At first, our sympathies go out to Muthana: How could he be expected to know that if you’re lucky enough to get a p.a. job, you should, as producer Christine Vachon put it in a book I co-wrote with her, “Throw yourself into it body and soul … and impress the people who matter (like me) with your incredible initiative”? Cut the guy some slack—his country’s under siege! No one told him one of his jobs would be shaking a snack cup of nuts so they’d be evenly distributed. Peter Saraf, the producer who supervises Muthana, comes off like a Hollywood dickhead who one minute boasts about his liberalism and the next expects a young guy who has never before been out of his benighted country to apply himself like Gunga Din and kiss people’s asses in gratitude. Then, very gradually, we begin to think Saraf isn’t so insensitive. Maybe he’s even a good guy in a hopeless situation. Maybe Muthana—no no no, mustn’t think that. No. Okay, maybe. Maybe Muthana is a lazy and not very bright or talented liar given to exploiting his country’s tragedy. No! Stop! Maybe it’s Davenport who’s exploiting him. No, that’s not right. Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe we’re terrible, terrible American pigs to presume to pass judgment.
The only certain response is “Oy.”
Operation Filmmaker doesn’t quite shake out as a microcosm of the American-Iraq relationship, although Davenport cheekily toys with the conceit. But the movie is endlessly resonant. Davenport sends Muthana’s friends in Iraq a camera and their footage is chilling. (They seem like the real filmmakers.) Meanwhile, Muthana watches the carnage in his country on TV and—extending his visa on the grounds that he thinks he’d be killed in Iraq for collaborating with American Jews—goes to work on a zombie picture in which The Rock plays the big American hero with major artillery. More and more, Davenport herself becomes a character, and you can feel her idealism crumble as Muthana rages at her and hits her up for money. In the end, she all but throws up the camera and wails, “Help!”—and damned if that’s not, under the circumstances, the clarion call of a real American artist-hero.
Oh, that Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), still trying to be outrageous: In Stuck, he puts his credit smack over the prodigiously soiled underpants of a senile old man, and what follows is not an anticlimax. It’s a grueling little noirish thriller with slasher-worthy gore about a convalescent-home nurse (Mena Suvari) who, drunk and stoned, plows her car into a down-on-his-luck man (Stephen Rea) and leaves him embedded in her windshield—bleeding, shattered, barely alive. As she goes from wanting to help him to wishing he’d fucking die already, the film becomes an aria of agony—but with a rousingly yucko finish!
An even more pedigreed goremeister, Dario Argento, is back with a sequel to his deliriously surreal masterpiece, Suspiria, called The Mother of Tears. It opens with a woman being strangled with her own intestines, and that’s before it gets ugly. His daughter Asia plays—with breathless conviction—the young woman with psychic powers who’s all that stands between humanity and the “second age of witches.” Her odyssey has a little Harry Potter, a little Da Vinci Code, and enough splatter to make the late Lucio Fulci dash his brains against the inside of his coffin for the chance to come back and top it. The first two thirds are gangbusters, with marauding bands of tarted-up young witches who look only slightly less scary than Lindsay Lohan and her pals on an average night. But toward the end the killings of women border on pornography, and the climax, in which Asia yanks off the title witch’s sacred shmatte, is a bad joke made worse by having a Mother of Tears who looks like the Mother of Silicone.