“I can’t go back in there. It’s all hating faces that I have to chop up with a machete!”

Musings on ‘I Heart Huckabees’

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I thought about writing a traditional review of ‘I Heart Huckabees’, but watching the film for the second time proved to be a chastening experience, halting me from just blithely tap tapping away, and instead got me thinking, some proper brain churning, on a more deeper level (careful, this could be dangerous), This DVD was yet another bargain purchase from Poundland, which kinda makes a moot point that there probably isn’t much of a demand for an existential comedy when it sits alongside low budget horror films and z list celebrity keep fit DVD’s in a discount store.

With a stellar cast including heavyweights like Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, David O. Russell is able to make a film which gets you thinking about your own purpose on this planet. I found myself enduring a peculiar spiritual experience post-viewing, and I began to question exactly what I was doing with my life.

The next day I had to work one of my few remaining shifts as a Security Officer. If ever there is an existential job, then it is the role of a Security Officer in a department store. You wander about in a decidedly pointless fashion, looking for something that is unlikely to occur, under the guise that you have some authority, when in reality you have none. There is time, too much time to think about nonsense, or in the case of yesterday, evaluate the point of my existence.

You could argue that the pursuit of writing about films is without point or purpose. Sometimes a few hundred people will read this. Then you think, if they’re reading this, then what they are doing with their time, looking up a film which was released in 2004. This review has little influence, or doesn’t contribute alongside the critical buzz that might dictate whether a film becomes a box office hint because that time has already gone.
However one person might be looking up Naomi Watts’s filmography on Google because of her recent performance as Princess Di. They might be curious about her previous work, stumble upon this review, which will say that ‘I Heart Huckabees’ is a film worth watching, and then watch ‘I Heart Huckabees’. That film might then become life changing, or life altering. It might get them thinking about their own existence; which means that just maybe this piece might inadvertently contribute to a higher purpose and therefore an argument can be made that perhaps this review matters after all.

Written post 9/11 David O. Russell’s ‘I Heart Huckabees’ can be seen as a response to America’s wave of morality free corporate greed in the Bush years. The department store chain Huckabees represents the regime. Albert Markovski (played by Jason Schwartzman) is the moral crusader, an environmentalist unsure about what it is that he is fighting for. He campaigns to save the world, albeit on a local scale by stopping a proposal for a new Huckabees store, but his pursuit for environmental justice is interrupted by his own personal issues and insecurities.

Albert visits a couple of existential detectives, a couple called Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Hoffman and Tomlin), in the hope that they can help him get to the bottom of a series of coincidences that occurred in his life involving randomly bumping into a lanky Somalian refugee on three separate occasions. The Jaffe’s follow Albert around, trying to help him to get out of his crisis; they pair him up with his ‘other’, an hot headed firefighter named Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg), who is another lost soul.

Tommy influences Albert to consider other options, other philosophies, other possibilities. He introduces Albert to a former student of the Jaffes called Caterine Vauban. Vauban encourages Tommy and Albert to exist in a state of ‘pure being’, to attain this they must forget or escape their troubles. She explains that essentially their fears and anxieties are meaningless.

I haven’t even mentioned Jude Law, who turns in a wonderfully dysfunctional performance as the narcissistic Brad Stand, Albert’s nemesis. Brad is a corporate suit representing Huckabees, who is egotistical and superficial. He comes to realize that his entire life is built on hot air and deflates when his ego gets popped. This realization occurs when the Jaffe’s deconstruct a chicken salad based Shania Twain anecdote that Brad repeatedly tells.

Where to start with ‘I Heart Huckabees’, or should I ask myself where to end?

I mentioned earlier that I contemplated the point my own existence. I’ve come to accept that there may not be a point to anything, but whilst I exist within the confines of this society, I will act my part. It is only recently, unsure exactly what part I am supposed to be playing, that I have realized that it is better instead to “be”, and that acting really has no purpose. To “be” is to acknowledge the existence of my fellow man. Not getting caught up in solipsistic panic and refusing to acknowledge cartesian anxiety.

Therefore through writing this review I am attempting to connect with an unseen reader by clumsily eeking out nearly a thousand vague philosophical words. ‘I Heart Huckabees’ is a film that caters not to a whole audience, but to the individual. Every single person who watches it will get something different from the viewing experience. Well, in my opinion this is the case. You could also argue that ‘I Heart Huckabees’ appeals to stupidly complicated neurotics who take themselves too seriously, and relate to the fruitless search for something that they aren’t even aware of.

– RJW

I Heart Huckabees on IMDB
Buy I Heart Huckabees [DVD]

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Three Kings (1999)

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Directed by: David O. Russell

Ordinarily a film which features the acting talents of Ice Cube and Jamie Kennedy could swiftly be written off as some kind of god awful mean mugging , stoner extravaganza; but both actors offer something on ‘Three Kings’, the essence of what they are best at, how their limited acting repertoire is their strongest and indeed only suit – in the case of Cube, his one expression, you know, that vacant serious look, makes him a steadying presence in the company of Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and Kennedy who, as a hopeless soldier driving a dune buggy across the oil rich deserts of Iraq on a wild goose chase in the company of a feisty news reporter and her bemused cameraman, provides an additional dumb dose of light relief.

‘Three Kings’ is a light-hearted albeit pseudo-serious look at the climax of the first Gulf War. Victory was in the bag in less than a year after Operation Desert Storm, and in early 1991 the US Army contained a host of restless troops camped out in the desert who felt rather nervous about going back to the States, and adjusting back to the prospect of civilian life. In a similar spirit to ‘Jarhead’ it reveals a different kind of military experience that we have in recent years grown accustomed to from the military occupation of Afghanistan. Whereas in Afghanistan, patrolling troops have found themselves involved in tense fire fights, seen colleagues blown apart and shot by rogue fire. ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Jarhead’ present the other side of life in a warzone, as idle troops crave war stories that they can take home with them as they unravel in desert tedium.

The film opens with a cluster fuck, as Troy Barlow (played by Wahlberg) shoots dead a surrendering Iraqi soldier. His deed is celebrated by fellow troops, until the stone faced Staff Sergeant Elgin (Cube) comes along and brings the party to a close. In another tent we see Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) shagging a desperate journalist.

A treasure map that is found wedged in between the arse cheeks of another surrendering Iraqi soldier brings the three men, and a slack jawed goon called Conrad Vig (played by Spike Jonze) together. They discover that the map leads to one of Saddam’s bunkers that is rumoured to contain stolen Kuwaiti gold. Figuring they could become rich, they head off, but along the journey find themselves drawn into the post-war conflict when they abruptly decide to help Iraqi civilians who are still being oppressed by the local Republican Guard.

The film is rather unsubtle in its political message. But that doesn’t dilute what is actually being said. As the Coalition Troops, particularly the Americans, found out; the problem with winning a war, yet leaving a maniacal dictator in charge, is that when your army pulls out of the defeated country, the people will continue to suffer as the dictator attempts to reassert control of his population. The message of ‘Three Kings’ was made all the more relevant post 9/11, when US Troops returned to Iraq and in blunt terms finished the job by eliminating Saddam Hussein as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or depending on which way you look at it, going on a pointless treasure hunt in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

On set bickering between director David O. Russell and George Clooney blighted the production of ‘Three Kings’, which first established Russell’s reputation as a visionary auteur who is notoriously difficult to work with. There isn’t much evidence of tension in the film, George is a pro throughout and makes for an accomplished lead, and the film is shot artistically, including the use of authentically disorientating handheld cameras. Although the colouring of the film is odd. The bright sun embellished scenes, create a strange uneasy on the eye sheen.

Though not on the epic scale of some of the great Vietnam war films, Russell created a tight film that has a very effective anti-war message which also perfectly illustrates the consequences of violence, showing that a gunshot wound fucking hurts, and isn’t something that a movie action hero can easily walk away from.

The characters in ‘Three Kings’ are all searching for gold. For the news reporters and journalist it is the golden story, for the soldiers it is compensation for risking their lives, and a financial security against dull civilian life, for the Iraqi people it is the gold of freedom. It is all gold really, ‘Three Kings’ is a gilded classic.

– RJW
8/10

Three Kings on IMDB
Buy Three Kings [DVD] [1999]