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How YOU doin?

How YOU doin'?

Auto Focus is decent enough.  It stars Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane (from Hogan’s Heroes), with Willem Dafoe as his creepy friend John Carpenter, and Maria Bello as his lover and then second wife.  And with Michael McKean and Ed Begley, Jr. in there, and the inspired choice of Kurt Fuller (Russell Finley from Wayne’s World) as the guy who played Klink, you know the cast is solid.  And it tells the story of Crane’s addiction to sex, so there’s that.

I just don’t understand why the movie was made.  It doesn’t particularly tell the story of Crane’s struggle with his addiction, as one might expect.  It doesn’t really tell the story of the impact his addiction had on his life or his family.  Sure, it is addressed, but not fully.  It doesn’t really tell the story of Crane’s increasingly complex relationship with Carpenter, not really.

Instead we get more: “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Here’s Crane before he found uber-success, having troubles at home (with his first wife, as played by Rita Wilson).  Then Crane embarks on Hogan’s Heroes.  Now he meets Carpenter.  Here is how Crane is introduced into the world of extramarital relations.  Then his addiction deepens.  He meets his future second wife.  Hogan’s Heroes comes to end, he struggles to find work elsewhere, and he’s still addicted to sex.  Willem Dafoe is creepy.  Crane finally, maybe decides to turn over a new leaf, and then he’s murdered, possibly by Carpenter.  And that, basically, is the whole movie.

Not to sound like an English teacher, but I never really felt like I was being told why I should care.  The rote telling of Crane’s story doesn’t really delve into the psyche of any of the characters, including (and especially) Crane.  Heck, you got Willem Dafoe as a creepy dude.  Let him be a creepy dude!  And Crane’s murder is treated as an afterthought.  Just seems like a poor decision to strip almost all emotion from Crane’s story.

Three Stars

Trailer after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

Glancing at over the weekend, I happened upon an article by Ann Hornaday, “From Indie Chic to Indie, Sheesh.”  I did a quick blogsearch, and the article elicited some interesting reactions.  One laments, “Where have the days of respectable journalism gone?”  Another respects the points, but dislikes the writing.  Some fully agree, or at least say it is “required reading“, regardless of how much you agree with her.  She also endears herself to the Golden Grouches by including all in one sentence: The Station Agent, The Savages, Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl and some movie called Old Joy, which went straight to the ol’ Netflix queue.

I wanted to highlight two paragraphs from the article (which I do recommend reading):

Call it “There Will Be Hamburger Phones”: More than 20 years after American independent cinema entered its latest Golden Age, what started as a fiercely autonomous cinematic response to Hollywood and its dominant genres has become a genre itself. And like all genres, the indie aesthetic is rife with its own versions of the hackneyed conventions, tired tropes and cliched themes that weigh down the most predictable action spectacle or by-the-numbers rom-com.

Which comes from the beginning of the piece, and from the end:

Can indies be saved? Yes, but only as long as the question is framed differently. It’s time to stop talking about budgets, “edge” and filmmakers’ come-from-behind biographies — indeed, maybe the word “indie” itself should be banished — and instead rediscover values like intelligence, emotional truth, moral heft and restraint, which will endure long after indie-chic signifiers and smug hermeticism have worn themselves out.

I may not entirely agree with Hornaday’s lament that indie movies now tend to be as derivative and formulaic as the movies against which they originally rebelled.  I watch a hundred baseball games year after year, and I still enjoy it, so I don’t really see a reason why the “Little Miss Juno Dynamite” (in Hornaday’s words) strain of movie should go away.  Except for Napoleon Dynamite, of course, since it is an atrocious film.

And yes, I think it is hard to argue against what Hornaday is rooting for: “something that feels compelling and new.”  In fact, who would?  It sounds to me that she really has a problem with nomenclature more than anything else.  There’s a rapidly forming distinction between “independent” and “indie”.  To be sure, “independent” has lost much of its meaning.  Because what it an independent film, any more?  But Hornaday seems to be arguing that “indie” is now a genre (does that mean the next step is a crappy AFI Top 50 Indie Movies list?) where Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and Napoleon Dynamite are indie, but The Station Agent and The Savages are not?

Part of the problem is that, as Hornaday puts it, “American independent films used to be the stuff of the cognoscenti, denizens of film festivals and art house.”  It used to be cool to like independent films, you see, and now everyone has seen these films.  Where’s the fun in that?!  For some, being a movie buff is always going to be about seeing those movie other people don’t know about or haven’t been able to access.  But thanks to a combination of things like the Internet, Netflix/Blockbuster, and the changing nature of the Oscar race, independent films have permeated our consciousness.

Which isn’t a problem, in my book, it just highlights the need for an improved classification system.  “Independent” is fast approaching meaninglessness, and Hornaday illustrates the problem with “indie” referring to films as diverse as those of Sayles, Lynch, Aronofsky, and Tarantino.  And I don’t have the answer.  Maybe it is out there, and I haven’t seen it.  Or maybe this is a task for film schools grads.  Part of the difficulty may lie in the fact that the sense of newness in films like Lars and the Real Girl or The Station Agent suggests there’s no category in which they could fall.  Hornaday suggests “indie chic” and “old-school classicism”, but I’m not quite sure that works.

In any case, I do suggest reading the article.  I don’t agree with all of the logic, conclusions, or movie preferences, but I agree with some.  And it made me think, which is probably most important of all.

October 2008
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