America: World Police
Reviewed by Uri Lessing
Trey Parker and Matt Stone deserve credit for creating an entirely new
form of satire. When South Park first aired on television, audiences
were exposed to offensive situations, harsh satire and crude humor. Yet,
it came from such a benign source (construction paper cut-out children)
that any discomfort or offense was diluted. This contrast generated a
marvelous amount of humor and cleverness.
Now Parker and Stone attempt to create a similar type of comedy with Team
America: World Police. Apparently the duo loved the puppets in The
Thunderbirds so much as children that they decided to revive Gerry
Andersons "Supermarionation." Now, they contrast marionettes
and action heroes, and the results are a bit more mixed than South
The film chronicles Team America, a team of six puppets dedicated to
keeping the Earth safe from terrorists. Each has their own specialty,
but basically theyre all gun-toting patriotic puppets. They are
the personification (or puppet-ification) of Bushs policies of policing
the world as they shout patriotic slogans, blow away terrorists, chase
villains and annihilate innocent bystanders and global landmarks. The
puppet heroes also take on politically active Hollywood actors and the
puppet personification of Kim Jong Il (the funniest marionette in the
Political humor has never been Parker and Stones forte and their
jibes at Bushs foreign policies are redundant and uninteresting.
The first time Team America recklessly invades a foreign country (France)
and turns it to rubble, its somewhat funny. But future attacks are
tedious. Likewise, attacks on the left are equally benign. In this turbulent
political time, surely Parker and Stone could have found more interesting
liberal targets than annoying egotistical actors. Watching Hollywood joining
up with Kim Jong Il, and getting killed in painful ways is not satire;
its just stupid.
Parker and Troy do hit the mark when they take on Jerry Bruckheimers
action films. They blast away every single one of Bruckheimers techniques
with the precision of a sniper, and the audience laughed itself to tears
watching familiar clichés enacted by puppets. There's the little
girl bumping into and staring wide eyed at a villainous terrorist, over-the-top
patriotic songs like Freedom Isnt Free and America,
F*ck Yeah! and scenes of massive destruction. One particular portrays
a terrorist attack on the Panama Canal. The scene is shot-for-shot Bruckheimer,
the human/puppet contrast shines through and its brilliant!
But is Team America: World Police funny? Absolutely! So what if
the political satire is as thin as wax paper? Who cares that some of the
jokes fall flatter than a pancake. In the end, the gleeful action, absurd
silliness and crude pleasures outweigh the films weaknesses. In
the opening scene, a member of Team America challenges an Arab terrorist
to a kung-fu battle, and what results is so fascinating that it personifies
why Team America works. The answer lies with the puppets. (R) Rating:
3; Posted 10/15/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
I couldnt keep up with them, man. They were partying all
night long. Every time I went to bed, I thought I was going to miss something.
Thats how blues legend Buddy Guy described an unparalleled event
in rock history that took place in the summer of 1970. Canadas answer
to Woodstock, the Festival Express was the brainchild of promoters Ken
Walker and Thor Eaton.
They came upon the idea of renting a private train for five days and populating
it with some of the most influential musicians of the time, traveling
from Toronto to Calgary and performing three concerts along the way. They
stocked the train with musical instruments, good food and copious amounts
of booze hoping to create a jamming party atmosphere. On that point, they
were an unqualified success.
Among the luminaries who joined in the fun were The Grateful Dead, Janis
Joplin, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney & Bonnie &
Friends, Guy and Sha-Na-Na.
Cinematographer Peter Biziou (an Oscar-winner for Mississippi Burning)
was along for the ride, too, and shot 75 hours of footage that captured
the partying, the jam sessions as well as the onstage performances. Due
to a dispute between the films producer and the promoters, the footage
was lost for over 30 years.
Director Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology) developed Bizious negatives,
added talking head commentary from some of the people involved, and the
resulting documentary Festival Express is a must-see for fans of
The performance highlights include The Deads Dont Ease
Me In and New Speedway Boogie, The Bands rendition
of The Weight and I Shall Be Released, Guys
frantic take on Money (Thats What I Want), and the Burrito
Brothers Lazy Day.
Most affecting is Joplin, only two months prior to her death, commanding
the stage with Cry Baby and Tell Mama. As she
said to the promoters on closing night, Next time you throw a train,
man, invite me!
A priceless sequence on the train involves drunken bassist Rick Danko
of The Band leading a spirited jam of Aint No Cane on the
Bazos, accompanied by Joplin, Garcia and Phil Lesh. At one point
Garcia turns to Joplin and admits, I loved you from the first time
I heard you. Now you know.
The tour was an utter financial bust. Incensed by the outrageous $14 ticket
price, thousands of fans crashed the gates, fought with police and demanded
free concerts. (Talk about zeitgeist!)
Festival Express is a notable historical document that has caught
on with moviegoers and may prove to be a goldmine on DVD. The promoters
may make a dollar or two, yet. (R) Rating: 4; Posted 10/15/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
Theres a lot of garbage in politics...and this is obviously
the garbage man.
That was the reaction of then Texas governor George W. Bush when he was
running for president. The comment regarded a biting parody website that
mirrored his official website.
Chillingly, Bush went on to say, There ought to be limits to freedom.
Thus, The Yes Men were born. These pranksters who created
the faux Bush website, Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, were incensed
by Ws comments, and the resulting publicity gained them notoriety
and a following of like-minded folks who became members of this loosely
The documentary, The Yes Men, is a crudely filmed but modestly
entertaining entry that shows how the group ultimately evolved into the
foes of the World Trade Organization.
Bonanno and Bichlbaum, you see, also had a domain name that closely resembled
that of the WTO. When they started getting hits, they created a site that
looked official, but contained outrageously fabricated info. Unaware that
theirs was a parody site, people from around the world started inviting
them to appear at important meetings and seminars.
The boys decided to impersonate official representatives of the WTO and
give presentations that demonstrated the evils of that organization. They
received funding from various liberal groups (including musician/record
executive Herb Alpert!) to facilitate their ruse.
The camera follows them to a conference in Finland where Bichlbaum demonstrates
a prototype of a Management Leisure Suit. This gold jumpsuit
had an inflatable phallus-like device that supposedly had a video monitor
so that the manager could spy on his workers. To the dismay of the Yes
Men, everyone at the conference thought they were serious.
Another episode recounts their presentation before a group of business
students. There, Bonanno and Bichlbaum discussed the WTOs plan to
recycle human waste from first world countries and reconstitute it into
McDonalds hamburgers for third world countries!
The movie has a sniggering, holier-than-thou feel that assumes the viewer
already has knowledge about why the WTO is a bad thing. Little effort
is made to explain why theyve taken them on.
Filmmakers Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith simply follow the Yes
Men around and let the pranks speak for themselves without the benefit
of narration. Although the end result is sometimes quite funny, the movie
leaves you yearning for more illumination.
This is the kind of documentary that the success of Michael
Moore has wrought. (Moore even appears in the film.) Unfortunately, the
filmmakers havent the talent or sense of humor to make The Yes
Men as successful as his work. (R) Rating: 2.5; Posted 10/15/04
Reviewed by Deborah Young
Its usually fun to watch movies about characters finding or rediscovering
passion regardless of whether the passion is ignited by playing
a guitar or dancing or trying to seduce someone. The fun part is watching
a lukewarm life become hot with the characters desire to do something
new, achieve something or just get out of a rut.
Characters like Jennifer Beals Alex from Flashdance, Princes
The Kid from Purple Rain, and Kevin Spaceys Lester Burnham
from American Beauty have the ability to pull us in with their
enthusiasm. Alex loves to dance but ballet school seems too long a shot,
so she buys lots of costumes and works obsessively on the routine she
performs in a topless bar. The Kid craves what his musician father never
had, an audience and some recognition. He gets up on stage, plays his
guitar and gyrates, trying to win the audiences affection. Burnham
aches to escape his mid-life routine, so he quits his job, takes up jogging
and weightlifting and tries to become the hunk he thinks he needs to be
to seduce a teenage girl.
Watching these movies is fun, even though two of them are hardly masterpieces
of cinema and one of the main characters desires are repulsive.
But the actors do a good enough job of convincing audiences of their characters
passion that viewers can get caught in the sparks, if only for a few moments.
The makers of Shall We Dance seemed to aspire to that kind of filmmaking.
Unfortunately, Shall We Dance fails to create the kind of vibe
that makes viewers feel like cutting loose on air guitar or doing a solitary
waltz around the living room.
The films protagonist, John Clark (played by Richard Gere) is a
probate attorney. We learn about him first through voiceovers that reveal
the philosophies of life hes concocted while observing his clients.
Then we see him riding a train home. As the train passes Mitzis
Dance Studio, he notices a beautiful young woman (Paulina, played by none
other than Jennifer Lopez) in the window. And, of course, after passing
the studio and observing the woman a couple times, he decides to take
ballroom dance lessons to add some spice to his life.
At the dance studio, John meets a trio of lovable misfits whove
joined the beginners dance class to add a little sunshine to their
lives. Bobbie, a garish blunt middle-age woman played by Lisa Ann Walter,
wears an array of loud dance costumes and constantly pelts the others
with her blunt observations about their flaws and her philosophies about
what motivates them. Chic (Bobby Cannavale), an uptight homophobe regales
the group with his macho talk. Vern (Omar Vincent Miller), an overweight
and obviously self-conscious young man, sweats through the dances and,
at first, says little to the others about his true motivations for joining
Lopez has little to do in this film. She plays an attractive, weepy dance
instructor who mostly stands or dances in silence while men admire her.
Throughout most of the movie shes the human equivalent of a beautiful
ceramic vessel that appears perfectly formed but leaks. She oozes sorrow,
and thats pretty much the only side of her character that we get
The owner of the studio, Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette) simply smiles her
way through her classes and occasionally takes a nip from a flask hidden
in a cabinet at one end of the dance floor. Then theres Johns
coworker, Link, a bald middle-age man who hides his love of ballroom dancing
from his co-workers.
All of these characters could be interesting, but theyre not, because
theyre portrayed as caricatures of people, clichés rather
than rounded characters. We learn little about their lives and motivations
until the last half-hour of the film, at which point I had ceased to care.
Also, melodrama trips up Shall We Dance. Lopez sulks around constantly,
glaring in silence. When she does speak, she usually winds up sobbing.
Susan Sarandon (who plays Johns wife) shows her fear of losing her
husband with a wide-eyed hysteria that brings to mind the overblown emotional
antics of Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy.
The film does have a few funny moments, but not enough to make it worth
the expenditure of time and money. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5; Posted 10/15/04
Reviewed by Russ Simmons
As science fiction films go, there are thrillers, there are special
effects epics and there are cautionary tales meant to give you the creeps.
Final Cut is intended to be the latter, but it also a deadly dull
example of a premise thats much more interesting than its execution.
The first dramatic feature from Lebanese writer/director Omar Naim, Final
Cut stars Robin Williams in a futuristic story that has more than
its share of implausible attributes.
Williams plays Alan Hakman, a man with an unusual occupation. Hes
a cutter, something of a cross between a funeral director
and a film editor. In the future, the wealthy elite have a memory chip
(called a Zoë) implanted in their brains as infants.
This chip records everything that their eyes and ears perceive.
At the end of their lives, the cutter downloads the data and puts together
a highlight reel of the persons life (called a Re-memory)
to show at their funeral. Naturally, this brings up a number of ethical
issues. What do you show? What do you delete? What if the cutter discovers
evidence of misconduct by the deceased or someone hes associated
Not only does Hakman deal with a particularly disturbing incident observed
while working on a project, he also discovers a clue to a troubling event
from his own childhood. All the while, hes dealing with other disquieting
His girlfriend (Mira Sorvino) becomes enraged when she discovers that
he decided to pursue her after seeing her in the memory of her deceased
boyfriend. Plus, theres an activist named Fletcher (Jim Caviezel)
who is committed to bringing an end to Hakmans profession.
The films intriguing premise came to Naim when he was editing a
documentary. As Naim realized, "There is a false myth of objectivity
that became very apparent as I was cutting that film. By moving pieces
around and inter-cutting, the context of what people were saying completely
If only the execution of his film were as interesting as that observation.
There is so much exposition and so little action in Final Cut that
one wishes that the movie had a better cutter.
Caviezel is underutilized and Sorvino seems lost. But the biggest problem
is with Williams himself. He gives a one-note performance that seems to
be a mechanical reproduction of his characterizations in One Hour Photo
But, sadly, Final Cut is no Insomnia. In fact, it is a
cure for it. (PG-13) Rating: 2; Posted 10/15/04