Monday, September 21, 2009

JENNIFER'S BODY

I liked Jennifer's Body without hesitation, but it's been the greater cries of dissatisfaction - and, in some instances, anger - over the film that's compelled me to defend it.

Out of the gate, let me say that I don't think Diablo Cody is a great talent, nor did I think Juno was a great movie with a great screenplay hanging off its belt. So, perhaps it was that already present low regard for Cody - going into her first film post-Academy Award - that aided me in appreciating Jennifer's Body more than somebody who considered its writer to be a mix of J.D. Salinger and Kurt Cobain.

But that's unfair. To say Diablo Cody isn't a "great talent" doesn't mean that she's talentless. She ain't. Cody has an ear for the quirky-cutesy ("I can see your front butt" is both fun and cadence friendly), and while it's true that that can produce lines which are two years past their too clever expiration date (Jennifer telling a friend to "MoveOn.org already!" and a stale truth-in-Wikipedia reference), it's also the perfect type of verbiage to elevate a trashy horror flick. A crap film like Sorority Row might have been half-decent crap with lines like "Where's it at, Monistat?" or "I just bought Aquamarine on DVD. It's a about a girl who's half sushi. She must get f*cked in her blow hole".

You see, Diablo Cody isn't a good screenwriter, she's an adept scribbler of quips. Movie culture's lowered bar for what passes as good screenwriting, directing, acting, etc. has devolved to a point where many people don't know what good is anymore. If something feels "fresh", feels "new", or feels "cool", then it may very possibly pass quality tests on those superficial merits alone. Take The Blair Witch Project, for instance. Yep, it was fun, but ten years down the road it only makes sense to talk about it as an interesting stunt, not a film that invites studied, respectable second viewings. If you say "yes it does", then explain to me why its makers haven't produced anything substantial since?

Granted, some of my applause for Jennifer's Body ("cool, trashy fun") can come off as surface praise in itself, but I would argue that my appreciation is more concrete. Yes, Jennifer's Body, at its core, is an empty piece of work, but what Cody, director Karyn Kusama, and actors Amanda Seyfried, Megan Fox, and Adam Brody have done, is taken a regularly rusty sub-genre and greased it up a bit. Where Ellen Page's portrayal of a Cody-youth ached to be so genuine that it screamed "phony!", Megan Fox embraces the idea of high school caricature. If Page and Fox represent opposite ends of the young actress spectrum, then Cody needs to keep her pen flowing from the mouth of Fox. That snarky dialogue is nastier fun when it comes from the lips of a vamp, not the pout of a scamp.

Jennifer's Body's hidden advantage is that each of its main members know how to step up when another is slumping. Adam Brody's scene-stealing serves as suitable filler in moments that ordinarily would be dull. Karyn Kusama's ambitious bag of visual gags can confuse, but they also provide a rock n' roll rhythm. Amanda Seyfriend - with eyes that reveal an experience wiser than her age - gives more than the subject matters deserves and grounds the film with her professionalism. And yes, in the end, I give Diablo Cody the blue ribbon. No, I'm far from sold on her stature (which isn't her fault, mind you), but I think it could be interesting if she wrote Saw VII.

28 comments:

bill r. said...

Fox, I haven't seen this film, but because it's a horror movie I most likely will some day. However, "MoveOn.org already" is not only dated, but would be terrible even if the movie had been made four or five years ago.

Further, "front butt" is a rip-off. I believe that "front bottom" is an actual English-child euphemism for crotch, and that phrase was used semi-famously by Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast.

I thought Juno was fine, but, I'm sorry, Jennifer's Body sounds wretched to me.

Fox said...

Bill-

I didn't say mean to say - and I don't think I did - that "front butt" was an original phrase, but that it was used in a phonetically pleasing way.

I'd be curious to see what you think about Jennifer's Body. I'm not betting on your take either way, but as easy-going horror, I'm surprised it's getting such mean looks.

I know a lot of people despise Megan Fox (I don't. I enjoy her.), so maybe that is fueling some of the rage, and then pleasure at the movie's bombing this weekend.

bill r. said...

I don't know anything about Fox as an actress. I think the only thing I've seen her in is Transformers, and I remember nothing about her.

As for this:

Take The Blair Witch Project, for instance. Yep, it was fun, but ten years down the road it only makes sense to talk about it as an interesting stunt, not a film that invites studied, respectable second viewings. If you say "yes it does", then explain to me why its makers haven't produced anything substantial since?...

Fox, that doesn't mean anything. Why did Herk Harvey never make anything substantial after Carnival of Souls? Why did Allen Barron never make anything substantial after Blast of Silence? If Night of the Hunter is so great, why didn't Charles Laughton ever direct again?

I've seen Blair Witch many, many times, and I'll watch it many more. It's a terrific film, and, for my money, it would have been ruined had it included lines like "Where's is at, Monistat?"

ryan said...

I also think Blair Witch is a classic that will hold up over the years when it gets rediscovered by a less jaded generation (anyone who says it isn't scary has no imagination, or is bluffing). I agree with bill r. that just because the directors never made anything else worthwhile is a pretty weak argument against it. I've seen it 3 times in the past 10 years, and while parts of it are annoying (the characters are dreadfully unlikable) it still feels solid and scares the crap out of me anew every time.

Fox said...

Bill & Ryan-

My point was that The Blair Witch Project was a successful stunt, not a quality film made by quality filmmakers (cinematically, it's garbage). I think that if the makers of Blair Witch were of high artistic ability, then that quality would have shown its face in latter works. Instead, they shot for the moon and scored. And good for them! Their model worked. But I'll be damned if I'd ever call them good filmmakers... thus far.

As for you examples, Bill...

The Night of the Hunter is a rich piece of filmmaking in almost ever aspect. So, with that one film, we can tell that Laughton is a great director. Not to mention that Charles Laughton was an amazing actor. We've seen his talent elsewhere. But the The Blair Witch Project doesn't show qualities of good filmmaking, just good marketing, good ideas, and perfect timing.

I can barely comment on Herk Harvey or Carnival of Souls because I've only seen it once, and that was like 8 years ago. Further, I don't know anything else about the guy. I DO remember that I found some of the images in Carnival of Souls impressive, which is more than I can say for anything in The Blair Witch Project.

I can't speak to Allen Baron or Blast of Silence because I've never seen that film nor know who Allen Baron is.

Lastly, you guys might have been scared by The Blair Witch Project, but that doesn't necessarily validate its quality. Obviously we disagree, but I think that film is a good example of movie culture propping up a film based on the "cool" and "fresh" feeling it gave us and not it's artistry.

bill r. said...

not a quality film made by quality filmmakers (cinematically, it's garbage)...

The "garbage" aspect of its look is precisely what it needs to be. The story idea was a unique one that needed a certain style in order for it to work, so that's how it was shot. Why is that regarded as lacking in artistry? How should it have been shot?

You also say that the scariness of Blair Witch doesn't have anything to do with its artistic success. It's a horror film, Fox. The scariness of it has a LOT to do with its artistic success. That's not all there is to it, but to claim that's irrelevant seems pretty silly to me.

I think my point about Laughton, Barron and Harvey is self-evident. You claimed that if Myrick and Sanchez's film had been any good, you'd see evidence of that quality in other films. But Barron and Harvey and Laughton never made anything else (Laughton the actor has nothing to do with Laughton the director), so their greatness as filmmakers wasn't displayed anywhere, either. If Laughton had made another film, and it was shit, would you then double back and say that Night of the Hunter wasn't that good?

Fox said...

The "garbage" aspect of its look is precisely what it needs to be. The story idea was a unique one that needed a certain style in order for it to work, so that's how it was shot. Why is that regarded as lacking in artistry? How should it have been shot?...

I can't think of a film I like where the aesthetic is totally unpleasing, where the cinematography is like mud, and where the performances are bland. That's what The Blair Witch Project is like, to me. I don't care if it's 13 Going on 30 or The Last Emperor, when I watch a film I want to look at composed images, not poorly lit, shakey footage.

Yes, that hand-held, poorly-lit imagery is the point of the stunt, but it's also the equivalent of watching a recorded gag or a practical joke. I don't consider those to be films either. True, it can deliver entertainment or fright, but it also runs up against what I consider to be essential elements in the art of film.

At the same time, I want to be clear that I certainly believe there are ways to use kinetic hand held cameras in an effective way. I'm not anti-hand held, I just think Blair Witch is anti-aesthetics.

Are the Blair Witch guys & gal talented idea people, marketers, and business-minded? Yep. I've given them as much.

You say...

If Laughton had made another film, and it was shit, would you then double back and say that Night of the Hunter wasn't that good?...

No, because Night of the Hunter was good. Take one still from that film and I guarantee it's more enthralling than any shot from Blair Witch. Also you'll notice that in my previous comment I said "I won't call them filmmakers ... thus far." I'm not saying they can't produce quality eventually. If they do, I'll take back what I said, but the fact that the film world bowed before that trio when the film came out and now they can't get a sniff even though they still aspire to make films, says something, I think.

I'm curious now, did Harvey or Barron ever want to make another film? And I can only speculate, but I bet if Laughton made a second film, it would've been good.

As far as scary having to do with "artistic" success, I don't think we have room to debate there b/c I think Blair Witch is absent of artistry in full. Did its scariness have to do with "commercial" success? Absolutely.

bill r. said...

Fox, the point is that you initially said, essentially, "If Blair Witch is good, then why aren't their other films good?" Which is just a silly thing to say. You can damn them with faint praise all you want and say that they're good businessmen (if they're such good businessmen, then why haven't they made any money since Blair Witch!?) -- which is also irrelevant, as I haven't been debating that point -- but that doesn't change the fact that the idea for the film (not "stunt" -- what exactly makes it a stunt?) is such that there was only one way to shoot it. If you take the basic story idea, how do you, Fox, think the film should have been shot?

Really, you don't have to like the film, but it's not a gag reel.

Blair Witch 2 is a very composed film. It's also shit.

I don't know about Harvey, but Baron did actually make at least one other film, but it's lost, as far as I know. Which I guess means it's insubstantial.

Fox said...

Fox, the point is that you initially said, essentially, "If Blair Witch is good, then why aren't their other films good?" Which is just a silly thing to say....

Well, I still stand by that statement. Surely it's a statement that begs there to be exceptions to it, but I don't think it's "silly" or an unfair thing to ask. How many other directors have made a worldwide smash film, and then had the rest of their output go straight-to-video? (All of Myrick and Sanchez's films have done this).

Looking at your examples, those men appear to have been directors that didn't aspire to make films after their great debuts. Maybe that is incorrect, I really don't know, but I think that would put them in different camps than Sanchez and Myrick who have still been going for it, yet can't catch a big screen anywhere... after making a film that grossed $250,000,000.

So, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask, "Hey, these guys' movies have sucked and/or gone nowhere since The Blair Witch Project... maybe I overhyped that film." Obvioulsy you and Ryan (and many others, I'm sure) don't care to entertain that question, but, personally, I think it has legs.

As for...

If you take the basic story idea, how do you, Fox, think the film should have been shot?...

I don't think it should have been shot at all.

Hokahey said...

Well argued, Fox, though it didn't work for me as a whole.

"You see, Diablo Cody isn't a good screenwriter, she's an adept scribbler of quips." - That's well said. Also - "Karyn Kusama's ambitious bag of visual gags can confuse, but they also provide a rock n' roll rhythm."

Yeah, visual gags, indeed. The Bambi (I owe this reference to FilmDr) gathering in the woods. What was that? However, I did like everything that happens in the insane asylum after the climax through the credits.

But, as for the whole film, I didn't feel "the rock n' roll rhythm."

bill r. said...

But Fox, you said Blair Witch was fun. Why, then, shouldn't it have been filmed? That feels like a pretty big contradiction to me.

The Long Good Friday is one of the great British crime films. Nobody every says a word about any of John McKenzie's other films. So what does that mean about The Long Good Friday? Not a thing.

And I don't need to reconsider whether or not I overhyped Blair Witch, because, for one thing, I never hyped it. Second, I've seen it often enough to know what I think about it that I don't need to wonder if it's actually good just because I didn't think much of Altered.

But let's not fight. I just saw Observe and Report, and I'm (mostly) on your side on that one. I'm not sure the King of Comedy influences worked as well as the Taxi Driver influences, but overall I was quite impressed. Still undecided, but at the very least there's some really good stuff in there.

gil mann said...

Ah, Tractor Facts, the blog I can't ever just agree with and be on my way.

Glad to see the anti-backlash backlash shaping up. I haven't seen "Jennifer's Body" yet but the negative reviews are just dripping with weird, beside-the-point hatred of the women involved, and though I'm not one to flag people for misogyny, there are so many men out there doing more damage to cinema than Cody and Fox could manage if they each lived to be a hundred, I don't know what to chalk it up to beside their reps as mouthy broads.

But dude, seriously, you've gotta get over "Blair Witch." It's a found footage movie. Different rules. You sound like one of those people complaining that hip hop isn't really music.

Fox said...

Hokahey-

Nice play on the "gags" line.

Don't get me wrong, I in no way think Jennifer's Body is a great film, but I think it's been unfairly ripped in some circles. Well, not unfairly, but maybe unjustly.

The "Bambi" scene? Yeah, it was dumb (how many of those animals are even carnivores?), but I rolled with it. And I hear you on the "rhythms". That was perhaps the wrong choice of word, b/c the movie is a mess... jumbled, clunky.

Still, I defend it as fun trash. I like that Adam Brody was in a Satanist indie-rock band, cuz you don't sees those that often.

Fox said...

Bill-

But Fox, you said Blair Witch was fun. Why, then, shouldn't it have been filmed? That feels like a pretty big contradiction to me....

It was fun. But so is an episode of Jackass (sometimes). And I don't say that to provoke, truly, I just use that as an example as something that is loosely recorded but can still deliver entertainment.

It's just hard for me to appreciate something beyond an entertainment level when it carries such low regard for cinematography.

But I see your point. I don't mean to say, "No, that movie should never have ever been made." Heck, if I knew I could make that type of money, I would have done it too.

It's just when we step back and evaluate it as a greater piece of cinema is where I say, "Come on, let's get real."

I don't know...

On Observe and Report. Now that it's on video, I'm anxious to see it again. I have reservations as well (as it sounds like you may have), but overall I think it succeeds.

One thing I will say is that I while I dig the tough mix of sweetness and ultra-dark humor (it's challenging in it's best moments, I think), I did think Jody Hill did just through stuff in simply to provoke.

The most famous case of this is the "date rape" scene. Now, I kind of come out defending and not defending that scene. Let me explain...

To me, I think it's clear that it's not rape because we know Seth Rogen's character would never participate in such a thing. However, I do think that Jody Hill purposely wants us to think of that disgusting possibility with the shot that he chooses to cut to. This was a scene that, in my opinion, didn't use dark humor well... it just wanted to shock.

What did you think of that scene.

Fox said...

Gil-

Yes, these discussions can get into the "What is art?" arena, an area where it's impossible to draw up absolutes. I have my own personal absolutes, but don't we all.

As for Hip-Hop, I love it to death, but Reggae... now THAT is definitely not music!

Hokahey said...

"I don't care if it's 13 Going on 30or The Last Emperor, when I watch a film I want to look at composed images, not poorly lit, shakey footage."

I'm totally with you there. I'm tired of the the story told through video footage gimmick. It's been done. Now move on. As for the shaky camera technique - I can maybe understand it if it's a combat scene - but I don't understand the shaky camera thing when characters are just standing around talking. Time to move on from that, too.

There's no shaky camera in Inglourious Basterds. Love it.

gil mann said...

but Reggae... now THAT is definitely not music!

Counter-arguments:
~Legend
~early Police
~"Informer" by Snow

But otherwise, yeah, I'm with ya.

Gloria said...

"Laughton the actor has nothing to do with Laughton the director"

May I respectfully -if strongly- disagree with that statement? It shows great lack of knowledge about Laughton. For one I'd recommend you to read Preston Neal Jones "Heaven and Hell to play with" an excellent, thorough record about the making of "Night of the Hunter" which shows clearly that the talent displayed in the film didn't happen by coincidence. Laughton was a talented director, basically for the same reasons he was a talented actor.

As a matter of fact "Man in the Eiffel Tower" can be considered as a proto-directing effort: far from a perfect film, it has still interesting moments and forebodings of NOTH (in this film Laughton and Stanley Cortez worked together for the first time: a great bonding experience for both)

For one, Laughton was already an expert (and successful) stage director. raymond Massey, who was at the time of working for Laughton a seasoned player, declared that laughton was teh best stage director he had worked with.

That meant. basically, that he was considerate in his treatment of actors, respected their talent and knew what to ask for them. In NOTH, he equally was civil to the technical crew and both listened to them and stimulated their creativity: you see he was one to stimulate creative, harmonic team-work. NOTH novel writer Davis Grubb spoke very well of his feedback with director Laughton during both the preliminars and the making of the film.

Also, the rich imagery didn't just come out of the blue: Laughton had been from his early youth an Art lover and had a definite idea of what he liked in a picture (he was indeed a respected art collector). If you see the film with attention, you'll see reflections of Seurat, Whistler, Friedrich and others... not forgetting a sarcastic view of Norman Rockwell's world.

We certainly cannot say HOW other films by Laughton could have been, but if Laughton didn't direct more films was because he basically didn't have the choice: the box-office failure of NOTH doomed him to teh other side of the camera.

Would a further film by Laughton hve been good or bad? Good or bad, IMHO, certainly far from uninteresting or dull or lacking ideas and I can only regret he didn't eventually direct, as he had wanted to, Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again (Wolfe was one of Laughton's favourite writers) or Norman Mailer's The Naked and The Dead (Stanley Cortez mentioned a set of innovative visual ideas that he, laughton and the Sanders Bros were devising for the film. Also, Stan Brakhage reached LA by that time eager to collaborate with Laughton in the effort)

But let's hear it from Samuel Fuller: he certainly believed that The Naked And The Dead directed Laughton would have been one helluva flick

Slayton said...

Think you're a bit harsh about Ellen Page. Sure, she's oddly mannered for such a young actress, but she has a talent for balancing the emotional and the superficial when it comes to interpreting a script, and she certainly has a gift for cadence as well - think of how hard it must have been to make that Cody dialogue seem natural, at all. Her performance in Juno isn't fantastic, but it is better than that film deserved and I have a feeling that she's someone we should keep an eye on - that is, if she ever decides to play characters that aren't plucky, precocious little 'scamps'. Her notices for "Whip It!" are a good sign, and personally I can't wait to see it.

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