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Short of the outlying fields of basketball playoffs (the Jayhawks, the Celtics) and Presidential campaigns (Obamanos!), strictly confined instead to my assigned field, the year just past felt pretty dismal. On the personal front, Manny Farber, the inspirational albeit inimitable film critic, and my oldest friend in both senses of the adjective, died in August at the age of ninety-one. Early in the calendar, David Elliott, my counterpart at the daily Union-Tribune, got booted out the door after twenty-four years, without so much as the opportunity to bid goodbye in print, so as to make way for wire-service reviews. And late in the calendar, Scott Marks, the erstwhile film curator at the Museum of Photographic Arts and ever/ after a movie maven of sizable presence in this town, left for the wider pastures of Los Angeles. The city limits appeared somehow to contract.

The bleakness extended generally to the movie screen, where even the best seemed less. And the biggest, The Dark Knight with no rival, actively strove for bleakness. (The masses evidently found that mood fittingly overwrought for a Heath Ledger wake, never mind for a comic-book superhero fantasy.) So it is with some slight surprise that I notice my short list of favorite films is uncommonly dominated by comedies. Maybe I needed them more than usual.

Happy-Go-Lucky. When I rack my brains in search of a single greatest contribution to cinema history in 2008, I come up with Poppy, the irrepressible, undepressible London schoolteacher of Mike Leigh’s lightest comedy. Sally Hawkins’s complex portrayal made her into a real person, not a hypothetical, and pushed her exuberance to the brink of craziness or at least brink of crazy-makingness. Leigh never let on what you were supposed to think of her. He left it up to you. I didn’t view this as one of his very best films or even very funniest, but it was probably his (and the year’s) best-looking, in cinematographer Dick Pope’s pop-off-the-screen colors and crystal-clear atmosphere. The competition, to be sure, did not really demand Leigh’s best. In my yearbook, Poppy’s tops.

Roman de Gare. Claude Lelouch’s killer-on-the-loose thriller was not precisely a comedy, but it had comedy in it, and it was in any case a light thriller as opposed to the queasy-making thriller that’s all the rage nowadays. This wasn’t one of Lelouch’s best films either (whose films tend to vary more widely in quality than Leigh’s), but it had his singular deftness of touch, and it had uncharacteristic ingenuity of design. It was not screened in advance for the press — an effect, I had to ask myself, of the thinning ranks of local critics? — so I sat down to write about it in haste on its opening weekend, not knowing whether it would even be held over for a second week at Landmark’s Hillcrest, and submissively tucking it behind my lengthier remarks on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the evanescent Top Story of the moment. It deserved better.

The Promotion. I was even later in getting to Steven Conrad’s little-promoted workplace comedy, set in a bad-part-of-Chicago supermarket, efficiently surveyed from bottom to top. For some reason I missed the press screening, and having no reason whatsoever to expect anything from the tyro director, I wasted my time on opening weekend opting instead to see a documentary on steroid abuse. I got around to it in its second week only because I’m inclined to like John C. Reilly, whom indeed I never liked more. As an unforeseen bonus, I also liked Seann William Scott, whom I never liked before. The year’s best laughs with the least strain. So much nicer an arrangement than the fewest-laughs-with-most-strain formula of Step Brothers (in spite of John C. Reilly), Forgetting Sarah Marshall, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and their ilk.

Burn after Reading. Not (to reprise the theme) one of the Coen brothers’ best, but no matter how far I have backed off on the Coens since, say, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and no matter how many qualifications and quibbles I throw in, I am still accused of being a shill for them. Well, the less than best of the Coens remains better than most people’s best, and their comedy of stupidity in the intelligence community was fast, short, and almost relentlessly tickling. Yes, I didn’t enjoy seeing the lovesick health-club manager get his head split open like a melon, but at the same time this helped to point up (a) that in his choice of love object, he too was stupid, and (b) that the Coens were serious in their funny business. The ensemble cast was so uniformly good — Clooney, Pitt, McDormand, Malkovich, Swinton, Jenkins, Simmons, Rasche, all the way to the walleyed health-club janitor whose name I don’t know — that we can only salute the Coens’ total control.

Ciudad en Celo. Hernán Graffet’s easygoing, smooth-flowing navigation of a circle of friends around the hub of a Buenos Aires bar, all of them compelled to contemplate mortality when one of their number gets subtracted, was funny to the degree that life is funny — without undue effort to heighten the degree — and it was precious in the way, if not quite to the degree, that life is precious. Since it was shown exclusively at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, I couldn’t comment on it until it had departed, a circumstance that in some way underscores the film’s (and the festival’s) treasurability. Nor, as far as I’m aware, can it be disinterred at will on DVD.

The next step down, to Second Bests, is crowded enough to ward off despair. (For now.) The time-honored genres had adequate representation: Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield and Chris Carter’s The X-Files: I Want to Believe held up, respectively, the bug-eyed-monster and the mad-scientist wings of science fiction; Ed Harris’s Appaloosa presented a blessedly old-fashioned Western; David Mamet’s Redbelt, while not alone in updating the fight film to the mixed-martial-arts era, was alone in stylizing it for Mametland; and Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Unknown Woman served up an Italian erotic thriller that proved to be something more, and other, than it seemed, and in the meantime it did thrill.

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Josh Board Jan. 1, 2009 @ 8:06 p.m.

It was great to see you acknowledge The Promotion, a great film. But I find it odd that you knock the documentary on steroid abuse (Bigger, Stronger, Faster) in the same paragraph. It was a great documentary. It was done Michael Moore style, but without all the lies and crap Moore has in his films.

Also...100% of the people I know that have seen Step Brothers, laughed all the way thru it. As did I. Not sure how you couldn't find humor in it.

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rickeysays Jan. 2, 2009 @ 1:30 a.m.

This whole list is typical arty-critic crap. Just because most of the mainstream big release movies are pablum for idiots doesn't mean movies I've never heard of, because nobody backed them, are better. Most movies that get very limited releases do so because they have very limited audiences. How about a list for the rest of us who just like good movies? You mentioned a few. Dark Knight, Burn After Reading, Appaloosa and The Visitor were all solid. Cloverfield was as good as it could be with that irritating hand held camera. But Happy Go Lucky was disappointing. There just wasn't much there. But what about Benjamin Button, Transsiberia, Tell No One, Slumdog Millionaire, and Bolt (better than Wall-e).

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Alias_Jabez_Goethe Jan. 2, 2009 @ 4:27 p.m.

Very happy with this list, almost could not be better. Except for the little matter of my thinking 'Roman de Gare' was superior to Mike Leigh's latest triumph. Both Lelough and Leigh ought to be jointly commended for never having made a bad movie. Something you can say of only a couple other directors. And Clint's "bounce-back" 'Gran Torino' -I'd love to know just how high he bounces back after the lethargic 'Changeling'!? As high as Poppy can bounce? Unfortunately, I can only tell with the rest of the San Diego mob when it opens Friday. The Reader promo last week didn't e-mail me back with free ticket information for the tuesday sceening.

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Josh Board Jan. 3, 2009 @ 2:25 p.m.

This just in: one of the main people in the documentary: Bigger, Stronger, Faster has died! Drug overdose, they suspect.

He was an interesting character in the film...he wanted to be a wrestler, but they kept turning him down. He thought steroids, and being more muscular, would help. Even though his family tried warning him against that.

By the way, that documentary got a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means there wasn't ONE CRITIC in in the U.S. that disliked the movie.

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John Rubio Jan. 5, 2009 @ 5:50 p.m.

Actually,

"Bigger, Stronger, Faster" received a 97% on RT (2 rotten). Furthermore, where did the delusion arrive from that RT compiles every critic in the US? Nevermind the fact that you're commenting on the review of an American critic who isn't tallied there (one vastly superior to the tally), but even "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" was only reviewed by 69 critics on RT. Are we to accept that there are only 69 working film critics in America? That seems odd considering that even RT generally promotes films with over 100 tabulated articles. With a trying respect, why do you make these comments? They're so blatantly ignorant. They're so foolish. If you're unable to follow Mr Shepherd's line of reasoning and judgment, then why do you return here? If you're only searching for a pat on your own opinion's back, there are a plethora of websites available for that as well. What argument do you actually believe you're winning? Shepherd will continue to hold to his wisdom. His wisdom will continue to transcend the majority of the public. Is there really that much satisfaction in vilifying an opinion just because it's so astutely contrary to your own? Your comments make it clear that you have trouble understanding Mr. Shepherd, but I simply can't understand what you think you're offering with such mistaken crudity.

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Josh Board Jan. 6, 2009 @ 1:57 a.m.

john, just curious...what's your opinion on the film "bigger, stronger, faster"? because, something interesting. i just checked some of your old posts, and they all seem to merely defend duncan shephard. can't he log on and defend his own opinions? or do you just ALWAYS agree with him? that seems rather odd.

it's not a matter of me wanting a pat on the back, or to be "right"...but i can't stand when critics give great films bad reviews. or vice versa. it's what keeps hollywood making crap movies that are blockbusters, and what keeps crappy indie and foreign films winning or getting nominations for oscars, when they have no business getting the praise.

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John Rubio Jan. 6, 2009 @ 6:50 a.m.

In truth,

I find myself diverging with Shepherd quite frequently. I found "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" to be emotionally engaging and quite informative. I also found "Iron Man" to be one of my best times at the movies last year. However, I know that neither film was remarkable cinema. I know that the latter especially was no more than popcorn buffoonery, but I enjoyed it. I don't have issue with anyone stating their enjoyment or their distaste for a movie (including Shepherd). I simply object to inaccuracy and personal attack. I've never commented here before the "Dark Knight" fiasco. I merely enjoyed reading the reviews because Shepherd is such a talented writer. I rarely found myself "agreeing" with him, but I was always impressed with his way of expressing his opinion, even when I found it contrary to my own. I also relish the opportunity to disagree with a person and still find myself learning from him or her. I realize that Shepherd reviews for a higher standard. Think of it in terms of artistry. I find real talent in Frank Miller's drawings (and I've greatly enjoyed the films based on them). But I know that Shepherd is only looking for the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts, the Renaissance of the cinematic world. I don't expect or need every film to be a masterpiece. Shepherd does, and I respect that because he's a brilliant thinker. And that's the kind of reviewer that keeps movies insulated from the money machine of Hollywood.

However, I was compelled to write once I saw the downright attacks being launched at Shepherd over an unfavorable review of "Dark Knight"--attacks that ultimately just boasted the stupidity of those flinging them. Well, I love opinion and I love intelligent conversations. But I have no tolerance for stupidity, especially a self-chosen stupidity. I don't like seeing the equivalent of hate mail on a publication I respect, in response to a writer I admire. I think such ignorance is unnecessary, and in a larger social sense, quite dangerous. And I'm going to expose these kinds of remarks when I see them. Even comments like "This whole list is typical arty-critic crap" have no place in a serious discussion. They're so stereotypical. They're so simpleminded. They're so useless.

So I encourage people to love their favorite films and their favorite critics. I encourage people to disagree and discuss. But be intelligent and respectful when you do. Realize that there are no decidedly "great films", and pooling your circle of friends does not count as evidence. There's just film and opinion. And while there are many things to strive for in film, there's only two in opinion--intelligence and respect, elements that a few of Shepherd's readers need to learn more about from him. And it's these elements, moreso than Shepherd himself, that I'm defending.

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Josh Board Jan. 6, 2009 @ 11:12 a.m.

You make a few good points, and a few bad ones. Yes...love your favorite films and favorite critics. I love Roger Eberts books, his discussion on film, but boy, the guy really can't review pictures to save his life. He likes crappy films, and often gives thumbs down to good movies (he says Reader is best movie of the year, and it's average, at best; thinks Benjamin Button is a bad film, it's good, not great...don't even get me started on him loving Congo and Anaconda, two of the worst movies of all-time).

Regarding "pooling a circle of friends doesn't count as evidence," I'm not sure what that even means. My friends, in regards to my opinions on movies, think I'm too critical.

And, saying you loved Iron Man, but it's not "great cinema" doesn't make sense. Isn't the point of a movie supposed to be how you enjoyed it? It's one of the reasons I enjoyed Iron Man, but might be able to acknowledge that the science involved probably wasn't accurate. (same with Benjamin Buttons, although that was too much for Ebert to ever get past and enjoy)

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John Rubio Jan. 6, 2009 @ 12:01 p.m.

To clarify,

I completely support people's will to disagree with a critic (or with anyone for that matter); I simply don't accept that most any movie is without question good or bad simply because someone says so. I don't find myself bothered if Ebert enjoys "Anaconda" or if Shepherd gives a zero to "Iron Man". Instead, I do my best to understand the stance of the critic, the perspective he or she is employing to form an opinion. If I can understand it, then I might be swayed. If I cannot, then I duck out of the discussion, or perhaps reread for clarification. But that doesn't make the critic an idiot, and that doesn't make the film necessarily "crappy". Perhaps I'm the idiot for enjoying "Iron Man". Perhaps I missed something in "Congo". But I am certainly the idiot if I tear down the critic simply for stating an opinion that has no effect on me, with the exception of perhaps challenging my perceptions.

For instance, Shepherd points out the that the use of the present day Afghanistan conflict in "Iron Man" makes for a muddled narrative composition with the flashy film style and blase attitude of the protagonist, a clash that verges on being offensive to the conflict itself. I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. I never noticed it the first time through. Recognizing it hasn't spoiled my enjoyment of the movie, but it has revealed to me a different way of viewing the film (one that isn't solely based on my enjoyment of it), and I appreciate that.

In terms of "pooling friends", I was referring to the frequent remarks I read in which people state "all my friends loved that movie" or "everyone I spoke to agreed that movie was terrible"--as if such surveys were somehow definitive. Popularity does not define a movie's quality outright; in fact, it's often an indication of its lacking. And furthermore, it's not the number of people who agree with you that adds significance to an opinion; it's the intelligent reasoning motivating their agreement. So, until we know why they feel the way they do, the inclusion of "everyone I spoke to" as some sort of support system is rather irrelevant.

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Josh Board Jan. 6, 2009 @ 8:44 p.m.

Well, in regards to the person tearing down a critic, here's the problem with that logic. When a critic says how awful a movie is, and one of the readers enjoyed that movie...they feel their opinion has been insulted and "torn down". It's kind of like calling them stupid. It's not the same with music or other arts, because one can like a painter or classical violinist, while another likes classic rock. And we all know that intelligence doesn't factor into it. But we all know that with movies, this isn't the case. I know that sounds arrogant of me to say, but think about it. I can pick an Adam Sandler movie, and we can take an IQ test among the people that liked and disliked the film. And, when big action pictures that are horrible (going back to the karate guys like Van Damme, Segal, Chuck Norris in the 70s), which were so bad...I don't think most doctors, lawyers, and scientists were flocking to the theatre for those films. Maybe a Jackie Chan would squeek by, because of the humorous elements involved.

So, when a reader is seeing a list of best films, and they haven't heard of 75% and they are mad, they think it's yet another stuffy critic that can tell you everything about Preston Sturggess, Fellini, or any current French film. And they get upset. You said earlier that it's "not safe" when they rant and rave on message boards like this. I disagree. It gives them an outlet. Now when I worked in radio, it certainly wasn't safe. We would have listeners call and threaten our lives at times. I worked with a DJ who, while in Phoenix, had a listener come up and shoot one of their DJs after weeks of threatening to do it. So threats, yes...I'd say they are never a good idea. But people venting about this critic or that critic, being "arts fartsy" or "not knowing what they're talking about"...is what makes the world go round. And what makes talking about film fun.

And, as much as I agree with your point (which was Duncans point) about that scene in Iron Man, it doesn't ruin the movie for me either. It reminds me of Ebert saying that Benjamin Buttons was ruined for him, because how can Brad Pitt make love to a woman he first met when she was 7 years old, and "doesn't he think about her at that age when they are in bed." Well...how can someone not say Ebert is insane for such comments? I hardly think it's "unsafe" for Ebert that I'd post that on his message board (if I had the time; he makes so many mistakes in his reviews, it's not worth even addressing each one, each week).

I do agree about people that say "all my friends liked it." When a friend told me that he liked Pineapple Express, and "so did all his friends," I couldn't resist but to say, "All your friends must've been stoned. Or you just hang around with stupid people."

Sure, he was insulted. But hey...I was insulted that I spent $30 at the theatre watching that crap! It at least makes me feel better to insult the people that were happy they saw it ; - )

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John Rubio Jan. 6, 2009 @ 9:23 p.m.

I agree that there is a clear distinction between venting frustration and threatening a critic simply for the sake of a review. And I would agree that one is dangerous (the latter) while the former simply comes with the terrain (like flashbulbs for a celebrity). But I think there is a third category here; one that is perhaps not "unsafe", but still inappropriate--and that's insulting the critic. Why, in a movie watcher's blistering sensitivity, must an individual attack a critic (who they have no personal knowledge of) on a personal level? Why must they attack the critic and not the criticism? Why can't they tell the difference? They're capable of complimenting the review on a professional level when they feel vindicated by it. But when they sense a challenge, they resort to juvenile name-calling. If a reader called Shepherd "a beautiful man" or "the love of one's life" for writing a favorable review, we would find uncomfortable fault with it; so then why do tolerate the same kind of personal judgment from the reverse opinion?

And are we so sensitive that a review would weather our confidence in our own intelligence so much to need to rip pathetically back at the critic in a vain attempt to win back some sense of robbed dignity? Is our intellectual esteem that fragile? I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. Films, music, literature, painting, etc--aesthetic branches of the same artistic tree. They are indeed unique in expression, but our appreciation ought to be a mutual experience across the artistic expression. If one is a confident person, then he or she should not feel insulted by a disparaging review of a favorite film. To feel so is to belie a problem with self-esteem that might best be settled elsewhere. I thought we were supposed to raise our expectations anticipating the movie, not the review. And yet so often the certain people seem to be waiting in some deadlock of impatient tension for Shepherd to post his weekly review just so they can pounce on it. Well, maybe such people need to to feel stupid; they're behavior often only confirms that they are. Or maybe it's just fine, even perhaps beneficial, to have one's opinions challenged in a "stuffy" manner.

But I appreciate your comments and the discussion. Even where we disagree, this has been lively and thoughtful.

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Josh Board Jan. 7, 2009 @ 1:04 a.m.

I think you don't realize, that yeah, people are extremely sensitive. It surprises me, as an adult, that other adults are this way.

With movies, the amount of times people have gotten upset when you "insult" their favorite film is unbelievable.

I do agree with you that it is "inappropriate" if the word "unsafe" wasn't the right choice. But our bosses here at the Reader don't seem to care. Since I do the Crasher column, as well as a daily blog, I'll sometimes see someone post something that just knocks me and is rude. Or a letter to the editor. But my bosses have no desire to get rid of the comment. I once said "I don't mind them knocking me, and they can go all out and use the worst language. As long as they are attacking what I'm saying and disagreeing with it. But if someone just logs on to say "Josh, you're a dick"...I'm not sure why we can't remove it. I guess they just want people to continue coming back. And, in 2009, this is todays version of the crank call. Some idiots can log on, post some insults anonymously, and have a thrill from it.

What I find fascinating about movies is...well, for example, The Promotion. I really liked the film. But for someone as critical as Duncan is, I'm not sure why a few scenes didn't ruin the picture for him. Because, I have this theory about comedies. You can be the unrealistic, crazy comedy; Naked Gun, Airplane, Anchorman...where real people don't act like that, but there's a joke every few seconds. Or, a serious comedy, that's supposed to be a realistic scenario: Election, Tootsie, etc.

The Promotion, along with In Bruges (both this year) were great "serious" comedies, but then in the 3rd act, got silly, and turned into unrealistic comedies, at an attempt for cheap laughs. I'd love to hear Duncan explain The Promotion gets a pass. Or for all the critics that LOVED In Bruges, why they didn't have problems with the way Fiennes was acting near the end, and the insane scenarios that transpired.

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Josh Board Jan. 7, 2009 @ 1:05 a.m.

I'd also like to ask critics, why when I see a movie like The Swimmer, which was highly praised a few years ago...what are they thinking? It was okay, but not great. But it really does seem that critics sometimes feel that certain films deserve praise. Or, in their reviews, they just aren't...I dunno...self-depricating enough or something. And it can often turn people off.

I would have no problem writing a review for Tropic Thunder where I say "Look...most of this movie is garbage. And Ben Stiller playing the same character he's played over and over. But so much of it is fun to watch, and most of the jokes work...."

Instead, critics feel they either have to love or hate something, and that is often what gets people so fired up.

I heard a DJ on KGB the other morning say he bought the DVD of Tropic Thunder since everyone said how great it was. He said, "It was horrible. Except for Tom Cruise. He was funny."

Which made me want to call, just to say his character was the one thing that wasn't that funny.

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mike1 Jan. 8, 2009 @ 6:18 p.m.

To Josh B....and some of Michael Moore's lies would be...

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Josh Board Jan. 9, 2009 @ 12:45 a.m.

Are you joking? Google and find them yourself...I've debated this topic too many times and it bores me. And as a Democrat, it's actually a bit frustrating, too. One thing you won't find online, though, happened right here in San Diego. My friend witnessed it. At a booksigning, police helped with crowd control. He LIED and said the cops were harassing him and told him to leave. When they in fact didn't. He then got into his car and left, leaving the cops baffled. And the crowd angry.

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Alias_Jabez_Goethe Jan. 18, 2009 @ 4:12 p.m.

Yeah, well, here's a second person who would like to know what "lies" you're talkin' about! For such a prolific poster, surely you can give us newbees the gist of your presumed insight. And I mean more than a small subjective police harassing/or/helping argument. I wasn't there, though it's certainly wrong to call him a "liar" based on that (!), at least not until you know from his perspective where he's coming from.

I've wasted many minutes with people who whine about "Michael Moore's lies", and have come to the conclusion they all have one thing in common: they have all made their decision -Moore is a "liar" and that's all there is to it. Argument not begun. Mind closed. I too am bored with this kind of talk -- but would like to think I'm not so careless in my speech and writing as to groundlessly proclaim an individual a liar (without the evidence to back up such a claim, one sounds like a witless bore indeed). I'm not a knee-jerk Party Member in any way, so it's not as though I agree with Moore all of the time. Yet, a Reasonable Man must conclude that the general swing of Moore's rhetoric is truth, not personal invention.

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Alice Jan. 22, 2009 @ 2:24 p.m.

For the record Bigger Stronger Faster directed by Christopher Bell took over 3 years to make. Much research and filming was done. Michael Bell, the eldest brother was a wrestler, it was his "own" concept of his fralities that caused his anguish. He was very very well known as Maddog. And for the record there is no known cause for his death at this time, and he was 62 days fully clean/sober at the time of his death. His brothers/mother/father are extremely pained by his untimely death He was extremely honest in the film, something most people are not willing to be.It was his hope that if he helped even one person,his truth would have been worth it.The family is very close.He was loved unconditionally. After completing the film, he sought help,& was diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder.He was a great guy who lit up a room when he entered it, he had a heart of gold. He turned his life over to the Lord, and trusted him to help make the changes he wanted to make. He died sober. He was very proud of his brother's movie. The movie was voted in the top 10 movies of 2008 by many including some critics. Thank you for having chose to watch BSF, but Michael's honesty was to show people that you are loved for who you are not what you think you might want to be.

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julianjenius Feb. 1, 2009 @ 2:13 p.m.

Burn After Reading. Hmm. My wife and I went to the La Jolla Playhouse and saw a really well done production. The acting was great, the scenery was great, the lighting...etc. The play was about a family and their daily doings. Walking back to the car I said to my wife: "You know, everything was done really well, but nothing really happened." She agreed. That is our review of 'Burn After Reading.' Really.

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Josh Board Feb. 2, 2009 @ 8:42 p.m.

Okay Alias...let me first ask you this. Have you not Googled the Michael Moore "lies"? If so, there will be lots and lots of examples. I can only give you a few off the top of my head. When he lists the U.S. at #38 in the world at health care, yet lists places above us like Cuba. As if Cuba really has a better health care system than us. And also Canada, which apparently has LOTS of problems (ie people waiting to have cancer surgery for 8 months, and by that point, it's spread to other areas).

julian...the one thing that I don't think you can say about "Burn After Reading," is that nothing really happened. To make a statement like that...well, it's the same way people described Seinfeld. That was their joke. "It's a show about nothing."

But, these are all things that happened in Burn After Reading:

Lonely people looked for love. Good looking idiots (George Clooney) that couldn't hold conversations, and used the personal ads to meet women (even though he's married). People working at a gym that were all clueless. People thinking they can cash in on finding important "sh*t". A woman so clueless that she thinks paying for cosmetic surgeries will improve her love life (and a doctor that might be a lot smarter than her...but instead of telling her these surgeries aren't necessary and perhaps the money would be better spent on a shrink, he talks her into additional surgeries). A man that worked for an important company (CIA), that thinks anyone would even care about his memoirs (what person doesn't think their life story would be interesting to others?)

And those are just the things I thought of off the top of my head. In between all that, stories intertwined, there were jokes that worked (did you really not laugh out loud when we finally see the machine Clooney was building in his basement?)

No problem if you didn't like the movie, although that's hard to believe. But you certainly can't say "nothing really happened." Now, when it ended, certainly the CIA didn't realize WHAT had actually happened. But not the audience.

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