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Friday, February 26, 2010

Movie stuff

My review of Capitalism: A Love Story, and Q&A with Kirk Jones, director of Everybody's Fine, from today's Day and Night in the Independent.

Capitalism: A Love Story (PG, general release)

Three stars
Having attacked gun culture, Dubya and the decrepit US health system, there probably was no other hot topic left for arch-provocateur Michael Moore to tackle than the whole capitalist system itself.

Like all of the big man’s work, Capitalism: A Love Story is an entertaining mixed bag with some unquestionably powerful and potent moments, but the unwieldy, all-encompassing nature of the subject matter deprives Capitalism of the kind of laser-like focus and rage that so ignited Bowling for Columbine and especially Fahrenheit 9/11.

Moore once again uses interviews, case studies, archival footage and cartoons to lay out his argument, mixing the sombre with the farcical, as he sets out to examine just how and why capitalist society, and by extension democracy, has become so corrupted.

He casts the net wide – too wide sometimes – to look at the subprime housing crisis, worker exploitation, and the parasitic influence of big business on ideas of fairness and equality.

As an investigative film-maker, Moore manages to unearth some truly shocking material: the example of a bank that cashes in on employees’ deaths by way of an underhand policy sensitively nicknamed the ‘Dead Peasants’ insurance should be enough to inspire a worker’s revolution all by itself.

Similarly, the latter section picking apart the causes, and effects, of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, is jaw-dropping and enraging to watch, while a sequence focusing on a never-realised Second Bill of Rights proposed by Franklin Roosevelt, is undoubtedly stirring.

But Moore also undermines his arguments with some bizarre errors in editorial judgement: namely relying on an actor to provide socio-economic context, and – without any hint of irony - allowing several members of the Catholic Church to condemn capitalism as a corrupt and immoral institution.

Of course, the main problem – and it’s a distracting one - is that Moore leaves himself open to all manner of hypocrisy charges, seeing as he has benefited extremely well from the very ideology and system that he’s indicting, inadvertently proving the point that capitalism only continues to thrive by assimilating its critics.


Kirk Jones – Q&A
*Your new movie Everybody’s Fine is about a lonely widower (played by Robert de Niro) crisscrossing America to visit his adult kids. Cheers for making us all feel guilty for not calling home more often.

I’m an only child, and I get on well with my own parents. I ring home as much as I can and I’ll give all the news to whoever answers, while the other one hovers in the background. I have three kids myself, and I never feel like I have enough time with them. My eldest son turns 19 next week. How’d that happen?!

*It really is a movie that makes you think – and for that audiences will never forgive you.

People have had amazing reactions to it. One guy came up to me and said that he’d worked with his dad, who’s a widower, every day for the past 10 years, but just realised that he doesn’t see him after work or at weekends. This guy then decided to bring his dad for a drink and a chat, just to see how he is.

*Aw, that’s very sweet. But how did an English man like yourself go about writing and directing an American road movie?

I did a road trip myself. I flew to New York and booked the flight home from Las Vegas. I traveled cross-country on bus and train. I took 2,000 photographs and interviewed 100 people along the way.

*You must have come across all sorts?

You certainly see and hear so many great things, and meet lots of different people. In one town I heard a man call out to another, ‘Hey Ed, where were you last week?’ And Ed replied, ‘Last week? Last week I was in pain’. What a brilliant line.

*Be honest: how scary is Robert De Niro?

I was nervous when I first met him – how couldn’t I be? But megastars like De Niro are usually pretty normal people. He knows the effect he’s had on cinema, but he doesn’t want to dwell on it. He’s very good at disarming people. He gave me a little hug after our first meeting. He’s an actor, and he needs to be connected to the real world in order to draw from it.

*You got greedy and nabbed a second legend for Everybody’s Fine: Paul McCartney wrote an original song for it.

I was crazy busy the first day I met Paul. I was running around the place and suddenly I was in his office, having a cup of tea with him. Like De Niro I think he’d hate the idea of people being scared of him. I was trying to be cool around him, but inside I was hopping up and down.

*Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale also star in the movie. Not a bad way to spend a few months on a set I’d imagine?

All actors want to be challenged, and Drew, especially, has been doing that a lot lately. She’s doing some good stuff – you should check out Grey Gardens.

*I will. Your first movie was the Irish-based lottery comedy Waking Ned. How does it feel to be the man responsible for putting David Kelly’s naked arse up on the big screen?

Filming that naked motorcycle ride scene, David initially had a body stocking on, kind of like a pair of tights, to protect his modesty. But he kept sliding off the seat because they were so slippery. I said, ‘David, the only thing to do is to go totally naked’. He thought about it for a second and whipped the stocking off. That image stays with you.

*Riddle me this: why was the title changed to Waking Ned Devine in the US?

It was always called Waking Ned Devine, but halfway through the shoot it was changed because some people thought it had religious connotations. It was my first movie, and I didn’t want to hamper its release in anyway. But then when it was released in the US, they asked if they could call it Waking Ned Devine. I just said, ‘Wish I’d thought of that!’

*Everybody’s Fine is released nationwide today

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