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David Poland

By David Poland

I Hate To Be A Dick About It…

I like much of Atonement… enough to recommend the movie to anyone without a penis and to some with one. But to compare it to Dr Zhivago or Reds or even the more-heady-than-meaty The English Patient is capital-I INSANE.
I do think that the nature of the Oscar season will see the film nominated for Best Picture and for another half dozen awards. It is a step up from Pride & Prejudice for all involved. And the first 30 minutes threatens to offer a classic of the form. But the film doesn’t even attempt to match the ambitions of any of the trio of films Anne Thompson is comparing it to… and while at times it matches the fine detail of some of the great Merchant-Ivory films, it doesn’t seem to aspire to the inner monologues of those works when push comes to shove either. 20 minutes less might have rebalanced the film that way… but movies are not horseshoes.
Thank you for your time.

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31 Responses to “I Hate To Be A Dick About It…”

  1. brack says:

    “It is a step up from Pride & Prejudice for all involved.”
    Wow, that’s high praise.

  2. IOIOIOI says:

    More like bollocks. However… Heat has drawn his line in the sand. This always goes so well for him.

  3. Ishmael says:

    Dr Zhivago hasn’t aged very well, so I agree that comparing it to Atonement is a bit of an insult.

  4. Noah says:

    Comparing anything to Reds is pretty insane. Not enough people have seen Reds recently to understand what a massive achievement that motion picture was, on every single level. It’s a difficult picture about journalism and communism and love and everything else under the sun, yet it feels of a complete piece. Atonement, while very good in its own right, is no Reds.

  5. scarper86 says:

    Dr. Zhivago was one of those classics I’d never seen until recently. I could’ve died a happy soul having never experienced that schmaltz, cornball festival. Ugh. After a disappointing weekend of “The Savages” (a great acting class that doesn’t total the sum of its scenes) and “Margot at the Wedding” (I hated every character except Claude and Ingrid who were destined to be their own version of those loathsome adults) I should’ve just trusted my gut and seen “No Country For Old Men” a third time.

  6. NYCAustin says:

    Well, that was pretty damn dickish. Not your pan of the film, mind you. But your asshole comment about recommending “the movie to anyone without a penis and to some with one”. WTF? Why do you have to say such jerky, misogynistic things? What the HELL does having a penis or not having a penis have to do with whether or not you would recommend it? Why should we care what someone who makes such careless comments thinks anyway.
    I thought better of you David Poland, but I see Hollywood has you as whacked as anyone.
    Good job.

  7. LYT says:

    It’s fair to compare it to the English Patient in terms of the demographic it’s going to hit, and thus fair to think it has a good Oscar shot.
    Quality of the film is a separate issue, but I’d certainly be happy to see the cinematography get a nod.

  8. waterbucket says:

    Oh my god, y’all, Dave Poland is such a masculine and rugged pig. Let’s butch ourselves up by continuing to lavish praise and support on that western Hairspray. Zac to the max!

  9. Noah says:

    I really think David is just trying to point out that this type of period romance (at least that’s what they’re selling it as) is generally frequented more by women than by men. This isn’t always the case, but it’s the opposite of the demographic for Hitman. Obviously, anybody who is well-read or well-versed in what is going on in the film industry will be interested in seeing Atonement, but I believe that DP is just pointing out what men in the middle of the country will want to see. People with families will see Enchanted, so Atonement really has to really bring in the date crowd. Also, James McAvoy is no Leo DiCaprio.

  10. The Pope says:

    While I don’t agree at all with what Ann Thompson says about Atonement, I too can see where she is coming from. Each generation, if not decade, seeks out and at times, convinces itself that it has its own Love Story For The Ages. When Selznick was making GWTW, he kept referring back to Birth of a Nation as his yardstick. That was the movie by which he was measuring his epic. When David Lean made Dr. Zhivago, his yardstick was not GWTW, but instead, another silent epic, The Big Parade. And when Dr. Zhivago came out, it thundered across every similar film in its path. For God knows how long (while love stories of such magnitude fell out of favour), it was THE romantic epic.
    While I think Zhivago has great sweep and wonderful moments, it repeatedly loses its way after the interval and suffers overall from poor casting and poorer performances.
    Reds on the other hand is an absolute masterpiece. In so many ways, it outstrips all the romantic epics… and perhaps because it includes strong doses of politics and irony, for many people, the love story is overshadowed. But Beatty was not interested in only making a love story. David Lean was ONLY interested in making a love story. Beatty was after a wider canvas.
    And that is where The English Patient falls down. It reaches for a wider canvas, but as with Cold Mountain, Minghella simply does not have the eye for the epic. The way he draws his characters is always in a room and not out on the field of battle or love. The problem with The English Patient is that it was compared to and fell down against Dr; Zhivago.
    And Atonement is meeting the same fate.
    I agree with David Poland. The opening to the film is brilliant. But then, like the novel, the story veers away from our expectations. It is no longer about Robbie and Cecilia… but rather about Briony and how she begins to realize just what a thing she has done. The thing is that McKewan was examining the whole notion of atonement and wondering if a person could atone by writing a novel. That does not translate into a film because the story is about writing. It is not about love. It is not about history. It is not about politics. It is an internal examination of one’s own conscience… and while I think Christopher Hampton did a very good job in adapting the book, he simply could not surmount the demands of the theme.
    And because of that, the story (and I mean McKewan’s novel) never feels epic. It has big moments in it but its sweep is not the war. It is about Robbie, Cecilia and Briony … and as Rick said, the problem of three little people don’t add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
    If critics were to leave well enough alone and not bring their own mistaken scale away from it, audiences would have a better chance accepting it on its own terms.

  11. The Pope says:

    My apologies for repeatedly mispelling Ian McEwan’s name.

  12. hepwa says:

    I absolutely agree with Poland about “Atonement”. While it is lovingly filmed, fairly well-acted and has several interesting moments (most of them in the first half hour), overall it is stunningly dull. I’m getting really sick of these giant wank tracking shots that go on forever and the director’s choice to have the adult Brione (sp?) stare into the lens without blinking whenever she is confronted (yet again) with the horror of her childhood lie. The best dialogue in the movie was the exasperated man who yelled out “Oh, for God’s sake” — and he was in the audience. To compare “Atonement” to “The English Patient” (which isn’t perfect) is ridiculous. “English Patient” is a grand adult love story set against World War II. “Atonement” is a grand perfume ad, which happens upon a war. And, please — “Atonement” shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as “Reds” (the last truly great film of the so-called 70’s era).

  13. Me says:

    Um, why the need to do a rip on what is Anne Thompson’s opinion? Of course it isn’t Dave’s, and that he likes Dr. Zhivago and Reds better than Atonement is fine. But I wonder that he feels the need to make misogynist and crass comments ripping on a horse in the Oscar race that obviously wasn’t the one he is supporting.
    This is why I HATE Oscar season on movie blogs…the fucking politics.

  14. jeffmcm says:

    I feel like sticking up for Doctor Zhivago. It’s got flaws and it’s no Lawrence of Arabia (but then what is) but after seeing it on the big screen several months ago, I totally got it. It’s big and sweeping and Lean’s visual powers are fully present even if the narrative moves in fits and starts.
    Meanwhile, I think it’s clear that Poland was referring to Atonement as a chick flick…he just chose a really strange way to express himself.

  15. bipedalist says:

    And thus, the backlash begins. Build ’em up, tear ’em on down. So if Atonement is out, No Country wins.

  16. movielocke says:

    yes Atonement is no Reds, it’s much better. (and Reds is excellent but a bit dated by its outlook, and often dull and indulgent. The bits with the real life survivors of the era are excellent though. Zhivago and English Patient are masterpieces and Atonement lives up to that level and caliber. So overall I’d say Thompson’s comparison is spot on. But as much as internet denizens/posters/bloggers hate to admit it, Titanic is true heir to the Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, Reds epic romance crown, not English Patient.

  17. I still want to know why Poland has Joe Wright so far down on his best director list. If your film is in the top five then you have a better shot than 99% of other directors out there.

  18. IOIOIOI says:

    Noah; Heat has no idea what the middle of the country wants to see. Hell… people will most likely want to see I AM LEGEND more than either Enchanted or Atonement.
    Again; this is Heat’s annual “THIS FILM SUCKS AND SHOULD NOT WIN AN OSCAR” line in the sand. If you go back over the years, then you will see how he works this pattern out. It’s bits of business like this that make Heat a trip to read Oscar season.

  19. Noah says:

    IO, Dave never says that this movie should not win an Oscar. In fact, based upon his words here, it seems as though he likes it quite a bit. He was pointing out that it was a “chick flick” and you’re right, people in general will probably want to see I Am Legend more than Atonement, but I’d be willing to bet that the majority of women would rather see Atonement.

  20. brack says:

    I hope I Am Legend is decent. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m excited about it. It looks sort of “been there, done that.” And while I think Will Smith is fine, his stardom still amazes me. His performances have been uneven at best.

  21. doug r says:

    Got high hopes for I Am Legend. I loved I, Robot and it’s always cool when Omega Man comes on TV.

  22. I agree with the Pope…ATONEMENT is like a fauz epic. it wants so badly to be this big, sweeping epic love-story but it gets utterly lost along the way.
    That being said, it’s exactly the kind of pandering shit I hate come Oscar time. I hope people see through it.
    Oh, and the 2 older women in front of me were bawling their eyes out through the last 45 minutes.

  23. lazarus says:

    I feel that Zhivago often gets a bad rap, and I enjoy it immensely. That being said, I think The English Patient far surpasses it. And I disagree with The Pope’s notion that Minghella doesn’t have an eye for the epic. Although none of them were unqualified critical raves, I think TEP, Ripley, and Cold Mountain have proved that he knows what he’s doing, not the opposite. Minghella has the rare gift of being able to portray the epic AND the intimate with equal aplomb. His problem is always going to be that he’s too artsy for the mainstream, and too old-school Hollywood to ever be fully accepted by the indie snobs. The English Patient winning Best Picture is a minor miracle to me, and is probably the only title holder since The Godfather Part II that can claim the same of thematic depth and artistry. Because it’s centered around a melodramatic love story causes many to roll an eye and neglect to look a little deeper (or even give it a repeat viewing), and that’s too bad, because the riches are plentiful.

  24. bipedalist says:

    “Oh, and the 2 older women in front of me were bawling their eyes out through the last 45 minutes.”
    How do you spell slam dunk again?
    “The English Patient winning Best Picture is a minor miracle to me, and is probably the only title holder since The Godfather Part II that can claim the same of thematic depth and artistry.”
    Uh…well, when I first saw it I absolutely hated it. The book was so much better. In years since I’ve come to appreciate it as a kind of guilty pleasure. But it is in no way close to the thematic depth and artistry of either Godfather film, imo. The ending still makes me laugh and not cry – I have never once cried during that movie though the whole house was in sobs when I first saw it.
    Fargo was the better film that year.

  25. lazarus says:

    Sasha, if you were such a fan of the book I’m surprised you weren’t initially impressed at what Minghella was able to do, essentially adapt what seemed unadaptable. Katharine Clifton has like, 2 lines in the book? The book didn’t have much dialogue to begin with, nearly all of it from Minghella’s hand. What I found amazing was how well his style meshed with Ondaatje’s; it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. There’s obviously room for complaint with regard to the reduction of Kip’s character, but it’s easy to understand why the choices were made.
    I’m not foolish enough to think that this film has the scope and Shakespearean power of The Godfather films, but my point was that an epic with this much human poetry is rather rare in BP winners. You either get a small character study like American Beauty and Million Dollar Baby, or a bloated spectacle like Titanic and Forrest Guump. Even something respectable like Return of the King is still dealing with archetypes and doesn’t really give you anything much to ponder. I suppose I should give a nod to The Last Emperor, though it does have its detractors, and I don’t really think it has the intimacy of The English Patient.
    When you say you laugh at the ending, are you referring to Almasy carrying Katherine out of the cave, or Binoche leaving the monastery in the back of the truck? Because the film really ends with Binoche, and I think it’s a beautiful little moment that goes along way in illustrating what I’m talking about.

  26. The Pope says:

    Good point with regard TEP. The ending shows that the story really is about Hannah. She begins at a point where she believes that everyone she loves dies (hence her initial reluctance with Kip). The story is her rebirth to life (look at the scene in the Basilica where she is hoisted on that winch… she is like an embryo). But the pity is that in the marketing of the film, it was felt that the audience would not go so much for an inter-racial love story but instead they would fall for two Caucasians looking very pretty in the desert. I do not want to detract from the film on that point, but the promotional material for the film reminded me a lot of the Ralph Lauren / Out of Africa faux colonial B.S. we saw in the eighties.
    I agree, Minghella did a great job in adapting the book… I think though that in the last act, the characters become metaphors… (hence Katherine being wrapped in a silk parachute etc). Great images, great moments…

  27. lazarus says:

    Pope, I don’t really have a problem with the marketing, because while thematically the film is about Hana, plot-wise Almasy is the one who’s around in both time frames, and his doomed love story is what hangs over the whole film. Hana learns something from his story, but it’s his memories, not hers. Her relationship is a reflection of the confession she’s hearing from him, but it’s not as substantial. Hell, in the book Kip is the one hauled up into the rafters to see the paintings, by one of his army buddies! Minghella may have reduced Kip’s story time (showing his training in England would have been too much of a diversion), but I think he actually made their romance MORE prominent than it actually was in Ondaaje’s novel. Featuring the interracial couple in the marketing would have been even more misleading.
    Nice analysis of how Hana and Kathrine are both in a way wrapped up (K in the parachute, H in the harness) and carried by their men, though.
    I agree that they were marketing it as Out of Africa (also underrated, but not as good), but it’s still the closest thing people could latch onto. Which goes back to what I was saying originally–the film is much too complex for the mainstream crowd, and I don’t know how else you could have tried to reach them without misrepresenting the film even more.

  28. LexG says:

    So, is Saoirse Ronan (aka, BRIONY, GUV’NOR!!!!) this year’s official NEWCOMER/AMATEUR/UNKNOWN FOREIGN ACTRESS who will trump four screen legends to win BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, only to never do anything again?

  29. adaml says:

    Agree with Dave. Except it felt more like the first hour. However long the first act was – that was A+ stuff. The rest was just solid to good.

  30. bipedalist says:

    I just got done seeing Atonement and I can say that it is magnificent. It is every bit deserving of the praise it’s been getting; it’s different than Reds, very different from the English Patient and quite a moving film all the way around. Right now, it seems like the frontrunner status is well justified. I don’t think Anne Thompson was off at all.

  31. LexG who exactly are you talking about? No winner from the past 20 years fits that description, except for perhaps Brenda Fricker but, then again, shockingly people actually think she deserved that award. Plus, she has been making movies just not American oscar-bait titles.

Quote Unquotesee all »

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