Saturday, November 06, 2004

BAD SANTA

Holidays are bummin’

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Cast: Billy-Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, John Ritter

Tagline: He doesn't care if you're naughty or nice

Bah Humbugger. Surviving Christmas and Christmas with the Kranks are inoffensive fun for all the family and they star Ben Affleck and Tim Allen respectively. The Polar Express is nothing more than an extended Coke ad. The Elf 2-disc DVD seems positively gritty in comparison to this year’s jolly fare. As my favourite Christmas movie is probably Die Hard, I take great pleasure in seeing a Christmas tale so consistently immoral as Bad Santa.
Billy-Bob is at his subtly disturbing best as a drunken scumbag with a sweet centre whose idea of good deeds include beating up young children and indulging the fetish of a bartender in love with the real Santa Claus by screwing her senseless. His misdeeds make the Grinch look like Jesus Christ as he revels in booze, burglary, buggery and booze like it was cookies. The Coens’ touch is highly apparent, with traces of The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and, obviously, The Man Who Wasn’t There present among the yuletide debauchery, but the whole thing is held together by the same steady coolness which made Zwigoff’s Ghost World so unique.
Dialogue is key and the best of it comes from the trash talk between Uncle Willie and severely disconnected only child Thurman Merman where a delightful bond is built on a web of lies, extending Saint Nick’s lore into extremely perverted territory. The scenes between Bernie Mac and late great John Ritter are often equally brilliant as Willie’s foulness is very slowly translated into a sensitive, politically correct equivalent.
The movie’s big lesson is that when you get any distance away from Christmas in America, everyone starts to look like a sap, or just plain weird, but that there is always something beautiful to be found within all those magnified emotions. With some of the most profoundly wrong, yet hilarious dialogue of the year (‘Fuckstick?’), quality slapstick, particularly when our weird kid learns to box, and a neat surprise for anyone expecting a Falling Down-style ending, Bad Santa is the ideal, superbly bleak alternative to the flood of family-size bumper-Xmas-treats on their merry way.

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES

How Ernesto Got His ‘Che’ Back

Director: Walter Salles
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mia Maestro, Ricardo Diaz Mourelle

Tagline: Let the world change you... and you can change the world

A figure as iconic Che Guevara deserves a biopic which is inspirational and respectful but which serves to uncanonise the man (it’s a word now). Such films are rather rare (his life has been portrayed in all manner of melodramatic, rock and roll and ultimately unsatisfying ways), but The Motorcycle Diaries gives him the history he deserves, in this brilliant adaptation of his early life in his own words, the anti-‘Mein Kampf’ if you will.
This is largely down to great acting from the two leads as Ernesto and Alberto. The two both suffer from a lack of money and an assortment of minor travel injuries as well as maddening sexual tantalisation, but it is ‘The Mighty One’, their wire-supported shitheap of a bike, who suffers most, eventually needing euthanising. Alberto grieves, but Ernesto is already preoccupied with the number of people he’s started to notice around him who have real problems. The many contrasts on screen, the ordered and beautiful Cuzco against the fungus-like Lima, great injustices against the honesty of their victims and the material against the moral, are always clear but never patronising.
There a little artistic license and, naturally, the omission of several key events of the book, but the storytelling is free of floppy romance and retains a fiercely honest spirit. This is largely emphasised by incidents reminding us how uncool our heroes are, be it through debilitating asthma, inappropriate dancing or just how goofy the two look together on their motorcycle.
The average road movie is an excuse to get from one interesting set piece to the next, but the greats are the ones where the feel of a whole voyage outlasts its moodswings to leave a steady impression on the viewer. This is what separates an onscreen journey from a mere trip. Unlike Apocalypse Now though, the whole thing doesn’t implode into irredeemable melancholy, instead displaying both its epic qualities and its necessary smallness with ease.