‘Vice’ Examines The Most Powerful Vice President of Them All

vice movie poster

“Is it better to be loved or feared?”

“I would rather be feared because fear lasts longer than love.”

-from “A Bronx Tale”

There is a key scene in Adam McKay’s “Vice” which serves as a reminder of how Dick Cheney was the most powerful Vice-President who ever lived. It takes place on September 11, 2001, and Cheney and the key members of George W. Bush’s administration are gathered together in room, but Bush himself is away from the White House. During a conversation with a military general, Cheney orders any suspicious aircraft to be shot down. Another person quickly raises an objection, but Cheney simply raises his hand ever so slightly to silence her. He doesn’t have to yell at or ask her to be quiet; just a simple movement was all that was needed to remind everyone in the room who was the one with all the power. Cheney instilled fear in everyone, even George W.

Christian Bale goes to great lengths in transforming his body into the characters he portrays, and his performance as Cheney will definitely go down as one of his memorable to say the least. There were times where I kept waiting for Bale to raise his voice a little higher as the monotone he was speaking at threatened to be more grating than the voice he gave Batman. But again, Cheney never has to speak up to get his point across. It reminded me of what Henry Hill said about Paulie Cicero in “Goodfellas:”

“Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.”

Bale put on 45 pounds for to play Cheney, and he gets the former Vice-President’s mannerisms down perfectly to where you completely forget it is an English actor playing this American politician and one-time CEO of Haliburton. It is such a mesmerizing portrait as he makes us see how slowly but surely Cheney got seduced into the realm of power hungry politicians whether it was serving under his mentor Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) or being manipulated by his wife Lynne (Amy Adams). But even better is the way Bale, as Cheney, subtly worms his way into becoming George W. Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) VP to where he has more control over certain areas of government than Bush, as he is portrayed here, would care to have.

The fact we have any kind of biopic on Dick Cheney is astonishing as he and Lynne remain very secretive about their lives to where McKay employs a disclaimer at the film’s beginning which is as wickedly clever as the one Steven Soderbergh gave “The Informant.” This disclaimer ends with McKay saying he and his fellow collaborators “did our fucking best,” and I guess that’s all we can ask for.

It’s no surprise the director and co-writer of “The Big Short” has chosen an unorthodox approach to making this biopic as it shifts back and forth in time to Cheney’s college days where he spent more time getting drunk than studying or playing football. McKay also has Jesse Plemons playing Kurt, an everyman narrator who says he has a close connection to Cheney, a connection which will eventually be made clear. Throughout, we are shown images from real life which, if they haven’t already, should forever be burned into your conscious memory. Among them is former President Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention where he vows to “make America great again.” From here on out, this is a phrase which should forever live in infamy.

One of “Vice’s” most inspired moments comes when McKay begins the end credits midway through the film. What’s especially hilarious about this is how it reflects the conclusion many of us would have preferred Cheney’s to have had in American politics; the kind where he never would have become Vice President. But those familiar with American politics and the Bush Administration cannot and should not expect a happy ending here. Cheney left a lot of damage in his wake, and his political power still remains constant even though he no longer holds public office.

Indeed, Dick Cheney is a tough nut to crack as “Vice” can only get so far under his skin to where you wonder if this man has anything resembling a soul to explore. As the film goes on, he is shown increasingly to be a heartless individual, both figuratively and literally speaking (he did have a heart transplant), and he comes across as such a cold human being to where his muted reactions to the multiple heart attacks shouldn’t be seen as much of a surprise. The fact he even noticed he was having them is more surprising.

Where McKay really succeeds is in showing those closest in Cheney’s inner circle, among which is his wife Lynne. Amy Adams gets the opportunity to play a Lady Macbeth-like character much like the one she played in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” and she is fantastic from start to finish. Adams makes Lynne into the key motivator for Dick’s ascent into American politics to where she fearlessly campaigns for her husband while he is laid up in the hospital. Lynne recognized she lived in a time where she could not do all the things she wanted because of her gender, and she finds immense satisfaction through her husband’s rise to power. Adams is brilliant in portraying Lynne’s fascination with the political world and in showing her quick concerns when anything threatens Dick’s standing in Washington D.C.

Another great performance comes from Steve Carell as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Carell makes Rumsfeld into a gleefully cynical politician whose values have long since been corrupted by the quest for power. Just watch when Cheney asks him what they are supposed to be believe in. The gut-busting laugh Rumsfeld gives off speaks volumes as it illustrates exactly where his interests lie, and it is not with working class Americans.

As for Sam Rockwell, his portrayal of George W. Bush feels pitch perfect as he portrays a man whom even Cheney can see is more interested in pleasing his father when it comes to running for President. After watching Will Ferrell’s classic impersonation on “Saturday Night Live” and Josh Brolin’s portrayal of him in Oliver Stone’s “W,” it seemed all too difficult for any other actor to offer a unique interpretation of this unfortunate White House resident. Then again, Rockwell proves once again what a brilliant actor he is as he captures George W.’s mannerisms while humanizing this man in a way I did not expect or was ever in a hurry to see.

I was very much entertained by “Vice,” but I did come out of it feeling like it could have dug deeper into Dick Cheney’s life. Also, the nonlinear storytelling format is at times jarring as we are thrust from one moment in history to another with little warning. Then again, in retrospect, I wonder what more could have been said about Cheney as he seems to be this malignant vessel of a human being who is never has the look of someone who could ever be fully satisfied by anything. The only positive thing I saw of him was his acceptance of his daughter Mary’s (played by Alison Pill) sexuality when she comes out as a lesbian. If only Cheney had treated all Americans like they were Mary, things would have been much different than they ended up being. Of course, when his other daughter Liz runs for public office…

One of the last moments of “Vice” has Bale breaking the fourth wall as Cheney where he looks directly into the camera and tells all those listening he is apologizing for who he is or anything he has done. I’m fairly certain Cheney has not made any statement like this on camera in real life, but the speech Bale gives as him rings frighteningly true. Considering how complicit the former Vice-President was in war crimes which included torture and sending American troops into a war based on false evidence, he has a lot to apologize for, let alone answer to. But let’s face it, he’s never going to apologize. Ever. “Vice” has as many funny moments as it does haunting ones, and this speech is especially haunting because, let’s face it, he will die before he ever considers apologizing. Heck, he almost did.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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Oliver Stone’s ‘W.’ Gives Empathy to an Unfortunate President of the United States

W movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008.

You really have to admire what Oliver Stone pulled off here as he himself has been a big critic of the Bush Administration (and who isn’t these days?). Like “Nixon,” Stone has given us an empathetic portrait of an infamous President and tears down the stereotypes we have about this particular person so we can see him up close for who he really is. It is not a Bush bashing piece, but that would have been pointless anyway because we bash George W. Bush on a regular basis. With “W.,” Stone has given us what is essentially a father-son story as George W. is a man who spent the majority of his life trying to get his father’s, President George H.W. Bush, respect. It is clear from the start Bush Sr. respects Jeb more than he who bears his first and last name, and this leads George W. to do things he would never have done otherwise, such as run for political office.

“W.” covers George W. Bush from his days at a Yale fraternity hazing to the end of his first term as President. His second term is not covered here which is just as well as we are deep in the muck when it comes to political and financial affairs. It flashes back and forth in time from when he is President to his days as a rootless young man who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life other than party and get drunk. The movie does have the feel of a comedy, but it gets more serious in other moments. The tone Stone sets here is not always clear, and it does take away from the movie a bit. Still. it kept me engrossed as it covered the life of a man I can’t wait to see leave the White House.

George W. Bush is played here by Josh Brolin, and he had a great streak last year with “Grindhouse,” “American Gangster” and of course “No Country for Old Men.” Christian Bale was originally cast in this role, but he dropped out at the last minute due to the makeup effects not working to his liking. It’s just as well because Brolin looks like a much better fit being from Texas and all. Playing Bush to a serious degree is a difficult challenge to say the least because we have long since gotten used to seeing him being lampooned on “Saturday Night Live,” and as a result, we cannot help but look at Brolin’s performance as a caricature of George W. But in the large scheme of things, Brolin manages to make the role his own, and it becomes more than a simple impersonation which was obviously not what he was going for in the first place.

In fact, Stone did a great job of casting as he got actors who don’t simply impersonate the people we know so well, but who instead embody and inhabit them. In the process, the actors force you to look at some of these personalities a bit differently than we have in the past. Getting past the preconceptions we have of people is always tough, but it is at times necessary in order for us to better understand how certain individuals, particularly those with the most power, tick.

One actor I was most impressed with here was Richard Dreyfuss who plays Vice President Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss has a great and frightening scene where, in a private conference with all the heads of state, he makes a case for attacking Iraq and Iran in order to get control over their vast oil supplies and keep dictators like Saddam Hussein from coming down on us ever again. The one moment which sent a chill down everyone’s spine is when someone asks Cheney what the exit strategy out of Iraq is, and he replies, “There is no exit strategy. We stay there forever.”

Everyone in the theater was frozen in silence as this is the one thing we keep begging future politicians to do, provide an exit strategy. Dreyfuss plays the scene not at all as a villain, but as a man who convinces the Commander in Chief of why he sees this path of action is the right one for the administration to take.

Another really good performance comes from Toby Jones (“The Mist”) who plays the master of smear campaigns, Karl Rove. Jones ends up making Rove seem both charismatic and likable, and he also subtly brings out the emotional manipulator in the man who succeeds in getting under George W.’s skin to make him the puppet he is today. I hate Rove for everything he has done, but Jones succeeds in making us admire him, begrudgingly so, for being so fiendishly clever. Rove’s powers of manipulation are ever so subtle to the point where we barely notice them, and Jones gets this across perfectly and with amazing subtlety.

As Bush Sr., James Cromwell makes us see that this particular U.S. President is fully aware of how his children are at a huge disadvantage. While he had to work hard to get to where he ended up at, his offspring had everything handed to them on a silver platter. Bush Sr. obviously wants the best for his children, but in seeing to his black sheep of a son’s needs and troubles, he comes to see he has done more harm than good.

As the movie goes on, Cromwell goes from presenting the elder Bush as being terribly disappointed in George W. to being deeply concerned over his son’s decisions about Iraq. We see Bush Sr. the end of the first Gulf War discussing his reasoning as to why they shouldn’t go after Saddam as it might make the dictator a hero in the eyes of many. Indeed, Stone makes us sympathize with the senior Bush in ways I never expected to. The moment where we see Bush lose the Presidential election to Bill Clinton, I actually found myself saddened as it comes across how there were many opportunities which would never be realized. This was shocking to me because I really wanted to see Clinton beat Bush, and I was thrilled he did.

In the end, however, the movie really belongs to Brolin who gives us a George W. Bush that is seemingly well intentioned and yet hopelessly naïve. You may not completely blame him for all the troubles going on in the world right now, but you can never excuse him for not taking more responsibility for his actions. We see Bush embrace God and become a born-again Christian, and while this helps him with his drinking problem, it also gives him blind faith which will prove to be his flaw as a person which will eventually undo him. Brolin makes Bush goofy yet well intentioned, and he makes clear the heartache he feels as he cannot escape the shadow of his famous father.

Stone’s “W.” is not the classic political movie “JFK” was, but it is effectively made and shows how we need to understand the human side of those we brand as criminals in order to get at what makes them act the way they do. This is an important lesson to remember as we go on in life.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Sicko’ Makes a Strong Case for Universal Health Care in America

Sicko movie poster

The important thing to keep in mind about “Sicko” is how it is not about those who do not have health insurance in this country. Michael Moore’s movie begins brilliantly with the stories of those who had no health insurance and were forced to pay obscenely high fees for surgical operations. It’s a brilliant beginning because it distinguishes itself from what the rest of the movie is really about: those of us who do have health insurance and how we still end up paying obscenely high fees for medical treatment.

The problem with the American health care system is that it is more of a business run by capitalists than anything else. The bottom line is those who run this industry seek to gain as big a profit as they can, and that’s even if many Americans end up filing for bankruptcy when they cannot pay their medical bills. Moore makes his case strong and clear as he interviews many people who have come to him with their horror stories of the health care industry, and there were literally thousands of them. What is especially horrific is how many stories reveal the many ways people get rejected for health insurance. The CEOs are on a mission to keep anyone away who could be a possible threat to their profit margin.

The movie’s second act deals with Moore going to different countries to see how their health care industries operate, figuratively speaking. The difference between them and America are actually quite frightening. Canada and England seem to have it over everyone else as they do not bill their patients when they come in or leave because they are under a government run system which provides them with universal health care. There is a cashier at one hospital, but instead of billing patients, he pays them for cab fare if they were financially inconvenienced in their method of getting over to the hospital.

My only issue with the second act of “Sicko” is Moore never really gets into the negatives these countries deal with in regards to health insurance. I refuse to believe everything is as rosy as it is presented here. My understanding is Canadians and the English don’t completely love their health care systems to the same degree. Then again, what scares me is that if Moore did include some of the negatives of these countries and put them together with the positives, America would still look pretty bad in comparison.

With Moore’s films, he does manipulate the audience but usually for good reason. He wants you to be mad at those who keep us from having universal health care because it would affect their profit margin. He wants you to be angry at politicians on either side of the political spectrum for being bought out by the health care industry. He aims to wake you up to the problems surrounding us and to do something about them. He may not be telling you everything, but this does not make him a liar.

The last half of “Sicko” focuses on some of the heroes who rushed to the rubble of the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001 to help those in need, and on the medical woes they inherited from working in the toxic environment which was left for them after the destruction of the twin towers. Because they were volunteers and not employed by city fire departments and police stations, they were not given the same medical consideration as those who were. Moore takes them to Cuba which is reputed to have one of the very best health care systems in the world. This, of course, got Moore into trouble with the American government which provided him with some free publicity he may or may not have been seeking.

The difference between the prices for medication in Cuba and America as presented in “Sicko” are ridiculous and embarrassing. You feel both the heartache and relief of these people as they come to discover a place where those in power are not at all quick to suck all the money of their wallets. Whereas our country rewards those who limit health care services, others reward those who actually help their patients. Why the hell isn’t America doing this?

You feel for the families who go through illnesses they never asked for and having to pay exorbitant amounts for their health care and go into bankruptcy in the process. The fact they are forced to sell their homes and move in with their children feels so very unfair, and you know people will be quicker to shame them instead of help them.

There’s no denying “Sicko” is a highly effective and utterly devastating documentary which you cannot help but have a strong reaction to. You may come out of this documentary thinking Moore is very anti-American. I don’t think he is and never have. In his own way, he is a patriotic American who cares enough about this country to point out its weaknesses for everyone to see so we can face them rather than avoid them. We need more people like Moore, those who ruffle the feathers of the conservative firebrands who want you to believe everything is alright. We need someone to shake things up from time to time, and he continues doing this even when you think his career will be ended sooner than we think. Just remember, what you resist, you empower.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Frost/Nixon’ is Ron Howard’s Best Film Since ‘Apollo 13’

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WRITER’S NOTE: This review was originally written in 2008.

Frost/Nixon” started off as a play which was incredibly well received and went on to have a very successful run on Broadway. It has now been brought to the screen by director Ron Howard, and he ends up giving us one of his best movies to date. Like “Apollo 13,” he takes the outcome of an event which we all know about and he turns it into riveting cinema. Also, unlike John Patrick Shanley who cast different actors in his movie version of “Doubt,” Howard retains the two actors from the original stage production, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella. This is one of the very best movies to come out in 2008, and it makes sense it is coming out at the end of the year instead of the middle of it.

“Frost/Nixon” starts at the point where Nixon has resigned as the President of the United States. David Frost, just coming off of one of his talk shows, sees the image of Nixon waving goodbye before entering the helicopter which took him away from political life forever. When it is gauged as to how many witnessed Nixon’s resignation on television, Frost sees a golden opportunity in attempting to get an interview with Nixon, something which must have seemed incredibly unlikely at the time. Along with his producer John Brit (Matthew Macfadyen), he travels to America to set up the interview with a major network, but they all turn him down. As a result, he decides to fund the whole thing himself at great personal risk, and he and John hire Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) and James Reston, Jr. (Sam Rockwell) to prep him for interview and research all the available facts on Nixon.

I liked how “Frost/Nixon” really got into the specifics of how the interviewed was prepped and researched. You might think prepping any interview wouldn’t necessarily be that hard, let alone the interview of a former President of the United States, but it is never as easy as it looks. They prep for months in advance, but Frost’s producer, as well as Bob and James, do most of the grunt work while Frost goes to parties promoting a movie he has worked on. When they finally get around to filming the interview, Frost suddenly realizes the gravity of the situation he has put himself in as the interview may very well destroy his credibility forever.

The movie becomes completely riveting when it focuses on the exchanges between Frost and Nixon in the interview and outside of it as well. Nixon proves to be a smooth operator who takes advantage of Frost as the interviewer appears to be laid back and almost completely oblivious to the seriousness of this interview. We see people from both camps focusing on the interview from other rooms, trying to control what comes out of their guy’s mouth. The intensity immediately increases when Frost starts off the interview with the question, “Why didn’t you burn the tapes?” By that, Frost meant the tapes which all but implicated Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal.

The last part of the interview these two men do together represents some of the most riveting and intense scenes in any movie of 2008. The fact there are no guns or explosions here says a lot about Howard and the actors managed to accomplish here. The audience, even if they knew the outcome of these interviews, was so intensely drawn into this part of the movie when I saw it at Arclight Cinemas to where you could hear a pin drop during the last exchange, and the gasps from the audience were very audible. I watched it and hoped at the same time that I had remembered to silence my cell phone so it wouldn’t go off during the movie’s final round. It would have destroyed the moment if Daryl Hall & John Oates had started singing “I Can’t Go for That” (my current ring tone) out of my cell phone.

As Sir David Frost, Sheen is brilliant in making him look like a lot of fun to be around without ever seeming overly smug or easily dismissive. His transition from the casual interviewer to Nixon’s grand inquisitor is very convincing, and he makes you feel the increasing stress Frost is going through. Like his close confidents, we desperately want him to get hard on Nixon and not be so soft. When Frost finally does come around, he caps off his interview by getting in Nixon’s face and never backs down from the overbearing stature Nixon imposes on him. Sheen manages to capture all of Frost’s mannerisms and the way he talks without simply impersonating him. Having previously played Tony Blair in “The Queen,” he is great at giving a different face to people we have come to know so well, and in getting at the heart of who they are outside of the media’s perception of them.

With the role of Richard Nixon, I think it’s safe to say Langella gives the performance of his career here. Like Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon,” he never ever tries to impersonate Nixon in this performance. Had he, it would have destroyed his performance and the movie. Langella doesn’t even try to look like Nixon either. What he does instead is dig deep into the heart and soul of Nixon to where he gives the former President a strong sense of empathy. Ever since he came to my attention in Ivan Reitman’s “Dave,” Langella has been the king of quiet menace in just about every movie he has appeared in. The menace of Nixon is always below the surface under the guise of a man always reminiscing about a past he can never get back. When Nixon finally caves in during the last interview he has Frost, Langella gives the man a sorrowful dignity as he realizes what he has done will forever haunt him unless he confronts for what it is.

Langella also makes you believe and understand what Nixon meant when he says no one can ever fully understand what it is like to be President. Nixon is never excused for what he did, nor should he be, but there is some leeway we should give him as he has experienced something the majority of us will never get to experience – being President of the United States. The Oscars better not ignore Frank Langella the same way they ignored Howard for “Apollo 13.”

\Howard almost seems like an odd choice to direct “Frost/Nixon,” and he beat out a lot of directors like Martin Scorsese and Mike Nichols to get the job. It almost seems unbelievable his career has spanned as many decades as it has, but it’s probably because many of us still have the image of him as Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days” burned forever into our heads. His last film as a director was “The Da Vinci Code” which proved to be quite sleep inducing, and yet still made tons of money. It almost made you forget what a great director he can be, and “Frost/Nixon” wakes us up from the Da Vinci coma we fell into unexpectedly.

“Frost/Nixon” is better than you would ever expect it to be, and it is one of Howard’s very best movies to date and one of the very best of 2008.

* * * * out of * * * *

Michael Moore Unleashes the First Trailer for ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

Fahrenheit 119 teaser poster

After witnessing the cinematic debacle that was Dinesh D’Souza’s “Death of a Nation,” I am now eager to watch something which looks at the state of America which actually resembles reality. Looks like I will have to wait only a month for it as Michael Moore has released the first trailer for his latest documentary, “Fahrenheit 11/9.” The title alludes of course to “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which Moore attempted to take down George W. Bush and deny him a second term in the White House, but it also alludes to the date on which Donald Trump captured the electoral votes he needed to become President of the United States. In this trailer, Moore asks the question we were all asking on election night in 2016:

“What the fuck happened?”

We are shown scenes of Trump acting irresponsibly during his campaign, scenes you will never see in any D’Souza movie. There is also a moment where we see White Supremacists burning crosses, and these are a group of people who have become far too emboldened during the Trump administration. But despite the images of doom and gloom Moore gives us here, he does appear to offer a glimmer of hope through his interviews with high school shooting survivor and activist David Hogg and progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And let us be clear, Hogg can in no way ever be considered a crisis actor.

Still, there is political consultant Roger Stone who is caught on camera saying, “Try to impeach him, just try. You will have a spasm of violence in this country like you have never seen!” Considering the tragedy this country witnessed in Charlottesville one year ago, this does seem like a promise people like him can deliver on. All the same, we cannot stay silent or back down.

As dark as this documentary may seem, especially with the image of the American flag made out of matches which are quickly lit to form a visual metaphor of what is happening to this nation, Moore looks to be up to his old tricks as he goes after politicians with a truck of polluted water from Flint, Michigan, and this had me laughing quite a bit. I do have to say, however, that the water looks a little too clean to be from Flint.

Granted, “Fahrenheit 9/11” did not keep George W. Bush from being re-elected (if you want to call it that) for a second term, but here’s hoping “Fahrenheit 11/9” succeeds in stopping Trump and his cronies in their traitorous tracks when it opens in theaters on September 21, 2018.

Check out the trailer below.

‘Generation Wealth’ Finds Hope Outside of the Corrupted American Dream

Generation Wealth poster

In 1988, John Carpenter made “They Live,” a science fiction horror film about a drifter who discovers the ruling class are actually aliens who have managed to conceal their existence and manipulate the human race into spending money and to “obey” them through subliminal messages in mass media. Years later, when Carpenter was attending a screening at the Egyptian Theatre, he described “They Live” as being his response to his horror at the Ronald Reagan years and his distaste at the increased commercialization of politics and popular culture in the 1980’s. When I was at a screening of “Big Trouble in Little China,” and I got to ask Carpenter the following question:

“You have said ‘They Live’ was your response to your horror at the Reagan years. With George W. Bush currently wreaking havoc around the globe, don’t you think this is the perfect time for a sequel?”

Carpenter’s response stays with me to this day:

“The 80’s never left us.”

Looking back, he was absolutely right. While I am a child of the 80’s and have a great love for that decade, it marked the start of America becoming an infinitely greedy nation as we strove to become very rich, deficits began to explode, and politicians began selling us on trickle down economics which promised that tax cuts on the rich would benefit the middle and lower classes. This proved to be a big lie, and yet politicians still try to sell Americans on it.

All of this went through my head as I watched Lauren Greenfield’s “Generation Wealth.” This documentary comes to us in 2018, and it proves once again how the 80’s still live on as we watch individuals try to become wealthy or at least gain the appearance of being rich. What results is a look at how the American Dream has been corrupted, the cost of greed, and the chance for redemption.

Greenfield is an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker, and “Generation Wealth” starts off with her narrating how through her 25 years of work, she discovers her work has pointed to one uniting phenomenon: wealth culture. From there, she investigates the various pathologies which created the richest society in the world, and she interviews several people who look to increase their bank accounts or change the way they look to where society will view them as sexy.

We meet Florian Homm, a former hedge-fund manager who at one time had a net worth of $800 million and ended up fleeing the United States to avoid getting arrested by the FBI. Watching him sit back on a couch while smoking a cigar with glee makes him look the modern-day version of Tony Montana from “Scarface.” Homm is never shy about just how much he loves money, and he laughingly admits how Harvard Business School didn’t train him to be an ethical businessman but instead to be “fine-tuned to rule the world.”

We also get introduced to Cathy, a bus driver from Virginia who travels to Brazil to get extensive plastic surgery which she charges to a credit card, the successful porn star Kacey who gained notoriety after Charlie Sheen paid her $30,000 for a days long party and drug binge, a young beauty queen who looks like a combination of Honey Boo Boo and JonBenet Ramsey, and former rapper Cliff (G-Mo) who we first celebrating the hip-hop version of the American Dream. They all want the best-looking bodies as well as all the money in the world, but as Greenfield says at one point, those who have everything never feel like they have enough.

I found myself getting sickened by the subjects Greenfield photographed and interviewed as it felt they were doing more damage to themselves than good to where they appeared, if not soulless, very empty on the inside. It proved to be a relief when someone like Chris Hedges shows up to put some much-needed perspective on what we are seeing as he compares America’s obsession with wealth to the end of Rome. At one point he even says, “Societies accrue the most wealth as they face death.” Can America be close to suffering the same fate? It certainly feels like it.

Greenfield doesn’t break new ground with “Generation Wealth” as Michael Moore already compared Rome’s fall with America in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” and “The Big Short” was an entertaining and sobering look at the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Do we need to go through how greed has wrecked America in yet another movie? Oh yes, we do! This country threatens to make the same mistakes yet again as politicians still insist on selling its citizens on trickle-down economics.

One key character from the 1980’s whom Greenfield highlights is Gordon Gekko, the fictional and unscrupulous corporate raider Michael Douglas played in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” But while Stone intended for “Wall Street” to be a cautionary tale about the downside of unchecked greed, Gekko proved to be such a charismatic character to where he became a huge inspiration for those desperate to make it big on Wall Street. It didn’t matter how Gekko set a terrible example for them, these wannabes still looked up to him, and there is a good deal of him in many of the people Greenfield interviews here.

Greenfield to her credit she never judges any of the people featured here. She presents their stories objectively and never tries to manipulate us into thinking about them in one way or another. Whether you are intrigued or repulsed by the things they do, there is a sense of empathy I had for them as they become more and more human as the documentary reaches its final act.

When it comes to “Generation Wealth’s” final act, we see the results and repercussions of the actions everyone has made as they reach a plateau in their quest for money. Greenfield aligns their journey with the catastrophic financial crash of 2008 which left much damage in its wake. Seeing these people on the other side of it has them finding something absolutely priceless while others find tragedy and financial ruin. This proves to be both inspiring and devastating all at the same time.

“Generation Wealth” does lose some of its focus as Greenfield awkwardly inserts herself into her documentary. Is she also interested in being rich and wealthy? Is she well off thanks to her photography? It’s hard to say what she is saying about herself, but it does lead to some very amusing moments as one of her sons admits he knows the name of each Kardashian but not those of his neighbors, and her other little boy ends up inserting a sign in front of her camera as she films everything and anything. I don’t want to spoil the moment for you as it had me laughing endlessly.

Watching “Generation Wealth” kind of reminded of when I first saw “Doc Hollywood” which starred Michael J. Fox as a doctor intent on making tons of money as a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, and who later finds a more meaningful life for himself in Grady, South Carolina. But that was a fictional movie, and this one deals with real life, and I came out of it with more hope for the human race than when I went in. This documentary also shows how life is about the journey rather than the final destination. While I wanted to sit some of these characters down and force them to pay close attention to the lyrics of Digital Underground’s “No Nose Job,” it is worth watching their journey as, like them, we come to see what matters most in life.

With that, I leave you with the words Harold Perrineau uttered as Augustus Hill on the HBO series “Oz:”

“We think we know what we need. We spend our time figuring out how to get what we want, who can help us, who’s in the way. We make our moves and sometimes we get lucky. We get exactly what we want. And life gets worse. Simple truth #22, be careful what you wish for, brother. Be very, very careful.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Capitalism: A Love Story

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“We are here to tell the truth! People say if you don’t love America, then get the hell out! Well I love America!”

                                              -Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic in “Born on The Fourth of July”

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”

                                                                                                                                                           -Thomas Jefferson

I was a little worried about Michael Moore’s film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It covers the catastrophic economic fallout from 2007 to 2009 and presents a very harsh indictment of the current economic order in the United States. Throughout the movie, Moore shows us families being evicted from homes which they have owned for years, and how many get swindled out of them without them realizing the trap they are ensnared in until much too late. He also looks at how Wall Street treats the country’s economy like a reckless night of gambling in Las Vegas, and at how Goldman Sachs gained a frightening amount of leverage over congress at an economically vulnerable time. In short, it is Moore’s attack on all things capitalism, and of how it is an evil which is ruining the fabric of our once great country.

While it may seem ironic how Moore would take on capitalism, especially when he has benefited so much from it over the years, he creates a very compelling case here. Whether you think he is telling the truth or simply manipulating facts to his own advantage, he remains the most entertaining documentary filmmaker in American films. “Capitalism: A Love Story” is honestly one of his best films to date, and it combines some truly devastating moments along with some very funny ones. The movie does need those humorous moments, otherwise this could have been one of the most emotionally draining cinematic experiences ever.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” starts off in a way both hilarious and frightening. Moore starts off with one of those cheesy, snicker-inducing 1950’s instructional movies about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It resembles all those films we were constantly subjected to throughout our school years. While the movie plays out along with the stiff narration, Moore inserts clips from the Reagan era White House, and continues all the way through the Clinton era, not to mention both of the Bushes, showing us how the fate which befell the Romans is very much alike to what is happening to America right now. Clearly, he sees us following in the footsteps of a society destroyed through endless greed and avarice, and he is amazed people want to hang on to this damaged system regardless of how bad it is.

From there, Moore takes us to a family in Peoria, Illinois getting evicted from their home. It’s one of the saddest moments in the film, and to add insult to injury, the family ends up getting thrown out of their home much earlier than they had expected. They were given a couple of weeks originally, but it turns out the bank which repossessed their home had just sold it to another family who were ever so eager to get settled in it.

I’ve been looking at these foreclosures from a distance, and I felt a good portion of them were due to owners not living up to their responsibilities. But while this may be the case to a certain extent, Moore creates a very interesting case of how the banks ended up swindling many families out of their homes because the banks continued to charge them more and more for their mortgage. For those looking to become homeowners, the movie is a reminder of how important it is to read the fine print of every contract you sign.

For Moore, capitalism seemed like such a great gift to our country when he was growing up in Flint, Michigan. The way he saw it, it provided his dad with a good job, helped give his family free health care, helped to pay for him to go to college without falling into tremendous debt over student loans, etc. But then Reagan came along and ruined it all from Moore’s perspective. “Capitalism: A Love Story” doesn’t necessarily portray Reagan as an evil man, but it views him more as a puppet for the banking industry among others. Before the star of “Bedtime for Bonzo” came along, the rich were apparently given a 90% tax on what they made, so naturally, they weren’t very happy about this. With Reagan taking over as President, the banks were able to gain control of all things money related, and they created massive tax breaks for the rich. From there, the cost of living rose faster than the cost of living, and prices on things like health care skyrocketed to an exorbitant rate. Even prisons and juvenile detention halls became for-profit businesses where the sentences turned out to be longer than you were told. In short, things were changing, and the price of those things started to get higher and higher.

Much of the American public seemed to be sold on the idea we could be rich too, and therein lays the big lie of Reganomics. In actuality, his policies throughout the 1980’s resulted in creating a bigger gap between the haves and have-nots, and the middle class at times threatened to be rendered extinct. Moore presents this as the point in our country where things started to change to where the rich benefited more than anyone else. Greed became a powerful influence on everyone, and much of America turned into a “me, me, me” society as opposed to one which sought to help the less fortunate. He also shows how it went from there to the Clinton era and, more horrifyingly so, to the George W. Bush era in which the tax cuts for the rich almost became permanent.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” is kind of a semi-sequel to Moore’s “Roger & Me” which came out 20 years ago. In that film, he pursued General Motors chairman Roger Smith for an interview over the closing of the car factory in his hometown. The closing resulted in a tremendous loss of jobs, all despite the fact GM was posting record profits. All these years later, Moore still cannot get a meeting with the CEO of GM. What occurred in Flint, Michigan all those years ago gave him a chance to tell the automotive industry, “I TOLD YOU SO!!!”Unsurprisingly, after all these years, Moore can still not get inside the doors of the GM corporate headquarters to talk to the CEO. His attempts to enter other buildings are just as unsuccessful, and when he tries to get any of the bankers to explain what a “credit derivative” is, one of them says, “Stop making movies!”

Unsurprisingly, after all these years, Moore can still not get inside the doors of the GM corporate headquarters to talk to the CEO. His attempts to enter other buildings are just as unsuccessful, and when he tries to get any of the bankers to explain what a “credit derivative” is, one of them says, “Stop making movies!”

One moment in “Capitalism: A Love Story” which really stayed with me was when President Reagan addressed the bankers on Wall Street, and one of the most powerful bankers standing right next to him told, not asked, him to “speed it up.” Wait a second, Reagan was one of the most powerful people on the planet at that time, and someone next to him was telling him to speed it up? It makes you wonder who was really in charge of America back then.

A truly heart breaking scene comes when a former Wal-Mart employee talks about how, when his wife died at a young age, the company ended up making thousands of dollars off her death. It turns out Wal-Mart took out life insurance policies on all their workers, and ended up profiting from their passing. To make matters even worse, the younger the worker, the more money they get. Now fact checkers everywhere are going to point out how Wal-Mart has since ended these policies, but Moore does mention this during the closing credits.

Another section of the film which hit close to home was when Moore points out how airline pilots are paid less than the manager of a Taco Bell; about $19,000 a year for starting pay. My brother is an airline pilot, and while he makes better wages now, those first few years were a struggle to say the least. It seems almost criminal how these huge airline companies which make millions of dollars end up paying their pilots so pitifully. Thus, we get an example here of the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Now let’s take a moment here because we all know many will be accusing Moore (many of whom will not even bother watching this film) with thoughtlessly manipulating his on-camera subjects and distorting what they say to his own advantage. Granted, there are moments where his camera focuses on crying family members a little longer than what feels comfortable. While the feeling of manipulation is hard to ignore, getting angry at Moore for showing this will be missing the point. He wants you to be mad. With “Capitalism: A Love Story,” he means to stir up your anger because he does not want you to react passively to what you are witnessing. He wants you to take action against what is happening because he is really sick and tired of doing this all by himself. Can you blame him? Many of us are viewing this economic breakdown and corruption from a distance, and we can’t spend the rest of our lives letting all this go unchecked.

But if scenes of everyday working class people getting heartlessly fleeced doesn’t frighten or enrage you, then the latter half of the movie where nerve-wracked members of congress get swayed by Goldman Sachs among other banks to bail them out so the banking industry could survive should do the trick. Nobody I know of was happy to hear about this, and we got even more pissed off when they got million dollar bonuses which were undeserved. There was a great article in Rolling Stone of how Goldman Sachs circumvented the economic crises of past and present to benefit themselves. Seeing this play out on the screen brought back my own deep feelings of unrestrained infuriation at what these bankers were doing with taxpayer dollars. Why exactly do we have to pay for the mess they created anyway? What happened to accountability?

Many still believe Moore is nothing more than an anti-American zealot who has nothing better to do than say bad things about our country. The conservative comedy “An American Carol” had a character like him trying to convince fellow citizens to abolish the Fourth of July as a holiday. But what made me really love the last half of this film is how he shows how the power of the people really did win out. If you still think he is a hater of this country after watching this, you may need to remove yourself from the cave you have been hiding in.

Moore shows how it was the will of the people which prevented the first economic stimulus, largely engineered by members of Goldman Sachs, from passing. At seeing what was about to occur, Americans everywhere contacted their representatives, urging them not to pass this bill. There were enough house representatives who saw how the banks were in the position of almost completely controlling the legal process, and they rallied against them for the sake of the country. This was all the result of American citizens speaking up loudly.

The spirit of the American people is shown even more strongly when we witness the laid off workers of Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago do an in-house protest at their place of employment. This came about because none of them were paid the severance promised from Bank of America. We also get a look at community groups like LIFFT in Miami which helped unfortunate families and “liberated” the houses they were evicted from. The police came out in force of course, but they ended up not arresting anybody probably because it wasn’t worth the trouble. Then we see Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, the pilot who saved the lives of all 155 passengers aboard US Airways Flight 1549 when he landed it in the Hudson River, go before Congress to protest the way pilots were treated in general and how underpaid they are.

I should add when the section regarding Captain Sullenberger came up, I was afraid Moore would bash him in some way. But he actually applauds Sullenberger for taking his newfound fame and using it to help others who love their job of being a pilot. This leads to one of the movie’s funniest moments as Moore shows how the media seemed to like him more as a hero instead of someone who stands up against the companies for not paying pilots enough. Moore ends up putting some patriotic band music over the soundtrack to shut out Sullenberger, because no one really likes a Debbie Downer.

After all the films Moore has made criticizing people and polices of the United States, it seems amazing anyone would talk to him on camera. But he does get people like University of Missouri professor Bill Black, and Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to talk about what they see as the ills of capitalism. Furthermore, he even talks to the Catholic priest who married him and his wife who says capitalism is a sin and not very Christian-like.

Kaptur is one of the movie’s most compelling voices, and she said the first economic stimulus bill would have been a disaster for democracy had it been passed. It would have allowed the banks to have more control over taxpayer money and the legislative process, hence rewriting the law books we have come to study all these years. The banks may want to concentrate the nation’s wealth among the 1% of the population who has it, but they cannot be allowed to silence the voices of the 99%.

Black himself comes off as one of the most intelligent people seen here, and it is heartbreaking to see how some of the smartest minds in America saw this economic disaster coming from miles away. He compares the fallout to a water damn which breaks apart, but of how we could see those little cracks forming. The fact many people like him were silenced or had their character smeared beyond all repair is shameful. For them, they saw it as only a matter of time before the banking industry came crashing down, so there was no way they could have been surprised by any of this.

I was also really pleased to see Moore stick it to the Democrats as well as the Republicans. While the Republicans may share the largest blame, the Democrats cannot be excluded because many of them are every bit as guilty in what transpired. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they were on, politicians of all kinds were bought out with what seemed like very little effort. Truth is, I am seriously frustrated with both major parties, and Moore taps into this because many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, feel the same way.

By the way, if you really think that Moore is this left-leaning zealot, keep in mind he has spent many years criticizing both parties, and his ire at Democrats seems much larger because he expects more from them. I’m sure if Moore had it his way, Ralph Nader would have been President by now.

As for President Barrack Obama, Moore steers clear of saying anything bad about him, probably because many still see him as a symbol of hope. If Obama does foul things up in Afghanistan, I’m sure Moore might consider doing something on it. But that coupled with the power of people made the last half of this movie seem like the feel-good movie of the year, and this is regardless of how exaggerated it all may seem to those who cannot stand this baseball cap wearing filmmaker.

In the end, Moore is not out to make you repeat everything he says or believes in like it’s the gospels. His attack against capitalism is not entirely waterproof, and much more blame could be thrown at how corporate America has become so corrupted. But it doesn’t matter because what he wants is for you to be angry, and to fight against those who would try to wrestle away the powers given to us in the Constitution.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” is really one of his best films in how he attacks many policies this country has adopted, and then counters it with proof that the power still does belong to the people. It does to the banking industry and deregulation what “Sicko” did to the health care industry, and it is informative, funny, moving, and endlessly entertaining.

For those who wonder why Michael Moore hasn’t left America yet, see this movie to find out. Like him, you may hate what this country is doing to its people, but you are not about to leave it.

 * * * * out of * * * *

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Eye In The Sky

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When it comes to drone warfare, it seems like such an easier way to fight an enemy without having to put “boots on the ground.” But like Snake Plissken said over and over in “Escape from L.A.,” the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as in previous wars, there will always be much destruction and an inevitable number of civilian casualties. The question comes to this: is war worth it? Is it worth having all these civilian casualties while trying to take out the enemy? Now some might think these are easy questions to answer, but this is not the case at all, especially to those at the front line.

This is made clear in Gavin Hood’s intense thriller “Eye in the Sky.” It stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell who has been tracking a British citizen-turned-terrorist for six years and finally has her tracked down in Kenya. Thanks to local operative Jama Farah (“Captain Phillips’” Barkhad Abdi) and his nifty high-tech surveillance, she discovers this spy is quickly preparing along with others to carry out suicide attacks. As a result, what started as a mission of capture becomes a mission to kill terrorists, and Colonel Powell has drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad”) target the safe house the terrorists are in and is prepared to take them out, but then a 9-year-old girl enters the kill zone to sell some loaves of bread, and she won’t leave until she sells them all. This quickly triggers an international dispute as the United States and British governments debate over whether or not to take action.

While most war movies enthrall viewers with bullets and bombs exploding constantly, “Eye in the Sky” leaves us in sweat-inducing suspense as we wonder if and when an explosion will go off at all. What’s great about Guy Hibbert’s screenplay is it never condescends to its characters or give us annoying ones who are out to make bone-headed decisions for their own benefit. Every reason each character gives for firing or not firing at the target makes perfect sense, and it adds to how difficult the question of attacking these terrorists with this little girl nearby is to answer. On one hand, stopping these terrorists will prevent the loss of many lives, but if the little girl is killed it will come back to aid the propaganda wars being fought against governments. Everyone is looking for a way to keep the blood off their hands, but no one gets off easy.

Watching this situation play out reminded me of a scene from “Blue Thunder.” This classic 1980’s movie is about a high-tech helicopter, and the characters see it do a demonstration of a strafing run where red dummies are terrorists and the white ones are civilians. In the course of shooting at the targets, all the red dummies are blown away as well as a few white ones. This leads the government official Fletcher to tell helicopter pilot Frank Murphy, “There’s one civilian dead for every ten terrorists. That’s an acceptable ratio.” To this Murphy replies, “Unless you’re one of the civilians.”

You almost want to laugh at the government officials who keep trying to contact their higher ups to get permission to obliterate the terrorists as it comes across as passing the buck. But whether or not there is an advantage to attacking or not attacking, there’s also how the rest of the population will interpret how their governments act. This is something governments can never fully control, and they are fully aware of the consequences of doing something and of doing nothing.

Gavin Hood has had a tough time in Hollywood ever since he won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for “Tsotsi.” His abduction thriller “Rendition” received a mixed reception, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” proved to be a mess as it was undone by too much studio interference, and “Ender’s Game’s” chances of becoming a franchise of movies crashed as soon as it opened. But with “Eye in the Sky,” Hood is really in his element as he was once a soldier and has a clear understanding of the military’s responsibilities and the conflicts they endure. He’s also smart to not answer any of the questions the movie poses as he is not about to offer easy answers. Aside from the terrorists, there are no good or bad guys here, but instead, professionals trying to win a war against terrorism as well as the minds of the people.

Hood also shows how the drone pilots actually have it even harder than troops who see the action up close. They may be many miles away from their targets, but they can still see their targets up close and still have their finger on the trigger. At the movie’s press conference, Hood told reporters drone pilots have a higher rate of post-traumatic disorder than those troops who experienced armed combat up close. Having an actor like Aaron Paul playing the drone pilot gets this point across very well as we watch him suffer just as much as he did as Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad.”

Mirren remains an impeccable actress, and she follows up her nasty turn as columnist Hedda Hopper in “Trumbo” with a much different character. Eager to stop another terrorist attack from happening, she undergoes tremendous stress while waiting for an answer from her commander. Mirren makes you feel her stress two-fold, and yet she never seems to break a sweat.

It’s also great to see Abdi here as he proves his Oscar-nominated performance in “Captain Phillips” was no fluke. His character is closest to the line of fire, and we watch as he does his best to do his work while under the prying eyes of fearsome soldiers. Abdi perfectly captures Jama’s desperation as he does what he can to save the little girl from a tragic fate, and he is riveting throughout.

The movie also contains the last onscreen performance from the late Alan Rickman who portrays Colonel Powell’s commanding officer, Lieutenant General Frank Benson. Rickman is as impeccable here as he has been in any other role he has played, and he will be deeply missed. He also has one of the movie’s most definitive lines which comes up towards the end, and he delivers it in a truly unforgettable way.

“Eye in the Sky” is one of those rare thrillers which thrills you just as much as it makes you think. The reality of drone warfare is hard to escape, and this is especially the case after watching this movie. As much as many of us want to leave life and death decisions up to others, Hood forces you to question what you would do in the same situation. You may not like the answers you come up with, but you can’t turn a blind eye to it forever.

By the way, in the case you were wondering, the Alan Parsons Project song of the same name is not featured in this movie. Bummer.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Exclusive Interview with Kim A. Snyder about ‘Newtown’

I got to speak with Kim A. Snyder recently while was in Los Angeles to discuss her documentary “Newtown.” The documentary looks at the aftermath of the largest mass shooting of school children in American history which took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The school was located in Newtown, Connecticut, and we watch as the adults who tragically lost their children attempt to move on with their lives. But since this tragedy, these adults look to be stuck in a moment they may never get past. What they are left with is profound grief and memories which will now be forever tinged with sadness.

“Newtown” is certainly one of the most emotionally devastating documentaries to come out in some time, but it is not without hope. Not once is the killer’s name mentioned or his face shown as Snyder’s real interest is in the townspeople who struggle to move on despite all they have lost. As painful as their stories are, these are the stories which need to be heard as the media often tends to focus on the shooter more than anything else.

Snyder is an award-winning filmmaker and producer, and for a time she was a contributor to Variety Magazine. She made her directorial debut in 2000 with “I Remember Me” which chronicled her struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). She also directed “Welcome to Shelbyville” which documented the intersection between race and religion in America’s Heartland. Her other works include the short films “Alone No Love,” “One Bridge to the Next” and “Crossing Midnight.”

While talking with Snyder, she explained why the shooter’s name was never mentioned in “Newtown,” why the term “gun control” was never used, of how Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter” proved to be a major influence on this documentary, and of how she managed to find hope in a story filled with infinite grief.

Check out the interview above, and be sure to catch “Newtown” when it opens in Los Angeles on October 14. Also, be sure to visit the documentary’s website at www.newtownfilm.com.

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Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

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This movie has some of the funniest scenes of any I have seen in 2016, but there’s one slight problem; it was not intended to be a comedy. “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is the latest political screed from Dinesh D’Souza which has him, along with co-director Bruce Schooley, trying to tie the Democrats’ racist past with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. In short, he attempts to show how the principles of the Democratic Party have never changed, and instead succeeds in making an even worse documentary (if you want to call this a documentary) than “America: Imagine the World Without Her.

Now while Hillary’s name and face are featured prominently in this film’s poster, D’Souza doesn’t really bother with her until the last half hour. Instead, he gives us a bunch of re-enactments (and this movie is overflowing with them) which chronicle his criminal conviction, the time he spent in a halfway house, the America of the 1800’s and the 1900’s, and of Hillary while she was in college. Perhaps a better name for this would have been “Dinesh’s America” as we are looking at history through his point of view, and his POV combines a selective sprinkling of facts with an overabundance of deluded paranoia.

D’Souza re-enacts his time in a halfway house as a way to continue his ridiculous claim of being made a political martyr. He also portrays himself as a white collar criminal surrounded by vicious street criminals whose actions make his crime pale in comparison. Was this really the kind of halfway house he was sentenced to? Maybe, but he presents the inmates in such a stereotypical way that it’s hard to take much of what he shows us seriously. Plus, there’s a sequence where he befriends a fellow inmate who tells him about an insurance scam he and his friends pulled off. The re-enactment of this scam is so ridiculously directed and poorly acted that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to where I thought I might get kicked out of the theater.

We later see D’Souza visiting the Democratic Headquarters, and when no one is looking he sneaks into an off-limits room which contains the Democrats version of Pandora’s Box. This allows him to uncover the party’s racist past which had them defending slavery instead of trying to abolish it. Seeing D’Souza, a Republican, infiltrating this “secret” room in the Democratic Headquarters brings to mind another alternate name for this movie: “50 Shades of Watergate.”

It is no secret that the Democratic Party of the 1800’s was much more KKK friendly and were never quick to pass the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. This was even shown to be the case in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” where Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner never hid the fact that the Republicans were the real heroes when it came to ending this barbaric practice. This gives “Hillary’s America” some weight as this is a part of history worth paying attention to as the Democratic Party of today is much different than the one of the past. But it doesn’t take long for D’Souza to shoot himself in the foot as he bombards us with historical re-enactments so one-sided to where they quickly become boring and cruelly exploitive.

These historical re-enactments are further complicated by D’Souza treating Democrats like Andrew Jackson as one-dimensional villains in a bad 80’s action movie or a supervillain from a James Bond film, albeit ones completely lacking in charisma. It doesn’t matter which era is being re-enacted, he treats every Democrat as being drunk with power or as a vampire on a day pass. D’Souza even includes an especially ludicrous scene where Woodrow Wilson is watching D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House when a KKK member on a ghost horse comes galloping out of the movie screen. Wilson is made to look like he is transfixed by this sudden emergence, but it’s really just a bizarre fantasy.

In trying to show how the Democratic Party has not changed from its sordid past, D’Souza completely fails to prove this without a shadow of a doubt. He doesn’t so much cherry pick facts as whitewashes and manipulates them to form a thesis which defies all reasonable logic. Anyone with half a brain can see that the Democratic and Republican parties of today are so radically different from what they once were. D’Souza even tries to convince us the big switch between the two parties in terms of their views on civil rights was a flat out lie, and he presents his evidence of this in a way which requires the use of a microscope to fully discover what he is talking about.

When D’Souza finally gets around to dealing with Hillary Clinton, he portrays her as a self-centered and snobby bitch interested in her own ambitions more than anything else. In an article, Alex Shephard described D’Souza’s portrayal of a teenage Hillary as being like Reese Witherspoon’s character of Tracy Flick from “Election” if Tracy “liked to murder small animals,” and that is spot on. D’Souza shows her laughing at one of President Richard Nixon’s speeches on television as if it were a bad thing. But the most jaw-dropping moment comes when D’Souza flat out blames Hillary for her husband Bill’s numerous infidelities. This doesn’t really speak much of Hillary as it does of D’Souza’s criticisms of feminism.

D’Souza presents himself throughout “Hillary’s America” as a truth teller no one should dare question, but he rarely backs up his arguments with much in the way of convincing evidence. In fact, he even dredges up the Benghazi attack which has been beyond thoroughly investigated, Hillary’s emails which just about everyone is sick of hearing about, and he even includes a scene from those completely debunked videos from the Center for Medical Progress. Bringing these subjects up only weakens an already deeply flawed thesis to where it feels like D’Souza is just grasping for anything which might, and I strongly stress the word might, work in his favor. Oh yeah, he also throws in Saul Alinsky for good measure, but Alinsky comes across as a caricature more than anything else.

While there are many unintentionally hilarious scenes to be found here, there are others which are simply infuriating. D’Souza portrays Margaret Sanger, the mother of Planned Parenthood, as an emotionless sociopath. Granted, there is evidence she was a proponent of eugenics, but showing her as wanting to exterminate all black people is a flat out lie. His portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson as openly racist to where he only agrees to civil rights legislation just to quell his political opponents feels deeply insulting. And in portraying America of the past, D’Souza piles on scenes of slaves being whipped and tortured which soon feel cruelly exploitive of a national tragedy.

It’s tempting to call D’Souza stupid after watching “Hillary’s America,” but that may not be altogether fair. As a director, however, he makes one stupid mistake after another as he shamelessly manipulates the audience’s emotions while bashing their heads in with information based more on his distorted worldview than reality. He employs an overly dramatic music score by Stephen Limbaugh which becomes ridiculously bombastic in no time at all. And he concludes the movie with renditions of patriotic songs to show his undying love for America. I do not doubt his fervent patriotism of the United States, but it feels truly annoying that he needs to constantly remind us of this.

It doesn’t bother me that D’Souza has made an anti-Democrat movie as no political party is beyond reproach. What bothers me is how much he believes in what he is telling us as his view of history is more revisionist than it is accurate. Watching him in “Hillary’s America” reminded me of Bill Pullman’s dialogue in “Lost Highway:”

“I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

In D’Souza’s mind, Republicans have been and still are the heroes of justice and racial equality, but if Lincoln saw the state of the party today, there’s no doubt he would be crying a river over it and not just because Donald Trump (who is barely mentioned in this movie) is their presidential nominee.

Now, this review might be greeted by various internet trolls who claim I am deeply biased or a “libertard” among other things. I’m not going to go into who I am voting for this November here. Instead, I want to leave you with a couple of things to think about. Does it make more sense to base your views on a political party on what it was like when it began or how they treat the American people in the present day? If D’Souza loves being a citizen of America so much, why did he willfully break the law? Did he even realize before committing his crime that it would cost him a right which American citizens should cherish, the right to vote? Say what you will and believe what you want, but nothing will change the fact that “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is one of the worst documentaries ever made.

½* out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

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