24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Michael Moore

Tribeca 2012: Michael Moore says hacking scandal could hit Fox News

April 22, 2012 |  9:10 pm

Michael Moore has taken aim at Fox News for its politics countless times over his long career. But the provocateur filmmaker now believes that the News Corp.-owned cable channel could soon be caught up in something far more nefarious than simple ideological sins.

"I'm interested to see what happens with Fox News and phone hacking," Moore said, referring to the News Corp. scandal that has resulted in a number of arrests and high-level resignations within the British section of Rupert Murdoch's empire. "I really can't believe it just happens in Great Britain. Because really, who cares about just hacking phones over there?

"I'll make a prediction about something — I think the phone-hacking thing Murdoch is involved in ... is going to be investigated, and it will be found that it's been going on here too," he said. "I just have a gut feeling."

To this point, no U.S. subsidiary has been implicated, though U.K. prosecutors have explored the possibility of bringing suit in the U.S. because of the possibility that U.K. citizens' phones were hacked while they were on U.S. soil.

Moore spoke Sunday at a Tribeca Film Festival event with actress Susan Sarandon, with the two elaborating on their general fears of government and other forms of surveillance.

"I've gotten my [FBI] file twice," Sarandon said. "I know my phone was tapped. If they're not surveilling you, then everyone else has cameras on phones." She added, "I was denied security clearance to go to the White House [next week], and I don't know why."

Moore chimed in. "I never think about it," he said. "It would unwind me," before going on to say, "I assume everything I'm saying in an email or saying on the telephone is being looked at."

Never shy about voicing his feelings toward the right, Moore took aim at a host of other targets, particularly those who he said played on fear to boost the Republicans’ presidential chances this year.

"[Look at] the fact that Mitt Romney can be dead [even] with Obama in the polls ... even though his approval rating is at 35%," Moore said.  "It's amazing that that many people who don't like him will still vote for him because not" — Moore paused — “him," referring to Obama.

But Moore also went after some liberal sacred cows, notably Davis Guggenheim, whose "Waiting for Superman" is often regarded as a liberal-friendly cri de coeur about the state of the public-education system. "I hated that film," Moore said. "The point I was left with was that teachers and unions are the problem. And that is not the problem."

Hollywood studios also came into Moore's sights, particularly with how Paramount handled two recent movies. " 'Hugo' was marketed as a family film, and it's not a family film. It's not for kids," he said. “It's an adult film with kids in it. Same with 'Jeff, Who Lives' at Home," Moore said, referring to Sarandon's recent offbeat comedy. "If a studio doesn't get your work...."

"Or," Sarandon interjected, "they’re made for so little money that they don't want to invest the money ... [so] it disappears," she said, apparently referring to the marketing effort for "Jeff," made for a modest budget.

Moore has not announced the subject of his new film (he last directed "Capitalism: A Love Story" more than two years ago) and declined to specify Sunday what it might be about. But in response to a question about whether he’d make a film about immigration policy, he did allow that he thought it was a worthy subject.

"That's a film that needs to be done," he said.


Tribeca 2012: In 'The Girl,' Abbie Cornish still playing to adults

Tribeca 2012: Journey singer doesn't stop believin'

Tribeca 2012: Brett Ratner loves product placement

Tribeca 2012: Jason Segel's 'Five-Year Engagement' seeks a ring

—Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Craig Barritt / Getty Images.

'Undefeated,' Michael Moore and the art of entertaining documentaries

March 1, 2012 |  6:47 pm

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Even in documentaries, it helps if the main character is animated. That’s one of the themes being explored at the University of Missouri’s conference on documentary filmmaking titled Based on a True Story -- in very windy, but so far tornado-free, Columbia, Mo.

In preparing for a Thursday panel -- looking at the role, if any, of entertainment in documentary filmmaking -- I began thinking about how audiences have come to expect as much entertainment as information, as much drama as data, in documentaries.

The good news is that so often documentary filmmakers deliver it all, as new Oscar winner “Undefeated,” with its underdog team and its charismatic coach, did so winningly well.

Or consider documentarian Michael Moore, who in the years since his groundbreaking “Roger & Me” has essentially become the main attraction –- his brand of in-your-face tactics, as he tackles various issues, is one of the main reasons audiences keep coming back. It's also his main challenge: How can he keep re-inventing himself? Or can he? And what would a Michael Moore film be without the filmmaker literally in the picture? Might be interesting to see.

It’s an approach that filmmaker Morgan Spurlock uses more lightly –- a little outrage and a lot of comedy -– whether he’s actually supersizing himself to talk about fast food in "Super Size Me" or selling the shirt off his back to examine product placement in movies, as he was in last year’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”

But really, most documentary filmmakers find their challenge in not being center stage. Instead, they're trying to build a compelling story around their featured player –- whether it’s the life and death of a race-car sensation like "Senna" or a bunch of babies in "Babies," their first year of life followed in detail. Or a chimp named Nim, who became a science project in the '70s, and an examination of our right to subject animals to such research in the outstanding “Project Nim.”

It requires the patience of Job to film far more than you need in hopes of finding those moments of truth that will take life on-screen, the serendipity that surprises. Like fictional film, ultimately, it's about telling a story. In the case of documentaries, the story is a true one, and that is very powerful cinematic material indeed.

For a taste of these films, watch the video above.

[For the Record, 12:01 p.m. March 6: A previous version of this post referred to Based on a True Story as a film festival. It is a film conference held by the University of Missouri.]


'Undefeated' wins feature documentary Oscar

Sony Pictures Classics nabs documentary 'West of Memphis'

'Undefeated' is a provocative look at race and class in sports

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic, reporting from Columbia, Mo.

Did Michael Moore get his due on 'Fahrenheit 911'?

February 7, 2011 |  3:46 pm

For many filmgoers, Michael Moore has been pretty much absent this film season. He hasn't directed a new documentary, as he has in two of the last three years, and he wasn't ubiquitous the way he was during the presidential election cycle two years ago.

But the filmmaker hasn't exactly disappeared.

The provocateur documentarian was back in the news Monday with a lawsuit he filed against Harvey Weinstein in which he alleges that the indie-film mogul didn't pay him nearly $3 million he alleged he's owed from "Fahrenheit 911," Moore's 2004 blockbuster.

Our sister blog Company Town reports that Moore is seeking damages for what the suit alleges are  "classic Hollywood accounting tricks and financial deception perpetrated by" Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who released the movie.

Among the tidbits to emerge: Moore earned $19.8 million from the controversial political documentary (at least according to the Weinsteins' lawyer) and that, also according to Harvey Weinstein, they'd been trying to work out a settlement for months. (The attorney, noted Hollywood rabble-rouser Bert Fields, intimates that Harvey Weinstein's award-season enemies may have "put [Moore] up" to the suit.)

This is hardly the first time the movie, which examines the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration and the alleged corporate complicity in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has been the subject of a controversy; the Weinsteins famously broke with Disney, which owned their company at the time, to release the movie. Given how it could be years before this even gets close to a trial, we suspect it won't be the last either.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Michael Moore in 'Fahrenheit 911.' Credit: Fellowship Adventure Group


Company Town: Michael Moore sues Harvey Weinstein over profits to 'Fahrenheit 911'


In 'Tillman' and 'Restrepo,' a pair of Afghanistan movies that seek a place above politics

June 20, 2010 | 11:52 am


For many of us, the prospect of going to a movie theater to see a war documentary has about the same appeal as getting our eyebrows repeatedly plucked out by a pair of rusty tweezers.

But any thoughts of discomfiture should be thrown out the window for two Afghanistan films that play in Los Angeles in the next week: Amir Bar-Lev's posthumous portrait of a soldier in "The Tillman Story" and Sebastian Junger's and Tim Hetherington's verite look at a U.S. army platoon in "Restrepo."

"Tillman," which plays the Los Angeles Film Festival on Sunday, tells the ostensibly familiar story of former NFL player and fallen U.S. soldier Pat Tillman in an altogether fresh way. It's both blood-boiling and poignant to watch Tillman's family seek the truth about his death, as well as uncover the layers of Tillman himself (a man who enlisted in the Army out of a sense of patriotism, but who also read the anti-war writings of Noam Chomsky).

Tillma "Restrepo," which opens in Los Angeles this Friday, offers a somewhat more raw filmgoing experience but makes some equally powerful choices as it shows moments of both adrenaline and tedium experienced by a group of soldiers fighting in the Korengal Valley, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous battlegrounds.

Both films were eye-opening and at times jaw-dropping, which is why we were extremely taken with them at the Sundance Film Festival (click on the links for our take on "Restrepo" and "Tillman"), and why it's heartening to see a broader audience get a chance to watch them just five months later. They're worthy movies not only because they have something to say (that has too much of a tweezery sound), but because they're satisfying cinematic experiences.

We also caught up with the filmmakers for a Los Angeles Times story about the "Tillman" and "Restrepo" documentaries, and our interviews with them only reinforced our feelings about the films.

"Most of documentaries about Iraq and Afghanistan so far have been political polemics, and I think the public is exhausted by them," Junger says. "What our films are trying to do is to make an investigation into some very necessary topics."

Indeed, neither movie seeks to take sides but rather aims to show the ambiguous and difficult circumstances of the war in Afghanistan. Of course, it's impossible to completely avoid ideology and political messaging, and "Tillman" in particular wades into political waters as it condemns the U.S. Defense Department for conspiring to spin the circumstances of Tillman's death for the sake of recruiting more soldiers (which is probably why the film has caught the attention of Michael Moore, who's called it "one of the most important movies you'll ever see about the U.S. military.")

Bar-Lev has split feelings about his movie's underlying themes. "I don't think of it as an antiwar film. I want people on the right and left to be open to engaging with it," he says. "I did want to make a film that said we should be honest about war and not cloak it in Hollywood mythology."

-- Steven Zeitchik



Casualties seen and unseen

Has someone finally made a good movie about the war in Afghanistan?

Michael Moore loves the Pat Tillman documentary, but will Middle America?

Top photo: A scene from "Restrepo." Credit: National Geographic. Bottom photo: Pat Tillman. Credit: Associated Press

Sundance 2010: Michael Moore loves the Pat Tillman documentary, but will middle America?

January 24, 2010 | 12:20 pm

Pat_tillman Amir Bar-Lev, who was behind the Sundance hit "My Kid Could Paint That" a few years back, returns to the festival this year with a documentary about Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 after leaving behind his NFL career to enlist.

Bar-Lev directs "The Tillman Story" (formerly "I'm Pat ____Tillman," after what may have been the soldier's last words) with aplomb. Audiences essentially get two movies for the price of one: a portrait of a complex personality (a man who gave up everything to join the Army but also read the antiwar writings from Noam Chomsky) as well as the depth and scope of a U.S. military cover-up of his death by friendly fire. Bar-Lev's film, which premiered Saturday afternoon in Park City, Utah, is a strong depiction of something that has been well-documented but never culled in this way. What's notable is that, according to what the movie and the Tillman family allege, it wasn't simply the Army's incompetence that led them to say his death came from enemy fire, but an active and cynical desire to shape him into something he wasn't -- and in turn help sell a skeptical nation on a war.

It's little wonder, given the themes, that Michael Moore attended the Saturday premiere, telling us afterward that the Tillman film is "one of the most important movies you'll ever see about the U.S. military."

But for all the movie's creative virtues, (it's also a pretty compelling meditation on hero worship), there's a marketing snag to whatever distributor winds up buying it out of Park City. Tillman's fan base is comprised at least partly of the patriots and pro-militarists, the hawks and the Fox News watchers, who found inspiration in the story of a football player who decides to fight for the U.S. entirely of his own accord. Indeed, part of the appeal of the movie -- as A&E Indie FIlms, which made it, and CAA and Submarine Entertainment, which is selling it, have reminded -- is that the Tillman name recognition will help it play to a right-wing audience.

Continue reading »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: