June 16, 2005

At The Movies

Brief reviews of a few movies I watched lately, from Netflix and elsewhere:

- “Hotel Rwanda” (Directed by Terry George): This harrowing docudrama about the 1994 Rwanda genocide avoids just about every pitfall of the subgenre: it doesn’t get preachy, it doesn’t make sure its heroes are white people, and it doesn’t skimp on the storytelling. A great cast, led by Don Cheadle, puts a face on the horror most of us have only read about, now tragically repeating itself just a few countries away, in Darfur.

- “Michael Moore Hates America” (Directed by Mike Wilson:) Wilson’s documentary at once bashes Moore and imitates him, as Wilson puts himself in Moore’s old “Roger & Me”-era muckraking underdog role. The narrative loses focus at times, and none of the arguments will be new to devotees of Moore-bashing, but Wilson’s pluck and charisma often redeem it.

For a film based on the vilification of a single individual, ‘Hates America’ is surprisingly civil, largely avoiding name-calling and unfair attacks. And don’t confuse this with partisan hackery- unlike the previous anti-Moore doc “Fahrenhype 9/11,” it’s not one big commercial for the Bush re-election- nor is made entirely clear that Wilson is a conservative. Because lots of liberals- such as film co-star Penn Jillette, such as me- can't stand Moore either.

- “She Hate Me” (Directed by Spike Lee): After emerging from a decade-long career funk to direct 2002’s near-masterpiece “The 25th Hour”- Hollywood’s first, and still best, depiction of the post-9/11 moment in New York- some saw the sign of a career renaissance for the Bed-Stuy auteur. Yea- not so much. “She Hate Me” is like four movies smushed into a ball, even though they don’t fit together, and none are believable or make sense on their own. We’re left with a black executive (Anthony Mackie), fired from his Enron-like corporation, who then embarks on a lucrative second career of impregnating lesbians. And don't forget the repeated tangents about Watergate...

Enough has been written about the implausibility, not to mention cruelty, of this premise, so I’ll just leave it at that- except to give Lee credit for making what’s likely to be the first and last major motion picture named after a former XFL player. That is, until they finally get around to making “The Tommy Maddox Story.”

- “Finding Neverland” (Directed by Marc Forster): Four reasons why this movie completely, utterly sucked: 1) It’s boring as hell, from beginning to end; 2) After “Shakespeare in Love,” “Topsy Turvy,” “The Hours,” and all those Merchant-Ivory films, the subgenre of “secret story of the author of a classic work” is just plain tiresome; 3) They made the most beautiful woman in movies, Kate Winslet, look like a ghost; and 4) It’s about an adult male, an acclaimed artist, who spends unnatural amounts of time with small boys, while yammering on about “Neverland.” Not the most pleasant mental image, especially these days.

How this film was nominated for Best Picture and “Eternal Sunshine” wasn’t remains a mystery for the ages.

- San Francisco 49ers 2004 Public Relations training video (Directed by Kirk Reynolds): The controversy over the team's in-house video, recently leaked to the press, resulted in the resignation of Reynolds (the team’s PR director), and now it’s been posted on Ifilm.com. And while the film was controversial for its use of racial slurs, nudity, profanity, and mocking of Mayor Gavin Newsom*, its true sins are even more grave: It’s just plain not funny.

There’s no sense whatsoever of comedic timing, and the producers seem to have misread the success of the Howard Stern show, seeing as how they apparently believe a flat comedy bit is somehow magically made funny by the presence of babelicious lesbians. The production values are abominable- they’d be laughed at by most junior-high AV clubs- and the ethnic and gay jokes aren’t much better, unless you’re a big fan of “Asian lisp” jokes (I’m not, unless they’re directed at Kim Jong-Il).

(*That’s one thing that gets me about this scandal, that even in a PC-mad city like San Francisco, “taking shots at the mayor” is somehow seen as just as offensive as racial, sexual, and ethnic barbs. Reminds me of the time in college when the student senate decided to go to war with the recklessly iconoclastic conservative student magazine, with one senator calling the magazine “racist, sexist, anti-gay, and anti-Senate.”)

It’s been said often that the video scandal is the latest sign that the 49ers have fallen from grace, going from football’s most classy organization to its least classy in just a few years. Exactly- if they’d produced an offensive in-house training video 10 years ago, it would had a MUCH higher budget.

Posted by Stephen Silver at June 16, 2005 02:08 AM
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