By Tony Sheppard
Directed by Patrick Creadon
What a difference a few weeks makes. I can't decide if this is one of the best or the worst examples of timing: A month ago this might have seemed like one of those "the sky is falling" documentaries and while it's now likely to be better appreciated at a content level, it runs the risk of falling on ears that aren't so much deaf as deafened by adversity. That would be a shame given the severity of the message.
The filmmakers identify and then focus, in turn, on four areas of literal or perceived deficit: The federal budget, individual savings, the balance of trade (with the US dead last in world rankings in 2007), and leadership. Most of the sections begin with questions being asked of generally clueless people in the street – an approach that seems more amusing on the Tonight Show than it is in the context of a movie about catastrophically bad fiscal policy.
But it reminds us that most of us simply don't understand the complexities of the big picture problems and the workings of institutions like the Federal Reserve. That said, the fact remains that the fundamental issues are very simple indeed: You can't consistently spend more than you have, you can't weather a storm without any reserves, and while good credit is useful in a pinch, there comes a time when you have to settle the tab. We seem to get this (to some extent) on a personal level but not on a societal level, perhaps because of a combination of ignorance and a sense of invulnerability as a nation.
By the start of 2009, the national debt will be $10 Trillion and future liabilities will total $56 Trillion – that represents $184,000 for every American. A year ago, 65% of all borrowing in the world undertaken by countries was incurred by the US. By 2030, every single government expenditure apart from debt service, social security, and medicare could be eliminated and we would still run out of money. Maybe, if we're lucky, China will lend us enough money to buy everybody a movie ticket and a bucket of popcorn. Of course they'll probably sell us the buckets too. (Opens Oct 31st)
Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
Directed by Stefan Forbes
Karl Rove described Lee Atwater as "Part myth, part showman, and part political mastermind" and Rove himself has been described as the protégé of Atwater. Those comments alone are likely to determine your position on Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story – another interesting case of timing, sandwiched as it is between the release of Oliver Stone's W., a reflection of the almost farcical nature of presidential politics, and a general election that still has connections to Atwater and his strategies.
The film chronicles Atwater's rise from grade school politics, through questionable state elections, to the Reagan and Bush (1) campaigns, where he worked with both Rove and George W. Bush, to Chairman of the RNC. What's intriguing in watching the movie is the number of people who were either trampled, backstabbed or used by Atwater, including those who worked alongside him, who tell stories about him that cause them to laugh and shrug off the dirty tricks, push polling, leaks, and lies in either reluctant or gleeful recognition of his ability to simply play the game better than those around him.
One of those people is Ed Rollins, Reagan's campaign director and self-described victim: "No one hires people like Lee Atwater to lose. There are no silver or bronze medals in this game – and it's not about how you win, it's about winning." (Opens Oct 31st)
High School Musical 3
Directed by Kenny Ortega
On a lighter note, months after Sex and the City made the small screen to big screen transition, the High School Musical franchise does the same thing with the Wildcats of East High's third outing. The difference (other than the rating!) is that Sex and the City still felt like a TV show being projected onto a larger surface, while the HSM content seems like a natural fit for the bigger format. It's easy to forget that HSM was a surprise hit for Disney, just two years ago, with a cast that's been elevated to teen superstar status by the series rather than the other way around.
Whether one falls into the target demographic for this material or not, it's hard to fault the HSM team's ability to deliver for its audience with high energy performances and frenetic choreography from beginning to end. Sure, the narrative is predictably formulaic but so is most kids' content and the most distracting aspect isn't the sugary sweetness of it all but the way that much of the singing sounds like it's being piped in from a distant studio.
But it is sweet. If one were to extend the Sex and the City comparison, this would be Wholesome Relationships in the Perfectly Sterile High School – not only is it devoid of extortion and gang violence in the cafeteria, there isn't so much as a stray gum wrapper in the hallways. Perhaps this is the perfect movie experience for fans and their parents: The kids can sit dreaming of a chaste Disney romance and the parents can dream of a school district with a Disney-sized budget.