Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lose your Illusion

There have been many documentaries about the war in Iraq but Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss's Full Battle Rattle” captures the motivation and policies of our military better than most. Ironically it was filmed in the US, in a mock Iraqi city in the Mojave Desert of California. The “city” is a battle training ground that seems to be a cross between a video game simulation and the town featured in “The Truman Show”. The make-believe hamlet is populated by Iraqi-Americans and other soldiers portraying the locals. There are meetings with the city council, confrontations at check points and even photo opportunities as building contracts and cash are handed out to buy good faith. Insurgents and assassinations also sneak in as programmed by the war game officials. A soldier and the man portraying the deputy mayor refer to their script as they discuss how to play a scene in one of the many surreal moments in this interesting film. When the same deputy mayor proudly shows video of his mock execution to his real family, his wife breaks into tears and we are reminded that this role playing is mirroring the real life violence effecting actual families. As the military personnel are shipped off after their training exercise you can really sense the anxiety as they leave a place where the dead were just actors or medical dummies to enter the very real chaos of war. I found this to be an interesting dissection of the logistics of modern war with the implied violence eerily foreshadowing the reality that awaits them.

In “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”, director Sacha Gervasi first introduces the Canadian rockers via old footage of the 1984 Japanese Super Rock Festival that they appeared at with The Scorpions, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and other top bands. Members of Metallica, Motorhead, Guns N Roses and others are seen telling of their influence. We then cut to 2007 Toronto to see the band members working middle-class jobs while still holding onto the dream of making it big. Lead guitar/singer “Lips” (Steve Kudlow) and his long suffering best friend/drummer, Robb Reiner are mellow but often prone to explosive arguments like an old married couple. This is one of the many parallels of this film with the famed mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap”: We see the band making its’ way to the stage saying “Hello Cleveland!’, the silly album covers, an audio knob going to “11”, the foreign road manager girlfriend, the series of humiliating gigs, Stonehenge and the redeeming call from Japan. Yet somehow this flick does not mock its subjects, in fact the optimism of “Lips” in the face of all odds is actually inspiring and touching. Their families are still trying to support them and you can’t help but to pull for (or head bang for) this group as well.

Steven Soderbergh follows his dense but unmoving “Che (Parts One & Two)” with a small film about a high-end escort in Manhattan just prior to the election of 2008. “The Girlfriend Experience” uses real-life porn star Sasha Grey to portray Chelsea, a call girl just trying to make it in the world of the wealthy. Captured in a series of high-end restaurants and stores we see what may be a collapsing gilded era as Chelsea acts as ‘the girlfriend” of several nervous movers and shakers, which mostly means listening to them talk about finances. Her live-in boyfriend is a personal trainer also trying to leverage his relationship with his rich clients to get ahead. Their parallel realities comment about the materialism and superficiality of life. Sex, looks and money is all important, but this soullessness is also the death of real love. The film even has a trip to Vegas in it, the ultimate metaphor for the illusions of wealth and the American dream of success. However, again Soderbergh just doesn’t pull it off. This is yet another arty film that moves slowly and seems plot less. To mix it up a bit, it is edited in a confusingly deliberate non-chronological order which is reminiscent of “Memento”. The biggest problem is the monosyllabic, boring performance by Grey in the lead. I suspect a high end call girl would be intelligent and an excellent conversationalist. Grey seems more like a bored teenager here and that’s a GF experience that no one would pay for.

Quick review: “Watchmen” a sadistic abomination, torture porn and fanboys still ruling Hollywood!