Back in the day, it used to be that if there was snow in the valley by Halloween night, we could be prepared for a good winter on the mountains. Of course last year the valley snow came Nov. 1 and it went downhill from there, so our Nov. 2 snowfall and early mountain opening date don’t guarantee that this will in fact be "The Sickest Season Ever!" as some people are proclaiming.
So far 2005 has been hyped as one of the worst years ever for movie companies and as we enter what’s known as "Oscar Season" (the few months prior to the Academy awards when film studios generally release the cream of their proverbial crops) we’ll see if Hollywood can turn it around.
First up, Jarhead , the middle-of-the-road Gulf War movie from director Sam Mendes, opening this Friday at the Village 8. Mendes ( American Beauty) delivers a personal war movie in the same vein as Apocalypse Now or Platoon (both of which are referenced in the film). A movie that looks to its characters more than its events. Jarhead follows Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) a young man who, without revealing why, enlists with the marines, suffers through boot camp (à la Full Metal Jacket but not as well done) and ends up in the deserts of Kuwait, waiting for the action to start. Waiting and waiting and waiting. The Gulf War was mainly an air war and the "sword of American Justice," the ground troops, saw little or no action at all.
Rather than give us the standard War-is-Hell action movie, Mendes delivers an ejaculation metaphor of a movie with lots of macho build up that never gets released. At one point a character asks, "Are we ever going to get to kill someone?"
The cast (including Oscar winner Jamie Foxx) performs well and elevates their characters out of the usual war movie cliches, Mendes is able to show that every soldier is different, despite boot camp’s best efforts to turn them into a single killing machine. The common linking of the characters’ desire to kill with their sexual desire makes for an interesting flick, especially with its anti-climactic ending. But Jarhead ’s failure to take a political stance, and the way it largely bypasses issues of class and race amongst soldiers hurt it, turning Jarhead into a safe film afraid of offending either the pro or anti-war crowd. For a war-as-dick metaphor, Jarhead kinda lacks balls.
Also lacking, in every department, is Chicken Little , Disney’s newest (and first in-house) computer animated family adventure starring an underdog chicken and his gay best friend. Chicken Little runs around his animal-populated town informing everyone that the sky is falling. Without proof he becomes the laughing stock and must, in typical American fashion, turn to baseball to redeem himself.
When the sky really does fall, or rather War Of the Worlds parodying aliens show up, no one will believe poor Chicken and his loser buddies so they have to save the day themselves while Chicken’s typical Disney single parent (it’s a dad this time) looks the other way and teaches us all to believe in our kids even if they are out fighting aliens in the streets.
Disney axed their hand-drawn animation department to jump on the digital bandwagon but this sub-par, hyperactive crap-fest movie just reinforces the fact that Hollywood is really slipping these days. The much-hyped "2005 box office slump" has been linked to everything from gasoline prices to DVDs. It’s typical American media fear mongering and everyone knows the true reason is simple – most of the movies sucked this year and that kept people out of the theatres.
With Oscar approaching fast hopefully Hollywood, much like Whistler’s optimists, is bracing themselves for "the sickest season ever." I doubt it.
AT VILLAGE 8 Nov. 4-10: Jarhead; Chicken Little; Legend of Zorro; Saw 2; History of Violence; Prime; North Country; Wallace and Grommit; Elizabethtown.
AT RAINBOW THEATRE Nov. 4-10: The Skeleton Key.