Manufacturing Intent: This Week’s Recommendations and Warnings

Manufacturing Dissent, Roxie, opening Friday. One expects a documentary critical of Michael Moore to be a right-wing polemic, but narrator/co-director Debbie Melnyk starts Manufacturing Dissent by telling us that she admires Moore and his politics. Yet, although she gives plenty of time to Moore’s defenders, the film leaves the impression that there isn’t much to admire. According to Melnyk and co-director Rick Caine, Moore plays a role that isn’t really him, has profited considerably from the Republicans and corporations he publicly attacks, and distorts facts to a degree that crosses an ethical line for a documentary. He also avoids interviews with those he thinks are out to get him–a hypocritical behavior for the maker of Roger and Me. Manufacturing Dissent isn’t as entertaining as Moore’s documentaries, but its far more evenhanded and gives Moore’s fans (of which I’m one) something to think about.

Death at a Funeral, Cerrito, opens Friday; 4Star, continuing. Death has always been a funny business, and you get very few chances to not laugh in this Dean Craig/Frank Oz collaboration. Daniel (Matthew MacFadyen) wants to give his father a decent and respectable funeral, but between the mysterious mourner no one knows, the angry old man, the hypochondriac, and the cousin’s boyfriend on acid (Alan Tudyk in a movie-stealing performance), that’s just not going to happen. If you go to Death at a Funeral expecting political correctness–or for that matter, fully developed and believable characters–you’ll be disappointed. This one is strictly for the laughs. Click here for my full review.

No End in Sight, Red Vic, Sunday and Monday. You may think you know how badly the administration bungled the war in Iraq, but Charles Ferguson‘s documentary tells the story so carefully, so dispassionately, and so authoritatively that you’re awed by the enormity of these people’s incompetence and the tragedy of its results. And you feel in your gut not only that today’s situation is hopeless, but that it didn’t have to be this way. Most Iraq war documentaries focus on the regular folks caught in the war, but Ferguson tells most of the story through the people who ran the occupation during its first few months, such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Ambassador-to-Iraq Barbara Bodine. No End in Sight is easily be the best documentary of the year so far, as well as the most depressing. Click here for a full review.

Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Cerrito, Saturday and Sunday matinees. An eccentric inventor, his long-suffering dog, snooty aristocrats, cute bunnies, and whole lot of clay make up the funniest movie of 2005. I vote for putting this G-rated, claymation extravaganza on a double-bill with that other hilarious British comedy with killer rabbits, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Another presentation of The Poop.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday, 8:15. The biggest and the best of Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti” westerns was the Pulp Fiction of its day, reveling in its own amorality and bringing you along to enjoy the ride. It’s violent, beautiful, iconic, and funny, with the best performance of Eli Wallach’s career and that incredible Ennio Morricone score. Part of the PFA’s Sergio Leone series.

Once, Elmwood, opens Friday. The most romantic picture since Before Sunrise, Once charms you with winning characters, an odd kind of low-key suspense, and terrific music. The music comes out of the story, which concerns two talented but unprofessional musicians (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová) becoming close friends and collaborators. There’s clearly a romantic attraction, but you’re never quite clear where it’s going to go. Wherever it goes, it gets there musically; if the film isn’t a hit, the singer/songwriter-style soundtrack will be. Sorry, but I have to say it: You’ll want to see Once twice.

3:10 to Yuma, Parkway, opening Friday. Also continuing at the Cerrito. Good news: The western is very much alive! The second film version of Elmore Leonard’s short story doesn’t feel like a neo-western, an anti-western, or a western parody. Most of it feels like a great, classic western, and, if it wasn’t for a wholly implausible third act, would stand a good chance of achieving classic status in future decades. Like all great westerns, it offers plenty of action and suspense, but is really about men, how they relate to each other, and the difficult moral choices that the frontier forces on them. Russell Crowe, as a notorious criminal, and Christian Bale, as a rancher desperate enough to take a very dangerous job, both bring to the film the right look, talent, charisma, and American accent. (Has anyone else noticed that this very American story stars an Aussie and a Welshman?) Most of 3:10 To Yuma is thoughtful and intelligent, and all of it is testosterone-pumping entertainment. Note: I have changed this review since I first wrote it, and reduced the film’s grade from a A to a B. Click here for an explanation.

Ongoing Engagements