World Socialist Web Site on Film
August 1, 2005 3:10 PM   Subscribe

"Just about anything goes in contemporary cinema and no one bothers too much with what actually took place in the past." The World Socialist Web Site's movie review archive provides a different take on film, both Hollywood and international.
posted by goatdog (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A previous kinda-sorta related thread (although on first glance these reviews seem much more reasonable).

These look interesting; I'm going to enjoy browsing them.
posted by the_bone at 3:19 PM on August 1, 2005

WSWS is...interesting. I like the class consciousness in their film reviews (seen in the linked Cinderella Man review), even if sometimes they completely miss the point of a film; Batman Begins comes to mind. A good positive review on an excellent film that comes to mind is The Truman Show.

The site as a whole is like that; they provide good socialist viewpoints on a lot of stuff, then they go off on a hyper-sectarian attack like their recent polemic against the International Socialist Organization. The group that runs them (the International Committee for the Fourth International and the various Socialist Equality Parties) is a small, orthodox Trotskyist sect; everything they write has that caveat on it.
posted by graymouser at 3:28 PM on August 1, 2005

As with most reviewers I read, my favorites are the ones where they go to town on a movie they don't like. Say, The Interpreter.
posted by goatdog at 3:35 PM on August 1, 2005

That was actually a really intelligent review. I'd love to read more reviews like that. Directors like Howard, while very good at providing popcorn and soda entertainment movies of the highest kind, are still not giving anything challenging to the audience.

I'd love to hear that more from reviewers. You hear it all the time on the "obvious" throw away movies, like The Wedding Crashers. But not so much about movies like Cinderella Man, which is probably just as throw away, but sculpted by a more skilled hand.

Note: haven't seen either of these movies. Speaking in generalities. Of course, Cinderella Man is one of the "must-see" movies that I have no desire to see. It is very obvious from the preview exactly what I would get for my money on that one, and I'm not interested. I like my throw-away entertainment light. If it's not light, give me something more than entertainment.
posted by teece at 4:40 PM on August 1, 2005

Interesting site -- thanks for the link. The reviewer certainly hands Spike Lee's head to him in his review of Summer of Sam. Why will no one tell the truth? Lee is a terrible film director, a racist, an individual without the slightest apparent sympathy for human beings (except himself). And the liberal and “left” intelligentsia, terrified of criticizing Lee for fear of being called racist themselves, goes along with the charade.
posted by QuietDesperation at 5:02 PM on August 1, 2005

The ICFI's "World Socialist Web Site" should of course not be confused with the World Socialist Movement , which should not be confused with their contemporaries at the Socialist Labor Party . The WSWS is (as noted) Trotskyite, I'd characterize the WSM as a hold-over from the "orthodox" Marxism that the Bolsheviks broke off from, and the SLP is DeLeonist; I'm pretty sure the latter were the first to criticize the Bolsheviks for what became known as "State capitalism" as well as for what became known as "bureaucratic collectivism", while Trotsky was still running the Red Army. Both the WSM and the SLP began criticizing the Leninists early on, even before Stalin, for perverting communism by establishing a Statist dictatorship that kept power by force. And then there arose the "O'Bannon version" that some famous Sony spokesmodels are allegedly into.

And no, "state capitalism" and "bureaucratic centralism" are not mutually exclusive; I think that dispute had more to do with Cointelpro , back in the days when America's Socialist Workers Party was run by the FBI, according to that old strategy of divide et impera .

(This is what I do instead, bugbread: I steep myself in 'anti-corporate culture'. Picture me cackling "self-parodically". Peace.)
posted by davy at 5:07 PM on August 1, 2005

While there's some very interesting perspectives contained here, and the writers are clearly extremely knowledgeable and have a talent for lucid phrasing, there's something crushingly, desperately joyless about a film reviewer who can never bring themselves to admit that "entertainment value" is a valid category to judge a film by. Above all else, it makes you wonder why they care about film, what passion can possibly drive them to comment on it; it's hard to avoid feeling that the writer has an extreme disdain for all but his most slavish of readers. Furthermore, there's a strong sense that - for all their protestations about how film-makers fail to capture the ordinary man, the true human condition - they actually cannot abide the ordinary man, his likes and dislikes, and the diversions he seeks from the mundanities of life.
posted by flashboy at 5:13 PM on August 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

"If anybody is interested I will be using the workers VCR this weekend. I will need it to view some bourgeois videos so I can write some film reviews that are crucial to Revolution. Oh. I can't wait. The Man will read these, and stung by wit and moved by my Hegelian insights, will then suddenly see the truth of the Revolution and collapse under the wieght of his Racist Corporate Shame! Yeah. It's gonna be great. Oh. And. I will also require use of the Workers pop-corn popper."
posted by tkchrist at 5:32 PM on August 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

Shorter WSWS: "We're far too serious about our politics to have any fun."

Even shorter WSWS: The tightly clenched ass of the ideologue.
posted by bjrubble at 5:36 PM on August 1, 2005

That was actually a pretty insightful review. On the far right side of the aisle, we have the fawning admiration of Cinderella Man from The National Review.
posted by deanc at 5:37 PM on August 1, 2005

Directors like Howard, while very good at providing popcorn and soda entertainment movies of the highest kind, are still not giving anything challenging to the audience.

So what?

Most people's actual lives are enough of a challenge, I don't need it from my entertainment. That's almost masochism in a weird way.
posted by jonmc at 5:50 PM on August 1, 2005


posted by jonmc at 5:52 PM on August 1, 2005

Interesting, his take on Batman Begins vs mine. I was thoroughly entertained by it, and quite enjoyed the experience. There were two bits I didn't like:the overly long 'oh woe the little boy' bits and that gawdawful car chase bullshit. Otherwise, I felt it was a well-acted, well-plotted, well-paced, and well-designed movie. The dialog was sketchy: it was mostly fluff, but had some very subtle humour both in written, voiced, and acted forms.

The only difference between this as a good movie and this as a truly great movie is almost entirely in the dialog. It's the difference between a [insert great author's name here] and a Danielle Steele or John Grisham. The latter obviously write good, or good enough, books: they are tremendously popular. But the don't write great books, books that will be read for all time.

Batman Begins was very good, and I look forward to the new franchise. This is good entertainment, quite unlike the last couple Batmans. If they release another Batman with nipples and a supernovaing Joker, I ain't seeing it. If it's a Batman that's got issues and an understated criminal menace in a Joker that gets more insane, more brightly-coloured, and more dangerous over the span of the movie, I'm in.

I want to be entertained, and if it's striking on all cylinders other than the one that speaks "classic of all time", it's a damn good movie that held my attention and kept me suspended in an alternative (fictional) reality.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:48 PM on August 1, 2005

Er... which is to say, he seemed to expect it to be a lot more of a movie than I did: he seemed to want it to simultaneously be a silly bit of fluff and a deep-meaning classic. I think that's territory held by Chaplin or the Marx Brothers, and I certainly would never expect Batman to take his place.

Now off to find what he thinks of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, which I also found to be quite a surprising delight. The nine year-old I took also loved it. I suspect it's going to prove to be a minor classic of a film.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:54 PM on August 1, 2005

So what?

Most people's actual lives are enough of a challenge, I don't need it from my entertainment. That's almost masochism in a weird way.

To which I would also reply, so what?

I explained I like my entertainment light a little bit further down. Hence, I find the often embarrassingly hyperbolic movie reviews of the "greatness" of movies that do "heavy" entertainment well rather annoying.
posted by teece at 7:11 PM on August 1, 2005

So fishy, is the "Batman Begins" Batman more like the "Dark Knight" Batman than the "Wham-Bam-Pow" Batman? Is it a logical prequel to the original Kane/Finger Batman, or is it more like a Superfriend? Are there any space aliens in it, or zombies, or polyamorous pagans? Does Batman Begins explain why Bruce Wayne would grow up to "adopt" Dick Grayson? Is there any hint of the difference between "pederasty" and "pedophilia"?

And flashboy, are you "accusing" the WSWS of Socialist Realism? Funny, I'd thought the Trots were less into that. Which reminds me: in 1980 I stomped out of an "orthodox" CPUSA/YCL workshop on "The Arts" when they tried to tell me that love poetry served the interests of the capitalist oppressors, that instead I should show the lovers working together to build socialism. I damn near had a fit. My buddy had to drag me out and buy me a beer.

It's a good thing that conference was at Columbia University (in the summer): I got to roam around the neighborhood sampling "foreign" and "exotic" foods and beers that hadn't yet made it further down I-95, where Szechuan cuisine was still considered "scary" and served in only two restaurants (both within 6 blocks of Johns Hopkins; hooray for the "bohemian petty bourgeoisie", sometimes).

But anyway. I agree, movies that heavily emphasize The Point are about as much fun as "Atlas Shrugged". And this seems as good a place as any to ask why, in "Fistful of Dollars", don't the Baxters run out the BACK of their burning house? Don't they have back doors in Leoneland?
posted by davy at 7:51 PM on August 1, 2005

I always find these "reviews by crazies" to be intresting, using a shared cultural event to explain their philosophy.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 PM on August 1, 2005

I was never a comics geek, davy, but I presume this version was much more the "Dark Knight" one. It certainly wasn't the old 50's pow-kabam type.

The rest of it is moot: it wasn't "deep" enough to merit any more than calling it entertaining. It wasn't a life lesson, it was just well-done fun. IMO, YMMV.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:50 PM on August 1, 2005

Davy, Batman Begins is definitely Dark Knight Batman and was orginally planned as an adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. As for pedophilia, the whole movie takes place before Robin enters the picture, so we'll have to wait until the sequels to see how that plays out.
posted by Ndwright at 9:53 PM on August 1, 2005

This guy had a really intresting take on the movie "Crash".
posted by delmoi at 10:14 PM on August 1, 2005

sometimes they completely miss the point of a film

I was just going to say just that... I'd come across some of their reviews from imbd and not once did they fail to boo the film in question exclusively due to lack of full-blown class analysis as defined in their own very, very narrow terms. They can get so obsessed about finding some subversive social message or critique, they will never acknoweldge a film can have another way of doing that than what they expect, or, god forbid, work on any other terms altogether.

(Exhibit A, a perfectly enjoyable, well scripted, well acted Irish comedy, but surprise surprise not realistic or socially conscious enough for the socialist puritan, worst crime committed by a character who "suddenly sounds like a middle-class college student"; Tarantino: "a show-off [duh] ...prefer to dump chaos and violence on the screen in an essentially unthought-out fashion rather than consider the set of social and psychological circumstances which produced it" - imagine Pulp Fiction rewritten by these guys... ; Almodovar: "At no point does one feel that the director grasp or even have an intuition that the various behaviors and states of mind in the film are socially manipulated in any fashion or the product of distorted and destructive circumstances... Meanwhile the filmmaker leads a pleasant life, with a few complaints, and goes from success to success"... the traitor; Ocean's Eleven: "...a congealed expression of his retreat from his own more thoughtful positions and criticisms, and, objectively speaking, the congealed expression of the retreat of an entire middle class social-artistic layer. It is filmmaking in bad faith, filmmaking with a guilty conscience"...; Holy Smoke gets their panties in a twist both for lack-of-serious-social-analysis and because Harvey Keitel is forced to dress like a woman and dragged through the desert, why does that offend them so much, I don't know, but they sound like christian fundamentalists there; another Aussie film: "fails not because of its experimental visuals, non-linear narrative or choice of subject matter" - they almost admit there can be other levels on which a film can work - "but because it does not address, let alone question, the social context that gives rise to feelings of alienation"...)

Not even French communists are such dry, humourless snobs. These guys take their socialism and their cinema far too seriously.
posted by funambulist at 1:10 AM on August 2, 2005

flashboy: Above all else, it makes you wonder why they care about film, what passion can possibly drive them to comment on it

Exactly, and even when the entertainment value is not dumb or cheap, it's still not good enough, it's like entertainment itself is oppressive to the working classes. A bit too soviet-style notion of cinema.

Furthermore, there's a strong sense that - for all their protestations about how film-makers fail to capture the ordinary man, the true human condition - they actually cannot abide the ordinary man, his likes and dislikes, and the diversions he seeks from the mundanities of life.

Yes, I get that impression too. It gets a bit hypocrite really. To steal their own words, one could say they almost sound like middle-class college students...
posted by funambulist at 1:26 AM on August 2, 2005

These guys take their socialism and their cinema far too seriously.

That's pretty much what the ICFI/SEP is known for. Their analysis - whether we're talking about film or politics - has some good points, but even as a socialist who is something of a "soft Trotskyist" I find them hard to swallow.

From a political perspective, I found two of the reviews very interesting - Captain Correlli's Mandolin, which goes into some of those pesky facts around the story, and Black Hawk Down, a disturbing look into how the Pentagon has manipulated film. But as I said in my first comment, the reviewer just misses the whole idea of solid entertainment fare.
posted by graymouser at 3:34 AM on August 2, 2005

graymouser: well spotted, those reviews are actually spot on. I guess when they target cliche-ridden blockbusters they do get it right!
posted by funambulist at 5:37 AM on August 2, 2005

Dry and humorless are far too generous words to describe these reviews.
posted by ghastlyfop at 6:53 AM on August 2, 2005

Well, there is value in calling films that claim to be inspired by history for their wild inaccuracy. If Ron Howard wants to create amusing fictions, he is welcome to do so. When he tackles history, he answers to a higher standard, and he and his screenwrighter Akiva Goldsman have often seemed only too willing to jettison important but messy details in favor of simplistic narratives.
posted by maxsparber at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2005

The reviews of Snow Falling on Cedars and Pollock are interesting. I rather liked SFoC, and thought the cinematography loverly; he hated it. Pollock's father was a socialist, so there's an extra bit of excitement in that review!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:40 PM on August 2, 2005

« Older Cambridge in Colour   |   Flowers, Flowers Everywhere Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments