2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

Members' Marquees

Critical Contacts

Lobby Reading

The Video Store

Reel Resources

The Blog Bijou

-Admit One
-Artistic Delusions
-Belligerent Bunny's Bad Movie Shrine
-Beware of Blog
-The Brain Drain
Biancolo Notes
-The Big Ticket
-Bitter Cinema
-Black & White World
-Bull Durham's Hot Corner
-Brewed Fresh Daily
-Camille's Film Journal
-The Chutry Experiment
-Cineblog (II)
-Cine Club
-Cinegraphic.Net: The Avante-Garde Film and Video Blog
-Cinema 24
-Cinema News
-Il Cinema Secondo (Italian)
-Cineaste (Russian)
-Cinema Toast
-Concentrated Nonsense
-Confessions of an Indie Filmmaker
-Cult Movies I Dare You to Watch
-Cutting to the Chase
-Cynthia Rockwell's Waiting Room
-The Daily Despair
-The Daily Digest
-Day for Night
-Delta Sierra Arts
-Dinky's Docket
-Distorting the Medium
-Donald Melanson On Movies
-Electric Movies
-Fade In: Blog
-Feeling Listless
-Filmfilter (German)
-Filmtagebuch (German)
-Film Talk
-Five Easy Pieces
-Frank Booth
-A Girl and A Gun
-Glazed Donuts
-GreenCine Daily
-Harlequin Knights
-He Loved Him Some Movies
-The Hobo Reviews
-Hot Buttered Death
-Iggy's Movie Review Weblog
-Iguano Film Blog
-In Development
-Japanese Films' Journal
-Joe Sixpack's Film Blog
-Joe's Weblog & Film Project News
-Junk for Code
-Kumari's Movie Blog
-Lights Out Films
-Like Anna Karina's Sweater (Filmbrain)
-Listen Missy
-Magnolia Girl
-Marley's Ghost
-Media Yenta
-Michael I. Trent
-Moov Goog
-Motime Like the Present
-Movie Boy
-Movie Criticism For the Retarded
-A Movie Diary
-The Movie Generation
-The Movie Marketing Blog
-Movie Retard
-The Movie Review
-Moving Pictures
-Nando's Blog
-Netflix Fan
-Or Kill Me
-Out of Ambit
-Out of Focus
-Paolo - Cinema's Radio Weblog (Italian)
-Pigs and Battleships
-Plot Kicks In
-Pop Culture Junkies
-The Projector
-Qwipster's Movie Reviews
-Reel Reviews (Podcast)
-Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
-The Screening Room
-Screen Watcher
-Short and Sweet
-The Silver Screen
-Stinky Cinema
-Sunset Blvd
-Tagline: A Movie Weblog
Talking Pictures
Tea for One
-Tom Vick's Asian Cinema Blog
-Trailer Park
-Truly Bad Films
Waste of Tape
-Wayne's Movie Blog
Whippin Picadilly
Wittgenstein's Bunnies
-Yay! Movies!
McBain Recommends
-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
-Kill Bill vol 2
Shroom Recommends
-Top 20 List
-Head On
Joker Recommends
-Top 20 List
-House of Flying Daggers
-The Aviator
-Bad Education
Yun-Fat Recommends
-Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
-Los Muertos
-Tropical Malady
Allyn Recommends
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
-Songs from the Second Floor
Phyrephox Recommends
-Top 20 List
-Design for Living (Lubitsch, 1933)
-War of the Worlds
-Howl's Moving Castle
Melisb Recommends
-Top 20 List
-The Return
-Spirited Away
-Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...And Spring
Wardpet Recommends
-Finding Nemo
-Man on the Train
-28 Days Later
Lorne Recommends
-21 Grams
-Cold Mountain
-Lost in Translation
Merlot Recommends
-Top 20 List
-The Man on the Train
-Safe Conduct
-The Statement
Whitney Recommends
-Femme Fatale
-Gangs of New York
-Grand Illusion
Sydhe Recommends
-In America
-Looney Tunes: Back In Action
-Whale Rider
Copywright Recommends
Top 20 List
-Flowers of Shanghai
-Road to Perdition
Stennie Recommends
Top 20 List
-A Matter of Life and Death
Rodney Recommends
Top 20 List
-The Pianist
-Talk to Her
Jeff Recommends
-Dial M for Murder
-The Game
-Star Wars Saga
Lady Wakasa Recommends
-Dracula: Page from a Virgin's Diary
-Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler
-The Last Laugh
Steve Recommends
-Top 20 List
-Princess Raccoon
-Princess Raccoon
-Princess Raccoon
Jenny Recommends
-Mean Girls
-Super Size Me
-The Warriors
Jason Recommends
Top 20 List
-Old Boy
-Million Dollar Baby
-Head On
Lons Recommends
-Before Sunset
-The Incredibles

Powered by Blogger Pro™

links open windows

(c)2002 Design by Blogscapes.com

The Blog:
Wednesday, August 06, 2003

American Wedding

Whoa. Wow. Who knew? When the first entry in the American Pie trilogy was released in 1999, a genre was re-born. It didn't matter that much that the film wasn't perfect -- it had a lame directorial eye (luckily the Weitz brothers greatly improved with their follow-up, About a Boy) and many of the jokes were obvious and mis-timed -- because it had an earnest love not only for the teen sex comedies of the '80s to which it was paying homage, but also for its characters: both the protagonist foursome and the antagonists like Stifler. Its sequel was even shakier -- still funny, but more of a loosely connected series of skits than a complete movie.

But now, instead of the cast and crew letting the series continue to peter out to a dull and shameful crawl to the finish line, they've somehow mustered the strength to make both the funniest film of the series and the most emotionally engaging. The father-son bond between Eugene Levy and Jason Biggs that was developed further in American Pie 2 is made truly precious in this final episode, culminating in a reaction shot by Levy that tells all: Alyson Hannigan informs him that Biggs told her "my dad has always been there for me," and the pride on Levy's face, subtly emerging from his nebbish-Jew-dad expression, is nearly heart-breaking.

Similarly, by progressing Biggs' and Hannigan's relationship from sex to love to marriage, the series has shown a sort of maturity of immaturity: its thesis is that perversity, nymphomania, and crude humor is natural, normal, and even agreeable. And instead of using these comedy tools at the expense of the characters, it uses them in order to develop the characters, deepen them, and make us care far more deeply for them than we ever would in most of the films this trilogy (and American Wedding in particular) shares DNA with -- namely, Porky's, Police Academy, and Bachelor Party.

It helps a lot that this is the third time we've been through the ringer, because -- like serialized television -- giving us more time with the characters makes them deeper by default. But writer Adam Herz is craftier than that; sure, this is one of the funniest examples of purely character-driven comedy since Meet the Parents, but moreover he is aging and maturing each of his leads to the point where we adore their shortcomings instead of wanting to poke fun at them.

Case in point: the bravura sequence of the film -- and the series -- is the scene in Wedding when Stifler goes into a gay bar. It starts off as the Anatomy Of a Homophobe, hilariously pointing out the underlying truths of homophobes like Stifler -- that they hold stereotypes in thinking that all gay men want to fuck them, and that if they were gay, they'd be a hot ticket. Then, in a shocking turnaround, Stifler wins over the respect of his gay brethren by performing in a riotous dance-off. This accomplishes several things for the Stifler character: first of all, it underscores the confidence that makes him as charming as he is, it leads to a gradual acceptance of homosexuality that may or may not suggest something deeper, and it introduces the movie’s major arc which is how Stifler finally takes responsibility by fixing his own fuck-ups. (Sadly, you can count on Seann William Scott getting overlooked by year-end critics groups and award lists because they shamefully ignore this type of quality comic acting time after time).

There are other brilliantly modulated comic bits (credit is due to newbie director Jesse Dylan, whose only other credit is How High), including the opening scene marriage proposal, the extended sitcom-inspired bachelor party nightmare, and the painfully gruesome dogshit scenario. Most of these involve the standard low-brow humor we’re used to from the series, but because the film generally avoids the idiot plot and stays true to its characters, the vulgarity is acceptable and quite funny. The movie does have a few flaws – one or two of the gags stray from the believability of the rest (I could have done without grandma in the closet), and previously strong characters like Hannigan and Thomas Ian Nicholas are given precious little to do – and in a bizarre show of disrespect, not only is Chris Klein’s Oz (the fourth member of the original lost-virginity clan from the original film) missing completely from the movie, but no one even brings up his name in conversation when discussing long-lasting friendships. Couldn’t they have at least acknowledged or explained his absence? Nevertheless, American Wedding comes out of left field with big laughs and an utterly sweet disposition making it that rare trilogy-ender that towers over its predecessors.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Rare is it for me to be so pleased with a bad movie. People who know my tastes know that I value a certain kind of bad movie, of course, but that's not to what I refer. "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (I refuse to preface that with "Lara Croft", dammit) is no "Blood Diner" or "Nude for Satan". Hell, it's not even "Zombie Lake". It is indeed a simple bad movie. But therein lies its redeeming facet -- its mere garden-variety badness. Its safe, boring mediocrity means that it's far, far better than the disastrous first film in the (now probably dead) series.

The main improvement was displacing Simon West from the director's chair and substituting Jan de Bont. Granted, this is one of the few occasions in which de Bont's directorial hand could be considered an upgrade, but so it goes. With de Bont at the helm, we can at least be assured that the action scenes will be decipherable. (I seriously believe Simon West introduces himself in public as "Not Michael Bay".) And not only are they decipherable, they're actually fairly competent. Save for the dreadful opening setpiece, the action in this film is not bad. Things blow up, guns are fired, asses are righteously kicked. At times, I could almost understand Roger Ebert's enthusiasm for this. (Well, okay, really only once -- during the attack by the shadow-creature thingys -- but these days, understanding at all what Ebert's on about is impressive.)

Alas, all this carnage had to be harnessed to a script. And while de Bont and co. go out of their way to make the story totally irrelevant, those annoying plot interludes occasionally poke their dirty snouts in where they aren't welcome. Watching a film like this makes one long for the grand old days of silent film; certainly sound technology might have been slower in coming if people had known that it would have been utilized for dialogue like "You can break my wrist, but I'm still going to kiss you." Even so, this crap script represents an improvement over part one, if for no other reason than we're not really asked to give a damn about the character's emotional lives. Part one's biggest and most embarrassing misstep was the goopy I-miss-Daddy subplot -- the film aimed for pathos, overshot and ended up pathetic instead. Here, everything is brought down to its essence. The bad guy wants to open Pandora's Box because he's the bad guy. Lara kicks ass because she can. What more do you need? There's some nonsense about a past relationship with the convict helping her find the Box (which culminates in an awful coda, the closest this comes to echoing its predecessor), but for the most part this film exists to show things being destroyed, not hearts being healed. Which, considering the talents involved, is probably a good thing.

Don't get me wrong -- none of this is actually a recommendation. It's still a genuinely bad movie. As I said before, the script is lousy and the plot is perfunctory and Angelina Jolie turns in a terrible performance playing the most boring action heroine in history. (Her lack of enthusiasm for this project is palpable.) Plus, there's a scene where Jolie subdues a shark by punching it in the nose, which may be realistic but still looks unbelievably silly. I wouldn't want you to go out and see this based on my scribblings here. There's better ways to spend your money. But it's not soul-suckingly godawful, and for that I shall remain grateful. Plus, it gives me hope for another reason: Between this and the aggresively minimalist "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever", it looks like we may be one step closer to some hack disregarding the plot so much that he moves into abstraction and accidentally makes the great American avant-garde action flick. But that's another essay.

Having lived in the North Bay of California for years I embarrassingly just stumbled upon the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley two weeks ago and discovered they so-far-so-great programming. I had just missed a King Hu retrospective, and in the coming weeks they are showing a series of Fassbinder films and a handful of W.C. Fields best stuff, but currently they are showing something that sparked my interest since it sounded semi-obscure: a Czech Horror and Fantasy series. Some of it is goofy, some straight horror, I've only been to the first night but from the level of films I saw there it should be great fun.

The Pied Piper (Jiri Barta, 1986)
Even though this film was preceded by a humorous semi-silent short by Barta, I had never heard of the guy nor his work, and I no idea I was in for such an animated delight with this picture. It is entirely stop motion and entirely language free; its characters speak in some kind of hilarious garbled gibberish and the music consists of wicked electric guitars, surprisingly not at all at odds with the Piper's medieval roots. Unlike recent celebrated stop-motion works like Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, Barta's works primarily with wood, painstakingly creating dozens of stiff characters. Seeing as wood is impossibly less malleable than clay, Barta and his crew are handicapped in their ability to create simple designs that express character through a wide range of smooth, clay-friendly movement. Rather, Barta is forced to intricately carve each character and set to such a degree than he need little motion to get across to the audience what kind of world is on-screen, and what kind of personality it has.

The film is a marvel of sculpting, and not just in the characters. As classic as the Pied Piper story is, its simple allegory about gratitude and arrogance has little content to sustain a film's running time. (I am very, very murky about the details of the original story's narrative, but I'm pretty sure Barta altered it to give his film an anti-materialist, anti-capitalist slant. Or at least on the surface; there are many hints of political criticism, but my knowledge of the Piper and of Czechoslovakia goes well beyond ignorance.) Barta makes up for his film's narrative slimness with creativity that bursts from every frame. The entire film is shot like a wooden-and thus oddly stiff-interpretation of a silent Expressionist film, featuring a town so warped by its misplaced livelihood (peasants slave away to increase the wealth of a select few) that the entire town itself is distorted and twisted like a surreal dream of a medieval town. In one spectacular shot-of literally hundreds, Barta sculpts each frame as if each were to individually speak for the film’s brilliance-is a bird's eye view of the town square, where the town appears so distorted by the people’s misguidedness that all the buildings are bent unnaturally outwards, away from the square-like the courtyard bomb of The Devil’s Backbone, this time exploded and warping every building in sight.

As I’ve said, the story itself is a little weak, but the way Barta characterizes each individual in the town, from the lowliest peasant (who all barter in the cleverest way, spitting phantom coins out of their mouths to represent their offer for the good; Barta comes up with several humorous ways of depicting language in the film), to the highest noble that each is infused with its own uniqueness and strange quality. The film brims with humor, and when the rats of the story invade the town-played both by stop-animating stuffed rat corpses and cutting to footage of live rats-Barta capitalizes on the inherent humor of a proud and wooden noble admiring himself in his mirror, only to have a giant rat leap out from behind it and claw his face. The film is never scary, nor particularly heavy-handed; seeing as it’s a fable the simplicity of the narrative and characters come more as a relief, allowing the viewer to bask in pure cinematic creativity. One of the most enjoyable thing’s about Barta’s style is he almost never uses the camera in obvious ways; instead of using a canted angel to make his wooden hell ominous, the director and his crew spend days carving a background that looks as if its distorted at such an angle that shooting it square-on produces the surreal effect of seeing an object loom over you, yet it is clear that what we are looking at is plainly a detailed wooden plank sculpted to warp perception. I have never, and probably will never, see a film so magically ingenuous and pleasurable to the eye.

Who Killed Jessie? (V?clav Vorlicek 1966)
A nice chaser to The Pied Piper, Who Killed Jessie? is a 60s trashy slapstick comedy that typically pokes fun at the ridiculousness of genre films, but also amusingly provides political criticism so obvious it could only be parody. A hen-pecked professor dreams of a comic-book blonde bombshell who has in her possession anti-gravity gloves-if only he could find the recipe for those gloves to help mankind! His domineering scientist-wife has just invented a drug that gets rid of bad dreams, and when she catches her husband dreaming of another woman-never mind the context-she forces him to get an injection. The only problem is, in getting rid of the dreams from his mind, they are in turn materialized into the real world. Next thing they know the husband and wife are in the midst of a dream gone awry: the blond falls in love with the professor, who wants her to help him find the gloves; they are both pursued by the blonde’s comic-book arch enemies, an aging cowboy and a superman; and the wife is pursuing them all, trying to lock up the husband and eliminate the dreams before they cause wanton destruction. Yeah, yeah, the government trying to kill the people’s dreams is kind of lame, but then again Who Killed Jessie? bursts with fun lame-ness. The comic-characters can’t speak vocally, only through speech-bubbles that have to be read, and quickly the scientist-wife falls for the superman just like the professor falls for the typical 60s blond bombshell. A short running time of 70-some minutes is still a little long to maintain the goofy premise, but each of the cast is perfection, from the square prof, and the hair-bunned repressive wife, to the surreal Czech cowboy who wants to slaughter everyone. Gotta love the compressed genre effect, I’d deem this a sci-fi/slapstick/madscienteist/comicbook/romanticcomedy/relationshipdrame/satire; sound good?


Short Takes

Well, I’m doing my laundry tonight, got to fit that in sometime. Since I’ve spent the last few days obsessively watching my new Once and Again Season 1 DVDs (more on that later), I’ve decided to write a couple of short reviews for some recent films that I’ve seen:

Spy Kids 3-D (d. Robert Rodriguez)

I’ve been a fan of this franchise since it’s inception, but even I have to admit that these films are no great shakes (especially in the rather threadbare narrative department), but they are fairly entertaining, and you just got to root for the one-man, moviemaking machine that is Robert Rodriguez (writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, production designer, composer, visual effects supervisor, and hey, isn’t that him back there working the craft services table?). When it comes to children’s movies, I find that there are two basic strategies when it comes to entertaining adults: the most common is to pepper the film with enough adult humor to entertainment the parents, while the other is to create something so wondrously loopy, that it almost begs for you to hit a bong as you watch. Uh, the Spy Kids movies are an example of the later. Each film of the series has had all kinds of inspired moments (all done with retro looking digital effects), the wacky surrealism of Floop’s TV show in the first film (the crazy colors, the weird songs, the dreamlike monsters and Thumb-Thumb robots, and of course, the fey, childlike Alan Cummings as Floop), the Ray Harryhausen inspired genetic mutants of Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, and finally the 3-D video game world of the third film, complete with those awful cardboard glasses with the red and green lenses.

This is classic, headache inducing 3-D, with tons of stuff thrown liberally at the audience. Sure, sure, the story is mostly a rip-off of Tron (the second film this year to do so), Daryl Sabara has very little screen presence, and Sylvester Stallone stills sounds exactly the same no matter the personality or emotion his character displays, but it’s got a 3-D Ricardo Montalban in a giant, kickass robot suit! Come one, Ricardo Montalban! Rodriguez takes a childlike glee with his 3-D creations: giant, invisible mechanical monkeys crawling over the Texas State House in Austin to a 3-D Pod Race that kicks The Phantom Menace’s ass. I guess you could say that the enthusiasm of making the film translated on to the screen, with the exhortations to family (this time expanded beyond the Cortez family itself) reflected upon the cast and crew. Basically, everyone who has ever worked with Rodriguez in Hollywood makes a cameo in the film. Hell, it’s such an in-house job, that the requisite tweener pop song is sung by Alexa Vega (the older sister Spy Kid) herself.

American Wedding (d. Jesse Dylan)

Since Joker has so far refused to repost his excellent review of American Wedding, it has fallen to me to mention the film. I’ve always liked the American Pie films. With the increase in the usage of gross-out, scatological humor in Hollywood comedies, you’d think that more filmmakers would have hit upon the formula that has made the American Pie and Farrelly Brothers films such a hit; an underlying sense of sweetness and empathy for their characters. It also helps that the American Pie films also includes themes that I can easily relate to, which is one of the reasons why I really liked the second installment of the franchise, even with it’s lackadaisical direction and plotting.

Though I’m not quite sold on Jesse Dylan’s direction, American Wedding is probably as good, and maybe better than the first film of the series; they’ve certainly upgraded in some capacities, with better cinematography (IMO, the best of the series), a better score (care of the other Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumni, Christophe Beck), and a better usage of pop music. I mean, the usage of James “Laid” as the film’s centerpiece song blows anything by Blink 182, Sum 41, or Who the Fuck Cares 101 out of the water.

American Wedding basically has two veins of humor, one centered on the humiliations of the good-natured Jim, the other on the shenanigans of the pure id Stifler (Seann William Scott, whose over the top antics are deserving of some sort of award, just like his work, in the second film). Stifler, simply put is hilarious, especially the dance-off in the gay bar (actually, this is probably one of my favorite scenes in the whole series), and his attempts at emulating some sort of nice, reserved yuppie suitor. To top of his antics, the film actually provides Stifler with an arc, where he matures, kinda, sorta. Combine that with some great supporting work by Eugene Levy (much better here, than in A Mighty Wind), who really is the perfect dad, as Jim comes to understand (the scene where Jim’s dad admits that he would sleep with Nadia is great), and Fred Willard. The filmmakers made a good decision to cut loose most of the other characters from the first two films, though it was kind of odd that they didn’t mention Oz; as it stands, Alysson Hannigan, the only remaining female character, is given little to do other than look adorable, and the former “lead” character Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols) is reduced to looking on with amusement (though both Jim and Finch mock his penchant for toasts). Yeah, Finch does have some good moments, too, and of course, there is the requisite cameo by Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s Mom. MILF! Good stuff, very entertaining.

Capturing the Friedmans (d. Andrew Jarecki)

Probably the most acclaimed documentary of the year, I thought it was more of a documentation of a family’s harrowing, internal disintegration than it was an investigation into whether the Arnold and Jesse Friedman actually molested children (just to get it out of the way, I’m convinced that Arnold was a pedophile and child pornographer, that much is indisputable, but I do think that Great Neck was held in thrall by mass hysteria, and I very much doubt the official story of what happened in the Friedman’s basement office), unlike say Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, a film that Capturing the Friedmans has been compared to (though, Paradise Lost probably focuses more on the community of West Memphis than it does on the actual case itself). I think that the film works best as a portrait of a familial disintegration, with ex post facto commentary, than it does as some sort of Rashomon like examination from multiple perspectives. Jarecki has structured the film in such a way that it left little doubt in my mind what conclusion I supposed to draw, especially since it seems relatively easy for Jarecki to blow holes in the prosecution case, and little weight it given to the opposing views (which are repeatedly undercut). As a portrait of a family falling apart, it’s always, always compelling to watch, it’s like the proverbial car crash that you can’t take your eyes off.

Once and Again S1 DVDs

Once and Again was one of my favorite shows; it aired for three seasons on ABC (1999-2002), were it received shabby treatment, despite critical plaudits, Emmy awards, and decent ratings (it’s not like ABC had anything better to air). I was so sad to see it go when it was canceled in March of last year. But now there are DVDs, and I can watch my favorite shows as often as I want, without the interference of networks who see fit to change a show’s time slot on a whim. Once and Again was created by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, who also created the seminal 80s show thirtysomething (the newer show even borrows a character, Miles Drentrell). The show is basically a melodrama about a divorced father and a recently separated mother who date and fall in love in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

What made the show so successful in my opinion, is it’s ensemble. In the pilot episode (or is it the second episode, I temporarily forget), Lily (Sela Ward) describes how the couple’s decisions ripple out and affect others. We see this ripple effect, as the series expands its focus from the central couple, to their children, their ex’s (who are not monsters, as some shows would settle to be, but flawed people you came to care about as much as the other characters), the extended family, friends, partners, etc. Everyone was given their fair chance (even strangers, I remember one episode when day players were allowed to deliver the show’s trademark B&W monologues). The whole show is filled with realistic characters with real flaws, who are allowed to fuck up and flounder (and the film doesn’t exactly pull punches when it comes to the psychic/emotional costs of divorce, especially on the children), but also to pick themselves back up and support each other. Combine that with long-running, complex stories, and you got all the elements of a series that I love. I’m so excited I can revisit this show. Hmmm, my DVDs are calling to me.


Complete with actors and narrative as slaves to pure allegory, a lovely, desolate landscape sucked dry of any meaning, and sub-Lynchian weird-for-the-sake-of-weird, the Polish brother’s new film Northfork is frustrating in its attempted elegiac beauty. Much too obscure and self-involved in its own myth, the brothers have fashioned a grand fable of vaguely broad proportions, and its flaws seem innate in the material; gleefully scripted with amateur quirkiness and constant allegorical smugness, the film could not pull off its atmosphere of grandiose fairy-tale if it weren’t as pretentious and confused as all get out.

Twin narratives lazily intertwine as people of Northfork are forced to evacuate their town; in the America of 1955 the government celebrates progress above all else, and a dam has been built to provide Northfork with electricity. In the vein of much of the film’s misfiring eccentric sense of humor the same dam that the town will benefit from is forcing the population to abandon Northfork’s original location for higher ground. The death of the town is reflected both in the starkness of the Montana landscape-as dry and drained of color as bone, with only foundation marks and a hastily dug-up cemetery hinting at any trace of a two hundred year old town-and in the vague fatal illness of Irwin (Duel Farnes), a young orphan boy from the town cast off at the beginning of the film by his parents because of his condition, and now placed under the care of Father Harlan (Nick Nolte). Meanwhile, the town of Northfork nearly kaput, three pairs of men volunteer for the governmental job of making sure the last remnants of the living move along-among the G-men: Peter Coyote, Mark Polish, James Woods, and Graham Beckel- all theatrically decked out in matching black suits, trenchcoats and automobiles. The distastefully confrontive job of forcing citizens off their own land is generously paid back to the G-men temps by a reward of beautiful lakefront property once the inhabitants are crossed off the list and the old town forever covered with water.

Lately there is the mistaken assumption in American cinema that anything helmed by a filmmaking brother team-be it as grand and commercial as The Matrix, as introverted and niche as The Man Who Wasn’t There or as pleasantly boring as Welcome To Collinwood-has to be wholly unique, not necessarily in its narrative and its characters (though that is common), but also exceptional in its created world, a product of the pseudo-incestuous, strange brand of creativity that can spur forth when siblings collaborate. Northfork strives hard to achieve something strange and special, a strain that is dismally evident a third the way through the film when the viewer finally realizes that the entire film-world is purposely constructed as a massive allegory with a hard-shell crust of the bizarre to surround it. An allegory for what is never quite clear; the death of a town being too pat for the length the film goes to build such a grandiose fable. For a film that introduces a few grounded, interesting ideas-namely mercenary citizens doing all they can to evict their neighbors for materially gain, and the kind of people left behind when a town dies (the religious, the sick, the children)-the Polish brothers, Michael directing, Mark acting and both writing/producing, feel the need to use a sledgehammer to visualize their concept in a nearly unwatchable combination of the Lynch-strange and the Spielberg-heavy hand.

Angels are the principal conceptual image the brothers work so hard to envision on a number of levels, the key ones being the G-men as saviors flying the inhabitants of Northfork to higher ground (as if them wearing feathers in their caps and wings on their breasts were not proof enough, their boss even instructs them to act as angels), and Irwin and the other orphans of the town being angelic in their child uniqueness. These images of direct, if obvious, metaphors are not hard to swallow, but instead of setting Northfork in a serene, meditative state of simple images that range from possibly poignant (the G-men specially equipped to “fly” people away) to dangerously cloying (parentless children as angels), the brothers inject peculiar eccentricity to complicate the film into allegorical incoherence.

The first instance of this is in Irwin’s infirmed moments of unconsciousness. He dreams that he finds a group of lost heavenly creatures (played by Daryl Hannah, Ben Foster, Robin Sachs, and Anthony Edwards) that are looking for the Unknown Angel. The group are drenched in pseudo-Victorian outlandish costumes and have a preference for melancholy pessimism, bad puns, and other oddities: Hannah has safety pins attached to her bald head, Sachs’ character is named Cup of Tea, Edwards has no hands, and Foster, wearing a cowboy hat and transcribing music from a music box, seems to have fallen out of Mulholland Dr. and into the Polish brother’s timeless landscape of desolate Montana. Irwin tries to convince the group that he is the angel they have been searching for by showing them marks where his halo was removed and his wings surgically severed. Through his need to prove his angelic past Irwin actually seems to be trying to convince the troupe to let him die (he is not only suffering from an illness, but from loneliness as well). But just when one thinks Irwin’s dream is merely a thematically questionable extension of his want to leave this strange, empty world, it is revealed that the G-men literally give Northfork citizens angel wings to help them move. Angel wings removed from small child angels. The implication sounds horrific; young angels roaming the Montana countryside until their wings are ripe and removed so as to help people travel to the next stage of their lives (physically or spiritually it is not clear) is far too much semiotic nonsense for one to process.

Meanwhile, the few people the G-men run into, the ones refusing to leave Northfork, do not seem to support the possibility that moving from Northfork is metaphor for anything in particular. Instead, the brothers seem to enjoy employing episodes of varying quirkiness and vague meaning: G-men breaking into a house, interrupting a couple having sex and then strong-arming them out of town; finding a man who has nailed his feet to his front porch and shoots at trespassers; eating lunch at a café where a woman with a man’s voice requires the G-men to guess the menu; and a man who has build his house on a boat, filling it with animal trophies and his two wives.

In the end (well, to be more accurate, after fifteen or twenty minutes), the Polish brother’s story is tiresome and exhaustive. An over-sweet score that coats every “whimsical” moment of the film, and an interesting, but pointless, landscape of empty Montana wilderness do little more than drill into the audience’s head that the filmmakers are trying to fashion their own special brand of bittersweet fable, one where every thing seems either capitalized for maximum importance (Angel, Death, Child, etc.) or put into precious quotations. While the “quirky” puns and episodes pass by with ever increasing monotony, and hackneyed characters, endless cloying imagery and, “please be moved by our odd story” moments come and go, the brain finally shuts down and stops trying to process why angels are trying to help any of these people, who so exist in their own dimension of Polish Bros. Land that no one cares whether they die, succeed or are moved along by angels-forever taken from the Earth, and from us-once the credits runs.