Saturday, 19 September 2009

Spiral568's Greatest Movie Countdown: No#97: Heathers

Of all the films and all the decades that will be represented in this countdown, I think its safe to say that the one you'll be seeing the least of is the eighties. There's just something about the ambiance of that particular time period that was just garish to the point of insanity, infecting near everything that came out of it, from the music to the styles to the films it has all dated to fossilization long before its time. OK maybe that's a bit dramatic, but the point stands, just to a lesser degree. If you watch films like the Breakfast Club or Repo Man or even The Terminator, you'll enjoy them or even think they're good, but the fact that they are of their time is something now to be tolerated rather then embraced, and that's certainly not the same for the sixties or seventies. But, amidst all this eighties hate quality is something that can not be contained and even if it has to fight its way through shoulder pads, through synth soundtracks and through turns of phrase like 'What's your damage', if its there, if it is a work that is as innovative, hilarious and delightfully twisted as Heathers is, then its worth all the unpleasant nostalgia. See in the hundred or so years that film-making has existed, I honestly can't think of film that did what Heathers did here to quite the same extent. It was and is now a true original, a movie that really showed people what a black comedy could do and may be to this day the best that admittedly quite specific sub-genre has to offer. And its a high school movie no less.

The plot sees Veronica (Winona Ryder), a too-smart-for-life kind of teenager as a reluctant member of high school royalty, accompanied by Heather Chandler, a sociopathically cruel alpha-bitch who enjoys humiliating a fat girl she's eloquently renamed Martha Dumptruck and going to parties with older boys, along with her two best gal pals, also named Heather (Imagine an unanesthetized mean Girls, in which the girls are aloud to say fuck,) The thing is, Veronica meets a dreamy loner called JD (Christian Slater) with whom she makes an instant connection, and through him she puts her previously impotent thoughts of killing Heather to make high school a better place into a more realistic setting. Of course, they don't want to go to jail, so they fix it up as if it were a suicide and get off scot free. The thing is Heather's suicide, complete with Veronica and JD' s forged note, leads the town to elevate the deceased to near messianic level, people who hated her now love her, and JD upon seeing this reaction, is far from finished.

I'm of no doubt that teen suicide is not the first thing one would call upon in order to score laughs, but this movie addresses the issue in a way that is both honest and satiric. What this movie calls out is that the simple act of dying does not make someone more sensitive, more tolerant or more important. Its making the quite daring claim that teen suicide is not something that's tragic, rather its pathetic and deserves to be laughed at. It does not tolerate the self-pity of teenagers in a way that most films even approaching similar subject matter have done either out of earnestness or out of moral panic, but either a way this is a fresh perspective and if these kids choose to treat life so shabbily why should they be indulged and treated like saints? It calls out the hypocrisy of the legions of students who although they could give a shit about the person who did the dying, suddenly their distraught and life is barely worth living. Death is great unifier it seems, and Heathers has a lot of fun with that, but an asshole is still an asshole even if he's six feet under and death does not absolve him or her of that. Even if we'd like it too. And this is something that I'd never seen a movie confront in such an honest way. In the same context it also mocks the apathy of the modern teenager toward death, as at the funerals of the various deceased, with JD and Veronica sitting at the back cracking wise about the various eulogies and familial reactions ( The darkest and arguably most funny of which is the hick father of one of the jocks, who overcomes his intolerance to declare ' I love my dead gay son!' to the whole room. Perhaps this movies most singular moment of genius.)

Similarly the issues of high school life and society, and his Veronica observes in regards to killing the head cheerleader, ' You can kill her but someone else will just take her place tomorrow'. See the popular kids will ostracize the freaks they deem to be beneath them forever, whoever many you kill, and the freaks will be filled with self-doubt and loathing forever. There's also the use of the idea that suicide begins to become the thing to do in this town, because all the cool kids are doing it. The afore-mentioned Martha walks in front of a bus after she spills Diet Coke on herself, a fellow cheerleader tries to overdose after her friends hear her call a self-help program on the radio. This twisted idea is terrific in its simplicity, but also in that we see that above all high school is the beginning of the end in terms of thinking for yourself. Its when the world begins to tell you what to do and what to say. And you can't do anything to change this because its damn near Darwinian, the fittest and the system will survive and that's just that. You can accept or deny it but that's the way it will be. JD denies this, while Veronica slowly begins to accept it. Veronica is an interesting character in that she's possible the most direct audience surrogate in movie history. She's not so bound by morality as our usual heroines, but what she is is almost a sponge. Existing to make snarky comments and by shepherded by someone else's world view. First there's Heather, who she follows in high school bitchiness reluctance, then there's JD, who she follows in a violent and deadly form of social commentary with a similar reluctance. She complains about her situations but gets swept along with them regardless, only at the climax showing some real personal forcefulness. JD I sense though is the real voice of the piece, as the villain often is, and a lot of what he says and does is valid from a sociological perspective, its just has the downside of being insane.

What makes this the classic that is though, is the constant streams of jet black humor that is there throughout. A few examples:

" Jesus God in heaven, why did you have to kill such hot snatch?" ( A jock in response to the death of Heather.)

" I Shop therefore I am" ( Heather's philosophy)

" Save the speeches for Malcolm X, I just want to get laid" ( Some guy)

" Our love is God. Let's go get a slushee." ( JD in regard to life.)

And many more. Its kind of like Diablo Cody only more prescient. It presents all the tragedies of teenage life a some sort of twisted joke that we all will play out again and again way after its over. Which is in many ways a more cutting truth then we'd like from high school movie. But that's how Heather's works. It starts of like your regular teen movie, maybe a bit quicker and smarter and goes to places you'd never think it would dare to go and in that respect the success of this movie is most attributed to its screen-writer Daniel Waters, who never came close to anything this good again. Its such an individual work of insightfulness, of wit, of satire and in many ways of the form itself, its shows how much you can do on the page before the camera even enters the equation. In terms of really having something to say and sheer ambition, it would be one of the best screenplays I've ever seen on film. The actors play their part too though, particularly Winona Ryder who fits the self-superior Veronica like a dream, relishing Waters very quotable dialogue. with the viewer clearly being in on the joke as she takes joy in every enunciation. This is long before she appeared as Spock's mum of course. Christian Slater in a career making performance essentially plays the role as a Jack Nicholson impression, but somehow still manages to be awesome. Both of them give a performance to show why they hung around at the top for another ten years or so. Director Michael Lehmann relatively underplays it, which is certainly a good idea given how extravagant the script is, and that is something to be commended.

To put a final point on it, this is something close to the ultimate black comedy. It takes cliche's and tropes of every high school movie you've ever seen and turns them into something horrific yet hilarious. You'll laugh at the worst travesties that young life has to offer even if you don't want to. Its a masterpiece of cynicism, a tone heard in cinema without condemnation just far too rarely and this movie, if nothing else is evidence to why that standard is something that we don't want let alone need.

What's your damage.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Spiral568's Greatest Movie Countdown: No#98: Toy Story

Pixar is certainly in an enviable position these days. No other studio perhaps of ever can claim such unwavering critical and popular acclaim. Each movie they release makes at least two hundred million and gets starstruck write-ups from every critic in existence, no matter how elitist or respected. They've allowed a generation to not have to resent going to the cinema with their kids, something the parents of the seventies and eighties will look on at with retrospective scorn, reminded of how they were forced to watch the succession of death rattle pictures from the house of mouse ( a particularly obnoxious label imbued upon Disney.) No, Pixar came and conquered instantaneously and maintained that state of conquering ever since, hitting the track running and never looking back. Sure some are better then others, but what is most admirable is how every film they make values a high standard of quality as much a it values making money and this could be the reason why they are the critical darlings that they are. Its that they elect the way of making good movies, making art almost, when they really don't have to. Pixar could make a film about a talking bucket, a bad film about a talking bucket, and it would make whoever knows how many millions, but the fact that they infuse each project with such attention and heart is testament to their creative nobility. Something every other major studio, to whom profit is the greatest capital and quality is something to be applied when and where it can, really does not live up to in the slightest.

It was a great experience to watch Toy Story again, where it all began for Pixar and arguably the first time a film for the whole family could actually be enjoyed by the whole family, rather then just a select few. Its a film that can remind you why you fell in love with cinema in the first place, or it can introduce you to the sheer potential of what cinema can do when it applies itself, or you can simply be a six year old in your living room enjoying eighty-three minutes of entertainment at its most sublime. Whether your viewing fits into any of these categories or not, its hard to imagine anyone seeing this film and disliking it because like the best children's films it brings out the best things about your inner child (the sense of wonder and the open mindedness) just as the weaker examples bring out the worst (The patronization and the powerlessness.) The narrative of the film is fairly simple, and at its heart its a buddy movie - this may seems like a trivialization of it but believe me its not, Fight Club, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, All The President's men and to some degree Pulp Fiction could also be called this. Its not just for bad movies starring Eddie Murphy anymore - the film is a cinematic riff on that age old hypothetical of hypotheticals 'Do toys come alive when we leave the room' and sees the favorite toy Cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks) act as a sheriff almost to the Toy community of Andy's room. Andy being the barely visible child whose property we send our time with. The first twenty minutes of the film are spent meticulously establishing this setting, from the various supporting characters including a slinky dog, a bo peep doll, a cowardly T-Rex creatively named Rex and a Mr Potato head, awesomely given the role of being the contrary asshole. Its part of what makes the film so great that it deems that Mr Potato Head is the right man to be the Dwayne T Robinson of this universe. The Utopian toy existence is rumbled however when Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear for his birthday, a state of the art spaceman action figure with features and gadgets to the hilt and the belief that he is in fact a spaceman and not a self-aware toy like everyone else. Naturally he displaces Woody as the favorite of both Andy and the toy townsfolk, and the jealous and abandoned Woody schemes to reclaim his crown and in turn starting a series of events that lead to both he and Buzz being lost in the big nothing of the outside world. Their journey home includes their capture by toy-killing neighbor Sid, the befriending of Sid's mutilated and Frankenstein-lite toy collection and the inevitable journey home.

The film's story reminded me a lot of the Defiant Ones, with the mutually loathing heroes forced to band together when the big bad world comes calling. Scenes toward the finale of Woody and Buzz chasing after Andy's car and refusing to abandon each other in the pursuit of it reminded me very directly of that film's climax, but believe me it is a favorable comparison. Its an unusual dynamic for a children's film, most of which serve the purpose of maintaining ignorance in regards to human confrontation, but here their banter and terrific exchange of insults (YOU..ARE..A..TOY!! and you are a sad, strange little man being the most iconic of which.) are as much of a joy as the film's heart-warming side. And its to its credit that it resists easy sentiment, Buzz and Woody's eventual friendship is earned the hard way making the heroic final act that much more sweet upon its arrival. It is also the first in the thankful step away from the musical aspect of children's films Disney perpetuated and took a step toward a higher standard of comedy. Almost every CGI animated film since owes this a huge debt, most notably the Shrek Franchise and even Pixar itself until recently, perhaps Ratatouille onwards, where its films have shifted into a slightly maturer tone. But part of what makes Toy Story such a lasting favorite is how well it manages to cater to both children and adults.

The voice talent, which I can't believe I'm just getting to now, is stellar with Tom Hanks' characterization of Woody perhaps being the most consistently hilarious, set to a permanent state of histrionics without ever getting annoying something that is no mean feat, and this is only one or two films off being my favorite Tom Hanks performance, animation or no. Tim Allen is terrificly oblivious yet condescending as Buzz and does plenty of awesome deadpan deliveries that I've never really seen Tim Allen do in a live action performance. Well except maybe for Galaxy Quest. The rest of the cast is made up of reliable television stars, from John Ratzenberger to Don Rickles all playing their roles awesomely. The animation of the characters also lends a great deal of anthropomorphic humanity to them, all more expressive and realistic then traditional disney animation would allow for, and this gives the audience a much greater bond to the characters. The CGI creation of environments is also fantastically and eagerly realized, from the hell of Sid's bedroom to the wonders of The Pizza Planet restaurant. Every setting is created with such enthusiasm and specificity, but perhaps more impressively, with a real sense of wonder. You really feel like a kid exploring the world for the first time when watching Toy Story and the fact that the film elicits this attitude from someone so cynical and impossible to impress as myself means that for a well adjusted person this film would be nothing short of magical.
To conclude, this is children's cinema at its most exuberant. It gets everything right and amidst that never forgets to entertain, and entertain in large quantities. Its a film that thrives on happiness and positivity but in a way that is intelligent and unique. I really could throw all the superlatives out there I wanted to, but it wouldn't do this film justice. Its something you really need to see if you love cinema.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Spiral568's Greatest Movie Countdown: No#99: Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

My lack of reading is pretty much my greatest cultural faux pas. Does it means I belong to the assembly line of popcorn munching airheads who are only able to absorb fiction in bitesize two hour portions, without the patience or capacity to invest in stories of greater detail and complexity? Am I missing out on worlds that cinema cannot quite put into words? Quite possibly. All the elitists can look down upon me. But of the few books that I have read, Fear and loathing in Las Vegas is certainly one of the best, and it is hard to describe why. This does not bode well for this post, to be sure, but if I were to try it would be something to do with its magnificently raving, unchained narrative style and the sheer amount of hilarity it achieves from two people essentially destroying themselves on drugs. So when it came to the film adaptation, I was skeptical to say the least. Like they were going to take something that was exclusively mine and bastardize it into a form acceptable or the eyes of the average Joe. There was just no way this could be done. But for the most part it was. It may not quite be the masterpiece that Hunter S Thompsons original novel, but its a great movie that is in turn hilarious and terrifying, entertaining and monstrous. The film explores human excess in all its ridiculousness, and seems to enjoy every minute of it. I will get to why the film earned its place on the list - I am willing to admit its a very personal choice - in time, but first a little background on its director.

Terry Gilliam is a film-maker that I really dont know what to make of. He has made some great films, I think most people would agree with this even if they may not agree over which ones they actually are. His films are usually stylish and involving, but often overdone in a visual sense and a narrative one his roots as an animator to me has defined his film career and not always for the better. Films like Time Bandits or The Brothers Grimm, Tideland and even Brazil have some good ideas but are always too sporadic and inconsistent, and the man has only really got it right a couple of times. Ironically one of those times is this, the adaptation of a novel that pretty much turned sporadicism into an art form. I think that Gilliam benefited from dealing with more adult orientated material, as the curse of the fairy tale has hung around his entire resume, and even here to some respect. As the tale of two men who come to the city of bright lights to live their dream has a whiff of the fairy tale, but it exists as some kind of twisted shadow of what it is supposed to be and thus is infinitely more transfixing. And its to Gilliam's credit that he makes this world his own, and as a result of this adaptation he has made one of his best films.

The plot, such as it is, sees doctor of journalism Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his overweight Samoan lawyer Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) drive into Las Vegas in a red sports car with every drug known to man in the boot. They proceed to use them. It fucks them up. This is pretty much the entire plot, so those who believe that every film should be LA Confidential would do well to give this a miss. What it does do though is make us laugh, which is always welcome, show us the lengths of depravity drugs can reduce a human being to, and in many ways show us the fallacy of the philosophy that drugs are the way to enlightenment and freedom as the flower power generation o the sixties believed. Set in 1971, the time when this movement for all intents and purposes came to an end, one could say that this is about the death of the ideal of the sixties, the ideal of the hippie if you will, and once their rebellion and beliefs are repelled all that's left is disillusionment and drugs. Which are taken endlessly in the hope that one day they'll transport you back to a time when your voice mattered. But it never does. All it leaves you with is outrageous behavior, bodily breakdown and mood swings that eat there way through your sense of cohesion. And yes this film mocks the regular straight-laced society, from the gamblers seeking the same excess through the casinos to its valid point about most men living afraid and jealous and being unable to seek the highs that these freaks so. But for the most part we are laughing at them, at Duke and Gonzo for what they reduce themselves to. Its the diary of a self-deprecating drug-user, Duke knows what they make him like, he knows of the downsides to his health and his state of mind, he even knows that his reasoning is weak but he doesn't care. The life led high leaves little time for self-improvement. And for me this is a particularly unique view on drugs, and an impressive thing or Gilliam to retain from the novel and express in his own way.

Another important factor to the success of the film is the strength of the two lead performances from Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Depp, whose career in 1998 was ever slightly entering a rut, as he couldn't make a good film without Tim Burton (with the exception of Jim Jarmuschs Dead Man) but this film showed he could really act, and not just be a pretty boy, which those who paid less attention could reasonably believe him to be at this point. He does the required uglying up, as is the sign of an actor at his most actorly, but gives the performance to match it. The stumbling drug-fried man barely in control of his physicality but retaining his brilliantly gifted and literate mind, just so he can so beautifully chronicle all the acts of repulsiveness he and his attorney commit - that include going through a circus whacked on ether, crashing a drug czars convention stoned of their head, the statutory rape of an under-age christian girl, the intimidation and abuse of a cafe waitress and many many more - the ongoing voice-over, mirroring Thompson and his prose is terrifically delivered by Depp, who so accurately captures the self-deprecating tone of the work, this is one of the stronger voice-overs in the cinematic archive. But Depp is just as good in his performance, purveying the intelligence and self-destructive side necessary to the character. But the film belongs to Del Toro, whose performance is much stronger then it would first seem. On first glance it seems like another Del Toro character bit, a la Usual Suspects, but as the film progresses we gradually get exposed to Gonzo and his inner viciousness and brutality, working all the more because they come in between all the zaniness and wacky activity otherwise going on. Just for a moment we see Gonzo the person rather then Gonzo the drug freak and he is almost more terrifying. To date I have only seen Del Toro turn in better performances then this one or two times, and this will go down as one of the highest peaks of his career. There are a few celebrity cameos scattered about, from Tobey Maguire to Cameron Diaz to Christina Ricci but none really get enough time to do anything and the film really belongs to the leads, and deservedly so. Gilliam, to his credit, mostly restrains his out there visual habits ( Except for the casino set Lizard orgy I guess) and the film benefits from it, Gilliam is stylish in the right places and allows the actors to act in the right places too. He finds a good balance.

To conclude, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a very important film to all concerned. It reignited the career of Johnny Depp, increased the notoriety of Benicio Del Toro and showed the world that Gilliam is capable of making a great movie set in the real world, if you can call this world that. Its a quiet little classic that doesn't get earth shattering levels of acclaim but for me is one of the stronger films of its type. It makes a movie about drugs that has a brain, and explores more then the mere suffering and poverty that is the usual fodder of its genre. Gilliam hasn't made a better film since and in all likeliness never will.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Spiral 568's Greatest Movies Countdown: No#100: Run Lola Run

The thing about experimental films is that they, proportionately speaking, are rarely fun. For all their metaphors and Philosophizing, they usually end up heartless intellectual exercises of use to only to the people who made it. And perhaps people who go to the cinema precisely for that kind of thing, which on one of my more pretentious days could be me I guess. But they are at their very best something you admire, not something you love. But this rule, like any other, has its exceptions and when they come along its certainly a thing to see. Which brings me to Run Lola run, a classic of Ingenuity, visual style and yes, experimentalism. Its a film that's more visceral then intellectual though, and arguably its stronger for it, but more on that Later.

What it did do was bring its director Tom Tykwer to the attention of the cinematic world as a whole. And certainly if one takes one thing from this movie its the undeniable talent of its director. The thing is put together so smoothly, from its distinct visual style that manages to be edgy and direct without being obnoxious (A harder feat that it sounds, as many, many films attempting this style of visuals overplay their hand to the point where it is painful). To its deceptively strong script, which balances the potentially alienating smart-Alec concepts and so tightly structures them that you barely notice how hard the film is working. It is much more common now, but at the time the type of ingenuity shown by Tykwer here was in very short supply. But the touches are endless, from the interludes of animation to the quick 'this is your life in ten seconds' photography montages we see of certain background characters. Similarly the pumping trance beat, which is nearly constant and always keeping you on the edge of your seat is a terrific creative decision. The film is a technical marvel like few others in recent memory, and while the thematic ideas it covers are certainly not anything new, the amount of films that work of the principle that the smallest event can have a monumental effect on events of much larger importance are of a number close to unnameable. But its the handling of them that makes it a work of stark originality.

The plot is a simple one seeing Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), boyfriend of the titular Lola (Franka Potente) leaving the 100 grand he was supposed to deliver to a vicious gangster on a train, leaving him and Lola 20 minutes to snatch the same amount out of the air before he is killed. Yeah, yeah we've been here before I know. But what the film does is show is three potential outcomes of this dilemma, each depending on the tiniest events occurring on Lola's three separate sprints - All captured thunderously by the way. I've never seen running on film quite so captivating - so its a butterfly effect movie in other words, but without Ashton Kutcher and actually good. It takes a bare bones noir plot and uses it to write a subtle essay on the impact of chance, whilst making one of the most heart-poundingly gripping thrillers in years. And all this in a lean 73 minutes (which incidentally could fit into Dances with Wolves three times over. Just saying.) It fights caving in with its own ambition by being cleverly narratively minimalist, that is to say after Manni sets up the situation at the beginning, its the intricacies of the plot rather then the arc of it that really hits home and intentionally so. Tykwer has no real interest in making a great crime movie, rather to simply communicate his ideas and tell the story of the two central characters. Its not really an actors movie, and most of Potente's work involves running but somehow she comes out of it impressing. Within the couple of moments she gets to act, she creates a real character to add to the terrificly iconic creation of the costume designer. Lola is certainly memorable visually, with her bright red hair and gray/green get-up. But its to Potente's credit that she doesn't get lost in the iconography. Bleibtreu has a couple of moments to impact in his predominately dopey character. But like I said its not an actors movie, its Tykwer's. Its about his style, his pace and above all his talent.

I have to say I get pretty far into this without giving due to a pretty important contributing factor to this movie's greatness. The fact that it relentlessly, almost overwhelmingly thrilling. It may seem like an extremely obvious thing to say, but its amazing how many thrillers actually forget to live up to their name and end up simply passing you by in mediocrity. This film takes you on a ride. Not to push a tortured metaphor or anything, but its perhaps its one of the closest things cinema has to compare to a theme park ride. It raises your adrenalin instantly and never lets it drop until the credits roll and not even in that generic Hollywood way you've become used to. All those action films that you've seen limp into cinema's giving us the same tired scenes we've seen before. Watch this film and you'll realize what it is for a film to be vibrant. As well is this, it even has its moments of beauty. From Lola and Manni vainly fleeing the cops to Dinah Washington's 'What a difference a day made' or the silence upon the same characters respective deaths (This isn't as much of a spoiler as you might think) hitting doubly hard because these are essentially the only moments the thump of the soundtrack lets you pause and contemplate the tragedy. As I said before, its a much smarter film then you may realize.

Tywker has made some attempts to foray into the English language after this. There was the low-key Cate Blanchett led Heaven, which was OK but nothing particularly special and the more widely seen Perfume, which some were wowed by but more were meh'd by. Whatever your opinions on these films, none of them come close to being as good as this, which is a gem of a movie that simply never enough people can see. Even with subtitles

Spiral 568's Greatest Movies Countdown: No#101: I Heart Huckabees

It takes a lot of time to ponder which is truly the worst of your favorite movies. In a list such as this you love everything on the table. So cruel, pedantic nit-picking becomes the order of the day. So, first up is I Heart Huckabees, the 2004 comedy from Director David O Russell. Russell in many ways is a forgotten gem on the indie scene, getting nowhere near the praise of a Wes Anderson for example. And while he may not have the visual style of Anderson, he always makes films with something to say aside from whimsy and superfluous quirk, which films made in this arena tend to suffocate in. Russell presents a more grounded voice, one that still believes in uplifting but does so with thought and intelligence. His biggest success, the 1999 Gulf war movie Three Kings (This would be the first Gulf war) is as an entertaining action movie as Hollywood has produced in recent memory, but is also more politically engaging and in many ways the most frank look at war America has offered since the decline of the Vietnam movie. But I went for his follow up film because to me it is the more ground-breaking. It took the concept of the broad comedy and infused it with as much intellectual and philosophic credulity as it could handle, ensuring that as long as you look you'll never find another movie like this.

I shall attempt to describe the plot now, but its much more complex then one would usually find in a comedy so prepare to cut me some slack. The film follows Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) as he hires a pair of existential detectives to dissect a coincidence he has involving repeated random meetings with a tall African man. But the detectives are more interested in his work situation, in which the small environmental group he runs has partnered with retail corporation Huckabees, the representative of which is trying to oust Albert from this coalition in order to allow for him to overlook its core issues. And this is nothing. There's also a global warming obsessed firefighter in the midst of his own existential crisis, an airhead model who is coaxed by the detectives into finding a more thoughtful side of herself and also a rival French philosopher eager to spread nihilism wherever she can. Well that'll about do it as a rough template of the plot, but believe me it comes together in a way I couldn't close to describing without a 5000 word essay at my disposal.

What makes this movie great is how, for the most part, the movie is as equally concerned with making you laugh as taking you on an existential journey and by the end it pretty much does both, maybe with a few creases. For every discussion of inter-connectedness or philosophical revelation there's Mark Wahlberg hitting Jason Schwartzman in the face with a giant pink space-hopper (Known as a huge pink ball, for those unfamiliar with 70's fads) or Naomi Watts line delivery of 'Fuckabees', which is close to being the most funny thing of all time. The comedy was a very smart move on Russell's part, because if he'd taken these ideas at face value and made a more serious film about them, it would have been unavoidably pretentious and perhaps even tedious but by drawing laughs not only from the eccentricities of the characters but also from the existentialism itself, and by the very nature of people allowing themselves to be eaten alive by questions they can not hope to answer. Which brings me to another very appreciated aspect of the film. Most films skirting around the issue of the meaning of life usually tend toward the 'Knock a door run' method which is to say bringing up these ideas (knocking on the door) and entirely dodging the issue when it comes time to answer them (running away before the person can come to the door). Huckabees doesn't do that, or at least doesn't do that in the scummy way it has been done in the past. It doesn't quite answer the be all of everything in one line, but does come close in regards to the human condition, explaining what brings us together is the same thing that drives us apart. The inevitability of human drama and suffering. The film says these things better, but the great thing about it is that it gets you to address these issues in your own head and thus has a lasting impact that no comedy I can think of has.

Arguably, the most enjoyable thing about IHH is the ensemble of hilarious performances it has put together, with not a missed not amongst the principle cast, all as good as each other with some maybe even better than that. The lead, at least in theory, is Schwartzman and he is terrific. Honing the deadpanning, smugly smart persona he began in Rushmore into something stronger and more rounded. He communicates the intelligence and pettiness of his character fantastically whilst not forgetting to be hilarious. It really was a great performance that should have brought him more notoriety then it did, with his standout moment being, although he is great throughout the film, in his response to the the question

'Have you ever traveled through time and space?'

'Yes. No. Time not space. No, I don't know what you're talking about'

A testament to Russell's fantastic screenplay too, but Schwartzman is such a perfect fit for this role its uncanny. Upon its release, there was a critical concurrence that the film was stolen by Mark Wahlberg, as the aforementioned petroleum obsessed fireman, and its hard to disagree, although Jude Law's smooth talking corporate man Brad Stand runs him pretty close. I remember when I first saw Wahlberg in this movie I was utterly taken aback. At the time I hadn't seen Three Kings or Boogie nights and only knew him as the personality vacuum lead from the remake of the Italian Job and the remake of Planet of the Apes. Needless to say these weren't good films nor was he good in them so I didn't hold him in the highest esteem going in. But he sure proved me wrong in this film, because he is hilarious pretty much every second he is on screen. It's one of those times where being proven wrong is actually awesome. Jude Law has taken some shit in recent years, as people are at him about being in too many films and a thousand other detractions that it would take too long to name. To these people, I suggest watching this film because coming out of it you can only think that Law is actually one of the best actors ot this generation, in particular a scene where you see his confidence and bravado gradually disappear as he hears taped evidence of his own hypocrisy is a great piece of comic and serious acting at the same time. Awkwardly hilarious but also painfully poignant. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are as good as we've come to expect, with Hoffman visibly enjoying himself in a way that is to be honest rarely seen in recent films. Isabelle Huppert plays her role slightly straighter then the rest of the cast but is still as good, although she nails the 'Don't call it the ball thing' line perfectly. Watts doesn't get too much screen time, but as always is good and actually gets to be funny, which after years of playing deadly serious roles is welcome relief. Plus the Fuckabees thing.

Why isn't it higher? Well it has its flaws. Not all jokes land as well as others, occasionally characters disappear for too long and sometimes the film can be a shade uneven, but these are minor quibbles. Russell's screenplay carries itself with such confidence and the performances are so good that its is able to withstand its flaws and come out unscathed as a hilarious, genuinely ambitious movie that is really a true original. Something that becomes rarer and rarer in cinema these days.