Bleed Out


Steve Burrows faces an overwhelming situation.

(2018) Documentary (HBO) Stephen Burrows, Judie Burrows, Beth Burrows, Cindy Knueppel, Lynn Laufenberg, Mark Bauer, Susan Darmstadter, Ted Payne, Mike End, Marty Markery, Cindy Payne, Mary Ellis, Charles Harper, Margo Burrows, Catherine Scoon. Directed by Stephen Burrows

 

It is no secret that the American health care system is badly broken. Just how broken may come as a surprise to those who are only aware of statistics. Sometimes, getting to the heart of a problem requires us to look at it from the perspective of a single incident.

Steve Burrows in 2008 had a good career going. A comedian, he also wrote and directed comedy features (Chump Change) as well as acted in them (Spy Hard). He had a close-knit family including his mom Judie, a retired schoolteacher in Wisconsin who traveled the globe in her golden years, as independent and free-spirited a woman as Steve had ever known.

Then he got the call from his sister; his mom had fallen and broken her hip. Surgery was required. Fortunately it would be an old family friend – Mark Bauer – who would be doing the operation. Things seemed to be well in hand, but then they weren’t. The surgery took much longer than expected. While in recovery they were unable to rouse Judie, so she was sent to an intensive care unit. During the night, her blood pressure fell to near-fatal levels.

That’s when the bottom fell out of Steve’s life. First of all, it turned out that Judie was on Plavix, an anti-platelet drug used to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks; it is recommended that patients on Plavix discontinue the use of it at least five days before surgery. Bauer knew that but assured the family that he had performed surgery without the buffer period without any ill effects. In any case, Judie was in serious pain and he wanted to get the surgery done as quickly as possible.

Also, the ICU that Judie was in had no doctors assigned to it. In what can only be deemed a cost-cutting move, the ICU was monitored remotely by a physician in a building near the Milwaukee airport. To make matters worse, it is possible that the camera in Judie’s room had never been turned on. In any case, it was evident that Judie had slipped into a coma. She had lost more than half of her blood during the operation; either at that point or when her blood pressure dropped in the supposedly monitored ICU her brain didn’t get enough oxygen and became damaged. Judie would never be the same person again.

Nobody would take responsibility. The surgeon blamed the anesthesiologist who blamed the hospital who blamed the surgeon. Everyone was pointing a finger. Steve was urged to sue, especially by his Uncle Ted (Payne) whom Steve trusted because his Uncle Ted was a doctor. The advice sent Steve and his family into a quagmire of legal issues, laws stacked against the patient and in favor of insurance companies and hospitals, and against health care professionals who lied through their teeth during sworn depositions.

Judie’s savings, which were to get her through retirement, were blown through in a matter of months. Soon Judie was broke and in need of constant care; Steve and his wife took the brunt of responsibility to see to Judie’s medical needs and steer the lawsuit, although few lawyers wanted to touch it – medical malpractice lawsuits in Wisconsin have been rendered pointless mainly because they are expensive to prosecute and laws putting a cap on how much patients can win makes lawsuits impractical; the plaintiff could win the lawsuit but receive nothing and in fact owe the lawyers a considerable sum afterward. Still, Steve persisted in trying, even though it was impacting his own finances and career.

If you look at Steve’s iMDB page you’ll notice that between 2008 and 2018 there is almost nothing. Yes, he did do some advertising work but for the most part his life was focused on taking care of his mom. His agent ended up dropping him and until this documentary came out, his career was essentially over. Relationships within his family, who watched this saga drag on for a decade, became frayed and in some cases unraveled completely.

Burrows shows the incident from all sides whenever possible, interviewing the various participants as well as experts in the medical insurance business. We get a fairly comprehensive view although his intent – and rightly so – is to give his mom a voice. She is the one who has been most devastated by all of this. Steve has had his own suffering; as he suffers setback after setback, listens to his own mother sob that she wants to die, getting no help from any corner, his sense of humor begins to ebb and the weight of the world is clearly on his shoulders. I don’t know what I would do in his shoes but there would be a lot of tears and yelling.

This is a sobering and depressing film that is nonetheless essential viewing. We often talk about the state of the healthcare system but here it is in al it’s ignominy. People like Judie Burrows, through no fault of their own, are left holding the bag physically and financially, their lives altered in meaningful ways, their future grim. For all the political talk about why single payer healthcare won’t work here, it remains a fact that had Judie resided just a few hundred miles north, she wouldn’t have been bankrupted because she’d have been living in Canada.

Medical errors are the third largest cause of death in the United States to the tune of a quarter of million deaths annually. Think of it as three fully occupied 747s crashing every day. Certainly there’d be more of a hue and cry if that were going on but partly because we tend to hold doctors in such high esteem – and honestly, most are deserving of it – we seem to be willing to allow them to dodge accountability when, as human beings, they mess up.

I don’t think it’s possible to watch this movie without feeling angry – not so much at the doctors, although there is some to spare for the doctor who falsified records and lied about it – but at the insurance companies, the for-profit hospitals and the politicians who protect their interests at the expense of the patients. If you ever wondered if your local representative is looking out for you, this is a movie that will put in stark focus that they are not.

REASONS TO GO: The story is absolutely flabbergasting. Burrows lays out the various facets of the film very succinctly, covering all sorts of different dimensions. Burrows is a likable on-camera presence.
REASONS TO STAY: This cautionary tale may hit a little too close to home for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steve Burrows got his start as a member of Chicago’s famed Second City improv troupe.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bleeding Edge
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Dede

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Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers


Bob Lazar has thoughts none of us can guess at.

(2018) Documentary (The Orchard)  Bob Lazar, Mickey Rourke (narrator), Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell, Mario Santa Cruz, George Knapp, Layne Keek, Phyllis Tucker, Zack Slizewski, Joy White. Directed by Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell

 

For those who believe that there is life on other worlds, the truth is out there. For those who don’t, often there is no out there when it comes to truth. Some are more agnostic about it; the odds favor life developing elsewhere but until an alien spacecraft lands on the White House lawn, it is only theory. Many believe that aliens have already landed here and much of that belief is centered around two places; Roswell, New Mexico and Groom Lake, Nevada – the latter better known as Area 51. It’s not hard to figure out why Roswell is in the picture but why Area 51?

Most people are unaware of Bob Lazar but to those true believers who accept that aliens have visited our plant he is revered. In 1989, his voice disguised and his identity hidden, he “came out” to TV news journalist George Knapp of Las Vegas that he was an engineer working at building “S-4” in the Groom Lake complex tasked with reverse engineering propulsion systems of alien spacecraft. He asserted that the U.S. government is in possession of nine of them, and that there are alien bodies as well (although he only thinks he’s seen one, a claim walked back from his initial interviews in which he claimed he’d seen them). He later followed up that interview with one in which he revealed his identity.

The scientific community initially pooh-poohed his claims and Lazar became something of a pariah in the scientific community; these days he runs an electronics manufacturing firm. However in the thirty years since he made his startling claims he hasn’t changed his story overly much except as noted. Many of his friends and family have supported him, telling anyone who will listen that Bob Lazar isn’t the type of guy to lie. They point out he hasn’t profited a dime from his claims; why commit professional suicide in that case?

Corbell apparently aspires to make this film part of a series of paranormal investigations and in some ways he’s starting off with a bang. Lazar has been notoriously press-shy for more than a decade now, rarely granting interviews. There is some interest here for those who want to learn where some of these UFO theories got started and how they accelerated into the mainstream. It’s truly an interesting story.

Unfortunately, Corbell busies up the documentary with a barrage of images of atomic age archival footage and such that after awhile make the movie seem more like a collage than a film. There is also the psychobabble narration that is mumbled by Mickey Rourke; at times poetic, at times it comes off like comic relief. It’s distracting and unnecessary.

Corbell would have been better off going the “simple is better” route. He has a compelling story and an opportunity to really develop it. However he falls into the trap of not only trying to come off as an artist but also of getting too close to the subject and ends up making a manifesto more than a documentary. There’s nothing wrong with making a film with a point of view, but you have to take your audience into account; true believers may require some corroboration but we hear about FBI raids and assassination attempts with absolutely no evidence. Corbell and Lazar claim that much of Lazar’s past has been systematically erased – his work records at Los Alamos expunged (although he does appear on a phone guide there) and his education at Cal Tech and MIT also gone. The latter claim is a little dicier; none of his professors remember him although a couple of students do. It isn’t enough to make much of a case.

This is definitely a missed opportunity that has more to do with a tyro filmmaker trying to make a splash than it does with the subject matter. Had Corbell dispensed with the pretentious narration and the onslaught of unnecessary images, this would have been a more palatable film. As it is the movie seems to be directed only at true believers and at the end of the day fails to convince anyone who isn’t already of that mindset that the truth indeed may be out there.

REASONS TO GO: There is some really interesting material here.
REASONS TO STAY: There is far too much visual input to the point that the film gets annoying after a little while. Little proof is offered to substantiate anything.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: As of this writing Baker is in pre-production on his second feature film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/26/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inside Area 51: Secrets and Conspiracies
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Bleed Out

Islam and the Future of Tolerance


Sam Harris is looking for peace.

(2018) Documentary (The Orchard) Maajd Nawaz, Sam Harris, Douglas Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Directed by Desh Amila and Jay Shapiro

 

It is a given that it is a bad idea to discuss politics and religion if you want things to be sociable. Harris, a neuroscientist, is an atheist who has become symbolic of the New Atheist movement. Nawaz is a former radical Islamist who after being rescued from an Egyptian jail by Amnesty International has become an outspoken advocate for religious reform within Islam. Initially when they met, a discussion over the possibility of reform within Islam led to a rift between the two men.

Eventually, they decided to talk things out and discovered that they were more like than unalike. While they both have fundamental differences in philosophy, both agree that Islam needs reform, and that the way to do it properly is not through violence but through conversation. The two men had just such a conversation (which fortunately was recorded with excerpts from it played here) which led to them co-authoring a book whose name this documentary has taken as a title and whose subject matter has inspired this film.

Both men are articulate and intelligent; listening to them talk is absolutely fascinating. They are also passionate believers in their ideas, with Harris in particular suggesting a willingness to have his mind changed. Watching this movie is like being privy to a conversation between two intellectual equals who not only have differing points of view, they are both willing to admit the points of view that they share as well. At times the movie gets a little bit talky which might scare some people off (if the subject matter doesn’t to begin with) but I found the movie never got dull. Your opinion may differ on that score.

While the directors use some interesting visual metaphors to what’s happening (like using tightrope walkers to illustrate the difficulty both men faced when they re-convened in 2014) they mostly stick to interview-style tactics to discuss the backgrounds of the two main subjects, particularly when it comes to Nawaz whose background in England going from a fairly happy high school student to a radical Muslim is compelling. He would join the radical Hizb Ut-Tahir group and become an important recruiter to their cause. After 9-11 (he was in Cairo recruiting at the time) he was arrested by the Egyptian police and tortured. It was only through the intervention of Amnesty International that he was released; the fact that it was Westerners who saw to his rescue led to his transformation from radical Islamist to advocate for reform.

The questions raised by the movie are worthy ones and to be honest these are questions we are all going to need to grapple with. The last third of the film both men take aim at liberals who have a tendency to overreact to criticism of Islam by immediately playing the bigotry card. The infamous Real Time With Bill Maher show on which actor Ben Affleck blew a gasket when host Maher and guest Harris referred to Islam as “the mother lode of bad ideas.” He said that the sentiment was “gross and racist,” and at the time I agreed with him.

Watching this though I see what Harris and Maher were trying to get across a little bit more clearly. They are absolutely correct that liberals are becoming more and more entrenched and intolerant in their beliefs that true liberals march in lockstep when it comes to issues of cultural appropriation, sexual politics and other liberal sacred cows. Criticism of bad ideas is at the heart of liberalism and if we can’t do that without someone yelling “cultural insensitivity,” then we have failed. However, words do matter and I can understand why Affleck blew a fuse – going back and watching the clip over again (it’s on HBO Go) the language both Harris and Maher used was inflammatory. That becomes more of an issue when Nawaz argues that strict interpretation of what the Quran says may not necessarily reflect what the intent was of the writer to get across; the language has changed considerably in the interim, as well as the context.

This is fascinating stuff although some may find it dull and overly intellectual. For my part, I think that film should occasionally give our brains an opportunity to be exercised and tackling controversial but relevant questions about explosive subjects is in general a good thing. This is a dynamic if occasionally dry movie that is unafraid to tackle a subject most of us don’t care to think about – but we really should.

REASONS TO GO: The viewer is forced to reexamine their beliefs. This is more of an intellectual film than an emotional one. There are some interesting visual metaphors.
REASONS TO STAY: The film may be a bit too talky for some.
FAMILY VALUES: The thematic content is not suitable for children. There is also some profanity including racial epithets.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Harris and Nawaz met at a dinner following a debate in which Nawaz felt he had his rear handed to him; Harris, admittedly tipsy, asked questions of the obviously hurt Nawaz that led to a non-violent standoff. Four years later, Harris reached out to Nawaz and had a lengthy phone conversation; both men found to their surprise that they had more common ground than they thought.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/19/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Thinking Atheist
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Ben is Back

Family in Transition (Mishpakha BiTrans)


Morning bathroom time can be crowded in the Tzuk household.

(2018) Documentary (Abramorama) Amit/Imit Tzuk, Galit Tzuk, Agam Tzuk, Mimi Tzuk, Yuval Tzuk, Yarden Tzuk, Peleg Tzuk. Directed by Ofir Trainin

 

Even as gay and lesbian rights begun to begrudgingly be acknowledged, transsexuals continue to be seriously discriminated against. In a quasi-theocracy such as Israel, many citizens have a hard time dealing with it even today.

Amit Tzuk and his wife Galit have been together since they were 15. They live in the Northern Israel coastal town of Nahariya near the Jordanian border. It’s a fairly conservative town with a population of about 60,000. They are happy here, they have family here and if they both have their way they will spend the rest of their lives here, raising their four children.

Amit, like most Israeli men, is a veteran of the armed forces (the army in his case) and ran his household in the traditional manner, with the husband being the boss and the wife being submissive to his needs. However, he drops a bombshell when he announces to Galit that he is really a woman trapped in a man’s body and he intends to get gender reassignment surgery.

Galit is extraordinarily supportive through the hormonal treatments, complaining a bit that “as a man, she never cried but now she cries all the time” (welcome to the world of husbands, dear heart). She is his rock during the hormone treatments; she is equally his rock when he has the surgery in Thailand and during the extended and painful recovery process. The children, to their credit, show equal support even though they are bullied at school. The family must endure homophobic slurs hurled at them by passing cyclists from time to time.

The decision of Amit to transition to Imit is difficult on the entire family. A sister of Amit, married to an Orthodox Jew, refuses to speak to the couple or even acknowledge them. Other friends of the family also adopt the same policy. And shortly after the couple return from Thailand, the ramifications of the surgery begin to affect Galit as well.

Trainin elects to adopt a fly on the wall style for the documentary that ends up feeling like a home movie. That’s a compliment, as it gives the story an intimacy that a series of talking heads would not. The story is told sequentially and while it’s hard not to wonder how much the family played to the camera – that’s just human nature – it’s hard not to feel that the emotions you’re seeing aren’t genuine.

There is a radical tonal shift in the final third of the film that I don’t want to get too much in detail to simply not to spoil the film. Suffice to say that it is an emotionally powerful shift, one that enhances the film and contributes a great deal to the overall genuineness of the movie.

Although I have to say that the music that the couple listens to is cringeworthy to this ex-music critic (I’m very much a music snob I’m afraid) as being bland 80s style pop. Not my cup off tea, but that’s just me. Please don’t send Mossad to my home to teach me a lesson in manners.

The thing that I thought was more egregious is that while the documentary is only 70 minutes long which I appreciated, it felt like there were some things skipped particularly in the evolution of the couple’s relationship after the surgery. It doesn’t feel like we’re getting the whole story which is a bit frustrating.

The film looks at daily life in Israel in a place other than Tel Aviv or Jerusalem which is a pleasure. We also get an insight into Israeli views into LGBTQ rights which are evolving but still controversial, just as they are here. I might have liked the filmmakers to be a little less brief and maybe allow the Tzuk family to express their feelings a little more but it’s possible that the family was unwilling to do that. Still this is a fascinating documentary indeed.

REASONS TO GO: This is very much a home movie in the positive sense of the word. There are twists of emotional intensity that are surprising and heartrending.
REASONS TO STAY: At times it feels like there are some elements missing from the story.
FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter is for mature audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers spent two years with the Tzuk family.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Transparent
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Border

Chasing Coral


As water temperatures rise the coral reefs begin to die.

(2017) Documentary (Netflix) Richard Vevers, Zackery Rago, Ruth Gates, Andrew Ackerman, Mark Eakin, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, James Porter, Trevor Mendelow, Jeff Orlowski, Justin Marshall, John “Charlie” Veron, Phil Dustan, Morgan Pratchett, Neil Cantin, Manuel González-Rivero, Joanie Kleypas, Rupert Ormond, Luiz A. Rocha, Sue Wells. Directed by Jeff Orlowski

 

Despite the continued denials of those affiliated with various facets of industry and politics, there is no doubt that the planet is warming up. Warmer air temperatures also lead to warmer sea temperatures as well, despite the continual melting of the polar ice caps. Those warmer seas are having devastating effects on the ecosystems of the ocean.

One demonstrable effect is that the coral reefs are dying. Thriving living organisms that help supply the planet with oxygen and its inhabitants with food, they are losing color in a process called bleaching and turning into barren wastelands like an undersea lunar landscape at a terrifying rate. The largest coral reef on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, lost 22% of its mass in 2016 alone. At current rates – which are likely to accelerate – the coral reefs will be dead in 20 years. All of them.

Richard Vevers, a former advertising executive, was moved enough by the situation to shift his focus into becoming an activist. Orlowski, the documentary filmmaker whose project on the shrinking of glaciers proved a powerful motivation for many who were on the fence about climate change, was enlisted to help document the process of bleaching.

Using innovative time lapse cameras that can survive prolonged exposure to salt water, Orlowski and his team show the sobering process in which living coral ecosystems wither and die in a matter of weeks. One of the developers of the camera, Zack Rago, is a self-described coral nut who became interested – almost obsessed – with coral as a young boy in Colorado, is one of the more entertaining interviewees. His obvious passion and love for the coral shines through and even if at times he’s a bit bro-tastic, there’s no doubting his sincerity.

As grim as the subject matter is however, there is hope – organizations founded by Vevers and legendary marine biologist Charlie Veron (who is a hero of Rago’s) are working to protect and preserve the reefs that are still alive and possibly use coral from those reefs to seed new reefs. However, the continued rise of the ocean’s temperature will need to be halted before the latter an happen and that will mean cutting back severely on the use of fossil fuels.

There are plenty of charts and figures that are used to measure the damage being done, but the most damning and depressing footage is that which shows a reef going from alive and beautiful to dead and barren. Some of the scientists trying to explain what’s happening get a bit jargon-happy which can lead to confusion but at the end of the day this is an essential documentary that everyone who loves their planet – or hopes for their descendants to actually live on it – should see. The sad truth however is that those who truly need to see it probably won’t.

REASONS TO GO: The underwater footage is stunning. The message is terrifying.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scientific explanation was confusing and difficult to follow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film won the audience award for Best Documentary at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 86/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Shiner

Invisible Hands


Many children around the world live lives of hopelessness, despair and hard labor.

(2018) Documentary (First Run) Kailash Satyarthi, Ben Skinner, Siddharth Kara, Anas Arameyaw Anas, Mark Barenberg, Nicholas Kristof, Christian Frutigar, Kwaku Afriyie, Satrio Jaya, Margaret Worth, Geoffrey Crothall, Justin Flores, James Jones, Thomas Arcury, Comfort Aklugu, Sumedha Kailash, Isabel Chang. Directed by Shraysi Tandon

 

When we think of child labor and slavery, we tend to think of them as problems in the distant past. Slavery was eradicated, after all, in virtually every civilized nation on Earth. As for child labor, well, we took care of that at the beginning of the 20th century. Those are both heinous practices that are very much a part of our past but not of our present. I suppose you could be forgiven for thinking that.

But if you did think that, you’d be wrong. Child labor is a global issue, affecting products you consume on a daily basis. Well maybe in the Third World, you might think, but not here in the United States. Yes, here in the United States. A loophole in the existing child labor laws allows the agricultural business to employ children. These children are often exposed to pesticides and other chemicals without any sort of protection, do backbreaking work in the fields, and occasionally die from nicotine poisoning in the tobacco fields of North Carolina, absorbing the nicotine from the plant through their skin because their employers won’t provide them with gloves. If they did, they’d have to admit they were employing minors and a lot of agribusiness is uncomfortable doing that. Smoking isn’t just deadly to smokers as it turns out.

This well-researched documentary goes around the world to find children working in a variety of often dangerous jobs with many of them literally slave labor. They mine cobalt for lithium batteries in Africa and mica for make-up (to make it sparkly) in India. They harvest palm fruit in Indonesia for palm oil (used as a preservative in nearly everything we eat) as well as cocoa in Ghana. They work in factories in China assembling cell phones and weave rugs, make jewelry and embroider in India. Chances are much of what you are wearing right now if it was made outside the United States probably had a kid involved in making it at some point.

Same goes with everything you eat. Nearly all the chocolate devoured in this country comes from plantations that utilize child labor and the supply which comes from Ghana is almost always forced labor. Children are paid less if they are paid at all and they are more likely to be docile and less willing to stand up for themselves than adults. Children don’t form labor unions. Often they are beaten when they don’t meet quotas. They rarely get any sort of schooling, being forced to drop out so that they can work. Those that aren’t working as slaves generally do so because their families are starving and the income is needed to survive. All of this in the name of globalization and corporate profit.

For the most part the documentary is set up as most documentaries are – plenty of talking head interviews, footage both archival and current and graphics showing statistics and numbers. In that sense, Invisible Hands isn’t terribly innovative, although we get to go along on a child trafficking sting near the end which if those who were arrested are convicted could lead to ten years in prison or more.

There are organizations that monitor what’s going on with child labor and slave labor (two of the founders of one are some of the more articulate interviews here) and there’s even a Nobel laureate who goes beyond the courtroom to literally rescue kids from sweatshops in India. Kailash Satyarthi has been beaten and seen colleagues murdered in his crusade to rescue children – during the course of the film we see his team attacked by a mob and barely escaping with their lives.

The willful ignorance of big multinational corporations is also examined. Only Nestle was brave enough to send a representative (Frutigar) who is unaware that children are being exploited for their product – which is ironically aimed at children. Much of the problem is that nobody monitors the supply chain; subcontractors often take shortcuts when taking on contracts, leading to using kids as labor in order to maximize profit. It’s a sick, depressing cycle that revolves endlessly and given the pro-business bent of our current administration, one that is unlikely to be addressed anytime soon.

But there is hope. Rescued kids in India by the group Satyarthi runs are brought to Ashrams where they can slowly become whole again. They are generally reunited with their parents unless it is thought that they would be at risk of being sold again. There are those standing up for kids around the world. We can do it too by insisting that those who make the products we consume be responsible and monitor their supply chains in order to make sure that there are no violations of international and local labor laws. Companies like Pantene, Samsung, Nestle, Hershey, Sony, Cadbury, Maybelline, Kraft, Estee Lauder, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Microsoft and a variety of clothing lines should feel an economic response to make them better corporate citizens rather than just paying lip service. Generally a kick in the wallet is all they’ll ever respond to.

This is a vitally important documentary that should be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Although veteran documentary viewers may grouse a bit at how the information is presented, there is no argument that the information is compelling. Anyone who loves their children will be affected by the sight of miserable children separated from their families toiling in harsh and often dangerous conditions. It’s enough to break even a heart of stone.

REASONS TO GO: The filmmakers did their due diligence. Some of the footage is absolutely horrifying.
REASONS TO STAY: The layout is essentially standard documentary 101.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as disturbing thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature film for Tandon who began her career as a television journalist.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stolen Childhoods
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Upgrade

Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain


Waiting for that cover of Wired.

(2018) Documentary (SingularDTV) Rosario Dawson, Lauri Love, Laura Shin, Imogen Heap, Jamie Dimon, Bill Tai, Tim Draper, Mark Jeffrey, Vinay Gupta, Gary Wright, Spiros Michalaskis, Michael Oved, Steve Mnuchin, John Lyotier, Matthew Green, J. Christopher Giancarlo, Gramatik, Sky Guo, Bettina Warburg, Chris Hayes, Naomi Colvin.  Directed by Alex Winter

 

Even the non-technology oriented will be aware of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Some might even know that Blockchain is the technology behind it, a program that is very nearly impervious to unauthorized alteration and is a nearly foolproof way to record transactions between two parties electronically. It is the basis of how cryptocurrency works.

I had always thought cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin (there are thousands of cryptocurrencies out there currently) were essentially a universal digital currency that could be used for Internet purchases but that’s a bit simplistic. A cryptocurrency uses cryptography – mathematics-based codes – to control financial transactions and also the creation of additional units.

Governments and financial institutions look at cryptocurrencies with wariness and for good reason; by their nature cryptocurrencies are decentralized – not beholden to a specific government or financial institution as normal currency, credit cards and most traditional types of exchange are. A popularization of cryptocurrency could threaten the status quo in ways that would pull the rug out from under those in the corridors of power currently so it isn’t surprising that most billionaires, financial executives and the Secretary of the Treasury have denounced them.

But as Winter points out, Blockchain is far more than cryptocurrencies. Winter travels the world to show how Blockchain facilitates other uses that may be deemed revolutionary. For instance, he looks at how solar power users in Brooklyn can buy and sell excess energy without going through a power company. He also goes to Jordan where UNICEF has founded a super grocery store for refugees that uses eye scans for payment and cryptocurrency as a means of exchange.

Winter is clearly a proponent of the technology but let’s face it – there may be no two subjects on earth that are more boring than technology and finance and this film heavily covers both. I give Winter points for trying to tackle the subject and to make sense of it at least to a degree, but the people interviewed – and there are a lot of them – use a ton of both computer and financial jargon that are not always defined and before too long one’s non-technical head may end up spinning as mine did.

But as hacktivists like Lauri Love, whose fight against extradition from the UK to the United States is also detailed here, will tell you that decentralization is a way to fight corrupt governments and corrupt institutions. It’s not a shock when considering the role banks had in the financial crisis of 2008 that affected so many and ruined so many lives, and that the apparatuses that were in place then that permitted it to happen have never been truly corrected.

I don’t know that cryptocurrency and Blockchain are panaceas to effect real change but they certainly could be. I do know that human greed tends to ruin every good thing and I suspect that will be the eventual fate of Blockchain as well, but as Rosario Dawson intones in her narration, Blockchain will require some sort of regulation in order to survive. Given the current administration in place, one wonders if such regulation would be set up to benefit billionaires as has most of the policy to come out of it has.

REASONS TO GO: At least attempts to bring a very important technology into some sort of layman understanding.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a whole lot of jargon that may cause non-computer geeks to tune out.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Winter is best known as Bill S. Preston in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inside Job
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Bilal: A New Kind of Hero