The Amityville Horror, Kung Fu Hustle, and more movie violence

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
April 15 2005 4:08 PM

Amity and Enmity

Violence, Violations, and Kung Fu Hustles

(Continued from Page 2)

For long stretches, you find yourself staring at Berry's Lolita, whose name seems a cruel joke—she's anything but a nymphet. She has a big honker, a wide body, and shoulders that perpetually slump, especially when she's forced to wear fashionable clothes. She's proof that French women do get fat, no matter how much leek soup (which apparently makes you pee like a horse) they ingest. Watching Lolita twiddle her hair and gaze into the distance, you see how much the young woman has been formed by people not looking at her. In a clothing store with her father's girlfriend, Karine (Virginie Desarnauts), she barely flinches when the thin, model-gorgeous blonde looks in the mirror and announces, "I'm enormous!"

The heart of Look at Me is the relationship between Lolita and her kingly father, who travels with his own courtier, a worshipful masochist named Vincent (Gregoire Oestermann). That heart is a black hole, a vacuum befitting a monster of self-absorption. It's unclear if Cassard would pay much attention to Lolita even if she were stunningly gorgeous. He certainly regards Karine and their attractive five-year-old daughter as props. He barely pays attention to anyone, although he ostentatiously searches any party he enters for pretty girls.

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Over the course of the film, Lolita tries to get Cassard to listen to a tape of her singing: Perhaps if he can't look at her, she seems to think, he can hear her. But that tape goes unplayed, and their encounters are incessantly interrupted. Cassard's cell phone rings and he withdraws into his phone conversation, or Lolita takes refuge in her cell phone; and no one is ever in the moment—no one, that is, except the filmmaker, who gazes on without blinking. Perhaps this explains the film's pacing and its formless air. The director is the only one present.

Jaoui's character undergoes a transformation, but it doesn't lead to some cathartic confrontation. This is a bleak, unresolved film, with no release. What keeps it from being a mortal bummer is the music—exquisite sacred choral works, plus Mozart. The Baroque arias that Lolita sings—in an imperfect but lovely high soprano, so unrepresentative of her body mass—suggest a yearning for life on a non-physical plane, for the world that will come when she has shuffled off this mortal coil. Or, should I say, gone beyond this too too solid flesh?... 1:34 PT

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The Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, didn't write the screenplay for their romantic comedy, Fever Pitch (20th Century Fox), and by their standards it's a mild offering. There's only one gross-out scene, and it takes place off camera—although the sounds of a food-poisoned Drew Barrymore upchucking repeatedly are pretty convincing. But the movie fits happily into the Farrellys' universe. The hero, Ben (Jimmy Fallon), is a child-man so obsessed with the Red Sox that he's something of a freak, and he finds himself torn between a challenging, grown-up relationship with a career woman, Lindsay (Drew Barrymore—not the most credible mathematics prodigy, but adorable anyway), and the security of the Sox, the Green Monster, and the surrogate family with season tickets that he sees every season in the same section of Fenway Park behind home plate. This year, Ben discovers, one old duffer is in dialysis and one woman has dropped 200 pounds after a stomach stapling. On the field, there's a Jimmy Fund boy with leg braces singing the national anthem. It's a hopeful, inclusive world. Even after "86 years of bangin' our heads against the green wall," Ben has faith. He even thinks the Sox could someday win the World Series!

I have to admit, I miss the usual fart and masturbation jokes—I prefer the Farrellys when they're disreputable and push the boundaries of taste, because they're otherwise a tad sentimental. Other directors develop as craftsmen over the course of their first few movies, but the brothers will never be a threat to Steven Spielberg; they seem untroubled by their limp rhythms and ordinary staging. Fever Pitch isn't even very feverish. What makes the movie fun and sometimes even moving is its complicated view of fandom. The movie Fever Pitch has little in common with its supposed source, Nick Hornby's memoir of his addiction to football (i.e., soccer), but it's informed by Hornby's ambivalence. Fandom takes you out of the real world, yet it makes you feel as if you're plugged into something higher, outside yourself, out of your control. It's about living for players who are completely indifferent to you personally, and yet, in worshipping them, you remain in touch with a kind of pure, childlike joy. (Hornby's book seems very amusing, but I only understood about a quarter of it. Chaucer and Finnegans Wake were easier to follow than the ins and outs of English football.)

The script, credited to veterans Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, has its graceful patches. Lindsay worries that if she comes to share Ben's obsession and lifestyle she'll be like the women she knows who get new boyfriends and "their prior lives just vanish." And when she gets beaned by a foul ball and the late TV news shows Ben high-fiving the fan who came up with it before he noticed his unconscious girlfriend—that's enough to give anyone pause. But Fallon's Ben is very sweet. He's a compulsive jokester, but he's friendly, not aggressive. He says he loves the way Lindsay talks out of one side of her mouth, "like a stroke victim," and that's a pretty good take on Barrymore—who's absolutely adorable (did I say that already?) and looks shockingly great in a flapper costume with Louise Brooks hair. (Fallon is rather good, too, by the way—his self-effacement here becomes him.)

The Farrellys have a commentary track on their Something About Mary DVD, and in every shot they point out the extras who are their childhood friends or relatives or doctors or the guys in some program for the disabled they support. (They evidently support many.) As commentaries go, this one is incredibly boring, but it helps you understand why their universe feels so warm. They really do love everyone on screen—in wheelchairs, or connected at the waist, or with long legs, or with no legs. They loved the Red Sox when the team hadn't won a series for 86 years—or, maybe, because of that? It must have thrown them when the Sox actually did it, because it's the losers in their world who are transfigured.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.