Poor Things

After THE FAVOURITE gave Yorgos Lanthimos success, acclaim and a game lead actress on a bigger budget than his earlier films, the director aimed those resources at a project he’d been trying to do since 2009: an adaptation of the 1992 novel Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer by Alasdair Gray. While I’ve read that the novel is set in a realistic Victorian London, Lanthimos has turned it into a colorful (and sometimes black-and-white) gothic cartoon world, with shades of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, maybe a little BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, while retaining his cock-eyed view, dark humor and fascination with chaotic people upending social mores. POOR THINGS was nominated for Oscars for best picture, director, adapted screenplay, actress, supporting actor, makeup, music, costume design, cinematography, editing and production design this morning because they heard I was posting my review today and wanted to try to capitalize on that. I’ll allow it.

Emma Stone (MARMADUKE) stars as Bella Baxter, a Frankensteinian creation made by transplanting the brain of an infant into the body of her dead mother. It will be a very upsetting experience if you think of this character as a literal child, but in this fantastical world she makes more sense as a metaphor for an unhappy woman reborn with no past, no expectations, and no self consciousness. She has no idea what anybody expects of her because she has no past and lives among various wobbly animal hybrids in a German expressionist castle, forbidden to go outside by her maker, who she calls God (short for Godwin), played by Willem Dafoe (SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL).

God is a second generation envelope-pushing surgeon and medical school professor whose disfigured face looks like a Mike Mignola drawing* and whose various ailments require him to be hooked up to strange machines and do repulsive things like burp out a large bubble after each meal. Dafoe makes him seem kinda lovable despite being a literal monster and demonstrable madman; he also seems to have no clue that the experiments he occasionally mentions his father performing on him during his childhood constitute horrific abuse. He hires admiring student Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef, DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT) to assist with Bella, and Max maintains deference for God’s alleged scientific brilliance in between wincing at increasingly shocking happenings around the Baxter estate.

I also feel for God’s maid Mrs. Prim (Vicki Pepperdine, MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE), who stands around with an “oh jesus, what now?” frown on her face as Bella pees on the floor or repeatedly stabs a cadaver in the face or smashes specimen jars or what have you.

The latter tantrum happens after Bella storms in on an experiment, and whatever she interrupts involves frantically trying to put out a fire on the hair of a naked corpse. Nobody acknowledges or questions it at all, so you gotta assume that type of shit happens all the time around here.

Max is one of the few men in the movie who’s not a total bastard, and the person who shows the most empathy toward Bella, but he still sucks because he harbors a crush on this woman-child he’s helping raise and unethically agrees to marry her after God suggests it. If she’s willing, of course. And after making sure God didn’t create her to be his mistress. He kinda thought that was what was going on.

Bella actually likes the idea and agrees to the engagement, but then Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo, THE DENTIST), a sleazy lawyer hired to look over the prenup for God, convinces her to run off with him on a debaucherous journey of hedonism and sexual experimentation. Bella, who recently figured out how to masturbate and was excited to show everybody else how to do it, not only has zero shame about sex of any kind (with strangers, for money, etc.), but has no idea anybody else would judge her for it. So she just does what she wants.

This is a very funny movie, with Stone doing the heavy lifting in an extremely physical performance as a character with no self consciousness whatsoever. At first she speaks with adorably bizarre sentence structures and she does an incredible job of always walking off balance and without any attempt at grace or femininity. And there’s a scene where she hears music in public and gets to really demonstrate the concept of “dance like no one is watching.” With practice she gets walking and talking down pretty reasonably, and maybe it’s even funnier when she’s still crude and free of all constraints but talks in a facsimile of a witty upper class intellectual.

Men are always trying to confine Bella. When Duncan realizes he can’t stop her from running off and having sex with whoever she chooses, he brings her on a luxury cruise ship. Then he starts worry about her mind. She makes new friends Martha Von Kurtzroc (Hanna Schygulla, THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, THE DELTA FORCE) and Harry Astley (Jerrod Carmichael, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT) and they start loaning her books, so Duncan throws those in the water. Seems like something Gaston would do, but nobody said this was gonna be subtle about its themes. I like the part where Bella can see people starving and dying in Alexandria so she tries to go down to help them, but the path is collapsed. A physical barrier between the rich and the poor, in case some day some rich person comes along who actually cares.

She loses all of Duncan’s gambling winnings trying to give them to the poor, so they end up broke in Paris and she somewhat accidentally gets a job at a brothel, where she befriends an inked up madame named Swiney (Kathryn Hunter, THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH) and a prostitute named Toinette (Suzy Bemba, KANDISHA) who teaches her about socialism. (I’ve read that the book has more about that. It doesn’t register much here.)

Eventually she returns to God and Max, who are already raising another creation, Felicity (a dead-eyed Margaret Qualley, THE NICE GUYS), who underlines that Bella is a unique person because the other version they made of her is not the same at all. There’s also a threat out there of being spotted by people who knew Bella before she was Bella, which will bring her into the clutches of a motherfucker named General Alfie Blessington (Christopher Abbott, POSSESSOR). But this is kind of a fairy tale. It’s got some darkness, but it’s gonna end with a smile, I promise.

Lanthimos and his FAVOURITE cinematographer Robbie Ryan continue their love of weird fish eye lenses and shit, which really works here as Bella’s off-balance view of the world. Production designers Shona Heath (who had only worked on shorts) and James Price (art director of PADDINGTON 2 and JUDY) go further than previous Lanthimos movies in creating an alternate universe visually. Another VIP is costume designer Holly Waddington (LADY MACBETH, The Great), who gives Bella some really crazy dresses in styles that evolve along with her. One of them weirdly reminded me of the armor at the beginning of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. And I guess this is the first time Lanthimos has used an original score, but it’s an unorthodox, atonal one by English pop musician Jerskin Fendrix. Maybe too quirky for the easily annoyed, but I think it works.

The screenplay is by Tony McNamara, the Australian playwright and TV writer who was nominated for an Oscar for THE FAVOURITE, an Emmy for The Great (which he created) and hopefully free Disneyland tickets for CRUELLA. The author of the book, Alasdair Gray, died in 2018, but since Lanthimos has been trying to do this for so long he actually got to go meet with him and get a tour of places in Glasgow that inspired the story.

I’m not sure if they’re half serious or totally joking, but I’ve seen a few people comparing this to FRANKENHOOKER. Having not seen that since the VHS days I don’t remember it well enough to know if there are more parallels than just a resuscitated corpse doing sex work, but personally I see it as a good thing, not a gotcha, if today’s awards contenders have something in common with yesterday’s Frank Henenlotter joints. This is, by the way, the director who made his cinematographer watch the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen, ANGST, as reference for their period costume movie THE FAVOURITE.

I’m not sure, but I think this might be one of those movies that suffers a little bit from its Oscar nominations, in that it causes people to go in assuming it’s supposed to be Real Fuckin Important and that it’s a failure and fraud if it’s not. If you’re looking for something deep I don’t really think POOR THINGS is your top choice. I think it’s About Some Stuff, but I mostly enjoy it on the level of a slightly dark comedy in a cool looking fairy tale world. That actually sounds like back-in-the-day Tim Burton, and it’s not the same as that (it’s hornier, for example), but it might be the best comparison I have. If nothing else this is Stone acting at a new level of complexity without losing the silliness and charm that propelled her from teen comedies to Oscar-winning A-lister in less than a decade. I liked it.

*according to IMDb, prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier’s first seven movies were WAXWORK, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, NIGHTBREED, HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME, HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH and CANDYMAN. A real one.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2024 at 7:20 am and is filed under Reviews, Comedy/Laffs, Fantasy/Swords. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

44 Responses to “Poor Things”

  1. Ha, didn’t know that Hanna Schygulla was in it. Not that I am an avid follower of her or her body of work, but it’s still kinda exciting to see German actors randomly pop up in non-German movies.

    But I didn’t know anything about this movie, to be honest. The Yorgos Lanthimos train rode past me full steam ahead. THE LOBSTER is actually a DVD in my possession, but it also sounded like a movie that I have to be in a quiet certain mood to be in, so it remained unwatched. Despite its interesting looking cinematograpy, THE FAVOURITE never made it high up my watchlist and this one here totally flew underneath my radar.

    That said: Something like early Burton and/or Jeunet with its own flavour seems exactly like my kind of movie.

  2. As a big fan of The Favorite, I went into this very excited and came out thinking that it was pretty good! The sound and visuals are top notch and of course Stone knocks it out of the park (get ready for a million Bella Baxters this Halloween). But for me Ruffalo is the MVP here, somehow creating a performance that is super gross yet also charismatic and hilarious. I hated him at first then couldn’t get enough of his ridiculous speaking affectation after a while. And his exasperation with Bella was highly entertaining. It’s so great to see his path from over the top cockiness to downright pathetic desperation. My partner and I have found ourselves quoting him quite often:


    It was refreshing to watch something and have no idea where it’s going (that great dinner scene with the General for example). I like your Tim Burton comparison too as it felt like the kind of movie he may have been making in an alternate timeline had he y’know, matured as an artist and not completely sold his soul. I personally also got a lot of David Lynch vibes, I bet he’ll love it.

    This movie has definitely grown on me the more I think about it and I think it’s going to age really well. A new favorite perhaps?

  3. After Hanna Schygulla had her hilarious “oh, how delightful, he’s trying to kill me” moment, my wife turned to me and whispered “What do I know her from?” and I whispered back “DELTA FORCE!” and she punched me real hard in the arm because she thought I was just fucking with her. (We recently watched The Marriage of Maria Braun)

    Great review. The Babe 2 reference was A+ commentary. Loved this film as well, and the performances (RuffaLOL, am I right?) and design are perfection.

  4. This was probably my most anticipated movie of the year. I did think it was pretty good, but with maybe a slight tinge of disappointment. Some of it is because Lanthimos is deliberately trying to make the audience uncomfortable, as a key theme is the battle between the mores of “polite society” and Bella’s uninhibited self-possession. And some of that is literalized with the atonal score. But the result is that it held me at arm’s length for a bit. Or maybe half an arm. There is a lot to unpack in here though, and it goes to some interesting places.

    Can anyone explicate why a good chunk of it was in black and white? I honestly expected it to burst into Wizard of Oz color when Bella had her first orgasm, but that did not occur.

    Also, Ruffalo was a lot of fun but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Jason Ritter’s performance in the Comedy Central series Another Period– all bluster and stupidity. They have similar affectation and mannerisms.

  5. I’ve been putting off this announcement for a long time, but I think maybe it’s time: Fellas, I am old, so very old, and these kids and their weird, gross, awkward grayscale mumbling movies with their horrible scores, charmless characters, obvious subtext, and arthouse pacing need to get the fuck off my lawn. The way Vern describes them, there’s clearly some cool shit in there if you are able to discern it, but the unfortunate conclusion I have come to is that my tastes have stopped evolving and I can no longer perceive what’s supposed to be entertaining about modern cinema. It happened with music and now it’s happening with movies, too. I can’t keep pretending this is just a phase film is going through that it will outgrow eventually, that filmmakers will eventually get back to making movies in a style that I know how to appreciate. This is not going to happen. It didn’t happen for the people hoping they could just wait out the seventies and Hollywood would start making Doris Day movies again, and it won’t happen for me. Things change and evolve, and if you don’t keep up, like our man Vern here has admirably managed to do, you get left behind. Every year, there are fewer and fewer movies I love, and I know that’s not the movies’ fault. I can now forsee a day in the next decade or so when I will wake up one cold December morning and realize I didn’t watch a single movie that came out that year.

    And you know what? I’m okay with it. I don’t recall my grandparents bellyaching that they just didn’t understand THE MATRIX. They probably never even heard of it, and they were better off for it. I got a solid hundred years of cinema to explore and revisit. I’ll be fine. Last year, the dearth of new movies I was interested in left me more time to check out entire branches and eras of cinema I never bothered with before. I’m dipping my toe into the French New Wave for the first time. I’m exploring film noir. I’ve discovered that I like Joan Crawford and Mae West movies. I’m finally getting around to the Universal Horror catalog. I opened myself up to the wide vista of 50s sci-fi, and it’s just as much fun as Joe Dante always said it was. I’ve taken deep dives into the ouevres of schlock auteurs like Fred Olen Ray, Greydon Clark, and Al Adamson, and I’ve discovered how much I love putting the pieces together, seeing their recurring tropes and recognizing the actors and locations they go back to again and again. And yes, I plan on watching some Doris Day.

    There’s so much still to learn. I think I’ll enjoy being more of a film historian than an active moveigoer. I’ll leave modern cinema to the generations it’s made for.

  6. Sounds like you’d probably enjoy The Holdovers.

  7. Honestly, I kinda expected that.

  8. I got a solid hundred years of cinema to explore and revisit.

    Yeah, one eventually gets to that point.
    It happened to me when I was working this job where I had to travel a good deal, and I was in some boring-ass town in ‘the valley’ where you had to get on a highway to do/go anywhere. The kicker being, I had to stay over the weekend. Anyway, this was back when TCM wasn’t eight levels deep in the cable void, so the hotel had it. Sometime around Sunday morning it hit me “Jesus Christ! There are SO MANY good movies I haven’t seen!!!”. Suddenly, rushing out to see some new, highly-anticipated film by some new. highly-anticipated auteur on opening day, just so I can talk about how it was inferior to their previous not so, highly-anticipated film at parties seemed… drab.

    Now rep screenings get me MUCH more excited than ‘hot, new auteur’ fare (plus, the chances of exiting the theater in a crowd of 23-years-olds attempting to sound smart and insightful to each other at rep screenings is super-low)

  9. Majestyk’s comment reminds me of Ad Rock here at minute 5:43

    I’ve had a similar revelation. I was talking to my kids about how formative MTV was for me and how weird it was to me that it essentially doesn’t exist anymore (has been replaced by YouTube). Same with ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. The revelation is: Why the hell would I expect these to behave like timeless institutions when they were relatively new institutions when I was a kid. Ad Rock’s perspective is helpful. Very zen, very … just honest.

    Only point of pushback, is I do think some of these things live on, but they become niche, cease to be the mainstream thing. THANKSGIVING is an example. Conway the Machine and others are-throwback to boom bap rap. There are folks who carry the fire, but all of this is pretty youth-oriented, and, as you say, we’re not youth anymore.

  10. While I get the whole “you had your shit when you were young, now let the young have their shit” philosophy, and it’s certainly (partially) true. I was more coming to terms with the fact that a good portion of my personal ‘young shit’ was mostly garbage.

    Clarification: The sunday morning ‘epiphany’ I spoke of was after a viewing of Grapes of Wrath, after which it dawned on me “My god, the generation born in 1910 had that. What the fuck did I get? Fight Club?”

    Made worse by the fact it was the first time I’d ever seen Grapes of Wrath, yet I watched Fight Club (which I thought was stupid horseshit) twice. What was I doing with my very short time on this planet??

  11. Am I the only one that got Jodorowsky vibes from this movie?

  12. Oh yeah I totally got that from the cruise liner design for sure and then overall color palette.

  13. Majestyk, based on that monologue I would suspect you of being Martin Scorsese in disguise were it not for the fact that you’ve admitted to enjoying superhero movies.

    Maybe it’s just the hipster arthouse movies that are not for you. Which is what POOR THINGS is, and I’m very surprised by the Oscar love this little weirdo movie has suddenly gotten. I had no idea it had this kind of buzz – honestly I think I’ve seen more people online talking about SALTBURN (which I think you would not like either).

    We got a new John Woo movie and a new Jason Statham movie this year, so don’t lose hope.

    Personally I loved the weird score in POOR THINGS.

  14. I was about to say that I’d be more likely to watch POOR THINGS than Marty’s latest three-hour wallow, but then I checked and it turns out POOR THINGS is two hours and 21 minutes long so never mind. I’ll just watch FRANKENHOOKER again.

    I’m not saying I’m going cold turkey on modern movies. There will still be the occasional movie that interests me, and I’ll try to appreciate them. I’m just trying not to yell at clouds anymore.

  15. I’ll admit the same thing is happening to me, to a degree… it’s harder and harder to get excited for new movies. The way they look, the performances, the pacing… just don’t feel like movies to me, anymore. It happened with music first, and now it’s happening with movies.

    I’ve been struggling with it, especially since seeing new movies was once such a big part of my life and identity. Obviously there are infinite older things I can still get into (as Ad Rock says), but I worry that a completely backwards-facing approach to culture is a surefire ticket to turn into a brittle, fearful conservative in my old age. The culture passes us all by, eventually — it’s owned by the youth– but although the idea of quietly withdrawing from it sounds tempting, I wonder if it’s bad for me.

  16. I sympathise Majestyk, and certainly won’t try to persuade you from your course. My immediate reaction to this was, sure but you’ve gotta kiss a lot of frogs! 30-40 years ago, I went to the movies 3 times a week and chewed through video library rentals in my “spare” time. These days I go a couple of times a month, and I don’t think that’s just because the movies aren’t there. So if I don’t see as many great movies that’s partly a function of my not seeing so many movies, period. Having somewhere like this, where Vern and others have already done much of the heavy work of seeing some of those movies for me, helps a lot.

    I’m also reluctant to blame this one on the kids and their weird contemporary tastes. It’s always easy to blame the young; generally they have little power and bear little responsibility for the mess we’ve made. Sure young people want their own new stuff and that doesn’t have to be for me. But if we’re talking Scorsese, maybe we should also point the finger at streaming services who have basically destroyed the cinema market for meat and potatoes action movies, while letting a few directors, like Scorsese, make overlong movies in exchange for some of their prestige. At least he gets to make the movies he wants to, rather than having them tweaked by algorithm into just-OK mush.

    Streaming services, and DVDs before them, have pretty much also done for repertory cinema in all but the biggest cities. And I miss that too. I wish you well with the French New Wave – say Hi to Claude Chabrol and Louis Malle for me! – and indeed a 100 years of cinema.

    But I’m not ready to give up on the new just yet. For one thing we’re getting to hear new and different voices now – Inuit teenagers depicted in SLASH/BACK, second generation Asian immigrants in POLITE SOCIETY (I say again: I bloody loved this movie!), ageing non-white dudes in PAPER TIGERS, and so on. And movies from different languages and cultural traditions; I may fret about the demise of Hong Kong cinema, but imagine missing the blooming of Korean and Indonesian cinema over the last few years (and by blooming, I obviously mean getting to see it penetrate the western market I consume in). Now what if, for example, Egyptian action movies take off on the back of a breakout movie about tahtib? I’d be sorry to miss that.

    And anyway, I still need to see THE BEEKEEPER.

  17. To this debate, I will say this- yes, some of us feel the wear of having to keep up with whatever new stuff is coming out, and finding it doesn’t with your sensibilities. It is a generational thing, happened with our parents and our parents’ parents.

    But as someone mentioned, Poor Things is 141 minutes! Just about all movies these days are way too long – of the Best Picture nominees, maybe The Holdovers is the only one that feels like the proper length. So as these complaints have gone on for decades, we all still only have 24 hours in a day. Do we need to devote 15% of that to a bunch of Poor Things-type movies that hold no appeal? I mean, whatever you say about Barbie, did it really need to kiss the two hour mark? It’s BARBIE. If you’re turning it into pop art, you shouldn’t drag your (flat) feet.

    Yes, we all have our generational angst and middle age malaise about our love of movies. But it’s not helping that these movies are SOOOOO LONG.

  18. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming the youth. I know the fault is my own for not being more flexible about what a movie should be like. I’m still going to try to stay abreast of new developments in action and horror, but I will endeavor to be less possessive of them. I think that’s the healthier choice.

  19. Just blame the youth and be a proud, old man.

  20. I support Majestyk making peace with his tastes, so I don’t bring this up to argue, but I just want to note for the record that Yorgos Lanthimos is 50 years old. Younger Gen X like me. Not one of the youths.

    Also, I want to push back against the idea in other comments of Scorsese being against new movies. Need I remind you that he has raved about PEARL and BEAU IS AFRAID and said that KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON was influenced by MIDSOMMAR? Because I love reminding people about that so I will absolutely do it if called upon.

  21. I think it’s important to just accept your own bs for what it is without overly or reflexively externalizing it. That’s all. I shared the Ad-Rock thing, not because I think that’s THE way to think/feel about new stuff, it was more about the vibe. I don’t think even he would say that his process is *the* way, he’s just describing his own outlook in mostly descriptive or self-consciously subjective terms: this is how it seems/feels to me. This is where I’m at with it. He didn’t feel a need to be into the new stuff or a need to be against the new stuff, and he just generally seemed comfortable in his own skin. He was also totally fine with the youth not listening to or giving a shit about the Beastie Boys, which I thought was refreshing. Just not taking it all so seriously. And then he gave props to Chuck D for staying engaged and dialed into the youth/newer stuff in exactly the way he (Ad-Rock) is not dialed in, because Chuck D seemed to be doing it for intrinsic reasons. As DMX so wisely said, “Do you.”

    If you are vibing with newer filmmakers or newer films, then that is great. If not, that is okay, too. I also think it’s important for people to feel like they can be critical of new things or entire new waves of things if they feel like they have an arugment to make. To me, being reflexively on the bandwagon with new stuff is not obviously any better than being a reflexive curmudgeon. I mean, maybe you’re less grumpy, but you’re also may be less discriminating or freethinking (vs. bandwagon-y or herd-y). So, as much as I don’t think reflexive curmudgeonliness is super useful, I also don’t like the idea that you have to like something or you arent’ allowed to speak up about disliking something for fear of being an old man shaking fist at cloud or just being a wet blanket. If everything is good then things lose their meaning. Not everything is good. Not every new thing is good or at parity with every old thing. I don’t have to think Taylor Swift is as good as Michael Jackson or whatever.

    Scorsese actually is a great model for all of this, because he is not afraid to have critical or praiseworthy opinions about “new” stuff (e.g., MCU, Ari Aster) that can’t be reduced to “the things of today are bad” or “the things of today are good.” I think Ad-Rock would be down with that, too, fwiw. The main thing I liked about what Ad-Rock was saying was that the overall message seemed to be “don’t be afraid to be you, and you don’t have to oppose change or conform to it either. Just be into what you are authentically into and don’t over-think it or harbor a lot of negativity about what you’re not into or think you have to be into.” Something like that.

    A lot of popular entertainment is pretty youth-oriented, so not being into it is really just a recognition that your coming-of-age cultural treasures are not necessarily every generation’s. They get to have their own treasures and contributions. I like sharing my cultural treasures with younger people, and I like when they respond positively to them, but it’s also okay if they don’t and vice versa. So, to me, it’s about de-centering a bit and making peace with your mortality, which is what recognizing the end of your youth –and the dethronement of your youth culture as the advertister / marketer’s obsession — is. It’s one of many little deaths you experience. And it does hurt sometimes.

  22. It’s your house Vern, you remind away. I have no argument with Scorsese, although I’ve had to make peace with not loving his movies the way I did in the 70s and 80s. My argument is with streaming services who’ve bought into his prestige by letting him make movies that would test the endurance of my old man’s bladder, we’re I to watch them in a theater. And that while they have done so much else to undermine the movie going experience.

  23. I honestly feel like the problem for me isn’t that I’m out of step with newer movies, but that I’ve seen a lot by now, and stuff gets praised as original that doesn’t feel that way to me. But it’s also the case that streaming and other factors have fractured the channels of popular art. There’s no real counter-culture anymore, just a lot of divided interests. I know there’s great stuff out there, but it’s harder to find it.

  24. One thing I think aboiut this is not only is everyone older, but we have selective memory. Like Scorsese being called out for making long movies, but outside of the 70s he’s been doing that forever. Passion of the Christ was long and artsy. Age of Innocence was long and artsy.Kundun was long aand artsy. Never seen any of them. Casino was long but we forgive it because there were plenty of people getting beaten with baseball bats and Pesci screams fuck a lot. Fuck yeah that gets my money.

    Big artsy IMPORTANT movies have always been long too. Isn’t Brazil like two and a half? Baron Munchausen was long. Castaway, Shawshank, Dances with Wolves, Coppolla classics, Forest Gump, even a movie like Happiness is over two hours. Fuckin JERRY MAGUIRE is like two and a half. And The Holdovers is still two hours and 15 minutes.

    Big blockbuster shit has always been long…Jurassic Park a movie about people running from dinosaurs is over two hours. Jaws is over two hours and if everyone just stayed out of the water that movie would be wrapped up in a clean 15 minues…hey, chick gets eaten by a shark? Don’t swim! Boom, done and get home. Cliffhanger is almost two. Twister about people chasing the wind is almost two. Dawn of the Dead is over two hours. Even Chuck Norris made The Delta Force which was over two (possibly his best movie too?). Alien is almost two hours but It! The Terror From Beyond Space did the same story in barely over an hour.

    And shit back in the day was no better, all of those big 50s-60s musicals and dramas and important epics were long as shit. A breezy Western like Rio Bravo is two and a half. The breezier, goofier remake is still over two. The SECOND remake is still almost two, but by then they honed the formula and got the time down. The Haunting is somehow almost two. One of my favories The Big Country is like three. And many of these aren’t considered prestige fancy-pants flicks…Big Country prob was.

    Yeah you could get 90 minute movies like Frankenhooker mentioned above, but most of em sure weren’t Frankenhooker. You can jump on Tubi and find a million on the level as lazy-ass Jim Wynorski delivered. Munchies is probably short as hell. Even in the 30s You had really long movies sitting next to b-movie programmers like the fifth Mummy sequel or Abott and Costello comedy. And plenty of short action flicks being made today, The Beekeeper is basically the Hard Rain of the day…they’re short, get to the point, you got to see some people get shot, never had to think, and go home.

    Vern’s right, Yorgos is 50. And a guy like Ari Aster is older than me, he’s 40. And oldsters like Cameron and Scorsese are just getting those times longer and longer.

    Anyway I just don’t see that big a difference except now the programmer shit is cheaper and on streaming instead of theaters…but I can’t really understand people wanting to spend actual American money to go see Metro (117 minutes). In terms of the movies being made, there’s always been weird shit but back then you were young and it was exciting, it’s hard to chase that rush just like a lot of shit was more exciting when we were 19 or whatever.

  25. ps, I have not seen Poor Things. But I’m sure I will.

  26. It seemed to me they were stacking the deck by making their “wouldn’t it be great if people went around masturbating and talking about sex all the time?” character look like Emma Stone. If they really had the courage of their convictions, they would’ve cast John Carroll Lynch in the role.

  27. Speaking as someone who have always favored movies from the 60s and 70s, and being fully aware of the fact that I won’t run out of flicks from that era before I’m six feet under, I just want to say that everything gets old given enough time. I’m only watching the good stuff from back then. But a lot of the mainstream audience’ seem to think “old” is automatically “classic”. So I don’t doubt for a second that in 10-15 years time some idiot will hail EXPENDABLES 4 as some misunderstood masterpiece, like they do with DEATH WISH 3, INVASION USA and IRON EAGLE on a daily basis on Facebook. We may take a bleak view of the current state of cinema, but I bet you in the future we will start a lot of discussions with “at least we had Scott Adkins and Jason Statham in the 10s and the 20s”. I’m not making much sense here, but I think I’m saying that there’s nothing wrong with consentrating on old movies, but there were just as much shit around then as there are now.

  28. I’m under no delusions that everything old is classic (unless we’re talking about the three specific classics you brought up) but I do think movies get more interesting as they get older simply by accruing history. They are made of ingredients that don’t exist anymore and thus offer glimpses into ways of life that have disappeared. Hindsight grants us a fuller understanding of the forces that shape films, whereas the films of today are obscured by the fog of the present.

    Also the music was better. It just was. For about 50 years, there was a chance that any random movie you saw might suddenly come out with a total banger. That is not really the case now. Modern scores are all generic and/or atonal, lacking any distinctive melody, and licensing is too expensive for movies to do any interesting needle drops. And the contemporary songs that show up on soundtracks all sound like they were made by AI. Music lodges itself in the brain far more effectively than any other medium, so modern movies having unmemorable music means the movies have less of a distinctive identity.

  29. But again, this is a matter of perspective. The contemporary wisdom seems to be that film music should disappear, be subliminal. It’s possible that young people find distinctive music in film to be a distraction.

  30. I sympathize with Majestyks plight. I used to listen to a wide variety of music, seeking out various subgenres of hip-hop and electronica in addition to the genres I’ve always liked. But now I’m okay listening to yet another post-punk band that rips off Fugazi or the latest album from a band that I’ve been following for decades. I just don’t have the bandwidth to listen to the variety of music I once did.

    And with movies it’s not really worth sitting through two and a half hours of a movie that you know you’re not going to enjoy, especially when there are still movies past and present in genres that work for you.

    When COVID happened and films production stopped, I remember thinking that even if there were no new movies being made from here on out, I could probably spend the rest of my life going through the back catalogue of world films and never get to the bottom. It’s intimidating how much stuff there is. And at some point you have to decide how you want to spend those two or three hours you have free every day or two.

    As far as modern scores go, there was a video from some time ago that blamed bland music in films on temp tracks. But I do think Majestyk is onto something with the idea that “intrusive” music is now out of style. For years, critics piled on Spielberg for relying too heavily on John Williams. They thought his music told the audience what to feel. It looks like those dorks may have won, at least temporarily.

  31. Yeah..ranting at a film score because “it tells you how to feel” must rank as one of the stupidest critiques I’ve ever heard. Hey, for THIS film lover who on a technical level is pretty much clueless on all aspects of movie making, a scene makes me feel something because of a host of factors; the actors, dialogue, staging, lighting, editing and yes music so singling out the score for emotional manipulation is like blaming your 25th girlfriend for the state of your relationship when you probably need to take a longer harder look inside of yourself.

    On that note, KayKay’s pet peeve is the incessant needle drop at the start of every action scene (yeah lookin’ at you James Gunn. I like your films man, but cut that shit out!)

  32. One of the people who criticized John Williams was John Carpenter.

    I wish we had hookier music too, but really you got that great stuff from a select number of composers and I’d guess that run was maybe from the 70s somewhere through the 80s. 90s seemed to have dropped that style but maybe not as harsh as now? Imean every thriller score from the 90s sounds the same. And when you go further back, music from the 40s-60s may be bold but is kind of as wallpapery as now, just a lot of generic violins for the most part. Now it’s the same but they want this pulsing driving thing.

    But Nope had a lot of fun music. Look at the chase scene with the UFO, scored with this uptempto horn riff. The new Blade Runner had a great memorable score. I saw some great music in…I forget the movie, some woman was living in a castle and found outher host was Dracula? The Invisible Man had a cool score but kind of in that contemporary vein, but I wouldn’t call it wallpaper. There’s been some really good scores. It’s been awhile but Mad Max Fury Road is an all-timer.

    I think scores today still tell you how to feel…it’s just not now in bombastic marches in the vein of Back to the Future or Indiana Jones…but a good chunk of those great scores came from Amblin, that was sort of a house style.

  33. One weird example of how 80s scores could be sounexpecedly good though is something like Crocodile Dundee…saw that a bit ago for the first time and expected a dumb comedy…which it wasn’t totally…but the coolest part was the opening credits with a legit good score that you didn’t really get in rom coms like…ever. Sounded like it belonged in more of an action movie or something. A Fsih Called Wanda had the same thing.

  34. I was about to counter that the Icelanders are keeping the big score alive, but Jóhann Jóhannsson – SICARIO, ARRIVAL – is dead, and Ludwig Göransson – TENET, OPPENHEIMER, The Mandolorian – is Swedish. I may gripe about Nolan – part of my grump about long movies was knowing I’ll never get the 3 hours I endured OPPENHEIMER back, but hell, Skani, I’m not giving up a minute of RIO BRAVO (or THE SEVEN SAMURAI, or RED BEARD for that matter) – but he commits big to the music as part of the movie experience. I may even go see TENET on its cinema re-release.

  35. In the book Conversations with Scorsese by Richard Schickel, Scorsese admitted that he couldn’t relate to the way modern movies look and feel. (It was a library book so I’m sorry I don’t have the exact quote handy.) And that’s a book from back in 2011, before we’d gotten very far in the MCU (which he would more famously complain about.)

    It is true that he liked BEAU IS AFRAID (as Vern pointed out) and TAR, but in both cases he made clear that he considered both films exceptions, saying ‘finally some actual cinema for a change’ or words to that effect.

    That’s where I got the idea that Scorsese didn’t like new movies. That plus the fact that his whole generation of filmmakers, critics, film professors and film historians have stated as fact the idea that cinema ended with JAWS and/or STAR WARS and that everything since then has been trash.

    Personally I’ve gotten tired of their old-man prejudices. Whenever one of their negative opinions becomes a headline I think “Nope, don’t click on that article, you’ll just get mad,” but of course I do and I do. Oliver Stone is the latest one, accusing Ryan Gosling of contributing to the infantilization of cinema by taking part in the BARBIE movie (which he quickly apologized for).

    But their lousy example taught many of us Generation X-ers an important lesson: Don’t be like them when you’re older. Don’t grow closed to newer styles, genres and voices as they have. And if there’s any truth to the stereotype of Gen X-ers as the cool easygoing middle children, it’s for that reason – we didn’t like having an earlier generation’s biases shoved down our throat and therefore we’re reluctant to do it to others.

    Majestyk acknowledges that his disconnect from modern culture is his own problem and not the world’s. That is more self-awareness than a lot of older film buffs have demonstrated.

  36. I fail to see Scorsese’s crime here, other than having a point of view and having the gall to express it. Likewise, it is the rule, not the exception for most people to feel more resonance with the cultural forms of their coming-of-age time and place than with those that came long before or after. I do not like the Beatles as much as my father did, and he did not like Guns N Roses or Mobb Deep as much as I did. And I’m sure my grandpa liked Glen Miller or some shit. The idea that my generation is more enlightened and moral than the previous ones is the mirror image of the idea that the younger generations are sending the world to hell in a handbasket. It’s just very boilerplate, self-serving, stereotypical thinking.

  37. I’m not even mad when one of the old guards doesn’t like any of the new stuff, it’s just that it’s often disappointing when people like Scorsese or Cameron, who always talk up the “magic of cinema” and at times even started out making b- or c-movies, come across like they don’t appreciate Jean-Luc Godard AND Jean-Claude van Damme. I mean, how can you really claim to love movies if you don’t at least appreciate the existence of others than the ones you make? Christopher Nolan is a huge Michael Bay fanboy! Paul Thomas Anderson’s favourite movie of 2012 was MIB 3! That I can get behind. Even Spielberg calls the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY one of his favourite movies. But when one of those old icons keep repeating the same “Superheroes bad! Nobody is giving ME money anymore!” when they promote their newest about-to-sweep-the-Oscars movie, it just comes across as grumpy.

    (Also it was really weird when Oliver Stone watched the BREAKING BAD finale a few years ago without having seen any other episode and then started to nitpick it to death because he obviously had no idea about the show’s tone and missed all the big and small payoffs.)

  38. CJ, Scorsese is innocent. Clickbait doofuses ask those guys about super heroes every time they can because it’s the only thing they know how to get clicks from. Scorsese honestly answered questions about a genre he’s not into that has negative effects on his industry. I do believe he’s even mentioned ones he enjoyed just like Spielberg did. People I know you hate cast him as the villain in an imaginary conflict. We don’t need to keep the myth alive.

  39. I believe you, but honestly, the whole thing became such a blur in my head. Big time autheurs who hate Marvel, those who don’t hate it but have their quotes taken out of context, those who like the movies but don’t wanna do one, those who like the movies but blame superhero for the death of arthouse cinema… It’s strange how a genre with less than 10 movies per year became such a hot button topic and I kinda stopped paying attention to other people’s opinion about it.

    I stand by what I said about old cinema icons being surprisingly narrow minded in their tastes sometimes though. Even if it doesn’t necessarily apply to Scorsese.

  40. This is somewhat related to what THE WILD BUNCH is about: The older generation trying to step down with some grace, paving the way for younger forces. But at the same time it’s hard not to go out with a big, bloody bang!

  41. After my earlier comment, it occurred to me to wonder how much exposure other folks here have actually had to the older prejudice that JAWS and STAR WARS killed cinema and that movies after that (i.e. most of the movies that this websight and its community are devoted to) have been garbage. That attitude was suffocatingly dominant in movie culture up through the 1990s at least, and I still get worked up when I encounter new iterations of it.

    But then I came of age in an analog world of film books and newspaper reviews and magazine essays. Online discussion skews younger and nerdier, and so maybe that older snobbier attitude hasn’t lived on as much as I think it has? Around here folks may argue about modern action or modern Star Wars or modern horror, but we at least agree that action movies and Star Wars movies and post-HALLOWEEN horror movies are valid forms of cinema rather than violations against cinema. We’ve at least won that battle against the oldsters.

    So maybe I’m still fighting a battle that mostly only lives on in my head. However I am still bothered by how readily older film buffs will casually dismiss movies that clearly matter to audiences other than themselves. It’s annoying enough when some online troll does it, but one would expect a veteran film historian to have more perspective than that.

    Skani is probably right that it’s an oversimplification to say that either younger or older generations are better. But having seen the way older folks double down on their prejudices, I skew towards trying to remain as open to modern and emerging culture as possible for as long as possible.

  42. Sight and Sound’s list, which definitely skews “Scorsese-esque” (~ highbrow) has JAWS and RAIDERS in its Top 200.


    Curt, I think the effort to be open to new voices, styles, and cultural forms is very worthwhile, and I agree that reflective “get off my lawn” prejudice is a counter-productive if normal (default?) response to the strange new things that are crowding out one’s beloved aging things. Aspiring not to be a reflexive curmudgeon is a good thing, because who wants to miss out on good things or be doomed to increasing bitterness? So, I think there are very valid points in the bathwater of your earlier comment. For my part, I just get frustrated with people not trying to understand and emphathize with those who see the world differently — however that may manifest itself. There is so much bad faith, and the media and especially social media know that our lizard brains are eager to divide people into tidy ingroups and outgroups. And sometimes there are important divides that have to be acknowledged and slugged out or whatever, it’s not always kumbaya or both sides or whatever, I get that. But sometimes we DO get goaded into self-fulfilling prophecies of defensiveness and mutual recrimination. Anyway, not everyone is dispositionally open to new stuff, and in some ways that’s a shame, but also, live and let live unless the person is being a real loudmouth dick about how much all new things suck without even knowing really what they’re talking about (which I have been before, I’m sure, lol).

    When I think of real age or generational divides, I think the ideal world would be one where people of all generations operated as though they might have something useful to learn from each other’s particular perspective. The whole point of being more cross-culturally aware is that it both relativizes your own point of view and gives you the option of trying out other points of view to enrich and build out your own perspective (~ “I never thought of it that way”). That, too, is part of being open — not just being open to new ideas but just open to other ideas, including old ones that maybe have gotten lost or submerged. So, as long as Scorsese isn’t being overtly grumpy or mean-spirited, I feel like there is value in listening to both our elders and our juniors and then assessing what they say on the merits vs. a knee-jerk “get off my lawn” or “okay, boomer.” We can criticize and celebrate both old and new ideas, unless we want to believe in fairly naive myths of progress where newer is always definitionally better (or conservative myths of regress where whatever boogeyman of the day is sure to bring about cultural and civilizational collapse).

    Sorry, I know sometimes these things may sound lecture-y, and I really don’t mean them that in a know-it-all way at all and sorry if it comes off that way — I just have a lot of convoluted thoughts that I find difficult to express concisely, so, just thinking out loud / “external processing.” I’m as fucked up as the next person — probably more — and this is just my way of sythesizing and giving it back what I’m seeing as best I know how.

    In conclusion, the pushback and different perspectives is a good thing, ultimately, I think. So, thanks for that!

  43. grimgrinningchris

    January 29th, 2024 at 4:48 pm

    I know I’m mostly radio silent. And half the time o pipe up it’s in a bit of a row with Maj. but sweet fancy Moses Is this one a pretentious snore???

    It’s a totally different animal but it still feel like JOKER. A wonderful acting showcase in the middle of piddling dumb people trying to play smart.

  44. grimgrinningchris

    February 2nd, 2024 at 1:10 pm

    Ooops. Booze.

    I have no clue what I was talking about here. And I haven’t had a OV disagreement with Maj in years.

    Ooof. Fireball.

    I haven’t even SEEB this yet.

    Grasping I think I may have been thinking of SALTBURN (which I truly did hate).

    Apologies to Vern and Maj. Liquor. Oooof.

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