Archive for October 2006

Shut Up and Sing

October 27, 2006

One of the ironies of the whole Dixie Chicks brouhaha in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War, when Natalie Maines announced to a sympathetic British audience “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” is that the president of the United States isn’t from Texas. George W. Bush was actually born in Connecticut, where his father grew up. Then again, only one of the three Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines) was born in Texas, either (though all three, like Dubya, were raised there). More to the point would’ve been “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from the United States.”

Shut Up and Sing, co-directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA) with Cecelia Peck, deals with the absurdly disproportionate response to Maines’ relatively benign comment. Up until that point the best-selling female group in history, the Chicks find themselves shut out by the country-music industry and its easily offended red-state fans. Their CDs are publicly stomped and burned; their songs no longer get airplay. It’s a real John Lennon “Beatles are more popular than Jesus” moment, except that when Maines chokes out an understandably lukewarm apology, the furor doesn’t die down. America at that time had been driven mad by 9/11 and gulled by Bush’s lies about WMDs (and subtle rhetorical linkage between Saddam and bin Laden), and wasn’t in the mood to hear dissent against a popular president. (Even in Massachusetts, where I took part in an anti-war protest around the same time Maines made the snark heard ’round the world, some people drove by yelling “You want another 9/11?” and “Kick Saddam’s ass!”)

Everything in the Dixie Chicks is “we” — Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison present a unified front, and one assumes that all three of them agreed that the war was a bad idea. Maguire and Robison, however, are more circumspect and cautious than the spitfire Maines. One can agree with Maines, and empathize with her frustration, and still find her a tad arrogant. The other Chicks worry about the effect all the controversy will have on the hundreds of tour personnel who depend on good ticket sales for their livelihood. Maines, lying on a couch, her face twisted in contempt for the yahoos who’ve turned their backs on the band, couldn’t care less. The movie isn’t quite the idolatrous you-go-girl portrait one might expect: it shows us how the inhuman pressure of the situation pissed Maines off and kept her pissed off for months on end, pushing her past the tipping point, as the other two women support her but seem to yearn for it all to blow over.

Still, time vindicated Maines, and eventually, as the war ground on and more and more troops died in a conflict that was pre-sold as a cakewalk, placards started popping up at concerts: “NATALIE WAS RIGHT.” The band’s anti-war stance came to seem prescient, while their antagonist Toby Keith, with his moronic “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue,” seemed more and more like a barroom crank and doofus (subsequently, he claimed that he never supported the war). The Chicks’ post-controversy album Taking the Long Way took five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Country Album — take that, Toby.

Kopple and Peck take the opportunity to catch the Chicks in a variety of performance modes — onstage, in rehearsals, in the studio. Their unity extends beautifully to their music, and it’s not surprising that the Dixie Chicks, having alienated some of their Bible-belt fanbase, picked up new ideological fans who bought their album just to support their politics and wound up actually enjoying the songs. Like many another great country act — k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash — the Chicks straddle the line between country and rock, and perhaps they have the controversy to thank for guiding them towards a new sound, a new voice, and a new audience.

Ultimately, Shut Up and Sing is about the cost of free speech at the major populist level, when you have to worry about corporate sponsors (Lipton Tea) pulling out of your tour after you’ve criticized a president — something most of us generally don’t fret over. If the Dixie Chicks weren’t so huge, the comment would’ve passed unnoticed, but they became the accidental tip of the spear of pop-cultural dissent aimed at the Bush administration. As noted, they weren’t martyrs for long, and more and more stars would come forward to join them in protest, but the Chicks took the heat and the shunning and the death threats first. Does that make them portraits in courage? In this media-driven culture that thrives on tabloid abrasion and eschews thought against the grain, perhaps.


October 27, 2006

I’ll have you know that the Saw movies are not just your ordinary run-of-the-mill gross-out films. They’re gross-out films with touchy-feely life lessons. In the first one, the value that needed to be taught via dismemberment and self-inflected torture was compassion; in the second, it was paternal love; and in Saw III it’s forgiveness. Call this franchise Chicken Soup for the Soulless.

In all three films, a dying cancer patient named John Kramer (Tobin Bell), named “Jigsaw” by the media, fashions elaborate traps for various people who, for one reason or another, don’t appreciate being alive. Usually it involves giving the victim a choice between doing something horrendously painful/disfiguring to him/herself or dying in an appropriately gory fashion. Here, the scheme’s a bit different: Jigsaw has captured the anguished Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), who hasn’t gotten over the loss of his little boy to a drunk driver and spends far too much time fantasizing about bringing pain to those he deems responsible — not only the driver, but also the judge who gave the driver only a six-month sentence and, it turns out, a woman who witnessed the incident but never came forward. Jeff must forgive each of these people if he expects to move forward in the “game” and come face-to-face with his son’s killer.

Ol’ Jigsaw isn’t feeling very well these days, since he’s been on death’s door for two movies now. So with the help of his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith), a survivor of a Jigsaw game who’s developed a daddy fixation on him, he kidnaps a brilliant surgeon (Bahar Soomekh) and hooks her up to an explosive device that’s also linked to Jigsaw’s heart rate. If he flatlines, she goes boom, so it’s in her best interests to keep him breathing. He needs to stay alive to supervise Jeff’s game, and also to ensure another #1 Halloween weekend for Lions Gate.

Saw III starts with an interesting premise but quickly squanders it on the usual barely-glimpsed bloodbaths (series regular Dina Meyer gets a particularly visceral send-off) and deathtraps increasingly ludicrous in their mad-lab ingenuity. The judge, for instance, finds himself in a vat slowly filled with the liquefied remains of maggot-ridden pig corpses, which are dumped into what I can only call a huge industrial juicer. The witness is stripped naked in a freezing meat locker and sprayed with water. Interesting ways to die, but they lack the Mikado-like “let the punishment fit the crime” details one expects from movies like this. We don’t know or care anything about the victims, either, nor do we know or care much about angry Jeff.

Oddly, Saw III has eyes mostly for the twisted relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda — the grunge-horror equivalent of Batman and Robin. Why Jigsaw entrusts his life’s work to a self-cutting former junkie is beyond me, though it allows Shawnee Smith — who really should be getting better roles — to take Amanda through an arc of devotion and jealousy that makes her pretty much the only human on the screen. Unmasking Jigsaw hasn’t done much for this franchise, since the singularly inexpressive Tobin Bell comes off more like a teacher of environmental studies (which he actually was in his pre-film days) than like a menacing puppetmaster. What’s left is mostly just freakish torment, shot in blinding flash-cuts to avoid an NC-17 rating. And since Saw 4 has already been announced — we were told back in July there’d be a fourth film if the third one did well, and Saw III made $34 million last weekend — we can expect even more of the same next Halloween. Perhaps next time, the virtue that gets taught via evisceration and carnage will be originality. Somehow, though, I doubt it.


October 27, 2006

A group of intertwined stories told in non-linear fashion, designed to make a larger point about one of the Great Themes of Life: the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu has built a nice career on just such films. 2000’s Amores Perros employed the structure beautifully, 2003’s 21 Grams far less so. Now there is Babel, which lashes together four stories of brutally broken humanity to illustrate that, in this world, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

“Listen,” the film’s ads admonish. I did. What I heard was a good deal of sound and fury signifying very little, and the few moments of insight or power are parcelled out over two hours and twenty-two minutes. I loved Amores Perros and still consider González Iñárritu one of the more excitingly ambitious filmmakers at large, but having done the same narrative dance three times, he should really move on.

I’ll see if I can synopsize this thing coherently. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play a tormented married couple on vacation in Morocco. Out of nowhere, a bullet strikes the tour bus they’re in and hits Blanchett in the neck. The bullet comes from the rifle of a Moroccan man whose two young sons are testing the distance of the bullets; unfortunately, they pick the tour bus as a target, not really expecting to hit it. Pitt and Blanchett’s own two kids have been left in the care of a Mexican maid (Adriana Barraza) who needs to attend her son’s wedding back home across the border and totes the kids along with her (though not before exhausting all other options). Seemingly incongruously, we also go to Japan and meet a deaf-mute high-school girl (Rinko Kikuchi) who responds to her mother’s suicide with the worst case of Japanese sexual acting-out since In the Realm of the Senses.

Some of this is forcefully handled — the undramatic bullet impact and Blanchett’s frighteningly underplayed immediate response; the Japanese girl standing naked before a baffled detective; the maid hysterical, stranded in the desert in red dress and heels — and it’s all well-acted. But the impact is scattershot; the structure lacks the crackling simultaneity of Amores Perros, wherein the disparate characters seemed linked by something more mystical than mere plot contrivance. We felt the connections there; in Babel we intellectually connect the dots, at the expense of emotional coherence. Like Martin Scorsese’s The Departed and Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia, this is yet another master filmmaker’s empty exercise treading familiar ground.

Bizarrely (coming from a Mexican director), the Mexican storyline shows humanity at its most desperately stupid. Gael García Bernal, who rose to international fame after Amores Perros, drops by here as the maid’s irresponsible nephew, who shoots off a gun at the wedding, gets drunk, and attempts to drive her and the kids back across the border in the middle of the night. What follows stretches credibility so far that we can feel this storyline missing its presumed point (the agonies of immigration) by a mile. We never do find out what happens to Bernal’s character, either. González Iñárritu may simply be familiar enough with Mexican culture to feel comfortable portraying the few Mexican characters as fools, but it has the unfortunate effect of adding to the white characters’ burden.

Babel may be intended as the conclusion of a thematic trilogy for González Iñárritu and his writing partner Guillermo Arriaga. People have compared it to 2005’s Oscar-winner Crash, but, taken together with the other two González Iñárritu films, it’s really more like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue — moral tales about normal people in abnormal situations. Amores Perros had that sort of depth effortlessly, but Babel strains for it and falls depressingly short. I can applaud the effort and the intention, but the actual thing on the screen is a lumbering, stitched-together mess. Since González Iñárritu has now finished this trilogy, I look forward to what he does next.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (3D)

October 23, 2006

When it first came out in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas struck me as the ideal Tim Burton project in all the wrong ways: no humans, no actors, just spooky design and easily manipulable stop-motion figures. Time, however, has bestowed more charm on this macabre but ebullient musical fantasy. It’s a Rankin-Bass holiday special filtered through Burton’s manic-depressive sensibility; as such, it offers a wealth of offbeat pleasures, many of which are magnified by the film’s new upgrade to “Disney Digital 3D.”

After a newly 3D-ized version of John Lasseter’s 1989 short “Knick Knack” (about a snowman trying to escape his snowglobe to get near a fetching femme figurine), the movie proper kicks in. What’s nice about the new Nightmare Before Christmas is that it isn’t fundamentally new at all; it hasn’t been tarted up with new shots of things poking out at the audience (although when an object or character does make a move towards the “camera,” the 3D remastering makes the most of it). Mostly, the technology adds an enchanting depth to the gothic landscapes and the shots teeming with bizarre characters. And the polarized glasses, much more advanced than the old red-and-blue cardboard things and big enough to fit over your own glasses if you wear them, won’t leave you with a souvenir in the form of a headache.

The movie itself remains the same dark-and-light fable beloved by so many goths during the last thirteen years. Jack Skellington (speaking voice by Chris Sarandon, singing voice by Danny Elfman, who also composed the music and songs) is the “pumpkin king” of Halloweentown, the man responsible for bringing the very best in the ghastly and the morbid to the eager townspeople. Jack has grown weary of his job, though; he wants something more than the same old thing every October. He discovers a doorway to Christmasland, where Santa Claus prepares for his own yearly blowout. Jack decides to co-opt Christmas for his own purposes, over the objections of stitched-together Sally (Catherine O’Hara), who’s infatuated with him.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is almost wall-to-wall songs, realized by Elfman in his usual bombastic mode; the former lead singer of Oingo Boingo is not your go-to guy when it comes to soft, subtle melodies (Sally’s wistful number is the only real disappointment), but let him loose on the gleefully mischievous “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” (“Throw him in a box/Bury him for ninety years/Then see if he talks”) or the rambunctious “Oogie Boogie’s Song” (“Well if I’m feelin’ antsy/And there’s nothin’ much to do/I might just cook a special batch/Of snake and spider stew”) and Elfman’s grinning-skull showman side pops out. Director Henry Selick, who later made James and the Giant Peach (let’s pass over his live-action disaster Monkeybone in silence) and is now adapting Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, gives the stop-motion characters as much heart and soul as they’ll hold. The only thing sorely missing is a vocal cameo by the likes of Christopher Lee or Vincent Price (who died a couple of weeks after the film’s October 13, 1993 premiere; I like to think Burton showed him a print beforehand).

The movie is a perfect Halloween perennial, just short enough not to wear out its welcome and just long enough to brushstroke its Pagan vs. Christian subtext (the clear winner is neither — suggesting that the denizens of Samhain and Yule should stick to their specialties). It’s been available on a nicely tricked-out DVD (which includes Burton’s superb short films “Vincent” and “Frankenweenie”) for years. So should you make the trip to see it, again or for the first time, in 3D? Well, the other thing about the remastering job is that the digital projection makes this the sharpest version of Nightmare Before Christmas you’re ever likely to see. This is a fine way to see the film for the first time, or with new eyes.

The Grudge 2

October 13, 2006

Give credit where credit is due: The Grudge 2 is surely the strangest and most incomprehensible film to open on 3,000-plus American screens in quite some time. It’s also one of the most boring. 2004’s The Grudge — itself a remake of the popular Japanese TV/movie series Ju-On — cost $10 million and wound up making it back eleven times over, so of course a sequel was inevitable. But couldn’t the returning filmmakers (director Takashi Shimizu and writer Stephen Susco) have injected some fun into the proceedings? Like its predecessor, The Grudge 2 offers nary an intentional laugh, unless you count a weird bit of business involving a monk on a bus doing some sort of peek-a-boo with his hands.

But then the whole movie is peek-a-boo — it’s the same eek! moments with the odd-looking, wide-mouthed Japanese ghost boy and the staggering, long-haired Japanese ghost woman (seriously, what is with Asian horror and long black hair?). As before, the psychic residue of rage inflicts itself on innocent mortals who have the misfortune to enter what Stephen King once called a Bad Place — a house with a violent past. I get what these movies are trying to do, and I even appreciate that they go about it in an elliptical, spiritual way. But they still don’t do anything for me. I’m ghosted out, I think, and I’ve also seen every trick Shimizu has up his sleeve. These films are popular with teenagers who haven’t seen it all before, who don’t see every jump scare coming a mile off.

If you’re thinking of seeing this because you’re a Sarah Michelle Gellar fan, you’d better also be a Sarah Michelle Gellar completist, because she appears here for maybe five minutes all told. Her character from the 2004 remake, Karen Davis, is in a Tokyo hospital; her sister Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) is charged with bringing her home to the states. The puffy and troubled-looking Amber Tamblyn, late of Joan of Arcadia (she was also in the Ring remake), is a more interesting actress than the material here allows her to show. She mostly goes from place to place, finding corpses (and she’s the second person in two weeks, following Leonardo DiCaprio in last weekend’s The Departed, to witness someone fall from a great height and land at their feet).

In a subplot, integrated none too adeptly into the plot, Jennifer Beals plays a (possibly unfaithful) new wife dealing with her new stepchildren. Where this leads is no great surprise, since the movie opens with it and then flits back in time. But we know and care nothing about Beals or her new family, and the subplot isn’t given enough time or space to develop. The supernatural Japanese rage somehow finds its way to Chicago and this American family, for reasons we have to slog to the end to find out. There’s also a haunted American girl going to school in Tokyo, along with a bunch of other American kids who learn very basic kanji and whose presence in the film is baffling. It’s possible that enough American businesspeople work in Japan to justify showing a classroom of American kids in Tokyo (though no mention is made of this), but one suspects the real reason is that the studio thought American teenagers needed American kids to identify with.

I was hardly a fan of the first Grudge, but I’ve got the DVD behind-the-scenes documentary playing in the background as I write this, and every now and then I look up and see an arresting image. And people like Sam Raimi are talking about what a master filmmaker Takashi Shimizu is. He may well be — I haven’t seen all his work — but I wouldn’t build that argument on The Grudge 2. Shimizu simply repeats himself here, right down to the freaky shower incident (and, as before, the PG-13 rating means a bitter disappointment for teenage boys — or teenage lesbians — hoping to see more than bare feet and shoulders).

The filmmaking is uninspired and lazy, as if Shimizu, having danced the Ju-On/Grudge dance six times now (and a Ju-On 3 has been announced), were tired of dancing. He just shuffles through, setting up the expected scares for the Saturday-night teenagers. Maybe he harbors a grudge against the same success that has now trapped him into doing the same screeching kid and the same dark-haired ghost over and over.

The Departed

October 6, 2006

The first two big hitters of the Oscar-chasing season have stepped up to the plate. Brian De Palma swung mightily and whiffed with The Black Dahlia, and now Martin Scorsese manages a bunt with The Departed — though many critics disappointed that De Palma didn’t slam it out of the park are now pretending that Scorsese has hit a home run. The truth is, Scorsese revisits old territory in The Departed, and he doesn’t do anything he hasn’t done brilliantly several times before, nor does he discover anything fresh in the material. If all you want is a violent Scorsese gangster picture, grab some popcorn. Personally, I was a bit dispirited that the director found himself married to the mob once again; of course, I also think Kundun is his best movie of the last ten years, so I may be a little out of the mainstream.

Scorsese and writer William Monahan have remade the well-regarded 2002 Hong Kong action flick Infernal Affairs. The premise remains the same: The mob plants one of their guys in the police force, the cops put one of their guys undercover in the mob, and the cat-and-mouse sparks fly. Leonardo DiCaprio (Scorsese’s go-to star in his past three films) is the Donnie Brasco here; Matt Damon is the thug groomed as one of Boston’s finest. I suppose the locale and ethnicity do represent something of a departure point for Scorsese; instead of New York Italians, we have Boston Irish, which, as in so many movies set in Beantown, means much ostentatious dropping of r’s (hometown boys Damon and Mark Wahlberg as an aggressively combative cop come off best).

The Departed follows Damon and DiCaprio as they strain to play their respective roles while trying to stay loyal to their respective bosses; both also compete somewhat for the favor of their shared mobster guardian, played by Jack Nicholson as if he were Jack Nicholson playing a mobster — he’s done better work, though he’s getting lauded for his willingness to go freaky and ugly (his best moment: he steps out and converses with someone casually, his arms spattered with blood up to the elbows, and the movie, in a rare instance of restraint, doesn’t explain what exactly he’s been up to behind closed doors). The raw materials are here for a fast, hard-driving thriller — like Infernal Affairs — but Scorsese draws it out for a lumbering two hours and twenty-nine minutes. Like his friend Steven Spielberg, Scorsese of late has been bitten by the overlength bug.

The length isn’t the only problem. Scorsese frames the proceedings with his customary dynamism, but too much of it feels like a retread. For the third time in a gangster movie, after GoodFellas and Casino, Scorsese hauls out the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (please, man, leave that song alone now) not once but twice, the second time running irrelevantly underneath a conversation between Damon and police shrink Vera Farmiga (who does what she can in a thankless, unnecessary role). Scorsese’s choice of music here seems obvious and enervated, including a Van Morrison cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” It isn’t just the music, though — even the brutality here feels rote, like the work of a Scorsese imitator. The Departed is an exercise for Scorsese, nothing more. All the moves are there; the pulse is restless, but there’s no heart driving it.

After a while, people start to die rapidly, and the movie becomes a nihilistic shooting gallery. Someone is dropped out a window and lands right at DiCaprio’s feet, gore spraying his shirt in a flourish more inadvertently comic than tragic. Jack Nicholson gets dirtier and funkier until he seems ready to cave in under the weight of his own decadence. Much of The Departed’s final hour was an unimpressive blur for me, a parade of narrative “cleverness” resulting in massacres, better suited to the legions of Scorsese wannabes than to the maestro himself. The Oscar talk has already begun; how deeply sad, yet predictable, it would be if Scorsese finally won that long-elusive Best Director trophy for this self-derivative mess. According to legend, the young Scorsese once showed indie-film godhead John Cassavetes his second feature and first mainstream effort, 1972’s Boxcar Bertha, and Cassavetes commented, “It’s good work, but you just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit. Don’t ever do that again.” Ah, where is honest old John now?


October 4, 2006

Of all the explicit exertions on display in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, perhaps the most naked is a scene between two women wearing towels. One is a sex therapist (“couples counselor,” she likes to correct), the other a surly dominatrix. The dominatrix, who calls herself Severin, is trying to be real with the sex therapist and disclose her real name. She can’t even say it; she has to write it on a scrap of paper. Yet she has no problem whipping the bare asses of men she doesn’t know. Of course not. One act requires her to be vulnerable, the other doesn’t.

Chockablock with sex acts hetero and homo, Shortbus isn’t really about sex. It’s about intimacy and honesty, and how those things thrive — or don’t — in post-9/11 New York. Mitchell, whose dazzling 2001 debut Hedwig and the Angry Inch dissected gender, approaches Shortbus as a Whartonesque inquiry into the mores and manners of the nonstop city. Its structure is episodic, its style grainy and indie, but underneath its shock-the-mundanes surface there’s the old universal story about finding one’s own path. Mitchell is shaping up to be the premier lateral inspirational artist, telling stories about working through personal demons without resorting to Hollywood tropes.

The central figure is Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee, who had a hilarious bit role in Hedwig), the aforementioned sex therapist. Sofia has a ferociously amorous sex life with her husband Rob (Raphael Barker), but she considers herself “pre-orgasmic” — she’s never had the Big O. (That she uses the term “pre-orgasmic” and not “anorgasmic” testifies to her — and the movie’s — essential guarded optimism.) While treating couple James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ DeBoy), who are considering an open relationship, Sofia learns of a sex club called Shortbus, presided over by Justin Bond playing his incomparable self. People young and old, fat and thin, gyrate in the backgrounds of shots, dressed up or undressed, sharing this space of acceptance. Sofia is terrified, but meets the aforementioned Severin (Lindsay Beamish), who flays her devoted slaves but yearns to be an artist.

Anyone renting Shortbus hoping for stroke material will be disappointed — it’s the most unerotic-by-design sexually explicit film since 1980’s Cafe Flesh. Like David Cronenberg in Crash, Mitchell uses the sex as a shorthand. Solo or with Rob, Sofia lunges at sex, straining to achieve the elusive orgasm. The morose James videotapes himself in various onanistic poses, then cries afterward. James and Jamie engage in a three-way with model Ceth (Jay Brennan), amusing themselves with the awkwardness of the positioning, at one point launching into a not-to-be-forgotten rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

There’s considerable wit in Mitchell’s doodling; he even proves adept at a bit of slapstick involving a vibrating egg. As in Hedwig, Mitchell attends seriously to the characters’ despair but is too much the entertainer to drown us in it. Once again, he sends us out happy with an upbeat number — “In the End” (“We all get it in the end”), accompanied by a random marching band. Shortbus flips through varying moods with overall success, fleshing out the characters who show flesh. Sofia seems mesmerized by a couple (credited as “Beautiful Couple”) who have free, happy sex — the woman keeps looking up at Sofia during coitus and offering her the warmest smile seen in movies in years. (The actress is Shanti Carson; look her up on IMDb and tell me I’m wrong.) That smile is Shortbus‘ defining image: Forget all this stuff and just enjoy it, honey.

Whenever possible, Mitchell avoids cliché; a stalker type (Peter Stickles) following James around just wants James and Jamie to stay together forever — he doesn’t want to insert himself into the fray. A retired mayor (Alan Mandell), who may or may not be a stand-in for Ed Koch, speaks gently but firmly for the need for forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. There’s a lot of self-help language bouncing around — Sofia is always “owning” her responses to things instead of just having them — but Mitchell’s point is that at some point language breaks down and the physical and the spiritual take over. I bet Shortbus would please a lot of the people who’d be afraid of its sexual openness. Don’t be afraid, Mitchell is saying; just dive in.