Halfway through watching What the #$*! Do We Know?!, I realized I was seeing a spritual recruitment film.
The movie promulgates a worldview based on eastern mysticism and quantum mechanics through a combination of talking head interviews, a loose narrative starring Marlee Matlin and CGI.
It was a really uncomfortable movie going experience. I'd been very petulant about going to see it in the first place and I realized that leaving in the middle would definitely cross the melodrama threshold. But still - I was squirmy, largely because I agreed with what was being said, but was dying at the way in which it was said.
Part educational filmstrip and part instructional video, the movie posits answers to the mysteries of life by invoking precepts such as be here now, visualize peace, see the divinity within and so on. These ideas are presented in short soundbytes from talking heads and go largely uncontextualized. (Well, the narrative part of the movie tries to shoulder some of the load here. But it's like the story in a health class video - it is slave to the message. Also, this whole part really sucks eggs from an execution standpoint.) As a result, these ideas come off as slogans or tips for happy living rather than what I feel they're meant to be - pointers to a transcendent truth.
The filmmakers make matters worse by poorly contextualizing these spiritual ideas in the study of modern physics. Throughout the movie, quantum mechanics is invoked as a talisman to bridge the gap between mysticism and reality. On the whole, this is, again, a line of thought to which I'm very sympathethic having really dug on Fritjof Capra's whole deal. But the Tao of Physics puts a lot of effort establishing the traditions of both eastern spirituality and western physics - as such the associations are rich and meaningful. In What the Bleep, they are completely superficial.
Of course, Fritjof had a whole book - maybe this stuff just can't be done in a movie. I don't think that's actually the case. Instead, I feel the film fails because it ends up flying over the propaganda line.
But, then again, Fahrenheit 9/11 was a propaganda film and I enjoyed it as such. What the Bleep is, similarly, an activist movie but the whole thing ends up eating itself precisely because of the spiritual truths it attemps to convey. The movie hammers away with soundbytes and hand wave-y science until the tone is one of pure dogma - which is just an awful thing to do to a philosophy that is completely un-dogmatic.
Zom Rom Com
SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a romantic comedy homage to George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD.
In the film Simon Pegg (screenwriter/actor) and Edgar Wright (screenwriter/director) take the romantic comedy and zombie genre to a new level of gory humor. Pegg stars as Shaun, a guy stuck in stasis in danger of losing his girlfriend. The day she breaks up with him coincides with a strange occurrence of zombie attacks (later billed as Z-Day).
The film takes us from the oblivious nature of Shaun's life to Shaun becoming a take-charge guy given the zombie situation. Along with the nod to DAWN OF THE DEAD, SHAUN OF THE DEAD also tips it hat to 28 DAYS LATER. But these are zombies in the traditional sense - the slow moving somnabulant beings who just want to eat you. Not the quick moving 28 DAYS LATER or 2004 remake DAWN OF THE DEAD zombies. (Who Pegg and Wright call "gym bunny zombies.")
The movie is light fun fare, but the filmmakers do manage to inject commentary about how much of London normally lives life a little bit in a somnabulant state.
There are some great lines. Such as Shaun, 29 saying to a 17-year old co-worker, "I want to do something with my life too!" To which his co-worker replies, "When?" Shaun is then unable to reply with anything coherent.
One can look for (and find) the meaning of friendship and the feel good knowledge that under duress people will rise to the occasion. But really, the movie is just another take on the zombie romantic comedy genre. Lots 'o' chuckles abound!
BROWN BUNNY is the infamous new film by Vincent Gallo. There is a correlation between one's view of Vincent Gallo and one's view of the movie. If you can't buy into Gallo, you won't be able to buy into BROWN BUNNY.
So, I liked the movie (see this is where I stand). It was full of conceptual ideas and was fraught with heavy meaning. Gallo has a lyrical way of trying to get his tightly wound concepts across. He uses a lot of clues, silence and framing (that is - the subject of his lens is frequently slightly out of frame) to tell his story of regret. There are some humorous moments, but unlike BUFFALO 66 you won't find yourself laughing self-consciously. He doesn't relieve the psyche in that way, instead he provides the viewer with the loneliness of the open road and the odd mundane-ness of trying to make fleeting connections with strangers (something that happens every day in every bar across the US). The rawness of those fleeting connections feel almost serial-killer-esque as the character of Bud Clay drives from New Hampshire to California.
Much has been made of the many credits Gallo has in this film. He's credited as screenwriter/director/actor/costume designer/cameraman/editor as well as a few more. Gallo is an admitted control freak and as an indie director it makes sense that he would wear many hats in the film. So I'm not sure that aspect is as narcissistic as critics propose it to be.
The infamous scene with Chloe Sevigny is graphic, but not sexy (at all). Even though I buy into Gallo's concepts, the scene begs the question "Would he reveal all, if he wasn't gifted?" Because even if the scene isn't pleasureable or narcissistic (and I'll give him that) it still is, intentional or not - a good advertisement of his jewels.
If you're curious or like Gallo, give it a go.
The Infinite Abyss
GARDEN STATE is the first film for director/writer Zach Braff who also stars in it. Andrew Largeman is back in town (somewhere in NJ) for the funeral of his mother after being estranged from his parents for 9 years.
After "Large" has a dream in which he calmly sits on a crashing plane as all his fellow passengers cry and move about frantically, panicking - he decides to stop taking any of the many, many antidepressants that fill his drug cabinet. As the story moves on we are given clues to his life in New Jersey before he left.
The journey is almost Odyssean as Large comes back from the edge of not feeling. The film is in fact how Large is able to re-embrace living, how he comes back from being numb to being normal. And, yes there is a romance with a girl (Natalie Portman).
The biggest disappointment was the ending. It feels a bit tacked-on, like it was done for Hollywood's sake. The movie would have been better if it ended either 7 minutes earlier in the Infinite Abyss or 2 minutes earlier in a scene that echos the beginning of the movie.
The film has a great humorous aesthetic, but I felt at times assaulted by it. Is NJ really filled with very strange characters that all seem to know him or his friends? Are pets really that hilarious? My thought is that Braff did it to create levity in a film that would have been too depressing otherwise.
Braff also seems to suffer from first time ADD in film making. He used editing and camera tricks to enliven the pace of the movie, slo-mo, quick cuts, swooping camera angles, speedy motion, but none in any consistent fashion. This was intermixed with panoramic angles and small languorous scenes. It wasn't distracting so much as puzzling, "What emotion did he intend for us to have here - with that camera angle?"
The film is good and one is bound to enjoy the soundtrack and humor, but the film doesn't resonate enough to stay with me days after viewing it. It's not a film I'd recommend or caution against. I think it does show that Braff will soon be a force to reckon with as he continues to add slashes to his credits. (He adds Producer to Writer/Director/Actor on his next film.)
Yellow team vs. Red team
THE VILLAGE is a beautifully shot psychological drama that takes place in a village surrounded by Covington Woods in Pennsylvania. Shyamalan brings us a thriller that has been mistakenly marketed as a horror film.
As the trailers reveal - an uneasy truce exists between carnivorous creatures living in the woods and the villagers. Soon the peace between the two is disrupted as Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) pushes for permission to go into (and through) the woods (for medicine) after the death of a 7-year old boy. Once he even passes beyond the barrier and is spotted.
Soon the creatures from the woods are wandering into the village . They leave markings on the doors and skin and hang up dead carcasses. The Elders are sure this is a sign that the villagers must not venture into the woods. The young people in the village begin to get more and more agitated as events seem to escalate.
Phoenix and newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard do an amazing job of carrying the story through drama, a love story, and extreme courage. The movie is fraught with an incredible amount of tension and real moments of beauty (such as a scene with confessed love!). Those who don’t enjoy Shyamalan’s pacing may have some difficulty with the movie as many scenes are low-key and best described as balletic (if you’re a fan) and slumberous (if you aren’t).
The ending has a SIXTH SENSE like surprise, but once you guess it- it seems obvious. The film begs for repeat screenings as the viewer searches for clues.
In the end what emerges from THE VILLAGE is the lengths that people will go to protect themselves and those they hold dear.