Back Issues


Volume 16, Issue 4: Ex Imagibus

Flickers

Brendan O'Donnell and Nate Wilson

Animated Features

Shark Tale
According to the previews, which featured every funny part of this particular cartoon, this is ostensibly a movie about sharks and fish dueling it out in Dreamwork SKG's hip-hop response to Pixar/Disney's Finding Nemo. From the preview we learn that Shark Tale's little yellow protagonist looks and acts just like Will Smith, who lends his voice, some dance moves, and his likeness to Oscar, a fish with aspirations to a rap contract with a major label. We also learn from the preview that Robert De Niro, Martin Scorcese, Angelina Jolie, and the rest of the extra-value cast have all been transmogrified into computer-animated sharks and fish, which is the funniest thing about the movie.

And if you thought the preview was funny, then treasure that little spark of joy in your heart and watch something else. Because, from the preview, you may also remember that SKG stands for Spielberg/Katzenberg/Geffen, which means that comedy will play second banana to the tolerance gospel these three short-order cooks keep slopping all over the movie-going public. See, the head shark's son, Lenny, is a mild-mannered vegetarian, which nature would tell us makes for a lousy predator. But, on planet Dreamworks, that just makes for a "different" shark, one whose diet and propensity for dressing up as a dolphin is something to be embraced and celebrated.
And so the ostensible moral of the inevitable father-son hug-fest at the end is that we ought to accept people who are different from us. But everyone who doesn't live under a rock deals with different people every day. Dreamworks doesn't care about dealing with different people. Their scarf-wearing shark is a tootsie, just like David Geffen. Shark Tale is as entertaining and subtle as a knee in the groin.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
This movie is also computer-animated, but instead of 3-D models of Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, they spent the extra ten million to get the real things. By some accounts, this flick was an attempt to get another sequel-franchise going, a la Indiana Jones. The box-office dictated otherwise, so this is probably it for the series. Is it worth watching?

Well, yes, it is worth watching, in the sense of "looking at it." It manages some gorgeous and impressive moments. The sepia-retro gimmick is beautifully rendered, especially in the city scenes. The attention not paid the story and characters was directed instead at the digital details, like the raindrops running along a car window, or the weathered-metal look on the bad-guy robots that stomp New York City. There's also a neat ray gun, some flying aircraft carriers, and a fighter plane that turns into a submarine.
But you can get attention to detail and gee-whizzery from a TV commercial. Frequently, you can also get more out of the story, too. Sky Captain is, at heart, a B-grade sci-fi flick. After you've gotten used to the special effects, which, depending on how cynical you are about special effects, may take up to ten minutes, all that's left is the winsome Joe Sullivan whisking dizzy-dame Polly Perkins through the Indiana Jones plotline, which wasn't memorable enough to include in this review.

The Incredibles
Pixar has more built-in fan base than any other studio currently cranking out movies. After Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Finding Nemo, virtually all children are guaranteed to watch The Incredibles, and most of them will be bringing parents with them. This film has more adult flavor than Pixar's previous stuff, but still aims to be kid friendly. Much of it is quite hilarious, but there are still elements that don't seem to belong in this type of film.

The story, as most know, centers on a family of "supers," living undercover in a retro world tired of superheroes. Predictable family conflict resolves itself in the modern way one would expect, but manages to be forgiveable. Bad guys actually die in various explosions, and good guys are also mortal—we encounter a skeleton belonging to one of them, and references to the murders of others. Our male protagonist yearns for the days of heroism and, when he is fired from his insurance job, becomes vulnerable to the fraudulent enticement of a villain that he believes to represent a top secret government organization.
Much of the humor will be lost on kids, but they will laugh anyway, and parents (or grandparents) will see some amusing satire of the world and entertainment they grew up with. Surpassing the two Toy Story films doesn't seem possible, so pointing out this film's failure to do so shouldn't mean much. It is worth watching if only for the fact that it is designed for children and is blatantly anti-egalitarian, though it can't completely shake the vestiges of the equality-obsessed culture that surrounds us.
Look for tyranny and egalitarianism packaged in the villains as well as consistent parody of our culture's general resentment of superiority. Commentary of this nature is a surprise in anything mildly connected to Disney, and in this case it doesn't even appear to have been an accident.

Others:

The Terminal
Though Steven Spielberg's last few movies have been dark missives on the loneliness of modern man, he is at heart a cloying sentimentalist, and so he dutifully trots the savior Innocence onscreen to bring people together. In The Terminal, Innocence is the hirsute Tom Hanks, playing Viktor, an English-language-mauling Eastern European. The camera swirls around his head when he gets stuck in the shopping mall-like JFK terminal, a coup d'etat having erased the diplomatic viability of his passport. Rather than vomiting, as the cinematography suggests he might do, Viktor makes the best of it, befriending the airport denizens and bedding the stewardess/love-interest, whose sailoresque language and serial harlotries might soften with a little Innocence. After they chastely sleep together, she resumes her cheap lifestyle, leaving him free to leave the airport when the passport regains its potency. A crowd of worshipful airport employees gathers to watch his departure in a scene at least as moving as the escalator that translates him to the exits. And so the Christ figure leaves with the whore still single and the JFK mall still commercialistic. But he's still Innocent. Altogether as satisfying as an Oprah rerun with an added hour of commercials.

Napoleon Dynamite
Monty Python's The Quest for the Holy Grail
once knocked me off the couch. Napoleon Dynamite provided me with a sore jaw for two days. It is clean. It manages to surprise in virtually every scene, twisting otherwise predictable punchlines into the unexpected. This is a film that many would consider plotless and pointless, but despite that, it remains a film built on profoundly deep assumptions about the nature of cool.

In Napoleon Dynamite, no one is cool. Cool is a self-perception successfully sold to others. This is not a typical geek film in which the nerds triumph over the beautiful people. Stupidity is all around, and what we are left with is likability and personality. This film takes on and destroys every other high school movie I have seen, leaving the shattered pieces of the gospel of prom in the theater behind it. Amen. Hallelujah.
It is also set in Idaho, made by Mormons, and presents a very odd view of steak.

Video:

Saved!
When Oliver Stone made Any Given Sunday, I remember critics wondering aloud if he could have chosen subject matter (football) about which he knew less. The insinuation was that he knew not of what he spoke. Saved! is another profoundly ignorant film.

It is the story of evangelical hypocrisy. It brings the gospel of vanilla acceptance to an evangelical school where eventually we learn something along the lines of "Life is perfect. There must be a god out there, somewhere. Or inside. Or something."
A girl (ooh, ooh, her name was Mary) gets pregnant trying to help her figure-skating boyfriend avoid being gay. She hides her pregnancy from the hypocritical prom queen Hillary Faye and receives love and acceptance from the slutty Jewess, the handicapped atheist (or something) and the Abercrombie and Fitch "different" kid who is actually as normal as strip mall non-comformity. Of course this different kid's dad is Pastor Skip who is having a thing with Mary's mom.
This is a typical outcast/geek film. The cool people turn out to be shallow and all the people with apparent faults turn out to be the actual cool people, deep and loving, or at least triumphant. But most importantly, this is the gospel of prom at its worst. The pastor is cheating, the gay kid got sent to a home, the single expectant mother is ashamed, but prom fixes everything. The gay kid comes with all of his friends, and the real hypocrite is revealed and damned for turning out to be just like our heroes. But don't look too closely. Despite the fact that nobody is actually repenting of adultery, or homosexuality, or anything really, everybody realizes that the world is cool. Embrace stuff. And things.
The makers of this film have perhaps witnessed Christendom at its worst in at least one summer camp, but they do not understand it and offer us something twice as stupid as the worst evangelicalism, because it is what they are accusing evangelicalism of propogating. Be a pastor and cheat, and you're a damnable hypocrite. Be a pastor, cheat, and be nice to gays and everything is okay. Prom resolved everything. The solution? Be an ass. That's fine. Just don't look down on assness. Cause then you'd be an ass, and that's bad, because everybody is one, and you are too, which is okay, as long as you let us come to prom. Anyone who has seen this film should see Napoleon Dynamite twice and meditate on prom-gospel. Napoleon is far more honest.

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