Bad Buzz

Movies bring fantasy to life, but sometimes a film’s buzz will also create fantasy. For example, buzz says that with THE DEPARTED Scorsese returns to his usual genre of tough guy gangsters. But look at his career and, of the 25 films he’s directed, only 4 are gangster pics, and 8 could be considered tough guy movies. Was THE AVIATOR more of a departure than THE AGE OF INNOCENCE or KUNDUN?

Here are two popular beliefs that drive me nuts because, not only are they completely untrue, two worthy films suffered because people were scared away.

1. THE FOUNTAIN is too challenging and makes very little sense

Thanks to a very persuasive review by Humby, I saw Darren Aronofsky’s follow up to REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (my 2nd favorite movie of the decade behind CITY OF GOD.) THE FOUNTAIN is actually a rather simple tale. (My complaint is that the plot isn’t complex enough.) I can understand initial resistance. Every time the film jumped to the future I thought it was about to go over my head, but the metaphorical story only gets strange in the final ten minutes. Challenging? Only if occasional moments of silence bothers you.

You want challenging? Try BABEL (which isn’t nearly as difficult as that director’s previous film, 21 GRAMS.) THE PRESTIGE is more intricate. THE FOUNTAIN takes great pain (and some repetition of scenes) to make sure you understand how it all comes together.
And what if it is tricky? 2001 is one of the trickiest films ever made. THE FOUNTAIN is much easier to follow, and less trying on an audiences patience. It’s even less of a challenge than REQUIEM. THE FOUNTAIN isn’t a great movie, but it is good (Grade: B-) and it’s being unfairly slandered.

(Richard Roeper recently gave thumbs down DECK THE HALLS but, on the same show, called THE FOUNTAIN one of the year’s worst films. I just remind myself that he’s a columnist handed his position and not really a film critic.)

As for a film making sense, I was a lot more puzzled over the plotting in SILENT HILL, THE BLACK DAHLIA, ULTRAVIOLET, NIGHT WATCH and NACHO LIBRE.

2. It’s too soon for UNITED 93

Where do I begin with this one. Remember when UNITED 93 came out and all everyone talked about was whether it was too soon for a film about 9/11? I recently watched WORLD TRADE CENTER, which just crystallized my anger over UNITED 93’s snubbing.

It’s not just that WORLD TRADE CENTER is a bland movie. It’s terribly dull, too afraid to show emotion because that would be working over a national tragedy to produce box office dollars. (Even the title is ridiculously safe.)
You’re meant to walk out of WTC feeling proud of the heroic things people can do under stressful conditions. The movie so wants you to feel good, you’re a cold-hearted bastard if you’re not moved. UNITED 93 reaches the same conclusion, but the feelings here are genuine. The ending is uplifting because you feel, without all the cliché button pushing, the immense bravery of the people onboard.
UNITED 93 is smart enough to focus completely on places news cameras never went, not only on the plane, but the main air traffic control center where ordinary people worked through an increasingly impossible situation. It feels exactly like a documentary crew just happened to be there, and the footage they captured is…well gripping would be an understatement.
In WORLD TRADE CENTER, when we see someone covered in debris and blood as the run crying down a street as paper rains from the sky, it feels false because we all saw the real thing. It’s an extra walking past Nicholas Cage on a Hollywood set. The image might play better in a couple of generations, but right now…it’s just dishonest.

I say it’s too soon for WORLD TRADE CENTER and exactly the right time for UNITED 93.


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