Rightwing Film Geek

2/3 of a masterpiece

HANCOCK (Peter Berg, USA, 2008) — 8

I hate you, Kyle Smith … even took the title I wanted to use (though I would have had the balls to include the “u” and the “c,” ya big wuss).

For about an hour, HANCOCK is one of the best summer popcorn films I’ve ever seen¹ — it’s basically GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, the tale of a giant among small men, only reconceived as a modern superhero movie with a heaping helping of pomo sarcasm. It’s also one of the few movies with an identifiable political subtext (it’s hardly “sub”-text in fact) that is unapologetically pro-war. Or more precisely, unapologetically anti-the-(purported)-reasons-many-claim-to-be-anti-war. The details in this movie — the eagle on bumbling, nasty superhero Will Smith’s cap; complaints about collateral damage; civil lawsuits; carping TV reporters and talking heads ranting about “lawless”; encounter groups and the phrase “conflict resolution”; the Woodstock concert poster in Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron’s bedroom; a bully who (a) is French, and (b) is played by Daeg Faerch, who played the boy Michael Myers in the recent HALLOWEEN remake; a Greenpeace boat — there are just too many signifiers here for it to be a coincidence, or one or two eager-beaver conservatives overinterpreting a detail. And it’s surely relevant that Peter Berg directed last year’s THE KINGDOM, which gave the usual liberal-critic suspects the usual fact-free vapors.

Just read what Kyle Smith had to say … he really did say it all and I have nothing to add on the point except my word that I did catch much of it myself. And the title of his post refers to exactly what came to my mind in this discussion here: TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE²:

Let’s just say there is a speech at the end of TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE … that is … well … MASSIVE WARNING ABOUT … weeeeellllll … keep in mind that it’s by the SOUTH PARK guys, and read the first direct quote. If you can read through the vulgarity (and know the movie’s plot), it’s one of the greatest defenses of Foreign-Policy Hawkishness in movie history. (I am quite serious.)

I was tickled with joy and laughing my butt off for the first hour as Hancock blunders around and is taken in by a liberal-yuppie suburban couple concerned with improving Hancock’s image and making him a more sensitive hero, a la John Kerry, who remembers to say please and thank you, and agrees to submit to international law a prison term. Predictably, Hancock has to be called in in a crisis (and ask permission to lift up a wounded policewoman from fear of traversing sexual harrassment rules). But that scene was obviously the climax of the HANCOCK I’d been expecting, but I looked at my watch and the movie was less than an hour old. “It can’t be over yet … where is this gonna go.” And in a few minutes, I found out and my mouth was literally agape — first in “ohmigawd, where can THIS be leading??? I believe this will be awesomest thing ever if they can pull it off” mode (I was thinking it could go in the direction of a certain TV show — SPOILERS!!! if you click). But then my mouth was agape in “ohmigawd, is THAT where it’s led. I can’t believe they pissed away some much awesomeness” mode.

I will tread vaguely — suffice to say that the last half-hour is just a routine “origins” story that isn’t particularly germane to this mode of representing a superhero; it doesn’t continue, deepen or even (explicitly) take back the satire of the first hour; it goes for warm and fuzzy pathos in a movie that should have a cold, pitch-black heart; and the feeble stab at “explanation” for how Hancock gets his powers are literally insulting in its desultory lameness (“some say gods, some angels, some superheroes”). It just feels tacked on, and curiously Kyle Smith barely mentions it in his formal review of HANCOCK. It’s been reported that the end was being reworked at the very last minute, and boy does it show.
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¹ Yes, I don’t see them all or even many because I am a snob, etc.
² Unsurprisingly, TEAM AMERICA occasioned maybe the worst review Roger Ebert ever wrote, admitting that he couldn’t figure out what has been perfectly obvious even to non-critics to the right of Hubert Humphrey.

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July 2, 2008 Posted by | Conservative films, Kyle Smith, Peter Berg | 1 Comment

Depressing news

Orson Welles once said (I can’t find the exact quote very quickly) that anybody who writes or talks about movies without writing or talking about money is a fool. Never has it been more obvious to me than what has happened to a couple of great movies that will probably never see a commercial release in the US because their distributor has financially collapsed.

Tartan Films shuttered its US video division last month and a few days ago it went into receivership itself. My interests have been the artistry and morality of the movies; the business of them not at all. But two of the films that Tartan had the rights to distribute were Carlos Reygadas’s SILENT LIGHT and Roy Andersson’s YOU THE LIVING.

I saw both films, and great ones they are, for the second time at FilmFestDC. SILENT LIGHT got even better and was upgraded to “10”; YOU THE LIVING not so much, but easily stayed a “9.” Both would be cinches for my year-end Top 10; neither are now on it because there is now essentially no chance that either will see the inside of a non-festival American theater. They will probably both go straight to video some time around 2010. That’s cruel to any great movie, but doubly cruel for these two, both of which create whole (very different) worlds and so need the sense of envelopment that being in a theater produces. In fact, SILENT LIGHT’s famous opening shot absolutely depends on being surrounded by the theater’s darkness. I am not a film-only purist and have often butted heads with them, but is any film ever NEEDED to be seen in a theater, it’s SILENT LIGHT. And now it won’t be.

Sitting in my draft folder now is a 80-percent-done lengthy appreciation of SILENT LIGHT that I worked on shortly after seeing it for the second time, at FilmFestDC this spring. And it’s been sitting there because I can’t find the wherewithal to convince myself that anything I have to say can be relevant to a film that can never be seen. And so finish it haunted by the knowledge that I am a fool.

July 2, 2008 Posted by | Business | 1 Comment

Is it a documentary?

Leni RiefenstahlRoger Ebert devoted his Great Movie column last weekend to TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (and I’ll return to that in a day or two), after teasing that fact in his journal. I commented a couple of times on the narrowly vulgar issue of whether she and Hitler were lovers.

But I made another comment that wasn’t posted and I can pretend neither to be pleased nor understand. This is the moderator’s prereogative, of course, but I don’t know what about what follows is objectionable or unpublishable, particularly since a comment about the glories of Soviet Communism did pass the offense test. I flattered myself that perhaps Ebert was gonna make the exact same point in his piece (though I still would have published it; it’s not a blindingly original point that could form the basis of a cribbing charge). But he didn’t.

And here is what I wrote.
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Mr. Urquhart:

The answer is that TRIUMPH OF THE WILL neither is nor isn’t a documentary, but rather, it created its own category in a kind of Hegelian synthesis, and it’s a synthesis that news coverage and politicians since have not been able to do without: The Photo-Op.

That is, “reality” that exists in order for itself to be photographed. When the American president goes for a visit to the flooded parts of Iowa, a significant part of the reason (after all, he can sign aid bills or disaster declarations sitting in DC) is so he can be seen doing it for public consumption, just like all the Nazis marched through Nuremburg in history’s grandest and greatest photo-op. TRIUMPH was something new for politics. And what I said of the Iowa floods is true of any president of any party; I’m not making the childish “Bushitler” arguments of some above.

While TRIUMPH is in no way a “pure” documentary in the way that cinema-verite purists insist, it is just as clearly not fiction — the Nuremberg Rally really did happen as Leni Riefenstahl showed it; and significant events that did not appear in the film happened anyway.

Every time you turn on CNN or Fox News or the BBC, etc., you are watching something that Leni Riefenstahl and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL made possible. Rinse and repeat with ESPN and OLYMPIA (though the details are a bit different), and you have the greatest and most-influential documentarian (and female director) of all time. No doubt about it.

July 2, 2008 Posted by | Leni Riefenstahl, Roger Ebert | 1 Comment