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These films run in unending, 100,000-year showings in Hell. All those responsible for these productions -- both cast and crew -- are chained in their seats and forced to watch continuously what they have made. This is only the beginning of their punishment...
True Colors (1991)
I wanted to like this movie...
I love good political movies. And I can see what they're trying to do with 'True Colors.' It's definitely ambitious, I'll give you that. But ultimately, I felt like this film just couldn't pull it off.
The writing and dialogue were incredibly contrived. I mean, some of Ibsen's dialogue feels more natural than this. Also, every scene was a distracting and incredibly bizarre set piece, which they pretended to include in some casual, off-hand way, as if to suggest what rich and powerful people do with their free time: from a skiing holiday, to schmoozing with politicos at Super Bowl XXIII in Miami, to sport fishing off the back of a yacht. It felt like they were just plucking ideas from old episodes of that ridiculous show 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.' I'm surprised they didn't throw in a scene with characters chatting while on an African big-game safari in Tanzania.
Even though I love both actors, at their young ages in these roles Cusack and Spader were playing above their weight class. They looked more like little boys playing dress-up and pretending to be adults.
Imogen Coot or Stubble or Stubbly or Whatever was *horrible*. Her 'American' accent was literally all over the place, to the point that they had to add a line about boarding school in England to try to excuse it. Her 'acting' was atrocious.
The only thing that kept me mildly intrigued were the oodles of homoerotic overtones (whether intentional or not) that seemed to pop up in so many scenes between Cusack and Spader. The writers apparently didn't know how to show us that these guys were really close friends, and they ended up writing scenes that just look incredibly embarrassing today. (Unless they included the whole secret gay subtext on purpose.)
Someone on the message boards jokingly labeled this movie 'Brokeback Capitol!' (Hahahaha!) -- I *wish*. Just take Imogen Idiot out of the middle of it, and let our two young heroes struggle with their secret love affair vs. their conflicting political ambitions. *That* actually would have been a better movie.
Finally, it's a little sad that this was the final role of the great Richard Widmark. At least we know that when he got to yell at young James Spader for being such a cocky little sunnabitch, he probably didn't have to work too hard at it.
Salt Water Taffy.
That tens of thousands of dollars were spent, film crew and equipment dragged across the entire planet, only to produce something as insubstantial as this piece of empty eye-candy is rather amazing. Especially when one considers that it pretends to address some of the most crucial environmental issues facing the world in the near future.
Hopping and skipping from one place to the next, cutting off stories and interviews right in the middle while never getting to the bottom of any single issue it raises, "Watermark" informs very little. The viewer is left still thirsty for something truly informative. Worse, it's actually boring after a while.
In the end, this is simply a watered-down slideshow. Which is a tragedy, really, considering how truly serious are all the issues involved.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to re-watch Baichwal and Burtynsky's 2006 film "Manufactured Landscapes," to decide if perhaps I was wrong to give it such a high rating.
Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)
The Greatest Movie Never Made
This documentary tells the story of director Alejandro Jodorowsky's unfinished masterpiece: his attempt to produce a film adaptation of Frank Herbert's sprawling science-fiction novel 'Dune' in the mid-1970s -- a project which was never completed, in part because it collapsed under the weight of the director's incredibly ambitious vision for the movie. It was to have been a larger-than-life epic, as grand as Stanley Kubrick's '2001.'
All that survives of Jodorowsky's 'Dune' are the script, storyboards, and concept artwork. Using these, combined with talking-heads interviews of those involved, the documentary tries to show us how the finished film would have looked.
What makes all this so captivating are the interviews with Jodorowsky himself, and his incredible passion as he recounts the tale of an unfinished project from 40 years ago. Entering into Jodorowsky's world is like falling into a visionary dream where anything and everything is possible. And as his vision progresses, it becomes more and more ambitious: Salvador Dalì, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles agree to star. Dan O'Bannon and H.R. Giger will design the sets and costumes. Pink Floyd will provide the score. It's hard to imagine a more ambitious movie, considering the technical limitations of the time.
Yet, as the documentary shows, the ripples from this never-completed, ahead-of-its-time film spread out in many directions, inspiring different ideas that made their way into later films such as 'Star Wars' and 'Alien' -- and which continue to inspire filmmakers today.
The Insider (1999)
Re-watching 'The Insider'
I distinctly remember seeing 'The Insider' for the first time in an old traditional theater on the main city square of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, sometime in early 2000. I'm sure I went back to see it a second time while it was still showing there.
I know I must have seen it several times more since then, because I can remember almost every important line from the movie. But re-watching it now, it still amazes me with its freshness, intensity, and artistry. The camera work and shots are surprising, and really caught my attention this time: the extreme closeups, the contrasts between light and shadow, as well as between the extreme focus and blurry parts of the shots.
'The Insider' was a commercial failure. A flop. It lost at least $30 million for Touchstone Pictures and Disney (the film's distributor and the bigger studio behind Buena Vista Pictures). The film also didn't win any Oscars (it was nominated for 7) but was beat out in every category that year by 'American Beauty' -- by comparison, an inferior, over-hyped picture. And so 'The Insider' -- a movie with a serious grown-up story about a real-life issue with the most serious implications; a story touching on health, business and the news media; a complex film for thinking adults couldn't attract audiences to the theater, without any shootouts, car chases, or explosions.
It also happens to be Michael Mann's best film, for all the reasons just mentioned. Everyone involved rises to the occasion and is great in this: Bruce McGill, Diane Venora, Michael Gambon, Mister Philip Baker Hall, Gina Gershon, Colm Feore. And the major players have some of the best roles of their careers, playing real-life figures. Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace: smug, vain, and yet crotchety. Russell Crowe as Jeffrey Wigand: an anal, worried, stand-offish but tormented witness, trapped somewhere between his conscience and his comfort; his anger and resentment and the stable family life he once had. And Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman: the driven, self-righteous crusader for the freedom of the press, who has built a career seeing himself as the insatiable hound hunting after the truth -- And damn the consequences! (Best Pacino-as-reporter line: "Everything interests me.")
Watching it now, supposedly from the moral-high-horse perspective of a smug ex-smoker, is also new for me. I started smoking -- like most young idiots -- to look cool. Which was something I learned at least partially from images of smoking I saw in the movies. The media image of smoking on screen seemed to communicate something adult, sophisticated, mysterious, cool all the things that I wanted to be.... I was a heavy smoker over a period of about 18 years (on and off, quitting for at least 2 of those years). I smoked hundreds of packs, thousands of cigarettes in that time: Marlboro Reds, Gitanes Blondes, Gauloises Bleus, Marlboro 'Lights.' I only quit (this time, hopefully the last time) about a year ago. I am almost 43 years old. Statistically, this means I will probably die of some later medical problem related to those years I spent smoking. Fully 1/2 of smokers now living and smoking will die from smoking-related illnesses. Fifty per cent. Take a coin out of your pocket and flip it. Call it: heads you live, tails you die.
I was smoking away years of my life, deliberately ignoring reality. I think about these things, too, as I re-watch this film.
It's only right that Hollywood tries to even the score a little in this case. It would take another six years before the comedy 'Thank You for Smoking' appeared, in 2005. Two films: that's it. Two movies in the entire one-hundred-year history of cinema. Only two films to question the deadliest drug ever shown on film -- as opposed to the sanitized, idealized, romanticized version shown in thousands of films, over more than a hundred years. Another thing to think about as you watch 'The Insider.'
Entertaining Documentary That Offers Insight Into Today's Media
Morton Downey, Jr. was a kind of real-life Howard Beale (the mad-as-hell crazy anchorman from the 1976 classic "Network"), and his meteoric rise and fall parallels that of another fictional populist TV personality: "Lonesome" Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith in Elia Kazan's under-rated 1957 movie "A Face in the Crowd." But this story really happened, and Mort really existed.
Downey's New Jersey-based talk show was only on the air for two years, from 1988 to 1989. So why is he important? Why watch a documentary about a talk show that ran for just two years, 25 years ago? Understanding this story can help us understand how we got the media we have today.
Journalist William Greider called it Rancid Populism. This was the appeal of the Republican Party starting as far back as Nixon. The party posed as the voice of the "Silent Majority," the disaffected common man, while in reality it appealed to the angry, white working class who jumped ship from the Democratic Party following the Civil Rights movement.
White working-class people felt "their" country was going down the tubes, and they were partly right. There was a lot to be unhappy about: de-industrialization leading to the decline of manufacturing and the rise of the Rust Belt (go watch "Detropia" for that); the decline of working peoples' wages and the rapid growth of inequality and creation of a new Gilded Age in America. Politicians like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. were all better at tapping into this anger than the Democrats, making Republicans seem like the party of Joe Sixpack and Joe the Plumber -- instead of the party of Big Business, Big Money, and Wall Street (which is ultimately what both major parties became).
The Republicans also understood the marketing of this message better than the Democrats: tap into people's hatred of "the Government" and make the Dems synonymous with Big Government. (How many times already have we heard conservative politicians running for office who say they hate government? Then why run?)
The early 90s was when the right-wing Big Media really started up in earnest (what former conservative pundit David Brock has called "The Republican Noise Machine"). Rush Limbaugh, for example, got his start during the Clinton presidency. The Fox News Channel itself also started during the Clinton years, in 1996. Both were part of a generalized conservative backlash against a Democrat in the White House.
And this tactic of right-wing populism continues to work today (especially with another Democratic president to attack), and is bigger business than ever -- with billionaire Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel going strong, the Koch brothers' successful Tea Party movement, and all those TV and radio hosts like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity who are paid tens of millions of dollars to tell us they're speaking up for the "little guy."
Morton Downey, Jr. helped lead the way to this kind of TV "news" or "journalism," even if his show appears obvious and amateurish compared to the slick format and presentation we see today. But a figure like Bill O'Reilly, in particular, owes a tremendous debt to Downey's confrontational, damn-the-torpedoes style of doing "news" and interviews. At the same time trash-talk-show hosts like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich also partly owe their style of crazed three-ring-circuses to Mort. Even the Reverend Al Sharpton, perpetual African-American leader and professional racial ambulance-chaser, owes a debt to Mort, appearing on his show frequently during its short run.
The friendship between Sharpton and Downey (briefly shown in the film) offers a clue to the truth behind the image: Mort didn't really believe what he said on the air. Or maybe he did. Anyway, it really didn't matter: it was all just for ratings. Working the crowd into a frenzy, yelling at his guests, having a fight break out in the middle of the show -- Downey knew this was what made for great TV . . . or, at least, it got people's attention. (Most certainly, this is also the case of Bill O'Reilly today: he's a showman who stumbled onto a sure thing; about as authentic as a TV preacher.)
At the time, Downey was hated and judged by the "respectable" media. But give 'em a few years, and they'll come around: trash-talk-shows, "reality" shows like "Jersey Shore," Rush, Billy-O, "To Catch a Predator," etc. It's the race to the bottom, the lowest-common denominator, anything in the name of ratings. Entertainment, Infotainment, "News." Who cares if we believe it? Who cares if it's true? He who yells the loudest wins.
Mort's show was like an (un-)controlled experiment in pushing the TV talk-show format to its absolute limit, right up to the breaking point -- supposedly in the name of some Archie-Bunker, knee-jerk reactionary-conservative populism that Mort himself didn't even really believe in. Yet, people ate it up, it made him a star and a working-class "hero" almost overnight, and it set the stage for a lot what came later in TV "news" and opinion shows. That's why you should watch this movie.