Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review: King of the Hill (1993)

Keep your mind away from Mike Judge for a moment and think Depression-era drama, starring a kid. Think Soderbergh’s first foray into eye-blasting color saturation, and return to really sweaty photography. Think the closest thing to American neo-realism a few steps back from 10 Items or Less. Think heavy character interaction without much of a plot to give them a structure to dance about in a jangly fashion. You’re here.

We watch a series of months in this kid Aaron’s life. He’s a good older brother, he stands up to bullies and excels in school, makes friends easily, rows with the Irish street cop… all in all he seems like a goodun in spite of fucking up in seldom-yet-major ways, some latent anarchism there, perhaps a type that will grow into one of them annoying artests. You know the kind, they write a book about their life years later and deny that they're proud of the crimes they got away with. Still, I can’t help but like him a little, thanks to Jesse Bradford’s performance… he’s the guy from Clockstoppers…

So, these series of events that happen alter his life like sudden jerks on a wheel but don’t have too lasting an impression on his life, (meaning “the movie,” I’m sure the character will remember that they happened). Aaron finds a dead body, almost crashes a car into a bunch of kids playing stickball, is trapped in all of his white lies at once, sees his mother off to a sanitarium, sees his brother off on a bus to granmama’s, watches a friend get arrested, almost starves to death, almost gets kicked out of his home, etc. etc. Until the film ends with the main players still alive, having learned… something…

Alternate title: Things That Happen Without Cohesion. Soderbergh might not have known what he was making, but it’s more likely that he relates to the material more than any of us ever will. This happens to filmmakers sometimes, and worst case scenario is a film that feels like a waste of time. Muddling it further is Cliff Martinez, a far cry from the Alice he will be in Traffic; he needs to ease up on the score a little.

For all intents and purposes, it’s the same film as Kafka: an individual as a tragic casualty in a world lorded by sinister figures in positions of authority, but played for whimsy from the eyes of a child. Then stuffed with nostalgia. Like all this shit already happened. You heard me, the eyes, damn you.

And like Kafka, this thing doesn’t have a region 1 DVD release. I have to settle for this VHS screener’s copy I stumbled across years ago. In an attempt to market it to these people and ease them into what they are about to experience, there are some blurbs on the back (in place of a plot description). One reads, “A thinking man’s Home Alone.” … I don’t think that’s what it is…


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