Friday, November 13, 2009

A Lame Shaggy Dog

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I am sitting right now in a waiting room in Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, having just received news that a stomach operation my mother had to undergo this morning---the removal of a benign tumor---has gone "better than expected." Not only is she pretty much cured, but she'll actually be able to eat normally! That's something her doctor here had not initially expected.

Music to my ears!

My mother will have to stay in the hospital for a few more days, so I'm waiting to see her for one last time before I head back home. In the meantime, though...I might as well actually fulfill a promise on this blog for once and toss off a few words on...

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009, Dir.: Grant Heslov)

The title of this film suggests a shaggy-dog story, and that's basically what Heslov delivers, with all the requisite weight of these kinds of fantastical anecdotes, that being very-little-to-none. Heslov can't even be bothered to work up any infectious comic outrage at the general silliness, selfishness and political maneuvering on display; the best he can do is affect the same above-it-all snarky attitude Mike Nichols cruised on in Charlie Wilson's War a couple years ago.

There's nothing actively irritating about The Men Who Stare at Goats; on its own modest terms, it's sufficiently amusing. And there is admittedly something rather cathartic about its climax, in which soldiers at an Iraqi army camp are seen tripping on acid, laughing uncontrollably and freaking out all over the place. But I can't help but shake the feeling that movies like this, the Nichols film, and Steven Soderbergh's exasperating recent "comedy" The Informant! are just taking the easy way out: evincing no particular point-of-view, content instead to score smug laughs at situations that ought to make your blood boil even as it makes you laugh out loud. (See this year's superior, if slightly overpraised, U.K. import In the Loop for an example of a hilarious satire that draws blood and inspires genuine anger.)

Coming soon: Antichrist and whatever else I get around to seeing this coming weekend (I hope the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man will be one of the films I get to finally see).

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