Where To Invade Next, directed and written by Michael Moore, 1 h 54 min
“Where to Invade Next” is the fanciful story of Moore “invading” countries he sees doing things better than we are in the USA. The twist is that he and the people he meets along the way all agree that the inspiration for these admirable accomplishments came from here in the first place.
As you might imagine, reactions have split along political lines. The New York Times loved the whimsy and how it shows where we can improve. WSJ and the National Review hated it as being simplistic and distorted. It’s impossible in the current political climate to agree on facts; all reactions are filtered through either a progressive or conservative lens.
The simplistic criticism is no doubt true. Moore extols how Tunisian women galvanized sentiment against sharia laws curbing their rights. As a result, the conservative (but not fundamentalist) ruling party voluntarily resigned. The situation is actually much more complicated. A recent New Yorker article attests that Tunisia is the source of more ISIS recruits than any other country.
That being said, Moore finds many things that make us wonder whether, just maybe, some of our most intractable problems could be solved. Or at least addressed.
In Italy he meets a charming couple that talk about their eight weeks of vacation; a woman who goes home everyday for a two-hour lunch; a management team at the Ducati motorcycle factory that seems more concerned with providing a low stress working environment than squeezing out the last dime of profits.
In France Moore visits the kitchen of an elementary school that daily produces amazingly nutritious school lunches, with soups, vegetables and a variety of cheeses. Shown pictures of typical lunches at American schools, the chef asks “Is that food?”
Finland has the highest-rated educational system in the world. Their secret: no homework, no preparation for standardized testing. They want kids to be kids, to socialize and learn on their own in areas they find interesting.
In Slovenia college education is free. In Germany students are taught the horrors of Naziism and the concentration camps to insure that it will never happen again. Moore opines that our country buries the originals sins of slavery and the near extinction of native Americans.
Norway has a prison system with humane conditions and an emphasis on rehabilitation - guards don’t even have guns! Crime rate and recidivism are low. In Portugal they have decriminalized drugs, and addicts are encouraged to rehab. Drug use has fallen.
Iceland shows the value of women in management positions. The theory is that woman aren’t amped up on testosterone and are inclined to take less risk. The proof: in 2008 three of four Icelandic banks failed. The one that didn't was run by women. And the top managers of the failed banks went to jail.
Undoubtedly Moore cherry-picked these examples and, as recent events in Paris and Brussels have shown, all is not rosy in these European countries. But we don’t need to take him literally to see that many areas of American life could stand improvement. But In our current political climate, most of these items can’t even be discussed, let alone solved. Ideology is valued more than solutions. Moore implies that some problems aren't addressed by the all powerful market. Just because there is no obvious profit motive in dealing with these difficult issues, it doesn't mean our society can afford to ignore them.
Eye in the Sky, directed by Gavin Hood, 1 h 42 min
I’m still trying to figure out what director Gavin Hood was trying to accomplish with this movie. Is it a commentary on how war creates intractable moral ambiguities? Is it an exposé of the cowardice of soulless government bureaucracies that force the lowest ranks to execute wrenching brutalities? Or is it simply a thriller with an unhappy but inevitable ending?
Here’s another possibility: It’s just a cynical Hollywood manipulation that uses the innocence of a young Muslim girl to pique your interest in what would otherwise be yet another dreary tale of the unending Middle East conflict.
Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell is the film’s Ahab. For the last six years she has been after a fellow Englishwoman who has become a terrorist . A drone camera (the eye in the sky) has discovered her in a small village in Somalia. Through an ingenious “fly” camera that gets into the house where she is hiding, they also discover that her accomplices are planning a suicide bombing. Powell orders a missile launch from the drone to bomb the house.
But the young soldiers operating the drone, played by Phoebe Fox and Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame, have observed a young girl expertly twirling a universal symbol of youth, the hula hoop. When they see her selling bread in what could be the kill zone of the strike, they refuse to launch and demand a new “CDE,” collateral damage assessment.
In one of his last roles, Alan Rickman, as the head of the military contingent, wrestles with the politicians over whether they should endanger the intentionally adorable little girl. While the others dither, Col. Powell demands the death of her white whale. Mirren is perfect in this role, easily tweaking her normal sternness into obsession. She steamrolls the others who only want to hide behind the chain of command.
Is “Eye in the Sky” an important discussion of the moral choices we face in this era’s version of war? It depends on how realistic this kind of a situation is. If there is no relation to actual decisions that have to be made in these circumstances, then the film is cynically using the possible death of the girl as the hook for the movie. If the military choice is realistic, the characters, even Mirren, seem too stereotyped and extreme to truly asses the moral judgments involved. Maybe this whole subject would be better left to a documentary that shows how real people react when they are under this kind of stress.
“Eye in the Sky” is well-crafted and the performances, particularly from Mirren and Rickman, are strong. While I can appreciate Hood depicting various view points, the whiff of manipulation persists.
Zootopia, directed by Byron Howard, 1 h 48 min
I’m very glad I overcame my aversion to cartoon movies and saw Zootopia. Even settling into my seat, I was thinking that I’d finish my popcorn, then split. Wasn’t this Bugs Bunny for an hour and a half, instead of five minutes? Isn’t it just for kids?
Forgive my ignorance! Maybe all these animated Disney and Dreamworks features don’t have as broad a reach as this, but I found Zootopia to be charming and fun. The animation, at least if you’re as unfamiliar as I am with the genre, seems spectacular. You marvel at things as simple as tearing a paper perforation or as intricate as a cascading waterfall.
There is an engaging story as well. Jane Hops, the first rabbit on the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department, of course!), is relegated to Meter Maid duty. Soon she finds a weasel stealing what looks like onion bulbs, then volunteers to find Mrs. Otterton’s missing husband. Jane cleverly recruits a scamming fox named Nick Wilde to help her find Mr. Otterton. Then the pair discover that Mr. Otterton and other animals have returned to their naturally savage ways, and they suspect a link to the purloined onions.
You’ll enjoy watching Jane and Nick unravel the mystery, but the authentic human emotions that they express are what makes this movie special. For kids it is an uplifting story of how you should hold on to your dreams and persist whatever the obstacles. For adults, Zootopia lets us relax and feel young again, as we are swept up in the fun of the story and the wonder of the animation.