Another summer has come and sadly gone, along with your disposable income thanks to the movies. "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" may have captured hearts, but the true gems of this summer, as usual, were not found in the multiplexes. Here are my favorites.
A SCANNER DARKLY
This adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story by director Richard Linklater tells of Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover agent tracking down citizens in a not-so-futuristic society addicted to a drug named Substance D.
Semi-autobiographical in nature, Dick's personal drug problems were well known and influenced much of his work, and in typical style it sears with Dick's inner torment conveyed through Reeve's character.
Arctor's friends in "Darkly" have all rejected the typical suburban life: its anesthetized blandness and lack of excitement. Arctor's house is full of a motley crew, including Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder, finally returning to screen acting. Arctor dwells in the underbelly of suburbia, residing in the house he lived in while married.
Much of the compelling nature of "Darkly" is enhanced by the animation. Like Linklater's "Waking Life," animation was drawn over live action footage, enhancing the visuals. Most notable is the suit Reeves wears for his job, a human chameleon suit with superficial attributes washing over its surface. The growing trend of adult animation surely is a positive one, as is the usage of hand-drawn animation?much more artistic in its creation than digital images.
The drug use and lack of a clear directional path were bound to catch up with Arctor sooner or later. Reeves brings calm confusion to the role, perhaps channeling his persona from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," centering a film that teeters on the edge of complete despair and despondency.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
This summer added another socially conscious documentary to a growing list that includes "Bowling for Columbine" or "Super Size Me." This time around it's Al Gore, victim of the 2000 electoral fiasco, back with a message. While derided during his years in office for a lack of personality, his passion shows here in full force.
The point of the film is clear: to make the American public understand the imminent catastrophe of our planet's climate change. This is accomplished with a range of carefully selected and horrifying statistics, with visuals to back them up. Regardless of political persuasion, one cannot deny the levels of carbon in the air, or that Kilimanjaro will be snowless in a matter of years.
The middle section of the film waxes nostalgic, as Gore recounts the summers of his youth, living on a Tennessee farm.
The sincerity of this message cannot be denied. Progressive and personal action is the order of the day, and Gore admits the political system is unable, or unwilling, to take the first step; citizens must begin it at the grassroots level. Using fluorescent lightbulbs, taking shorter showers, and buying a car with miles per gallon above 35 are all important steps.
If this is Gore's future, then philanthropy and the American public should be very happy indeed.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
This charming film, now playing at Eveningstar Cinema, tells the story of Olive (Abigain Breslin), a young girl who qualifies for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Although her family is struggling financially, they all travel to California to help her fulfill her dream.
So they take off in a big VW Van. But though they seem to be a typical suburban American family, each character has plenty of neuroses to deal with. Dad (Greg Kinnear) is an obnoxiously positive self-help writer, Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) recently attempted suicide after a failed relationship with a student, Grandpa (Alan Arkin) snorts coke, and Dwayne, Olive's brother, hasn't spoke for almost a year in protest against his family's insanity.
Their trip across the southwestern desert is filled with hilarious comedy, including a malfunctioning horn. But more valuable is the warmth to which directors Dayton and Faris bring to their characters. They may all have their difficulties, but they are not demeaned for them.
"Sunshine" mirrors much of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," and the family is filled with the desire to see Olive achieve her version of the American Dream. She set her sights on what her goal is and vows to fight till the end. But true liberation is not found in the unending quest, but in the liberation from the confines of that goal.
May all discover this in as uplifting fashion.