(I can't resist it: Two movies where man fights bear; one win, one loss.)
Saw Cinderella Man and within a half hour, it became apparent why it flopped out loud. It's as dismal and bleak as the great depression itself, where it's set. Up till now, Ron Howard has avoided that filtered, muted-color palette that the other big deal directors have fallen for (I think it's because they really want to do black and white, and bringing everything to one basic tone, like blue or yellow, lets them cheat). But, alas, Cinderella Man is depression era yellow-gray. Meh.
Now, it's a good movie, like all the critics said. The ending is uplifting, and of course that's not a spoiler. As I told my daughter when the bleakness was getting to her ("dad, is this ever going to get happy?"), it's called Cinderella Man for a reason.
But, until the big fight at the end with Jethro's dad, Max Baer, it's a hard slog.
Though in happier times I think this movie would have done fine. Movies kind of have to run counter to the mood of the times. When we're secure, we tend to go to sad movies, paranoid movies, and scary movies. When things are scary in real life - at war, incompetent and corrupt boobs in the white house, looming world-wide flu epidemic (and for some, global warming) - we like shiny, happy movies to reassure us.
Since we've had an actual depression while the Shrub has been in office, with gas prices hovering around $2.50 per, Cinderella Man is just a little too close to what everyone's concerned about (except perhaps for the blinkered ditto-heads). It's a drag to watch deprivation when you might be living that next year.
That's why it flopped.
Grizzly Man is a tragedy, but it's strangely uplifting. Maybe perversely uplifting.
My overarching emotion was pity for the grizzly man, Timothy Treadwell. Hence "perversely uplifting." A "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of thing (though I wouldn't even begin to consider the possibility of going out into the wilds alone, let alone in the very midst of dangerous animals who view EVERYTHING as part of the food chain). Treadwell was running from his life, and he thought he would find solace in the strong arms of a bear, not its stomach.
My underarching emotion was occasional grudging respect that someone as damaged as Treadwell was able to function that well at all. And managed to survive in the wilds of Alaska surrounded by eating machines who even eat their own young in order to get laid (no kidding).
One particularly puzzling eruption of Treadwell's - he often recorded the most personal of thoughts as though the camera was a confessional - is that his life would have been much easier where he gay. He waxes rhapsodic about how gay men can just screw around and have meaningless encounters without complications. Women, he says, are more complex and you have to work on the relationship, etc. You get the sense that he really really tried hard at the gay thing (an observation of my wife's) and it just didn't pan out. Funny how many permutations "the grass is always greener" can take. I think his feeling that a different sexual orientation would somehow "fix" things shows how conflicted he was. Not to mention his stunted view of women.
Another oddity was his sheer paranoia. A couple times someone visited his camp when he wasn't there and left a message like "Hi" carved into a stick and a happy face engraved on a stone, which he declares "creepy." It must've never occurred to him that he had fans.
Another observation of my wife's was how everyone in the film speaks to the camera (thus presumably to "us") with a hint of condescension, as if the listener were stupid. We are undecided if it's because Werner Herzog, the director and the person they were speaking to, gave them that direction, or if because of his thick accent they tried to dumb it down for him.
Highlights are an amazing bear fight, foxes that follow Treadwell around like puppies, and of course the various eruptions and rants of Treadwell. His "fuck you" laden take-down of people he's worked with is especially entertaining, particularly because Herzog mutes the audio stating the Treadwell crosses lines with personal putdowns which Herzog will not do, and the fact that Treadwell just can't stop. He stalks off camera only to come back and scorch the earth some more.
A phrase that Treadwell used often was "I'd die for these bears," the common subtext being "I want to die for these bears," so in a sense he got his wish. Even his friends chime in thusly, only to qualify that with a regret that he took someone with him.
Documentaries have always been a favorite form of mine, and they have to be pretty bad for me to dislike them, but even with that slight disqualification, this has been one of the more enjoyable docs I've seen, right up there with The Thin Blue Line and the 7 Up series (which is not about soda pop, btw).