Aug 2, 2007

"Maxed Out" with "No End in Sight" while "Sunshine" rests up ahead, you "Sicko"!

After a mid summer hiatus, largely caused by its author's impending poverty, The Cinema Echo Chamber is back this week. The first week of August has brought the death of two of the modernist cinema's most enduring figures (more on Antonioni in the next post) while July was notable mainly for the release of several outstanding documentaries about troubled corners of the world (Asger Leth's penetrating look at Haitian street gangs in "Ghosts of Cite Soleil", Ricki Stern and Annie Sundburg's Sudanese genocide doc "The Devil Came on Horseback") although, for Americans, the most troubled of all corners of the world seems to be our own (and wherever our military decides to intervene). If James Scurlock's "Maxed Out" and Michael Moore's "Sicko", both outstanding critiques of faulty policymaking, shed light on two of American principal domestic deficiencies that are dire but not unfixable (those being predatory money lending and insufficient health care. Full disclosure: I'm a victim of both, as 23 year old middle class college graduates are designed to be) than Charles Ferguson's incendiary Iraqi war documentary "No End in Sight", the first to elegantly detail the myriad ways in which American incompetence, naive and hubris lost the war in the months following the fall of Baghdad, has clearly installed itself as the apocalyptic conundrum documentary of the year (with no Al Gore to be found, sigh), its depiction of American malfeasance and its catastrophic consequences in these oh so dangerous times as dense, urgent and sobering as anything you'll see on American movie screen all year.

Interviews with American principals on the ground in those early months along with poignant and measured use of all the familiar archival footage shows how terrible and misguided our policy of disbanding the Iraqi military and De-Baathifying its civil bureaucracies has been while our leaders lack of interest in providing Iraqi's with safety and necessities has left a vacuum in which militant jihadists of many stripes have taken hold of the public's imagination and their young men's efforts. Please run and see this movie and tell your friends, colleagues, lovers, parents and whomever else you can to see it. Much has been written about it already: Filmmaker Magazine and Indiewire have both interview Ferguson, A.O. Scott and David Denby have weighed in with positive notices, Michael Atkinson was more reserved (and witty) on his blog, but somewhere, lost in all the glowing coastal mediasphere coverage, is how absurd it is that this film won't reach a major American audience. That its not being broadcast on CNN, on PBS, on the Late Show with David Letterman, anywhere in which Americans would have to address it more directly. Why no major American broadcasting companies haven't, out of a sense of civic duty (that is, after all, why they still broadcast election night coverage when they could still make more money showing American Idol reruns with full Ad support), opted to broadcast Ferguson's masterpiece is at the root of our problems - the demand for the safest, most mediocre and inoffensive cultural products is at the root of television's dwindling grasp on our public imagination. Yet still, the blood rests on our hands, but with still have the remote control and the youtube search engine, so who cares about staying tuned, even if a sticky, bloody keyboard is left in its wake. Atkinson's point that after seeing the film, that one can only draw the assumption that the men responsible for this outrageous war ought to hang does not fall on deaf ears here.

Heavy stuff, but perhaps not as heavy as the future imagined in Danny Boyle's entertaining if ultimately underwhelming "Sunshine", a film that ought to have stretched its conceptual hands further toward greatness, but like Icarus, came a bit too close to the sun for its own good. A brilliant dwindling crew space thriller for its first hour, Boyle reteams with "28 Days Later" scribe Alex Garland, producer Andrew MacDonald and star Cillian Murphy (I don't want to think about what this movie would have been like with Ewan McGregor and John Hodge writing) to produce one of the most sharply executed sci-fi thrillers in years, although its sharp left turn into the realm of slasher movie in its final act remains a stunningly inept miscalculation, Boyle & Co deciding to surprise and terrorify their audience instead of focusing their energies on the doomed crews final moments of approach, they're dreams, fears and forever unrealized desire, you know, the human stuff. That's always more interesting than mad men with charred skin wielding knives, but don't ask our friends at Fox Searchlight, I'm sure Rupert's indiewood vehicle has a few development types whose notes told Mr. Garland a different story.