send up alarms from my common sense. But here's a perfect place to show where you and I differ. Like you, I thought "How the hell is geting hit going to seal that cut?" But two seconds later I thought, "Well, they must know something I don't." And I went back to enjoying the movie.

I bet ya, if we were to ask Eastwood, or the screenwriter, or the guy who wrote the stories that the movie was based on, SOMEbody would have an answer for us about that scene. They'd be able to relate some anecdote about a trainer who said he saw a fight where a fighter got hit directly on a cut and it perfectly sealed the cut... I'm guessing, of course. I just can't imagine that they pulled that out of their collective ass.

And, again, that's the difference between us, I guess. I will give the filmmakers the benefit of that kind of doubt - while you will immediately claim laziness. And then you'll make payola charges against all the critics who didn't point out how unrealistic the movie is.

There are plot holes and then there are nitpicks. When M. Night Shyamalan tells me that aliens have traveled light years to conquer a planet, and never noticed that 2/3 of the planet was covered with a substance that was deadly to them, that's unforgivable. When Clint Eastwood asks me to believe that a boxer's cut can be healed by getting struck, that's something I'm willing to go along with.
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Meran ni Cuill
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 12:37 pm:   

Lucius, et al...

Now I have to go find Stalker, and watch that..

As per Lucius' reviews: I find his comments hilarious and entertaining, and quite certainly, ... to.. the.. point. Even when I thought I would NOT agree with him, after watching the movie, I found his comments to be spot on. Many times to my chagrin.

Mind you, I'll still go see the movies I want to see. No one's opinion will make me do something other than what I want to do, after all...

Lucius' movie review column reminds me of Ellison's reviews long ago in F&SF.. and yes, I have them, on my shelf. I've been a subscriber since '81.. They were so vitriolic! I learned a lot about screenwriting from those reviews, AND standards, and in-fighting within the industry. Opened my eyes. (and no I don't write, much)

Lucius, you go complete that novel.. I need more to read!

Meran
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Iron James
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 02:16 pm:   

And now, Lucius, if you want a little sucking up, I'll say, for whatever it's worth, that I find your own writing to be pretty much the best out there. Most of it is simply incredible.

But I can't break it down, or say why I enjoy it so much, either. It simply makes me happy to have read it.

I really wish I could do more in the way of seeing how all the parts of a movie come together. I wish I could separate "art from artificial," as a friend of mine says.

But movies are pure escapism for me, and as much as I've tried to be otherwise, I'm afraid that's what they will remain. The rest is somewhere above me, out of reach, I think. But I enjoy movies as pure escapism, so that's the way I'll just have to take them.

As what's his name said, "A man has got to know his limitations."
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John Thiel
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 03:57 pm:   

I agree with Lucius that there's a present-day hatred for intellectualism in science fiction. I think it bespeaks an encroachment of the common, working-man element into science fiction. For instance, there's a lot about mechanics getting into the hard science these days.
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Bruce
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 06:22 pm:   

I had a look at my copy of 'Weapons of Mass Seduction', and, yes, a few selections are cut some slack. More's the pity.

Anyway, I was remiss in not posting the proper place to purchase such a collection.

http://www.wheatlandpress.com/

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Thomas R.
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 07:40 pm:   

Now I have to go find Stalker, and watch that..

TR: Be a bit prepared though. It is somewhat slow with long scenes of basically desolate land interspersed with literary quotes. Also everything is somehow very ordinary despite some rather magical aspects. I watched it on tape because they played it so late that I couldn't stay up to watch it all. Because of that I missed most of the very end. Although I saw a bit of it as I woke up at that point.

As mentioned the story Roadside Picnic I think is pretty worth reading even though it's quite different. In fact the Strugatsky brothers might be my favorite foreign language SF writers. Far Rainbow didn't exactly work for me, but most of what I've read by them so far I've liked. Even Far Rainbow had its moments.
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Meran ni Cuill
Posted on Friday, December 23, 2005 - 08:16 pm:   

I've read the Strugatsky brothers and I agree that they're good...

they may even be MY fave foreign writers as well. I liked the Roadside Picnic.. and may even have see Stalker long ago. But I'll have to see it again.

And I like work that makes me think (as if I need more time doing that, according to those who know me well) and sometimes is "slow". I hate most the stories that I could write myself from the first paragraph, sometimes even the first sentence... I've played that game with my SO and sometimes it bugs him how close I get.

and THAT's why I like Shepard's works. I can't guess where we're gonna end up from the first sentence, or paragraph, or chapter, etc..

I also sit down afterwards and wonder about what that author has DONE to know some of the stuff he writes about.. deep waters for sure..

(yes, I know that's not exactly the metaphor/quote.. lol)

Meran
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Thomas R.
Posted on Friday, December 23, 2005 - 08:41 pm:   

Well despite my past with him I might try him. I'm feeling more charitable with the holidays and I'm even getting along with a guy who once accused me of being a Left-wing apologist for Hamas.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 08:17 am:   

I think the discussion here between Nick and Lucius has been great---thank you both for taking the time to discuss this stuff.

Yesterday I read the late F. X. Toole's Rope Burns, which was the basis for Million Dollar Baby. Concerning the scene in the film in which Eastwood's character advises Swank's character to get hit in order to seal the cut, here's the original (it's from the big fight with the champ):

"Billy grabbed Maggie and tried to throw her to the canvas. The referee warned her that he'd start taking points away if she kept it up, but Billy didn't give a shit and cursed him in Russian. She stepped on Maggie's foot and tried to shove Maggie down again. When Maggie was still off-balance, Billy caught her with an elbow the ref didn't see and cut Maggie's left eye slightly. The real damage was to the tissue around the eye, which caused it to puff up. Frankie's cut man had no trouble stopping the blood, but his ice packs and his ice-cold metal stop-swell did nothing to keep the swelling down, and the eye threatened to close completely.

"Frankie told Maggie to go out in the fourth firing, to try for a knockout, because he was afraid the eye would close and the ref would stop the fight. She nailed Billy repeatedly, but Billy stayed up and continued to head-butt. The ref took points away and warned her. Billy would give a fake apology and then go right back to her dirty ways. Between rounds, Maggie complained of blurry vision. She also told Frankie she didn't know how to counter Billy's dirty tactics. Frankie illegally flooded her eye with Visine, and when she said she still couldn't see, he told her she only needed one eye to fight."

Then the book goes on to dialogue about attacking Billy's sciatic nerve with illegal shots, which the film reproduced pretty faithfully.
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 11:21 am:   

Actually, Gordon, the scene I was talking about was, I believe, the first scene in the movie, at least early in the movie -- Clint's in the corner of an Afro-American fighter and the fighter has a cut on his cheek below the eye, which wouldn't be of much concern, because the blood's not running into the eye. But the script had them being concerned. Clint kneels in front of the fighter (wrong), probes the cut with a swab, and then advises the fighter, in response to the fighter's inquiry, what do I do?, to let his opponent hit it, whereupon the fighter obeys and there follows one of those CSI shots of tissues sealing tissues. I've been a fan of the sport for decades and I've never seen it, and I have many friends and aquaintances who're fighters, cut men, etc, and none of them have heard about such a tactic. I made sure to ask them, even though I knew it was impossible. If this tactic existed, if that's all you had to do to seal a cut, everybody would do that and there'd be no need for cut men. It's patently absurd. A punch would just open it up more. The scene existed to show how canny Clint was, but all it did was to show how weakly researched the movie was and how disrespectful of the audience's intelligence.




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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 01:09 pm:   

Lucius---

If that scene's in the short story, I missed it. It might be somewhere else in the collection, I haven't read the whole book.

Oh, one other point I should mention: in the story, Maggie's white trash family are Midwestern, not Southern. They're in Missouri. The film gave me the same impression, Midwest not South. Not that this point challenges your fundamental complaint about the portrayal of her family. I didn't mind it as much as you did, but I did think it was too hammy. In the story, ol' Frank dukes it out with Maggie's brother.
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gary wassner
Posted on Tuesday, December 27, 2005 - 03:08 pm:   

Lucius, have you seen Cache?
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Lucius
Posted on Wednesday, December 28, 2005 - 08:51 am:   

No, I have not, but it's on the list.

Gordon, you should read the rest of the stories, because the story on which the movie was based is the weakest in the book.
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Twiddle
Posted on Friday, December 30, 2005 - 10:40 pm:   

Lucius said:

>>>But you don't shoot someone up with adrenaline and turn off the respirator and they just close their eyes and drift away. They'd panic, flail about.

Wasn't she paralyzed?
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A.R.Yngve
Posted on Sunday, January 01, 2006 - 05:25 am:   

I have to agree with Lucius Shepard's review: I saw Jackson's KING KONG remake and it's a bad, bloated movie.

My review of the movie, "King Kong As A Dirty Old Man", is posted on my weblog, here:
http://aryngve.blogspot.com/2005/12/king-kong-as-dirty-old-man.html

I quote:
Mom walked out halfway through KING KONG, saying out loud: "This is ridiculous."
(That was a bad sign. Normally she loves science fiction films.)

When the heroine started climbing after Kong up the skyscraper, I was tempted to walk out, too.

And just before Kong fell off the skyscraper, when Kong and the heroine exchanged looooooong teary-eyed looks, I thought: "If they start French-kissing, I'm OUTTA here."


What amazes me the most is that people who really should know better, are praising this film. Why? It sucks! And it's actually MORE racist than the original, even though it pretends otherwise.

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com
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Sean Melican
Posted on Sunday, January 01, 2006 - 06:40 pm:   

It seems that critics serve two basic purposes. First, they give would-be readers or movie-goers an opinion as to the worth of the film -- whether it's worth the money. (Sometimes, like Mr. Van Gelder points out, knowing one is at opposite poles with a critic is as valuable as being on the same page.) The second is to criticize writers and movie-makers (directors, producers, studios and so forth) for creating crap.

Mr. Shepard's reviews cannot really serve the first purpose. By the time I've read his reviews, I've either seen the movie or avoided it based on other critics. As to the second, while Mr. Shepard has as sharp a keyboard as any critic I've read, when I see that he's reviewed a blockbuster (or wannabe) I know more or less what I'm going to read. It's rather numbing. (And I wonder if anyone who needs to read it, does read it.)

I'd rather read reviews of movies that I would not hear of otherwise. I don't always seek them out -- Korean films are impossible to find at Blockbuster and I'm not particular fond of reading subtitles, though there are exceptions. (I prefer to read books and watch movies.)

I'd also hazard to say that sometimes it feels as if Mr. Shepard is contradictory. With many movies, he rightly hammers at the lack of characterization. But in his review of Kong, he criticizes the first fifty minutes, which are largely characterization. Deep? No. But still, there is an effort.

He also asks the questions you should ask: How does Ann avoid broken bones and concussions? How does a boy who's never shot a gun become a sudden expert marksman? Mr. Shepard says, [It's] not eared. I'd argue that in the second third of the movie, that's precisely the point. It's a popcorn movie, and Mr. Jackson is certainly aware of tropes associated with them. There's no physiologically way an ape (or insects) can grow that large. There's no way Ann could survive all those forces. There's no way giant herbivorous dinosaurs could survive in such a confined habitat. There's no way even the best marksman could pick off insects on a wildly dancing man. So why not amp up the impossibility? Why not say, "None of this could happen. So everything you expect will happen will happen with absolutely no rationale at all. It's just fun." There's no reason for the giant insect scenes, or the giant millipede fondling Ann, other than as blatant audience manipulation. (My wife and half the audience made ew noises and hid under their coats.) Unlike M$B, which I've not seen, the audience manipulation is deliberately overt. Mr. Jackson makes an effort (successful or not) to tell the audience that he's manipulating them and there's nothing they can do. It's for fun, and really, that's all it is. (Reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies, which are superior in execution but similar in purpose.) I didn't feel an effort at gravitas from the _Heart of Darkness_ references, but more impossibilty. That boy is surely illiterate, so it's just one more impossibility to be exploited.

Another quick example is Mr. Shepard's review of _Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind_, in which he castigates the makers for changing the ending to make it more upbeat. (I didn't know that at the time, and I'd rather have seen the original cut, but the second ending does have a rationale and not just a tacked-on feel.) If Mr. Shepard praised the movie at all, I don't recall him doing so. He may have, but his invectives are so negative that recalling any positives is virtually impossible. And that movie is substantially superior to such trash (BSP: See my review at Strange Horizons) as _Minority Report_ and _Van Helsing_, yet at least I (as perhaps others) remember all those reviews in the same light: Mr. Shepard's vitriolic attacks on Hollywood. I suspect that's where the statment, "But Shephard is the embodiment of that ridiculous idea that film critics only recommend movies with subtitles," comes from. Mr. Shepard may have said some nice things about Hollywood movies, but they get lost in the invectives and it _feels_ (whether or not it's accurate) as if it hates everything Hollywood. (I _remember_ all the vitriol. I don't remember the praise.) And when he reviews obscure foreign films, it feels as if he loves everything about them. His reviews just don't feel balanced.

(As for LOTR, the second and third books are boring, silly and full of deus ex machinas and silly improbabilites, so if Mr. Jackson is going to be faithful to the material, he's hamstrung.)
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Lucius
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 08:27 am:   

Twiddle, she was paralyzed but her head isn't paralyzed and there'd still be a visible panic reflex.

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Marguerite
Posted on Wednesday, January 04, 2006 - 07:31 pm:   

Lucius has just redeemed himself in my view by praising both Office Space and Master & Commander.

Not that redeeming himself IMHO was his end-all be-all, but I always enjoy it when someone accomplishes it. :-)

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