"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Fahrenheit 11/9: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An insightful glimpse into America’s future and its not too distant past, that shows Trump is a tumor that grew out of the cancer that is the corporate controlled establishment political parties.


Fahrenheit 11/9, written and directed by Michael Moore, is a documentary that explores Donald Trump, the forces in America and American politics that made his presidency possible, and the repercussions of Republican and Democrat corporate rule upon regular Americans.

Michael Moore may not be the best documentarian of his time, but he is certainly the best known documentarian of his time. Moore is a polemicist and a provocateur, but to his credit he is a really good one.

Moore’s filmography is a testament not only to his liberal bona fides but his extraordinarily accurate instincts in regards to the American unconscious. His scathing Roger and Me swam against the Reaganite tide and exposed free-market, trickle-down economics for the charade that it is well before that was a popular notion.

His Oscar winning Bowling for Columbine exposed the deep psychological wounds inflicted upon generations of young people raised under a flag-waving dream of unabashed corporate militarism that led to the illusion shattering nightmare of Columbine.

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His most financially successful film, and the most financially successful documentary of all-time, Fahrenheit 9/11, pushed back against the establishment media’s War on Terror hagiography and exposed it for the fraud that it was. Fahrenheit 9/11 was a cultural phenomenon, a lightning rod both for liberal anger at the Bush administration and for conservative angst with liberal fifth columnists.

Moore’s films in recent years have not had the same cultural cache of Fahrenheit 9/11. Sicko was a smart and insightful film, as was Capitalism: A Love Story, but it sells out at the end by embracing Obama, who ended up being a poison pill for any real Wall Street or health care reform that would work for regular folks.

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Moore’s, Where To Invade Next, is a film that was widely overlooked and ignored, but which is a gem, and shows Moore to be at his most prophetic best. In the movie, Moore goes to various foreign countries to see what parts of their culture and government we should bring to America. This film was a precursor for the wave of progressive ideas that buoyed Bernie Sander’s campaign and which have animated the progressive left to such a degree that even some centrist corporate Democrats are parroting the same lines.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is Moore’s best film since it’s pseudo-namesake, Fahrenheit 9/11. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is pulsating with an anger bordering on desperation that shows the iconic filmmaker taking on not only Trump and the Republicans but establishment Democrats as well.

Moore wisely doesn’t focus on Trump for the majority of the film, we know Trump and most everybody is sick of the guy, instead, Moore takes side trips to Flint, Michigan, to reveal what the rest of America is going to look like if the corptacracy of establishment Republicans and Democrats stays in place, then to West Virginia to show what the power of unionization and solidarity can accomplish in the face of government corruption, and finally to Parkland, Florida to show the younger generation as the key to breaking the logjam of bullshit that is American politics.

The opening sequence, an homage to Moore’s own Fahrenheit 9/11, is exquisitely funny in the darkest of ways. Watching the “I’m With Her” crowd of fools and the media, so sure of her ascension to the throne, have their hopes dashed upon the rocks of reality is hysterically funny, especially for me, since like Michael Moore, I actually told people before the election that Trump would win. I was ridiculed before the election for saying that, and was pilloried after the fact for having been right.

As Moore dives into the loathsome oddity that is Trump, he covers much well-trod ground. What was refreshing about this section is that Moore holds himself accountable for not having taken Trump to task when they were on a talk show together, and for how Moore’s own career has been bolstered by Trump lackeys Steve Bannon and the crown prince himself, Jared Kushner. Moore’s honesty is refreshing and no doubt will blunt counter-attacks to his movie.

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Trump is a pretty disgusting character and is a total conman, this we all know, and Moore backs up his claims to this fact, but where Moore stumbles in this section is in his gravitating towards the salacious and the prurient by making the argument that Trump and Ivanka have or had a sexual relationship. I get what Moore is doing, he is exposing Trump for being a gross and lecherous fiend, but this part of the film feels cheap and much too placatingly easy for me. I actually think Trump is a lech and a fiend, but Moore leaves himself too easily open to charges of being more tabloid propagandist than documentarian with this particular section of the movie.

The best parts of the film are the Flint and West Virginia sections. The Flint section is breathtakingly depressing, as it lays bare the craven contempt that politicians (of both parties) hold not only for the truth but for their fellow citizens. Moore’s compelling thesis is that Flint is the future of America, where corporate interests override all humanity, and people are left to live in an environmentally toxic open air prison.

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Included in this indictment is the Holiest of liberal Holies, President Obama, who is shown to be a despicable shill for corporate interests and brazenly contemptuous of the working class and poor people of Flint. Adding to the case against Obama is the fact that not only did he aid and abet the poisoning of the population of Flint, he also terrorized them by using their city for target practice. Obama’s charlantanry, including his subservience to Wall Street (Goldman Sachs in particular), his callous drone program and his complicity in war crimes, is no shock to me, but I think the Obama adoring liberals I know will feel like this section of the film is an absolute gut punch. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a worthwhile film for no other reason than no liberal who watches this movie will ever feel the same way about Obama again.

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The West Virginia section of the movie is as equally insightful as the Flint section, but much less depressing. As per Moore’s thesis, Flint is the future of America, but West Virginia is the model for how to fight back. Moore’s examination of the teacher’s strike and how unionization and solidarity are the the only way to stop the spread of government/corporate fascism that is destroying America, American cities and towns, and the American family, is so energized it makes you want to put a red bandana around your neck and go out and crack some skulls.

Moore makes an important point in both the Flint and West Virginia stories, namely that race and ethnicity is used by both Republicans AND Democrats to divide working class and poor people in order to maintain the corrupt and disastrous status quo. As a striking teacher says in the film, “class above all else”, and this clarion call for unity through class will no doubt be a sharp slap in the face to the establishment corporate Democrats, the Hillary Hypocrites first among them, but it is one, as Moore points out, that they so richly deserve.

Moore’s multiple story lines don’t all work, as I found the Parkland narrative to be especially vapid and frankly illogical. Moore’s anti-gun sentiments are well-known, but it is striking to see these young Parkland students, so traumatized by the shooting at their school, be held up as the ideal because they are so stridently anti-gun, in the context of a documentary arguing that Trump may literally be the next Hitler. The lack of self-awareness in this Parkland section is staggering, especially in the midst of the Trump and Flint sections, which lay bare the fact that regular Americans are literally under assault and it is only going to get worse.

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To watch earnest but misguided young people, so sure of their righteousness and rightness, vehemently argue for disarmament right after watching the U.S. military invade Flint and Trump contemplate being president for life, is breathtaking for its stupidity. Moore’s blind spot on this issue, like those of the teenagers he highlights, is due to being the victim of unabashed emotionalism. The young Parkland teens that Moore holds up as the paragon of virtue and the path forward, are not the solution to the problem Moore presents, but the problem itself. To see the effects of emotionalism laid so bare in the form of these Parkland teens is a remarkable thing.

An example of the illogic on display in the film is when Moore declares the danger of Trump as a potential Hitler, and then uses history professors from NYU and Yale to persuasively make the case that America is in peril but then transitions to the Parkland anti-gun crusaders, which completely undermines the intellectual and political seriousness of the thesis of the film. If Trump is Hitler, disarming is ridiculous if not absurd. The logical and rational response to the notion that Trump is a tyrant or Hitler is to go out and arm yourself, not disarm yourself and everyone else.

Despite the weakness of the Parkland section, Fahrenheit 11/9 pulses with a vitality and urgency because Moore, like many Americans, even Trump voters, feels America disintegrating before him. Moore is a polemicist, of that there is no doubt, but he is a damn fine documentarian and an even better political physician. In Fahrenheit 11/9 Michael Moore’s diagnosis of America is once again completely accurate, and his prescription is, for the most part, spot on as well. Moore makes the extraordinarily insightful case that the establishment Democrats are fighting for a return to the Pre-Trump America, but that Pre-Trump America is what got us to Trump. As Moore points out, the good old days before Trump weren’t so good and and the tumor of Trump grew out of the cancer of establishment Republicans and Democrats who are beholden to corporate interests over the interests of the people.

America, and liberals in particular, had better wake up and start listening to Michael Moore, who, like me, accurately foretold of Trump’s presidency. If liberals ignore Moore’s prescription and turn back to the old centrist Clinton medicine to heal the Trumpism that ails them, the disease of Trump will spread and gain strength, and once again liberals will have no one to blame but themselves, but will lack the self-awareness to do so.

In conclusion, if you like Michael Moore, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, you’ll love it. If you are a sturdy centrist Democrat who cheered Hillary and loved Obama, go see Fahrenheit 11/9 to be disabused of the notion that those two people are anything but different faces on the same evil machine of exploitation, abuse and destruction. If you are a progressive or liberal looking for hope, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, and learn the lesson that I have been preaching for decades, that hope is insipid. If you are an American citizen, the bottom line is this, go see Fahrenheit 11/9, if for no other reason than to see what has been done to Flint, and what can be done by West Virginians.

©2018

Logan Lucky : A Review

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SKIP IT. No use seeing this clunker anywhere or at anytime. 

Logan Lucky, written by "Rebecca Blunt" and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is the story of Jimmy Logan, a down on his luck West Virginian from a perpetually unlucky lineage, who decides to pull off a heist of a NASCAR race with his family and friends. The film stars Channing Tatum, and features supporting turns from Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarland, Katie Holmes and Hillary Swank.

David Lee Roth and Elvis Costello

David Lee Roth and Elvis Costello

A few years ago, director Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from directing movies. I know people who hold Soderbergh in the highest artistic regard, so much so they would place him on the Mount Rushmore of American filmmakers alongside Kurbick, Scorsese, Malick and Altman (or whatever filmmakers you may choose for such an honor), so when he retired they were downtrodden.  I have never disliked Soderbergh, but I have never held him in such high esteem either. Soderbergh is worshiped by critics, which, considering my tepid opinion of him, always makes me think of what Van Halen's frontman Diamond David Lee Roth said in 1984 about another critical darling, Elvis Costello, who is the musical equivalent of Steven Soderbergh. Roth said, " I think music critics LIKE Elvis Costello, because they LOOK LIKE Elvis Costello". I believe the same can be said of Steven Soderbergh. 

Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh

I think Soderbergh is a very skilled director, but if I am being honest, I think his greatest talent is in elevating otherwise mundane material into moderately above average films. Even his great films (meaning most successful financially and critically) like Traffic, Erin Brockovich and the Ocean's Eleven trilogy, are anything but transcendent. Traffic is arguably Soderbergh's best film and won him a Best Director Oscar, and while it is certainly an interesting film, it never rises to be a truly great one. 

 

That said, I did enjoy Sex, Lies and VideotapeTraffic and Che (maybe my favorite Soderbergh film), and was even entertained by the technical proficiency of the Ocean's Eleven franchise, so when I heard Soderbergh was returning from his self-imposed exile, I thought I'd go check out the fruit of his labor. 

The thought that came to my mind while I sat through the first third of Logan Lucky was…Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement for this? At the half way point of the film, the thought I had was…Soderbergh definitely should've stayed retired. In the final third of the film, it occurred to me…he did.

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Logan Lucky is a derivative, repetitive, manipulative and painstakingly dull movie with no redeeming value whatsoever. The film is an homage to Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven films, and even self-consciously describes itself as Ocean's 7-11, a play on the fact that it is a heist movie featuring hillbillies in West Virginia and not professional thieves in Las Vegas. The question remains though, were people clamoring for a redneck Ocean's Eleven? And why would Soderbergh return to moviemaking with such an insidiously frivolous and insipid film that, even giving it every benefit of the doubt, has no artistic purpose to it and is devoid of any greater meaning? I understand that not all movies have to "mean" something, and I readily accept that Logan Lucky is meant to be nothing more than pure entertainment, but that still doesn't explain why it would be Soderbergh's comeback vehicle.

In terms of entertainment and fun, Logan Lucky fails in the most conspicuous way because it contains absolutely zero laughs. The continuing and only punchline in the film are the hillbillies who inhabit it, which makes Logan Lucky feel uncomfortably like a modern day version of Stepin Fetchit set in Appalachia meant to belittle and demean working class White people. Everyone in the movie is a one-dimensional idiot and a walking caricature and if they were a racial or religious minority would undoubtedly be considered extremely offensive. 

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Another huge issue with a heist movie populated with idiotic bumpkins, is that it makes the heist seem totally unbelievable. In the Ocean's Eleven films you had professional thieves concocting elaborate schemes to rob a casino, and those films certainly strain credulity, but they are able to maintain a tenuous grasp upon reality because they have set up the premise of an all-star group of sophisticated con men attempting to pull off the job. In Logan Lucky, the exact opposite occurs, the set-up for the film is that everyone is a moron with "Born to Lose" tattooed in their chests, yet they are somehow able to conceive, coordinate and then pull off this complicated and convoluted heist in the most improbable way. The film suffers from this detachment from any sort of believability also because of its own disgust with the culture and people it portrays. 

The other problem with having a cast of characters that are all nitwits, is that you never connect with them, you only laugh at them. What this does is eliminate any sort of suspense or drama when they are trying to pull off the heist. You don't care if they get caught because you don't care about them. It is impossible for an audience to care about characters when the filmmaker doesn't, and in Logan Lucky, Soderbergh is holding up the rednecks for ridicule, not reflection. 

It doesn't help that uniformly, the cast does a second rate job of acting. The accents are all too big, too showy and hit too hard to be even remotely considered believable. And it seems everyone, with the notable exclusion of Channing Tatum, turns their character into a quirky  eccentric for quirkiness and eccentricities sake. The film is so stuffed with wacky, unreal characters it feels more like an homage to Hee-Haw than Ocean's Eleven.

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Sadly, the film also boasts what may be three of the worst performances I've seen this year. Seth MacFarland, Hillary Swank and Katie Holmes are so bad in this movie it is staggering. MacFarland is so atrocious he should be banned from ever appearing on any screen, anywhere, ever again. Holmes  strains so hard to be her "character", I was afraid she was going to have a stroke. And Hillary Swank makes the unbelievably poor decision to try and imitate Clint Eastwood with her performance as an FBI agent. I am not kidding, she looks like a third-rate Rich Little trying to impersonate Clint, with everything from her voice to her posture mimicking the iconic tough guy. Not surprisingly, it comes off as amateurish, unreal and frankly embarrassing. 

What made the Ocean's Eleven films successful were that they were efficiently made, beautifully shot, and they allowed the audience to feel like they were hanging out with the biggest movie stars in the world. Men got to project themselves onto George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and company, while women got to project themselves with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and company. At their core though, what the Ocean's films really did, was give the celebrity worshiping audience an opportunity to watch good looking famous people have more fun than they ever would, at a party they could watch but weren't invited to enter.

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Why Logan Lucky fails is that, while efficiently, but certainly not exquisitely, made, it gives the audience an opportunity to hang out with people with whom they would never choose to be around. It gives male audience members no one to project themselves onto, and gives female audience members no one to swoon over. At Logan Lucky's most basic level, it is an utter failure. The blame for that rests on Steven Soderbergh, and on screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, who may or may not be a real person, and may be a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself. I can see why Soderbergh would want to hide behind a fake name for churning out the piece of excrement that is this script. 

In the final analysis, unlike say Detroit, which was an awful movie about an important topic, Logan Lucky is a meaningless movie about nothing, so it being as dreadful as it is didn't make me angry, it just made me bored. I had no interest in anyone or anything in this movie. I was daydreaming and even considered leaving, but I figured, if nothing else, I'd sit in the air condition and enjoy the full two hours of cool darkness. That said, even if you are desperately attempting to avoid sun stroke or dehydration, don't do it by sitting through Logan Lucky. I recommend you embrace your heat induced hallucinations rather than waste your time and money sitting through this dead-on-arrival piece of detritus. And even if you stumble across it for free on tv, skip it, life is too short to spend two hours of it watching something as inconsequential and moribund as Steven Soderbergh's latest, and hopefully final, film.
 

©2017