New year, new look, new blog / The Fighter (2010)

If you’ve had a chance to read my blog, you know that I said in my very first post that I would generate 100 reviews of film and writing that I enjoyed during the summer. As with most endeavors, I wildly overestimated the amount I would be able to accomplish in the time that I had.

However, my boundless enthusiasm prevails in the new year, and with some encouragement and the sense of enjoyment I get from thinking about and writing about films and entertainment, I will endeavor to restart my blog and give myself an excuse to avoid more serious work, and maybe, just maybe, help you waste five to ten minutes a week of your employer’s time this year.

As a side note, while this blog will remain hosted on blogger, I plan on eventually moving the business end over to my website (andrewroback[dot]com) where I will eventually start another blog related more to my research. Without further delay, my first review of the new year.

The Fighter (2010)

Dir. David O. Russel, 112 min., in Chicago theaters

When I went to see the visually beautiful Black Swan (2010)* I saw the trailer for The Fighter and leaned over to say to my wife “I think I’ve seen this film before. Wasn’t it called Rocky?”

Boxing films in general seem to typify the underdog storyline trajectory that we crave so very much when we go to the theaters. This type of plot line is embedded in almost every film that we pay to see, especially in films about sports, and most especially in films about boxing. As most film watchers will agree (I think?): you go to a film to see that film, but you take with you every film that you can remember watching (amongst other things).

I am a huge sucker for most sports films, so I don’t need a great deal of convincing to watch one, but I have to say that boxing films don’t quite do as much for me since they seem to be so heavily interested in the build up to the final fight sequence that the rest of the movie becomes window dressing. The Fighter spices things up with two exciting fight sequences, while introducing concurrent plot lines of family drama and a love interest story.

Most of the drama centers on the tension between our boxer, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his dysfunctional family, including mother/manager Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) and brother/trainer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) who rides the laurels of a questionable knockdown he scored in a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard that most of the world outside of Lowell, MA has long forgotten. Wahlberg gives us his typical ineffectual line delivery and flat facial expressions, which actually fit the role well since he is a passive punching bag (pardon the pun) of a character both in the ring and out. Amy Adams plays his love interest (Charlene Flemming) who causes the (relative) change in Wahlberg’s character, causing him to finally start working towards what he wants rather than being used as a payday for his white trash, lecherous family.

The camera in the film leers on Adams, stressing the her objectification as a character and woman by her surroundings. Bale’s movements are jerky and erratic, and his line delivery is insufferable (which I suppose was the point). Despite the tawdry attempts at engendering pathos for his character later in the film using his infant son (who really only appears to tug at the heart strings), perhaps the saddest scene is watching him reenact the fight with Sugar Ray that made him the “pride of Lowell” with a fellow junkie in a seedy crack house. The film evolves from a fighting story to a tripartite redemption story, with Adams’, Bale’s, and Wahlberg’s characters all seeking a better existence through his slim chance at success in the ring.

It’s hard not to think of Rocky when watching this film, but after some consideration, this film doesn’t necessarily rely on all of the same tropes (though there is at least one training montage). The fight scenes themselves alternate between typical film and the type of grainy image you might see on a cathode ray tube television in the 90’s, with angles that look like what you might have seen on HBO. However, while that was a nice gimmick, it didn’t do much for me as a viewer. I expect no realism from a filmed boxing sequence. I’m not the biggest boxing fan, but fights I have watched involve about ten exciting seconds when punches are actually landing; I’ve yet to see a fight where the pugilists stand toe to toe in the center of the ring and trade punches in the face like drunken pub brawlers.

Performance-wise, most critics are talking about Bale. He seems to have two gears to his body: gaunt and unbelievably ripped. With most of his gaunt roles, it’s difficult to separate his physical appearance from his performance since he looks like a human skeleton (I’m thinking of The Machinist (2004) in particular). In terms of ethos, the role is nailed; I’m not sure if the clip at the end of the film was intended to confirm his ability to capture the real-life character of Dicky Eklund or not, but that certainly is what it accomplishes. Without spoiling the plot, I would say that I didn’t feel for his character in the level that I thought the film was going for, but his performance was still impressive if only for his ability to make the role so memorable.


*I would have loved to review Black Swan, but I saw it so long ago (opening night) that I doubt I could do a full review justice. If you liked other Aronofsky films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) then it is well worth a viewing.

Well, it’s good to be back. I plan on tossing in more classic reviews this go around since I can’t see myself making it to the theater as often as I would like this year due to my insanely busy schedule. My goal is going to be at least one review per week, maybe more if time allows.

Next up: A classic review of Wes Craven’s surprisingly postmodern Scream (1996)

Countdown to Zero (2010)

Magnolia Films, 91 min., Dir. Lucy Walker
As seen at a free screening

I had some expectations for this film going into it, mainly that shot of people in a park which flashes to white and freezes (which actually happens at some point toward the end of the film), and a lot of clocks counting down to zero, which also actually happens, several times. My expectations didn’t totally match with what the film presented, but that didn’t necessarily make it a bad film.

Much of the emphasis of the film is in explaining how close we are to a nuclear disaster. It draws it’s organization scheme from (some might know) the “sword of Damocles” speech John F. Kennedy made to the United Nations, where he stated nuclear disaster could be caused by “accident, miscalculation, or madness.” This was perhaps not the best way to organize the film, as the discussion seemed less focused in the “madness” section and involved much more complex issues than just crazy people with bombs.

A lot was missing: an in-depth discussion of the history of atomic weapons and why they were created, a history of popular resistance to nuclear proliferation, a close look at the United States’ use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese people in World War II and how the rest of the world reacted to that usage of nuclear weapons, which factors into the history of nuclear weapons. The filmmakers instead chose to focus on the multiplicity of ways that nuclear disasters could occur apart from a nuclear exchange between warring nations, with a special emphasis on the ease of obtaining, smuggling, and incorporating nuclear material into a terrorist weapon.

I started out saying to myself “I knew all that,” but upon reflecting there were some startling facts presented in the film that I didn’t know. The film is mostly interviews with experts (although there are interviews with Jimmy Carter, Robert McNamara, and Michail Gorbachev which either too short or edited down too much). There was also a lot of padding. Examples include staged closed caption television shots (which might look familiar to British viewers), endless shots of a blast radius over different world cities, and equally endless shots of nuclear missiles launching from silos.

In terms of the theoretical side of the film, some of the most interesting theories involved how it’s impossible to predict some situations, and just having nuclear weapons endangers everyone in the world by virtue of randomness; once a weapon is detonated, Pandora’s box is opened and our whole way of life shot to hell. Most people will agree with that line of thought. I also know a few people who maintain that we can’t give up nuclear weapons because we would be powerless against a whole host of threats (failed nuclear nation states, terrorist use of nuclear weapons, etc.). To be clear, I don’t subscribe to that opinion, but I did not see a whole lot in the film that would change the mind of someone who does.

In our typical hour plus discussion following a documentary, my wife and I got to the subject of how this film compares with other documentaries we’ve seen in the last four years or so. I felt like some of the issues raised in the film should feel personal, but the filmmakers did not breach the threshold of actually making the threat real and immediate to individuals in a way like (another Magnolia Pictures Co. film) Food Inc. (2010) does. It all comes back to that tricky issue of individual change that I talked about in other documentary reviews.

I won’t drone on about An Inconvenient Truth because I could sit here all day and proselytize about how it’s the perfect documentary in many ways and how its arguments are crafted elegantly and for maximum effect, but it does have a discernible effect on viewers. The big way it does this is by convincing the viewer that he or she is involved in the problem and can exercise personal power to effect change. It also equates the value of a minor change with having collective power, and those changes are only necessary on inconsequential levels. In other words, for a documentary to be effective (in my opinion) it must convince the viewer that:

  1. a change in behavior is warranted,
  2. the path to change or the actions necessary are clear, and
  3. the change is worthwhile on an individual level (it must be at least worth the individual cost incurred by the change).

All three factors are important. For example, Food Inc. makes the consumer aware that his or her individual decisions are what makes the crooked machine run. Is a change warranted? Yes, people and animals are mistreated and our health suffers as a result of the current system. Is there a clear path to effect the change? Yes, we must consume food products that are produced by a better system, one which treats workers and animals ethically and does not create products that are injurious to our health. Is the change worthwhile on an individual level (i.e. should I change the way I consume food?). No. Organic food products that are ethically manufactured are unaffordable for most people without means.

Now, as the credits role and options are flashed on screen for individual action, I ask you, isn’t there an inherent hypocrisy on the part of the film makers by demonstrating that the path to an individual change of behavior is blocked to the average citizen, but then having an expectation that the viewer will have any interest in statements like “buy food from your local farmer”?

Other films do this to better effect. To once again pull out Inconvenient Truth (for the last time) the path to change is simple and often causes the viewer to incur no cost: throw your can into a recycling bin instead of throwing it away. Hey, I can do that! IC is more concerned with convincing people a change is warranted, but the stakes are so low for many of the changes that I can say “Yo Al Gore, I don’t believe in global warming, but I can throw my Clamato can into a recycling bin because you asked nicely.” And yes, if you don’t believe in global warming, your punishment should be drinking only Clamato, forever.

I won’t put all of my problems with the documentary film explosion onto this film, because it is mostly in the genre of raising awareness of an issue instead of promoting individual changes in behavior (despite the invitation to text “demand zero” to 97999 or whatever that message was at the end of the film). However, I’m inclined to believe that first of all, few members of the audience were in favor of nuclear weapons who attended this screening, despite the fact that the film was free to watch. Secondly, I feel no more engaged with the issue than I have always felt before the film. There was some talk bandied about at the conclusion of the film which stressed how popular support caused reductions in nuclear weapons, but it’s basically saying if there is a revolutionary amount of people who organize, band together, and elect new representatives to government, we can change any policy! Weak.

6/10: If you’re in the mood for a double feature, watch Dr. Strangelove, then watch this film. I think they would pair off nicely.

Let the Right One In (2008)

EFTI, 115 min., Dir. Tomas Alfredson, Sweedish with English Sub- and Super-titles, available on Netflix Instant Queue

Something about this film resonates with those of us who have lived in a place where there is a desolate winter, which is anyone in Chicago. There is a strange sense of foreboding provided by the deserted natural landscapes, reinforced by the performances and carefully calculated presentation of the child actors in the lead roles. Every detail is attended to, and there is no escaping the longing for a sense of relief at every moment in the film: a sense that everything will be sorted out. The tension is exquisite.

It probably doesn’t hurt that I watched this film during a thunderstorm, which provided the appropriate, morose backdrop, occasionally punctuated with thunder claps for effect. The settings and shots are beautiful, but in an eerie way which reminds one that the starkness of the architecture and landscape mirrors the emotional climate of the characters, cold and subdued.

The innocence and desperation of the protagonist, a 12 year old boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) contrasts with the need for attachment and understanding by the young vampire, a “twelve year old” “girl” named Eli (Lina Leandersson). Oskar is tormented by bullies and emboldened by Eli to defend himself, the irony resting in the fact that the timid girl who prescribes retaliation is herself a merciless predator.

It plays out in a way that should not be ruined for viewers, so I won’t talk further of the plot. Of vampire movies, which I rightly or wrongly consider myself a burgeoning aficionado, I highly recommend it. The plot action and acting is straight as an arrow, so don’t expect laughs outside of the infrequent comic relief. Vampire rules are redefined along conventional lines, so there’s no learning curve. I hate to bring up Nadja since I will reference that in my Bowie roundup, but the lighting and shots in the film are similar. There is an effort (in my opinion) to avoid face shots in scenes in order to build contrast between the activities of the everyday and the visually stunning shots that break into the consciousness of the viewer later in the film.

The setting and sense of place in the film are unusual. I wasn’t sure for a while whether this film takes place in the late 70’s / early 80’s, or whether props and wardrobe are meant to convey social class (e.g. Napoleon Dynamite). There are some political hints tossed in, but my Swedish history is a bit rusty. I couldn’t really pinpoint the language either, which was a distraction since I felt I was missing some supporting details that a European viewer might pick up on.

I felt throughout the whole movie that there was an unsettling undercurrent surrounding each character. In that way, the film was very Hemingway-esque. You saw just enough of the characters to interject your own back story, rather than sitting through an extra hour of film. This is really a film that you should see for yourself, so I’ll recommend a viewing.


The Swarm (1978)

Warner Bros., 155 min. (extended version)/116 min. (theatrical), Dir. Irwin Allen

The first thing you’ll notice in the byline above is that there is an extended version and theatrical release. I did not know this when I queued it up on Netflix, so I watched the bloated 155 min. extended version which included a subplot involving a romantic contest between two middle aged men for a retirement age elementary school principle. Yikes, nothing makes like good watchin’ more than two middle aged dudes wooing a southern belle, if you’re into Evening Shade that is. I, however, wanted angry mutant bees, some great one-liners, and super-ridiculous pseudoscience.

The film opens with a special forces team landing on a nuclear missile base in Texas. Quizzically, the special forces team is operating on the assumption that a commie biological weapon strike killed the staff, yet you can see exposed skin between the sleeves of their “bio-hazard suits” (painter’s jumpsuits) and black leather driving gloves. Also interesting, before they even know that the threat is bees, they have flame throwers. It will all come together by the end of the review, my friends.

It turns out that a swarm of killer bees stung most everyone in the base to death, and Michael Caine, an entomologist and the foremost bee expert in the world, happens to be out by that desert wasteland when this goes down. The President places him in charge of the military forces with one mission: kill the bees. Oh, and the base is right next to a town who’s main industry is growing flowers. And it’s blooming season.

Now I’m not saying I could write or direct a motion picture, but it must be hard to make both Michael Caine and Peter Fonda look like the two worst actors in the world. Caine essentially has three gears in the film:

  • Crazy bee guy: “The war we’ve been fearing is finally here,” referring to a war between Africanized bees and humans, something still that keeps me up at night
  • Angry at the U.S. Army guy: “LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING GENERAL!!!” If you watch for nothing else, watch for the countless screaming arguments between Caine and Illinois’ own, Richard Wildmark
  • The guy who doles out conciliatory lines like “there was nothing we could do,” something he’ll get ample opportunity to say

Much like a lot of these bloated seventies action films, the plan is to get the smart, middle-aged white men into a control room to hash this thing out over black coffee and cigarettes. This film is even worse, as the women are pretty much window dressing. The one female lead who does something is billed as Helena (Katherine Ross) in the credits, despite the fact that she is an Air Force lieutenant and a doctor. She also saves a bunch of men from bees by dragging them into a bunker and escapes by crawling through an air conditioning vent, which is not shown as the film begins in medias rez. She doesn’t even get a “way to go” for that one. I’m pretty sure a man would have gotten a medal, or maybe just a pat on the back, or something. But she’s just a woman, a woman who gets replaced as chief doctor when a crisis hits and basically becomes Peter Fonda’s lab assistant / ward nurse. She does provide someone to protect from danger and flirt with later on in the film, though.

This movie is based off a novel by the late Sci-Fi writer Arthur Herzog. I couldn’t help but think about The Andromeda Strain when I watched this film as they share the same basic premise: both films present a foreign threat that has no foreseeable solution; both films involve gathering the best scientists in the world and sequestering them in a secret military installation to develop a solution. Whereas Andromeda takes the nerdy intellectual route, The Swarm eventually turns into another film about communists invading America, but with bees instead of a Soviet-Cuban alliance. The bees are constantly treated like an invading army and personified, allegedly possessing strategies and tactics designed to beat the military. As they make their way toward Huston (and there is no reason at all given as to why they’re are going there) the Army officers keep referring to them as “The Africans.” Don’t even ask me why that is. I guess you can’t refer to them as the bees, seeing as you might confuse them with the Eurasian or Australian bee armies.

Let’s see, so far we’ve had mutant bees and some great one-liners delivered in full screaming fury by Michael Caine, now all we need is some really bad science. How’s this: the bees sting some people in a nuclear power plant and, as a result, the plant explodes. Check – and – mate.

**Spoiler Alert**All the 40+ minutes of character development for the townspeople is pretty much wasted as they die in a train accident halfway through the film while trying to evacuate. There are survivors, but I guess at 155 lean minutes, the director felt it would be better not to include a 15 second scene telling us if any of them were the supporting characters from earlier.

The bees eventually begin “the occupation of Huston” and the Army does the only logical thing: start burning the city down with, you guessed it, flame throwers!! I take you now to their base of operations downtown, 11 p.m., a high rise building with floor to ceiling windows:

“Hey Private Smith, you really shouldn’t be playing catch with that brick inside our glass fortress becaus–oh shit!! Anyone have insecticide…oh yeah, we tried that 72 minutes earlier in the film and it didn’t work. Welp, I had a good run, lots of fun tim–and now I’m getting stung to death…”

Stupidly enough, the bees get in through the elevator, sting some dude, and as he’s dying he breaks the window. Thanks, man. Way to die in the most selfish way possible.

In a brilliant piece of writing, Caine and Ross go from fleeing the bees that are loose in the building, bees so deadly that they can drop a full grown man with one sting mind you, and in the very next shot they are in a jeep, driving in an airfield, in the daytime. I’ve only seen one other movie that so blatantly disregards a viewers intelligence1 and just spreads some frosting over the gaping hole in the cake.

The brilliant plan to kill the bees: spill a bunch of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, lure the bees there with their mating sound, then light it on fire.

4/10: If bees invade, at least we’ve got one part of the solution taken care of already

1That film was The Core (2003). For some BS reason a team of scientists needs to make it to the core of our planet, and most of the crew dies along the way from numerous, extremely boring geological dangers. After the mission is accomplished (no spoiler alert because you won’t want to see this film at all), the two remaining terranauts (I love that word) go from the core of our planet to the ocean floor with a caption that reads “three days later.” Great ending. I just wish the whole film would have been the title screen, then a screen that says “a month and a half later,” and then the credits.

Note: I was reading some Shakespeare related stuff, but I plan on watching some movies this weekend and even reviewing some new releases next week

Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later (2007)

DCTV, approx. 70 min., Dir. Brent Renaud

To believe a desegregated school exists is a myth, at least that is the message behind Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later. And after seeing the film, I have little to disagree with.

First and foremost, the film focuses on socioeconomic privileges and how they play out in our secondary education system. While the filmmakers may have felt that they were beating the viewers over the head with ideas like “how do parents attend PTA meetings when they work two jobs?” or “how is it that the golf team is all white at a school that is predominantly black?” they probably could have made more probing assertions about the nature of segregation at Little Rock Central. It seems an impossible contradiction, but I want documentary films to be both subtle and explicit, objective and inflammatory, which is something I haven’t come to grips with yet as a consumer or critic, I suppose.

Persons in the film seem divorced from the production qualities in their narratives, more so than other films I have seen. There is also a surreal quality of hearing and seeing biased perspectives that are out of touch with reality, a feeling that is brought to a head when a child in one classroom is asked by one of the original students who fought to be integrated to point out the historical irony in her classroom (seated to one side, the black students, and on the other, the white students). As with everything, the rhetorical effects of presentation loom large, but work on a more subtle and basic level in this film.

A positive is born of the passivity demonstrated by the subjects of the film: the opportunity for a viewer to feel the frustration at trying to forcibly integrate two cultures who are the products of their progenitors’ mistrust and economic trajectories. The irony for the viewer is that we can see the sociocultural factors that lead to their opinions, but do nothing to interject. The self-replication of systemic segregation is also demonstrated in the attitudes and opinions of those interviewed.

If you are waiting for overt racism to be revealed in any of the film’s subjects, don’t hold your breath. With every opinion as to why de facto segregation exists (as subjects put it: “two schools inside one school”) the viewer must make a determination as to the extent to which different opinions hold merit; oftentimes I was left with the unsatisfying conclusion that people in the film, even if they are lying, believe their explanations to be true. I once read a phrase that went something like this:

The conscience tells me ‘I did that,’ while the ego says, ‘that is not me, I could not have done that.’ The ego wins.

Self-perception dominates reality, and what is repeated by the film’s subjects (“people tend to associate with people they like regardless of color”) supplants the reality, which is that “the people they like” are most often of similar appearance to themselves.

In any case, the attentive viewer can see that race, class, appearance, and socioeconomic status are inextricably linked in terms of a high school education. You need only travel to any CPS school to experience the same frustration for yourself. The issue left unaddressed in the film (due to scope) is the attempt to fix problems associated with underserved members of our society, and that is an issue which should haunt and influence our decisions for our entire lives.


Moon (2009)

Liberty Films, U.K., 97 min. Dir. Duncan Jones

I tried to see what the deal was with Moon by doing a Google news search, but between Despicable Me and Twilight: 3/4 Harvest Moon, or whatever the new one is, I gave up immediately. I wanted to know where this film came from and how it ended up on my TV since I don’t remember any trailers or reviews, but it was in my Redbox list since like last year and is still available there (and on Netflix Instant Que).

The SciFi elements of this film exist to both provide a backdrop and premise for the action, but also to showcase the moral and ethical dilemmas inherent at the film’s core. It’s hard to summarize without giving away the many revelations at the heart of the film, so I’ll merely set the stage for you. Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, Choke) plays Sam Bell, a solitary worker on the moon who collects moon rocks from giant skimmers that reminded me a lot of the harvesters in Command and Conquer (I know, supernerd). The moon rocks power “70% of Earth’s energy needs” and his job, while incredibly important, is extremely monotonous and drives him to distraction and disinterest. As with most endurance films, things start to break down right around the end of his time there, worrying his only companion: a robot that is ingeniously done up as the type you would see assembling cars, but with artificial intelligence that makes him capable of affection for Sam, even if it is programmed. Anyway, things are looking pretty good for Sam’s departure before an accident occurs, which will reveal a lot more about what’s going on up on the moon.

There’s a lot to like about this film. If you dug 2001: A Space Oddssey (1968) which is really a first rate science fiction film, then you will dig this. Moon has the benefit of CGI, but its use is not to generate poorly-rendered Rastafarian aliens: it serves as a tasteful and complementary backdrop to the set pieces which really make you think of Kubrick. Kevin Spacey does his best HAL as the voice of the robot, which cashed in on 2001 without completely ripping it off, but I don’t think his vocal performance could get any closer to the original monotone voiced by Douglas Rain.

The tension between laxity and the perfection needed to exist in a zero atmosphere environment where the slightest miscalculation or mistake can instantly kill you in the most painful way possible is really demonstrated here. There is one particular scene where Sam tries to pass off a minor mistake caused by psychological stress as a simple accident, only to have the robot grill him with questions. Every ancillary detail of the film (carving miniatures with a pen knife, botany, ping pong) is presented in a way which heightens the fact that we often expend an extraordinary amount of attention on what we like to do, and tend to treat the monotonous work of everyday which is critical to other people and our own survival as a cakewalk (perhaps to exercise control over that which we are masters of in order to defray the tension of the uncontrollable or that which challenges us the most…).

7/10: Speaking of diffusing some tension, a lighter side of the moon

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Overture Films, 127 min., Dir. Michael Moore

My political views are no mystery to anyone who knows me, and this is supposed to be a blog about film and entertainment, so I will do anyone reading a favor and omit the majority of my stump speech.

I’m no lover of the capitalist economic system because it stresses accumulation over concern for individual happiness and welfare, as Mr. Moore demonstrates in his film.

Moore is reviled on the left and right, and I think he gets a bad rap because of his stupid antics which cater to the type of audience that wouldn’t watch this film in the first place, the people who don’t vote or care at all how civics operate in this country. I’ll now pull a Family Guy style cutaway gag to demonstrate my point. Here’s what you might have witnessed if Moore had called me up prior to filming this movie and you were in the room watching me talk to him:

Hey Michael, how’s it hangin’ bud.

Oh yeah, your new movie.

You say you want to drive an armored car up to a Wall Street bank and ask for the taxpayers’ money back. I’m not so sure about that. It didn’t really work in Roger and Me when you asked the President of GM for an interview and–

oh wait, what’s that–

You’re going to go back to GM to do the same exact thing you did in 1989. Ahh…um…I see. You know what, I’m getting another call.

No, I’ll call you back. Go Michigan! (scene)

Moore’s at his best when he’s explaining to you how everything is Washington is just a cash grab, but a lot of his stunts really wear thin after a while. The films are composed primarily of alternating human interest/soft news pieces, images of important people standing together who shouldn’t be standing together, redacted documents, and dumb antics like those described above.

I’m not a hard sell on his line of thinking, and even I was getting a little tired of having peoples’ personal tragedies paraded around like so much cheap filler. I suppose I weary of Moore hogging the spotlight. He turns all of his films into a documentary about his personal outrage rather than the subjects in the documentary itself. Notice how he not only conducts, but is pictured in all of the interviews; he also assumes this aggravating, child-like inflection in his voiceovers (example: “I asked Mr. Executive for an interview, but he said noooooo. I caaaan’t imagine whiiiee“). Can the fake sarcasm already, sheesh.

The film closes on a revolutionary note, basically inciting people to take action against an unfair system of laws that privileges the wealthy one percent of our population which people fruitlessly try to join. Hey buddy, the financial system isn’t doing me any favors, but what should I do, go smash up an ATM because I have no money? Any freshman in college will tell you that it’s a self-replicating system, and until I’m in a rebellion wearing a red armband and throwing fire bombs at armored cars, I don’t see a whole lot of outlets for my frustrations other than Buy Nothing Day.

I also got the sense that Moore is tired of defending himself against conservative rebuttals because he either just doesn’t care to win over the opposition anymore (that is, he’s just preaching to the choir at this point) or because he sees the intransigence and corruption of government officials as an insurmountable obstacle that needs to be burned down instead of sidestepped.

I could try to salvage some of the facts presented in the film and toss them out here, but the truth is that it’s a challenge to watch a Moore film and separate fact from schmaltz. I’ve seen plenty of documentaries that can offer a more balanced opinion, but mainstream films like this rely on emotionally charged interviews with sobbing women and enraged men to make their points for them. If you’re going to make a film that educates the public on a critical issue (and, yes, the oppression of workers and the willful destruction of the middle class in this country is a critical issue), step up your game from the “Everyday Hero” and “Real American” soft news tripe served up by the 6:00 evening news.

5/10: Hey wealthiest one percent, take a tip from Moore: The time is now to quicken the pace on your pleasure palace construction projects before this whole capitalism thing falls apart!!

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Paramount, 124 minutes, Dir. John Favreau

You know you’re a dork when you’re trying to explain to your wife on the car ride home why a new element couldn’t possibly be represented by the holographic projection that Tony Stark is viewing in his laboratory in Iron Man 2. But this revelation is no surprise to anyone reading this.

Despite it’s numerous scientific flaws, which admittedly one must overlook in order to enjoy a movie about a dude that flies around in an impenetrable suit and has a futuristic battery in his chest, IM2 falls short on so many aesthetic levels, which I will list here.

One: The film is a star delivery system. The screenplay fails to provide adequate lines and backstory for most of the characters played by major Hollywood actors. I still don’t understand why the hell Samuel L. Jackson was in this film.

Two: Apart from special effects wizardry, the cool technology developments are largely unexplained. Tony Stark erecting what looks to be a particle collider that shoots an energy stream out of a hole in the side that hits what looks to be a miniature middle school band triangle does not explain how he develops a new element. I love cheezy comic book science, but I like it to have some kind of connection with the plot, which was too much to ask in this film.

Three: Why is the role of “Rhodey” played by Don Cheadle instead of Terrence Howard? Think we wouldn’t notice?? Just like Matrix two, eh?? Wrong, my friend.

Four: Hey writers (this includes you, Stan Lee), the Cold War ended a while ago. Hence, the forced Russo-American arms race tensions seem a bit outdated. Is this a Tom Clancy novel?

This is the point where I would expand on the plot, but there isn’t really much to say. Stark (Downey Jr.) predicts that he alone will maintain “the peace” (even though we see nothing in the way of global peace initiatives or Iron Man’s hand in monitoring global peace–was there a war to begin with?), and then foolishly betrays the world’s trust by getting hammered at his birthday party in the Iron Man suit, which is probably one of the funniest scenes in the film. It all sounds very colonial, seeing as it’s once again the mighty U.S. alone (and a playboy millionaire at that) who will force the world’s haters into submission. This movie really only works if you suppress the urge to think about why anything is happening.

An 80’s style Soviet Cold War scientist emerges to avenge himself against the west for ruining his father’s dreams of becoming a bourgeois fat cat. One of the best lines: “after he was deported, he spent the next 20 years in Siberia in a vodka fueled rage.” Sweet. Way to flatten out the characters into razor thin caricatures.

I guess what sold me on the original Iron Man is that Stark undergoes an exercise in humility where he is forced to use raw talent and guile to outwit his opponents, and then reflect on the monster he created through his involvement in the military-industrial complex. It’s spelled out in huge letters, but the film has a point. This movie is Stark’s character delivering one idiotic one liner after another, and Downey Jr. brings a halfhearted performance. In part, the timing of this film may be off; I doubt there are too many people who care to watch the personal life problems of a billionaire playboy lamenting over his having to assume responsibility for the mess he created through his self-righteous arrogance.

4/10: He should really be called “Synthetic-Alloy-Wisecracking Man” in my opinion

The Dead Zone (1983)

I’ll pretty much watch anything with Christopher Walken in it, and I guess this is no exception. The Dead Zone follows the life of a high school English teacher who gets into a car accident just prior to marrying his fiancee (Brooke Adams), wakes up after a five year coma to discover she’s married, and, oh yeah, can predict the future by shaking someones hand.

The film hangs on to that classic style of cinema that I might not have described in my House of the Devil review, but typifies what I know of 70’s/early 80’s cinema. The opening sequence usually sets the stage for a film, but doesn’t concern itself with introducing all of the characters that will be relevant/alive for the whole film. There are two or three tense events, with each one feeling as though it could be the climax of the film since the stakes are genuinely important. Films shot in the last two decades seem to have leveled out the plot line so that everything is just a waste until you get to the big finish, which usually disappoints.

I won’t give any spoilers here for those of you who want to see TDZ (it is available on Hulu and Netflix), but the segmentation of the movie involves roughly three episodes that lead Walken’s character to a moral dilemma that is murky at best. Walken plays the role as only he could, and if you are a fan of his particular style of line delivery, there’s no shortage of it in this film. Martin Sheen also makes an appearance as a sleezeball political candidate, which was kind of a shocker after seeing him play the president character in The West Wing. He must have “politician” stamped on his forehead.

I’ll digress and talk about a sweet 70’s movie that this reminded me of. When a Stranger Calls (1979) has the same type of ebb and flow plotline that I think is missing from films in the 90’s/00’s era. The film does a flip midway through that is completely unexpected. Likewise for Dirty Harry which I just watched recently and never get tired of. There’s something about the idea that you can have two or three critical moments in a movie that I just don’t think writers/directors buy into anymore. The only film I can think of that I saw recently where the plot action dies with a character or is resurrected with a new storyline is…well, I’m actually drawing a blank, so clue me in if you can think of one.

7/10: three words: weapon of choice

Update: I was thinking about it, and Iron Man (2008) kind of has that feel to it when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is in the cave in Afghanistan. When I first saw it, I thought the movie would play out entirely in that setting, but the action shifts midway through and another plot develops.

Le grand seduction/Seducing Dr. Lewis (2003)

After my iPhone displayed the incorrect time, and a traffic mishap stopped buses on Ashland Ave., Nicole and I rushed to meet Eva at the Chicago International Summer Screening showing of Le grand seduction/Seducing Dr. Lewis co-presented by the Consulate General of Canada in Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, and

The film discusses the plight of a coastal Canadian hamlet whose dried up fishing industry has left the town folk down and out. A plan to bring in a factory is in the works, but a full time doctor is needed on the island otherwise it’s no deal; the conflict: no big city (Montreal?) practitioners are willing to make the move to a quaint fishing village (I am running out of synonyms for small town at this point). In a desperate bid to bring a factory to the town, the de facto mayor, Germain Lessage (Raymond Bouchard), strings together a plot to entice a big city plastic surgeon (David Boutin) into staying longer than his forced one month stay. There are a few missing details, but the premise is what it is, some small town big/city humor. At stake, the future of the town.

The film itself is hilarious. After the residents learn that the doctor loves cricket, they stage a hilarious half-baked match for his benefit. The whole film revolves around the townspeople catering to the doctor’s every wish, going so far as to tap his phone and listen in, sometimes catching scandalous calls to his girlfriend.

The comic timing of the actors in the film, especially Bouchard and the actor who plays his brother-in-law, Pierre Collin, is really great. If your looking for an analogy for the type of humor found in this film, I would say it’s close to Hot Fuzz (2008); come to think of it, the plot is similar to The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain but luckily for us there is no Hugh Grant to be found.

I don’t think I stopped laughing for most of the film, so this is a good pick if you’re in the mood for something light. As with most foreign language films, do watch the subtitles and avoid dubbing, as the delivery in French adds to the humor of many of the jokes.

8/10: un bit inattendu de la comédie de l’été

note: This film played at the Chicago Cultural Center, which was a great place to see a film. I failed to take a picture of the theater, but I will do so next time I go there. All of the times are listed on their website and there is no charge for any of the films. Oh, and here is a random picture of the beautiful stained glass dome outside of the theater.