(originally published in The Outreach Connection in October 2009)
Anyone who has a movie column can write about the stuff they’ve actually seen – that’s just so old hat. So here’s another installment of my occasional alternative, devoted to current and recent movies I haven’t seen. That’s how you test your writing chops!
Capitalism: a Love Story (Michael Moore)
I’m sure I’d fall within Michael Moore’s target demographic, but it’s been years since I got much out of his films. More and more, they seem designed for left-wing progressives who rely solely on Moore himself for the bulk of their information; on a recent Canada AM appearance he made a big show of insisting his film is not entertainment but “news.” Reviews suggest Moore gets in a few good shots at the mess we’re in, but also that he contradicts himself all over the place, and offers no coherent suggestions on where we should go instead. I’m sure this is correct, since it’s exactly how Fahrenheit 911 and Sicko functioned. The best take on Moore has him as a kind of political performance artist, and his excesses and quirks as elements in a multi-faceted dialectical collage, but even if you buy that, the return on this project is getting stretched pretty thin.
Everyone has their own take on the financial crisis it seems, but what preoccupies me is the inherent contradiction facing us now: maximizing our personal security surely depends on living within our means, avoiding debt and seeking out smaller, more intimate pleasures; but our collective welfare demands that we borrow and spend and stoke the economy, regardless that the fuel consists largely of consumer crap we don’t need. It’s clear no one has an answer to this dilemma, and it’s a huge indictment of our leaders that beyond insultingly vague references to “change” and “new economy” and the like, they just ignore it. This is just one reason to fear a brutal pending renegotiation of what sustainable happiness might mean in the 21st century. I certainly haven’t revolutionized my own life, but I’ve been cutting back quite a bit on unnecessary expenditures, and it’s finally broken my susceptibility to the movie-marketing machine. No matter how intrigued one might be by (say) The Invention of Lying, it’s impossible to say there’s any hardship involved in waiting six months or a year until it’s available in a cheaper format. Of course, the industry would collapse if everyone applied that philosophy, but that’s why the endless cycle of box office news and hype and manufactured excitement is all about Hollywood’s commercial needs, not our own. Given the wealth of filmic history available basically at your fingertips, no one needs to pay $12 (plus incidental costs) to see a new movie. Only a self-serving capitalist would even expect it of them. So, logically, Michael Moore ought to be gratified by his movie’s relative box office failure. Actually, maybe in his next film he could take on the genuinely important subject of why we confuse a fixation on self-promoting showmen with actual news. I’ll catch that effort on cable too, eventually.
Jennifer’s Body (Karen Kusama)
A potent example of why not to believe everything (or anything) you hear at the film festival. At that opening Midnight Madness Ryerson theatre screening, with Megan Fox and Diablo Cody on a red carpet virtually levitating from the surrounding frenzy, this looked like a major cultural event – hot new star, hot writer, hot feminist premise…watching the build-up on the 11pm news that night, I nearly put my clothes back on and headed down there myself. And then the movie actually came out a week later, and died – no one cared (see also the case of Drew Barrymore’s Whip It). Everyone smelled the plasticity of it, and then word got out Megan Fox didn’t do any real nudity, so that was the final killer. Even if she did, it would have been all over the Internet for free - anti-piracy measures be damned! – so the movie would still have flopped.
One problem, you know, is that maybe TV’s gotten too good. If you’re into True Blood and The United States of Tara and Big Love (to name just three shows with some thematic or personal connection to Jennifer’s Body), then you’re probably culturally pretty satiated already. I know not everyone can afford premium cable. But if they stopped paying $12 a shot for dispensable movie theater visits, they’d be on the road to putting that right.
Whatever its failings might be, at least Capitalism: a Love Story is about something important. But there’s an almost perverse sweetness in putting out a documentary about the veteran songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, known for their work on Disney movies like Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. I mean, what could possibly emerge about the Sherman brothers that you would ever need to know? Choosing to see this film would be like finding yourself in a vast blooming flower garden, in which you suddenly and stubbornly decided to spend an hour and a half staring solely at a single rather faded tulip.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Well what am I, 8?
Coco Avant Chanel (Anne Fontaine)
Well what am I, 80?
Where the Wild Things are (Spike Jonze)
Even a year ago, I would have gone to see this: it has a good number of big name critics lined up in support, a fashionable young director, and a colourfully protracted production history, and it opened at number one at the box office. Traditionally, that’s easily been enough for me to get into line. And that’s even though I never read the Maurice Sendak book, so would get nowhere on the apparent core pleasure of assessing to what extent Jonze may have captured/expanded on how one engaged with it as a child. Even though I never liked Jonze’s two previous films (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) as much as many did. And even though, basically, I just don’t give a damn about any of it. Well, that’s what I would have done last year. But now, if I haven’t tamed my inner wild thing, I’ve at least shaken up its sense of priorities a bit.
Eating Buccaneers (Bill Keener)
Despite all that, I do think I should support Canadian film more than I do – especially Toronto film. For example, I liked Ed Gass-Donnelly’s This Beautiful City last year, and then because it was nurtured so close to home, liking it almost counted double. Keener raised the money for this film – a comedy about advertising people wandering in a jungle after a plane crash – himself and shot it in Toronto. The enterprise is completely admirable. The end result, according to the critics, fails almost completely. Perhaps the best compromise would be to send Keener an appreciative note and a small donation, without actually spending the time to see the movie. Haven’t got round to it yet though.