FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (A-3, R): Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore has once again created a polemical pseudo-documentary. This one attempts to explore and expose the contested issue of the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s presidency, his business links to Saudi Arabia and his motivations for beginning the war in Iraq.
Moore uses the same personal, subjective on-the-spot investigative approach in Fahrenheit that he did in Bowling for Columbine in 2002. As he did in Columbine, he starts with a conclusion and sets out to prove it by choosing the filaments and spinning them together in a design of his own choosing.
Documentary films depict a slice of life, substantiated by facts and figures. We have come to believe that, because documentaries are supposedly true, they are objective. But media educators know that all media are constructed from a particular point of view because a human being always selects the topic, the shots and sequences, and how they are assembled; there is no such thing as media objectivity.
I have defined Moore’s documentary as “pseudo,” that is, bogus or a sham, when compared to the style of documentaries we may be used to. It may, in fact, be a more honest documentary because Moore’s bias is pretty much in the viewer’s face from the very beginning. Whether or not the content—facts and figures—he has chosen to support his investigation coincide with reality is up to each viewer to verify.
To understand Moore’s starting point, it is useful to think of the film’s namesake, Fahrenheit 451 (1966), based on Ray Bradbury’s novel. Bradbury reportedly tried to have the title of Moore’s film changed. Fahrenheit 451 is the futuristic story of a man who burns books for a living because of government censorship, becomes aware that he is being manipulated through enforced ignorance and attempts to overthrow the political status quo.
UCLA film school instructor Laurie Hutzler wrote, “I don’t see Moore’s film as a documentary; rather, I see it more as an old-fashioned broadsheet. It has all the fervor and call to action of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Instead of publishing his political tract on a printing press, Moore has laid out his position in” a film that “is not meant to be objective. The film is a political polemic, which has a long and venerable place in our country’s history and in the building of our nation’s democracy.”
Fahrenheit 9/11 challenges the current political status quo. It has upset people, some of whom have not seen it before speaking out. Reminds us of our obligation as people of faith and citizens of a democracy to be critical thinkers about the media and the political reality that organizes our life—of which we are a vital part.
SPIDER-MAN 2 (A-3, PG-13): Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), alias Spider-Man, is down on his luck: He loses his job, the newspaper he takes photos for won’t advance him any more money, he’s not doing well in college and his widowed Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) is being evicted.
When Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) invites him to attend the play she is in, he fails to show up. When Peter discovers she is engaged to an astronaut, he questions his vocation to be Spider-Man, the hero who saves all.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborne (James Franco) has taken over his father’s company. (Harry blames Spider-Man for the death of his father in the original film.) He has hired a scientist, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), to isolate fusion-based energy that is cheap, affordable and renewable.
But something goes wrong, and the artificial-intelligence mechanical arms that are supposed to work with Dr. Octavius’s brain to control the experiment take over. The doctor loses control and escapes, with the arms taking the lead. He flees to an abandoned pier to recreate the experiment that can destroy thousands of lives.
Aunt May is the wisdom figure in this high-concept comic-book film. She teaches Peter that everyone—human or superhero—needs to develop character: honesty, fairness, justice and courage.
The eight-legged Dr. Octavius is amoral and devoid of humanity. His sci-fi persona stands as counterpoint to Peter’s own growth and development.
Spider-Man 2, directed by Sam Raimi, is a little too long but has lots of special effects to keep us entertained. Fun film with pro-social and gospel values that can be mined for fruitful conversations.
THE CLEARING (A-3, R): Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is a self-made man who sold his business at a great profit. He and his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), live in a mansion near Pittsburgh. Their daughter, Jill (Melissa Sagemiller), is in college and their son, Tim (Alessandro Nivolo), is married.
Wayne is kidnapped by Arnold (Willem Dafoe), a former employee who drives his captive into the countryside. As they hike to a cabin where Arnold says the men who hired him are waiting, Wayne discovers that Arnold knows too much about him. Meanwhile, Eileen tries to cope with the F.B.I., a ransom note and discovering that her husband has a mistress.
The film’s title reflects the clarity that the characters discover about the transcendent meaning of love and the value of human communication. This crime drama has a nonlinear plot that adds to the mystery because of the way the threads are woven together. Satisfying to see three A-list actors in a major motion picture willing to act their age and do it very well.
CLUBHOUSE (CBS, Tuesdays): Pete Young (Jeremy Sumpter) is a 16-year-old batboy for a New York pro baseball team. The Young family, headed by Pete’s single mom (Mare Winningham), lives on Staten Island, which I loved during the 13 years I lived there. Pete attends a Catholic high school run by nuns.
The diverse cast includes Dean Cain, Christopher Lloyd, John Ortiz and J.D. Pardo. I liked many things about the pilot episode of this promising new series that focuses on character.
dr. vegas (CBS, Fridays): Rob Lowe plays Dr. Billy Grant, a house doctor for a casino run by Tommy Danko (Joe Pantoliano). This is the latest prime-time series set in the city where promotional ads boast, “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.”
I’m not sure we need more shows about sex, drugs and surveillance cameras, but Grant does have a heart. Let’s hope he stays true to his ethics.
MY AMERICAS (PBS, check local listings): This informative new travel/adventure series
beginning in September visits 13 cities in Latin American countries to discover
the complex cultural and rich spiritual roots of Latino heritage in the United
States. Cohosted by Mexican-Americans Roberto Alcaraz and Leticia Vasquez, it
was produced by Hispanic Telecommunications Network (Nuestra Familia), and underwriten by Maryknoll and Latino Public
Popular films and TV programs with religious themes that are
now available on DVD include:
Pacifist, Nazi Resister: This critically acclaimed documentary about the
German theologian played in theaters and will air on PBS.
Love Comes Softly:
Hallmark’s gentle love story with a mild religious message was directed by
Michael Landon, Jr. When a young woman’s (Katherine Heigl) husband dies on the
way west, she enters into a marriage of convenience with a widower (Dale
The Passion of the Christ:
Mel Gibson’s blockbuster inspired large audiences in theaters last spring.
Seventh Heaven: The first season of WB’s
award-winning series focuses on the challenges faced by the Rev. Camden and his
Touched by an Angel: The first season of this popular CBS series features angels who communicate with people about spirituality, forgiveness and reconciliation.