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David Poland

By David Poland

How Can You Tell A Commercial Movie Is About To Die?

Armond White calls it a "near Masterpiece."

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16 Responses to “How Can You Tell A Commercial Movie Is About To Die?”

  1. Neal says:

    That’s great. On the same page White has a long review of Million Dollar Baby (the first negative one I’ve read) and 2 paragraphs about Spanglish. And as you see from the blog entry, guess which write-up is supposedly of more interest to readers? Spanglish ceased to be a factor since the Globes were announced. If you thought AW’s arguments about Baby were completely off the mark, you would have said so and defended the film, right? I’m guessing there may be some truth to what he’s saying and you’d prefer not to entertain the notion.
    Whatever your views, god forbid we actually mention the possibility that M$B isn’t as great as we’ve been hearing (I found the overrated Mystic River perfectly executed and acted and yet it left my thoughts an hour later–I have zero desire to see it again). Yet when Goldman starts calling The Aviator overrated without even seeing it, you stop just short of condoning his whole column, even one-upping him by claiming 20 other directors could have given us an as-good or better Aviator. Riiiiight. There aren’t 5 directors with the visual gift that Marty has, let alone 5 that could juggle an epic like this. Look what happened to Oliver Stone with Alexander. As I’ve said before, combining big set pieces with an intimate descent into madness isn’t something easily done. Someone like Spielberg would never be able to nail that (Dreyfuss’ character in CET3K wasn’t nearly that dark).
    But it’s clear that you’ve chosen sides. I understand why you were so enraged at the butchering of Gangs of New York (even though I enjoyed it greatly). With The Aviator, what are you so bitter about? It not being a masterpiece isn’t enough to justify the bias. Do you hate Harvey that much? Because I don’t understand why a film lover would be gunning, however subtlely, for a man like Martin Scorsese this year. An objective writer would have pointed out that Goldman’s column was out of line, regardless of its content, and if I’m not mistaken, against recent Academy rules that preclude a member from issuing editorials before the awards are handed out.

  2. chase says:

    Jesus. Did he watch the same “Spanglish” I did?
    Seriously. Huh??

  3. JFlix says:

    Quite honestly, I think ‘Spanglish’ is already dead. It hasn’t made much of a splash in any way at all-not on the awards circuit, not critically (at least not in the run-up to its actual release), and it seems to be below the radar commercially. It may seem odd for me to say that when its actual release date is this Friday, but…anyone with their finger on the pulse can distinguish between a high-buzz film, a low-buzz film, and a no-buzz film. ‘Spanglish’ seems to encompass a little bit of the high buzz and little bit more of the low buzz, but mainly it appears to be a non-event in every respect.
    Having seen the film, I agree with your comments, DP…I expressed a lot of the same ideas in my post-film chat at Saturday’s sneak preview. I liked several individual scenes, but there was soooo much-way too much-going on and very little of it fit together. I may have a slightly more positive view on the film because I have a GREAT DEAL of admiration for many of those individual scenes, but…it didn’t come together.
    However, I have heard some other ‘near-masterpiece’ type words from other viewers and reviewers (Richie Roeper seemed to feel about the same way as Armond White)…but overall, I think the film lives up to its non-event status. It isn’t an event, won’t be treated or awarded as such, and…regardless of what writing there is on the wall, I don’t think it’s ‘about to die’…I think it’s already dead.

  4. Filipe says:

    Well, it’s very White that he gave three times more space to the “dud” than to the “near masterpiece”. Anyway, he hates Clint Eastwood, so there’s nothing surprising here (AW is as passionate about those he hates, as he is about those very few he loves).
    Most of Goldman’s article was dumb and unfair, but it must be said that the one point in his article that was neither dumb nor unfair was the one David has adressed in his early post: the way in which Aviator’s defenders seem to believe that he should won because he is Martin Scorsese and he has such a great career. The film has got better reviews than Gangs (which I’m a big fan of), but people still claim he should won by his body of work. As counter-example no one that believes Clint Eastwood deserves to win, is writing that he should win because he is Clint Eastwood (hell, I’m yet to read even “he should have won last year”). Ok, Eastwood already have one award, so let’s go back in time a couple of years: people that were behind Robert Altman for Gosford Park or Polanski for The Pianist, were there because they thought the films were great, not because they had directed Nashville or Chinatown.

  5. Nick says:

    I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone. The star of an episode entitled “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. In this episode a young man in his early thirties, goes to a screening of a film called, Million Dollar Baby.
    “May be the best American film of 2004”, “Deeply involving”, “Matches in pain and intensity Ingmar Bergman’s best psychodramas”, is how it’s described by critics. It makes all the top ten lists, wins a few awards, and experts call it the film to beat for the Oscar this year. All 19/19 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes are overwhelmingly positive, so his expectations are through the roof.
    After seeing it, not only does the film fail to live up to the hype, but it’s jaw droppingly bad on every level. I don’t know if it’s the tired boxing cliches, campy acting (except for Morgan Freeman, and one scene by Clint Eastwood), the stock one dimensional characters, or the absurd series of events in the third act, I hated most.
    Or maybe it’s the fact that Hillary Swank’s character sounds a lot like “Lennie” in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” when she speaks. In that novel, Lennie ends just about every sentence with “George”. “Tell me about the rabbits George”. “Tell me again George”. “Why not George”. In Million $ Baby Swank’s character substitutes the name George for the word “boss”. The way she says it in one of the more “powerful” scenes near the end had the audience I saw it with laughing inappropriately.
    There’s a retarded character in the gym who could’ve been cut completely out of the film without hurting it. And by the way, is it even legal to have mentally challenged people in a boxing gym, much less sparring??!!
    Also, the character of Swank’s mother has got to be one of the most poorly written characters I’ve ever seen in a film. I won’t give it away, but her actions in this film are so over the top, that it actually crosses the line and delves right into self parody. I felt like I was watching an SNL sketch at one point. There’s a scene in a hospital that is so outlandish, that it has to be seen to be believed.

  6. Greg says:

    Thank god I’m not the only one on the island. MDB is a well crafted movie, but it’s not a “great” movie. This Oscar hype is beyond me. Understanding the politicing and Eastwood’s stand in the industry, come on now. I saw it at a screening three weeks ago and there were no tears flowing from audience members, no one blown away as they left the theatre. Meanwhile, two months ago there wasn’t a dry eye in a packed house for The Sea Inside. Spanglish? It’s such a mess it’s not even worth talking about.

  7. teambanzai says:

    Didn’t we all see this movie when it was called Girl Fight?

  8. jsnpritchett says:

    Million Dollar Baby is nothing like GIRLFIGHT, regardless of what the ads might make you think. It starts out being somewhat similar, but by the end, this movie is not about boxing at all.

  9. Neal says:

    Perhaps other people feel Scorsese should win for his body of work; it’s certainly not something I’m advocating. What you have to realize is that many people feel he is the greatest living American director (Roger Ebert is one of them), and so ANY movie he makes has the potential to be the best directed American picture of the year. Since the Oscars have a bias against foreign films, that would make Scorsese the potential winner of that Oscar every time out. Now I’m a HUGE fan, and I’d argue that his directing efforts on Gangs, Cape Fear, Age of Innocence, Kundun, Last Temptation, GoodFellas, Taxi Driver, Casino, and Raging Bull were ALL worthy of directing Oscars over whatever competition existed that year, even if the film wasn’t quite the “best picture”. Again, that’s why there’s two awards.
    Also, someone’s body of work is ALWAYS a factor unless they’re an unknown like Hillary Swank when she won her Oscar. It’s not something voters can shove out of their head. The question shouldn’t be “Is this current effort up there with the artist’s previous best work?”, but “Is this current effort as good or better than the other nominees?” The Aviator doesn’t have to be as good a film or as good a directing job as Raging Bull. It just has to be directed better than Million Dollar Baby, Phantom, Sideways, Hotel Rwanda, Finding Neverland, or whatever. And although I haven’t seen The Aviator yet. And being aware of Marty’s skill behind the camera, that’s not a stretch. I don’t feel Polanski’s effort on The Pianist was anything special, despite how good the film was, and I’d argue Jackson, Marshall, Scorsese, and Daldry all did better jobs. Altman’s work on Gosford Park was a brilliant juggling of actors, but the least impressive alongside Howard, Jackson, Scott, and Lynch. But this year, the competition for Marty will possibly be Eastwood, Hackford, Schumacher, Payne, Forster. That’s pretty weak compared to what the other two guys were up against.

  10. bicycle bob says:

    oh no. the kiss of death. run clint run!

  11. bicycle bob says:

    by the way, i don’t think girlfight had oscar caliber performers in 3 of the lead roles.

  12. Mark says:

    Hillary Swank will jump some levels in my eyes if she aces this role. From Beverly Hills to Oscar. Wow.

  13. joe says:

    I really see Hillary Swank winning the oscar.
    But I also see Emmy Rossum winning it, so…
    ..I might be wrong.

  14. Mark says:

    David, you’re getting spammed now. These poker things will never stop. They’re like the Terminator.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

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