Rightwing Film Geek

Another excuse to use the word ‘porn’ in the headline

Particularly since you apparently can’t use the word “porno” in a movie title.

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is released today and the very title and the fact it’s a Kevin Smith comedy that had trouble with the ratings board tells you it’s not something to take grandma to. But this detail down in the guts of this Yahoo Movies post is completely bizarre. Quite a few newspapers, TV stations and billboard owners are demanding that the film just be called ZACK AND MIRI.

Aside from Larry Miller’s theater chain, fifteen newspapers along with several TV stations and billboard owners have been refusing to promote the flick across the country because of that word. As Philadelphia deputy mayor Rina Cutler said in a phone interview with The Wall Street Journal, “If they want to call the movie ‘Zack and Miri,’ that’s fine, but Zack and Miri cannot make a porno on my bus shelters.”

Amazingly the film’s marketers are responding. See the photo attached to this post. And here’s Mark Caro at the Chicago Tribune on some of the TV ads:

this past weekend on “Saturday Night Live” — a late-night comedy show famous for sketches such as the one about the “Schweddy Balls”— an ad truncated the title to “Zack and Miri.”
Yet on a commercial during Sunday night’s final Rays-Red Sox playoff game, the title once again was “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.”
I asked Smith what the deal was, and here’s his account via e-mail:

A “Make a Porno”-less ad was prepared for “Monday Night Football” (they wouldn’t take the “Make a Porno” version, as football is a ‘family-friendly entertainment’ … which is why you can see all manner of erectile dysfunction ads during the game). Weinstein Co. accidentally serviced that ad to “SNL” as well — arguably the only network show that would’ve been okay with the unedited “Make a Porno” title. (Indeed, we’ve run the unchanged “Make a Porno” ads on “SNL” for two weeks prior now).
“People [deleted] baffle me, sir….”

Now, I can understand refusing to book the film, as one theater chain is doing, or refusing ads for it, as publishers have the right to do. But what is the logic of accepting an ad for the film with a different title?

Is it supposed to raise the community’s moral fiber by actually changing the content of the let-us-stipulate-immoral movie?

Or is it supposed to raise the community’s moral fiber by making sure that someone who might not be interested in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO would go to ZACK AND MIRI and thereby see the let-us-stipulate-immoral movie that they would have avoided otherwise?

I would be for censorship if censors just weren’t so [deleted] stupid.

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October 31, 2008 Posted by | Business, Kevin Smith, Mark Caro, Risque films | Leave a comment

Nolan’s BATMAN

THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2008, 9)

Before going into THE DARK KNIGHT for the first time, I texted Michael Gerardi and referred to the film we were both going in to see, Thursday-Midnight show on opening-weekend, as “Christopher Nolan Makes a Lot of Money.” I wasn’t terribly impressed with BATMAN BEGINS and think Nolan’s MEMENTO and THE PRESTIGE among the decade’s very best films. So I went into THE DARK KNIGHT knowing the buzz was high but seeing it as a money-spinning project that would allow one of the best writer-directors working in English the cred to make more of *his* films. And my high grade mystified Mike, prompting him to belatedly prompt me about it last night.

And my answer is that I was wrong in my expectations. THE DARK KNIGHT *is* a Christopher Nolan film down to the very bottom and thus probably my favorite comic-book movie ever. Nolan is a moralist, but one pitilessly without illusion. His three great movies are all, in different ways, critiques of truth and the relationship of truth and vocation. To speak somewhat vaguely about the earlier two films: MEMENTO is about a man who chooses a lie that gives his life meaning over a truth that doesn’t set him free; and THE PRESTIGE is about two men who take their relationship to truth to the graves — one man accepts a recurring nightly death in pursuit of scientific truth, another man accepts death rather than publicly admit the lie he has built his life around;

In THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan makes it explicit, indeed impossible to miss via the last scene, both (1) that Batman accedes to a Socratic noble lie a la MEMENTO about Harvey Dent (and it’s not the only one in the movie — consider the burning of a letter, a public assassination, Batman turning himself in — and contrast it with an explicitly demanded lie: the “it’ll be all right, son” scene) and (2) that Batman’s vocation — like Leonard’s crime investigation, like Borden’s magic act, like Angier’s scientific investigation — will ultimately destroy him, or at a minimum cast him as the eternal despised outsider. He even has to give up his position as Bruce Wayne and destroy stately Wayne Manor.

Indeed, the best analogy I can think to the Batman character is from “The St. Petersburg Diaries,” a work by Count Joseph De Maistre — an anti-Revolution French philosopher hardly known (unjustly so) outside the circle of right-Catholic reaction. In that work, among the lather of ironies and paradoxes De Maistre has endless fun with, he describes the executioner as the man on whom society’s order relies but whom society despises. In this day and age, we’re so squeamish about the death penalty that we try to make as euphemize it as much as possible in our method and go to elaborate measures to remove the responsibility away from any given man — multiple switches on the drug machine, blanks in some firing squad guns, etc. As the man who gets his hands dirty, Batman has to be an outsider for the sake of the rest of our self-images.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Christopher Nolan, Michael Gerardi | Leave a comment

After years of refusal

HUSBANDS AND WIVES (Woody Allen, USA, 1992, 8)

Written July 2001 at Super-Secret Movie Nerd Group at Andrew Johnston’s prompting, after seeing the film following a nine-year boycott because it seemed based on the Soon-Yi affair, which Mia Farrow discovered while the film was shooting.

I had some of the reaction I expected, but quite a lot that I didn’t. It’s easily one of Woody’s best films of the 90s. I found myself even hungrier for a good, “new” Woody Allen film than I thought I was.

There’s obviously many more real-life parallels in the setup than the way it plays out, but (Here stand I stand, I cannot do other) I still felt like I was watching something pornographic in the three or so significant “state of our marriage” scenes between Woody and Mia — particularly the first, the movie’s second dramatic scene, right after Sydney Pollack and July Davis announce their divorce. I felt really protective toward Mia (the person, not the character she was playing) when she asks “would ever leave me for another woman?” As I hypothesized back then, with different actors or acting in another director’s film, I wouldn’t have felt so dirty.

Everyone else was right that Davis and Pollack are nothing less than marvelous (which I suspected would be the case). Has Judy Davis ever given a bad performance? Aside: anti-TV snobs should see her work earlier this year in the Judy Garland biopic; she makes the movie. Is there anyone else who thinks Sydney Pollack as good an actor as a director? Lysette Anthony, who played Sam (Pollack’s vegan-aerobicist-astrologer girlfriend), had the funniest scene in the movie — at the intellectuals’ party. Even Benno Schmidt easily overcame my “shock of recognition.” The only bad performance is by Juliette Lewis … or rather she has one horrible scene where she was obviously “acting,” the scene in the cab where she starts to criticize the novel. There was something excruciatingly mannered about her facial expression in some of those closeups, as though she was very proud of getting right her lit-crit lines.

But the real surprise came for me in Woody’s character. Not only is this by far Allen’s best performance as a (non-clown) actor, but in terms of self-apologia, HUSBANDS AND WIVES is no DECONSTRUCTING HARRY. The Juliette Lewis affair never becomes a source of tension in the marriage as such (I don’t recall Mia ever finding out about it) nor does it end like the “dirty old man” fantasy I had expected it to. Indeed, Woody’s character is the one left alone at the end, although not as a specific George Amberson “comeuppance,” as more like odd chance. There’s a brilliant throwaway part from the reading of Allen’s novel about two men — a man with five children who envies the freedom of the bachelor down the hall, who in his turn envies the security of the married man. It’s kinda cliche (‘the grass is always greener …’), but I really found it affecting partly because it was so unexpected given how dislikable I have found Allen’s persona in recent years. Nor do I think I’ll ever forget Woody getting the film’s last line “are we done, now?” or the look on his face in that final shot and the way the camera freezes on it for like two seconds. This is a deeply unhappy man whose great cross to bear is the full knowledge of how deeply unhappy he is.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Woody Allen | Leave a comment

Andrew Johnston, 1968-2008

My film-critic friends and I got some bad news Sunday overnight. Andrew Johnston died, at the age of 40. His death Sunday night was a real surprise and shock. He had been battling cancer for several years, but the last I heard from him on this subject was about a year ago, when he was brimming with optimism that he’d licked it, and the last time I saw him in person, whenever it was, he looked reasonably hail and had good weight on him.

Andrew was one of the circle of Internet pro-critic friends I have. He was most recently an editor at Time Out New York and had been previously been a critic for TONY, Us Weekly and other magazines, and served for a time as chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle. I won’t pretend to be closer to him than I was. Because he was based in New York, I only saw him in person the five or so years we were both at the Toronto Film Festival. But before we’d ever met in person, when I mentioned summer 2001 in our Super-Secret Discussion Board that I’d be coming to the next TIFF, he e-mailed me with the words “Thank God — that means there’ll be at least one [guy] I can drink with!” since most of the rest of our circle was one-or-none types.

The note kinda typified what defined Andrew — a combination of menschness and enthusiasm. And that was him both personally and in his writing. In fact, the thing I remember best about Andrew was the enthusiasm he projected as a writer. He had more of a fan’s sensibility and a populist taste than many of us. (The year he was chairman, LORD OF THE RINGS 3 won the New York Critics top honor — which helped it build the momentum that ended with a historic Oscar sweep.) Andrew was the kind of guy who loved gushing to you about what he loved, rather than ranting to you about what he didn’t. That sort of personality was a welcome and sometimes needed antidote to the worldwise sang-froid that some of us are prone to, myself definitely not excluded.

Andrew was one among several pro critics who accepted me (and several other non-pros; the group was about 50-50 pros/nonpros) into their circle and the Super-Secret Group based on my postings in the late-90s on Usenet. And the thing I prized most about that was that never was I talked down to or ever treated as an inferior, an amateur interloper, etc. — not by Andrew or any of the others. Without their everyday-implicit approval I certainly would never have started this site and/or would have packed it in several times.

If Andrew thought I wrote something brilliant or brilliantly (first thing to come to mind was a post about the ending of CASABLANCA), he’d say so. If he thought I wrote something retarded, he’d say so. He took me to task once for attacking ROAD TO PERDITION as telegraphing everything (“what’s wrong with being clear and accessible to ordinary viewers”), and on another occasion for refusing on principle to watch Woody Allen’s HUSBANDS AND WIVES over the Soon-Yi affair (“You’re really cheating yourself by not seeing HUSBANDS AND WIVES … If you’re such a fan of his, why on Earth would you deny yourself this film?”). I relented on the Allen film and I’ll post the resulting review of HUSBANDS AND WIVES immediately after completing this post. On another occasion, I mentioned loading my Sicilian confessor my DVD of Visconti’s LA TERRA TREMA, which he called ridiculous since Father didn’t even like BICYCLE THIEF. At my request, that priest said a Mass for Andrew and the repose of his soul in the last day or so.

In our limited e-mail and personal interaction, Andrew and I hit it off well too. Via e-mail, we bonded over the surprising commonalities and few differences about the pop-culture and music exposure of our very different boyhoods just two years apart. I promised him once, when he posted some advance info about TROY that struck me as bad news: “please be wrong; I’ll put a Ralph Nader logo on my site if you say you made this up.” At one TIFF, we discussed a favorite director of both of ours — Stanley Kubrick, most especially A CLOCKWORK ORANGE — for a whole meal by ourselves at one end of the table and ignoring everyone else. That first year, I saw FROM HELL with Andrew, Mike and Theo, and we’re milling about at the Varsity lobby afterwards. As an amateur Ripperologist, I’m ranting (imagine Wallace Shawn in THE PRINCESS BRIDE) about how the Hughes Brothers’ theory was implausible and in any event decisively refuted by workhouse records of Annie Crook and the child’s birth certificate, etc. Mike and Theo also are holding their metaphorical noses at the film too. Theo then looks at Andrew’s face and says “lemme guess … you kinda liked it.” At that, Andrew says something like “I have to like something about this” and then pulled up his sleeve to show a tattoo of the Freemasons or some Masonic symbol on his deltoid.

Those of us who could see Andrew’s work unencumbered by space, formatting and audience-targeting considerations knew how good a critic he was. I unfortunately didn’t read much of his work the last couple of years mostly because he began writing more about television, which I gave up a couple of years ago and so couldn’t even follow. Everyone I know says this was when he best found his public voice. According to this piece at The House Next Door, even on his deathbed, he was watching and writing about MAD MEN, for which he was beating the drum very early (as I say, Andrew was an enthusiast first and last). “Mad Men Mondays” was a regular feature there. I think I owe it to him to pick up and start watching MAD MEN from the start after the election to see what was Andrew’s final love.

But probably my favorite Andrew post on The Group, which I’ll take the liberty of pasting in after the jump, was over APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX, which Andrew and I were virtually alone in thinking was an improvement on the original (the vote was 5 better / 19 worse). I wrote the following then in lieu of defending the changes myself.

When I saw the film last week, I thought it was even better than before. … [But] I didn’t say anything because I found that almost everything I wanted to say had been said, quite worthily, by Mr. Andrew Johnston in post 10626. We should all bow down before his brilliance. Dude, you da explosion.

Yes, he was. RIP and thanksbud.

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October 29, 2008 Posted by | Andrew Johnston | 7 Comments

Presidential endorsement

There really is only one possible choice in this election, and one matter puts it beyond reasonable dispute. At the end of the day, after the Born Alive Infants act, partial-birth abortion, “spreading the wealth,” Rev. Wright, Bill Ayres, the New Party, the “get in their face” thuggery, Tony Rezko, meeting Ahmedinejad and Chavez, surrender in Iraq, and all the rest, one thing overrides everything …

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October 23, 2008 Posted by | Abba, Election 08, Humor | 6 Comments

Victor getting gobsmacked

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (Jonathan Demme, 2008, USA) — 9

At the New Republic, Christopher Orr says RACHEL GETTING MARRIED features

the most elaborately multi-culti Bobo wedding ever committed to celluloid, a festival of singing and dancing and costumery featuring Robyn Hitchcock, Sister Carol East, and a groom (TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe) who sings Neil Young’s ‘Unknown Legend’ to his bride at the altar.

Not only is he correct, but he really understates the point. Even if it were no good as a family-relationship drama, though it is, it REALLY is … RACHEL GETTING MARRIED works as a completely-unintentional parody of Connecticut Upper-Crust Secular Multicultural Awareness. I began mentally ticking things off: there are four “parents” on Rachel’s side of the family (the side the film focuses on); the marriage is inter-racial and this is never even alluded to in any form; every ethnic group is represented in this World’s Fair by Benneton wedding guest list (I had to stifle a giggle at the entry of the Latin America Booth in the form of samba-dancers dressed for Rio Carnival week and a short dumpy woman in Andean Indian garb); the bride announces she is pregnant during the weekend, and this results in unmitigated celebration; their religion is “Religion”: the wedding cake was decorated by Hindu elephants, the wedding outfits are Indian-style, the walls are decorated by Christian-looking icons but done in the Hindu style, and Kym (the film’s central character, played by Anne Hathaway) toasts “L’Chaim”; the marriage is not in a church or by any sort of minister and the couple wrote their own vows; they live in Stamford in a multi-storey home on a lot big enough to pitch a wedding tent in the yard; Kym drives an old-model Mercedes; rehab, psychology PhD’s, smoking-Nazism and fucking someone the day you meet him are all considered unremarkable.

A fellow film geek “twittered” me “why do I have a feeling RGM is gonna piss you off just because of the wedding alone?” He was correct in guessing that I detest these people in the abstract and I’d consider attending this wedding in real-life to be a purgatorial experience. But as for the film I didn’t mind all this stuff at all. Why should a portrayal of a slice of society you dislike not have signifiers of “Dislikability”? It’s not that any of these Bobo Signifiers is unbelievable or remarkable; few are morally significant per se. But the sheer amount of them makes displayed Boboism almost a structuring principle (a thing you notice and react to), and it starts to become funny — how much more Aware and Tolerant can they portray themselves. “Oh … there’s Rigoberta Menchu … Must. Not. Giggle.”

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October 23, 2008 Posted by | Jonathan Demme | 3 Comments

The music, not the words

I’ll only take a slight excuse to put up a Bollywood clip. But I was inspired by a couple of recent things: I got a comment from a young Indian cinephile that “Indian cinema … produces gems that have the power of creating a frenzy”; and saying myself that Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” would be my all-time favorite song if I didn’t understand a word of English.

Even though I did not like the film at all, one of the most important movies I’ve seen this decade was GHOST WORLD because the opening credits and the trailer both made extensive use of the song “Jaan Pahechaan Ho.” This song was so memorable that, combined with a couple of other events in 2001-02, it quickly got me interested in the Hindi pop cinema of “Bollywood,” which is the biggest film industry in the world by some measures, and it’s been a minor interest of mine ever since.

The “Jaan Pahechan Ho” song-and-dance number is from the 1965 film GUMNAAM and is without question the greatest musical number ever to open up a serial killer movie. (I finally found a VHS tape of the film, loosely based on Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, in a mom-and-pop shop in the tourist section of St. Maarten while on a Caribbean cruise. The scene is from a nightclub dance contest at the start of the movie.)

If you can resist that, you are hereby forbidden from reading this site. I really do think the “Jaan Pahechan Ho” scene deserves mentioning in the same breath as “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Cabaret,” “The Trolley Song,” “That’s Entertainment!” “Make Em Laugh,” and the rest of the legendary Hollywood musical numbers. The voice is the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi (and I’ve been told it’s him onscreen) he gets to sink his high, smooth voice around a melody that is the Platonic form “Catchiness,” a singular mixture of hyperactive jazz, American beach music and early pop-rock.

The lead-dancing woman is Glomesh Ganesh whose gold lame dress deserves a spot alongside Rita Hayworth’s black getup in GILDA for sheer … sheerness, and Ganesh puts a lot more mileage on her dress than Hayworth does (one wonders how many Advil she had to take between takes). She’s no Ginger Rogers as a pure dancer, but she handles a whole line of male dancers like Monroe in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” More than anything else though, Ganesh just exudes sheer brassiness and “joy of performance,” simply illustrating the catchy melody by sharing in its pure infectious fun, with all the shots cut perfectly to rhythm and repeating and riffing movements when the song repeats lines.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Jaan Pahechan Ho” is that we Westerners may be able to enjoy it better than Indians can because it is, at its heart, a light-as-a-feather song. One Indian co-worker told me that the words of most of the best and best-known Bollywood songs are really rather simple in terms of ideas, but it’s all a “poetic-sound” tradition, going back to classic Urdu poetry. Here are the lyrics of “Jaan Pahechan Ho” in Hindi and opposite them what the words mean in English, according to another Indian co-worker (I just asked Ashish for the literal meaning, without any consideration of what would be usable English lyrics for this melody).

I dunno about you, but singing lyrics like that with a straight face requires real conviction.

October 18, 2008 Posted by | Glomesh Ganesh, Mohammed Rafi, Musicals | 4 Comments

Victor trashes “Citizen Kane”

OK, not really, but that’s how this post is inevitably gonna come across. Reader James in a comment below says among a list of questions, “nor do I get the greater love for Welles sophomore work than his freshman one.”¹

Now … I would, if a gun were held to my head, pick THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS over CITIZEN KANE. But how does James know this? I don’t recall saying that here, and I’ve only mentioned AMBERSONS once in detail in this post here, where I lament upon 23rd viewing the fact I can never see it again for the first time but didn’t compare it explicitly to KANE. Telepathy?

But anyhoo … that is the case, and I explained myself a few years ago in Movie-Nerd Discussion Group in the context of a thread about Orson Welles (which I reproduce here with only a few details added). If your favorite Welles film is anything other than CITIZEN KANE, the consensus “greatest film of all time,” you kinda feel compelled to provide a reason. And understand that CITIZEN KANE is still #1 on my 1941 list, though I sometimes DO get tempted to displace it with THE LITTLE FOXES. Anyway, here are my reasons for preferring AMBERSONS:

1) KANE’s structure makes it a bit of a stumper on first viewing,² certainly when compared to AMBERSONS. Philistine that I am … I persist in believing this is at least somewhat of a flaw.

2) Charles Foster Kane is an enigma in some ways that George Amberson Minafer is not, especially since Rosebud pretty much turns out to be a psychological red herring, compared to George’s comeuppance. Plus George’s comeuppance gets brilliantly, gradually forgotten over the course of the film, until it’s yanked back in the most shocking “remember this?” voiceover-narration line ever (in contrast Rosebud weaves itself throughout the film a bit much for a red herring).

3) Agnes Moorhead has more than one scene in AMBERSONS, and Welles even manages to make good actors out of Tim Holt and Ann Baxter. I also treasure Welles’ radio-trained voice more than his physical presence as an actor,³ so making him the narrator is a mo-fo genius move.

4) The last scene of AMBERSONS, which is always held against it, is not bad at all despite the “hearts and flowers” reputation it’s picked up. Eugene’s dialog and the plot points are rather the same as Welles’ original cut (George has been reconciled to both the Morgans, thanks to Isabel’s intercession). Though I shudder to think of hearing this in a poorhouse with a senile Fanny half-listening.

And to repeat … I’m comparing masterpieces here, and it’s like saying MACBETH was “only” Shakespeare’s fifth-best play. But I wouldn’t blame a KANE-lover from reacting as though I’ve “trashed” his favorite to elevate mine.
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¹ Actually, I would guess that a very significant share of my readers, if not a majority, don’t share my political or religious beliefs. Particularly since I prefer to write about snooty art films, the audience for which is overwhelmingly secular-liberal.
² Though again, Welles is a brilliant visual storyteller and no film structured like KANE is could possibly have been more of a pleasure and an ease to follow.
³ Again, not that his movement and presence are bad or nothing — just that the voice was the best part of him.

October 18, 2008 Posted by | Canon, Orson Welles | 3 Comments

New York openings

Abel Ferrara’s MARY, which I saw … gulp … back in 2005, is opening today in New York. It’s a meta-film about the problems making of a Jesus movie in which Matthew Modine was the director and Star, and Juliette Binoche played Mary Magdelene. Forrest Whitaker plays a New York talk-show host who wants Binoche on his program. I didn’t care for the film at the time and I’ve hardly thought about it since I posted the following quick inadequate thoughts at Amy Welborn’s combox (slightly changed here) a couple of years ago:

As for MARY, the less said, the better. I have no doubt that the prize it won at Venice was an f-you to Mel Gibson. It is not worthy of a prize at the world second-most-prestigious juried festival (and there’s lots of films I don’t like that I realize are aesthetically distinguished and “prize-worthy”. MARY is not. It is lazy, padded, unfocused and just felt unfinished and phoned-in.

For example, if you know anything about movie editing techniques (I don’t mean by that you have to be able to write about them — I mean **know anything**), you realize that apart from a brief opening scene, Juliette Binoche, probably the picture’s biggest “name” thespian plays her entire role alone. Never sharing a frame with any other name actor — her role consists mostly of phone conversations and phone messages. Some shots of her are by herself. But basically she is like something stitched in, only you can still see all the seams and the grafts that didn’t quite take. Having your lead actors almost never in the same world tends to underline a stitch job.

And then there’s huge chunks — and I mean several minutes at a time, which feels much longer than it is — of the film literally given over to monologs of talking-head theologians spouting on this and that in re their views on Christianity, straight from the “a minister, priest and a rabbi” school of religious diversity. Except for their views. Elaine Pagels was among them, there were no representatives of religious orthodoxy I recognized, and the one obvious Catholic set off some of my alarm bells.

When director Abel Ferrara gave his post-film Q-and-A when I saw MARY at the Toronto Film Festival (he insisted on doing it sitting on the stage and not using a microphone), he said he had been to Catholic schools but never heard of Mary Magdelene. I’m thinking … whaaaaaa….?????

On a happier and better note, here’s a link to my Toronto review of Mike Leigh’s HAPPY GO-LUCKY, an excellent film which opened last week in the Big Apple and is starting to make its way around the country today, including Washington.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Abel Ferrara, Mike Leigh | 1 Comment

Porn!!!!

AN AMERICAN CAROL (David Zucker, USA, 2008) — 5

AN AMERICAN CAROL is basically conservative pornography — it is enjoyable, effective in making us (laugh) hard, but primarily does so by appealing to our lowest natures. And in the end has left us with not much more than the slightly guilt-tinged feelings associated with having gratified ourselves but done so in the cheapest, easiest, most-narcissistic way possible.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind my sneak at Playboy and the semi-voluntary bodily reactions happened. But I also know there’s more to satire, to moviemaking, to sex, to conservative movie-thought, to love and to comedy than the AMERICAN CAROL centerfold. In fact, shortly afterward, I watched a DVD of the incendiary-titled but more-serious MICHAEL MOORE HATES AMERICA, recently picked up at a Borders bargain bin, and thought it was easily a better film because in part it’s about that very point — the ease of the admittedly-gratifying cheap shot.

Directed by “9/11 Conservative” David Zucker of Naked Gun and Airplane fame, AN AMERICAN CAROL, though vastly inferior to those films, is still often very funny from the simple pleasure of seeing the piss taken out of ideas and people that jolly well ought to have the piss taken out of them. Sometimes Zucker makes funny things that just aren’t funny, and is able to do so precisely because they aren’t funny. (Cue reactions: “Huh?”) Continue reading

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Conservative films, David Zucker | 9 Comments

Here’s pat

FIREPROOF (Alex Kendrick, USA, 2008) — 4

I couldn’t even bring myself to see the Kendrick brothers’ previous film FACING THE GIANTS,¹ which I was reliably told had the football-coach main character get on his knees and accept Jesus Christ as his Savior in a field. After which, his football team becomes champions and he gets a new red truck, which is not only risible but pernicious — religion as a means to worldly success.² Methodism and Buddhism, e.g., are incomplete or mistaken; but the Prosperity Gospel Heresy is wicked.

FIREPROOF avoids the Prosperity Gospel Heresy because it centers on a dying marriage, which saved by a mid-movie religious conversion. Unlike high-school football, marriage is a Godly institution, the success of which matters and has something to do with one’s religious/moral qualities. FIREPROOF has its heart in the right place, has entertaining parts, and is clearly better than (my received notion of) FACING THE GIANTS. It isn’t an awful movie, and it doesn’t deserve the F-grades or the sort of toxic hatred that you can see in the comment fields (or anywhere else secular liberals are gathered).³ I also acknowledge it had the value of being in the small Georgia city, Albany, where I lived for two years, which gives you a certain level of interest in spotting locations and details (e.g., I am 90 percent sure I know what restaurant that lead art is from). Still, it is more earnest, pat and “messagey” than Cynical Gen-X Catholic Moi likes. Maybe it would look better if it had been shown on the Hallmark or Lifetime channels as a movie-of-the-week. And its fundamental dramatic weakness suggests something about contemporary Christian works of art that lies in the very theology of Protestantism. (I swear … the one Amy Grant song I have just popped up on iTunes.)

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October 16, 2008 Posted by | Alex Kendrick, Conservative films, Protestantism, Religion in movies, Scott Tobias | 12 Comments