Monthly Archives: April 2011

Movie Review: Roger & Me

I will admit that when I first started watching “Roger & Me,” I had no intention of writing a review of it. After all, it is a film I’m watching for a class in order to write an essay about it. However, maybe somewhere around the bunny murder scene, I felt there was just no way I couldn’t review it.

“Roger & Me” is the first film Michael Moore ever made. It’s also his most personal, and it might just be his best. It’s before he became extremely fixated at his own image and was focused more on actually trying to commit an act of social justice through film.

“Roger & Me” focuses on Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan. The town was once the prosperous center of America’s auto industry until General Motors CEO Roger Smith decided to shut down Flint’s plant and move all of those jobs overseas. The town soon became one of the poorest in America and suffered from problems such as homelessness, eviction, and violent crime. Moore’s main goal was to track Smith town and have him spend a day with Flint’s laid off auto workers. Of course, Smith doesn’t budge, and the film because something much more interesting: a documentary about trying to get an interview, and a look at the dangerous effects of globalization.

Michael Moore is one of the most polarizing filmmakers working today. Many have accused him of twisting reality in order to make his point in “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Some accusations are true, and others are highly politicized. The great thing about “Roger & Me” is that Moore never really takes any overt political standpoint. He is simply telling a human story from the perspective of someone who has actually been effected by the issue at hand. As someone who grew up in Flint, Moore must’ve realized he had an obligation to tell this story and tell it right. He certainly did just that.

The story of “Roger & Me” doesn’t get old thanks to Moore’s entertaining and energetic approach to such depressing subject matter. Moore’s emerging sarcastic voice is present here, as well as his pop culture prowess. Moore is always making connections and finding interesting new ways to make his enemies look ridiculous.

All joking aside, Moore crafts a vision of American poverty that’s something like a modern version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” The images of the now abandoned downtown Flint are a haunting vision of the American Dream gone wrong. Even more disturbing are scenes of a sheriff evicting people from their homes on Christmas and a woman who has to make her living off killing rabbits. Moore has no shame in showing us what she does in graphic detail.

“Roger & Me” remains startlingly relevant to this day. Two decades later, the film’s message on how globalization endangers American jobs still sticks. With Detroit’s continued problems due to the decline of car manufacturing in the city, it makes you wonder why people didn’t actually pay attention to the fall of Flint.

Had Moore gotten his interview with Roger Smith, the film would’ve been powerful, yet not as strong. It’s funny how Moore was able to get more accomplished by not completing his goal. But seriously, what could Smith had said that would’ve made GM look any better or worse? By not getting this interview, Moore made the entire company look both heartless and out of touch. With “Roger & Me,” Moore shows that the most powerful documentaries are the ones that let the subjects embarrass themselves.

Movie Review: Your Highness

Wait just a minute. Am I watching the latest comedy by David Gordon Green, or a new installment of “Lord of the Rings”? No, this is just “Your Highness,” the latest film from the budding comedic mind of David Gordon Green and his usual comedic team. Seeing as this is his latest stoner comedy, and he is also the director of “Pineapple Express,” I have just one question: where is the weed? More on that in a bit.

I could explain the whole story of “Your Highness,” but you’ll enjoy it better if you just think about the concept, and not every little plot detail. “Your Highness” takes place in some medieval kingdom where everyone’s accents are a little bit British, and a little bit Elvish. The king has two sons: the strong, noble Fabious (James Franco), and the constantly lazy, always stoned Thadeous (Danny McBride), who has yet to enter into the real world. Then one day, Thadeous is called on a mission to save his brother’s bride (Zooey Deschanel), and on their mission, they also meet Natalie Portman.
Maybe this sounds weird for a film that has a joke about a minotaur erection, but “Your Highness” could have had Shakespearian potential to it. Now, I am not saying it could have been as intelligent or witty as anything Shakespeare ever wrote, but I just believe the people behind it could have made a satire that is a little more, well, sophisticated. Seriously, after a while, a certain amount of gay jokes can become tiresome.
By saying this, I hope I’m not just sounding like some humorless, stuck-up film critic because honestly, a lot of this movie is very funny. People often dismiss jokes concerning bodily functions as dumb humor. Yet, if you do something funny with a gross joke, rather than just let it sit there, it becomes legitimately funny.
However, the problem with “Your Highness” is that those are really the only jokes the movie has. I expected much more from the team that made the smartest stoner comedy I’ve ever seen: “Pineapple Express.” In “Pineapple Express,” humor was found in the action, characters, and the concept itself. This is such a funny and original concept and yet, not enough of the ridiculousness of it was put to good use. While McBride is an excellent comedic actor, he just might not be as strong of a writer as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are.
All of the actors in the film do their best, yet none of them can really reach their full potentials because of the writing. James Franco plays the role pretty much exactly as you’d expect him to. While McBride does great work in supporting roles, he is becoming a much better comedic leading man. His role here is pretty similar to his role as Kenny Powers in “Eastbound and Down”: a cocky, spoiled burnout with a lot of bad habits. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman, while a great screen presence as always, could have had a bit more comedy in her role. They basically wrote her as the straight-faced woman warrior, when I wish her performance was a little more like this.

The main problem with “Your Highness” is that it’s too timid to create humor in the unexpected. A lot of it seems forced, and not enough of it seems loose and free flowing. Therefore, it doesn’t feel like a true stoner comedy. When you’re trying to mix humor with dragons and knights, you shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the weirdness of your subject. Just think about the ending of “Role Models,” or the entirety of “Paul.” “Your Highness” never finds that proper balance between paying tribute and making fun of the subject it satirizes.

Also, the idea of this being a stoner comedy is more of a marketing ploy than an actual truth. That illegal plant that makes you giggle a lot is barely a presence in the film.

Am I maybe not getting “Your Highness”? Could another viewing change my opinion of the film? It took a while for critics and the general public to fully understand “Pineapple Express.” However, when I watched “Pineapple Express” for the first time, I realized there was just too much hidden in it for it to be fully appreciated after just one viewing. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that same attachment with “Your Highness.”

Lamenting the Death of Sidney Lumet

Upon first hearing his name, it doesn’t immediately hit the familiarity aspect of directors like Scorsese or Kubrick. Yet Sidney Lumet, who died today at age 86, reached an unparalleled greatness throughout a career that lasted over 50 years.

Throughout his career, Lumet made some of the most intense character pieces of all time. He also helped direct some of the greatest actors to their best performances. He began his career with a film you may have heard of: “12 Angry Men.” Lumet turned a gripping play into a gripping film, and showed his earliest instances of being able to use small spaces to create the most gripping tension you’ll ever feel.
One of Lumet’s other great examples of spacial tension was 1975′s “Dog Day Afternoon.” Perhaps the standard for all films about heists gone wrong, “Dog Day Afternoon” is still one of the great character-driven thrillers to come out of the 1970s. Without “Dog Day Afternoon,” I wouldn’t have an excuse to shout “Attica! Attica!” to random strangers on the street (not that I ever do that…). “Dog Day Afternoon” also marked one of his great films he made with Al Pacino, the other being 1973′s “Serpico.”
Perhaps Lumet’s greatest achievement was “Network.” “Network” is a little bit funny, and a little bit frightening. Some might wonder how Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky were able to predict the modern nightmare of cable news in 1976. I guess you could attribute it to a little bit of undefinable cinematic magic. “Network” remains to this day one of the smartest satires I’ve ever seen. The line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is still the perfect anthem for those dissatisfied with the powers that be.
Even though Lumet certainly made some duds throughout his career, his greatest hits certainly make up for them. Not to mention, he was one of the most fruitful directors working, making films until he was in his 80s. Few directors could get such good performances out of so many actors and just direct to absolute perfection.
To those who aren’t passionate fans of film, his name will not immediately ring a bell, but once you watch one of his films, you will never forget him.