Lazy Eyes and Overactive Thyroids
This rare North American offering at the 2005 Fantasia Film Festival was a much hyped but ultimately disappointing attempt to take cinematic weirdness back from the Japanese, who have been hoarding it ever since Akira hit it big. The film, about a murder in a small American town visited by a carnival, tries very hard to be Twin Peaks, but sadly only succeeds in being CBC’s Wolf Lake, though mercifully without the stink of Lou Diamond Phillips thickening up the air. That’s not to say that there aren’t some intriguing elements in the film. Shot in a mix of black and white and color, Firecracker presents two separate yet interconnected worlds: one staid, boring, and predictable, and the other with all the beauty and color cheap digital video can provide. This device is fairly effective, provided you haven’t seen Pleasantville, or at least liked it. The carnival, which, as you may have guessed, is the surreal and vibrant color/fantasy world, represents a sort of idealized dream world for the film’s main character, the functionally retarded Jimmy. Sorry, I’m sure there’s a more politically correct term to use when describing someone’s reduced mental capacity. Slow? Developmentally challenged? Catholic? Whatever it is, Jimmy is it, and he’s the liaison between the two worlds of the film. As exciting as being led by the hand by a retard may seem, keep in mind that this film comes from a country where Dr. Phil and his comforting Texas drawl are king. Aside from Jimmy, all the main characters in the film have dual roles, as each major player in Jimmy’s life is mirrored in his carnival fantasy. Part of the surrealism of the film, and one of the only touches that truly works, is that there is no doubt that this carnival fantasy actually physically exists, and isn’t merely some figment of Jimmy’s imagination, which is great, because if this movie ripped off Fight Club on top of every second David Lynch movie, I think my head would have exploded trying to cross-reference every homage. Another plus in the film is the heavy, dramatic score, which really pulls things together, at least until it quiets down and people start speaking their lines like they’re reading cue cards. The best performance of the picture comes from Karen Black, but this may be because pretty much everyone else in the film is awful, and she shines in comparison, kind of like watching amateur porn on the internet and fixating on the one girl who’s an amateur by choice, not by virtue of bad skin and a thyroid condition. Ms. Black has been making a living in low-budget horror films ever since her left eye gave out and made a break for her nose, which is a shame, because she’s done some very good work in the past, Burnt Offerings aside. The real surprise in Firecracker is the dual performance by alternative vocalist Mike Patton, who plays Jimmy’s brother very well, and the carnival’s boss very poorly. I suppose this may be a reflection of his musical talent, as he tends to alternate between great bands and god-awful noise with clockwork regularity. I’ve long been a fan of Fantomas, ever since their cover of the Spider Baby theme opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not the only person to have seen that movie, but I don’t have quite enough drug-related brain damage to like Mr. Bungle, and Faith No More gives me the same kind of headache I get from listening to people trying to explain how Radiohead’s ability to re-write crappy pop songs by adding computer bleeps and removing the choruses constitutes talent. That said, perhaps his presence in the film makes sense. After all, he did cover the Fire Walk With Me theme, and I guess one good homage deserves another.