REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES SEEN, MARCH 2007

All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.

(- seen on video; [v] video piece; [p] para-cinema (installation, etc.); [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)

 

 

[9]

 

Light Is Waiting (Michael Robinson) [v/s]*

[SPOILERS] Robinson's latest work is by turns hilarious, disturbing, and critically engaged. It's probably his best work yet, all things considered. Light Is Waiting represents a new clarity as well as a shift in priorities, a deeper and more concrete engagement with earlier video art. At the same time, this increased focus (some, no doubt, will call it "maturity") represents both gain and loss. Light Is Waiting is not as sui generis as earlier Robinson pieces, and its procedures and visual resources are harnessed for a less poetic, more intellectual trajectory. On these terms, however, this video piece is smart, sturdy, and imbued with a wry sense of purpose. The first minute and a half of Light directly appropriates a scene from a "Full House" episode, in which two girls lug a TV set upstairs and accidentally drop it off the banister. At this point, the "episode" suffers a breakdown, the image replaced with zappy video-flicker and harsh grinding audio. We are transported to a misty sea, a single ship in the distance. A woman's voice, possibly audio from elsewhere in the episode, takes on the character of a fragmented, interference-laden ship-to-shore radio transmission. This maternal 20-questions game ("Did you drop something?" "Did something break?") takes on an existential dimension in this context, as if the enterprising young ladies' mishap led to global catastrophe. After this, Robinson shows us mirrored video imagery of men diving from a waterfall and then, eventually, more appropriated TV material. This stuff at the end is harder to place -- some sort of squeaky-clean 70s-ish variety show, combined with island-campfire footage that recalls both "Survivor" and the "Brady Bunch" Hawaii episode. In fact, all of it looks like some sort of low-rent "Brady Bunch" knockoff, and Robinson manipulates the audio and introduces vertical-axis mirroring and subtle looping into the mix. Eventually, red and blue video filters alternate rapidly, and the impact is significant. It's like an attempt to re-render kitsch as Op Art, in order to demonstrate the near-impossibility. As I say above, Light Is Waiting is a fully realized work, and sure to be one of this year's high-water marks for the avant-garde. While Light's formal procedures recall filmmakers as diverse as Ernie Gehr (especially Table) and Tom Chomont, the overriding spirit is that of Dara Birnbaum, the pioneering video artist whose work was everywhere in the 80s but has since had a much lower profile. Like Birnbaum, Robinson subjects "raw" (but always precooked) TV material to the rigors of video art in order to recode its meanings and release its hidden potential. Earlier works of Robinson's seemed to come out of nowhere; their precursors were buried deep in the text, almost impossible to see. Light Is Waiting brings its influences to the surface, which may be the point -- the heyday of video art is now just more data, analog DNA waiting to be recombined.

 

[ADDENDUM: Chris Stults has informed me that the Hawaii footage at the end of Light is Waiting is also, in fact, from "Full House." The fact that I mistook it for an actual 1970s TV show speaks, of course, to the deliberate retro-morality of "Full House" and the whole ABC "TGIF" line-up. But also, it really speaks to my inability to spot scenes from a show I never watched. I regret the error, but I must confess, I don't regret my lack of familiarity with "Full House," or my brain's reflexive tendency to shut down when confronted with it. Still, my bad.]

 

[ADDENDUM #2, 9/24/07: Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Light Is Waiting for the first time on a big screen with better-than-average video projection, and the experience was revelatory. I sorely underrated this video, which is by far Robinson's finest work to date and a near-masterpiece. For one thing, only when projected in a screening room can the frightening resonances and harsh frequencies of Robinson's titular light actually have the physical impact they're clearly intended to provide. From the jagged flickers of static to the red / blue pulses, there is a harsh, stabbing quality that literally rocks the house. Moreover, the mirrored images from "Full House" take on an overwhelmingly menacing character when seen at proper size. John Stamos' white-jeaned, wiggling poly-ass is both pathetic and anxiety-provoking, while the dual action of whichever Olson twin happened to be on-set at the moment of shooting takes on an added air of perversity. The single body is doubled, as it always has been; the Olsons are the first ever conjoined twins born pre-separated. Robinson's manipulations never entirely shed the inherent irony of working with the "Full House" material, but Light Is Waiting does transform that material into something primal, neocolonialist, satanic and mean. And, as the title announces, even this degraded ABC dreck has its formalist secrets, its uncanny gifts and hidden jabs to the side of the head, spring-loaded, waiting. Well done.]

 

[8]

 

Zodiac (David Fincher)*

[MILD SPOILERS] Lots of folks have been comparing Zodiac with Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, and with good reason. It's not just that both films are about actual unsolved serial-killer cases; both films ride a bumpy road, trying and often failing to accommodate significant tonal shifts with the help of a sturdy genre framework. Memories is the better film, largely because even its ill-advised lurches into comedy seem like decisions based on an organic sense of what cop-life might be like. But Zodiac strikes me as several films awkwardly stitched together, the end result stranded between Scorsesean mini-epic and CSI small-screen procedural. Fincher has the chops to keep the thing moving, but there's not much imagination on display. He can certainly compose an image, or whip up the sunbleached aroma of 1970s American cinema. But his portrait of male obsession is rote and unenlightening, as are the film's occasional dips into Zodiac-inspired cryptology and puzzle-solving. To make this more than just an extremely high-minded night of CBS, Fincher would've needed to assert his inner avant-gardist, tapping into the impulses that prompted him to bite Brakhage in Se7en or enfold the textures of Super-8 into The Game. There's a formal affinity between the structural gamesmanship of Zodiac and certain experimentalists' working-over of the film image, one that Fincher might have productively teased out. Instead, he seems to be trying to subordinate his style to the material, and while the result is certainly diverting, it fails to live up to the promise of either Fincher or the story itself. Zodiac is both fussy and underarticulated. And also, maybe Fincher's sensibility is a bit too adolescent to really make this work. Disgusted sniggering over Arthur Leigh Allen's weird porn and sex toys is one thing (come on, pal, this is the Bay Area), but the film can't even resist oh-the-wacky-naivete-of-the-past laugh lines about "Japanese raw fish" and Pong? Zodiac is solid in parts (especially the Ruffalo / Edwards storyline) and never actively bad, but seriously, what's the big deal?

 

[OH, AND ONE MORE THING: Mike D'Angelo is exactly right. This picture clearly identifies Arthur Leigh Allen as the Zodiac, and the fact that the physical evidence exonerates him is strongly implied to be either a fluke (the extra fingerprint) or part of Zodiac's design (the handwriting discrepancy). Yes, the fact that recent DNA evidence also points away from Allen means that the case itself remains inconclusive (assuming Zodiac licked his own envelopes), but the film itself all but slaps a chalkmark 'M' on Allen's back. In other words, this is about The One That Got Away, not The Quixotic Quests of Men.]

 

[NOTES ON SECOND VIEWING: More than any film from 2007, Zodiac left me with the nagging feeling that I'd somehow missed the boat, and a second look pretty well confirms this. Looking back at my original review, I'm amazed at how fixated my viewing was on minute details and marginalia, while completely failing to appreciate the larger picture. In a way, I suppose I was watching Zodiac with the kind of piecemeal, moment-to-moment assembly of data that the film itself foregrounds, but my mind didn't "write the book," or even finish the case file. Fincher's obsessive attention to times, dates, and the imperfect confluence of facts is more than just a hyperactive rendition of the standard police procedural. Instead, it's a display of exactly why Zodiac, despite not being a particularly prolific serial killer, was so effective in ripping the fabric of postwar law enforcement. Zodiac's geographical dispersal was strategic, of course, since he understood that jurisdiction issues, stonewalling and non-communication would result in a total breakdown in the police network, one that would take so long to notice and fix that it would inevitably begin to seem futile. Granted, Zodiac didn't count on the equally capacious mind of Robert Graysmith, whose forte was observing pattern where others saw only chaos. But this macro-view is, in itself, a kind of desperation, even if the film seems to lean toward validating it. What Zodiac ultimately depicts, in painstaking, maddeningly plodding detail, is the breakdown of an older social order and the modes of detection (and masculine self-assurance) that went along with it. What replaces the unattainable truth? The hysterical narrative drive of the conspiracy theorist, driven to connect circumstantial factoids and shadowy inferences. Needless to say, this is the era in which we remain firmly ensconced. And so the Zodiac, as Fincher explicates him, was a force, one among many others, that set our culture hurtling into postmodern uncertainty. He was the .45 caliber obverse to the Summer of Love. In slowly building this case, and showing the gradual unraveling of the men ensnared by it, Zodiac becomes a brilliantly realized document of seismic transition.]

 

[7]

 

-Black and White Trypps Number Three (Ben Russell) [s]

I agonized over whether or not to review this piece, since I watched it as a tiny little iTunes video on my computer. Some people (especially those who should know better) don't feel the need to make those pesky distinctions anymore (big screen / little screen; celluloid / video), but I do, especially in a case like B&WT#3, where most of the aspects of the film that make it really special are almost completely lost on home video. Russell's film is a set of close-ups of a sweaty, rapturous audience at a hardcore show (Rhode Island band Lightning Bolt), bobbing and weaving in and out of a small lighted area. Studies of audience response are not exactly new, and other film artists have attempted to capture the specific trancelike brain patterns and solid-sheet physicality of hardcore before. Most recently, Jem Cohen made a film about The Ex, and Matthew Barney featured Agnostic Youth and Murphy's Law to interesting effect in Cremaster 3. But Russell takes the opportunity to fixate on young faces at a pivot point between emotional abandon and self-conscious presentation. (The lead singer announces at the start of the film that if you don't want to be in the film, you should duck.) In an almost sculptural chiaroscuro, Russell's light excerpts particular faces from the sea of anonymity, but it's clear that they are both posing and drifting back into the private world the music creates for them. This examination of twenty-something ambivalence in the presentation of self is, to my eyes, worth ten Bujalski films. Moreover, Russell employs the specific language of celluloid -- end flares, the clapboard, the texture of grain, and the vast painterly expanse of the screen -- to articulate this transient aggregation of bodies into something etched in semi-permanence. So, as you can see, the fact I've only seen this on my computer monitor with my own stupid reflection mucking up the image really, really sucks. Kinda kills me a little. Here's hoping Mark and Gavin program it for Views 2007, despite its Sundance world premiere. If nothing else, Russell deserves an audience far more in tune with what he's achieved. [Black and White Trypps Number Three can be viewed online here. It is also for sale at iTunes.]

 

[6]

 

-And We All Shine On (Michael Robinson) [s]

This 16mm film from 2006 is characterized by shifting textures and the incorporation of disparate elements, as is the case in the other Robinson work I've seen. However, here I detect a subtle shift in his work; Shine On could prove to be a pivot point between The General Returns from One Place to Another and Light Is Waiting. Whereas The General has a haunting, disembodied quality, allowing Robinson's chosen elements to remain unresolved, hovering in a kind of permanent present, Shine On most definitely gels into an integral whole. The first and third movements of the film feature night shots of trees blowing in the wind. These shots are so dark that, as with one's entry into a darkened room, the viewer must acclimate in order to even perceive these images are representations. They could just be dense film grain. But after we are lulled by their near-abstraction, Robinson introduces the slightly longer middle section, composed of "tracking shots" through lo-fi landscapes from videogames. We see totem poles, pyramids, all with resolution only slightly higher than that of the old Atari 2600. A vocal-free karaoke track of Sinead O'Connor's rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U" scores this segment, and fades out just before the return of the night trees. Despite the obvious differences in material, Robinson's film isn't that hard to parse. The title, taken from John Lennon's song "Instant Karma," hints at the disparity between nature's capacity to invoke spiritual inklings, versus the degraded "instant" world of the videogames. This has a lot of resonances -- the whole film vs. video issue, as well as the radically different spectatorial faculties called upon to breathe life into these two image-worlds. Nothing compares, indeed. And while I find Shine On both lovely and provocative, and suspect it will open up a bit more on subsequent viewings, I find myself missing the inconclusive character of Robinson's other work. There's something very declarative about this film, more sonnet than haiku, if you will.

 

-Ghosts (Christian Petzold, Germany)

I've been interested in exploring Petzold's work for quite some time now, partly because by many accounts he's one of the most compelling German directors around right now, and partly because of his connection with Harun Farocki. I am a major fan of Farocki's experimental documentary work, and I studied with him briefly at Berkeley. Ghosts is Petzold's third collaboration with Farocki as co-screenwriter, and I'd been gently warned that this may not be the best Petzold film for a beginner. Even some the director's biggest proponents seem to consider this film an interesting failure, and although I have nothing else in Petzold's oeuvre with which to compare it, I'm inclined to agree. The film's strategy is, as they say, brilliant on paper. Ghosts features two pairs of protagonists whose paths briefly intersect, lending the film a structural integrity that doesn't feel overly constrictive in the manner of your typical multiple-character crisscross. Initially the two stories call forth their own film and literary genre codes -- specifically, the burgeoning friendship between two troubled young girls, and a marriage in trouble due to a past trauma that slowly comes to light. But at the point of connection, Ghosts makes an intriguing move, shifting into a potential mother-daughter reunion and conflict. What this ultimately accomplishes is to shift the terms of the film onto those of classic melodrama. What should be more interesting than it is is the fact that Petzold's icy, clinical style militates against the hot-blooded pathos typical of the melodramatic tradition. Even Fassbinder allowed for unbridled emotion within a highly formalized context, but Petzold essentially recasts something like Stella Dallas in the "emotional glaciation" mode of Michael Haneke. It's strange, then, that this bold gamble doesn't work. Part of the problem is the film's sketchy characterizations, particularly those of foster-child Nina (Julia Hummer) and wounded mother Francoise (Marianne Basler). Small gestures, like a lifted earring or the tight, paranoid clutch of a purse, hint that there is a real backstory to these women, but eventually everyone plays to type, leaving much less than meets the eye. (If there's anything to be taken from this cinematic short story at its conclusion, it's just that wealthy people are heartless assholes even when they've endured intense pain. Needless to say, not a very revelatory Big Point.) Petzold's steely direction and deft editing show a man fully in control of his craft, and I will seek out his future work without hesitation. His newest film, Yella, wowed many at Berlin this year, while its concession to genre in the form of a final-reel twist left others underwhelmed. Hopefully I'll get the chance to decide for myself.

 

-Wild Tigers I Have Known (Cam Archer)

[MILD SPOILERS] By any reasonable measure, Wild Tigers is a flawed film. But it's my kind of flawed film, willing to follow its risky conceits into potentially embarrassing territory but never backing down out of fear. Archer sort of sets his terms from the very first shot, showing us wrestlers grappling on TV and zooming in, and zooming in, past the dots of the video raster and into the reflection of our protagonist in the glass of the screen. 13-year-old Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) is on the bed wearing shades and jerking off, his posture and body language conveying a sense of confusion at what he's doing, like he's responding to the images in a manner that skips over his self-awareness and plugs right into his still-forming desires. It's a hell of an opening salvo, and one that dares the viewer to dismiss Wild Tigers as the ultimate self-indulgence. (I do wonder, however, whether Archer has seen Nguyen Tan Hoang's video K.I.P., which this opening scene resembles.) And in certain ways, this film is self-indulgent, in that Archer already has a Vision and doesn't give an inch in terms of accessibility. His visual style, while bearing incontestable similarities to haunted-suburbia filmmakers like Mike Mills and Mark Romanek, holds its own largely because Archer fixates on the images in near isolation. He isn't overly concerned with how to get from one striking set-up to the next. Normally this kind of fetishistic style results in films that don't "move," just one damn thing after another. But Archer's filmmaking possesses an intuitive rhythm, and his compositions really pop when they butt up against each other. As for the film's overall structure, Archer's open form offers very little in the way of exposition or even basic setting of the scene. It's all mood. (Oddly, though, the Santa Cruz, CA setting barely asserts itself. Such a unique place, and in Wild Tigers it's pretty nondescript.) Comparisons to Tarnation are completely off base, since Archer generally savors his images, letting them slowly accumulate power. Their black-light neons and electric blues and oranges are given time to radiate beyond pure eye-shock, achieving a harsh beauty that becomes more convincing over time. Wild Tigers falters most when it has some narrative job to do; the mother-son stuff is pretty bad (Fairuza Balk has a thankless actorly task), and the mountain lion theme is ham-fisted but handled with an admirable delicacy. But here's the bottom line. Archer is the type of experimental narrative filmmaker who will probably have trouble raising funding, and odds are he'll duck out of art film altogether and, I dunno, start making video installations. Which would be fine, but also kind of a shame, since Wild Tigers shows great promise, and Archer will most likely evolve into the unique sort of voice American cinema needs more of. This guy's on the right track.

 

[5]

 

Black Snake Moan (Craig Brewer)

[SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS] Even having read quite a bit about Black Snake Moan before seeing it, I had pretty much the same reaction as my two moviegoing companions: what the fuck was that? After some discussion, I think I partially figured out this film, and my mixed reaction to it. Brewer has set out to make an old-school, Southern-fried exploitation flick, the sort of thing that would have graced the giant, grimy screens of drive-ins out in the boonies. (A film like Lolly Madonna XXX is the closest direct analogue; Monte Hellman's Cockfighter is related but too arty, Russ Meyer's Mudhoney is too honest in bringing the t&a, and the forms of Southsploitation that made it to the multiplexes -- think Honky Tonk Freeway and much of the Burt Reynolds filmography -- were deracinated and virtually neutered.) Much of it works on that level, largely due to a funky, fearless performance by Samuel L. Jackson. His Lazarus is a character who is, in fact, wise, but squashes the stereotypes Hollywood usually reserves for such African-American men, since he's strong, black and dangerous, possibly even insane. Nevertheless, the ultimate trajectory of the film is about Lazarus's own domestication, achieved in the process of subduing and reforming Rae (Christina Ricci), the sex-crazed, half-naked white girl he finds beaten up by the side of the road that leads up to his place. Black Snake Moan is casually sexist, refusing to grant Rae even the most basic psychology and treating her sexuality as an illness if not the mark of the Devil himself. But what's really shocking is the way Lazarus's most egregious, indefensible actions become, in the film's weird logic, completely okay once he becomes clearly defined as Rae's father-figure. (Brewer, ever the hamfisted screenwriter, even gives us a clunky visual, Lazarus's tether replaced by the thin, golden chain of matrimony.) So everyone gets saved, everybody's ridden out the gale force of Rae's all-consuming über-pussy. Good for them. But the strangest thing is the way Brewer presents all of this, how, as he did with the pimps and hos of Hustle & Flow, he manages to somehow obviate outright offensiveness. It's not just his pat conclusion, or his treatment of female degradation as a path to self-actualization, the false promise that a little sexism won't hurt anybody. No, the reason Black Snake Moan fails to be subversive and lacks the necessary commitment to really piss anyone off is that Brewer, without meaning to, continually telegraphs his distance from the material. It seems that we really can't go back to the "freer" racial and gender codes of the 70s, because we've already lived through the era of political correctness, not to mention feminism and critical race studies. Brewer, with his flawless Dirty South cinematography (courtesy of d.p. Amy Vincent) and his deep commitment to the blues, can't help but produce a mere simulacrum of that lost exploitation naiveté he covets. This is most evident near the conclusion, when Lazarus returns to the club to play the blues. What clearly wants to be a transcendent moment ends up looking like a Britney Spears video. (Where white-trash soul goes to die!) Even within individual scenes, you can witness a fluctuation between B-cinema and its replica, the South of today and its movie-made "past." Unlike master filmmakers such as Todd Haynes and Quentin Tarantino, Brewer isn't in control of this dual-track logic, so Black Snake Moan ends up looking like a curio, a game of dress-up fronting like a time machine.

 

-Exterminating Angels (Jean-Claude Brisseau, France)

Well, now, this film's just silly. But unlike Secret Things, which I enjoyed even as its tone and intentions boggled my puny mind, Angels seems to have no sense of humor about itself. Granted, I'm sure the real-life incident it's based on offered few laughs for Brisseau himself. But still, the baldly declarative tenor of much of the film (i.e. everything but the ample masturbation sequences) only serves to underscore just how self-serving it is. In a way, it's Brisseau's version of Sex is Comedy, but even Breillat (who is frequently and unfairly chided for her humorlessness) was willing to cop to her ultimate control over everything on-set. Brisseau's surrogate François (Frédéric van den Dreissche), meanwhile, is so besotted with the purity of his ars erotica that he fancies himself a mere receptor of the women's sexual energy. His is an affectation of blankness, which is mirrored precisely by Brisseau's uninflected style. One example among many: nearly every conversation he has with anyone other than his wife consists of him parroting statements back to his interlocutor as questions. He's almost literally a holy fool, with guardian angels straight out of the Hot French Ingenue Factory watching over him with a combination of daughterly affection and confused lust. Anyhow, where Céline actually took matters of the spirit seriously, and Secret Things employed them as an occasion for an unhinged eroto-philosophical trapeze act, Angels is just flat and phony, too engaged with its feebly exculpatory meta-cinematic navel-gazing to remember to touch base with actual cinematic gestures. Even the visuals are half-assed, consisting of perfunctory one- and two-shots in sterile Parisian locations. Angels looks like Woody Allen's films once he stopped giving a shit (cf. Melinda and Melinda especially), or an uncharacteristically raunchy Henry Jaglom film. Only two truly cinematic ideas ever emerge -- the flash-frames when angels appear and disappear, and a recurring, nonsensical spy-code radio transmission. Given the raspy voice and empty anti-aphoristic verbiage, I took it to be a rather unkind Godard parody, but who knows. Anyhow, there were hot girls rubbing off, and that definitely helped.

 

I Think I Love My Wife (Chris Rock)

Although Rock's second outing as a film auteur bears a good many more flaws than his debut feature, the highly uneven Head of State, I think Wife is being unfairly dismissed. I make no great claims for Rock's handling of the basic materials of cinema; his editing is purely functional, the cinematography is nothing special, and the pacing is awkward to say the least. (Still, Rock's direction is no shoddier than that of Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, and Brooks has considerably more experience.) However, these "problems" actually reveal a fundamental truth about this film that many of its critics seem to miss. It's not a cinematic extension of Rock's stand-up persona, even though some witticisms are sloppily cribbed from Bigger and Blacker and Never Scared (especially in the slack final-third). Instead, this is Rock's sincere attempt at transposing the highbrow French infidelity talkathon into an upscale African-American milieu, and the ways in which Rock sets about adapting Rohmer are highly revealing. It's not just that Rock -- certainly one of the most culturally significant comedians to emerge in the last 25 years -- is "maturing," shifting his emphasis onto boring adult topics like marriage and children, interior decorating and second mortgages. I suppose nobody wants to see Rock "mature" in this manner (read: become less trenchant, less dangerous, and, for some knucklehead racial purists, "whiter"), although it's easy to counter that this problematic is the obvious theme of I Think I Love My Wife. No, the main difficulty of this film is the fact that it it not only reveals its audience's discomfort with upper-middle-class African-Americans, but that it zeroes in on an internalized discomfort as well. Issues of race are rarely broached in this film, and when they are it comes down to the way matters of taste (music, ethnic women) become politicized. But this is primarily because Wife is about male anxiety and thwarted sexual desire within a class-conscious framework, and when we delve into the buppie soul, it becomes clear that class will often assume the lived forms of racial awareness, the ways in which race becomes a style of being that one is always more or less approximating. (In this context, it's just good sense to be an ambitious economic striver, but somewhat ridiculous to adopt "inappropriate" raced gestures and styles, even as the desire is utterly comprehensible.)

 

So, on the one hand, Rock's mise-en-scène is functional and nonexistent. But think twice, and see how all those "blank" upper-crust interiors and office spaces collude to make plain latex whiteness the film's dominant color scheme. Likewise, Rock's character Richard works as an investment banker at the firm of Pupkin & Langford. This is more than a shout-out to Scorsese's The King of Comedy; it's a frank acknowledgement that Rock's tenure as the king of comedy has produced in him a pronounced psychological split, between the hungry, needy outsider and the complacent establishment asshole. Audiences seem to be irritated that Rock can't figure out how to fit into a movie like this, or that he's becoming dull and domesticated. But isn't a lot of that reaction due in part to an unwillingness to see just who Rock has logically become? He's joked on numerous occasions that he's "a Democrat with a Republican wallet," and in this regard, he's refreshingly frank about the monetary privilege his fame has afforded him. (Do we prefer millionaire athletes and rappers who work overtime to stay "thug"? Sometimes it makes a hell of a lot more sense to buy a suit, get it tapered up, just change clothes and go.) Cinephiles' excitement at the thought of Chris Rock adapting Rohmer's Chloe in the Afternoon was about equal to the general public's quiet befuddlement, and it's no surprise this film has bombed, since both the idea and its execution demand a more highly developed class-based imagination than American life usually entails. In this regard, it's worth noting that Wife is another collaboration between Rock and Louis C.K. C.K.'s progressive, white working-class sensibility is Rock's vital foil, but the team's inversion of expected race-class positions tends to throw audiences for a loop. Their Pootie Tang considered the possibility that Blaxploitation could be surrealism by other means, and C.K.'s criminally underrated HBO sitcom "Lucky Louie" found a sincere, earned warmth in old New York's scuzzy housing-block vulgarity. Both projects failed to find their public.

 

Undeniably, parts of I Think I Love My Wife are stiff to the degree that they try to shoehorn in some right-jab / left-hook riffing from the younger Rock. And, although I respectfully disagree with Nathan Lee that Wife is misogynist per se, I do think it's indefensibly sexist. Until the final scene, this film cannot even fathom the idea that wife Brenda (Gina Torres) would feel just as ill at ease with a life of no sex and matching CB2 drapes. In this regard, Rock has produced a kind of buppie Fight Club, laying down the tiresome "emasculation" trip and dumping soulless consumerism at the distaff door. But what this muddled shmear of a film does right is to defiantly stake out the amped-up neurosis of upper-class black life. Richard's increasingly bad decisions are irksome, but only in the same way Larry David's are. Wife co-opts traditionally white comedic language, as well as the amour fou destructiveness of the French New Wave, to explore the tense double-consciousness that money inevitably brings. The difference is, class anxiety can't just send the mercury up and down the thermometer without also allowing race to be the inevitable extra noise always jangling the nerves in the background.