All the familiar hallmarks are there: the contrast between the vintage, archival footage of the halcyon days of yore with its perky music and jokey narration and the brutal realities of today with its ironic voice over, the black comedy stunts, the unearthed, telling documentary footage. Then there are the jaw-dropping stories of the little guy caught up in the uncaring system, the bottom feeders getting rich on the economic woes of the disenfranchised, examples of indifference on the part of the rich and politically powerful, the sobering facts and figures, the breathless malfeasance.
Finally, the big shambling guy himself wanders into view, bullhorn in hand and the reason for the sense of déjà vu that overwhelms Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore's new film, from its opening moments clicks firmly into place. Here is Moore's return to the themes that put him on the map with Roger & Me, his film about the devastation of his hometown Flint, Michigan by the indifferent auto industry. It's we vs. them, the great unwashed vs. the microscopic but exceedingly rich and powerful, the overriding taint of corruption and wealth bearing down on the easily distracted masses, the lone voice crying out against wrongdoing. Twenty years later, as Moore points out persuasively, the economic decimation and emotional despair of Flint has spread to our entire country.
Moore has taken on the Bush administration ( Fahrenheit 911 ) , the gun lobby ( Bowling for Columbine ) , the health care industry ( Sicko ) and now goes after what may be his biggest targetWall Street. In examining the financial sleight of hand practiced by what are essentially a group of high end gamblers, Moore has made what may be his magnum opus.
Greed is definitely not good in Moore's view. He jauntily begins his latest film polemic with excerpts from an educational movie about the fall of ancient Rome ( Cheney, naturally, is cast as the evil emperor of this realm ) . He points the finger at Wall Street, beginning with the Reagan presidency and deregulation of the industry ( along with a lowering of the tax code for the rich ) . Reagan, the former actor and shill for corporate America, is seen as the dummy front man for Wall Street/corporate America and Moore offers a stunning clip of Reagan's Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury Don Regan telling the President while addressing Wall Street to "speed it up."
"Who tells the President to speed it up?" Moore demands in voice over and he quickly proceeds to track the close relationship between Wall Street and political power that has existed since. We see a lot of horrifying things done in the name of personal and corporate greedstuff like life insurance policies taken out on unaware employees ( they're referred to as "dead peasants" ) and the devastating effect this has had on regular folks ( who are shown at the outset narcotized by the modern day version of the arenareality showsand distracted by true reality ) . By the time Moore gets to a Peoria farmer and his family being put out of their fourth generation home ( who are so strapped they have accepted $1,000 from the bank to get their house ready for the new owners ) one feels worn down.
Even the euphoria of the Obama electionseemingly the one bright spot in this morass ( and the movie ) is fleeting and Moore doesn't really offer any solutions to our mess much beyond, "vote the bums out of office." At the fade out even he seems ready to call it quits: "I can't do this anymore unless you in the theatre watching this join me" he says. But though this later day Don Quixote has certainly tilted many a windmill off balance in his time one wonders what kind of impact his message has ultimately had. Many times during the current debate over healthcare I've thought to myself, "If everyone in this country watched Sicko the discussion would be over in seconds and we'd have healthcare for all."
If only we could take Michael Moore out of the movie, that is. Because Moore is such a polarizing figure, the very people who need to hear his warnings of catastrophe shut him out and the rest of us? I love him but I'm not sure that his alternately entertaining/sobering documentaries have really had much of a cultural impact beyond the short term. This modern day Cassandra has delivered yet another urgent warning for America but will anyone really listen once the movie is over? I felt truly heartsick at the end of Capitalism: A Love Storybecause it seems that on many levels the messenger has once again overwhelmed his insightful message.
Writer-director Jane Campion, Oscar winner for The Piano, returns to a period romantic melodrama with Bright Star, the story of the three year courtship between poet John "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" Keats ( Ben Whishaw ) and fashionista Fanny Brawne ( Abie Cornish ) . "Melodrama" is probably too lush a word to lob at this rather dry film that could have used a lot more juice. Though the movie contains a feisty performance from Cornish, a somber one from Whishaw ( what else to do with the gloomy Keats? ) and a nice, nasty one from Paul Schneider as Charles Armitage Brown, Keats' best friend and fellow poet, Campion's movie is as perfectly composed as an intricate, exactingly detailed museum exhibit or one of those 16-hour Masterpiece Theatre adaptations of Dickens. I wanted to love it because it's so damn literary and exquisitely put together but ultimately it felt like a very long two hours.
Though Campion's eye for period detail is diverting and some of the scenes pack an emotional wallop, ultimately Bright Star is a highfalutin snore. Poetry and cultural aesthetes may champion Campion's creative vision and I hung in there trying not to nod off but honestly, my attention wandered until pretty much the second Keats started coughing, signaling the beginning of the end.
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.
See more movie-related items on page 20, including photos from the Hannah Free gala.