by David Guggenheim
recent poll among Iowa Demo-crats suggested that John Edwards—you
remember, John Kerry’s running mate—is leading Hillary Clinton
as the preferred presidential candidate in that state. John
Edwards? That factoid, buried by much of the press but talked
about with great interest among political movers and shakers,
combined with Al Gore’s stunning reemergence as a viable presence
on the national scene, should have the female senator from
New York at the very least puzzled, if not downright bothered.
By now, we’ve all heard that Gore has “all but ruled out”
a second run at the White House, and that may be so, for the
time being. Right now, he’s enjoying his own mini-celebrity,
his own Bill Clinton moment, albeit minus the blue dress,
as he tours in support of An Inconvenient Truth, a
tidy little documentary promoting Gore’s long-held belief
in the looming dangers of global warming. I don’t mean to
diminish the message here, nor do I seek to undermine Gore’s
politics or his science, but to pretend that An Inconvenient
Truth is just about the environment is like pretending
that the current Iraq war is just about weapons of mass destruction.
For 90 minutes, the self-described “once future President
of the United States,” points and clicks at a plethora of
scientific charts, photographs, bar graphs and what have you.
The only weapon the audience has against utter glazing over
is Gore’s innate good humor. Gore shows us stuff that should
scare us sober, if not send us running for a stiff drink.
It’s all there, mounds upon mounds of information, and he’s
determined to make sure that we don’t miss a trick.
Therein, of course, lies the main problem with An Inconvenient
Truth. It plays like a really long lecture. In a night
class. You feel bad feeling this way, trying not to think
about whether that tapping foot of yours is actually Restless
Leg Syndrome. Because, of course, this stuff is critical,
and it’s downright terrifying. Gore does, by highlighting
the work of myriad scientists, make an excellent case for
the the veracity of his claims about global warming, as well
as about why and how this crisis has largely been ignored
by the vast majority of Americans. And happily, his rationale
for such avoidance is not all “them versus us”; rather, it
taps into human frailty and basic psychology.
But as, dare I say, lovable as Gore comes across with his
high-tech PowerPoint presentation, he does what I fear he
did over the years in the halls of power: turn people off
with just too much data. Tide charts, water-temperature graphs,
photo comparisons from 30 years ago versus today—it’s like
Ross Perot gone digital. His constant refrains of “scientists
all agree,” and “a leading scientific study,” beg the questions:
Which scientists? Who paid for that study? (To be fair, he
does reference the 2004 Science magazine survey of
all peer-reviewed scientific studies of climate change, which
showed 928 papers supporting manmade global warming and none
Again, it’s not that I disagree with Gore’s premise, but in
attempting to convince the masses, he resorts to preaching
to the choir and, I fear, will fail to capture the imaginations
of the rest of us. But, with its side trips into Gore’s personal
tragedies and how they propelled him to doing the right thing,
not to mention the decidedly candid confessions, rueful musings
and downright nostalgia for lost opportunities and a halcyon
past, it does pose the former vice president as a well-meaning
crusader who isn’t afraid to walk the walk. And that might
be just the ticket for getting on the ticket in 2012.
by Jared Hess
First off, let it be noted that I do not think that Nacho
Libre’s Jack Black is a comedic genius. Secondly, I did
not find director and cowriter Jared Hess’ previous cult hit,
Napoleon Dynamite, quite so funny as others
did—in that I did not find it funny at all. Thirdly, I’m not
really amused by costumed wrestlers. And, finally, I don’t
find Mexican accents inherently funny. The movie’s odds with
me, therefore, were not very good.
On the other hand: Hess and his wife, Jerusha, cowrote Nacho
Libre with Mike White, whose scripts for Chuck &
Buck and The Good Girl were sharp, subtle and wonderfully
perverse. The promise of his influence justified the risk—though,
it turns out, it did not save the movie.
For the most part, Nacho Libre is exactly what one
would expect: a festival of low humor, pratfalls and ironically
intense/ intensely ironic mugging. Watching Black is like
watching Brando do Jim Carrey (or vice versa, I don’t know).
It’s exactly this self-conscious quality that “makes” Black
as a comedian; but it undoes him as an comic actor. For comparison,
think of how John Belushi played even more outrageous characters
without the annoying virtual wink to the audience.
Black plays Ignacio, an orphanage cook who dreams of gaining
fame in Lucha Libre, the world of Mexican professional wrestling.
He enlists a partner, as skinny and incompetent as he is fat
and incompetent, and they set out to win the big amateur contest.
They hope to earn a shot at fighting the champion, so they
can win money to buy the orphans a . . . something or other.
By this point I had really stopped paying attention. There
is little in the plot or dialogue to hold an adult’s attention.
That being said, when you ignore those elements, Nacho
Libre is actually a very nicely filmed movie. Hess has
an artistic eye, and his shots are surprisingly well composed
and framed. The worn and poor Mexican village, with its ratty
combination of religious iconography and tacky pop culture,
is given a kind of faded dignity.
Sadly, this is far more than can be said of the filmmaker’s
depiction of Mexicans themselves. Though Hess has seemingly
taken some cinematography cues from Wes Anderson, he’s taken
none of the respect that other director has for his eccentric
characters. The accusations that have been made of this flick’s
racism are pretty much right on. If you’ve got nothing to
say, saying it in a Speedy Gonzalez voice doesn’t make it
funny—and it’s bound to piss off some Mexicans.
So, while Nacho Libre isn’t bad to look at, it’s just
horrible to watch.
Father, Like Son
Up With the Steins
by Scott Marshall
This mishmash of TV-comedy shtick, intergenerational melodrama,
hoary cliché and—surprise—the occasional moment of genuine
sentiment or religious insight is, at least, brief. Keeping
Up With the Steins clocks in at under 90 minutes, which
is still time enough to make you wish you never heard of a
bar mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony in which a boy becomes a
man. Speaking as a sympathetic gentile, the Jews deserve better
As the title suggests, Hollywood agent Adam Fiedler (Jeremy
Piven, nicer than on Entourage) feels highly competitive
with his ex-business partner Arnie Stein (Larry Miller). So
when the Steins put on a half-million dollar bar mitzvah for
their kid, Fiedler goes a little crazy over his son Ben’s
(Daryl Sabara) incipient manhood ceremony, and, for starters,
rents Dodger Stadium for the after-temple party.
There’s some comic potential in this: Piven can be funny,
and comedian Miller can play obnoxious as well as anyone.
But this remains mostly unexplored, as it soon becomes clear
that Keeping Up With the Steins should really have
been called Growing Up With the Fiedlers. The film
is narrated by Ben, and falls quickly into familiar “family
dramedy” territory with the arrival of the clan’s long-estranged
patriarch, Irwin (Garry Marshall). There’s bonding and laughter
and tears and bonding and laughter and tears. As they say
on a shampoo bottle, “rinse and repeat.”
This is too bad, because those scenes in which Ben struggles
to understand what the ceremony means—what it means, in a
larger sense, to be a Jew—are interesting. Richard Benjamin
has a nice part as a self-satisfied rabbi who, prodded by
grandpa Irwin, realizes he’s not doing everything he could
to foster Ben’s spirituality. But, like most movies, spirituality
is shunted aside almost as quickly as it is introduced; better
to spend more time making fun of Irwin’s much-younger gal
pal Sandy (Daryl Hannah) for her new-age beliefs.
Most of the rest of the picture is a hackneyed mess, enacted
by a first-class cast with greater care than it deserves.
Maybe the elder Marshall should send his director son, Scott
Marshall, back to Hebrew school for a refresher course. It
might focus his sitcom-addled mind.