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MOVIE INFO

Director:
David O. Russell
Cast:
Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg , Naomi Watts, Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert
Writing Credits:
David O. Russell, Jeff Baena

Tagline:
An existential comedy.

Synopsis:
Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin lead an all-star cast including Jude Law, Naomi Watts and Mark Walhberg in this outrageous comedy from director/co-writer David O. Russell (Three Kings). Kindhearted but confused activist Andrew Markovski hires a pair of screwball "existential detectives" (Hoffman and Tomlin) to help him find the meaning of life. All the while, a sexy, French author (Isabelle Huppert) is trying to throw a wrench in their plan by seducing andrew's mind and body.

Box Office:
Budget
$20 million.
Opening Weekend
$292.177 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$12.740 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 2/22/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director David O. Russell and Actors Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts
• Audio Commentary with Director David O. Russell


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


I Heart Huckabees (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 4, 2005)

He’s no Terrence Malick, but David O. Russell definitely takes his time between projects. When I Heart Huckabee’s hit screens in 2004, I was surprised to learn this was his first directorial effort since 1999’s Three Kings. I guess five years isn’t that long a period, and it certainly doesn’t compare with the 20 years between Malick’s Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, but it felt like a fairly extended duration away from the set.

Anyone who expects something similar to Kings won’t find it with the surreal comedy of Huckabee’s, a flick that has more in common with Russell’s Flirting With Disaster. At the start of Huckabee’s, we meet environmentalist and would-be poet Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman). He has an appointment with existential detectives Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman) because he wants them to investigate a series of weird coincidences. Albert keeps running into a tall African (Ger Duany). Albert wants the Jaffes to find out the meaning of these coincidences and what he needs to do with his life.

The Jaffes take the case and note that they will observe all aspects of Albert’s life. He asks them to stay away from his workplace at the Open Spaces Coalition, but they show up there anyway. Albert works with corporate flunky Brad Stand of the Huckabee’s department store megachain. Brad wants to access Open Spaces to give Huckabee’s a better public image, and he attempts to take over Open Spaces from Albert.

While those battles occur, we meet another client of the Jaffes: fire-fighter Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg). His wife leaves him because he’s too involved with the whole existential thing, and he’s also obsessed with an anti-petroleum standpoint. A problem occurs when the Jaffes learn that Tommy got a book from Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a former colleague of theirs with a radically different viewpoint. The Jaffes espouse an inclusive theory that everything’s tied together, while Vauban is much more negative and nihilistic; she’s of the “life’s a bitch and then you die” school, basically.

Essentially the movie follows the ways that the two sides fight for Albert’s soul. This closely involves Tommy - who becomes Albert’s complementary “other” - as well as Brad, Albert’s nemesis. We watch as the investigation unfolds and all the parties tie together.

Half a philosophical exploration of various concepts and half a Three Stooges movie, Huckabee’s walks a fine line between comedy and pretentiousness. Happily, it rarely slips over to the latter category. A movie with this kind of focus easily could have turned precious and smug, but it avoids those problems for the most part. A few scenes fall into the “insufferable” category, but not enough to cause any real negatives.

Part of the way it avoids pretentiousness is to not take the different parties very seriously. It consistently mocks all sides and never really favors one over the other. Usually we’d expect a lot of attacks on the corporate life and the glorification of the indie, environmental spirit, but that definitely doesn’t happen. Oh, Huckabee’s definitely nails the business world, but it doesn’t let up on the tree-huggers either.

It also has a lot of fun with philosophical concepts, especially in the way it mocks the way they usually favor one viewpoint to the exclusion of all others. It seems awfully unlikely that one group will get everything right and all the others will be totally wrong, and the film reminds us of that. It tosses out some interesting ideas but doesn’t pretend to have all - or any, really - of the answers . Instead, it provides them as fodder for humor, and that tone works.

The inclusion of an excellent cast helps. To my surprise, the usually-wooden Wahlberg offers arguably the best work of the bunch. He’s normally so stiff, but here he provides a loose and fluid take on the obsessive Tommy. (Am I the only one who sees a Roy Neary tone to Tommy? The scene in which his wife leaves him reminds me an awful lot of a similar bit from Close Encounters.)

One can’t argue that I Heart Huckabee’s is anything other than an odd movie. However, it doesn’t wear its pretensions on its sleeve, and it remains consistently engaging and entertaining. Too many films of this sort become off-putting, but this one stays likable and amusing.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

I Heart Huckabee’s appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Nothing much interfered with the presentation, as it largely looked solid.

With only some minor exceptions, sharpness seemed excellent. A couple of shots demonstrated very minor softness, but those instances occurred infrequently and usually connected to some visual effects. The majority of the movie came across as distinctive and well defined. I noticed no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, but some light edge enhancement occurred during much of the flick. No print flaws crept into the flick, as the movie remained clean.

Colors looked strong. The movie’s natural palette produced generally warm, rich tones. The DVD replicated them with generally solid vivacity and definition. Black levels also came across as deep and firm, while low-light shots appeared clean and smooth. This was a good image that fell just sort of greatness.

Given its status as a quirky comedy, I didn’t expect much from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of I Heart Huckabee’s. Indeed, the soundfield seemed pretty limited. The music showed decent stereo imaging, and most of the remaining audio tended toward general ambience. The mix always presented a nice sense of place, but that was about it. The surrounds echoed those elements and added a light feeling of dimensionality to the bits in Albert’s mind but never played a significant role.

Audio quality was positive. Speech seemed natural and crisp, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music was fairly bright and dynamic, as both score and source tunes demonstrated solid reproduction and range. Effects also came across as clean and tight, with acceptable low-end. Nothing much happened to stand out, but the cumulative effect seemed fine.

As for extras, we get two separate audio commentaries. The first includes Russell with actors Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg and Naomi Watts. Don’t expect all four in the same room at the same time. Actually, Watts only pops up briefly via a phone call. Culled from different sessions, we get some material with all three men together, but we also find some bits with Russell and Schwartzman alone, and I think there are some from a Russell/Wahlberg recording as well. It’s all somewhat confusing, but it comes together neatly via editing.

This commentary starts strong but sputters a bit as it progresses. It covers topics like inspirations for parts of the film and various influences, the intentions of different elements, visual design, storytelling concerns, casting, the actors’ approaches to their characters, and various notes from the set. At the beginning, Russell seems active and involved, but he fades somewhat before too long. His initial details are quite informative, though, and the actors pick up some of the slack along the way. I especially like Schwartzman’s remarks about the tips he got from Dustin Hoffman.

Matters do decline as we get farther into the movie. During the piece’s second half, more gaps occur, and too much praise pops up; the track really loses a lot of energy. Overall, this commentary includes a reasonable amount of information, but it’s less consistent than I’d like.

The second commentary presents director David O. Russell on his own as he gives us a running, screen-specific chat. At its start, Russell explains that he taped this track second; he felt that the first one went off-task too much as he fooled around with the actors. Indeed, Russell’s solo commentary stays better focused, though it’s still not a great examination of the film.

Here the director mainly delves into the movie’s themes and influences. He talks about its socio-political issues and other interpretive matters. Russell also goes over more notes about working with the actors, though a lot of those fall into the “I love this scene” domain. As with the first commentary, this one suffers from too many banal plaudits, and some redundancy occurs in regard to the material Russell discusses. Nonetheless, he usually makes this a fairly meaty track that seems like the more informative of the pair.

I Heart Huckabee’s definitely won’t be for everyone. Its exploration of “existential detectives” puts it into an artsy category that makes it less than accessible at times. However, it compensates with a lot of mocking humor and unusual twists to become a lively and amusing piece. The DVD presents consistently good picture with low-key but acceptable audio. Not many extras appear here, though we do get a couple of fitfully informative commentaries. I definitely recommend Huckabee’s, at least as a rental. I think it’s too odd a movie for me to offer a firm endorsement for someone who hasn’t seen it to buy a copy, though I also feel it’ll probably warrant extra viewings to take in its nuances, so a purchase might not be a bad idea.

The question becomes which version to get. In addition to this release, a two-disc special edition will come out at the same time. Its first disc will be the same as this platter, but it’ll add a second DVD with additional features. Fox didn’t send me a copy of that for review; I’ve requested one but don’t know if I’ll get it. Nonetheless, I wanted to mention it so fans will know that a version with more extensive supplements is available for them. It retails for $39.98, so it’s significantly more expensive than the single-disc edition.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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