Rightwing Film Geek

Virginia Film Fest Day 4



I’d never seen this movie before, and seeing it in the era of Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” is … instructive, particularly since for so long, if you’re not familiar with the actual politics of the 1930s, it would be very easy to find President Hammond an inspiring FDR prototype (reportedly, Roosevelt himself did find it inspiring). The first 30 minutes are mostly an attack on entrenched plutocrats and the heroism of a labor leader named Bronson and a march of the unemployed on Washington. One scene involves Hammond playing with his son while we hear Bronson’s speech and it was all I could do not to think of Michael Moore and W reading “My Pet Goat” on 9-11. But if liberals aren’t rebelling by the time we get to, say, martial law, emergency dictatorial powers and firing-squad executions of bootleggers … But this film was not intended ironically or as a cautionary tale.

Financier William Randolph Hearst had the film made as a straight-faced political fantasy of an ideal leader like later men made AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT or DAVE. It’s as straightforward an apologia for a right-wing dictatorship (yes, “fascism,” if we can use that term seriously rather than a political cuss word) as we ever have or ever will get from an American. And what’s so wickedly funny to me is that for so long it plays, in our current political environment, as a Progressive film — during one Hammond speech, I was mentally ticking off “health-care reform,” “banking takeover,” and “agriculture subsidies.” My point, like Goldberg’s, is not that Obama (or Hillary or any Democrat in 2009) is a closet Hitler, but to note that the commonest understandings we have of dictatorship, past politics and the current spectrum are really just the whitewashed self-aggrandizing demonology of a few post-war leftists that we now hardly know how to think outside of. And that the commonalities between fascism and progressivism are many — a point which we could, and I’d be happy to, relegate to academic and historical interest if liberals didn’t incessantly use the f-word against us. GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE is a bracing antidote to all that.

ps … I also didn’t realize that Goldberg had a section about this movie in “Liberal Fascism” (I had read his NR cover article and NRO blog, but not the book itself).


MONDOVINO (Jonathan Lassiter, 2005, USA, 7)

On a CSPAN morning show years ago, Christopher Hitchens said (from memory): “I am for free trade, as was Karl Marx, on the grounds that capitalism will destroy the atavistic, reactionary elements of insular societies.” I’d be curious what Hitchens would make of this film, given his known love of the finer things, since it clearly documents that capitalism’s rationalization of all economics and dismissal of all other terms of value besides money. MONDOVINO is about the wine industry and how it’s not only spreading worldwide but how this spread affects local markets. But only the proper nouns would need changing (Cinecitta for Tuscany; Europudding for Napaization, etc.) to make an identical movie about the film industry or the carpet/rug industry — anything where part of the value is artistic/aesthetic is threatened by capitalism (you can call it “globalization” if you like, but unless you ban immigration, the Internet, and international travel and communication, “globalization” is a fact).

I dialed back my enthusiasm for this film a little (the grade was 8 at first), because there’s go getting around that this shot-on-video feature just looks like ass and needlessly so (this wasn’t 97 or 98, plus Nossiter zooms needlessly and sometimes too close-up). I also wasn’t too keen with some of his (lily-gilding, given what IS there) “gotchas” about fascist ties. Does he really believe that a vigneron *selling* wine to the Germans in 1941-43 to be collaboration?

I said a few weeks ago that GOOD HAIR is the best Michael Moore movie in 20 years; MONDOVINO isn’t funny like Rock’s film, but it is a superb example of the other side of ROGER & ME — the polemical issue film that still has the tact and smarts not to make the film-maker a star or narrate our reactions. It’s a testament to MONDOVINO, and the broader applicability of it’s polemic, that it easily held my attention for 140 minutes despite my total lack of interest in wine (the film isn’t just a pander to wine snobs, in other words).

Indeed, I gave this movie the further compliment of, when I went to dinner right afterward, getting a glass of wine and choosing a locally-produced Virginia red wine (it tasted like grape juice spiked with whiskey, tequila or some other “kick-heavy” hard liquor — but you can’t have everything).


KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Robert Hamer, 1949, Britain, 10)

Eve: Stay. The. Hell. Away. This is the most heartless movie ever — about a disinherited British aristocrat who murders his way to a dukedom. And it’s also one of the funniest — a parched-dry 2 hours of Wildean wit on the art of murder (“it is so hard to murder someone with whom one is not on friendly terms”; and the title of Louis memoirs — a perfect parody of the 18th century genre they are). The victims mostly aren’t even loathesome, they’re more like tenpins (identically formed in the image of Alec Guinness) that we positively enjoy seeing knocked down.

This may be the greatest film script ever, certainly in terms of words. But it’s not just the tune but also the playing. For one thing, Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood give shading and multiple meanings to just banal lines as “not at all,” “a matter of sone delicacy” and “my memoirs.” For another, Hamer does a better directing job than you might realize — touches like the stuffed polar bear on the floor next to Lionel, the framing of the “burning leaves,” and the timing and framing of the last D’Ascoyne funeral. And knowing when to pull back — the exchange about how boring Lionel is.

The thing that struck me more than I remembered previously about this film — in my 10th viewing of an all-time favorite — is how snobbish Louis’s mother is (or maybe a working-class Glaswegian just can’t tap into shame over a trade-vs.-a career) and then Louis himself is the same way — “that hideous suburban cemetery,” his angling for the priggish but classically aristocratic Edith. This movie is not, as the introducer said, an attack on the class system (certainly not in the name of the proletariat or even the bourgeoisie), but a fantasy of becoming part of it, by hook or … well … crook.


SOMERS TOWN (Shane Meadows, 2008, Britain, 4)

There’s no big existential or critical crisis here, despite how this “review” will read. But watching this film about the friendship between two loner kids in London — one a Nottingham runaway, the other a Polish emigrant — my mind kept drifting to this passage in Pauline Kael’s classic essay, “Trash, Art and the Movies”:

“When you’re young, the odds are very good that you’ll find  something to enjoy in almost any movie. But as you grow more experienced, the odds change. I saw a picture a few years ago that was the sixth version of material that wasn’t that much to start with. Unless you’re feebleminded, the odds get worse and worse. We don’t go on reading the same kind of manufactured novels — pulp Westerns or detective thrillers, say — all our lives, and we don’t want to go on and on looking at movies about cute heists by comically assorted gangs. The problem with a popular art form is that those who want something more are in a hopeless minority compared with the millions who are always seeing it for the first time, or for the reassurance and gratification of seeing the conventions fulfilled again. Probably a large part of the older audience gives up movies for this reason — simply that they’ve seen it before. And probably this is why so many of the best movie critics quit. They’re wrong when they blame it on the movies going bad; it’s the odds becoming so bad, and they can no longer bear the many tedious movies for the few good moments and the tiny shocks of recognition. Some become too tired, too frozen in fatigue, to respond to what is new. Others who do stay awake may become too demanding for the young who are seeing it all for the first hundred times.”

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Virginia 2009 | 3 Comments

Virginia Film Fest Day 3


SafetyVaFilmSAFETY LAST (Harold Lloyd, 1923, USA, 9)
SHERLOCK JR. (Buster Keaton, 1924, USA, 9)

One of the great things about seeing a lot of silent films is that they teach you that much of what you’re told about film history and the world of the era isn’t so. The other night, Gerardi and I exchanged tweets linking to 20s pop-culture achievements — Louis Armstrong and SUNRISE — that show that pre-sexual-revolution people weren’t stick-in-the-mud prudes.

The very first scene of SAFETY LAST is a scene that both assumes (for the setup) and then violates (for the punchline) the “180-degree rule” of continuity editing. And did so a half-century before all the “modernist film” froufrou. And in SAFETY LAST, the supposedly visually-functional vaudevillian Lloyd used for gags such pure-film techniques as dissolves, blurry focus, font size on the title cards and superimpositions. Decades before the Daffy short “Duck Amuck” (a supposed deconstructionist landmark, though itself still well ahead of Derrida), SHERLOCK JR. not only had a character literally jumping into a movie screen, but had the exact same series of gags that perturbed Daffy at the beginning of that short — the scenery changing in spectacularly inapproriate ways just as the Buster/Daffy gets used to the last change of scenery. SHERLOCK JR., a decade before the Hays Code even existed, ends with a gag that is basically a sex joke with the marital act itself used as an unseen punchline (I won’t spoil it by describing it). Fellini once said that nothing that had been done in sound film — by him or anyone else — hadn’t been achieved too in the silent era. There is nothing lacking in a silent film, and the artists of the time (Keaton and Lloyd among the peaks, whom comics have been ripping off for 80 years) are fully the equals of their successors — in sophistication, in subject matter, in technique, and even in a (post-) modernism worth achieving.

This particular double-feature screening had a live score being played, and really the most I can say is that it was better than nothing — appropriate mood setting but not really tailored and cued to the details in these specific films, though there’s obviously limits to what you can do with a 3- or 4-piece ensemble.

I’ve also been challenged in the comboxes by James: “why SHERLOCK JR. not a 10.” The short answer is that it did decline a little in my esteem, though its grade remains a 9. Seeing it back-to-back with SAFETY LAST, it just wasn’t AS funny. It’s certainly more inventive, but it’s the one Keaton feature I’ve (now) seen more than once that I think does deserve the rap against Keaton that his gags were more clever and inventive (“mechanical,” one might say) than funny per se. When Buster clears the pool table without hitting the 13-ball, it’s virtuoso pool-playing and suspenseful, but I don’t laugh that much (until the very end). When he’s careening down the road in a sidecar and — the trucks pass under the broken bridge at the right instant and the bridge collapses at just the right angle and the roadblocks explode on cue — I’m thinking “how did they do it/think of it” more than anything else. I think SHERLOCK JR. also has the narrative-structure weakness that nothing is at stake in the second half — the girl has already talked to the pawnbroker before Keaton falls asleep and imagines himself into the film. I love SHERLOCK a lot, but I do prefer OUR HOSPITALITY (my fave), THE GENERAL and STEAMBOAT BILL.


RASHOMON (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1950, 10)

Hard to see why this is playing here and apparently elsewhere, other than as publicity for a 60th anniversary Blue-Ray. But I won’t complain — my first big-screen look at a film I saw two or three times in the late 80s/early 90s “exhausting the canon” phase. Even before seeing RASHOMON, I “knew” from cultural osmosis (e.g., the term “Rashomon Syndrome,” an episode of “Good Times”), that the film was about “the relativity of truth” and “perspective.” I didn’t really buy it then, but now I really don’t buy it.

If you’re attentive, it’s perfectly clear *what* happened in RASHOMON. Basically, the woodcutter’s account is accurate because we’re given no reason to doubt it and you can see the traces of the husband’s, wife’s and bandit’s accounts — which differ mostly by placing greater emphasis on certain details that make each teller look good and leave out certain others that make him look bad. For example, the thief did kill the husband in a free swordfight, though one hardly as honorably heroic (and thrilling for us, actionwise) as the thief made it sound. The wife says she fainted and escaped, which may be true, but leaves out her egging the thief on (as the husband sees it) or offering herself to the thief’s great manhood (as the thief sees it). It does, in fact, take two blows to kill the husband, though the husband’s ghost interprets that to mean something self-serving. The only reason I’ve ever heard not to believe the woodcutter is that he leaves out that he stole the wife’s pearl dagger, left at the crime scene. Which is true, but which hardly gives him a reason not to be truthful about the three principals and thus a reason for others to doubt him on those points. To ask for a witness free from all sin, original or imputed, personal or social, and from all interest, public or private — well (unless you’re a Christian, and even then, not on most matters), it will and should lead to despair.

What struck me more this time around is the “outer” story and how THAT issue, the crisis of faith and belief, is central to that story and thus actually what the film is about (and the longstanding auteurist rap against Kurosawa, that he’s a misanthrope, made more sense to me than it ever has). In a phrase — what to do about the fact all men shade the truth and outright lie to their benefit. The film’s answer — I won’t spoil it — is a bit corny in the specific. But in the general, the real point is its irrationality and its penitential character. The key line at the end is worthy of Bergman (and there’s a very similar exchange in the Dardennes’ THE SON): “I don’t understand my own soul.”


BEDFORD: THE TOWN THEY LEFT BEHIND (Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab, USA, 2008, 7)

This grade is, I will admit, 90 percent “subject matter.” BEDFORD is not visually ugly or incompetent film-making. It uses its material well and some visual tricks with cutouts and photo-motion keep the film from too much visual stasis. But at the end of the day, it is basically a talking-heads and mostly-still-photos documentary (Ken Burns without Shelby Foote narrating, more or less). So the film stands or falls on your reaction to the subject matter — and that is incredible. The story of a small Virginia town whose local National Guard unit was slaughtered in the very first D-Day wave onto Omaha Beach and whose men thus took the biggest hit in the country — well, you’d have to be a Nazi, a pacifist or a principled anti-American not to have a frog in the throat or be blinking back tears. And any movie with the line, by a soldier whose unit sailed over to Britain on the Queen Mary, “the food was terrible; we were on British rations” will have a special place in my heart. BEDFORD also doesn’t ignore the tensions we had with the Yanks during the buildup period before D-Day (“overpaid, oversexed and over here,” though hearing a Devon accent was a Proustian experience).

But what these sorts of “Greatest Generation” films repeatedly show is how pre-analytic culture operated and pre-analytic men understood themselves. And you still see some of the same — the Guard unit was called up for the first time since then for the Afghanistan war, and the town (the site of the D-Day Memorial) also adopts a fallen Marine as its own, though his ties were strictly via family not personal (the story of his death rebukes those who play up civilian casualties in the Global War on Terror and try to handcuff us in response). Overall though, the film does less with this than it might have, except on the score, where it does too damn much. But the objective home-front effects of GWOT and WW2 can’t even begin to be compared (a point the film makes). Still, as a portrait of red-state patriotism and honor that will never appear on PBS for that reason, this is first-rate.


SHAMELESS (Jan Hrebejk, Czech Republic, 2009, 3)

Early on, a marriage breaks up and the film spends the rest of its time following the romantic travails of both people (mostly “his” — at least the travails; she does much better). The performances are good, it’s professionally made in every technical way, the direction is competent. And SHAMELESS had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever — not even a negative one. It was like a neutrino, passing right through my mind without making any imprint whatsoever. It isn’t terrible in any meaningful way. But there’s just no juice, no conflict, no tension — just a lot of stuff happens and then the movie’s over. The premise could make a good movie — there’s a tip of the hat to Lelouch’s A MAN AND A WOMAN, about a widow and a widower finding each other. Indeed it could be titled A MAN AND A WOMAN, AND A WOMAN AND A MAN. But there is not much comedy here, not much mordant humor, not much romance or sexiness (the leads are deliberately East European deglamorized).

One emblematic scene has the husband working as an anti-drunk designated driver, only he gets held up at the brothel, gets drunk with a worker-girl he had taught in high school, and then pulled over by the cops while driving his intended customer and has to blow into the breathalyzer. Sounds dramatic or potentially black-comic, right? None of it comes off in any way because everything is at the same flat level, neither absurd enough to work as comedy nor consequential or weighty enough to work as drama. Indeed, it occurred to me afterward that bad European movies are different from bad American ones in that while the latter tend toward the infantile and stupid and leave you wondering Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the former (and SHAMELESS fits this to a tee) tends more toward nonstop mediocrity, indistinct pudding and leave you shrugging Bravo Foxtrot Delta.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Virginia 2009 | 2 Comments

Virginia Film Fest Day 2


MODERN TIMES (Charles Chaplin, 1936, USA, 8 — formerly 7)

There really is no substitute for seeing a comedy with an appreciative audience, particularly children who are into the film despite (in this case) the film being more than 70 years old, black-and-white and mostly silent. From the mouth of babes, one budding-critic kid a couple of rows behind me said, when Chaplin left the second factory (the one that closes for a strike) and the large iron gates close behind him, “that looks like the prison gates.” Obviously MODERN TIMES stands up beautifully as pure comedy — the feeding machine, the roller-skate routine, the middle-class fantasy (it’s incredible how nonchalant this film is about living a bum’s life on the streets), feeding the trapped coworker, serving the roast duck (food is more prominent in this film than a Julia Child show), the closing song.

Couple of other things I noticed more than previous: how short and direct, almost Eisensteinian are Chaplin’s title cards; how directly Chaplin attacks and deconstructs the talkies even within this film’s text and not merely from the fact of making MODERN TIMES this way (the boss’s monitor, the description of the food machine, rehearsing his song). On the down side, the film now seems even more episodic, stitched-together and uneven than it ever has.


SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (Steven Soderbergh, USA, 1989, 10)

Like Mike D’Angelo said of himself when he re-viewed this film himself recently, it’s impossible for me to be completely objective about this movie — the first film I ever wrote a public review of, for the college paper in 1989.

That review doesn’t exist in electronic form anywhere to my knowledge, but everything I remember saying stands up 20 years later, even things I had thought I would have been faintly embarrassed by — (1) Andie MacDowell does give the best performance in the film (though she’s probably the worst actress); (2) Soderbergh clearly was influenced by Bergman (though his subsequent work isn’t) — the small-cast chamber quality, the self-conscious soul-baring discussions, the analytic tone, the spare atonal music; (3) this film is amazingly mature about sex, managing to be both incredibly explicit (in the sense of “detailed”) and frank without becoming pandering or tittilating.

What SLV understands to the very core that the most important sex organ is between the ears and that the videotapes’ per-se existence (not what they actually contain) is what the drama is about. Still Soderbergh’s best and — both because of itself and the career it launched — SLV is a landmark in American indie film that I fear may be going down the memory hole.


SOME LIKE IT HOT (Billy Wilder, USA, 1959, 10)

Before I go in, since I have time. I’ve never seen this one in a theater and so I. Can’t. Wait. But years ago, I unintentionally conducted an experiment that proved I objectively like this movie more than CITIZEN KANE. During the day of the Super Bowl one year, San Antonio’s two independent TV channels decided to counter-program during the pre-game show. One showed KANE starting at 2 (or thereabouts), and the other showed HOT, starting a halfhour later. I decided that I’d watch one until the commercial came on, then switch to the other until THAT commercial came on, then switch back (I’d already seen both movies uninterrupted more than once). That plan lasted about two cycles until about the time the band arrives in Florida. From that point on, I couldn’t turn away from HOT back to KANE and watched it straight through. For What That’s Worth.

I fled the theater to get some grub before there could begin the usual po-faced academic discussion of “gender roles” that kills interest in what I think is the 20th century’s greatest farce (yes, I do mean that). I will say that this film doesn’t really gain that much from being shown in a theater because its virtues are dialogue and plotting rather than pictorial. And this particular audience was appreciative but not overwhelmingly so (there was more laughter at MODERN TIMES and a more-packed audience). It dawned on me while I was watching that the brilliance of Wilder and Diamond’s dialog lies with the near-constant double entendres, and not (always) of the sexual kind but double meanings of all sorts. For example: when the “girls” show up at the train station to leave Chicago to flee the Mob, the manager who needed a bass and sax says “you’re a lifesaver,” and Josephine replies “likewise, I’m sure.” Seemingly every line in the film either has a double meaning or sets something up later (another example: the Sheboygan Conservatory). Even when it’s not specifically funny, HOT is so clever and so tight that it’s always fun.


CORKED (Ross Clendenen and Paul Hawley, USA, 2009, 4)

People who think Christopher Guest has run out of gas are invited to look at this film to see how good Guest still is. This mockumentary takes on a target — the California wine industry — that is very tricky because it requires, well, connoisseurship. CORKED might be funny to people intimately familiar with this industry (apparently, it premiered at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival), but not to me, an unrepentant wine philistine (though I did like MONDOVINO later in the festival).

The acting is sometimes good but just as often awful. For example, could one of the dumb racist marketer frat boys [ridiculous, BTW] not gild the lily by dropping his jaw, and breathing through his mouth (it just strokes the filmmakers and audience for their “enlightened” laughter). The writing and structure are barely better — the sheriff in particular seems to be just dropped in, like the video-sound guy in the first POLICE ACADEMY movie. CORKED isn’t worthless by any means and I did laugh sometimes (everything done by the silver-spoon kid with an enthusiasm of Tarantino), but this is local-TV material and a video look that belongs on cable-access. It says something that I actually remember liking better another California agriculture parody FRESNO (look it up, people … especially you, G-Money).


THE DRUMMER (Kenneth Bi, Taiwan, 2009, 6)

Maybe I’m being generous after seeing the amateurish CORKED! But it was a relief to see a professionally-done formula movie shot on film, with fully competent performers. DRUMMER is completely formulaic — WITNESS meets THE KARATE KID with drums instead of kicks, basically. But the actual performance scenes, of a Chinese Zen drum troupe the hero longs to join upon seeing them rehearse in the forest in gangster-exile, are simply marvelous and worth a ticket in the same way you see TOP HAT or SWING TIME for the Astaire-Rogera dancing, not the actual movie.

And it’s good to see that Jaycee Chan, fils de Jackie, isn’t trying to be his father or to make a film you could imagine Jackie Chan make, though Jaycee does suffer a charisma gap (who doesn’t?). The extra-textual knowledge of who the star’s father is even contributes to THE DRUMMER’s theme of a son trying to carve out a space separate from his father while remaining properly devoted. Still … goes on for maybe 15 minutes too long, and there is noway, nohow I’d buy the last plot point about the uncle. Even if the film hadn’t botched clarity on it.


THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (Rebecca Miller, USA, 2009, 4)

Hmmmm … there might really be something here except that Miller has absolutely no sense of tone. Or she is from South Korea, Mars or some other place where you can imagine “The Feminine Mystique” having every other chapter be a cheap, crass joke. Or think that the death of the central character’s husband is time for the wife, defending herself for charges of insufficient grief-strickenness to say “how can I compete with THAT” (pause) cut to the girlfriend (a ridiculously overdone and overdoing-it Winona Ryder) lying catatonic over a chair. ho ho ho.

The film is a psychological “My Life So Far” tale, narrated by the titular heroine, played by Robin Wright Penn. Not only is Penn quite good but there’s so much acting talent on display — Maria Bello as Penn’s mother in flashback, Alan Arkin as her husband, Julianne Moore is underwritten but her mere presence is assuring — that the movie never loses watchability. Points deducted for Keanu Reeves, doubled for his full-torso Jesus tattoo — the second use of which is so crass (a prayer that turns into a pity-fuck) that you can’t even take offense, just … well … pity. And once you get your bearings and realize that your flashing back to a Friedanesque tale of a 60s comfortable concentration camp, with the current-day story fitting a similar template (if not exactly an “updating” … this setting is clearly the post-feminism world) … once you do that, the film becomes fairly predictable. I knew right away what the chocolate cake was all about. Set in the world of New York “bobos” and so thoroughly and self-absorbedly immersed in its values (and plotting) that it can’t even wait a scene to tell you this (that first scene features Cornel West as an actor). And whenever I see films like that, I wonder “do the makers know how other-worldly and offputting this is.”

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Virginia 2009 | Leave a comment

Virginia Film Fest Day 1

Gonna try something new now that I can blog from my iPhone … a single post updating the films after I see them. UPDATE: I decided to separate the days just to keep the post(s) at manageable length, though I’ve updated each throughout the day)

I’ve gone to the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville several times before, but it has a new director this year, who wants to de-emphasize the “overarching” themes it’s had in the past, though it does have one — “funny business.” This year’s slate is heavier on classics and local films than fall awards-season stuff (though there’s always been some of all).

Thus my schedule is heavier on films I’ve seen multiple times, but never with an audience (real important for a comedy). You don’t (or shouldn’t) need me to tell you SOME LIKE IT HOT or HIS GIRL FRIDAY are awesome, so those remarks will be heavier on the particular screening or audience reaction or “things seen anew.”

My first film is about to begin:


HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Howard Hawks, USA, 1940):

Double aggravation at the start — introduced by a professor-type who said Hildy was starting her own business, and then quickly realized that the film was being shown on projected DVD *with the English captions on* … grrr.

Now seeing it for the first time since seeing the 1931 film of THE FRONT PAGE, and believe it or not, the lines in this famous fast-talker are actually delivered slower here. But the little gestures and side touches make this one funnier — Grant tapping Bellamy on the shoulder so he can see him fake-cry. My profession also means I understand every thing Walter Burns does, and Roz Russell here is every man’s (well, every journalist’s) idea of the perfect woman. But I’ll go to my grave thinking the suicide is a mistake — a real tone-breaker.


TRUE ADOLESCENTS (Craig Johnson, USA, 2009, 6)

What if the “grumpy adult bonds with cute moppet” genre had as the “grumpy adult” a Gen-X slacker hardly worthy of that noun. And not in a Jack Black SCHOOL OF ROCK kind of way, where he’s still basically a mentor, but with an adult character with a serious case of perpetual adolescence.

Mark Duplass is near perfect in the role until the very last shot, where he has to pull off the kind of soulful “look in the mirror at yourself” and he just doesn’t have it. The plot trajectory is entirely what you’d expect from the premise — Duplass goes camping with his adolescent cousin and the kid’s best friend and he grows. Except here, the adult being the buggest kid of the three — though the generation gap still asserts itself — makes the material feel fresher and tenser than it is. And it’s doubtful that he actually does grow. In the end though, it’s like camping itself — it’s enjoyable (I guess, in the case of camping) but you don’t really end up with much permanent takeaway except the journey itself.


TENURE (Mike Million, USA, 2009, 6)

As with IDIOCRACY, Luke Wilson is the least interesting part of a comedy he stars in. He’s a very average everyman, working only as counterpoint to the crazies who surround him. But this film, a campus comedy about an English professor up for you-know-what, often works exactly on those terms. When the crazies take center stage for a scene or sequence, it’s inspired. My favorite scenes can be called School Spirit and Erotic Poetry. And Rosemarie Dewitt also good in another “other woman” role — here, a stalker object with a backstory. However TENURE is not remotely as good as IDIOCRACY perhaps because it’s too good-natured and sane for a comedy. What makes the school spirit and erotic poetry scenes work is that the behavior is outlandish, but logical for the character obsessions they embody.

November 5, 2009 Posted by | Virginia 2009 | 3 Comments