ACTIVE MEASURES – movie review

ACTIVE MEASURES

Super Ltd
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jack Bryan
Screenwriter: Jack Bryan, Marley Clements
Cast: John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Michael McFaul, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Hall, Michael Isikoff, John Podesta, Jeremy Bash, James Woolsey, Evan McMullin
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 8/9/18
Opens: August 31, 2018

 

In the concluding scene of Spike Lee’s terrific new movie “BLACKkKLANSMAN,” the director shows an extended close-up of the American flag, upside down, the sign of distress. Anyone who doesn’t get all the news from Sean Hannity must realize, just as Spike Lee does, that the U.S. is underdoing serious problems: forget about the temporary successes like full employment (largely with crap wages) and a booming stock market (why not tax corporations 0%, and then watch a real boom)! Jack Bryan, whose previous ventures includes “Life After Dark: The Story of Siberia Bar,” about the demise of New York’s most dangerous bar and not about Siberia at all, this time targets both our own President and the man who rules Siberia, among other areas of that country, Vladimir Putin. Bryan, whose final scene is a large, simple sign stating “Resist,” is not calling upon moviegoers to resist the tactics of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and former Russian ambassador Michael McFaul, but rather to push back against the corruption in our present administration, which has already seen a record of number of high level government employees fired or turning in their resignations. If the head of Human Resources in any major corporation hired people who left their jobs by the hundreds, that department leader would be gone soon enough.

Still, despite the plethora of talking heads to afford us layer after layer or information about our current dangerous administration, Bryan focuses on one issue to avoid diluting his screed against President Trump. And that is his belief (and that of any thinking person) that Trump is Putin’s poodle. People who go to this film will already have a good idea of what “Active Measures” covers from watching the un-Fox news channels, especially CNN and MSNBC (with a special gold star for the Rachel Maddow Show), but here we have archival films showing Putin to be a dangerous man and, by extension, any person in thrall to the former Soviet KGB officer must be a threat to our country a well.

Putin is a fellow who, like many of his countrymen, is furious about the break-up of the Soviet Empire, the surrounding of his country by former satellite nations like Ukraine who are NATO members. He desires to restore the bad old days of Soviet imperialism. Letting nothing get in his way of the dream of empire, he has already invaded Georgia, Ukraine, and annexed Crimea to his land. He is suspected of ordering assassinations of his chief critics whether in Russia or outside. And here is the key point: he has been manipulating American elections not only since the Trump campaign of 2016 but of our internal matters for decades earlier, with hundreds of spies still living in our great republic, some right in Manhattan’s Trump Tower. This brazen attempt to influence our politics is what the Russians call “active measures.”

With a script that Bryan wrote along with Marley Clements (in the latter’s freshman entry into the script-writing pool), we get the impression that outside of Trump himself, the baddest guy is Paul Manafort, now on trial for tax evasion and money laundering, while giving air time to a number of Russian oligarchs, principally the people who took advantage of the restoration of public business to the private sector and who came out millionaires from bargain prices. Putin used social media, Facebook in particular and, like Trump. also Twitter, to spread false stories to politically naïve and less informed Americans, with such fake news as the absurdity that Hillary was connected to a child pornography ring out of a pizzeria. We don’t know whether the Russian interference put Trump over the top, although not in popular votes, but it didn’t hurt. Nor should a sovereign nation like ours tolerate interference in what should be a sacred annual rite of going to the polls. And we certainly should not have to put with a president who disrespects Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while glorifying Vladimir Putin.

Bryan’s most powerful point is this: what is our chief executive doing sucking up to an adversarial country’s leader, suggesting, as many of us have heard, that Putin has something big against Trump which he is using for blackmail? The film is well researched, the most comprehensive look to date at Putin-gate compressed into just 112 minutes, with an impressive array of not only major political figures but also the scenic backgrounds of important meetings like the G20. If Trump is really committing high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of impeachment and removal, why is he still in office when Nixon was chased out, even by fellow Republicans, for doing not even one-quarter of these activities?

Unrated. 112 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

AMERICAN CHAOS – movie review

AMERICAN CHAOS

Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  James D. Stern
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 8/23/18
Opens: September 20, 2018
American Chaos Movie Poster
With an introductory remark that “you can’t know another person unless you get into his skin,” James D. Stern takes off on a road trip to what some snobs call flyover country—West Virginia and Arizona—but with stops as well in Miami and Cleveland, the latter being the site of the Republic National Convention in 2016 that certified Donald Trump as nominee for President.  He may not have literally gotten into the skin of Trump supporters, but by playing himself as neutral, he is able to elicit considerable talk from a variety of people in much the way that Claude Lanzmann in “Shoah” in 1985 allowed his subjects to say what they would otherwise keep to themselves if they thought the interviewer were biased against them.

Stern, who lives and breathes politics (his “So Goes the Nation” explored the folks in the Buckeye state before the 2004 presidential election), has an awesome array of 59 production credits, and is in his métier as a friendly but seemingly impartial interviewer.  His subjects are almost all Trump supporters though he occasionally tosses in some comments by Democrats, perhaps to give viewers the feeling that America is not all that chaotic, that there are people who, like one scientist, says that yes, we are undergoing climate change which could prove more dangerous to the earth if steps are not taken quickly.

Except for some moments in the epilogue, Stern deals only with the months before the November 2016 election when people had to get their impression of Trump from what he says rather than what he does, which makes absolutely essential a sequel to discover whether their views have changed, though we already know from the pundits that few Trump supporters have left the fold.

So, what’s wrong with Kansas?  In fact, what’s the secret of Trump’s success across most of the red midlands of our great nation?  The responses are from people who vote for the Republican party—or, if you prefer the language of ex-House speaker John Boehner, the Trump party.  Their views are not unexpected by anyone who has followed politics, whether via Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the NY Times, the Washington Post and the progressive newspaper, The Arizona Republic.

One subject has an analogy: you don’t want strangers in your home, people you know nothing about, do you?  When we tolerate illegal immigration, we are faced by this dilemma, and in fact, one woman who lives 25 miles from the Mexican border notes (without even winking at the interviewer) that Mexicans sneak across, rape the women, and hang up their underwear as though claiming a victory of sorts.  Thus, she concludes, we must rigorously maintain the power of the Second Amendment—never mind that the Founding Fathers put that into the Constitution soon after colonists were involved in a long war with Britain.

Another respondent argues that previously foreigners have assimilated into the American culture, but not so much now.  They had always kept their ways, perhaps preparing arroz con pollo or imam bayeldi at home, but they will enjoy hot dogs on every Fourth of July. Yet another subject appreciates that the President says what’s on his mind: not like the big bad Democrats who keep their real feelings secretive.  As for climate change, nah: Mother Earth will take care of her own.  Coal miners in West Virginia take Trump seriously when Potus promised to bring back their jobs; never mind that other sources of energy are cleaner and that even if the mines were re-opened, automation would put most West Virginians out of work.

A few state that Trump’s billions do not alienate him from the working class: “He has billions and he can help us become successful.”  As for Hillary Clinton, while at least one subject suggests that she has committed treason “and the penalty for treason is death,” others simply hate her, believing that all she cares about are money and power (unlike Trump, presumably).

Surprisingly the issues of abortion and gay rights are not mentioned at all, giving viewers the impression that they are minor considerations that do not concern them one way or another.  However it must be pointed out that Stern does not interview many evangelicals but rather salt-of-the-earth people who worry only about jobs and immigration and resent people who are given welfare though they do not contribute to society.

Throughout, director Stern does not fade back as the invisible interviewer but appears in every scene, sometimes rolling his eyes for our benefit, sometimes seeming on the verge of tears.  He never lets on, though, that he is anything but a blank slate, a neutral observer.

Behind the lens, Kevin Ford captures sides of the American topography that are only casually known by urban dwellers, while Rose Corr and Kevin Ford at the editing machines keep the film moving at a brisk pace.  A rapid-fire introduction to the movie hones in on previous presidential campaigns, as far back at Teddy Roosevelt’s and with celluloid given to Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, JFK, Barack Obama and Trump.  Though people who follow politics may find nothing new in the commentary, James Stern allows us to get at least hints of the over-all personalities of the subjects.  Democrats in the audience might be expected to guffaw at some of (what they consider) unsophisticated, xenophobic and outlandish comments such as the bit about Hillary’s being guilty of treason.  Audience members on the right will doubtless be motivated to don their red baseball caps and continue to see that America is being made great again.  Sequel! Sequel! Sequel!

Rated R.  90 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – A-