By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
This assaultiveness recedes as Barry begins to break free from his anxiety, and -- as in all of Anderson's work -- the action slowly moves toward a plateau of calm acceptance. For all their surface darkness, his movies are shot through with a fierce, distinctively male romanticism; they're all about outcasts and loners seeking shelter, ersatz families, someone to watch over them. He clearly believes, or wants to believe, that the right woman is waiting for even the dorkiest guy. Here, Barry and Lena actually find each other and are rewarded with a glamorous silhouetted kiss against the backdrop of Waikiki Beach, beautifully captured, like the whole film, by Robert Elswit's exquisite wide-screen photography. While their story is not nearly as emotionally juicy as Anderson's other two pictures set in the 818 area code (Lena is more wish-fulfillment than full-blooded character), the movie winds up being his sunniest, for Anderson takes care to keep their love sweet, daffy and punch-drunk. This is a film in which that modern obsession, frequent-flier mileage, becomes proof of fidelity, and true intimacy is portrayed by a man telling his lover, "I'm sorry I beat up the bathroom." For Barry, love is ultimately less about giddiness than it is about finding relief.
ONE OF THE MOSQUITO-BITE IRRITAtions of being on the left is finding your ideals represented in public by Michael Moore, whose ball cap, burgeoning belly and self-promoting populism have made him an international brand name. When his documentary Bowling for Columbine played at Cannes this May, it was received with wild enthusiasm -- predictably so, for it seems to have been made to delight European intellectuals and anyone else who believes that America is a land of bloodthirsty yet comical barbarians.
Opening with a campy clip from an old NRA promo film, Bowling for Columbine purports to be Moore's personal quest for the meaning of American gun violence, an investigation that in fact finds him shambling around Colorado, Canada, L.A. and his old hometown of Flint, Michigan (he's a Manhattan boy now), and prompts him to interview everyone from Marilyn Manson to Michigan militiamen, to Kmart flacks, to one of the producers of Cops. Moore remains a gifted provocateur with a keen sense of absurdity as he demonstrates in the movie's funniest sequences -- like the one when he gets a free gun from a bank by signing up for a CD. Although he'd have made a crackerjack ad man, he's a slipshod filmmaker, and the movie quickly collapses, burying its subject beneath bumper-sticker rehashes of received ideas: the demonizing of black men, fear-mongering TV news, Canada's progressive health-care system and the Bush administration's partisan use of scare tactics. At once punchy and incoherent -- Moore contradicts himself vividly every few minutes -- the film has the scattershot shapelessness of a concept album made by a singles band.
Although Moore takes delight in thumping Cops and TV newscasts, he himself uses tabloid techniques and is guilty of manipulative heartlessness: When a school principal breaks into tears, Moore sensitively puts his arm around her but keeps the camera running. Like jesting Pilate, he's so busy zooting around to keep things "entertaining" that he doesn't bother to examine any of his topics. Indeed, his idea of social analysis is to play Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" over footage of countries where the U.S. government has made war or toppled governments -- Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, etc. -- then end his montage with shots of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. Moore doubtless believes this a trenchant political statement and that anyone who disagrees is naive, duplicitous or reactionary. In fact, what stinks about this montage isn't its suggestion that much U.S. policy has been reprehensible (it obviously has) or that such behavior is one part of the context that has triggered anti-American terrorism (ditto). The problem is the lazy historical thinking worthy of Rush Limbaugh. Does Moore really think that Osama bin Laden ever gave a damn what happened to Salvadoran campesinos? Does he really think U.S. foreign policy caused those two high school kids to gun down their schoolmates? Moore never says, but he does emphasize, that on the same day as Columbine, U.S. bombers dropped an especially heavy payload on Kosovo. So what? Absent any serious historical analysis, his implication seems to be that this country is incorrigibly murderous. You don't know whether to be outraged or yawn.
Near the end, Moore takes a bead on NRA president Charlton Heston. Flashing his membership card (Moore never discusses his own feelings about guns), he visits the actor's Beverly Hills mansion and asks Moses why he thinks there's so much gun violence in America. Heston ventures a couple of answers, but Moore isn't satisfied and keeps hectoring him until the aging Heston slowly walks off. Moore chases after him and confronts him with the photo of a 6-year-old girl who'd recently been shot in Flint. Moments later, as Moore walks down Heston's driveway, head solemnly lowered, we're obviously supposed to think him the dead girl's champion and voice -- the ball-capped, potbellied, popular representative of ordinary folks. Me, I kept thinking how dishonest Moore had been to badger a gaga old fool for failing to explain why so many Americans shoot one another when his own movie was so transparently failing to answer the same question.
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