Let me just say, that having seen it last night, that Cats is not a ‘good’ movie. The humor doesn’t work. The costumes are bizarre and often unsettling, sometimes horribly drawn on, especially for poor Jennifer Hudson.
The Golden Age of Television is back, in movie form.
A single-location stageplay film, like the one I’m directing later this month. I really enjoyed this. Good rhythm and loved the use of the wide-angle lenses, makes for really interesting depth of shots and brings you close to the characters.
And it made me feel a lot better about shooting in a single location — this film takes places in a single house and most of the action is in the living room. My film has the same basic parameters but it’s actually spread around the house more. Yes, I guess it can feel claustrophobic, but at 72 minutes or so, it wasn’t an issue.
1. If the movie was shot for the big screen, you must see it on the big screen. Otherwise your response is not to be trusted.
2. Try not to discriminate by genre or topic, for instance “I don’t like war movies,” “I don’t like romantic comedies,” and so on. You’ll miss out on the very best of that genre or topic this way, and those are very likely very good indeed. (NB: In your spare time, you can debate whether there is a horror movies exception to the principle.)
3. In my view, the bad Oscar picks were evident right away. A five year wait will only elevate some other set of mediocre movies instead. Movie awards are designed to generate publicity for the industry, not to reward merit. Ignore them.
4. I use movie criticism in the following way: I read just enough to decide if I want to see the movie, and then no more. I also try to forget what I have read. But before a second viewing of a film, I try to read as much as possible about it.
5. On net, I find the best reviews are in Variety magazine, as they are written for movie professionals. And the market for reviews is largely efficient. That is, if you read six smart critics on a movie — usually just two or three in fact — you will have a good idea of the quality of the movie. But you must put aside movies that are politically correct or culturally iconic, as they tend to be overrated. Brokeback Mountain and The Graduate will make plenty of “best of” lists, and they are both interesting and extremely important for both cinematic and cultural reasons. Still, I would not say either is a great movie, though they have some wonderful scenes and themes.
6. Hardly anyone watches enough foreign movies, that means you too. Or you might not watch enough outside your favored cinematic area, such as French, Bollywood, etc. There is a switching cost due to different cinematic “languages,” but most of your additional rewards at the margin probably lie in this direction. Furthermore, the very best foreign movies are so excellent it is easy to find out which they are.
7. I still think Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski, while good, are overrated. Don’t always assume your second reaction is the correct one. In addition, a lot of movies are made to be seen only once, so don’t hold that against them. For instance, I am not sure I need to see the opening sequence of Private Ryan again, but I am very glad I saw it once. It made seeing the whole movie worthwhile, but since most of the rest is ordinary, albeit serviceable, seeing it again would be excruciating.
8. It is a mistake to smugly assume that television has surpassed movies. The best movies (mostly foreign) are better than the best TV, even today.
My friend Jae wrote on Letterboxd:
It’s pitiful that this will be marketed as the “iPhone film” or the movie with the the transsexuals – because I believe it offers so much more than this – though both aspects are important for different reasons.
I’m not sure that it really did because a lot of what went on in the show felt manufactured for drama. Maybe that’s the editing. I don’t know. After watching the first 20 minutes of the film that was made, The Leisure Class, I decided that the show was more about making an entertaining reality show than giving some kind of documentary insight into the process of Hollywood movie making.
Basically, all of the drama that happens on the show turns out to be mostly irrelevant to the final product. They spent so much time going back and forth about film vs. digital. It didn’t really matter. Sure, it’s beautifully shot, but everyone’s watching it at home on HBO, not on a big screen. While watching the show, I thought “man, you should take the extra shooting days! It’s your first rodeo, this will give you leeway to make mistakes!”
But it wouldn’t have mattered. The issue with the movie was the script and not the picture or the acting or the directing. I actually think Mann directed it well, at least from what I saw. The performances were good and the shots were good. The story had a lot of issues though, right from the start.
And I realized that yeah, HBO cared a lot more about making a compelling TV show than a compelling movie, because there’s no way, just no way that under any other circumstance would they have taken his script and said “yes, this is brilliant, we want to make this.”
It’s not like the premise was so terrible, it’s just that it’s not a final draft of a script. It’s an early draft with a lot of problems that could be solved and punched up. Or if not, they would shelve it and move on. I don’t think half the people on the show even read the script. The notes they were giving him on the rough cut were things that should’ve been fixed in development: Fiona’s character arc, Matt Damon telling him that there were issues with the main character — yeah, if you had read the script, you would’ve seen that coming.
The show left me wanting to hate Mann but I ended up thinking he’s pretty good as a director and might be a decent writer, but he really needed guidance on that front and they let him down. I think he would’ve been better off making his first feature on a $25k budget and learning all those difficult lessons in obscurity. It’s a lot easier to fail in obscurity. I can’t imagine anything worse than becoming a famous artist before your art merits fame.1
Within the realm of artistic careers. Obviously, there are worse things in life. ↩
My brother and his girlfriend were raving about this when I visited them in Germany in August and I’ve been dying to see it since then. Well, it’s at the Music Box this week and the local foreign film meetup group planned an outing. Man did I love this film. It grabs you by the throat and never let’s go, easing up only for a few minutes near the middle before taking off again.