the blog knight: war inc, poultrygeist, encounters at the end of the world
Democracy, whiskey, Marisa!
War, Inc. (2008) So-charming-it-hurts leading man John Cusack takes a stab at writing with this minor comedy about major issues - namely war, but ultimately about the bottom line and how corporations and keep it growing: Cusack - think that Say Anything guy, but one who excelled in foreign languages as well as kickboxing - is a killer-for-hire who's asked personally by a cheefully-disgraced former vice-president and corporate CEO (a cheeky Dick Cheney impersonation via Dan Ackyrod) to jet into a newly "liberated" Middle Eastern country to assure that its now-reticient president is offed, as this particular nation was invaded and occupied entirely by private companies, the first ever such effort in modern history, and it needs Cusack's expert touch to make it all work worthwhile for the powers that be. Going undercover as a trade show producer - to celebrate the nation's new and total embrace of the free market - Cusack falls for Marisa Tomei, a sexy, Naomi Klein-ish world-hopping journo who writes for The Nation, and of course it follows that the anti-hero begins to have the kind of doubts his company-provided therapist (who he communicates with through a speaker and blinking blue light) can't mitigate.
War, Inc. is too clever by far, almost like it was made by doctoral students who went to Prague for a summer to research comedy. There are some priceless exchanges - a flashback sequence to Cusack's CIA days with Ben Kingsley midway through the flick and a reoccurring joke about a group of jhiadis who crib shots for their beheading videos from fave European directors easily manages some of the laughs the movie had been earnestly reaching for throughout - but the script could've used a good debugging, and the direction just isn't cinematic. It's not that the film's agenda defeats the comedy, but with the kinds of big ideas that it's toying with, the stuff that's supposed to resemble satire's just too true, and it needed to go whole hog in the other direction, ala Blazing Saddles (1974).
It's still worth a gander, and I still had a good time: see, sometimes the secret to really enjoying a movie is how you watch it - Lynch's Inland Empire (2007) or Herzog's Fata Morgana (1969), for example, requires an act of surrender by an audience, to set aside the need to dominate and own the images they're seeing and just watch themseselves watch them. To be sure, War, Inc. is nowhere near as heavy (or rewarding) a moviegoing experience, but if you arrive expecting Dr. Strangelove, good money is that you'll probably be bored and disappointed; however, if you sit down to watch another summer superhero movie, you may enjoy yourself: with handsome Cusack's brooding eyes, white forelock, all-black wardrobe, and martial arts repertoire, it could be The Left-Wing Knight, or Batman by way of The President's Analyst (1967) (with a wink and a nod at Bananas(1971), shot and edited by the Lone Gunmen and scripted the kids who work at AK Press.
Poultrygeist (2006) - In fact, the kind of dopey, dirty, filthy comedy Poultrygeist revels in is what could've made War, Inc. a helluva lot more interesting: what's weirder is that a movie that's this smart and this funny came out of Tromaville, a mostly bleak little suburb of American horror that's more well-known for cool movie titles (Surf Nazis Must Die (1987), Class of Nuke'em High (1986), and The Toxic Avenger (1985) then anything resembling watchable movies.
While no one - and that's nobody, man, no ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or political leaning - comes out of this movie without an Indian burn or wedgie, Poultrygeist is clearly taking aim at the religion of the Fat American, and I simply can't think of another recent flick that's been as funny, or as smart, or as subversive, or had as savage an argument against our patterns of consumption than Poultrygeist - at least one that's got so many unwashed ass-cracks in it. After The Dark Knight (which, to be fair, I have not seen yet) and Encounters at the End of the World (see below), there may not be a better movie in theaters this summer.
Encounters at the End of the World (2007) - Werner Herzog's latest glorious documentary - maybe his best movie since Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) - defies whatever sort of analysis I can provide in this format: what words I can reach for just won't suffice here...the best I can do is to say that it's simply incredible. Incredible. One can only hope the end of civilization will be as sublime and poetic as Herzog allows in this movie.