Back to the Reviews On The Side Homepage Reviews On The Side
In this episode: Fahrenheit 9/11 | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This is the first time ever I have written reviews in a coffee house. I got my 12" PowerBook a year and a half ago with the express purpose of using it in such places. I thought perhaps it would make it more pleasurable to write while not being cooped up either at work—an ethically poor place to write anyway—or at home. I also thought it would make me look cool and get me lots of chicks.

There are some tiny, fun tidbits of interest about where I'm writing. First, I'm here with my Mac, sitting at a table above which hovers a small picture of Bill Gates. Ha to you, sir. Right above Bill's picture is The Literary Map of Los Angeles, upon which are shown the locations of abodes and final resting places of famous writers. On the map is a marker for Ray Bradbury's home in Cheviot Hills. Across the room, hung above the fireplace, is a movie poster for the Francois Truffaut-directed adaptation of Ray's famous work about censorship, Fahrenheit 451. This is interesting only because I am about to dive into a review of Michael Moore's new movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. It's also helpful because I can look up at any time and be sure I'm spelling "Fahrenheit" correctly.

 

FAHRENHEIT 9/11

Buddy PalsThere are people out there who do not know what George W. Bush has done to this country. They do not see how he has stymied numerous freedoms, how he has worked for no one but the rich and the corporations, and how he could care less for the people of America. These people might hear grumblings from hippie liberals that the war in Iraq is unjustified, that it was a mistake, that it has done so much harm not only to the people of Iraq but to America itself, that indeed we are more likely to be attacked again by terrorists now than we were ever before.

These people who hear this can fall back on some wonderful bits of propaganda coming from George and his team. They can embrace these lies and excuses and take comfort in them because they are the easy answers. It is simpler to trust our president than it is it spend every day getting angry at him. Better to say, hey, it was good to go to Iraq to free those people and punish that bad man than to admit that, maybe, we're living in a country that has invaded a sovereign nation without provocation for nefarious purposes that are, in the end, extremely un-American.

Yes, it is better to trust those we didn't elect than it is to worry that America is the bad guy this time.

Many of these perfectly fine, nice people have no idea what's happening. They have not been informed by anything other than what Bush wants them to hear using media outlets that are not liberal, but are, in fact, in bed with the government just as much as any other big corporation. And so, finally, here is a work that, while unquestionably biased, lays out just a small fraction of the evil that is George and Co. This is a movie everyone needs to see, and needs to absorb. Then the Bush fans need to ask themselves, "Hey, those documents and video clips speak for themselves. Mr. Moore may be poking fun at our beloved leader, but he also has some pretty damming proof that George is, in fact, pretty sneaky and callous. Could George really be a bad seed after all?"

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 Friday night in a sold-out theater. It was like we were watching a comedy. Dodgeball, maybe. Throughout, people were laughing and cheering, clapping, booing and hissing. And there were some moments of powerful emotion: the beautifully presented footage of 9/11 itself (not a shot of the towers to be seen), and our young soldiers in Iraq. Afterward, the audience clapped and cheered, and there were even some standing ovations. Okay, this is Hollywood. We're full of liberal peaceniks and anti-patriotic America-haters. Yeah. That's us, all right. Sure. Well, bubba, the feeling that night was one of relief, of pride, and of happiness that, finally, someone has spoken out and not been silenced. That all the fear and worry we stinkin' liberals have been harboring for over three years has finally found an outlet. I guarantee you that most of us in that auditorium were there out of a patriotic duty—yes, PATRIOTIC DUTY—to support a view that has been so skillfully squashed and deflected by the people in charge, a view that is about a country that needs to be more responsible, and more humanitarian, and a good damn bit less conniving.

Saturday morning, there was a story in the Los Angeles Times—on the front page, for a change—that told a seemingly innocuous tale about our government demanding that the World Health Organization go through them to recruit government scientists, not directly to the scientists themselves. Here's the opening paragraph:

The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency.

Just listen to that. Pay attention. Despite the obvious quotes in the article from officials that "this is nothing major, it's not a big issue" and "we'll know better which scientists to pick than will the WHO," it is obvious and scary to realize that this is one more form of censorship trying to be implemented by our government. They want to control everything. All information. If anyone thinks the title Fahrenheit 9/11 is poorly chosen because, hey, George hasn't done anything to censor anyone, they are sadly in need of a news source more accurate and willing to spill the truth than Fox or CNN.

Fahrenheit 9/11 does not spell out the more potent 9/11 conspiracy theories out there, like the one where George and his friends—or at least someone in our government—knew about 9/11 before it happened but did nothing to stop it because it would be good for business, or that it was in fact a small military drone craft that crashed into the Pentagon since no commercial airplane wreckage could be seen at the site after the crash. No, Michael more importantly concentrates on very solid facts. He may have some loose fun with his footage and editing and choice of music, but he slams George and Co. using facts. These facts are regarding the Bush and Bin Laden connection, the Bush and Carlyle Group connection, the Iraq-Afghanistan-Unocal connection, and others. There is no need to even mention the wilder, more preposterous-sounding cases against these people, as much as the pieces may fit. The case Michael presents is quite damming in and of itself. To come out of this movie and not question the motives of our going to war in Iraq and, on a larger scale, to not question the honesty, integrity, and "compassionate conservatism" of our current leaders, is to choose to remain ignorant and nestled in the comfort of believing America, through our president, was, and always is, right.

Just as Rush Limbaugh will make a conservative laugh with delight and a liberal seethe with anger, so will Michael Moore's latest reverse the tables. Anyone who wants to find fault with this film will. Already the cry of "propagandist" is spreading across the lips of the George lovers. Gee, did they all come up with that word themselves? Doubtful. You can guess the media and the White House planted that chosen word in the minds of their admirers. Okay, Michael Moore is a propagandist, but there is good propaganda and bad propaganda, and George and his clever team are experts at skewing the facts—or even making up their own facts!—in a propagandistic fashion. Them calling Michael Moore a propagandist is in itself propagandist. Insane.

As we have seen, people will swallow any hollow lie George and his merry band throw out there. But when Michael shows you footage from 2000 of Condoleezza and Donald and Colin saying adamantly that Saddam Hussein is not a threat and has no weapons because we have him contained, you have to doubt anything they say. Were they lying in 2000, or just before the war when they were adamant that he was well-armed and a threat? Either way, they are untrustworthy, and will say anything to get what they want. Some will conveniently ignore this juxtaposition, claiming the footage was taken out of context, perhaps, or that these jibbering figureheads had different information then. Our leaders are not stupid people. Our government is staffed with some incredibly smart and savvy folks (except maybe George himself, though even I am now believing that he's not as dumb as he seems).

They know EXACTLY what they are doing.

The movie itself is not perfectly crafted. There is an imbalance of pacing and subject matter. There is a long, long section toward the end where we get to see our soldiers in Iraq. This is footage we are not normally allowed to see, footage of our soldiers dead, maimed, and even abusive toward prisoners. I felt while watching that he was spending too much time on the soldiers, but in the end, guess what? Michael knows exactly what he's doing. This footage is important. Because these kinds of images have been censored from our media, it is numbing to us. And the point he is making is well-demonstrated. The flow of the film may not have been perfect, but the effect is. Who the hell is this president of ours, sending these kids out to die for no reason? Literally, for no reason? For concocted phantom menaces and fabrications of commerce? Who the hell is he?

Okay. Movie reviewers are supposed to hide their political beliefs when they are writing, right? Review the movie. Tell the people how it is a good movie, or how it is a piece of crap. Well, screw that. The importance of this movie is tied to what is happening right now—RIGHT NOW—in this country. Maybe some of us would hope for a more level-headed film, one where the other side gets equal time. Well, folks, the other side has had their glut of exposure for three years, with nary a peep in the mainstream about the dark side of this regime. They crush the opinions from the other side, so hurrah that there is something biased in the other direction now, a dossier of facts and maybe some moviemaking trickery that tries to hit our sadly ignorant heads with a blazing, over-exaggerated bludgeon of truth.

TWO DAYS LATER...

Already today (it's now Monday as I edit this), I have heard first-hand accounts of people who are conservative and Republican having seen the movie and knowing that they can not now vote for Bush. They won't vote for Kerry, that's for sure, but they won't vote for Bush. This is important, especially considering the timing today of our EARLY "transfer of power" to the Iraqis. We did not transfer power two days early to confuse the counter-insurgency or because the Iraqi council said it was ready. No, we transferred power today to bump any news of Fahrenheit 9/11's record-breaking opening weekend and any stories about its power out of the spotlight and into the back bin. Who's the propagandist, Mr. Bush? Who's the one misleading America? Who's the one causing greater harm in the world? You are.

"Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you."

 

 

To Top of Page

 

Half of Harry

Whew. That was a rant, huh? Talking about George is a chore. Well, let's take a few moments and talk about something more fluffy and fun, shall we? It's a bit late now, but I still want to say a few words about the latest Harry Potter.

The Other Half of Harry

I have been reading the Harry Potter books as they come out in paperback because spending that money on a hardcover seems a little extravagant. Said the man with the $99 white goose down pillows. Okay, so I choose my luxuries. And I had coupons. Anyway, when the fourth book came out, I enjoyed it so much that I could not wait another few years for the fifth book to move to paperback. With my Disney discount, I employed some bit of spendthriftiness and semi-splurged on the hardcover of The Order of the Phoenix. And it rocked my world.

The Harry Potter series has moved from the realm of satisfying if less-than-brilliant to very creative and excitingly concocted. J.K. Rowling has improved as an author, though she's not a Yukio Mishima by any means. (Yukio HUH?) The books are what they are, and they have become excellently entertaining. So now it's time for the movies to catch up.

The second Harry Potter book is commonly considered the least good. (I don't want to say "the worst.") The Prisoner of Azkaban, book number three, started to bump things up a notch. Bam. Subtleties of character and history began to coalesce. Interesting threads came out of the shadows. Now, the movie. It mostly works as an adaptation of the book, though it definitely leaves out some important background information and details on character motivation.

Movie #3, thankfully, was not directed by Chris Columbus. Okay, so the other movies were fine (reviews here and here). They were enjoyable, especially the second one. But he's just too unpredictable, and the tone of darkness that's creeping into the story needed to be handled by someone else. Though Alfonso Cuarón, director of Y Tu Mamá También, would seem an odd choice to direct, it turns out he is well-suited to the task. He has a felling for the darkness and the grimness. More importantly, he has a feeling for the actors, especially the young heroes, from which he has to extract more meaningful performances.

More than ever, I am hoping Warner Bros. keeps the three main actors in the roles throughout the Harry Potter movies. Not only is it becoming comfortable to see the same people on screen, they are improving, if by small steps, as actors. Daniel Radcliffe, as Harry, is still a little stiff, but there's a presence about him, and an honest teen angst, that make him more than welcome in my mind as Harry. Emma Watson is still wonderful as Hermione, and Rupert Grint, while still most enjoyable in the first movie, is growing into Ron perfectly. I think it is invaluable to the movie that these three kids have been in it from the start, and I have no idea what their off-screen chemistry is like, but on-screen, they are a pleasure to watch. This sounds sad and pathetic, but they are kinda like friends now. Welcome, friends, back into my movie-watching life!

While the story expunctions are worrisome—my friend Carol had to point them out to me since I'd read the book so long ago—more distracting to me was the complete change of setting for Hogwarts. I have to say that it was a spectacular location, and the mountainous terrain added plenty o' drama to the movie, but it was not Hogwarts, either as described in the books or as shown in the last two movies. If it was one way in the first two films, to change things up so drastically is not really such a great idea. The whomping willow is now nowhere near the courtyard like it was but is instead on a mountainside somewhere. The lake looks more like a fjord that goes all the way out to the sea. And the Forbidden Forest is literally all around the castle. It threw me. I'm willing to go with it because it looked great, but because another director is coming on board for the next movie, I'm sure Hogwarts will morph yet again.

To protect my fragile little mind from such unwholesome changes, I shall pretend that it's all part of the protection of Hogwarts' location from prying Muggle eyes. If Hogwarts moves about the countryside every year, it'd be harder to notice!

Whatever.

Like in the last movie, the adults get very little to do here. I am very glad they have remained to play their same roles, and I'm sure it will all pay off if the movies remain true to the books, but it's weird to see someone like Maggie Smith relegated to a few small scenes. Luckily, we have a great new addition in Madame Trelawney, played hilariously by Emma Thompson. I can't wait to see more of her. And Michael Gambon fills the role of Dumbledore quite well. His take is different from the late Richard Harris's, but it works. This Dumbledore is more spry, more mischievous, and more twinkly-eyed.

Also like the last movie, this film just speeds along like mad. There are some nice dramatic scenes to give some needed pauses, but again, there is so much to fit into the film that it felt a bit rushed at times. And from here on out, the books get even gigantic-er, so I have no idea how the next movies will fare in the pace department.

Finally, the effects are fine but not brilliant, the music is good but not purchasable, and the... the... I need a third thing here, but don't have one. Oh well!

I liked this movie. Damning with faint praise? Not really. I recommend it, especially if you're a fan. Though if you're a fan, you've surely seen it by now and this whole review was pointless. Okay. Go see Fahrenheit 9/11, then!

 

—Steve

6/28/04

To Top of Page

 

Buy Videos and DVDs at
Buy Videos at Amazon.com

 

©2004 Steven Lekowicz except
Fahrenheit 9/11 poster ©2004 Lions Gate Entertainment. All rights reserved; and
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban artwork ©2004 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.