IT'S MOVIE (& TV) TIME!!!
CAN I? . . . The Cannes jury loved Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary, but said nothing about his making his case. They speak of great images but not data. But did Moore misrepresent things, as he did in the Columbine movie, fudging data to make a case? Is this too a mendacious film? Does the Cannes jury care?
Ebert reports this in reporterís tones, but Chi Tribís Michael Wilmington gushes about Moore and the whole Cannes thing in an embarrassing display. Never the d-for-data (or documentary, for that matter) word from him either. Nor anything about reliability. Arenít documentaries supposed to be documented?
MOVIES . . . After seeing the movie "Chicago," I was picking noise out of my ears for hours. Not a tune remained, just the noise and the frenzy. A man told me he and his wife left after 20 minutes because of the dirty dancing. How could they tell? It was a blur.
The anachronisms did not help, as in the 2003 racial diversity that was unthinkable in the movie's 1920s Chicago. A black prison matron runs the women's jail and makes lots of money off it. A black man announces the vaudeville acts -- a handsome bloke, confident and as fresh-scrubbed as if he had stepped from a J. Crew catalog. Chicago in the 20s was not like that, of course.
All in all, it was a dreadful presentation, with the rubber-faced Renee Head-wagger being allowed to drive her act into the ground. Flash, glitter, amoralisms right and left, that's what Hollywood has evolved into since "42nd Street" in the 30s, whose tuneful and lively "Shuffling off to Buffalo," to name just one of its numbers, could have no place in this loud and vulgar "Chicago."
CHICAGO THE MOVIE: HISTORY? . . . . Reader Chris questions my critique of "Chicago," says I came off "overly sour" when I complained about its anachronism in portraying black people in positions of prominence and influence in 1920s Chicago. "We are talking about a Hollywood production not a history book," she said, excusing the anachronism.
I said the movie "hits you in the face and misrepresents history while presumably representing history. Suspension of disbelief has its place, but only when the viewer or reader knows he's doing it. But Hollywood cons people," I said. "This is falsification . . ."
Chris persisted, asked if the movie represented "actual history." I said yes, Roxie Hart et al. lived in Chicago, etc., "but even if that were not the case, the film is full of supposed verisimilitude and thus leads the viewer to think this is how it was. . . . . That's a no-no, no?" No?
GREEK WEDDING BRIEFLY TREATED -- 8/4/2002 -- . . . . Saw a low-IQ movie recently, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," that made its point in five minutes, then kept making it over and over: Greeks, or Greek-Americans, have large extended families that think they are nuclear ones and traditionally want their women barefoot and in the kitchen but are big-hearted though narrow-minded and overcome the latter liability by exercising the former virtue.
Got it, I said. But the movie's author, also its female lead, embraces the philosophy of communication embraced by Sam the electrician, who recently examined our circuit-breaker arrangement -- namely that if something is worth saying once, it's worth saying three times. (I disagree violently with Sam but kept quiet about it.)
So we got treated to renditions of this concept about Greek Americans, which I have no cause to doubt but think can be said of every non-English type that ever helped populate (diversify?) this nation which owes its existence and saving features 99% to its original English colonists.
So we get dumb sentimental movies about Irish, Jews, Italians, Swedes, Scots, Welsh, Czechs, French, Mexicans etc., etc., once with the sub-plot "only in America" -- and thank you, Harry Golden, editor of The Carolina Israelite, who wrote a book about it -- but not so much since we got embarrased about ourselves.
"UNFAITHFUL" AS FAITHFUL TO THE MESSAGE . . . If "Greek Wedding" is low-IQ, "Unfaithful," with Richard Gere and Diane Lane, is high-IQ.
It presents the Garden of Eden writ large enough to fill the big screen in the nearby Lake Theater: Woman with everything -- loving husband, great 8-year-old kid, big, well-equipped house in New York suburb where a child can grow up in highly civilized surroundings -- radically endangers her Edenic life by having an affair with a French-immigrant young man of Apollo-like visage and body who lifts her out of herself and her -- shall we say it? -- unutterably bourgeois existence.
Adam (Gere) is shattered when he learns the worst about Eve (Lane). The Tempter from France, an appealing sort (great as Tempter) with terribly unbridled tendencies, gets his comeuppance. (See movie for how. I am not so unconscionable as to give it away.) Eden is nonetheless ruined. Adam and Eve must cling to each other in sorrow for the rest of their lives.
It's a stunning indictment of marital infidelity, like a movie about horrible accidents shown to potential drunk drivers. I recommend "Unfaithful" to the married (and not yet married) of the nation in place of their next Sunday's sermon and as candidate for Family Values picture of the year.
Not kidding. It's billed as steamy, which it is but with a twist: we see raw rampant sexual passion as a very destructive thing. National Review should add this one to its list of conservative movies.
ADVICE . . . . A key moment comes when Eve, Already Fallen, has coffee with an older Also Fallen Woman, a neighbor maybe ten years her senior, in a booth-and-counter place in NYC's SOHO neighborhood, down the street from Tempter's apartment where the falling has taken place.
She has run into Already Fallen (though not known as such) and a younger woman friend introduced as "from Planned Parenthood." (The PP lady objects playfully: "You'd think I was going around handing out condoms.") Eve meets them on the sidewalk on her way to Tempter's place.
The neighbor talks her into joining them for coffee. They chat. The topic arises of having an affair. The neighbor, who has the other two by 10 years or so, they being in early or mid-30s, speaks knowingly of affair by Established Wife and Mother as ending always "disastrously." The other two give her a look. She confirms their suspicion with barely a look of her own, adding pregnantly: "It's the one thing in my life I'd like to have done differently."
She's a Counseling Angel in disguise, ignored (naturally) by Eve, who Does It with Tempter in the washroom between coffees, wildly and recklessly.
Meanwhile, the point is made for the rest of us by one who knows whereof she speaks, neatly and seamlessly in context.
We speak here not of messy divorces, nasty people at each other's legal throats. Angel Counselor dismisses Planned Parenthood friend's suggestion that Eve (having excused self from table, Doing It with Tempter) is looking so radiant because she's having an affair. "She's too good," neighbor says of Eve, and means it.
Corruptio optimi pessima, said the Romans. The best go down hardest, we might say, or The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
CONGRATS ALL AROUND . . . . Shades of "Screwtape Letters," of course, C.S. Lewis's apprentice devil reporting on progress with his appointed innocent. But also of Standard Sixties Ne'er-do-wellism, with Tempter quoting guess what? -- the 19th century's chief epistle of free love, "the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," which Jacques Barzun says flopped in the 1860s but was "everybody's bedside book" by 1890, when "decadence [had become] fashionable."
Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die has nothing on the Rubaiyat, and if the admirable Robin Williams character in the prep-school movie "Dead Poets Society" gave us "carpe diem" as seizing the day (hello Saul Bellow) meaning don't put off living or doing great things, it's also meant grab ass while you may, because youth or early middle age is fleeting, especially if you're a suburban matron with SUV and generally unsuspecting husband.
The husband starts suspecting, of course. This Adam wasn't born yesterday. He's a nice guy who prizes loyalty (firing a disloyal employee) and also loves his wife. He is practically destroyed by what his detective shows him and wants to kill her and tells her so.
This is deep-dish anguish convincingly portrayed. Gere is good, so are Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez the Tempter. Beaucoups de kudos -- I love that linguistic stew -- to them but most of all to Adrian Lyne, producer and director, to whom all this Adam and Eve stuff would perhaps be news, but maybe not.
WEDDING, ANYONE? . . . See "Monsoon Wedding" a.s.a.p., as they say on "JAG." Blockbuster has it, as at Lake & Lombard, OP, where the nice young woman put it aside for me when I called and had it for me when I showed at the counter.
It's a perfect movie with perfect movie pitch. It's set in Delhi, where the featured upscale extended family has all the problems and possibilities: arranged marriage, sexual wandering, paternal love that makes a man weep in the night, singing and dancing in the traditional (we call it ethnic) mode, attractive people, not to mention manly man-of-house behavior by the father.
"A Polish Wedding," starring Lena Olin, Gabriel Byrne and MMClaire Danes, about a Hamtramck (Detroit) family, is in its class. The current Greek-American thing is not, nor is Altman's "A Wedding" of some years back, with its mine-run cynicism. Nor Steve Martin's silly if well-meaning "Father of the Bride."
All qualify as wedding movies. But this monsoon thing is top-drawer, top-flight, top-of-the-mark, top-rated (by me: 3.5 stars from Ebert, if you think he knows anything).
WAR MOVIES . . . Three war films with the right stuff are "Wake Island," 1942; "Go Tell the Spartans," 1978; and "Saigon: Year of the Cat," 1983, says U. of South Carolina history prof Clyde Wilson in Chronicles, 4/2000.
"Wake Island" is like a British movie, omitting "the silly common-man comic relief touches and excessive fire fights , , , and concentrat[ing] on the experience and character of men at war." Moreover, it has "not a word about saving the world for democracy," a staple of World War II propaganda -- glossed over when it came to our ally USSR -- nor "glowing tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt's wonderful plans for postwar reconstruction," which developed as George Marshall's for Europe and Douglas Mac Arthur for Japan.
Instead, it has "something approaching the high mode of Western epic [he means Homeric] -- courageously facing unavoidable fate." (Fate isn't always unavoidable?)
"Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now," about the Viet Nam war, he calls "hysterical creations of the alienated," telling us "little about the war and nothing about the American experience." They are films made by people who "hate quotidian America."
PLOTS . . . "In elite academic circles, Westerns are condemned as subliterate pabulum," says Bill Croke in review of Flint's Honor, by Richard S. Wheeler (Forge Books), in 4/00 Chronicles. The beef by the elite is that westerns celebrate "self-reliance in [our] world of victims," he says. But they and mystery-detective novels are the "only really plot-driven fiction still published." Croke writes from Cody, Wyoming.
ADRIAN MONK LIVES!. . . . -- 8/27/2002 -- Three cheers for Tampax, the thinking woman's whatever, for being a sponsor of USA channel's new detective show, "Monk," about the brilliant, neurotic detective who went off the deep end four years ago when his wife was killed in an unsolved case.
He is in the care of a practical nurse with the best and worst job of her 30-some-year-old life, lived now with her precocious 11-year-old son. She's pretty smart too. Her charge, who hopes for reinstatement in the San Fran PD some day when he's better, sees clues where others see nothing, including his friend and sometime nemesis police Captain So & So.
Characters count in this show, which moves quickly with very little on-screen mayhem. Character too: Monk is a very likable fellow who risks his life, and more important, exposes his exquisitely fine-tuned sensibilities to violation in the shape of germ-ridden underground sewers and running-nose kids in a primary classroom. He is phobic about germs and heights but still climbs a fire escape going after a bad guy unarmed, only to freeze from fright as the guy passes him going the other way and getting away.
"I'll never forget what you did for me," Monk tells Sharona, the nurse, as she quits. "You never forget anything," she replies. That doesn't mean he doesn't have to struggle for his eureka experiences, which he experiences with an angelic grin.
Very intelligent, engaging stuff here. And while I don't have to tell you satisfied women out there, hooray again for Tampax.