Thursday, January 29, 2009
The very definition of deadpan. Not that he didn't do stuff.
CHILLING. Doesn't everybody seem a little overwrought these days? I think so. Regardless of what Al Gore thinks, whatever happens in the next few months or years isn't the end of the world*. Times may get tough, but the human species is pretty hardy and resilient. And that goes double for Americans. So I'm thinking it's time to dial everything back a notch or two, emotionally speaking. That's why I'm offering up three movies for your delectation -- no, not IP's grandiose list of national treasures, but something much more modest. In fact, modesty is the whole point. These are movies in which the normal range of human emotional expression appears to be lopped off somewhere above faint pleasure and somewhere below mild anxiety. It's not that the characters in these dramas don't have good reason for more fulsome reactions; it's just that they don't seem to be afflicted with our increasingly promiscuous urge to assault everyone else with our limbic seizures. Do you understand what I mean when I say "everyone"?
That's right. I mean EVERYONE. Give it a rest, why don't you?
Sorry. I'm just pretty maxed out with all the passionate rhetoric about "the first," "the best," "the greatest," "the smartest," "the dumbest," "the worst," "the awfullest," etc. Maybe it's a WASP thing. It really is possible to have powerful feelings without forcing them on all and sundry just because they happen to be within earshot or striking distance. Really.
As proof, I offer up these three obsessively understated little films. I don't ordinarily use the word 'film,' but when a director goes miles (leagues?) out of his way to stomp on any attempt by his hired actors to act, we're no longer in Hollywoodland. We're in that peculiar but very occasionally rewarding hell called, well, you know.
The first one is actually the best. I know you're supposed to work your way up to the best, step by step, but to hell with that. Today, I'm all about anti-drama, anti-suspense. This is a movie that has absolutely nothing going for it. It's part of an artsy trilogy. It's Finnish. Finnish. Did you get that? Finnish. So it has subtitles. And I can't verify my sources on this, but I've been informed by the usual reliable sources that the production budget was sixteen dollars. It's called "Laitakaupungin Valot" or, in humanspeak, "Lights in the Dusk."
Are you snoring yet? Don't. It may be the most screamingly funny movie I've seen in a dog year, and I'm pretty sure the director wasn't trying to make an Ingemar Bergman film except for the no content; I think he knew exactly how funny it would be to make a movie about the world's most laconically miserable people failing to react visibly to anything that happens, no matter how dire. It's impossible to describe. Can you even imagine a first date on which neither partner makes any eye-to-eye contact ever and one of them still falls fatally in love with the other? With absolutely NO change in facial expression? And [SPOILER ALERT] did you know that when you buy a hot dog at a hot dog stand in Finland, what you get is a hot dog -- no mustard, no relish, no sauerkraut, and no bun? That's pretty much the movie in a nutshell. All right. Enough with the mesmerizing promo talk. Here's the trailer:
Go ahead. Find it. Watch it. I dare you. Laugh yourself sick. Just don't let on to anyone in the room that you deem any of it amusing.
The next one isn't as good. It's American. Unless it's Canadian. But you know. No subtitles. No bleak Helsinki nightscapes. What it does have is mallscapes. And John Turturro as a man who adamantly refuses to betray the slightest flicker of emotion about the personal annihilation he experienced when his wife was murdered in a mall parking garage. Actually, it's not funny. At all. It's eerie, creepy, brooding, and bulging with nameless dread. Somehow, no emotion becomes all the emotion in the world. It's called "Fear X." Here's the trailer.
After you see it, you won't know what happened exactly. Yup. It's a film, not a movie. But for some really weird inexplicable reason, you'll be glad you watched John Turturro hammer you without moving any of his facial muscles. The challenge is to get through it without moving any of your own. It's excellent practice for the Obama administration.
The third movie is the worst of the three unless it's the best. It's hard to know because it's one of those ones where you get to the end and realize you'd have to watch it two or maybe six more times, carefully, to figure out what the hell is going on. But you still think it's possible to figure out what's going on. If you pay close enough attention. Which makes it kind of an anti-Bergman film if you think about it. You see, it's not about Death or Despair or Growing Up Swedish. It's about time travel. Only not in the H.G. Wells science fiction sort of way, but in the Silicon Valley yuppie startup in the garage sort of way. In fact, it takes about a half hour to realize that this isn't a yuppie startup documentary kind of movie, but an incredibly complicated ''film' in which drastic things are happening without any emotional cues to help you decide who to root for and against. It's called "Primer." Here's the trailer.
There you have it. Three films. Don't get excited. Please. Keep it down. Don't thank me. Well, a politely worded note would be okay as long as you don't get all sentimental and like that.
Clear? Have an uneventful day, everyone.
*Unless there's any truth in this fairly alarming story.