Movie of the Week

I could have easily picked the 1999 dark comedy Election, Alexander Payne’s fantastic film about dirty politics and awful people all set in a high school (it’s certainly the better movie), but instead I chose to go with this mostly ignored and underrated little gem from Chris Rock.

First of all my choice to pick Head Of State, about the first black president to run for office, has nothing to do with the fact that we are currently in the midst of an Obama reelection–it really isn’t. Instead, it’s to bring attention to a movie that deserves a little more of it. Head Of State is a mess of a movie; at times it hits all the right notes and at other times it’s eye-roll inducing and sloppily put together, but when it hits it hits hard. The social commentary, the parody of political campaign life, Robin Givens being crazy, any scene with the late great Bernie Mac plus random musical segments by the late Nate Dogg, this movie is right up my damn alley. Ultimately that’s what saves it from being another awful Chris Rock film like Down To Earth or Death At A Funeral.

There’s plenty of it that’s egregious–usually I automatically hate any movie that has a scene where old white people dance to rap and use slang–which is what keeps me from calling it a successful movie. What I will say is that it’s a competent film that takes its mess and finds the diamonds strewn about, plus how do you hate a movie where Tracy Morgan plays a character titled “meat man”.

When it comes to spoofs and sending up tropes, few are as talented at it as Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The duo behind South Park, Baseketball, and Team America: World Police, are skilled at taking whatever society is praising or being warped by this week and completely shitting all over it. With Team America, the two of them, along with South Park writing partner Pam Brady, go after the post-9/11 landscape of a country trying to “police the world” and the critics and defenders these actions came with.

Released in 2004, Team America World Police is a marionette starring satire of big budget action movies and a reflection of the global politics taking place at the time. The story follows the escapades of a team of paramilitary policemen attempting to save the world from terrorist attacks and often causing more damage  then preventing. When the team loses their fourth member, Carson, the team scrambles to replace him by hiring an actor named Gary to infiltrate the terrorist homebase and find out where they’re keeping WMDs.

Team America is quick-witted and sharp in its deconstruction of the action movie while poking fun at both the pro-America and peace & understanding rhetorics that were heavy at the time. From the fake music scores permeating throughout to the by-the-numbers action film structure it abides by, Team America tackles every joke it can make. The marionettes themselves, while carefully designed and structured, always make sure to never let you forget that they’re still puppets.

Revisiting the movie, I’m instantly reminded of America in 2004. While it is indeed a movie very much of its time (the appearance of Kim Jong-Il is dated enough already), for the most part it acts as a capsule of that time.  I remember vividly how “controversial” it was because of the puppet-on-puppet sex scene and it’s amusing to watch it now and think that the MPAA had a stick up its ass over something as silly as that. What has stuck with me the most is the original music made by Matt and Trey, who have an uncanny ability to make great–and hilarious–music. “America: Fuck Yea!”, “What Would You Do?” or even the one about how Pearl Harbor sucked (which it did) are all just as good as some of the best songs to come out of South Park, and they’ll probably be stuck in my head for next month after this past rewatch of the film.

Team America: World Police works as a film because it never tries to take itself seriously, yet there is still love and affection given to its team of well-meaning yet sometimes counterproductive secret agency. In pure Matt & Trey fashion it, of course, comes with a lesson (a lesson expressed through a dick-pussy-asshole metaphor); is it the most agreeable thing in the world? Probably not. But that’s not what’s important, what is important is that Team America tries to make the case that those pro-war  advocates are just as necessary as the anti-war brigade and that the two groups need each other. Team America is crue and ridiculous but most of all it is hilarious and well worth seeking out or enjoying again.

The idea of family is one that has been permeating in my mind a lot lately–for the past year really. I guess that’s what happens when you move away from them to explore life on your own. As I try to figure out things for myself, I realize how much I yearn for the seemingly simplistic days of a world before responsibility and despite how much bad there was in our family, I miss them and yearn to get closer as each day passes. Which brings me to The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s de facto family case study. The cracked relationships between family members is nothing new for Anderson–he touched on it in his two previous pictures Bottle Rocket and Rushmore and has touched on it ever since. What makes this one the top-tier, other than specifically being about a fractured family, is it seems to be the most personal. In the commentary for The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson explains that the writing process started when, longtime friend and collaborator, Owen Wilson suggested he write about his parents divorce. Anderson admits he started out that way but as the story progressed it took a life of its own and went into a new direction–although it’s not hard to see that some autobiographical elements are sprinkled throughout.

Now, more than ever, this film resonates with me. With its themes of heartbreak, self-destruction,familial turmoil and peaking at an early age, I watch Anderson’s whimsically gloomy affair with brand new eyes. I watch it and see my own family, not because the events are familiar but because the themes are. From the opening scene with Alec Baldwin’s grizzly deep and straight-laced narration telling the tale of the family from “the house on Archer Avenue” over the organ instrumental of “Hey Jude” to the bittersweet sort-of-happy ending, The Royal Tenenbaums is a candid slice of upper crust Americana that somehow finds semblance with anyone from a dysfunctional setting. Its usage of color, infiltration of obscure pop and punk music of the 60s and 70s, its calculated and meticulous direction and focus–sometimes reminiscent of french films–it’s all standard Andersonian theatrics and it’s a credit to him that, although at times it straddles the line of self-parody, it’s still wonderfully poignant to this day.

Anderson’s expose on rich kid blues and genius families that aren’t so genius, has been standard watch for me since I first saw it on television years ago. It was the movie that introduced me to his filmography, a collection I instantly fell in love with and still love to this day. Anderson’s focus on the relationships made between people, family or otherwise, and the dysfunctions that ensue are unique and artfully rendered. I urge you all to watch it again (or for the first time) along with me this weekend and together we can all search our feelings and curse Wes Anderson for actually making us like Gwyneth Paltrow. (Even if it’s only for two hours.)

%d bloggers like this: