Picofarad #5 Movie reviews

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CSA: The Confederate States of America (2004)

Director: Kevin Wilmott
Running time: 89 minutes

This movie begins with a quote admonishing you that if you can't make people laugh, they will surely kill you. If that's the case, then the makers of the pseudo-documentary CSA: The Confederate States of America had better have their wills made out.

I'm sorry, but making a statement like that at the outset is asking for trouble if you can't live up to it, and CSA achieves nothing close to it. It's not even clear that everyone involved in it was in agreement that it should be a comedy. There are a couple good deadpan, near-Pythonesque sequences, most notably as a survivor of the Confederate occupation of Mexico (Fernando Arenas) recounts his painful childhood experience of being forced to eat Southern food, but they're cancelled out by scenes such as the clip from an overwrought Jefferson Davis biopic in which the actor playing the actor playing Davis (Brian Paulette) makes the mistake of clearly telegraphing that he knows he's overacting.

The alternate history of CSA starts at Gettysburg, where Britain and France show up to help rout the Union troops. Eventually the great cities of the North are sacked and burned, whereupon the Europeans politely leave and the industrial base apparently springs back up overnight so that the country can continue on the same technological vector as in our timeline. The Confederate States try unsuccessfully to annex all of Mexico later on, and remain isolationist but support Hitler during World War II. (British viewers will be happy to know that the UK muddles through somehow anyway, so that the "British Broadcasting Service" can then produce this documentary on the history of the CSA.)

The one thing CSA does right is to skip the military minutiae and get right in to showing the society that evolves from the change in history. Unfortunately, it's a one- note society in which slavery is the answer to everything. How did Davis quell an unruly Northern population? Give all the white people slaves so that they could truly appreciate the ways of the South! Too many Asian immigrants brought in to build the great railways of the West? Enslave them! During commercial breaks in the documentary, we see that it's impossible to sell a product without demeaning black people in some way.

CSA is the sort of movie that invites analysis and discussion afterward, but it's most likely to be about questions like this:

CSA wants to be a message movie, but it's two message movies-- one cynical and humorous and one in dead earnest-- stepping on each others' toes, and that's what dooms it. I appreciate its ambition but can't recommend it.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Directors: Steve Box and Nick Park
Running time: 85 minutes

The movie industry likes to create movies like Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit because the surest profit is in selling people exactly what they expect. I loved this movie because what I expect from Aardaman Animation are a solid plot and consistent laughs. The only surprise for the Wallace & Gromit fan will lie in discovering what the MPAA lets you get away with under a G rating these days. (For concerned parents, the answer includes: off-color punning, one bare clay butt, and some heavy vegetable- fondling action.)

The story starts with our intrepid heroes having formed Anti-Pesto, a humane pest eradication service which protects prize vegetables all over town without actually killing any cute, fluffy bunnies. With the big yearly gardening competition only a few days away, it's inevitable that a huge, mysterious mutant will turn up and begin destroying gardens right and left, with Anti- Pesto powerless to defeat it.

Rising to the challenge is Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who vows to outdo Wallace by shooting the were-rabbit himself, thus discrediting Anti-Pesto and winning back Wallace's sort-of sweetheart, Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), on whom Quartermaine has long had designs.

Will Anti-Pesto or the fiend with the gun track down the phantom first? Will Wallace save the day, or will he totally screw up and have to be saved by Gromit? Will Lady Tottington be kept out of the clutches of Quartermaine? Oh, come on. But gosh it's a fun ride. I'm still giggling.

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