Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
Those familiar with Michael Moore’s hilarious, razor-sharp, educational, and occasionally sensationalistic approaches when it comes to framing and tackling topics that all Americans should care about are certain to be entertained, fascinated, and maddened by the documentarian’s recent work. This time, however, instead of focusing his critiques on, for example, guns and violence in the United States (“Bowling for Columbine”) or the American health care system (“Sicko”), we are presented an amalgamation of social issues, particularly the choices made by those with power in politics and the media, that led up to the presidency of Donald Trump.
There is plenty to admire in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” but utilizing clips in most effective ways is not one of them. For example, while it is appropriate to draw comparisons between the way Donald Trump addresses his rabid supporters with that of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party, I found it unnecessary, even distracting, to use archival footages of the latter making a speech while dubbing in the former’s voice. It cheapens Moore’s point because the resulting the partnership of image and sound comes across cartoonish, almost like a joke—when the critique is anything but. Another weakness, although to a lesser extent because Moore does it only once, is reminding the viewers of the creepy way Trump sexualizes his daughter Ivanka. I failed to appreciate how this angle is relevant to the film’s thesis.
Yet despite these weaknesses, the documentary is thoroughly eye-opening. It is well-paced, readily able to create a sudden surge of urgency in a matter of seconds, and capable of playing the audience like a piano—especially those not especially informed when it comes to American politics, those who still believe that there is a clear demarcation between Democrats and Republicans. Being aware of these parties’ ties with corporate money, I could see some of Moore’s punchlines coming from a mile away. Still, the film almost plays out like a darkly comic satire, filled with valleys and mountains, of despair and hope.
While there is plenty of entertainment to be had—backed by sound effects designed to dig the dagger a little deeper… and then twisting it—in revisiting the results of 2016’s Election Night, especially in how the mood changed in Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s respective camps as later electoral votes poured in, most captivating to me is the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Many of us have heard of the city’s residents—a large percentage of them being African-Americans, which is no coincidence—not getting clean drinking water. The water was so poisoned with lead that more than ten thousand children had been poisoned by the time of filming. Many of these kids have been permanently damaged—the proof can be found in their genes and will remain in the genes of generations after them.
Moore is an ace documentarian when he is with his people, simply sitting back, asking questions, and allowing the people of Flint, Michigan to speak. There is no need for archival footages, no need for musical cues, no need for humorous dramatizations. Because when a person being poisoned by the water coming out of the faucet or shower head, everybody can empathize and relate with her. Regardless of the viewer’s socioeconomic status, race, or politics, it is only natural to be able to identify with anyone who just wishes to have clean water for his or her community, especially for the children. Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, should be in prison. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
There is plenty to be angry about—this review does not scratch the surface. I could go on about, for instance, how the so-called Democratic Party had blatantly cheated Bernie Sanders of the presidency, but I won’t. I admired Moore for introducing hope in a seemingly hopeless quagmire that is the American politics today: the grassroots movement, regular teenagers and school shooting survivors who organize record-setting national rallies using social media, and everyone else who is willing to take action for the changes he or she wishes to make. Based on the film’s thesis, the real enemy is not Donald Trump, or Rick Snyder, or racist white America. These are echoes, byproducts of American complacency and inaction.
Where to Invade Next (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Say what you will about documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, but there is no denying that he knows how to construct a thesis, gather supporting details of his aims and claims, and tie them all up in such a way that is clear, sharp, and precise. “Where to Invade Next” is humorous and eye-opening, often simultaneously, and it is required viewing for those who genuinely believe that America can and should do better for those who live in it.
Moore goes on a journey west of the United States to “invade” other countries. In a nutshell, he aims to capture how it is like in other nations who have, for example, free healthcare or free university tuition or at least eight weeks paid vacation per year, and “take” these ideas back home so that the U.S. can, hopefully, aspire to become an improved nation. On the surface, the approach is rather tongue-in-cheek but if one were to take a magnifying glass and really look at the issues, one would realize the brilliance of the documentary: it is a savage criticism of the current state of affairs in America, the land of the free.
Each country Moore visits has a specific subject. For instance, a visit in Italy focuses on the many benefits the working people get in a given year. We learn specifics. When a woman is pregnant, businesses are required to give her about five months of paid maternity leave. A group of people we meet get two hours lunch every day and they actually go home and share a meal with their families. During December, people get an extra month of pay—December pay is meant to cover the bills and the extra pay is to help afford a vacation.
Being an American, I watched in complete shock, mouth agape, at the many positive qualities these countries offer. I relished the visit in Finland, the most literate nation in the world, where college tuition is free. Moore interviews some Americans who choose to study there. And then there is France, a country where it provides schoolchildren four-course meals—the kind of meals that would put most American restaurants to shame. And that particular school Moore visits, as it turns out, is actually one of the poorest in the district.
Most affecting are a handful of moments where people from various countries look straight to camera to say what they think of America or give a message that they hope can lead us in the right direction. Three cops in Portugal, a country where drug use has been decriminalized, claim that we should abolish the death penalty because “human dignity is the most important thing in life.” There is no human dignity in capital punishment. The sheer power of their words, and how they deliver it, reverberate throughout the picture especially during an interview with a father in Norway whose son had been murdered by a gunman.
Written, directed, and produced by Michael Moore, “Where to Invade Next” is consistently surprising, funny, ironic, and has a flair for dramatization. But somewhere in the early-middle I found my amusement turning into anger and frustration because I was reminded by the many fundamental factors that are flat-out wrong with America. We have the knowledge and ability to do and become more, so why is it that we are not progressing as fast or as much as we are capable of? One has to wonder if the American Dream is really but a dangling carrot.
Michael Moore Hates America (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★
With “Roger & Me,” “Bowling for Columbine,” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” under his belt, Michael Moore, the director of the aforementioned films, made Michael Wilson angry. As a proud American, Wilson believed that Moore had crossed the line by painting America as a country of negativity, where no one can succeed because opportunities are controlled and held firmly by the rich and the powerful. So Wilson made his own documentary, “Michael Moore Hates America,” and adopted similar techniques that Moore utilized in his own films. What he created was a funny, incisive, and fair evaluation of a man who wouldn’t return his phone calls after many attempts of getting an interview. In a lot of ways, I admired the film for what it did not want to be. While it did provide moments of interviewees censuring Moore for being cynical, hypocritical, and having a proclivity for fear mongering in order to get his points across, the picture wasn’t really about hating the filmmaker. It was about expressing disapproval of Moore’s methods which became clear when Wilson had the golden opportunity to meet the very same people that Moore interacted with in his features and ask specific questions about the accuracy of what made the final cut as opposed to what really happened. Wilson’s work had a point because some of the most powerful scenes in Moore’s repertoire–for example, “Fahrenheit 9/11” involving the bank and the gun–were actively subverted. As someone who enjoyed the initial shock and irony of how easily one could purchase a gun in a bank, I would never see that scene the same way because we learned that the situation was manipulated so heavily to make it appear as though it were really that simple. We had a chance to play detective. Since the overarching theme involved the placement of audience’s trust, I found myself very discerning of those who could be twisting reality just enough to make something dramatic. Or worse, an attempt of somehow getting back at Moore for how unfairly one felt he or she was treated. I enjoyed that the people who were interviewed had different opinions about the filmmaker in question. While some only disapproved of the methods, like Albert Maysles, it was transparent that some of them, like Andrew Breitbart, really hated the man and what he represented. It was amusing to watch because you could feel the anger welling up in some people’s eye sockets as they discussed Moore and his movies. I had to wonder how eloquently they would have expressed themselves if the cameras weren’t on. Lastly, I admired the film because I felt it remained loyal in providing alternatives. For instance, some immigrants were questioned about their sentiment toward America as a whole. As an immigrant, I found that there is truth in their claim that even if we know coming into it that America isn’t perfect, it remains a special place because it gives us certain freedoms that we otherwise will never get in other countries. I thought that perspective was an important addition to the film because it is a message that is absent or marginalized in Moore’s work. The documentary’s title, though controversial, was brilliant because of its irony and marketability. Personally, I love Moore’s work because of his flair for the dramatic. Whenever dramatics enter the equation, however, you get the feeling that something is probably not completely accurate or representative. At least I do. Despite that, I admire that he provokes us to be angry because, like it or not, sometimes provoking someone is the only way you can get a person to care–especially if it involves something important but the person doesn’t think that it is. I don’t believe Michael Moore hates America. I think there are things about America that he dislikes or hates. But doesn’t that apply to just about everyone?
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
When I was younger still living in the Philippines, I had this idea that America was a great place where everyone was happy because everyone had an equal chance to get what they wanted in life. But now that I’m a little older and living in America, I’m beginning to see this country for what it really is: a machine designed to make the rich even richer and the poor even poorer. When I talk to my friends who came from different countries in Europe about how different things are in America, especially about healthcare and education, I can’t help but feel like America is a second-rate nation and that progress (if there is any) is too slow. “Capitalism: A Love Story,” written and directed by Michael Moore, tackled the topic of capitalism and the many components that drives it forward. I’m not going to mention all the points he brought up even though they are indeed very interesting ones, but there were three things from the film that struck me: teenagers being sent to private juvenile facilities for extended amounts time (without any sort of hearing involving extension changes) because they committed so-called crimes that I think were mere inconveniences or just a part of youth, companies buying insurance policies for their workers (without the workers knowing about it) so the companies can get money in the event of their workers’ death, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s touching speech at the end of the documentary which summarized what America should be. What I didn’t like about the film, however, was that sometimes Moore was too enthusiastic about getting his point across to the point where he got too cheesy in terms of using certain movies or television shows. It was all very dramatic but I did not find those elements convincing. In fact, I found them a bit distracting. I thought his strongest points came about when he actually interviewed members of the Congress (with real footages from Congress and the frustrations of various politicians about the current state of the country) and people who are taking a stand for the things they more than deserved (such as payment for the time they put in at their jobs). If those dramatic–sometimes cartoonish–footages were taken out, I think this film would have been more focused than the riveting and insightful “Sicko” (probably my favorite film by Moore to date). I found a lot of reviews discrediting this film for the fact that Moore directed it and everyone assuming that he’s just going to target Republicans. Well, he also showcased Democrats making deals and promises that are, from my perspective, not only dishonest and unethical but ultimately immoral. I say “immoral” because they’re making decisions for the American people and not just for their own private lives. “Capitalism: A Love Story” is an incisive and honest look about some of the (biggest) injustices in America. One may or may not agree with that statement but one cannot deny the current unhappiness of the American people. And what’s sad is that the unhappiness is only growing.