You know what I wish? I wish that Michael Moore weren’t such an obvious manipulator of the facts. He’s such an unreliable narrator that it gets in the way of my enjoyment of his films.
Latest case in point: “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which I saw at the L.A. premiere Tuesday night. The provocateur rails against the government’s handling of the finance crisis in typical fashion: He satirizes the powers that be and tugs the hearts strings with stories of average working folk afflicted by corporate malfeasance.
Moore blames the government for its cozy relationship with Wall Street in particular and big business in general. According to “Capitalism,” things began falling apart when Ronald Reagan was elected president; deregulation and mindless focus on profits laid the seeds for the economy’s collapse last year. Further, he presents archival footage of FDR suggesting none of this had to happen: The ailing president apparently wanted to enact a second Bill of Rights stipulating the right to a decent wage and healthcare before he died. Moore told the premiere audience that this footage had been purposefully suppressed; even FDR’s library didn’t know it existed.
Are we getting the full story?
The past few weeks, we’ve been treated to another round of Woodstock nostalgia, a slack coming of age drama about that concert, and a new season of “Mad Men” rife with foreboding about Sixties upheaval. What better antidote than a movie about the darker consequences of that rebellious period?
“The Baader Meinhof Complex” chronicles the increasingly violent exploits of a group of German extremists in the Sixties and Seventies. It’s mesmerizing, and appalling, up to a point. Then the violence all starts to blur together.
Mostly, however, the movie is a timely reminder how parochial our view of the period tends to be. The same shots are played over and over: Woodstock. Altamont. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. RFK assassination. Watts. Kent State. Never mind the turmoil in Europe or elsewhere. “Baader Meinhof” takes a more global approach: Germans criticize America, and the treatment of women in Iran from the start.
“Taking Woodstock” motors along at its own gentle pace only to stumble when the festival itself heats up. Then everything about the movie falters: Demetri Martin’s performance slips, just as his character Elliot starts to come out of his shell, and you’re reminded, yes, this is “The Daily Show” guy.
The scenes of the festival itself are the most disappointing: Ang Lee just doesn’t seem like the right guy for the job. Think about it: Would he be the director you’d think of to film an acid trip? He’s very good at clenched suburbanites experimenting with key parties in “The Ice Storm,” not so much a first acid trip.
In truth, few directors film hallucinogenic scenes well. That’s but one reason why AMC’s “Breaking Bad” is so good: Vince Gilligan manages to film trippy scenes in an interesting way. You need not have ever partaken of the substances in question to appreciate them.
When the movie segues back from the fest to the intra-family drama, it’s affecting again. Henry Goodman, who plays Elliot’s father, will break your heart.