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September 22, 2004

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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.

Posted September 22, 2004 at 10:07 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Movies


Voice of dissent on Sky Captain:

I thought it was thrillingly lovely, and that was enough. I mean, it looked like the gorgeous bastard daughter of Metropolis, Jurassic Park, Touch of Evil, and Casablanca. If you made high-res prints of every frame of that movie, you could hang them on walls and open a world-class museum.

You're right that most special-effects movies work only when the visuals serve the story. But I disagree that Sky Captain falls into the league of "most special-effects movies." To me, the visuals were the story, and it was fascinating. Most special-effects movies don't attempt to create entirely original worlds, they just do cool things, for the most part, with the one we've got. Give me your own, beautiful, totally un-Earth-like planet for two hours, and hell, yeah, I'm content to just look around.

Whatever story is being told in the paper-thin dialogue is completely dispensable, and Conran acknowledges that. A major recurring plot point of the movie is that Gwyneth Paltrow has run out of film with which to document the amazing sights she's (we're) seeing. ("I'm in Shangri-La, and I've only got two shots left!") Which is awfully vain of Conran to point out, of course, but he's got the chops, so he's clearly allowed.

If you've got Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law in your movie and the set design is still the prettiest thing, you've succeeded.

Garden State:

Very sweet movie. Big gay crush on Natalie Portman, even if Fametracker hates her and has no soul.

I had a nagging feeling the entire movie that none of the shots or pieces of dialogue had anything to do with each other, but Zach Braff thought of them one time and felt they'd be cool. (Hey, like, wouldn't it make an awesome shot if I was, like, standing in front of a bisected mirror, wearing a shirt that matched the wallpaper behind me, or something?) And that he made the movie so he could play That Guy -- tortured, indie, and beloved of Natalie Portman. But since the disconnected pieces of dialogue was mostly legitimately cool, and the shots were mostly legitimately interesting, and he played That Guy for the most part legitimately well, I'll forgive him the incoherence.

He does, however, get four demerits for making his character God in the movie's denouement.

Garden State was oft compared by the critics to "The Graduate." I think that is off-base. Rather, I'd say that Garden State is "Ferris Bueller" for a different generation. The odd thing is that this generation chose to make the star of the movie Cameron instead of Ferris.

As for basic scene incoherence: I agree wholeheartedly.

But that can be forgiven, when it is indeed like a movie that your friend made.

Okay, I get what you're saying there, Mthomps... although I still disagree, b/c for all its visual grandeur I just didn't think the Sky Captain world was very original or interesting.

Maybe that's only 'cause my brain is already so addled with retro comic-book sci-fi imagery.

Dan: Your Ferris/Cameron observation is totally the stuff of super-sharp elite media reviews. You might have a future in movie criticism if this whole history-of-science thing doesn't work out.

And finally, re: the basic scene incoherence of Garden State -- true, totally true, but WE MUST NOT FORGET that Garden State was clearly made PRIMARILY so as to be cut into the greatest teaser trailer of all time. (You HAVE seen it, right? You gotta watch the teaser -- the TEASER, not the full [lame] trailer.) The full movie's fine, yeah, but that teaser is the stuff of legend.

Have you seen this before? It's a number guessing game: I guessed 53051, and it got it right! Pretty neat.

Posted by: Merideth Carleton on February 27, 2006 at 10:28 PM
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