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Guns kill people, but so do women


 [Cue Chandler Bing voice.] Could Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine (opening Friday, November 15, at the Little) be released at a more appropriate time? [End Chandler Bing voice.] We're still finding victims of the Beltway Snipers, who were apparently picking people off from a distance with the impunity of Mark McKinney's Head Crusher from The Kids in the Hall. Instead of thumb and forefinger, these crackpots used a rifle, and that's pretty much the upshot of Bowling: America is an insanely violent place to live, compared to anywhere else in the world. Moore's new film tries to answer the age-old question of why. He also seeks to explore the reasons behind America's love affair with guns, and, more importantly, why we insist on firing them at each other.

            When the film opens, with a scene in which Moore visits a Michigan bank that is giving away rifles to its new customers, you might think you're in for a one-sided romp that will include poking fun at gun nuts and the NRA --- preaching to the choir, or shooting fish in a barrel, if you will. But it isn't as biased as you might think. Moore still uses satire via mockery, but also listens to arguments from people on both sides of the issue, including Terry Nichols' brother, John, and a couple of Columbine survivors.

            Moore draws numerous comparisons between the US and Canada, and he certainly makes his point. Canada has a higher guns-per-household ratio than the US, but their gun-related deaths clock in at 300 per year, while the US buries over 11,000 during the same 365 days. When something like Columbine happens, people are quick to blame music and video games, but those things are available virtually anywhere in the world at this point. Bowling's title is aimed at the finger-pointers --- the Columbine shooters were both avid bowlers, yet the game was never once mentioned as a potential cause for their bullet bender.

            In addition to the film's many interviews, which often pit Moore against people who must still be distracted by his slovenly appearance (since they never see the hammer coming down until it's too late), there is a very funny Harold Moss-animated history of the US, which depicts Americans in constant fear of something, thus explaining their relentless need to arm themselves.

            But I think the segment that's been causing most of the uproar over the film is the one that follows Moore's interview with a bigwig at Lockheed Martin, who insists the weapons his company creates are for defensive purposes only. Moore jumps from the interview to a montage of US offensive attacks over the last 50 years, concluding with a chilling look at 9/11. The Lockheed Martin connection is interesting, if not a bit of a stretch. The company is Columbine's biggest employer (so, like, no wonder their kids are so damn violent), and the day of the school shooting just happened to coincide with the US's biggest one-day bombing of Kosovo --- using, presumably, bombs manufactured right there in Colorado.

            Bowling's ambiguity might put some people off, as Moore never really gets a chance to answer his one big question. Sometimes his point is unclear or ineffective (like the weak Work-For-Welfare segment), and his biggest staged stunt is upstaged by a shocking revelation. But nothing can top the film's big finale --- Moore vs. Charlton Heston. Moses has vague-sounding answers for Moore's questions about holding NRA rallies in Denver just days after Columbine (and again, in Flint, immediately after the youngest school shooting on record), but fumbles when asked why he thinks America is so violent when compared to the rest of the civilized world. Heston's startling answer is enough of a surprise to make me wonder if he's faking the whole Alzheimer's thing just to avoid the backlash that should certainly follow him once Bowling is released.

            On Thursday, November 21, the Little will host an open forum after their screening of Bowling that will include guests from the Rochester City School District and the Rochester Police Department, as well as representatives from TV, print, and radio journalism. This is your big chance to ask your own gun-related questions.

A desperately welcome polar opposite to the atrocious Moulin Rouge, François Ozon's 8 Women (also opening Friday, November 15, at the Little) is about as much fun as you should be allowed to have in the dark, while still maintaining possession of your clothes. It's pretty easy to cram a bunch of good-looking, super-popular stars into the same film and hope their charisma will overshadow a lack of originality, but Women is the rare example of an ensemble picture that doesn't disappoint when it comes to style and substance.

            Set at an isolated French country estate during a Christmas Day in the late '50s, Women quickly establishes itself as a murder-mystery. Family patriarch Marcel (Dominique Lamure) is found in his bedroom with a knife jutting out of his back. The phone lines have been cut and the gate is completely blocked by snow, leaving the house's eight occupants (both family and servants) as suspects in Marcel's murder.

            Oh, I know what you're thinking --- Women sounds an awful lot like Robert Altman's Gosford Park. But the two films are like night and day. While Gosford featured two dozen characters, most of whom were almost indistinguishable and instantly forgettable, Women expertly fleshes out its eight roles in such a way that each will stay with you long after the credits roll. And it manages to do it all in a fraction of Gosford's running time.

            Like any good whodunit, all of Women's characters have a motive to want Marcel dead (and there's no butler to blame, either). His estranged wife, Gaby (Catherine Deneuve), and sister, Pierrette (Fanny Ardant), squabble over his money and his will, which may or may not have been recently revised to cut one of them out of the inheritance loop. Or maybe it was the new chambermaid, Louise (Emmanuelle Béart), since she was the one who found his body. You can never rule out any member of the staff, so count Chanel the maid (Firmine Richard) as a suspect. Wheelchair-bound Mamy (Danielle Darrieux, playing Deneuve's mom for the fourth time) seems to be capable of murder, as does her prim, dour daughter, Augustine (Isabelle Huppert), who has a lot of pent-up aggression. And don't discount Marcel's two kids, Suzon (Virginie Ledoyen) and Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier from Ozon's Water Drops on Burning Rocks).

            Speaking of Burning Rocks, I almost forgot to mention that Women also features eight campily choreographed (by Burning Rocks' Sébastien Charles) song-and-dance numbers that will either make you giggle uncontrollably or roll your eyes heavenward (Women seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it experience). In between the singing and dancing, accusations fly, and each of the characters start to reveal the cards they had previously been holding very tightly to their chests. As the film progresses, the secrets and admissions get more and more lurid (including infidelity, incest, and murder). Numerous epithets are administered, including, but not limited to: tramp, whore, hussy, witch, and sapphist (twice). And there are a couple of choice catfights thrown in for good measure, too.

            A comedic murder-mystery with song-and-dance numbers --- quite the departure from Ozon's last offering, the deadly serious critical favorite Under the Sand. In a way, Women might be his way of blowing off steam between weighty films, sort of like Paul Thomas Anderson and his unusual romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love, or whatever the hell Steven Soderbergh meant with Full Frontal. With Women, Ozon spoofs everything from Technicolor musicals to the shooting style of '50s sitcoms to Agatha Christie and mystery-novel junkies. His cast look like they had an unbelievable time making this movie, and here's hoping that the DVD will feature what I can only imagine will be some incredibly funny outtakes.

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