Les Aimants [Love And Magnets] (2004)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Les Aimants</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Love And Magnets</strong>] (2004)

(On DVD, June 2006) Subtle yet intricate, this romantic comedy manages to weave an impressive number of sub-themes and tangled subplots in only 90 minutes. Serendipity reigns supreme in this tale of crossed identities, lost messages, misleading appearances and tangled characters. Yves Pelletier’s script contains plenty of artistic references to new-age beliefs, theremin playing, and Vermeer paintings (including a visual nod to “The Girl With a Pearl Earring”, thanks to Isabelle Blais’ uncanny resemblance) After a sputtering start, the film finds its way once all the characters are introduced and rolls along until a conclusion that leaves a few characters hanging by the wayside. Fortunately, the images are top-notch, and the actors all do a good job. (Plus, hey, there’s a small role for Isabelle Cyr.) Quiet but satisfying, Les Aimants is a little surprise even for those who follow the French-Canadian movie scene.

The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The 40 Year Old Virgin</strong> (2005)

(On DVD, June 2006) I really expected to hate this movie, and this expectation never completely disappeared throughout the entire film: Time and time again, I found myself gritting my teeth in anticipation, dreading the obvious gags that would follow. But what’s perhaps most impressive about The 40-Year-Old Virgin is how it manages to side-step the obvious and deliver a surprisingly heart-felt comedy. Like the better sex comedies, it has a conflicted take on the subject, considering it as much as a source of problems than an end upon itself. Fortunately, there’s more to the film than a score chart, and perhaps the biggest asset of the script is the vast number of fully-realized supporting characters. The sometime rough banter between guys is spot-on, although the film allows itself a number of off-the-wall moments from time to time. Interestingly enough, this depth of characterization carries along a number of problems: The film ends with a considerable number of loose ands and characters left by the wayside, more than enough to pack a sequel if someone would be so inclined. Other missteps abound, especially during the increasingly moralistic and easy conclusion: After seeing the film top itself for so long, it’s a shame to see it fumble with the usual romantic comedy misunderstanding and spectacular finale. Despite the title, the trailers and the “unrated!” marketing, there’s actually an unnerving sub-text of stuffy morality weaved throughout, with a conclusion designed to charm mainstream America. In the end, the best I can say is that I didn’t hate the film as much as I though I would… and even laughed a few times.

Stupid White Men, Michael Moore

Penguin UK, 2002, 281 pages, C$16.00 tpb, ISBN 0-141-01190-4

I know, I know: Even if you’re an avowed liberal, chances are that you don’t like Michael Moore. Can’t say I blame you, really: If Moore can be bitterly amusing to watch, his loose relationship with truth has hurt his cause over the past few years. With his cultural stature after BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and then FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (to say nothing of books such as Dude, Where’s My Country?) everyone feels entitled to a pot-shot or two in his direction. He’s fat; he lied; he got sued by that guy; he said this or that silly thing. As one of the most preeminent voices from the American left, he gets the enmity of conservatives and the dubious glares of the liberals trying to appease the centre. Ah, the wages of success…

One of the sparks for that celebrity was the publication of a book called Stupid White Men, back in the woolly old days of 2001. Riffing on turn-of-the-century America, Moore offers observations on the “sorry excuses for the state of the nation” and targets the Bush administration before it actually had the chance to turn ugly. The UK edition of the book, here reviewed, offers a post-9/11 introduction and epilogue in which Moore bravely portrays himself (and the book) as nearly-censored victims of a timid publisher. Otherwise, Stupid White Men has already become a quaint time capsule from a pre-“War on Terror” period.

Reading Stupid White Men five years after its original date of publication is often an exercise in futility. Moore’s denunciation of the way Bush won the 2000 elections seems so passé, much like his warnings about various members of the Bush cabinet. Over and over again, readers will want to grab a phone line to early 2001 and tell Moore that he hasn’t seen anything yet. That whatever outrage he musters over this or that minor incident should be marshaled for even worse abuses to come. On the other hand, Moore seldom shies away from criticizing the Clinton administration, which is an useful reminder that Bill only looks good in hindsightful comparison.

And yet Stupid White Men isn’t completely past its expiration date. One of the greatest tragedies of an era where terrorists are hiding behind every security checkpoint is that this single-minded obsession with one particular (and relatively rare) problem has sweept everything else under the rug. Education, wages, racism, environmentalism, corruption: these are all valid issues, except that no one has been paying any attention to them when the GWOT swats everything else aside. Stupid White Men, at its best, it a reminder that -oh yeah- there are other, far more prevalent issues to solve.

Alas, to get to those points you will have to wade through a lot of misplaced humour. Moore’s style has often relied upon buffoonery to make a point –-much to the dismay of everyone who would like to take Moore seriously. It’s not that Moore is incapable of being funny: it’s that he seldom seems to know when enough is enough. Stupid White Men is filled with passages where Moore keeps going farther away in absurdity when more restraint would have served his point a lot better. It’s difficult enough to balance the demands of hyperbolic humour with the factual accuracy of political commentary, but Stupid White Men is often too goofy for its own good. It doesn’t help that Moore’s satire can be so convoluted as to be indistinguishable from actual conservative rhetoric.

This tension between class-clown humour and loftier social criticism eventually takes its toll: The cheap shots, the silly lists, the name-calling can be fun in small column-sized doses, but they get tiresome over the course of a full book. Even those who are on Moore’s side may come to appreciate what his opponents are claiming. In the political exposé/satire genre, Al Franken was generally more successful with Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them, reaching a better balance between facts and humour (though TeamFranken probably had a lot to do with the careful research.) It’s also worth noting that Moore’s follow-up, Dude, Where’s My Country?, is also generally better that Stupid White Men. So take heart, all Moore doubters: there’s still hope for him yet.