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virtually amazing
i doubt this is the *final* fantasy
by roger striffler

Although I've never really come right out and said it, I've always had sort of an unspoken agreement with myself that I wouldn't write movie reviews. I mean, let's face it - could there be a more arrogant and simultaneously slothful occupation?

The idea that someone who knows absolutely nothing about me, is going to get paid to sit in a movie theater washing down a gallon of popcorn with a $4.00 coke, watch a movie, then presume to tell me whether or not I should see it, is just plain ridiculous. P.T. Barnum himself couldn't pull off a scam like that.

But, for whatever reason it seems the job of Movie Critic is firmly entrenched in our society, and since I can't beat 'em, I'd vowed never to join 'em.

And so I find myself at a strange and awkward crossroads. Despite my distain for movie critics and all that they represent, I now find myself compelled to review a movie. I've argued with myself over and over, and in the end, it seems, I just have to do it. I'll try not to appear arrogant or pompous, I won't give the film any number of thumbs - up or down - and I refuse to say that you must see it. But folks, you gotta hear about this one....

The film in question is Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within, and the reason I feel compelled to review it is that for the first time in the 25 years since Star Wars was released, I feel like I've seen a truly landmark film.

The film is the work of Square Co, Ltd., the makers of a highly successful line of computer games, including the "Final Fantasy" series of role-playing games which has sold over 33 million copies world-wide. The production staff reads like a veritable who's who of computer animation and big screen cinema. However, while this may be what enabled them to create such an amazing film, it is not why I consider the film a landmark.

The plot, while engaging and entertaining, is still your basic anime fare. Like the classic films Akira and Ghost in the Shell, it explores the place of spirituality in an increasingly technical world. Interesting perhaps, but again, not landmark.

How about the characters? Well, we're dealing with an all-star cast here...Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Steve Buscemi...the list goes on. Clearly, there's no lack of talent. But this is an animated film, and it's not the voice work that's impressive here. It's the rendering.

What sets this film apart from crowd is the incredible animation. We've seen some pretty impressive animation to date - Disney's Tarzan, Pixar's Toy Story, Jurassic Park, Star Wars: Episode I to name just a few, but you have never seen anything like this.

Where other animated films fall short is in our ability to relate; to find ourselves drawn into the reality of the story. Toy Story was a great flick, but I never once actually felt that it was real. Everything was a little too smooth, a little too glossy. There was a level of detail missing that made things seem just a little, well, fake.

Star Wars? Extremely cool, but it was also fairly obvious what was computer generated and what was real. We learned to tolerate having Jar-jar Binks around, but we never really believed he was a real being because he didn't quite fit into his surroundings. The same was true of the 'droids and the spaceships; they seemed just a little bit larger than life, and life is what we're used to.

Traditional animation offers us a unique and often beautiful way of telling a story, but it is too much like a comic book. It is sufficiently distanced from our perception of reality that we fail to really get drawn in. Mixing animation and computer animation with "live" video has brought us much closer to the story, since most of what we see on the screen looks precisely like the world around us. Still, the boundaries between what is real and what is animated are visible, and it distracts us, hindering our ability to become totally immersed in the story.

What Square Pictures presents to us in Final Fantasy is 3D computer animation that is so incredibly detailed that it is almost photo-realistic. Our heroine, Dr. Aki Ross, is beautiful. Strands of her soft brown hair lift gently in the wind, drifting across her freckled forehead and in front of her deep brown eyes. The camera sweeps over Gray Edwards, rugged leader of Deep Eyes Squad, and we can't help but notice the dark razor stubble on his chiseled jaw. Later, as he crawls from the wreckage of his Jeep, we see that his face is deeply scraped and bruised.
These characters look and act so nearly perfectly human that after the first few minutes of amazement, your mind lets go of the imperfections, much the same way that it allows you to read subtitles without even thinking about it.

The result is a continuity unlike anything you've experienced. We find ourselves in a world where human beings, fantastic landscapes, space-age vehicles and grotesque, terrifying creatures exist seamlessly together at the exact same level of reality. There are no special effects, because it's all the same effect. It is a world every bit as vivid, cohesive and natural as our own, but created entirely as an expression of someone else's imagination. Granted, none of this is particularly helpful if you're trying to portray a human drama, documentary, or other film based entirely in the concrete here and now. But if you're talking sci-fi, fantasy, or horror; if you're trying to express a vision of things that don't necessarily exist in reality as we know it, this is totally new ground.

So, go see this film. Or don't. But either way, know this: An entirely new medium for artistic expression has been opened, and movies, as we know them, will never be the same.


See that job title? Check it out: "Spy". How cool is that? I know, you're probably wondering what it means to be a spy for an international organization like Intrepid Media, huh? Well I'd love to tell you, but I can't. It's all part of the spy game, baby.

more about roger striffler


tracey kelley
8.24.01 @ 12:54a

we now join "Talk Back to the Movie Critic" already in progress... Okay, I haven't seen Final Fantasy yet, but I did see Shrek which I believe incorporated some of the same amazing "lifelike" techniques. I am a big fan of animation in its many forms, especially the wizardry of Nick Park.

So, I'd like to pose a few questions: What should our expectations be of animation?
Is it quality only if it mirrors reality? Is the digitilized world still art as cells created by hand once were?

roger striffler
8.24.01 @ 1:39p

I hope I didn't give the impression that animation in any other form isn't quality. I'm an animation freak - love it in all it's various forms. I also love Nick Parks work, and was amazed by the animation in Tarzan. Animation definitely stands on its own as a worthwhile art form. My point is that this particular kind of animation begins to seriously blur the line between animation and reality, opening a new venue for films. It doesn't replace or outdate any of the other forms.

tracey kelley
8.24.01 @ 5:44p

No, I wasn't poking you with a stick, :)just trying to start a dialogue. What I've discovered is that many people still think of animation as strickly "cartoons" (which explains my constant disgust with parents who let their under-15 children watch "South Park")instead of another story vehicle.

Last weekend, I popped in a couple "Wallace and Gromit" videos for a friend's child. Within moments, the entire group of adults were gathered around and watching, laughing the whole time.

Therein lies the magic of the media.

roger striffler
8.24.01 @ 5:55p

I couldn't agree more! (Well, I could, but it'd be really sappy...) Ever watch the old Bugs Bunny cartoons? I roar at things now that I never understood as a kid. Funny thing is, even though this new form of animation is so close to reality, and can far too accurately depict violence, gore, or incredibly beauty - you're absolutely right - to a lot of people it's just animation - kid stuff.

russ carr
8.24.01 @ 11:25p

Roger: The metaphor I've been using to compare FF to other animated art is to imagine the potential unleashed when people moved from crushed berries and dirt and the like and developed oil-based paints. Square's reality-suspending creations don't diminish the importance (or the beauty) of what's come before; rather they bear witness to a stunning new potential for expression.

Relative to animation, FF is like the "discovery" of perspective drawing was to early artists -- suddenly there's a richness and depth of immersion in what was formerly -- even at its best -- a distinctly unreal representation of reality.

As a movie, there were some obvious flaws in FF. I don't think Donald Sutherland should be allowed to do voice work, let alone films. Some of the supporting characters were as 2-D as Popeye or Speed Racer. But I thought Ming Na did an exceptional job in "fleshing out" Aki. (It didn't hurt that Aki was...simply...gorgeous. Mayb

russ carr
8.24.01 @ 11:26p

Maybe Hwood will catch on that not all of us excitable males are looking for Barbie...Nah.)

Animation is sadly unappreciated in the US. Saturday morning network programming has edited Bugs & co. into politically correct MTV-fast bites, and the occasional anime masterpiece from Japan (eg Princess Mononoke) is lucky to make it to an art cinema, where even then the casual filmgoer dismisses it as hackneyed Disney pablum...talking animals and the like. *sigh*

russ carr
8.24.01 @ 11:32p

And another thing! There was, in the mid 90s, a Canadian cartoon -- digitally animated -- called ReBoot, which aired on ABC. It was brilliant; one of those cartoons better geared toward older teens and young adults. ABC only allowed it to run for, I think, two seasons, then killed it. One of the hilarious edits they did (to make it suitable for US audiences) was to have the lead female character (named Dot Matrix) undergo some mammary work...changing a distinct pair of breasts (which weren't abnormally large anyway) to an odd mono-breast, so as to be less suggestive. Because God knows, a natural-looking chest could stunt a child's development!

lee anne ramsey
8.25.01 @ 11:24a

What could you possibly have against Donald Sutherland?

roger striffler
8.26.01 @ 9:48p

I don't know where Russ was going with the whole Sutherland thing, but I have to admit, he has a point. donald sutherland has a very distinctive voice, delivery, and mannerisms. I really separating the voice is risky. His voice, visual persona, and mannerisms work together to create a very unique effect. Love 'im or hate 'im, it's an all or nothing deal.

russ carr
8.26.01 @ 10:40p

Where I was going: IMHO, I thought Sutherland's performance was the weakest of the lot. His emoting seemed the most artificial thing about Dr. Sid, who was the last of the characters to be animated (and benefitted the most from advances made while creating the others). Particularly in the last 20 mins, when he's in Aki's ship, replying to what she and Gray are discovering in the crater. Seemed very underplayed.

greg cunningham
9.6.01 @ 1:57a

Regarding your comment on my movie review of JASBSB:

"Boy, did I review the wrong movie".

TRUST ME! You reviewed the right movie.
Saw it twice. Loved it. Though I agree with russ that Dr. Sid was a bit...unanimated, the movie was a mind blow.


roger striffler
9.6.01 @ 9:50a

Actually Greg, you reminded me of a great point. A friend of mine wrote a great e-mail to me (I'd post it here, but it's rather long) basically saying that while they have nearly mastered the visual representation of the characters, they still need to teach them to "act". I mean, let's face it. There are a lot of really beautiful people out there, but very few really good actors. There's obviously some skill there that needs to be captured and applied to digital characters if they're truly going to be believeable. In the case of Dr. Sid, there should be a difference between "unanimated", and being stoic or unemotional. It should come across as an aspect of the character, not the animation.

mike julianelle
9.6.01 @ 10:39a

I don't get it. How can an animated character act? Sure, you can give them the expressions and etc, but what's their motivation? It's just empty form, with nothing behind it. Sure, you can make them appear sad, but some of the best actors (I'm gonna get in trouble here) really are sad in scenes that call for it, whether they refer back to some sad event in their past, or are just so Method that they are sad in the scene's/character's exact context, whatever. I am not interested in seeing animated characters "act," and the prospect of virtual characters replacing human beings in film/TV really demeans and devalues the whole acting process to me.

roger striffler
9.6.01 @ 11:47a

Ooooh...cool point! I think animated characters definitely can act. Think about it like this: once you capture an actors performance on film, you basically have a representation - it's no longer live. So the difference between that representation being on film vs. digital is pretty minimal. What we're left with is a visual image of motions, gestures and expressions, combined with a vocal expression.

So I don't think we're replacing actors here - ideally you'd want them to work closely with the animators and director, acting out the scenes so that the animators could capture the visual representation of the emotion. The vocal track should take care of itself, just like it does on film.

We're really not demeaning actors, but giving them a whole new way of representing themselves.

mike julianelle
9.6.01 @ 11:51a

Yeah, but it's not the actor! It's a manufactured image, nothing about it is real. When they do most animated stuff (I might be in over my head, I know little about the digital animation process), they don't always have an actor standing in. Isn't it from "scratch", per se? I'm jsut saying, what makes the best actors and movies work is that the actor's reaction is not predetermined, to some extent. They respond to a scene the way THEY RESPOND TO A SCENE. An animated character is PROGRAMMED/DRAWN to respond that way. It's different, preconceived. It's not the character that does it.

roger striffler
9.6.01 @ 12:06p

Traditionally, I think you're right - the animation was much like a comic book, where the artist was also the director and the reactions were his domain. Today, that's not so much the case. The quest for realism has caused the animators to work much more closely with the actors. (a good example of this is DragonHeart, where they actually filmed Sean Connery doing the voice over work and then tried to infuse his gestures, reactions and mannerisms into the computer generated dragon)

Scenes are scripted, and since there is a story-line, reactions are scripted in a very general way, but it's much like a regular movie. The difference is that the filming of the actors to capture their performance need not have the same attention to lighting, angle, etc.
If you've never seen actors doing voice over work, it's very cool - very much like performing, but without the audience.

Another key point - traditionally the animation has been done f

russ carr
9.6.01 @ 12:58p

If a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there to watch, is its performance any less wooden?

Think back to those thrilling days of yesteryear and examine it this way: Animated movies -- whether they're CGI or painted cels -- could be considered like radio with pictures (ironically, that's how TV was often described). Did the radio performers "act" any less, just because they were forever unseen?

My problem with Dr. Sid was not that he seemed stiffly animated per se... but that there was no animation to Donald Sutherland's "voice acting." I think any overly-fluid (ie non-human) movement on the part of the characters is a technological hurdle that will be overcome in due time. Square did an amazing job, as it was, given the scope and length of the movie.

But a poor job of acting? In this case, I blame Sutherland, not Dr. Sid.

roger striffler
9.6.01 @ 1:27p

Ok, I have to agree with you there. I like Donald Sutherland, and I think that his delivery can be really cool when accompanied by his gestures and mannerisms, but it seems he didn't make any effort whatsoever to compensate for the fact that he couldn't be seen. No change in inflection or emphasis, nothing. As a result it came across rather passionless.

All in all I'd have to say the part was poorly cast.

tracey kelley
9.6.01 @ 3:02p

"I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way."

Speaking as a professional voice person, (yes, pun indended) I assure you that if Sutherland would have put the proper emotion into his voice work, it would have come across through the animated character. I don't think any of us could have ever doubted that Mel Blanc had the proper motivation.

While I won't get on my soapbox about how not all actors make good animated actors, so they should allow more up and comers to have parts instead of just vying for better marketing through celebrity...ahem...Ithink you've got it right, Russ. "Theater of the mind" is the most powerful tool in voice-acting, and consequently the acting fails when the "actor" forgets that.

roger striffler
9.6.01 @ 5:54p

I have to agree with you Tracey - Donald Sutherland came up short. He certainly is the kind of actor that could have been convincing, had he tried.

I absolutely agree about using up-and-coming currently unknown actors. This is a new arena where a well known face does not guarantee success, and an opportunity for someone who might not have the particular "look" to really shine. Look at James Earl Jones. His voice was famous long before his face was.

If animators can bridge the emotion visualization gap, and an actor can master conveying the emotion and intensity vocally, you could actually create whole new celebrities. This could be acting's brave new frontier.

roger striffler
9.6.01 @ 5:57p

On the James Earl Jones thing - his voice wasn't famous simply because it was distinctive or cool, it was because he could convey so much feeling with it. You have to wonder how many more there are out there.

tracey kelley
9.6.01 @ 11:20p


Yeah, with talent like James Earl Jones (who was an awesome Mufasa)establishing the character in people minds, the poor mongo in the Darth suit didn't have any trouble slipping out in public and ordering a latte, did he? (yeeesss, I've forgotten his name...Peter...?)

Maybe Don should have rang Jim up before he took the Dr. Sid part.

juli mccarthy
9.7.01 @ 7:47a

David Prowse.

The junk that accumulates in my brain, I swear....

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 8:25a

I just saw a James Earl Jones Verizon commercial last night, and with this discussion fresh in my mind, I was doubly awed by the richness of his voice. Distinctive isn't enough; after all, Fran Drescher's voice is quite distinctive. It's got these tones, his voice. Wow.

As for using unknown up-and-coming actors in animation, I don't think it'll ever happen. It's not the star's face that sells the movie, it's the name. I went to see Anastasia because it featured the voice of John Cusack. Nuff said.

mike julianelle
9.7.01 @ 8:59a

Anastasia for the voice? Wow. And I'M obsessed?

Btw, this might be common knowledge, but James Earl Jones had a horrible stuttering problem when he was a kid, and a teacher got him into reading poetry and stuff and he eventually conquered it. Now he has one of the most recognizable voices in the world.

roger striffler
9.7.01 @ 9:17a

Yeah, I love that story. It's really motivating without being sappy.

Jael, John Cusak has no idea what he's missing. We have got to get you two together. Of course we won't tell him about the Anastasia thing. At least not at first...

roger striffler
9.7.01 @ 9:21a

I don't know, maybe the sun is shining a little too brightly, or I'm too painfully aware that it's Friday, but I'm just not really that cynical today. I honestly think that if they create a really impressive character that people can really relate to, there won't need to be an established actor behind it. I mean, well known actors have to come from somewhere - they were all unknown once.

Wow, I really say "really" way too much...

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 9:23a

Aw, Roger, I'm blushing. Yes, my affection for him is destined to get some results, if only a restraining order, short stint in the pen, or community service.

Mike, the ridiculousness of my obsession neither excuses nor eclipses your own.

(Giles: "Yes, you're right. My contrition completely dwarfs the impending apocalypse.")

mike julianelle
9.7.01 @ 10:03a

I ain't looking for absolution, Jael. Just company.

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 10:21a

That you've got. I knew the Buffy quote would help.

Roger, I too like to be optimistic, I'm just trying to counter your earlier point that "a well-known face does not guarantee success." It's unfortunate, but a marketing reality. People go to see movies for stars, whether or not a) it's the right person for the part, b) the movie itself is any good, c) the star can actually act, or d) any combination of the above.

roger striffler
9.7.01 @ 10:31a

I absolutely agree with you in the realm of live acting - witness Interview with the Vampire - Cruise, Pitt and Asante were absolutely the wrong people for the parts, but sold the hell out of the movie.

I guess I'm doubting (hoping?)that the same is true for animated films. Did anyone really go see Titan AE because Matt Damon did a voice over? Does anyone even know that Minnie Driver was in Tarzan?

Remember Max Headroom? He was in many senses an animated, or at least computer generated personality. Does anyone know or care that it was Matt Frewer behind the scenes?

mike julianelle
9.7.01 @ 10:41a

The problem with society (yes, THE ONLY PROBLEM) is the reliance on empty celebrity. The fact that people will go see garbage because of the stars rather than go see quality because of the writing is sad. If Hollywood treated the writers as well as they treat the stars, their product would greatly improve. Like HBO.

This being a writers' site, I'm sure I've got some backup.

And if people would realize worshipping a pretty face with nothing behind is detrimental to the art of film, maybe we'd see some improvement. But, "people don't drink sand because they are thirsty, they drink sand because they don't know the difference."

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 11:37a

Roger, I suppose a distinction would be useful: adults go to see movies for stars, and kids don't, and adults will often bow to the will of their kids, as they should. So no, no one went to see Tarzan to hear Minnie Driver. And Titan A.E.? No one went to see it, period.

But I wouldn't be surprised if some people went to see Shrek because of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, and/or Eddie Murphy. There is a perception (largely erroneous, I think) that big stars wouldn't sign up to do a movie unless it had some merit. this, of course, is not true: I need only mention Mission to Mars for backup there.

tracey kelley
9.7.01 @ 12:22p


Juli- you rock, baby!

Roger - Will you pleeeease be my voice acting agent? We are *so* in-tune on this subject.

Nothing against screen/stage actors...but not everyone is going to do as well as Nathan Lane, Tom Hanks, Kevin Kline and James Earl Jones when it comes to truly embodying the animated character. Sharon Stone? Plllleeease.

There is a Warner Bros. cell that I would love to splurge on: all the WB characters are standing around a spotlighted solitary microphone, heads hung low, sad and silent. It was created after Mel Blanc died. I literally tear up every time I see it, because it is a well-deserved tribute.

tracey kelley
9.7.01 @ 12:27p

I, uh, saw Titan A.E....it wasn't a good story, so it didn't matter who voiced it.

And that's the heart of it all. A good story will sell itself. Worked for Disney and Warner Bros. very well loooong before celebrities ever got involved. The studios cheapen the medium by assuming star power is the only energy source.

tracey kelley
9.7.01 @ 12:29p

Hi, my name is Jael, and I'm a Cusack-addict. It's been 23 hours since I last watched "Road to Wellville"....

roger striffler
9.7.01 @ 12:38p

Ok, point taken. Still, you're saying that animated films are targeted at kids. Although I didn't pay nearly enough attention to that issue in the column, I think that is something that is going to change. Films animated in this fashion won't be targeted solely at kids.

I'm probably being overly optimistic, terribly naive,or retarded, but I see this as an opportunity for us to break free of some of that reliance on big name actors.

I don't expect to change the movie mega-mill, or see the day that a film like Final Fantasy or Memento is a blockbuster, but does anyone really expect that to change anyway? I think change happens in the independent/art house/small studio arena, and that seems much less tied to the big names.

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 12:40p

Wellville was disappointing. The lowest I've sunk for Cusack was probably renting Money For Nothing. A title and a fact.

Good point about star power not being the only energy source -- movies without stars do have their own success, and sometimes a movie that just happens to have a star in it succeeds for other reasons (Sixth Sense comes to mind.) But not everyone is as deliberate about these things as we are, so it's easy for them to see a particular movie because they've heard of the people starring in it.

roger striffler
9.7.01 @ 12:44p

I'll be glad to be your agent Tracey! We'll need to at least talk on the phone so I know what your voice sounds like, but that's a technicality.

I know the cell you're talking about - it's fantastic, but so very sad.

Am I out of date on my celebs, or were Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Binoche relatively unknown before "The English Patient"? Not that it was my favorite film, but you can't tell me Willem DaFoe carried that film, and he was the only well known actor associated with it. If memory serves, it was a rather sucessful film.

mike julianelle
9.7.01 @ 1:00p

Fiennes was known. Already nominated for Schindler's List, already in Strange Days and Quiz Show (which I LOVE, btw..anyone else?). But yeah, it made money and is an exception. There ARE exceptions. And keep in mind that independent movies TOOK OFF after Pulp Fiction, in a $$$ way, more than in just an artistically credible way, like after Sex, Lies and Videotape...

tracey kelley
9.7.01 @ 1:05p

Quiz Show. Yes. Nifty.

tracey kelley
9.7.01 @ 1:12p

Roger! Deal! :)

Backtracking a little, if you think Cruise was a bad Lestat, think how lame Travolta would have been!

I happened to meet Anne Rice at a booksigning a loooong time ago when Travolta was being considered, and when I asked her about that, she became quite agitated and spewed venom on the subject for about 10 minutes! It was hysterical! She even referenced "Boy in the Bubble".... I don't know if her displeasure was why Cruise was the final choice, though - maybe the smile wattage displayed the fangs better.

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 1:20p

Oh, no, now you're gonna get Mike started on Travolta again.

mike julianelle
9.7.01 @ 2:02p

Ah, Travolta. What a marvel. the funny thing is, Rice went on and on about how bad she thought Cruise was for Lestat as well. That is, until she saw him do it. Convenient, eh?

Strange tho that two Scientologists with sham marriages and divided mansions (so they can cavort with their male lovers in private) were both considered for such a homo-erotic, bloodsucking role...

juli mccarthy
9.7.01 @ 2:20p

The title of the Mel Blanc tribute cel was "Speechless". The junk that accumulates in my brain, I swear...

Oh, and don't get me started on the "Rice v. Cruise" turns to "Rice worships Cruise" thing. I could do a whole column on THAT, but it's a bit ...what's the word that means "no longer timely, but still pisses me off"?

russ carr
9.7.01 @ 3:49p


juli mccarthy
9.7.01 @ 4:06p

No, I was looking for a word like "passe", but that's not it. C'mon, there's what, like 110 writers here? Someone knows the word I mean.

jael mchenry
9.7.01 @ 4:25p

Obsolete? Trivial? Let's check Word... outdated, outmoded, superseded, dated, archaic...

someone knows the word but I don't think it's me. Sorry, Juli.

roger striffler
9.7.01 @ 4:59p

"like, SO yesterday"

jael mchenry
9.9.01 @ 4:25p


adam kraemer
9.10.01 @ 11:01a

I think Travolta's like Keanu Reaves in that if he's given a good character and a good director, he can do a good job (Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty). Obviously anyone who would name his son Jet needs someone else making his decisions for him.

David Prowse was the body of Darth Vader, by the way. Peter Mayhew was Chewbacca. Prowse also played the writer's bodyguard in "A Clockwork Orange." There's a little trivia for you.

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 11:59a

Travolta is an active deterrent, in the manner of Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin, or Nic Cage. I won't see anything with him in it, at least until the day where he co-stars in something with a major motivating factor like Ed Norton or (here we go again) John Cusack, and on that day I will swallow my aversion and buy a ticket. But not until that day.

I believe it's Jett, with two t's. Even worse.

tracey kelley
9.10.01 @ 12:32p

And Jet(t), I thought the only lonely face was on the moon. Whoo ooo ooo whoo ooo ooo.

adam kraemer
9.10.01 @ 12:44p

I promise not to make this a charater debate, but you don't like Alec Baldwin or Nicholas Cage, either? Would you see a movie starring one of the other Baldwins? And what about appreciating a movie on its merits, rather than crating arbitrary rules about who you refuse to see on screen, based solely on a partial body of their work that you (possibly justafiably) abhorred?

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 1:03p

Appreciating a movie on its merits, something of which I am capable, is a completely different animal than being more or less likely to see a movie based on the faces up on screen. Every person has preferences and aversions, about movies and everything else. It's not a character debate. And it's certainly not arbitrary.

The actors to which I have strong aversions, listed above, are not necessarily exiled for their body of work. Instead, I find it impossible to watch any of them onscreen as a character because I am watching them as the actor. I never forget for a minute that Nic Cage is Nic Cage, not Captain Corelli or ... see, I can't even remember his characters' names because I can only think of him as him.

Oh yeah, I don't like Sean Penn either. Just to give you a wider target at which to shoot.

adam kraemer
9.10.01 @ 1:08p

Interesting. My only recent problem like that is that every time I see Seann William Scott, I can't help but think of him as Stifler.

juli mccarthy
9.10.01 @ 1:18p

I like Donald Sutherland, but I saw a movie (Day of the Locusts?) when I was a little girl in which he killed a little boy by jumping on the kid's back and stomping him to bits. Took me YEARS before I could see Sutherland and not gag.

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 2:17p

Jael, you don't like Sean Penn? Yikes!

Nic Cage used to be good. Until about right after Face/Off. Then it was all downhill. He is hilarious in Raising Arizona. I hate him now tho.

matt morin
9.10.01 @ 3:42p

I'm with Jael. There are actors who I just can't get past the fact that they're actors. I never buy into them as the character. Keanu, the Baldwins, Brad Pitt, Drew Barrymore, etc.

I (partially) disagree with Nic Cage. He was awesome in Leaving Las Vegas. The problem I had with Face/Off had more to do with the 40,000 plot flaws than the acting.

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 5:18p

Yes, I was going to mention Brad Pitt. See, I'm not inflexible -- I wasn't going to see Fight Club because of Pitt, but the Norton factor cancelled out the Pitt factor, and of course since it was freakin' brilliant I'm glad I made the exception.

And Mike, if you have a case to make for Penn, feel free to make it, but I made an exception for Sweet & Lowdown and was so sorry that I'm unlikely to make exceptions again.

tracey kelley
9.10.01 @ 7:47p

Speaking of Penn, I feel the same way about Robin Wright "Everybody
Loves Me" Penn. Ever notice that almost any movie she's in, she's so damned irresistible that not one but TWO men have to fight for her, or one is just stupid over her? Makes me gag - especially her "acting."

Ditto for Winona "Look! I Look the Exact Same Way In Every Picture!" Rider. Talk about not being able to separate the actress from the role. She needs serious lessons from Frances McDermont.

matt morin
9.10.01 @ 8:16p

Oh, I forgot to add Kevin Costner.

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 8:20p

Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, therefore my idea of hell is 3000 Miles to Graceland.

Never had a problem with Robin Wright Penn. A little Princess Bride forgives a lot. And she did absolutely nothing in Unbreakable, which isn't exactly a point in her favor, but it does counteract the fighting-over-her argument.

Winona Ryder is like Ethan Hawke in that I cannot for the life of me figure out why these people are still famous, years after their last credible performance of any kind. Witness also Sharon Stone. Ech.

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 8:20p

Brad Pitt (and man I'm gonna get in trouble here) is a good actor. Seven, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, even Kalifornia.

As for Nic Cage, it is MUCH easier to play a drunk, or a mentally disabled person, in my opinion, than it is to play a real human being with internal problems, such as Mark Ruffalo's character in You Can Count On Me, to name one example.

I understand not being able to separate a character from the actor, but that's not always the actor's fault. And it doesn't necessarily mean the person is a bad actor. Sometimes it just happens. Someone like Tom Cruise is so well-known, it's almost impossible to do, until he starts choosing roles that are completely against type, and then people say he's reaching.

And Jael, Penn's problem in Sweet and Lowdown wasn;t his fine performance, but a miserable, one-note character. Check Fast Times, or the otherwise rote Carlito's Way. Or Dead Man Walking. And please

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 8:21p


don't say that THAT movie is schmaltzy.

matt morin
9.10.01 @ 8:25p

Penn has admitted that he does some movies because he believes in them and some movies for the money. I think it's pretty easy to tell which is which.

Mike, Pitt was good in Kalifornia, I'll give you that.

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 8:30p

Mike, you said not to say it, so I won't say it. But it's no mystery to anyone who knows my aversion to a) true stories and b) message movies that I found Dead Man Walking overrated all over the place.

Matt: it is? Which was Sweet & Lowdown?

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 8:34p


The acting in Dead Man Walking is something else. And while it's clear that Robbins is against the death penalty, I think one of the movie's strengths is it's objectivity. Such as it is.

And there are some scenes in there, cynic or not, Jael, that are heartbreaking.

And you can blame Sweet and Lowdown on Woody Allen.

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 8:35p

I didn't mean to put that apostrophe in the "its" above. So BACK OFF, Adam!!!

matt morin
9.10.01 @ 8:38p

I actually never saw Sweet & Lowdown. So I respectfully decine to comment.

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 8:46p

Mike: heartbreaking? While there is in fact a persistent rumor that I have a heart, I guess you're proving that rumor wrong.

I will include the caveat that I didn't experience the movie purely on its own merits, as I had read the book and was in the process of teaching said book when I saw the movie. Does that redeem me?

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 8:49p

Mike: heartbreaking? While there is in fact a persistent rumor that I have a heart, I guess you're proving that rumor wrong.

Am I being mocked? If anyone's proved you heartless Jael, it ain't me. Not yet anyways.

I understand being against sentimentality and message movies, but a line can be drawn between manipulative garbage and quality.

This is still related, just a different type of movie...ever seen Bob Roberts?

jael mchenry
9.10.01 @ 8:59p

Of course I saw Bob Roberts. A certain pal of Mr. Robbins' has a brief guest spot.

DMW is not as manipulative as some. It's still sentimental. It's better than Spielberg, anyway.

mike julianelle
9.10.01 @ 9:13p

Oh yeah, forgot about cutey Cusey. Bob Roberts rules. Brilliantly done.

We need to find common ground again, Jael.

Oh yeah, Fight Club rules!

jael mchenry
9.11.01 @ 8:06a

Very clever response, Mike.

How that's working out for you? Being clever?

mike julianelle
9.11.01 @ 9:07a

Jael, if you listen to the commentary on the DVD, the one with Pahlaniuk (sp?) and Uhls (screenwriter), Uhls talks about how he needed to transfer the authority of the movie from Jack to Tyler, and that clever line does it. Awesome line. Really cool maneuver by the writers.

And listen to the part where they smash the VW Beetle. Norton comes off like a super-intelligent Yale grad, with an awesome rationalization of his hatred for the Beetle, and then Pitt snickers and goes "Yeah."

jael mchenry
9.11.01 @ 12:40p

Norton is brilliant.

Of course I've listened to the commentary -- not all four, but both of the ones you mention. I think Norton also talks about passing over a more proletarian vehicle and smashing only the expensive ones.

adam kraemer
9.11.01 @ 4:46p

I'd also argue that Pitt was great in "12 Monkeys."

mike julianelle
9.11.01 @ 5:38p

Yeah, he was, I said that above.

He was also great in his "Growing Pains" episode.

jael mchenry
9.11.01 @ 5:39p

adam, I'd agree.

It's not that he's a bad actor, it's just that he's so recognizable as a personality that it's tough to look at him onscreen and not see Brad Pitt. I thought Tyler Durden, however, was a strong enough personality to overwhelm the Brad Pitt personality. Ditto with 12 Monkeys.

matt morin
9.11.01 @ 6:15p

Wait, wait, wait a minute. Did someone actually post the words, "It's not that [Brad Pitt's] a bad actor"?

The only thing stiffer that Brad Pitt's delivery is Bob Dole on Viagra.

You could use the speak function on a Macintosh to read better lines.

When he doesn't have to carry a scene himself (Fight Club, Seven), he's OK. But put him on his own and you've got Meet Joe Black every time.

jael mchenry
9.11.01 @ 6:57p

Pleeeeeease. As long as you acknowledge the superiority of Fight Club, we won't have words over this disagreement. But it's not, I repeat not, that he's a bad actor.

And I really feel you should have a pocket drummer doing rimshots (ba-da-CH!) for those lines in the middle. Spoken by Mac or no.

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