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SXSW 2010: MacGruber, Winter’s Bone, & More

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SXSW 2010: <em>MacGruber</em>, <em>Winter’s Bone</em>, & More
SXSW 2010: <em>MacGruber</em>, <em>Winter’s Bone</em>, & More

MacGruber (Jorma Taccone). You might think a full-length feature about MacGruber, Will Forte’s bumbling ’80s action hero, would feel at least an hour too long. Even Steve Carell couldn’t lift his lumbering feature about Maxwell Smart, the ’60s version of MacGruber, off the ground—but maybe he needed Jorma Taccone at the controls.

Saturday Night Life actor/writer/director Taccone, one of the three guys who does those funny videos with Andy Samberg (he also shot a lot of the MacGruber shorts for SNL and is the man behind a Pepsi ad for the Super Bowl), has great sense of comic timing and a deep and gleeful knowledge of comedy conventions and pop-culture icons. In the Q&A after the film, he revealed that he loves late-’80s/early-’90s action movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and Rambo 3 (“not one or two or four—though four is pretty great too”), and that he and his cast intended their movie to be more of a comic tribute than a spoof.

You probably have to love those movies to embrace this one fully, but for those of us who do, it makes for a wildly entertaining night at the movies. Action movie clichés, like the way people keep telling MacGruber, “I thought you were dead!,” are given just the right emphasis. You laugh at the dick jokes and gay jokes too, partly because they’re cathartic, surfacing and then blowing up all the unacknowledged homoerotic machismo that fuels those movies, but also because Forte does blustery incompetence so well and the editors always know just where to cut. And Michael Bay has taken things so far that you pretty much have to chase your bad guy off a cliff, fire two big guns at him as he goes down, and reduce him to a blackened hole in the ground at the bottom of a canyon if you’re going for laughs. This movie also has the funniest sex scene since the South Park movie with the puppets.

Breach: The Whys Are Not Important

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<em>Breach</em>: The Whys Are Not Important
<em>Breach</em>: The Whys Are Not Important

While rebuking a wayward F.B.I. spook, one of Breach’s characters says, “The whys are not important,” a statement that sums up the strengths and limitations of this so-so espionage thriller. It epitomizes a film that is task- and not character-oriented, implying that personal motives and psychological make-up are of no ultimate importance in the face of massive and deadly crimes. Not only does the film use this statement as both a narrative and political strategy, it also adopts it as a moral point of view. Breach doesn’t ask questions about the deviousness of American foreign policy, nor does it delve into the psychological makeup of the schizoid personality at its center—it just gives us a mouse to catch, and we hope that the hero is up to the challenge. The film is surprisingly absorbing on this level, but it’s also good enough to give you a whiff of the more complex movie that might have been.

Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, & The Prestige

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Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, & The Prestige
Navel Gazing with Burns & Dignan: Flags of Our Fathers, The Queen, & The Prestige

Editors’ note: This is the debut appearance of a new Monday feature, the appropriately titled “Navel Gazing,” wherein House contributors Sean Burns and Andrew Dignan kick around a few recent releases. Feel free to join them in the comments section.

Andrew Dignan: I finally got a chance to see Flags of Our Fathers this weekend, after spending much of the past two weeks dreading it. Somewhere along the way, the film developed the reputation of a dull non-starter that, in a development I know both you and I despise, was deemed “out of the Oscar race” and thus somehow not worthy of serious discussion. So it was with some amount of surprise that I enjoyed the film quite a bit, with special note to the film’s structure which telescopes the timeline of the battle of Iwo Jima with the war bonds drive that found the film’s reluctant heroes rehashing and often trivializing the trauma of what they’d been through in order to package and sell a palatable version of war to the American public. And Clint Eastwood, that sly dog, seems to be grudgingly receptive towards the idea that such things are a necessary evil.

The film would seem to be mining the same bedrock of demystifying our heroes—and with the depiction of Ira Hayes, the way real violence eats at a man’s soul—that Eastwood’s been exploring as an artist for nearly 50 years. Acknowledging that the film is far from perfect (the last 20 minutes gave me something of a protracted, Lord of the Rings-type unease), why is it you think so many people have railed against it, and seem to so pleased to be perpetrating the belief that the film is both a financial and critical failure? Is this a Munich-type situation, where a handful of net-journalists with an agenda are trying to write history—a Paul Haggis backlash as a result of his last two films cleaning up at the Academy Awards? Or have some people simply grown tired of the themes and rhythms that Eastwood chooses to put onscreen? And more importantly, where do you see the film being ranked in his canon?

Laying It on Thick: Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

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Laying It on Thick: Clint Eastwood’s <em>Flags of Our Fathers</em>
Laying It on Thick: Clint Eastwood’s <em>Flags of Our Fathers</em>

The stink of Crash hovers over Flags of Our Fathers. A dramatization of James Bradley and Ron Powers’s bestseller about the truth behind the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the film is confirmation of Paul Haggis’s predilection for exploitation and easy sentimentality. Million Dollar Baby, a good film, suffered from Haggis’s unmistakable lower-class condescension (fans of the film stumble when trying to rationalize the Fitzgerald Family Traveling Circus), and Flags of Our Fathers, adapted for the screen by Haggis and William Broyles Jr., uses a very real, largely unknown controversy as a jumping off point for a trite homily on how wars are sold to the American public. (Some will look for parallels to current events, except that would be giving the film the benefit of the doubt.) If Clint Eastwood’s personality barely shines through it’s because Haggis’s cartoon politics strongarm the director’s vision.