GREEN ZONE: The Film Babble Blog Review

GREEN ZONE (Dir. Paul Greengrass, 2010)

Going in to this movie I knew precious little about it. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even given the movie poster more than a passing glance. I only knew it was a Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass/war movie. But in the first five minutes I knew exactly where it was going to go.

In those five minutes, Damon, as a US Chief Warrant Officer in 2003 war torn Iraq, pulls up with his crew to a location that Intel tells them houses Weapons of Mass Destruction. They find the rotting remains of a toilet factory instead. He goes back to his superiors and tells them that the WMDs weren’t there (or any of the other locations they’ve been to) and the Intel is bad. They sternly tell him to stand down.

From that description, do you see where this is going? Do you see shoot-outs, shady informers, sleazy politicians, and compromised journalists? Do you see a climax involving Damon, aggressively and a tad bit violently, confronting the sleazy politician (played by Greg Kinnear) over the government conspiracy spreading lies in a public place/photo op? That’s what I call that “THE FUGITIVE ending” and it, like everything else in this less than thrilling thriller, you’ve seen before. Many many times before.

This is a standard issue liberal-minded political action drama that made me wish Damon and Greengrass had just made another BOURNE movie. In last year’s THE INFORMANT! (one of last year’s best films and a role he should’ve been nominated for IMHO) Damon really pulled off something different; a fully realized character that was almost unrecognizable. In this and play it safe parts like INVICTUS, he’s just plain old Matt Damon going through the motions.

We never get any sense of who the character Damon is beyond his military conviction. There is no phone call from back home or any line that tells us who he is outside of this plot.

The lack of such insights makes one really appreciate the newly Oscar Best Picture approved THE HURT LOCKER so much more. The compelling drive of that vital Iraq war film really reduces such a lackluster work as GREEN ZONE to the soulless shaky cam rubble it is.

I could be wrong but I swear Matt Damon did not smile once in the entirity of that movie. That might sound like a minor quibble but when he flashes that sharp glaring grin it can be quite stinging. Since I didn’t smile once either I can’t really blame him.

More later…

Stomaching The Provocative Doc FOOD INC.

FOOD INC. (Dir. Robert Kenner, 2008)

I was sad to miss this film at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival earlier this year so I’m glad to see it get distribution and play in my area. As an examination in three parts of American agricultural food production, it’s an eye opening and insightful look into the disturbing conditions under which animals are bred by factories while genetically engineered produce is the grocery store norm. Much of this material is familiar; Richard Linklater’s FAST FOOD NATION (2006), a comedy drama featuring Greg Kinnear and based on Eric Schlosser’s best selling 2000 book, covered the dark side of the fast food industry with a number of the same bullet points made. Schlosser produces and co-narrates FOOD INC. with author and activist Michael Pollan and they give us a much fuller picture than FAST FOOD NATION with the direct concise expert breakdown this subject requires.

Despite many disgusting shots with nauseating descriptions of inhuman practices, this film isn’t about grossing you out. Many folks will avoid it with that fear, but FOOD INC. is overwhelmingly concerned with the politics behind our food choices. Schlosser states: “When you go through the supermarket there is a illusion of diversity. So much of our industrial food turns out to be rearrangements of corn.” That’s just one of many valuable lessons to be found as we see hidden camera footage that was shot by actual employees at the world’s largest slaughterhouse and see cows being fed corn while standing in their own manure at the biggest cattle yards in the country.

Again, a lot of folks want to be the dark about where their food comes from so an audience may be hard to come by for this fierce film. Sure ignorance may be bliss, but an education on the politics of the food we eat that should not be ignored. It’s not an anti-meat movie either – the end credits are filled, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH-style, with suggestions for better healthy eating and “become a vegetarian” isn’t one of the tips so rest assured carnivores! Maybe the question isn’t of an audience, but the ‘right’ audience for this film – a special showing at the Colony Theater last weekend raised over $2,250 for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle which will bring wholesome food and essential kitchen equipment to needy families in the area. As it continues its theatrical run with other fundraisers and events planned to promote it, it’s sure to build the right audience. And that audience probably won’t be buying a large, buttered popcorn to go with it.

More later…

A Few New Release DVD Reviews Just for You


Ah, the art of the snark. In his blog not long ago, Roger Ebert wrote a brilliant breakdown of the current over-proliferation of snarking in the press (“Hunt not the Snark but the Snarker” – February 25th, 2009). After calling it “cultural vandalism” he chided writers such as Hollywood blogger Nikki Finke and LATimes reporter Patrick Goldstein for their cheap shots at the Oscars and he concluded gracefully, as Ebert is known to do, by quoting a Lewis Carroll poem. If the protagonist of this film, celebrity journalist Sidney Young, was a real person there’s no doubt Ebert would’ve singled him out too. For despite that Young is the creation (and alter ego of) paparazzi pundit Toby Young (from his book of the same name), as played by an in-your-face Simon Pegg he would be likely be one of the most unavoidable media masters of snark today.

After upsetting a posh party with a pig he claims is Babe from BABE 2, Pegg is hired by the editor of Sharp’s magazine (Jeff Bridges again in very un-Dude territory). Pegg and the magazine, based on Vanity Fair, are an uneasy fit as he insults everybody in sight especially an extremely miscast Kirsten Dunst who bases her entire performance on constant eye-rolls (oh, was that too snarky?). Pegg has 2 goals – to get ahead at the magazine no matter what it takes and to bed a model/starlet played by Megan Fox. He has to contend with Fox’s powerful publicist (Gillian Anderson) and an asshole boss (Danny Houston) as we have to contend with his unlikable unctuousness while the predictable plot goes through the motions.

This is the kind of film that doles out such beaten to death comic clichés as a transsexual that fools the leading man and a small dog getting crushed (see A FISH CALLED WANDA for how to deal with this better). Pegg, who can lift even a lightweight rom com like RUN FATBOY RUN above total mediocrity, here is helpless to save this material. Bridges sums up Pegg’s character’s sense of humor in their first interview scene as: “snarky, bitter, and witless.” That sums up the movie as well; it mistakes snarky for funny over and over again. But if the joke that Pegg wore a bright red t-shirt that said “young, dumb and full of come” to the interview makes you laugh then this might be the movie for you. As for me, this film lost and alienated me, but I know I’m probably the millionth snarky movie

blogger to say that.

FLASH OF GENIUS (Dir. Mark Abraham, 2008)

“You’ll never look at a windshield wiper the same way again” could be the tagline for this biopic of frustrated inventor Robert Kearns. Kearns, played with pluck and aplomb by Greg Kinnear (in non smarmy mode happily), developed an intermittent windshield wiper in the 60’s and took his idea to the Ford Motor Company. After studying his work they pass on paying him but use the method anyway causing him to sacrifice his marriage and sanity to fight for the credit. His wife (Lauren Graham) tries to be supportive, as do his 5 kids, but he goes off the deep end and has to be institutionalized – a point the movie stresses by opening with a bath robed frazzled Kinnear on a bus claiming he’s going to Washington D.C. by request of the Vice President.

There’s a big heart here but the obsessed man alienates the world around him to plead his life’s case formula is adhered to way too strictly. I knew nothing of the real life story here but because I’ve been schooled in the scenario, from Jimmy Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON to Richard Dreyfuss in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I knew exactly what to expect in terms of the plot-point highs and lows. But I bet most people would watch this and just know it’s going to end in a climatic court scene, you know? Still, it is an interesting story told well with solid performances by Kinnear, Graham, Dermot Mulroney as a subtle backstabbing colleague, and most notably Alan Alda as a crusty but suave lawyer who advices our hero to settle. FLASH OF GENIUS is an earnest and straight forward effort that will surely fall in line with other inventor-done-wrong-by-the-system biopic ilk (TUCKER, anybody?) some night in the future on The History Channel. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know, but it’s the best I can do for this fair film.

BOTTLE SHOCK (Dir. Randall Miller, 2008)

As another period piece true story that I was unaware of, (hey, that’s why they makes these movies!), this film delivers a case study of how California became a contender in the worldwide wine wars. Alan Rickman, in his best comfortably cagey demeanor, plays sommelier Steven Spurrier, who in 1976, traveled to Napa Valley to sample wines for a blind taste test against French wine. At the same time, a grizzled Bill Pulliman with a winery named Chateau Montelena is struggling with massive debts while he labors to make chardonnay. He’s also struggling with his long haired freewheeling son Bo (Chris Pine) and foreman Gustavo (Six Feet Under’s Freddy Rodriquez), who grew grow up with soil underneath his nails and the smell of the grapes in the air that he breathes (his words) and so has wine plans of his own. For the obligatory sex subplot there’s a blonde UC Davis graduate student (Rachel Taylor) who sleeps with both Pine and Rodriquez because, uh, the movie needed a sex subplot.

The best thing about this film is its cinematography. The film makers were obviously in love with the Napa Valley with many sweeping shots of the orchards bathed in luscious crisp sunlight. It gives SIDEWAYS a run for its money in that department for sure. There is a nice sprinkling of wit mostly coming from Rickman’s snotty character: “You think I’m an asshole, and I’m not really -it’s just that I’m British and you’re not” but I wouldn’t say this movie is really that funny. It’s a likable lark with some wine fun facts about fermentation even if doesn’t give as much color to its characters as its scenery. BOTTLE SHOCK moves no mountains and shakes no new ground, but, to borrow wine jargon, it goes down smooth and finishes well. It would be the perfect complement to a wine tasting party, even (or especially) with the sound turned down.

MY NAME IS BRUCE (Dir. Bruce Campbell, 2007)

“Getting you laid is hard enough without having to explain the whole Bruce Campbell factor” says one scruffy teenager (Logan Martin) to another (Taylor Sharpe) at the beginning of this low budget “comedy horror” (as Campbell himself calls it) film. This sarcastic kid taunts his friend by going through a stack of DVDs (for some reason he has in his car) reeling off their titles – “Death Of The Dead”, “Maniac Cop”, “Moonwarp”, “Man With The Screaming Brain”, “Alien Apolcalypse”, and so on – I seriously don’t know which of these is real or fake but I’ll get around to IMDbing it. Not being able to take his buddy’s abuse anymore, Sharpe hits the brakes screeching his vehicle to a halt and exclaims “Bruce Campbell is the greatest actor of his generation!” Martin replies: “Dude, forget thumbs, Ebert wouldn’t wipe his crack with this trash!” He does however concede “I kinda liked BUBBA HO TEP.” Sharpe: “*Everyone* liked BUBBA HO-TEP!” This is a nice self mocking intro to an entire movie of self mockery but if you haven’t seen EVIL DEAD (or any of its sequels) and had no idea who that odd square jawed guy was in small but vital parts of all 3 SPIDERMAN movies, then this movie wasn’t made for you.

It’s a movie for Bruce Campbell fans exclusively, made by a Bruce Campbell fan – namely Bruce Campbell. Like the in-joke precedent set by Ricky Gervais’ Extras, Campbell plays an exaggerated version of himself. Hes a heavy drinker that bitches at gofers on the set of a sci-fi cheapie named “Cavealiens” when his lemon water isn’t cold enough (actually its one literally pissed off gofer’s urine) and, of course, he has an ex-wife who he calls at 3:00AM from the floor of his back woods trailer. Yes, these are all obvious joke clichés about a “big ass, self obsessed movie star” (as wooden love interest Grace Thorsen says) but that’s the point you see. The premise is that a small town named Gold Lick (that’s right) is tormented by a Chinese war diety called Guan Di and they call upon Campbell to bring his zombie/vampire/alien/whatever fighting skills to defeat this demon. Yep, ¡THREE AMIGOS!, GALAXY QUEST, and more recently TROPIC THUNDER have done likewise actors-must-become-what-they-portray plots much better but here it’s just an excuse to make fun of a career full of schlock and bombast. I mean, as stupid as the residents of Gold Lick are, they dont seem to think hes anything but Bruce Campbell and his thinking its a movie shoot is pretty poorly handled as well.

Campbell quips through every scene with his unique brand of big chinned charm but unfortunately very few of his one-liners are funny – “You don’t know fear, kid. You’ve never worked with Sam Raimi” being one of the better ones if that says anything. As for the production, it’s about as cheap as one would expect with fades that give it a “made for TV” feel. To call this movie bad or even a turkey would surely be taken as a compliment by Campbell and crew because that’s what they were going for – a ‘so bad it’s good’ vibe, but as Enid in GHOST WORLD said: “it’s so bad it’s gone from good back to bad again.” Sure, it’s a straight to DVD for fanatics only throwaway and one that’s not without its charms but if you don’t appreciate Campbell or his oeuvre I doubt it’ll win you over. As the taunting kid quoted above said, BUBBA HO TEP is a better gateway to geekery * but the EVIL DEAD films are the most essential of Campbell’s filmography. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure indeed. Except here it’s the same man.

* With apologies to the Onion A.V. Club.

More later…