“Bowling for Columbine” ** ½
Directed and Written by Michael Moore; cameo appearances by Chris Rock, Dick Clark, George W. Bush, Charlton Heston, and Marilyn Manson. Rated R, 120 minutes
This is an interesting documentary that says more about the writer-director Michael Moore than its critical subject of gun violence and how it affects our youth.
The movie has been widely praised for tackling a taboo subject that politicians scurry away from like roaches when the light goes on. Moore admits to being a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association. (NRA).
The main issue I have is the movie's tactics and the arch attitude to anyone who doesn't agree with Mr. Moore's dubious ruses in order to make his documentary. A movie should entertain, perhaps touch your heart if not your head.
A documentary needs to fill your head with reliable, credible information about a subject you do not know much about. This is not a movie about Columbine or about bowling. I lower its star value not because I do not agree with the point of view, but because I disagree with the hammering that Moore uses when more subtle argument and gentler persuasive methods might have done the fine work that the hammering only destroys.
As I write this review, I awoke this morning to hear that another suicide bomber had destroyed himself as well as 11 humans who lost their lives for merely riding a bus. The Israelis combat this reprehensible and futile protest with an equally brutal retribution against Palestinian property. Guns are not the only means to violence and destruction in our world community.
Moore does not shy from using the image of the planes flying into the buildings as backdrop in the movie, but avoids the context. Yigal Amir, the “ultra-orthodox” Israeli youth who murdered Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 fired the shots that lead down this destructive path.
Perhaps it is overly simplistic to focus on that one heinous act in this litany of sadness in the Middle East. Only a fool would deny that the undoing of the peace process by a gun has lead to our current situation where we cower in fear from terrorism as its evil boils out of the Middle East to the far reaches of the earth, with exploding French freighters off Yemen and nightclub infernos in Bali.
Call me irresponsible, but I blame Amir—he got his wish, and the world pays the consequences. Of course it has taken extremism and a dearth of leadership from all sides to aid the imbroglio, where we are backed into a cul de sac with few alternatives, and peace prospects seem distant. But gun and other violence percolates throughout the world, not only in the USA.
To everyone's sighs of relief, the infamous Beltway Sniper pair were nabbed. We do not yet know whether this is a series of random insane acts with a Svengali misdirecting a gullible youth or some act of terrorism in its former generic sense.
The smoldering rage and frustration about lack of alternatives seems to light the fuse on these incendiary individuals. There is the concept of rage at work being directed against coworkers and supervisors now called “going postal.”
But is the culprit really guns, their ready availability, the easy access to ammunition, and video game and TV violence trivializing the permanence of death? Is it the ability for small, unaccomplished individuals to indelibly mark the world with the crayon of their meaninglessness? Do we need societal anger-management courses and easier access to mental health professionals and Zoloft?
Michael Moore's movie marches us through the unfortunate Columbine episode with the factoid that Harris and Klebold took bowling as a course for credit. In fact they bowled (ineptly) the night before they committed the atrocity.
Moore uses two of their victims—two ordinary kids, one corpulent but with a bullet lodged near his spine; the other, in a wheelchair after being paralyzed in the attack. They become Moore's pawns in his gambit to guilt and embarrass Kmart executives at their Michigan headquarters. He makes them look foolish and bureaucratic, skilled at applying window dressing and mollifying the media, but no creativity to problem solve. I do not enjoy watching people being humiliated as they humiliate themselves.
The kids, innocent targets at Columbine, become Moore's bullets to allow Kmart to shoot themselves in the foot. Moore does not shy from using parents stalled in grief still hanging on to the raw emotion of loss in order to make points. As in King Lear, the only wisdom springs from the mouth of the painted fool, Marilyn Manson, who comes across as intelligent and reasonable in his cameo.
Not that any tragedy can be measured, but for me the saddest vignette concerns the senseless death of a little white girl in Moore's Paradise Lost of Flint, Michigan. Of course, part of the tragedy is that she was killed by a little black boy in her class—fodder for racial strife that has nothing to do with it.
The lives of two kids were destroyed—one bled to death, the other marked for life as a killer even though only the most mean-spirited can believe he had either motive or intent to kill. The unspeakable tragedy becomes the background for Moore to attempt to humiliate Dick Clark. Apparently the boy's tragic life before the murder included a welfare mom who traveled 50 miles each day to Auburn where a Dick Clark franchise needed a minimum wage employee.
Michigan's “work-fare,” the pride of the Engler administration, seems the culprit. A genuinely thoughtful segment by the sheriff in Flint disparaged the foolishness of separating welfare moms from their kids. It was the woman's lack of housing and need for work that drove her to co-habit with a brother deeply embroiled in purveying drugs; that and the casual treatment of a gun provide the elements for the tragedy for these two small children.
Moore's attempt to ambush Dick Clark in order to catch a sound-bite typifies the cinematic imbalance, which seemed as fair as some political attack ads—meant to inflame and embarrass not to inform or elucidate the problem. Rather than the pathos of tragedy, we move into the politics of blame. We learn nothing except how to point fingers and how small big figures can seem.
The final discourtesy was the pandering for an interview with Charlton Heston. Speaking into the intercom at Heston's Beverly Hills walled and gated-mansion, Moore proclaims his NRA membership to secure an interview to assassinate Heston's credibility.
While I was mesmerized by the chariot race of Ben Hur and Messalah, Heston's latter-day conversion to right wing causes has been less charming, and I root ardently for him to lose this battle. His recent admission of “early Alzheimer's” seemed evident in the movie. I am no fan of the extremist in the NRA that wants to use the second amendment to shield citizens who own weapons whose only purpose is killing other humans.
The NRA famously mendaciously points out that guns do not kill people, people do. As we live in a land with a new Department of Homeland Security in order to keep us safe from terrorists, we allow wholesale terror to continue and react not at all. Only CNN and the newspapers enjoy the distinction between spree killers and serial killers, and we unfortunately remember David Berkowitz's Son of Sam escapades and Klebold and Harris because of their notorious deeds. Humiliating Dick Clark and Charlton Heston may feel good, but does nothing to elucidate the problem or pose a legitimate solution.
There is no redemptive quality as we excoriate Moore's targets. Purportedly, Kmart no longer sells ammo for automatic weapons because of Moore's Mike Wallace-style interview, but is Kmart's vending ammunition really the reason we have these problems?
If you are amused by Moore's egocentric style and want to catch a glimpse of the bright lights that populate the Michigan Militia, go see the movie. You will see some pretty stupid scenes and some fairly demented fellow Americans making some pretty foolish statements.
As such this movie has its macabre comedic moments. On the other hand, you will be moved to tears as the principal of the little girl's school is choked up speaking about it. You will see video footage of the Columbine killers caught on the surveillance cameras during their rampage.
But as we mark the anniversaries of assassinations, perhaps we can acknowledge that too frequently guns are used to commit violent political acts. While people do kill people, guns make it too easy for them to do so either by accident or on purpose.
Chris Rock's cameo quip about increasing the price of bullets to $5,000 apiece may make accidental shootings less common. As we “hunt” bin Laden and distract from the inability to find our prey by substituting Saddam Hussein, we all can celebrate our roots from the Wild West with cowboy solutions to our problems.
The pen and the documentary can be mightier than the revolver, but not when our aim is not true and our story panders to base instincts. Bowling for Columbine bowled over most of the reviewers, but I found Moore's aim to be below the belt, even though I agree with his thesis and his sentiments.
‘THE BANGER SISTERS’
Starring Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon, and Geoffrey Rush, Written and Directed by Bob Dolman. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Did you ever wonder what became of the groupies that were the comfort women for the Doors, the Mothers of Invention, and the likes of the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart?
Well this movie offers an unlikely vision into what happens to those who followed their dreams then, and some turned them in on better prospects of respectability. Predictably, and perhaps too much so, comes this first directing effort of Bob Dolman, who previously wrote the screenplays for Far & Away and Willow and was a writer for SCTV, where he met his wife, Andrea Martin.
What I want to know for this movie, though, is how you get such an illustrious cast to perform in such a modest vehicle. The most modest vehicle is a beat-up El Camino that drives us quickly into the desert with Suzette (Goldie Hawn) at the wheel, an unrepentant '60s hellraiser freshly fired from her amazingly long stint at Whiskey A-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
We catch a glimpse of an overly endowed Goldie, who later tells us that these are “store-boughts,” draining a rum and coke as she leers at a young and less talented rocker than those that she bedded on the floor of this venerable establishment. (This is an “R” rated movie for situations and language, but don't expect anything really naughty). In case you forget who she is, the initial “S” dangles to her cleavage to remind you of her name and what she stands for.
The younger, hipper proprietor isn't buying her act, although it is amazingly well-preserved—Goldie looks as good here as she did in 1980's Private Benjamin when she was 34. And even further back than that: She continues to shine and bloom as youthfully as she did in Cactus Flower in 1969.
Original Choices for ‘Thelma and Louise’?
This movie does bring her together with Susan Sarandon, purportedly the original casting idea for Thelma and Louise.
There are times that this film gives us more information than we need, but others in which we find not enough written to carry the scenes to where they might go. Suzette is dead broke and decides to see if she can “borrow” some dough from her fellow hellraising groupie buddy, “Vinnie,” who turned from following rock stars to getting a rock on her finger and stolid respectability by marrying a politically ambitious lawyer and is now settled in Phoenix to raise her two adolescent kids.
Vinnie is no more, however. Lavinia has emerged and wants no part of being reminded from what depths she has risen. We don't learn much about why these two “sisters” lost track of each other.
With only a credit card at a filling station in the desert, Suzette lucks into Harry (Geoffrey Rush), anything but Mr. Lucky.
A sad-sack loser and failed screenwriter, he has more phobias and obsessions than Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.
I pondered for a while about what would have happened if Harry had been played instead by the ever-cool James Woods, who the Australian Rush vaguely resembles. Woods surely would have dumped this overly nerdy role as the death knell for any future suave or cold roles for which he is famous.
Harry still uses a typewriter rather than a computer, but in it he has a pistol with a single bullet meant to be used in Phoenix. Once there, he checks into a ritzy hotel and Suzette hopes to find the address of Vinnie. Harry has to change rooms four times for varied obsessive reasons.
Suzette watches the white limo sucking in the bloom of youth as Lavinia's daughter, Hannah (Erika Christensen) is heading for a prom squired by the pick of the social litter that is sure to score some acid and try to spice up the evening with the soon-to-be Valedictorian of her class.
I couldn't help but calculate that there were years missing. To wit: It has been 30 years since Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison were on the scene. That would place our tableau in the early 1990s. But the dress, with every girl giving us a glimpse of her belly button and boys with spiked hair, nails it as the Class of 2002 not 1992.
The big surprise for our leading ladies is how far Lavinia has drifted from her past, and how much she wants to suppress it—especially from her snotty, spoiled girls to whom she preaches platitudes. Also, she never really came clean about what she did before meeting her hubby.
Lavinia tries to blow Suzette away on two occasions, which serves as a vehicle for her to be driven back to the swanky hotel and new room for Harry, who has covered some of the art with towels and has Gingko Biloba and Salmon oil tablets as well as St. John's wort and saw palmetto and every other nostrum he could sweep from the health food store.
Suzette's libidinous strengths are offered, and found initially repulsive to a man who came to ride with her because of insect frolics on the long distance bus (of course he's too uptight to drive and is afraid to fly).
Apples do not fall far from the tree—Hannah enjoys partying but can't handle drugs and alcohol. Serendipitously, the party noise is just down the hall from Harry and Suzette's hotel room, and Suzette is there to rescue Hannah and nurse her through a post-inebriation stupor and emetic episode, the results of which cause another room change for Harry.
Suzette delivers the wan Hannah home. A promised luncheon, where Lavinia hopes to buy Suzette off and get rid of her, get delayed to experience younger sister, Ginger (Eva Amurri, the 20-year-old real-life daughter of Susan Sarandon), failing her driver's test and acting out hysterically.
Ultimately, Suzette helps to stir the woman that was in good old Lavinia. More, her daughter's auto accident and emergency room histrionics that lead each of the family members to exercise their own needs over hers makes Lavinia realize that on her way to a happy marriage and raising two smart but dysfunctional kids, she had lost herself.
After a night out, she and Suzette return to rustle through a desert dry basement storage area to find a cache of trophy photos of the rockers that they had enjoyed and a joint. Smoking the stale weed and flicking hot embers leads to setting off the smoke detector, and hubby and girls are soon aware of mom's sordid past.
Hannah's valedictory address hits mom's mark: It is better to remain true to who you are than to live a lie or be ashamed of where you come from.
Odd that this overindulged youngster actually got it. Her part, her sister's, and particularly the father's roles are profoundly underwritten. There were ample opportunities to make some very humorous quips, but they were lost in driving this dilapidated vehicle for the two divas. Harry's role as the pathetic loser who intends to shoot supposedly his father but then as we eventually learn, actually himself, also seems haphazardly concocted and hard to believe.
In the end, this is a way to see Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon. The characters and plot are a tad thin, some opportunities for laughs are lost, and the roles of Harry as well as Raymond, Lavinia's husband, are merely caricatures.
The loss of the 10 years perhaps also is meant to contrast how old these baby-boomer stars and some of us baby boomers are becoming. It is hard to believe that Jim Morrison was only 28 when he died in 1971 (31 years ago). His grave has become the prime attraction for visitors to Père LaChaise Cemetery in Paris, which also keeps the remains of Chopin, Modigliani, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. Frank Zappa is dead of prostate cancer—the bad kind that's not the kind to “watch and wait” if anyone really does that in the US. And these were the guys that Vinnie and Suzette did at least 30 years ago, although this movie would have us believe it was 20.
Being true to yourself and not losing yourself in pursuit of illusions is a reasonable theme that the movie glosses over.
Some critics have panned this movie, but despite its predictability and the pat situations, it's worth a try and might make you remember a lost friend or see your own family with their ups and downs.