Sometimes, you just have a change of heart. Four well-known movies I changed my mind about after further viewings.
*Spoiler alert for all four movies, though if you haven’t seen these films by now, I assume you aren’t going to*
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – I hated this movie the first time I saw it, and found it so boring I actually watched the second half in fast-forward. Several years later, I saw it as the first half of a horror double bill at a repertory cinema, and I hated it just as much (and couldn’t reach for the fast-forward button this time). And then, a funny thing happened on my way to a Leatherface joke . . . the movie started to grow on me. After three or four viewings, its absurd Grand Guignol style seems the perfect counterweight and companion piece to the original’s famously gritty feel. As horror sequels go, I can think of few better. Watch parts 1 & 2 back to back, and you’ll be claiming the “saw is family,” too.
The Usual Suspects – This was once one of my very favorite movies. Stylistically, I still find its noir-ish feel and mood rather pleasing, but the much-admired and imitated script has several fundamental problems. First of all, is it really that hard to guess the final twist? Apply Agatha Christie’s “least likely” whodunit theory and you’re home free. Perhaps more troubling, the movie essentially invalidates our emotional investment in everything that’s happened by saying “Meh . . . he just made it up. Gotcha!” On the nitpick level, John Ottman’s score is derivative to the point of being downright annoying (JFK, Basic Instinct and even Camille Saint-Saens’s “Carnival of the Animals” show up at certain points). Maybe Ebert was right about this one all along. Sorry, Verbal Kint, I’m leaving the “unreliable narrator” slot in my list of favorite movies to Lolita.
American Beauty – Hmmm, Kevin Spacey, it seems your two Oscar-winning movies aren’t doing too well in this particular blog post. I loved this film upon its first release, and watched it several times in theaters. Now? Yes, the cinematography is beautiful, and there are a few inventive visuals. But the movie’s overall theme – “look, there are pretty things around” - is cloying . . . the floating bag scene still has me reaching for, well, a paper bag. To me, the abiding legacy of this movie is Thomas Newman’s music, the influence of which can still be heard in many film scores. I hesitate to say I now give the movie an unequivocal thumbs down (at any time when I need to summon fierce determination, Annette Bening’s “I will sell this house today” mantra still pops into my head), but really, it just seems like a rough draft for writer Alan Ball’s superior Six Feet Under.
The Dark Knight – Upon first viewing, my opinion aligned with the critical consensus – a comic book movie for the ages. I’ll tread carefully here, but don’t you now find this movie overrated and frankly a tad boring? Heath Ledger’s Joker is of course wonderful, but remove his Oscar-winning turn and you’re left with a preachy, awkwardly structured mess. The third act is much too long, with an anti-climactic Two-Face plot needlessly extending the film by a half hour. Plus, the fact that neither Joker nor Batman actually want to kill each other drains the movie’s latter portions of its most essential tension. And why can’t they kill the villain in superhero movies anymore, regardless? I know there were further sequels to be made, but really, they probably wouldn’t have brought the Joker back as the central villain even if Ledger had not died. “Book ‘em Danno” seems somewhat out of character for someone who, you know, dresses like a bat, is motivated entirely by revenge, and talks like Wolfman Jack by way of Mercedes McCambridge.