A message to save the world

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If I were an opinionated madman licensed to be oracular – and I ignore retorts of “why say ‘if’?” – I would aver this: the greatest disaster in the western world in the 21st century to date has been the victory of George W. Bush over Al Gore. Greater than 9/11? Yes, because it incorporated 9/11. It engendered it. Would terrorists have struck a Gore-led US? Since al-Qaeda’s stated aim was to avenge the
desecration of Saudi Arabian soil by foreign troops in the first Gulf war, wasn’t Bush paying
for Bush, the son for the father?

I remove my madman’s hat: this is all speculation. Yet An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim’s documentary featuring the roadshow lecture about global warming that Al Gore has taken around the world, is a Tantalus glimpse of what America might have been with a president who cared about the planet, its people and its peace.

It is romantic to suppose we would all now have hydrogen cars and solar-powered homes. As surely as the screening I saw was preceded by ads for gas-
guzzling roadsters, a Gore White House would still drive limos and fly executive jets. It would still need to placate the oil lobby
and control the individual
delinquencies of 53 states. But at least Kyoto would have been signed. At least lip-service would be paid to eco-crisis. At least we wouldn’t have Anthropithecus Dubya incanting: “What problem? What pollution?”

Introducing himself to audiences with “I’m Al Gore, I used to be the next president of the United States”, our lost saviour stands before a screen commanding diagrams and at one point mounting a hydraulic lift to follow the rising graph-line of CO2 emissions. Off the chart? You bet. Practically up to the moon.

The good lines come quick and thick. In the despair column of the ledger: “Within the decade there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro.” In the hope column: “Political will is a renew-able resource.” We can all do something if we try. Away from the lecture halls the folksiness is laid on with a pitchfork. Gore recalls his childhood, repines over the parental tobacco business – given up when Gore’s cigarette smoking sister died of lung cancer – and sighs away the pain of that lost election. He now seems fitter, if fatter. There is always 2008. And An Inconvenient Truth, full of wit and wisdom, is a good campaigning ad. I hope it was meant as something more, although in politics scepticism is a renewable resource.

In Children of Men, a daffy sci-fi adventure directed by the itinerant magical realist Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), the future is a living nightmare. Britain in 2027 is a police state persecuting immigrants while husbanding its dwindling supply of natives. The men went sterile 18 years before. Resistance is in the hands of rebel leader Julianne Moore, maverick do-gooder Clive Owen and long-haired former political cartoonist Sir Michael Caine, resembling a lost Ben Gunn auditionee. (Those lamenting the early exit of Julianne Moore, killed after 10 minutes, can catch her in a romantic comedy written and directed by her husband Bart Freundlich. In Trust the Man (★★☆☆☆), instead of being shot, she is hung up like a plastic fairy along with David Duchovny, Billy Crudup and Maggie Gyllenhaal. There are many kindsof martyrdom in modern
cinema. But let’s return to Children of Men.)

When a pregnant black girl appears in everyone’s midst we are nearly deafened by the unspoken symbolic proclamation – “Second Coming!” The Christ Child of colour, a messiah for multiculturalism, is hurried in embryo across country towards that well-known sanctuary for rebels and redeemers, Bexhill-on-Sea. Only the police, the army and a succession of ambushing cameo players (Danny Huston, Peter Mullan) can stop it escaping to France, a country known to appreciate weird infant saviours designed to bring down secular states. P.D. James’s novel must have made more sense than Cuarón’s cheerful but incoherent screen adaptation.

Clerks II, Kevin Smith’s anxiously awaited sequel to Clerks, proves the American proverb: “You can’t go home again.” Clerks was a gonzo masterwork, the cinematic equivalent of a riot in the school canteen. Characters spent 90 minutes throwing things at each other – bad jokes, obscenities, non-sequiturs – in a black-and-white Bacchanal shot for beer money. It was funny, lively, rude and unstoppable.

The new film is in colour, stars ageing versions of the Clerks principals (Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson) and transfers them from a burnt-out corner store to an oddly customer-free burger joint. There are two great riffs in the Tarantino style (which Smith pioneered): the duologue confounding Anne Frank with Helen Keller and the summary of The Lord of the Rings). But the would-be uproarious climax with a donkey – “interspecies erotica” as the hired showman calls it – is a queasy mis-step; the romantic complications belong to a junk rom-com; and the emetic outpouring of buddy love in the last reel deserves the adults-only certificate that the rest narrowly escapes.

Dirty Sanchez gets an “18” and is lucky not to get arrested. The film is an assault on your gag reflex by four trained experts. The famed-on-MTV title team is Britain’s answer to Jackass. Wearing metaphorical potholing equipment, they enter your mouth, slide along your tongue and wallop your uvula. The one Londoner is outnumbered by three Welshmen – three sound reasons for devolution – and their gross-out pranks will have you reaching for anything that resembles a brown paper bag. The punishment meted out to volunteer limbs, genital organs and digestive systems has to be seen to be marvelled at, although you should seek medical advice before doing either.

Art is always with us. But in a bad week art can be as dismaying as entertainment, a “too little” that is no better than “too much”. Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane (★★☆☆☆) is a gnomic mood-piece about a bereaved father and down-and-out (Damian Lewis) who battens enigmatically on a mother and child. It is like bad Bresson, if that were a possibility. All signifiers and no meaning; all tics and no truths; all mute emoting and no emotion.

Eros (★★☆☆☆) is a three-pack of stories about love and sex by Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. The first is best, an opulently shot Oriental teaser starring Gong Li. But one Wong doesn’t make a right. Soderbergh contributes a trite tale-with-a-twist about psychoanalysis, Antonioni an enervated, portentous enigma about a one-
night stand. Eheu fugace. How are the mighty scattered, fallen and lost.

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