Archive for Larry Charles

Just Give Me The Facts

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , on December 22, 2009 by dcairns

A while back I had a week of documentaries. Too much reality!

JACK SMITH AND THE DESTRUCTION OF ATLANTIS, THE LIFE OF REILLY (both excellent), and at Filmhouse on the big screen, THE BEACHES OF AGNES. Also:

RELIGULOUS. This is satiric agit-prop in sub-Michael Moore mode, sometimes very funny or striking, but fatally compromised as it tries to do two separate things under the mistaken belief that they are one thing.

1) Bill Maher and director Larry Charles (BORAT and BRUNO) want to show religious zealots and fundamentalists up for the maniacs they are, exposing the contradictions, impossibilities and barbarism in the Bible and Koran.

2) They want to dismiss ALL religion as anti-scientific, dumb and dangerous.

The obvious problem is that, while Maher is articulate (helped by the editing) and glib, several of his religious interviewees, the non-extremists, are clearly a lot more rational and open-minded than he is. One zany catholic priest is actually much funnier.

In some interviews, Maher comes across reasonably well, but in others he’s too much like Borat or Bruno, being downright offensive to decent people who are attempting to illuminate him as to their beliefs (without ever trying to convert him). At the start, he says he’s investigating because he wants to understand, but his mind is completely closed and he lectures and insults his interviewees that than listening to them.

Maher’s big point is that none of us know if there’s a God or deeper meaning. I agree with him, but the trouble is that much of the time he contrives to give the impression that he knows there’s nothing out there. And by focussing on loons and extremists and corrupt organized religions he makes his job both too easy (on the surface) and impossible (deep down — because he doesn’t address the more intelligent points — one of the better arguments for the benefits of faith is that it actually increases your chances of recovery from depression!) The horrors caused by extremists deserve to be addressed, but you’re biting off a huge chunk of philosophy if you want to attack all religion, and really the best way to do that would be to find the most reasonable believers you can get. To his credit, Maher finds a few, but then fails to score any points against these genuinely tolerant and open-minded sorts.

The real key moment is when he’s quoting passages of biblical hate-speech to a liberal christian woman, who says she just disregards anything like that she doesn’t agree with. Maher scolds her that “I don’t think people read the Bible that way,” which is unforgivably rude since he’s talking to a person who clearly does. The only sensible way to read the damn thing is by drawing from it what you find useful (which might be nothing).

Fashion Beast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2009 by dcairns


Bruno with his “gayby,” O.J.

BRÜNO, directed by Larry Charles and starring Sacha Baron Cohen may be the first film with an umlaut in the title ever to play at my local multiplex. And even the Universal logo that opens the film has one — Üniversal — the kind of attention to detail and eagerness to get the laughs rolling right away, Tashlin-style, which is one of the film’s most endearing traits.

Fiona and I went with our friend David Wingrove, whom I regard as the Special Gayness Adviser on this one. We look to him to let us know if it’s OK to laugh. Interestingly, the film itself has a list of “advisers” including comedian Matt Lucas, in its end credits, suggesting that Cohen had the same thought: let’s get the experts’ advice. David said he couldn’t see any way anybody could find the film homophobic, so there.

“There are actually gay men like that,” he protested, and cited Andreas Kronthaler, the current Mr Vivienne Westwood, as proof that the character was not altogether beyond the bounds of reality. We discussed the way the film doesn’t much care where it gets its laughs from — some of the time we’re laughing because Brüno’s victims are bigots who deserve to be ridiculed, much of the time we’re laughing because Brüno himself is so appalling. An uncomfortable scene where he tries to seduce former presidential hopeful Ron Paul — Paul makes some obnoxious remarks, but it’s a little hard to blame him under the provocative circumstances — is redeemed by Brüno’s mournful voice-over admission, “I couldn’t even seduce Ru-Paul.”

We all laughed a very great deal, and as with BORAT, we weren’t left with that much movie at the end. This is something I’ve been feeling a lot about modern film comedies, whether of the Apatow school or Cohen’s stealth-action comedy insurgencies: the ability to cram in major laughs is quite remarkable; the ability to organise it into some kind of narrative and keep the momentum going is pretty good (and it’s mysterious how Cohen manages it in his apparently loosely-strung-together romps); the sense that you’ve actually seen a film is slightly lacking. The movies are worth paying to see on the big screen because the communal experience of laughing at an Austrian is a very rich one, but I’ve never felt the urge to re-watch BORAT and I don’t think I’ll re-watch BRÜNO. But that’s not really a criticism, it’s just the kind of beast it is.

UK buyers go here: Bruno [DVD] [2009]

US: Bruno