austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

You ought to be in pictures

Everybody on the Internet, I believe, enjoyed Roger Ebert's smashing of Rob Schneider's fantasies of being an entertainer in his review of Deuce Bigalow II: Please Please Please Make The Hurting Stop Please. But I spotted some sulking that sure, Roger Ebert dislikes Rob Schneider's movies, but he's a professional movie critic and thus dislikes everything ordinary people enjoy, instead preferring obscure Croatian movies about abusive clowns and the like. So I thought I'd -- rather presumptuously, and at considerable risk of starting a ``meme'' -- suppose myself to be an ordinary person and compare some of the movies I really like to Ebert's reviews. The list of 15 movies I compiled basically by what came into my head over the afternoon. Ebert's reviews are as his web site says. Movies are those same old things.

  • Apollo 13. Ebert: Four stars. This is a powerful story, one of the year's best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics. Yeah, that's about the right assessment.
  • Citizen Kane. Ebert: Great Movie. Its depths surpass understanding. I have analyzed it a shot at a time with more than 30 groups, and together we have seen, I believe, pretty much everything that is there on the screen. The more clearly I can see its physical manifestation, the more I am stirred by its mystery. I can't argue that. I love this film, and love it more each time I see it; it's one of a handful of films that can command my attention away from the Internet and everything else I do to fill the days.
  • Duck Soup. Ebert: Great Movie. The Marx Brothers created a body of work in which individual films are like slices from the whole, but ``Duck Soup'' (1933) is probably the best. Actually, I'd say Monkey Business was their best, despite the absence of Margaret Dumont, but it's mighty hard to pick a best out of any of their movies up to A Day at the Races. Ebert particularly praises Groucho's dialogue with everybody, the Harpo/Edgar Kennedy scenes, and the Mirror Scene, and any individually would make a movie great; together they make one of the all-time best.
  • Joe vs The Volcano. Ebert: Three and a half stars. Gradually through during the opening scenes of ``Joe Versus the Volcano,'' my heart begin to quicken, until finally I realized a wondrous thing: I had not seen this movie before. Most movies, I have seen before. Most movies, you have seen before. Most movies are constructed out of bits and pieces of other movies, like little engines built from cinematic Erector sets. But not ``Joe Versus the Volcano.'' It is not an entirely successful movie, but it is new and fresh and not shy of taking chances. And the dialogue in it is actually worth listening to, because it is written with wit and romance. I owe spaceroo considerable thanks for getting me to watch the movie, which he'd suspected I might like -- I suspected I would when it came out, but went about a decade without thinking about it, even though I generally like movies that portray pleasantly surreal worlds -- and he was incredibly right. Most friends who predict that I'll like a movie (or TV show, or book, or whatever) leave me wondering what insane values my friend has.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian. Ebert: Three stars. Certainly ``Monty Python's Life of Brian'' is funny, in that peculiar British way where jokes are told sideways, with the obvious point and then the delayed zinger. I don't know what I like about it, particularly. (I think Holy Grail is better, but Ebert doesn't review it.)
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Ebert: Three stars. ``MST3K'' looks easy enough that anyone could do it. But although we can all shoot a basket, not all of us are Michael Jordan, and the key to the program is in the scripting ... The problem with attending a movie like this is that it makes everyone into a comedian, and there's the temptation to wisecrack right along with Mike and his friends. I think that's a feature, not a bug, but three stars is probably about right. The Movie wasn't the best Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever, but it was among the best, and I think Ebert's about right in assessing the quality of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 parts and the This Island Earth parts.
  • Popeye. Ebert: Three and a half stars. It's not enough that the characters and the locations look their parts. Altman has breathed life into this material, and he hasn't done it by pretending it's camp, either. He organizes a screenful of activity, so carefully choreographed that it's a delight, for example to watch the moves as the guests in Olive's rooming house make stabs at the plates of food on the table. This movie was made just about perfectly, as I see it; the only important flaw is the plot sort of stalls out about two-thirds of the way through and has to be dragged back to Popeye's search for his Pappy. The movie so does not deserve the scorn that's been heaped on it, even for Olive Oyl's song ``He's Large''.
  • Star Wars. Ebert: Four stars; Great Movie. Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. ... When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it's up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them. (1977 Review) This was, I believe, the first movie I ever saw on cable, visiting a friend's house, and it fired my imagination in a way few things ever have since. I may tell a lot of jokes about it, but that's just because of my love of the thing.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Ebert: Three and a half stars. When they finished writing the script for ``Star Trek IV,'' they must have had a lot of silly grins on their faces. This is easily the most absurd of the ``Star Trek'' stories - and yet, oddly enough, it is also the best, the funniest and the most enjoyable in simple human terms. I'm relieved that nothing like restraint or common sense stood in their way. I actually like The Motion Picture more, but Ebert doesn't have a review of that. This is second-best, and for exactly the glee that permeates the whole affair, in plot, character, dialogue, directing, and special effects.
  • Superman: The Movie. Ebert: Four stars. Superman is a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects, and -- you know what else? Wit. That surprised me more than anything: That this big-budget epic, which was half a decade making its way to the screen, would turn out to have an intelligent sense of humor about itself. Mm, no it's not a four-star movie, but it is probably the best superhero movie out there (maybe that gets it four stars by default). He's got high praise for Christopher Reeve, and it's hard for me to picture anyone else being really right for the live-action Superman (though I'd like to see Paul Gross take a stab at it); that may be just because I was the right age for this to be my definitive childhood representation outside the cartoons. I was startled on seeing it recently that Supes doesn't go back in time far enough to prevent the second bomb from blasting the San Andreas Fault. I also didn't realize how much I loved Lex's underground lair; I think something in the train station idea captivates me.
  • Tank Girl. Ebert: Two stars. Whatever the faults of ``Tank Girl,'' lack of ambition is not one of them. Here is a movie that dives into the bag of filmmaking tricks and chooses all of them ... Enormous energy went into this movie. I could not, however, care about it for much more than a moment at a time, and after awhile its manic energy wore me down. I was carried away by the energy, and just had a wonderful time with a movie that I know, objectively, is pretty dumb. It's just carried off with such fun that I'm delighted. I think it was the Cole Porter musical interlude that solidified things for me.
  • Tron. Ebert: Four stars. The interior of a computer is a fine and private place, but none, I fear, do there embrace, except in TRON, a dazzling movie from Walt Disney in which computers have been used to make themselves romantic and glamorous. Here's a technological sound-and-light show that is sensational and brainy, stylish, and fun. Um. This is a marvelous movie, but it is not a four-star movie, even by Ebert's reasonable scale of how well does the movie do what it's attempting to do. It's beautiful to watch, and it's defined what The World Inside The Computer should look like, and I love the look (see my other icon), but the plot and characterizations are as little as can be done with the premise and still appear on screen: sneak the magic ring past the Boss Bad Guy. I suppose you can say, for example, the Lord of the Rings has the same setup (I've never read the books, nor seen the movies), but they seem to do more to flesh things out; past Tron and Master Control Program can you even name three characters in the film without looking it up? (The correct answer is: Flynn, uh ... Cursor ... uhm ... and that's about it.) I'll accept sensational, stylish, and fun, but brainy honestly isn't a factor.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Ebert: Four stars. In a way, what you feel when you see a movie like this is more than appreciation. It's gratitude. You know how easy it is to make dumb, no-brainer action movies, and how incredibly hard it is to make a movie like this, where every minute of screen time can take days or weeks of work by the animators. You're glad they went to the trouble. Yes, that's exactly right. Even being 18 years more jaded and cynical doesn't detract from the experience, and I say that after spending much of the past week trying to see all the DVD features and not being done yet. The only sad thing about the movie, looking back, is that it marked the end of Traditional Animation; since then computer images have intruded in movies until you had things like Treasure Planet, which were computer animation with normal cartoon characters intruding. (A curious point in the commentaries -- someone mentions the design of Jessica Rabbit being unlike any Golden Age cartoon character. I don't wish to squabble, but she does bear a striking resemblance to the femme fatale of the Donald Duck cartoon Duck Pimples. Probably it's just coincidence.)
  • Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Ebert: Four stars. ``Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'' is probably the best film of its sort since ``The Wizard of Oz.'' It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren't: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination. ``Willy Wonka'' is such a surely and wonderfully spun fantasy that it works on all kinds of minds, and it is fascinating because, like all classic fantasy, it is fascinated with itself. Again, I may feel so happy about this movie because I did grow up with it -- it's one of the few movies Mom, rather than Dad, took the kids to, too, giving it more sentimental appeal to me -- but it does hypnotize me, and I don't think that's just because I liked it when I was five. There actually are things I liked when I was five that I don't still like.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ebert: Four stars; Great Movie. The fascinating thing about this film is that it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale. Kubrick's universe, and the space ships he constructed to explore it, are simply out of scale with human concerns. The ships are perfect, impersonal machines which venture from one planet to another, and if men are tucked away somewhere inside them, then they get there too. (1968 review.) Yes, there's barely any humanity in the movie, but there is the whole cosmos in there instead, and I think that's at least part of what a nerd like me delights in the movie for, since they are beautiful machines, and perfect special effects, and it's hard to be convinced that space isn't really like this.

Or as a tally, we're in total agreement 12 times out of 15 and substantial agreement 15 out of 15. Based on this, I can't really conclude that I'm not Roger Ebert, except by appearance.

Trivia: Robin Williams' foam rubber bulgy Popeye arms required approximately 20 minutes to put on. Source: The Popeye Story, Bridget Terry.

Currently Reading: Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley.

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