Three-For-One! Er, two.
096. Together (Directed by Chen Kaige, 2002): Every time I see a End of the Decade list of films and see the title Together, I'm filled with a feeling of elation, that people are seeing and enjoying this movie as much as me. Then, usually, I see it translated into Swedish and realize it's something completely different, a Swedish film about a commune directed by Lukas Moodysson that I haven't seen. Whether or not that film deserves to make these lists is moot (I mean, I'm sure it's good and all, I really dug Fucking Amal so I'd probably like this one, too, maybe, it's just hard to track down foreign films chez nous, a recurring theme you'll hear me complain about ad nauseum should I keep this project going), my point is this Together should be on there, too. I'm a big sucker for sentimentality and what some might call schmaltz, or what have you, just genuine emotion onscreen. And Together has that in spades. It's the story of a poor cook whose son is a violin prodigy. He takes the son to Beijing in order to audition for a prestigious music academy. The son is good, real good, and wows the academy, and begins to become ever-so-slightly embarrassed by his father's rather simple ways. And the son falls in love with a woman, possibly a prostitute, maybe just a trophy girlfriend, who has no real discernible occupation, but always has money and gifts. And it's truly a wonderful relationship that can never be. And maybe the father is really the boy's father, and maybe he isn't. And *SPOILER ALERT* there's a wonderful, maybe impossible conclusion where the boy flees the academy to play music for his father, and the look on his face is just pure joy, and pure love. It's the kind of emotions that one doesn't often see play out onscreen so unabashedly, so free of shame or worried at looking cliched. It's the kind of moment in a blockbuster that would surely be ruined by an over-earnest soundtrack, just hammering you over the head like: "Here is where you cry! Here is where you cry!" but instead you just have this violin prodigy maybe sacrificing his future because he realizes his dad has sacrificed everything for him, and that's all that matters, as the boy plays his violin with tears in his eyes. */SPOILER ALERT* And what's most amazing about this film, is I'm not even entirely sure what happens because there is something wrong with the DVD. I don't know if it's the same for every copy, but both the version I rented, and, later, the one I purchased both have the subtitles cut out right as the head of the academy delivers an important speech to the young boy about his father, only to come back later on, after the speech is over. But, you know, you really don't need the speech, because everything is explained in the boy's face, in the father's face.
095. Idiocracy (Directed by Mike Judge, 2006): At times, I think this is just hilarious and one of the funniest comedies of the decade. At other times, it's almost unfunny. That's not the film's fault. The reason the film at some points almost becomes unfunny, is because I begin to question whether or not it's actually a satire, or if it's actually a relic from the future, designed to show us the way things are turning out and that we'd better do something about it. But, I digress. Idiocracy introduces us to Private Joe Bauers, a man so perfectly average that he hits the median of every graph ever put together by the military. It is his complete averageness that makes him the perfect guinea pig for a new military cryo-experiment that will see him frozen for a year. Bauers questions the assignment by saying that whenever a superior officer tells him to "Lead, follow, or get out of the way" he always gets out of the way. When he's informed that he's not supposed to choose "get out of the way", that it's supposed to embarrass him into action, he replies "That doesn't embarrass me." Of course the experiment goes wrong, and, of course, Joe wakes up many years in the future. And what a future it is: mountains of garbage, a restaurant named 'Butt Fuckers', and a dialect that is a mixed patois of hillbilly and ebonics. You see, as explained in the very detailed introduction, Survival of the Fittest has been overtaken by Survival of the Dumbest. Intelligent people who can always find a reason to not have children (The market, cited as one), while the less intelligent just keep on procreating without thought to the future. So, when the very average Joe Bauers emerges in the future, he's no longer average, he's the smartest man alive. He ends up in jail, on the run, and in the White House, during his whirlwind trip to the future, and it's all quite hilarious. But, sometimes, it hits a little too close to home. When you hear about an Ontario high school removing 'To Kill A Mockingbird' from its curriculum because one family complained about racial epithets used in the book, you wonder if the future in Idiocracy is maybe not as far off as it seems. In that sense, Idiocracy could have been used not only as a comedy, but a wake-up call for the human race upon its release. So it makes sense that 20th Century Fox gave it a minute release, then closed up shop quickly and dispatched it to DVD before anyone knew it had even played anywhere. Speculation is Fox was worried about the anti-corporation sentiment displayed in the film, but I can't help but wonder if they were worried people would get smarter and stop watching Fox altogether. So, Idiocracy is, first and foremost, a comedy, and it's a really funny one (I'm quite partial to the new popular television show titled 'Ow, My Balls!' which is just one man being repeatedly struck in the genitals, which is obviously a not-so-subtle jab at masochistic fare such as Jackass), but it's also a call to action for smart people. After all, as the film says itself, "there was a time...[when] movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was, and why it was farting". Words to live by, my friends, words to live by.
094. Everything Is Illuminated (Directed by Liev Schreiber, 2005): The field of film criticism is, by its nature, subjective. I realized this the other day, as I thought about this film because one of my favourite things about Everything Is Illuminated is something I have criticized in other films, it's unevenness. Because Everything Is Illuminated is extraordinarily uneven, and, somehow, therein lies its charm. Elijah Wood plays Jonathan Safran Foer, a self-styled collector, not of objects (although it is objects he collects), but of memories, and the objects stand in for these memories, since one can't physically place memories in the little plastic baggies he carries everywhere and tacks up on his wall. He decides to travel to the Ukraine and find the birthplace of his grandfather, who left the Ukraine during the time of the holocaust, never to return. There, he meets Alex (played by Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz in an extraordinary performance, brimming with enthusiasm), his tour guide with a command of English gleaned from hours of MTV, along with his driver (Alex's grandfather) a gruff man who speaks no English and doesn't travel anywhere without his seeing-eye dog, Sammie Davis Jr. Jr., or as its shirt says "Officious Seeing-Eye Bitch". For Alex's father runs a Travel Service which drives people of the Jewish faith around the Ukraine, searching for long-lost villages where relatives once grew up. And the movie, at this point, is a rollicking road trip comedy, with jokes about miscommunications and ideas lost in the translation, and thieving children, and the hazards of being a vegetarian in the rural areas of the Ukraine. And, eventually, they reach their destination, and there's an abrupt change in tone, as they meet a woman from the village who thinks the war is still on, and they learn the truth about Jonathan's family, and the grandfather, and the unspeakable horrors that are buried underground, not to hide them, but so that they'll be dug up and found one day, and remembered. And that's part of the film's charm. Instead of being a silly, disposable road comedy about misunderstandings, it turns serious. And, instead of being another miserable slog through holocaust history, heavy on the guilt and sadness, it has moments of out-and-out hilarity. And this synthesis of these two very disparate elements, makes it more than the sum of its parts. So, I will still rail about movies that feel uneven, while celebrating the unevenness of Everything Is Illuminated because for this film, it works. Plain and simple.