Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Fahrenheit 9/11

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

This is the first Michael Moore movie that’s given me more pleasure than irritation. There’s a lot of powerful, compelling material to be had, and a delightful minimum of Moore’s usual confrontational, gimmicky shenanigans. So much so, in fact, that the couple of times he does go into his typical corner-the-powerful routine, it feels quite out of place and perfunctory.

In terms of humorous gimmicky skewering of Bush and his policies, frankly, I think Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” does a much better job, and they do it on a nightly basis. (I still get a laugh remembering their interviewer asking Don King, “Aren’t you afraid that by associating with the Republican Party, you’re bringing the taint of corruption to boxing?”)

“Fahrenheit” undercuts its own argument slightly with its early use of some cheap shots at Bush and his people. The montage of officials saying “Iraq” and “al Qaeda” is not a very convincing way to make the point. Worse, there are several scenes of Bush and his senior officials preparing for television or public appearances. I suppose the primping of the makeup and hair people is supposed to look frivolous and superficial, and Bush’s goofy facial expressions and silent gesticulations are supposed to make him look like a buffoon. But really, you could collect exactly the same kind of material on just about anyone who makes speeches in front of TV cameras on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with Bush as a president, and I found myself thinking, “Oh, come on, you can do better than that.”

Fortunately, the movie does do better than that. The cheap shots are mostly confined to the first 30 minutes or so of the movie, and after that there’s a lot of meat to chew on. There are plenty of disturbing, emotionally unsettling sequences. I knew full well I was being manipulated by a skilled filmmaker, but the manipulation worked nonetheless. Whether it’ll sway anyone’s vote, who knows, but it at least has a lot of people thinking seriously about what’s going on in the world, and that can’t be a bad thing. I agree with a lot of what it said, but not everything; even so, I appreciate the additional opportunity to think about why I agree or disagree.

Politics may have played a role in its strong showing at Cannes, but I have no beef with it winning the top prize on cinematic merit alone. The personal passion behind this movie is vividly obvious from start to finish, and even with its flaws it’s a fine example of political filmmaking.

One thing’s for sure: it pleases me greatly to see Disney’s face rubbed in this film’s sudden and extreme financial success. They were a bunch of spineless ninnies for refusing to let Miramax distribute it, and I hope their shareholders are foaming at the mouth over the millions of dollars of profits Disney was too timid to earn.

Quick review: The Chronicles of Riddick

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Remember when you saw “The Fifth Element?” Remember the way every frame was oozing visual style, the way the whole thing was packed full of detailed, inventive imagery and a brand-new mythology? And remember that it made you not mind so much that the story was kind of dumb and there were a few too many contrivances for comfort? Well, that’s exactly how I felt about “Riddick.” This movie has enough pulp sci-fi elements to keep an army of slobbering fanboys muttering “Cool!” to themselves, and it is enormously pleasing to the eye, but probably best not to analyze it too terribly deeply. Let its ambience wash over you while you sit in awe of the artistry.

In some ways this movie reminded me a lot of some of the big historical epics of yesteryear. Yeah, you could tell the big panorama of ancient Rome was just a matte painting, but man, it sure was a pretty matte painting, and anyway it was just an establishing shot for the palace intrigue. Obviously the technical wizardry here is decades more advanced, but I get the sense the filmmakers valued “grand and beautiful” above “realistic,” even if it meant requiring a little more suspension of disbelief. There’s a sense of scope here that most movies, especially most sci-fi movies, avoid because they know they can’t pull it off successfully — much cheaper and safer to stick with confined, claustrophobic settings.

I can easily see why a reviewer wouldn’t like “Riddick.” Some people have more tolerance than others for “Shouldn’t he be dead right now?” moments and grown men marching around in uncomfortable-looking bizarre costumes, and there are plenty of both here. But it puzzles me that several major reviewers (e.g. Richard Roeper) seem to have found the story difficult to follow. I didn’t find that at all. All the major plot points follow logically from what’s come before, though not all the details are completely explained by the end. I assume we’re going to get a sequel to cover some of the stuff that was hinted at.

Seeing the first movie (”Pitch Black”) is helpful but not required. They make an effort to explain the relevant parts of that story to the uninitiated. On the other hand, “Pitch Black” is a fun little movie, so no harm seeing it anyway.

Four out of five stars.