by Chaya and Deni
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (review by Deni)
It’s Michael Moore so of course the film has noble political intentions. But it’s overly long (especially drags in the second half) and too simplistic as political analysis and strategy. Though it’s heartening to see real possibilities of how different things could be, the examples Moore uses are all European, with the exception of Tunisia, and ignore many contradictory political realities within those countries. Moore chooses important issues to compare between the US and other countries: job hours/vacation time (Italy), prison conditions (Norway), food served to children in schools (France), drug legalization (Portugal), prosecution of white collar crime (Iceland), cost of college education (Slovenia), political uprising and women’s rights (Tunisia and Iceland), and facing a country’s genocidal history (Germany). But while lauding one aspect in a country, he pays no attention to a corresponding problem. For example, yes it’s great that Italians get so much vacation time but overlooked is the extremely high unemployment rate in Italy and the soaring levels of youth unemployment. And while the French schoolchildren get better food in school than here in the US, ignored is the fact that a 2012 study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that France’s education system showed gaping disparities between rich and poor children, notably in math. Apparently all school children eating yummy camembert does not guarantee equal education. Some of the examples Moore uses, like humane prisons in Norway and decriminalization of drugs in Portugal, do seem to have had a hugely positive social impact. The counterposing of humane prison conditions and treatment in Norway with US prisoners being beaten, humiliated, and generally mistreated drives home the point. In fact, some of the best parts of the film’s comparisons were those in which Moore showed existing conditions in the US. But we felt that the narrow single issue focus within each country seemed so simplistic that it undermined the film’s impact and credibility.
We also strongly objected to the “women are more noble than men so women in leadership would create a better world” theme. While we definitely support the destruction of worldwide patriarchy, the “leadership” of Golda Meier and Margaret Thatcher belie the myth that just having women in control without fighting systemic social inequalities will make things better. (Got that Hillary?)
Moore’s style of pushing people on issues failed him when he interviewed a former male political leader in Tunisia. Discussing the struggle for democracy and women’s rights, which brought equality to women in the legislature, Moore then asked him if women had to wear head coverings. With a slight smile, the man said “I ask my wife to do that,” but he went on to say the government could not ask women to do this. Moore let this go unchallenged. Does his wife wear a head covering, and if so, is this her choice or because he “asks her to”? With this segment’s connection to women’s rights, this was a moment for Moore to push further, not let it go. Along with the film’s basic political problems and inconsistencies, too many gimmicks and wink-winks made this one of Moore’s less successful movies. Given what’s been going on in Flint MI, maybe it’s time to re-watch Roger and Me instead.
Carol is the latest movie from new queer cinema filmmaker Todd Haynes, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 lesbian novel, The Price of Salt. A movie starring 2 women? Great! Both good actors? Yes! (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara). Centered around their lesbian relationship? Terrific! And yet . . . it was pretentiously artsy, the dialog was very stilted, and it didn’t feel authentic. We’re glad it was made. We just wish it had been a bit different. Maybe we’ll like it better in 5 or 10 years.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (review by Chaya)
Derivative but fun.
THE BIG SHORT (review by Chaya)
Adam McKay’s film about the phony build-up of the housing market, and the 2007-08 US recession and global financial crisis that occurred when the bubble burst, does a lot of things well. It has good acting, innovative techniques like breaking the 4th wall by directly addressing the audience, and it uses cameos by celebrities to explain the financial concepts to the audience (good luck on the quiz). Most importantly, it is intentionally humorous while it scorchingly reveals the people and system that perpetuate and profit from the US corporate financial system through lies and manipulation. An estimated 5 to 7 million Americans lost their homes, and millions lost their jobs, while the excesses of banks and Wall Street were generally rewarded with huge government bailouts and record profits. But until we saw McKay’s movie, we didn’t know that people somewhat on the edges of the industry figured out that mortgage-backed securities (bonds secured by home or other real estate loans and bundled together), usually considered a very safe investment, had become based on high-risk, ‘subprime’ loans (backed by poor credit, with high interest rates) which made them very unstable. The movie starts with one eccentric investment fund manager (played by Christian Bale) who predicted the housing bubble would burst in 2007. He then realized he could make a lot of money by betting against the housing market, an unusual move to take. Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell play other traders/investors who get in on the action, and retired banker Brad Pitt plays the moral center when he is brought in to help 2 young investors participate. The crisis unfolds and all these people make a fortune. But they just took advantage of figuring out and exploiting the system, they didn’t cause it. Their stories are the vehicle McKay uses to expose the system, by showing us various ways it’s structured that allowed this to happen, as executive after executive bypasses required government checks and knowingly passes the buck. The 2 younger investors tried without success to alert the press, and also unsuccessfully attempted to sue the companies that gave the securities false high ratings. One and only one person went to prison, Kareem Serageldin, an Egyptian-born trader (gee, go figure!). Executives at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Citigroup, Countrywide, and others lied big time about the value of their securities. The way in which they minimized the extent of their losses was a criminal action that allowed the crisis to get worse. But hey, this is American capitalism. Before too long, things went back to business as usual.
The film has excellent acting, by an almost all male cast. Not sure why McKay had a small and stereotypical part for Marissa Tomei as a sympathetic but slightly exasperated wife, and an even smaller (1 scene) part for Melissa Leo as an executive at Standard and Poor’s. What a waste of 2 excellent actors. Oh wait, there was another role for a woman in the film: a “sexy” woman in a bubble bath explaining complicated economic ideas. Deni clearly remembers the woman but not what she said. See it and tell Deni what she said.
45 YEARS (review by Deni)
This film is about a long-married couple – Charlotte Rampling (Kate) and Tom Courtenay (Geoff) – getting ready to celebrate their 45th anniversary when an event from Geoff’s past calls their lives and relationship into question. The acting and cinematography (English countryside and indoor shots) were excellent. I am a fan of Charlotte Rampling’s acting (though not her racist remarks about the OscarSoWhite boycott in which she said that the Oscar boycott was “racist against whites” and other more idiotic and racist comments). And I have memories of Tom Courtenay from his riveting performance in the 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. There were times I really liked 45 Years, but less so as it went on. I ended up feeling angry about the limited vision we were given of Kate’s world: we knew she’d been a teacher and that had been important to her, that she had friends and interests, but we only saw superficial aspects of this and ultimately none of it mattered much. We experienced all of Kate’s thoughts and feelings only through her reactions to what was going on in her (somewhat crumbling) relationship with her husband. All her actions, thoughts, and emotions were about this and its impact on her. I know this was the point of the movie – her dismayed sense of betrayal, her loneliness, her self-doubt, but it ended up feeling somewhat empty to me, and their relationship a bit wooden. There was an image of a strong independent woman in this film somewhere, and I would have liked to see more of that character.
BITS AND PIECES
THE OSCARS #Oscarsowhite was started over a year ago by April Reign. There’s a great interview with her in Black Girl Nerds, where she talks about the lack of racial diversity and the lack of representation of other marginalized communities (such as disabled and queer) during Oscar season. Reign says the responsibility is on Hollywood to create the material that represents all; who is telling the stories and how are they being told is where the pressure should lie. Between the Oscar boycott and the Chris Rock monologue, it was the most political Oscar broadcast in years. Now Hollywood just needs to change its systemic racism…
THE ONLY DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST In December 2015, Israel seized 4,000 dolls that were headed to Palestine from the United Arab Emirates. The 10 inch dolls hold a small gray stone-like object in one hand and wear Palestinian keffiyehs with a picture of the Dome of the Rock and Arabic words “Jerusalem is ours” and “Jerusalem, we are coming.” The Israelis, always sticklers for following the rules, especially objected to the fact that the shipping containers in which the dolls arrived were supposed to contain household goods. A Haifa Customs official said Israel “sees these dolls as incitement objects which are forbidden to be imported into Israel.” Umm, because without the dolls, Palestinian youth wouldn’t be fighting back?
But don’t get too distracted by the seizure of the dolls. In late January, Reuters reported that Israel’s Defense Ministry is on the verge of seizing large portions of fertile land in the occupied West Bank. COGAT, a unit of the Defense Ministry, told Reuters that “the lands are in the final stages of being declared state lands” as the government had already decided to appropriate them. But clearly, MC readers, it’s those dolls that are inciting the uprisings and rebellions of the Palestinian people.
But then Israel is nothing if not fair: not just seizing land, but returning land it seized years ago. Rather than face a potentially lengthy court case from the Israeli rights group Yesh Din, the Israeli army is surrendering control of about 420 acres of land that it seized in the 1970s and 80s, formerly valuable farmland. The largest amount of land involves 170 hectares in the village of Jalud in the northern West Bank. Jalud village council leader Abdullah Hamed welcomed the army’s decision to surrender control but said villagers were still waiting for a second decision allowing them to actually return to their land. It only took 45 years for Israel to give back the land, how long can it take to let the people live on it? Again folks, it’s those damn dolls.
IT’S A BIRD. IT’S A PLANE. IT’S THE FBI FLYING LOW AND SLOW OVER YOUR AREA Just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Reports since 2003 have noted suspicious-looking planes slowly circling neighborhoods. The ACLU has been investigating 2 small planes that flew over West Baltimore after rebellions erupted following the police custody death of Freddie Gray. Also in the past year, mysterious surveillance aircraft have been spotted flying low and slow over many US cities. An AP investigation gathered sufficient data to force the FBI to admit it flew spy missions over some 30 US cities in 11 states (and that that was just in 1 month!). Without warrants. Just for fun. And to gather “intelligence” by capturing video and cellular signals to use in ongoing investigations. It also shields the identity of the planes so that suspects on the ground don’t know they’re being watched. Want more? The FBI admitted it set up 13 “dummy” corporations to register the planes to protect the safety of the pilots and aircrafts.
Most flight patterns occurred in counter–clockwise orbits up to several miles wide and about 1 mile above the ground, at slow speeds. External equipment is visible on some planes, such as odd antennas and cameras. Why does the FBI put this equipment on the left side of the plane? And fly in counter-clockwise orbits? Are they on to our new revolutionary organizing tactics?
It seems to us that the FBI may need to go back to spy school. The AP uncovered records that showed most of the planes belonging to the 13 dummy corporations were all registered by Mr. Robert Lindley (an FBI operative perhaps?), who also happens to be listed as CEO of all the dummy corporations. “Mr. Lindley” is so busy running all those corporations, he used several different signatures on the various registrations without even realizing it! If this is the “person” running this op, no wonder the planes can only fly in counter-clockwise circles!
FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE Check out her new show on TBS (you may know her from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show). She’s funny, her politics are good, and she often focuses on women’s issues. To do a bit on Syrian refugees, she actually went to refugee camps in Jordan and talked with people. As the US presidential campaign heightens, we’ll need all the good laughs we can get.
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