Sunday, March 21, 2010

Green Zone: Racist and revisionary (Ava and C.I.)

All last week, we were reminded that there was not just once a reason for Premiere magazine, Movieline, Film Threat and Nikki Finke, there was a need for them. That's due to the fact that the so-called 'reporting' from The Los Angeles Times last week was yet again playing favorites. A little one-on-one face time with Matt Damon certainly paid out . . . for Damon, if not the readers.

All last week, the paper repeatedly attempted to minimize the monumental flop that the Damon-starrer Green Zone is. They started out blaming audiences who apparently just weren't very smart or, the argument went, they would have flocked to the film. Then the paper moved on to blaming conservatives who apparently control the box office. The same group couldn't turn An American Carol into a hit (or even a break even), but The Los Angeles Times wanted you to believe that they had destroyed Green Zone's chances. As they got caught shading the facts once too often (going with film review aggregator Metacritic instead of Rotton Tomatoes, for example, to give the impression the film was a critical success), they ended the week with a new scapegoat: Marketing.

In a so-stupid-it's-got-to-be-a-put-on article, Patrick Goldstein (link goes to Star-Tribune version, we're not in the mood to promote LAT) maintains marketing destroyed the film and Universal. So eager to convince the reader of that, Goldstein's shoots down the paper's earlier (failed) attempts at apportioning blame and insists, "But here's the problem: Desperate to find a way to open the picture, Universal marketed the movie -- as anyone who saw the TV spots can attest -- as another installment in its wildly successful 'Bourne'" series." At The Los Angeles Times, the disaster that is Green Zone has been everyone's fault except for the people who made it.

When you get down to blaming marketing, you're really reaching. What's next? Blaming the projectionists at your local theater?

Richard Corliss (Time magazine) puts the film's actual budget at $230 million. It is Waterworld, it is Ishtar, it is Heaven's Gate -- all rolled into one -- and then some.

Marketing was faced with a turkey of a film starring an asexual lead and with no female co-star offering sexual heat. They were faced with a film 'based on' a book -- a book that has as much to do with the film as Natalie Wood's Sex and The Single Girl had to do with Helen Gurley Brown's best seller of the same name (actually, Wood's film at least used the book's title). They were faced with a film that preview audiences were either luke warm to or outright hated. Their job was to squeeze as many dollars out of Green Zone as possible before it "got off the lot and people realized what a lemon it really was" -- as a Universal exec put it to us a few weeks back.

The film was trouble, everyone at Universal knew it. They put on their game faces for public consumption but, having seen what was shot (even after reshoot), they knew the film was going to be a huge bomb.

Why is that?

It has to do with the source material being discarded, for one thing. Had it been true to the source material, even if it was a bad film, it could have broken $50 million in ticket sales during its run just by pleasing purists and those who don't read but like to pretend they do.

The book is not about a madcap blonde go-going through the streets of Baghdad and figuring out everything and possibly solving the day. The film is and, while we're not sure even Carole Lombard could have pulled that concept off, we're damn sure (as the box office receipts demonstrate) that Matt Damon can't.

The film's praise from some left quarters really demonstrates how dumbed down MSNBC has made so much of the left. Like trained seals, they clap at every strung together sentence offered by Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann never minding that the facts just don't add up and that they're being lied to (see Bob Somerby's Friday Howler for his latest catch on Maddow).

Let's go over the film for a moment -- we grasp most people will never see it -- and you should grasp why no one on the left should be applauding this garbage.

The argument the (fictional) film makes is that an Iraqi exile General Al-Rawi is the bad guy and the reason for the illegal war. He is the cause of the Iraq War because he tricked people in DC. Do you get how offensive to history that is?

Karl Rove may dispute "Bush lied and people died" (as he did last week on NPR's Fresh Air) but that's reality. (See Ann's post for how Terry Gross avoided one of the best known examples of Bush lying.) And it's really distressing to see some lefties rush to applaud this film. D-cup celeb Michael Moore gushes but he's not a man known for taste or intellect. Others are supposed to be a little smarter -- including a critic we'll be kind and not name but who sees the film as having a "message" that neocons were responsible. Did he miss the scene where General Al-Rawi brags to Matt Damon's character about tricking Washington?

Green Zone wants to tell you that the US was lied into war -- the whole US, apparently, including, yes, the occupant of the Oval Office. And in what has to rival some of the portrayals in WWII era films of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans, it wants to do 360 xenophobia on an Iraqi. Al-Rawi is the surpreme evil. We're remembering whining from certain left quarters that this film or that film on Iraq didn't have a prominent Iraqi character. We've yet to see one of those same left whiners point out that Green Zone sells xenophobia. (The only other semi-prominent Iraqi in the film is Freddy -- a characterization as insulting as the exchange student in Sixteen Candles.)

Green Zone exists in other strange worlds. For example, laptops and the internet were widely available in Iraq to US service members. It's how many soldiers were able to blog the war in real time. But when Matt Damon's character (Roy) has questions, he has to run around and threaten people for 'answers.' He finds out the entire war is a lie -- something a simple Google search on "WMD" would have told him back in 2003.

The film is insane in so many ways and that includes its idiotic ending (which tries to ape the classic 3 Days Of The Condor). The start of the Iraq War's seventh anniversary just took place in real life. But in Green Zone, we're supposed to believe that Damon's character has unearthed important information which will stop the war. If it won't stop the war, what was the point of that ending?

The film ends with Damon e-mailing (see, he did have internet access!) the information to a reporter for The Wall St. Journal and, just in case that outlet won't bite, he's e-mailed it to every other print and television news outlet.

Which presents another problem: Are any of them going to cover it?

In the real world, we saw a huge silence regarding the truth before the Iraq War started and it's a silence that continues to this day. That's why press 'objection' to the war is confined to the way it was 'planned' (or not 'planned') and avoids the issues of legality and dishonesty.

The film makes no sense at all and is so half-baked we can see an ardent Bush supporter applauding it and saying, "Yes! Yes! It wasn't Bush's fault! He was lied to! Damn Iraqis!"

You can't blame what's on the screen on the marketing division. But that's the 'bad guy' for Patrick Goldstein who is just so sure that the Bourne series is now in danger. Matt can't do a fourth installment and have it easily marketed!

What world does Goldstein live in?

Damon's already said that he will not do a fourth Bourne.

More importantly, at his age, he's really too old. The Spiderman franchise (also three films and also all released in the last decade) is in the midst of retooling without Tobey Macguire and Macguire is five years younger than Damon. The Star Trek franchise retooled last year starring Chris Pine who was 28 when the film hit theaters. Damon, who has never been box office except in Bourne films, turns 40 this year.

It's not just that he's long in the tooth that makes him a liability. Matt Damon has long had gay rumors swirl around him. That's a problem for him now because he's the 'politically active' celebrity. A lot of people still don't get it. But in 1997, the jokes he'd do about his affair with Ben Affleck got a few laughs. The reaction split into two camps: (a) he's really comfortable with his sexuality and (b) he's laying the groundwork for his eventual coming out. So we got all the interviews and all the TV spots (including Will & Grace when his character claims his boyfriend's name is "Ben"). And this has gone on and on for years. Last year, hitting the chat and chew circuit, he was doing more gay 'jokes.' He and another actor, he insists, helped spread a rumor about George Clooney being gay and it resulted in hijinks at a press conference. Matt Damon never looked more fey than when he attempted to impersonate the gay Italian who pledged his love publicly to Clooney.

It wasn't funny. It was ugly. It was ugly and mean spirited and he's really not recovered from that little bit of "let's all laugh at the gay." Remember we said "politically active"? What the hell has Matt Damon done for gay America? Without them, he'd be nowhere. Those huge buck teeth and that bad acting wouldn't have made him the minor celebrity he is. It's his gay following that made him a celebrity. And he thanks them how?

Where was he decrying Proposition 8? When has he helped anyone fight for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

Looking increasingly like a bitter old queen, Matt Damon's happy to offer 'jokes' about gay people and their lives, he's just not willing to advocate for their rights. As anyone who remembers the protests outside the 1992 Academy Awards can tell you, live by the gay sword, die by it.

Damon will talk gay until he's blue in the face if he thinks he can get a cheap laugh out of it but he'll do nothing for the LGBT community. He's done nothing. And 2009 saw what may be the early hardening against Damon by the gay community as he turned being gay into a joke, a mocking joke, a lisping caricature while chatting up Letterman and others.

Matt Damon is now a potential liability for his offscreen antics. He's never pulled in box office on his own. (The Bourne box office was covered last Sunday at The Common Ills -- how the increased ticket sales for each Bourne films indicates the audience was overcoming an aversion to Damon in order to see the films). And he's also long in the tooth when you grasp that the High School Musical set is becoming young adults and they're not really going to be in the mood for Damon's action antics anymore that the young adults of the '00s were in the mood for Ahnuld's action antics or any of the others. Marketing didn't destroy the Bourne franchise, they managed to squeeze the last drops out of the Damon franchise before rebooting.
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