Little more than a week ago I was going Hollywood in mid-Manhattan with dozens of other Big Apple critics. In other words, cabbing from a 6:00 p.m. midtown advance screening of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to an Upper West Side 8:30 p.m. S.R.O. showing of Sex and the City 2. Yes, from a surprisingly charisma-less Jake Gyllenhaal in search of a magical dagger to a rancid Sarah Jessica Parker seeking empty post-marriage passion in the Middle East.
Verdict: both stars should avoid sand.
Jake, so good bottoming in Brokeback Mountain, here lacks top appeal. Too bad gravitas can't be sprayed on like a tan. Indifferent editing, a plodding plot line, and witless banter don't help the boy. In fact, a bewildered ostrich mirroring the audience’s sentiments offers the best performance.
As for Miss Sarah, who looks like what the cat dragged in and then spit out, she’s simply forgotten how to act. Both here and in the God-awful Did You Hear About the Morgans?, whenever the sweet miss is on screen, an immediate lack of energy is apparent. It's as if the screen becomes a black hole sucking up life like a Bounty towel on baby drool.
Miss Parker who's extremely attractive in person and unbelievably kind, warm, and sincere, appears to be treading dangerous waters when leaving the safety of the boob tube. Cinematographers can no longer capture her charm, and that's fatal, especially during those moments when Mr. Big (Chris Noth) swears that her Carrie Bradshaw is "hot," and you wind up wondering if you missed an anal insertion shot.
But worse is how humorless, dramatically flaccid, anti-feminist, and bigoted this whole production is. In a cruel takeoff on reading Lolita in Tehran near the finale of Sex 2, Arab women are no longer risking their lives to get together and critique the forbidden classics of Nabokov and the Brontes. Instead, Suzanne Somers is their god, and their real dream is to be garishly swaddled in designer labels. Thank heavens for Parker's costars, who can still add a bit of zing to the zingless mindlessness this whole enterprise has dissolved into.
This brings me to Phillip Montgomery's superb new documentary, ReGeneration, which is currently being screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, the longest film fest in the United States and clearly one of the best curated.
ReGeneration, which is narrated and co-produced by Ryan Gosling, is an exploration of America's current ethical vacuum. How did we get this way? Why did the hippies think they could change the world? And why are today's youth's goals far less ambitious, mainly relegating their lesser Utopian fantasies to those realizable with a stroke of daddy's credit card?
What's happened? Why did the malaise set in? One teacher interviewed notes that her students, when confronted with current events, ask, "What can I do? I’m only one person."
According to Montgomery, the culprit here is the media, which are collectively our country's main educator. We are apparently preached a culture of powerless individualism that throws societal values by the wayside. We're brainwashed that "nice guys finish last." Why? Corporations want us to excuse their C.E.O.s' greed and make heroes of Trump and his peers. Also, in the end, self-sacrifice doesn't drive up sales. True charitableness is almost un-American.
Just recall how Ronald Reagan avowed, "You can always have more," and he was worshipped for doing so.
His rival, the oft-belittled Jimmy Carter, asked Americans to stop kowtowing to self-indulgence. Ask not what one owns, but what one does, and he lost the election.
ReGeneration opens with a Martin Luther King quote: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
Silence and "buy me" and ignorance. Where does it lead? An indifference to war?
Is this why George W. disallowed the media from photographing the dead of the Iraq war? He didn't want another Vietnam on his hands. If it's not on the 6 o’clock news or CNN, it doesn't exist. And his policy worked. According to a study quoted in ReGeneration, most Americans believe less than 10,000 people were killed in the war, not the hundreds of thousands that the experts agree upon.
But Death has to step aside on TV for the far more significant antics of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Consequently, we can't tell the real tragedies from those manufactured by Hollywood.
One teacher recalls here that when she turned on the TV in her classroom while 9/11 was occurring and that plane was crashed into the second World Trade Center tower, one of her students yelled, "Cool!"
"This is not a special effect," she replied. But how can we tell anymore? And how will future generations?
Clearly, the film argues, "Culture shapes identity." With hope, this heartfelt, unendingly stimulating documentary might just salvage a few minds that would otherwise have been Jaked and Sarah-ed into complete idiocy. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in the forthcoming documentary Activist: The Times of Vito Russo and has been edited out of Rosa von Praunheim's New York Memories. In the fall, he'll be teaching "American Jewish Theater" and "Theater into Film" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).