Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Stupid, Stupid Movie

Conversation not to accidentally have with your mom just before mother's day.

Me: "So, I saw National Treasure last night..."

Mom: "See, wasn't it good? I really liked that movie."

Me: "Eh, it was okay. Cute-ish. But it was mostly pretty stupid and ridiculous."

Mom: "It was a fun movie."

Me: "Well, I could see how it might be liked by people we might call 'less discerning.'"

Mom: "'We'? Who is 'we'?"

Me: "You know, smart people."

I also remember sitting at one point, watching Nicolas Cage discern the meaning of ludicrous clues in his ludicrous wig with all of the idiot panache of those lame old Batman episodes, and suddenly blurting out to my girlfriend: "Wow--so this is what dumb people imagine thinking is like!"

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Great Zarquod--It Doesn't Suck!


All I can say about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is this: it's the most perfect version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy imaginable. The radio series? Much better. The BBC miniseries? Miles better. The novel? Oh, please, darling. This is it. This is the most remarkable movie about the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor. This is THE one. The story that Douglas Adams was working toward has finally, finally been told.

It's all there, only moreso. Trillian, easily the most useless character, finally has a reason to exist. Connections are lain down and, finally, come to a point. Adams's philosophical bits come out much better and much more profoundly. Unlike the novel, the story feels complete, to a purpose, and emotional. Finally, everything makes sense. Let's face it, the story always felt like it was lacking a central idea--after the Vogons, Adams seemed to lose interest and let it go, simply novelizing his radio play and leaving it at that. Now, the whole story has a plot, a central through-line, and is worth following. And it has Bill Nighy in it!

The cast is spot-on. Martin Freeman is a perfectly ordinary, almost noble Arthur Dent. Mos Def, one of the better rapper-actors, is nicely understated--Ford Prefect doesn't have much more to do than explain things in the novel, so it's nice that he's a little offbeat without being too theatrically weird. Sam Rockwell plays Zaphod Beeblebrox like a rock star, a little bit of a Bowie influence, some Marc Bolan. He manages to play it with Bill Murray's trademark insincere sincerity, not begging for laughs as some others might have done. Warwick Davis's slow movements are affecting for Marvin the Paranoid Android, and Alan Rickman's voice is a welcome match. Bill Nighy is like another Christopher Lee for me--always welcome, always excellent, and his mere presence makes any movie automatically better (even if it already sucks). Stephen Fry does the voice of the Guide (some excellent animated segments here), and Anna Chancellor has fun as the Galactic Vice President. The jokes about beauracracy are hilarious.

But the real discovery for me was Zooey Deschanel. I've liked her in several movies now, but most often I see her in things like The Good Girl, where she has some funny lines but not much else to do. Here, she's the heart of the entire film, playing her emotional scenes with such genuine, heartbreaking honesty. It's an excellent performance from an emerging actress that, for me, would have been enough even if the rest of the film had sucked. And, apart from that, she's adorable.

The British seem to be correct, though: it might be too smart, or at least too English, for American audiences. I notice that the co-writer, Karey Kirkpatrick, also wrote Chicken Run, another movie which was too English for Americans. The humor in Adams's novel was never wild or fast-paced; it was the gentle humor of the English countryside observing the folly of the politicians, businessmen, and philosophers of the world. And the gentleness of the humor is refreshing, almost affirming. I ask Roger Ebert what would have been better: the quaint message of hope for humanity and the power of the mind and heart to raise us from our pettiness, or the high-pitched 1941 screaming of the muddled American comedy? The last thing we need is another badly done science fiction spoof.

I thought it was excellent, without grovelling to be liked. Go see it, my fellow Earthlings, and have a mellow, hip, froody time. It doesn't come along very often.


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