The newly released documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 by Academy Award winner Michael Moore is, and will be, one of the most controversial documentaries in recent memory. Moore shows the political chaos following the world-changing events of September 11th but even more importantly, he shows the toll that 9/11, as well as the US occupation of Iraq, has taken on the American people. The film opened at number one at the box office and earned $23.9 million in its first weekend, making it the highest grossing opening weekend in documentary history. Known for his outspoken politics, including his criticism of Bush during his Academy Award acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine (second on the list of highest grossing documentaries), Moore’s latest film is his greatest Bush-bashing to date.
I do not want to focus too much on the politics surrounding the issues at hand. The people have already made up their minds; many Americans agree with the decisions that were made and many do not. Although the point of this film is to sway voters in the upcoming presidential election, the meaning and overall value of the film surpass its political aspirations. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, a greener, a liberal, conservative, or a libertarian, Fahrenheit 9/11 is recommended viewing.
In all actuality, the more politically motivated parts of the film aren’t its best features. A link is made between the terrorist attacks and Saudi Arabia while connecting the Bush family to the powerhouse ruler Saudi and Bin Ladin families that rule the nation. It then goes further to say that the US occupation of Iraq is an attempt to smooth over the factual evidence convicting Saudi Arabia of harboring terrorists. The film does point out that the Bush administration never actually blamed Iraqfor the terrorist attacks, but it does show that the American people believe terrorism was the reason for our occupation of the Fertile Crescent. Moore claims Bush did not make good choices for purely financial reasons. These highly researched fundamentals of political ideology are actually the biggest downfall of the film. The connections are tedious, drawn out and hard to follow; easily the worst part of the film. But from Moore’s standpoint, and those who are trying to get Bush out of office, it is crucial for American ears to hear the information that was presented.
Moore’s controversial subject matter often overshadows his skills as a filmmaker. People are always discussing the issues surrounding the matter but more often forget the groundbreaking concepts Moore has mastered in his documentary making. It is an artist who makes the audience laugh when tears are still wet on their cheeks. He innovates constantly with the integration of pop culture, making his documentaries lively and highly entertaining- perhaps it can be said that Moore is the Quentin Tarantino of documentary filmmaking. His artistic ability and powerful skills elevate Fahrenheit 9/11 into a masterpiece. Anyone who does see it will always remember that feeling in his/her gut; witnessing pure pain from a theater seat.
The core of the film, the essence and purpose, shows one family whose son was recently killed fighting in Iraq. His mother is crying, not a silent sob, but a painful, stomach-churning weep. As the sister of a soldier in Iraq, I feel that Moore did an excellent job in portraying the desperation that our families are left in. I have cried like this many times hearing the fate of my innocent siblings and cried more during the film. I was not alone behind me, in front of me, and beside me I heard whimpers and sniffles. I couldn’t believe what an impact the film was having on everyone, not just on me.
Politics aside, the war in Iraq is having devastating consequences for American families and this is without doubt the most influential element of the documentary. When I go to bed at night I do not know why my brother is in Iraq. I don’t have any strong conviction about what we are supposedly (or being told that we are) fighting for. My brother tries to call about once a week. It breaks my heart to hear that he, as well as other soldiers as shown in the documentary, also feels the occupation is not necessary given its consequences. An effective tool Moore uses in the film is showing the anti-Bush/anti-war soldiers being forced to fight in Iraq. The opinions of the men in Iraq speak louder than any politician or filmmaker; no one is more qualified to voice an opinion than are these heroes of ours.
In the film, Moore asks congressmen to sign up their children to serve in the war. Although this is an extreme measure, he is making an essential statement. It is important to imagine that it is your own family that would be sacrificed. I, as well as many others, feel that the safety and comparative advantages were not considered when soldiers were sent to Iraq. I might be biased considering the love for my brother but I believe that everyone should look at it from my angle. Mooregenuinely argues this point. Whether you agreed or disagreed with Bush’s decision to invade, the outcome and death tolls do not lie and Moore proves this effectively.
The documentary goes far more in depth than even this article goes in summarizing it. Other topics discussed are the fraudulency of the war, Bush’s leniency towards Saudi Arabia due to financial interests of his family, and even the military exploitation of the poor in the United States. The two-hour film is overflowing with information but one thing will stand out worthy of remembrance. Michael Moore brought us the pain of an American family struggling with the preventable loss of their son; after seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 a substantial portion of America has experienced their agony.
Film Review: Murder Mystery
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.
Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.
There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.
Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.
Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.
Film Review: Booksmart
Booksmart is the wonderful story of complicated, messy but hopeful and joyous young adulthood
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart has had a rough time at the box office since its release a few weeks ago. Pundits have placed blame on poor marketing by Annapurna Pictures (the studio releasing it) but in truth, the film just isn’t a big cinema flick. But there’s nothing wrong with that because, in every sense, Booksmart is a brilliant film. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s wonderfully written, well-directed, and filled with stories that are relatable across generations. But box offices are intrinsically built on those first weekend numbers, it is why it exists, and it is a shame the team behind the film has made a big deal out of the lack of box office draw instead of building on what will surely make it a cult classic- word of mouth.
The film tells the story of Amy and Molly, two high school seniors who have spent their high school careers being great in class, but not so great socially. The day before graduation they realize that their plan of spending their high school careers buried in books, getting straight A’s, and then transcending into the upper echelon of higher education is thwarted when the very people they thought they were escaping, have, in fact, accomplished the same. The difference is that they all had fun during high school while Amy and Molly didn’t. What ensues is a smart pastiche of college humor comedies and high school coming-of-age flicks that have been a staple of cinema across generations. Taking cues from Superbad and the recent Blockers, Booksmart takes raunchy humor and gross-out jokes but injects them with contemporary social dynamics. Universal stories of high school joy, friendship, and heartbreak are told with the kind of relatable charm that is rare- relatable regardless of age, gender, or sexuality. Its inclusivity has been praised not because it is gratuitous or forced, but because it feels genuine and heartfelt.
The two leads, played by Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2) and Kaitlyn Dever, are brilliant. If you watched the sitcom Last Man Standing you always knew that Dever was destined for greatness, so it’s no surprise that Booksmart is a great vehicle for her and Feldstein to show their talents. They both act with enough nuance when it is needed, but both sizzle with chemistry when they need to be riotously funny- the screen becomes their canvas and it is hard to escape their presence. Dever and Feldstein are flanked by an assemblage of funny people- Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Jessica Williams, the funny kid from Santa Clarita Diet– who all contribute to the film’s balanced characters. It is only at times that a few of them seem a little too much like a cartoon that it detracts from the film (still not sure what Billie Lourd’s character is about).
Wilde’s first turn at directing has proven that she’s got a keen eye for it. Booksmart does all the basics right and when Wilde wants to shoot outside of the box, they get that right too (the scene in which our leads are trippin’ daisies on hallucinogens, in particular, comes off as both funny and well done).
Its strengths, aside from the leads, is the writing and the seemingly truthful way in which the film depicts teenagers (in this case, teenage girls) living through that period of high school transitioning off into college and the so-called ‘real world’. Much has been said about its authenticity, and even if you can’t directly relate, you can still feel and understand the emotions and the relationships. And that is something that is hard to do, and the writers, the cast, and Olivia Wilde have accomplished that.
So what exactly is the problem with Booksmart? And why haven’t people flocked to see it? It still feels like a “small” movie, hindered perhaps by its very Netflix-like production. It doesn’t have that big-budget, must-see-at-the-cinema demeanor that films like Superbad or even Blockers had. Even films like Neighbors and its sequel felt much bigger in scope. Booksmart just FEELS like a television movie, even if it’s not.
Poor box office runs haven’t been the death knell for small-budget, indie successes. There have been plenty of critically acclaimed films that have been dwarfed in the numbers by superheroes, cartoons and sinking ships. Hopefully, ones that fuel conversation (like Booksmart), will keep studios making them. It’s a shame that a lot of the news has relegated Booksmart to “box office failure” because it deserves more. In time, with good word of mouth, and as more and more people see it and realize its resonance, it surely will. It has to because the heart of this movie, the way in which it tells the story of complicated, messy but hopeful and joyous young adulthood will not let it die without a fight.
Booksmart is in US cinemas now and opens in Australian cinemas June 27.
Directed by: Olivia Wilde
Written by: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Jessica Williams
Released by: Annapurna Pictures
Runtime: 102 mins