First Bowling for Columbine. I'll admit that I went into this one with a decently strong bias against it. I'm a fan of Michael Moore, or at least I was in the past, but having read some of the deceptions that he commits in this movie I was skeptical of it. It was entertaining, there's no doubting that, but in the end the lessons it teaches are no more than you could get from your average Harper's Index. For example, one of the strongest arguments that the film is making is that gun violence in America is caused by a culture that glorifies violence not only in the fictional media but in news media and government briefings. Harper's could show this with a few statistics, like number of minutes devoted to violent content in news broadcasts and number of press conferences given by military figures or on military subjects in US vs Canada (the best comparison country due to its similar culture and level of gun ownership.) Likewise there was the argument that while Canada has unemployed people it lacks truly poor people due to the social welfare state, which reduces violence. This is in fact a pretty good argument, but one undermined by Moore's constant repetition of Canada's high unemployment rate. By the time he gets around to comparing the Canadian social welfare state to the American "Welfare to Work" plan the idea has become confused. The film was also hurt by its constant ragging on Chuck Heston. Moore shows pretty convincingly that gun ownership is not the issue (though he implies that automatic weapons and handguns may be the problem, which is not unlikely given that shotguns and rifles are difficult to use in many crimes because they cannot easily be concealed.) The handgun argument would be stronger except that every time he shows Heston with a gun he's holding a rifle or shotgun, and he never explicitly mentions automatic weapons or handguns. The one guy who has a handgun, the MacNichol, keeps it under his pillow. He comes off as a psychopath but a gun under his pillow hardly makes him seem like he's going to shoot someone at random.
In the end Moore never answers the question of what caused Columbine and why America suffers so many gun deaths (a GLARING error was a lack of overall murder statistics when comparing countries. An argument that's been made is that firearm murders may occur when firearms are available, but who cares if the overall murder rate doesn't matter? In that case gun control just trades in firearm murders for knife or baseball bat or poisoning murders and that's not exactly a worthy goal.)
Moore's documentary was decent entertainment but I didn't really learn anything.
The Mcnamara film was more complicated for me. I went into it having read both good and bad things about First of all it was definitely less flashy and had more substance. Secondly it was on a subject I knew less about. Thirdly I was watching it in a theatre and I had a toothache through the majority. That being said, these are my impressions:
I must admit that Macnamara is a very bright guy, and incredibly sharp and with it at the age of 85. The film does go into some depth about the decisions he made and his reasoning behind it. He demonstrates at least some remorse for what he did without seeming like he is making excuses. The problem with the movie stems mostly from the fact that Macnamara doesn't answer questions he doesn't like. He even says at one point "the key to answering a question is not to answer what you were asked but instead what you wanted to be asked." He demonstrates this technique time and again throughout the film. The thing is for a good documentary film you need to answer the questions the audience wishes was asked because you KNOW the answers to these questions. Every time MacNamara said he had secret knowledge which he still refuses to share he betrayed the concept of the film. This happened quite a bit and ultimately what he did say was unsatisfying. Still there were implied messages (that he is considered a hero for what he did in WW II but a villain for Vietnam purely because one war was won and one was lost, and that in fact he was more inclined to violence during the second world war.) that were important and an interesting look at what happens to brilliant men with power in times of great trouble. It's a glass half-empty situation and the empty half is where the juciest bits would go.
I played Squash for a couple hours today and did some bench-pressing. It was a good workout and I'm still sore from it. Hopefully I'll be good to go for the coming week.
I'm watching the Academy Awards half-heartedly (with a break for Curb your Enthusiasm OF COURSE) and may post impressions later. Be warned.
Happy leap day again. I don't usually say these things twice but you only get a chance once every four years for this one.