Watch out! Here is a film scarier than “Jaws.”
Michael Moore producer Tia Lessin (Trouble the Water) directs the punchy “Citizen Koch” about the autocratic Koch brothers and their supernatural hatred for President Obama and also, by extension, all political engines that don’t spin their way, which is to the Right. The patriarch, Fred Koch, was a founder of the harshly conservative John Birch Society, that formed in 1958 as a McCarthy-era war against Communism, or we can at least infer by the documentary, anyone deemed contrary by the hard Right.
The documentary gives us a smidgen of the Reagan ‘80s taking us to the knife-sharpening attacks against Hillary Clinton during 2007. By then the Koch brothers pumped money into the Tea Party, and Sarah Palin sprouted to life, (or death) with a voice carrion-shrill and even grating in her absolute disgust for Obama. The signs came out like vulture talons: Obama the Joker-freak, Obama the Dishonest African, Obama the Socialist Black Panther wanting to overthrow the American white man. Such signs seem scrawled in excrement and no doubt they are just as offensive.
Despite all the antiquated Frankensteinian mob behavior, their party’s one term blood lust came to nothing and Obama was elected for a second term. The film also highlights the deadpan and charmless maneuvers of Gov. Scott Walker as he promises to lift up the American worker and sneakily strips away unions of collective bargaining. Teachers stage an all night hearing. Walker and his men leave the building. A grass-roots backlash begins with murmurs of a recall.
The swell looks promising but in the end, Koch Cash proves mightier than the sword. At times, “Citizen Koch” plays like a Stephen King horror in the mode of “The Shining.” Consider that every year the Kochs give an annual retreat at a hotel mansion with turrets and all. Even the color scheme is brown and grim. They also saunter about California golf courses, becoming scaly chameleons according to whatever suits their leather-fat ideals.
Many of the men have hard hair and this could be a sequel to “The Stepford Wives”. Money goes well with plaid. The most compelling part of the film is in the character of Buddy Roemer, the former governor of Louisiana. Once a die-hard Republican, he now feels his party has left him behind. He intends to run against the Max Headroom-like Mitt Romney, for the glare of candidacy, but he can’t get a billionaire bankroll and his offices are vacant and listless. The Koch irons will not let him debate.
Roemer is an inverse twin of Ralph Nader, forced out of the cash podium, a new self deprecating Everyman and a Mr. Smith. Part of Roemer might be sincere, but if events were different, would he champion the average person? Money is a steamroller under Koch’s brass knuckles and as both a corporate entity and brothers, they have the abundance of power. Seen in this way, the Koch family is a shiver of sharks, mindless in morality and compromise.
When we are shown veterans scowling into the camera and working out, the atmosphere is cubist in claustrophobia and tension. The screen bubbles in anger. You might want to shake them, informing that it’s not too late to create a world that they want to see. But even as a woodsy couple scrambles to the polls with the hope of recalling Scott Walker, the supernally dark aura of Charles Koch is close at hand, veiled and unseen, like a right-edgy Wizard of Oz.
Few of us have known this formidable but nebulous man, with his many fingers stretching like an octopus, over his influence of NPR and PBS as he talks of planting rabble rousers in a recording. The Koch family as a group almost succeeded in making this very film, known as “Citizen Koch” become marginal, unviewable and ultimately insignificant.
The Grand Seduction
Don McKellar (Childstar) delivers a pleasant and cozy lark in “The Grand Seduction,” a remake of the French 2003 comedy “Seducing Dr. Lewis” by Jean-François Pouliot. Set in Newfoundland and Labrador, the film has echoes of other farces “Waking Ned Devine,” “The Mouse That Roared” and “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”
All of these films hinge on either money, saving face or both. Here, Murray (Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges) is a down and out fisherman in a barnacled harbor. Over bottles of ale, Murray attempts to motivate the woolly, ginned up and pickled residents, all to no avail. These sweater loafers have scarcely a chance, it seems, in recapturing the respect they once had as a working fishery. Murray gets an epiphany. If the harbor can hire a willing doctor, these weedy folks can become a functioning community and further entice an oil plant to move in, giving back Tickle Head’s standard of living. Enter the young six pack of abs, Dr. Lewis, (Taylor Kitsch) a kind of Dudley Do-Right cosmetic surgeon.
Lewis is blackmailed into trying the harbor community out for size, halting his plans to attend to a boy needing surgery in a big Canadian metropolis. Through some nasty eavesdropping, Murray discovers that the doctor loves cricket and young women. Murray convinces the inhabitants to learn cricket, possibly luring the dashing but dense Lewis to stay. The main fun in the hijinks is in seeing just how far Murray will go and in watching the actor Brendan Gleeson get more and more worked up as he did so wonderfully in “The Guard” and “In Bruges.”
With this outing, Gleeson is a bit less hostile and there is a warm twinkle in the eye, but he is still magnetic, providing the expected bouts of volatility. Gleeson makes a fine orange-haired Popeye of sorts and no matter what he does, he propels the eye, usually becoming the highlight of many films. As fate would have it, Popeye himself — Robin Williams — was rumored to have been offered this role but backed out. All to the good. Gleeson gives his role an understated quality that the manic Williams does not always show. Gleeson is truly the engine in this film.
Taylor Kitsch gives a somewhat watery performance as the bland but good natured “outsider.” His role is a hybrid of Ben Braddock (The Graduate) given his nerves around the detached postal clerk Kathleen (Liane Balaban) and George Kellerman (The Out of Towners). The doctor hates everything about this fishing village of sorts and nothing goes right.
Although at times the goings-on feel like TV’s “Northern Exposure” there are hints of madcap glee: Microphones go haywire with feedback and the people conspire to double their occupancy by going from bar to church in order to fool the oil CEO, they don makeshift cricket attire from bedsheets. There is a monotone, dry as Wonder Bread accountant (Mark Critch) and an old salt (Gordon Pinsent).
These characters are fuzzy and warmly comical. While they don’t emote any leaps or charges, the eccentrics are instantly recognizable and will give a knowing chuckle. However, if it’s full belly laughs you are after, they will be given by Brendan Gleeson who once again offers some upside down irreverence combined with some Santa Claus good feeling. There is an abundance of whiskey-worn vibration within his cheeks and forehead — an elixir of sadness and hope. He just might bring a tear to the eye.
“The Grand Seduction” makes satisfying viewing to those who like warm films with a light heart in the tradition of “Angel’s Share” and “Chocolat.” The sweeping oyster-gray cinematography by itself is excellent, highlighting Newfoundland and Labrador’s quaint and leaning allure. This jam-jam cookie of a film makes for an airy repast and you’ll be sure to shamble out of your seat with a smile.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org