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David Poland

By David Poland

The Movie Carpool Lane

As is so often the case, Anthony Lane writes his way into a meringue of criticism, too busy being air-udite to be emotionally connected to the heart of any film. But as is also often the case, there are a few gems in the jello.
In his review of Sin City and Lukas Moodyson

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30 Responses to “The Movie Carpool Lane”

  1. Mark says:

    Its not like hes alone in this theory. The graphic novel is basically film noir. Making these super heroes more human. And Frank Miller is the best at it. The film is good. Breakout blockbuster good? No. But should be in the 70’s which is pretty solid.

  2. lazarus says:

    So David’s agreeing that Scorsese knows nothing about suffering? I knew there was a bias towards his recent work, but apparently now it’s extending back into the past. Maybe Lane and anyone who believes the shit he’s peddling needs to watch Raging Bull again. Or the scene in Taxi Driver where the camera can’t watch him being rejected over the phone.
    It’s one thing to say that Rodriguez has learned his stylistic tricks from Marty through Tarantino. And it’s also true that Sin City failed to connect viewers emotionally to its characters. But Tarantino doesn’t usually fail in that regard, and Scorsese hasn’t made some kind of habit of it. Even if you felt The Aviator was distant, that doesn’t mean it represents his career output. And what the hell does “fretful” have to do with it?!
    This is lazy writing throwing out a big name for shock value. Thank god HE didn’t win the Pulitzer this year.

  3. lazarus says:

    I just wanted to add that if the Last Temptation of Christ and The Age of Innocence aren’t two of the greatest films about suffering, I’d like to know what is…

  4. David Poland says:

    Not a fan of Lane… and the Scorsese thing is a curiosity… I don’t through it out altogether, in part because he qualifies it with the “fretful” and in part because I think it is worthy of conversation.
    We all do things that have effects that we don’t expect. I would argue that Scorsese’s violence has always been more than just violence. He explores the banality of his men of rage… whereas Rodriguez & Tarantino (at least in Kill Bill) seem to simply enjoy ratcheting up the banality as a way of avoidig boredom.

  5. bicycle bob says:

    u don’t get much more in suffering than showing christ dying. every movie marty has made is about suffering or giving up what u think matters most to u.

  6. Adam Walter says:

    It’s funny we don’t see this sort of snobbery (“the process of knowing everything about violence and nothing about suffering”) being dished out against films like “Hero” or “The House of Flying Daggers” that make violence seem beautiful, graceful, and exotic. Compare “Sin City” and “Flying Daggers,” and I think you’ll find a lot more suffering on screen in the American film… And, gee, how’d that happen?
    In “Sin City” violence is ugly and impossible to accept as mere escapism… After all, in “Sin City” at least corpses don’t just immediately disappear off screen–a lot of the time they cough up their guts first!
    (And anyone who has seen “Kundun” or “Reservoir Dogs” and can say that Marty and Tarantino don’t deal in a significant way with suffering… Well, that person likes to hear himself talk more than he likes to see himself think.)

  7. lazarus says:

    I agree with the critical hypocrisy surrounding Hero and HOFD, but to me it’s more in the screenplay department. While I enjoyed both films, I was a bit underwhelmed with Daggers after seeing all the praise that was heaped on it.
    I find it funny that films by people like George Lucas get ripped to shreds for a poor screenplay, when Zhang Yimou’s films were pretty weak in terms of character development and dialogue themselves. Ultimately, what’s the difference? Better acting? The actors in the Yimou films were all fine but really weren’t required to plumb any kind of emotional depths. It was all melodrama.
    It’s ironic that these same critics who are so unimpressed with the stylistic excesses of people like Tarantino & Rodriguez drool over what is essentially wire work and great photography. I’d also add that there was A LOT of computer assist with HOFD’s phtoography, and I’m glad it didn’t win the Oscar this year. At least Bob Richardson was using the computer to emulate different film stocks and time periods, which was a great artistic touch.
    While someone like Peckinpah made a ballet out of violence, his justfication was that you were able to see and feel every death by drawing it out and slowing it down. It doesn’t quite look so painful in Hero and HOFD.

  8. Stella's Boy says:

    You guys bring up a very good point that I hadn’t thought of in terms of some critics gushing over HOFD and Hero while attacking Rodriguez and Tarantino over violence and stylistic excess. I haven’t seen HOFD, but I didn’t much care for Hero or Sin City. I found them both lacking in screenplay/story/character development.

  9. David Poland says:

    Uh… are you guys really arguing that the violence in Sin City is… you must be joking… realistic?
    The difference between Flying Daggers & Hero (which is loaded with suffering) and Sin City or Scorsese is a distinction of very intentional style. On the other hand, Zhang’s films and Sin City have a lot in common in that they are built on simplistic, iconic stories. Sin City steals from old noir just as Daggers, in particular, steals from the old Shaw Bros. chop socky films. Both raise the bar. Both offer a significant dose of unreality.
    As always, the bottom line seems to be personal reaction followed by personal rationalization.
    For me, the standard for what Sin City tries to achieve is Dennis Potter. And perhaps that is too high an intellectual bar to demand. Truth is, the other standard bearer is Frank Miller, in his graphic novels. His art, for me, is like music

  10. Stella's Boy says:

    I certainly did not find it realistic, and I didn’t notice much suffering either. Not anything that even remotely resembles real human suffering anyway.

  11. Terence D says:

    Good ananolgy David. I think the same way. A novel is a novel. Miller is in a class by himself. You can’t recreate what he does on screen.

  12. lazarus says:

    Well ultimately the idea of suffering is going to tie into how emotionally connected you are with the characters. And you certainly can’t say that Rodriguez made you give a shit about any of these people. I enjoyed it on a purely aesthetic level, but that’s it. And for all the flaws Kill Bill may have had, at least you cared about the characters, or at least The Bride and Bill.
    David I agree with you that the violence in Sin City isn’t realistic. But again, why did critics give a free pass to Yimou? The characters were NOT three dimensional. The dialogue wasn’t any better than the melodrama you’d find in Star Wars (which is also an intentional copying of a certain style). I found it funny that many critics claimed HOFD was superior to Crouching Tiger, which is ridiculous. At least Ang Lee took the time to flesh out his characters and make you care about them. The dialogue may have been just as cheesy but there was something behind it.
    There’s a bit of a double standard. They are certainly different in style, but as David pointed out they have much in common. It’s all genre work, and to an extent reactions to classic genre material. But what’s cardboard in one should be acknowledged as cardboard in the other. I feel most of the critics have been fair to Sin City but grossly overrated last year’s two-fer from Yimou.

  13. Adam Walter says:

    David said: “Uh… are you guys really arguing that the violence in Sin City is… you must be joking… realistic?”
    Er, no. Who even implied “realistic”?
    BTW, we might benefit from actually looking at the definition of suffering: 1) the state or experience of one that suffers, 2) pain.
    If anyone wants to show that “Sin City” failed to show any characters in pain or characters who suffered–well, go ahead…

  14. Stella's Boy says:

    Maybe the problem is that I didn’t give a fuck about any of the people experiencing the pain in Sin City.

  15. Mark says:

    Realistic? Its a comic book!

  16. L&DB says:

    First off; bloody Type Key hates me. It is giving
    me that “Unknown action” thing. Shenanigans upon
    especially after I had to sign up twice due to
    their mess up with my first registration.
    Now Sin City has about as much to do with suffering
    as Days of Thunder has to do with the realism of
    Nascar. When you could careless about the characters
    no matter how great the talent happens to be, then
    the suffering on screen will not carry over to any
    tangible feeling. The only character I felt any
    sort of sympathy for is Alexis Bledel’s Becky. I
    cared mainly because RORY GILMORE SHOULD NOT BE GETTING
    KILLED BY MONOBROW HARTNETT! See? It aggrevates me.
    Of course, unlike everyone else in that film, Alexis
    out acts all of them. She has the ability to make
    one care for even a snitchy hooker. That’s acting
    Rodriguez just has a thing for making distant feeling
    films. Spy Kids Trilogy suffered this for me as
    does Sin City now. Of course OUATIM did not suffer
    this affliction thanks to Depp.

  17. Stella's Boy says:

    That’s funny. In my opinion Bledel gives the single worst performance in the movie. I wanted to kill her myself just to make her go away.

  18. lazarus says:

    No one was worse than Jessica Alba. Not even close.

  19. L&DB says:

    No Stella, nothing can be worse than your nickname.
    Seriously, nothing can! SNOOCH TO THE NOOTCH!

  20. Joe Leydon says:

    Excuse me, Mr. Life and Death Brigade — but anybody who cribs HIS freakin’ nickname from a girlie show like “Gilmore Girls” is in no position to criticize anyone else’s nickname.

  21. L&DB says:

    Laydon, any friggin critic who slags Gilmore Girls.
    Easily is not worth his shit. Now you go back to
    review shitty movies that do not even come close
    to being as good as one episode of Gilmore Girls.
    You sorry excuse for a critic.
    Now get out of here before I box your ears!

  22. lazarus says:

    I’m afraid I have to agree. I’m having trouble remembering a recent film with dialogue as good as Gilmore’s. I’d like to be able to say I’m only watching to entertain sick mother/daughter fantasies, but I can’t.

  23. L&DB says:

    Word to that lazarus. If Amy Sherman-Pallidino
    ever wants to go the writer-director route. Few
    people out there in LaLa Land will be able to match
    her abilities. And I mean that straight up.

  24. Joe Leydon says:

    L&DB: I hereby dub thee GIRLIE MAN. Arise, go forth and get in touch with your feminine side. (And while you’re up, get me a beer.) Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching the best new TV show of recent years: “House.”

  25. Stella's Boy says:

    I’ve seen a few episodes of Gilmore Girls. My mom and sisters love it. Can’t say I share the sentiment. It’s a pretty stupid show and the writing is far from good. Just my opinion. No need to get all angry guys. I’m sure there’s a show I like that you think is stupid.

  26. bicycle bob says:

    the dialogue on that show makes my head spin. to normal people talk like that? she does have the best eyes ever though.

  27. Terence D says:

    Never seen it. The thought of listening to two women talk about guys and life doesn’t interest me. Give me 24 or the Shield.

  28. Harley says:

    Careful. The meringue/jello metaphor pile-up is the kind they used to print in small type at the bottom of New Yorker columns. With the headline:
    Block That Metaphor!!
    In other words, when criticizing someone’s writing style, it’s helpful to….well, you know what I mean.

  29. Malloy says:

    Lane always coasts on his remarkable command of language, but intellectually he gave himself away over a decade ago with a review of “Speed” in which he seemed almost to be boasting of having been moved to tears by the end. And devoting at least a paragraph to Harrison Ford’s hairstyle (he may have done this more than once) tends to betray a certain permanent inability to genuinely distinguish style from substance. At the same time I cannot think of a less important critic who is also so damn good a technician. An analogy which also works for Rodriguez as a fimmaker.
    Lane is, at least, compulsively readable and often genuinely funny even if you hate the point he’s making; a smart-talking wiseass is always preferable to a nagging, narrow-minded scold (I couldn’t possibly be thinking of his New Yorker colleague David Denby, could I).
    As for the actual question of Scorsese’s portrayal of suffering, the point has already been well enough made by some of the others above, but I don’t think Tarantino is proving to be quite as callow as his early work suggests; his main problem would seem to be that his entire frame of reference appears to be other movies, and so much of what he does is essentially an adolescently romantic reimagining of the material he loved in his formative years. (I know, “adolescently” isn’t a word but I couldn’t think of anything better.) With “Kill Bill” in particular, one gets the feeling Tarantino was watching all these other grindhouse movies (particularly the “Lady Snowblood” pictures, it’s staggering how much he kyped from those, although some of the echoes are rather witty) and fantasizing about their deeper motivations. In fact a rather natural thing for a storyteller to do, and whatever his easily identifiable flaws, Tarantino is unmistakably a born storyteller and, unlike the majority of his obvious imitators, actually understands motivation, though I suspect it no coincidence that his most mature picture to date, “Jackie Brown,” directly derives from the work of a much better writer.

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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?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

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.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon