Drive-in Delights: Skeletons and virgins are even better outdoors.

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
Aug. 29 2005 3:14 PM

Drive-in Delights

Skeletons and virgins are even better outdoors.

(Continued from Page 2)
Valiant: not all kid stuff 
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Valiant: not all kid stuff

My August video orgy is interrupted for a trip to the Wellfleet Drive-In with my 7-year-old daughter, Lucy, to see two recent Disney efforts, Valiant and Sky High. The first movie I saw (Pinocchio) was at a drive-in, and it moves me so much to be able to share the experience (at the last outdoor theater on my regular circuit) that I feel like sobbing as I struggle to mount the speaker without breaking the window. I want to tell her about how it used to be, about all the great drive-in experiences in my youth. ... And then I realize that in 10 years I'll hunt down and kill anyone who tries some of the stuff with her in drive-ins that I got away with.

Valiant, the animated tale of Royal Air Force pigeons versus Nazi pigeons, is elegantly designed and very weird. Lucy seems to love it, but this two-tiered approach to kids' pictures (in the industry this makes them "hand-hold movies," meaning you don't just drop the children off but stay and buy popcorn and sell the film to other parents) gets increasingly inexplicable. Where are the real fairy tales—the ones without the relentless number of jokes aimed at grown-ups? Given all its World War II references and parodies, the best audience for Valiant would be addled, octogenarian ex-RAF pilots in the old folks' home. I try to keep Lucy up to speed but it doesn't work out so well. "That female French pigeon—Charles De Girl. See, that's funny because there was this French general in World War II named Charles De Gaulle, and ..." "Daddy, shut up, I'm trying to watch the movie." Lucy likes Sky High even better. It's an anti-caste-system plea on behalf of superhero sidekicks, whom we come to realize are important, too. With Harry Potter sensitizing us all to the plight of mudbloods, it seems as if tolerance and liberal humanism are not in as much danger as I feared—and least for people with marginal superpowers.

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger get Grimm
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Heath Ledger and Matt Damon get Grimm
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Finally, it's out by my lonesome to the Wellfleet multiplex on a 78-degree Perfect Day for an 11:05 screening of The Brothers Grimm (Miramax), directed by Terry Gilliam. It's not as bad as I'd heard, but like a lot of Gilliam's movies it's too overloaded—antic, indulgent, overdesigned—to get off the ground for more than a minute or two at a stretch. I know that clutter and intricate contraptions are Gilliam's métier, but my preference in thrillers—and this is a supernatural thriller-comedy masquerading as a fairy tale—is for a cleaner, sharper frame and less extraneous busy-ness.

Matt Damon and Heath Ledger (under facial hair that renders him virtually anonymous) are the titular German brothers, who are not only the famous authors but also theatrical con men who snooker superstitious villagers. Captured by the conquering French (led by that ham bone Jonathan Pryce), they're given a chance to earn their freedom by solving the mystery of disappearing children in a small German village. The mystery, of course, turns out to involve real supernatural forces, engendering a crisis of (non)faith. The brothers—and the audience—are saddled with scenery-chewer Peter Stormare and another of his Not-of-This-Earth accents (he's supposed to be Italian). His character keeps dragging them back before the saucy French autocrat to be tortured: Gilliam loves the theme of fascist governments breaking the spirit of romantic dreamers so much that he extends the movie a half hour longer than it needs to be.

He also loves contraptions—wheels, pulleys, catapults, and all the intricate and clackety machinery of theaters 200 years ago. Perhaps he was born in the wrong century. The actors try to get a joshing Hope and Crosby rhythm going (they even have a Dorothy Lamour, a statuesque German demon-huntress played by Lena Headey), but The Brothers Grimm plays more like an overstuffed Ishtar. (The actors are so upstaged I didn't even realize that MacKenzie Crook of The Office was in the movie until he got finished off.) Mixing up motifs from familiar Brothers Grimm tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Gingerbread Man), The Brothers Grimm has enough haunting, fairy-tale imagery for 10 movies, but no emotional kick to drive those images home. Even the Fiji-ans would be impatient.
... 3:00 p.m. PT

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.

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