Friday, February 12, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW/Where To Invade Next 
From Abroad, Re-Opening Eyes In America

Michael Moore, in a moment from his latest documentary feature "Where To Invade Next", which opened today in the U.S. and Canada.
 Eleven Foot Pole

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, February 12, 2016

Where has America gone, and why has it gone there?  Can we retrieve America and return it to its rightful place, a place called sanity?  These are some of the most salient questions raised in Michael Moore's latest documentary "Where To Invade Next", which opened today across the United States and Canada after a brief Oscar-qualifying theatrical run last December in New York City and Los Angeles.

"Where To Invade Next" is arguably Michael Moore's best film, providing sobering, heartbreaking and hilarious insights as the filmmaker globetrots to several South American and European countries to learn about their education, criminal justice and healthcare systems.  In his sarcastic and often funny way Mr. Moore tries to rebrand the ideas the other countries he visits have and claim them as those of America.  (The filmmaker asks politely, speaks softly like Teddy Roosevelt while carrying a large American flag as his big stick.)

On his travels Mr. Moore conducts a range of interviews.  Some of his interviewees express looks of disbelief as the director asks questions about healthcare and paid vacation time.  Some express outrage at the closed, narrowed promise of America in relation to how it treats its American Dream seekers.  Mr. Moore gets American viewers to look at the U.S. through overseas eyes, and his (and his "foreign" subjects') message is aimed directly at U.S. moviegoers.  "Where To Invade Next", while sunnier than some of Mr. Moore's previous efforts, is a deeper, more urgent call for Americans to look in the mirror.

This latest film isn't about ridiculing American politicians on the right-wing or ambushing the super-rich and powerful.  "Where To Invade Next" is an impassioned plea to enervate the American mentality to a greater place.  We've fallen far away from the crucible of good ideas America once had, Mr. Moore argues.  He passionately narrates and suggests ways to reclaim those ideas. 

How America lost those ideas and ideals isn't necessarily always fleshed out to great degree but the answer is not only evident in "Where To Invade Next" but more so in all of Mr. Moore's prior films.  "Sicko" and "Capitalism: A Love Story" for example,  are great companions to the director's latest.  In "Capitalism" one of the final lines is, "I refuse to live in a country like this, and I'm not leaving".  This was over six years ago, and, as is seen in "Where To Invade Next", Mr. Moore did leave America, but only to make a precious point about the country he loves.

Mr. Moore is cast in "Where To Invade Next" doing his patriot duty as a populist and opening up American eyes to look to greater heights.  Travelling opens the heart and mind, and Mr. Moore metaphorically activates hearts and awakens deadened pathways of rational thought.  I was transfixed at times, saddened at others - but this is a good thing.  I knew what was coming and yet this film has a deeply affecting tenor that forces you to stop, think and take a long hard look at America.  The film is occasionally uneven in its tone, but you laugh and laugh before the sad denouement arrives.  This rhythm of storytelling is one that has always served Mr. Moore very well. 

The entertainment value Mr. Moore provides along the way belies the tragedy, anger and sorrow of an America that still hasn't reckoned with the enslavement of African-Americans.  As always, what Mr. Moore does - and what his films message so effectively -- bring home powerful emotions and truths.

"Where To Invade Next" is at every turn incisive, compelling cinema.  None can say that Mr. Moore's arguments are assailable.  His overseas interview subjects levy their own bewilderment or outrage at what America has become, and these moments are the film's most effective and damning ones.  Michael Moore clearly and unmistakably loves America, and the currency of his argument never wavers. 

"America - love it or leave it!" has never been this relentless filmmaker's anthem.  Mr. Moore fervently loves his country, and his criticisms of where the United States has fallen far short is quintessential proof of that.  It is important to sit through the end credits of the film -- because it shows that Mr. Moore is far from the only American who believes in chipping away at unholy vestiges of America.

The Michigander filmmaker knows the Michigan town of Flint inside-out and has been an activist for years.  Mr. Moore has condemned the state's governor Rick Snyder for his role in the fatal Flint water crisis, has recently endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.  "Where To Invade Next" could easily serve as a campaign manual, not for Mr. Sanders, but for a country in need of rethinking both its direction and moral and ethical governance. 

This new film proudly and unabashedly stands up for a greater America and the promise that a lost nation desperately needs to rediscover.  "It seems that the American Dream existed everywhere except in America," Mr. Moore narrates, over imagery of Ferguson, Missouri and the unrest and militarized police response.  Mr. Moore's sense of timing, writing and image-making remain crisp, damning and impeccably prescient.  He captures the zeitgeist so well and his film has an agility and style that remains fresh, even though some will feel they've heard this all before.

I don't think Mr. Moore's latest gem is subversive.  It is sad to say, as some have, that "Where To Invade Next" is a subversive film.  Because if daring to say that a film that argues that healthcare, education, women's rights and criminal justice reform in America is needed is subversive or radical, then that in and of itself truly illustrates just how far America has fallen as a nation.

"Where To Invade Next" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity.  There are occasional English subtitles, for moments where Italian and other languages are spoken.  The film's running time is two hours.

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