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September 05, 2003

Moviegoing: "Freddy vs. Jason"; "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"; "Jeepers Creepers 2"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --

I've been seeing more current movies than usual, and have even been enjoying a few. So, herewith, M. Blowhard's weekend moviegoing tips.

* Don't miss my fave current movie, Freddy Vs. Jason, which I posted about here. Directed by the zany and talented Ronny ("Bride of Chucky") Yu, it's demented, trashy fun, intense and hilarious all at once. I'm happy to call it "pretty brilliant," and I stand ready to face down all the jeering and scorn that assertion will probably prompt.

* Another movie whose quality took me completely by surprise is Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, an amazing George Clooney/Charlie Kaufman collaboration. It's an adaptation of Chuck Barris' semi-legendary, weirdo autobiographical fantasia. Barris was the guy behind such tack-ola TV shows as "The Dating Game" and "The Gong Show." After hitting the top (which was also a nadir), he dropped out of the industry, had himself a gigantic personal crisis, and pulled out of it by writing his memoirs, in which he claimed that during his TV years he'd also worked as a CIA hit man.

Clooney and Kaufman take Barris at his word, though they also leave you wondering how much of this might have been Barris' fantasy -- an expression of his need to find some meaning in his life, or maybe just to aggrandize himself. The film goes back and forth in styles: Barris' sweaty, gotta-make-it-at-all-costs TV career is presented as a kind of cocaine hysteria, and his CIA adventures are presented as expressionist reverie. (There are also "documentary" passages -- quick interviews with Barris' colleagues, a glimpse of Barris himself.)

It's one of Kaufman's best scripts (he's best-known for "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich"), and Clooney turns out to be a terrific director. The film's well worth going to the trouble of seeing at a theater -- it's beautifully shot and recorded, and full of virtuosic staging, framing, color and lighting choices. Fans wanting to sharpen their movie-watching skills might want to take special note of how well Clooney works with the cast, right down to the one-scene extras. Everyone's always coming across with a little something surprising and distinctive, as well as some extra energy and fizz -- that's the mark of a real actors' director.

But Clooney doesn't bog down in the acting, sensational as it is; he keeps the visuals and aurals interesting as well, something many actor-directors don't find a way to do. I especially enjoyed the way he stands just a wee bit outside Kaufman's point of view, poisonously and malicously throwing darts at all the ingrown self-absorption on display. Watching the film, the Wife and I were both reminded of the satirical SoCal classic, "Lord Love a Duck"; the Wife tells me she was also reminded of "The Manchurian Candidate." There were passages in the film that were so black-hearted yet emotional that I also found myself thinking of the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, "The Night of the Hunter." Here's an interview with Chuck Barris.

* Jeepers Creepers 2 is a much more prosaic and much less sophisticated popcorn pleasure. It's a straight-faced, non-ironic, non-media-savvy throwback to the days of "Halloween" and "The Fog," with touches of early Roger Corman too. It has a klutzy, made-in-the-backyard feeling; the special effects are the digital-age equivalent of the Creature From the Black Lagoon's rubber suit; and the writer-director Victor Salva keeps the terrified teens' hysteria at an entertainingly high pitch. They're really on edge. It's a likably basic and dopey, very friendly dumb movie, and the audience we were with jumped, laughed, and talked back at the screen very happily. "What makes watching teens get picked off one after the other so satisfying?" I whispered to the Wife. "It just is," she whispered back.



posted by Michael at September 5, 2003


Okay, now you've got me intrigued about "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." I couldn't make any sense of the descriptions of it in the press--Chuck Barris meets the CIA????--so I just sort of shined it on. (You know, in the sense that the world is a fundamentally mysterious place and I have many practical problems to think about, so anything I can't neatly slot I tend to ignore.) Even reading your description I still don't get it, but as a tribute to my fellow Blowhard (who's rarely steered me too far wrong--well, there was that one time or two) I'll rent this sucker and give it a watch.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 6, 2003 1:41 AM

Saw Confessions, wasn't convinced. I got the feeling Kaufman was holding himself (or was being held) back a bit; maybe being based on an allegedly true story, however bizarre, acted as a restraint or something. An intriguing exercise in visual style, though.

If you like demented trashy fun, then I strongly recommend Undead (site here). Rip-roaringly hilarious, gut-tearingly gory super low-budget zombie action from Australia. It has an American distributor (Lions Gate), so will hopefully wing it your way before too long...

Posted by: James Russell on September 6, 2003 2:23 AM

Anyone up for changing the name of "Poetry?" I mean, it's long overdue for a make-over. Who thinks the word "Datsun" is cool anymore? Ahh...Nissan is much better.

How about replacing the word poetry with: Extreme Verse...Techno Phrase, or or, hey somebody help me out!

Poetry, it sounds SO nerdish. Maybe if there was some sort of resource joining among poets across the US, the way people view poetry could be updated. Sort of how the milk industry puts white mustaches on famous people in billboards and ads.

"Ah, poetry, it does a body good."

It would work.

Posted by: laurel on September 6, 2003 8:59 AM did this end up here? Would somebody puh-leeze move it down to the "poetry" comments?

Posted by: laurel on September 6, 2003 9:02 AM

FvB -- It's a biopic/character study of a hustling, self-aggrandizing Sammy Glick sort. And quite genuinely experimental -- like Oliver Stone minus the pushiness, or Soderbergh (who produced) in an indie mood. Very interesting as filmmaking, I'd imagine, whether or not it works for you.

James -- I know what you mean. For the first 30 minutes I wondered whether the picture was going to grab me, or whether it was all going to just pass on by, brilliant as it obviously was. Then it took hold, and by the "If I had a hammer" scene I was pretty amazed. Some combo of the acting, crossed with Clooney's rather sardonic (but generous) take on the ingrown, self-deluding quality of the material. Barris is a grandstanding asshole, and I for one am not eager to have anyone like him in my life. Yet on some level (at least in the movie's view) there's something sort of touching and sweet about his neediness.

Annette -- I like "extreme verse" a lot. And, I dunno, I kind of like the way your comment showed up on this thread ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 6, 2003 11:34 AM

Awe...come on. I can't buh-reath. I'm here with Jeepers Creepers and Freddy Vs. Jason. It's supposed to be with the poetry.

(Even though your wife's comment, "It just is." fully qualifies as poetry.)

Signed: not Annette

Posted by: Laurel on September 6, 2003 11:55 AM

You probably already know this, but George Axelrod, who adapted the script for The Manchurian Candidate, also wrote and directed Lord Love a Duck. And if you didn't, well, that's why there's some similarity there. :)

Posted by: Ian on September 6, 2003 3:15 PM

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