The Reunited States


Susan Bro wants to give the whole world a hug.

(2021) Documentary (Dark Star) David Leaverton, Susan Bro, Mark Gerzon, Erin Leaverton, Steven Olikara, Greg Orman, Jay Hooper, Jeramy Anderson, Orlando Paden, Bear Cadman, Professor Rob Lee, Carri Hicks. Directed by Ben Rekhi

 

One thing both the left and the right can agree on is that our country is deeply divided politically. Never since the Civil War have passions been so inflamed on both sides…or both sides so intractable that they have stopped listening to one another. Regardless of who wins elections, this is a dangerous situation for the future of our country as we sink further and further into an abyss that can only lead to bloodshed.

There are some people who want to change that, and this film – inspired by the non-fiction book by Mark Gerzon, who appears onscreen from time to time to give an overview of the situation – looks at a few of them. We meet Greg Orman, a third party gubernatorial candidate for Kansas in the 2018 elections who fights the uphill battle of convincing people that they aren’t wasting tgheir votes by voting for him; Steven Olikara puts together a coalition of Millennial politicians from both sides of the aisle. David Leaverton, a former Republican operative who had no problem demonizing the left and doing whatever it took to win races, becomes disenchanted with the results of his work and decides to pack up his family in an RV and go to all fifty states and talk to people of both political sides of the argument. Finally, and most poignantly, there’s Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer who was killed protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2016, taking up her daughter’s mantle for racial equality and justice.

There are some heavy emotional moments here, including Erin Leaverton embracing an African-American woman whose skin color contributed to medical professionals disbelieving her situation which led to tragedy, and Susan Bro admitting to David Leaverton that she didn’t want to meet with him at first because she felt that people like him contributed to the rage that led to her daughter’s murder.

An issue I have is somewhat endemic to the movie in general; it has to walk a tight line to begin with as not to become a partisan diatribe itself, so often it leaves  details out about specific policies and beliefs. I understand the tendency, but it seems to me that if we can’t even talk about issues for fear of offending or enraging one side or the other, we’ve already lost the war.

Still, this is a movie that provides something that’s in short supply these days; hope that things can get better. It will take a shift in attitude and perhaps a degree of maturity that our nation has yet to demonstrate in the actions of its cirizens of late, but that doesn’t mean things can’t change. “I don’t know if the reconciliation you’re talking about is even possible,” one interviewee admits on-camera. All I know is that it is completely impossible if we don’t make the attempt.

REASONS TO SEE: Very emotional throughout. A hopeful sign that there are some people working to bridge the gap between the left and the right.
REASONS TO AVOID: Frustratingly thin on concrete etails.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: CNN commentator Van Jones and The View host  Meghan McCain are among the producers of the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Burden
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations


Bullet holes and bibles: a message from God?

(2020) Documentary (Dark StarBill Clinton, Tony Blair, Julianna Margulies (narrator), Fareed Zakairia, Deborah Lipstadt, George F. Will, George Soros, Ben Novak, Viktor Orban, Yair Rosenberg, Brad Orsini, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Eric Ward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Elisar Admon, Luciana Berger, Johnathan Weissman, Ken Livingstone, Rachel Riley, Valerie Braham. Directed by Andrew Goldberg

 

Antisemitism is nothing new. It has been around as long as Judaism has been, or very nearly. After the end of World War II, there was a feeling that now that Nazism was gone, so would be antisemitism. That hasn’t proven to be the case; in fact, antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise over the past few years.

Emmy-winning filmmaker and journalist Andrew Goldberg takes four very different types of antisemitic behavior and tries to explore each one. There is state-sponsored antisemitism, which is going on right now in Hungary where billionaire George Soros has been demonized as a “laughing Jew” trying to overrun Europe (and Hungary in particular) with Muslim refugees. A public smear campaign against Soros in particular and Jews in general is taking place there, which is disturbing to watch; 42% of Hungarians, according to the film, display at least one form of antisemitism.

There is also the sort we see here in America as practiced by the far right, which is an offshoot of neo-Nazism and has led to the tragic mass shootings in synagogues I Pittsburgh and California, as well as numerous defacing of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues with Nazi swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans.

In the UK, the Labour party has been rocked by a move towards what is described as antisemitism; there have been several Jewish politicians, television personalities and journalists who have been subjected to savage antisemitic hate mail. While there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Israeli policies vis a vis the Palestinians, linking Hitler with Zionism as one former London mayor has done, or insisting that Jewish people are loyal to Israel first and the UK second is actually pretty condescending. Are then Lutherans loyal to Germany first, Presbyterians to Scotland first, Episcopalians to England first? Of course not.

Finally, an intense wave of antisemitism has swept through France, largely through the Muslim community. Radical Muslims there have carried out acts of terror against Jewish businesses, including one Kosher market where four people of the Jewish faith were gunned down before Parisian police killed the shooter.

Goldberg has explored this territory before in his TV doc Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence which I haven’t seen. This seems to be a deeper dive into the subject, with lots and lots of interviews, from well-known politicians like Clinton and Blair, journalists like Zakaria and Will, academics like Lipstadt, and survivors of hate crimes. I would have liked a little less hagiography in the UK section; disagreeing with Israeli political policies doesn’t make you an anti-Semite and that’s where the left-leaning Labour party’s issues really began, but they went over the line and you see that happening in left-leaning places here like Berkeley as well.

The movie opens up with police communications that occurred during the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jewish worshipers were murdered by a far-right white supremacist. There is an interview with Valerie Braham, a young woman whose husband died in the kosher market in Paris. She breaks down several times recalling that terrible day, and then matter-of-factly states that she feels she has to hide her and her children’s Jewishness when they go out in public. She is terrified and has every right to be.

Things tend to be cyclical and we’re entering an era of global nationalism. It’s easy to blame Trump for some of these things – and his rhetoric certainly bears some responsibility as far as fanning the flames goes – but this is a global phenomenon, not just an American one and the rise of antisemitism can’t really be laid at the feet of just one man. It is, very sadly, part of who we are as Christians. When we learn to accept those who are different as us as no better and no worse than us, maybe on that day Jews and Muslims and gays and dark-skinned minorities won’t have to live in fear. Until that day comes, it seems only prudent to be cautious.

REASONS TO SEE: Chilling footage of police taking down a white supremacist in Paris, as well as the police band chatter from the Tree of Life massacre. Very intelligent throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit scattershot and lacks context from time to time.
FAMILY VALUES: There is adult material, some of it fairly disturbing.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lipstadt is the woman upon whose experiences Denial was based on. She was played by Rachel Weisz in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews, Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Antisemitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
A Private War

King Cohen: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen


Who loves ya, baby?!?

(2017) Documentary (Dark Star) Larry Cohen, Martin Scorsese, Jon Landis, Yaphet Kotto, Leonard Maltin, J.J. Abrams, Eric Roberts, Tara Reid, Traci Lords, Fred Williamson, Robert Forster, Michael Moriarty, Joe Dante, Rick Baker, Cynthia Costas-Cohen, Mick Garris, Barbara Carrera, F.X. Feeney, Laurene Landon, Daniel Pearl, Eric Bogosian, Janelle Webb, David J. Schow, Megan Gallagher. Directed by Steve Mitchell

Back in the 1970s, B movies in many ways reached their nadir. Guys like Roger Corman, Joe Dante and Melvin van Peebles were cranking out low-budget (or no-budget) horror flicks, exploitation movies of all manner and of course the Blaxploitation films that changed cinema as we know it. Among the icons of that era was Larry Cohen.

Cohen remains active today in films, a career spanning now six decades (he sold his first screenplay at 17 and will turn 77 this summer). He is credited with creating the Blaxploitation genre with Black Caesar (1973) and wrote and directed three of horror’s most revered films: Q (1982), It’s Alive (1974) and The Stuff (1985).

This clips-and-interview documentary has made the rounds of genre film festivals around the world (and other festivals, including our own Florida Film Festival this past April) and is shortly going to get a brief theatrical run before hitting VOD in August. The list of those giving testimony to Cohen’s lasting influence on moviemaking include such luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Jon Landis, Mick Garris and Dante; actors he worked with including Yaphet Kotto, Eric Roberts, Tara Reid, Traci Lords, Fred Williams, Robert Forster, Barbara Carrera,  Eric Bogosian, Laurene Landon and his close friend Michael Moriarty (who appeared in several of Cohen’s films) also appear.

The best part of the movie is Cohen himself. He’s a natural storyteller and his writing process is often unique. Around his house he has bits and pieces of ideas that he is busy turning into screenplays. H is a prolific writer, starting his career in television as one and working for live TV back in the 50s. He also created such shows as Branded and The Invaders. However, despite being the creator of these shows, the producers and studios generally wielded creative control of his own creations. This frustrated him to the point where he determined to make his own films his own way. Without millions of dollars to back him, he made films guerrilla-style, often shooting without permits in the streets of New York, staging certain stunts and then whisking his cast and crew away before the cops could arrive.

He is generally regarded with much affection even among those who are part of the studio system these days; Scorsese praises him as “the last of the maverick generation.” Cohen wasn’t (and isn’t) afraid to step beyond cultural mores and look closely at the darker side of life. While his films often had female nudity and much gore, his female characters were often much more than the standard victim or damsel in distress that most women in genre films were at the time.

One gets some glimpses of the inner Larry. He talks reverently about the great composer Bernard Herrmann (of the iconic Psycho score) and how they became close until his passing. One can see that his death hit the director hard. Those are the moments that elevate a documentary.

If I have any faults with the documentary it’s that it feels a bit hagiographic. In other words, this is more of a puff piece than a hard-hitting documentary but I suppose it doesn’t really have to be. If Cohen is presented without warts, who am I to complain? The man certainly seems nice enough. There may be those, like myself, who are not overly fond of talking head interviews and there are  a whole lot of them here. I grant you that this movie is really aimed primarily at those who are aware of his filmography and have seen many of these movies already. If you’re not that familiar with his work I’d recommend going to see some of his movies before watching this documentary. I think that would be much more edifying.

REASONS TO GO: A fascinating look at grindhouse cinema and one of its greatest auteurs.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie fawns over its subject a little bit too much.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity in the various film clips from Cohen’s career.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cohen grew up in the Bronx and majored in film at City College of New York, graduating in 1963.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Positive Reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Borg/McEnroe