Three films consumed in the last couple of weeks at the Paramount, and all of them leave me depressed and unfulfilled. I should just not attend Hollywood films.
I had been seduced by some of the pointed satire of anti-Semitism in clips I'd seen of Da Ali G Show to think that Borat might actually have a point to it; though no one has presented it as such, it seemed to me that Mr. Cohen was in fact taking the piss out of the less, uhh, likable aspects of Islam (the main religous demographic in Kazakhstan) and that the film might thus cleverly engage with the current political climate, mocking the intolerance of fundementalists both there and here, and taking on anti-feminism, homophobia, and so forth. Tho' occasionally Cohen does get a shot off that hits one of these targets, what we have in Borat is largely a series of profoundly embarrassing and awkward social situations engineered for no purpose whatsoever, with an underlying subtext of how ridiculous and ignorant people in the third world are. I hope the Romanian village where the Kazakh scenes were filmed wins the lawsuit, actually. I do not understand the popularity of this film. The audience were laughing uproariously. Critics have uniformly ejaculated over it. I felt uncomfortable, laughed from shock at some of the more vulgar and over-the-top bits, somewhat against my will, and in the end was bored and disappointed, upbraiding myself for having been foolish enough to actually expect something witty.
The Departed is no better. I hope at some point in the future Scorsese will be remembered for his very promising first feature, Who's that Knocking at my Door -- still my favourite of his films -- and for the somewhat lesser Mean Streets, and for his friendship with John Cassavetes; his subsequent career, viewed properly, is a long decline, masked as an ascendancy to the throne of American moviemaking. The Departed is a vaguely nihilistic entertainment that provokes no serious reflection or soul-searching in its audience; it is not a work of art, but of commerce, and though there is considerable craft in the film (particularly in the performances of the actors), it's in aid of nothing. I'd probably be happy to accept it as an entertaining exploitation film, were it presented as such -- but on this budget, with this degree of hype, skill, and PR being put into its manufacture, I expect something more. I think the last Scorsese film that I felt any degree of actual emotional connection to was The Age of Innocence. That was awhile ago.
Babel is a bit more interesting, but not much. For all its drama and seriousness of theme, a day later, I could vividly remember only one moment in the film - the scene where the deaf Japanese girl flashes her "hairy monster" at the boys. It was a fresh, exciting, daring moment and did something to change how I experienced the world. The rest of the film feels like a thinly disguised sermon where the point is not to change your behaviour or your perception of the world, but to identify with the moral integrity of the sermonizer and thus leave the church feeling more morally righteous than you did when you went in. That's actually unkind -- the film is a bit more complex than that, and deserves more attentive criticism, but my indifference to it is such that I can't be bothered. Tom Charity wrote well about it, here.
Hollywood sucks. We should stop encouraging them.