Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Director's Report Card: David O. Russell (1999-2004)

3. Three Kings
If nothing else, “Three Kings” shows David O’Russell at his peak as a stylist. The film is shot in way that’s halfway between MTV and the art house. While the slow-motion explosions and scenes of gun play are action movie 101, the swirling skies and internal body parts aren’t exactly something you see all the time. On a purely visual level, it’s O’Russell’s most impressive film. It’s pure eye-candy if nothing else.

The movie is, in itself, Not Your Typical War Story. The First Gulf War is still an under-explored piece of history in our country, as far as cinema goes. The lack of action seen during the war seems to be a reoccurring concepts in these movies. The beginning of the movie is real promising. Our ragtag team of heroes, all perfectly normal dudes with shitty day jobs, head off not to save the day or rescue anybody, but for gold. It’s a selfish, immoral motivation and very refreshing. If the characters had remained like that throughout the entirety of the story, I’d have a more positive reaction.

But, no, within thirty or so minutes they wind up defending a group of captured Iraqi rebels and my interests went way down. The heroes decide to be all honorable and stuff and do the right thing. Soon, the story gets wrapped up in political stuff and big action parts. While the directorial zest keeps things spicy, the story is strictly hoo-hum from here on in.

Not to say the movie totally looses me at this point. The cast is a winner, if nothing else. George Clooney, still primarily known at this point as that handsome doctor on “ER,” really distinguish himself as an actor with parts like this. The character plays up his roguish, cynical aspect to good effect. Spike Jonze is highly amusing as the redneck private that would probably come off as annoying in a lesser movie. The same goes for Jamie Kennedy’s role. Mark Whalberg brings in a balanced, thoughtful performance and his subplot proves to be the juiciest part of the later second part of the flick. All of the torture is handled dynamically (and comes off rather eerie these days) and the philosophical conversation he has with his interrogator makes for intriguing material.

The movie has been sold as a dark comedy. The subplot involving the reporter lost in the desert is the primary source of humor, in addition to American pop culture stuff cropping up unexpectedly. (Seeing high-end luxury cars driving around the desert sure is unexpected, if nothing else.) So, “Three Kings” probably could’ve kick a whole lot more ass then it does, but it’s still a daring, exciting film. [Grade: B]

4. I Heart Huckabees
The concept of an existential comedy is one that is bound to cause a certain amount of “Huh?”-ing among the audiences, but I totally dug it. First off, the movie is hilarious. The story moves in a hundred different directions at its own bent pace but, within in the context of the film, it really works. Russell’s direction is on the same wavelength as he allows himself to go off into the deep end with many of the images presented within. There are so many hilarious scenarios here that it’s hard to narrow them down.

Russell has assembled an excellent cast, as the material requires a very talent assortment of actors if it is to work at all. Everyone gets their fair share of the hilarity, from wacky-everyman Jason Schwartzman to the continuously surprising Mark Whalberg.

Best of all, the movie does manage to actually get something out of it. There is truly some interesting existential philosophy presented. It’s not for everybody but those with a flavor for the lucidly loopy and the philosophic are bound to have a field day. [Grade: A-]

Yep, I skipped the short films. Because I'm lazy.

Apparently, Russell is a crazed, childish, control-freak of a director and you can find some real horror stories about that. But who cares, right? I don't have to put up with him. And, heck, he makes some pretty amusing movies.

Right now, Russell has two movies in post-production. "Nailed," the long in development Jessica-Biel-gets-a-nail-in-the-head political satire, is finally close to completion. More likely to come out first is "The Fighter," an Oscar-friendly sounding movie about Irish boxers in the 1980s with Mark Whalberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams. Out of those two projects, it's probably not hard to figure out which of those I'm more looking forward too. Either way, I'll see both of them, because of my crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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