Saturday, May 3, 2014

Odds & Ends: Superbad, Schizopolis, & F for Fake

Superbad (2007)

Director: Greg Mottola

The only other time I had watched this was way back in 2007 in the theater. At the time, it was being hailed as an instant classic and one of the funniest films in the last decade. With those expectations, I came away a little disappointed, but thinking it was still a pretty funny flick.

For those who haven't seen it, the movie focuses on three high school senior guys, Seth (Jonah Hill), Evan (Michael Cera), and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who are nearing the end of their final year with little more than girls on the brain. When not fretting over how to get with their ladies of choice, Even and Seth try to coolly ignore the fact that they will be going to different colleges and be apart from each other for the first time.
Seth and Evan get tangled up in adult party insanity
as they try to complete their mission of getting some
alcohol to the objects of their affections (or lust).

Taking place over the course of just under a day, the tale follow the lads as they try to score some booze with a fake ID, evade cops, aggressive adult party hounds and other strange obstacles while attempting to get to a party hosted by the object of Seth's desire - Jules (Emma Stone). The three all run into various bizarre and hilarious characters and scenarios, and have their friendships tested.

The movie holds up really well. The language is, to put it mildly, rough. In fact, I remember being stricken by this the first time I watched it. I'm certainly not averse to blue language, but the torrent of pornographic filth that constantly spews out of Jonah Hill's mouth becomes almost overkill. Sure, a lot of it is really funny, but there are times when I wished it would have been ratcheted down just a tad.

What sets this movie apart from nearly all other coming-of-age high school flicks is the tone of the bromance between Seth and Evan. It actually has far more authentic tenderness than any other film of its type that I can recall, which is a hallmark of all of the Seth Rogen-and-crew movies.

I still wouldn't call it an all-time classic, but this is still a fun movie.

Schizopolis (1996)

Director: Steven Soderberg

One bizarre film. But oddly compelling, for the most part.

In what I can only describe as two parts Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and one part hybrid of the David Lynch movies Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr., Steven Soderberg went far, far off of the path he often treads with films like Traffic, Out of Sight, and Ocean's 11 (and 12 and 13). The story mostly focuses on a middle-class man who writes speeches for an L. Ron Hubbard-type faux guru, and whose personal life is an unsatisfying facsimile of "normal" life. Loosely connected to his story are those of an oddball reality TV star, a philandering dentist, and various women involved with one or more of these men.

There's a lot that's perplexing about the movie. Metalanguage, inexplicable foreign-language dubbing (without subtitles), circular narrative, and other unconventional storytelling devices kept me from ever fully settling into the movie. But then, this seems to be the point. Though the oddity became a nuisance at several moments throughout the movie, for the most part I was engaged. This is in no small part due to the humor, which is fairly steady, and served extremely dry.

There's a lot going on, and some of it seems to be an overreach for novel profundity. There's a fine line between being intellectually challenged and being simply baffled. I found myself vacillating between the two and left with a few unanswered questions, which is frustrating.

An interesting film, and one that's good for someone looking for something very offbeat. While I'll probably look up some analysis of the movie, I don't know that I'll ever watch it again.

F for Fake (1973)

*This film kicks off my newly-adopted goal of watching all of the films listed in the "1,001 Films You Must See Before You Die," as published by Cassell. 

Director: Orson Welles

In his final major directorial effort, Orson Welles created what Peter Bogdanovich called a "personal essay film." The description is fitting, as the movie defies normal classification and is unlike anything else I've seen.

In a looping, non-linear style, Welles explores the themes of artistry, fakery, "experts," and illusion. The main focus is the noted art forger known as Elmyr de Hory and his biographer, Clifford Irving. In describing these two men, it becomes clear that there is far more to explore than simply one lone "faker." There are multiple deceptions going on, and the larger question of whether authenticity even matters looms over all. Welles even includes himself in the category of "noted charlatan," citing his own legendary works in theater, radio, and film.

Elmyr de-Hory, the renowned art forger and all-around
character who sets off Welles's exploration of several larger
and intriguing topics.
Welles takes a rather playful approach to the subjects for most of the film, which keeps things from getting bogged down in pretension. This doesn't mean, though, that the grander themes are lost. Perhaps the most poignant moment is when, after exploring various fakes, the (in)famous fakers who perpetrate them and the industries built up around them, Welles turns the camera onto the grand cathedral at Chartres - a wondrous work designed by an anonymous architect. Truly, what is in a name?

Some might find Welles' demeanor a bit pompous or affected (my wife did - Orson's manner drove her out of our living room after a mere five minutes), or the tone of the movie wandering and lacking cohesion. If you can roll with it, though, it does provide a novel stimulation for the intellect.

** F for Fake marks the 509th out of the 1,179 "Movies to See Before you Die" List that I hope to work through before I start collecting social security. 670 to go. **