#96 - It's Time To Not Be Nice

Dedicated To
Patrick Swayze
1952 - 2009

Added 9/29/9

Greetings and salutations, internet surfers of the world. Welcome to the final Electric Theatre, at least for a little while. No, I haven’t been arrested by the Swiss police. It’s simply that Hell Plaza Oktoberfest III kicks off this Thursday. If the last two years have taught me anything, it’s that doing a DVD review a day on top of this column every week isn’t a winning formula. So Jahnke’s Electric Theatre will be going on a brief hiatus. Never fear, however. I shall return.


Capitalism: A Love Story

One of the sad ironies of Michael Moore’s career is that many of the people who might be most persuaded by his arguments will likely never see them because of their intense dislike of Michael Moore himself. He’s been accused of being smug, patronizing, egocentric, one-sided, hypocritical and woefully uninformed. (Also, the next person who includes “fat” in that list is not allowed to debate anything with anybody other than Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton ever again.) Some of these charges have at least some merit. Others are as biased as Moore himself is accused of being. But Moore’s latest visual essay poses some extremely important questions that should be on everyone’s mind. This country has an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. We’re losing jobs and cities are dying. How did this happen and can anything be done about it?

It’s a complex issue that Moore boils down to one general thesis: capitalism itself is an inherently evil system that must be destroyed. Obviously this is a bombastic and extreme position that I’m not even sure Moore believes entirely himself. He spends a lot of time in the film discussing the glory days of American capitalism back in the 50s, trying to convince us that things were better then. But what Moore does successfully prove is that it’s an easily corruptible system that rewards unchecked avarice and much of what has been done in the name of free enterprise is unfair, amoral and sometimes illegal (at least it was until the laws were changed). We’re all familiar with the housing crisis and have likely seen footage of families evicted from their foreclosed homes. And while the actions of these lending companies is questionable at best, it’s also fair to point out that we don’t know all the circumstances that led these families to this state. However, it’s difficult to feel anything but outrage at the “Dead Peasants” policies, in which large corporations take out life insurance policies on their employees, collecting huge dividends after their death. Is it legal? Seemingly so. Should it be? Absolutely not.

Moore also points out the hypocrisy of these free enterprise corporations looking for huge government bailouts when they get in trouble. If you competed and lost, why should taxpayer money be used to get you back on your feet? Isn’t that antithetical to what capitalism is all about? And when banks and automakers do get that money, why don’t we get to know what they’re doing with it? It’s our money, after all. It’s inspirational to see laid-off workers in Chicago going on strike to get severance pay they’d been denied. Likewise, when you see Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur on the floor of Congress encouraging foreclosed families to stay in their homes illegally, the gravity of the situation is hammered home.

Dismantling the entire economic system is a tall order and probably not very feasible. Moore’s alternatives, including a cooperative worker-owned bakery in California, aren’t entirely anti-capitalist themselves. They’re competing in the open market just like everybody else. But it seems clear that what we think of as the middle class has all but vanished. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Moore’s pro-Obama rhetoric toward the end of the film. I appreciate and share his support of the President and election night was indeed a galvanizing moment. But it’s too early to accurately gauge where he’ll lead us and I wish Moore had been a bit more skeptical, saying he’ll be watching Obama just as closely as any other President. Perhaps Moore’s biggest contribution with Capitalism: A Love Story is a sense of outrage. We have been swindled and lied to for years by both parties. We’ve allowed corporate America to get too powerful and have been kept in check by fear-mongering. It’s time for this to stop. Capitalism: A Love Story is a call to arms and a much-needed reminder that we still have a lot more power than we think.
(* * * ½)


Across The Bridge

A lot of authors are ill-served by filmed adaptations of their work but Graham Greene seems to be luckier than most. In addition to The Third Man, rightly acknowledged as one of the best films ever made, lesser known films like The Fallen Idol, Our Man In Havana and The Quiet American are solid and gripping. Director Ken Annakin’s 1957 movie Across The Bridge, based on one of Greene’s short stories, is relatively obscure but remains a timely and entertaining adaptation.

Rod Steiger stars as Carl Schaffner, a German-born British citizen visiting New York to finalize a corporate merger. While there, Scotland Yard raids his London office, issuing an arrest warrant for Schaffner on charges of fraud and financial impropriety. Schaffner decides to lam it to Mexico, hoping to dodge extradition indefinitely. Before his train reaches its destination, the story breaks and Schaffner realizes he won’t get into the country without a visa. He drugs a fellow passenger, steals his Mexican passport, changes his appearance and leaves the man for dead. Unfortunately, the man whose identity he’s stolen is a political assassin and even more wanted in Mexico than Schaffner.

Across The Bridge is a novel twist on the classic “wrong man” scenario. Steiger is great as Schaffner, creating a pompous, thoroughly unlikable character who deserves every bit of misfortune that comes his way. But what’s truly fascinating here is how flawed each and every character is. The police are corrupt, Schaffner’s employees have no loyalty, and even a struggling tow truck driver (played by David Knight) is willing to sell out someone he’s never met to get ahead. The movie lags slightly in its final act. It’s more fun watching Steiger try to weasel his way into Mexico than seeing Scotland Yard try to figure out how to coax him back over to the American side. But on the whole, Across The Bridge is an engaging thriller that doesn’t disappoint. (* * *)

Thanks to Brian DeLeon for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! Please feel free to continue sending in your suggestions, despite the fact that TFTQ will be taking a short break. The Electric Theatre might make a brief return around mid-October. There are just too many interesting movies coming out this month for me to keep totally quiet, including the much-buzzed about Paranormal Activity, Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man, Zombieland, The Invention Of Lying from Ricky Gervais, Spike Jonze’s long-awaited Where The Wild Things Are, and Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, among others. Schedule permitting, I’ll talk about a few of these in a couple weeks. If not, I hope you enjoy this year’s journey into the macabre with Hell Plaza Oktoberfest III and I’ll see you back at the Electric Theatre in November.

Your pal,