Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reel To Reel: 2016 Obama's America

Fahrenheit 2012?

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Dinesh D'Souza
Rated: PG (but could pass for G)
Red Flags: Nothing beyond what you see on TV news, so the PG rating is a mystery

I don't have an equal-time policy for movie reviews. Still, since I reviewed Fahrenheit 911 in 2004, I figured I at least owed it to myself to take on an election-year documentary with a conservative perspective.

First, let me put some transparency on the table. I consider myself an independent, mainly because I dislike both the Republican and Democratic parties. To be sure, I'm not a fan of political parties in general. As I have said before, George Washington didn't like them, didn't think they were good for America. We should've listened to him. If you had to peg me politically, I would call myself a moderate, nearly dead center, but leaning conservative. That's where puts me.

Despite the title, most of conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza's doc devotes itself to an examination of President Obama's beliefs and what formed them. Less than 10 percent of the film is devoted to predictions. D'Souza narrates the movie not as a raving partisan or GOP mouthpiece but as somebody who wants to understand how Barack Obama thinks. His thesis: Obama's ideology comes from his dislike of colonialism, having grown up in Kenya, which threw off British rule, and Hawaii, where some still resent annexation by the United States.

D'Souza journeys -- literally -- through Obama's upbringing and family, traveling around the world to talk to people who knew him, even borrowing the president's own voice from the audiobook version of Dreams From My Father. It's methodical and heartfelt as D'Souza explores the foundations of the president's leanings. D'Souza doesn't stage Michael Moore-style joke sequences. If anything, the doc plays like a political travelogue, where you're walking with D'Souza as he pursues his gnawing curiosities as a conservative intellectual.

Smartly, it doesn't bite on hot-button issues we've heard too much about. The picture quietly dismisses questions about Obama's birth country. It mentions mentors Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, but comes at them from a different perspective. And D'Souza steers clear of divisive ideological foghorns, choosing to interview comparatively quiet conservative intellectuals.

Making a movie like this is challenging from a illustrative perspective. When not taking us to lands far and away, one can only license or borrow so much news footage, show so many shots of Washington, and splice in so many soundbites. D'Souza and co-director John Sullivan make the interesting choice to stage or re-create a few visuals. That's not something we're allowed to do in the news business, but it's not off-limits in documentaries, and the way it's done is mostly tame.

2016 may change a few minds at the ballot box. It may also change a few minds about conservatives in general. As I write this, the picture is doing much better than expected at the box office for a documentary, especially one with no star power behind it. Perhaps it's because it doesn't preach or pound the table. Given the waves of negative ads we're seeing in this presidential campaign, that's refreshing for a lot of people.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Reel To Reel: The Bourne Legacy

Somebody get this man a compounding pharmacy!

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Action violence, language

Universal Pictures thinks there's enough in the tank for a fourth Bourne picture, with or without Matt Damon. It's certainly doable, given the infrastructure created by Robert Ludlum's books. But a Bourne movie without Bourne like a James Bond film without James Bond, or George Lazemby as 007, and we saw how that turned out.

No matter. It turns out the super-secret assassin operation known as Treadstone has churned out several dark operatives, including Aaron Cross (Renner). When we meet him, he's in survival training and on some sort of meds -- this combination of green and blue pills he calls "chems," which do something to enhance his skills. We're never sure what. He's no Jason Bourne, but he's getting there. What he does to a wolf will remind you of what it's like to give a dog heartworm medication.

Halfway around the world, the spook bosses are nervous and cloistered in dimly-lit rooms because they're losing institutional control. People on the outside are talking -- and they can read it in their wiretaps -- about Bourne and Treadstone and all these things that probably aren't legal, much less Constitutional. They decide to shut things down, which in super-spook parlance means killing a lot of people, including Cross.

Out in the snowy abyss, Cross is running low on pills-- excuse me, chems. It turns out they come from this government pharmacological enterprise where one scientist doesn't know what the other is doing. Every so often, Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz) draws blood work on spooks, presumably to examine the effects of said chems. She's unaware of how deep she's in the swamp until an outburst of violence at the lab ultimately leads Cross her way. His bosses are running him down, and he's still looking for pills.

All through the film, we see ghosts of Bourne. He's mentioned here, he's there, they're talking about him on MSNBC. It's almost as if the film wished it had Matt Damon again.

The Bourne Legacy left me scratching my head at how a group of intelligence chiefs could have so much information and yet be so clueless. I kept wondering when somebody in the room full of monitors, computers and phones would speak up and say, "Hey, shouldn't we maybe just lay off this guy for awhile and catch him off guard?" But movie spooks don't think that way. Neither do action movies.