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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Forgivable and Fatal Flaws

I introduced CC Rider and some work friends to the double dip last weekend. We met down at the MegaloPlex and saw two new, highly regarded films (Juno and Charlie Wilson's War) for the price of a single ticket. We lost one little bird to exhaustion, but the core four stuck out the mini marathon.

Juno is full of self-conscious attempts at hipster cred. The first half of the movie hardly features a single straight line; everything is an exercise in cooler-than-thou slang. Ellen Page, as the titular Juno, attempts to topple Thora Birch from Ghost World (who had previously deposed Christina Ricci) for the Indie Goddess crown. She's an artist, she has strong opinions, she has an alienated humanitarian affect, she's into cool music and isn't afraid to wear black or tell grown-ups where to stick it. But had that been the point of the film, critics would have rolled their eyes instead of swooning.

The second half redeems the film's overexposed style. The supporting cast radiates human warmth. Michael Cera, playing the same character Michael Cera always plays, is so damn adorable that he could serial murder half of Ohio and everyone would still love him. Juno's parents and friends queue up winsome scene after scene, providing the safety net for Ellen Page to do her reckless rebellion act. But after strutting around like Holden Caulfield for the first half of the movie, Page has to expose all her vulnerability and pain in the second reel. I won't give you any spoilers, but this is where the movie shines... with a poignant ending that will almost make you believe in love again.

I walked out of Charlie Wilson's War feeling fully entertained. Both movies had flaws, but also strokes of genius. I generously gave both 4 stars out of 5. But something kept bugging me about CWW. The more I thought about it, the less comfortable I felt with its glibness.

Aaron Sorkin, also the engine behind The West Wing, wrote a smart, sexy script. It's full of political intrigue, back door dealings, and power plays settled more by wit than brute strength. We get the thrill ride of imagining a world where the history of the Cold War was being written by a drunken, womanizing Texan. And the film oozes better than average performances from a host of better than average actors (except Phillip Seymour Hoffman who I will not damn with faint praise; the man is outstanding.) Overall, there's a lot of fun to be had with this recipe.

This film suffers from an agonizing fatal flaw however. It does concede the point that America screwed up by not helping the Afghanis rebuild after their successful war against the Soviets... and even tries to tack on a touching ending where we see an increasingly red-eyed Charlie trying to convince political allies to spend a few million on building schools for the survivors in Afghanistan. But this is crap. Not because it isn't true... it IS true that 9/11 could have been prevented with an ounce of prevention in parts of the world that we exploit. And it's probably even true that Charlie Wilson advocated for those programs. It's crap because the film just spent two hours showing us how sexy and exciting warmongering can be. It just gave you an adrenaline ride about how deft political maneuvers lead to shooting down Russian assault helicopters... all while watching a rippling American flag in the background and feeling secure in the knowledge that the Russians were the evil empire.

This sort of tactic reminds me of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven... an epic warfare film that tries to make the point that war is bad. This feels hypocritical to me... don't try to tell me war is bad after titillating me with two hours of exciting battle footage. Similarly, Mr. Sorkin, don't try to tell me we should have a kinder, gentler foreign policy after showing me how exciting it is to engage the gears of war. You're a liar Mr. Sorkin, and I will destroy your movie by taking back one star. You reached for meaning without believing in that meaning yourself. Now your film can rot with all of Tom Hank's other films: In three star oblivion.



At 12/29/2007 09:33:00 AM, Blogger soapysteve said...

Healing: complete.

At 12/29/2007 09:02:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Surely you don't think that ripping movies indicates that emotional well-being!?

Bummerman comes out to play when I'm paralyzed with depression.

At 12/29/2007 09:34:00 PM, Blogger soapysteve said...

I often got the impression you were frustrated because someone close to you took it personally whenever Bummerman did come out to play. Natural and healthy as he may be, the old boy didn't play much in 2006. Last week you wrote a few paragraphs about stretching your wings. Part of that involves exercising negativity without looking over your shoulder.


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