Smile Politely

An ample quantity of films and shows to rent

New Releases From the Box


I’m saving the best for last here, so you can assume (and in fact, I’m telling you) that this is the worst. Zack Snyder’s follow-up to 300 stays as faithful to the best superhero comic ever written as it can while still retaining virtually none of the book’s brilliant but deadly serious self-consciousness. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s 1985 work is a post-modern masterpiece about the atomic age, American imperialism, and, that most important of topics, superhero comics. Snyder reproduces the look of the comics accurately, but is too excited about the costumes, the violence, and the sex to get to what lies behind Moore’s and Gibbons’s very “graphic” novel. Going overboard on fetishism and style — and including some obnoxiously misplaced scenes set to popular music — Snyder comes close to completely butchering the Hugo Award-winning comic. The result is a sloppy film with an unintentionally obscure plot that’s sure to confuse anyone who hasn’t read the book. Moreover, despite Snyder’s “best” efforts to liven up the admittedly slow-paced 12-book narrative, the film is dull as hell.

The Mighty Boosh: Season One
The surrealist British comedy sketch show is on Region 1 finally, thanks to cult demand. You may or may not be familiar with Old Gregg, the skit that became a minor internet sensation that helped spread the word about the Mighty Boosh onto this side of the Atlantic. This sketch group isn’t for everyone, and I must admit, I am one of the ones whom, most of the time, it is not for. Occasional moments of brilliance don’t make up for an extreme lack of consistency, but then again, I’ve never watched the show stoned …

Robot Chicken Star Wars Episode II
Speaking of comedy shows aided by recreational drug use, here’s an inconsistent American sketch show featuring animated action figures. Most episodes of Robot Chicken don’t do it for me, but the Star Wars parodies are clever and loving send-ups of everyone’s second-favorite sci-fi franchise (we all like Star Trek better now, right?). Pointing out gaps in the plot and pondering the personal lives of larger-than-life characters like Darth Vader and Boba Fett, these sketches are perfect for viewers with a good degree of familiarity with the films.

Advertised as “from the director of Nightmare Before Christmas” because they wanted you believe that Tim Burton had something to do with it, this animated adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel is surprisingly only the second-best animated American feature of the year, now that Up has blindsided us by being brilliant. Still, this imaginative and often creepy film about a young girl who discovers a portal to another world in her new house (it’s not Narnia) should be a contender for Best Animated Film at the Oscars next year. It was released in 3-D and the DVD comes with some paper 3-D glasses, but the 3-D adds very little. It’s better to watch the 2-D side of the disc, so you can appreciate the beauty of this film without the distorting effects of the colored glasses.

This American Life: Season 2
This disc has been available exclusively through Borders for several months, but now you can get it from any old Tom, Dick, or Best Buy selling DVDs. Television has been described before as “radio with heads,” but interestingly, this TV-version of my favorite radio show relies on image and montage more than you might expect. The highlight of the season is the episode narrated by a young man who normally communicates through a computer voice. For his voiceover, however, the This American Life producers were able to recruit the talents of his favorite actor, Johnny Depp. As is This American Life‘s M.O., these essay-documentary television episodes alternate easily between amusing and touching, capturing in their aesthetic and their stories an essential humanity common to all of their disparate subjects.

Made in U.S.A/2
or 3 Things I Know About Her
By the end of 1966, Jean-Luc Godard had been in the filmmaking business for only about six years, but had already directed 12 features and countless short films. His trademarks are unmistakable, but his subjects varied from the political and hyper-political to the so-called “movie-movies” — films so loose and referential they make Tarantino look like a pop culture novice. After this year, Godard would increasingly turn toward the former and more or less abandon the latter, his love of American film and culture waning as Vietnam escalated. In Made in U.S.A. we hear Godard’s voice on a tape recorder (whose place in the film is, like so many other objects and scenes, unclear) reporting that there are those who insist that an absolutely anti-American stance is essential for the survival of the French Left; it is clear that Godard is turning this concept over in his head throughout this period.

Moving away from his lifelong love of U.S. cinema, Godard consciously attacks it in Made in U.S.A. while still essentially paying homage to American forms: the “plot,” if it can be said to exist, is clearly lifted from the film noir, and the film is dedicated to Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller, hardboiled noir directors whom Godard admired. Still, as cardboard cutouts of American cowboys wander in front of artificial sets with “Walt Disney” etched in huge purple letters, it is clear that Godard is in the process of rejecting American culture and American forms. Narrative logic is missing completely, partly as a knowing wink toward inscrutable detective thrillers like The Big Sleep, but more importantly as Godard’s rejection of Hollywood editing techniques and their received meanings. It is no wonder that Anna Karina’s detective character, in the middle of the film, wanders into a debate between a bartender and his patron about semiotics: “The bartender is in the pocket of the pencil’s jacket,” the patron quips when the bartender defends the position that sentences give words meaning.

2 or 3 Things is easily the best of the two. Covering various topics social, political, philosophical, and personal, it has characters but no real plot. Inspired by a newspaper article about middle-class wives in suburban Paris who were turning to prostitution to meet the monetary demands of a comfortable middle-class life, Godard uses this premise as a launching point for an essay film about modern French society. More virulent in its attacks on America and the war in Vietnam than is Made in U.S.A., 2 or 3 Things presents compelling arguments about the images, structures, and objects of modern society and its effect on us, the subjects of modern society.

Both discs have beautiful transfers of their respective beautifully shot films and helpful special features that offer explanations for and interpretations of Godard’s often enigmatic work. Made in U.S.A. is oddly lacking a commentary track (although it is loaded with interviews and other special features), but the commentary on 2 or 3 Things is informative and complemented nicely by a video essay in the Special Features explaining all the references in the film the commentary can’t get to.

Next Week on From the Box
I finally get a chance to see Dragonball: Evolution and I give Fast and Furious a chance to entertain me.

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