Shimes' Spring 2003 Movie Wrap-Up

Starring:
  • Insane Politics
  • Bizarre Ideas About Race
  • Filmmakers Who Will Probably Never Work Again

 

 
Produced by Executives Who Let a Few Slip

Kevin Spacey mathematically explains the concept of "Paying It Forward"

The Insanity of B-Grade Art

What do you do if the studio greenlights your movie but doesn't have the confidence to give you a big budget and big stars? They were probably won over by your enthusiasm, but you're too crazy to trust with too many millions of dollars. And you've got to know that this is probably your one and only shot at getting millions of ordinary people to see your vision of the world. So screw it, you say: I'm going for it! If the studio gave a shit, they would have given you more money. But they don't, so your only hope is to stuff as many of your crazy political views into your movie and let the cards fall where they may. That's why I love spring movies: they are so far below the radar that there's actually some originality, some ideas that aren't filtered through the mainstream. In the spring, you get to see the visions of enthusiastic but misguided artists going for broke; the rest of the year seems so calculated—how much will this gross on July 4, how many nominations can we get if we open here. I didn't make to as many of these spring opuses as I would have liked, but here are my reflections on what I did see.

The Life of David Gale

Movies as non-sensical as The Life of David Gale appear for a couple weeks and die a quick death. But the death is not painless, my friends. Movies like The Life of David Gale matter because they contribute to the Hollywood image of liberals as social zealots. I know that we liberals are pretty pissed off right now and we can't figure out why the rest of America isn't there with us. But do we need to express this anger so that we look insane? Remember John Q? The Life of David Gale is infuriating because the script is literate, painting a portrait of issue-laden academics whose lives are overwhelmed by the notion that their passions and intellect are devoted to a Sisyphean endeavor. But Alan Parker bonks our heads with obvious symbolism, the central conceit so misguided that any empathy for the cause cannot help but evaporate. The plotting is so pedestrian, so movie-ish that the only possible pitch is:

Dead Man Walking

Plus

Charlie Kaufman

Equals

1 The Life of David Gale

 

Bringing Down the House

I think it was after Betty White told Steve Martin's son not to "wear his hair like a fag" that I thought about walking out. The deal-breaker, if I recall, was Queen Latifah's Aunt Jemima impersonation. You see, my girlfriend and I were so overcome with white guilt that, in a show of support for the black family behind us, we collected our popcorn, Diet Cokes, and headed for the exit. JimmyO said most of what we both feel about this movie, but I would like to add a word of disappointment in Steve Martin. Steve, I know you do these shitty films to give you the means to write plays, books, and Bowfingers, but please read the scripts from now on. I know The Out-of-Towners didn't need read because, well, it's a remake. But didn't the fact that Queen Latifah was producing throw up some sort of red flag? I'm not sure I'm going to forgive you before Shopgirl comes out. Sure, I will keep my copy of "Wild and Crazy Guy", keep quoting The Jerk at every chance, cherish the moment I feel in love with my first girlfriend over a viewing of Roxanne, and keep believing in the life-altering power of electronic highway billboards—but this hurt, Steve, it really did. Did you really have to go the full Warren Beatty and start rapping?

0 The Banger Sisters

Plus

0 The Out-of-Towners

Plus

0 Big Momma's House

Equals

0 Bringing Down the House

 

Willard

I'm disappointed that I never did a full review of this one like I should have. I'm only giving it three stars even though I had a four-star time. Crispin Glover gets the Bruce Davison role in this remake of an early seventies mock-horror film in which an Anthony Perkins-type spends his time at the mansion with mommy and his rats. Glover is an engaging presence, whose virtuoso weirdness has made him one of cinema's most interesting performers. I cannot remove from my mind the image of Crispin herding those rats around the basement, talking to them like the orphans he kept in Like Mike. Keeping with the theme that spring movies are all about crazy politics, there's a really funny subtext about the war on terrorism: Willard tries to flush the rats out of the walls of his house with Tora-Bora Brand Rat Poison. You see, if we breed the rats to do our evil bidding, then eventually they will become powerful enough to overtake us themselves. Ben, the biggest and most belligerent rat, = Osama bin Laden. I'm serious. When this one gets to video, use your rent-one-rent-another-one-free Blockbuster coupon (or, better yet, support your local independent video store, like Showcase Movies in Springfield, MO) and go for the Willard / Eight Legged Freaks double feature. Don't forget the six-pack at the run-down liquor shack across the street. Believe me, you'll find a hilarious three hours of mock-horror films in which creepy-crawlies represent the horrors of capitalism.

1 Eight Legged Freaks

Plus

1 Ben

Plus

1 The Frighteners

Equals

3 Willard

 

Head of State

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the same sort of pandering, middle-brow movie that Chris Rock used to say really means things about in his stand-up act? Chris Rock directs himself in a political fantasia about a party in trouble (read: The Democrats) who needs to court the minority vote, and how better to do so than actually run a minority? In short, the jokes are all hit-or-miss. But again, the Democrats should really learn something from watching the movies of their biggest donors: Black people are on to you! They have to perceive that you really care about their interests if they are going to show up on Election Day! And how can you do that, you ask? By actually caring about their interests! How many movies have we seen in the last couple of years that have ultra-rich, white Democratic congressmen with pictures of themselves shaking hands with important black leaders, while their only actual contact with minorities comes when the beds need made or the pool needs cleaned? Since Jay Billington Bulworth, I can count three off the top of my head (Bring It On!, Malibu's Most Wanted, and this—please email filmsnobs@lycos.com if you can think of more).

Movies like Head of State would be much better if they didn't have to resort to white-people-can't-dance jokes, or rich old white women saying stuff like "It's off the schnizzle for shizzle" or whatever it is. If these movies actually cared about their politics, then they too would be better. Which is why Head of State needed the guiding hand of one Louis C.K. I think of the scene in Pootie Tang when Pootie and Dirtie Dee square off like a Wild West gunfight. Louie cuts back and forth between them in a loop, with the two combatants getting closer to each other until they're behind each other—then they fight. It's that sort of visual wit that good directors can bring to comedies so that they don't have to resort to clichés. Head of State: Guilty as charged. Chris Rock, if you're reading this, the next time you write a script, let Louie direct it, please!

1 The Distinguished Gentleman

Plus

1 Brewster's Millions

Equals

2 Head of State

 

Malibu's Most Wanted

Y'all probably missed a independent gem from 1999 called White Boyz, which documents a Iowa farm boy's delusional life as a hip hop gangsta. The boyz' English, even around Christmas at grandma's, seems tutored by MC Ren and Eazy-E, so they ask the token black kid in town to hook them up with a cousin from Northside Chicago. Needless to say, the boyz end up back in the truck with their tails between there legs. But the film had genuine insight into the small-town condition: With little prospect of ever leaving a life pop culture has taught them is unworthy of their cool, the only possible response is to create an alternative life—especially when the only authority on the subject is the rap albums they buy at Wal-Mart. How can you not like a movie that features a wannabe farmer/rapper bouncing through a cornfield on a '67 Impala, fully equipped with ground effects, hydraulics, bitches, hoes, a hot tub, and Snoop Doggy Dogg?

A variation on the theme of White Boyz, Malibu's Most Wanted plays a more overtly political angle. Here, the rich white kid (Jamie Kennedy as B-Rad) re-invents himself as a gangsta. The two protagonists are at the opposite ends of the Caucasian social-economic spectrum, but what binds them is that they embrace hip-hop for its masculine properties—their lives are without conflict, and without conflict, how does one prove to chicks that you're a man? I won't recount the jokes for you here, but I laughed a lot during this movie—and not at black culture, mind you, but at the misrepresentations and misinterpretations of white people about black culture. The humor also becomes a political theme: B-Rad's dad is running for governor of California as a Democrat and hires some Juliard-trained black actors—the same ones from his campaign commercials in Los Angelos—to "scare the black out of him." Of course, the real gangstas don't buy it, nor do they buy the governor's act. Again, I ask: How can Democrats expect the minority vote to show up when their "concern" for the African-American community is so transparent? In short, Democrats: Don't be hatin'.

1 White Boyz

Plus

1 Head of State

Equals

2 Malibu's Most Wanted

 

A View From the Top

No one can tell me that this isn't some semi-elaborate joke. I can't top JimmyO's review of this one; I only want to say that the Christina Applegate renaissance is in serious jeopardy and that those airplanes were filmed to look like erect penises.

Shallow Hal

Plus

Airport

Equals

1 A View From the Top

 

Bulletproof Monk

Bulletproof Monk prophesizes that the enlightenment of Tibetan monks can be sucked out of their heads by the same method that our collective energy is harnessed to power the Matrix. And the Human Rights Organization is a front for Nazis who want to use that enlightenment to create a race of super-Nazis. Now I'm ok with all that: Really, what have those punks at the HRO done for the Dalai Lama lately? If Richard Gere were serious about this whole Tibet deal, he would drop this pacifist bullshit and take up kung-fu for the cause, like Seann William Scott does in Bulletproof Monk. Chow Yun-Fat reads nary a line without a faint smile on his face, as if he's amused by the fact that he's actually in this movie. Honestly, I was amused by the fact that he's in this movie, and even more amused that Mr. Scott was amused by Chow's amusement with the movie.

You think about those sorts of things during March movies. I wish that Bulletproof Monk was more than it is, a hodgepodge of action sequences, pseudo-Zen "wisdom," and crazy political ideas that never really gets any traction. Had Paul Hunter encouraged Scott to loosen up and let he and Chow go for laughs, this could have been something special. But that's why Paul Hunter is directing March movies: He doesn't understand the comedic potential of casting Stifler and Li Mu Bai in a film in which religious transcendence is treated like the Matrix if run by Nazis fronted by a human rights organization.

1 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Plus

1 The Matrix

Plus

Dalai Lama

Equals

2 Bulletproof Monk

 

The Real Cancun

When Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray created "The Real World" over a decade ago, did anyone know how much havoc they would wreck across the culture? There's not room for that discussion here, but I suspect that they thought "The Real Cancun" would end be the defining statement of the genre. To that extent, Bunim and Murray are somewhat successful. The film belongs to Alan, the bespectacled, provincial freshman who doesn't drink or party. Why he is even in Cancun is a mystery, except to be deflowered by tequila and coeds with issues with their fathers. The film sees Alan's Cancun like Christian's Moulin Rouge, the story in the enlightenment from the loss of innocence. But there's no tragedy here for Alan, only the temporary disablement of tequila shots. The film falls apart when it follows the beautiful people around; nobody cares about these people except for Alan. Of some interest are David and Heidi, the "best friends" who are too afraid of falling love with each other: he's afraid that he's not buff enough to hold her wandering eye; she's not aware that he's the best thing for her. But if you want a movie about why today's young adults refuse responsibility and choose to defile themselves, then check out Better Luck Tomorrow. If you want a movie in which teenagers have a lot of sex, then rent a Larry Clark film. This fails the full potential of the genre. These "real" documentaries contain far less truth than Christopher Guest's "mock" documentaries.

1 Larry Clark

Plus

1 Brooke Burke

Equals

2 The Real Cancun

See Spring Movies For:

The Queen and Steve dismayed by the Filmsnobs' plea for Spike Lee to hold a press conference about Bringing Down the House.