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By Wednesday, it will probably all be over. The pundits will be hoarse and the electorate sore and scarred. Eight whole months before the rest of the so-called democracy can actually have their say in who becomes President, Super Tuesday will set a stage that few faltering campaigns can recover from. In a contest that’s seen both fields narrowed down to two questionable contenders, the votes cast this day will determine everything - momentum, money, endorsements, delegates, and perhaps most importantly, public perception. If you’re Mitt Romney, alleged Conservative savior, and you loose to many of those Red State reactionaries, no amount of flip flopping will revive your reverse Reaganism. And for Hillary Clinton, it’s time to put that frontrunner fallacy to the test. If Obama can keep in lockstep, their showdown may have to be solved on the convention floor. It’s all part of the process. It’s all part of politics. 

Ahh… politics. That creator of strange bedfellows. That seducer of the honest and the well intentioned. That corrupt bastion of bad policies, faulty execution, and spin doctored excuses for both. Every couple of years it seems the representative form of our government gets the grand idea that people actually believe that their voice counts, and so they set about pandering—sorry, CAMPAIGNING—to bring the citizenry to the issues that the lobbyists find most important. Outrage is amplified over insignificant social dicta while truth is tempered by ideological based perspective. It’s all in service of a sinister cabal in which power cannibalizes and feeds itself, a non-stop frenzy of false pride and implied dominance. In the end, the result is a malfeasant machine that manufactures its own magnitude and perpetually pleases only those who can provide its omnivorous fetid fuel.

But wait, you don’t believe that one man/one vote is a lost cause? You think that a sincere and straightforward candidate can rise up out of the glad-handing quagmire that is this onerous organism and avoid the behind the scenes manipulation of his or her party’s protectorate to actually serve their constituency? Well, Mr. and Mrs. America, you need a quick lesson in the realities of the Republic, and there’s no better place to start than with the many movies made on the subject. Indeed, film has, over the decades, found many ways to highlight the hypocrisy and expose the evil boiling just below the surface of the scandal-plagued political process. No sour subject has avoided the cinematic vox populi, from nation altering atrocities like Watergate and the JFK assassination to the standard stratagem of dirty tricks and the always scandalizing subject of sex.

Perhaps the best example of such an anti-politico polemic is 1972’s Year of the Yahoo. What? What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of this film? Perhaps you were expecting All the President’s Men? Primary Colors? The Manchurian Candidate? Well, if you took a smattering of Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, mixed in a smidgen of standard exploitation, and sprinkled the entire enterprise with a heaping helping of hominy and hambone, you’d have Herschell Gordon Lewis’ long lost masterpiece of down home despotism and the media’s unpardonable ability to influence events. With a narrative fresh out of today’s headlines and a tone as cynical as a grad student’s weblog, Lewis lifts the lid off the muckraking ridiculousness that is our political process, and even provides a few toe-tapping musical PSAs along the way.

Our story begins when the incredibly liberal and virtually unbeatable Senator Burwell comes up for re-election. Angry over his left-leaning ideals, the sitting President of the United States wants Burwell defeated. He even handpicks his own rube for the job: strumming and grinning goober Hank Jackson, famous in both fields of music: country and western. Sending a triumvirate of trained pollsters and media men into the bumpkin’s backwoods locale, the Corruptor in Chief hopes to help the honky-tonk hick win more than his fair share of the illiterate Appalachian vote. But the glad-handing Governor and his backside smooching sidekick think this corn pone crooner ain’t got a chance in Chattanooga of success. They fail to take his candidacy seriously, and spend most of their days giggling over the lopsided poll numbers.

It’s not long, however, before a sleazy, slick ad campaign and a constant playlist of public pandering, philosophically fascist songs has Hank labeled a wholesome homeboy by the neo-conservative race baiters within his constituency. His TV appearances, complete with some finger snappin’, demographically accurate musical numbers, increase his image of earnestness and elect-ability. Indeed, it looks like Jackson will win the gerrymander, even when a rent strike divides his bluegrass bandwagon and unsettles his perfectly polished coalition. As Hank continues to tow the prejudiced party line, his hen pecker of a girlfriend sides with the agitators. It takes dozens of underhanded shenanigans, a sexual assault and a clear case of conscience—not to mention a lonesome ballad or two—to help Hank regain his integrity and to determine, once and for all, if it’s really The Year of the Yahoo.

Indeed, Yahoo is a real rarity amongst supposed skin and sin exploitation films, especially the one’s made by Mr. Blood Feast himself. Instead of some sleazy exposé in which naughtiness and nudity are the only salient selling points, what we have here is a really great movie with an incredibly well written script, a narrative that navigates the truths about government in a way most mainstream efforts would likely avoid. Existing outside the confines of an oppressive studio system, capable of saying anything and everything he wants, screenwriter Allen Kahn creates an astute, perceptive dissection of the entire cynical candidacy process. It’s a plot that demonstrates how gaining elected office in the United States is not a matter of ethics or integrity but merely showmanship and selfless pandering to the public. Measuring up favorably against directorial heavyweights like Mike Nichols and Elia Kazan, Lewis’ political potboiler about a podunk country singer candidate being mass marketed to his population of peons feels as new and astute now as when it was made.

Unfortunately, a hundred image consultants doing soundbite surgery at a suicidal rate would have a hard time getting the registered voter hyped about Claude King. Yes, he can carry a tune, but he can’t carry a movie. His “wish I was George Jones” persona filled with ‘golly-gees’ and hair cream just can’t seem to slink beyond the initial line reading level. He’s like any other non-actor trying to put on the performance. His halting, half-baked believability leeches every available drop of drama out of his dilemma.  Still, his “h-yuck yuck” yokelism works wonderfully within the movie. He comes across as a complete innocent made a meaningful man of the people. Actually, about the worst thing you can say about this production is that its low budget, non-professional cast aspects tend to show through more than usual. Funny how good writing will do that. Still, if you never thought that you’d experience high-class social consciousness and shrewd political satire in a surreal pseudo-grindhouse goof, then step right up and cast your ballot for The Year of the Yahoo. It’s no more ridiculous than the arrogant stumping that’s passing itself off as self-determination this Super Tuesday cycle.

It was awful. The game, up until the fourth quarter, was a dog ugly low scoring defensive battle, as patience trying as the big show ever gets. Both teams looked skittish and out of their element, with New York finally finding the fire late enough to pull out a victory. Even Fox’s announcing team (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) seemed unable to work up the energy to actually care. Their last minute accolades sounded hollow and rote. But maybe the worst element of the 42nd Super Bowl telecast this year was the horrendous commercials. There was nothing memorable or remotely clever. Controversy gave over to safe as milk shilling, and the closest thing to innovation came from Coke, who had a pair of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons (Stewie Griffin and Underdog) fighting over an inflated bottle of the famed soda.

So Hollywood can’t be happy. Last year, in a bid to ignore the demographic potential of the NFL’s premiere event, the studios only bought four major ads - and the films they represented (Wild Hogs, Meet the Robinsons, Hannibal Rising, and Pride) were hardly the cream of the crop. This year, that number more than doubled. If you count the two brief trailers that played prior to kick-off and the one obvious tie-in with Bud Lite, there were 11 sneak peeks (the four hours of pre-game hype were not taken into consideration). By contrast, Fox advertised its own network fare 43 times, pimping everything from the FX cable channel to The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Still, Tinsel Town tried to put on its game face during this writer’s strike hobbled awards season, and for the most part, it looked like they we playing their practice squad. In fact, aside from one outright surprise, the movies featured were obvious and the previews themselves uninspired.

First up was the underperforming one two punch of Vantage Point and Drillbit Taylor. The former is a supposed thriller where eight people witness the assassination of the President. We then get a hyper-Rashomon rehash of what supposedly happened. Of course, the trailer gives away one of the movie’s main secrets (apparently, the Commander in Chief did not die) and what initially looked like an actioner comes back feeling like a crackpot conspiracy theory retread. Still, it has more potential than the freaks and geeks groaner Taylor. Owen Wilson, looking incredibly tired, plays bodyguard to a bunch of socially awkward dorks. The humor is forced and totally focused on putting nerds in uncomfortable athletic positions and watching them fail. Hardee-har-har-har.

Once the game began, the First Quarter found limited offense and even less film news. Not a single ad for a Hollywood production aired during the initial hour-plus of the Super Bowl. When a trailer finally did arrive it was for something called Wanted. Directed by Russian genre guide Timur Bekmanbetov (of Night/Day/Twilight Watch fame) it looks like a combination of The Matrix and Shoot ‘Em Up. While the 30 second spot offers very little of the plot - lots of big bang money shots, but little else - we do get to see Angelina Jolie doing her best non-VR Trinity, and Morgan Freeman packing heat. The curving bullet bit may be the visual selling point at this juncture, but there needs to be more information on the skilled assassin storyline before a verdict can truly be rendered.

A film we’ve heard a great deal about already, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, finally got a full blown F/X ad, and the results were…mixed. The shots of our hero in flight were fleeting, and Robert Downey Jr. did very little except look concerned and spout blockbuster buzzspeak. The closing moments when our metal marvel takes a pot shot at a tank stands as a memorable image. Still, with nearly three more months left before the film finally bows, the marketers are going to have to do more than offer up small snippets of CGI if anyone besides comic fans are going to get excited. And leave it to the NFL to leech all the potential fun out of George Clooney’s period football comedy Leathernecks by trying to find an appropriate league link to the clearly fictional flick. The historical approach was hackneyed and somewhat crude.

Disney dropped the last trailer before halftime, and oddly enough, it was the edited version of the longer in theaters The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian ad. If you needed further proof that the House of Mouse and Walden Entertainment are positioning this faux franchise to be a less D&D oriented version of The Lord of the Rings, the bombastic, attempted epic scope of the 30 second piece is all the evidence you need. Between huge water beings, ethereal witches, roaring lions, and lots of stand-offish swordplay, we have the kind of tamed down Tolkien that everyone can enjoy. With the success of the first film, the sequel was inevitable. How successful the latest installment is will be based solely on how well Uncle Walt can sell the spectacle. So far, they’re succeeding.

Once Tom Petty finished running through songs that he popularized over a decade (or more) ago during a decent if neo-nostalgic halftime show, the game returned - and so did the trailers. Semi-Pro, the latest Will Ferrell hard-R comedy delivered a 15 second clip that highlighted the more physical side of the film’s humor. Dressed in his ill-fitting basketball uniform and massive red afro, we got a surreal stunt sequence. It was the kind of physical comedy bit that continues to give post-modern slapstick a bad name. Better was the Fourth Quarter hook up with beer maker Budweiser. Still decked out in his iconic gear, Ferrell ran through a series of smutty entendres that were far funnier than anything offered the first time around.

Pixar picked up the pace, if only a little, by dragging out Toy Story stars Woody and Buzz for a commentary like commercial for the predestined Summer smash, WALL-E.  As the recognizable voice of Tom Hanks explained a bit about the premise, our cute little robot does battle with a vacuum cleaner. Nothing new or novel here, especially not the title character’s occasional mechanical Macaulay Culkin mugging for the camera. It’s not that WALL-E is unappealing. It’s just that, so far, Pixar seems to be selling the film based on its name and reputation alone, and little else. At this point in their production history, they may have earned that right. But for anyone curious as to what the film is actually about, these initial trailers are incredibly tight-lipped.

A movie that should keep its big, loud, obnoxious mouth shut is Jumper. Hayden Christiansen, hoping to prove there is career legitimacy after ruining the Star Wars saga, plays a variation of his personality-less drone as a guy with a talent for teleportation. Samuel L. Jackson is the bleached blond badass who’s out to kill him. Here’s praying he succeeds. While the preview gives far more play to director Doug Liman (of The Bourne Identity) than anything else, another background name should make film fans wary. David S. Goyer wrote the script with help from Simon Kinberg (xXx: State of the Union) and Jim Uhls (Fight Club). While his collaborators have some intriguing credits, our main screenwriter has proven to be a very uneven scribe.

That just leaves the last trailer, a real shocker for something called You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. It’s Adam Sandler’s latest, and about as far from the appalling I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry as a standard Stud Boy comedy can get. It’s back to the old familiar formula that made the ex-SNLer a superstar - freaky foreign accent, weird premise (Israeli Secret Serviceman fakes his death only to reemerge as a NYC hairdresser) and lots of certifiably stupid sight gags. It may be the fact that few outside the industry knew this was in the pipes, or Sandler’s surreal appearance and voice, but this spot seemed very bizarre - and very funny. Of course, the film could be a real loser, but at this point, the preview is suggesting otherwise.

And then, that was it. The Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, Eli got some MVP swag to place on the mantle next to Peyton’s, the Patriots took to the tunnel, dejected and somewhere, the still smug old men who once called themselves the ‘72 Miami Dolphins uncorked the champagne and celebrated another undefeated team’s competitive comeuppance. From a pure sports history perspective, this Super Bowl will probably go down as one of the lamest excuses for athletic prowess that ended up producing the biggest single story (18-0 team finally loses) of the new millennium. Sadly, the Madison Avenue minds responsible for the commercials came up incredibly short. Even Hollywood failed to hold up its end.

They say that comedy isn’t pretty. Whoever coined that phrase (it may have been Steve Martin) never saw a Giuseppe Andrews’ film. If they did, they’d modify the phrase to state comedy shouldn’t be pretty. In a world long past the clipped and clever wit of a British drawing room farce, or beyond a manic Marx Brothers satire, humor has found a need to be dirty. Where once it was calm and collected, it now hankers to be down and disgusting. While it shouldn’t venture totally into the gangrenous gross out trap that so many filmmakers fall into, it should know when to skim the cesspool and pick out the chunks, so to speak. In his latest RV based magnum opus, Andrews employs such a sound strategy. Half the time, Orzo finds its funny business in its personalities. The rest of the time it’s pure raunch.

Toggle Switch is a little person living in a world of her own design. Deadly with pets, and equally unhinged with her family, she spends her days watching exercise videos and her nights in pursuit of various bizarre extracurricular activities. Her daughter is married to an ex-con, a sex toy bandit with an insatiable urge to steal dildos and bury them in the back yard. He has a hard time balancing a life of freedom. He is constantly reminded of the cellmate who showed him a better way of being. Along the way, we meet a bearded 12 year old, a closet junkie, and the skinniest fitness guru in the entire self-help universe, all getting by on chutzpah, camaraderie, and a healthy dose of vagina-based show tunes.

Orzo is by far the funniest thing Giuseppe Andrews has ever done. It’s a comedy plain and simple, a character-based humoresque that proves the actor’s mantle as both a writer and a wit. Equaling the high school toilet trappings of Judd Apatow while never venturing too far from his masterful mobile home roots, this amazing mini-epic may just top everything he’s done in the past. While other efforts in the Andrews canon have relied on occasional gimmickry and mannered moviemaking to get by (not that there is anything wrong with such a stylized approach - especially in his hands), Orzo is the first time that pure individual idiosyncrasy rules the narrative. There’s no big picture pontification (as in Garbanzo Gas) or straight ahead scatology (Period Piece). Instead, this is a day in the life dowsed in demented, frequently scatological, satisfaction.

Like Tyree and Bill Nolan before, Andrews seems to have found a new muse in undersized actress Karen Bo Baron. As Toggle Switch, her line readings and emotional cues are printed on the page performance oriented. There are even moments when her lack of skill is showcased to dazzling (if difficult) effect. But that’s the beauty of a film like Orzo. Andrews lets people be themselves, whether it’s old and rickety, young and dumb, or skilled and streetwise. It’s clear that he finds something mesmerizing in Baron’s demeanor, and we find ourselves falling under her spell as well. Other regulars, including Ed, Walter Patterson, and Marybeth Spychalski, provide ample support for this novice’s rising stardom. As in all of Andrews’ work, they stand as the backbone for the big gun’s fire power. 

Even our whisper thin hero gets into the act, playing the lamest personal trainer since Richard Simmons discovered short shorts. Decked out in a well-enhanced banana sling, and gyrating for his female clients, Andrews delivers some of the biggest laughs in the film during a gangly, gyrating strip show. Similarly, the brilliant Vietnam Ron plays the prisoner who left a big impression on Toggle Switch’s son-in-law. As he does with every acting turn, he takes very little and magically transforms it into a work of living art. Indeed, the best way to describe Orzo and any other Andrews’ film is as a breathing, writhing work of aesthetic genius. Very few filmmakers, no matter their Tinsel Town categorization, can claim that.

Yet perhaps the most intriguing part of this film is the undeniable growth Andrews continues to show. Where before, his efforts seemed tied to a true outsider idea of cinema, a desire to rewrite the language of the medium to fit his own idea of expression, now, he is incorporating more mainstream fundamentals, moving away from the reading-only strategies of something like Trailer Town and into more character based interaction. The scenes between Toggle Switch and her family crackle with a kind of interconnectivity that we haven’t really experiences before in an Andrews work. Where previously the players on screen seemed to be talking AT each other, there is a newfound sense of them talking to each other - and saying some very significant things.

In addition, Andrews is using the camera more, avoiding the point and shoot scenarios that have many complaining about his lack of craft. There is still a great deal of POV perspective being used, a way of getting the audience directly involved in the action. One of the many joys a viewer has when watching a film like Orzo is the notion of being one of the party, a person actually participating in the adventures playing out. Along with the new desire to incorporate delightfully dumb F/X into the narrative - we get a raven attack complete with light saber, and a BMX bike jump, all done via hilarious optical processes – Andrews is clearly changing.

When all is said and done, it’s the laughs that linger long after Orzo draws to a close. Rib tickling doesn’t get more ridiculous than this, a combination of factors guaranteed to get you giggling. By using various made-up words, clear interpersonal dynamics, and an attention to the way human beings interact that underscores Andrews’ understanding of people. Even if someone failed to see the specialness present in what this amazing filmmaker creates as part of the artform’s elements, his ability to turn the regular into something regal, to find the inherent grace and beauty in the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and the different remains this director’s undeniable gift. While it’s true that very little of the physical world exists in Andrews’ unusual universe, he does reflect the kind of fringe dwelling dominion were magic happens. And Orzo is enchanted indeed.

It’s the lost ones that always seem to find each other, star crossed or not, planned or accidental. To them, life is an exploration made more manageable by like associations, similar philosophies, and a belief in liberation as both a blessing and a curse. Sex is also a catalyst, binding indifference to affection and making both as addictive as smack. And when reality comes calling, when the truth of the 9 to 5, dollars and cents social structure demands some ritualistic sacrifice, these inseparables manage to dodge the bullets and keep on running. Baby Shoes and Alex are such a couple. She sells her underwear to perverts on the Internet. He plays protector, and when the time is right, green-eyed zelophile. Together they form a union more perfect than that of classical paramours. It’s also clear that they’re barely hanging on.

In his absolutely stunning and undeniably brilliant short film Alex and Her Arse Truck, UK filmmaker Sean Conway creates the kind of character sketch that has you sitting back, slack jawed, in satisfied contemplation. It’s a movie that sticks with you long after the final image has faded away. Similar in style to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, but far more fierce in its unconventional flair, this is a book come bounding to life, a novel’s worth of detail and depth in 15 far too brief minutes. The main narrative is easy to understand - Alex is planning on taking a bath, and her man plans on watching. Along the way we meet a geek burglar, a well-endowed swimmer, two larded drug dealing lesbians, and a pub filled with reprobate raffling off our heroine’s soiled knickers. While there are hints of other stories in all these recognizable references Conway’s work has the overall effect of being wholly original and wildly inventive.

Like his American counterpart, trailer park Pasolini Giuseppe Andrews (the indie genius contributed two songs to the soundtrack here), Conway is interested in life the way it’s really lived - not the sugar coated, candy colored version of existence fed to us via television and advertising. There is a razor sharp authenticity here, an eccentricity meshed with the undeniable truth that easily takes one’s breath away. His actors really help sell the situation. As Baby Shoes, Danny Young is dynamic, looking like a slightly less smug Colin Farrell. He brings a real warmth to his jealousy-torn role, and his voice over narration is loaded with story enhancing emotion. Similarly, Gina Blondell’s Alex is the flawless personification of everything Conway wants to convey. She’s sexy, stupid, alluring, ambiguous, and ever so slightly out of reach. Even her walk screams something significant. In a setup that mandates a ying to a partner’s yan, Young and Blondell make a wonderful - and better yet, believable - pair.

Conway is also a true star here, a future filmmaking giant just waiting to have his rock solid aesthetic appreciated by the masses. Thanks to the lovely photography by Lol Crowley and the director’s attention to detail, we find ourselves lost in this carnival like collection of fringe dwellers. Conway also has a satisfying habit of being overly aggressive with his cues. At any given moment, the movie feels like it’s getting away from us, ready to rush forward faster than we are willing to accept. Many times, a scooter riding Young will simply take off out of frame, leaving us behind to contemplate what the emergency is. Clearly, like everything else in this manchild’s frame of reference, the day’s too short to simply sit back and appreciate the details. If you don’t hurry, conservatives and conformity will catch up with you.

There are other layers to Alex and her Arse Truck that help make this 15 minute masterwork feel far more fleshed out and realized. Race becomes a subversive sexual subject, as does overweight lesbian congress. We get surreal, enigmatic images of a swimming man covered in Band-Aids and a cheerleading group practicing in a darkened parking lot. The musical score does a great job of supplementing the circumstances, amplifying the out of control atmosphere and accenting the characters. As unheralded auteurs go, Sean Conway will definitely be a name to watch in the future. If there is any justice in an artform landscape littered with lame journeyman hacks, his will be a creative spark recognized and revered. Alex and her Arse Truck is all the proof anyone needs.

When you first hear the storyline for Julian Schnabel’s brilliant new French language biopic, some cinematic formulas immediately come to mind: youthful editor of a Parisian magazine, struck down in his prime by a medical condition that leaves him paralyzed (or better yet, “locked in”); only able to communicate through the blinking of his left eye, he overcomes adversity and lives to write a tell-all tome about his life ‘submerged’ in a quasi-catatonic state. Indeed, there’s a dour, disease-of-the-week feel to the description, an inevitable cliché of “conquering hardship” that makes any attempt at art seem specious at best. And yet The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is just that - a sensational cinematic canvas created by a man who understands the inherent beauty in form, function, and now filmmaking.

Schnabel, a painter as well as director, has always gravitated toward stories about the creative. His first film, Basquiat, focused on the enigmatic New York graffiti artist, while Before Night Falls found Javier Bardem channeling Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. Diving Bell is inspired by the book of the same name, a volume written by former journalist and Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby detailing his mental and medical travails after suffering a cerebrovascular incident (read: stroke) that left him literally unable to move. Using a unique visual approach to telling the story, and getting deeper inside a man and his illness than previous films of this nature, Schnabel shows that perception is just as important as process. While most narrative would focus on the day to day hurdles of being hospitalized, Diving Bell goes under and over, between and around said situation.

This is a film that wants its audience to really get the feel of Bauby’s plight - at least initially. For the first 30 minutes, Schnabel employs a shaky, marginally focused first person POV, letting us see what our patient sees, and letting us listen to the running commentary in his head. One of the most devastating things that happened to Bauby was the loss of physical acumen coupled with the retention of all his mental faculties. There was still a vital, intelligent, and complicated man inside the motionless system of organs and secretions, someone who truly ate up life and all its passions. But Bauby was no saint, and Schnabel is wise to keep him multifaceted. Thanks to flashbacks used as internal starting gates for our story, we see a womanizing cheat, a mediocre father, an absentee son, and a belligerent boss. It’s all important to Diving Bell‘s overall power. Without such a personality, Bauby would be another valiant hero in a hospital gown.

But this is not what Schnabel is after. Like a celluloid illustration of the old phrase “life’s what you make it”, The Diving Bell and Butterfly tries to argue that physical limits do not mean the end of all existence. While it seems like a simple enough statement, the two examples we see make a very strong, very substantive case. Bauby’s aging father, played with exceptional grace and gravitas by Max Von Sydow, has gotten to the point where he can no longer easily maneuver about his home. He complains of the corporeal restrictions, of how age and his failing limbs have condemned him to only a small percentage of his previous mobility. Yet the minute he learns of his son’s horrible fate, the self-pity he felt switches to love - love for what he has, love for his child’s plight, love that he has a chance to talk to him one last time. It’s a devastating moment in the movie, an epiphany which guides us through the rest of the revelations.

Most of the narrative is taken up with Bauby learning the ropes of his new reality. We get painstaking sequences where nurses and speech therapists work with him to establish the alphabet/blink system he uses to communicate. Schnabel is good about not overplaying this material. It could grow tedious very easily. But thanks to the concept of communication intrinsic in the exchanges (we can hear what Bauby is thinking - the staff cannot) and the misunderstandings that result, there is significant suspense here. Yet this is not just a film “locked in” to a Who’s Life Is It Anyway? directive. Thanks to some gorgeous fantasy sequences (most revolving around the title imagery) and a near flawless flair for his compositions, Schnabel transcends the traps innate in such a story.

Equally important is the acting, and French star Mathieu Amalric is terrific as Bauby. Compelling both in and out of his condition, we get a real sense of humanity hindered. During the flashbacks, Amalric is all swagger and strength. He comes across as a man of determination, even when faced with situations that tend to undermine his machismo. The love story side of Diving Bell is probably the most underdeveloped, and that’s perhaps the fault of the source material. We learn of a girlfriend, someone so selfish that she can’t bear to see her man in such a helpless state. Her phone conversation with Bauby is so demoralizing, so dark in its intentions and significance that we can’t quite fathom how this couple ever got along outside of bed.

Yet the real star here is Schnabel. He takes great risks, from the opening gimmickry to the last act foreshadowing of his character’s fate. There are hints throughout that Bauby will never recover (we get a few doctors proclaiming breakthroughs, and therapy does have him responding, if only in incremental amounts), and by this time in the film’s theatrical run, a quick glimpse at IMDb or any other online information source will give away the ending. But this is not the saddest way the story could end. There is a sense of release in the way Schnabel sets up the finale, a way of proving that one last act of expression is all a person needs in this world. He or she just has to hope that someone is around to take down their words and share them with the rest of the world.

As awards season winds down and the usual suspects walk away with various symbolic statuettes, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly seems destined to be an amiable afterthought, a well respected work that ends up seated second behind more popular (or populist) choices. Yet this is the kind of movie that will endure, that will reconfigure the way such subject matter is dealt with, as well as rewriting the rules on how to successfully visualize the plight of people physically restrained but mentally strong. As with all art, it is difficult and demanding, requiring patience, attention, and the shedding of unimportant preconceptions. Julian Schnabel understands this all too well. Perhaps that’s why everything he tries in this film succeeds. Perhaps this is why The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is such an inspiration experience. 

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