Pregnancy at the movies redux

Brett McCracken has written an excellent commentary for CT Movies on the recent trend in pro-life themes at the movies — focusing not only on Waitress and Knocked Up, the hot topics du jour, but looking back at Children of Men and looking ahead to Bella, and even comparing and contrasting the rise in these themes with the recent box-office failure of ultraviolent films like Hostel Part II and Captivity, the latter of which couldn’t even crack the top ten when it opened in North America last week.

Michael Moore vs. the tenacious Canadians

If you are anywhere near Vancouver and have any interest in the effect that Michael Moore’s films have had on the state of current documentaries and/or political discourse, then make a point of catching Manufacturing Dissent at the VanCity Theatre while you still can, i.e. before its final performance Wednesday night.

The film, directed by Debbie Melnyk (seen above with Moore) and Rick Caine, is not perfect by any stretch, but it is an absolutely necessary critique of Michael Moore and the effect, both positive and negative, that he has had on the public perception of documentary films and various other issues besides. And what makes the film especially potent is that it is produced by a couple of left-leaning Canadians who actually share Moore’s politics, but find that his paranoid egomania and his shallow handling of complex political issues consistently get in the way of any actual dialogue that might otherwise be taking place in his country.

No matter what your politics, there is a very human story that comes through in this film, and that is a story about a man who has turned his back on friends and allies time and again, mocking them and making a hash out of what was supposed to be their common struggles. Even if you don’t share the agenda behind those struggles, you have to feel at least a little sympathy for the people who feel that their causes were hijacked and marginalized and ultimately disparaged, all because Moore wanted to be a celebrity.

One of the most damning revelations — though it’s not entirely new — is that Moore actually interviewed Roger Smith, the General Motors CEO who was supposedly impossible to reach when Moore made his first feature film, Roger & Me (1989). The whole premise of the film was that Moore couldn’t get the interview, but according to activist James Musselman — and Smith himself — Moore did get the interview but left it on the cutting-room floor because the movie was more entertaining without it.

Moore disputed this claim last month, telling the Associated Press that “Anybody who says that is a (expletive) liar.” But, well, hmmm. Who should we trust, Musselman or Moore? John Pierson, who helped make Moore the multimillionaire celebrity that he is now by selling Roger & Me to Warner Brothers for $3 million back in 1989, definitely trusts Musselman. And so do I.

The film includes video footage of Moore sharing the stage with Musselman and other activists in the mid-1980s, and then denying he had any affiliation with those same people a few years later when Phil Donahue, of all people, recites their names during an appearance by Moore on his show. In this and other scenes, Moore proves himself to be a dishonest and disloyal person. It may be that Musselman and Smith are no better than Moore — I wouldn’t know, as I have never met any of them myself — but as it stands right now, the evidence does not tilt in Moore’s favour.

Among other things, the film also touches on Moore’s short-lived stint as the editor of Mother Jones in 1986. Apparently Moore left the magazine — or was forced out — partly because he and his publishers clashed over an article that was critical of the Sandinistas. One of the film’s interviewees says Moore couldn’t see how people on the Left could be critical of both Ronald Reagan and the Sandinistas; opposition to one required loyalty to the other. Presumably some liberals will share that attitude when it comes to Manufacturing Dissent; they will think that opposition to Bush and the like requires loyalty to Moore and thus a boycott of this film. But I sincerely hope that those liberals are in the minority, and that films like Manufacturing Dissent will encourage greater honesty and skepticism and discussion and even, yes, compassion for those whose beliefs do not match our own.

I might write more on this later, especially if I get around to seeing Sicko — a film that, based on the reviews I’ve read, seems to perpetuate a number of the problems that have afflicted Moore’s other films. I wonder if Melnyk and Caine will provide any updates on that film when they put their own film out on DVD.

Yet another movie not screened for critics?

It used to be that, if a movie wasn’t screened for critics until the night before the movie opened, it probably meant the movie sucked. Now, it might just mean that the movie was made by 20th Century Fox. The latest case in point: The Simpsons Movie.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Some critics won’t get a look at “The Simpsons Movie” until three days before it opens nationally, a strategy Twentieth Century Fox is using to preserve the film’s plot from Internet pirates and scoop-hungry movie bloggers.

The film, which “Simpsons” fans have awaited for years, is set to premiere in Westwood on July 24 with a wide release on July 27. Fox is hosting screenings for most critics and reporters on July 24, 25 and 26.

The late screening has prompted speculation that “The Simpsons Movie” isn’t all that its gargantuan marketing campaign has promised. A Fox spokeswoman denied those rumors Thursday.

“Anybody who’s needed to see the film has already seen it,” said the spokeswoman, who asked that her name not be used. “We’re not concerned about audience response to the film. The audience response has been overwhelming.” . . .

Of course, as readers of this blog will know, Fox didn’t cook this strategy up just for The Simpsons Movie. The last few Fox films — including Pathfinder, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Live Free or Die Hard — have all been screened for the media as late as possible, and in Vancouver, the only press screenings I know about have all been either cancelled or held back until the night before the movie opens (i.e. until a few hours before the public can buy tickets to midnight and/or matinee screenings). And as we all know, evening-before screenings “don’t count.”

I have not yet heard about any Vancouver-area screenings for The Simpsons Movie, but a colleague of mine in the Washington, D.C. area says he won’t get a chance to see the movie until June 26, i.e. the night before it opens. I have no idea which cities, apart from L.A., are getting the two- and three-nights-before screenings.

JUL 19 UPDATE: Wow, I just heard that there will, in fact, be a press screening for The Simpsons Movie in Vancouver — and it will happen at least two days before the movie’s release date. Fox has been behaving very strangely lately, but at least in this respect, in my home town, they are finally doing something right.

JUL 24 UPDATE: I take back the compliment. After spending a few days scrounging around for a babysitter — a task that was trickier than usual this week, thanks to a music class that my twins are enrolled in, an hour’s drive from home — I RSVP’ed for the press screening today, and then the publicist got back to me and said, in effect, “Whoops, you have a blog, don’t you? We shouldn’t have invited you to the Wednesday-morning screening. Fox wants critics with blogs to go to the Thursday-night screening, the night before the movie opens, only.” And after I had already arranged the babysitting? “Sorry about that, maybe Fox will change its policy by the time their next film comes out.” Unbelievable.

Evan Almighty — another junket report’s up!

My third report from the junket for Evan Almighty is now up at ChristianWeek. This report is actually the second one that I wrote, but this newspaper usually waits a few weeks before posting the arts columns online, so it’s the third one to hit the internet.

Should an actor’s offscreen persona matter?

Here’s a funny coincidence. A friend and I were discussing whether my review of A Mighty Heart should have completely avoided any reference to the baggage that Angelina Jolie brings to this film via her offscreen persona, including whether my review should have avoided even the slightest allusion to the celebrity gossip surrounding her. (I think I refrained from getting bogged down in that, but I didn’t think I could avoid mentioning it entirely.) As we were discussing this, I vaguely remembered that Roger Ebert had referred to Jolie’s offscreen persona in his review of Beyond Borders (2003). And so I went and dug up Ebert’s review of that film. And look at these opening sentences:

“Beyond Borders” has good intentions and wants to call attention to the plight of refugees, but what a clueless vulgarization it makes of its worthy motives. Of course there’s more than one way to send a message, and maybe this movie will affect audiences that wouldn’t see or understand a more truthful portrait of refugees, like Michael Winterbottom’s recent “In This World.” The movie stars Angelina Jolie, who is personally involved in efforts to help refugees and isn’t simply dining out on a fashionable cause. . . .

I thought it was funny to see Jolie and Winterbottom juxtaposed — indeed, contrasted — like that, a few years before they got around to working together on A Mighty Heart. Did Ebert’s review give them ideas? Did he play some part in bringing them together?

At any rate, it is certainly an interesting question, whether an actor’s non-actorly pursuits ought to be taken into account when one is writing a film review — either to hold back one’s criticism, as in the case of Ebert’s Beyond Borders review, or to hold back one’s praise, as in the case of my A Mighty Heart review. Should the same standard apply to both reviews, or is there something about holding back criticism that is more-worthy or less-worthy than holding back praise? Is there a double standard, as it were?

Incidentally, I also mentioned Jolie’s offscreen persona a couple years ago in my review of Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), but again, I hardly think I could have avoided mentioning it at all:

At this point, moviegoers may recall that Pitt himself saw his marriage (to Jennifer Aniston) come to an end after five or six years together while he was making this movie, and that there has been much media speculation about the reasons for this. Suffice to say that such gossip has no place here; for me, at least, it was quite easy to forget about all that, once the story gets going. Indeed, the only other time I found myself thinking about the movie stars’ real-life personae, it was during a scene in which the Smiths attend a neighbor’s party, and one of the women hands a baby over to Jane, leaving her to look rather uncomfortable as she holds the child at an awkward arm’s length. The ironic humor here, of course, comes from the fact that Jolie’s fondness for children is a huge part of her offscreen image.

To judge from the way that paragraph was written, it would seem I wrote that review at a time when Pitt and Jolie were still officially denying any romantic involvement. Would I have written the review differently if they had fessed up? Who knows.

Of all the clips for a family-values critic to use!

How much do you want to bet that “Dr.” Ted Baehr did not get the penis joke at the end of this clip from Ratatouille?

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