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.


If you combined “Lost Horizon” with “Lord of the Flies” and added
a bit of “The Blue Lagoon” and “Apocalypse Now” to the mix,
you’d have something akin to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the
celebrated novel by Alex Garland. Not having read the book
myself, I can’t tell whether the picture is faithful to it or
whether it accurately reflects the original tone. What’s
clear is that as a movie “The Beach” is very handsome to look
at, with lots of cinematic style and pizzazz. But it’s equally
apparent that as a narrative the film is extremely silly and
disjointed. A viewer leaves the theatre filled with admiration
for the effort that must have gone into shooting it and for
the luscious texture cinematographer Darius Khondji has
contrived to bring to the screen, but also wondering why so
much effort was expended on such feeble material.

The plot centers on the search for paradise–in this case, an
attempt by a callow, shiftless young American (Leonardo
DiCaprio) bumming about in Bangkok to locate an island,
supposedly the most perfect, unspoiled beach in all the world,
to which he’s been given a map by a nutty Scotsman (Robert
Carlyle). Taking along a French couple he’s just met (Gauillaume
Canet and Virginie Ledoyen), he finds his way to the isle,
half of which is under the control of drug farmers and the
other the site of a hippie-like commune led by the autocratic
Sal (Tilda Swinton). The trio join the community, a bunch of
back-no-nature oddballs, and find contentment until various
forces intervene to destroy the locale’s pristine perfection.
One is that old demon of sexual attraction, which breaks up
old affections and creates new couplings; another is the
threat constantly posed by the drug-farmers, aiming to
protect their financial interests with rifles if necessary;
a third is the violence nature can suddenly bring, with its
intimations of mortality; and a fourth involves the arrival
of outsiders who threaten the stability of the community
and for whose coming the DiCaprio character is blamed. As a
result he’s ordered to see to it that the newcomers are
gotten rid of–an assignment which leads the protagonist to
live in isolation and eventually to “go native” in a fashion
familiar from Golding’s book and Coppola’s Vietnam epic.

From all this it’s apparent that “The Beach” wants to confront
Big Ideas like the conflict between nature and civilization,
the quest for perfection, the destructive impact of human
intervention and the thin line between culture and barbarism,
but it deals with these issues in such a goofy, scatterbrained
fashion that it becomes cartoonish rather than profound. The
island commune, for instance, seems like something out of a
sixties timewarp, and Swinton’s character, in particular, comes
across as unduly shrill. Similarly, the native wisdom of the
farmers, despite their criminal conduct, is a complete cliche.
The whole plot, in fact, strikes the viewer as simulanteously
juvenile and pretentious.

As for DiCaprio, he’s certainly boyish and enthusiastic in his
first starring role since “Titanic” (there was “The Man In the
Iron Mask,” of course, but that was filmed, I believe, before
Cameron’s epic), but though he glowers and struts about
confidently (especially when put into his “Lord of the Flies”-
“Apocalypse Now” mode), he still seems lightweight and
scrawny for the role, and the narration he’s forced to recite
through the picture is alternately flat and ponderously poetic.
The only other cast members who make much of an impression are
Swinton, who quickly becomes grating, and Robert Carlyle, who
chews up the scenery in a way he neglected to do in “The World
Is Not Enough.” Canet and Ledoyen, by contrast, are physically
attractive but dramatically inert.

“The Beach” represents something of a comeback for the
“Trainspotting” team of Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and
scripter John Hodge after their dismal last feature, “A Life
Less Ordinary.” But though very competently put together and
never boring, the picture is oddly hollow despite its glossy
surface. As a parable of Paradise (and Sanity) Lost, it’s
superficial and thematically muddled, and it can’t really be
recommended except for its considerable virtues as a travelogue.


“American Movie,” the alternately hilarious and touching new documentary, involves two sets of filmmakers. First there’s the team of director Chris Smith and producer Sarah Price, who spent four years shooting and editing the picture. And then there’s their subject, Milwaukee native Mark Borchardt, a self-taught, blue-collar guerilla moviemaker whose obsession to complete a horror short called “Coven” (pronounced “Coh-ven” for artistic effect) forms the subject of Smith’s story.
Smith met Borchardt while both were using the film facilities at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and eventually became fascinated with him. “I would never have tried to make a film about independent filmmaking–that’s like, you know, putting a gun to your head,” Smith said in a recent interview. “It’s a terrible idea for a movie, and I think everybody feels that way.”
But eventually Smith persuaded himself to record the story of Mark’s obsessive drive to complete “Coven” and use revenues from selling 3000 copies of it to undertake the project he really wanted to shoot, a coming-of-age, somewhat autobiographical feature to be called “Northwestern.”
“The idea was, we’ll follow Mark for six months and make the movie,” Smith said. But the project went on to include two years of shooting and two more of post-production work. The result, Smith said, “wasn’t just about filmmaking. It was about Mark and his family and friends, and the community that they’re part of.”
Borchardt, in a separate interview, spoke of the fame that has now come his way through the release of Smith’s documentary. “I’m very grateful and very blessed and lucky that happened,” he admitted. “But there ain’t no ‘American Movie’ without me and Mike [Schank, his closest friend and most dedicated helper]. You’ve got to come to terms with the fact that it’s a very opportune meeting of the waters, man.”
Borchardt was glad to be touring to talk about “American Movie,” but his particular goals at the moment are to sell copies of the completed “Coven” (available through the picture’s eclectic website at and actually to make his long-cherished project, “Northwestern.”
He actually fills all the orders for “Coven” (some 400 copies of which have already been bought) by himself. “Look, man,” he explained, “people pay fifteen bucks for them. I want to make sure the covers are cut right, the labels are put on right. And every time I got some assistant I’d look over and they were drinking vodka or something like that. I was like, ‘Look, no way, man. These people are paying money. I want to have something good come to these guys.’ So I fill ’em out myself, yeah.”
And as for “Northwestern,” he intends to begin shooting next spring, though the prospect is somewhat daunting.. “I can’t really wait to get back to Milwaukee and just live my own life and start my film,” he said. “That’s really the most important thing to me, man–to go back home and start that film. I’ve been working on it since 1984 and I just think it’s a special treat to be still alive and to be able to go back home and do that. ‘Northwestern’ is my film of films in my heart and mind. [But] I’m in the middle of the fifth draft, and I’m really scared, ’cause I’ve got to start shooting early next year. It’s about real people and all of that stuff. You can’t make that up and you can’t write that on a blank piece of paper and make up what people are thinking and live their lives. I really want to make a good film, but I’m trapped, man–’cause I’ve got to make a good film but you can’t just do it, it takes time–so what a dilemma! But no matter what, it’ll take a couple of years and it will all turn out. I’ll do the best I can, man.”
Meanwhile buddy Mike Schank, a guitarist who’s helped Borchardt with his films for twelve years, sat nearby, smoking and answering an occasional query of his own. When asked whether he could recall appearing in one of Borchardt’s early slasher flicks, “The More The Scarier III,” Schank admitted, “I don’t know. I did a lot of cocaine and acid at the time, so I wasn’t all there mentally, I don’t think.” He added: Worst move I ever made was going to see Cheech and Chong live. That got me started wanting to use drugs.” But Schank’s been clean and sober for four years
now, and is learning to play Bach on his guitar, as well as writing his own songs.
Still, it’s no wonder that when Borchardt was asked whether the footage he’d shot for an early, incomplete version of “Northwestern” years ago would be incorporated into his upcoming picture, he said no: “No flashbacks. I’ll leave that to Mike.”