a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wouldn't You Miss Me At All?

Today, I have come to a resolution: I will no longer be coy about my sporadic obscure references. That line comes from "Dark Globe," found on the first solo album of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's much more spunky, gone-vegetable originator. (Amazingly, it took a good eight, maybe nine years for his mates to reply, in the form of "Wish You Were Here.") Why use this particular snippet? Because I've apparently gone prodigal on this blog.

Strike the first comment: I have two resolutions: I'm also going to update more, once again. Inspired by Dana Stevens' Surfergirl quasi-blog on Slate (and David Edelstein's carbon copy of same), I feel the muse descending again. Or at least I have a feeling about what to do with this site, to fool you folks into reading it more often.

A weak reason? Sure. Proceeding ahead all the same.

Currently, cinema is not my chief focus. Like seemingly everyone else, politics has co-opted my fragile little mind. Though it's now five days old, the Jon Stewart implosion on Crossfire has been at the forefront. At first, it was a fairly visceral reaction: as with the debates, part of my obsession has been the joy of seeing someone say things that no one else has been able to voice publicly. (I.e., finally, W. has to answer harsh questions he has spent the last couple years deflecting with glib jokes. And the way he would get peeved and inarticulate when faced with a particularly grisly accusation -- 'frinstance, getting into a brief showdown with Charlie Gibson? Sheer bliss.)

But something has been bugging me. It was suggested by a friend that Stewart has not simply being too modest about The Daily Show, but outright denegrating its importance in the quagmire that is current politics. To a point, I agree -- Stewart been too cosily leaning on the "fake news show" title, one which isn't even accurate. (It's not The Onion.) It's their to-the-heart satire that keeps its fans, and I include myself, skipping the 11pm news. On the other hand, what kind of topsy-turvy world do we live in when a comedy show is more trustworthy than the news or political debate shows? I'm thinking -- I'm hoping -- that is what Stewart's true m.o. is.

Meanwhile, Team America: World Police (2004, Trey Parker, B) elicits an arguably more all-over-the-place reaction than even Fahrenheit 9/11 did over the summer. Like Edelstein, I "laughed all the way through." The opening, with its hilarious vivisection of the must-destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it mentality, is literally a mini-masterpiece, while the finale features no shortage of hyperbolically grisly puppet deaths. To a degree, it's as much the barometer of contemporary American mores that their South Park movie was five years ago. But I must side with most of the lefts: is this the best you could do? Knocking down ass-hanging-out targets with a fly swatter, they devote a whopping two (2) scenes to Michael Moore, who is lampooned as fat and a suicide bomber, which isn't even incisive. And while the deaths themselves are hilarious on their lonesome, simply lining up a cadre of liberal actors and killing them off is a disgrace to their causes, and I mean that they give so much more material than that. On South Park -- a show it took me five or six years to fully appreciate -- they tackle a topic per episode and boil it down to its essence, attacking everyone with equal-opportunity glee. But with America, it appears they felt a bit daunted by their subject. Walking away from it, I couldn't help feeling they deployed only 30% of their powers. Granted, even when they're operate on 30%, they're mostly invaluable. But at least we still have The Daily Show.

Now for some house cleaning.

I'll leave the ruminations on the surprisingly solid J-Horror remake The Grudge (2004, Takashi Shimizu, B) till tomorrow's issue, when my hastily-assembled review runs. But Top Secret! (1984, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker, B) mostly lives up to its culty reputation, stuck, as it is, as the least talked-about ZAZ production. Of course, it's also the weirdest, melding send-ups of WWII romances and Elvis pics (plus, briefly and memorably, The Blue Lagoon) into some chaotic whole. It takes awhile to really get going, but if the gags aren't as rapid-fire, they're more on-target, with a second half that barely pauses for breath. I'll cherish it forever for the leftfield backwards-sequence, the Peter Cushing sight gag, the underwater bar fight, and the chimney shot, among others.

Also: whaddaya know? Three Kings (1999, David O. Russell, A-) improves with age! (Or else I'm simply more politically-savvy than I was as a junior film student.) Though it still degenerates into hand-wringing as it goes on, it's consistently clever throughout, even managing to a better job of channeling the anarchic, misanthropic netherworld of Richard Lester than Lester accolyte Steven Soderbergh ever could. (The first 40 minutes, when things are still relatively innocent, might be the most astonishing work of the whole '90s. No joke.) If Russell worked more, he'd be the true king of the young turks: less pigeonholed than Wes Anderson, more in-control than P.T. Anderson, more nuanced than David Fincher, more consistent than Wong Kar-Wai. Hell, even with his scant résumé, he might already be on top.

Finally, a quick word on Primer (2004, Shane Carruth, A-). Namely: start now. You'll need to catch it three more times in theaters before taking that class at college that shows it once per session. It's not only that it's largely indecipherable upon first viewing; it's that Carruth's ideas are head-spinning enough when you can catch them that it's no mere stunt. Unlike, say, 21 Grams -- piece together the torrid soap opera! -- there's true smarts here, and some ideas that appear inspired, not lifted, from the likes of Heinlein. Doesn't Carruth look like a more plain Hugh Jackman but talk like Campbell Scott? Weird. Distracting.


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