Friday, June 22, 2007


Eugene Jarecki, the documentary director whose Sundance-winning Why We Fight is one of the most important films of the decade, had this to say about his fellow doc-maker, Michael Moore, last week:

"Love him or hate him, Michael Moore is a national treasure. He is so because America prides itself on speaking its mind, on confrontation and candor, and being unafraid to confront the powerful. That’s what we did in the Revolution... we confronted the powerful, and I think anyone who puts himself in the line of fire as Michael Moore does, to confront the most powerful issues and political actors and economic actors of our time, is going to win the hearts of the American people."

Jarecki was waxing about Moore because Moore's new film, Sicko, is out (or imminent). It's the baseball-capped Michigander's essayistic take on the American health care industry, a screed against corporate greed and selfishness, and a plea for free, universal health coverage. At the end, in a voice-over, Moore's urges his viewers to get involved, to initiate change, for America to become a society where we is more important than me.

"If we correct that we’ll be able to fix a lot of things," Moore said in a phone interview this week. "And what I was saying at the end of the film is that I’m willing to take the first step by holding my hand out across the great political divide, and help someone out in need who does not share my political viewpoints -- and, in fact, who attacks me constantly."

Jarecki applauds Moore's activist approach: "He causes people, particularly young people, to understand, whether you agree with him or not, that it is hip to think about the world you live in. It’s hip to think politically, and that engagement is the heart and soul of being a citizen of this world. And that disengagement is a recipe for the demise of this world.

"That’s a huge message that Michael Moore sends simply by getting out of bed in the morning and causing so much trouble."


Michael Winterbottom has long been accustomed to shooting on the run, on the cheap, in out-of-the-way spots. In In This World, the U.K. filmmaker told the story of two Afghan boys traveling from Pakistan through Iran and Turkey and onto Italy, France and England. In The Road to Guantanamo, about the arrest and imprisonment of three British Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, he again set his cameras down in Pakistan. He has shot in snow-cloaked rural Canada (The Claim), in Eastern Europe (Welcome to Sarajevo), and now, with A Mighty Heart, the 46-year-old director has returned to Pakistan, and also to India.

With Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in tow.

In A Mighty Heart, Jolie stars as Mariane Pearl, wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was abducted and murdered in 2002 by Pakistani militants. The film, produced by Pitt's Plan B company, is based on Mariane Pearl's memoir. It opened Friday, June 22.

"Brad and Angelina’s presence meant that we had to be slightly more careful in Pakistan, perhaps, than we would be normally, with a high-profile film based on a story that is itself quite high-profile," Winterbottom says. "It made things a little more complicated.... Whereas, perhaps if we did do it in a low-budget way with a cast of lesser-known actors, we might have shot the whole thing in Karachi. But I think in this case, we all felt that with Angelina and this specific story, we couldn’t risk staying in Karachi, we had to do [the majority of her scenes] somewhere else. And we went to India.

"That meant, of course, that we had to get all the Pakistani actors, and all the non-professional actors that we were using -- we had to get all those people to India. Which in itself was quite complicated, because Pakistan and India don’t have the best relationship. We had to get visas for all those people. In a way, it was a big headache for the production. But then we were in India, with Indian crews… and everyone got on really well."

Monday, June 18, 2007


Okay, a small gaffe in my review (since fixed) of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: I wrote that the interstellar silver dude was surfing around the universe destroying worlds at the behest of the evil Galactica, when everybody who's ever read a Jack Kirby FF comic knows that it's Galactus. Many a dear reader called/emailed/letter-bombed to point out this egregious error. I apologize, and am checking myself into the sick bay on the Battlestar as we speak!

Friday, June 08, 2007


More stuff from Eli Roth, who dropped into town recently to talk up Hostel Part II, a sequel that he proudly predicts "will have the reputation of being the most violent R-rated movie ever to hit theaters."

The director's canned line of defense for this orgy of torture porn and misogyny, in which a group of women (and one deserving fellow) get maimed, mutilated, dismembered and worse -- is a sound-byte he's probably offered to a hundred journos by now. It goes like this: "It’s Hostel Part II, it’s not Happy Feet 2. People that are going to see this want to be pushed to the edge."

And about pushing the horror/slasher genre to the edge, Roth -- 35, the product of a psychiatrist dad and an artist mom -- had this to say: "If you look at the stuff that was in Hostel 1, it’s being done on television now. I mean, Hostel 1 was so shocking.... People were saying it was the most violent American film that had been made in years, since the heyday of The Last House On the Left and Dawn of the Dead.

"And now you watch 24 and it’s the same shot: a hand-held point-of-view, picking up a power-drill, and you see it drilling into someone. So, the stuff that I did in the first one [for] theaters that was so shocking, is now being done on television.

"Not only is there competition with other movies, other horror movies, you’re competing with 24, Nip/Tuck, The Shield.... violent stuff that people can get in their own homes.

"So, my goal was to make a better, smarter, scarier film. I think if I had just put more gory moments, people wouldn’t go see it.… And I knew that putting girls into the situation raises the stakes. With girls, it’s the difference between hunting a lion and hunting a deer. When a hunter kills a lion, it's `Oh wow, what a great hunter, they killed a lion!' If they kill a deer, it’s, `Aw, that poor deer.'

"So, with the girls, I could not shoot any torture scenes the way I shot the guys' [torture scenes] in the first one. They had to be more over-the-top, more theatrical and much more stylized."

Enough of that.