Well done, Manohla. Your first entry and already I want to use my repressive patriarchal mockery to curb your sassy feminist ire. Which brings us back to In the Cut, doesn't it? I like your theory that the movie "tries to break aesthetic and thematic ground" (that "tries to" leaves a hell of a lot of room), but in Campion's work I saw all that arty abrasiveness in support of a gruesomely reductive and stereotypical view of male and female relationships—rather more elemental, in its way, than that Rita Mae Brown-scripted hack-'em-up The Slumber Party Massacre. Since you brought up Meg Ryan's swollen new smackers, I'll add that I actually found them the most convincing illustration in the movie of what fear of male rejection will do to an otherwise beautiful and well-adjusted woman. The spectacle of actresses dieting down to their newly ropy limbs and puffing up their lips to conform to male (and, alas, female) Hollywood executives' ideas of what's beautiful (or to use a word I'm told is frequently employed in casting sessions, "fuckable") is far more chilling than anything in that porny, overwrought fantasia.
I can't speak to Jim's experience of The Lord of the Rings—I never could read the damn thing, and I tried harder than I did with Finnegan's Wake. But I don't see what's wrong with acclaiming great spectacle: It's not highest on the list of Aristotle's requirements for great drama, but it's on there all the same, and I'd like to think he'd have recognized its value in movies (and been first in line to see the upcoming Troy). I know there are those who think Jackson has tried and failed to measure up to Griffith, Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Welles, Olivier, and, for that matter, Spielberg (whom he clearly reveres). And they'd get no argument from me: With a couple of exceptions (reader J. Michael Short mentioned the suicidal charge of Faromir accompanied by Pippin's plaintive song—I loved everything in that sequence except the too-obvious shots of Denethor stuffing food in his mouth), the violence in Return of the King doesn't have the moral weight of the battles in Intolerance or Chimes at Midnight or Kagemusha or Ran. But, my God, what a curve we're grading on. As for it being too long, well: I saw it after the extended cuts of the first two parts and thought it was too short. Fellowship and especially Two Towers feel shorter to me in their longer versions because they breathe a little more and give the characters a little more complexity (which, yes, they need).
I have more to say today—and more readers' questions and opinions to transmit. (And I still have to see Peter Pan.)