September 22, 2004
Two for Three Ain't Bad
It is the cruel luxury of unemployment that there is plenty of time to consume media.
So, I’ve already told you about this month’s Foreign Policy mag.
Also notable are the three movies I’ve seen in the last two weeks, each very much the product of a single visionary. First up:
The Stylist. Napoleon Dynamite reminded me of Wes Anderson’s movies: Meticulous production design; socially inept characters; thick retro vibe. Okay, it’s more than a vibe: This movie is set in a kind of distilled hyper-80s. (Or maybe Aaron is right and that’s just what small-town America looks like?)
It’s a trip to watch, and it hits some cultural touchstones — adolescent preoccupations with ninja skills, crude drawings on lined notebook paper, early Internet chat rooms — that I haven’t seen anywhere else. In those moments, Napoleon Dynamite feels fresh and fun and new.
In others, it feels too engineered — the title character, Napoleon himself, is funny, but kinda empty, you know? Watching the movie, you can never figure out what’s up with him. The climax is hilarious — hilaaarious — but not that triumphant, because you’re not sure if you’re on Napoleon’s side or not.
For a real human connection, we need:
The Voice of a Generation. Garden State also articulates some ideas that are very real, very familiar, and very current. This movie felt modern to me, and I appreciate that a lot.
It’s rougher around the edges than Napoleon Dynamite: Zach Braff’s vision doesn’t seem as meticulous as Jared Hess’s. But that’s fine. In fact, it’s great. Garden State doesn’t feel like the immaculate work of a genius auteur. Instead, it feels like the really cool movie your friend made.
If your friend was a dude with 1,000 Power Macs in his basement, then maybe he’d be:
The Technologist. I wanted Sky Captain to be good. I so wanted it to be good. It’s remarkable, after all: The first non-Lucasian instance of a Garage Kubrick making an entirely synthetic feature film. (We discussed it before on Snarkmarket.)
But it’s terrible.
This movie generates zero suspense and shockingly little wonder. Most special-effects movies succeed when you forget the computers and get into the story; Sky Captain, on the other hand, was only interesting when I stepped back to note its technical prowess. And man, the last thing you want to be thinking in a movie theater is: “Well, that mutant dinosaur certainly is a fine achievement.”
The movie’s director, Kerry Conran, nurtured his vision for years, and finally — remarkably — marshalled the resources to bring it to the big screen. But — for what? So we could see old-fashioned robots through a gauzy haze?
If you want retro-chic adventure, go rent Iron Giant, an underrated movie with a more original vision and a more exciting story by far.