Saturday, February 13, 2016

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT: Michael Moore's most entertaining, funny and moving doc yet

While some critics have found the new documentary WHERE TO INVADE NEXT -- from long-time filmmaker Michael Moore -- to be his most pro-American, certain others seem to loathe it for the very opposite reason. In a sense it's both pro and con because it finds much fault with the way America is run today, even as it goes country-hopping from continent to continent to discover ways in which each new place we visit provides much more productive living than what we have here. And yet, time after time, the people in those countries who are interviewed by Mr. Moore tell him that the ideas they have put into practice to make their habitat better originally came from America.

Moore, shown above, at right and below, takes off from the rather silly, as-if premise that he has been called in by the three branches of America's military in order to pick his brain as to why our country has lost every war it has been involved in, starting back in the 1960s with the Vietnam conflict onward to today's misadventures in the middle east. So off our our intrepid fellow goes in search of answers, to at least nine different countries around the globe.

Much of what he learns may be already known to those who follow other countries and cultures. Yet, as brought together here under this single "fact-finding" mission, the evidence of how and why America could be a much better -- kinder, healthier, more productive -- place for its citizens to live and work seems near indisputable.

In Italy, we discover the workplace -- shorter hours, more vacation and lunch time  -- while France offers up a school cafeteria to make your mouth water. Finland's extraordinary education of its youth and Slovenia's free college education (for foreigners, too!)  are something to discover and consider.

In Germany we not only visit an exemplary pencil factory, but we see how a country has helped its citizens come to grips with their country's fraught past -- Nazis and The Holocaust -- and healthily move beyond this. The way that Moore compares this to our own country's history of Indian genocide and Black slavery, as well as our paltry and tardy attempts to come to terms with all this provide the film with some of its finest, and most moving scenes.

How a country has all but exterminated its drug problems is viewed via Portugal, and again, the comparisons we see are telling indeed. Ditto the prison system in Norway, including an interview with the father of one of the many students murdered in that awful island massacre of a few years back.

Most surprising, for me at least, is the visit to Tunisia, a Muslim nation boasting free, government-funded women's health clinics and abortions, where a male official explains that "Prayer comes before power. So does avoiding conflict and bloodshed." Imagine: Conservative Islamists allowing personal choice by women. Bill Maher desperately needs to see this film.

Many of us were surprised some years back at the smart and efficient manner in which Iceland handled its economic meltdown. We visit all this again and talk to a number of women who helped and guided that little country through its travails. Here, Moore gets, well, feminist, and how he does it is inspiring and moving. "Where might have been were that company titled Lehman Sisters" one person wonders. Declares another, a propos the behavior of the banks and Wall Streeters: "Anyone who has kids will know this. If the kids get away with their crimes, they will do it all again." Amen.

What makes the movie so enjoyable is Moore's consistent sense of humor and irony at what he sees abroad and what goes on here in America. His movie is a lot of fun but every bit as serious and important because of that humor and irony. Sure, the filmmaker leaves out the fact that Italy is in a lot of financial trouble and that business there is more often dependent on "connections" rather than on abilities. But that does not mean that the country's treatment of its workers is somehow wrong.

The points Moore raises here are valid and secure. America could be one hell of a lot better country for its people, rather than for those corporations and that one per cent. Which is why Bernie Sanders' popularity continues to grow. America may also be simply too big and sprawling and diffuse to govern properly. But if its populace ever wakes up to what it needs, rather than what it imagines it wants, who know what might occur?

Meanwhile, Where to Invade Next opened up yesterday in theaters all across the country. See it, argue, and discuss. But miss it at your peril. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. Here in South Florida, it has opened in Miami, Miami Beach, Davie, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach. Check that listing for specific theaters.

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