Rightwing Film Geek

Blinded by the Light


EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED (Liev Schreiber, USA/Ukraine, 2005, 4)

IlluminatedWoodThe key to what’s wrong is that awkward title, which sounds like it was written by someone for whom English is a second language (“things get clarified” or “everything becomes clear” are closer to idiomatic English). And, like someone speaking a second language, the strange mix of disparate tones and subject matter ILLUMINATED maintains always keeps everything just a little “off,” like in a David Lynch movie or NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (I speak as someone who is not a Lynch fan, THE STRAIGHT STORY aside, and who liked NAPOLEON some, but never joined the cult). Maybe those of us who criticize the solemnity of Holocaust movies like THE PIANIST, myself included, should think of this movie next time we want to hoot at such things.

The story is straightforward enough — young American Jew (Elijah Wood) travels to Ukraine, inspired by a deathbed conversation, to learn about his family’s WW2 past. He meets up with two incompetent tour guides and they spent much of ILLUMINATED on the road trying to find a village that doesn’t seem to exist (three guesses why … only people ignorant of 20th century history and who have never seen a movie get to guess though). But everything about the style and details are just too … “too.” Arch, Inconsistent. Off-putting. The contrast between Wood’s perfectly black, straight hair and his perfect pallid and smooth complexion is just too … too. Wood’s enormous ubernerd glasses are too … too.

The two Ukrainian tour guides, a grandfather-grandson team, are the too-est of the too. The grandson (Eugene Hutz), with his malaprop-filled accented English and love for famous Negroes like Michael Jackson (really — that’s the tone of this movie), is like a cross between Ali G and one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s other characters, Kazakh newsman Borat. The grandfather (Boris Leskin) only speaks Ukrainian throughout, is obviously contemptuous of the zhid in the car’s back seat and is supposedly blind, but manages to drive the car with the help of his seeing-eye bitch Sammy Davis Junior Jr. (is this getting annoying yet?).

Schreiber has much more of an eye than we might expect of the actor-turned-director, and he shoots ILLUMINATED like a mildly surreal fairy tale — the final destination is in the middle of a field of brilliant sunflowers that stretch uniformly for an impossible distance, but in the center is a splash of white bedsheets drying on the line. Schreiber varies and makes use of film stocks, splashes of color amid a generally drained-out pallette, and overexposure in light. I’d like to see what else Schreiber can do as a director.

This sniggering tone and hyper-real style is not my favorite even in the Indiewood coming-of-age emo comedies where it originated. But what is it doing in THIS movie, about a search for Holocaust victims and survivors? I was more … stupefied and alienated and distanced than exactly offended — how dare they desecrate the memory of Auschwitz etc. Except for when the time comes for The Big Revelatory Memory Speech, in Ukrainian. And now … Hutz suddenly and miraculously acquires the ability to translate into English that sounds like English. Revealing that what went before was a Slavic Minstrel Show.

October 3, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Shining, Miramax Cut

Just be glad that Harvey Weinstein wasn’t in the biz around 1980. Otherwise look at what he’d have done to THE SHINING.

THE SHINING was actually one of the few films from that era that I recall seeing in a theater (the cinephilia bug bit in the late-1980s … prior to that I rarely went to movies.) I saw THE SHINING, at the Galaxy on I-35 and Austin Highway, with my parents and sister and was so queasily scared by it (not terrified exactly … I remember the feeling), that I asked to be excused at the moment I could no longer bear the tension … when Scatman Crothers arrives at the Overlook Hotel. While my parents and sister watched the rest of the movie, I went to the game room to play Space Invaders.

But really, is it much more risible than this (indisputably real) trailer for NOBODY KNOWS or the poster you see here with its blinding white light and greeting-card-like soft focus or the happy-giddy kid on the DVD box. (By the way, NOBODY KNOWS is now out on disc. You really should see it.) Now obviously, I take second-place to nobody in my love for NOBODY KNOWS. And Lord knows, I’m not an idealist — I accept that distributors have to make money and I pity the fool who had to sell Kore-eda’s movie. “Saddest movie I’ve ever seen” is accurate, but not exactly a recommendation to many. But jeez-louise … just viewing that trailer again right there, I actually laughed out loud at “about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.” Somebody deciding to go to NOBODY KNOWS based on that trailer would be in for a nasty shock

What these trailers prove irrefutably that a movie is not “what,” but “how.” This knowledge was obviously Old Hat who know about the Kuleshov Experiment and can name the actor Kuleshov used (Mozhukin, thank you very much). And this is why I pay little attention to trailers (they’re made to sell the movie, without regard to accurately reflecting the film) and no heed whatsoever to those who react to a movie, either in praise or denunciation, based on its subject matter (Christian groups regrettably too present among them). Individuals have their sweet spots obviously (I love boxing movies, for example), but subject matter is at best neutral and I’d probably say ultimately of no importance as it can be manipulated by editing, juxtaposition, scoring and plotting. A genius can make something out of nothing. A hack director or the wrong actors can mess up a brilliant script or story.

October 3, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Oh. Mi. Gawd.

I think I’ll go lie down for a while …

France Modern (trois fleurs-de-lis)
You are ‘French’. In the nineteenth century, it
was the international language of diplomacy.
It is a ‘beautiful’ language, meaning that it
is really just a low-fidelity copy of Latin.

You know the importance of communicating
‘diplomatically’, which for you means both
being polite and friendly when necessary and
using sophisticated, vicious sarcasm when
appropriate. Your life is guided by either
existentialism or nihilism, depending on the
weather. You have a certain appreciation for
the finer things in life, which is a diplomatic
way of saying that you are a disgusting
hedonist. Your problem is that French has been
obsolete for a long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Test courtesy of Father Martin Fox, who at least got Latin as his obsolete skill.

October 3, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment