Friday, October 30, 2009

A Mighty Heart

Oscar bait. A term used for films that are clearly gunning for a golden statuette. While it's difficult to be truly mean about it, A Mighty Heart is Oscar bait. We've got a film concerning major real life issues with a true story - the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, which naturally feeds into the major problems in the middle east. We have a major Hollywood star - Angelina Jolie - dressing down and trying to fade into a role. The bait wasn't taken - either by audiences or academy voters - and I can kind of see why.

This is not to downplay the importance of the story by any means. Mariane Pearl's story about losing her husband is one that is important to hear, especially considering the state of the world in which it takes place. It's something that should be shared, and should be heard, so we can appreciate the dangers of simply cataloging what is happening in the middle east. It's important to understand what is going on in these places.

It's also not to say that the film is badly directed either. Michael Winterbottom is one of my favorites, and this just confirms it. He creates some good tension - even if the end is in sight - and he never makes the characters into unrealistic "heroes", just people doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. There are a couple of times where it seems it should be obvious that Pearl was going into a trap, but they are countered by some fantastic flashback sequences, including a heartbreaking montage of a trip the Pearls' went on mixed in with a take down.

The acting is fine as well. Yeah, Jolie does get a moment late in the film which quite literally screams for an award, but otherwise she gets the delicate balance between strength and fragility necessary for the role. The performances all around are solid and they give the characters a bit of a grounding in reality.

Speaking of that grounding, the script is often fine as well. There are some very chunky moments early on, where it lays out the back story and the situation in a "middle east for grade-schoolers" manner, but it eventually subsides and the meat of the story is still solid. Once it gets away from trying to explain the situation, it gathers steam and does create well rounded characters. Little snippets of incidental conversation slip in, and that's strangely important, as it just keeps everyone human.

So...what's the problem? It eventually hit me late in the process, and it's quite simple. The story would have been a lot better in a documentary. We know how it ends, and while the developments are interesting, the in-the-moment dramatization tries to make us forget quite how it's going to end. The incident is important enough that I think the retrospective approach of a documentary, perhaps with dramatized scenes, would help the structure and tone of the film immensely. That, and I find myself wondering what many of the major players are thinking in any given moment.

However, documentaries never get the profile of a feature starring Ms. Jolie, so it would have never happened. Increasing the profile is a noble goal, and overall I can understand their motivations. If there's a story that needs to be told, it's a good idea to make that story get out to as many as possible. Still, it's not like it made boffo box office anyway, so maybe, in hindsight, doing it as a documentary would have been a better idea. But as I said, it's hard to be mean to it, because its (mighty) heart is in the right place.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kids Return

"If you want to be a professional boxer, you need to learn to control your own life."

I think I'm going to start these things with a line from the film that neatly sums up the entire picture, what do you think? For example, Kids Return's overall theme can probably be summed up neatly right there, though professional boxer can be subbed out for any other profession. The people who succeed control their own life, the people who don't allow others to control them.

It's an interesting theme, considering the history of the production. See, somewhere between the last entry and this one, Takeshi Kitano had a major motorcycle accident. Actually, according to the writer/director/actor/editor/genius himself, it was more a suicide attempt. While he survived and went on to make some of my favorite movies, at the time there was a lot of doubt about whether or not he would ever work again. However, he decided that instead of never working again, he would pour all of his energies into making a new movie, which we see here. Not surprisingly, he's not in the movie itself, but he has clearly evolved as a person and a filmmaker, and it was probably his best movie up until that point.

So what's it all about then? There are two friends, Shinji (Masanobu Ando) and Masaru (Ken Kaneko). They are the school bullies and troublemakers, making strange anatomically correct stickmen dolls and beating up kids for their lunch money. One day, Masaru starts boxing, and cajoles Shinji into joining him. I suppose explaining the dynamics of their relationship is relevant. Masaru is very much the dominant personality, and Shinji is remarkably prone to suggestion. Due to their general misbehavior, teachers give up on the two students, and their paths diverge as Shinji proves adept at boxing, and Masaru wanders off to the Yakuza. It catalogs their rise and fall, which really isn't a spoiler since the film is cyclical and starts at the end, after everything has gone down.

Between the two, along with a series of other subplots, pressure from outside sources ultimately proves to be the downfall, especially when it comes to Shinji. Even if they know what they're doing is wrong, a charismatic person will get the best of their better judgment and lead to their ultimate failure. It's heartbreaking to watch as people who should have plenty of opportunity screwing up their lives because they are listening to an obviously bad influence.

It's a strange picture to watch at times, since there's a feeling that Kitano is trying to explain to himself why he crashed the bike. There's a scene very late in the picture showing the aftermath of an accident, and knowing the history of the production, one wonders how much of his own story Kitano put in. While one should separate the art from the artist, even subconsciously a lot of your own story can seep in, and considering this film's dramatic birth, one wonders just how much Kitano was influenced by himself.

Yet, even then, it ends on a hopeful note, as things start over again, perhaps with people learning from their mistakes and no longer letting themselves be dominated by a stronger personality. It certainly started over again for Kitano himself, as he went on to make some of the best films of his career, and also Brother.

Also, I would do unspeakable things for a big shiny Kitano Blu Ray set. Just saying.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Johnny Mnemonic

Here's a question, do people realize what the cheesy parts of the present are? Will there be something about 2009 that people will look back and say "my god, what were we collectively thinking?" Johnny Mnemonic - a film which a guy I knew could never, ever pronounce the name of - has me curious, because this is a very cheesy movie, in an early '90s kind of way.

The story requires an opening text scroll - with lasers! - so you know it's good. In short, it's the future, as indicated by a title card that says INTERNET 2021, and there's a disease called NAS that's making the rounds. The popular rapper apparently gives people spasms, and this is in some way related to Keanu Reeves, who is a courier. Not just a regular courier, he stores sensitive data in his brain, 160GB of it! Unfortunately, he decides to ignore the low disc warnings and shove 320GB in there, and this particular data is of interest to all manner of interests.

One has to mention the cast, since it has possibly the greatest variety of famous people who cannot act I have ever seen. We've got the aforementioned Keanu Reeves, who is quite effective at playing a man who has had people poke around in his brain more than is probably advisable. Direct to video superstars Dolph Lundgren and Udo Keir show up, not especially popular rapper and scowling guy from Law and Order Ice-T plays a scowling guy with bad makeup. Musician and talk show host Henry Rollins proves that being either a musician or talk show host does not prepare you in any way for playing an angry doctor. There's also Dina Meyer as the obligatory love interest, but I have never heard of her.

In fact, there's precisely one actor in the lot who turns in the decent performance, and I believe I've mentioned him before (and will again very soon, if the DVD sitting on my desk is any indication). I'm talking about Takeshi Kitano, acclaimed film director and fascinating film presence, in a movie that's probably beneath him, but what can you do. The lucky Japanese got a version were his role was significantly expanded, but even here he's got the most character, the best delivery, and some great silly moments that I can't help but think he created all on his lonesome. Using his hand in a quacking duck pose is classic Kitano, for example.

Apart from everyone's favorite Japanese superstar, this is pretty much early 90s b-movie. Everything is lit with the most neon possible, the world's supply of smoke machines has been commandeered in order to make the futuristic city of Newark, New Jersey seem as futuristic as possible. Apparently in the future everything's on fire, and fire itself has turned hot pink and neon green. The general aesthetic of crap glued to other crap that was prevalent in the early 90s has been deployed in full force, and everyone looks like a drag queen except for Keanu Reeves, who has one of those really thin ties, and Kitano, who remains the only person who doesn't embarrass himself during the proceedings. The internet is accessed through the power of mime and looks like the worst CG in the world. The climactic sequence in particular looks like it belongs on the 3D0, not at the end of a major motion picture.

Inexplicably, however, it predicts the general function of the Nintendo Wii (albeit used for a phone). Huh.

I enjoyed this because I grew up in the 90s, but I'm not going to call it a great movie. The story is decent enough, but the performances are so bad and everything else so cheesy it gets in the way. The director - Robert Longo, who proceeded to never direct anything else again - is of the 'tilting the camera makes everything more exciting!' school of film making, and the 90s-ness of it oozes from every frame. If you're feeling a tinge of nostalgia for the early 90s, you could do worse, and it might prevent you from pulling out your favorite skinny tie, 3D0 and Ice-T records. Anything that keeps those Ice-T records stashed away counts as a good thing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm Not There

"I know more about you than you'll ever know about me."

Roughly in the middle of I'm Not There, Cate Blanchett, in the guise of one of the many variations on the theme of Bob Dylan - this one named Jude - delivers that line to a snooty British interviewer. It neatly summarizes the movie and the man, since it's pretty difficult to actually know anything about Bob Dylan, and even with Todd Haynes' fascinating attempt at exploring the man, he still presents something of a mystery, perhaps by design.

I'm a latecomer to the Dylan party, and I certainly would never consider myself a massive fan. Still, I've been growing ever fonder of the music, and I notice that what I like most is that he stubbornly does whatever he feels like, damn what his shallow fans might prefer. Going electric when all of your fans are shallow, folk loving proto-hipsters? Fantastic. Finding, then losing, religion? Why the hell not? Recording Wiggle Wiggle? That's the thing to do right now. Making a Christmas album? Sure, let's do it. Every time a hipster cries that their favorite "living legend" is doing something that doesn't fit their narrow perception of what they're allowed to do, a kitten is born. Dylan keeps us awash in kittens.

That stubborn following of his own muse, the swirl of legends crafted by the hipsters who care not a whit about the man but are obsessed with the symbol and a deliberate crafting of a shifty, mysterious persona creates a character that is, in essence, near impossible person to make a film about in a traditional manner. As is quite well known, this is far from traditional. No less than six people play different parts of the Dylan persona, all fictionalized and renamed. Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, and Heath Ledger all play a part of something Dylan, and all are filmed in a different manner in a neat little mirror of the shifts in genre Dylan himself liked to make.

Yeah, it's far, far, far from a traditional - or accurate - biopic, but it's pretty much the only way to make a film of Dylan. He's an interesting personality, but he's not a film-friendly one. There's no arc to his story, though there are arcs to small parts, and there's no real beginning and end. Plus, there's the sticky matter of everything being obscured by legends, both gleefully fabricated by Dylan himself and by his ridiculous fans. It's a valiant attempt to find consistency in a person who seems to delight in being inconsistent. It's not a complete success, but it gets as close as anyone could in film form.

I like the attempt, though I think I'd like a full length film about the Cate Blanchett part of the character might be more interesting. From the surprise of a woman in the role trying to replicate the surprise of Dylan going electric, to the way she captures the fidgety weirdo behind the music, she's got the most interesting part to play. I could probably do without the Richard Gere part as well, which doesn't have a good connection to the overall character until very late in the film. Still, overall, I like how it's done, since it makes an effort to be so interesting.

Do I understand more about Dylan as a result of this movie? Not really. Do I like the music more? Maybe a bit, since it's used quite well, but he's still not my favorite musician. Was it worthwhile? You know what, it is. Successful or not, it's interesting to watch, never dull, and I genuinely liked it. Imperfection is fine if you're doing your best to be interesting.

As a side note, Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays the wife in the Heath Ledger section, is behind 5:55, an album I quite like. It even mentions Saskatchewan! Yay!

Friday, October 16, 2009


24 minutes. That's how far I got into Happiness before giving up. To be fair, I didn't strictly turn it off - it's playing as I type - but I cannot sit through it. I made it all the way through Tomorrow We Move. I made it to the end of Fat Girl. Japon? I didn't even turn it off during the 90 year old sex scene. I've seen the entirety of all manner of irredeemable crap, but this defeated me after 24 minutes.

What is it about Happiness that makes me unable to bear it? It all started with the first scene. Jon Lovitz is on an awkward date with Jane Adams, gets dumped and starts crying. Then he gets angry. It's uncomfortable, unbearable, and unwatchable. More importantly, it's difficult to care about either character in the scene, since it opens at the end of their relationship and both characters haven't even been established yet. The message seems to be "Oh we're going with an ironic title here, hope you're prepared for two and a half hours of depressed people!"

And boy oh boy there are some depressed people! Joining the miserable brigade is sexually frustrated (and briefly shirtless) Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a man who has uncomfortable and improbable fantasies about a sexy neighbour. Dylan Baker, playing a pedophile. The woman who plays his wife...playing his wife. Oh, and then some old people hate each other. See, Happiness! Feel the irony, swim in it, make it into an idiotic pop song.

Why am I going to willingly subject myself to the neurosis of the various uninteresting yet incomprehensibly dire predicaments of these characters? Why on earth do I care what happens to any of them, since they're at best boring, though for the most part they're thoroughly objectionable. Maybe it redeems itself somewhere in the remaining two hours, I'm judging it on a fraction of the total running time here, but my lord if I had to set through any more miserablist twaddle I would have had to shoot myself. As I do not want to shoot myself, I couldn't do it anymore.

Some people have called the film darkly comic. How? Where is the comedy here? Am I supposed to find humor in the unrelenting miserableness of it all? Am I supposed to be compelled to find out what happens to the uninteresting and unlikable characters? Well, sorry, I just don't. I can't sit and be bludgeoned with a bat of depression. I simply don't find two hours of bleak misery worth watching.

Unfortunately, I'm saying this at 24 minutes. Can I be trusted to give an opinion on a movie I couldn't stand to watch all the way through? Yeah, the first 24 minutes could be terrible, but there's so much more movie, maybe it all turns around? I...don't care. Well, the dialog playing in the background suggests that I'm right to have walked away, but honestly, I can't imagine how it could possibly redeem itself.

I like smart, visually interesting movies. I like movies that are funny, movies that are entertaining, and movies with interesting stories. I don't like to sit and wallow in someone else's misery. Other people love stuff like this, they call it thought provoking, subversive and dangerous. Honestly? I don't see it. What I see, and hear, is like an overcast day, light drizzle, that dull gray of a dreary afternoon. It's a slightly miserable nothing. I like sunshine, I like rain, I like thunderstorms and snowstorms and anything of that nature. Why? Because something's happening. Stuff like this, there's nothing happening but dreary misery. I can't accept dreary misery. And I can't accept this movie.

You win, Happiness. May we never cross paths again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gate of Flesh

One of my favorite directors, as mentioned somewhere previously, is Seijun Suzuki. I appreciate that he did whatever he wanted with the studio's money, and made some genuinely ambitious and visually interesting movies on a shoestring budget. I also am fond of movies that make no sense in an intriguing manner, so there's also that. Then naturally I would be rather excited about Gate of Flesh showing up at my door.

Post-war Japan was apparently a bit of a hell hole, at least if this is anything to go by. Here, we have a story about a woman named Maya - Yumiko Nogawa - who falls in with a group of prostitutes. Kayo Matsuo as Omino, Satoko Kasai as Sen, and Tamiko Ishii as Oroku welcome young Maya into prostitute club, where the only rule is to not talk about prostitute club not give away the goods for free, under punishment of severe beatings. Unfortunately, one day a stranger with utterly ridiculous cheeks, cheeks so bad they almost the movies he's in because he looks like a chipmunk with the measels and it's really distracting, arrives on their doorstep, Shintaro Ibuki as portrayed by the cheeky Jo Shishido. He had cheek injections to get that look, what's wrong with him? Apparently Japanese ladies have a thing for impossibly big cheeked men, and it slowly divides the house.

At the beginning of the film, it seems almost feminist. Yeah, they're all whores, but they work for themselves, and they're doing it by exploiting the base instincts of the surrounding men. They're the ones in control in the scenes, and they seem to wield more power than anyone else. That vaguely feminist thing comes crashing down as soon as Ibuki arrives, since he immediately becomes the most powerful character by promptly beating up one of the ladies when she tries to beat him. It's an interesting slant while it lasts, however, since the movie was also designed to tie up naked ladies and whip them, in order to titillate the movie goer - or at least that is what is claimed in the special features.

Feminist or not, the film is as a whole unrelentingly grim. Everyone who shows a trace of human compassion or caring is immediately whipped, beat, shot or raped. This list includes a kindly priest getting raped by the leading lady. The message seems to be that people in post war Japan only survived by being the worst people possible, and that was the only way to survive. I wasn't there, so maybe it's true, but it's still quite dark.

Unfortunately, this features less of the visual invention that Suzuki is famous for, and it stars my least favorite actor of all time - seriously I can barely look at him and his freakish cheeks, it's like he lives in the uncanny valley. It's a fascinatingly dark movie, the perspective of a losing country immediately post war, when they're still struggling to admit defeat and rebuild. It's grim, but let's be honest Japan, you did pretty well for yourselves in the years since. Besides, if memory serves, you were kind of dicks anyway.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

It's a curious trend for acclaimed, talented, and generally fantastic foreign directors to go Hollywood. While American directors going off to work in a foreign language and country is rare, it seems that some days every foreign director who garners a little bit of acclaim will make an attempt at the American mainstream. Walter Salles, a fantastic Brazilian director, came and did Dark Water. Takeshi Kitano attempted (and failed) to break the American market with Brother. Wong Kar-Wai enlisted Norah Jones and a loose, pie-based narrative to try to bring his own style over in My Blueberry Nights. Acclaimed Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron went and did a Harry Potter film of all things - albeit one of the good ones. Of course, at least he made a good one, whereas acclaimed French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet came to do the fourth Alien sequel, something which doesn't actually make sense considering his style. I could go on, but instead I'll focus on today's "acclaimed foreign director goes abroad" film, Fahrenheit 451.

Francois Truffaut is the man behind this one, and he's perhaps most famous for being one of the leading directors in the French New Wave movement. Unlike Jean-Luc Godard, he's a bit less angry, and as a result he's arguably more accessible - though I've only seen this and The 400 Blows, so what do I know? In his attempt at English film making, he's gone with an adaptation of a book so subversive and controversial that it's required reading in many high schools.

So, perhaps you've been living in a cave, and you are unfamiliar with the book? Well, I will spell it out for you in as few words as possible. It's about a fireman named Montag, played here by Oskar Werner, in the middle of a battle to the death with his German accent. Firemen in this book start fires instead of putting them out, though what they burn is books, because books are forbidden. The logic is that ignorance is bliss, and a society of dumb but conforming people watching big TVs (which, due to changing technology, are smaller than mine) is a happy society. There's a suggestion of war in the distance - subtle in the book, extremely subtle here - but on the whole going around torching books is viewed as a way to keep things peaceful and suppress dangerous thought. Through the course of events, Montag has an intellectual awakening, spurred on by talkative neighbour Clarisse (Julie Christie, also playing his rock stupid wife Linda in a well done double role). The film and book divert in interesting ways - something that always annoyed me about the fate of Clarisse in the book is resolved in a more sentimental but better executed manner here - but the spirit remains the same.

This is a very clever movie, but the cleverness never overwhelms the content. From the opening credits, with color tinted images of television aerials (the viewers of tomorrow will have no idea what those are) with the opening credits read out rather than printed on screen. Subtle, but you don't have to read, which plays neatly into the entire message of the film. The devil is in the details, and this is filled with little jokes and hidden messages that require a bit of thought to fully understand. From Montag taking a bite of an apple in the initial raid - obvious biblical reference, but not overplayed, which is key - to the title of the books - including a special appearance by Cahiers du Cinema, which Truffaut wrote for and was the spark behind new wave movement. A great number of the books were works considered dangerous at a time, but it's such a subtle reference that I wonder if it passed some viewers by.

There's a lot of that, and I think that helps the film. It rewards repeat viewings just by having so much detail there's bound to be something that went unnoticed the first time, and none of it is overplayed. For example, technology continually stops working for Montag the more he reads, suggesting a society that is rejecting him. It's never overplayed, just set there for people to do with what they wish.

Not that all the details were perfect, the production design didn't completely work, for one. I can see what he was going for, something clean, sterile and artificial. Unfortunately, instead we get something annoyingly toy-like. The fire truck and hall belong in Busyland, not a science fiction dystopia. There's one note that does work, and that's a school which is given a very unsettling vibe by recalling images of the Hitler Youth, from the overall design to the uniforms of the children. A fantastic touch, and it makes up for the flaws in other aspects of the design.

I can't imagine someone outside of the New Wave really doing this film justice, since it plays into the movement's strengths so well. The intellectualism of Truffaut is the perfect match for that of the book, and the appreciation for literature goes hand in hand. In the final scene, with people reciting the books they have memorized, one gets a sense of the beauty of the words, and the value of literature as a whole, just from the way the characters have memorized it, and the way their recitations blend and stir together. It just makes you want to read something, and to interact with the world and culture in a meaningful way. That's one of the things good art can do.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


One of the troubles with democracy is that the losing side never seems to take it well. Take the anger directed towards the Obama administration in the US, or its predecessor, the anger directed at the Bush administration. In fact, right now, the entirety of Canadian politics is structured around the bitterness of the losing side. If Election is to be believed, even the triads (they're kinda like the mafia I guess, for a parallel more familiar to North American audiences) in Hong Kong have to deal with election problems, as the loser just doesn't want to admit they're not in power. It's like regular politics, except with machetes.

Election starts as just being about an election, between two potential chairmen of a triad. One is Lok, as portrayed by Simon Lam. His platform is based on loyalty, brotherhood, and the expansion of property. The other is Big D, by Tony Leung Ka Fai, easily the second best Tony Leung. His platform is based on a solid foundation of giving everyone lots of money. There's also a symbolic baton, which is very important in a very traditional outfit like the triad. Big D loses, so he decides to hijack the baton and start a war, leading to two separate yet equally important storylines. One is the journey of the baton, as the two opposing sides in the battle attempt to gain control and give it to the person they like best. The other is the older people in the triad trying to convince Big D to stop being so foolish and prevent the triad from being destroyed. Caught in the middle are the police, who, more than anything, just want to make sure there's not too much trouble on the streets.

The fantastic thing about the story is that director Johnnie To has created genuine tension in this story. First, there's a side to root for, since Lok is a bit less of a jerk than Big D, and he won fairly. This makes you care about what happens to the baton, and whether or not the triad can survive. Yes, it's still a criminal organization, but considering the alternative Lok is someone you want running it. Second, as Lok and Big D play their respective influences and change the minds of other triad bosses, there's a sense of complete unpredictability. Someone's side can change in the space of a phone call. Add Big D being a complete loose cannon, and you honestly don't know what's going to happen, or whether or not peace or chaos will reign. From beginning to end, it's a complete unknown what's going to happen next.

The story is tense, but it's helped along by an insistent guitar score. In essence, you know something is soon happening, even in what might appear to be a relatively banal sequence. Since anything can happen, it keeps you on your toes, and since there's payoff early and often, it never feels like the movie is lying to you. Car chases aren't high speed, and there's really only one extremely elaborate fight scene, but there's always a sense of violence lurking under the surface, a necessary component to keep the viewer curious.

The closest the film has to a weak point is the ending, which flops around not knowing when to call it a finish. It's certainly not a bad ending, and a succession of twists are all worthwhile, but it gives a sense of someone who didn't quite know how he was going to piece together the ideas he needed to express. Even the editing and cinematography get a bit haphazard at this point, but it doesn't make it bad by any means. Besides which, the final twists are worth whatever inconsistency there is.

The best thing is that it takes the mud slinging and back stabbing of normal politics and makes it literal, and that's fantastic to watch. As a demonstration of the problems of democracy, it's pretty spot on. That's not to say that democracy is a bad thing by any means, but that every time your party loses, you should just let it go and start preparing for the next election.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Raising Arizona

It can be argued that it is quite easy to make a very personal situation universal. After all, many people experience many similar situations, and the stages of life are often repeated between generations. Following that logic, can one make a completely absurd situation seem universal? Well, Raising Arizona is evidence that is possible as well.

From old Movies at Random favorites the Coen Brothers, in a relatively early example of their being totally awesome at movies, we get a simple story about a couple wanting a baby. The couple in question consists of pre-crazy Nicholas Cage as H.I., a convenience store stickup...well artist really isn't the right word, since he gets caught all the time. He falls in love with Ed, played by Holly Hunter, the police officer who is always booking him. He decides to go straight so they can get married and raise a family. The family doesn't come, but discount magnate Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) has five babies! Five! Since they figure they'll never have one of their own, H.I. and Ed decide that the best thing to do would be to steal one. Then a bunch of increasingly bizarre chases happen - including a pure genius one involving the police, dogs, and a supermarket - and we have a situation that has never actually faced anyone, but is completely universal.

Raising Arizona is all about anxiety, especially the anxiety inherent in becoming a parent for a first time. There are questions about whether or not you can get a kid, whether you can raise them when you do get one, and whether a gigantic guy with a beard and grenades will try to steal him away. Okay, that last one is more symbolic than an actual fear by many parents, but that's kind of the point. It lets you laugh at the increasingly ridiculous worries these people face, since you know that an embryonic version rests in all of us.

One day I'll talk about pre- and post-crazy Nicholas Cage, but I think we need a good post-crazy entry before we get to that point. While he's so goofy you wonder how he became a leading man, he's turns in a great performance here. H.I. needs to be a strange looking guy with a goofy voice, and if there's an actor alive who fits that description, it's Steve Buscemi. However, Nicholas Cage also fits that description and he can play a loser with the best of them.

Now, I've never been a parent, though I know people who are, but I am no stranger to anxiety. Worries can start small and escalate into a scary bounty hunter of a concern if they're allowed to persist, and it's nice to see a movie that confronts the ridiculous things resting in the subconscious head on. It's nice to see that all the worries a parent might ever experience are confronted head on in a variety of different ways. It's as though the film is saying, it's okay, it's normal to worry, if just by including anything one could be anxious about somewhere in the film. That's the beauty, no matter how ridiculous it might be, you're going to see something you've worried about represented in the film.