Review: Full Frontal

Full Frontal (2001)
Julia Roberts, David Duchovny, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, David Hyde Pierce, Blair Underwood, Jeff Garlin, Brad Pitt. Written by Coleman Hough. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Well here’s something you don’t see every day. A 101-minute film by an Oscar-winning director, shot on the prosumer-level Canon XL-1s and edited in Final Cut Pro. It’s Sundance in its tech but Hollywood in its pedigree, something noticeable to any audience within the first minute of the film, giving it a total indie look and feel.

I’m not sure at all what the film really is. The strructure is a movie-within-a-movie, the details of which might spoil the movie, so I won’t elaborate. But there are extra layers leading one to believe it may be either two separate movies within a movie, or a movie within a movie within a movie, and there’s a scene at the very end that makes one think there may be yet another movie. Or else it’s kind of like that Escher painting with the steps that only go down and down and down even as they circle around on themselves again.

I don’t always mind being baffled by a movie, if there’s enough there to let me try to figure things out as they go along. That’s not my problem with Full Frontal. My problem is that despite its excellent and interesting cast, the film is mostly horribly boring. Which it shouldn’t be, because it has some interesting story elements.

  • Catherine Keener is leaving her husband, David Hyde Pierce. Pierce works at a magazine where he inappropriately asks his coworkers questions about pornography.
  • Keener’s sister Mary McCormack is a masseusse looking forward to a trip to Tuscon, where she is planning to meet someone she met online. She seems to have had some bad luck in relationships, which Keener never lets her forget.
  • One of the characters, maybe Pierce’s, is producing a play about Hitler.
  • Julia Roberts is a writer, interviewing Blair Underwood for some Hollywood publication.
  • Blair Underwood is in a movie where he plays Brad Pitt’s sidekick, but he wants to break out of this second banana stuff and produce his own movie.
  • Jeff Garlin is an executive named Harvey at Miramax, obviously (or merely probably) Harvey Weinstein (he mentions his “brother Bob”). He’s the funniest person in the movie.
  • Almost all of them are planning to attend a birthday party for a film executive named Gus, played by David Duchovny.

Yet most of the film is kind of a drag. According to Wikipedia, Richard Roeper wrote that it was “like the Special Features disc of the DVD without the original movie.” That’s a pretty good description! I can’t decide if I dislike this movie while admitting it’s probably great, or kind of like it while acknowledging that it’s terrible. Seriously, there is somehow a fine line between those, and I’m right on it.

Jeff Garlin’s tiny part is the highlight, but I also kind of like Catherine Keener and Mary McCormack, whom I suspect may be the main characters, the real people this movie is about.


I’m Done Chasing Monsters in the Dark

This isn’t my life anymore, Mulder. I’m done chasing monsters in the dark.

Scully was wrong, of course, and so were we all, because The X-Files returns with six episodes beginning at the end of January, just in time for the end of football season.

I have to admit that I’m not a true X-Phile. My friend Grace is. She has all the episodes on VHS, and if I know Grace (and I do; we’ve been friends since seventh grade), each cassette is carefully labeled and indexed, not only with episode titles, but names of writers, directors, and guest stars. For this reason, she disapproves of most of my sad, misdirected fandom of the program, because the things I like are the things that kind of brought the show down, in her eyes. When I told her that I liked the second movie, I Want to Believe, the first thing she asked me was, “What’s your favorite episode of the TV series?” This was going to tell her all she needed to know about how seriously to take my impression of the film, which she was not in a hurry to see.

I’d heard the buzz, of course, and I’d seen the commercials, but nothing about the show’s publicity or press made me want to see it. Then my friend Cathy asked me if I wanted to see the first movie. I went along and really liked the film. So Cathy, who was already kind of a casual fan, started coming over on X-Files night to watch it with me. Between the night we saw the first film and the night the series finally limped across the finish line, we watched every episode at either her house or mine.

I actually liked the show in its last, painful season. But it was true: we were all hanging on just to see it through, you know? I was pleased with the way it ended. On the science vs. faith, Scully vs. Mulder thing, I was firmly on the side of faith, but while it was Mulder who believed and Scully who was skeptical, Scully had the church background, and in those last few episodes, the tension was a lot more specifically about religious faith, and that of course made the show a lot more interesting for me.

I never did go back and fill in blanks in my X-Files viewing, another reason I’m not a true X-Phile. But now that I’ve paid for a year of Prime, and because all nine seasons are available on Prime, I’m making an effort at least to catch up to where I started watching, whenever the first film was released. Season 7?

If I see them all, it’ll be three seasons per month, or about three fourths of a season each week. I think I can do that.

I’m so far three episodes into season one. It’s a lot less relationshippy than the show later becomes, which is of course Grace’s reason for not liking later episodes as much. She’s so funny. The relationships are the reason to stick with any series for more than a few seasons. That’s why The Big Bang Theory has gotten lame: while it still understands that it’s a show about relationshps, the cast has become so ridiculously large that it can’t meaningfully continue the development of the relationships among the original central characters, so it’s lost all kinds of focus, and it’s just not as interesting or as meaningful as it once was.

Another thing I’ve noticed about these first few episodes is that there’s no attempt to explain anything! Stories resolve but with no real explanations. That’s not a complaint, but it’s testimony to the show’s longer vision, which is perhaps one reason the fandom is so rabid, and perhaps a reason the payoff at the series conclusion was unsatisfying to some.

I’m stoked about the new season. There’ve been a lot of questions about who will be involved, or what the relationships will look like when it picks up. Those are all interesting, but the thing I really want to know (but I don’t want to know in advance, so don’t tell me if you’ve heard something), is whether or not the Lone Gunmen will be involved. They’re supposed to be dead, but of course it’s more than plausible that they faked their own deaths, either by choice or by force, because they were getting too close to something. Yes. I so want to see them in at least one of the new episodes.