Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Two very good films

Rest assured there will be more on capitalism, economics, politics and energy resources in the very near future. And I will address the issues raised in the comments section by David, Philippe, Tincanman and others. Right now though, I just feel like engaging in the self-indulgence of freeform random musing about a couple of films I've seen over the past couple of days. It is - after all - my blog. And as I'm never holding a gun to more than one of my reader's heads at a time, there's only one of you who actually needs to be here.

The first thing I'd like to mention is just how good The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is. Myself and a couple of friends went to see it at The Screen on The Green on Saturday, and all three of us loved it. But the more I've thought about it over the past couple of days, the more it's grown on me. It's almost unique for a film that spends a lot of time being silly and whimsical to hold my attention for several days. The fact that it provided the ambience for a great dream on Saturday night has a lot to do with that though.

Anyways, if you've not seen the film already, then you really should do. It's Wes Anderson's best film to date (though I've not seen Bottle Rocket yet... it's on one of the movie channels next Monday night) and Bill Murray is just incredible as the eponymous hero. He brings far more depth to a character who is half-cartoon than you'd imagine possible. In the very first scene of the film, Steve Zissou is given bizarre cartoonish eyes as a result of surfacing too soon from a deep dive. Yet the larger-than-life adventurer is rendered believable by Murray's performance.

In fact, all of the performances are flawless. It is the sign of a truly great director that they can get the best from their actors. Klaus Daimler (as played by Willem Dafoe) deserves special mention though, for managing to steal almost every scene he's in. And of course Seu Jorge who provided the ship's soundtrack.

It's here that I should point out that as a huge Bowie fan, Wes Anderson had a big head-start when it came to me. A film soundtracked with early Bowie, much of which is sung beautifully in Portugese by Seu Jorge... just sat there in the background of the scene with an acoustic guitar... is going to have to try very hard to piss me off. Wes Anderson does truly incredible things with music in his films; in fact I'll go out on a limb here and say that no director does it better.

That scene in The Royal Tenenbaums where Gwyneth Paltrow steps off the bus and Nico's voice rises in the background.....? If that doesn't catch your breath for a moment you should be ashamed of yourself. And having all that early Bowie in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou really delighted me. But even for those who aren't Bowie or Nico fans, the skill with which Anderson weaves the songs into a scene should astonish anyone.

And on top of all that, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a rip-roaring good yarn. It's an absurd adventure tale filled with psychedelic special-effects, bizarre and crazy characters, a plot that is both silly and compelling, and a surprising depth beneath the whimsy.

If you took out "psychedelic special-effects" and replaced it with "the god-like screen presence of Bruce Campbell" then the above paragraph could serve as the perfect introduction to another film... one I watched this evening in fact.

So on that note, Bubba Ho-tep is a rip-roaring good yarn. It's an absurd adventure tale filled with the god-like screen presence of Bruce Campbell, bizarre and crazy characters, a plot that is both silly and compelling, and a surprising depth beneath the whimsy.

If you only see one film this year... and I'm quite serious about this... then make it Bubba Ho-tep (directed by Don Coscarelli). In the early 90s I used to take really rather significant quantities of psychedelics with a group of friends. The plot of Bubba Ho-tep is about as weird as most of the conversations we would have on the come-downs. And I love imagining how it was pitched to investors.

Elvis Presley - the role that Bruce Campbell was born to play - lies almost bed-ridden in a crappy nursing home in Texas. He's probably got cancer on his cock, but whatever the growth is... it's pus-filled. And it's been years since he's had a hard-on. Elvis lies in despair and self-pity.

Back at the height of his fame, you see, the pressure got too much and he switched places with an Elvis impersonator. Now, of course, nobody will believe him, and everyone thinks he's just some whacked-out Elvis impersonator seeing out his last days before age, or cock-cancer, takes him away. However, in order to defend against a threat to the nursing home, he teams up with a man who claims to be President Kennedy dyed to look like a black man so that nobody would believe him (played by the late, lamented Ossie Davies).

The threat they face is the ancient Egyptian Mummy (Bubba Ho-tep) who happens to be feeding off the souls of the sick and elderly in the Texas nursing home (and writing hieroglyphic grafitti like "Cleopatra does the nasty" on the toilet cubicle walls when he takes a crap). All the laughs and groans that you'd expect are there.

But somehow it also manages to be an incredible meditation on old-age and how our culture deals with it. Seriously... it pisses all over the formulaic feel-good crap that Hollywood puts out on the rare occasion it tackles the subject. And ultimately you come away feeling like you've watched a substantial and insightful film. Despite it being about Elvis and JFK fighting a Mummy in a present-day Texas nursing-home.

So yeah, see them both. They're very groovy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno Jim, personally I found life aquatic inferior to the great Tennenbaums. It's full of great scenes and visions. but the characters are a bit shallow and flat, they are acting strangely for no good reason most of the time, just weird for weird's sake (IMHO).
But hey, early Bowie is fantastic.

2/3/05 12:34  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

I have heard a few people say that about Life Aquatic, but that's not the way I saw it at all (as I guess is obvious from my post). Maybe it just caught me in a particular mood, or perhaps it's just the kind of film that appeals to me more than you... who knows?

But if you've not seen Bubba Ho-tep, I wouldn't let the fact that I dug Life Aquatic and you didn't put you off it. It really is a quite remarkable film.

2/3/05 17:37  

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