Films Seen September 2000

Remember the Titans (Boaz Yakin): C-

In the tradition of Movie-A-Minute:

AUTHORITY FIGURE Denzel, we're going to demote the beloved head coach of this newly integrated team and make you the coach instead.

DENZEL But if you do that, the audience won't like me. I refuse.

Several dozen JUBILANT BLACK PEOPLE suddenly appear on Denzel's doorstep.

JUBILANT BLACK PEOPLE We love you, man! Make us proud!

DENZEL Okay, now I'm Sidney Poitier. I accept.

Denzel gathers the team.

WHITE PLAYERS (to blacks) You suck!

BLACK PLAYERS (to whites) You suck!

DENZEL Gentlemen, this is Gettysburg. A hundred years ago, thousands of young men like yourselves killed one another on this very patch of earth, fighting to ensure that one day you'd all be free to stand here together and listen to me try once again for the Oscar they're damn well gonna have to give me eventually.

WHITE PLAYERS (to blacks) Ebony and ivory!

BLACK PLAYERS (to whites) Live together in perfect harmony!

ENTIRE CAST Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh lord, why don't we?!?

Then there is some FOOTBALL ACTION interspersed with shots of a PRECOCIOUS KID being annoying as hell.

The End

Human Resources (Laurent Cantet): B-

Am I required to surrender all of my Billy Bragg CDs if I note that this fervently pro-union drama lacks the courage or discipline to even momentarily consider management's point of view? If I suggest that it's not necessarily evil to replace a human being with a machine that does the job more quickly and efficiently -- that any task that a machine can do better than a person is a task that was very likely consuming the soul of the person performing it? If I posit that the film's appealing, off-the-cuff naturalism would only have been enhanced by the presence of an antagonist who wasn't constantly on the verge of cackling and rubbing his ink-stained hands together with capitalistic glee? Can I keep Workers Playtime, at least? He mostly sings about chicks on that one.

Bamboozled (Spike Lee): D+

Quite the jaw-dropper, this one -- never imagined I'd see a Spike Lee movie that makes Girl 6 look like a model of narrative and thematic coherence by comparison. Imagine that The Producers had been intended not merely as a broad, deliberately tasteless comedy, but also as a sincere and angry condemnation of Nazism past and present (complete with 7-8 minutes of clips from Night and Fog and Triumph of the Will in the final reel), and you'll have a vague notion of how off-the-charts misguided the basic premise is; factor in the clumsy, devil-may-care execution of same, and only professionalism and/or morbid curiosity can explain the strange phenomenon that found myself and most of my colleagues remaining seated and silent for the full two hours and change. Nor am I altogether clear on what the hell point it is Lee's trying so stridently to make. Presumably he feels that the blackface tradition lives on today in some less ostentatious form (otherwise why address the subject in a contemporary context?); apart from a brief remark about TV execs preferring images of blacks as buffoons, however, no argument ever coalesces, making the outlandish scenario seem like a paranoid fantasy -- provocation for provocation's sake. Bonus points for audacity, I guess -- certainly it's more intriguing and thought-provoking (even if the thought it most frequently provokes is "say what?") than something like Remember the Titans -- but I still found myself sending repeated and increasingly urgent prayers to the Movie Gods, begging for the closing credits. DV images about as appealing as putrefying flesh, per usual.

Dark Days (Marc Singer): B

Documentaries almost invariably subordinate aesthetics to content; that Errol Morris consistently pays equal attention to both is what makes him the greatest nonfiction filmmaker of his generation (yes, including Wiseman). Rare indeed is the doc that's more interesting visually than sociologically, but this wildly overpraised (but still worthwhile) portrait of homeless folks living under Penn Station speaks far more eloquently about the eerie beauty of dimly-lit b&w photography than about the quotidian existence of the disenfranchised. Employing his subjects as crew members, Singer clearly got too close to allow for a truly penetrating or even a semi-objective look at their stubborn squalor; the film's hearts-and-flowers denouement, in particular, seems shallow and simplistic, as I don't think it constitutes knee-jerk cynicism to wonder just how long it'll be before many of these people wind up back on (or beneath) the street. Still, there's a great deal of genuine human pain and dignity captured here, and the stark imagery alone justifies the price of admission; a series of stills made from its frames might suggest a subterreanean, nightmarish Ansel Adams.

Bring It On (Peyton Reed): B

Odd, invigorating mixture of broad teen comedy and pungent social criticism -- the latter including not just the (somewhat underdeveloped) cultural appropriation scenario, but also issues of class ("That's all right!/That's okay!/You're gonna pump our gas someday!") and intolerance (male cheerleaders are automatically pegged as gay; this struck me as weird, but then I attended a Jesuit academy where the entire squad was perforce male, and where cheerleading resembled stand-up comedy more than it did gymnastics). Forceful performances (Eliza Dushku's reluctant pom-pommer makes a hilariously sarcastic foil for Dunst, at least until the character inexplicably mellows midway through) and nonstop energy compensate for some lazy plotting and a surprisingly lackluster climax; the movie also features what may be the first fart joke I've ever laughed at in my entire life, for which it deserves some kind of special award.