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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Adam McKay on the American Economy, Ayn Rand, and ‘The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas’

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“The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is one of 20 short films which make up “We the Economy,” a series that uses innovative story techniques to give us a better understanding of the U.S. economy. This particular short film was directed by Adam McKay, best known for directing the “Anchorman” movies, “The Big Short” and for co-founding the comedy website “Funny or Die,” and it’s an animated short film and a thinly veiled parody of all those “My Little Pony” cartoons children are still crazy about watching. It takes place in a magical land filled with long-lashed, multi-colored Alpacas who love lollipops, rainbows, and friendship, and they have just graduated from school and are looking to get well-paying jobs in the business world. But once they are made aware of the sharp divide in wealth distribution which mirrors America’s, the growing evidence of inequality gap makes them turn against one another with hilarious results.

A press day for “We the Economy” was held at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, and McKay was one of the directors who attended it. “The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is not only the funniest short film in this series but also one the most informative. McKay said the inspiration for it came in part from his kids watching “My Little Pony” cartoons all the time, but another one came from an unexpected source.

“There was actually a documentary about the richest building in New York City on Park Avenue, and it was made by Alex Gibney and it was called ‘Park Avenue (Money, Power and the American Dream),’” McKay said. “He describes how the children of the super billionaires would always come through the lobby and be so friendly with the doorman, and the doorman would go, ‘How was your soccer game?’ And then the doorman described how one day when they were like 11 or 12, the light just went off. It was like someone had told them you were different and they no longer connected with the doorman. The guy was talking how sad that is, and so I think just vaguely that was in my mind that when you’re a kid, these differences don’t mean anything. And then when they become real, all of a sudden you’ll notice all the alpacas start fighting with each other and they’re no longer friends. So yeah, I think we’ll give Alex Gibney credit for that.”

Making this short film also proved to be very educational for McKay as it made him fully aware of just how bad income equality is in the United States.

“I was shocked,” McKay said. “I came in knowing that the U.S. had a problem with income inequality, but I didn’t know just how bad it was and that our upward mobility was so stagnant and that it’s actually not that great in the U.S. I was shocked about the numbers about the middle class. Our middle class has almost completely evaporated. I knew we were bad, but then when I worked with Adam Davidson and looked at the actual numbers… Damon actually contacted us and was like, ‘I think there was a mistake made when you said 50% of the wealth went to the top .1%.’ We’re like, ‘No, that’s not a mistake.’ And I had the same reaction he did which was like, that’s gotta be a typo.”

“I didn’t know that we are by every definition of the word in the U.S. an oligarchy. I had no idea that that was the case,” McKay continued. “A strict definition of oligarchy, that is the U.S. more so than Russia or China than any country you can think of. It’s a little depressing but at the same time a good opportunity to let people know about these numbers.”

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One of the images which really stood out in my mind was when the Alpacas are shown a portrait of a company CEO who is shown holding a copy of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” For the record, I have not read any of Rand’s books, but her name has been coming up a lot even though she died back in 1982. There were three movies based on her book “Atlas Shrugged,” the first which was a critical and commercial flop, and yet the filmmakers still made a pair of sequels to it. John Oliver even did a segment about her on “Last Week Tonight” as he wondered why she was still considered relevant. I had to ask McKay why this book was so prominently featured in the portrait, and he helped school me in what Rand was really about.

“She was a refugee of Communist Russia, so she had been given the hard boots,” McKay said. “I think she was a fun partier supposedly so she hung out with the billionaires and was like fuck everyone else, let’s have a good time. She had seen the overreaction of the Communist Revolution so she was an extremist in the other way, and then you have these guys with dynastic wealth who have inherited millions of dollars who kind of feel shitty about it. And then here’s a woman telling you, let’s go have a big sex party and you shouldn’t feel shitty about having your money. She’s perfect for the Koch Brothers and it’s like she’s their bible because, otherwise, they’re going to have to give away a lot of their money, and they don’t want to do that.”

“Ever since I’ve been in college, I’ve always been having arguments with the Ayn Rand devotees,” McKay continued. “My point on Ayn Rand is she’s always been a bad writer. John Milius is a big right-winger, but the guy can write (remember Robert Shaw’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech from “Jaws?”). You can be a right winger or whatever you want to be, just don’t be a shitty writer.”

“It’s funny because she becomes more important the more you get income inequality in our country, and the more billionaires you get the more her name comes back into the public,” McKay said. “In the 50’s and 60’s, she was fringe. The interview with Mike Wallace with her was like she was a cuckoo bird, and it is only now that our country’s kind of a little bit broken that suddenly she’s back in the mainstream.”

“We the Economy” is now up and running, and it has proven to be a clever and innovative way to teach us more about the U.S. economy. Be sure to check the website, and you can view “The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” below.

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America: Imagine the World Without Her

America Imagine the World Without Her poster

Is it even possible to write a review of Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “America: Imagine the World Without Her” without seeming the least bit biased? Many who have slammed it have been greeted by comments accusing them of being blinded by President Obama’s “socialist” brainwashing, and those who praise it get accused of watching Fox News too much among other criticisms. Is there any way to view this documentary in an objective manner? Moreover, will anyone allow those who have seen it to review it in an objective manner? Well, I’ll give it a shot, but I can already see a number of comments coming my way which are both good and bad.

“America: Imagine the World Without Her” starts off with D’Souza meditating on what this country would have been like had George Washington been killed on the battlefield, and it is followed by images of institutions like Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial vanishing into dust. From there, he explores the dark history of America and a number of well-known individuals whom he believes have done nothing more than shame America rather than looking at what makes it one of the best countries on Earth.

“America” gets off to a shaky start because, from its trailers, the movie looked to present an alternate reality of what the country would look like if George Washington died early on, but he all but drops this concept and instead goes on a different path. If that was the case, then why did he bring up this scenario if he never intended to explore it? Maybe he came to the conclusion that a number of different things could have happened as a result, and to narrow it down to one would be difficult if not impossible.

Now D’Souza makes it perfectly clear he loves America, and I have no doubt of that. Furthermore, I would never dream of taking his love of America away from him as it has given him much success. Having said that, there is an overabundance of shots throughout of him staring at various monuments like the White House, the Marine Corps War Memorial (a.k.a. the Iwo Jima Memorial) and Mount Rushmore which we see him looking at as if he is desperate to make his love for the United States absolutely clear and without doubt. But after a while it becomes a self-indulgent nuisance to where we want to yell at the screen, “We get it! You love America! Enough already!”

D’Souza then takes an overview of America’s dark history and uses it to criticize a number of people (particularly on the left side of politics) whom he believes have used these historical events to shame the country and make it look like an evil place. From there, his intent is to refute much of what we have been taught about American history and to demonize those he believes have taken away from this country and empowered others who are a threat to it. He does this by using old news footage, historical reenactments with notable figures like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas and interviews with experts who tell D’Souza more or less what he wants to hear.

Regarding the historical reenactments, they come across as very bland and boring and are seriously lacking in any depth. The acting is pedestrian, the staging lacks much in the way of excitement, and the special effects are ridiculously cheap. There’s even a scene where we see Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, sailing towards America, and it looks like someone just put three toy boats in a river and filmed them. You’d figure a documentary produced by Gerald R. Molen, a man who produced many of Steven Spielberg’s movies including “Jurassic Park” and “Minority Report,” would have higher production values to work with, but that’s not the case here.

When it comes to the genocide of American Indians, D’Souza claims much of it was the result of different Indian tribes attacking one another over land. Granted, there is some truth to this as we have seen this conflict portrayed in movies like “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” but this argument carries only so much weight and D’Souza only skims the surface. He gives the audience a lot of graphics you would find in a power point presentation, but it all comes off like a copy of Cliff Notes which might give you just enough information, but not everything you need to hear.

On top of this, D’Souza claims the majority of Indians lost their lives because of diseases. It was at this point I started to get confused as to what D’Souza was trying to get across. Was he saying the Indians were more susceptible to diseases than others? What life has taught me is that diseases do not discriminate like humans do. As a result, what D’Souza ends up implying with this assertion feels not only baseless but completely out of line.

As for how he deals with slavery, I have to give D’Souza some credit because even he admits it was not just a problem in America but in other countries as well. But then he goes into how certain blacks, before slavery was abolished, owned slaves as well, and he brings up the story of C.J. Walker who became known as the first female self-made millionaire in America and of how she made her fortune through a successful line of beauty products for black women. On one hand it’s interesting to learn about Ms. Walker, but I wondered what D’Souza was trying to prove here. Is he saying slavery was nowhere as bad in America as it was in other countries? Looking back, I got the impression he really glossed over the barbaric treatment many slaves received. He also describes the abolition of slavery as being “uniquely western,” but considering how it had its roots in European urban culture and that the Atlantic slave trade came to an end before American slavery did, this is not altogether accurate.

Things in “America” get worse as D’Souza defends capitalism by showing a scene where we see multiple versions of him running a fast food joint and cooking hamburgers. This is a moment where he could have had some fun with his own image, but he ends up taking himself too seriously and comes off as unintentionally goofy. Furthermore, he talks about how ordering a hamburger from his faux restaurant is cheaper than making one at home with the same ingredients. This is a weak argument as I have visited many fast food joints and none of the burgers came close to equaling the price D’Souza was offering for his.

D’Souza even says America’s wealth was created and not stolen and that colonial Manhattan was purchased from the Indians for $700. Considering there is much evidence available on how the Indians, a people never to be mistaken as immigrants, were driven from their lands and killed, I can’t help but wonder if they sold this land by choice or under duress. While I was watching this segment, I was reminded of what comedian Bobcat Goldthwait once said:

“America is one of the finest countries anyone ever stole.”

D’Souza then directs his ire at a number of “leftists” such as Saul Alinsky, Hilary Clinton, Matt Damon, Howard Zinn and President Barack Obama. The way he sees it, they are responsible for exploiting the dark moments of American history and for attempting to rewrite it for their own benefit. It is from there that “America” becomes nothing more than a propaganda piece designed to deliver a lot of fear-mongering to the masses.

Look, I have no problem with Americans criticizing President Obama when it’s within reason, but many of D’Souza’s criticisms feel like they are based on deep seated fears rather than actual facts. When “America” begins, he says the three things he feared would happen under an Obama administration did happen, but those things are still open to debate as President Obama did get elected to a second term.

But D’Souza’s sights are set mostly on Hilary Clinton as he sees her as being subverted in her early years by leftists and socialists who forever corrupted her worldview, and the way he presents Hilary in a series of reenactments reeks of shameless manipulation more than anything else.

Another public figure who gets dragged over hot coals is Saul Alinsky, the legendary community organizer and writer. D’Souza portrays him as the devil in disguise and attempts to use his own words against him. He even goes out of his way to say Alinsky learned many things from Lucifer like strategies for demonization and polarization. In retrospect, the way D’Souza portrays Alinsky makes the community organizer come across as a one-dimensional villain in your typical action flick. I imagine there is more to Alinsky than what we see here, but to tell us more might take away from D’Souza’s overall argument which was pretty weak to begin with.

But perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious moment comes when D’Souza brings up how he was indicted for making illegal political contributions to a 2012 United States Senate campaign. He ended up pleading guilty to this and doesn’t deny that he committed a crime, but it all leads to a staged shot of him sitting in a holding cell with handcuffs on. The way D’Souza sees it, he’s a victim of persecution by the government due to the success of his documentary “2016: Obama’s America.” Now whether or not D’Souza was a victim of selective prosecution was up for debate, but this staged moment proves to be so shameless that it comes across as completely self-serving. Considering he knowingly committed a crime which he plead guilty to, does he really have the right to play the victim card?

Looking back at “America: Imagine the World Without Her,” my reaction to it isn’t all that different from how I react to a Michael Moore documentary. Their movies make me want to do a lot of research into the subject matter they deal with to see how accurate they are to the facts and to see what else I could possibly learn about America in the process. Many accuse Moore of playing loose with the facts, but if that’s true then D’Souza isn’t any different.

D’Souza and his co-director John Sullivan came into “America” with a lot of passion which does come across onscreen, but it is still filled with illogical arguments which don’t carry much weight. While he accuses others of trying to rewrite history, he ends pretty much does the same thing here. The movie is also weighed down by poorly directed reenactments which don’t leave much to the imagination, and D’Souza spends his time onscreen implying things rather than proving them. Seriously, if he were to turn all this in as a term paper, he would have ended up with an F or a D- if he was lucky.

I always thought it was incredibly difficult to make a bad documentary, but D’Souza and Sullivan prove it is possible with “America: Imagine the World Without Her.” In the end, the criticisms this movie receives will matter very little as it has been embraced by the crowd it was made for. But none of this changes the fact this is a poorly made film which has little to show for its arguments, and it exists as nothing more than a boring propaganda piece. D’Souza is free to make the movies he wants to make, but next time he’s got to make arguments which stand up to scrutiny and get a better understanding of American history.

* out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2014.

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

Hillary's America poster

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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