Sunday, February 15, 2009

Double Feature

Valentine's Day had two rather counterintuitive movie choices, one new and one recent. Didn't plan it that way, just happened so.

The cineplex entry was Coraline, in 3-D, and it's an amazing technological feat that it even got made. The 3-D is used tastefully and judiciously, moving the story forward and adding to its wonderment. The last third of the movie might be a bit scary for kids under ten, but not too bad. Unlike your usual animated film, there's no real moral to the story -- not much of a conventional storyline, for that matter, more of a set of intricately designed and connected set pieces around a loose narrative. But there's plenty for kids and adults to ooh and aah over. Great stuff.

The Netflix choice was Oliver Stone's W., and was somewhat more problematic, yet basically what I expected. For the most part, Stone leaves his, erm, creative historical tendencies out of it. Most of the noticeable factual off-notes revolve around the placement of the more famous Bushisms, and some of the more notable events are compacted into scenes, presumably to conserve length.

Perhaps the most grating problem with the film is that Stone chose to portray Fredo in a predictably Oedipal context, which is understandable, yet incomplete. Certainly he has exhibited such traits in many of his actions and deeds throughout his life and political career (not to mention the various Poppy-driven "bidness" ventures), yet there has always been a darker side to Bush's temperament that the usual daddy issues do not sufficiently describe.

Bush was always a beta dog determined to act like an alpha, belittling contemporaries and subordinates with amusing (to him) nicknames, proclaiming his Decider role with a possessiveness that bespeaks insecurity, whenever he perceived anyone to be stepping on his toes. He surrounds himself with cynics and fawning acolytes, and here Rove is adeptly shown as a puling little sack of shit nursing his lifelong mancrush, while Condi is a nattering yes-woman with her own emotional stake in it.

Even Bush's nauseating habit of yammering at people with a load of food in his gob, something that should have been slapped out of his fool head by one or both of his WASP asshole parents by the time he was six, has the familiar whiff of one-upmanship that always characterized his personality. It's an important trait to note, this streak of his, because since he has no natural talents aside from an unusual memory for baseball statistics, it takes the place of what would be a competitive streak in a person who has an actual skill.

Of course this Oedipus-schmedipus complex culminates in poor ol' Poppy's eternal grief, tragically remaining loyal to his bumptious, misguided progeny whilst maintaining the quiet dignity of having his own legacy roundly undone by impetuous ignorance. That rang least true for me, in accordance with my personal stance on that particular issue. I hope he is haunted by it to his final moments, but cannot find sympathy even for his cinematic portrayal.

In the end, W. is a skillfully woven pastiche of scenes geared to that Oedipal vision, leaving out a whole lotta stuff, most notably Katrina. Until the hurricane hit and Bush's manifest incompetence was forever exposed, even the bungling up to that point in Iraq had been forgiven by many to some extent. But Katrina knocked him down to the thirties in job approval, and Bush spent the final three years mostly at or well below that dismal mark, trudging in his little bubble from scandal to scandal, not even pretending to give a fuck in his final year, as the economy unraveled and the rest of the world began to quietly plan how best to chip us away on the ice floe before we start noticing.

W. might have had more impact and heft if it had come out late this year or even next year, when people have more time and perspective to reflect on the reign of error that just came to a close. It would have stretched it another hour to incorporate Katrina, the economy, and the undermining of the Constitution with the unitary executive doctrine, but it would have been a more complete picture. And Bush's ascension and failure is, after all, the failure of the media to be on the ball, and the electorate to pay attention. Like Vietnam, we won't be over it until we own it and move past it.

Ultimately what's lacking in Stone's treatment is a worthy subject. Movies about historical figures are supposed to cast their topics as larger than life, and more than ever, George W. Bush comes out as he always was -- much smaller than life, five pounds of shit in a ten-pound bag, a man who would have been nothing without his last name, yet spent most of his life running from it.

Still, the movie abounds with strong performances, especially Josh Brolin, so I can't entirely dismiss it. You can certainly see the effort, I just don't know if there is a good movie to be made about a clown who floats through life, fails upward into power, and lawn-darts his country. The mini-doc in the DVD special features on the Bush dynasty comes closer on that count.


Sharkbabe said...

Missed your indispensably savory verbiage and thinking .. all best with the job thingy ..

Anybody who could sit through a movied named and about W is a better man than I ..

Josh B's been on a psycho roll (Chimpy, Dan White) .. but really, what actor could ever reach into his very depths and grok/channel the pure stupefying nothingness of Chimpy? .. really the guy and his depraved vacuity are one in a billion ..

Heywood J. said...

Yeah, there's no way I would have gone to see W. in the theater; it was necessary to be able to get up for a beer now and then. It is definitely an unpleasant revisitation of that whole mess.

Brolin is very good here, as he is in general, but I think he may have been constrained a bit by the script's clear, middling ambition to simply square Dubya in this futile competition with Poppy.

Bush is probably right about one thing -- that history will indeed clarify things, but probably well before we're all dead, and not in the direction His Majesty assumed. At that point a better, more comprehensive movie will be made, one that synthesizes a pattern from his actions and habits, rather than one that half-heartedly attempts to elicit sympathy for a spoiled asshole who really just wanted to be baseball commissioner, but was apparently forced at gunpoint to ruin the world.