Monday, September 05, 2005

Film Days II

(Great, now I'm two weeks behind. Stay with me.)

Tuesday morning kicked off big time, with The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, 2005, PRO), a film I had eagerly anticipated ever since reading about it a few months back. In case you don't know what this documenary is about, let me put you up on the scoop: in the world of comedians and entertainers, one particularly nasty and crude joke has been making the rounds for generations, without ever really reaching an audience other than the entertainers themselves - it's been deemed too out there, too offensive, too much of everything to be performed in front of an unsuspecting crowd, and as such it's been living a sheltered life, a life of its own. It has become an inside joke amongst comedians. The joke is called The Aristocrats. Structurally, it's a perfect joke for comedians to put their personal spin on, and that has probably contributed to its longevity in the business. With an easy set-up and a clear punchline, it contains a middle-section which is more or less a blank sheet for the comedian to paint his or her picture of what is, ahem, happening.

The movie about the joke is fairly simple in its form. Director Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) meet up with a heap of comedians and ask them about their relationship to the joke, and most of the time ask them for their version of it. The result is a staggering cavalcade of crudeness and laughter. The joke is, in its best incarnations, outrageously offensive in every way imaginable - but that's sort of the point. The punchline can be used in an effective manner, but The Aristocrats is basically an anti-joke, which many of the participating comedians also acknowledge in their renditions of it.

After this great start (8.30 am!) it was off to safer, more boring and predictable horror territory. The Amityville Horror (Andrew Douglas, 2005, con) isn't really worth saying much about, except that Philip Baker Hall was utterly wasted in a small role as an incompetent priest. Nothing is new: stupid people stay in creepy ghost-infested houses despite all signs pointing towards doom and gloom, family members don't talk to each other about strange occurrences, and quiet little dead girls are just not good company for your daughter. I kept thinking of Eddie Murphy: "When a fucking haunted house says, Get out!, I'm gone!".

Next up was the world premiere of Josef Fares' Zozo (2005, con+). Fares is one of the golden boys of Swedish cinema today, having previously made the cute but ultimately disappointing Jalla! Jalla! and the action farce Kopps, both critical and box office hits. Zozo moves him into more serious and dramatic territory. This semi-autobiographical tale follows a young boy (the Zozo of the title) from the war-ridden streets of Beirut to the promised land of Sweden, sometime in the late 80s. It's a straight-shooting movie, occasionally sprinkled with some magic realism but otherwise lacking in any sort of subtext, just like Fares' previous films. And that's fine; it's all very well done, but strangely unengaging. The Beirut part works best, but it's filled with standard boyhood scenes as seen in thousands other movies, and crucial, character-defining moments just slavishly serving the plot. When little Zozo comes to Sweden, things get worse, as the supporting parts are reduced to thin stereotypes - the bullies, the loud cheerful immigrant grandfather, the passive teachers. Zozo opened nationwide this past Friday (Sept 2), not surprisingly to massive critical acclaim.

Finally, I watched Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005, pro), which finds Jarmusch back into old-school territory circa Stranger Than Paradise. Bill Murray plays a man who reluctantly sets out on a road trip, looking up old flames to see if any of them is the mother of a son he just found out he might have. By the chuckles from the audience, I gather people were expecting another "Bill Murray as an alienated quirky guy in a fun movie" à la the films of Wes Anderson, but this isn't Anderson, or even Sofia Coppola - this is Jarmusch, and he has never been one for cheap laffs, especially not big belly ones. The movie is funny, yes, but it warmed my heart more - without ever stooping to sentimentality. Perhaps it's not one of his best, but it feels good that Jamusch in this way reconnects with his early works, without sacrificing any of the style and deadpan humour he's known for. Plus, the signs of a great filmmaker is there from the start: the use of music, the assured cuts, the confidence to hold on to certain shots for maximum effect.


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