Joe Sixpack's Film Blog -- February, 2005

February, 2005


Well, ye-e-e-esss, I did watch the Oscars, and while I still had a few sharp twinges of my newfound famous-people-hating inclinations, they were much less pronounced now than they were a couple of weeks ago (see below) when I watched the Grammys. Maybe that's because movies -- even Hollywood movies -- still don't suck nearly as much as pop music sucks these days. Or maybe I was just too tired to care. Anyway, Chris Rock wasn't that funny, either.


"I (Heart) Huckabee's" (Twentieth Century Fox, 2004)
Capsule review: I really enjoyed this film. A nice, lighthearted romp into the realm of slapstick existentialism... Indeed, if I was a groovy college TA running a philosophy seminar, I'd probably make all my students watch this film... Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman, in particular, seemed like they had a lot of fun making it. The special features on the double-disc collection weren't all that amazing, but the film itself was a real hoot.

Longwinded review: I didn't have high hopes for this film, but wound up enjoying it quite a bit. It's a lighthearted, giddy send-up of the central philosopical dilemma of the post-Holocaust 20th Century: what, if any system of belief can get us through the despair-laden times we find ourselves in? Individualism? Nihilism? Consumerism? Loopy, goopy New Age-y, I-Am-You-As-You-Are-Me-And-We-Are-All-Together-ism? This film is kooky and too-hip by half, but it doesn't quite devolve into the same sort of empty, smug, self-important absurdism as such tediously "ironic" films such as "Royal Tennenbaums" and "Rushmore," with which it will inevitably be linked... While *those* films can legitimately be pegged as vaccuous, tedious minor works, sham spectacles that have no center, "Huckabee's" is diffferent. It doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't seem to demand knowing adulation from its audience, yet it does offer real intellectual fodder, albeit in a Cliff Notes-ish, pop culture-y form that has just enough substance to it that your mind may be tickled towards introspection, yet not so much that you feel lectured at and bored to death. The films I'd most readily compare it to are "Garden State" and "Repo Man..." You have to be willing to get on its wavelength, but once you do, it'll be both rewarding and fun.


"Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow" (Paramount, 2004)
...I had read a bunch of online reviews that said this was a movie that was all "look" and little substance. It's true. The gauzy, sepia-toned computo-cinematography is equal parts Fritz Lang's Metropolis and cheesy sci-fi serialization. It's thrilling to look at for the first few minutes, but once the torpor of the film becomes apparent, nothing really makes much of an impression. It seems as if the stars -- Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow -- were instructed to behave as if they were actors in a low-budget '30s action serial, ie., to emote flatly and have delayed or muted reactions to any and all plot developments. This, combined with the actual challenge of acting against a blue screen (where the actor is told what special effects will be doing, but can't actually see what will be onscreen in final print...), essentially sinks the film. Overall, the movie is just plain unexciting -- the pacing is slow, the special effects are also held in check, presumably to mimic the stiff, ricketty charm of the serials. Thus, robots clank past clumsily, stone walls fall to the ground as if made of molasses, airplanes move with mechanical deliberation... Why the director didn't just digitize in some fake "wires" to hold the models up is, honestly, a bit of a mystery to me. The film is full of clever homages to classic films -- The Wizard Of Oz, Lost Horizon, every "girl reporter" film known to mankind, etc. -- but although it's clearly a labor of love on the part of director Kerry Conran, Sky Captain is essentially dull as dishwater. It's a pity. If they had injected just a modicum of excitment into the proceedings, this could have been a wonderful film.


"Lancelot Du Lac" (New Yorker, 1974)
French director Robert Bresson crafts this grim, anti-romantic, and super-artsy, somewhat low-budget deconstruction of the Arthurian legend. As the films begins, the Knights return from a futile and spectacularly failed attempt to find the Holy Grail; Arthur's Camelot is a miserable, somewhat grubby encampment -- when riders from a neighboring hamlet come to challenge the remnants of Arthur's army to a jousting tournament, one senses that the "king" has lost his power amid a cloud of failure, impotence and doubt. In terms of the story itself, in how Bresson subverts and undercuts the glamour of legend, this is an interesting film. However, as an actual movie, it's rather stilted and pretentious, and not very enjoyable, outside of the ironic intellectual and filmic parameters set by the director. It's practically a "dogme" film: the sound design is rather poor, and the camera work is (purposefully) irritating: the film's lasting motif is the constant tracking of legs -- the stockinged legs of the knights as they slowly traipse about, the legs of their horses which are shown in place of the action when the warriors ride to battle. For much of the film, visually speaking, the actors do not exist above the waist... it's an artsy break with cinematic convention that's meant to wow films students and which mimics the loftiness of the direction. Cool for academics, I suppose, but if you're looking for a sword-'n'-sandals flick, this one might really bug you. I'm sure the guys from Monty Python must have been lampooning this when they made Holy Grail, but for many viewers, Bresson's version will seem funny-bad enough.


"Foreign Land" (1996)
I was so wowed by director Walter Salles's work in The Motorcycle Diaries (below) that I just had to rush out and rent his earlier work. This was okay, but disappointing -- juvenelia from the future director of Central Station and the Che film. It's sort of a caper film: a young Brazilian man, set adrift in the economic chaos of the initial post-dictatorial years of the early 1990s, half-unwittingly takes a job as a "mule" for a diamond smuggler, flying to Lisbon to deliver the package and naturally gets into a world of trouble. The film's most interesting aspects are the presentation of Brazil's political instability and the ironies of a post-colonial Portugal overrun by refugees from Angola and Brazil... The film itself is pretty art-schoolish, shot on super-saturated black-and-white, poorly paced and with a fairly unoriginal plotline. It was okay, but nowhere near as well-crafted as his later work. Interesting, though, to note how fond Salles is of having his characters go on long journeys, over vast streches of the earth... It's his motif, I suppose!


"The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004)
Wow. What an amazingly well-made movie. To begin with, the cinematography is stunning. Gorgeous. Evocative. Real art. The script -- which tells the story of a continent-spanning, soul-transforming road trip taken by a young Ernesto "Fuser" Guevara (later to be known as "Che") -- is a masterpiece of understatement and economy, while the acting is uniformly terrific. I honestly don't think there is a single weak link anywhere to be found in this film: it is as perfect a movie as you'll ever see. Plus, to take on the task of presenting such as iconic figure as Guevara, whose historical legacy has an almost unparalelled importance to all of Latin America, is such a daunting task, and Salles does it so well. It's really impressive. What more can I say, other that to insist that you have to see this in the full, widescreen edition -- it would be criminal to miss out on the proper framing of such beautiful camera work.


Sigh. Alias is definitely dead. As near as I can figure, they just gave up trying to make it a good show, and are content to play it off as vapid camp. Nothing is happening with any of the characters, and their motivations no longer ring even remotely plausible. I'm outta here.


"Rocco And His Brothers" (1961)
Glug. A well-produced, powerful, beautifully shot film by Italian director Luchino Visconti, one that also happens to be really disturbing and depressing. It's a masterpiece, but it's a real downer, and frankly I'm not sure why Visconti paints such a bleak picture, or what exactly it is that he's trying to say. At a certain point, the motivations of the main characters don't really make much sense and ring a little false... I dimly sense it's a hyperbolic vision of some sort of Catholic self-torture thing, but I don't really get what the story is driving at, other than that life sucks sometimes, and it's best to pretend to be happy while making profound ethical compromises... Then again, who cares about all that egghead stuff? Just check out what a babe Alain Delon was! That should be all you need to recommend this film...


Okay, so I watched the Grammy's... Other than Green Day getting their propers, it was pretty boring. I'm just bored by famous people. Completely, stone-cold, mind-numbingly bored by them and their fame. Why the f*** should I care? Why should anyone care about these people? If an artist makes a good record, I'll listen to it and if I really like it, I'll buy it. But I really can't give a rat's ass about them as individuals or their place in our pathetically mediocre, increasingly ephemeral popular culture. Celebrities suck. They're just plain boring. Time to move on. Besides, it's also time to plan all our Oscar parties...!

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February, 2005