Sunday, January 22, 2006

Movie Notes

I've been on a political conspiracy movie kick as of late. Not that this is out of the ordinary for me... but these happen to have been very excellent flicks that I want to recommend and reflect upon here.

The movies in question are The Constant Gardener, Munich, and Syriana. I just purchased The Constant Gardener on DVD, and saw Munich and Syriana in theaters. And yes before any conservatives start complaining about the obvious lefty-pinko-anti-corporate slant here, I'd just like to say I haven't heard the release date for Rush Limbaugh's response films. So until the day comes that the political thriller market is more fair and balanced, I'll stick with what we have.

The Constant Gardener left me asking if director Fernando Meirelles could ever go wrong. City of God, his first film, was incredible. Constant Gardener was far less violent, but Meirelles camera work really came through. I particularly like a scene in the beginning of the movie where Rachel Weitz's character confronts Ralph Feinnes, playing the British diplomat Justin Quayle, on his government's Iraq War policy. They are in a room of political activists and diplomats when Weitz levels a well-reasoned attack. She then slips into peacenik talking points and shout-down techniques that leave the audience groaning. The scene ends with everyone slowly peeling out of the room, as if quietly leaving her side, refusing to side with her anymore.

I think the point was timely, seeing as the film was released this past summer. Basically, I think this scene reflects the sentiment that the time to bitch about the war and pass it off as debate is long gone. People don't want to hear you bitch about the reasons for going to war anymore. We know it was wrong. Obviously fighting a war based on false pretenses and lies was not enough of an accountability issue for Americans to get Bush out of office. That's when the real bitching needed to go on. But now we're stuck with the motherfucker, so it's time to ask "What are we going to do to get our boys out of there and not leave a civil war in our wake?" This scene was a very small part of a movie not at all related to the war in Iraq, but I thought it was an interesting choice to throw into the film.

Munich was a very solid, very well-made film as well. I mean one can lose faith in Spielberg real quick when winners like A.I. and War of the Worlds get thrown at the masses as master works from a master filmmaker. Munich makes you ask, "How the hell did Spielberg make War of the Worlds?" So think about the Schindler's List Spielberg, not the E.T. Spielberg. This movie is packed with Palestine-Israel and Cold War insights, and gives us some very good points on terrorism and homeland. "Home is everything," says one of the characters. It's a pretty good way to sum up an entire 60 year conflict in three words. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Syriana... well, I mean there was some good stuff going on here. However, it didn't really close very well. It kind of left me saying, "That's it? That's the end?" I honestly didn't see the build-up, or climax or anything... Besides I really don't like Steven Soderbergh. I think he's kind of a tool, and I really hope his film on Che (soon to be released) bombs. If you want to see a good movie about Che that doesn't preach communism, but paints a beautiful picture of a person finding his life's calling, The Motorcycle Diaries is a much better flick. But that's beside the point.

I really would have liked to see a lot more out of George Clooney's character (based on CIA Agent Robert Baer) and seen the story of the mujahideen just removed. Soderbergh spent far too little time developing the terrorist Muslim school story, and instead relied clich├ęs and myths to get by. The young Muslim gets fired from his job in a big-oil merger that eliminates his plant. We're left assuming the typical terrorist is a disgruntled, unemployed, poor radical. It's just not true. Furthermore, we don't see the rhetoric used to indoctrinate these kids. We didn't see the personal connections that many times must be made between the leader and the student. We're just left assuming all the students are sheep and are just in the martyr line. Very poor job on this part of the movie.

But it was very good at being matter-of-fact about the influence of these companies on governments and the role of money in politics (you can barely hear it on a TV set in the background of one scene). We're not told these companies are blatantly evil to the core and see it as their main goal to slowly kill your family. It's money. Money makes people bend the rules. It's not an excuse or an apology, it just shows us that, hey, money talks and no businessman that wants to remain in business would deny that. Worth seeing, but hardly as good as Munich and The Constant Gardener.

That's about all I have on those. I'm always up for suggestions for more good movies, so let me have 'em.

UPDATE: Here's a good interview with Spielberg about Munich. Seems he has been taking heat from all political sides for this film. Not the kind of controversy Close Encounters was able to foment.

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