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three for three [movie review :: 3 by bobcat goldthwait]

if i were a better blogger, i'd probably review these individually and give each the attention it deserves, but i'm an impatient person and kind of a lazy blogger and i really want to get these done before i put it off any longer.

i'd actually intended to post a review of "world's greatest dad" months ago, but other things kept distracting me [damned things]. now that i've seen all three of bobcat's recent films,i figured that i'd better get around to writing a review before it leaves my mind forever. which things are more and more wont to do.

first, a word about the auteur, bobcat goldthwait. if you've heard of him at all, it's probably because of his wacky 80s-comedy antics, particularly in the "police academy" movies, in which case, you might be pretty surprised to find out that he's actually an incredibly smart, articulate, politically astute stand-up comedian, writer and director in real life. you could be forgiven for that, because most of what he does is so independent that it flies below the radar. his films probably wouldn't receive any attention, or even any distribution, if he weren't connected with a number of more connected hollywood types who recognise the originality and smarts of his work. [to get a peek at his mindset, i do recommend checking out the csi episode in which he guest starred, more or less as himself.]

"sleeping dogs lie" :: apparently this was made for a real shoestring budget, by a crew recruited largely from craigslist [including a 21 year old cinematographer who fibbed about his age in order to seem more experienced], shooting without permits and occasionally without permission from the owners of the premises, with a cast of complete unknowns. this is definitely a project after my own heart.

within the first two minutes of the film, we find out that the heroine- smart, beautiful, funny amy- had a fleeting youthful experience with bestiality. we even sort of get to see the incident, although it's really more a matter of clever editing and extremely dry, direct narration. with goldthwait's movies, you learn very quickly to brace yourself from the get-go, because he usually likes to hit the audience with the most shocking part of the film with as little build-up as possible. a crash helmet is advisable for more sensitive viewers.

amy's flat, factual description of what happened is almost clinical. yes, she did something shocking and unacceptable. she makes no excuses, although she clearly knows what she did was very wrong. by presenting it this way, though, it drives home the real point: the film isn't about what happened, but about how to deal with it in a world that equates personal intimacy with total honesty. after that initial bomb, there is no attempt to shock, offend or sicken. it's a very human, personal story about the dangers and consequences of honesty.

it's a clever script, a lot more clever than the words "film about bestiality" would lead you to believe. what's the most remarkable though, are the performances. it's a tricky story that has no villain. none of the characters are bad people, they're just hamstrung by their various internal conflicts. that is most true of melinda page hamilton who makes amy almost unbelievably loveable, despite her youthful, erm, dalliance. even at points where the script lags a little, her undeniable charm keeps you interested because, despite everything, you want her to do well.

you probably won't believe me when i say that this would make an incredible date movie. but you should.

"world's greatest dad" :: quite possibly the antidote to every ham-handed family movie you've ever had forced down your dysfunctionally raised gullet. robin williams plays the titular father, a frustrated writer working as a high school teacher, trying to pursue his lost dream and a relationship with a vacillating fellow teacher while raising the child from hell. damian has nothing on this kid, because this kid is a contemporary american teenager, one who apparently spawned from the dna of the antichrist [the wife and mother is never mentioned, although clearly she had the sense to get the hell out of dodge].

williams is an inspired casting choice [he and goldthwait are good friends], all repressed anger and energy and blighted hopes. his characteristic lunacy is muzzled so tightly it even seems to affect his posture- a dam buckling little by little.

the child from hell dies in an unsavoury accident, which williams frames to look like a suicide, complete with a highly uncharacteristic suicide note that is leaked to classmates, the community and the country. the letter- read only in heavily pretentious excerpts- becomes a phenomenon, inadvertently gaining williams' writing widespread attention and bringing him fame as the grieving father of the note's supposed author.

in the absence of the monstrous child, it becomes obvious that almost everyone in the father's world is pretty contemptible, which is why it's hard to dislike him, even when he's betraying their trust. indeed, the question hovers until the last possible second as to what path the writer [of the film] is going to take forward.

"god bless america" :: just your average terminally ill middle aged man meets precocious teen and they go on a shooting rampage movie?

bobcat has never made a secret of his political leanings, but neither has be made them into a film before, but this, more than his previous films, seems to come very close to him addressing the audience directly. his voice is filtered through frank [joel murray], a hapless everyman gradually having the last few shreds of his life set on fire and thrown in his face.

assaulted on all sides by a culture that values stupidity and vulgarity and that elevates the stupidest and crassest to the level of demigods, our hero decides to spend his last days making the earth better by removing a few of these celebrities from it. he is accompanied by roxy [tara lynn barr], a high school outcast who connects with his fury, despite the differences in their age. although she clearly has some talent, it's the introduction of her character that the film becomes problematic for me.

possibly, it's the fact that she is so uncannily similar to the character played by ellen page in "super" [released the year before, although i've no idea which was filmed first] and that barr's speech and mannerisms are themselves patterned so closely on page that you wondered if the part hadn't been offered to her first. barr is good, but the likeness is pronounced enough to become distracting, particularly when the script has her decrying the work of diablo cody for the way the "juno" scribe portrays young women.

murray, on the other hand, is phenomenal. you feel his weariness and hopelessness with every breath and, yes, for anyone who's ever cringed when they've heard those around them discussing "american idol" or "jersey shore" or any of the horrors perpetrated on popular culture, it's hard not to sympathise with the urge to pick up a gun and start taking out the trash.

this is undoubtedly goldthwait's weightiest film and probably his least successful, although saying that, i'm reminded of a line i once used about how some artists' albums of outtakes are better than the careers of a lot of others. any director should be happy to have a low point of this caliber.

i do hope that more people see these films, but i stop short of wishing that goldthwait becomes very commercially successful with them. because the strength of his work is clearly grounded in the fact that he's been able to make whatever movies he wants, exactly how he wants. directors under the thumb of a major studio [with major expectations in line with their major investments] are far more restricted, because what they produce needs to be palatable to enough people to bring a healthy financial return. with story lines about bestiality, teen suicide and blowing away celebutards, i don't see that happening.

long may he prosper in the darkly humourous corners he's staked out.

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