Saturday, February 23, 2008


Well, a mere 29 hours away from the Oscars, I have completed my viewing of the five nominated documentaries. Apparently, I saved the best for last.

Here in New York, War/Dance is playing only at Cinema Village, and only at 11:15 a.m. Sat and Sun, not on the weekdays. I'm pretty sure it's playing at only one theater in L.A. as well. Those of you in middle America (hehe) may have missed your chance to see it, if you even had one. But let me tell you that any effort you put forth to see it (for example, saving it in your Netflix queue) will be well worth it.

Here's my take on the documentaries, in the order I viewed them:

Sicko - Tibetan Food (****1/2)
(note: Don't bother spouting your knee-jerk reactions to Michael Moore here. If you have something substantial to say about his films, fine, but if it's going to be all empty-rhetoric hatred because someone has convinced you he's "inflammatory," the same way they've convinced you that Hillary is "polarizing," then take it elsewhere.) A thoughtful, entertaining, moving, and well-handled film. I laughed, I cried, I gazed fondly at Cuba on the screen. This is a great candidate and actually has a chance to win the Oscar because contrary to popular squawking head propaganda, Michael Moore makes great films and they are well-liked. Sicko was better than I thought it was going to be, and I thought it was going to be great. Amusing and inspiring, it brings a message of peace and unity in addition to the sobering look at health care. I like it for its basic point that the U.S. is not the "greatest/only great nation in the world." In any other year I'd be rooting for it to win.

No End In Sight - Italian Food (***)
Unoriginal in presentation, packed with lots of good information, but it's information that you all should have heard already. You know that bumper sticker I had on my old car, "If you're not outraged you're not paying attention"? Well, I realize that the problem with the Iraq war is that the vast majority have not been paying attention, blinded as they were by 9/11 and the subsequent call-to-warmongering masquerading as patriotism. So I get frustrated by this documentary, which is kind of like a very well-done episode of Frontline or something, because I'm so frustrated that it's being perceived as revelatory. Anyway, it's likely going to win. And I will roll my eyes, thinking 'Too little too late,' but I will not throw things, because 'better late than never,' I suppose.

Taxi to the Dark Side - Mexican Food (*****)
Up until a few hours ago, I was sure I wanted Taxi to the Dark Side to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Now, I don't know. I will be happy if either that or War/Dance wins. Taxi... affected me so strongly that I have found it impossible to compose the blog entry about it, a blog entry I have been meaning to write for almost two weeks, to release the thoughts about the film that are churning around my head. I came home from viewing it and basically started bawling as I tried describing it to Brian. It's about torture. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld policies of torture, to be precise. And in contrast to No End In Sight, this Taxi ride reveals some disturbing new information indeed. The film is framed with the story of a taxi driver in Afghanistan who has the terrible misfortune to be picked up by the U.S. military, imprisoned by them, and eventually murdered by them. But as we know, the military does not stop there, because it continues to torture and murder people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo, and we see it all broken down in this flick. If you're only going to see one film, you should probably make it this one. It's horribly depressing, but we don't deserve any better emotions until we do something -- anything -- to stop this torture policy and practice that continues today.

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience - Thai Food (**)
Ugh. It was pretty well done, if not my style, but it also bothered me on a few levels, as noted in my last post. So all these soldiers, mostly in Iraq, write poems and stories telling about all the horrible things they've had to do/experience/witness over there, and these are read by actors and interspersed with interviews with the soldiers and some authors who've written about war. And the whole thing is done with this sort of handwringing, woe-is-us, what-have-we-got-ourselves into approach, doing its utmost to respect the soldiers and never actually saying "this war sucks" or anything like that. And I think that is a terrible choice. Because one way to stop the war is to stop trying our hardest to tiptoe around it. You watch this film and you watch a bunch of people beating themselves in the head with a hammer saying "God this is really terrible how this hammer feels, let me tell you all about it, because you are back home not getting beaten by this hammer..." and everyone is nodding soberly saying "Oh that's so awful and terrible for them" and I just want to scream "PUT down the bloody hammer, for god's sake!" Ugh.

War/Dance - Mexican Food (*****)
A contented sigh escapes my lips. It was just SO good. As powerful as Taxi to the Dark Side, as illuminating as Sicko, but even more transcendent. And after the four I'd seen, I went to this one ready to be put through the wringer again, and I told Brian I was fully prepared to come home all depressed again (have you noticed he manages to avoid seeing all these? and instead of getting emotionally wrecked he just gets an earful upon my return?) and instead I am not depressed. I was uplifted. It showed us people who had dark horrible things happen to them, and how amazing it is for them to be able to sing and dance and live again after having to go through a kind of death-in-life. It's about children of the war in Uganda, who've had their families abducted and/or killed, some of whom were made to be child soldiers, and it follows this primary school in war-ravaged northern Uganda as they prepare for the national music song and dance competition. It's stunning. It will stick with you. As well it should. It hasn't really received much buzz, but anyone who has seen it has got to consider it a strong contender.

It was not lost on me that a child, who was maybe nine years old and kidnapped and brainwashed and forced to kill someone the rebel "Lord's Resistance Army" wants gone, is not all that different from an eighteen-year-old who is recruited and propagandized and forced to kill someone that the "righteous" "god-fearing" U.S. of A. wants gone.

They're sending soldiers to distant places
Xs and Os on someone's drawing board
like green and plastic, but with human faces,
and they want to tell you it's a merciful sword.

But with all the blood newly dried in the desert
can we not fertilize the land with something else?
There is no nation by God exempted:
lay down your weapons
and love your neighbor as yourself...

We may be looking for our deliverance, but it has already been sent.

--indigo girls, 'our deliverance'

It has been said that I am an "extremist" with some of my political views. I must say I don't mind at all being an anti-war extremist. Who else is an extremist for peace...the Dalai Lama? Gandhi? Jesus? I'm in some pretty good company!

So in keeping with my new cuisine themed star system of rating films, I have decided to bestow a special award -- kind of like Best Picture, but more so -- on the film that best exemplifies all that is right and good and to which I want to return over and over, and which I want to share with everyone. I will call this my Cheese Enchilada Award.

I am proud to say that I hereby give my first (annual?) Cheese Enchilada Award to War/Dance.

Let there be widespread viewing of fabulous documentaries, and let it begin with me.

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