Quick Hits on Hesher – Spencer Susser (2011)

image5_rgb1

-You always hear people complain that they wish Hollywood would make more original or at least different movies and when they do — as Hesher certainly is — no one goes to see it. Is it the most original? No, it fits into a lot of the indie tropes, but if you know what pitching backwards means, that’s what this film does. You get a backdoor curve when you’re expecting an inside fastball. In other terms, it zigs when it’s supposed to zag. Look, the simple fact is that there are too many movies produced each year, and they all cannibalize each other. To add to that, all of the taboo subjects are gone, so there are no more barriers to break down. We have to settle for filmic table scraps. (Probably forever, especially now that digital filmmaking is so readily accessible and easy to do. No one has to go into a room and impress a money man anymore, which was always decried because moneymen knew nothing about art, and they often didn’t after the corporate buyouts in the 60s and 70s [hate them if you will, the original bosses knew more about story than the entire collective of executives — and probably writers — do today]. But there had to be a vetting process at least. Now, there is nothing. Just get together and do it in spare time. It’s conflicting because the democratization of art is and was supposed to be a positive, but film was always a complicated, impure art form. The reason we have so few silent films was that no one considered film an art, something worth preserving, until much later.) Hesher cost a puny $7m to film and didn’t even break $500k at the box office on the star power of Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rainn Wilson. It died an obscure death. Even the Metallica fans stayed home.

-Speaking of Metallica, I was a big fan in my angsty teenage years and always like the idea that they never allowed people to use their songs in films or tv shows. When Paradise Lost — the HBO documentary about the three metalheads who didn’t get a fair trial for the murder of three younger boys — came out and they allowed the producers to use their songs for that, it was different (whether they are guilty or not, they did not get a fair trial). It was fine because there was an injustice there, something you only have to look at the cover of …And Justice for All to realize is an issue the band cares about. Here, it makes no sense outside of being on the radio in Hesher’s van. Mostly, it’s just layered in there to give off a glow of badassness that nothing about the film itself can really pull off straight. No matter how many badass roles Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets, I’m never going to be able to forget that he was DJ’s stuttering, annoying little friend on Roseanne or basically anything he did pre-Brick. I like him a lot as an actor, but at times it feels like a leap in logic. Here, they try and buy it with Battery and Harvester of Sorrow, but it doesn’t quite work for me. TJ’s bully is more intimidating.

-The other glaring issue with the film is this: Natalie Portman isn’t ugly. Come on, she just isn’t. Big 1980s glasses and a dollar store sweater don’t make her ugly. She isn’t mousy, she isn’t frumpy, she isn’t tomboyish. If rumors are to be listened to, she’s one of the most sexual creatures in Hollywood. I would buy a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge before I could buy this. I would buy a piece of the Moon before I would buy this.

Quick Hits on Winnie the Pooh – Stephen Anderson, Don Hall (2011)

20110705043222617

-I would venture to guess that this new-fangled Winnie the Pooh story has at least as much, if not much more, power with adults as it does with kids. This is the type of Disney piece that I’m sentimental and nostalgic about from my own youth. The Winnie the Pooh show was something I watched all the time as a kid, even into my teenage years. And this movie goes further into being for adults by having John Cleese narrate and interact with Pooh. It’s a superb narration, the kind of thing Cleese is perfect for as anyone who listened to his audio book version of The Screwtape Letters might know. I’m not sure what such an addition might mean to a child, but it’s perfect for the adults in the room who, if they have kids, will have to watch it dozens of times. I might watch it dozens of times myself, and the idea of having children is repellent to me.

-I’ve always had a deep, personal identification with Eeyore and his mopey disposition, one that is only rivaled (beaten, truthfully) by my identification with Charlie Brown. For whatever reason, whenever people couldn’t think of something to get me for a birthday or Christmas when I was younger, it would be something Eeyore related and I built those into a small collection of figures and (shut up) stuffed animals over the years — a collection also beaten by Charlie Brown stuffs, I should point out. This movie fits right into that identification, because Eeyore and his missing tail (and contest to replace it) is one of the film’s three running storylines. The contest to replace it — and the attention that comes with it — seem to almost embarrass the donkey as he mopes through much of the rest of the film, except one excruciating (though somewhat funny) segment where Tiggr aims to exploit Eeyore’s identity crisis and turn him into Tiggr Two. “The best thing about Tiggrs’,” Eeyore tells him before walking off, “is that you’re the only one.”

-The running time is a little bit of a problem. It’s barely over an hour with the full credits (though the credits do feature some more animation of the Pooh gang). I mean, it’s a fine running time for kids who have not yet gone on Adderall or Ritalin, but the rest of us are left wanting more story, more gags, more of Pooh’s rumbling belly song.

 

Le Mans – Lee H. Katzin (1971)

large_le_mans_blu-ray_6

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2011/08/underrated-le-mans-lee-h-katzin-1971-2/

I don’t care for racing. I don’t like NASCAR, or Forumla One, or Indie or stock car racing, or even demolition derbys. I don’t watch for the racing, nor do I watch for the crashes. I’ve feared for my life during every impromptu drag race I’ve been an unwitting participant in (always in the passenger seat) down Aloma or University. Honestly: I don’t even have a driver’s license.

But Steve McQueen’s Le Mans is, to me, one of the most exciting films I’ve ever seen.

If you explained the movie to someone without saying it was a Steve McQueen film, you’d probably get a blank stare and a shrug. There really isn’t much to the film beyond McQueen’s screen presence and the charm of a revving Porsche for nearly two hours. But when it’s Steve McQueen and a souped up racing Porsche, that’s more than enough to carry a film.

Le Mans is a 24 hour race in France where two drivers take turns racing one car and the film is portrayed as realistically as possible. It’s a race that McQueen himself has taken part in it, coming in second place behind Mario Andretti’s team in 1970.

The plot is the race, and the theme is overcoming demons to win a race. There are side characters and rivalries with other racers and car manufacturers, but boiled down to it’s essence, it’s all about the race. When you put it like that it sounds overly simplistic, but when it’s put in action by this group, the balls and guts behind it elevate it to something beyond. You feel the fatigue of driving in a way that you don’t in any other racing film. The race is edge of your seat stuff, and the portions when McQueen is resting are perfectly paced, and much needed, breaks from the action so you can collect your nerves and relax your ass muscles as well.

While you have to take movies like The Fast and the Furious or The Legend of Speed on face value and call them dumb fun, you couldn’t rightly call Le Mans dumb fun. There is a serious-minded bent to the film. There is so much riding on the race personally and financially, and doubtless some of the pressure from the film itself needing to be a hit (it wasn’t) comes through in the film as well.

It’s not meant to be fun, it’s meant to be exciting. It is fun, but not in the modern sense, where there is some resignation behind the sentiment, but fun in the gritty 1970s sense, like The French Connection and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three were fun, a sense that is now dead and will never return. In short, you don’t have to turn your brain off for Le Mans to make a connection and take hold in your brain. It’s all down to McQueen. By rights, you’d have to call this Steve McQueen’s Le Mans — he called the shots, he was the muscle that got the film made.

McQueen is, of course, a man’s man. He is probably the very definition of the term. There is a movie called The Tao of Steve that uses that idea as it’s basic thesis (though the thesis is sound, it’s application in the movie by Donal Logue is basically adolescent in nature). He’s done this stuff for real and it shows on screen. There is an easy confidence to him being on the race track that exudes from every pore of his being. He’s driven these cars in races. He belongs in that white and red racing suit, it’s as natural on his body as his short blond hair.

Of course, Mario Andretti just thought of him as an asshole from Hollywood, not as a real racer. Andretti, I think, was more terrified of losing a race to an asshole from Hollywood than he was of just simply losing, which is a position that you can certainly understand.

Andretti won at Le Mans, but McQueen won with Le Mans, even if it took years after the fact (and after his death) for that to come true.