Monday, October 11, 2004

Movie: I ♥ Huckabees (2004)

First off, a big thank you to the boys at Low Culture for providing the necessary HTML. You’re doing the Lord’s work over there, fellas.

2004 has been a litmus test year at the cinema. You can’t pass judgment on the hot-button movies without giving away something about yourself. It started with your feelings on Jesus, then George W. Bush. With David O. Russell’s latest, we’ve moved on to the Buddha. As somebody who constantly gripes about the lack of serious movies, I’d like to say: enough is enough. I’m not the one on trial here.

Russell’s metaphysical farce is about an environmentalist (Jason Schwartzmann) and his doppelganger, an up-and-comer at the WalMart-like chain of the title, seeking answers to life’s big questions with the aid of “existential detectives.” Russell deserves a huge amount of credit for tackling the subject matter in the first place, particularly in the daring form of screwball comedy. It’s a genre that Russell has demonstrated a flair for in the past (FLIRTING WITH DISASTER), and things get off to a rousing start. But in short order the ideas overwhelm the characters and the spindly narrative without managing to cohere into a whole. The philosophy embraced at the movie’s close seems a touch naïve. (What did I tell you? I can’t talk about this flick without baring my soul. Or revealing that I don’t have one.) Russell maintains a high energy level, so I wasn’t bored. But I was never engaged, either.

HUCKABEES feels like a pixilated Hal Hartley movie with a higher-profile cast. The actors bring their A-games, in particular Jude Law and the never-better Mark Wahlberg. Dustin Hoffman plays the fifth (and oldest) Beatle, and Russell draws good work from Lily Tomlin, a performer I have never warmed to, as Hoffman’s wife and partner in crime.

How you respond to the movie depends on whether you agree with Russell’s assessment of the Law character. Is Brad Stand a bad person because he’s handsome, superficial, and trying to do some small amount of good while looking out for Number One? My answer is: no. Hell, I aspire to be Brad Stand. He’s the only person in this fascinating mess of a movie I actually liked. Guess it’s back into the meditation tree for me, where my spirit guide David Mamet will tell me where all these ethereal types can stick it.

R.I.P. Christopher Reeve

Reeve’s legacy will undoubtedly be his accomplishments as an advocate in the wake of his accident. He was an enormously inspiring figure.

But let’s not overlook his work as an actor. His performance as Superman – and, more importantly, as Clark Kent – was a deftly measured blend of heroism and light comedy. Whoever steps into his bright red boots has a lot to live up to.

I’d also like to mention his work in DEATHTRAP (1982). Rosemarie has a great story about seeing a Broadway production of Ira Levin’s play on an outing with the Rosary Society. Farley Granger played the lead, and when he kissed the young male protégé who just helped him murder his wife full on the lips, a number of the ladies headed up the aisles. The Sidney Lumet film adaptation comes off now as a pale imitation of SLEUTH. But to a then-thirteen year old boy only beginning to take movies seriously, it seemed like the height of sophistication. Reeve’s canny, against-type performance was a big reason for its impact. He’ll always be a favorite of mine because of it.

Miscellaneous: Link

I don’t care what this guy says. This TV commercial creeps the bejesus out of me.