Friday, July 07, 2006


'A Scanner Darkly' & 'Nacho Libre'

A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater's brilliant adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly opens today. Rush to see it.

Not since Dazed and Confused has indie auteur Linklater seized on the drug issue with such zeal. But while Dazed was a lighthearted look at stoner life in the '70s, Scanner is a much more serious take on the government's attempt to eradicate a fictional drug. Starring Keanu Reeves, Scanner introduces drug cop Bob Arctor - wearing a shape-shifting suit to disguise his identity - breaking down during a speech to his fellow narcs. Arctor's under the influence of Substance D, and in turn can't quite spit out the anti-drug message he's there to offer.

As with Waking Life, Linklater employs rotoscoping animation to alter the real-time images. Each scene and character is painted somewhat psychedelically, with colors melting over the outlines, and twitching and shaking like the druggy characters depicted in the story. One such druggie is Rory Cochrane's Charlie Fleck, whose a long way down the hard-drug path than Cochrane's goodtime pothead Slater in Dazed; Substance D has him junked out, sprewing all sorts of conspiracy theories to justify his erratic behavior.

Since Arctor doesn't quite know what's happenning to him, the movie's a little hard to follow. Is he the cop who doesn't want do his job or the slacker who'd rather hang out on the couch with his buds? The buds are hysterical: two speed-talking jivers James Barris (Robert Downey Jr) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). Topping off this amazing quintet of bad-boy and -girl Hollywood actors is Winona Ryder, who plays Arctor's coked-out dealer girlfriend.

By the end, Arctor's literally farmed out to a prison camp where he discovers the blue flower that Substance D is derived from growing all around him. Is he suddenly in heaven or is this just another hallucination? Find out for yourself.

This review is also available at

Nacho Libre

I've noticed that Nacho Libre, Jared Hess' Mexican farce starring Jack Black as Nacho, has received mostly mediocre reviews. Some feel the movie just isn't very funny, others strain to call its depiction of Mexico racist. I disagree. Yes, I'm a Jack Black fan, so it's hard for him to go wrong with me. Black's one of a handful of current comic actors who can carry a film - that includes Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Vince Vaughan and Eddie Griffin. Nacho could very well have been played by Stiller, but Black got the gig, and he nails the role.

Nacho lives and works at a monastary in Oaxaca. He longs for the hot nun and wants to be a luchador (masked Mexican wrestlers who wear "stretchy pants"). Nacho creates an outfit and begins wrestling, ultimately facing Ramses, el gran de todos los luchadores. Black's a hoot. He prances around in tights and not much else, fakes his way through Spanglish, and sports an oversized mustache. He even does some Tenacious D-style warbling. At times, he seems to be channeling John Belushi, who I've never seen him compared to.

Hess' debut, Napoleon Dynamite (last year's little movie that could), established his ability to take an offbeat character and build an entire clever movie around him. With Mike White's writing help (he scripted The Good Girl and Chuck & Buck), Nacho Libre has more heft and just a little less off-the-cuff whimsy than ND. Afterall, Nacho's goal is to help orphans and get the girl, which he does, sort of.

And, by the way, there's nothing racist abut farting after eating a bowl of frijoles. Mel Brooks wrote the book on farting (Blazing Saddles) and nobody accused him of being racist.

Nice clean to-the-punch review of ASD. If only mine were as effective.
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