Monday, 30 September 2013

Neglected Movies Of The A-List Stars

Films fly under the radar all the time. They often feature quality actors...even fairly well known ones. But when your name is on the tip of the tongues of movie goers - when you've been on the awards podium - or top of the box office charts - or even mentioned in all the supermarket tabloids, it's a bit harder to have a catalogue of work containing entries no one has actually heard of. Or, at least, escaping memory... as if they had never existed.

I'm not talking about a case like The Beaver, where Mel Gibson had so poisoned his image that moviegoers and critics alike were inclined to turn their backs on this interesting performance, in effect throwing the courageous efforts of director Jodie Foster under the bus as well. (The subject matter concerning mental illness is not exactly a box office magnet and may be partially to blame but one senses the public simply had enough of Mad Mel.)

And there are countless examples of those who went on to fame with their earlier (and, often, embarrassing) movies unearthed for re-release to cash in on their new found status. Sylvester Stallone still has to live down Italian Stallion (AKA The Party at Kitty and Stud's). Robert De Niro found his earlier Sam's Song footage re-edited into something called The Swap (AKA Line of Fire), an ubiquitous DVD offering at most $1.99 discount bins, usually packaged with some other public domain dredge. And I also don't mean the infamous case of Jerry Lewis putting a release kibosh on his own The Day the Clown Cried...or bromance buds Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby Maguire legally teaming up to stop the domestic release of Don's Plum, just as their careers were accelerating.

I'm referring to big name Hollywood talent pretty much in their career primes, who happened to have a film released that for a multitude of reasons hardly gained the least bit of traction or attention. So far, in a more or less chronological pattern, I've been able to remember the following cases:

Peter Sellers - The Optimists (AKA The Optimists of Nine Elms) - 1973

Career Status - Maybe not on a super-high point for Sellers. This film was at a fair distance from the success of the first Inspector Clouseau roles and closer to the period of his iffier (but not necessarily disastrous) offerings (The Magic Christian, There's a Girl in My Soup, Where Does It Hurt? - let's not bother to go through The Party again). Still, the Pink Panther resurrection and Oscar nod for Being There were not that far off.

The Film - Sellers portrays a down-on-his-luck street musician who befriends a couple of kids from the same lower income area of London in their pursuit of obtaining a pet dog they can call their own.



Sellers provided an enjoyable, relaxed performance and the film is far from terrible. Still, it's not that hard to see why this low budget effort didn't make waves. The storyline is as thin as the distribution push the project received and while pleasant, The Optimists is a dime-a-dozen offering in the feel-good category.

Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine - The Wilby Conspiracy - 1975

Career Status - Poitier's historic Oscar win for Lilies of the Field (like this movie, directed by Ralph Nelson) may have been in his rear-view mirror but this film was sandwiched between two big hits (and directorial efforts) - Uptown Saturday Night and Let's Do It Again.  Caine still had the aura of his Oscar nominated performance in Sleuth around him and another hit, The Man Who Would Be King, was just around the corner.

The Film - Set in South Africa at the height of the Apartheid era, Shack Twala (Poitier) is released from prison but immediately gets tangled up in more legal intrigue and has to go into hiding. The British engineer Jim Keough (Caine) wants nothing to do with the political situation around him but reluctantly becomes involved in revolution, diamonds, and a racist police officer portrayed by the film's scene-stealer, the late Nicol Williamson. (Trivia note: Persis Khambatta of Star Trek: The Motion Picture fame also has a role.)



Too political for the tastes of the United Artists marketing department? Were the somewhat shoddy production values (inferior cinematography, choppy editing) a box-office crippler? Did the iffy reviews upon the UK release torpedo any chances the film had in North America? Would there have been a better choice than Nelson for balancing the film's action sequences with its political focus?

All I know is that in Canada the film basically opened and closed in one week. Pity - strong performances by Poitier, Caine and Williamson are left unappreciated.

Steve McQueen - An Enemy of the People - 1978

Career Status - This film was in the can only two years after McQueen received top billing in the star-studded disaster epic The Towering Inferno. Even though he would never make anything on a Bullitt or The Great Escape level again, he was still THE Steve McQueen...king of cool...Hollywood icon.

The Film - Based on the play by Henrik Ibsen, a fully bearded McQueen cast himself (he was the executive producer) in the role of Doctor Thomas Stockmann, the one resident of a small community determined to warn all of the environmental dangers caused by the pollution of a hot springs designated for tourist appeal. With self-interests prevailing, family and friends turn against the doctor as his reputation is sullied.



Was it the beard? The lack of bullets and car chases? Probably. As pointed out, being a big movie star can imprison an artist looking to break out of the typecast mold. McQueen worked on this project for years, only to see Warner Brothers shelve this First Artists production until it received a very limited release in 1978. (In recent years it has found its way to DVD.) I've never seen the film but here's a clip to provide a  taste of how un-McQueen like it was.

Johnny Depp - The Libertine - 2004

Career Status - This film came in-between a number of releases that had the words "Pirates" and "Caribbean" in them - toss in a Willy Wonka and you have a pretty hot run (although Depp has himself joked that he has built his career on making flops).

The Film - The exploits of the second Earl of Rochester AKA John Wilmot (Depp) are examined as he returns from exile in London to write a play for Charles II (played by John Malkovich). Passionate in his art, Wilmot also displays gusto when it comes to sex and alcohol. The king's displeasure with the play, combined with the syphilis ravaging his body, leads to a tragic end for Wilmot.



As he says at the beginning, "You will not like me!" And there's sure no Captain Jack cuteness to be found in this one. More than anything else, the movie was torpedoed at the box office by the rash of negative reviews, many harping on issues with the screenplay, direction and cinematography. Regardless of the reasons, this film grossed less than $5 million in the U.S.A. - chump change at that point of Depp's career.

So there you have it so far - five big names with their four films that failed to fly at all during pretty high points in their careers (you may of course argue with the Sellers selection). I'll keep researching for a follow-up but I'd now like to know what others remember as being similar film fates.

Remember the criteria - we're not asking about the unknown movies done by actors that hit the jackpot with  later works. What other A-list performers had complete duds when you'd least expect it in their calling?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Whisper Of The Heart - A Beautiful Start With A Tragic End

Disney. Pixar. Ghibli. When you speak of the history of feature film animation, you largely speak of those three names.

With the recent news that the great Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki seems to finally be serious about entering retirement comes the recollection of how those sunset rumors first came about. Unfortunately, the circumstances at the time were painfully tragic.

The first feature film at the legendary Studio Ghibli to not be directed by either Miyazaki or co-founder Isao Takahata was the hand drawn 1995 release Whisper of the Heart. Animator/animation director Yoshifumi Kondo was not only entrusted with Miyazaki's screenplay but was being looked upon by the Master himself to eventually take over as the prime filmmaker at the company.

(As per my usual viewing habits, the version regarded was in the original native language with English subtitles, although a dubbed version is available for audiences that prefer such.)

The soundtrack to the opening credits provides a bit of a surprise - an Olivia Newton-John rendition of the old John Denver hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads". As we learn, the lead character of Shizuku, in her final year of junior high, has taken to writing translations and new lyrics for the American tune. An avid reader, she notices that the same fellow seems to be taking out the library books she has been reading. It turns out the mystery lad is none other than Seiji, a boy she finds to be alternately fascinating and aggravating. In time she comes to understand that the nice old gift shop owner she has met is the boy's grandfather, who happens to provide the workshop where Seiji concentrates on his true passion - making violins. As Shizuku learns of his plans to head to Italy to learn and practice his craft at the highest of ends, she becomes determined to work at her calling - a story inspired by the cat statue named Baron that resides in the grandpa's store.


Head to your favorite search engine and type in "Whisper of the Heart underrated"... and you'll see why some of us so passionately want this movie to find a wider audience. It captures, in a beautifully simple way, a unique coming of age tale where the boy-meets-girl connection comes not from physical attractions but inner ones. Shizuku and Seiji slowly come to recognize each other as kindred spirits and realize that geographical distance does nothing to hinder the connection they have with each other. In a non-traditional way, this couple experiences the truest of romances. It's hard to express how lovely it is to watch this tale unfold, sans clichés.

It  may not have the sweep of most of Miyazaki's own films and the pacing may be regard as unnecessarily deliberate in a few places but there was no shame in not having the Master's name in the director credits for this one. Kondo's Whisper of the Heart stands as a great achievement in the Ghibli annuals.

Tragically, Kondo never had the opportunity of leading the studio forward, let alone direct another feature. He died of an aneurysm in 1998 at the youngish age of 47. It's said that Miyazaki reacted by pulling back on his own workload and contemplating a retirement he now appears determined to go ahead with. While the Master will always be revered for the magnificent contributions he has made, his deceased protege should never be forgotten for this one outstanding contribution of his own.

I say this film tastes - REFRESHING.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Gonzo Mad Men, Please Meet Soul Strangelove

There's a scene early on in Robert Downey Sr.'s 1969 satirical underground offering Putney Swope that I think the late Neil Postman would have appreciated re: information overload. The stuttering, soon-to-be-deceased chairman of the board of an advertising firm comes into the office to pontificate about the "small box in the head" of every consumer and that when the box is overloaded with information, the target of such material doesn't end up remembering anything. However, if "creative foreplay before penetrating" is used...well, we never find out what happens because the CEO drops dead. Postman would have smiled. (Regarding the info remark... not someone dying.)

Perhaps this was Downey's way of warning the viewer of what was to come....which is lots of everything. Putney Swope hurls a plethora of images, jokes, and observations into its 84 minute running time. When it's all said and done, you feel like you're standing in a kitchen where a food fight broke out and left the premises in a mess - some foods have conspicuously stuck to the walls, others have slid off without notice but, as messy as the remnants are, you still feel the fight itself was a lot of fun.

The plot (we may as well call it that) continues with the vote for a new chairman among the board members. Since no one is allowed to elect themselves, each casts a ballot for whoever seems to be least likely to win - and that just happens to be our title character, the token black executive in the firm. With the freedom to implement policies he's always favored, Putney's brings in hardcore brothers and sisters (with one "token" Caucasian) and changes the name of the firm to Truth and Soul Inc. Tobacco, alcohol and war toys advertising is out but mousetraps that chemically cremate the rodent, "ethereal cereal" and window cleaners disguised as soybean soft drinks for consumption in the ghetto get green lit.  Remarkably, the firm flourishes despite Putney's propensity for firing the employees who come up with the best ideas. In spite of his attitude, staff and clients alike cower to the boss, although he meets some resistance from the President of the United States - a dwarf who goes to bed wearing head gear. And so on...

There's quite a bit in Putney Swope that works, outnumbering (IMHO) the misfires. The funniest parts of the politically incorrect mayhem are definitely found in the mock commercials (especially the priceless Face Off acme spot - watch for it in the YouTube video below). Strangely, one of the most effective elements in the film came by accident. The story goes that lead actor Arnold Johnson was having trouble with so many of his lines that Downey decided to dub over all of his dialogue - this, along with the surrounding absurdity, helps to give the film a further surrealist dimension that I found made the it even more interesting.

Sure, the approach will seem dated to many and the shock factors in the presentations won't be what they were back in it's day. Nonetheless, I still really enjoyed Putney Swope. In an age where a pretty dog-gone good show called Mad Men has brought attention to the ad boys of the sixties, it's rewarding to find a film directly from that era that took a low-budget Dr. Strangelove kind of look on that milieu. And the bottom line is that I found this movie to be a more-than-ok-time-waster for bizzare, free-for-all diversion.

That's me - interestingly, as you'll hear Downey state himself in the clip below, the director doesn't believe his movie has aged as well as he would have liked. He talks about how he started getting involved with film, the incident that inspired the creation of Putney Swope (which he recreated in the movie itself) and the strange steps involved in eventually getting the film released, with a little promo help from Jane Fonda. He also goes over his less-than-fun adventurers in Hollywood, a predictable waste of time for a dude like this.

(And that leads to another reason I selected this clip - listen to what Downey has to say right at the beginning about people using digital technology to make films meant to be calling cards to Hollywood, rather than means to their own ends. With all respect to the stuff I see flying around on Indie-Go-Go/Kickstarter campaigns, I wish wannabe filmmakers would heed advice like Downey's more often.)

I say this film tastes - WICKED.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Filling The Void Of Cinematic Fertilizer

There's crap....and then there's fertilizer.

You know, fertilizer...as in cow manure...sheep manure. The kind of stuff that's smelly and not very pleasant to hang around with. At the same time, you have to respect the properties it has to get things done. It's still crap but of a particular, admirable kind.

If you think you have a fair bit of tolerance and understanding behind the idea of  fertilizer and can distinguish it from just plain old "crap", there's a film you might want to check out. A work not exactly unknown in the cinema world but hardly on the lips of those on this side of the Atlantic.

Gasper Noé is a heavyweight auteur and film festival darling on the global circuit. To most of the mainstream North American audience, he may only have been known for the controversy surrounding his 2002 production Irreversible, featuring Monica Bellucci in a brutal nine minute anal rape scene that, along with other content, helped the movie join the annals of films that polarized audiences.

Noé's most recent feature was Enter The Void (2009), an ambitious project (and definitely meant by the director to be regarded as such) which, depending on your temperament and head space, offers a cornucopia of fertile riches or an excess of pretentious (ahem) crap.

Set in Tokyo (but with almost all dialogue in English), the film opens by introducing Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz de la Heuerta) as a brother/sister pair with a close and (insert euphemism) "complicated" relationship. He's a dealer and addict (although in denial of that); she's a stripper in a seedy but popular club. The beginning and follow-through of the story - even when he is physically gone - is seen via his p.o.v. (featuring the most back-of-the-head shots since the Dardenne's Le fils).

The topic of death is introduced right off the bat - "They say you fly when you die", as they watch a plane overhead. This offers a quick segue to discuss the recent gift from his friend (and her admirer) Alex - The Tibetan Book of Death. After Linda departs for her evening of pole dancing, the bro gets a chance to get high and meet up with Alex, who recites the options a spirit has once the body has perished. Unfortunately, Oscar eventually has a rendezvous for a drug deal with his other "friend" Victor, the chap who ends up betraying him to the police. The resulting commotion leads to Oscar's death. 

The rest of the film utilizes the combination of backwards/forwards non-linear narrative seen in Irreversible, with an examination of where the siblings had come from, what they meant to each other, and possible futures they could face in both the world of the living and beyond.



For it's entire 161 minutes, no one will deny that Enter The Void delivers on eye candy! One gets the feeling that Noé had that Hitchcockian "the-movie-is-already-made-in-my-head-and-now-we-just-have-to-shoot-it" thing going, so precise are the images and the path the film takes.

The certainties end there and debates begin. Some may find the movie disturbing when it isn't corny, gritty when it isn't messy and thrilling when it isn't tedious. If you ask two people who've seen Enter The Void, you may be convinced there were two entirely different films with the same name. And personally this is the back-and-forth I was experiencing while watching it - two different people inside of me bantering "Yes...ugly but beautiful. Crass but sexy. Mind-numbing but thought-provoking." And in the end you may not have come to the conclusion that you have seen a successful film but you'll probably believe you have witnessed a cinematic event, even for a film that alternated between super-nova and dwarf star status.

Or to say it in another way, even when Enter The Void gets smelly while you're watching it, the end results provide an offering that made the indulgent messiness worth it. Those who are open-minded and looking for something beyond the conventional should head straight to this one. Just be prepared to hate it..when you're not loving it. Fertilizer smells but it's there to do it's thing.  So does this film.

I say this film tastes - EXOTIC.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Have A Favorite Neglected Film?

Perhaps more navels were being gazed at but at least less cities weren't being destroyed...in 3D.

For better or worse, things are different these days.

I know I'm about to sound like the grumpy old film dork of yesteryear with all these historical references but allow this rant, please.

For many decades, the movie theater, while often an escapist refuge, was still considered serious and often high-brow, with a film like McCabe & Mrs. Miller not being that unusual a summer release. Conventional television, meanwhile, was cast as the "idiot box".

As far as "big" films went, I've always thought of All The President's Men as an example of the way so many movies used to be. You had a quality offering meant for "serious" viewing and featuring an important topic...which also happened to be great showbiz - two mega movie stars of their time and line ups around the block. Ah, I love the smell of popcorn in the morning...to me it smells like...popular quality entertainment!

But now, we seem to have what I call the "ping-pong" match. As with so many things in our 21st century world, the "middle" seems to be vanishing. (Where do you shop these days?  High-end boutiques one day and dollar stores the next? Haven't been in a traditional department store much lately, huh?)

In ping-pong cinema, Brad Pitt is running to one side of the table to appear in an Ocean's Eleven flic to be released in 120,000,000 multiplexes one week, then running to the other side to appear in Babel (not box office poison but not a mass-market effort either) down the road. Mr. Pitt wants to stay popular but wants to be respected as an actor doing exceptional work as well. Seems harder to do that in the same project nowadays. Directors too...Steven Soderbergh took more than a few laps around that table, as well.

Another example of the way it used to be was Chinatown - it afforded Jack Nicholson the chance to deliver a great acting performance as well as a great movie star turn at the same time.

But now, with the cable/pay tv explosion at one end and the "tentpole" and 3D mega-budget mentality of major Hollywood studios at the other, much of the finest quality in linear narrative storytelling can be found on the small (but getting bigger by the day) screen - an arena that actually supports and respects the writers. Go figure!

That's not to say there are no motion pictures made that emphasize quality over box office boffo - and in today's more fragmented world, many releases are aimed at niche markets. But in an environment like this current one, the chances of even more targeted offerings getting "lost" are in some ways greater than ever, even if there are more distribution channels and more voluminous (and better) independent films all the time. And with all the noise out there - a world filled with many publishers but no editors - the need to curate becomes greater than ever.

There are many bloggers and sites that do a tremendous job of analyzing the well-known films that everyone  talks about. Other movies deserve to be discussed as well...once people know they exist.

So that leads me, as they say in marketing, to this "call for action"...

If you have a favorite film that you feel has "flown under the radar" and deserves finding an audience, please  leave a comment below or drop a line at cinemacache@gmail.com. I might try to get a hold of it and have a look for myself. Pretty much all genres are cool with me.

Let's share the good stuff, shall we?

Monday, 9 September 2013

A Most Pleasant Seduction, Doctor Lewis

An entry in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, Don McKellar's The Grand Seduction is a remake of the 2003 film La Grande Séduction, known in most areas outside of the province of Quebec as Seducing Doctor Lewis. As of this writing I have yet to see reviews posted on the new English language version, which McKellar insists is different in many ways. I wish him well, because it will take some effort, magic and luck to capture the charm and good humor of its predecessor, as well as duplicate its accolades; the original was compared favorably to Waking Ned Devine, won several prizes, including the Audience Award at Sundance, and received an enthusiastic notice from A.O. Scott.

The fishing community of Sainte-Marie-La-Mauderne has certainly seen better days - with few catches to be had in the waters, the boats are docked and most of the men in town are collecting welfare. But the people are proud and very much want to work. One possible ray of light emerges; a company is considering the village as a candidate for a plastic container factory to be built. The obstacles: the population base has to be larger than it actually is (nothing like a little lying and scheming to pull that off) and, of a greater challenge, a full-time doctor must be residing.

It just so happens that a young physician in the big city has gotten himself into a legal spot in which he has to agree to go to the village for one month - that's how long the inhabitants have to convince him to stay. By researching and keeping him under surveillance (which includes tapping his phone), they conclude they know enough about the fellow to pull out all the stops that will "seduce" him. The local restaurant goes out of its way to cook only his favorite foods (like their invention of Festival de Beef Stroganoff). They stage scenarios where he can catch a large fish even though he barely knows how to cast a reel (and the sea creature just happens to be frozen). The men of the community have to pretend to know and play his favorite sport of cricket, even though most of the populace wouldn't know it from bocce ball.



The one word you will probably hear more than any in describing Seducing Doctor Lewis is "charming". And a charmer it is. It's certainly far from being the most original storyline and counts as an entrant in a long list of those that attempt to please the masses. But for the most part, it succeeds with that. Its major strength - its secret sauce - is the lively assortment of characters...who have a lot of character. The casting in the film is spot-on. Weaknesses and delusions are exposed but all the players are treated with respect and empathy. These folks may not be the types you initially want to spend too much time with but, like the film itself, they grow on you.

La Grand Séduction (Seducing Doctor Lewis) is not out to be a game changer in the world of cinema but it should put you in a fine old mood. You'd have to be really impatient, snotty...and probably sitting on a bad case of hemorrhoids...to not be seduced by this delightful movie.

I say this film tastes - SEDUCTIVE.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Ruby Has Flashes...But Not Too Many Sparks

There's a scene that appears late in the 2012 rom-com Ruby Sparks in which the writer character of Calvin Wer-Fields (played by Paul Dano) is doing a public reading from his latest book, in which he says:

"One may read this and think it's magic, but falling in love is an act of magic...so is writing."

Ironic, because by this late juncture, it screamed out to me what was wrong with this film....movies are also magic.

Where was the magic in Ruby Sparks?

Wer-Fields is introduced to us as a formerly successful novelist, staring at his old school typewriter, with a nasty case of writer's block. Adding to his anxiety is his high maintenance dog Scotty (who "pees like a girl") and his brother Harry, constantly on his sibling's back regarding the writer's lack of success (or even effort) regarding the opposite sex.

Calvin may have one thing going to shake his creativity awake - a reoccurring dream about a girl who is a painter (and doesn't know who F. Scott Fitzgerald is). This inspires and he works on a story, including complete background bios, about a writer spending time with this imaginary lady of his dreams...

...imaginary? Bras, panties and women's shaving kits start appearing in Calvin's home...and then, one morning, she shows up - in the flesh (lots of flesh), standing in his kitchen wearing a shirt and not much else, eating cereal. Of course Calvin comes to the conclusion he is losing his mind...except it turns out that others can see Ruby too. He has not only "manifested a woman with (his) mind" but one that he can control by whatever he types about her; if he wants Ruby to be a great cook...or speak French...no problem. The rest of the film concerns itself with how "normal" a life Calvin can live with his extraordinary creation.


Ruby Sparks stars Zoe Kazan in the title role...she also wrote the screenplay...and acts opposite Dano, her real-life boyfriend. Yes, you may insert the words "vanity project" at this point, because that's what this smug, self-indulgent project comes across as.

The aforementioned script alternates between being lazy and strained. Elements repeat more than progress and then the scene where Calvin decides to reveal who the puppet master really is created one of the most embarrassing spectacles (albeit, an impressively energetic performance from Kazan) that I have had the misfortune of witnessing for a long time. Even the presence of Hollywood heavyweights Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Elliot Gould in supporting roles does little to improve the viewing. While Kazan actually handles a lot of her own material with sexy, sassy charm, Dano is too uncharismatic to emerge from this looking anymore than a young paled wannabe Woody Allen clone. On top of this, for a pair of real-life lovers, he and Kazan display a clumsy brand of chemistry on screen.

Writer's block. Solipsistic and selfish male egos running amok. A writer's influence over others (Stranger Than Fiction, anyone?). All of this has been done before and with superior results.

I'm the kind of movie watcher who could easily be accused of accepting sappy for sweet in cinema, so it actually surprised me how much I intensely disliked this film. I seem to be in the minority - the Tomato Meter ratings are more than respectable for Ruby Sparks. But as much as I would have liked being a member of the fan club of this movie, the idea behind it was defeated by Kazan's script, Dano's clumsy performance and the Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris Little Miss Sunshine directors duo at the helm. I'll pay my membership dues elsewhere.

I say this film tastes  - ARTIFICIAL.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Idiocracy Is One Smart "Dumb" Movie

In a lot of ways it's not hard to see why Idiocracy, Mike Judge's 2006 satirical feature, didn't find an audience...but of course, right off the bat and more than anything, it didn't help that the film was given no promotional push. (A release in the late August-early September movie graveyard period in a small number of cities, sans a trailer or other advertising by Twentieth Century Fox.)

No, this film (which carries a strong aura of the Beavis and Butthead attitude from Judge's previous work) is a bright piece wearing Jackass clothing - it laughs at dumb-downed culture while itself encased in a dumb-downed looking package. The lowbrow crowd wouldn't appreciate the ribbing (...or wouldn't get a lot of it) and some of the upper-crust intelligentsia, while in full agreement with Judge's observations, wouldn't be caught dead watching it via this sort of presentation. (It's like a truly relevant and undeniable aspect of human nature being revealed as part of a wrestling promo on WWE Monday Night RAW , instead of showing up with the "proper" dressings on PBS.)

It's left to the open-minded and less self-conscious to appreciate how sharp Judge's observations are and to help find a larger audience than the cult following this film currently enjoys.

Luke Wilson portrays Pvt. Joe Bowers, an army clerk of average intelligence and slacker aspirations. The armed forces have an experiment in mind where Joe and a female recruit from the "private sector" (a hooker named Rita played by Maya Rudolph) are put into a hibernated state, to be revived the next year. The best laid plans go foul and instead the couple finds itself awakened in the year 2505, in a society where garbage has piled to the sky, a movie about farting has won the Best Picture award at the Oscars and the President of the United States is a former porn star and professional wrestler. Water is only used for toilets, as a Gatorade-type product is used for everything in it's place...including irrigation! (The corporation behind the beverage had no problem in meeting it's regulatory requirements...it already rolled the FDA and FCC into it's operations by purchasing them. Other corps get zinged as well - Starbucks is depicted as a male entertainment chain where getting a latte is given a whole new meaning and Costco has outlets the size of a suburb, where you can acquire everything from canned foods to a law degree.)

At first declared an enemy of the state for being unregistered (and talking "faggy"), Joe's situation changes as his aptitude test declares him to be the smartest person on a planet of imbeciles and the one picked by the porn President to help solve his problems. Joe goes along with the idea but only as a cover as he tries to devise a plan to somehow get himself and Rita back to the 21st century but his decisions lead to some missteps that threaten his safety.



As is the case with the best of satirists, Judge is taking the audience to a faraway place to comment on what is happening around us in the here-and-now (A planet's inhabitants in the dire straits depicted in this movie would have been forced to use their brains to adapt or perish.) The director is harpooning our own world's lazy, complacent (or is that enthusiastic?) decent into twerking, texting and tweeting ourselves into a Neil Postman "amusing ourselves to death" scenario, while allowing anything and everything to be commodified, despite whoever loses out. It's not surprising big corp Twentieth Century Fox got cold feet on the movies release, considering how corporatism is assailed in it. (There was a two-picture deal that both Judge and Fox had to fulfill after the release of the cult hit Office Space.)

A few of the gags fall flat and, as I've tried to indicate, for some the comic tone would not be the preferred means to these ends. Still, the relatively few people who have actually seen this film have been generally enthusiastic about this timely reminder of where we are and where we seem to be headed. Idiocracy is one of those movies where you feel nervous about laughing but laugh you must. Do indeed check out this faraway future to see what's a comin' just down the road. It's scary.

I say this film tastes - ASSERTIVE.