Sunday, March 8, 2009

Some recent viewing

300 (Zack Snyder 2006) - Surely this is some kind of joke. With a script so bare and pompous that it wouldn’t have served for a third-rate peplum, 300 has nothing to do but unleash a viciously florid style that might as well have been animated. Or in fact actually is mostly animated with something resembling flesh-blood actors traipsing among the stones and viscera. That Snyder has persistently denied in interviews any homoeroticism is either sad or unusually deluded - he has to go through hoops to even justify any female characters at all and the rest might as well have been imagined by Tom of Finland. 300 tends to follow the Hollywood practice of being obsessively accurate about some specific historical details while otherwise completely ignoring anything else (how can you not laugh at their portrayal of the Persian king?). This is, after all, a film that portrays one of the greatest slave states in history as one fighting for freedom. In the end this is just propaganda for the Iraq invasion and of no value but sociological interest.

Juno (Jason Reitman 2007) - Resembles nothing so much as those films Hollywood produced in the late 60s/early 70s to show how hip they were, only with the new hip being pop culture references, deadpan humor and condenscending smugness we get Juno. The first 20 minutes are excrutiatingly unwatchable, including banter with a drugstore clerk that’s hard to believe was OKed by all supposed adults that sign off on this stuff. The rest of the film reminds me of Garden State in that there’s a proclamation of drama but no actual dramatic conflict. Garden State constantly told viewers that the protag was troubled and something emotional was happening but never bothered to actually do that. Juno has about a minute of soul-searching (surely Juno is the first person, or at least fictional character, to decide against an abortion because she thinks it's tacky) and then there’s little else. Nobody seems to care whether Juno has the baby, no pros/cons debated, nothing. In fact at the end the only thing that seems to have changed is that Juno has decided to go with a boyfriend, basically making the entire film the strangest “meet cute” in Hollywood history. Such a weak script means that the actors are basically on their own and while most survive (couldn’t Simmons have been given more to do?) some seem lost. Jennifer Garner in particular is hopelessly over her head with the one-note role and even Ellen Page struggles at times. But what could she do with a film so tin-eared “quirky” that the main character decides to announce she’s pregnant to the father by hauling a discarded living room suite to his front yard, waiting for him to appear in the morning and then leaving all the furniture? (The teen father is so underwritten that he's practically offscreen even when he's being filmed.) Possibly somewhere there really is a 16-year-old girl who likes the Stooges and Patti Smith, cracks jokes about Soupy Sales and appreciates H.G. Lewis (if “appreciate” is the appropriate verb) but surely they’re so darn rare that Juno and Juno become implausible. Perhaps that doesn’t matter much--His Girl Friday isn’t plausible or realistic--but for a film that seems to think it’s dealing with real world issues such as teen pregnancy and class differences then at least a whiff of reality wouldn’t be amiss.

King Kong (Peter Jackson 2005) - Talking about problem scripts here’s one that could easily have been improved. Simply eliminate the first 40 minutes--all of it--and the resulting film would be noticeably better. Reduce minutes 41-70 to total about ten and there’s even more improvement. The blame of course still rests with Jackson (and the producers who may have been too awed by the undeserved LotR success to complain). He’s the one who let this bloat until the entire thing became an epic disaster. Look at the rest. Along with Return of the King Jackson has given us two of the most racist films in the past decade - admittedly in Kong it’s a bit hard to deal with the given storyline but he seems to have drawn his natives from an Italian cannibal film and left it at that. The film has not one but two last-minute rescues by a ship crew who swore they wouldn’t go ashore. It has Naomi Watts amusing Kong with--and I still don’t quite believe I really saw this--vaudeville dancing (or at least 2007 ideas of such). And it has a brontosaurus (I’m guessing) stampede that violates so much common sense that it’s not even funny bad just tedious.