Archive for the ‘Film Commentary’ Category

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Capitalism’s Quagmire

October 3, 2009

Undoubtedly, “Capitalism: A Love Affair” is the most significant movie of the year, if not the new century.  In it, filmmaker Michael Moore deconstructs the events of recent history into a logical progression of facts supporting his view of our current economic quagmire.  What is incomprehensible to ordinary people unfamiliar with the chaotic machinations of economic theory and experts foolish enough to claim otherwise, becomes a clear reflection in his rearward looking glass.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Michael Moore knows that he is the single most successful documentary filmmaker of all time, a feat more notable considering the lack of furry mammals as the subject matter  of his documentaries.  Early in his career, he instinctively understood that to breakthrough the disinformation created by the political manipulation of news as entertainment, the traditional, dry, detached and uninvolved approach to documentary films would not work to bring the important issues of the day front and center to an apathetic audience.

His solution was to create entertainment value through a stylistic approach to storytelling that included both thoroughly researched, lost and forgotten archive footage, a humorous approach to defeating hypocrisy, the very template for Jon Stewart’s  “The Daily Show”, and the insertion of himself as hero into the story, the same technique that has made Stephen Colbert the bon vivant, Jack-The-Giant-Killer of comedy news.

He accomplishes the latter by staging and filming doomed publicity stunts such as attempting to confront villains with a citizen’s arrest, backing up a Brink’s Armored vehicle to corrupt financial institutions and requesting that they place their ill gotten relief monies in a large canvass sack to be returned to the taxpayers, or wrapping banks in do-not-cross, yellow crime-scene tape.  These tactics, like the many others in his previous films, have endeared him to his fans and vilified him to his enemies, surrounding him in controversy while securing an audience who will listen to otherwise dry and boring issues. These issues will impact their lives more than the combined news coverage of Anna Nicole Smith, O.J., Brittany Spears, Michael Jackson and the stalemate of political inaction and neutralized opposition created by the farcical efforts of both the Democratic and Republican parties and the ranting CNN blogs and endless polls that foster the illusion of meaningful democratic involvement.  For Michael Moore there are no sacred cows.

From the film’s opening sequence that intercuts current events into a dated, educationally produced film about the decline of the Roman Empire, to the long overdue analysis of Ronald Reagan’s role in the destruction of the American way of life, be it dream or reality, to the rare footage of FDR’s proposed 2nd Bill of Rights and the awareness that every post-war, reconstruction government’s constitution, like Japan and Germany, created with our help and supervision, contain all these rights, rights not granted to U.S.citizens, Michael Moore drives the wooden stake into the heart of the vampire more effectively than the action heroes in the neighboring Cineplex halls.

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District 3+1+2+3

August 29, 2009

Imagine that you can’t get Steve Carell (“The Office”) so you cast a talented wannabe clone as a bureaucratic dweeb teaming him up with Zoidberg from the animated “Futurama” then run the resulting movie through the effects departments of several of the leading CG houses and model builders with a little dash of “Star Wars” flair mixed with “Alien”, borrow the craft from “Close Encounters” and hover it over Johannesburg, South Africa with the righteous indignation of say “Hotel Rwanda”, wrap it in CNN style coverage, prop it with every manner of large caliber and automatic weapon from the Barrett to the M134 minigun all spitting ammunition freely as if  Gunny R. Lee Ermy operated each and every one; then add a spattering of heads-up displays from “Minority Report”-meets-touch-screen-election-coverage, and for fun throw in a large scale MECH (a human operated transformer-looking weapon-device), add to this the threat of a transformative disease and a redemptive ending taken from (take your pick here) “Hombre”, “Terminator” or “The Professional”, shoot it on the camera d’ jour, the “Red One” and you pretty much qualify to be the writer, producer, director, cinematographer, heck whatever you want, of “District 9”.

The miracle of “District 9” is that it was made for only 30 million dollars—granted, in a foreign country by foreigners– but you can’t hold that against the film makers, after all, what isn’t made that way these days.  Even the camera it was shot on, the “Red One”, an aggressively  American innovation, is outsourced to third world nations for production.

Ah, but the story, yes the spine of this patchwork of regurgitated glimpses from a not-so-distant Hollywood past, that heralds the future of digital film making as surely as naming a gas-powered vehicle a horseless carriage, the story is as uniquely American as fast food or to put it another way, nutritionless fodder.

Having run out of things to copy–cartoons like the Flintstones, or TV shows like “The Addams Family” and “Bewitched”, or literature as diverse as comic books and copyright-expired 19th century novels, Hollywood and it’s international clones are quickly gobbling themselves up at a furious rate remaking anything and everything that resembles a story, and while Tarantino defiantly copies himself, the boys from down under have cobbled together a movie parsed from other movie fragments, making “District 9” almost every bit as entertaining as say, “Junkyard Wars”.

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Glorious Bastard

August 22, 2009

Glorious Bastard

So what if he can’t spell, right?  The man’s a genius.  He must have had a good reason for misspelling both “inglorious” and  “bastards”, like maybe getting it past the censors, right?–sort of like “The Spy who Shagged Me?”  I doubt it—he probably doesn’t use a spell checker.  Truth be known it was probably done to distinguish it from the 1978 film “Inglorious Bastards”, possibly to facilitate a more accurate Google search or just avoid copyright infringement.  Trouble is that anyone hearing the title will more than likely search use the correct spelling, thus getting the older film, or if after seeing the trailer on TV, search using the revised Taratino spelling, thus deepening the Katrina flood of illiteracy that already exists in a Bush generation of no children left behind,  listening to rappers with names like “Ludicris” and wearing clothes by “Phat Farm”.  Perhaps Brad Pitt will  build some new schools.

The anticipation of another Quentin Tarantino film creates certain expectations, and “Inglourious Basterds” certainly fulfills them all.  Tarantino follows his formula, replicating himself in movie form as surely as any formula picture from a bloated studio without a clue.

First, there’s the “campy” I’m-too-cool kitsch element that infuses the bad typography, graphics and B-western theme music.  Been there….

Followed by the chapter structure that proved so effective in the nonlinear storytelling of “Pulp Fiction”.  Done that…

And the “coup-de-gras”, snappy Tarantino dialogue…  well it’s Tarantino dialogue but far from snappy—interminably long dialogue, blah, blah, blah, peppered with the occasional over-the-top Tarantino-trademark non-sequitor and a cutaway to a short flashback of violent action.  Apparently, like the theater actor who transitions to film and writes his own monologues,  Tarantino thinks he is immune to the pitfalls of exposition.  If you saw the trailer, you’ve seen just about all the snappy dialog and all the action scenes as well.  The rest of the movie consists of scene after scene of two people sitting opposite one another talking endlessly in static shots, about mostly backstory, of which there’s not really much that matters anyway.

And all this dialogue is not even about the “plastic elements” like the Travolta/Jackson “cheeseburger” exchange in Pulp Fiction is. Tarantino’s writing merely echoes the pattern of those who market themselves to audience expectations, but in his case, with the self-conscious mega-bonus of being defined by unchecked narcissism.

In the early sixties it was much simpler.  It’s Tommy Roe following “Sweet Little Sheila” with the forgettable “Hooray for Hazel”, or Sandy Nelson recording “Teen Beat” and “Let there be Drums”.  “What else you got kid?  Oh that’s it? OK, let’s do it again!!” –except it’s a conversation with himself.

And to validate his status as “Uber-Genius” in the ultimate narcissistic triumph, the writer/director kills Hitler and the entire German high command in a blazing inferno of burning filmstock and machine gun fire delivered by a Jewish vixen, a brutally insane Jewish thug, his hapless Jewish compatriot-hitman, and a handsome, warm-hearted African-French-resistance-type projectionist.

I’ve heard that this film is being touted as a “revenge-fantasy”, some new classification of films, perhaps quite timely.  I suppose in  an age where revenge is so desired and unattainable; where a divided electorate have been repeatedly cheated;  where our finest leaders are assassinated;  where Islamic villains elude the entire combined capability of the world’s best high tech forces and our own villains are promoted to high office, rob us blind and upon getting the presidential “get out of jail free” card move on to celebrity status and a life of wealth, it must be very satisfying for an impotent audience to channel their instincts for revenge safely on the long dead, and by now quite harmless, Adolf Hitler and friends.

But alas, as with his previous films, the truly original scenes are the ones that you find yourself laughing at—not because they are funny, but because they are so sick that someone would dare to put them on the screen at all, a scene like someone getting his head beat in with a baseball bat.  In other words, laughing at the filmmaker’s audacity, shooting brutal violence without a cutaway, for entertainment purposes.

In the end, whether good or bad, Tarantino films are about its star, the director, and just like porno films not about the story. ADHD and narcissism are a potent mix.