All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

CHUCK & BUCK






Whether you find the new picture by Miguel Arteta (“Star Maps”)
creepily funny or simply creepy will pretty much depend on
whether you can get past the rather unsettling premise of doing
a comedy about a homoerotic stalker and appreciate the message
of tolerance, forgiveness and gradual maturation that the
script by star Mike White ultimately delivers. “Chuck & Buck”
is unquestionably a weird little movie, which (like Todd
Solondz’s 1998 “Happiness” or David O. Russell’s 1994 “Spanking
the Monkey”) takes what most will consider an unsavory idea
and infuses it with a surprising degree of poignancy and humor;
in its leisurely, meandering way, it transforms characters
who might originally seem simplistic and somewhat unpleasant
into individuals of considerable complexity and even charm,
managing along the way to instill some real suspense and
occasional bursts of hilarity into its rambling, episodic
structure. But for many the modest success of this daring
venture will never be able to overcome their resistance to the
fundamental arc of the plot.

The picture first introduces us to Buck (White), a 27-year
old naif, locked in the past, who reunites with his best
childhood buddy Charles (Chris Weitz) when the latter arrives,
fiance in tow, for the funeral of Buck’s long-ill mother. The
two apparently haven’t seen one another for more than a decade,
but Buck, trapped by memories of their youthful friendship,
is clearly obsessed with his erstwhile pal, and, in his
fumbling, inarticulate fashion, makes a pass at him; he then
follows the astonished Chuck back to L.A., where he schemes to
resurrect their old camaraderie, making himself a pest (and
perhaps a danger) in the process. Buck even inveigles his way
into a neighborhood theatre troupe, which eventually mounts
his quickly-penned play “Hank and Frank,” which he hopes might
persuade Chuck to resume their closeness. The ploy eventually
leads to the recognition that Buck, Chuck and the latter’s
girlfriend are all more complicated people than had seemed
to be the case; it also introduces the emotionally stunted
Buck into new friendships, notably with an almost maternal
theatre manager who also becomes his play’s director (Lupe
Ontiveros) but also with the dimwitted actor (Paul Weitz,
Chris’ brother) whom the “playwright” selects to star in his
opus because of his likeness to Chuck.

Although the picture might initially appear little more than a
low-budget variant of the “friend-from-hell” scenario which
has been frequently reworked in films (most recently–or
egregiously, perhaps–in the Jim Carrey stinker of 1996, “The
Cable Guy”), its approach is much subtler, both more chilling
and more gentle. It has an eerie, surrealistic quality that’s
reminiscent of Thomas Berger’s “Neighbors” (the fine novel,
not the dreadful John Avildsen filmization of 1981 with John
Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) rather than Carrey’s raucous fiasco,
and in its deliberate, unforced way it manages to treat
virtually all its characters not with condescension or
contempt, but with a certain understanding and affection in
spite of their failings. The cast helps greatly to achieve
this effect. White makes Buck a credible innocent without
transforming him into a mere simpleton, but doesn’t lose the
hint of potential danger that gives him an edge. Chris Weitz
has perhaps the more difficult role as Chuck, whom he invests
with a stillness that masks his hidden complications. His
brother Paul is amusingly brusque as the eager but hopeless
actor, and Ontiveros brings a pleasant mixture of warmth and
gruffness to the sometimes-astonished Beverly.

One should finally praise the low-keyed but estimable work
of director Artela, who easily eclipses the energetic but
ragged “Star Maps” with his work here. Taking his time and
letting the characters breathe while creating a slightly
off-kilter atmosphere in which they can develop naturally,
Artela shows considerable finesse.

If, therefore, you won’t simply be put off by a premise which
might strike you as simply too disagreeable to watch, you
should find “Buck & Chuck” a rich little film which turns out
to be, like its protagonist, odd, at times unsettling, and
occasionally irritating, but also quite fascinating and even
strangely endearing.

KOMODO






For some reason Australian filmmakers seem to have inordinate
trouble in imitating Hollywood blockbusters, lagging well
behind the curve and then coming up with permutations of the
formula that are more than a trifle ridiculous. Back in 1984,
for instance, flashy video director Russell Mulcahy (who would
later go on to helm the first two “Highlander” flicks) segued
to features by making a “Jaws” clone, though the model had
come out way back in 1975 and already spawned two legitimate
followups. To make matters worse, “Razorback” was about not a
man-eating shark but a giant wild boar which made its way
through the outback chomping on humans until intrepid Gregory
Harrison (imported from the States) put a stop to the rampage.
Let’s just say a grunting sow was no Great White Bruce. Now
Michael Lantieri, a special-effects fellow who worked on both
“Jurassic Park” and its sequel “The Lost World” (along with
lots of other creature features) has presided over a poverty-
row copy of those two Spielberg smashes about a bunch of
unhappy folks trapped on an island inhabitated by carnivorous
Japanese lizards that look rather like alligators with extended
tongues; and though in the early going the potboiler manages
some nicely suggestive scares, the second half is doomed by
ragged storytelling andslapdash editing.

The setup has teenager Patrick (played by Kevin Zegers, of
the “Air Bud” series; his surname is, curiously, misspelled
as “Zeagers” in the opening credits, but given correctly in
the final crawls) traumatized by the deaths of his parents
at the jaws of the titular monsters but then brought back to
the homestead by his clueless shrink (played by Jill Hennessy,
the winsome lass who was the Assistant D.A. done in by a
drunk driver on “Law and Order”). She hopes to cure the kid by
having him confront the memory that’s damaged him. Within
minutes obligingly available supporting players begin to bite
the dust, until it’s revealed that the existence of the lizards
is being concealed by a nefarious oil-company executive, who’s
trying to have them killed off secretly (and very inefficiently,
it would seem) in order to save his operation from the protests
of environmentalists who would surely oppose the slaughter of
the near-extinct creatures. The final act has the psychologist
team up with one of the company’s lizard hunters, a hard-boiled
fellow named Oates (Billy Burke), while Patrick goes into “Lord
of the Flies” mode to massacre the beasts that killed his
mommy and daddy. The denouement is, shall we say, predictable.

Working on an obviously meagre budget, Lantieri manages some
nifty lizard effects, and, in the earlier reels, actually
generates some suspense by employing sound rather than explicit
images; a moody score by John Denby helps, even if it’s
sometimes too loud, nearly obliterating the dialogue. The leads
go through their paces decently, too, although Zegers’ emotional
placidity eventually grows wearying and Burke is a trifle too
anemic-looking to pose as a burly hero; Hennessy takes the
near-hysteria route, of course, but she still has presence.
But ultimately the most shocking thing in “Kimodo” comes in
the epilogue, when a strategically-placed license plate and a
July 4th sign indicate that the story has been happening on an
island off the coast of Georgia, although the utterly foreign
look of the place and the surfeit of odd accents had suggested
the Queensland setting where it was actually shot. (And do
they actually drill for oil the Georgia coast anyway?)

“Kimodo” is getting a very limited theatrical release and
should be on video shelves momentarily. That’s probably a good
thing, because while it’s woefully out-of-place on the big
screen today (it would have served perfectly nicely as the
lower half of an American International double-bill back in
the fifties), it will probably do as a last-minute weekend
rental, being a mite more professional that the direct-to-video
drek now being produced in tyhis genre. That’s faint praise,
but it will have to do.