uneasy relationship: Treadwell and alleged friends in
Aren’t Our Friends
by Werner Herzog
If Timothy Treadwell had simply accepted the fact that grizzly
bears were not, in fact, his friends, he’d be alive today.
Treadwell spent 13 summers, some alone and some with a girlfriend,
in the remote Alaskan wilderness living among brown grizzlies
as a self-styled “kind warrior” and protector of the bears.
He obsessively videotaped his interactions with them and the
other wildlife, bragging that he knew how to live among beasts
and not end up dead. In September 2003, at the end of that
13th summer, however, an old grizzly killed and ate both Treadwell
and his companion, Amie Huguenard.
If Treadwell hadn’t believed in the bears, however,
he would have died years earlier. His passion for them—his
mental illness, some argue—saved him from a downward spiral
of alcohol and drugs.
This is exactly the kind of deluded, self-created tragicomic
figure director Werner Herzog has been making films about
for four decades. Treadwell is a classic Herzog “hero,” another
Fitzcarraldo. Instead of building an opera house in the Amazon
jungle, however, Treadwell tried to transcend the boundary
between man and wild nature—something more impossible, more
dangerous, and more grandiose.
Herzog sorted through the over 100 hours of videotape Treadwell
made of himself in the wilderness, combined these excerpts
with interviews and newly filmed trips to Treadwell’s camps
to fashion a gripping documentary.
And Treadwell is pretty far out there. His shenanigans among
the bears are alternately frightening and amusing; his passion
for them is admirable and ghastly; and his relentless self-aggrandizement
impressive and repellant. Complex? Yes. Laughable? Absolutely
not: What he does may be unintentionally hilarious, but he’s
too focused to be seen as a mere clown.
Herzog respects Treadwell, profound disagreements aside. One
of the unexpected pleasures of Grizzly Man is Herzog’s
narration. Unexpected not because Herzog is an unknown quantity;
unexpected because he was allowed to actually do it.
Someone, perhaps, pointed out to the producers that Herzog’s
DVD director commentaries are flat-out brilliant. (Run, don’t
walk, to rent Aguirre: The Wrath of God.) At any rate,
falling into the Discovery Channel trap—and this is, in fact,
a coproduction between Discovery and Lion’s Gate Films—of
having some actorly hired voice prattling away beautifully
would have done a disservice to overdramatic actor-wannabe
Treadwell, who doesn’t need any help in emphasizing the more
absurd aspects of his personality.
But there is also the personal connection that Herzog feels
with Treadwell, both as a filmmaker and as a man obsessed.
Herzog necessarily picked the most relevant of Treadwell’s
videos to tell the man’s story, but also makes a point to
show some of the aesthetically lovely moments Treadwell captured
in what Herzog refers to as the mysterious “magic of the cinema.”
Herzog isn’t as verbally explicit in his fascination for (and
connection with) Treadwell as an obsessive, but let’s face
it: Obsession, simply, is Herzog’s great subject. And Treadwell,
oddly enough, has received exactly the cinematic memorial
by Terry Gilliam
Underneath its dank cinema- tography and gratuitous grotesqueries,
The Brothers Grimm contains such a marvelous conceit
that it’s a shame that Tim Burton or Peter Jackson didn’t
come up with it. In Terry Gilliam’s version, the real lives
of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm—those immortal scholars of medievalist
folklore—are bizarrely fictionalized into perilous involvement
with a genuine folktale, this one taking place in an enchanted
forest in Germany. The forest is devouring young girls from
the village. Some of the peasants assume that the curse upon
their land was invoked by the conquering French army. As the
brothers will discover, however, the evil presence is a vain
queen who ruled during the plague. Jacob (Heath Ledger), a
naive dreamer, is exhilarated and ennobled at finding himself
in the midst of an actual fairy tale; Will (Matt Damon), the
practical, worldly one, refuses to acknowledge the existence
of magic until it’s almost too late.
The above synopsis was extracted from the squirmy mess that
director Terry Gilliam has regurgitated upon the screen with
all the restraint of a frat boy on spring break. Instead of
crystallizing Ehren Kruger’s intriguing but overwrought script,
Gilliam further embellishes it with pathetically unfunny one-liners
and an absurdist attitude that’s sloppy rather than satirical.
We’re a long way from Monty Python and the Holy Grail,
here; even Gilliam’s bloated Brazil seems pointed in
comparison. Only Damon, who seems to have ignored the direction
(as Ledger should’ve), manages to make his character sane
enough to want to follow. The needlessly hardboiled plot—the
brothers are forced into service upon pain of death by an
outlandish French general (Jonathan Pryce), who refers to
them as “ze brothers Grime”—mucks up the more whimsical elements,
such as the sly inclusion of fairy-tale iconography. When
one of the Marburg girls is snatched by a malevolent tree,
her little red riding hood flies into the air like a distress
Brothers starts out promisingly, with their dispatch of
a heinous witch. While supposedly collaborating with a terrified
official, the Grimms shoot down the attacking hag with a crossbow
fitted out with a vial of tears from an innocent child. It’s
a hoax, though: Will is a fraud who debunks superstitions
for fame and fortune. Jake reluctantly assists him while he
compiles his anthology of folktales (the setting is 1812,
shortly before the real Grimms were first published). This
visually imaginative sequence is followed by several flights
of astonishing fancy and a bravura set piece regarding the
reanimation of the evil queen (Monica Bellucci), but mostly,
the film is a tedious slog through gross-out humor, more bugs
than an entire season of Fear Factor (even Will’s horse
gets a mouthful), and Peter Stormare’s intolerably gamy performance
as Cavaldi, a “master of the torturous arts” who bogs down
the proceedings repeatedly with his impulse to throw the Grimms
and their allies into one demented device or another. At one
particularly juvenile point, a tiny kitten lands under a rotary
blade and is spewed over the onlookers. And who knew that
the Gingerbread Man was really the Blob in disguise?
The lavishly historical production is similarly corroded;
every tableau is darkened into depressing blues and browns.
Even the slithery trees and a stellar werewolf can’t give
this fractured fairy tale a single mote of enchantment.
Joy of No Sex
40 Year Old Virgin
by Judd Apatow
Dude, you know how I can tell that you’re gay? I saw you enjoying
a romantic comedy.
That is, after all, what The 40 Year Old Virgin is:
Imagine it on the shelf at the end of an arrow that suggests
you might like it if you also enjoyed You’ve Got Mail,
Say Anything or, for that matter, Along Came Polly.
Kinda makes your blood run cold, doesn’t it? That’s the bad
news: that you may have to revisit your feelings about this
mostly miserable, usually mind-numbingly cutesy-pie genre.
The good news is that The 40 Year Old Virgin is not
only not insipid but it’s also really very funny and
even touching. It avoids both Nora Ephron-style schmaltz,
on the one hand, and Farrelly Bros.-style schadenfreude on
Daily Show’s Steve Carrell is Andy Stitzer, a stock
manager at a shopping-mall electronics store who has arrived
at midlife without ever consummating any of his comically
mishandled or completely bungled romantic liaisons. Passive
and polite, Andy is accepting of his chaste fate and fills
his time instead with a variety of über-geeky pursuits: He
collects action figures, tootles away on his euphonium, paints
miniatures, plays video games, performs solo karaoke with
a machine in his living room, etc. He leads the life of a
tidy, respectful, remarkably well-behaved preadolescent.
Playing the Goofus chorus to Carrell’s gentle Gallant are
his coworkers: Jay (Romany Malco), a chronically faithless,
self-styled mack daddy; David (Paul Rudd), a morose recent
dumpee; and Cal (Seth Rogen), a bearish bong hog. When, through
sheer and hilarious ignorance, Andy accidentally outs himself
as a virgin at a card game (by comparing the feel of woman’s
breast to a “bag of sand”), this trio take it upon themselves
to get him laid.
This, of course, sounds like total crap. But Carrell’s performance
is winning throughout; he limns Andy’s haplessness with enough
dignity that he is never merely the convenient butt of the
joke. And the support players are absolutely brilliant. The
interplay between the boys in this movie—equal parts competitive,
protective, affectionate and unflinchingly cruel—is the best
and funniest reproduction of boneheaded male bonding rituals
I’ve ever seen. Watching Rudd and Rogen, for example, riffing
insults about one another’s sexual orientation while playing
Mortal Kombat rings absolutely true: “You know how I know
you’re gay?” “How?” “You liked Maid in Manhattan.”
“Oh, you know how I know you’re gay?” “How?” “You like Coldplay.”
“You know how I know you’re gay? You have a rainbow bumper
sticker on your car that says ‘I like it when balls are in
my face.’ ” “That’s gay?”
The romance, too, works. Andy falls for a slightly scattered
entrepreneur and single mother, Trish (Catherine Keener).
Though he is nervous about the eventual effects of his virginity
on the relationship, he—and the movie—refuse to follow Jay’s
advice that he have sex with enough “hood rats” to practice
for a more significant coupling. Instead, the focus is kept,
mainly, on the sweet, awkward progress of the relationship
between two damaged but well-meaning lonely people. The scene
in which Andy accompanies Trish’s teen daughter to the clinic
for a crash course in sexuality is a subtle display of comic
heroism, both funny and charming—it’s a turning point in the
movie, and a scene that would have played far less engagingly
had someone like Ben Stiller been the lead.
Huh. Romantic. Comedy. Who’d a thunk?
by Bruce Hunt
In The Cave, a team of world-class “cave divers,” whose
highly specialized skills include deep-sea diving, rock climbing,
and the ability to deploy ultra-sophisticated equipment, are
hired by a scientific expedition to help explore a vast underwater
cavern beneath the Carpathian Mountains. This “virgin cave”
hasn’t yet been charted, but that doesn’t mean that no one
has gone there before: As the team discovers, several explorers
met a grisly end within. There are, of course, mysterious
predators lurking in the blackness.
The setting is terrifically chilling. The cavern and its fathomless
depths of water and soaring chasms combine with the divers’
vulnerability—for all their technology, such as blinding light
balloons and hand-held navigational computers, they are clearly
out of their element—generates a sense of excitement that
doesn’t need any creature-feature clichés. Yet that is what
The Cave is almost wholly made of. Its threadbare plot
consists of the divers and scientists getting picked off one
by one by the primeval kin of Pitch Black’s flying
monsters. Director Bruce Hunt is a former special-effects
director, and it shows in his athletic use of natural elements
such as sheer rock face and underwater rapids. But the characters
are so poorly conceived (though Cole Hauser tries mightily
as the team leader) that it’s of little interest if they become
lunch for a hang-gliding behemoth or get infected with a mutating
parasite or are sabotaged by one of their own. And whenever
anything happens, even a mild run-in with oversized cave mole,
the action is edited into a puree of incomprehensible motion.
Long before the motiveless predators fully show themselves,
viewers will will realize they’ve been hopelessly trapped