Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hollywood Attacks

Until we are able to love ourselves, how can the world love us?

The new fall movies have been announced. Following in the steps of "Valley of the Wolves"

In the noble tradition of mainstream genre cinema, the script takes a real-life event as a starting point and then spins off into Loony-Tunes land. On July 4, 2003, U.S. forces surrounded the HQ of an undercover Turkish unit in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq, led its 11 members out with hoods on their heads, and had them deported, even though Turkey was officially an ally in the war. The so-called "Hood Event" was seen by Turks as a national humiliation.

On the one hand, the basic format is peppered with some pure trash-exploitation elements, such as a strung-out U.S.-Jewish doctor (Busey) at Abu Ghraib who's trafficking inmates' organs to London, New York and Tel Aviv. Busey's few scenes -- and the whole tiny, undeveloped subplot -- are disposable.
and the not yet released "Redacted" the private vanity flick funded entirely by billionaire internet dilettante Mark Cuban and directed by Brian de Palma

From its title and intriguing opening (which shows words blacked out on a document by a censor's pen), the film seems determined to explore the repackaging of actual events by official and corporate media. In fact, it does nothing of the kind. From the first sequence, of Latino grunt Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) recording his buddies on video camera for a docu ("Tell Me No Lies") he hopes will get him into film school, "Redacted" is much more about the process and techniques of filmmaking than media distortion or coverups.

The breezy Salazar's fellow soldiers in Alfa Company, Camp Carolina, Samarra, fall into the usual stereotypes: bookish Gabe Blix (Kel O'Neill), who spends his time reading John O'Hara's "Appointment in Samarra"; soldier-with-a-conscience McCoy, a lawyer (Rob Devaney); and racist tree-swingers B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll). Their leader, Master Sgt. James Sweet (Ty Jones), is a motormouth hardass on his third tour of duty

It's soon clear De Palma intends to construct the whole movie from "found footage" -- Salazar's vid diary, security camera tapes, an Arab TV channel, websites (both U.S. and Islamic fundamentalist) or other docus and testimonials.

Drama finally clicks into gear when a car driven by Iraqis doesn't stop at the checkpoint, and Flake and Rush open fire. Even when it turns out the car contains a pregnant woman rushing to get to a hospital (where she subsequently dies), the two soldiers remain unrepentant. In dialogue that sounds too theatrically scripted, Rush contends, "You can't afford remorse. You get remorse, you get weak; you get weak, you die."Violence escalates when the locals take revenge on one of the group, in a well-staged shock sequence. After a night raid on a private house, seen from the p.o.v. of an embedded journalist, and the subsequent media hoo-ha, Flake and Rush pressure the rest of their group to return on a private mission. Secretly helmet-cammed by Salazar, this ends in the horrific rape of a 15-year-girl and the shooting of her and her family.

Ironically, pic's most powerful section is its final 10 minutes, as McCoy's traumatic experience is reduced, back home, to a bar yarn that ends with friends cheering him as a hero. De Palma follows that with a photo montage of real-life Iraqi victims of violence, dubbed "Collateral Damage" -- a harrowing couple of minutes that seems, alas, to be a coda to a better picture than "Redacted."

We have coming first to our TV sets, some of our favorite stars on late night talk shows peddling the flicks, then the various entertainment/celebrity news magazines and cable channels, then the week before they are released we'll get the reviewers comments.

Eventually we'll be allowed to see, "The Kingdom" staring Jamie Foxx as leader of an FBI antiterrorist team;"Lions for Lambs" with Tom Cruise playing a Senator making foreign policy; "Charlie Wilson's War" with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts; "The Valley of Elah" starring Tommy Lee Jones; ." Battle for Haditha" by Nick Bloomfield and Grace is Gone" by James C. Strouse.

Hollywood is taking advantage of the lame-duck Presidency, the 2008 election cycle and the background noise about the war in Iraq to fill it's wallet. The movies will be released in the fall with all the noise and attention that a Hollywood movie generates. Then in the Spring we will get the Academy Awards, presented again by Jon Stewart. and in the fall, just in time for the actual voting we'll get the DVD releases.

Todd McCarthy observes in Variety:

Just as, during World War II, Hollywood pictures had a unified aim, to rally viewers around the war effort and present an image of the Allies prevailing, today they are also identical in nature, except in the opposite direction.

The first problem is that fictional films take at least a year, sometimes two, to create and disseminate, and thus the attitudes they reflect can be a bit stale at a time when events move so quickly (even if, alas, the war is still very much with us).

When someone like Richard Gere spouts off about Bush at the Venice Film Festival, as he just did, how much more tired can you get? Being anti-Bush simply isn't enough, as this point; there's an election coming up, a future to decide, complex issues to sort out, and Bush won't be part of the equation.

Where current events are concerned, documentaries are far better equipped to tackle them than are fictional features. The film of the year for me in many ways is "No End in Sight," a profoundly analytical, meticulously methodical and rewardingly specific study of where the U.S. went wrong once it achieved military victory in Iraq; it was the film I'd long been waiting for after the emotional hysteria of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and its ilk.

Now that the vast majority of Americans have misgivings, at the very least, about the Iraq adventure, producers are betting that mainstream audiences may be ready, up to a point, for the homefront stories of mangled, maimed and disturbed vets and their families. But the overt polemics of most of the Iraq films thus far, such as those expressed so predictably at the end of "In the Valley of Elah," seem calculated to once again stir up the Cindy Sheehan crowd, to preach to the converted of four years ago. Move on, indeed. (Emphasis added)

Following the pattern of "Constant Campaigning" set by the Clinton White House, Hollywood has found that they can play politics and increase box office to everyone's benefit. Politicians need the attention and money that celebrities can bring. Hollywood needs the political stew to bring the stories that will guarantee box office success.

"Wag the Dog" was not about a President hiding a scandal behind an international incident. It was about Hollywood (the tail) wagging the dog (the President). George Bush has not been as good for Hollywood. He has committed no scandals. He has not tolerated any lapses among the administration. He has not given any basis for believing that he would go nuts and blow things up, get bogged down in minor indiscretions that would lead to an escalating series of violent acts to cover up, or leave his wife for another woman or intern. He is not a drunk, an addict, a predator. His wife is none of those things either. The Bushes is boring in the best possible way.

Hollywood cannot wait for him to leave. They want another Clinton White House. Scandals, screw-ups, firings, tax increases, inflation all mean better financial times for Hollywood. (Inflation will drive up the value of the assets collateralizing their loans and make it easier for people to pay more than $7-$9 dollars for a seat.) Threats of war with Russia or China will make good movie backdrops. Terrorist attacks will drive people to escapist fare. Steady headlines will mean steady box office. Hillary or Obama either one fits a preset Hollywood stereo type and will be just bad enough to generate 1,000 story and plot lines. They'll back both. But eventually Hillary will get their support because the Clinton's are a known factor. They are safe box office. Obama may not be the kind of greedy grasping weasel that Hollywood can trust to keep the spin machinery going.

What the world thinks of America will be driven by these movies. People will sit in darkened theaters watching our movies and believing they are reflection of real life and real Americans. They have been doing this for over 90 years. Michael Moore's "Fareheit 9/11" grossed over $222 million. Since then, the current administration has been -THE- target for profits.

Of course, another terrorist attack and the mood of the nation may swing back in support of the one who has kept us safe for over six years. There is also the possibility that the nation will become tired of being force fed all the anti-war propaganda.

That would fly in the face of the famous Mencken quote "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the American boobsousie". Our appetite for celebrity seemingly knows no limit. Our ability to concentrate and think about an issue can not gain attention for any period of time. Maybe we are as naive and foolish as H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain described us.

Hollywood wants a "sure thing" and is not beyond cooking the books, manipulating the politicians and public opinion to get ever more profits. I doubt we'll ever see a movie with that plot line... Even Joel Surnow, the director of "24", would not bite the hands that feed him so very well.

As Brett Harte wrote about the man who when asked why he had gone to gamble knowing the cardroom cheated. The man replied "It's the only game in town."

If the public decides that Hollywood is at war with them and begins to reject the movies it will mean bad things for Democrats. If the public decides that the Democrats are too shrill, too childish and incapable of being trusted with power, Hollywood could suffer. Large bets by both Hollywood and the Democrats. could tempt some weaker souls. Is it really the "Only Game in Town" ?

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