Monday, September 17, 2007

Fast Food Nation, The Hoax, Hallstrom, Network, Kubrick

Fast Food Nation is a goddamn masterpiece, not a word I use often (masterpiece, that is, not goddamn). Linklater got it just right, the blend of documentary with drama, making his points without getting didactic or heavy-handed, and slowly building to the grisly climax: the cows happy in their pens and then showing us in the most ruthless fashion the horrendous fate in store for them. Kris Kristofferson is great, he has the best line in the movie: "It's like something out of science fiction." No shit. Without ever being ponderous or preachy, the movie shows how satanic/life-destroying modern society has become. Linklater is really the only guy doing this stuff, and with this movie, for the first time since Waking Life, he totally pulled it off. There was nothing at all wrong with the movie, that I could see, everyone in it was great, Hawke, Kinnear, Arquette, Willis, and all the unknowns. But boy was it dark. Probably the darkest movie to make the mainstream in a while. I guess critics (never mind mass audiences) didn't go for it, huh? No wonder. I bet a sizeable % of people who saw it wished they hadn't. They sure as shit didn't feel like stopping off at Burger King afterwards! The movie really blew me away.

Just saw The Hoax, loved it, though once it was over I realized that, though it was a wonderful story, it wasn't quite a wonderful movie. The reason is that Lasse Hallstrom has no distinguishing features as a director. He just tells the story and moves on, turning his films out like cookies. Once Around, Gilbert Grape, Cider House Rules, An Unfinished Life, I even liked Casanova, and besides the confectionary of Chocolat, the only real misstep has been The Shipping News). Yet besides Grape, none of them quite rise above the level of delightful whimsy. The Hoax is his best, most substantial, movie since Grape, and mostly this is due to Gere, who is superb, and really beings Clifford Irving to life, creating one of the most memorable movie characters I've seen in years. This is probably his best role. Oh, yes, that is the same Clifford Irving from F for Fake, a great little underseen documentary film by Orson Welles.

I saw Network recently, having only seen it once years and years before. I was disappointed overall, thought it was a great script but only a good movie. Lumet's direction was flat and leaden,. Then I read Kael on the movie (she scorned it) and I wondered if it was even a good movie (don't you hate that, a great reviewer like Kael can make you doubt your own opinions – which is always my own objective as a film writer, the power of lucid prose to persuade). Talk about polemic – she's right I think in saying that the characters are all just mouthpieces for Chayefsky's rants. But boy, what rants! The best scene is Ned Beatty's speech to Howard, it really makes the head spin with its insights. A major flaw, however, is that the film doesn't manage to make us care when Beel gets shot. To me that causes the whole thing to fall apart, leaving me with a feeling of indifference, a real downer after some of the movies highs.

You could argue that it wasn't supposed to be emotionally involving, but only intellectually—like the films of Kubrick. But I'm detached enough already, and I don't care for these kinds of intellectual films any more than Kael did. I demand emotional involvement from a movie, that's what I love about movies! There are a few key exceptions (Badlands) in which the coldness is part of the beauty and even the meaning of the film – the result being that though I may not be involved with the characters, I am emotionally moved (Badlands is a euphoric experience because it's such awesome filmmaking). If a work doesn't move me emotionally, however, I don't really see how it can be called art. It might be intellectually stimulating, but that's just philosophy. I guess Godard is a good example, since he did film-essays which I loved (some of them) because they were exciting, the excitement of ideas (funnily enough, Kael was a big admirer of Godard). I think perhaps the key is whether a work that's "cold" or removed is pretentious or playful (Weekend was pretentious, Band of Outsiders was playful, god I love the dance sequence in that film – a rare case of what I would call "pure cinema"!). Barry Lyndon was beautiful to look at, but its coldness was a drag, it took itself too seriously, like all Kubrick's later films (post-Strangelove).

The reason Peckinpah is the quintessential filmmaker to me is that his films are imbued with passion—he's the opposite of Kubrick, who is the antithesis of a real moviemaker, to my mind, making it so ironic that he's lauded as the greatest of the greats! I think it's probably because people are in awe of the intellect. I'm not, however, since my own intellect is over-developed, and I know how easy it is to impress with a few cleverly chosen words (or images). But it's really just necrophilia, in the end. Only by bringing characters to life and engaging the audience to feel for them do we enter into the realms of true creation—alchemy.

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