Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My week at the movies

Or make that week and a half….Let’s start with one of the most unreported/un-reviewed films currently at the cinema. That happens to be Dinesh D' Souza's America: Imagine the World Without Her. It’s not surprising the film has been little commented upon, at least in the mainstream media, because conservative-oriented films – the paucity of them there are - tend to be grossly ignored when not disparaged (9% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes though 89% of the audience liked it). That’s not the case of course for left wing films, the best example of which are Michael Moore’s documentaries. It’s a shame and doesn’t say a lot about how our media culture encourages open discussion and exchange of ideas. Even if you don’t agree with D’Souza his films generate decent box office returns. His first 2016: Obama’s America (2012) is the second highest grossing political doc ever made after Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, and America by its second weekend this month is the seventh highest grossing political documentary ever. The films together are a singular antidote to the almost entirely liberal-oriented documentaries and even fictional films that come out of Hollywood and the indie cinema. Is one conservative filmmaker that threatening? Invariably mainstream critics dismiss D’Souza as spewing patriotic and hackneyed drivel. I don’t agree but even then why review so many other types of film – from the sexually raunchy and plot-challenged to the truly good. They get their day in critics’ court but not D’Souza (22 reviews in RT vs. 221 for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) …..In any case, a brief synopsis: D’Souza takes on the well-tread allegations against the United States as articulated by prominent left wing ideologues. These include that America was founded upon genocide of native people, that the United States stole half of Mexico, that capitalism is an immoral economic system, and that America is an imperialist war-mongering nation. Go and judge for yourself.

Last Thursday I took myself to the Main Art for a double bill: 1) Paul Haggis’s Third Person, with a great cast (Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, James Franco and Kim Basinger). Three stories. Three complicated sets of relationships. I’m not sure what Haggis was getting at in each story – beyond the purely superficial - or how the stories interconnect as they supposedly do. But the teeming street scenes – seemingly rare in cinema these days – in Paris and Rome, were great, as was the soundtrack. 2) Begin Again, John Carney of Once (2007) fame, goes to New York and casts Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, in another musical standout of a film. Ruffalo, a burnt-out record producer, discovers low key and principled Knightley, and professionally courts her to record with him. The best scenes are the live performances in various outdoor NYC locales, and the music is terrific.

Then back at home, I caught another double bill on DVD: David Cronenberg’s 2007 Eastern Promises with Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl. This depiction of the “Russian Mafia” in London is a pedestrian crime story and well beneath Cronenberg’s respected past efforts. I don’t know how many times I checked to see how many minutes were left of running time……And then there was Norman Panama’s 1969 How to Commit Marriage starring Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason and Jane Wyman. They don’t make movies like this anymore, with one line singers flying everywhere in a send-up of marriage, divorce and the then emerging hippie culture. Examples: “You know I never noticed when we were married but you’re fairly attractive”, and “we’re having a friendly divorce: she and her lawyers are friends.” Sparks fly between Gleason, a money-grubbing record company exec, and Hope as a schlock realtor. And transcendental meditation, the era’s rage, comes in for a drubbing in the caricature of “Baba Ziba,” as phony as a three dollar bill. This is the only movie Hope and Gleason starred in together and among these great comedians’ last.

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