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2 Stars Movies

But seriously, why so serious? Batman goes anime in Gotham Knight

Batman: Gotham Knight is a direct-to-DVD production from Warner Premiere, intended as a back-door prequel to the feature film The Dark Knight. Warner Bros. has tried this tactic before, and will again. 2003’s The Animatrix was a planned interlude in Matrix franchise, enjoying extensive involvement from creators The Wachowskis.

Coming soon is a motion-graphics animated version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen, preceding the forthcoming live action feature film adaptation (no doubt Moore, who has long since divorced himself from his past work for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics, has a few choice words for this development).

Batman Gotham Knight
Do you think that maybe we’ve all forgotten that Batman a childrens’ comic book about a millionaire who dresses up like a bat to catch bank robbers?

The Animatrix and Gotham Knight are portmanteau films, the products of multiple writers and animation teams. But the latter is only tangentially related to its sister live-action film, The Dark Knight. A pair of detectives figure as characters in both, and the gang war that percolates in the background of The Dark Knight is the driving incident behind many of the Gotham Knight tales. But the short films (mostly in an anime style) vary wildly in quality and comprehensibility:

  • “Have I Got a Story For You” (Shoujirou Nishimi) – A pack of skate rats tell tall tales of the Batman, until the real deal shows up. One of the best of the lot, with a unique hand-drawn animation style, mixed with a little CG.
  • “Crossfire” (Futoshi Higashide) – Two detectives are literally caught in the crossfire of a gang war. Suffers from particularly awful dialogue.
  • “Field Test” (Hiroshi Morioka) – Batman receives a new toy from Lucius Fox that works a little too well.
  • “In Darkness Dwells” (Yasuhiro Aoki) – Guest-starring two veterans of Batman’s rogues’ gallery: Killer Croc and Scarecrow. Some of the best animation, but the story is incomprehensible.
  • “Working Through Pain” (Toshiyuki Kubooka) – Batman, shot in the gut, struggles alone just to get home. He has hallucinatory flashbacks to his spiritual training in the art of overcoming physical pain. He recalls how his teachers rejected him for his impure motivations (to enable his revenge plan, not to attain higher spirituality). This, one of the best stories, leads directly into…
  • “Deadshot” (Jong-Sik Nam) – …one of the worst. A master assassin (a blatant rip-off of the character Bullseye from Marvel Comics’ Daredevil) targets Lieutenant Gordon. A really lame conclusion to the collection.
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2 Stars Movies

You won’t like Edward Norton when he’s angry in The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is Hollywood’s latest incidence of what has become known as a “reboot.” The term came out of the comic book world, with further derivations in computer terminology. When a franchise begins to show its age with stalled creative energy and declining sales, its owners may opt to check it into surgery to be refreshed with a new cast, creative team, and updated plot particulars.

Warner Bros. and DC Comics kick-started their valuable but stagnant Batman and Superman feature film properties, making them relevant to 21st century audiences, and now it’s Marvel Comics’ turn. Emboldened by recent successes with Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four (and conveniently ignoring the failures Daredevil and Elektra), Marvel has obtained funding to independently produce its own films with greater creative control and, presumably, a larger chunk of the financial return. The massive success of 2008’s Iron Man seemed to prove their instincts correct.

Remarkably, The Incredible Hulk comes only five years after Ang Lee and James Schamus’ Hulk, itself a reboot of the comic book, cartoon, and television series. Even before Marvel announced it was to start over from scratch, the original Hulk film had already been seen as a critical and commercial failure, even though the reviews were not actually terrible (54 on MetaCritic and 61 on Rotten Tomatoes, both about the same as what The Incredible Hulk scored) and it earned $245 million worldwide.

Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk
NORTON SMASH!!!

I fully realize this is the minority opinion, but the Lee/Schamus version is a far, far better film, not only in comparison with its successor but also on its own terms. To paraphrase a review I recall reading at the time, “only the director of Eat Drink Man Woman and Sense & Sensibility would look at the Hulk comics and see ‘sprawling family melodrama.'” Lee and Schamus saw the core story as more than a simple Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde retread, and instead chose to tell a deeper tale of fathers and sons. The Hulk himself was created using motion-capture technology using Ang Lee’s own body language, and realized on screen as a giant green petulant baby (which is both absurdly funny and oddly moving, like the original King Kong). I still maintain it is one of the most brilliantly edited films I’ve ever seen, the closest in flow and visual style to a comic book a film has ever come. It’s also just really fucking weird, in a good way.

Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk
Liv Tyler, in the thankless role of superhero love interest

With Marvel in total charge of its own intellectual property at last, The Incredible Hulk had low artistic ambitions and was unsurprisingly crafted with comic book geeks in mind. In harsh contrast with arthouse mainstays Lee and Schamus, it was directed by action film specialist Louis Leterrier (of Transporter 2 and Danny the Dog) and written by Zak Penn, who has apparently cornered the market on super-hero scripts (including X-Men 2 & 3, Elektra, and the upcoming Avengers and Captain America). The backwards-facing film gives the fanboys a nod with admittedly fun cameos from Lou Ferrigno (who also voiced The Hulk’s few lines, and who also seems not to have aged one bit) and original Hulk co-creator (with Jack Kirby) Stan Lee. But the CGI is surprisingly unconvincing for a film that should have been state-of-the-art; the Hulk looks like he’s made of string cheese and quivering gelatin.

The Incredible Hulk
It’s showtime at The Apollo

Truth be told, I was actually rather enjoying the film, until one niggling fault grew to an unignorable degree that ruined the entire experience for me. Key character Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) remains tragically underdeveloped. Any screenwriting student (hell, any film fan) should know the storytelling mantra “show don’t tell,” and yet Blonsky’s motivations are only hinted at in one or two lines of dialogue: he’s a career soldier grumpy about turning forty. Blonsky eventually evolves into the Hulk’s nemesis The Abomination, a hideous beast that lives to destroy. As the two creatures smash Harlem to bits in the final reel, there was no sense that the Abomination was once a man. What drove him to this? Interestingly, Roth plays a not entirely dissimilar character in Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth: a man who uses up his youth in pursuit of an unattainable goal. In each case, the opportunity for a second chance is a mixed blessing.

Rumor has it an alternate, significantly longer cut of the film will eventually be released on DVD, preserving more of Edward Norton’s reported script doctoring, so this blogger hopes he will be able to revise his opinion at a later date.


Must read: Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Incredible Hulk as told to him by… The Hulk (spotted on Kottke.org)

Categories
2 Stars TV

It’s the end of the world in Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain

Michael Crichton’s novel The Andromeda Strain was first adapted into a feature film in 1971, and now into a television miniseries from executive producers Tony and Ridley Scott. This 2008 incarnation is part feel-bad thriller, part wish fulfillment. As we thrill to the speculative illustration of how civilization might suddenly come to an end, we also can only hope the government does in fact have an elaborate and high-tech procedure in place for identifying and containing new contagious disease outbreaks.

The original book is only nominally about a supervirus, evidently of extraterrestrial origin, that threatens the human race. It is actually more about how intelligent, well-meaning people can make subtle errors of judgement that may cascade into catastrophe. Chrichton would also employ Chaos Theory as a key theme in his Jurassic Park novels.

The Andromeda Strain
Good times, good times

But the miniseries complicates this interesting theme with added government venality (a basically honorable president is undercut by a corrupt chief of staff), the media (a drug addicted reporter breaks the cover-up), and the environment (strip mining of the ocean floor leads to the crisis). To give but one example of the diminishing returns: in the book, a simple unnoticed glitch in a supposedly perfect computer system causes a dangerous communication blackout at the worst possible time. It’s both more plausible and more suspenseful than the miniseries version of events, in which General Mancheck (Andre Braugher) deliberately creates the blackout, to everyone’s mild and temporary frustration.

The book is not without its flaws, particularly an undramatic ending in which the continuously adapting virus eventually mutates into harmlessness. But the miniseries disappoints by giving the virus a definitive origin, indicating it is expressly targeted towards humans, and showing its definitive defeat.

The Andromeda Strain
The Andromeda Strain cast checks in for the long haul

Miscellaneous other thoughts:

  • Mikael Salomon’s direction is very boring and staid, except for a wildly over-the-top decontamination procedure that is filmed in a stylized, almost erotic fashion.
  • The miniseries is probably one of the talkiest sci-fi movies and/or TV shows I’ve ever seen. The bulk of the action is set in a single interior location, and nearly every scene comprises heated conversations in laboratories or over teleconferences.
  • The miniseries is laden with even more pseudoscientific bullshit than Crichton’s original novel: wormhole-enabled time travel and nanotech buckyballs from the future are the order of the day. The whole thing ends in the kind of temporal paradox that would drive an episode of Doctor Who or Star Trek.
  • The miniseries updates the book’s euphemism of “unmarried man” into “don’t ask don’t tell” territory, for a subplot involving Major Keane (Rick Schroder).
  • Spot the homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds!
  • Why does the underground facility begin to disintegrate during the run-up to setting off an atom bomb? Wouldn’t there just be a countdown and then an explosion?
  • This blogger, a longtime fan of the TV show Lost, is happy to see Daniel Dae Kim in a starring role.
  • Benjamin Bratt is really terrible, giving the proverbial phone-it-in performance. He delivers every line with the same intonation, whether it’s saying goodbye to his family for possibly the last time or announcing humanity’s first discovery of an alien life form.
Categories
2 Stars Movies

Indiana Jones seeks fortune and glory in The Temple of Doom

In order to catch up on the overwhelming backlog of movies I intend to cover here on this blog, I’m going to keep it brief with a few disconnected thoughts:

An opening caption places the action in “1935.” Raiders of the Lost Ark was set in 1936, so, The Temple of Doom is actually a prequel! Interesting, but why? Everything is basically the same, except for the absence of Marion (Karen Allen). Had that caption not been there, Indy would have seemed to have unceremoniously dumped her, offscreen.

On the topic of “Indy Girls,” how could Steven Spielberg and George Lucas trade in the spunky, resourceful, independent, strong Marion for the helpless screaming ignorant bimbo Willie (Kate Capshaw)? It’s a crying shame only partially excused by Marion’s belated return in the fourth installment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Harrison Ford’s “Oh $#!&” face is unparalleled

In the DVD bonus features, Spielberg and Lucas both desperately defend Temple of Doom‘s “dark” tone, comparing it to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This is puzzling, as to my eyes, The Temple of Doom is notably more jokey and cartoony than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Worse, it is casually sexist and racist, and not to mention, quite unkind to the cuisine of India.

The globe-trotting begins in Shanghai, with an old-school Hollywood musical number. Jonathan Ke Quan (Short Round) is actually Vietnamese, and clearly a good sport.

The Temple of Doom has the least compelling MacGuffin of all the Indiana Jones films. While the others concerned the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy freakin’ Grail, and UFO artifacts, this time Indy must recover and return a stolen relic to a starving Indian village. He only learns of the injustice in the first place by accident.

Ke Huy Quan and Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Temple of Doom is widely criticized as sexist and racist, but can we talk about its retrograde attitude towards global cuisine?

It must be said that this is the only film in the series that has Indy grapple with the moral grey areas of his profession. Not exactly a stand-up model archeologist, he explicitly vocalizes his motivations for the first time: “fortune and glory.” So this time around, his relic-hunting is in the service of justice and not his own personal gain.

Hey, it’s that guy! Can you spot the Dan Akroyd cameo?

Indy and pals stumble upon a sacrificial pagan ceremony dead for only 100 years? That’s not very exciting. If you’re making up a fake religion, why not make it a thousand or more?

One of many tragic flaws that cripple this film is the obvious tinkering with the formula, made in the mistaken belief there would be more for the kids to identify with. Yes, I’m talking about all the annoying children running about the place: obviously Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), but also the horde of child slaves toiling in a mine (a straight lift from Pinocchio). Memo to Spielberg and Lucas: kids had no trouble flocking to Raiders of the Lost Ark, so you don’t need to give them an on-screen cypher.

Categories
2 Stars Movies

Who do you think you are, Mr. Big? Sex and the City: The Movie

Yep, I saw it. I work for the movie company that produced it, so I got to go for free. The standard line with Michael Patrick King’s now decade-old Sex and the City franchise is that it has always appealed mostly to gay men and the women that love them. Even though this blogger more or less a whitebread straight dude (while I like naked lady bottoms and affirm Sean Connery is the best James Bond, automobiles and professional sports don’t move me), I don’t mean that as a disclaimer. While I’d never seen more than portions of the original television show, and I’d not voluntarily pay see the movie in the theater or rent the DVD, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve seen it.

Sex and the City
After shopping, let’s go shopping

I had recently seen an advance screening of a yet-to-be released film (that will have to remain nameless here) that had more than a little in common with the plot and characters of Sex and the City. Let me just say that in comparison, Sex and the City is a masterpiece, and at least, watchable by straight men. The male characters in the film are endowed with more characterization and complexity than I would have expected. When Mr. Big (Chris Noth) does something “bad,” it’s because he’s confused and conflicted, not because he’s a douchebag (which is the explanation of any and all bad behavior by male characters in the aforementioned movie-that-cannot-be-named-for-professional-reasons).

Sex and the City
Hey there, Mr. Big Stuff

To get into the nitty gritty of the plot, there was one aspect that I just couldn’t wrap my head around: Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) makes an understandably bitter comment about marriage in general to Mr. Big that becomes one of many influences upon his spontaneous decision to leave Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) at the altar. Miranda neglects to tell Carrie about her comment, and the event and its cover-up is weighted by the film as A) the worst thing one friend can do to another and B) the single reason why Mr. Big stood Carrie up.

When Miranda eventually comes clean, Carrie reacts as if she sees Mr. Big and his actions in a wholly new light, and the reconciliation begins. I just don’t get it; it seems to me, based on the fictional characters’ actions and motivations in the world of the film, that Miranda’s minor indiscretion is exactly that, and the true problem is in fact Mr. Big’s ambivalence about Carrie’s desire for a disgustingly overblown princess wedding. But I suppose the answer to my confusion may simply be that I don’t get it because I’m a dude.

And finally, a Public Service Announcement for any other bloggers searching the interwebs for movie stills with which to illustrate their reviews of Sex and the City: depending on your inclinations, exercise caution when Googling “Mr. Big.”

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2 Stars Movies

Jake Kasdan spoofs the musical biopic in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

This blogger finds most so-called biopics wanting. The two to three hour feature film format is more akin to an essay or short story than a book, and as such is ill-equipped to sum up the entire life of a human being in more than just a string of highlights. Yet studios and filmmakers keep churning out parades of Classics Illustrated-like films that seem to exist mostly to grant actors Oscars and Golden Globes based on their abilities to imitate historical figures. The best of them ought more deservedly to be recognized for their abilities to create new characters from whole cloth.

But I reserve a special degree of hate for musical biopics; I’m looking at you, Bird, Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, and El Cantante! They all seem to be forged from the same template: troubled genius beset by addiction, and the woman that loves him anyway. Comfortingly, the existence of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story proves I’m not alone in bemoaning this most pathetic genre. Walk Hard touches on each cliche in turn: physical infirmity (Cox is tragically “nose blind”), drugs, disapproving parent, dead sibling, etc.

John C. Reilly in Walk Hard The Dewey Cox Story
pssst… your bouffant is cramping my style

At its best, director and co-writer (with Judd Apatow) Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard is a history of popular music and narcotics from the 1950s on. The chameleonic Cox evolves with the times, beginning as a diamond-in-the-rough Ray Charles type, breaking through like a young Johnny Cash, becoming a pop superstar Elvis Presley, passing through a Bob Dylan folkie stage, and ending up as a Brian Wilson, an obsessive pop genius unable to complete his unachievable masterpiece (like Wilson’s own notorious Smile). The best running gag in the movie involves Cox’s succession of drug addictions (pot, cocaine, heroin, pills, and, well, everything…), which no doubt gave the MPAA a heart attack.

Lest I sound like I’m praising the film for being clever, here’s the bad news. The self-proclaimed “The Unbearably Long, Self-Indulgent Director’s Cut” DVD edition repeats the same jokes over and over. Its idea of hilarity is to repeat the name “Cox” as much as possible, which should give some hint as to the overall level of sophistication. Each character explicitly verbalizes and explicates the genre cliches and their own character types: the unsupportive starter wife, the doomed sibling, the venal music studio boss, and the disapproving father (whose refrain “The wrong kid died!” follows Cox through his life as both curse and motivation).

Historical celebrity cameos are repeatedly signposted with their full names, lest anyone in the audience not catch on that the batch of four candy-colored lads from Liverpool noodling on sitars in an Indian ashram are, in fact, The Beatles. It is great fun, however, to see Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Rudd, and Jack White do their best Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and Elvis Presley, respectively.

John C. Reilly in Walk Hard The Dewey Cox Story
The 70s were a decade of taste and restraint

One little quibble: as the characters age, the makeup jobs are actually too good, far better than, say the outrageously silly age makeup for Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. This unfortunately ruins the genuinely funny gag that John C. Reilly plays Cox as a teenager with no attempt to hide his age. Why not carry it through to the end, with Reilly looking exactly the same when Cox is supposed to be 70?

Does anybody remember when Reilly was a serious actor? I’m happy for him that he’s no doubt building a significant nest egg off his recent string of lowbrow comedies (Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, etc.), but I hope we will see more of the fine actor of Sydney (aka Hard Eight), Boogie Nights, and The Hours.

Categories
2 Stars Movies

Charlton Heston is the alpha and The Omega Man

Now that’s a good intro: Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) cruises through an empty city with the top down. It’s eerie, but he seems happy, grooving to jazz from his onboard 8-track cassette deck. But suddenly! Screech! Ka-pow! He brakes, produces a machine gun and fires at a fleeting humanoid silhouette. A striking montage follows of a desolated, deserted city.

Heston was once known as a liberal, and here his character entertains an interracial romance (with afro-licious Rosalind Cash) no more common in movies now than it was in 1971. Unfortunately, it’s now impossible to take Heston seriously, thanks to Phil Hartman’s classic mockery on Saturday Night Live and to Heston’s own Alzheimer’s-fueled descent into right-wing senility.

Interestingly, Heston’s oeuvre is dominated by dystopian sci-fi: Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green form a trilogy of apocalyptic despair. Remakes of Apes (by Tim Burton) and Omega (Wil Smith’s I Am Legend) made him nearly obsolete even before he died. Can a new Soylent Green (which is, incidentally, much better than its reputation suggests) be far behind?

Charlton Heston in The Omega Man
Shopping at the end of the world, like the zombies in Dawn of the Dead

Compared to the bestial vampires that populate I Am Legend, the creatures in The Omega Man are an intelligent, religious cult. They don’t attack Neville with technology (like, say, shoot him) simply because they choose not to.

As for entertainment in a time before VHS, the last man alive on earth is stuck with whatever happened to be in the theaters at the time; he screens the concert film Woodstock over and over. As for The Omega Man‘s own music, the orchestral jazz pop score is not just outdated, but bizarrely inappropriate.

The crucifixion pose at the end is a bit much. I didn’t expect much subtlety, but that’s laying it on a bit thick.

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2 Stars Movies

Oi t’ink Tim Burton’s up to summat in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of a conversation about movies with this blogger is no doubt aware that I like musicals about as much as I like biopics. That is to say, not at all.

I do, however, love Tim Burton, and count Ed Wood among my personal favorite films. So if he could make a biopic I can love, I didn’t think it unrealistic to hope that he might melt my cranky moviewatcher’s heart with a musical. But it’s been a long time since Burton has directed a personal project, instead working on existing franchises and remakes like Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He did add a healthy dose of the trademark Burton flavor to each, not to mention key members of his troupe (Helena Bonham Carter in Apes and Johnny Depp in Charlie), but fans like myself are still waiting for the next burst of pure Burton madness in the spirit of Edward Scissorhands.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Oi t’ink he’s up to summat

The Sweeny Todd tale originated in a prose serial form in 1846, and after several permutations, eventually became a stage musical by Stephen Sondheim in 1979. Burton’s 2007 film adaptation doesn’t quite manage to break free of its stagebound, er, staging. Despite the opportunity a film has to expand a play’s world, the action is limited to just a few locations. The rich art direction doesn’t defeat the impression that the whole thing was shot on a small soundstage. Speaking of art direction, Burton’s vision of late 19th century London is very colorful, provided that that color is blue. That said, it isn’t long before a few generous gallons of red are splashed about the place.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
And now, the chewing of scenery, for your delight & edification

Timothy Spall, once of Mike Leigh’s British kitchen sink dramas, continues to indulge in the new scenery-chewing persona he developed as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films. Helena Bonham Carter looks like she just stepped out of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Sascha Baron Cohen sports no less than two outrageous accents.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has joined Waitress in the most unlikely mini genre of 2007: movies about pie shops. But while Waitress was a largely cutesy concoction, Sweeney Todd adds to the recipe a preoccupation with vengeful cannibalism a la The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

And finally, a technical note: the DVD edition suffers from an unusually uneven audio mix. The music is far, far louder than dialogue sequences, so be prepared to drive your remote control volume switch throughout.

Categories
2 Stars Movies

Things We Lost in the Fire is kind of a drag

Susanne Bier’s Things We Lost in the Fire is a melodrama in the vein of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams in almost every way: the story of a nuclear family shattered by a random death, told as a nonlinear narrative, with conspicuously arty cinematography, and costarring Benicio Del Toro.

Even a single-sentence description of the basic plot conveys how overwrought things get: Audrey (Halle Berry) impulsively takes in her dead husband Brian’s (David Duchovny) heroin-addicted friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro). Audrey’s motivations are semi-consciously selfish; she perhaps thinks that she can retain some connection with her dead husband by indefinitely extending his fruitless effort to help his childhood friend to kick his drug habit.

Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire

But unaware of the adage that one must beware what one asks for, she becomes resentful when her plan unexpectedly succeeds. Jerry does in fact begin to kick drugs, a neighbor takes an implausibly quick shine to him and offers him a job, he teaches one of her kids to swim (a task at which her husband had previously failed), and he responds to her flirtatious advances.

Inexplicably, the movie ends with the wrong Velvet Underground song; someone chose “Sweet Jane” over “Heroin.” Nor is there anything from the Low album of the same name. If the filmmakers thought these selections were too obvious, then how do you explain everything else in the movie?

Categories
2 Stars Movies

You can love your pets but not LOVE your pets in Mike White’s Year of the Dog

The Netflix queue is, by its nature, the opposite of the instant gratification of a rental store. You add movies you think you might want to see some day, then sit back and wait for them to arrive in an order decided by computer, according to factors and algorithms outside of your control. Enough time had passed since I added Year of the Dog that I could no longer recall why. Possibly I read a good review somewhere, or maybe I was curious about the sudden reappearance of Molly Shannon (part of “my” Saturday Night Live of the mid-90s — am I right that people feel the most affection for the SNL cast of their college years?). But I feel baited and switched; this is not a drama or romantic comedy but rather a movie with an agenda.

Writer/director Mike White’s Year of the Dog is a feature-length dramatization of Janeane Garofalo’s gag “You can love your pets, but you can’t love your pets.” Not unlike Lily in Eagle Vs. Shark, Peggy (Shannon) is a gentle sweetheart, but alienated and lonely. Her relationship with brother Pier (Thomas McCarthy from The Wire Season 5) and sister-in-law Bret (Laura Dern) is distant at best, and her closest friends are oblivious workmates.

Molly Shannon in Year of the Dog
This commute’s a bitch

When she loses the unconditional love of her dog Pencil, she becomes hungry for, as she puts it, a single word to define her. On a date with Al (John C. Reilly), Peggy demonstrates a dislike of hunting, the seed from which her new fervor for an animal activist lifestyle grows. Her one word, she decides, is to be “vegan.”

Her new life teases her at first with the possibility of love with Newt (Peter Sarsgaard), but he is too much like her, or what she might become: unable to love humans nearly as much as animals. From here, the tone shifts to the disturbing, as Peggy causes her life to fall apart. Her clumsy activism costs her her job and family, and she soon descends to theft and attempted murder.

Molly Shannon in Year of the Dog
You can love your pets, but you can’t LOVE your pets

And yet, the movie appears to present her ultimate state as a happy ending of sorts. She chooses to be friendless and unloved, but has found meaning and purpose. The most important part of the movie is missing: what happens between Peggy hitting rock bottom (where she becomes unable to function in society) and her total ascendance as a self-assured being? I don’t buy the sudden switcheroo that it’s all OK because she has discovered herself.

Would real-life animal activists find Peggy and Newt amusingly exaggerated versions of themselves, or insulting stereotypes? Even as I am the owner of two rescued casts, it strikes me that choosing the love of animals over that of people is a kind of mental illness that begs for correction, not celebration.

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