Thursday, November 19, 2009

MAMMOTH? Even with the likes of Michelle Williams and Gael García Bernal, it's puny.

My vote for the worst, the most obvious and boring film of the year so far -- and we're awfully close to the end of it -- (besides von Trier's Anti Christ, which I must, as I'm sure Lars would want, relegate to a class all its own) -- would be the twenty-ton tiddly-wink from Lukas Moodysson, shown below, entitled MAMMOTH. (When you find out the reason for this title, the movie will sink yet another notch into the mud.) The writer/director's first film in English (and Tagalog!), it wastes the not inconsider-
able talents of performers like Michelle Williams and Gael García Bernal while putting forth several knock-your-socks-off messages such as Parents Should Be With Their Children, Poverty is Wrong, Conspicuous Con-
sumption Is Naughty
and other truisms demonstrated with a shocking lack of film-making skill.

Moodysson began garnering international renown with two fine films that were funny, moving and real: Fucking Amal (called Show Me Love on this side of the Atlantic) and Together. He then moved into the realm of dark and vicious "reality" with two terrible movies -- Lilya 4-Ever and A Hole in My Heart -- weirdly, utterly negative in the kind of programmed manner that leaves no room for alter-
natives: Pollyanna in reverse. While it is nice to have the writer/
director working again in the realm of mixed positives and nega-
tives, Mammoth is bad enough to make you wonder if you'd over-rated his early efforts.

The movie begins with a happy family scene (above) that, while real enough, lacks specificity in the dialog department and goes on for such a duration that you begin to wonder if there is some hidden code you should be breaking. Once the plot (such as it is) kicks in, we quickly realize we're getting dual scenarios of parents and children, gifts from the haves and have-nots, kids-in-danger (west and east variety), and more. As the movie shuffles along, it appears that Moodysson is simply unloading on us literally everything interesting that he knows, and the film soon becomes a lecture/lesson rather than real drama.

If you'd told me last week that I could sit through anything featuring Williams (Synecdoche, New York; Wendy and Lucy; Incendiary) and Bernal (Y tu mamá también, The King, Vidas privadas), and come out of it imagining that neither was a good actor, I've have said you were crazy. Yet both performers are unable to rise above dialog that is utterly pedestrian and occasion-
ally embarrassing. I dare say that English is not Moodysson's first language, so was this dialog improvised perhaps? While Ms Willi-
ams (above), always honest and never pushy as an actress, is fine in repose -- her face mirroring so much -- she seems at sea in the several scenes around an operating table (she plays a surgeon).

For his part Bernal, shown at right, manages only to show us that goodness can bore the pants off an audience. (How differently that goodness is expressed by Señor Bernal here than in Walter Salles' fine, fascinating and so very specifically detailed Motorcycle Diaries.) The supporting cast, led by Marife Necesito, as the couple's nanny, does a good enough job but it too, is defeated by the writer/
director's penchant for consistently telling and showing. His single stylistic touch -- the deliberate separation of dialog from visuals -- is of little help. By the close of the seemingly endless 126-minute running time, you can be forgiven for asking, as did I, "This really is all there is?"

Mammoth opens via IFC Films on Friday, November 20, at NYC's IFC Center, while making its On-demand debut yesterday, November 18. You can check your local TV reception provider, and if it offers IFC On-Demand, click on that and scroll its various movies. Or click here, scroll down a bit, and enter the proper information to determine if your local area is being served.

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