Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)

It's British, it's an adaptation of an 18th-century novel, and it has a lot of period costumes. Despite these facts, Tristram Shandy is not stuffy in the slightest. Actually, it's quite funny. A lot of this is due to the source novel (described in the film as "post-modern before there was any modernism to be post about"), a notoriously whacked-out so-called autobiography where the narrator gets so distracted by side plots and minutiae that he never gets past describing his birth. So it goes with the film -- after the opening scene, it proceeds to get so distracted from the task at hand that it becomes less an adaptation and more a comment on the process of adaptation and movie-making. At the end of the film, Tristram Shandy (the film-within-the-film) is finished, but we don't know how it got there. The journey, not the destination, must then be the point. Good thing, then, that the journey is so amusing. Leads Steve Coogan and Rob Bryson play off each other hilariously, with Coogan essaying his comic specialty (the staggering egoist) as well as he can. The chestnut scene is a highlight, but there's plenty of good stuff scattered amidst the intentional chaos (the Fassbinder discussion! the womb! the Widow Wadman!). This is more fun than any film involving period dress has any right to be.

Grade: B+
Duel (1971)

The pitch for this film must have been, "Dennis Weaver vs. a giant truck. What more do you need?" What more, indeed. For his first feature film (originally a TV movie, but later expanded for international release), Steven Spielberg made a film so economical that it borders on absurdism. There is literally nothing to this film other than Weaver and that truck, and that's for the best. Honing the focus down so brutally taps into elements of the primal, with the mystery trucker edging into mythic territory. In other words, it's the simplicity that gives it the power it has -- Weaver's salesman becomes a panicked Everyman and the truck is the menacing Other which must be overcome. The beautiful thing is that once this story is over, so is the film. There's no postscript, no epilogue, no scene leaving the door open for a sequel. There is only a final shot that is mournful and majestic. The young Spielberg makes the most of the opportunity to show off his then-burgeoning chops, with the quieter scenes (i.e. the diner scene) just as expertly directed as the chase scenes. Additionally, Spielberg's tight, effective use of angles and staunch refusal to give us a look at the evil trucker fills the film with a sense of menace that is palpable enough to punch. There's good use of the setting, too, with the stark desert landscape nicely serving as a visual illustration of the film's sparer-than-spare aesthetic. One wonders if the virtuosity-addicted Spielberg of today would have the patience to make something so rigorous.

Grade: A-
The Palm Beach Story (1942)

Typically unhinged comedy of errors from Preston Sturges, the cinematic Carl Hubbell. Preston's brand of loose-cannon insanity generally lives and dies by its leads; fortunately, Joel McCrea (a Sturges regular) and Claudette Colbert are up to the task of keeping the film slightly grounded so that it doesn't soar off into space. (Colbert is especially fetching here.) The plot careens from one setpiece to another like a drunk in a bumper car. The blithe destructive anarchy of the Ale & Quail is a highlight, plus there's rapid-fire wordplay, a scene where Rudy Vallee sings and a poor foreign man named Toto (a cinematic precursor to Donny from The Big Lebowski). And then there's the ending, which has a crazed logic all its own. It's not as sharp or funny as Sullivan's Travels or The Lady Eve (almost nothing is as funny as The Lady Eve), but it's still a good time.

Grade: B+
The Thin Man (1934)

Booze! This movie's about booze! Sure, there's a mystery and some comedy too, but really this is a story about how a married couple overcomes hangovers and delirium tremens to catch a killer. As rich marrieds/amateur sleuths/professional drunkards Nick & Nora Charles, William Powell and Myrna Loy sparkle like Martini & Rossi. They're an irresistibly cute couple. (I mean, they even make silly faces at each other. You can't get more endearing.) In addition to working well together, Powell & Loy are talented enough to wrestle the script's wide swaths of expository dialogue without it feeling, well, expository. The film's mix of comedy and mystery is generally a pleasing one -- the two genres are able to coexist impressively, even if the mystery plot feels a tad undernourished. The point is, this is Powell & Loy's show all the way, and they're up to the challenge (not that the martinis don't help). Best line: "Is your husband working on a case?" "Yes, a case of scotch. Care to help him out?"

Grade: B+
Casque d'Or (1952)

Jacques Becker's Touchez Pas au Grisbi is a sharp film about aging gangsters. This film, made two years prior, has nothing to do with aging gangsters except that it feels like it might have been directed by one. It's a fairly standard noir love triangle, and the cast hits their marks like they know they're adhering to standards. Becker throws in some interesting wrinkles, notably the depiction of Simone Signoret's ostensible femme fatale. Signoret's the most interesting thing about this, in that her character is filling the femme fatale role almost by accident; she approaches the cliche from a sidelong angle, so that her character's actions drive the plot without ever feeling malicious or planned (she seems like she might actually like Serge Reggianni's luckless sap). There's also some stabs at class commentary -- most noticeably in the long central sequence at the Angel Gabriel, with the gangster and the carpenter squaring off while upper-class "swells" dance inside and marvel at the color of it all -- on which the film doesn't really follow through. Becker's torpid pacing eventually sinks this despite all best intentions; for a narrative built so heavily on inevitabilities to work (as this one is), you need breakneck pacing. You need the sense that the characters are hurtling towards their doom rather than crawling towards it.

Grade: C+

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

V for Vendetta (2006)

V is also for the vacuum in which this film exists. This film has a lot of problems, foremost being its unconvincing attempts at topicality. Despite the film's feints at relevance, it can't escape the fact that this is fascism-by-numbers. We get nothing here beyond the typical signifiers of a police state, and it's not even a very tightly controlled state (so Natalie Portman gets her head shaved and suddenly she no longer looks like herself?); any significance beyond what's onscreen qualifies as mere wishful thinking. The film itself, though, is very tightly controlled, and there lies another problem. Director James McTeigue and producers/writers Andy and Larry Wachowski stylize this so heavily that it never feels alive. It's a shame, too, because there are some good points about the film -- the depiction of V as sympathetic yet repellent (especially vis-a-vis his treatment of Evie), for instance, brings up the idea of whether or not we can believe in an idea whilst differentiating ourselves from the ideologically-repulsive person espousing said idea. (V, essentially, is a demagogue-in-training.) And I'd be lying by omission if I didn't admit that I found the genuine radicalism of the closing ten minutes thoroughly bracing and ballsy. But there's a long way to go before you get to that end passage. The filmmakers have tried to cram so much of Alan Moore's graphic novel into the film that the pacing becomes psychotic -- it's a frenetic stand-still. All that cramming and all the fussy visual stylization strangles the film. The funny thing is that McTeigue & company go ahead and acknowledge their own overdeterminism near the end of the film when Stephen Rea starts talking about a mid-story epiphany, and he speaks about having seen the whole of history laid out before him and "we're all trapped in it." That's it right there -- all the characters trudge through the film as through they're following dance patterns. The lone exception is Stephen Fry as the jovial variety-show host, who uses his natural good-natured sarcasm to float about the portent. He's involved in the film's best scene, where a impromptu rewrite on his show turns into a pointedly satirical burlesque grotesquerie. It's the one moment in the film that feels unexpected and sly, and that gives it the kick of the truly subversive. The rest of the film, as hard as it tries, can't match up. Handsome but hermetic, polished but plastic, V for Vendetta is ultimately as rigid and emotionless as the Guy Fawkes mask that V wears. It's an exquisite dead zone.

Grade: C
The Models of "Pickpocket" (2004)

Decent documentary in which Babette Mangolte tracks down the three principals in Robert Bresson's Pickpocket and asks them about the film and working with Bresson. Like most films of this sort, it's alternately fascinating and dull. Most of the revelations hit upon by these three people could have been gleaned from anyone with an interest in film, but there's still some good stories about working with the man, and it's funny to see where these people ended up. Marika Green is astonishingly beautiful, considering she was pushing sixty at the time of this film's making.

Grade: B-
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

The debut film from master animator Hayao Miyazaki is a bit less impressive than the other films of his that I've seen, maybe because the themes that run through much of his work are nascent and thus unrefined. Instead of being carefully woven into the narrative, the tropes (like, say, the environmental concerns) are just laid right the fuck out. So it's not very subtle. It is, however, still a stirring and exciting entertainment. The action scenes are especially rousing, with Miyazaki's obsession with things that fly getting a full airing-out. Most interesting is the idea of Earth as a self-repairing (and self-defending) system, thus acknowledging something that most environmental-minded types gloss over: The idea is not to save the planet but the species. We should live in harmony with nature, not because it's "the right thing to do" but because the Earth can and will fuck us up but good. Maybe this film's just a dry run at stuff Miyazaki would perfect in Princess Mononoke, but it's still worthwhile. Lesser Miyazaki trumps most director's best work.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Pickpocket (1959)

Robert Bresson's famed drama is, more than anything, interested in the mechanics of things. Firstly, the film is preoccupied with the mechanics of thievery. Rather than being a film about a thief, this is a film about the work of a thief, and as such it's important that we see the evolution of that work. It's the process, the slow march towards improvement of the craft, that provides much of the drama and fascination (lots of close-ups of hands and whatnot). This surface preoccupation, though, simultaneously masks and parallels the deeper work of Bresson's narrative. Michel the pickpocket begins the film standing outside the system. He sees himself as being unbound by moral or spiritual laws (he even goes as far as citing the Ubermensch philosophy near the film's beginning). The story, then, unfolds as an escalating series of small occurances designed to bring about humility within Michel. We watch as, slowly, he's pushed towards personal improvement (social, moral and possibly spiritual). Martin La Salle's performance in the title role is probably one of the best non-pro performances you're ever likely to see, with his haunted eyes spelling out the tumultuous truth beneath his character's defiant exterior. This Bresson guy, he ain't half bad.

Grade: B+

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

There's a significant portion of this film that puts me in mind of the old Woody Allen joke about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Great Expectations. The first two acts of this redux (everything up to and including the trailer siege) are so close to Wes Craven's 1977 original that it might as well be a Xerox copy. It's slavish and imitative, jazzed up with needless fancy-pants cinematographic and editing tricks, and it all seems a bit laughable. (Michael Berryman punched me in the mouth.) The third act, though, is where director & co-writer Alexandre Aja decides to blaze his own trail, and it's there that the film saves itself from the oblivion of unnecessity. Quite simply, this possesses the most berserk third act I've seen in a Hollywood horror film since... well, I don't know what. Aja, in essence, has used his American debut to blow a big fat raspberry at America. The original was about the dark side of man and the hidden bestiality in all of us, and the remake ports some of that over. (Not for nothing that, of the two family dogs, Beauty gets killed while Beast survives.) But in addition to all that (of which, thanks to a lifetime of '70s-quoting grindhouse homages, I'm well aware), Aja gives us a film where the desert landscape hides American-made freaks, and only American values can triumph over them. The film's inbred family came about as a result of nuclear testing (the typical nuclear family menaced by a genuine nuclear one!), and one of them gets a big speech near the end where he gets to say, "You made us who we are." Unspoken in that statement, though, is the suggestion that while America made this particular disgruntled underclass, it will also destroy it at the first sign of trouble. I mean, a guy's killed with an American flag here while intentionally bombastic and anthemic music blasts on the soundtrack. This isn't subtle. So, in essence, what we have is a nice, happy American family banding together to brutally deal with a group of dissenting outsiders. (Is this revenge for freedom fries?) It's not really a good film -- as mentioned earlier, the first two-thirds are pointless, and the inane bickering among the family in the first act hampers any sort of identification with them. Also, the modern approach to making this film doesn't work at all, since the original derived its power from the stark documentary plainness of its craft. But as a product of its age, as a crazed political document, it's fascinating. It's a gore-happy Zabriskie Point.

Grade: C+
She's One of Us (2005)


The wipe in the opening scene of this creepy corporate-themed mindfuck suggests a film about the obliteration of the self and sublimation to the surrounding environment. If the subsequent narrative followed that line of logic, it would be merely a good entry in the Anti-Cube Sweepstakes. Writer/director Siegrid Alnoy, however, sees the argument as a bit more complex than that. She's One of Us is foremost a character study of a woman who has no character to study. Christine Blanc cannot subsume her identity to a corporate entity because she has none to begin with. She steals pieces from others when attempting human contact and lies about her background incessantly. Why? Because she can't help it -- she can't tell the truth about herself because there is no "herself," only the job she, as a temp, is currently performing. In this respect, Sasha Andres's stunning performance is a major asset in helping this film reach its goals. Andres's face is placid, almost like a mask, but the eyes betray her -- behind her eyes are raging neuroses, paranoia and confusion and disassociation. Alnoy could use her marvelous face and just ride out the dehumanization theme until the credits rolled, but there's something else in store for the third act. Andres does indeed become "one of us" when she gets hired on permanently by one of the many conglomerates for which she toils. As she fades into the company machine, an interesting thing happens -- the film slides into abstraction. It ceases to be about her and becomes of her. (As usual, Sicinski explicates this better than I can.) As the world recrafts itself around her, the double meaning behind the title becomes explicit. If she crafts the world in her image, what's to separate her from us? Don't we all see that which we want to see and ignore that which contradicts? This realization, along with Andres's extraordinary, opaque performance, lends the film an unshakable effect. It's a heady existential femme gloss on American Psycho, and I enjoyed it verily.

Grade: A-
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

It's all in the detail. This beguiling fantasy from Hayao Miyazaki, so sweet and winsome, is impressive above all in its attention to detail. In fact, until a late-breaking narrative complication, the film is all details. It's driven by observation rather than plot, and the observations are precious. The way the sisters move, the way they talk, the benevolent reactions of their father, all the little curlicues and flourishes stuffed into the film's nooks and crannies -- all this adds up to a film that, while not conventionally satisfying, charms like no other. It is a wondrous and charming thing, too; while the environmental messages in other Miyazaki works can be a touch overbearing (hi, Nausicaa!), here it's as harmoniously married to the scenario as the girls are to their benign surroundings. Miyazaki's prodigious, jubilant imagination gets a thorough workout here (cat-bus!), but what's really impressive about this is how emotional heft sneaks in through the back door, so that by the time the aforementioned narrative complication occurs, it has an impact that would be lacking in a stereotypically maudlin treatment of the sick-parent material. (A week on and I still get teary in thinking of the line, "This corn is for my mommy!") It's possibly the perfect children's entertainment, one that shows us a world free of evil and overflowing with possibilities. My Neighbor Totoro made me feel happy to be alive.

Grade: A

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Head-On (2005)

Solidly crafted sorta-love story about two self-destructive Turks living in Germany who enter into a marriage of convenience. The narrative is propulsive even as it's clearly designed as a series of incidences; the two characters careen from one incident to another like a marble in a wind tunnel. Excellent acting, as well, especially from this Sibel Kekilli chick, who projects such confidence that you'd swear it wasn't her feature film debut. (It wasn't, as it turns out, but that's another story.) Writer/director Fatih Akin really gets into the sense of social displacement that these two characters feel -- as ethnic, they don't fit into the German system, but being German citizens (natural-born, in Sibel's case), they don't fit into the Turkish system. They're united by mutual outsiderdom. Akin's direction is flashy but appropriately so, and he even manages to make the film's pop-music cues come off well. Overuse of pop music on soundtracks is a pet peeve of mine, but Akin makes it work. (There's particularly good usage of Depeche Mode's "I Feel You" and the Sisters of Mercy's "Temple of Love".) All of the above, though, does belie the film's status as a debut film -- it feels determined, not organic. As a result, the film's emotional content is more muted than it should be. Also, it is basically a series of incidences held together by common characters. Imperfect, but still a promising debut.

Grade: B

[NOTE, 3/15/06: As (formerly) pointed out by Pacze Moj in the comments, this isn't Akin's debut film -- a quick glance at the IMDb points out that he's fairly well traveled. What can I say, I'm an asshole. Sorry folks. Of course, now I'm wondering if I wasn't a bit too lenient with the film...]
Three Ages (1923)

Buster Keaton's first feature is also his worst. It's structured as a parody of Griffith's Intolerance, and that's the problem -- working within an established strucure saps away much of the spry insanity that makes Keaton's films so overwhelmingly awesome. For maybe the only time in his silent career, Keaton becomes trapped within the narrative rather than transcending it. There's some scattered laughs (the chase scene that brings the Roman segment to a climax is on par with Keaton's best shorts), and Buster's entrance on a stop-motion dinosaur is memorable. This still isn't worthy. Watch Sherlock Jr. or Seven Chances again instead.

Grade: C+
Buttcrack (1998)

Harmlessly dumb no-budget comedy about a guy with a permanent plumber's crack, his annoyed roommates and what happens after he dies and comes back as a zombie. It is what it is -- a silly, unpretentious Troma flick whose cheerful incompetence can be endearing if you're within reach of a six-pack (which I always am). Things to be treasured: *donk*; "Churn the milk and make it butter!"; supernatural buttcrack power; Mojo Nixon's preacher character. (If you don't have no Mojo Nixon, your film could use some fixin'!) Biggest mystery: What's with the styles? Did the '80s come late to the Carolinas or something?

Grade: C+

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Freedomland (2006)


This movie is dumb as ass. That's kind of a given, seeing as how Joe "Christmas with the Kranks" Roth is directing. What's niggling about this film isn't its idiocy (i.e. Samuel L. Jackson suddenly deciding he doesn't believe Julianne Moore despite never having been given a reason not to; Samuel L.'s character saddled with asthma for no reason at all) but its social irresponsibility. Freedomland has an A plot and a B plot like many films do. The A plot is about Moore's missing son, and the B plot is about the racial tensions in the impoverished neighborhood where much of the film takes place. The two plots don't dovetail so much as they run on parallel yet independent tracks, so that the culmination of the A plot and the culmination of the B plot take place temporally but not situationally close to one another. Yet here's the thing: The climax of the B plot involves a brutal race riot. We see the riot, we see SWAT police and black people going at it, we see shit burning down, we see Samuel L. get whacked on the noggin. Then the scene fades and... nothing. The movie continues, but the riot is forgotten. It happened and nobody cares. The message, then, comes off as "Y'know, them black peoples is allas gonna riot 'n' break stuff so whynt just letem burn their own shit down, y'all... we'll look the oth'r way." I wasn't pleased with the clumsy racial politics of Crash, but I give it credit for trying to stare its subject in the face. The question is, which is more offensive: attempting to tackle a thorny social issue and failing laughably, or using that same issue as window dressing for another damn film about the difficulties of parenting? On another note: what the fuck happened, Julianne? This is, like, your worst performance ever. Part of it has to be how the character is written, but damn. Over the top much?

Grade: C-
Junebug (2005)

I'm not sure Phil Morrison understands how to properly direct a motion picture. He directs like a photographer would direct, which leads to some nicely composed shots but also to a good deal of bad cuts and jarring close-ups. His inexperience almost sinks this film; it's a good thing for him that Amy Adams is on hand to keep it afloat. It's a film about inner lives, both literally (Adams is in the final stages of pregnancy) and figuratively. It offers peeks at the inner emotions of its characters ("She hides herself. Like most."), but it also provides fodder for discussion about the inner life of social networks (outsider art!), the usefulness of spirituality, the mechanics of relationships, what have you. As a result of this, most of the characters are inward types, but Adams cuts through that like a ray of sunshine breaking through a glass of water. Adams's Ashley is a loquacious force of nature that contrasts well with the taciturn nature of the rest of the family. It's like she's trying to will this film not to fall apart, and if she keeps talking maybe it won't. It works for the most part, too: Junebug is a reasonably entertaining slice o' life that keeps its condescension to a minimum (how many films would try something like the hymn scene with a straight face?) and offers a number of small pleasures. It's also quite sly, only revealing the true point of its story in its final scenes (more inner life!). But damn you, Morrison -- it could have been much better.

Grade: B-
Winchester '73 (1950)

The Naked Spur is the one that gets the most attention, but this Mann-Stewart Western (their first together) strikes me as the pinnacle of their achievements. Like a great deal of the Westerns of the period, it wrestles with the concept of manhood, thus anticipating the great revisionist Westerns of the late '60s and early '70s; what sets this film apart is its framing of the argument in concrete terms through the title object. It's more than just a film about machismo (though it certainly is that), it's a groundbreaking examination of the phallic, sexualized gun culture that is so integral to the genre. The gun in this film is literally fetishized ("one in a thousand!") so that its status as an object of desire seems appropriate as does James Stewart's obsession with finding it. There's a love interest (the incongruously lovely Shelley Winters), but her presence is secondary to the rifle roundelay. Winters is hitched to a man who is shown to be insufficiently 'manly' (note his feminization/emasculation in a late scene), as every Western requires a yella city boy; the most interesting wrinkle in the subtext, though, is revealed in the sequence where Winters, Stewart and Co. run across an entrenched cavalry group. Here we see men stripped of any reason to be macho, at peace with their role in the world and unafraid to die if they must. This sort of Zen purity in the middle of a sea of testosterone provides an emotional release that pushes the film into the realm of "masterpiece." This is, truthfully, one of the most emotionally wrenching Westerns I've seen, and it's also a taut thriller. Plotting, pacing, editing and all are tight as a nun's ass, and Stewart is fantastically curmudgeonly as a man possessed by the need to have the biggest dick, as it were. Also, placing this film within the recognizable flow of history (references are made to Wyatt Earp, Custer and Bull Run) gives it an authenticity that again sets the film apart from its compatriots. Did I already call this a masterpiece? I think I did.

Grade: A

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Perfect Crime (2005)

I have to wonder about director Alex de la Iglesia's personal life after watching this film. Basically, what he's done here is make his version of something like Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives or Russ Meyer's Supervixens. The Perfect Crime (which used to be titled Ferpect Crime, a much better title) is a dark and bitter film about the death of machismo. In telling the story of a salesman brought down by circumstance, hubris and one very possessive woman, de la Iglesia is unafraid to push his way into some very uncomfortable places. The glossy surface (this is Alex's slickest, most Hollywood-looking film yet) hides some twisted issues, and I'm not sure that Alex has them all worked out. (Not for nothing that md'a was inspired to retitl this El Pelicula Misoginistica.) Still, Alex's cinematic confidence and his breezy way with mordant material makes this go down smoother than, say, Supervixens did. It's also not to be discounted that he doesn't really let his protagonist off the hook -- the guy gets hoisted by his own petard because, as a salesperson, it's in his nature to tell people what they want to hear and suppress his own frustrations. Naming the woman that causes Our Hero so much grief Lourdes has to be a nasty joke; also, this may be the first film to reference both Very Bad Things and The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz.

Grade: B-
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

Why didn't Dr. Seuss make more movies? This imaginative delight represents the author's only foray into feature filmmaking; would that we all could get to make a one-shot as good as this. Very obviously Seussian from its opening frames, with the kind of remarkable surreality that made his books so much fun and the odes to unfettered imagination (i.e. the fishing scene). Also very much a kid's film in the best senses, in that it not only provides fine family-safe entertainment but also credibly tells a story from a child's vantage point. This latter aspect is emphasized by the compositional vastness of the sets and the shot setups, which often place our undersized hero at the center of barren landscapes or near towering objects. The film also speaks to a number of childhood anxieties -- not only the lack of size (being smaller than everyone around you), but also the niggling idea that the adults won't listen to you and may even be against you, as well as the suspicion that character-building busywork (i.e. piano lessons) lead to nowhere and nothing. (The ladder that leads to nowhere is a nice expression of the last point.) Hampered a bit by stiff acting, but overall it's really quite something. Maybe that's why Dr. Seuss only wrote one film -- after creating something so singular, why would you need to make another?

Grade: B+
Live Freaky! Die Freaky! (2006)

Anyone who reads this site with any regularity knows that I have no problem with shock humor or films that deal with "shocking" material. Hell, I love the stuff and actively seek it out. Films like this, though, make me wonder why I bother. The premise is certainly bizarre enough to warrant attention -- it's a stop-motion/puppet retelling of the Charles Manson story with voice acting by punk-rock musicians. That last fact, though, points up from where this film comes; by using punk rock figures as a selling point, the film pigeonholes itself into a particular audience. The kind of people who would be attracted to this film due to the voice cast are not the kind of people you're going to be offending, making this film's bluster about naughty material moot. It's more than that, too -- this film touches on some dark material in its attempts to push boundaries. It does so, however, in the interest of snide nihilism. Genuine transgression involves a philosophy and a point of view; this film, then, can be said to only traffic in aimless crudity. It's all well and good to turn Sharon Tate and her friends into rude bourgeoisie perverts whilst elevating Manson to (inadvertent) Messiah. But in doing so, what is the film trying to say? It can't be in an attempt to offend for reasons already stated, despite the film's disingenuous "extreme content" warnings. The true purpose, then, must be to amuse the presumably-jaded target audience. The question then becomes not, "Was I shocked?" but, "Was I amused?" Alas, I was not amused. Despite some early promise (there's a scene of puppet sex that picks up the gauntlet thrown by Team America and tears it to pieces), writer/director Joen Roecker's idea of humor is stultifyingly lame, like Lloyd Kaufman without the lacerating self-mockery. The music is good, and Billie Joe Armstrong's vocal rendition of Manson is nothing if not spirited. But really, this is so lame. Is this what passes for punk these days? No wonder the genre's suffering.

Grade: C-