Films

Diversionary dreams

Movies about philosophy, robbery and matrimony offer a welcome escape

Brian D. Johnson October 22 2001
Films

Diversionary dreams

Movies about philosophy, robbery and matrimony offer a welcome escape

Brian D. Johnson October 22 2001

Diversionary dreams

Movies about philosophy, robbery and matrimony offer a welcome escape

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Films

Over the past month, there hasn’t been space in the magazine to review movies, for obvious reasons. Looking back, it seems we haven’t missed much. Glitter, Rock Star and Zoolander all offer the breathless revelation that show business is a vain and hollow place. In Don’t Say a Word, Michael Douglas is a psychiatric sleuth who rescues three helpless females—wife, daughter and psycho babe —from an evil foreigner. And in Hearts in Atlantis, Anthony Hopkins uses his casual intelligence to deflect a dung-storm of sentimental hocus-pocus. Among Hollywood’s recent diversions, only Joy Ride offers a real kick, though its monster-trucker scenario ends up on a collision course with shlock horror.

But here are three new movies that can be recommended: Waking Life, a feat of indie innovation; Bandits, a luxurious Hollywood road movie; and Last Wedding, a slice of trenchant wit from Vancouver.

Waking Life It’s been said that movies are like waking dreams, and that the flicker of their images resembles the rapid-eye movement of the dreamer. This animated feature from American writer-director Richard Linklater {Slacker, Dazed and Confused) is not like a dream, it is a dream —or rather a series of waking dreams that slip into one another like those Russian dolls. It also takes computer animation in a new direction.

Most of Hollywood is on a mission to create computer graphics that look convincingly lifelike, whether as special effects or in computer-animated fantasies like Final Fantasy. But Linklater has done the opposite: he shot an entire movie with actors on video, edited the footage, then used “rotoscoping” software to transform it into digital animation. Art director Bob Sabiston, who created the software, worked with some 30 animators, who “painted” over the footage in an array of styles.

Waking Life unfolds as a psychedelic seminar of images and ideas—an ontological inquiry into the cosmic riddle. The story takes place entirely in the mind, and it’s like Philosophy 101 on fast-forward, featuring every idea that every young man has ever hurled into the void.

But Linklater’s jellyfish narrative, untethered to time or space, shimmers with bright discourse and trippy visuals —imagine My Dinner with André aboard Yellow Submarine. One minute you’re pondering quantum physics and free will, the next you’re enchanted by snaky tendrils in a woman’s hair.

The 55 characters who pop in and out of this docu-dream include actors from Link-

later’s previous films, as well as friends, family, filmmakers—even a couple of professors from his alma mater, the University of Texas. Director Steven Soderberg offers a crafty cameo. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles in Linklater’s Before Sunrise. And Wiley Wiggins {Dazed and Confused) stars as the callow youth who does the dreaming.

Interviewed at last months Toronto International Film Festival, Linklater explained that the script was inspired by a “lucid” dream from his own youth. “It was a big experience in my life,” he told me. “That series of false awakenings seemed to go on for days, like a long, high-speed chase.” The 41-year-old director says he never consid1 ered making the movie without animation. “We’ve been in the digital age for a while now. And one of the best things about it is that it more closely approximates the way our brain works. Non-linear storytelling goes hand-in-hand with a digital format.”

Ever since the advent of talkies, Linklater notes,

“people have been bitching that cinema took a wrong turn—that it went in a theatrical direction when it had so many other possibilities.” And Waking Life explores the existential issue of cinema itself. At one point, actor-director Caveh Zahedi holds forth on French Catholic film theorist André Bazin, who believed that, by recording reality, the camera could offer a glimpse of God—a Holy Moment. Zahedi and his listener then lock eyes to create a Holy Moment with us, the audience, one that sends their pupils dilating in animated waves. It may not be God, but it’s groovy.

Bandits While this cool confection from director Barry Levinson {Diner, Rain Man) doesn’t pretend to reinvent cinema, it does go beyond Hollywood’s usual call of duty. Bandits is a bank-robber comedy that plays as a pastiche of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bonnie and Clyde, with a twist of Jules et Jim. Scripted by Harley Peyton {Twin Peaks), it lacks the emotional depth of those classics—the drama feels counterfeit—but it’s thoroughly entertaining.

Joe (Bruce Willis) and Terry (Billy Bob Thornton) are seasoned bank robbers who become known as the “Sleepover Bandits”: their shtick is to gendy take the bank manager hostage in his home, then have him open the branch early the next morning for them to rob. A blithely insouciant Cate Blanchett portrays Kate, a runaway housewife who joins the pair— and falls for both of them—as they plunder their way from Oregon to California. Willis, as the tough guy, plays straight man to Thornton, who’s the sensitive geek, a hypochondriac twitching with phobias. Levinson gives him ample licence to steal the picture. And there’s a giddy edge of improv to his performance—as when he wakes from a dream, bolt upright, shouting “and beavers and ducks!” This, meanwhile, is one well-upholstered road movie. From the first tease of Bob Dylan’s Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum over the tides, Bandits announces itself as a sound track on wheels. In a candy assortment of stolen cars, we cruise through a panorama of gunmetal Oregon skies, vintage motels, fireworks on the beach. The pace is perversely relaxed, and sags near the end; there are too many robberies. But it’s as if Levinson is deliberately bending the rules of the commercial road movie—trying to find room for reflection amid formula.

Last Wedding This is another boyswill-be-boys comedy, but the boys in question are stuck at home, ruining relationships instead of robbing banks, and their foibles appear in a less forgiving light. Written and directed by Vancouver’s Bruce Sweeney {Dirty), Last Wedding is an acerbically funny ensemble piece about a trio of disintegrating couples. In the foreground is Noah (Benjamin Ratner), who is nervously headed to the altar with Zipporah (Frida Betrani) after just six weeks of dating. Before long, it occurs to him that he’s married an idiot, and his parents are no consolation. “Your mother and I, we’ve been married 35 years,” says his father, “and she’s not even my type.”

But most of the humour is at the expense of the men. Peter (Tom Schölte), a CanLit professor, can’t stop himself from tumbling into a disastrous affair with a student—who services him while he lectures her on Alice Munro’s “alcoholic spinster virgins.” And Shane (Vincent Gale), an embittered architect, lets professional jealousy erode his marriage as his wife (Molly Parker) embarks on her own career in architecture. Last Wedding clicks along with enough urbane wit that, for a while, it looks like it could be the breakout comedy Canadians have been waiting for. But in the second half, Sweeney refuses to bow to formula, and leaves the relationships raggedly unresolved—a bold move from a filmmaker who’s not about to jump into a commercial marriage of convenience.