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Tag: "movies"

Another Must-See

[ 0 ] November 29, 2007 |


This year has had its share of must-see films for people who care about reproductive justice. There was Knocked Up, of course, which pussy footed around the question of “shmashmortion.” And then there was 4 Months, 3 weeks, and 2 days, the “Romanian Abortion Film” that took top honors at Cannes this year. And, more recently, Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire.

Seems like there is one more to add to the pile: Juno, a film about a high school student who gets pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Sounds like a message film sent from heaven to the religious right, huh?

Well, we may all be in for a surprise. The trailer seems funny as hell and…well…not what I was expecting when I heard the film described.

Anyone seen it or know more?

Against The Sorkinization of Hollywood

[ 28 ] November 28, 2007 |

A good article by Sudhir Muralidhar that, rather than attempting to project wingnut aesthetic Stalinism onto the public, wonders if anti-war movies are flopping not because the public loves the war and loves George Bush but because they…seem awful?

How else to explain Lions for Lambs, the most inert, predictable, and unnecessary political film to come out this year? Directed by Redford, the movie turns on the choices of three pairs of characters: A Republican senator (Tom Cruise) and a journalist (Meryl Streep) called to interview him about a new war strategy, two idealistic college graduates recently enlisted in the Army and deployed in Afghanistan (Michael Pena and Derek Luke) to employ that strategy, and a young student disenchanted with the American political process (Andrew Garfield) who must defend his apathy to his liberal political science professor (Redford). Lions for Lambs attempts to distill the debacle of the Iraq War through these characters, to demonstrate how the American public’s (students’) disillusionment with our political process allowed Washington elites (politicians and journalists) to deceive the country and send bright, well-intentioned men (young soldiers on the frontlines) to their death.

Such unsubtle frameworks usually work better in theater than in cinema, and it’s no surprise that Lions for Lambs feels much less like a Hollywood movie than a well-financed play. Not a good play, mind you, but a play written by a precocious high school student who watches lots of CNN. Matthew Michael Carnahan, the screenwriter behind this dreck, litters his dialogue with allusions to Abu Ghraib and Iran’s nuclear program but does little more than reference these real-world events. Cruise’s slick Republican senator speaks about his new war strategy in such vague terms that one cannot help but wonder if Carnahan has ever heard a real policy speech or even read an article on the war that was longer than an entry on the Huffington Post.

As I mentioned elsewhere, descriptions of this film remind me of nothing to much as the nightmarishly atrocious post-9/11 episode of The West Wing. (I know, I know, we wrote it in 24 hours or something. The problem is, virtually all of Studio 60 consisted of the same kind of position-paper reading, although at least they didn’t literally lock students into a room while Sorkin preached at them.)

Muralidhar does seem a little more sympathetic to Redacted but concedes its aesthetic failures. I’ll just add that I’m amused by people are talking about a Brian DePalma movie flopping as if this proves something about the administration and the war. People must love Bush if nobody sees Redacted following the incredible box-office success of Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale!

I Know What I am Doing Saturday Night

[ 12 ] November 9, 2007 |

Seeing this.

I’m not crazy about Cormac McCarthy. But given that I would see an Ann Coulter book adaptation if the Coens were directing, and given that A.O. is just about gushing, I’ve got high hopes for this one.

Sicko.

[ 13 ] October 28, 2007 |

I finally saw it (no, I have not been watching the game. Sorry folks). And I have to hand it Michael Moore. I was impressed. Yes, there were stunts (Guantanamo, the feigned surprise at European systems). But the stunts were damn effective. Those who oppose national (I’ll say it – socialized) healthcare come off as callous, greedy, and flat out stupid. As the smirking chimp put it:

Thirty-five years ago, in the same week Watergate happened, a New Left radical said something I never forgot.

“Eventually the United States and the Soviet Union will become mirror images of each other,” he told a bunch of us college students. “They will get color TV, and we will get bugging, inefficiency and long lines.” That memory came back to me when Sicko showed how crowded hospitals bundle confused, disoriented and indigent patients into taxis and dump them out on Skid Row, in front of a mission. (A hospital administrator even defends this practice, on camera.)

Sure, the movie fails to expose some of the flaws (yes, there are some) of the systems in the UK, France, and Canada. But you know what? At this point, those flaws are peanuts. And our problems are growing by the day.

Enough to Make Me Pine for Eastwood

[ 19 ] October 27, 2007 |

Clint Eastwood gets disrespected a lot around here, so it’s important now and again to recognize that he’s made a genuine cinematic contribution as a director. Scott and I might disagree as to the level of his achievement with Unforgiven and (perhaps) Letters from Iwo Jima, but I’d think we’d concur that Mystic River is an outstanding piece of work. Just how well Eastwood handled the Lehane novel was driven home last night when I watched the unfortunate Gone Baby Gone.

As mentioned, Gone Baby Gone is based on a Dennis Lehane novel (Lehane has also done work for The Wire, and the commonalities are evident) and covers much the same territory as Mystic River; the nexus of child molestation with white ethnic neighborhood politics. I haven’t read either novel, so can’t say anything conclusive about the relative strength of the source material for either film. I can say, however, that Ben Affleck (who directed and co-wrote the screenplay) set out to make An Important Serious Film that would, hopefully, go some distance to getting his career back on track after J-Lo, Daredevil, and several other bad choices. He covers some of the increasingly familiar territory of white ethnic Boston (Boston and Baltimore are the new New York as far as police procedurals go) decently enough, although without ever reaching the insight into the structure of those neighborhoods that we find in The Departed or especially Mystic River. Affleck grew up in Cambridge and put that experience to some good effect Good Will Hunting, while Eastwood is anything but a native, but for whatever reason (more experience, more talent, more distance from the subject matter) the latter paints a far more compelling picture of how a neighborhood actually functions, especially where criminal and police life meet, than the former.

That’s fine; saying that a movie isn’t as good as Mystic River isn’t a fair critique. Affleck coaxes some good acting out of his under-rated brother, and paints a reasonably effective picture both of the deteriorating relationship between the protagonist and his girlfriend, and of the dysfunction in the family of the victim. He even manages to do a solid job of weaving that dysfunction into the tapestry of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the situation deteriorates from there. Although there are elements of the police procedural aspect that recall the Wire (including a cameo by Michael Williams, aka Omar Little), Affleck doesn’t handle the police well; for me the plot barely held together while I was in the theater, collapsing utterly when I took time to give it a second thought. Morgan Freeman delivers an inexplicably weak performance, although Ed Harris does well enough with the material that he’s given. Part of the problem is that the cops are given a panoply of often contradictory motivations, there actions being somewhat explicable from one point of view, then utterly nonsensical after the next twist. When, afterwards, you sit down and think about what the main police characters actually did, the plot makes not a lick of sense.

The biggest problem, however, stems from Affleck’s desire to make An Important Serious Film. Without going into spoilerish detail, in order to convince us that he’s making an ISF, he has to give us a Moral Conundrum, and he has to kill a kid. The former is presented as the film shambles to its collapse, and involves a key decision made by our protagonist. Unfortunately, we know so little about our protagonist that we can’t a) reasonably predict what decision he’s planning to make, or b) explain why he made it. That’s a problem; the end of a movie is supposed to flow from its beginning. Affleck the director gives us some hint of where his protagonist is coming from (pay attention to the discussion of deep, non-consensual identification in the opening monologue), but it’s fair to say that the apparently decisive considerations make themselves evident only in the first and last two minutes of the film, and even then only in a “What? Huh? Oh, I suppose maybe that’s what he was getting at…” kind of sense. As for the kid, I won’t go into details, but I very much felt that the child was essentially sacrificed on the altar of Ben Affleck’s quest for seriousness. What I heard was this: “Would someone who wasn’t Serious kill a kid? Take me Seriously!” Now, I hardly opposed to the killing of kids in movies, but it should be done for some purpose other than the director’s quest for relevance.

Gone Baby Gone isn’t wholly without charm, but I can’t recommend it. Watch Mystic River again, or sit down in front of a few episodes of the Wire.

Shattered Glass

[ 0 ] July 23, 2004 |

Atrios hates Shattered Glass, while I quite liked it.

The movie just left out all the important context. It was noted that Kelly was brought in along with a very rigid editing and fact-checking process. I’ll leave it to the readers to remember why it was thought that TNR needed improved fact-checking (hint: think former editors). We only quietly hear the reason why Kelly was fired – in the movie it’s because Peretz thought the magazine had gotten “too nasty,” something which was completely at odds with the sweet portrayal of Kelly and the young folk who were working for him, and which made it just seem like Peretz was being a jerk and firing him for no reason. But, more importantly, Kelly’s rigid fact-checking system obviously was a joke because Glass’s stuff wouldn’t have gotten through if they had any real fact-checking going on (the movie tried to tell us that since Glass’s only “sources” were his “personal notes” that his pieces could only be checked against them. Wuuuuh?)

This is fair.  I never thought of the film as an accurate history of goings on at The New Republic.  I don’t know anything about the internal politics, and I don’t care all that much.  That said, I think the film did make a good effort at describing the context under which Glass’ abuses could happen, specifically the institutional arrogance of the editor and the journalist corps.   It’s true that it let Kelly off the hook, but the point of the movie wasn’t Mike Kelly, and spending more time on him would have detracted from the narrative (Azaria was excellent as Kelly, by the way).  Biggest reason I liked the flick was Hayden Christensen.  He turned in an outstanding performance as Stephen Glass, mastering all of the little delusions and interpersonal tricks that such a character would play.  Most importantly, Christensen put to bed once and for all any notion that George Lucas can competently direct films.  I had assumed that no actor with even the merest talent could look as bad as Christensen did in Attack of the Clones; I didn’t know until Shattered Glass that it was Lucas all along.

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