‘The House That Jack Built: Director’s Cut’ is More Subversive Than Shocking

The House That Jack Built poster

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.”

-John Doe from “Seven”

Lars Von Trier loves getting our strict attention too, and he does this yet again with “The House That Jack Built” which stars Matt Dillon as a serial killer. On November 28, 2018, IFC Films presented his director’s cut for one night only, and the advertisements boasted of how over 100 people walked out of it at Cannes, and that those who stayed gave it a 10-minute standing ovation. Give IFC some credit as they have seized upon the film’s controversy to great effect. they are showing Von Trier’s cut before releasing an R-rated version in December, and the advertisements make it clear how this version may not be your cup of tea. As for us proud Von Trier veterans, we know exactly what we are in for. Or do we?

What surprised me most about this cut of “The House That Jack Built,” is that it is nowhere as shocking as I was led to believe. In fact, I found the violence at times rather tame especially compared to the scenes of mutilation in “Antichrist.” This is in many ways the result of many people writing about the movie’s most graphic scenes in scorching detail from one article to the next, but we are also living through a tumultuous time where few things can shock us the way they used to. Or perhaps the images our minds generate will always come across as more shocking than what any filmmaker can put on the silver screen.

The violence shown is extremely brutal and very bloody, and what Jack does with the bodies is just as disturbing. But Von Trier keeps us at a distance from the action to where we are fully in Jack’s mindset, treating his soon to be murdered victims as parts of major work of art. Many may cringe at the images Von Trier thrusts upon us with a twisted glee, but in the end, this is only a movie, not real life.

The movie is constructed of five episodes, each of which shows Jack murdering one or more people and it takes place over 12 years in Washington State. Each murder serves to illustrate Jack’s development as a serial killer, one with a serious case of OCD. And throughout we hear him having a conversation with a man named Verge (played by Bruno Ganz) about the murders he has gotten away with, and their talks take many twist and turns as it leads to a grand finale in one of the darkest places on earth.

The first chapter entitled “1st Incident” has Jack picking up a stranded motorist (played by Uma Thurman) who proceeds to taunt him by saying he might be a serial killer, and it serves to set up an ironic tone which will dominate much of the movie. It’s almost impossible to take things seriously as Von Trier is practically begging us to root for Jack to kill her as she cannot shut her mouth and even goes as far to say where he can bury her body.

Another surprising thing about Von Trier’s serial killer film is that it’s actually quite funny. This is clearly the case in the “2nd Incident” in which Jack attempts to con his way into the home of another woman (played by Siobhan Fallon Hogan, whose expressions are priceless) in a pathetic fashion. He first tries to pass himself off as a policeman, but his explanations for why he doesn’t have a badge on him are just hopeless, and yet he does not give up easily. And thanks to his OCD, he is convinced he has left evidence of her murder to where he keeps going in and out of the house several times.

The violence does become even more brutal and nihilistic as “The House That Jack Built” goes on, and men, women, children and animals are never spared from this wrath. I’m not going to bother going into specific descriptions as, again, the gory details have already been written about in various articles, but I will say this movie is not shock for shock’s sake. If you want that, check out the god-awful “Human Centipede 3.”

Von Trier has said in interviews how he was inspired by “the idea that life is evil and soulless” as well as the rise of Donald Trump. Indeed, many live in anxious uncertainty as the former reality television show host never ceases to give us one headache after another, and seeing him and his cronies (several of whom have since been indicted) threatens to make us apathetic to his inescapable crimes. Jack exists in a world too apathetic to realize the horrible things he is doing to others, and he keeps getting away with murder as a result.

A key scene for me was when Jack corners his girlfriend (played by Riley Keough) who slowly realizes who he really is. She screams for help, and Jack does the same in a mocking fashion. When he opens a window and cries to anyone who can hear how “nobody wants to help,” this helps illustrate just how apathetic the world is to the cries of someone in danger. If there are people willing to help someone, none of them are in a close enough vicinity to do so. If they are, they must have their own problems to deal with.

Another key subject involves art and what constitutes the greatest works of it. Neither Jack or Verge can come to a consensus of what makes great art as Verge believes you cannot have any without love as love, like intimacy, is an art unto itself. Jack, however, sees violence as playing a huge part in art and, he sees the murders he has committed as being more creatively stimulating for him than building a house.

David Bowie’s song “Fame” is played many times throughout, and I kept wondering why. Well, let’s look at the first set of lyrics:

“Fame makes a man take things over

Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow

Fame puts you there where things are hollow (fame)

Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame

That burns your change to keep you insane (fame).”

Is Von Trier attempting to say something about fame? Perhaps. Jack looks to gain infamy by sending photographs of his corpses to the local newspaper under the name of “Mr. Sophistication,” and they do not go unrecognized by the general public. But whether Jack is a serial killer or a singing star, his life is so cut off from others, and his existence will always be a hollow one. Regardless of how things end up for Jack, any fame he could hope to have will not succeed in making his life different.

There is also a moment where Von Trier features clips of his past movies like “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark,” “Antichrist” and “Melancholia” among others as Jack says the following:

“Some people claim that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires which we cannot commit in our controlled civilization, so they’re expressed instead through our art. I don’t agree. I believe Heaven and Hell are one and the same. The soul belongs to Heaven and the body to Hell.”

Is Von Trier explaining how he works or apologizing for the crazy things he has brought to the silver screen? Indeed, the realm of art and fiction are places where we can exorcise our darkest thoughts and angriest emotions, and I for one will always be thankful for this. For the Danish filmmaker, it’s a must as he continues to deal with endless phobias and clinical depression, and he always looks to be exorcising some malady he could do without. But with Jack, he is dealing with a character who is a soulless vessel who can no longer see the line between right and wrong or fact and fiction, so maybe the filmmaker is wondering if he truly has gone too far.

How long have we been watching Matt Dillon onscreen? Have we seen him play a role like this before? If so, none quickly comes to mind. He is in just about every frame of this 155-minute movie, and he gives a frighteningly authentic portrayal of a serial killer at their most banal. Dillon makes Jack into the same kind of killer John Doe described himself as in “Seven” in that he is not special and has never been extraordinary, and it’s fascinating to see the actor refusing any opportunity to chew the scenery as many others would. He mines the role for all its pathos and morbid black humor, and it’s one of the best performances I have seen in a movie this year. Having said that, it is highly unlikely will receive an Oscar nomination. Need I say why?

“The House That Jack Built” will not go down as one of my most favorite Von Trier movies as it does drag on for far too long, but it is as fascinating as any he has previously made. There is much more to this cinematic experience than you will see at its gory surface, and you will ponder the many things Von Trier has dared you to explore on a deeper level.

I am glad Von Trier is still making movies as we need filmmakers willing to push the envelope and unsettle us in an effort to get us to see a bigger truth we too often turn away from. Say what you will of him as a person, but I always look forward to what his movies. As much as he may shock you, he also gets you to think. Right now, there are only so many filmmakers who can do that.

Still, I have a feeling the upcoming R-rated version will be far more shocking. The MPAA will most likely censor the movie’s most graphic moments to where our imaginations may have to spell out what we think we saw. In the process of trying to protect American audiences, this archaic body usually, and thoughtlessly, makes a movie more traumatic than anyone intended it to be. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ is Michael Moore’s Angriest and Most Vital Documentary to Date

Fahrenheit 119 teaser poster

It’s bad enough Donald Trump is still living in the White House, so making a movie about the damage he is doing is pointless, right? Well, Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9,” you may be surprised to learn, is not just about Trump. In fact, we only see Trump on screen for 20 minutes at the most here. Instead, Moore is far keener to explore the state of America and how it led to the former host of “The Apprentice” to being elected to the highest office in the country. It has been almost two years, but even Moore still asks the question many of us asked on election night, “How the fuck did this happen?” What results is Moore’s angriest documentary yet, and one of the most vital he has ever made.

Like Dinesh D’Souza’s propaganda colostomy bag “Death of a Nation,” Moore takes us back to the months and days leading up to the election as we see George Clooney declaring Donald Trump will never be President, and media pundits laughing at the thought of it ever becoming a reality. Like many, I assumed Hillary had the election in the bag, but Moore knew better than anyone Trump would end up in the White House, and he takes us right back to the night of November 8, 2016 which started out with hope and euphoria, and ended with utter devastation as a certain victory proved to be anything but certain, and the man who captured the Presidency did not look all that excited about his win. Moore is in a perfect position to tell us “I told you so” in this documentary, but I appreciated the fact he did not.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” is of course a play on the title of another Michael Moore documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but it also refers to the date of November 11, 2016 in which the Electoral College, a political body which truly needs to be abolished, certified Trump’s victory after bringing in their ballots to Congress in containers which Moore loving describes as “baby coffins.” The fact Hillary steamrolled Trump in the popular election by almost 3 million votes did not matter as the Electoral College had the final say, and the world just had to live with it.

Moore does spend some time on Trump, reminding us of the unhealthy and troubling attraction he has to his daughter Ivanka, of how he walked in on Miss America contestants while they were naked, and of how he gleefully plays the media for suckers. There’s a montage of a press conference he arrived very late to, and we watch as the media outlets continue their coverage while endlessly waiting for him to appear. As tempting as it is to call Trump stupid, he is very smart in the ways of manipulation, and those at major networks (Les Moonves in particular) revel in the amount of money they are making off of his campaign.

But soon afterwards, Moore switches gears as he knows much of the information he is presenting us is nothing new, and we have certainly become attuned to Trump committing his crimes in plain sight. So instead, Moore focuses on the state of our union leading up to his shocking victory, and he makes us realize how we should have seen this coming as his political campaign was not as unique as we believed.

One of Moore’s big targets is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder whose actions in part led to the poisoning of Flint’s water supply and its residents developing high levels of lead, the kind of mineral which never leaves the body. What I did not realize about Snyder beforehand was how he had no political experience before taking office, and he was best known back then as one of the richest men in America. Moore ponders if Trump looked at what Snyder did, privatizing public services in order to make more money, and used this as one of many excuses to run for President. Looking at Snyder ends up reminding me and others of how Trump was never the first person to get elected despite having no political experience, and we are again made aware of how many Americans continue to vote against their own best interest.

Once again, Moore visits his hometown of Flint, Michigan to observe its still constant decay as it has long since become the town America has forgotten. Residents are eager to move, but no one will buy their homes. Medical professionals and social service workers alert Snyder and his cronies to the water poisoning situation, and they are silenced. Others complain about how high the water bill remains and of having to decide to pay it instead of getting food. Moore’s first documentary, “Roger & Me,” showed Flint at the beginning of its economic devastation, and it is devastating to see the city in an even worse condition now.

But while Moore has the Republicans in his sights, he is not about to leave Democrats off the firing line. Despite supporting the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he doesn’t hesitate to go after them, nor should he. President Obama gets it especially hard as his visit to Flint, Michigan resulting in filling his supporters with hope, and instead leaves them devastated to where they lose faith in the political system. Like Moore, I believe Barack Obama is the greatest American President of my lifetime so far, but the barbs Moore hurls at him here are justified as he attempts to drink a glass of Flint water and instead merely wets his lips with it.

Hillary gets some harsh criticisms thrown her way as well and for good reason. In reviewing her loss, we see the glaring mistakes her campaign made such as not visiting states like Wisconsin, and her ties to Wall Street were impossible to ignore. And yes, there were those damn emails which were brought up constantly. Despite many Americans getting sick of them being brought up, her political opponents never let the subject go.

But perhaps most damming is when Moore reveals how the Democratic National Committee, not Hillary, threw the election to ensure that Bernie Sanders would not get the party’s nomination. In an all-too-brief interview with Moore, Sanders admits the Democrats saw him as big threat to their platform, and had he clinched the nomination, he probably would have won the Presidency. As much as I wanted to believe the DNC would not stoop to such levels, the evidence presented here is impossible to deny. We even see a supporter from a certain state hold up a sign saying how Sanders won all the counties even though its delegates went on to favor Hillary.

But as bleak and angry as “Fahrenheit 11/9” is, there are moments of humor and hope. Moore limits the number of shenanigans this he performs time around, but we do see him trying to maker a citizen’s arrest of Rick Snyder and later spraying his mansion with water from Flint, Michigan. He even pulls an Erin Brockovich on one Snyder’s advisors by inviting him to drink a glass of Flint water, and the man’s reaction is not a big surprise. One of the biggest laughs comes when Moore accuses Gwen Stefani of being the reason why Trump decided to run for President as Trump discovered she was getting paid more for being a judge on “The Voice” than he was for being the host of “The Apprentice.” Granted, this is probably not altogether true, but considering how thin-skinned Trump is, it makes a hilarious amount of sense.

However, Moore makes us see there is still hope for America as we are shown images of its citizens marching against gun violence and in support of underpaid teachers as they are doing what he wants all of us to do, make our voices heard and to do something about our anger. We see people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for political office out of a need to make things better for Americans and make things like health care available for all. Susan Sarandon remarked recently how the election of Trump has inspired many people of color and different faiths to run for office. I initially rolled my eyes after hearing this, but after watching “Fahrenheit 11/9,” I believe she has a point.

We also see Moore with survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting including David Hogg whose activism has become an inspiration to many horrified by the number of school shootings in the United States which continue to occur with frightening regularity. As teenagers, we become quick to see through the hypocrisy of adults and are much more tuned in to issues many politicians will not even acknowledge. Hogg has taken things further with his fellow classmates as we watch them have an effect on the realm of politics and encouraging others to help bring about a much-needed weapons ban.

I came out “Fahrenheit 11/9” shaken and saddened as, like Moore, I wonder if the democracy Americans continue to fight for ever really existed in the first place. Many of the assertions he makes may not stand up to scrutiny, and the documentary at times seems a bit unfocused, but his point of view remains as strong as ever. His critics will be quick to call this one liberally biased, but Moore shows no real bias here as he shows we are all complicit in America being where it is today, and that we will be even more complicit if we don’t get out the vote in November. After all these years, Moore is still passionate about fighting for America its citizens deserve, and he is not about leave it behind.

And yes, Moore does take the time to make comparisons between Trump and Adolf Hitler. Just keep this in mind: Like Trump and Snyder, Hitler had no political experience when he took office.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘The Trump Prohecy’ – Yes, it is Real, and it Looks Awful

The Trump Prophecy poster

I learned of this movie’s existence through an article on the Birth Movies Death website, and its headline declared its trailer to be “one of the worst things we’ve ever seen.” Just when I thought I wouldn’t see a worse movie in 2018 than “Death of a Nation,” this one just might beat it for that unenviable title. But after watching this trailer, I’m not really eager to see it after sitting through Dinesh D’Souza’s latest historical garbage-fest.

The Trump Prophecy” is a Christian drama which tells the story of fireman Mark Taylor who believes, in April 2011, God told him Donald Trump would one day be elected President of the United States. Well, this makes sense, right? Because we know God talks to the sanest people on planet Earth all the time, right? And why wouldn’t God want Trump move into the White House? Could there be another white man who can personify what a true Christian is other than the host of “The Apprentice?”

Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but you can tell. “The Trump Prophecy” looks to defy all reasonable logic to make its audience believe Trump was anointed by God to become President of the United States. The trailer starts off with us being introduced to Mark Taylor (Chris Nelson) who talks about having seen everything as a fireman. But then we see him suffering through a nightmare, and the acting on display is as bad as any in “Death of a Nation.” Remember the beginning where Eva Braun dies a most unintentionally hilarious death? Mark’s bad dream threatens to be even worse.

From there, we people praying endlessly for what one character calls “the Commander-in-Chief prophecy.” Basically, Mark thinks his dreams are God’s way of talking to him. We are then shown headlines which say how Trump has no chance of winning the election, but Mark is intent on leading others in prayer as he looks to make America great again in a way which defies logic. There’s even a bible verse mentioned which I guess is used to justify this movie’s title. The description of this movie is hilarious enough, but watching its trailer has my eyes rolling all the way in the back of my head.

Look, many have a strong bias against faith-based movies like “God’s Not Dead” as they are made with an agenda in mind which results in a product which is an unforgivable insult to our collective intelligence. I try to keep an open mind to them as not all of them are out to do this, but “The Trump Prophecy” clearly is as there still many supporters who are determined to support Trump in spite of all the damage he has done so far. By now, it should be clear to the majority of Americans, let alone people around the world, that Trump is anything but a true Christian. He cheated on his wife with Stormy Daniels, his administration is full of corrupt people, several of who have since been indicted, and he clearly holds his own self-interests above all others.

“The Trump Prophecy,” like many faith-based movies, was made on a very low budget ($2 million to be exact) and in cooperation with the film department at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school founded by the late Jerry Falwell. It is also directed by the head of that school’s film department head, Stephan Schultze. Only evangelical Christians would dare make a movie like this as they remain convinced beyond a doubt that Trump deserves to be President above all others, including those who are actual politicians.

Yes, I am tempted to see it in the same way I rush out to see Dinesh D’Souza’s movies, so I can analyze everything wrong with them. But this time I think I will pass as there are many others worth my time as Oscar season is heating up. Learning of “The Trump Prophecy” and watching its trailer simply serves as a reminder of how people willfully blind themselves to horrible truths, and of why Christianity and evangelical Christianity need to be seen as two very separate things.

Right now, I keep thinking of John Carpenter’s “Pro-Life,” the “Halloween” director’s second episode for the Showtime series “Masters of Horror.” That episode featured a religious fanatic played by Ron Perlman who was determined to rescue his daughter from an abortion clinic, especially after he hears a voice telling him to save her baby. But in the end, the voice he hears is revealed to be a demon who looks to unleash literal hell on earth. Perhaps it is unfair to compare Mark Taylor to Ron Perlman’s character as I am sure he is a decent man looking to lead a peaceful life, but hey, both said God talked to them.

Fathom Events will be screening “The Trump Prophecy” two days only, October 2 and 4, 2018, in theaters throughout the United States. While watching the trailer, which is included below, you may hear a voice talking to you. If this voice is telling you “save your money,” you are not insane.

 

‘BlackkKlansman’ is Spike Lee’s Best Joint in Years

BlackkKlansman movie poster

Those who read my reviews know how much I despise the term “based on a true story” as it has long since lost its meaning for me. However, Hollywood has been looking for ways to provide variations on this phrase in recent years in an attempt to give it back the value it once had. One of my favorites was “Argo” which was advertised as being based on a “declassified” true story which made it worth seeing all the more. Still, every other movie these days is “based on a true story,” and pointing this out should make you wonder which ones were not. Besides, aren’t all movies based on or inspired by things we have experienced in real life?

BlackkKlansman,” a Spike Lee joint, is the latest movie to be “based on a true story,” but its poster has advertised as being “based on a crazy, outrageous, incredible true story.” Personally, I prefer the phrase Lee uses in the movie itself which says it is based on “some fo’ real, fo’ real shit.” This description feels far more honest as it would have seemed unbelievable were this movie released a few years ago. What results is the best joint Lee has made in years, and I could not recommend it more highly.

Based on the memoir “Black Klansman,” it stars John David Washington as Ron Stallworth who, when we first meet him, is on his way to apply at the Colorado Springs police department and become its first ever black detective. This distinction, however, doesn’t do much for him in the beginning as his fellow officers, particularly the slimy Patrolman Andy Landers (Frederick Weller) who does little to hide his racist attitudes, and he is eager to rise up in the ranks.

Following a boring stint in the records room, Stallworth gets transferred to intelligence where he comes across an advertisement for the Klu Klux Klan which looks to find new members. It is great fun watching Washington talk on the phone with Ryan Eggold who plays Walter Breachway, President of the KKK chapter of Colorado Springs, as he effortlessly convinces him he is as white as they come. This act quickly grabs the attention of Detective Flip Zimmerman who is played by Adam Driver, and it is a gas watching Driver slowly turn around in his chair once he realizes what Stallworth is up to.

Of course, Stallworth does make a critical mistake during this phone call; he uses his real name. As a result, he is forced to turn to Zimmerman who has to pretend to be Stallworth in person as they further infiltrate the KKK. This infiltration becomes a delicate balancing act as Stallworth continues to fool the racist organization over the phone while Zimmerman is forced to fool them in person. In the process, we come to discover how much easier it is for a black man to pretend to be white than it is for a white man to pretend to be black.

“BlackkKlansman” couldn’t be timelier as it digs deep into a past which has a frightening resemblance to America’s present. The KKK is shown here to be as violent and racist as they are today as they keep chanting “America first” and plot acts of violence designed to eliminate those in their way and instill fear in the general public. One of the most disturbing scenes comes as we watch them cheer unabashedly at a screening of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” which portrayed the KKK as heroic and African-Americans as being unintelligent and sexually aggressive. Lee does nothing to hide the racist caricatures Griffith put onto the silver screen back in 1915, and they are as infuriating to take in today as they were a hundred years ago.

It’s very ironic how “BlackkKlansman” was released in theaters around the same time Dinesh D’Souza’s latest propaganda piece, “Death of a Nation,” came out. Both movies deal with “Birth of a Nation” in different ways and acknowledge how it was the first American motion picture ever to be shown inside the White House. D’Souza portrays President Woodrow Wilson as getting a liberal erection from watching Griffith’s movie, and he took this a step further in “Hillary’s America” by having a KKK member on horseback leap out of the screen to where Wilson is shown as being completely hypnotized by this image. D’Souza, however, leaves out “Birth of a Nation’s” more inflammatory segments which include deeply offensive depictions of blacks, something Lee does not shy away from showing here.

As is the case with movies “based on a true story,” “BlackkKlansman” does take numerous liberties with the source material. The events of this story took place in 1979, but Lee has moved the timeline back to 1972 which allows him to acknowledge certain Blaxploitation classics as well as the re-election efforts of President Richard Nixon. It is also said how David Duke never realized Stallworth was a black man until 2006, but the change here was worth it as leads to one of the movie’s best and funniest scenes. With movies like these, it is more important to be true to the spirit of the facts than anything else, and those who have a problem with that can always read Stallworth’s memoir instead.

There’s some additional irony here with “BlackkKlansman’s” release as it is coming out not long after the “Superfly” remake. One scene has Stallworth talking with his girlfriend, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), about which movie was cooler, “Super Fly” or “Shaft.” Patrice replies how “Super Fly” unfairly stereotypes black men as criminals, but it also showed a realistic grittiness to life in the city which was complemented by the brilliant soundtrack composed by Curtis Mayfield. It would be interesting to see how Patrice would have felt about this summer’s remake which threatened to glamorize gangster life more than ever before, and it made me wonder why anyone bothered remaking this blaxploitation classic in the first place.

Then there is former President Nixon whom D’Souza tried to convince us was a true progressive like any other Republican in “Death of a Nation.” We do not see much of Nixon in “BlackkKlansman,” but we do see his re-election posters displayed prominently in KKK hangouts as they were supposedly big supporters of his. Seeing this makes me think of the old Vulcan proverb Spock spoke of in “Star Trek VI” which said “only Nixon could go to China.”

“BlackkKlansman” is designed to make us mad at how history is repeating itself as white supremacist groups have flourished under the Donald Trump administration, but it is also insanely funny at times as it is almost impossible to believe anyone could have gotten away with what Stallworth and Zimmerman did here. Then again, in a time where John Melendez, a.k.a. Stuttering John of the Howard Stern Show, managed to trick Trump into believing he was Senator Bob Menedez in a phone conversation, perhaps it doesn’t seem unbelievable in the slightest

Honestly, it has been some time since I last saw a Spike Lee joint. His movies get overwhelmed at times by his camera tricks and flourishes and overly bombastic music scores which make me want to turn the volume. But with “BlackkKlansman,” Lee has crafted a film where everything feels perfect and spot on, and what results is highly entertaining and deeply visceral. Even as the “Do the Right Thing” director wants you to see how the past never left us, he invites us to revel in Stallworth’s successful infiltration even as those in power want to bury his victories.

There is not a single weak performance to be found here. Both Washington and Driver dig deep into their characters’ complexities as they try to remain professional in an increasingly volatile situation, but their own personal beliefs threaten to get in the way. Jasper Pääkkönen proves to be a fiery presence as Felix Kendrickson, the white supremacist who looks like a grenade primed to explode at any given moment. Corey Hawkins is magnetic as Kwame Ture when he rouses his followers at a civil rights rally. And Topher Grace proves to be an inspired choice to play a young David Duke who is shown to be aloof as to who Stallworth really is, and that’s even when Stallworth is assigned to be his security detail while in Colorado Springs.

It is no mistake Lee concludes “BlackkKlansman” with footage from the Unite the Right rally which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia as the movie is being released on its first anniversary. We see white supremacists marching the streets with tiki torches saying they will not be replaced, we see the real David Duke talk about how Trump is making “America great again,” we see Trump respond to the rally by saying how there were good people on both sides, and we see the car attack perpetrated by a white supremacist which injured many and killed Heather Heyer. While we look at the past as if it is barely visible in our rearview mirrors, it is real events like these which remind us how these same mirrors have the message of how things we see in them are much closer than they appear.

The image of an upside-down American flag which fades into black and white is the perfect image to end “BlackkKlansman” on as we are truly living in “The Twilight Zone” with everything that’s going on. It also reminds me of the final image of that same flag in John Singleton’s “Higher Learning” which ended with the word “unlearn” being typed out over it. Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, and history continues to repeat itself again and again and again. The fight for justice has never ceased, and the progress we all thought Americans had made is not as great as it seemed. Lee has made an overtly political movie which could not have come out at a more appropriate time, and it is his best one in years.

* * * * 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.

Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘Death of a Nation’ is Political and Historical Garbage

Death of a Nation movie poster

I couldn’t wait to see this movie. That’s right, I called it a movie, not a documentary. Dinesh D’Souza wants you to believe he’s giving you the god’s honest truth, but when it comes to his movies, he instead gives you a distorted vision of reality which he has put together by cherry-picking facts and presenting a thesis statement which any rational human being can easily disprove. As a result, I have come to enjoy D’Souza’s movies for reasons he did not intend as they prove to be both hilarious and infuriating, and whenever I am not bored to death by the ridiculous cases he lays out for us, the experience of watching them proves to be quite visceral.

D’Souza’s latest political screed is “Death of a Nation,” and it comes with the strange subtitle of, “Can We Save America a Second Time?” From the poster, I assumed the recently pardoned conservative political commentator was going to show us how Donald Trump is the contemporary equivalent of Abraham Lincoln, but he instead veers from this to show us in an ill-fated attempt how Nazis and Democrats were very similar in their economic and social policies. Along with co-director Bruce Schooley and producer Gerald R. Molen, D’Souza employs his usual tactics which include poorly acted and directed historical reenactments as well as scenes of him walking around and visiting locations which played a role in history. And yes, there are scenes of people (in particular, his wife Debbie) singing patriotic songs to an infinitely nauseating effect. What results is a veritable shit sandwich as D’Souza invites us to see history through his eyes as he begs the audience to see how Democrats are the real fascists, not the Republicans.

I can only imagine just how much glee D’Souza and his collaborators had in the editing room as we are shown scenes of well-known personalities like George Clooney saying out loud how there was no way in hell Donald Trump could ever be elected President of the United States. Indeed, I believed, as did many that Hillary Clinton would have an easy path to victory. So, it was a huge shock to the world at large when Trump scored one of the biggest political upsets in American history as he spent so much time giving us every reason not to vote for him. D’Souza presents videos of Americans sobbing at this victory as they believe nothing good will come from it, and you can sense him mocking them without any remorse. This whole montage really acts a porn for conservative who live to drink the tears of liberals.

D’Souza wants us to see the election of Trump as America rising up against liberal tyranny, and he smugly pats himself on the back by saying his movie “Hillary’s America” played a big role in Trump’s victory. Truth be told, Trump won the election by one of the lowest margins ever, Clinton got almost 3 million more votes in the popular election, and the day of his inauguration had one of the lowest turnouts ever. Of course, D’Souza doesn’t bring these facts up as they would easily take away from he sets out to prove and instead shows us images of Americans howling in agony over the host of “The Apprentice” making his new home at the White House instead of Trump Tower.

As for “Hillary’s America,” it simply preached to an audience who never intended to vote for Hillary in the first place, and its biggest triumph came at the Golden Raspberry Awards where it won several accolades including Worst Picture. Please note, it is the first “documentary” to receive this award.

But following this, D’Souza puts his defense of Trump to the side and instead looks at Adolf Hitler and the history of the Nazi party in a hopelessly vain attempt to compare them to Democrats. As he lays out his pathetic case, I got lost in his convoluted logic to where I gave up trying to understand much of what he was trying to get across. The audience I saw it with was small, and an older guy sitting one row ahead of me began to snore quite loudly. What does that tell you?

The actors here are badly directed to say the least, and the one playing Adolf Hitler (Pavel Kriz) barely even looks like the infamous fascist dictator. I guess Martin Wuttke, who played a far more convincing Hitler in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” was unavailable, or perhaps he looked at what D’Souza hoped to accomplish with “Death of a Nation” and told him “bitch, please.” Other actors play famous Democrats to where they stare directly into the camera as if to say they know just how evil they are, and it got to where I expected them to sing “Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” by The Geto Boys.

Some scenes end up playing like something out of a sitcom as the actors playing Nazis keep screaming out their lines in an overwrought fashion. But nothing compares to the scene where Nazis break into the apartment of a “brown shirt” Nazi and catch him in bed with another man, highlighting the party’s position against homosexuality. After he is arrested and hauled away, the Nazis look under his bed to find yet another man in the apartment. This threatened to be as hilarious as anything in “Deadpool 2,” and I could barely contain myself while watching this scene as this discovery is presented in such an inescapably absurd fashion.

D’Souza does take the time to interview people like political scientist Robert Paxton, Civil War historian Allen C. Guelzo, sociology professor Stefan Kuhl, and syndicated columnist and investigative journalist Edwin Black to name a few. The interesting thing about these interviews is how the majority of them are shot to where we never see D’Souza and his subject together in the same frame. Seeing this, I cannot help but wonder if D’Souza and his accomplices took the words of his subjects out of context in an effort to add weight to a deeply flawed thesis. This makes me want to know how his subjects thought about how they were portrayed after sat through “Death of a Nation.” There is just too much doubt in the way these interviews are presented which cannot be easily dismissed. At least Michael Moore is smart enough to not make this same mistake in his own movies.

Then there is the interview between D’Souza and white supremacist (or white nationalist if you will) Richard Spencer. As D’Souza fumbles about in his attempts to expose Spencer as a progressive, he discusses how the founders saw government as being the enemy of the people. This is one of “Death of a Nation’s” most jaw-dropping moments as anyone with knowledge of American history will be quick to point out how our founding fathers created a government of, for and by the people. We see Spencer quickly disagreeing with D’Souza over this assessment as even he believes the founding fathers did not see the government as the enemy, and it doesn’t help D’Souza when he gets owned by a White Supremacist.

As “Death of a Nation” rolls on, D’Souza comes to repeat many claims he made in his previous movies. Among them is his assertion that Democrats never switched their political views in the past, and he made this same claim in “Hillary’s America.” When he presented us with this false information originally, we could barely make out the faces of the politicians on the silver screen, and we needed the Hubble telescope to make any of them out. In “Death of a Nation,” we get a better look at those democrats D’Souza was talking about, but it doesn’t change how Democrats or Republicans are no longer the same parties they once were.

When D’Souza finally gets around to defending Trump, he does so by presenting us with scenes of President Lincoln (played by Don Taylor) speaking eloquently and then tells the audience how Trump has the same integrity Lincoln had all those years ago. But considering how Trump has been proven to be very temperamental, has broken many promises he made on the campaign trail, cheated on his wife Melania with Stormy Daniels, has a history of stiffing people he was supposed to pay and, most unforgivably, valued the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence community, one has to wonder if D’Souza even knows the meaning of the word integrity. Once again, D’Souza does not acknowledge any of this, and it should not be hard at all to understand why.

D’Souza’s last bit of business is to show how Trump is not a racist, and he does so by showing him at a State of the Union address where he says, “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic-American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.” To this, D’Souza replies, would a racist talk like this? Well, there is a slight problem here. While what Trump says is technically true, the fact is unemployment rates for African-Americans and Hispanics have been decreasing steadily for years, so for him to take credit for this is deliberately misleading. For D’Souza to use this as evidence of Trump not being a racist is just hilarious, and he instead falls into a trap he would have been smart not to set for himself.

Look, I have no doubt D’Souza loves America, but for him to show this love through a manipulation of history and facts is beyond deplorable. These days, it is more about who controls the narrative than it is about verifying facts, and D’Souza seizes on this national weakness in a completely shameless way. “Death of a Nation” is a failure from the get go as it is impossible to put liberalism and fascism into the same category. Just ask historians Adam Tooze and John Broich who have gone out of their way to discredit “Death of a Nation.” Broich himself pointed out how fascism is essentially “anti-leftism,” and he quotes scholar Robert Paxton who said fascism is “dictatorship against the Left amidst popular enthusiasm.” Unlike D’Souza, these guys know what they are talking about.

“Death of a Nation” still has a score of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it does not look to escape this rotten rating any time soon. D’Souza has blamed this rating on “leftist” critics as he is determined to stand by his movie no matter what, and he is daring the Golden Raspberry Awards to shower it with every “Worst of” accolade possible. Look, it’s one thing to criticize the Democratic Party, and D’Souza has the right to do so, but to sell the public on comparisons to the Nazi party which are blatantly fale is truly pathetic. Explaining to D’Souza just how wrong he got history in this or any of his other movies is pointless as he will be quick to put his hands over his ears and spin around in circles saying, “There’s no place like the Ronald Reagan Library! There’s no place like the Ronald Reagan Library!”

How will D’Souza react to my review, assuming any he ever bothers to read it? I imagine he will dismiss me as another leftist critic or something along those lines. Anyone who wants an idea of where my political beliefs are can check out my Facebook page. All that matters is this movie is anti-intellectual as well as political and historical garbage. Yes, I enjoy watching D’Souza’s movies, but mainly for the opportunity to analyze everything that’s wrong with them. When I get past the unintentionally hilarity they provide me, what I am left with is pure nonsense which is truly infuriating. If you choose to see “Death of a Nation,” see it as an example of how NOT to make a documentary and of how people will go out of their way to manipulate history to their own ends.

For those of you who are still willing to believe in D’Souza’s political and historical garbage, I have a used Yugo for sale which goes from zero to 60 miles an hour in five seconds. Please message me privately if you would like to know more.

ZERO out of * * * *

Please check out the following articles in which writers lay waste to the connections D’Souza makes in this movie:

“There is Nothing Liberal about Fascism” by John Broich

“Donald Trump Jr. Compares Democrats’ Policies to Those of the Nazis” by Andrew Buncome

“The Apotheosis of Dinesh D’Souza” by 

Kevin Kruse’s Recapitualation of Dinesh D’Souza’s View of American history

Dinesh D’Souza Unveils the First Trailer For His Lincoln/Trump Love Letter, ‘Death of a Nation’

Death of a Nation movie poster

Oh my lord, the poster above just has me howling with laughter. Comparing Abraham Lincoln with Donald Trump to where it combines the faces of both is just asking for endless derision, especially with the Trump Administration continuing to make disastrous policies which would make Lincoln gasp in disbelief.

That’s right folks, political commentator, filmmaker, convicted felon and (sigh) the recently pardoned Dinesh D’Souza has once again teamed up with co-director Bruce Schooley and producer Gerald R. Molen to gives us another cinematic political screed which Alex Jones cannot wait to see, “Death of a Nation.” The title is of course a play on “Birth of a Nation,” the 1915 silent film directed by D.W. Griffith which portrayed the Klu Klux Klan as being heroic and black men as unintelligent. Once again, D’Souza is out to show us the racist beginnings of the Democratic party, and he looks to pay careful attention to American history as he does to the tweets on Twitter which he re-tweets and that contain racist hashtags (which is to say, not carefully enough).

Seeing the trailer open with Abraham Lincoln with his hand moving gracefully through the fields looks like it was stolen from “Gladiator.” From there, we are shown many historical re-enactments featuring moments from the Civil War, a black man being whipped on a white plantation, and moments from Nazi Germany where we are reminded of what a fascist dictator Adolf Hitler was. Having seen “America: Imagine the World Without Her” and “Hillary’s America,” D’Souza’s attempts in giving us compelling historical re-enactments have failed miserablymore often than not as he instead gives us moments both hilarious and boring as they are hobbled by weak acting and poor direction. As for his portrayal of Lincoln, I cannot help but think D’Souza will continue to treat this American president as some sort of superhero instead of as a real person, something I think audiences of all kinds would benefit from seeing just as they did with Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

As for Trump, who issued a full pardon for D’Souza’s 2014 felony conviction, we do not see much of him here. But it is clear he is out to make Trump look like a heroic President who will “save America” from the Democrats just like Lincoln did back in the 19th century. Whether D’Souza will include anything in regards to Trump’s multiple infidelities, business dealings, numerous bankruptcies, that Access Hollywood video or the Mueller investigation remains to be seen. The movie’s subtitle says, “Can we save America a second time?” Well, perhaps D’Souza isn’t very good with math.

For me, D’Souza’s films (I’m not going to bother calling them documentaries anymore) hold the same fascination for me as it does with people who stop to look at car accidents. As much as I want to look away, there is just too much carnage and damage to ignore. This looks to be just another movie preaching to a particular crowd while its filmmakers attempt to make us see history in a way which doesn’t jive with the facts. D’Souza may want to control the narrative, but he has yet to prove he has any right to do so.

Anyway, “Death of a Nation” is set to arrive in theaters on August 3, 2018, just three months before the 2018 midterm elections (how convenient). I shouldn’t watch it, and I resent it being released the day after my birthday, but with D’Souza I just cannot help myself.

Check out the trailer below if you dare.

‘Risk’ Invites You into WikiLeaks’ Inner Circle… Somewhat

Risk documentary poster

Laura Poitras’ “Risk” is one of those documentaries which had me believing the scenes left on the cutting room floor were as, or perhaps even more, riveting as what ended up on the screen. It offers us a look into WikiLeaks and its creator Julian Assange, and it is a very intimate look which I was never sure we could ever get. What we get is a very compelling look at the inner workings of this organization which thrives on getting to the truth which is more often than not kept away from our prying eyes, and we see how this organization is constantly threatened by its infinitely powerful adversaries and perhaps by Assange himself. Yet at the same time, it feels like there is much more to the story than what we see onscreen.

Poitras filmed this documentary over the course of six years and was granted an astonishing amount of access to WikiLeaks and Assange. It starts off with Assange trying to get in touch with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the security of WikiLeaks has been breached to where Clinton’s emails are about to be revealed to a public eager to sift through them voraciously. Assange has been accused of conspiring with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election, but he is shown here to be very eager to inform Clinton of how her problems are going to be much bigger than his own.

The most introspective moments in “Risk” happen near its start as Assange talks about what drew him to the work he does today. In a talk with Poitras, he says he doesn’t believe in being a martyr as much as he does in those who take risks for the things they care deeply about. The way he sees it, it is far more dangerous to do nothing than it is to do something, and the inaction of many has certainly led people to go against their best interests for no intelligent reason.

As the documentary goes on, however, the focus of it becomes a bit muddled as Poitras admits she is not sure what to make of Assange after a while. We never see her onscreen, but she does provide narration at various points where she admits she can’t ignore the contradictions of Assange’s character and is convinced he doesn’t like her. There is a scene where he and a fellow lawyer retreat to the woods for a private conversation, and at times he urges Poitras to take her camera off of him as he shares something he doesn’t want her to know. Towards the end, she says her friendship with Assange deteriorated to the point where they were constantly yelling at each other. Taking this into account, it makes you wonder just how much access she really had to his world as he remains so close and yet so far away.

One thing which cannot be denied is the size of Assange’s ego as he confronts many obstacles and impediments with a strange confidence even while the odds are stacked against him. We can’t help but laugh at scenes where those who work closest to him exhibit an exasperation as they clearly more aware of the ramifications of his actions more than he ever bothers to. He also manages to keep Poitras and even Lady Gaga at a distance as he is questioned about his intents and of what might happen if WikiLeaks one day comes to a sudden halt.

Assange does address the sexual assault charges in how he feels the U.S. government will exploit them for the sake of turning the American people against them. Still, in her director’s statement, Poitras says there was legal and personal pressure and demands by him and his colleagues to remove scenes which deal with the sexual assault investigations, and this was further complicated by another member of his staff being accused of the same thing. “Risk” does not imply guilt on Assange’s part, but it also doesn’t prove he is innocent either. This, more than anything else, makes me wonder what was left out of the final cut. Assange appears assured that WikiLeaks can never be taken down, but it feels like his inner circle sees the dominoes falling down a lot quicker than he does.

Looking back, “Risk” is really more about Poitras than it is about Assange. We never see her face, but we do get narration from her throughout. On one hand, she has the kind of access so many others can only dream of having, but you feel her growing confusion as she continually wonders if she can ever figure this man out fully. At the end, it seems like she may never know as he becomes more and more remote to where she wonders if she has just been used to further his agenda.

Certainly, no one knows more about risk than Poitras as she has been constantly interrogated and detained by U.S. officials whenever she traveled internationally, but this has not deterred her from reporting on mass surveillance and getting Edward Snowden on camera to discuss what he knows about it. Her previous documentary, “Citizenfour,” quickly became one of the most politically potent films ever made about the power a government can have over its citizens and its quest to silence those who dissent. “Risk” finds her continuing her quest for the truth even as her main subject is at times elusive as the forces surrounding him become more determined to shut him down for good.

I wish the film had been more probing into Assange’s life as he still remains a bit of an enigma, and there will always be a cloud of distrust hanging over him until the day he dies. Still, “Risk” gives us the closest of looks at an organization which continues to expose the things your government doesn’t want you to know about. If you can get past its flaws, it is a compelling watch which will have you contemplating the future of the free press and the first amendment. It ends on an ominous note as the FBI is determined to prosecute anybody and everybody involved with WikiLeaks, and I left the theater wondering how much longer we will have the First Amendment to fall back on. Hopefully, it will never disappear, but with the Trump administration, many unthinkable things have suddenly become possible.

* * * out of * * * *

Interview with Harry Benson and Matthew Miele on ‘Harry Benson: Shoot First’

The documentary “Harry Benson: Shoot First,” directed by Matthew Miele and Justin Bare, looks at the life and work of renowned photographer Harry Benson who shot and captured unforgettable images of many famous figures such as The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Donald Trump, and Hillary and Bill Clinton. What is especially striking about his photography is how wonderfully intimate and vivid his photos are. These are not just still images made to promote a new project of some kind, but instead are ones which show celebrities at their most natural and down to earth. Looking at Benson’s photographs today, it feels like you are going back in time and arriving at a place which feels so incredibly real.

I had the opportunity, along with Rama Tampubolon of the website Rama’s Screen, to talk with Benson and Miele about how this documentary came about and how it evolved from start to finish. Benson also told us stories of how he got the photo of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr who were in the midst of a pillow fight, and of the haunting images he captured of Robert Kennedy before and after he was assassinated.

“Harry Benson: Shoot First” is another terrific documentary in a year filled with them, and it is a must see for pop culture fans and anyone interested in photography. It opens on December 9 at the Laemmle’s Monica Film Center in Santa Monica, and it is also available to watch on Amazon Video, VOD and iTunes.

Please check out the interview above, and be sure to watch the documentary’s trailer below.

harry-benson-shoot-first-poster