Fahrenheit 11/9

Posted on September 20, 2018 at 3:58 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some disturbing material/images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some graphic and disturbing scenes of military violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 21, 2018

Copyright 2018 Briarcliff Entertainment
Maybe around the time that professional provocateur Michael Moore shows Donald Trump’s voice coming out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth in his latest film, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” you might think he has gone over the top. But Moore would probably tell you that it’s our world that’s gone over the top; he’s just highlighting it so that we can understand what is happening in the midst of a constant barrage of outrage and partisanship.

Fourteen years ago, Moore released “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the title inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, about the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. This film’s title is a reference to another event Moore considers pivotal, the election of Donald Trump in 2016. It begins with dozens of predictions by experts that Hillary Clinton would win the election, and then the stunned reactions when she lost. (Moore himself was one of the very few who predicted a Trump victory.) But he does not spend any time after that on the past. He is not interested in the Mueller investigation or whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He is interested in the indicators of a weakening of our democracy, as, for example, when a survey of Republicans shows that a majority would support delaying the next Presidential election if President Trump says that it is an emergency, and, an even more sobering example, when so many Americans do not vote.

Moore’s 1989 film, Roger & Me was set in his home town of Flint, Michigan, a once-thriving community with lots of good jobs at the local General Motors plants. As the plants closed or replaced workers with non-US workers and robots (unforgettably, the film included footage of a animatronic display with a human worker singing to the robot that replaced him), the community was devastated economically and psychically bereft. The film, now on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, revolutionized documentary storytelling with its arch tone, quirky characters, and wild stunts, like Moore’s efforts to confront then-GM CEO Roger Smith about Flint.

Almost 20 years later, Moore returns to Flint in this film for an even worse disaster. A new governor, a businessman with no previous government experience, ordered that the water supply in Flint be redirected from Lake Huron to the toxic Flint River, according to Moore so that his business friends could build — and make money from — an unnecessary second pipeline. Lead levels spiked, putting the residents, especially the children, at great risk. Even those who have been following this story will be shocked by some of what Moore reveals here, including a nurse who shows the blood lead levels in the children she tested — before she was directed to alter the results to show them at an acceptable level. General Motors complained that the Flint River Water was harming its remaining production facilities, so they were switched back to Lake Huron while the residents were not. There is dispiriting footage of then-President Obama’s visit to Flint, when his efforts to be reassuring (Look! I’m drinking your water!) make him seem out of touch and condescending. Of course there’s a stunt, with Moore trying to see the governor and then spraying Flint water on the Governor’s grass.

But what hits home hardest is a story that had almost no national coverage, without any notice, the Army scheduled training exercises — with no notice to the residents — with shooting and explosions that made it seem that the town was under attack. Moore also points out that the heroic doctor who exposed the crisis is an immigrant who exemplifies the most aspirational American dream of opportunity and service. And he suggests that the lack of attention from politicians, including Obama, led to the poor voter turnout in a state where mere thousands of votes could have swung the election.

He also points to the one person who is ultimately responsible for electing Donald Trump. SPOILER ALERT: pop star and Voice coach Gwen Stefani.

Like all Moore movies, this one is uneven and polemical as well as illuminating, enraging, and — this is the great secret of Moore — ultimately hopeful. He spends time with young candidates of intelligence and integrity. He shows us the West Virginia teacher’s strike. It is deeply stirring to see the teachers, told to go back to work after their union leaders abandoned the school bus drivers and lunch workers, refuse to stop the strike until their fellow school workers were given a raise as well. We see the Parkland kids turn unthinkable tragedy into purposeful action. “We must have done something right,” Moore says, “We raised you.” “No,” one responds immediately. “Social media raised us.”

She may not realize it, but she was raised by Moore as well, with films like this one.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and some disturbing images, including violence and peril.

Family discussion: Who in this film do you admire and why? Is this film a form of journalism?

If you like this, try: Michael Moore’s other films, including “Roger & Me” and “Sicko”

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Capitalism: A Love Story

Posted on March 9, 2010 at 6:24 am

Twenty years after his groundbreaking “Roger & Me,” documentarian-provocateur Michael Moore returns to some of the same themes with “Capitalism: A Love Story,” about the financial meltdown and what it shows about the failures of our financial and political systems. Before “Roger & Me,” about the shut-down of General Motors operations in Flint and other parts of Michigan, documentaries tended to be balanced, straight-forward, and dull, the kind of thing we’d snooze through in Social Studies class. But Moore’s movies are brash, confrontational, opinionated, and fearless. He has taken on guns, insurance companies, and the war in Iraq. Twenty years ago, he predicted General Motors would fail. He predicted that we would find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that health care would become a central political and economic issue. And now he takes on the financial meltdown, and once again he is naming names and pointing fingers.

Like Balzac, Moore believes that behind every great fortune is a crime. And with one percent of the population having more money than the lower 95 percent put together, that feels like a crime, and a very foolish one, because there is not enough money even in that one percent to make up for the collapse of the entire society. Moore’s most telling argument is about the extinguishing of the middle class, and the consequences of losing the crucial foundation of not just our economy but our culture.

Once again, Moore gives us a collage of archival footage, stories of individual heartbreak, and more stories of institutional corruption and callousness. If it is not really a coherent, linear explanation of what went wrong. For that, see I.O.U.S.A. and “American Casino” and listen to the superb series of podcasts from Planet Money. Moore’s facts are about one small group of trees in a very large forest. But his film is a howl of protest, sturdily founded in a clearly authentic moral outrage. In a chilling parallel to “Roger & Me,” there are scenes of foreclosures and evictions that would make a pre-ghosts Scrooge burst into tears. Moore tells us that since that first film, the devastation of his home town of Flint has spread throughout the country. And then, in a goosebump-inducing revelation, we see that foreclosure letters are coming from nowhere else but Flint, in a pathetic and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to find some sustaining enterprise to keep its economy alive.

Moore also uncovers a shocking and apparently pervasive piece of financial engineering. Major companies took out millions of dollars of what they called “dead peasant” insurance policies on their employees without telling them. That means that if these employees died, the companies collected huge life insurance payments. It is one thing to have “key man” policies on the top executives. But companies like WalMart and Ameritech took out policies on the lowest-level employees, especially young, healthy ones, in the hopes that they would outsmart the actuarial tables and make a profit on the death of their employees. Moore even finds a memo apologizing that the death rate was only 72 percent, so the profits were less than anticipated. But, it goes on to say, let’s look on the bright side — there were three suicides and that kept our numbers from being even worse!

Moore devotes too much time on some tangential stories like the privatization of juvenile detention in Wilkes-Barre that led to a kickback scandal. As horrifying as the story is, he is unable to make a compelling case that this kind of corruption is the inevitable consequence of capitalism. Indeed, the same kind of kickbacks have been known to occur in government settings. His portrayal of the bailout as completely driven by unjustified fear is overstated and his recommendation that we all respond by breaking the law is silly and irresponsible.

But when he focuses on the stories of the people most affected by the economic meltdown, he knows how to make us feel their struggles without impinging their dignity. He shows us laid-off workers staging a sit-in to demand their back pay and a family living in a truck who, with a Capra-esque assist from their community, become squatters in what once was their home. Most wrenching is the story of a farm family from Peoria, Illinois, evicted from their home of four decades. When I spoke to Moore at the Washington, D.C. premiere this week, he said he had hired a lawyer at his own expense to get their home back. Moore is frank about grounding his positions in religious faith, taking on those who say that exploitative capitalism is consistent with God’s laws. He not only dubs an old movie to have Jesus endorsing bank deregulation, he consults with the priest who married him and other clergy to talk about whether our current system is immoral, even sinful.

Moore proves to be an able investigative reporter and an archivist, retrieving an old television commercial from Countrywide, the mortgage company at the heart of the subprime crisis, putting it in the context of the payoffs Countrywide gave to legislators and regulators through favorable VIP mortgages and fee waivers, even paperwork waivers, to keep them from paying too much attention to what was going on. And he uncovers some long-lost footage of Franklin Roosevelt, who was more successful in implementing the fundamental rights he fought for in the countries the US helped to rebuild after the war, including our former enemies, than he was at home.

The movie is rated R because of three bad words, or, rather, the same bad word three times. Trust me, teenagers already know this word. And this is a movie they should see, to begin their investigation of what has happened and to help them resolve to make sure it can never happen again. Moore’s film makes no pretense of being balanced, but with the Chamber of Commerce spending $100 million to defeat any effort at regulatory reform under the phony banner of “economic freedom,” in my mind a bigger abuse than the bailout (which was a loan and is already significantly repaid), it helps balance the debate by reminding us what that definition of freedom has brought us.

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Michael Moore on God, Faith, and Capitalism

Posted on September 28, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Tomorrow night, I’ll be interviewing Michael Moore at a premiere screening of his new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It comes 20 years after his “Roger & Me” changed the rules for documentaries in every category. He did not pretend to be balanced; he did not hesitate to be irreverent, even laugh-out-loud funny, and — related to the first two points — he shattered box office records. “Roger & Me” focused on the devastation in Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan, in an economic downturn that seems modest by today’s standards. And Flint shows up again, in a twist that will give the audience goosebumps. Here is Moore on CNN this week. I’ll report on our session on Wednesday.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Michael Moore’s Next Movie

Posted on June 12, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Michael Moore has taken on General Motors, the Bush administration, and insurance companies. What’s next? A very timely film on corporate corruption, due to be released this fall. Since it relates to both of my interests and both of my careers, I am doubly interested.
So I was glad to get a bit of a peek tonight when Moore premiered in select locations a cheeky trailer asking the audience to help out the disadvantaged by giving money to the ushers. Then a line of fresh-faced young people marched in with collection cans and t-shirts that said “Save Our CEOs.” The audience hooted and applauded.
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Moore’s take on the current economic mess should be infuriating and entertaining. I am really looking forward to it.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips
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