Me Time 

Appreciating the little things in Me and You and Everyone We Know, plus a review of The Dukes of Hazzard.

If you really love me, then let's make a vow. Right here together. Right here, right now," a female voice says to begin Me and You and Everyone We Know, the indie debut from writer/director Miranda July.

At first, we can't see the person making this romantic declaration or to whom they're making it. We don't know whether to take it as a dare or a threat. But as the image emerges, we see that the speaker, a young woman named Christine (July, in a variation on herself) isn't speaking to anyone but into a microphone. A video/performance/installation artist (like July herself - think indie-rock's Laurie Anderson), Christine is rehearsing material for a new project. She's speaking scripted dialogue. But she's also making a wish.

July's film - a minor award winner at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and a product of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab - is as sweeping and romantic as its opening words. It's an intensely personal movie about little things that turn out to be the biggest things of all - a hymn to lonely people and the obsessive things (i.e., art) they do to pass the time (i.e., their lives).

Christine supports her artistic life as an Elder Cab driver, a job that leads to a chance meeting with Richard (John Hawkes, gentle and frazzled, like Scooby-Doo's Shaggy with pathos), a shoe salesman recently separated from his wife. Christine and Richard are essentially the film's Me and You, searching fitfully for an elusive We. Their early flirtations are fanciful (they imagine a city block they're walking as a map of their future relationship) and earnestly eccentric (Christine puts socks on her ears; Richard catches a glimpse and is enraptured), but they're so twitchy and shy that they still have trouble connecting.

Everyone they know starts with Richard's sons, 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) and precocious 7-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff, who almost steals the movie) and extends to an orbit of neighbors and colleagues of various ages.

Peter and Robby are not only dealing with the inevitable agonies of their respective ages but a loneliness intensified by their parents' separation. "Some kids don't even have one home. Now you get to have two. Think about that," Richard tells them helpfully. The boys figure in one of two nervy plotlines that follow quasi-sexual relationships between children and adults, theirs hinged on Robby's wondrously scatological contribution - rendered by the keyboard characters ))<>(( - to an online chat room.

These two plotlines (the other involves two teenage girls and a dirty old man who turns out to be more scared and harmless than they are) provoked an "R" rating that this film doesn't deserve. The sexuality exhibited by the characters is more honest (thus, more uncomfortable for the adults passing judgment) and less corrupting to potential teen viewers than most Hollywood product that cuts assiduously and cynically to get a PG-13.

Me and You and Everyone We Know evokes some of the best recent left-of-center American cinema. Its tone-poem aspects and respect for the emotional and intellectual sovereignty of childhood recall George Washington. Its cultural-fringe characters, middle-class SoCal apartment-life settings, art-world satire, and nonconformist embrace bring to mind Ghost World. If you liked those movies, then Miranda July's delicate, precious little film could be for you. But Me and You and Everyone We Know is no copycat. From its accidental near-self-immolation opener to its abrupt ending, it is a mysterious, idiosyncratic vision.

- Chris Herrington

I've got a news flash for you: The South is not always favorably depicted in movies, television, and media. I bring this up because in my research and anticipation for writing about The Dukes of Hazzard, I've encountered a number of unfavorable responses to the film based on one of two things: the (apparently surprisingly) unflattering depiction of Southerners and the deviation from the source material's impeccable family values in favor of raunchy laughs. Shocking. Shocking, I say.

The Dukes of Hazzard ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985 and was set in the fictional Hazzard County in an unnamed Southern state. (The film establishes that Hazzard County is in Georgia.) The series was basically an excuse to employ the services of its real star, a 1969 Dodge Charger named the "General Lee." The General was a sexy car. Painted bright orange with "01" on the sides and the Confederate flag on top, it was so sexy that the doors didn't open.

Every episode could be counted on to offer a number of high-speed chases and occasional climactic jumps - over hill, dale, police cars, or whatever stood between justice and the series' secondary players, cousins Bo and Luke Duke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat, respectively). Along for the ride were yet another cousin, Daisy (played by Catherine Bach, the steamiest thing out of the South since hot peach pie), and elderly moonshiner Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle). They fought the corrupt but inept county commissioner Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and the doofy Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best). Neither Bo nor Luke ever seemed to have a job, aside from assisting Uncle Jesse with his 'shining and sporadic car-racing opportunities. Daisy wore short blue-jean shorts, and they are now known as "Daisy Dukes" because she wore them very well.

Twenty-six years later, Hollywood is resurrecting old TV shows and movies to A) capitalize on modern audiences' baleful addiction to the familiar and B) to make fun of them. Not long ago, I lamented the unimaginative and sloppy Bewitched movie for taking something warm and fuzzy from my childhood and ruining it. But that was an example of a smart sitcom made into witless movie pap with an Oscar-winning cast whose agents should be fired or slapped. There was some expectation of quality. Perhaps I was naive.

With The Dukes of Hazzard, there is no such expectation. The show was dumb then and it's dumb now. It was a guilty pleasure - fast cars, skimpily dressed women, the hunky Duke boys and the gentle feeling of goodness in watching the attractive cast triumph over ill-intentioned buffoonery. (Schneider's Bo Duke had as much to do with my puberty as changing voices, facial hair, or testosterone. Wonder Woman's Lynda Carter also played a part, and she's in this movie! Swoon!)

The new movie substitutes Jackass Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott (American Pie's Stiffler) for Luke and Bo and pop-tart Jessica Simpson for Daisy. Willie Nelson is a bit of stunt casting as Uncle Jesse, and Burt Reynolds is in for Boss Hogg. The proceedings are as to be expected. True to the series, there are plenty of car chases and jumps, plenty of opportunities for Daisy Duke to bend over and lose clothing (I know Georgia's hot, but come on), and plenty of chances for the General Lee to honk its trademark "Dixie"-playing horn.

Director Jay Chandrasekhar has made the easy choice of making Bo and Luke idiots. There is nothing new here in the way of comedy or stunts (though the General's leap onto an Atlanta interstate from an underpass is sweeeeeeet). In short, the film never rises above the source material. However, neither does it sink below. This is The Dukes of Hazzard, not Ulysses. There are a few laughs to be had and a few thrills, and while the film generally panders to stereotype, it occasionally subverts it by tweaking Dukes conventions like the car's Confederate flag or Boss Hogg's trademark white suit. (He quickly turns it in for a cream suit when informed that white is gauche after Labor Day.)

This movie is not good. And it's not smart. And the acting's bad. But it is occasionally fun. That's worth something. Sometimes.

FYI: Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" in the series, is one of the voices that has railed against the film for its deviation from the alleged "family values" of the series. Jones was a sometimes congressman in the '80s and '90s who eventually lost his seat to Newt Gingrich. Wow. I hope that someone in their district has explained "family values" to them since their tenures ended, because I don't think those guys understand.

- Bo List

Out & About

After an 18-month gap, the once annual Outflix Film Festival is back on track. Sponsored by the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center, the festival will screen 16 films this week at the MeDiA Co-op Theatre at the First Congregational Church (1000 S. Cooper St.).

This is the first festival for director Will Batts, who got help from local filmmakers Mark Jones (Eli Parker Is Getting Married?) and Morgan Jon Fox (Blue Citrus Hearts) in putting together the lineup.

The festival opens Thursday, August 11th, with a 7 p.m. screening of the documentary Fish Can't Fly, a collection of testimonials from people who have been through "ex-gay" religious programs and have lived to tell about it. Fish Can't Fly has a local connection in that many of the film's subjects spent time in the controversial Memphis-based Love In Action program.

"We didn't know about the [local] connection before it was submitted, so it was just a coincidence," Batts says. Nevertheless, Outflix will take advantage of the recent publicity surrounding Love In Action by presenting an encore screening of Fish Can't Fly Sunday, August 14th, at 3:45 p.m.

Beyond Fish Can't Fly, the festival's lineup is a mix of features, shorts, and other documentaries.

"Our big feature is Saturday night: The Most Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green," Batts says. "It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and sold out three shows. I've gotten e-mails from people in Little Rock and Nashville about coming to town to see that film in particular." The film, a romantic comedy, is based on a long-running cartoon that appears in several gay publications. - Chris Herrington

Festival admission is $5 a night or $15 for a full pass. For a complete schedule and other information, go to OutflixFestival.org.

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