Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Archive for May, 2006

The Producers (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on May 24, 2006

Directed by Susan Stroman/screenplay by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks/starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Will Ferrell, Gary Beach, Roger Bart/Universal Home Entertainment

A down-on-his luck Broadway producer teams up with an accountant to scam investors by producing the biggest flop ever.

I’ve decided that rather than doing remakes of every movie ever made (as Hollywood seems intent on), they should just re-create everything as a musical comedy. Seriously, it’s a lot more fun to watch. After the triumph of Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical and now this, I’m on board for pretty much anything they want to do in this vein. How about Texas Chainsaw Massacre; The Musical? Smells like a laugh riot to me.

The Producers is, of course, based on the gigantic hit Broadway play, which was itself based on Mel Brooks’ 1968 comedy. The original film was a notorious flop when first released, but gained a cult following in the years since. I’m not sure what happened with this version when it played in theaters; it was supposed to be the big blockbuster last Christmas, and somehow that didn’t happen (the damn thing never even played near me, so I’m not sure if it was a fumble on the part of Universal, or there weren’t enough screens available or what). Whatever happened there, the piece has now come full circle, from huge bomb to cult favorite to massive success back to a bomb again. It’s an irony that Brooks’ lead character Max Bialystock would probably appreciate.

I know there are a lot of people who love Brooks’ original film and consider it one of the great comedies of all time. I’m not one of them, however. The humor in it has always escaped me somehow – I think it’s partially because I’m not a big Broadway person, so some of it probably went over my head. But I was able to approach the new version with an open mind, and I found that I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. I guess there’s no piece of material that can’t be improved with a few show-stopping musical numbers.

It’s not so much that Brooks and company have reinvented the wheel as they’ve simply fine-tuned it, like a new model of a car that runs smoother than the prototype. The backdrop has been transferred to the glamorous ‘50’s, but the story is basically the same: veteran Broadway producer Bialystock (Lane), coming off the latest in a string of stinkers (a musical version of Hamlet entitled Funny Boy), hires a new accountant, neurotic Leo Bloom (Broderick). While doing the books, Leo discovers that Max actually made money on the flop, and posits a theory that one could conceivably get rich by raising more funds than necessary for a play that closes on opening night.

So Max and Leo make it their mission to find the worst play ever written, and boy do they ever find it in “Springtime for Hitler”, a pro-Nazi musical written by a lunatic named Franz Liebkind (Ferrell). Then they set out to hire the worst possible director for the material, a flaming homosexual (Beach) whose sensibility is to keep everything light and frothy no matter what the subject matter. Then it’s Max’s job to convince his “investors”, a bunch of rich old ladies he has sex with to get them to bankroll his ill-fated productions. Meanwhile, Leo falls in love with bombshell actress/secretary Ulla (Thurman), who impresses the duo with an audition that would make Hugh Hefner do cartwheels.

Brooks’ sense of humor has always been “anything for a laugh” borscht-belt vaudeville (and god love him for it), and The Producers is no exception. To call it broad doesn’t even begin to do it justice – it’s more like mega-broad. But you can’t argue with laughs, and the movie gets more than its share. You never get the sense that Brooks is laughing at his characters or simply taking cheap shots at them though. Each character has his or her own bizarre quirks that are mined for politically incorrect humor, but it’s never mean-spirited or vulgar. Brooks seems to know exactly where the line is, and he walks it admirably. Even the legendarily shocking “Springtime for Hitler” number seems rather quaint now – it’s not that Nazis themselves are funny, but the idea of making them the center of an adoring musical definitely is. Brooks is smart enough to know the difference.

The musical numbers are fun and inventive, and performed with genuine comic skill and precision (of course, not having seen the play, I have nothing to compare it to). The songs let us in on the inner lives of the characters and tell us what they’re all about, from Leo’s desperate but hopeful “I Wanna Be a Producer” to Ulla’s gangbusters, gorgeous-and-thrilled-about-it anthem “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It”. Even when they have nothing to do with the plot (other than to introduce us to a character), they never seem extraneous or bring the movie to a halt. The songs add a sense of heightened reality to the material that serves it well, an exaggerated cartoonish quality (in a good way) that recalls the zany slapstick and the verbal dexterity of an old Marx Brothers comedy.

It helps that the entire cast seems game. Lane and Broderick could probably perform these parts in their sleep by now, but to these eyes they seemed fresh and yet completely in tune with each other’s comic rhythms. Lane is someone who Hollywood has never really known what to do with, and normally a little of his shtick can go a long way. But he seems completely at home in the skin of the scheming, desperate Bialystock, a shlubby guy who’s willing to do anything (and anyone) for another shot at success. Broderick has been an undervalued comic performer for years now – he can be transcendent given the right material (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) or horrible given the wrong material (The Stepford Wives – ugh, don’t remind me). He hits all the right notes here as the nervous Leo, a dreamer stuck in an anonymous life of ordinary unhappiness, and he even nails the heretofore unwatchable (at least by me) “blue blankie” speech. Thurman is spectacular in full va-va-voom mode, making Ulla both unbelievably sexy and enormously endearing without ever playing the too-easy “dumb blonde” card. And Ferrell is inspired as the Hitler-obsessed nutjob Franz, reigning in his over-the-top tendencies just enough. It’s to these actors’ credit that I never once compared them to their predecessors while watching the new version. They simply owned the characters.

I only wish that Brooks had directed the film himself, or at least hired someone with more film experience. Broadway director Stroman makes her film debut here, and unfortunately it shows a little bit, as she seems to have never met a close-up shot she actually liked. On her commentary, she mentions that “plays are all done in wide shots”, and I couldn’t help but think, “yeah, and so is 85% of this movie!” Good god, just because a movie is based on a play doesn’t mean it has to be shot like one! As funny as it is, as enjoyable and well-staged as it is…the movie almost always feels like a filmed play. That’s not what a movie should be like. If Stroman wanted to simply film the play, she should have whipped out a camera during one of the performances – visually you’d have pretty much the same movie.

But that’s not damaging enough to keep The Producers from being a hell of a lot of fun. If anything, it proves once again that Brooks is a comedy god, someone that today’s feature comedy writers and directors have a lot to learn from. Where much of the current film comedy scene seems only interested in mining scatological humor for more and more witless returns (I’m looking at you, Wayans Brothers), Brooks proves once again that you can have big, raunchy laughs without sacrificing character, style and humanity. That’s what I love about his best work (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and the hugely underrated History of the World Part I) – yes, they’re full of gags, but they’re not just about the gags. His best movies had a genuine heart, as well as intelligence underneath the “anything for a laugh” mentality. He believed in laughing with people, not at them. It’s not enough to be willing to do anything for a laugh – you have to be smart enough to know what’s funny. And he knew funny like nobody’s business.

Come back to us, Mel. We need you now more than ever.

The DVD has the usual assortment of deleted scenes (including a musical number of Max’s that I wish they’d left in) and outtakes. There’s a behind-the-scenes segment called “Analysis of a Scene” that details the making of the “I Wanna Be a Producer” number, which is easily the most visually ambitious of all the songs. And there’s Stroman’s commentary, which sounds strangely rehearsed, as if she’s reading her comments off of a written page rather than simply reacting naturally to what’s on screen. It sounds more like a monologue than a DVD commentary, and someone should’ve told her to loosen up. But what do Broadway people know about DVD commentaries anyway?

***1/2 5/24/06

Posted in Film Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Losin’ It; or, The Inevitable Curse of High Expectations

Posted by CinemaPsycho on May 19, 2006

Yes, I know I said I would update more often. Unfortunately, we have had some technical difficulties with the site and I have been unable to for the past couple of weeks. So I’m going to try to keep this one short (yeah, right). Let’s start with a big giant “THANK YOU!!” to the fledgling CW Network. They’ll know why.

So, have people really decided to stop going to the movies, or what?

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve attended weekend matinees of two supposedly huge summer blockbuster films, Mission: Impossible 3 and Poseidon. Both of these screenings were seen by me and…about five other people. That’s virtually unheard of for such high-profile, big-budget supermega movies at my local cineplex. Yes, each film was showing on three different screens, but usually each screening for a summer blockbuster is at least half-full, especially in early May. Even movies like The Island get decent attendance out here. There were more people at the screenings I saw of supposed flops Land of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects last summer than of these would-be “mainstream” gigantor flicks. I could almost hear crickets chirping (if it wasn’t late afternoon, that is).

What’s going on? I never really believed in the myth of “the slump” until now. Is it the economy? High gas prices? Bad reviews? Or is it simply that not that many people were interested in these particular films?

Honestly, I think it’s a combination of all of the above. Like most Hollywood executives, I’m just used to people naturally showing up for whatever the studios have to offer in the summer. Good, bad or indifferent – if it was heavily hyped, people used to just automatically buy tickets. Not any more, apparently.

It could be that audiences have finally gotten wise – I’m sure that’s the perspective that most highbrow critics would take. Maybe it takes more than a big budget, big names and lots of media hype to sell us these days. Maybe there actually has to be (gasp) content to pack in the crowds.

Nahhhh…

You want to know why The DaVinci Code is going to be gigantic? Because the studio has been shoving it down our throats for months. For what seems like forever now, I couldn’t watch TV for 10 minutes without seeing an ad. Every movie I saw for weeks had that trailer in front of it. It’s not just the bestselling novel, the ridiculous controversy (come on people…it’s fucking fiction, like all religion), the A-list star and director, although those will all be factors. But what’s going to sell tickets is the fact that it’s everywhere. You can’t get away from it. I’m surprised they didn’t hire a guy in a Revolutionary War costume to ride a horse up and down the street yelling, “The DaVinci Code is coming! The DaVinci Code is coming!!!”

Once again, it’s all about the marketing, stupid.

Having said that, I don’t know that the general public was really clamoring for another Mission: Impossible movie or a remake of The Poseidon Adventure. In retrospect, not the best openers for the summer season, at least not if you want to pack in the 12-year-olds. I could see them doing well in, say, mid-July. If there were no other major competition. But in early May, gee, why not start off with something a little more, I don’t know, current? How about the new X-Men movie – the kids still care about those, right? Maybe Pirates of the Caribbean 2? Or even Internet sensation Snakes on a Plane? Let’s face it – to today’s kids, Mission: Impossible and Poseidon aren’t brand names, they’re ancient relics from their grandparents’ era.

Of course, neither of these films were exactly a flop on the level of Basic Instinct 2. But they still performed far below expectations. The irony is that both of them were actually pretty decent films, as unnecessary sequels and disaster-movie remakes go. I don’t think I’ll remember much about either of them by the end of the year, but for early-summer action fare, I found them more than serviceable. I know, that’s not exactly high praise, but that’s about all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’d consider them three-star films as opposed to four-star films; and in my book, there’s a huge difference there.

I actually thought M:I-3 was easily the best of the series, which isn’t saying much since I didn’t particularly care for either of the previous entries. While I adore Brian DePalma and John Woo like nobody’s business, they were both out of their element here and it showed. DePalma’s film had some decent action sequences, but suffered from a notoriously convoluted storyline and an ending that betrayed the original TV series. Woo’s sequel was just kind of laughable really, a half-baked testosterone-fest with a ridiculous storyline cribbed from Hitchcock’s Notorious and acting unworthy of a junior-high play. Not to mention Woo’s tired visual trademarks, which worked wonders for Chow Yun-Fat once upon a time but had become very tiresome by the time Cruise got around to copping them. The whole film seemed to have no particular point except to stroke Cruise’s ego and show us what a badass he is. No sale. Lots of people went to see these movies, but few actually really enjoyed them.

Leave it to a “TV guy” to finally make a Mission: Impossible movie that was a decent adaptation of the TV series. Actually, J.J. Abrams isn’t just a “TV guy”, having started his career writing screenplays, and having written or co-written such varied films as Regarding Henry, Armageddon and Joy Ride. But when you work in TV and have as much success in it as he has, you get labeled that way no matter what else you’ve done (take Joss Whedon, for example). Making his feature directorial debut, Abrams and his co-writers actually crafted a movie that dealt with espionage and teamwork, like the series it was based on! For once it wasn’t just a vehicle for Cruise to act like the badass we all know he isn’t. Abrams made it personal, showing us sides of Ethan Hunt that we hadn’t seen in the previous films, yet at the same time expanded the films’ scope so that it felt like an actual spy movie, not just a half-assed star vehicle.

I remember after seeing Woo’s entry in the series, my main thought was, “who the hell is Ethan Hunt and why should we give a shit about him?” Abrams answers that question – he’s Jerry Maguire with a gun. Seriously though, at least there was some character there at all, which was a decided improvement. I actually found his romance with Michelle (Boston Public) Monaghan kinda touching and sweet, albeit in a slightly creepy Anakin-Padme sort of way. Finally the guy has something worth fighting for! At some point Cruise has to start co-starring with actresses close to his own age though, at least to avoid obvious comparisons with his offscreen life (although Monaghan looks more like Liv Tyler than Katie Holmes to me). And throwing in Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the villain was a particularly inspired choice, even if the critics don’t realize that he wasn’t “Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman” when he made the movie, he was just a working actor trying to pay his bills. Give the guy a break.

It’s ironic that Cruise gives his best Ethan Hunt performance in this one, since he’s the main reason a lot of people stayed away (especially, I’m told, fickle female audience members who’ve lost interest in him). Yes, a lot of his recent offscreen behavior has been a little squirrelly. But honestly, who gives a shit? This is the whole problem with the tabloid mentality that has pervaded this country – people care way too much about what actors do in their personal lives and not enough about what they do on screen. I couldn’t give a good god damn if Cruise worships goats and blows old men on the subway. It’s not my business, and it’s not yours either. Yeah, he’s made a public spectacle of himself, and probably has only himself to blame for it. But I honestly think it’s pretty stupid to not see a movie just because some actor is getting negative press. Unless that movie is Gigli. I don’t particularly care what Tom Cruise says and does outside of the movie screen, any more than I care what any other actor or “star” does. I don’t know the guy personally. I have no vested interest in who he marries or what religion he follows (which, as far as I can tell, is no crazier than any other). I do know his movies, and I know that he’s made an effort over the years to work with the best people in the business. That’s more important to me than any couch-jumping or anti-psychology rants. He may not be a great actor, but he’s a movie star, and he delivers on screen more often than not. Hell, name one major movie star who hasn’t pulled a boner in his/her personal life once or twice (OK, besides Tom Hanks). What does he have to do to get people back on his side, make a sex video with Pamela Anderson? That seems to be the one infraction that people are actually forgiving of anymore.

In a way, I think it’s actually a good thing that all those adoring women finally see that their matinee idol is a real person with flaws (you know, like the rest of us mere mortals).

Such a realization is long overdue. I’m not saying that people should or shouldn’t like Cruise – I’m saying they shouldn’t let whatever public image an actor has get in the way of seeing a film that they’re in. If you’re just not interested in the movie itself, OK, fine. But if you’re not seeing a movie because a guy jumped on a couch on a lame talk show and the media replayed it 17 million times, I’m sorry, that’s intellectually and spiritually retarded. You’re just depriving yourself of whatever that movie has to offer, and letting superficial bullshit get in the way of your having a good time. Whose loss is that, really?

In the case of Poseidon, while I enjoyed the movie’s old-school disaster-movie charms, I had to wonder who they thought the movie was for (other than old codgers like me). You don’t spend $150 million on a movie and not put some serious thought into every aspect of the production, including casting. I guarantee you, if Brad Pitt had starred in the movie instead of Josh Lucas, it would’ve had a $40 million opening weekend, at least. Now, I happen to like Lucas as an actor. But a leading man he isn’t. He’s not a guy who puts asses in seats, even though the studios would obviously like him to be. He could possibly become that in the future, but he’s not there yet. His best performances have been playing character-actor parts in indie films and villains in big-studio films. That’s where he excels. In this movie he’s supposed to be the “likable rogue” but he just comes off like an amoral, predatory scumbag. You need a movie star to pull that kind of part off, and Lucas just isn’t that. He hasn’t built up that kind of cred with audiences to make that transition yet, and I honestly wondered how he got top billing above people like Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss (I’m old enough to remember when they were movie stars). And if WB was banking on those guys to sell tickets in 2006, I have to question their sanity.

The funny thing about Poseidon is that it’s a remake of a movie that frankly wasn’t all that good in the first place. It has a following, but more for its camp value than anything else. It’s like doing a remake of Showgirls or Plan 9 From Outer Space. I watched the original movie recently, and…whew. I try very hard not to judge older movies by modern standards, but that movie just hasn’t held up at all. From the godawful theme song “The Morning After” to that cringe-inducing know-it-all kid to the painful Shelley Winters performance (seriously, you just wish they’d left her fat ass behind in the first place) I really found it difficult to sit through. The one clever thing about the movie is the religious subtext (with Hackman as the Christ figure who “saves” his followers by leading them down the path less traveled) but that’s muted by the ongoing wave (pun intended) of sheer early-Seventies treacle that pervades the entire enterprise.

Poseidon, the adventure-less remake, probably won’t hold up any better in 34 years, but at least I was able to watch it without fighting back the urge to vomit. Wolfgang Petersen has plenty of experience filming on water (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) and one would’ve thought he would be the perfect candidate to tackle this. But somebody made the weird decision to trim the early exposition down to 15 minutes or so, breaking the longtime disaster-movie rule that one must spend at least twice that long setting up its characters before subjecting them to peril. The result is a movie that moves along mercifully quickly, yet fails to make us care whether or not anyone actually lives through it. At its best, it’s an impressive spectacle, but 90 minutes of actors crawling through enclosed spaces is enough to make anyone claustrophobic. It’s especially uninteresting when you can pretty much predict who lives and dies along the way (hint: if you’re Hispanic, consider yourself dead meat).

So why the hell did I enjoy the movie? Maybe it was the sheer old-fashioned goofiness of it all. Petersen and screenwriter Mark Protosevich try so damn hard to make it “serious” and “important” that it’s actually kind of a riot. Their attempts to update the hoary old disaster-movie clichés to the 00’s are quite hilarious at times. It’s a fun movie in spite of itself, the kind of B-movie you laugh at more than laugh with. The actors are trying their damndest to make something out of these cardboard characters, who seem to change their backstories and personalities depending on the needs of the plot (Kurt was the Mayor of New York??? Ummm…when? Better yet, why?) that you can’t help but empathize with them in a weird way. Petersen and Protosevich seem so hellbent on not following the formulas that they wind up walking right into each and every one of them. And it’s kind of a hoot. As a movie, it’s completely indefensible in just about every way, and I think that’s exactly why I liked it. Where recent disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow seem completely conscious of their clichés and even revel in them, Poseidon is the kind of dumb movie that doesn’t realize how dumb it is. You have to admire that in a perverse way. Poseidon is like the hot girl who’s as dumb as a brick, but everyone hangs on her every word, so she thinks she’s smart. You know you shouldn’t encourage her, but you just can’t help yourself.

I have no doubt that in the year 2040, people will look back on Poseidon and wonder what the hell we were thinking. All I can offer in defense is, we weren’t. Deal with it.

So, is there any hope for summer? I think so. In fact, I fully expect a little movie called Pulse to be the $100-million sleeper hit of the season. This is because it stars the beautiful, talented Kristen Bell, and…what, you need something more than that? Screw you guys.

(Psst, Weinsteins… move it NOW, before it’s too late, idiots)

That’s all for now. More reviews are on the way, and I’ll check in sooner than later (I hope).

Posted in Psycho Therapy | Leave a Comment »

United 93

Posted by CinemaPsycho on May 2, 2006

Directed and written by Paul Greengrass/Universal Pictures – Working Title

So, yeah, it’s a movie about 9/11. Deal with it.

Ever since this film was announced, people have been talking shit about it. One group says it’s “exploitation”, another says it’s “pro-Bush propaganda”. Others simply believe it’s “too soon” for a film about a recent tragedy to be made.

Here’s what I think about al that: if you’re in any one of those aforementioned groups, just don’t go see the movie. No, seriously, don’t fucking go. Because your mind is already made up, and nothing you see on that screen will change it.

People are acting like United 93 is the first time Hollywood has ever broached the subject of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. This is, of course, not true. There was an independent film called The Guys starring Sigourney Weaver, which was actually based on a play (still haven’t seen the film, though I hear it’s pretty good). Not to mention Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, which strangely used post-9/11 New York as a backdrop for the personal struggle of a drug dealer about to go to jail. Then of course there’s the TV show Rescue Me, in which a group of New York firefighters deal with the psychological damage inflicted by that day (that’s not the only story point, but it’s in there and is frequently referenced). So it’s not as if the subject has never been raised in the entertainment world. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last.

It’s not even the first time the story of Flight 93 has been told on screen. Both A&E and the Discovery Channel did made-for-cable docudramas about this very same event. I recently watched the A&E version (after seeing the feature) and thought it wasn’t bad, albeit very TV-movie in style. It’s worth seeing mainly to note the differences in the telling of the story, which is obviously based on both research and speculation (in the A&E version, for example, the terrorists wear bright red headbands, which are nowhere to be found in the feature film). There are some genuinely moving moments in it (how could there not be?), but I wouldn’t call it definitive.

I guess I just don’t get why all the complaining is starting now. If you’re going to accuse Hollywood of “cashing in” on a real-life tragedy, fine, but why not do it from the beginning? Why bitch about it when it’s already too late?

Never mind that virtually all of the family members of the doomed passengers and crew cooperated with the filmmakers and support the release of the film. A lot of people seem to hate the film, sight unseen, simply because of how it affects them. They don’t want to live through the experience of Sept. 11, 2001 all over again.

But here’s the thing; as United 93 clearly shows, unless you were on the plane, in a control tower or had a relative call you from the plane before the crash, you didn’t live through the story of Flight 93. Sitting at home watching the Twin Towers fall on CNN isn’t the same thing, especially since this isn’t specifically the story of the World Trade Center attacks. We didn’t watch Flight 93 happen on television. At the risk of sounding insensitive, if you weren’t there…you weren’t there.

It’s to his credit that writer-director Greengrass puts us right there in the chaotic center of it all. While he’s best known here for directing The Bourne Supremacy, Greengrass comes from a documentary background, making him the perfect choice for a film based on factual events. His excellent film Bloody Sunday, a dramatic re-creation of a 1972 crowd shooting by the Irish police, proves the template for United 93. In both films, rather than over-dramatize the events for “dramatic effect” as Hollywood so often does, Greengrass simply shows us what happened and lets us make up our own minds. If truth is stranger than fiction, it’s also infinitely more disturbing.

It’s because of this aesthetic that United 93 is a harrowing, nerve-wracking experience. Yes, we know going in exactly what will happen to these people. Yet that somehow makes it even more frightening than it would if this were a piece of fiction (which is often equally predictable). Knowing that they are doomed actually makes us care about them more, not less – we know they are in their final hours of life, stuck on a death ride from which they will not escape. So their words and actions matter the most, in the same way that a person’s final words are remembered more than any of their others.

What’s more, we care so much about them that we don’t want them to die, in spite of the fact that we know they will. That’s the killer of this movie, the thing that bites down the hardest. We know they’re fucked – but we want them to survive regardless. The movie makes us want the passengers to take over the plane and land it safely. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in the movies? You can’t help but root for them to have their happy ending; the one you know isn’t going to come. But this isn’t a ‘70’s disaster film, nor is there a Chuck Norris or a Steven Seagal on board to save the day. That’s not real life, and that’s not this movie.

Greengrass is wise enough to show the events and characters matter-of-factly, without much embellishment. We don’t know much about these people, they’re never given a typical Hollywood backstory or character arc. We only know who they were on that plane, and what they did on that day. The same goes for the FAA workers in the control towers, many of whom are played by the actual people. We watch in frustration as they attempt futilely to communicate with the government, scramble to form a plan, and simply try to figure out what the hell’s going on. No one was prepared for this. How could they be? Such an attack wasn’t even conceived of before that day. It’s scary to think that the people in charge of our safety were just as clueless as the rest of us, but that’s exactly the case. They were caught off guard, looking for direction and instruction where there was none to be found.

As far as the so-called “political content” goes, I think there really isn’t any. Of course people will read into it whatever they want, but the film itself is really admirably neutral. It’s not about right or wrong, good or evil, Christians vs. Muslims. It’s about people stuck in a really fucked-up situation who do what they feel they have to do. Even the terrorists think that what they are doing is right. I don’t agree, but the movie doesn’t pass judgment on them (as much as they probably deserve). They simply are who they are, and they do what terrorists do. No backstory, no speeches about how the US military blew up their neighbor’s dog or all Americans are infidels for eating Cheetos and watching porn. We’ve heard it all before in countless other movies, and frankly, nobody gives a shit. Their justifications and rationales are their own. The movie doesn’t try to make us understand their motivations – yet they still come off as human beings who are just as fucked as everyone else on the plane.

But the revolt of the passengers isn’t political. There are no debates about the superiority of America, whether or not the terrorists are justified in their actions, or even any discussion of the merits of the current President. That shit all came later. No, these people did what they did because they were scared shitless. They knew that they were most likely going to die, but they had to try. They had to do something. They had to do whatever they could do to stop this from happening. And they succeeded, at least in keeping the plane from crashing into the Capitol Building. They were heroic in that effort. But it’s not a political thing, and I certainly don’t think it’s exclusively American. I think people from just about any civilized country, knowing what they knew from the little information they had, would try to do the same thing. Why didn’t the passengers from the other planes do it? They most likely didn’t have the information that those on Flight 93 did. You have to remember, the people on the other planes probably thought they would be ransomed (as the 93 passengers originally thought), and had no idea what was actually going to take place. Flight 93 was the last of the four planes to crash, and they found out what happened to the others. Can you honestly say that people from England or Australia or Switzerland or Poland wouldn’t do the same thing with that knowledge? To try to save many lives, and possibly even their own? Of course they would. This story just happens to be about Americans, because that’s what they were. But this idea that only Americans would have tried to save themselves and others is simply jingoistic bullshit. Let’s not kid ourselves.

As far as the film being “pro-Bush propaganda” though, I think that’s completely insane. This isn’t the story of the “war on terror” – if it was, it would no doubt document the innumerable fuck-ups the Bush administration has made along the way. It wouldn’t be an honest film if it didn’t. But this is the story of what happened to one group of people on one particular plane. That’s all. I’m sure some conservatives will (and probably already have) find justification for their misguided beliefs here. But one could just as easily go the other way.

I’m an avowed liberal, and I think these people should be avenged. I think they deserve to be avenged. That’s why I find it absolutely obscene that Osama bin Laden is still walking around a free man, while we’re stuck fucking around in a country that all evidence shows had nothing to do with 9/11, just to protect our oil interests. I also find it obscene that Bush and his cronies have used the tragedy to further their own agenda, by instilling fear and paranoia in the uninformed and exploiting the memory of the victims (who, I guarantee you, they couldn’t give two shits about). Never mind the insanity of our government having helped the Taliban take over the Afghani government in the first place. We paid the price for that mistake on 9/11, and you’ll never hear the elder Bush apologize for it. Let’s not forget that the CIA warned Bush Jr. of a possible terrorist attack in a report, which he chose to ignore, leading us to be completely unprepared when it did happen. That’s not my opinion or “liberal politics” – that’s all documented fact.

Again, none of that is in the film – that’s not what the movie is about. But while watching it, and afterwards, I grieved for the people on that plane, just as we all grieved for all of the victims on that day. And it makes me angry that we’ve done nothing about it, except to take over an uninvolved country based on a lie. Of course, anyone with common sense knows that you can’t get rid of all the terrorists in the world – if you kill or imprison one, a dozen more pop up to take his place. But what we can do is be more prepared, become more knowledgeable, learn from it to make sure it will never happen again. So far, at least, our government has not done that, which is also obscene (I know I keep using that word, but no other word could possibly fit). All they’ve succeeded in doing is searching old ladies at the airport and driving gas prices to insane heights. Thanks a lot, guys.

Yes, United 93 is a reminder of a terrible day in our history, and a reminder of all the mistakes that have been made in its name. But it’s much more than that. People ask, “Why do we need a movie like this? Why now?” My answer is, we need it because we can learn from it. We can learn from the humanity of the passengers, average people who stood up and faced death with courage. We can learn from the tears of the surviving family members, who were also brave in their own way by saying goodbye to their loved ones far too early. We can also learn from the frustration of the people in the control towers, who faced a bureaucratic clusterfuck of mind-boggling proportions, and did the best they could.

The truth is, 9/11 should never have happened. Perhaps if we choose to learn from a film like United 93, such a horrible thing will never happen to us again.

**** 5/02/06

Posted in Film Reviews | Leave a Comment »