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April 05, 2006 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-04-05

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April 5, 2006
arts. michigandaily. com

ITbe lluigtI&UX t&id


First-time directorp
takes on taboosxa'?as-k>a\sY atxzzxz rs

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Managing Arts Editor

Jason Reitman hates being told
how to live.
The fresh-faced 28-year-old
writer/director - scion of stu-
dio-comedy maven Ivan Reitman
("Ghostbusters," "Meatballs") - set
out to satirize the U.S.'s ever-expand-
ing climate of forced social confor-
mity with his oddly charming first
feature "Thank You for Smoking."
"I think that political correctness
is at an all-time high," Reitman said.
"People telling other people how to
live is at an all-time high, and that's
what this movie is trying to satirize."
The R-rated comedy, based on the
acclaimed 1995 book by Christopher
Buckley, centers on a tobacco lobbyist
(Aaron Eckhart, "In the Company of
Men") attempting to balance his duties
as a highly visible rep for the tobacco
industry with life as a single father.
The film has enjoyed booming
per-screen averages since it opened
in limited release last month, and
has clearly struck a chord with
its target audience: an American
public stifled by socially enforced
Reitman said that even along the
film's promotional tour, the same sort
of socially dictatorial politics the film
argues against came center stage.
"We had a screening in Berkeley,
and we had this woman who said,
'You didn't take on the big issues!
You didn't talk about how tobacco's
ruining our lives!' " he explained.
"There are tons of people like that,
tons of politicians like that."
Due to precisely this cultural
taboo, the film's production has been
in flux for years, with several studios
rejecting the project unless the film-
makers agreed to weave a family-
friendly message into an otherwise
savagely comic slap in the face to all
sides of the political spectrum.
"They were trying to make
'Liar Liar' with smoking - it was
ridiculous," Reitman said. "This is

a film studios didn't want to make
because of its politics and because
of a lead character who doesn't
apologize for himself."
To keep from distorting the
book's aftertaste, Reitman decided
to axe the film's big-studio upbring-
ing and go under the radar with a
budget less than an eighth of the
more typical $60-million price tag
originally planned.
But Reitman said this shouldn't
be construed as a blow to the film's
mass-audience appeal.
"There's this idea that indepen-
dent means that only a few people
are going to like it," he said. "I think
what independent usually means is
independently minded. And often
films that take a different track have
to be made on a different track."
That the film employs the increas-
ingly popular device of social satire
drawn into near-caricature of our
current political atmosphere, a style
befitting the "Daily Show" genera-
tion, reflects its universal, broad-
based appeal.
"I think in a weird way, satirizing
is the only honesty anymore. We've
become so politically correct, and
so polite, that we're just lying,"
Reitman said.
Though it may seem that the
ubiquitous political concern over
the cigarette industry has long since
been out of the mainstream public
eye, Reitman said the issue is more
prevalent and far-reaching today
than many of us might think.
"There's still tremendous uproar,"
he said, pointing to a publisher's
recent decision to remove a cigarette
digitally from the children's book
"Goodnight Moon."
And with news earlier this year
of a potential Residence Hall
Association ordinance that would
require smokers to stand at least
25 feet away from their Univer-
sity dormitory buildings to smoke
a cigarette, the ideas Reitman puts
forth in "Thank You for Smoking"
don't seem too far from home.

Courtesy of Fox
when they
told me
about 'Pay-
check,' I
thought the
title might
be a sign."


By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Arts Writer

"Why is the American government the best govern-
ment in the world?"
When his precocious son posits
the lamest of fourth-grade home- Thank You
work questions, Nick Naylor's T
knee-jerk response puts a new for Smoking
twist on patriotism: "Because of At the Michigan
its endless appeals system." Theater
Naylor (Aaron Eckhart, "Erin Fox Searchlight
Brockovich"), the pleasantly rakish
hero of "Thank You for Smoking,"
is the ultimate in mixed morals: a public spokesman for
and perpetual defender of Big Tobacco. No wonder he
admires the appeals system - his product, as he freely
admits, kills almost half a million Americans a year.
It's his job to keep this industry's image publicly afloat.
And Naylor is quite good at it. "Michael Jordan plays
ball, Charles Manson kills people, I talk," he shrugs,
and there is indeed an undeniable thrill in watching
him work. But though he boasts a public notoriety he

(justifiably) places on par with that of Genghis Khan,
Naylor's infectious likability proves to be his greatest
selling point, and the charismatic Eckhart makes for a
deft casting choice.
With his aggressively all-American good looks,
Eckhart practically radiates confident machismo -
deep tan, blonde hair, bright, unblinking blue eyes and
the widest slice of winning-white smile ever to launch
a sales pitch. How telling that the kingpin of modern
snake-oil salesmen should be the visual embodiment of
the textbook American dream.
"Thank You for Smoking" never roundly condemns
Naylor for his task; rather, it exposes the humor that the
position exists at all. Once a week, Naylor meets for
snappy dialogue and a greasy bar dinner with his fellow
public foes and best friends (Maria Bello, "A History
of Violence," and David Koechner, "Anchorman") who
happen to be spokesmen for the other two most derid-
ed, mass-marketed products in the nation: alcohol and
firearms. Together, the three create the most cheerful
triumvirate of vice since the witches of "Macbeth."
This same acerbic sense of humor slyly guides and
elevates the whole film. The film's first fifth plays like a
quick sitcom clip, and while the film may lag in spots,
its 92 minutes skim rapidly over an incredible variety

of terrific characters - J.K. Simmons ("Spiderman's"
cigar-chomping editor) as Naylor's blustery, disloyal
boss, Robert Duvall ("Secondhand Lions") as a mint-
julep-lovin' Southern-gent tobacco tycoon and Sam
Elliott ("The Big Lebowski") as a grizzled Marlboro
Man gone sadly to seed with lung cancer.
"Thank You for Smoking" thankfully keeps up its
winking humor, though it gamely turns with the arrival
of a flirty reporter (the miscast Katie Holmes, "Batman
Begins") to a hard questioning of its hero's job. Her
accusation that Naylor is a "yuppie Mephistopheles"
brings to light the weakness of his only moral defense
- that he's got a mortgage to pay, too.
Does Naylor even buy that rationale? "Smoking"
doesn't settle for defending lobbyists as valiant pro-
tectors of the consumer's "freedom of choice." Nick
Naylor is, after all, just a talker. What about the larger
system of government, with those appeals courts and
paperwork loopholes he manipulates with such skill?
"Thank You for Smoking" ends up tongue-in-cheek
toward both sides. A little sign hanging above the lob-
byist trio's corner booth boasts an American flag and
the words, "We have the best government money can
buy." It's a sentiment that makes for the film's darkest,
and most compelling, touch.


/ / -


'South Park' stays steady in 10th season


By Mark Schultz
Daily Arts Writer

~r I

"South Park," one of the most
vulgar and crude shows in the his-

41A 0;

tory of television,
is back to breathe
new life into
Comedy Central's
and "Chappelle's
lineup. It's hard

South Park
Season 10
at 10 p.m.
Comedy Central

sitcom age reserved only for endur-
ing favorites like "The Simpsons"
and "Friends." "South Park" will
always have its detractors, but its
ribald gross-out humor and tongue-
in-cheek social commentary has left
an indelible mark on the face of TV
After a number of surprisingly
controversy-free seasons, the net-
work stalwart was faced with an
unusual problem when Isaac Hayes
- the voice of popular character
Chef - quit to voice his disapprov-
al of the show's send-up of Scien-
tology last season. Not surprisingly,
show creators Trey Parker and Matt
Stone responded by doing what

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to believe the show many people
thought was a one-joke animated
nightmare has reached the golden

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they do best: criticizing it for their
own twisted amusement. It wasn't
exactly a dignified send-off for
the lovable Chef - he was graphi-
cally torn apart by bears - but any
respectable action would be unchar-
acteristic of "South Park."
In the season's second episode,
the show picks up where the last
season left off, poking fun at the
foibles of celebrities, activists and
wannabe intellectuals in tradition-
ally blunt and unmistakable fash-
ion. The show derives much of its
satirical power from its ironic use
of the town's clueless and blindly
trendy adult citizens as foils to Stan,
Kenny, Cartman and Kyle, who are
seemingly the only voices of rea-
son in this "quiet redneck mountain
town." The town's citizens embody
the show's view of what is wrong
with America, a country that, in
Parker and Stone's opinion, is
quickly becoming intolerably vapid,
self-satisfied and politically correct
to a fault.
"South Park" tries hard to shove
its views down the viewer's throat,
but as the series progresses the
unabashed parody becomes tiring. It
reached its pinnacle in recent years
through its clever and brutal sati-
rization of society's ills, but now the
show is sliding downhill as it tries
to cling to the few scraps of society
it hasn't yet insulted into oblivion.
But "South Park" should keep its
hit-or-miss satirical approach - as
long as there are politics and enter-
tainment, the world will always need
someone to remind it of its occasion-
al ridiculousness. "South Park" will
always be there to remind us just
how absurd society can really be.


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