Jen and I went to see Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the other night (after a spectacular meal at Baroncini, currently our favorite restaurant in Iowa City), and really enjoyed it. The two of us had each read and loved the book by Stieg Larsson, so although I have liked Fincher’s work before (esp. Fight Club), our expectations were moderate. I expected something like the experience of watching Atonement, a perfectly fine film, but nowhere near touching the level of Ian McEwan’s novel. I did have a couple of thoughts, so I thought I’d get them down in print. The following includes spoilers, so… ALERT. (more…)

Today on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, the Chicago Tribune‘s “culture critic” Julia Keller was on, talking about what makes people give up on a book. Of course, the premise of this question is that usually people wouldn’t just give up on a book easily, and Keller was asked why she thought this was.

We’ve all walked out of movies, heaven knows we all click off T.V. shows with reckless abandon, because of, of course, remote control channel-changers, with Netflix we give, I think barely about a minute. A minute and ten seconds is about my limit of time now, before I say “ehh, that one’s outta here” and throw it back in the mail. Why do we have this special feeling about books? …

Is there something special about literature and narrative? I for one, of course, hope there is. I think all literate people do, and I think this might be a point, a line in our history and in our cultural history, when that reaction tells us there is something different and special about reading, as opposed to watching, or listening, or in-the-presence-of, in the way we are with theatre. We can abandon those things without any problem, but there’s something about a book that we, that we feel a little respectful of.

I know that these are people who talk lovingly about sitting down with a cup of tea and plunging into a book, and the assumed audience feels similarly. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking part in a subculture that prizes persistence and dedication in readers. But the notion that people give up on movies and television shows easier than on books because of some indescribable “something different,” is ridiculous. We have been taught to be a little respectful of books; this is not some natural and/or mystical phenomenon that readers experience. And anyone who’s taught for any length of time knows that lots and lots of people don’t feel that way about books at all, while others would never walk out of a movie for fear of looking like a snob. (My guess is that Keller would see walking out of a theatre as a statement about the movie’s shortcomings, snobbery being part of the appeal.) But just as you have to give the author a chance to make his/her case for a given book, a certain amount of time for a film or TV show seems equally warranted. If we’d grown up in a culture that valued media equally, Keller’s Netflix behavior would be evidence of a short attention span or immature intellect.

There is, though, an interesting question to be considered here: What is the appropriate unit of fair comparison between media? Giving up on a TV show after a few seconds isn’t really comparable to buying a book and giving up on it. There’s way more invested in the purchase of a book. Similarly, even at a matinee, I’m thinking two or three times about leaving a movie before actually getting up and walking out. But let’s say you’re half a season into Lost. How easily are you bailing on it, if you’re starting to think maybe it’s not going to have the payoff you want? Do you give it another episode? Two? And how does genre play into this?

(Photo courtesy of the George Eastman House’s Flickr stream.)

Maybe this was already established, and I just hadn’t heard about it. But the big movie news of the week, as far as I’m concerned, is that Christopher Nolan now sounds like he’s on board for the sequel to The Dark Knight. In an interview with Geoff Boucher of the LA Times, Nolan says his brother Jonathan, who wrote the first two screenplays, is currently on the case. And he sounds enthusiastic:

“Without getting into specifics, the key thing that makes the third film a great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story,” he said. “And in viewing it as the finishing of a story rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story.”

It’s good news. I had been afraid that Heath Ledger’s untimely death would make it difficult for Nolan to return to the material. But not only is he going to direct Batman III (which will hopefully be called The Caped Crusader), he’s now shepherding the Superman franchise as well, as Warner Bros. hopes to finally bring that series back to prominence.

You know, now that I think about it, I wonder if he’s talked to Leonardo DiCaprio about taking a role in the new movie. I’m certainly not advocating the idea, but he talks in that interview about selling the studio on having big stars in small or medium-sized roles, and there are few bigger stars today than DiCaprio.

As a kid watching ‘Superman,’ it seemed enormous and I realized later by looking at it that a lot of that was actually the casting, just having these incredibly talented people and these characterizations. And Marlon Brando is the first guy up playing Superman’s dad. It’s incredible.”

H/t: AICN.

In order to fulfill my obligation as a proprietor of a blog, I offer you this Top Ten Films of the 2000s list.  These lists are more statements about what kind of viewer the writer is than about which movies are better than others. I grew up on comic books, so the list of movies I saw is gonna be heavier on superheroes than others’ might be. I have kids, so I have the opportunity to be surprised by The Princess and the Frog (which I thought was cute). I’m not a huge fan of Clint Eastwood as a director (though Unforgiven would be on my Best of the Nineties list), so I didn’t get around to Million Dollar Baby or Gran Turino yet. Et cetera.

So here we go, in alphabetical order.

Adaptation. (2002)– Truly original. Probably too meta for a lot of people, and I could see it if somebody told me it was obnoxious. Has one of the great speeches about love ever spoken in film, for my money.

No Country for Old Men (2007) — I don’t buy There Will Be Blood as better than the Coen Brothers’ film of the same year, but Blood is the one showing up on decade’s best lists I’ve seen. If there’s a flaw in Country, I don’t know what it is.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) — An imaginative and effectively frightening film that makes me believe he can handle the pressure taking over the Tolkein franchise from Peter Jackson. Beautiful.

Ratatouille — There are other Pixar films I liked this decade. The Incredibles was derivative but well-executed; Wall-E was experimental in design but lazy in its message. Ratatouille had both did things that I hadn’t seen American animation try to do, and did it exceptionally well. It was brave; there was no guarantee that this would appeal to kids in the way that Finding Nemo and its ilk did and do, and parts are clearly more aimed at adults.

Requiem for a Dream (2006) — If I had to pick one movie above all the rest, I might pick this one. Aranofsky’s film tracking addiction through four related protagonists is ice cold brilliant. And very hard to watch.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) — I don’t know if this is the LOTR film that belongs here, but Jen made a good case for it. Sentimentally, this is the one that made you say “wow” the way Star Wars did back in the day. In the next two, you said, “Let’s see what he does next,” but that first one was eye opening. This is a placeholder for the whole series, though.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) — All right, here’s the love story. Clever premise. Great color. Amazing soundtrack. Plus, the actors actually fell in love and are sill together. (Do Bollywood romances have the same track record as ours do?)

Watchmen (2009) — I hate to do this… It seems too soon, and I haven’t seen it enough times to really justify it. I haven’t even seen the “ultimate cut” that Jen got me for XMas yet. But it was a near-perfect adaptation of the graphic novel, and actually seemed to make use of what film can do that comics can’t (music, for one) to complement what Moore and Gibbons were trying to do.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) — That’s right, love stories outnumber comic book adaptations on this list. You got a problem with it? I’ve used up all my good film adjectives by this point. If you’ve seen Alfonso Cuarón’s film about two boys trying to impress an older woman who seduces them, you know why it’s on the list. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

What’s that, you say? That’s only nine films? That’s ’cause I couldn’t settle on a deserving tenth. My heart says The Dark Knight, because I just love it… but my head says it has too many flaws, and the performances aside from Heath’s weren’t brilliant (though Heath’s Joker is almost enough to get it on the list anyway). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is on a lot of lists, but I thought it was overrated. Paris, Je T’aime? Haven’t seen it yet, plus that woulda been two films for Cuarón, which would have to hurt my credibility. And too many foreign films are the mark of a snob.

So I put it to you: What did I leave out?

Oh yeah. And here are five films I wasted my life on. They suck. That is all.

300 — Before Zack Snyder redeemed himself with Watchmen, he was best known for the dumbest, most homophobic, and yet gayest, movie ever. Don’t trust me, ask Andrew Sullivan.

The Fountain — Hollywood producers: next time Daren Aronofsky asks you to fund his art project starring Huge Ackman, just say no. More closeups of his bad acting the world does not need.

The Ladykillers — Tom Hanks + Coen Brothers = major suckage. Whoda thunk?

Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones — Sort of the reverse of LOTR… Hard to know which one was worst. I vote AOTC the worst crime against humanity and my childhood that George Lucas committed, at least until Indy IV, which I refused to see.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona — Woody Allen + worst voiceover ever = major suckage. Yeah, should’ve seen that one coming. But people said it was good!

Chuck Lawton at GeekDad makes his top ten list of geeky movies to show your kids. I mostly agree–my kids have seen three of these, and it’s early yet. The clear number one:

1. Star Wars: You must, MUST! I say, start your child our with Episode IV: A New Hope. Diligence is key, brothers and sisters, and while your kids will probably enjoy even the new trilogy for its grand spectacle, they must be brought into the fold the right way. Isn’t it a thousand times better to fall in love with the non-verbal pluckiness of R2-D2 in New Hope, and then cheer when he pops up in Phantom Menace? I knew you’d agree.

Indeed. Plus, what would be more maddening than an eight-year old getting to Return of the Jedi and thinking that this was where continuity fell apart?

A gripe, as pointed out in the comments: The Princess Bride didn’t make the list? Inconceivable! But overall it’s a fairly good list; I was good to see My Neighbor Totoro on it, and reminded me of how much I loved The Last Starfighter when I was nine or ten. I’d maybe make a case for Tron, only because my kids saw that a few weeks ago and were way more into it than I thought was possible.

I like Harry Potter.

I liked the books as they were coming out, and while I haven’t always been wild about the movies, I’ve appreciated certain things about them. The casting, for example, has always been great. I had occasion to appreciate this anew, as this week Jen and I decided to Netflix all the old Harry Potter movies, so we could remember what the hell was going on in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This then put us in a position to compare the movies as it hadn’t previously occurred to me to do. And if it weren’t for the last half hour, the latest installment would be my favorite.

After the jump, then, spoilers. I’m assuming this isn’t a problem, as if you haven’t read the books, you probably quit reading this post after you read the title.


I’d never seen this before, and I think I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for a weird old comedy. Is it a classic? I’m not sure. Certainly a highlight of Steve Martin’s career, I’d think. Parts of it are very funny. Kinda made me want to go back and watch some others from the genre: stuff with Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder…

A favorite scene:


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