I’m sorry it took a while (I’ve been really busy with school), but the 2005 Project continues…
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (Directed by Michel Gondry)
The thing that makes ‘Dave Chappelle’s Block Party’ so good is that it doesn’t assume that the mystery Block Party organized by one of the biggest comedians of the last decade changed the world forever. That sort of self-important attitude is what makes a movie like ‘Woodstock’, for example, so unbearable to watch. Chappelle’s Block Party is a gift to the ‘hood, and Michel Gondry’s movie is not as much a documentation, as it is trying to capture the essence of why Chappelle decided to invest his time and money in such a gift.
On the surface, the answer is fun. Gather a bunch of exciting artists and get a lot of people to come together and have a good time. But if you look at it deeper, it is a love letter to working class neighborhoods and their communities. It’s a subtle attack on gentrification precisely because it doesn’t feel like an attack. The movie is so relaxed and casual that you can’t help but fall into its groove. The movie will make you have a great time, and thus, you will appreciate the greatness of people coming together and sharing something with each other.
Everything about ‘Block Party’ works in its favor. The improvised cinematography, Chappelle walking around telling jokes, the interviews with the many people in the neighborhood, the marching band kids and the old ladies from Ohio, the power of the musical acts, and the way Gondry and the editors juxtapose images to turn this fun day into a utopian experience. This is a truly democratic movie. It wants to be a good time, and it ends up being so much more.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Directed by Shane Black)
Fun, and funny, and meta. What else can I say about Shane Black’s ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’? Not much, I’m afraid, except that I really like it. 2005 seems like an interesting year in that we had two neo-noirs that have endured in popularity and estimation with cinephiles (the other is Rian Johnson’s ‘Brick’). Black is a clever guy who likes writing clever dialogue, but does his movie transcend its surface pleasures? (the same question can be asked of Johnson’s ‘Brick’).
Black’s exploration of the meta-narrative and artificiality of the main character of a noir being the one that tells his own story is very funny, but doesn’t seem to want to comment on the artificiality of cinema beyond spicing up the movie with a playfully unreliable narrator. That is basically the thing that keeps me from outright loving ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, the fact that, in the end, it is an incredibly solid movie, but doesn’t come through with the dark ending of something like Altman’s ‘The Player‘.
That being said, the movie is a lot of fun. This is the role with which Robert Downey Jr demonstrated he was ready to come back to stardom. After seeing ‘Age of Ultron’ and realizing how his schtick has reached Johnny-Depp-in-the-‘Pirate’-sequels levels of sleepwalking, I was so happy to be remembered of how fresh and exciting his resurrecting career once was. The same goes for Val Kilmer, an actor who most directors don’t seem to have any idea of how to use, but gives the best performance of his career as a gay private detective.
Brick (Directed by Rian Johnson)
I admire Rian Johnson’s ‘Brick’ more than I like it. As a first film, it’s quite something. As an exercise on the functional understanding of cinematic genre, it is even more. The idea of taking the plot, feel, and aesthetics of a film noir and setting it in a contemporary high school sounds ridiculous, but there was something in the air ten years ago that gave us both ‘Veronica Mars‘ and this movie.
As far as a movie can be called effective, or well-constructed, or successful, ‘Brick’ is all of those things. Props must, and have been given extensively, to Johnson for being able to get away with having Joseph Gordon-Levitt and other high schoolers talk like hard-boiled detectives in a dead-serious movie. The guy knows how to tell a story, he knows where to place a camera, how to stage a scene, and how to cut it in order to make it sing. Why, then, does ‘Brick’ leave me feeling impressed, but also pretty cold?
Well, perfection can be alienating. I understand ‘Brick’, but I don’t feel ‘Brick’. I have little affection for the characters, which isn’t always a huge impediment to connecting with a movie. No, I think my big issue with ‘Brick’ is how difficult it is to make out the philosophy of its themes. What is the movie about? It’s a pretty cool movie, but what is it trying to say? What I’m saying is -and I feel like I’m repeating what I said about ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’- I can appreciate a well-made movie, but I can’t love a movie that doesn’t transcend into the world of meaning.