Opens Fri., July 1, at Metro
The downside to cable is the expansion of trash programming like Howard Stern, and the upside is Animal Planet, where Deep Blue properly belongs. It's scenic and interesting enough to hold your attention, but there's nothing remotely novel about the oceanic travelogue and whiskey-honeyed narration by Pierce Brosnan. (Nor are Dubya or climate change mentioned.) Once you've seen one seal plucked from the beach in Namibia by a killer whale, you've seen 'em all. (Although I confess to a certain awe—enjoyment?—when one orca, while toying with its wounded prey, swatted the thing about 100 feet in the air with its tail.) The other visual wonders feel familiar, too: Reefs swarm with creatures out of Fantasia; jellyfish trail tendrils like living smoke; sea rays skim overhead like the Federation spaceship in the first shot of Star Wars; in the deepest ocean, bioluminescent creatures seem to have been designed by H.R. Giger. Amazing stuff, but it's not served by 007's comments like, "It is the mysteries of the ocean that continue to elude us." Isn't that why we should make documentaries— precisely so that mysteries don't elude us?
Kids won't complain too much (though the orcas munching the seals and a blue whale calf may cause shock and distress). At their age, I loved Jacques Cousteau movies, too, which finally made me realize what's missing from Deep Blue. Instead of Bond, we need Steve Zissou's drolleries. (Bill Murray did Garfield, so he'd stoop to this.) I know there's a jaguar shark in here someplace. (G) BRIAN MILLER
March of the Penguins
Opens Fri., July 1, at Egyptian
You damn penguins get offa my lawn! Maybe global warming will one day bring these Antarctic birds to Green Lake, where they'll compete with the mallards for bread crusts. For now, however, such enviro-political questions are off the table in this French documentary about the incredible breeding cycle of the Emperor variety of the fowl. (See interview with director Luc Jacquet, p. 80.) March was originally narrated by the birds—that is, French actors speaking their parts in the first person—until it secured U.S. distribution, which has resulted in an insipid new wildlife narration script read by Morgan Freeman. If you got tired of hearing his droning voice in Million Dollar Baby, the penguins are just cute enough to keep you from snoozing off. (And if you do, the resulting confusion about female penguin boxers will probably make the movie seem more interesting in retrospect than it is.)
Fortunately, regardless of what's being said, the casting here is impeccable: These birds are stars unfazed by the camera (they've never been hunted and aren't afraid of film crews). Marching single file across an icy plane, swaying with each step or tobogganing when tired, dwarfed by huge ice formations like Monument Valley, their 70-mile procession to their annual breeding ground takes on the grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia or a John Ford Western. It's bird against the environment, even if you can't tell one bird from another. Male and female are indistinguishable, and for some kids to think they're CGI multiples makes sense—in the harshest possible climate of natural selection, only one model of penguin works, and that's the one that's been copied and reproduced. So perfectly streamlined are they for underwater fishing, you could sketch their outline with three strokes of black ink—but for that daub of orange on their cheeks, like the color World War II fighter pilots used to add to their engine cowls. Unlike Deep Blue, this is a documentary that knows to stick with one animal, and one animal exhaustively.
After such immersion in penguin culture, watching the males sit on their eggs for four months without food in subzero temps, no human father could ever again complain about changing a diaper. And here are offspring remarkably grateful and unfussy about mealtimes—they can't get enough of regurgitated seafood, one day after the next. (I'd really like to know what the chicks were saying in the French-language original, or how their parents were emoting when doing the icy deed.) Still, the Antarctic terrain is so awe-inspiring, and the Emperor parents so determined, that you might want to bring your iPod instead of listening to Freeman's "This is a story about love" penguin platitudes. After the show, you may even feel like going out to dinner for regurgitated fish. (G) BRIAN MILLER
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Opens Fri., July 1, at Uptown
"No one's going to live your life for you," says a nursing-home resident being taxied by Christine, a struggling young artist on her day job. Like she doesn't know that already. Played by the formidably talented performance artist Miranda July, making her feature debut as writer, director, and leading actress, Christine declares in one of her audio collages, "I'm gonna be free and I'm gonna be brave." It's an unironic, utterly uncool declaration, one that American indie film desperately needs to hear. I think it's fair to say that the cycle launched by sex, lies and videotape has reached its decadent late period of detachment, snark, and self-consciousness. Already an award winner at Sundance, Cannes, and SIFF, Me and You genuinely feels like something new and important, while remaining light on its feet. It's a film that's been carefully constructed from its first frame to the last without reference to other movies, without being meta, without its ensemble cast— essentially all unknowns—relying on the familiar indie typologies of slacker, seducer, scoundrel, or chronic mope case. (The soundtrack is even free of alternative rock for once; July is rightfully suspicious of music that will one day be used to sell us cars.)
July's gallery of kooks are all actively, enthusiastically engaged with the world. Christine eagerly and somewhat embarrassingly tries to get her work into the hands of an aloof museum curator. No less avid a seeker, shoe salesman Richard (Deadwood's John Hawkes) lights his hand on fire in an ill-conceived goodbye to his failed marriage, but cheerfully avows, "I am prepared for amazing things to happen." Meanwhile, Richard's co-worker is propositioning a bratty pair of neighborhood teenage girls by posting smutty signs in his apartment window; his 7-year-old son develops an online relationship with an unknown adult; and a neighborhood girl of 10 solemnly assembles her own future wedding trousseau with the same care and consideration Christine puts into her tapes and dioramas. Clumsily, haltingly, endearingly, everyone is making an effort in Me and You, even if they have no idea where that effort may lead.
Some of these avenues are sexual, and a few viewers could be made uncomfortable by the 7-year-old's poop-obsessed IM banter with his mystery correspondent. Then his older brother, about 14, gets enlisted in a sexual bake-off between those bratty teen girls, all while father Richard is obliviously selling shoes in a discount mall where needy Christine may be stalking him. Is he a neglectful parent? No, says July, this is the way kids really behave outside our gaze. Her writing—and direction of her excellent young performers—makes equals of children, instead of treating them like the sexless little symbols of innocence they're not. They're interested precisely in those things they don't understand, that adults keep away from them.
None of this is tragic, however; the tension turns more to comedy as July explores the careening connections among her characters in their any-city, thrift-store neighborhood. (The street names are from Portland, where she was based for many years, but the film was shot in anonymous blue-collar L.A., her current home.) Me and You is an art film where everyone is entirely artless; no one is sophisticated or affected except for the museum curator, but even her vulnerabilities eventually become known. Like the dots and semicolons that Richard's sons methodically arrange into pointillist computer printouts, there's a pattern to all their seemingly random doings. Everyone's groping toward a shape or truth to their lives. And though their plans are sometimes silly and their efforts bungling, July invites us to laugh without mockery or hipster condescension.
The path from the art gallery to the movie studio is littered with failures (think of David Salle, Robert Longo, or Cindy Sherman). July has already made short films and multimedia pieces, plus audio works for NPR, so she comes a lot more prepared. Another crucial difference to the success of Me and You, which was honed at the Sundance labs, is that her creations, however original, don't feel glued to the canvas. The results are both dreamy and accessible, comical and philosophical, in a warmly offhand and affirmative way. (R) BRIAN MILLER
Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire
Runs Fri., July 1–Thurs., July 7, at Varsity
Roméo Dallaire was the Canadian general in charge of U.N. troops in Rwanda during the 1994 massacre of minority Tutsi tribesfolk by the majority Hutus, dramatized in Hotel Rwanda. As Peter Raymont's documentary explains, the Tutsis used to dominate the Hutus during Belgian colonial days, and the roots of 1994 lay in the bizarre racial theories Belgians imposed during their rule—a lot of pseudoscience that drove home the point that the races needn't acknowledge each other as being quite human. Every mass-murder regime in history has first taken care to dehumanize its victims, and the process started early in Rwanda.
In Hotel Rwanda, Gen. Dallaire was portrayed as a hulking he-man by Nick Nolte, but the real guy is soft-spoken and largely broken by his experience. Suicidally depressed, he says he only keeps it together today through daily pills and force of will. He seems a wisp, a wraith the wind might dissipate before our eyes. Yet the sight of him in 1994 was enough to make the murderers flee. He says that if any of the 2,500 troops from various nations that were originally on the scene had stayed, under his command he could have prevented 800,000 Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus from being killed.
But after about 10 Belgian troops were killed, everyone fled except Dallaire and a few dozen stalwarts, who helped save a few people but were forced to watch the rest die. The U.S. was hypnotized at the time by O.J. Simpson, and disinclined to get itself mired in an African quagmire, where no oil, money, or compelling self-interest was in play. The Belgians and French were even worse— Devil shows a Belgian government spokesperson subsequently taking zero responsibility for the greater calamity, but having the gall to blame Dallaire for not getting his own troops killed while attempting to rescue the 10 or so Belgian nationals killed during the genocide. Dallaire acidly retorts that 50 years ago, his father risked his neck saving Belgium from Nazis—at a time when Belgium was busily raping Rwanda for its own gain.
The film, alas, is an aesthetic disaster. Raymont doesn't make 1994 events at all clear, as he follows Dallaire on his desultory return trip to Rwanda 10 years after the massacre. Though you'll feel compelled to salute the general for his courage in confronting an indifferent world and putting himself in peril, you're forced to admit that he is an ungalvanizing figure on film, inarticulate, repetitive, vague, pale in every way. You could always read his book of the same title instead of watching Devil, which is one of the worst important movies in history. (NR) TIM APPELO