Friday, November 06, 2009

Camera Obscura: 'War, Inc." Rips Outsourced Warfare; Sundance Festival In Tennessee

Creating a satire on your own culture is a doubled-bladed dagger. Satirists seldom become lionized or praised for their efforts as pointing out failures and dangers and the ridiculous presence of deluded emperors wearing invisible clothes tends to invoke more embarrassment than wisdom or appreciation.

Sometimes greatness is achieved - most readers and critics still applaud Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" or "MASH" - the one made by Richard Hooker/Robert Altman and not by Alan Alda. Ripping into warfare means taking a huge risk and in cinema the best effort in the last 50 years remains Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove", though perhaps because the fear of nuclear warfare far is a wise human response. Plus, Doctor S. was made with truly talented folks.

This week I finally got to see the movie "War, Inc." which was produced, co-written and starring John Cusack, and released (briefly) in 2008. The movie that daringly tackles the current war being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, though audiences and studios approach such fare with enormous reluctance.

No doubt, the comedy of errors and horrors by which we were led into these wars is ripe for ridicule. Still, lives are lost in those campaigns daily and is likely to continue for a long time to come. Give Cusack points for trying and carefully negotiating a path through the mess.

Cusack plays an despondent assassin named Brand Hauser who is forced into a bizarre power play in the mythical Middle Eastern nation of "Turaqistan" by his bosses at a Halliburtonesque company called Tamerlane, a corporation which has taken over the war and is headed by American ex-vice-president and sneeringly played with much skill by Dan Aykroyd. (Tamerlane was a 14th century conqueror of the Persian empire.)

Cusack's cover identity is to be the organizer of a massive trade show in Turaqistan by the nefarious Tamerlane, which sells advertising space on the sides of tanks and humvees, and the show includes amputee victims from the war making a turn as kick-dancing Rockettes with prosthetic legs (" ... just another breathtaking example of how American know-how alleviates the suffering it creates.")

Cusack's character often voices the goals of Tamerlane and that war means business - "
What are we supposed to do? Turn our backs on all the entrepreneur possibilities? Business is a uniquely human response to a moral or cosmic crisis. Whether it's a tsunami or a sustained aerial bombardment, there's the same urgent call for urban renewal."

Not the kind of movie line destined to win hearts and minds in the American Heartland, is it?

Another memorable character in the movie is played by Hilary Duff (!!!) as a Middle Eastern Britney Spears named Yonica Babyyeah. Her wedding is supposed to be the highlight of the trade show, but she too is as despondent as Brand Hauser which means nothing goes as planned. Her character's entrance provides a glimpse of her stage act, as she sings a tune called "I Want To Blow You (Up)":

You say you want to invade me baby
You say you want to enslave me baby
(I want to blow you)
I want to blow you up

You say you want to free me baby
But you can not even see me baby
(I want to blow you)
I want to blow you up

I want to blow you sky high
Hi, goodbye
I want to blow you, blow you, blow you
Blow you up

You want to occupy my heart and soul
A black widow in a spider hole
(I want to blow you)
I want to blow you up

Yeah, the movie is in deep and strange waters both familiar and truly uncomfortable. It has a weird blend of comedy and horror, taking cues from other wartime satires ranging from the Marx Brothers to 1960s era movies like "The President's Analyst" and the 1970s era conspiracy nightmare "Winter Kills". There's a dystopian quality akin to "Brazil" mixed in there too and it's no wonder the studios and the audiences in America just could not seem to hold onto.

Perhaps in some future when the current war has faded, or when the nation gets a gut full of the insanity of corporate-led combat and rejects the idea, this movie will gain attention. I'm not holding my breath though. For as looney as the movie might seem, it includes some ugly truths that make it hard to hold very close.


The short satiric rips seen daily via The Daily Show are always impressive. Last night, host Jon Stewart did a fantastic impression of Glenn Beck theorizing the healthcare conspiracy against Beck himself. It's a work of pure comedy gold:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Announcement was made this week that the Sundance Film Festival is going to expand into 8 cities across the country, including an exhibition in Nashville at the Belcourt Theatre. No films have been announced as of yet, but we'll keep you posted. Christian Grantham at Nashville Is Talking has the details.


Word is the upcoming Oscar competition is having a tough time trying to fill out one category - Best Original Screenplay. The reasons are obvious to even the casual film fan - sequels and franchises make money but they ain't original:

Original screenplays used to comprise the bulk of what Hollywood did. But ever since the studios became obsessed with remakes and sequels, there’s been a depletion of the kind of new ideas that once populated the category.... But the current lack of original screenplays might reinforce the negative trend: Studios don’t produce many, the Academy doesn’t have many to choose from, and then the category loses stature, further deterring studios from greenlighting those types of movies."

More at The Hollywood Reporter.

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