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Lasse Hallström's
"A Dog's Purpose"
Opens January 27, 2017


Written by: Cathryn Michon from W. Bruce Cameron’s novel

Starring: Britt Robertson, Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, K.J. Apa, Peggy Lipton, Logan Miller, Bryce Gheisar

Universal Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool

Not only does the movie “A Dog’s Purpose” answer that very question: Lasse Hallström, who directed, is wrestling with another, one that must have been puzzling Hindus and Buddhists for centuries. That is: when a dog dies, a good dog mind you, into what living thing is it reincarnated? To find the answer to the first question, you have to see the picture. The intriguing, albeit not original, answer is revealed near the conclusion. As for the second, the Golden Retriever named Bailey is so good, so really good, that he returns to earth after his demise as…you guessed it. A dog! Remember what “dog” spelled backwards is, and you’ll realize that the highest form of life for a dog that has (temporarily) gone to his Great Reward, is to come back as another, but always a different breed.

The novel of the same name by Bruce Cameron was on the New York Times best-seller list for forty-nine weeks, the novelist presumably happy that this film is directed by Hallström, who has good credentials. He was at the helm for “Hachi,” the heartbreaking, sentimental tale based on a real life of a stray Japanese dog taken in by a college professor who bonded so exquisitely that the dog met his human companion after work daily at a train station and stayed with the man many years after the professor died. “A Dog’s Purpose” is more like a two-hanky fable than “Hachi”’s four-hanky but it sits well on the shelf of pup films at least since my favorite “Lassie Come Home.” (One may wonder whether Hallström was named for the collie.)

The tale of reincarnation focuses on four principal dogs; Bailey, Buddy, Tino and Ellie. After each one dies (the demise occurs offstage), the new incarnations are fully aware of their previous lives despite being of different breeds. The most lovable, Bailey, a golden retriever, is taken in by young Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) who implores his dad to adopt him. Since they live in a rural area,that should have been a no-brainer, though dad’s good will is to be tested later when he becomes a drunk and fights with his wife. Ethan throws the football; Bailey retrieves. Ethan meets cute Hannah (Britt Robertson) at a festival site. They like each other, the dog interferes with their kissing, Ethan gets a full football scholarship to a college in Michigan, but tragedy strikes. When Bailey becomes too old to play and ultimately dies, he is reincarnated into a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, who is later reborn, and then again and again: déjà vu.

Considering that a large dog has a life span or at least eight years and a young dog can have up to fifteen, you would think that forty or more years would have passed from the film’s introduction to the conclusion. As a German Shepherd, Ellie is in the K-9 corps, monitored and trained by Carlos (Juan Ortiz), in one incident doing his duty in chasing down a kidnapper. In any case Bailey, who decades later returns as Buddy and is coincidentally adopted by Ethan (Dennis Quaid), tries mightily to convince his new owner that he still responds to the name Bailey. Happy ending.

Why do people have dogs? Kevin Kline’s character Otto in the 1988 film “A Fish Called Wanda” wondered about dog ownership: “I don’t get it!” The answer could be human loneliness as Carlos, the policeman in the K-9 corps is a widower dining at home alone, the middle-aged Ethan (Dennis Quaid) had split with his girlfriend, and is also alone, while young Ethan is at a loss when his parents continually fight and his drunken father embarrasses him in front of his friends.

All is told from a dog’s point of view, as we watch the human beings from the ground up in many cases. With the help of Josh Gad, who takes on the voices of all the dogs, we are made privy to each dog’s psyche. Each wonders at first what’s going on, though never challenging the fact of reincarnation. Each likes food, which means that in a children’s movie inevitably tables are turned over, adults are tripped, cheeks are licked. This is a delightful interpretation of the novel, perhaps too long for a children’s dramedy, so maybe one of the dogs should have been left on the cutting room floor. One scene that I thought was omitted was the video that went viral of the attempt by the crew to drop a dog into the rapids. Though the German Shepherd did well at rehearsals, we watch as the crew people tried to force the reluctant dog into the water while the American Humane Association monitor must have been asleep. (He was suspended.) The premiere had to be canceled, but in the current incarnation we do see the Shepherd jump merrily into the rapids to save a drowning woman.

The movie was filmed in Winnipeg, Manitoba to evoke the rural scenery.

Rated PG. 100 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


Boo Junfeng's
"Apprentice"
Opens March 3, 2017

Written by: Boo Junfeng

Starring: Fir Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su, Mastura Ahmad, Koh Boon Pin, Nickson Cheng, Crispian Chan, Gerald Chew

Film Movement
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool

Ironically, as America moves to the left, the country votes to the right. Gains have been made in race relations, civil liberties, civil rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights, but the U.S. is the only country in the highly developed West to retain capital punishment, at least in some states. Why so, even though studies have repeatedly stressed that the death penalty does not deter murder? Instead of polling people who, in the comfort of their homes sip bourbon and spout their political opinions, Boo Junfeng, who directs “Apprentice,” polls the individual who could say, “The buck stops here.” That person is the one who springs the trapdoor, pulls the switch, releases the gas, or delivers the deadly injection to the condemned. “Apprentice” focuses on two executioners’ point of view, discovering that both deliver their deadly trade with a measure of doubt.

Boo, whose first feature-length film “Sandcastle” deals with an 18-year-old who learns a secret about his father, shows a director who is still contrasting the older and younger generations with “Apprentice.” Here, young Sergeant Aiman Yusof (Fir Rahman) is learning the ropes from a Singapore prison’s chief hangman, Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su) (“I cannot take credit for the “learning the ropes” wordplay: that’s in the dialogue). Aiman has a generally hostile relationship with his older sister, Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad), accusing her of wanting to marry a man only because the groom-to-be will get her out of Singapore into Australia. He’s a lonely fellow for another reason. His father, whom he never knew, was hanged for a grisly murder, and he looks upon executioner Rahim as a father substitute. Consider it an irony, if you will, but this father substitute also pulled the lever that hanged the young man’s dad, and the assistant, or apprentice, may even be fired for failure to disclose his father’s fate.

But never mind: Rahim, who bonds with Aiman, is impressed enough with the shy man’s demeanor and his assistance with an execution that he appoints Aiman as his assistant, a stepping-stone to a fast-track appointment to replace him.

“Apprentice” is about a fellow who does not say “You’re fired,” but who could theoretically think “you’re dead” as he conducts his job. The bleak, murky prison scenes are filmed in Australia as the subject matter would not please officials in Singapore. The city-state has severe laws for capital offenses, considering drug smuggling to be subject to the death penalty. Recently Singapore executed several foreigners for just that offense, bringing down the condemnation of arguably more civilized countries.

In preparing the film, the crew of “Apprentice” studied the subject for five years, employing Alan Shadrake’s book “Once a Jolly Hangman” as principal print enlightenment. (The book, which has no reviews on Amazon, is for sale for just $598.99 but don’t forget the $3.99 shipping cost. And that’s for a used copy.) You can learn the subject for less than that on the big screen, and what’s more the film seems authentic since it is based largely on an interview with Darshan Singh, who executed up to 18 convicts a day.

I don’t know that this film should be considered a broadside against capital punishment. At least in Adrian Shergold’s British movie “Pierrepont: The Last Hangman,” the title figure Albert Pierrepont had enough doubts about his job that during a long career, he decided that capital punishment does not work and got out of the field. And that’s a guy who put the rope on the necks of Nazi war criminals that should have received an ever worse penal fate.

The atmosphere of “Apprentice” is minimalist, largely dark areas of the prison where Rahim shows kindness to the condemned on their penultimate days, delivering nice clothes for the inmates to wear for the hanging. Aiman, however, has his own view, accusing the chief of a faux kindness offered simply to make the job easier.

The film received an eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes, motivated perhaps by the journalists’ cri de coeur against the death penalty, yet my own impression is that the severity of Singapore’s laws does not have much an input in the movie. You have learn on your own how rigidly that small country interprets crimes like drug smuggling, a crime that in the Philippines these days evokes executions of the criminals by law enforcers right on the street. Benoit Soler is behind the lens of an Arri Alexa but is partly responsible for too literal an impression of the story. For a more melodramatic one, you’d do well to take in Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet.”

Unrated. 96 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


Jamal Joseph's
“Chapter & Verse”
Opens February 3, 2017

Written by: Jamal Joseph, Daniel Beaty

Starring: Daniel Beaty, Loretta Devine, Omari Hardwick, Selenis Levya, Khadim Diop, Gary Perez

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool

Here’s a statistic that’s difficult to believe: one out of three Black males raised in Harlem will wind up in the prison system. The implication from Jamal Joseph, who directed and co-wrote “Chapter & Verse,” is that the problem originates from the lack of male role models, which his film will tacitly prove by saving one fifteen-year-old destined to wind up incarcerated but for the intervention of a strong male figure.

“Chapter & Verse” is a hard-hitting narrative which appeared at a recent Human Rights Festival, one which has no shortage of humorous moments (especially involving a young White couple at a Harlem movie theater) but which is a plea for parents to do whatever they can to save their sons from a life of crime. Daniel Beaty heads the cast as Lance, a sleepy-eyed Black man who has been released from his twelve year sentence after serving eight and is now living in a halfway house under the jurisdiction of his parole officer, Mr. Marcus (Gary Perez). He has been well trained in the penitentiary to fix computers but is unable to land a job in the field to his parole officer’s dismay. Under threat of being sent back to jail, he unwillingly accepts a job delivering to apartments from a food pantry, where he meets cute Miss Maddy (Loretta Devine), a seventy-five-year-old grandmother raising fifteen-year-old Ty (Khadim Diop). Despite her warmth and tough love, she is unable to wrest Ty away from the young toughs who are up to no good, and in addition is suffering from terminal cancer, unwilling to be treated with chemo and radiation.

As Lance makes contact in the hood with Jomo (Omari Hardwick), an ex-convict who is fulfilling his dream of owning his own barber shop, he works under the guidance of his supervisor, Yolanda (Selenis Leyva), whose mind is on more than fried chicken. As a regular around the area of 115th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, he observes the teens showing off their physical prowess in the playground, taking bets on how many pushups and chins they can execute—the audience betting big bucks on the outcomes.

Since “Chapter & Verse” is under the direction of Jamal Joseph, a former Black Panther who is now a film professor at Columbia University, there is reason to see the film as an authentic description of Harlem street life. Though the material is not strikingly new, it should gain plaudits from Daniel Beaty’s first major role, from the performance of Omari Hardwick, who could be my role model having written over 4,000 poems and excelling in football at the University of Georgia, and especially from the wonderful Loretta Devine, heretofore best known as Gloria Mathews in “Waiting to Exhale.”

Rated R. 98 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

 



James Foley's
"Fifty Shades Darker"
Opens February 10, 2017

Written by: Niall Leonard

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Hugh Dancy, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden

Universal Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool

James Foley directs a sequel to the 2015 “Fifty Shades of Grey” that goes over more or less the same soft-core porn territory as the first movie, balancing focused looks at hard bodies with some of the limpest dialogue this side of Harlequin romances. Foley, responsible for several TV episodes of “House of Cards” and of his best movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” is surely making a lot more money with this work but has gone several notches down in artistry. Given the permissiveness of TV these days, there’s not much here in the screenplay by Niall Leonard (aka the husband of the novelist E.L. James, aka Erika Leonard), leaving the credit for whatever is worthy about this sequel to production designer Nelson Coats and costume designers Shay Cunliffe and Karin Nosella. Nor does it hurt that Vancouver’s location to stand in for Seattle is given a tourist-brochure look by John Schwartzman behind the lenses.

Just about anybody in the audience should be able to relate to the tension on exhibit by the two principals—not that most of us had never been courted by billionaires, handsome men, and women who gasp with pleasure at the mere touch by their partners. Boy chases girl, girl chases boy, boy catches girl, a theme that’s universally felt. But we may not have been among these elite people, folks who probably did not vote for Trump. Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) is now working as an assistant to Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the fiction editor of a major Seattle publishing house. She has rid herself of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) whom she met while interviewing him for her outlet. But in her frolics with him, his sadistic temperament overruled his desire to be nice to the shy journalist.

Now Christian acts like a submissive male, begging her at first to come back to him, or at least to have dinner where he promises that they will “only talk.” She agrees provided that there are no contractual obligations. But people don’t change. Poor Christian had witnessed the death of his mother, who overdoes on crack when he was four years ago, and aha: that explains his sadism. Christian buys out the Seattle publishing firm with the goal of eliminating potential competition from the editor—who had the nerve to ask his assistant to join him in New York for a business meeting despite her boyfriend’s refusal to allow such a separation.

“Fifty Shades of Gray” moves ahead like a taxi stalled in Canal Street traffic, an episodic adventure showing off Christian’s latest sex toys. The repetitive porn scenes do nothing but stall the plot but are there to titillate both genders in the audience. Some of the episodes are comic, even intentionally so, such as when during dinner at a posh restaurant, Christian asks Ana to take off her panties. She complies. When they proceed to a crowded elevator, he does what in those circumstances is natural to do with a woman without panties. He then whispers to her: “Don’t come.” Bossy guy.

The posters advertising the movie, notably the huge two in New York’s Times Square area, show Christian adjusting the mask over Ana’s eyes. It was at a masked ball that Ana runs into Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the woman who introduced Christian to S&M when the boy was fifteen and who now resents the new woman in Christian’s life—as does a crazed Leila (Bella Heathcote) who means serious harm to Ana for taking away her man.

What made the first unit of this trilogy so much better than the current version is that everything was then new. The room with the large sex toys, the tentativeness of the journalist who is asked for her permission to try all this new stuff out. But now that we are familiar with the equipment in Christian’s lavish penthouse, the novelty is gone, and the sex scenes are mere repetitions. At least the first time around, we marvel at the ability of the billionaire to encourage his girlfriend to say “yes” to sexual experimentation. At this point Ana, no longer shy and in fact promoted by a circuitous route to fiction editor, is a liberated person. Indulging her boyfriend’s fantasies is merely rote.

Rated R. 115 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


Jordan Peele's
"Get Out"
Opens February 24, 2017

Written by: Jordan Peele

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Erika Alexander, Keith Stanfield

Universal Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool

Phil Ochs, a true leftie, satirized liberals as hypocrites with the 1965 song, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.” Ochs sings, in part:

I love Puerto Ricans and Negroes
As long as they don't move next door
So love me, love me
Love me, I'm a liberal

And I'll send all the money you ask for
But don't ask me to come on along
So love me, love me
Love me, I'm a liberal

It’s easy enough to skewer a racist, particularly nowadays, as it has become unfashionable in reasonably polite circles to parrot the same old tiresome clichés in referring to African-Americans. But what about liberals? Do they get off without rebuke? Just as Phil Ochs points out that people who are left of center will go only so far and no farther—contribute money to civil rights causes but not take part in demonstrations—so does Jordan Peele in his debut directing role. Peele is not nearly as timid as Ochs, though. He is not the sort of screenwriter/director who points out in a most genteel manner that white liberals are “full of it.” In “Get Out” he sees whites as people who are so uncomfortable around blacks that they have to say how much they admire Tiger Woods, or how they would have voted for Obama for a third term, or how Jesse Owens really showed up those Nazis in the 1936 Munich Olympics. Since satire requires exaggeration, Peele goes the distance, indicating that genteel whites may invite blacks to their homes, welcome them to their neighborhoods, smile when their daughters date African-Americans and even feel just dandy if their daughters want to marry these boyfriends. Yet they still feel a sense of ownership somehow that black people, though certainly a lot more than servants, exist largely as an auxiliary to their own privileged, pale skin.

Few films have captured this dimension. Here’s one off the bat; Robert Downey Sr.’s 1969 “Putney Swope,” wherein African-Americans take over the running of an advertising corporation, hire one white guy for diversity, and show how they would change the culture we expect of the Fortune 500.

“Get Out” will be greatly enjoyed by the more educated and more mature folks who come to see it for the satire. It will be at least equally enjoyed by those who like visceral action, who are looking for a psychological thriller that they can feel deep-down on a gut level, one whose buildup leads to a conclusion that could knock them out of their seats. This is because “Get Out,” which gets its title because one of its black characters shouts this out a few times, is the most exciting film of its type in many years.

This is the real thing, readers, involving a blend of talents that capture the suspicion between the races, blithely covered over by false bonhomie. Its direction by Peele (catch his shtick on Key and Peele on youtube) evokes superlative performances from the entire ensemble. The cinematography and special effects are spot-on, particularly in scenes that depict the main performer’s hypnosis. The filming location, Fairhope, Alabama, is just right for illustrating the estate owned by two upper-class professionals. The screenplays toys with us in the audience, throws in some twists that you will not see coming, and ends in the expected bloodshed, filmed with love by Toby Oliver behind the lens, backed up perfectly by Michael Abels’ spooky music.

And where has Daniel Kaluuya been? In the principal role of Chris Washington, he is in virtually every frame, displaying a huge range of expressions and emotions from those of a vaguely uncomfortable guest of the family of his current squeeze Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), to a confused role when he meets some of the “brothers” at a lawn party, and ultimately to full-scale murderous rage when he discovers what the white folks at this party have in store.

To sum up without spoilers: Rose Armitage’s parents, Miss Armitage (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnosis while her husband, Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), performs neurosurgery. They have a couple of black servants (as for why they refuse to hire white servants comes out clearly enough). If 20-something Rose dotes on her parents, so Chris depends on a very special best friend, Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery) in the role of a TSA employee who stands in for the story’s comic relief. He is, how can one put it, funny as all get-out. When Chris goes missing, Rod reports his concern to a trio of detectives who burst out laughing—as you will too. (Note that Shakespeare put comedy into his great tragedy “Hamlet,” but those gravediggers are not half as amusing as Lil Rel Howery).

“Get Out,” then is a race-conscious thriller that veers from a comedy of manners to a visceral thriller, to a conclusion of all-out horror. You probably will not see a better picture of this genre—and remember this is from a debut director!—for the remainder of the year. Nothing quite like it recently.

Rated R. 103 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online




Raoul Peck's
"I Am Not Your Negro"
Opens February 3, 2017

Written by: Raoul Peck, James Baldwin

Starring:: James Baldwin, Samuel L. Jackson (narrator), Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy

Magnolia Pictures

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool


Great changes in societies are often brought about by violent action, the action itself an outgrowth of intellectual manifestoes. If Robespierre was the firebrand of the French Revolution, then Montesquieu would serve as its literary underpinning. Similarly, think Ulysses S. Grant as the leader of the North in the American War Between the States and Harriet Beech Stowe (“the little lady who started the great big war”) as its theoretical justification. George Washington and Tom Paine (fill in the blanks). And now, to reduce a complex issue plaguing America for 400 years to two people, look at Malcolm X as a firebrand of the civil rights movement and James Baldwin as its literary justification. Baldwin’s leading best-seller “The Fire Next Time” in 1963 urged black people to stop aspiring to be just like the whites and to take action to undo the four hundred years of oppression in America. Perhaps Malcolm X, who urged blacks to stop turning the other cheek when jeered and beaten by whites, stands out above all others in his rage against the machine.

Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not a Negro,” is based on the thirty-page manuscript on which Baldwin was working when he died in 1987, now given cinematic life with Samuel L. Jackson’s narration and frequent appearances by Baldwin on such shows as Dick Cavett’s, at a time that blacks were called Negroes. Cavett, then thirty-two years old and in his first year on TV, gently baits his guest, asking “Haven’t Negroes come a long way since the end of slavery and especially reflected through the 1964 Civil Right Act?” Baldwin replies, more or less, that whites may have no idea the extent to which blacks are despised, as witnessed the undue force used by police when arresting “Negroes,” one of the many points that bring this 1987 manuscript right up to the present day and beyond. (In Baldwin’s day there were no iPhones and therefore no way to make so much use of unnecessary brute force by police departments in the North as well as the South.)

James Baldwin, whose dates are 1924-1987, might not necessarily be hounded by the press to appear on talk shows since literary figures chatting on TV today might be as rare as streets in New York named after authors. Haitian born Raoul Peck, whose “Lumumba” seventeen years ago deals with the rise to power and brutal assassination of the now-redeemed leader of the Congo, is now at the helm of a collage of shots going right up to the present, but spends most of his time showing the 20th Century roots of brutality, such as a crowd of white “crackers” laughing at black men who had been lynched by them. Similarly we watch the grins of young white people who show their contempt for blacks who want only to enter schools, the stupid smiles giving away the idea that these oppressors are not enraged but rather are having fun as bullies.

For the lighter side of the movie, we look at Hollywood clips that glorify the white man, such as in the Westerns when the cavalry battled the Indians and an especially violent clip from “The Defiant Ones” in which two prisoners on the run, one black and one white handcuffed together, throw fists around as though they want to kill each other. Baldwin had spent many years of his life in Paris, though we little to nothing of his life there, but expresses the view that he could simply not stay abroad while his brothers and sisters were being beaten. He longed to return to Harlem much like most expats probably miss home despite living the good life in European communities.

Perhaps most important is Baldwin’s rejection of the liberal attitude: that all black need is a patina of civil rights legislation to be accepted in their own country. The author believes that all the legislation in the world could not get whites to see their common humanity with their fellow Americans. This deficiency, he says, is destined to destroy our values, and given the accession of the current President thirty years after Baldwin’s manuscript, we appear once again to be headed in the wrong direction.

Rated PG-13. 93 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online



Barak Goodman's
"Oklahoma City"
Opens February 3, 2017

Written by: Barak Goodman

Starring: Janet Beck, Jim Botting, Bill Buford, Jerry Flowers, Lee Hancock, John Hersley, Jeff Jamar, Daniel Levitas, Lou Michel, Bill Morlin, Kerry Noble, Randy Norfleet, Mark Potok, Bob Ricks, Jennifer Rodgers, Kat Schroeder

American Experience Films

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, New York Cool

There is reason to believe that Barak Goodman, who wrote and directed this documentary about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, was not aware of how relevant his film could be today given the results of the recent presidential election. Filled with the usual array of talking heads, “Oklahoma City” could be taken as an indictment of the five hundred (500!) far-right militias that are making war on our government at a level even more relevant now to the impact that their ideas may have on our newly elected government. Some of the militias like the strangely named alt.-right are supportive of the White House not because they think that the president will advance their cause to the letter but because they never before enjoyed the birth of an administration that tiptoes around rejecting their support.

While after the Second World War the United States considered communist nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to be the ideological enemy to defeat, our country is now more concerned impact of far-right organizations and especially Islamic radicals.

Goodman’s film, while stressing Timothy McVeigh’s virtually one-man show in accumulating the needed materials for a bomb which he detonated on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, spends almost half of its ninety-eight minutes giving the backdrop—not way back to third-party structures like the anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement of 1855 but stretching to the mischief-making of two of McVeigh’s forefathers. One is the Ruby Ridge, Idaho militia run by Randy Weaver, which held a standoff with federal agents in 1992, the Law attacking the compound because of its storage of weaponry to be used against the government. The other, more publicized one, involved the struggle one year later at Mt. Carmel, outskirts of Waco, Texas, the FBI involved in a standoff with David Koresh’s so-called Branch Davidians. (Though David Koresh had doused the compound with fuel, leading to a fiery end to remaining occupants, the government was long charged with going beyond limits in burning the unit down.)

Enter Timothy McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War who was washed out of the Rangers program, returned to civilian life unable to find a job. McVeigh got the public eye at first by selling White Power bumper stickers in Waco, then assembling the fertilizer and other equipment to bomb the Murrah building. His epiphany came from reading the right-wing novel “The Turner Diaries”), written in 1978, a fantasy about blowing up the FBI building in D.C. (The pen is mightier than the sword.) Among the one hundred sixty-eight dead were children, some of whose bodies we see on the screen, their deaths justified by McVeigh as “collateral damage” (not mentioned in the documentary). Showing no emotion at the trial, he went to his death by lethal injection in 2001, three months before the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The doc should have spent more time focusing on McVeigh, citing the two historic events that influenced him and giving attention to any filmed studies of the trial and the defense that McVeigh’s lawyers chose. Since talking heads are arguably the chief reason that documentaries are generally shunned by movie audiences, less time could have been spent listening to the array of interviews, and more celluloid on the damage done in Oklahoma City. Still, given the increase in prestige being enjoyed by the far-right in the West, this film remains essential viewing by an intelligent, politically-minded audience

The U.S. is not the only country to dabble in right-wing politics. Since multi-culturalism is the bane of the extremists, we see their activity reaching a renaissance today in Europe, with France, Germany and Greece potentially on the verge of electing political leaders who might ban non-white, or at any rate, Muslim immigration.

Unrated. 98 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online


 

 

 








 


 

 

 

 

 

 


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