My Pet Goat: Bush in Fahrenheit 9/11.
by Michael Moore
Lefty bomb-thrower Michael Moore has reined in his usual self-promoting,
bombastic instincts and made a very funny, often vicious and
surprisingly thoughtful attack on George W. Bush, the Bush
family, members of the Bush administration, Congress and numerous
others who acquiesced to or profited from everything that’s
happened since Sept. 11, 2001. Fahrenheit 9/11 is one-third
in the manner of Noam Chomsky, and two-thirds in the manner
of the famous attack on Grover Cleveland (for fathering an
illegitimate kid): “Hey ma, where’s pa, gone to the White
House haw haw haw!”
Moore leads us back through the last four years, and it’s
a painful journey. From the stolen election through the salad
days of the Bush presidency, it’s comedy tinged with anger.
From Sept. 11 through the Iraq war, comedy becomes rage, which
then gives way to something somber and—God help me—almost
heartfelt. The fact that Michael Moore is responsible for
this is amazing.
Our president, Bush the Younger, is presented throughout as
a tongue-tied, unreflective moron. Some call this unfair.
I disagree. Based on his public speeches and other appearances,
it is perfectly valid as an arguing point: Even if he’s not
really a moron, Bush rarely betrays the slightest hint of
intellectual effort. Nothing distracts him: not the protesters
who pelt his limo with eggs and nearly shut down the inaugural
parade (“Forgot about that one, didn’t you?” Moore seems to
be saying), nor the unwanted facts presented by his terrorism
czar that point to Al Qaeda, not Iraq, as the force behind
The issue, really, is indifference. By the time our president
interacts with the rest of us, all his thinking is done. A
deeply religious man, he’s talked everything over with God
and Dick Cheney, and is certain of his course of action. He’s
not going to debate anything, he’s just going to make a pronouncement.
As Bush says, raising his golf club after a passionate exhortation
against terrorism, “Now watch this drive!” (It’s one of the
many funny but terrifying moments in the film.)
Michael Moore has to know all this, but is cagey enough to
recognize that connecting the dots between Bush’s unwavering
belief that God is blessing the war and his policies might
offend some of those Moore is trying to persuade. Better to
present the president as a mere simpleton, rather than a God-informed
Moore brings the film to a powerful climax by highlighting
certain unpleasant truths about war, class and race. Going
back to his home town of Flint, Mich.—a place even more miserable
now than it was at the time of Moore’s 1987 film Roger
and Me—he shows us how the poor (white, black and brown),
with few other options, sign up for the military. And, through
the life of one multicultural family, how these same futureless
kids die for the rest of us. Then he takes us to a “conference,”
where rich and (mostly) white folks have a delicious menu
of subcontracting options to choose from in the Iraq war.
They piously praise the troops while drooling at the public
teat. These blood-drenched greedheads can’t help themselves,
and it’s not a pretty sight.
I was already in the anti-Bush camp, so Moore’s preaching
went over well with me. There’s enough power and fact in his
argument, however, that I can’t help but think that Fahrenheit
9/11 will make a few converts.
by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Most everyone who has seen The Bear remembers, in particular,
one scene. The cub, threatened by a predator, rears up and
gives a plaintive would-be roar. Amazingly, the predator skedaddles
. . . at which time the camera pans back to show us the real
reason for such easy surrender: the cub’s surrogate mamma
bear, risen to full battle mode. Despite the warm-cuddly this
scene gave filmgoers, however, it underscored a crucial problem
with The Bear, that for all its respect of nature,
it was a tad anthropomorphic.
With his newest take on the animal kingdom, Two Brothers,
Annaud somehow avoids the cutesy, and delivers an amazingly
rich, often complex tale of animal survival amid the encroachment
of human civilization and the attentions—sometimes well-meaning,
oftentimes not—of man. Tiger cubs Sangha and Kumal (they are
actually named later on, but for reasons of plot description,
I’ll refer to them as such right away) enjoy an idyllic existence
with their parents in the jungles of Cambodia, until the desire
for ancient relics drives big game hunter Aidan McRory (Guy
Pearce) to their midst, a meeting that proves fatal for one
family member and portentous for Kumal. Meanwhile, the French
colonial administrator (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) arranges a staged
safari for the effete Prince (Oanh Nguyen) who controls his
political destiny, and in the process, son Raoul (Freddie
Highmore) uncovers baby Sangha.
Over the next year, the fates of the two cubs are wildly uncertain,
as Aidan is imprisoned, and Raoul’s parents give Sangha, after
he understandably mauls their annoying little dog, to the
Prince for keep in his “menagerie.” All manner of human cruelty
is witnessed, most obviously by the circus keepers (Vincent
Scarito and Moussa Maaskri), who aren’t above selling an animal’s
hide for a quick buck, as well as by natives who happily sell
out one party to the next, again, for monetary gain. It’s
as if the tigers can’t get away from man’s innate greed, whether
in the jungle or enclosed in a cage in a golden palace.
It might sound like the type of movie that’s easy to groan
and roll one’s eyes at—OK, I get it, man bad, animal good.
But it’s never really that simple, even when faced with the
fact that while more than 100,000 tigers roamed the Earth
a century ago, now, because of man’s quest for “progress”
and prizes, there are fewer than 5,000. Many of the human
characters of Two Brothers are complex, as are their
rationales for why they do what they do. McRory, in particular,
has always believed that by hunting wild animals, he is protecting
populations, while, of course, earning a lucrative living.
His Vietnamese guide (Mai Anh Le) esteems the Buddhist relics
that McRory plunders, but encourages him to go after the tigers
that have harmed her people, including her legless brother.
Even the Prince seems conflicted, revealing a hidden soft
side that he feels he must overcompensate for, in order to
be accepted as great a ruler as was his revered and feared
father. As for the more sympathetic character, Raoul, his
kindness and love to Sangha can be seen as a form of cruelty,
in that he is preventing the tiger from learning to live on
his own, in his natural habitat. Such complexities compel
the viewer to engage in this movie in a way that is much different
from, and far deeper than, say, Bambi.
And then there are Sangha and Kumal. Actually, 30 tigers were
used in the course of filming, with a little computer generation
thrown in, although where I happily can’t even begin to guess.
(All of the close-ups are of the “real” Sangha and Kumal.)
Annaud takes great time in developing the characters of these
animals, without resorting to voice-overs or too-cute moments,
but in simply allowing the camera to portray them for long
moments, at rest, at play, asleep and in danger. The sheer
beauty of these felines is magnificent enough, but to get
this glimpse into their lives is nothing short of thrilling.
At times while watching Two Brothers, I had the uneasy
feeling that there was simply no way that a happy ending could
be achieved. The odds were too daunting, the chances so grim,
and I mentally tried to prepare a “Well, that’s what it’s
like in a nature” speech to deliver my heartbroken kids when
the movie ended. Without giving anything away, suffice it
to say that the characters’ particular triumphs are remarkable,
and rooted for, and yet cannot be cheered without the acknowledgement
that it is only a matter of time before something, most likely
man, gets to them.
Tear Too Many
by Nick Cassavetes
Notebook, a love story set in both past and present, is
adapted from the Nicholas Sparks novel, and like previous
Sparks adaptations (Message in a Bottle, A Walk
to Remember), the entire plot runs on sap. Nick Cassavetes,
once an edgy auteur (She’s So Lovely) is true to Sparks’
soft-focus nostalgia and gushing sentiment, while his sincere
direction tactfully ignores the simpering dialogue and thin-as-chiffon
character development. What the film does have going for it
is a prettified but unflinching long view of the “after” part
of the happily-ever-after equation.
The notebook is a handwritten love story that Duke (James
Garner) reads to his sweetheart (Gena Rowlands), who is losing
her memory to Alzheimer’s. Duke has a worsening heart condition,
and they reside in the same nursing home. The story is about
Noah (indie darling Ryan Gosling) and Allie (starlet of the
moment Rachel McAdams), who meet in the early 1940s. Allie’s
family, a scion of Charleston society, is summering in the
backwoods of North Carolina, where she meets Noah, a laborer
in a lumber mill. Noah gets her attention by crashing her
Ferris Wheel ride; he dangles by his hands from a wheel bar
until she agrees to go out with him. After agreeing, she pulls
down his pants. This proves that he is reckless and she is
spirited. For their first date, Noah coaxes her into lying
down on Main Street with him. This indicates that they are
falling crazy in love, and also that there was once a time
when cars were an infrequent sight in small towns.
But since The Notebook is largely about nostalgia,
the cars are all mint-condition classics in fabulous colors.
And the clothes are exquisitely fetching, from Allie’s checked
bolero jacket to Noah’s rakish flat cap. The couple go to
the pictures, swing on a rope over a swimming hole, and kiss
on his front porch in a veritable parade of 1940s Life
magazine photo spreads. In fact, the art direction creates
its own longing, one that almost overpowers the longing of
the two lovers, who’ve been distilled to the barest traits
of personality. Excitable Allie squeals a lot; taciturn Noah
shuffles during long silences a lot. With only sketchy and
contrived material to work with, the two young leads have
to rely on their own charisma to generate heat. For the radiantly
cinematic McAdams it’s as easy as a summer breeze to convince
the audience of her allure. Gosling, however, goes blank when
he should be smoldering.
Allie’s snooty parents disapprove, of course, especially her
prim, controlling mother (Joan Allen, a refreshingly tart
presence amid the niceties). “They’re trash!” she imperiously
opines to Allie, referring to Noah and his literate, middle-class
father (Sam Shepard). Allie is duly packed off to Sarah Lawrence.
Then World War II breaks out, seemingly for no other reason
than so Noah can watch his best friend get killed and thus
return home a changed man. Believing that Noah has forgotten
her—apparently, only her mother picks up the mail—Allie becomes
engaged to the dashing heir to a cotton fortune (James Marsden).
In the film’s most unnecessary plop of saccharine, the droning
narration informs us that Noah’s face flashed before her eyes
at the very moment she said yes.
Will true love triumph over rarefied social distinctions and
a million-dollar income gap? As is usually the case when inherited
wealth gives one of the suitors an unfair advantage, the underdog
rapidly closes the gap, and Noah is no exception. He renovates
an old mansion to build furniture in, and though the film
doesn’t stoop to showing him selling his furniture—preferring
more picturesque montages such as his heartbroken rowboating
on a lonely lake—we can assume that he’s making a bundle from
his Pottery Barn-like home furnishings.
Meanwhile in the present, Duke’s sweetheart begins to recognize
the story, and the audience is let in on the unsurprising
fact that she is his wife, Allie. As Cassavetes delicately
maneuvers for a three-hankie ending, Garner and Rowlands conduct
themselves with becoming dignity. Garner, God bless him, even
gives The Notebook what the greeting-card script and
air-brushed cinematography fail to deliver: A show of genuine