My 2006 top-ten ranking: 7
Risk of spoilers: Nah. You're safe.
I like the experimental Spike Lee -- they guy who took a chance and failed on She Hate Me. I think the problem with that movie was sustaining the level of irony it opened with, when Lee is best with characters confronting their own idiosyncrasies honestly, and even earnestly. When the early sarcastic tone of She Hate Me gave way to the soft-soul a-lesbian-for-lunch love scenes, the movie drifted in between irony and earnestness in a very uncomfortably self-concious way.
But the Spike Lee who directed this movie was the same guy who directed the powerful 25th Hour. The tone is confident and even somewhat whimsical. It nods to issues of culture and race, but really it's just a good heist film. And as far as I am concerned, heist and con films are top of the pops.
The big question with heist and con films is: did you see the con coming? These days some of the strongest con films aren't really con films at all -- they're films in which the con is hidden, the sleight of hand complete. Films like the surprising The Upside of Anger fall into this category. But they don't deal with con men or criminals, so should probably be excluded.
Inside Man starts with Clive Owen essentially daring us to catch him at his game. Like Orson Wells at the beginning of F for Fake, or like a stage magician cockily letting his tricked deck be examined, Owen tells us just enough to that later we understand his words differently.
In between is the hostage situation, in which every hostage is manipulated to the end of the robbers with specific ends in mind. The film comes alive in Lee's casting, which feels like an actual cross-section of New York as opposed to a whites-only extras casting session.
The film clips nicely, moving along in just the right pace. in the end, it's a good heist film with minor cultural commentary in the mix. Not so much to overshadow the action, but just enough to punctuate it. A great mix which made for good entertainment with a lingering appreciation.
My 2006 top-ten ranking: 8
Risk of spoilers: Let’s just assume, okay?
“Everybody fucking fantasizes about it!” screams Bill Nighy as Richard Hart to Kate Blanchett as Sheba Hart after finding out about her indiscretions with a student, “that’s why they call it a fantasy!” In this film, everybody does fantasize about it — it being the thought of consuming younger people sexually as a balm for your troubles. Richard was once Sheba’s teacher and is 20 years her senior, although that fantasy seems to have calmed into average domestication with an unaverage (developmentally disabled) son.
Judi Dench as Barbara Covett (get it?) fantasizes about it, maneuvering Sheba into trusting her and awaiting her moment to strike, playing her manipulative hand with smooth aplomb.
And of course Sheba fantasizes about it, and then acts on that fantasy by the train tracks in a moment of adolescent adoration, a reliving of a romance that only a high schooler would find romantic. Nothing like the smell of creosote to trigger cupid and his piercing shafts.
Barbara is the pivot in this, playing a mother superior figure in her own mind, with unkind secret words written on the paper she uses to filter and scold the world. Her secreted derision and insults to the people around her obviously a defense to keep closed the gap of despair and loneliness felt by rejection and repressed sexuality. That she is both hateful and sympathetic on more than one level is a nod to Dench’s mastery of performance.
Blanchett — dressed up like a doe-eyed British clone of my hometown tabloidizoid Mary Kay Letourneau — is great in her blankness, her just-approaching-middle-age sadness. Sheba remembers fondly her teenage days at the Batcave listening to Siouxsie. Ironically she tries to introduce her young lover to the Banshees, a band from before he was born. A band her husband might have found juvenile and after his time.
Barbara plays Sheba off as a trust fund baby of no taste and no class — someone who has rejected the privilege wealth provided her to play the pseudo-bohemian, while still owning a handsome house with an art studio room-of-one’s-one in the back. That room is the heart of Sheba Hart — an artist who is facing the awful truth that creation itself doesn’t make you a better person, or even a whole person. She takes up teaching because of that, and look where that ends up.
It ends up in Barbara’s journal, where she parses every intention and plotline with a sneering self-satisfaction. The brilliance is in letting us see her heart on her face at the same time as the poison in her pen. This movie seems to be about the clash at the intersection of those two. It is, and about how a wealthy British woman can have an illicit affair with an underage lower class Irish kid.
But then it’s also about how these things happen and get moved past. Barbara finds a new target to swing her gaping desires at. Sheba finds a humility in just returning home. It’s almost as if nothing has happened. Almost.
My 2006 top-ten ranking: 9.
Risk of spoilers? Let me put it this way:
At Versailles there once was a Queen
Married into the court at fifteen
One misquoted line
She was asked to resign
By a very polite guillotine
Angular guitars spike over the end of the Annette Bening Columbia logo. Awkward pink monospaced text on black as the drums kick in. The screen goes totally black. John King of Gang of Four sings “The problem with pleasure / What to do for leisure? / Ideal love a new purchase / A market of the sense” Cut to Marie Antoinette as we have always imagined her — a representation of luxury, lassitude and boredom. She’s elaborately dressed in vibrant glimmering silky whites, feathers in her hair. A maid affixes a shoe to her foot. Cakes surround her in her powder blue Versailles drawing room. She reaches over lazily and swipes her finger across the icing of a cake, and then inserts her finger into her mouth to lick it off. Only then does she notice us watching her, and seems does a double take upon noticing us. She looks right at us. Her surprise softens into a light, wry smile, and she leans back and closes her eyes, fully aware of our presence.
Is this the Marie Antoinette — forever held in the mythic populist French mind, trapped in the layers of misconception and politicization — that has been waiting in luxurious hibernation for a more unbiased telling of her story? Maybe this is the classical French queen, the one that the crowds expected to find eating cake as they stormed the Versailles, the one that is indifferent to human life — even her own?
It cuts again to black and we have the pink ripped paper credits evoking Never Mind the Bullocks here’s the Sex Pistols (“God Save the Queen” anyone?). The message is clear: this movie is not about supporting history or historical film as we have come to know it. This film is defying that history. It’s about subverting genre. It’s about subverting our previous visions of Marie Antoinette (the clearest modern analog I can think of is Florida’s Katherine Harris, with her “Let them eat prayer” attitude).
It subverts genre by re-imagining the genre. Instead of falling on the trite and expected classical scores, Coppola brings — seemingly — her own musical tastes from the part of her life when she was the age of Antoinette. By bringing in New Order and Gang of Four, the woman who was a teenager in the 80s when this music was new finds a way to connect to a very teenage feeling. She brings a sensation of human developmental age to Antoinette. The usual mode is to imagine the young and regal as wise and cultured.
This movie, about a teenage queen reacting to the great forces of will and power around her, barely cracked the top tens this year. I suspect that has a lot to do with the filmmaker, whose past and whose family apparently overshadow any of her successes. But I’m not interested in talking about the director in any context but her work. Anything less, I say, smacks of sexism and the gofugyourselfification of our nation. I personally don’t care about canned champagne and I certainly don’t think that Godfather III was her fault (for that, I blame her father). I don’t care what she wears or who she dates. Worse yet, mocking her on these levels without fully considering her work apart from them is ridiculous.
Let’s consider the movie in terms of visuals — the eye popping and sensual costumes, the amazing privilege of actually filming in Versailles. About Coppola’s understated and quite effective ways of portraying a beheading and the sacking of Versailles. The food, as richly decorated as the gilt walls and silked stockings, looked sumptuous, magnificent and delicious. Coppola surrounded herself with craftspeople of amazing skill and gave them an opportunity to do their best work.
But the thing she did most successfully was take modern music, layer it onto the 18th Century story without it being ironic. The movie itself is remarkably earnest, and she uses the music much better than other directors acclaimed for this (Cameron Crowe, I’m thinking of you — your music always breaks my suspension of disbelief because it outweighs the film its scoring). I felt a connection between the music and the queen’s emotional state that felt connected and real to me, unburdened by the snark of sarcasm.
And maybe that’s what confused some people about this. Coppola knows irony — see Lost in Translation, starring the modern crown king of it; see one of her first jobs behind the scene, costuming the pretty funny Spirit of ‘76 — but refrains from using it to spoil the moments in this film.
All that said, I didn’t completely emotionally connect with Dunst as Antoinette, but I discount that because I don’t know if it would be possible for me to do so on any deep level. How can we experience, really, the emotional landscape of Versailles in a time of revolution? In modern terms the appropriation of wealth by the very few while the country literally starved around them is horrible to consider. Antonia Fraser in her book, and Coppola in this film ask us to consider the teenage queen from another perspective, but just because Antoinette didn’t speak her infamous line, or if said line was taken out of context, doesn’t excuse the excesses that defined the time. Maybe she didn’t deserve her fate, but history is what history is. Or, as Alec Baldwin said in State and Main “So…that happened.”
Anyway…what’s so great about being royalty? The Queen asked that same question this year. It brings to mind the last line of the Gang of Four song that opened the movie: “This heaven gives me migraines.”
My 2006 top-ten ranking: 10.
Risk of spoilers: definite.
As Jim Emerson pointed out, this movie is about putting adults in the same mind space that they were as children listening to fairy tales. Is that what Terry Gilliam was trying with Brother’s Grimm? If it is, then Guillermo del Toro has shown him the proper way, and it has to do with putting myth — which typically does not scare adults — up against reality, which typically does scare adults.
It’s a movie about fascism. About absoulteness. About the idea that there is one true path held up against the idea that the paths are what we create. Pan, after all, wants Ofelia to follow one true path. She does for most of the movie, until she confronts choice and desire. In one case she learns about consequence. In another, she learns about sacrifice.
Both of which Capitán Vidal, played with greasy sinisterness by Sergi López, know about. Although the latter he disregards. After he kills the doctor for crossing him, he says “You could have obeyed me!” The doctor replies “But captain, obey for obey’s sake…without questioning…. That’s something only people like you do.” The name of the character is Capitán Vidal, sans first name. His rank is his name. It’s where he begins.
So the movie gives us a child’s escape — or mystical experience — in a time and place where there is absolutely no escaping. It’s about the old world on the cusp of modernism, and the people who faced that cusp looking forwards, and the people who faced it looking backwards.
The Pan of this movie is not a playful, sexual nymph, he is a large and disconcerting force. He towers over the small Ofelia, who may — like Shakespeare’s Ophelia — represent the sane mind going mad. A bug becomes a fairy, a terrifying goat nymph becomes a delight. A delight that moves like an insect, and seems aligned more with the darkness in the world.
Maribel Verdú plays the true mother figure, since Ofelia’s mother is sick — metaphorically from the implication or idea that the Capitán killed her husband to have her, and physically from the child of that murder she carries. Verdú is the voice of reason in the chorus of madness — keep quick, she says, and steal your chance when it arrives.
What sells this movie are the sounds — the creaking house, the clicking insect-fairy, the lumbering eyeless beast. Gunshots and rain fall, chalk on stone, squelching mud and poured water.
The end of this movie is about birthing the future. It’s the choice to live in the tumult of the past, which some fear losing, and the choice to live in the hope of the future, which some fear gaining. It’s about choosing what to obey and what to let die.
So, imagine they made the Matrix, and then they made Matrix Reloaded, and then Matrix Revolutions was a re-telling of the Matrix and the Matrix Reloaded shot all in Russian.
That's kind of what is happening here--Night Watch was the highest grossing film in Russia until Day Watch, the sequel, was released. The final film in the trilogy is a retelling of the first two shot in English. I'm not sure how that's a trilogy, exactly, unless by trilogy you mean three films that are loosely related.
This here film is actually two films itself: an incredibly awesome one, if you just look at the visuals, and an incredibly stupid one, if you actually attempt to pay attention to the plot. Of which, it seems, it mostly exists just to hang a few cliched artificial tensions on.
It really can't be stated enough how gorgeous it is. I would pay to see it again just to drink it all in.
But it's an interesting study in cultural differences that Russian audiences certainly didn't care about the plot. This from the homeland of some of the greatest writers of all time? I would guess that there was some home town rooting going on here--I'm sure there are parts of the story that can only be understood by growing up in Russian culture. Maybe I'll go read some Gogol and watch it again to see what happens...
It would be irresponsible here if we didn't talk about the sex scene first. No, not the first one. If you know which sex scene I'm talking about, then read on. If not, then read the signs that spoilers riddle these waters. Ye been warned, matey.
So, the sex scene. My companion, who majored in film in undergraduate school, and was taught criticism from a feminist perspective, had a different take on it then I did. Her experience was that it took her out of the film. She saw Bruce Banner working out all of his angst and frustration on this woman who was being used by Spielberg as a vessel, not a character.
I took it a bit differently, and had a more visceral reaction to it--I think I saw it as the Spielberg intended: a cathartic event for our main character who worked through these issues in the safety of his home, and was brought back to reality by the unselfish caring of his partner. That said, I think the scene is flawed. I know it didn't work for a lot of people--it was absurd, and it was a bold move, bordering on comical, pairing up the violence in his head with violence in bed.
So, could I defend it? I mean, I did react to it, even though I see the flaws and hear the people critiquing it. I totally understand why it took Christine out of the movie, and think her point is totally valid. But, here we are in the end of the film and we need a cathartic event for our character to become himself again--to regain what he's lost. His paranoia was growing, his uncertainty palpable. I see it as his wife speaking to him in the only way she was able to--using a shared language more tangible and that communicates more than words do.
But, granted, a flawed scene. Could it have been done perfectly? I dunno, but I think it was so risky to attempt it that I have to give them the props in the first place.
The fact is, we get the luxury of hemming and hawing over these things because it's a Spielberg film. If this were the first film by an up-and-comer, we'd be full of praise and rushing to try to find their first indie features on DVD. Instead, we get a work by the master--one of the best visual filmmakers of all time--whose message gets diluted too often by his own popularity on one hand, and his moments of saccharine on the other.
Well, I know my buddy Kent has my back on this, but goddamn Spielberg is a master. This film was endlessly complex, shot with a fascinating intimacy and confidence that could only come from such an experienced filmmaker. It is a story told visually, the opening mixing archival footage with live footage with frenetic, energetic storytelling. You always knew where you were and what was happening, but the energy was palpable. I don't know a single filmmaker that can pull those complex storylines off, and have us learn everything we did without once being lost. The man deserves the props.
He's also learning from his past. Nothing in this film was inevitable or terribly obvious. It didn't feel staged--and the only moment that leaned on being emotionally manipulative was the last shot, but even as I would defend the flawed sex scene, I would say that he was so restrained through the whole thing, we need to give him his props and just let him have it. I suspect for that moment, I'm not the audience.
Interesting, and ironic, too that here we are looking at the twin towers, and the text tells us that 9 out of 11 of the original terrorists were killed?
Well, I'm not going to go into the politics of it, or the righteousness of it. I will go back to that sex scene one more time, and talk about what our secret agent was seeing: the killing of olympic team at the airport. And, I'll ask one question: did anybody else notice that the only time we see any acts of violence perpetrated by the Black September members is in the memory and flashbacks and imaginings of a man who wasn't there?
That message, Mr. Spielberg, I can get behind. It's our own demons we are fighting as we fight against those who would do violence against us, whether we be Palestinian, Jew, American, or--this week--Dutch cartoonists. Next week? Who knows. Ourselves are the only constant.
Raises the specter of racism for me, but not in the context of the movie but in the context of the actors. As predominantly white westerners, we are told that we wouldn't accept a movie starring Africans about something as tragic as African slums and disadvantaged people. Hotel Rwanda aside, the people releasing those films are probably right, but shame on us for needing overly beautiful white people as our shepherd into this world of abject and total poverty, illness and corruption. Shame on us for not being able to feel as compassionately for an all black cast. Maybe that's racism, and maybe that is desensitization, a way of keeping ourselves sane after being presented with infomercial after infomercial of some christian origination or heartfelt actresses pleading for our help while holding naked pot-bellied starving children. And there may be some valid xenophobia there too--after all, don't we have enough poverty in America that we should worry about our poor first? As seen on tv, our poor were washed away and shunted like cattle into erstwhile happy arenas, while confused, mobbish and racist comments flooded our channels. Taken as fact these reports of roving gangs shooting at police officers and aid works were proved mostly untrue. The response at the time was always something about "those people."
But, we are dealing with fiction here. This is not a documentary, and it is not a retelling of truth fictionalized for book and screen. Or is it? It certainly reads as true, and the situations sound realistic enough. But the movie is about the argument of privilege, in so many ways, and so without the wealthy white people to counter the poor Africans, the idea of privilege could not have been established. This is, in a nutshell, colonialism 3.0. The corporations taking place of the monarchies in their interest in Africa. What makes the events more despicable is that the end goal isn't natural resources, it's human guinea pigs.
Why, then, this overlay of a love story? I think that to love this movie, you have to believe in some of the romantic ideas of Victorian England and African adventures, and you also have to believe that there is no way that these Africans can help themselves. Maybe it's true that with white people creating the problems, white people need to sweep them up. The romance was a key into the situation which was a key into the deeper story.
But, aside from those things, the film was well made. It looked like a skip-bleach process on the stock, which gave that lovely over-saturated, bright-hot colors. As a political thriller its fascinating, and if I was ignorant of many things that happened in Africa, and went to this movie purely as a thriller, I may have learned a bit. Which, of course, raises the issue that maybe my protesting is ignorant in of itself. Maybe I'm not the audience for the film. Imagine if James Bond told you something about the world--something you didn't know before. I can see the argument in that. Maybe that should sate me, and I should just take it at face value. But then, accepting things at face value is exactly what this film argues against. Back and forth, back and forth. At least, it seems, the film sparks us to think and talk about these issues.
I love Johnny Cash. Name me a musician who doesn't. If they exist, I've never met 'em, and I've met a lot of musicians, both in playing and in running a guitar shop during my formative years. When Rick Rubin put out the call for songs because he was producing a new Johnny Cash album, even Glen Danzig sent one in. Every musician knows a Johnny Cash song, and not just the ringers like "Walk the Line" or "Ring of Fire". Usually they whip some strange, creaky number from one of his early singles, or a number from the American recordings sessions that you've forgotten about until they start singing. Johnny Cash songs, unlike so many artists, belong to you the moment you hear them. You can take them and sing them and they are yours.
And then there's the Carter family, who--as every reviewer in the world has pointed out--are country music royalty. What is lost in that descriptor is how much they deserved the crown. In country music circles, it's a test of a guitar player's ability if they can nail the tricky syncopation of "You Are My Flower", which sounds so deceptively simple. I've never gotten it right, despite years of trying, and I know plenty of other people who attempt it again and again in a sealed room so that they can debut it as a stripe on their uniform. But besides that, there is the legend of this family keeping the Southern poor entertained during the depression. When life was despicable, the Carter family brought to you the thought that things won't always be so bad. Either you're gonna fall in love, or you're gonna die and go to your heavenly host and get your eternal reward for your struggles. If you're barely surviving the day through your toils, neither sounded too bad. Johnny Cash wasn't the only one in love with the Carters as a kid--he was just one of the most famous.
I avoided this movie for quite awhile because, quite simply, I don't necessarily want to color my own associations of the Carter-Cash dynasty. But, since it showed up at the best theater in Seattle, we went to go check it out. Also, despite it's good reviews elsewhere, it was handily lambasted and mocked by my own friends who obviously thought lowly of it.
To put it bluntly, my expectations were low. I was expecting a cookie-cutter paint-by-the-numbers biopic, along the lines of the Buddy Holly Story. Sure, the story might be fine, but the portrayal is less than filmic. It would be like a made-for-tv movie with an overly simplified plot, and a pedantic re-telling of the story that Sarah Vowell has kept fresh in the ears of National Public Hipsters.
I knew that despite some mediocre performances--the kind of illusory over-acting tear-jerkers that tend to get the actor nod--the movie would just barrel along, telling the story in the text of the movie, as opposed to the subtext or the relationships or in the cut.
That's everything I knew going in. Going out, I knew a whole lot more, and it was all different than my preconceptions. The movie is remarkably well made--told in the medium. This is no made-for-tv movie. The shots were carefully considered, the story was told in the cut and in long consideration of the actors. It has an immediate feeling, taking its lesson from documentaries, that didn't idealize the times they lived in, but represented them honestly--take the scene in the drug store, for example. That's no Hollywood glam set they were on.
There are looping metaphors throughout the film, subtly played, that ring in perfect parallel with the idea of the song cycle--the idea of a melody coming back on itself again, which was the Carter families greatest talent in their music.
But its greatest device--one that I found effective--was how the camera started smooth and controlled, and the more fucked up that Johnny became, the more hand-held and out-of-focus the shots became. The scene of him trashing his backstage room shows us a camera that compellingly pushes in on him during moments of rest, and then pulling back suddenly when he electrifies, as if the camera man himself were scared of getting hurt. It's immediate feeling. The image blurs and focuses, putting us in that room reacting to his violence.
The movie gives great nods to history, without beating you over the head with it. One line about Bob Dylan to give context, and the next concert is in a huge hall where the audience is remarkably subdued. The filmmakers are giving a wink to those who know that the shift in venue had to do with the folk revival that happened because of (or in parallel to, anyway) Dylan. Suddenly performers who were limited to a section of the American South were playing on college campuses and big cities throughout the States.
The acting was dead on, and believable, although, of course, our actor's are a whole hell of a lot prettier than the real people they portray. Still, the voices were close enough for me to forget that it wasn't the real McCoy, and the portrayals were nuanced and true.
And, despite knowing how things might turn out, I found myself tearing up a few times during the movie. I may be judged harshly by my friends for saying so, but I'll use Johnny as my example and stand alone. That's what I learn when I ask myself WWJ(C)D?
I don't buy the allegory. I mean, we have a resurrected hero, but is he really a Christ figure? It seems more that Aslan took advantage of a loophole in the ancient magic, and just outsmarted the White Witch. There was no communing with a higher power, no sweep of the world's sins, just a self sacrifice and resurrection. Is that all you need for allegory anymore?
Which also leads to the question of the four rulers of Narnia--if humans are so scarce there, how will they produce heirs? Will they be crossing-breeding with the more humanistic creatures? Really, how does that work with the allegory?
But, these questions are questions about the book, so superfluous to the film itself. The film was fun to watch, plenty of great visual trickery and well handled computer graphics. The battle scenes obviously took heavy influence from Peter Jackson (and seemingly stole some shots from him as well), but that's appropriate since C.S. Lewis took heavy influence from Tolkien.
Tilda Swinton is perfectly cold and evil. She's on my list of actresses that I will watch any film that they are in. Icily regal and uncaring, and downright wicked when she having her way with the lion.
Now, the question: should I re-read the books that I haven't since I was a child, or should I just wait for the movies to come out?
t'wasn't beauty that killed the beast...
It was SFX. If there is one moral to be taken from back-to-back watchings of these three Kongs, it's that a man in a monkey suit (I'm talking to YOU 1976) is never as good as stop motion and computerized animals. Kong76 was just weak. He felt like a man in a monkey suit, looked like a man in a monkey suit, and walked like a man in a monkey suit shot in slow motion. Even at his most pathetic, in the hold of the cargo ship being brought home, he was monkey-suitish. If a man in a monkey suit falls off a tree in the forest, will anybody cry? Not this time, buddy. Even juxtaposed on the tragic towers, Kong76 was more hackneyed than hankied. Die, Kong76! Die!
Kong33 moved like a dream Kong. He was monkey like, curious, and pounded like an angry 5 year old boy in a room full of miniature toys. Brilliant animation, and FX that looked better than the seventies version. He didn't try to seduce his blonde, he just grabbed her and ran. Although, his eardrums must have pierced with the pitch of her peril, he was manly--er, apely, throughout. Great moments: flexing the jaw of the Tyran. Rex after killing him. Breaking out of the chains on stage, because of those wicked, wicked flash bulbs; Climbing the Empire State, and the finale, a truly emotional powerhouse of a confused and angry and sad ape brought down by the planes. Tears were choked back. Kong33 mesmerizes.
Kong05 is a new kind of Kong. He's shiny! Looks good in close up! Has the stamina to go on for hours and hours! He also is capable of being coy and communicative, something he has over his brethren. He actually forms a relationship with the blonde, who will do anything for him. And I mean, climbing to the top of a radio tower in designer heels to stop the damn planes. This Kong--boy, did I mention he goes on forever. And ever. Man, is he done fighting all of those things yet? This island is fucking vicious! How does anything survive for more than a day or so? How many creatures fall into that valley so that those insects can eat them? Do the insects have total turf wars and eat each other? Sorry--didn't mean to digress. So, they're on top of the Empire State (Tris McCall sings: "Just know that this tangle of tickertape is the price for our Empire State"), and the blonde is weeping. Did I? Well, I confess, no. But it wasn't for lack of emotion, but for the splitting headache our late dinner and movie did to me. I think I need to see this one again. (Movie was screened, incidentally, at the best theater in Seattle. Some people ignorantly think this is the best theater in Seattle. They are wrong. This is the best theater in Seattle).
But, before that, let's talk about blondes: Fay Wray set the stage for all the others, after all. She was coy and sweet, a bit tough and tender, but never really related to her Kong. She was a bit more of a stereotypical screamer. She was meant for one man, and that man was the man on the boat, not the beast on the dry land. In her, we saw both the bitterness of her captor dying, and the sweetness of being free of him forever. Talk about Stockholm Syndrome, 40 years before the term was coined.
To Ms. Introducing Jessica Lange: I hope you gave a big fat endowment to Ms. Magazine after making this stinker, where you not only played the embodiment of every stereotypical seventies men's fantasy, but you actually appeared to enjoy it. The lithe airhead who actually, literally tries to find out what sign Kong was. Okay, so maybe it's not your fault--maybe you're at the hand of directors whose idea of the ideal woman was a giggling moronic beauty, but maybe that was the very poorly done subtext, eh? That you finally met a man who really treated you like a Barbie Doll, and you kind of fall for him? No, wait--that makes no sense. And what the hell was Charles Grodin doing as an oil man?
And finally, we have Naomi Watts. We've known you could act since Mullholland Dr. We've known you could you were willing to mock yourself with I Heart Huckabees. Now we know you can do action too. The only Ann Darrow who felt like a real person. She had a talent, besides beauty, and a drive, besides swooning. She formed a real, believable relationship with the great ape. Of course, her digital double defies physics, but Watts herself was just great.
Okay, and then we have to address the whole racism of the movie in general. Is Kong supposed to be emblematic of the untamed black man, and the idea is that we have to protect our wimmin from him? I dunno. I think the more curious question is why these Pacific Islanders all look like Africans, although Jackson's natives look more like a satanic Maori tribe. It seems to be a racist conceit--the whole goddamned thing. Is it?
I'm not smart enough to know for sure. I would say--maybe, and then also say--maybe not. That is, maybe the movie is racist, and maybe the movie is pointing out fear of the unknown, which is the basis of racism--which is fear dressed as power.
And power is what brought Kong down. Bullets in the chest as he tried to protect the blonde. An animal suffering, at the end. Not a black man, or a metaphor--what makes us cry (or almost cry) is the animal misunderstood and attacked. God help us, we've just killed the beast.
The best of the Batman films by far. Tense, action packed. Great design, great action. I'll write more if and when I see it again. For now, just a thumbs up.
Often trailers are misleading about movies, but the trailer to this movie is specifically misleading in three ways:
1. Bob Hoskins, when caught stripping at the bequest of his new hires, is not caught in his undershorts. We have full-frontal nudity.
2. The naked girls aren't dancing naked girls.
3. She doesn't inherit the theater, she goes and buys it.
We saw this in a grand old theater in Canada, during a rainy Saturday matinee. The room was illuminated for all the blue hair glowing. And the jokes about Americans were especially well laughed at. That's okay. I'm an American that laughs at Americans all the time.
A fun romp with some naked girls, posed and as still as a painting, which was the point. Funny to see Christopher Guest playing such an upper-cruster, considering the other British accent he perfected in Nigel.
The one very dramatic incident wasn't handled well, in my opinion. It was either true, in which case I would have played it differently, or it was a writer's conceit, in which case it was emotionally manipulative.
But that small blemish doesn't stop from enjoying the fine acting throughout. I may not be the demographic it was going for (measuring by my audience, it was going for a demo that actually lived through the war), but I had a good time nonetheless.
What's wrong with this movie? Nothing, really, except the fact that Graham Greene isn't in it nearly as much as he should be, given that he's on the frickin' poster and everything.
As commented (every) elsewhere, it's nice to see an Indian (that is, American Indian) movie ignoring the stereotypes to just tell a story. Emmet Walsh is the only drunk here, and boy does he look terrible. All the years of playing the angry man have worried his face.
So, why not a higher rating? The movie never really takes off. It has a sit-com plot, which is handled well enough, but no real sparks fly. For a first time director, though, a fine start for a career of romantic comedies.
Finally, the reaction when the credits rolled: Holy Shit! That was Rita Coolidge?!
Where the last film reached a hand into teenage realism and mystery, this film landed squarely on teenage awkwardness and hilarity. This is the funniest of the Potter films, and Newell made it feel effortless. At the same time, it's the most frightening, with direct V-man battling. Only took four books/movies, so it's about time.
A little light on the Quidditch, but then you can't ride that broom forever (Oh look, another roller-coaster ride in which Harry ultimately triumphs, either in sports by grabbing that snitch, or in life by moral fortitude). Also, I missed our evil Dursleys. Voldemort may be the perfect embodiment of black evil, but it's so fun to watch wicked humans get their comeuppance.
The FX are better, the Dragons nicely weighty and threatening. It's less cartoony than the first two, especially. I don't think that Chris Columbus gave up the films out of altruism, but I hope he keeps his distance for the next few. He's puts together an animatronic ride that include people. CuarĂ³n, and now Newell, gave us more human characters who are more scared, more brave and more fallible. Much more fun to root for in the end.
My first memory of Truman Capote--the real Capote, that is--was filmic. It was for his 1976 supporting role in the sublimely ridiculous Murder by Death, as the owner of the house that lived at the address of 22 Twain.
By this time a famous alcoholic that had alienated his closest friends and one time champions, the filmed Capote made an impression on me with his sneering lisp, despite my youthful naiveté of his infamy, as if he despised you so much that you didn't deserve correct pronunciation.
Fun to have the starring roles be of the literati. A young Harper Lee attending to, and then tolerating, Truman during his moods, and watching him seduce his subjects into trust and openness.
I found the relationship with the killer subtly treated. The whole film was a study in Capote's glances (including the eyes darting back and forth as his eagerness got the best of him) and expressions, which Phillip Seymour Hoffman played magnificently with great restraint, despite the grandness of his studies lack of same.
Of course, this film tells the story of the events that made him and broke him. It's a classical story in that the character changes and achieves more than he could ever hope, but in doing so lays himself on the road to ruin.
The story is faustian. Capote did indeed invent a new genre, and his writing reached long fingers into many sub genres that popped up, from Gonzo to music writing. Is losing yourself to alcohol and bitterness worth it? Only Capote knows--and the director is too smart to have him answer posthumously.
A movie about fictions, mostly personal ones, and how we represent them to the people around us. Two of the main characters present the fictions, and the other two tend to read them quizzically, not quite understanding what they're trying to say. Not surprisingly, the two writing the fictions rarely actually listen to themselves, so it seems that nobody is really hearing what they have to say.
It's a nicely made movie--shot effectively on video. Good characters that border on cartoon without actually crossing the border into cartoon.
It's another in a line of modern films (Me and You and Everyone We Know being another) that deal with actual children instead of idealized children. That means they're messy, confused, sexually curious but misguided, and caught up in their own world of strange associations. I'm personally tired of the prescient little boy/girl who surprises everybody with their mature outlook on adult situations. Why not let kids be kids, and let childhood be represented for the minefield it really is?
Daniels is very nice as the currently failing writer who once had great praise heaped on him. Like people you see from your high-school who 20 years later still dress the same, his character seems to have a self-image forged from his moment in the limelight and unchanging afterwards. His disregard for other writers, people and events is so complete that he lives inside his prism of absolute opinion, rather than a world of sensory events.
The film is more clever than deep, with two strong metaphors--the title metaphor, about fear, and the Pink Floyd metaphor, which is a little more obvious. But a whole auditorium of high school kids in the 80s who don't know The Wall inside and out? To paraphrase Wayne, that album was standard issue in America from it's debut in the 70s up through the late 80s. I would have believed it more if he had played "Answering Machine" off of the Replacement's Let It Be.
A movie with no easy answers. A movie with inevitability inside of its deliberate action.
Every man, or most every man anyhow, has inside him the reluctant hero. As a boy, we make weapons out of sticks not because we're preprogrammed to war, as our concerned mothers worry about, but because we're pre-programmed to dominance games. We're a pecking order society, and that flushes every man. It's inherited through money and class, race and privilege, and just plain doggedness and especially through violence. Boys need righteous heroes because they want to be their heros. If their heroes are not righteous, than the men they grow into not righteous either.
A former friend, who screwed me over more than once, when I asked him why he was such an asshole told me that all of the people he admired were assholes. Despite the fact that they barely knew him, he was working awfully hard to impress them.
When confronted with violence or situations we find unfair, the first impulse is to fight it, but that impulse is tempered by our life-long pecking order training. You can sum it up with the oft used phrase "Can I take this guy?" If you can, and you do, you can be a hero. If you can, and you don't you're a pussy. If you can't and you do, you're brave for trying, but should learn your place. If you can't, and you don't you're frustrated and impotent.
Which is why video games are cathartic, just as movies are. Men can step into the heroes shoes and show, briefly, that they are the toughest motherfucker around. In the Darwinian pecking order, albeit fake gore and fragging, they live on the top. Which is why superhero comics are so beloved by adolescent males, living the hero life by proxy. Which is why smart women understand that male pride is not an annoying secondhand trait, but a complex weaving of his individual history, his failures and successes. It's the core of his identity (although, granted, often overwrought, in need of check, and especially annoying).
I'm a peaceful guy. I've never been in a fight. Literally. My whole life. I feel like I don't back down from conflict, but I've been lucky in my own confrontations of violence. I've had times where I had to pick whether I wanted to fight or walk, and I've walked. I've had times where I could have pushed the situation a bit more, but I don't like violence. I don't like conflict.
That said, how the hell would I react if attacked? I would like to think I'd do one thing, but the proof is in the pudding, and that's pudding I ain't likely to go seeking. But then, just because I've never fought doesn't mean that I've never been angry, or even violent myself. I've channeled it into other venues than hurting people (loud music, mostly), but I understand the rage. I think every man alive understands that.
So when Tom Stall has to defend his diner, we understand. And when he has to defend his family, we understand. And when he has to go face his brother, we understand. It's inevitable, no matter how little we like it. If he wants to be the person he chooses to be, he has to face fully the person he was. We understand and we hope that our family would offer us again the place at the table if we, through no fault of our own, showed them that we're reluctant heroes too.
Shoots for the fences, and comes up a bit short. Still, I'd much rather watch Gilliam fail than most directors succeed. And, of course, I'd watch anything with Monica Bellucci in it.
I think, however, I would have preferred the version that Gilliam wanted with Samantha Morton and Matt Damon wearing a big fake nose.
Laconic has always been a good word for Jarmusch. He doesn't force stories, but lets them gradually unfold. He doesn't spoon feed you characters, he just let's them be who they are and hopes his audience is smart enough to suss them out.
That makes a perfect team with Murray, whose comedy has elegantly refined itself into blinky-eyed stares. At the state he's going, he'll be approaching a perfect state of mimehood soon, where his films will consist of one impossibly long close-up of Murray staring at the audience.
I liked the Odyssean aspect of his quest, and the repeating circular themes (including his street, which he tells to the cabbie near the end "Circle Drive, please." The basketball hoops, the use of pink to represent the feminine.
Despite the fact that I've always been trained as a writer to make a character arc and resolve it neatly at the end, I really like movies that challenge that convention. The shot of Murray at the end, standing in front of the obvious-but-still-enjoyable crossroads was quite nice.
But I have to say my favorite character was Winston. He was fantastic, iconic, and so uncliched and original that you felt like he would be a guy you'd like to have as a neighbor. And then, also, a guy who you'd absolutely hate to have as a neighbor.
I'm with John Stewart, who told George Clooney that it was no fair that he was such a handsome devil, and talented to boot. It's like they were handing out the double prize when he rolled off the assembly line. Or, maybe that's unfair to him--he was born pretty, but he made himself a good filmmaker. He deserves the credit for making smart choices.
For instance, not casting himself as the lead. A good sign to be sure of his talent being much larger than his ego. Using black and white to nice extent. And most of all, speaking to us by presenting a story that is analogous to our times, without a big hit-on-the-head message. I'm sure some people, such as those who outrageously support McCarthyism, will look at this film as propaganda, but to my eyes it was not about the politics of the individual as much as the individuals rights to have unpopular politics.
Very smart ploy to have Joe McCarthy play himself for two distinct reasons: 1. Murrow always let the man's words speak for himself, and 2. McCarthy was a creature who came to politics before media savvy were absolute requirements for politicians. He doesn't play well. He's unkempt, sweaty, hair falling out of place--he looks greasy, ungroomed, and even a bit scary with a scar on his brow. Today he would be better appointed, better hair hardener, more deliberate about his plans, which he would not reveal so decisively. He would hide his true meaning behind carefully rehearsed buzz words, and speak in delicate code which only conservative churches around the nation hold the decoder rings to. Letting the audience, used to tightly packaged media-savvy politicians, see this monomaniacal madman in his own words is a perfect reveal of the conservative id. A direct line to the man whose Shakespearean-scale obsession eventually was his undoing.
Of course, this same man is still in power today in many forms--as he was in power before McCarthy. He's the fundamentalist who works his personal demons out in public. He's the conservative who draws a black and white line in the sand, but turns his back to the fact that on the other side of the line is the ocean. When it comes to people who would confront him with the truth, he'd just as soon they drown as deal with the topic directly. He (who is often these days a she as well, so much for the feminist ideal that women in power would bring us a kinder matriarchal society) diverts attention with character assassination and straw man arguments so that facts go unchallenged.
Why? Because simple ideas are easier to express on television. Reality is notoriously complex. Don't you worry your little heads about a deficit, Americans--we've got awful smart people working on it. Don't worry about people being held without trial--they're bad people! You can trust us. Don't worry about minor inconveniences like knowing the facts, just trust that 'Merica is safer without those bad, bad, evil people. Did I mention 9/11? Uh-oh, looks like we got us a credible threat. Raise the terror alert level!
Clooney takes stabs at a host of issues, all of which are center stage today. Gay Marriage, with hilarious clips of Liberace, whom Murrow asks if he has plans to marry. Liberace responds by saying that Princess Ann is looking for a husband, too. He takes on racism subtly, in indirect ways--a woman accused by McCarthy quivering in her chair, nearly powerless before the abrasive white Senators. A black singer, singing with Rosemary Clooney's band, only sequestered behind glass from the rest of the cast.
He also takes a great swipe at the fallacy of "equal times, opposite views", which is one of the most ridiculous ideas ever foisted on the viewing public. Having debate is fine, but the idea that every side has an equal and opposite viewpoint worthy of discussion is about as logical as saying that all ideas are equally valid, which when you talk to certain people you realize that it's just not true. Of course, no news organization in their right mind would host an anti-nazi / pro-nazi debate, or a earth-is-flat / earth-is-round debate. The only reason they allow this charade to continue is to lose this illusion of fairness and fear of attack from right-wing zealots. Fuck fairness--I doubt we're going to see any hard hitting evidence on Disney owned NBC about how copyright law is depriving Americans of culture. I doubt we'll see on GE owned CBS (Do they still own it? I could be wrong) about the military industrial complex (don't think there is one? Can you name a decade since WWII where there hasn't been a war? Can you name any actual attack in the 20th century on American Soil post WWII?). Point is, corporate owners dumb down our coverage of issues that they should be covering so the idea of presenting balance is laughable. Do they do it directly? I don't know--it could be like the scene in the movie where all the reporters in the room are being asked if they have any communist associations in their background. McCarthy didn't ask them directly, did he? But the implication was there all the same.
Some people want absolutes, and they think it's fine if perfectly normal people are scared of them. But then, I'm the sort of person that gets a bit annoyed when Costco looks at my receipt, thinking that I'm potentially a criminal just because I shopped at their store. Or, maybe it's like that sign that was put up on a college campus by a feminist group that says "These men are potential rapists", and it listed every man in the university. Granted, that was more performance art than anything, but the idea that any of us should live in terror not because of what we are, but because of what somebody might MAYBE think that we could be is worse than most actual terrorism. As soon as Americans are afraid to speak their minds, then America has been handed over to the fundamentalists. Oh wait--that's right, it already has been.
"Are you now, or have you ever been an atheist against the founding fathers wishes?"
"Senator Santorum, I object to the..."
"I repeat, sir, are you now, or have you ever been an atheist, or a homosexual?"
"Really Senator, I don't see what..."
"Let the record show that the defendant is refusing to answer the question, and therefore must be either a homosexual atheist, or in league with homosexual atheists. Send him to gender counseling and bible school."
On the way to eat after the movie, we passed a family on the corner. They had a wild terrier on a leash who kept trying to run into the street, and used his 20 feet of lead to tangle up dad's legs. Meanwhile, Mom had a baby strapped to her front, and was making airplane noises as she zoomed it towards its four year old big brother who was worriedly telling her that she shouldn't do that for the safety of the baby. Grandmother was pushing the stroller for the four year old, that was filled with plastic goodie bags that the family received as part of their participation in Jammin' Against the Darkness: Hoops, Music and More!
The family was noisy, everybody talking at once. We passed them, and Christine turned to me and said "I wonder what their family act is?"
I saw this movie months ago, and although I scored it rather high, it hasn't stuck with me that much. Funny comedy, enjoyable enough. What more can you say?
A documentary that smartly sets itself up as a sports film (i.e., 1. underdog or outsider is a fighter and muscles their way to the top, only to be knocked down nearly fatally before winning the day. 2. Top dog off of his or her game and out of date falls to young upstart, decides to quit, changes mind and is knocked down nearly fatally before winning the day. Or course, these are also love story themes, which makes them archetypal). But, of course, all the athletes are quadraplegics, in metal armor on wheels.
But, the sports film idea here is a fake out. It's a personality movie, about overcoming your own demons, notably demons that take away much of the use of your body. Fascinating characters, interesting subject, well made documentary.
FAIR WARNING: I'm not even going to attempt to avoid spoilers here. I intend this review as a conversation with people who have already seen the film, or who just don't care. So there.
Okay. Now that all those Skeleton Key Virgins have gone, we can get to brass tacks. When Kate Hudson puts William Hurt in an old potting shed, and then covers him with a sheet, Christine turned to me and said "Worst hospice worker ever." That kind of sums up our Kate, who was called by a lousy plot device...I mean, her personal obsession over her father's death, to leave the warm security of New Orleans, where she frequents jazz/rap clubs and is lives a nicely integrated life with her black best friend. We learn she moved from New Jersey, where I guess they don't have much going for nursing programs.
Anyway, it's a good thing that her best friend is black, because that means she's able to explain what Hoodoo is ("That Hoodoo that You Do" doesn't quite have the same ring, although--as this movie explains--that would make more sense than than Voodoo). There is stereotyping that says all black people are _________ (fill in the blank with some derogatory comment), and then there is stereotyping that says all deep-south blacks know Hoodoo, even if they don't believe in it.
But we can accept this as part of the world of the movie. It does some things rather well, and somethings horribly, but the things it does well are very nice. Early in the film, views of the decrepit South, burdened by heavy water, dilapidated buildings and encroaching greenery are shot in drive-by, giving the feeling that we're descending into a documentary more than a horror film. It effectively gives us a context which the rest of the movie conveniently ignores, but I'd love to see a long video of the b-roles that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Hudson is as good looking and appealing as ever, and the director makes her earn her pay by stripping down to her skivvies, and running around in some decidedly unnatural contexts. The whole shower sequence, for example, seems a throwaway save for the lingering shots on her booty and back.
Which raises a question. Mirrors are taken out of the house, and it becomes blatantly clear at the end with the final twist just why, and the reaction that William Hurt has when confronted with his own visage in her little pocket mirror. But, of course, the mirrors are explained differently to the ignorant Kate and her loving audience. We learn that you can see the spirits of the dead servants in mirrors in the house. The servants, of course, we're lynched in a death metal video inserted about half-way through the film. So, we have the shower scene which is a set up to get Kate into the shower so that we can see her in the mirror and see a shadow pass, suggesting that the spirit is around.
Overall, the genuinely creepy and scary parts of the film (including my favorite, the phantom doorknob in an old house turning and creaking) were well handled, but sadly diminished by the laughter of the audience at key moments later on when style and mood had to reconcile themselves with a thin, but overly complex, plot.
Heck, I liked the idea and the end twist. I thought it was effective, and probably could have been whittled into something that held together better. Sad to waste the fabulous Gena Rawlands, although she certainly was as good and dynamic as always. William Hurt conveys more with a look than lesser actors do with 15 pages of dialogue.
I only wish I hadn't started laughing so hard when Peter Sarsgaard encounters some powdered construction debrit. "I can't cross! She's fixed the door!" Take that in the Hoodoo.
Seen to hilarious effect in a room with early-teen girls who were giggling and sobbing alternatively throughout the whole movie. Which of course made us all the more amused as the movie wore on. They would break out giggling, and we'd look at each other and laugh. They'd break out sobbing, and we'd look at each other and laugh. But there was high DRAMA as the three girls behind us like, TOTALLY wanted to sit with some other girls, until one of the three girls behind us saw that this TOTAL bitch was sitting with them and she, like, was totally not going to sit with them. So PLEASE, you guys, let's sit together in the back. But, like I want to sit with Gretchen! Guys! I can't believe you'd totally desert me. I will NOT sit near that monster! Okay, fine. Hurrumph. Sit. Giggle. Cry.
Not so bad as these sorts of movies go. Joan of Arcadia played well in the obligatory heavy handed scenes (SPOILER ALERT: Sign of lazy writing--giving a young precocious girl leukemia as a way of teaching a lesson to another girl. A bit obvious, don't you think?), but added touches made you realize the director was paying attention. A girl passes out in Wal Mart, and pees her pants. That's not something you see in every film.
One character has sex and doesn't like it. A daddy is a bad daddy (did he get fired from the White House?) and doesn't prove his love for his half-ethnic daughter, who is frightened by the WASPs of his new marriage. I'm glad she let dad have it on the phone.
Then the Gilmore Girl falls in love, and melts the hearts of her iconoclastic grandfather, who has been feuding with her true loves grandfather for generations. Woah is me! Those silly Greeks and their silly family feuds. It's about stealing fish or something, says the grandson. Yeah. Tell that to Paris, Helen and Tyndareus.
Well, the whole thing is aimed at teenage girls, and as a post-feminist message--of following your heart, doing what you think is right, and owning up to your own shortcomings while forgiving other people theirs--it does a good job. Girls can be anything they want, after all. Right? Right. It's all the more better when you have a pair of magical pants that fit you. I wonder though....what would the equivalent in boy movie be? The dead body in Stand By Me?
Much ado, with our more righteous critics, about the appropriation of 9/11 imagery by Spielberg. The problem goes like this: Spielberg is an emotional manipulator. Spielberg used imagery that evokes some of the circumstances around 9/11. Ergo, Spielberg is appropriating imagery of 9/11 to emotional manipulate us. Cad! Ego maniac! Uncaring pseudo-American!
I think the math is all wrong. I agree that Spielberg is emotionally manipulative, but then again so is Todd Solondz. So is Goddard. So is any filmmaker whose work makes you..., well, feel something. They're relying on age-old stories to evoke emotional responses.
The problem seems to be that Spielberg manipulates our emotions for the sole purpose of financial gain. Or, maybe it's just that he's a populist film maker. Whatever the reason. My argument is that Spielberg didn't put this imagery in to manipulate us. I think what he said to himself was "Hmmm. I want to make this experience seem real for the audience. What would real people do if a tragedy like this struck?" From the experience of the New York, and other places, we know that people would react by putting up signs. By acting out of fear and self-preservation.
I think, despite his arguable flaws (that is, arguable on the intent and merits of them, not on whether or not they exist), I don't think the man is purely driven by greed, nor do I think he's evil. I think he wants to make movies that move people. This movie was most moving in its dedication to realism, and realism is enhanced by echoing the real world and how it spontaneously reacts to crises.
For my part, I could ignore the Cruise machine (even amidst his Tom Cruise Kills Oprah mania) because he blends well enough into the everyman role. The movie was thrilling, exhilarating and even frightening at times. I had a good time, and for what it's worth felt that Spielberg was making some questions into mass-scale tragedy, and how people react to it. Maybe not the deepest quest made in cinematic form, but just because it's couched in a big-budget blockbuster doesn't mean we should assume the worst about those who would entertain us.
I heard an interview with Phoebe Gloeckner this weekend, on Studio 360. She was speaking about how her graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl is being banned from some libraries. It deals with a teenage girl having an affair with her mother's boyfriend, while sorting through a laundry list of issues: neglect, alcoholism, sexual abuse. She talked about people's reactions to her unflinching work, and how people react to sex in general.
"...anytime you talk about sex the galvanic skin response is triggered and people kind of get turned on a little bit--just when you say sex, penis--and when you combine that with something that doesn't seem quite right, like a teenager having sex with her mother's boyfriend--it kind of goes haywire, they feel uncomfortable. They're a little bit turned on, but they're supposed to be turned off, or they think they should be."
Which is exactly the line that this movie attempts to address. We have a variety of characters who are all responding to sex in childish ways, despite their ages. The youngest is the clearest in some ways--his misunderstandings about physiology and sexuality are so outrageously infantile that they become absurd and humorous. His ability in verbalizing them with such aplomb--which makes him sound like he actually knows what he's talking about--give him an authority that seems hard to question. I've met kids who have that ability to add the force of conviction behind everything they say. It takes a strong--or at least observant--parent to realize that these kids are in need of just as much protection as the ones who seem more delicate. It's just the presentation that's more forceful, but the mind is still questioning.
But our young character here gives us a graphic language for talking about this issue without spelling it out. Indeed, among you, those who have seen the movie will either laugh, groan, or shiver with disgust when I write this symbol:
While the rest of you might wonder why I did an ASCII drawing of a tie-fighter on my page, and why anybody could react to it in the way I describe. Let's just say that because of what that little drawing represents, two couples walked out of the matinee screening we attended. Lest anybody feel that that wasn't enough, the way an adult acts to two teenage girls through the mediation of hand drawn signs might make you uncomfortable. He certainly made himself feel uncomfortable--especially considering that his big desire was to sleep in bed with someone else. Really...just sleep.
But so goes this movie, not about sex or love, but about the idea of sex and love. About the projection of our desires--galvanic and emotional--onto the emotional maps we view other people through. It's about how that perception of sex changes as we grow and actually interact with other people. A pursuit that one character--a rather uptight gallery director--put like this:
"Email wouldn't exist if it wasn't for AIDS."
Which is to say that we create our mediated relationships as a go-between to actual contact, good and bad. July obviously has a strong grasp on that, and mediates each relationship in the film successfully through signs, chat rooms, video, and even through the use of stories when people really do encounter each other. As if the potential pain and the visceral excitement of actually meeting somebody you have the galvanic skin response to is enough that you need to play it down by fictionalizing it.
A movie that is superficially about race. As it should be, since most race based bigotry is only superficially about race as well. Nobody hates black people because they're black. They hate black people because they are scared of them. This is a movie, spot on in this way, that is about fear and how race colors it.
I've often asked myself if I'm racist. I don't mean that in the Klan-mask, white-supremacist way, in which case I'm decidedly not and have great disdain for those who seek that route (and have great disdain for whatever flaw in their minds make them believe the twisted logic they contrive to justify those beliefs). I mean it in the way that we are all racist. That is, if I see a young black man walking down the street, do I feel more threatened than if I see a young white man walking down the street? What if the young black man is dressed in a suit? What if he's all urban baggy pants and sideways hat?
By that token, what if the white guy is a batshit crazy hick? Michael Moore had a very funny rant where he talked about how he crosses the street when he comes across white people. In my experience, I've been fucked with more by white guys than black guys, or asian guys, or latino guys combined. More chest puffing, name calling and macho shit come out of wayward white jocks in search of a battlefield than any other group, in my direct experience.
Isn't that what we should be talking about? Experience? My father was a big proponent of integration and bussing in Los Angeles during the '70s, where I was bussed myself to Palms Jr. High (ironically, before I was old enough--some bonehead in the LA School District thought it would be a good idea to bus 5th and 6th graders onto a Jr. High School campus. Not smart, that), and some members of his congregation were aghast--especially one man whose daughter had been attacked by a black kid in a classroom. That man, based on his instinct to protect his daughter, was decidedly against bussing. Was he racist?
Which of course, is the question at hand. Am I racist? Is it racist to have a knee-jerk reaction to somebody because of their skin color? I would say most people do this, and most people who are aware of it attempt to compensate--even overcompensate. This movie shows those compensations, breakdowns of the internal dialogue, and through a series of incredibly improbable coincidences brings the characters together to confront their own fears. My favorite character was probably the black producer of the television show, who really got it from all ends and was driven to extremes. As a teenage punk rawker I'd interact with rude people and wonder if they didn't like me because of my clothing, or if they just didn't like me. But, of course, I could change my appearance. I can only imagine what must go through a black person's mind when somebody is rude to them. Like when I was playing in a band with a guy who had his vintage Fender Twin Reverb (that he had painted bright blue) ripped off from a gig, and two weeks later a black guy came into the guitar shop I ran to sell it to me. "That's a stolen amp" I said. "Is it because I'm black that you're accusing me of stealing an amp?" he said. "I'm not accusing you of anything" I said. "But, that's a stolen amp." This guy, he claimed (and I believed him, for what it was worth) traded the amp for some photography gear. We worked it out to everyone's satisfaction without calling in the cops, but that reaction--whether he was being genuine or trying to use white guilt to manipulate me--must be something that pops into his mind everytime a roadblock is thrown up.
Racism also colors every day perceptions. I once sat out on my apartment's front stoop when I lived on Capitol Hill some years ago, on 23rd. I was smoking a cigarette, and two black teens walked by, very street looking. One of them said "Yo, man--can I have a cigarette?" I held my pack out, and he took one. "Yeah, my favorite." he said. I lit it and he walked away. I pondered that for awhile. My favorite--is this some hip-hop term of affection? Is he calling me out for doing him right? It was only later that my rational mind informed me, politely so as not to make me feel like too much of a rube, that he was talking about my brand. The dude liked Camels.
Which is why simplistic solutions to race problems are more problematic sometimes than what they attempt to address. The issue is layered and complex. Cultural history is deep and strongly remembered and not easily set aside, even if those who experience its fallout are ignorant of it. At the tip of Broadway here in Seattle, right at Harvard is a condo that used to be a gas station. When they were building the condo a few years ago, the area was fenced off and the fence was strung with boards painted by elementary school kids. One showed Opie and Garfield and said "THEY stopped fighting. Can YOU?" This used to crack us up every time we saw it, because it was sweet and direct and innocent. But then--and maybe readers of Garfield can fill me in here if I'm wrong--I don't think they did stop fighting. And I don't think we will anytime soon. Movies like this may not be the solution--in one way it's just another sign on the fence--but in the larger scheme of things attempting to talk about those layered emotions masking our fear might be a way to help more than another TV show that perpetuates stereotypes. Or, maybe it's preaching to the converted and I only enjoyed the film because I'm prone to think about these things naturally.
Say what you will, I had fun. I don't mean loads and loads of fun, like reading the books. Not bracing cinematic fun, like other movies I have rated similarly high might have been. But fun nonetheless. Which, if you're a fan of the series, tells you which camp I'm in: the Sacrosanct Adam's Cult (SAC), or the Highly Flexible Apologists Cult (HFAC).
Of course, writer Tom Robbins said something to the effect that there really are two kinds of people in this world: People that think that there are two kinds of people in this world, and those that know better. But, for the sake of fandom microscopy, let's assume this generalization holds.
Those in the SAC hated this movie, because somebody other than Douglas Adams worked on it. Worse, they blame every diversion and unsuccessful path explored to some sort of malicious manhandling by the studio system, who were obviously eager to turn H2G2 into the next Star Wars, and who cares if they pounded into puny plot submission, totally ignoring the fans who should have been consulted like a giant hive mind?
Those in the HFAC don't mind some new input--after all, Adams failed over and again bringing his vision to the big screen, and every version of H2G2 (sans books) involved a committee of sorts. Bring on the changes! They might be influenced by Adams, after all, in any small way, and his wisdom is such that it transcends translation. As a matter of fact, we think we see his influence in the latest Altman film....
(There is a third cult, which quietly has operatives in both previously mentioned cults, and that is the sub-cult of Apple who say that Adams must have been a kind, wise and generously genius man because he used an Apple Macintosh. Although I am a long time mac user and fan, I can ably disassemble this argument by pointing out that another very vocal mac supporter and user is Rush Limbaugh).
As for the movie--well, I think the Dust Brothers (oh wait--wasn't it the Chemical Brothers that directed it?) did a fine job, and made some very smart choices. One of the smart choices was the extensive use of models, that helped the movie feel like a poem to Terry Gilliam. Also good were the big puppets, like the Vogons (wise is the Sci-Fi director who chooses to include Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Unwise is the director who uses them to build Ewoks).
Mostly, though, it was fun for me to see a version of this story I've loved so much over the years. It may not have been perfect, and it may not have been true to Adams in the minutia, but I say big deal. Hopefully it made enough money for the sequels to be filmed. After all, this isn't the definitive version, but simply one version.
After all, Adams was really all about the writing. The BBC radio shows, the BBC Television shows--they're all tons of fun, but nowhere do they match the wit, impossibly intelligent humor, and devious ideas of the books themselves. In my mind, Adams will always be a writer best.
Despite having no affinity for Catholic dogma in the real world, I kinda love monster movies based on it. Such as The Prophecy, and our dear new Constantine. I mean, if we're going to believe that a) There is a god, and b) there is a devil and c) they're in a battle royale for our souls, then movies like this are as much a natural extension of those beliefs as is the Tim Lehay novels about the rapture (whenever I think of the word "rapture" I think of the Frank Nelson character on the Simpsons, in a prophet's robe saying "Rapture? Raaaaptuuuuure!"). Of course, Lehay is about as catholic as a modern reformed grizzly bear, but even though the evangelical literalist movement has the language, they're missing the thousands of years of imagery and terminology that makes the Catholics so appealing. Plus, they have those devotees that renounce sex, which is perfect since most 20th century film is a metaphor for sex (sometimes even the ones that are literally about sex).
Smart casting K.R. in the lead, in the sense that this really is another Matrix film. It certainly is couched in the same video-game styling, but what I mean is that it's another film that shows the real world beyond the known world that some people can see and control in certain ways, but most people are oblivious to despite their involvement in it. To my mind Reeves affected a Hugo Weaving deliberateness in his speaking. Personally, I like Reeves. He doesn't bother me, since he plays the blank look very well that allows people to impose their own feelings about the characters.
Okay--now, I have to ask a question. I often find myself reading the writings of the religious right. I'm kind of fascinated with their belief system, having been raised in a christian household that is diametrically opposed to their imposing lessons (anybody who believes that liberal christians is a contradiction of terms has a very shallow understanding of christians, I dare say). One thing I'm often warned of in these writings--sometimes in dire language with many exclamations!--is that the devil is very wily and fools people with falsehoods in the New Age movement like yoga, meditation and self-actualization. So, my question is this: would a smart devil, out to reap souls for his burgeoning hell industry, pose as a seemingly harmless, but supposedly un-christlike New Ager, or would the devil--the sneakiest and cruelest of all the angels--pose as a Christian that distorts the word of Christ into a message that supports violence throughout the world for the selfish possibility at being floated up to heaven? Wouldn't the devil use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) as his tools to keep the righteous (and boy can we strain the right part of that word) in line?
Of course, I don't believe in the devil, so such things are easy for me to imagine. If I believed in the devil, it would be very convenient to know that I hadn't been duped by him into believing things, but all the other guys have been. Please don't listen to somebody like me, though, I'm not only a secular humanist, but a post-modernist, liberal and believer in science. Oops! Guess I'm not going to be raptured.
Anyway--back to the movie. Or, was I talking about the movie? Tilda Swinton was wonderful, but isn't she always? I wish she had larger roles in more films. if we can just make a movie that has Christopher Walken battling Tilda Swinton over who is the baddest Gabriel. "I would like you to simply blow my trumpet, strumpet," he would say.
"You know fuck-all about divinity. Bite my arch-ass, overactor." she might retort. Then, guessing from the characters that they have played, they would have sex, and god (never pictured beyond a white light) and satan (who would either be 1) horror film creepy or 2) young and ironically funny) would get together and shake pinkies on banishing both of them to earthly suffering. Oh, and the movie would probably be banned because depictions of the angel Gabriel having sex with him/herself would definitely push buttons with them-that-like-to-picket. I, for one, welcome the debate from my Catholic neighbors. I will need some correcting, but am very curious about angels, their sexuality, and how such things could be represented properly.
There's always the risk, writing about a movie based on real tragic events, that by giving the movie poor marks you are in someway denying the event it portrayed. Case in point would be Fahrenheit 9/11, in which every reviewer despite claims to the contrary gave it high or low marks based on their politics. It's a disconcerting thing, I was thinking. How could I give Hotel Rwanda low marks successfully while still maintaining my disgust at the events it portrayed?
Okay, this happens to be purely an academic question because I liked the movie very much. It also seems like a flip concern given the strength of the material. But what I would like to report most about this film is that it sticks with you. It shares many similarities with Schindler's List, in that both Schindler and Rusesabagina were insiders who worked to keep as many condemned alive in creative ways as possible. The difference is that Hotel Rwanda had Rusesabagina for an advisor, and he claims the film is 90% accurate. The things that aren't accurate? In one interview he says that the love scene on the roof with his wife never happened--he didn't have time. Another telling difference between the Hollywood version and the movie is that the reality was actually much worse. Rusesabagina's wife was badly beaten by the Hutu hordes in a scene where in the movie she escapes (saying this is not revealing any spoilers---there are many such situations in the movie where she is endangered). She was so badly beaten that she laid in bed for two week and couldn't move her head, according to Rusesbagina.
There are other ways we can compare the Holocaust and Rwanda, as sickening as it is. For instance, both raise the question of how do you measure the human losses in such hellish situations? The Holocaust was much larger, measured by counting bodies, although Rwanda has the sickening distinction of more people dying a day (around 8000), and many of those dead cruelly hacked by machetes. But the Holocaust is well documented, now. It's part of our experience and knowledge of the world, and it is, after all, the reason that we have the United Nations definition of genocide. So that, as the saying goes, it would never happen again.
But it did happen again--and in this way, Rwanda (and Cambodia, and Darfur currently) are so heartbreaking and frustrating. These deaths could have been prevented, if not militarily, then by easing tensions between groups before it exploded into violence.
Between groups. These divisions that separate the people are largely arbitrary, but always following the rule of class. This is why it is so insulting that reactionary righteous Republicans in the states accuse speakers, whenever somebody talks about welfare or government assistance, of class warfare. No, class warfare is Cambodia, Rwanda, Viet Nam. Class warfare is when your the Khmer Rouge lines you up, and inspects your hands for signs of callous. If you have them, you're a worker and get the privilege of working 14 hour days in the rice fields. If your hands are smooth (Et Tu, Ann Coulter? Manicured much?*) they kill you on the spot because you're an academic.
Class warfare is somebody hacking your legs with a machete, leaving to eat dinner, and then returning an hour later to kill you with the same blade. Okay, okay, I'm being a little self-indulgent here. Let us just say that claims of class warfare in America are insulting because of the very real people who died in nightmarish ways for that idea of class.
But just saying class is such a radically simplified thing to say. It's class combined with awareness of class and the education that this is not the way things should be. Every country with a class revolution, including America, does so with an implied moral code. The US code was that all men (and eventually women and non-white men) were created equal and should have equal opportunity to education, wealth and happiness. The Khmer Rouge code was distorted Marxism filtered through Mao--the code that all people are equal and there are no distinctions between people, so all people should do the same work. Ostensibly there is some reward for merit, but really the reward is for party loyalty and sociological acuity.
I'm not arguing capitalism vs. communism here--that's a game left best to fools and academics (the latter I support, and the former I sadly belong to all too often), you have no truly successful pure communist states to argue with (although the same can be capitalist states, come to think of it). What I'm arguing is that class is the progenitor to this kind of genocide.
And in Rwanda, for what? Jealousy of implied priveledge? Because the Belgians defined one group and then another? They helped one group over the other? The ruling class made up of one group, that intermarried another. That you couldn't tell apart without their papers to tell you who they are?
Rusesabagina helped make his story into a movie so that awareness of situations like this might be raised in the western world. So that the questions could be posed--do we ignore them because they are poor, black countries? Well, we ignored Bosnia for a long time, but we did go in, didn't we? He says we should stand up and immediately act on Darfur. we can't let these things happen. It's goddamned inhumane to live our privileged Western lives with the ability to, without much sacrifice at all, help keep the innocent people of these regions safe. But, we don't.
I say it's our responsibility. We helped make this mess with colonialism. It's the very least we can do to help straighten it out. But, even if we hadn't made it (and by "we" I mean all countries who benefitted from the 400 year exploitation** of Africa and her peoples), then our position of privilege in the world means that because we have the capability to help, our lack of assistance means that we ourselves have a hand in the murders. We could have helped stop them.
Don Cheadle lives up to his reputation here. I've always loved the man and his acting, and his instincts were just right here. He played the role down, leaning towards more quiet contemplation than melodrama. A lesser actor would have blown it, but he was very good.
*Okay, a cheap shot here that I want to explain. I don't hate Ann Coulter because she's "conservative"--and by that I mean that she makes the John Birch society look like comrades, I hate Ann Coulter because she's an inflammatory opportunist who makes her living by her self-indulgent and consciously outrageous writings. I think she has carved a nice little niche of wealth, because her claims are so incendiary that she knows she's going to piss a lot of people off. In that way, it's theater. But, she's obviously smart enough to do that, she's just made the choice to sell out and go for the gold rather than use her considerable intelligence to add to the world. She's noise, and everybody who writes about her (myself included) is falling for the trap she gleefully set. All the way to the bank, she goes, riding on our disbelief. Guess she ripped a page from the punk rock playbook and made away with it before we realized she was in our camp. The blonde we love to hate, but I hate her because of her moral vacuity more than her ideas. Her ideas are popcorn, and they'll burn up when the current witch hunt flames itself out.
**What do I mean by exploitation? I don't mean the use of natural resources. I mean the practices such as kidnapping women in a village and then telling the men that they had one week to raise their quota of rubber if they wanted to see their women again. I mean kidnapping people for forced slavery. I mean the monopolies of diamonds, coal, rubber and other goods that the European masters forced onto an indigenous people through brute strength. I mean exploitation, not use.
My favorite story about Howard Hughes barely involves Howard Hughes. Clifford Irving an author best known, in 1971 or so, for penning an extremely groovy (and I mean that as a reflection on his writing, not my opinion of the book) bio of the infamous art forger Elmyr de Hory, called Fake! (Orsen Welles' movie F for Fake documents the affair). To put an extremely fine point on it, I think the most faking that Elmyr did was to collaborate with a film maker and an author to create a mostly fictional legend of a forger, and thus (due to his outrageous claim to just how many masterpieces hanging in museums were his) to cast a shadow on the entire art establishment. It was a post-modern prank of mammoth proportion, in the sense that it really dealt with one issue: what is the worth of the hand that creates, as opposed to another hand that creates the exact same thing? It's really worship of an aristocracy that a Picasso is worth so much more than Braque. Appropriate, then, that Elmyr claimed to be descended from Hungarian royalty (Zsa Zsa Gabor, supposedly, once said of Elymr "Never trust a Hungarian. They're all liars." Problem being, she's Hungarian too).
Anyway, fresh with a bit of notoriety, Irving approached a McGraw-Hill with evidence--a signed contract, hand-written pages--that Howard Hughes had agreed to let Irving pen his autobiography. A larger book could not be imagined at the time, since Hughes was then a mythic hermit, living in Las Vegas in a hotel he bought so that he wouldn't be evicted watching a television station he bought so that it would show movies through the night for his consumption. Irving won a large advance, $750,000 or so, but Hughes made contact with the outside world via telephone just long enough to denounce the author as bogus. Those interested parties will find a wealth more information here (including a good overview of the real Hughes' life), and I also recommend reading Fake! It's quite amusing.
It's my favorite story about Hughes in the same way that I love the story about Elmyr. It's not whether or not he's telling the truth, it's the uncertainty that is the crux of the issue. To confuse things, long after doing his time (two-and-a-half years) in federal prison, Irving published 'The Autobiography of Howard Hughes' through an online publisher. Of course, the device of calling something an autobiography by another author is not unknown (hello Gertrude Stein!), but I know of no other author who published a fake autobiography of a man that the author was arrested for conning people about.
Irving claims, that through his research and allegedly stealing another manuscript, that he knows more about Hughes than anybody. He claims that the autobiography is real--or at least as real as humanly possible. Certainly, when dealing with a man as large and known as Hughes, the legend becomes the persona.
Smart, then, of the makers of the Aviator to focus on the legend. After all, the legend has enough sub-stories that could have been standalone movies: 1) A radical movie producer story. 2) An obsessive starlet collector movie. 3) A man degraded by OCD and, so it appears, syphilis story. 4) A radical aviation pioneer story. 5) A businessman who bucked trends and made a mint story.
It's a fast paced, deliberately visual film (something that can't be said of many movies these days). Scorsese uses the classic film language to tell a story not of truth, but of impression and metaphor. He does it in an seemingly effortless way, marrying stunning visuals with emotional resonance. Extremely well crafted.
The question of whether or not Blanchett captured Hepburn, or Beckinsale Gardner (who, Beckinsale that is, should keep the 20 lbs she put on for the role) is immaterial. I think Blanchett outdid herself. Same for Leo, who has completely redeemed Titanic, in my eyes. The cast is great, and the cameos fun--especially the befuddled performance of the great Ian Holm.
We were going to try to see as many Oscar contenders as possible. I'm very glad we picked this one and got to see it projected rather than on the small screen.
Testing love is like testing faith in the biblical sense--it's probably not a good idea. In the opera Cosi Fan Tutte two young men, arrogant that their lovers are true, wage a bet to test them. Seems like a bad idea, eh? Anytime someone asks you to test an article of faith with a wager, I would lay odds back to you that this person has inside knowledge that they will win. They're betting on your arrogance.
So why test love? Like the poet Heather McHugh says: "Just feel until you feel felt." If you don't test that love, how do you know that the love is there? It's like that feeling one gets when meditating, or just laying still--where your body disappears. How do you know your body is still there? Best to move your arm. It may ruin the illusion of your body being gone, but it will also reassure you that it hasn't altogether left you.
Cosi Fan Tutte plays a minor role in this film, being the opera that Jude Law and Julia Roberts miss seeing. I doubt they would have paid attention anyway. They probably would have talked through the whole thing and been shushed. These characters are the special sort of people for whom their own exquisite tortures are the fabric of life. They constantly work at weaving them, and only seem happy right before they tear a finished square back to bare thread.
Much can be said about the acting, which was right on mark, and extremely well directed. Portman was good and bold, and I'm glad she's distancing herself a bit from the Amidala role, as well as the cutesy type of roles that her good looks might lend themselves too. I like seeing Jude Law fail occasionally, he plays the winner so well. About Julia Roberts, well--I'm a little unsure of her. She has gracious star power and beauty, but what's interesting is that we learn mostly about her character from the observations of Clive Owen. We're almost sure that he's wrong about her, until she does exactly what he expects exactly when he expects it. In this movie, his arrogance is the mark of the bet worth taking.
A movie like this makes the world of relationships so confusing that my head is spinning thinking about the unclear, dramatically operatic ways at which the characters played each other. That's the goal, I think. The more confused your opponents are, the longer it'll take for them to learn that you just made off with their wallet. They call it a confidence game, said David Mamet in House of Games, not because you give your confidence to the con man, but because he gives his confidence to you.
I'm pro-choice. One reason (of many) is that abortion is a class issue. It will always be available to wealthy women, and I believe that until we can create a world--via whatever -ism is less likely to have the few controlling the many (capitalism's winning so far)--where people can be afforded certain rights and basic luxuries without needless struggle, then it should be available to poor women as well. Once more, I'm willing to help pay for it with taxes, donations and voting.
That said, I would despise a movie that preached a pro-choice agenda as much as I would hate a movie that preached a pro-life agenda. But here's a movie that, really, does neither. It doesn't firebrand. I feel that Mike Leigh, while obviously leaning one way, is really more interesting in historical accuracy.
Above any other director I've experienced, Leigh captures a sense of time and place accurately. Topsy Turvey dealt in a period that is overrun with victorian lovers, mourners, and beautiful poseurs conveniently ignoring the squalor, poverty and filth that went along with 19th century England. I mean, a pastural horse ride wearing ridiculously elaborate undergarments and gamely jibbing at handsome suitors is one thing, but having to deal with tuberculosis or your teeth rotting is quite another, and very few director's are willing to break the romance with portion of what the reality of Victorian England would have been like. Unless, of course, a convenient tragedy befalls the maiden.
Leigh has no qualms about that, showing people in, as much as possible, their natural setting. Here is a family in post-war London, still rebuilding and rocked by the devastation of a few years earlier. Where young men speak about where they were and what they did, and where even the older father was expected to pitch in. Where Vera herself keeps extremely busy beyond her work as a maid in wealthy homes by what could only be described as Christian charity. She checks in on families destroyed by war and sickness, invalids and her own difficult mother. She invites young men with nobody in for dinner (although, in this case, with a sweet and sweetly played ulterior motive). She is truly a good person who is caring and concerned for other people in the world. Though they live in horribly depressing post-war housing, she keeps her family running with a modicum of humor. She also, as she puts it later into the movie, helps young girls out. Those girls she treats with a concerned air, but doesn't see herself as their counselor, rather as a visitor with a job to do as kindly and briskly as possible.
The truly inspiring thing about this movie is how few horrible people are in it. There are a few who take advantage, or who are stupidly selfish, but the majority of all of the characters show amazing concern and caring for everybody else. Even when disagreeing, nobody was scolded or put down, or morally judged. It was as if England, still limping from the war, was a hurt dog and to kick it would be inhumane. Let's all pitch in, so went the attitude, and help each other to pull through this horrible time. Let's look forward to better times to come.
Imagine that with the polarizing forces of abortion dogma today. I'm certainly not going to waste my time arguing with somebody pro life. Frankly, a few times I've argued with some pro choice people who take the party line to ridiculous extremes, and they were just as bad. Convictions, as Robert Anton Wilson said, cause convicts. Imagine, though, a place where we could start by agreeing that we're all fallible humans, and (like Hilary recently started saying) we all would like to have a goal of reducing abortions. I just believe that the best way to achieve that is through better sex-education for girls and boys and better access to health services for all women. Research has backed up my opinion, which is one reason I hold it, but people cling to ignorance pretty tight, and argue against it pretty loudly and effectively.
In the movie, the character of the sister-in-law is remarkably like the character of the sister-in-law in Secrets and Lies, fascinated with redecorating and new appliances. Both are trying to bring their husbands and their families up the social ladder from where they started. These women, I'm sure, see this as a way to give a better life to their family, but they tend to be blind, purposefully or not, to the pain and feelings of the extended family they want to leave behind. Also interesting is that Leigh made both of the husbands of the social climbers owners of their own small businesses. Maybe Leigh agrees with me that so far capitalism is winning the race as the most humane -ism when applied in reality.
Finally, it's worth noting that at least two troops of movie makers exist that are doing similar things. They write a framework for the movie and rough plot, and then fill it with actors who improve their lines, creating the movie. In America it's the Christopher Guest players, with Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and a Mighty Wind. In England, it's Mike Leigh's players. Such different results--comedy and tragedy--from such a similar process. Both groups making great movies that will be with us for years.
Without giving much away, it was said that the actors in this movie were not told everything about the other characters, so when surprising information is shared, the reactions are as close to genuine as possible. It's in this way that the characters seem so real to us, and the moments of celebration and the moments of fear and mourning are equally powerful in bringing us into the rooms projected on the screen and making us believe that this movie we're watching is happening to us as we're watching it.
When thinking about the existence of god (or God), if one is so inclined to question these things, the following formula always comes up. If god does not exist, then life is random, and if life is random then life is meaningless. If life is meaningless...well, that just leads to snide, self-satisfied young adults in funny glasses and black clothing listening to Einstürzende Neubauten.
Huckabees addresses that issue--or more importantly, appears to address that issue. In reality, this movie is about as deep as a wading pool, but it's the perfect context for Russell to parody a huge swath of western culture.
The two points of the argument that Huckabees posits are:
1) Nihilism, or -- there is nothing at the base of it all. The parody is of its pop-culture simplification--the spectacled set replaced by the bespeckled Frenchy author--is an excuse for debauchery. Nothing matters, so let's have sex and wallow in our misery. It's the same logic that any addict knows well. Nothing matters, so let's get stoned/drunk/smoke. We may all die tomorrow, so there is no need to guard against the future.
2) Process Philosophy--or, everything is connected. And the parody of it's pop-culture, new-agey bite-sized expressions, as evidenced in the neo-60's detectives (played by ground-breaking late 60's actors) using a solitary EST personality destruction method to reinvent the star of the movie (ironically, to do exactly what he was doing before, but just be happier doing it).
It's great that this movie plays with these issues, which are philosophy 101, but don't take this for a deep movie just because it shoots the breeze with concepts that are mind-blowing to stoned thinkers who haven't taken/didn't pass their first logic class. The critics who liked the Matrix movies because they thought they were deep either liked this movie because of the philosophy, or hated it because of its lack of fu. On the other hand, fans of comedies might get tripped up by the talk of things that are hard to grok, and therefore not see the slapstick-sight-gag forest for the trees.
The reason this movie is great is not the philosophy, but the parody of the philosophers. To my mind, the characters play like facets of a modern person's personality. Watching Schwartzman sit in the tree while his meditation was hijacked by his hatred and confusion was more realistic of a modern worried mind than a pure comic abstraction. I mean, have you ever sat and tried to clear your mind of the latest stress item in your life?
The real genius of the movie is that it points to the many disparate images and ideas we hold, trying to sort them while we're being bombarded with more each minute. It is both red-state past-days pining (via Laura Ingalls Wilder), and blue state absurdist abstraction that leads to a model finding her true self by wearing a bonnet. How's that for a loaded representation of: 1) an idealized vision of a “pioneer woman”, bucking against modernity while struggling to eek out an honest living on a farm, and 2) a representation of women's oppression at the hands of white men in an era where women couldn't vote and were forced to wear stupidly modest clothing because of draconian religious mores--while being 3) completely absurd.
It's really no wonder that this movie flailed a bit--it's is a shell game of sorts. My suggestion, to those that didn't like it but maybe are inclined to try it again, is not to think too much. Let the movie wash over you and take it like a Charlie Kaufman film that might be playing absurdities just for the sake of absurdities. If you like it on that level alone, purely silly--I mean, the sight-gag of a modern art piece rubbing off on Hoffman's jacket? That's brilliant--then maybe it's worth exploring the idea that each character represents a part of a modern debate over values--not philosophy. I'll bet there is some meat on the bones, if somebody--perhaps somebody feeling a bit debauched because life is meaningless--spent some time looking closely at the traits and symbols of each character, we could probably unravel it all.
Now it makes sense why that asshole David O. Russel took five years to make this. Let's hope the next one is swifter.
Oh, and by the way, did anybody else notice that Dustin Hoffman's watch seemed to have no numbers and no hands?
A movie whose rave reviews have all mentioned how the plot is really not that important next to the stunning visuals. Not that I disagree, but when people in your theater start laughing at the most dramatic moments, you have to admit that it just ain't playing. So -- beautiful bamboo, neat dancing, but not as overwhelming as others have found it.
Matter of fact, my mind was wandering during the film, and what I was thinking was about how Chinese directors have successfully mined Chinese history and mythology for completely fictionalized fairy-tales such as these. Why hasn't a Native American filmmaker done the same? I'm talking pre-european stories here. The history of storytelling, and incredibly rich visual arts and culture are already there. I dig the small modern Indian storytelling movement, such as what Sherman Alexie has been doing, but I'm talking about a big, sprawling special fx retelling of one of the great legends. I would love to see that.
Martin's random top 10 list of actor's (living or dead) he would have preferred to play Count Olaf:
1. Edward G. Robinson
2. Alan Rickman (probably not, because of Snape, but still...)
3. Michael Gambon (I was going to say Gary Oldman as well, but let's cut our H.P. crossover here)
4. Michael Caine
5. Ann Coulter (*shiver*)
6. Ian Holm
7. Tim Curry (who read the audio book with a certain aplomb).
8. Jerry Orbach (R.I.P., a true master of delivering the quip)
9. Ryan Stiles (who, coincidentally, was in the theater with us and his children)
10. Christopher Walken (Hell, I would have taken Jay Mohr's impersonation of him).
11. BONUS COULD-BE VILLIAN: Montgomery Burns.
I had a friend who went to elementary school with Uma Thurman, and remembers her as a pencil-thin, geeky, unpopular and slightly dirty hippy kid who one day wore a Carter for President bumper sticker across her skinny butt. What's not to love?
Connelly may certainly be without peer, but she seems to have plenty of piers.
Go Spartan. Go Spartan. Go Spartan. Go Spartan.
I wish my winter was as short as the one in this movie.