Pras on WorldFilms: Michael Moore’s WHERE TO INVADE NEXT

Sarcastic, Hilarious, Educational  And As Always, (Almost) Guaranteed To Make You Feel Shitty About The System That Exists In United States. “WHERE TO INVADE NEXT” finds Moore traveling to foreign countries, mainly in Europe, to claim their best civic ideas for America.

Where to Invade NextMichael Moore spent the first decade of the twenty-first century chronicling modern America at its worst: School shootings; a broken healthcare system; a berserk economy built on unregulated greed; and, most controversially, the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. It has been six years since Moore’s last big-screen documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” and violence, injustice, and political cowardice are still everyday staples of American life.

As I walked in at this evening’s screening, I wondered if the new Michael Moore film was an anti-war message, or whether it was an indictment of America’s defense policies.   Michael Moore had taken them on already in the Cannes Palme d’Or winning Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004. He also took on the American healthcare system with his Oscar nominated film Sicko in 2007. He even took on gun violence and America’s obsession with guns back in 2002 with the Oscar & Cannes Palme d’Or winning film Bowling For Columbine.

His groundbreaking film ofcourse was the 1990 film  Roger & Me, a statement on corporate greed targeting General Motors  and how it bankrupted and destroyed his beloved home town of Flint, Michigan, a town in the news again about its suffering a massive drinking water contamination crisis  (the film was now used as subject material for many business school courses, including mine).

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This time around in the new film WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, Michael Moore trains his inimitable style of sarcasm and hilarious storytelling on the American education system, the American penal system, the deep social inequality and how America created a system built on white-washing our past history to showcase itself as the model system of national governance and economic management to the world, all at once. Now in his 60s, Moore has, in fact, transformed into a self-described “crazy optimist.”

To learn what the USA can learn from other nations, this time Michael Moore assumes the role of a self-appointed globetrotting “invader” on behalf of a much-troubled America to see what they have to offer. All that was missing was a cameo appearance by Bernie Sanders.

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Moore visits Italy to learn about how Italian companies allow their workers enjoys vacation days and worker pay that would unimaginable here, yet enjoys higher worker morale, productivity and prosperity that their American counterparts. Interesting visits to Ducati’s factory and interviews assembly line workers, and those at a high-fashion apparel house.

This image provided by Dog Eat Dog Films shows director Michael Moore, left, and Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati, in a scene from his documentary, "Where to Invade Next." The movie opens in U.S. theaters on Feb. 12, 2016. (Dog Eat Dog Films via AP)

This image provided by Dog Eat Dog Films shows director Michael Moore, left, and Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati, in a scene from his documentary, “Where to Invade Next.” The movie opens in U.S. theaters on Feb. 12, 2016. (Dog Eat Dog Films via AP)

In France Moore takes us on a visit to the public school system, the teaching system, the healthier school lunches served in French schools and  best of their no-homework policy.

In Slovenia, where a college education is free, he talks with American students and teachers who left America and moved here. They highlight why this system works better than America’s college system designed to load students with a lifelong burden of debt. He even gets a 45-minute private meeting with Borut Pahor, the sitting President of Slovenia.

In Germany we visit Faber-Castell, the famed maker of specialized pencils and drawing tools for schools and design work. In a digital age where use of paper is fast being replaced by the computer screen, Faber Castell has had its best year ever in productivity and worker morale.

Next we visit Portugal and meet with their head of drugs enforcement agency to understand why the country has the lowest incidence of drug-related offenses in a society that has decriminalized every kind of drug well beyond marijuana.

It’s the prison part of the film that proves to be especially insightful, with Moore learning that most developed countries outside of North America view prison as a means of rehabilitation rather than pure punishment.  Norway becomes his argument about a model penal system works and how its humane treatment of prisoners focus on human dignity and reformation and brings social benefits. He takes us inside two different prisons and chats with prisoners who live like free people, and administrative staff carries no weapons. Dehumanization is something that’s simply not acceptable in places like a Norweigian super-max prison where inmates start their sentence by watching a pop sing-along music video cover of “We Are the World” made by the guards

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As for Tunisia, the country that touched off the Arab Spring, Moore finds democratic passion not only still thriving there but actually achieving worthwhile results. On his only non-European stopover, Moore also takes time to interview a Tunisian activist who cannot understand why Americans know so little about the rest of the world, when the rest of the world knows so much about them. Tunisia where government funded healthcare services for women works better than most advanced countries. It was amazing to observe how women power and public opinion brought down a dictatorship and replaced with a deeply conservative Islamic government which also was forced to give in to changes in its anti-women policies.2where_to_invade_next__2015_1974

Perhaps the most incisive and insightful segment was his visit Iceland where he shows how a country that was almost destroyed by the economic fallout from the 2008 mortgage crisis clawed its way back to health and became prosperous again.We also discover an educational system that not only turned itself around from being one of the worst in the world to being quite possibly the best, but also one that includes such foreign-to-the-U.S. novelties as shorter school days, minimal homework, and no private schools, thus forcing rich and poor to inhabit the same spaces. Its also a country that has served a s a model for women-led politics and business. In feminist Iceland, even more fascinating than the fact that the nation elected one of the world’s first female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, in 1980, is that the one bank that didn’t fall during their recent financial crisis had three women as part of its board of directors, thus leading to a discussion on how having more women in power led to diversity in views and leading to less risky business behaviour.

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Whether it’s serving tasty and nutritious school lunches or offering quality college education for free, these countries have found a way to do something meaningful. There are hilarious shot of the Italian couple’s astonishment when they’re told that Americans have no legally required paid vacation, or a quote from the French chef about how he’s never eaten a hamburger. The results might seem Utopian but in fact are based on practical realities.

Many of the ideas on display here seem relatively easy for the U.S. to implement, as Moore states earlier on, with the catch being that income taxes would have to increase for the wealthy. However, he makes the point that with things like medicare, free tuition, more vacation-time and more, citizens would actually wind-up wasting far less of their income on things that are considered a human right in places like Italy, Norway, France and more.

The final message of the film highlights the irony that most of the ideas he had been searching for Moore’s films have originally been American ideas. All the game-changing notions of other nations, the film notes in a wry postscript, began in the U.S. His big reveal is that Americans used to be much more caring toward one another, and that was reflected in the values we championed and the politics we practiced. How Did We Lose Ourselves? How Do We Get The Magic Back?

Michael Moore’s been among the most lucrative documentaries at the box office. His “Fahrenheit 9/11” earned $119.2 million in 2004; his last film, 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” made $14.4 million.

Pras on WorldFilms: INTERSTELLAR

InterstellarAn online piece written by a friend brought back to life thoughts long filed-away in the recesses of my memory. His mention of a poem written a long time ago by India’s poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore “Ekla Cholo Re” (Walk The Road Alone).

Tagore wrote the poem back in 1905, and went on to win the country’s first ever Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

It is a curious coincidence that I am thinking about this poem now, more than any other day.

This weekend I watched Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus INTERSTELLAR. Being a huge and longtime Chris Nolan fan since I watched his ground-breaking films (MEMENTO, INSOMNIA, THE DARK KNIGHT, INCEPTION, others), it was merely a matter of time that I would show up to watch his latest. (PS: No Spoilers Here !).

Its been a while since I watched a Sci-fi film that wrapped physics and the sheer power of story-telling around a core built on poetic sentiment. Read on.

Nolan has an unconventional style of creating his narrative & visuals in films he directs, or writes or produces. There are always deeper undercurrents flowing beneath the actual story playing out on the surface. Much like the century-old sewers that crisscross deep underneath the City of London where Nolan resides, moving huge volumes of waste totally oblivious to most Londoners living on its solid-surface. He also loves to challenge the audience with a cerebral, non-linear storytelling style, often provoking them to keep up with him.

Interstellar proved no different. But this time he had the advantage of added access to a formidable array of conceptual tools with which to weave all his complexity in the story. At the heart of, the film is a story of pioneers who chose to venture out into the ultimate unknown mankind has ever known – intergalactic space. But this attempt was prompted not by a sense of adventure (as most films would like to depict), but by an urgent need. Earth is close to its last gasps,food is running out, mankind is on the verge of doom.

But Nolan had the use of Time, Space and multiple other dimensions to transport our protagonists through. His non-linear style was made surprisingly easier this time around by the knowledge that theoretical physicists often use the concept of bending space & time around certain galactic objects. Something scientists have known a long time (thanks, Albert Einstein), observed in surrogate forms, but have never ever experienced directly. A group of brave scientists & engineers were being asked to now take a journey into that unknown aided only by a theoretical notion that still has many “holes” by way of proof.

Galactic Pioneers The protagonists were pioneers in every sense of the word. They were stepping into uncharted territory. They were surely scared. They were also terribly conflicted about leaving their closest human connections (family, friends, the familiarity of things around them), and to have to make an uncertain promise that they would ultimately return back to them.

THE SCIENCE OF INTERSTELLAR

Christopher Nolan clearly had a lot to draw from in the area of theoretical physics and astrophysics concepts. Kip Thorne ( a renowned physicist) who was also an adviser on the Interstellar project. One of the main themes in Interstellar is that characters can age at different speeds depending on where they are in the universe.

Interstellar Dimensions In 1912 Einstein predicted that gravity is a product of huge bodies, like Earth, bending space-time. What is even more extraordinary is that space is bending into a different dimension. On Earth the effect is minimal, adding just a few microseconds a day to the time of space. Consequently GPS satellites orbiting the Earth need to be adjusted to take into account that they are moving through time slightly more quickly – 40 microseconds a day – compared to a person with a SatNav on earth.

Bending Space The crew of Interstellar’s Endurance spaceship faced a headache when trying to get to Miller’s planet because it is trapped within the control of the huge black hole Gargantua. To avoid being sucked into the black hole, the spaceship had to be travelling at high speed to escape the huge gravitational and centrifugal forces.

“Wormholes” In Interstellar, the crew overcame the vast distances between galaxies by jumping through a “wormhole”. If you imagine the universe is a flat sheet of paper you could travel between two points by moving in a straight line. However if you bend the paper so that the points touch through it, and then make a hole, you can reach that point much quicker. Essentially, a wormhole is where space and time are being bent so that points are now closer together.But Prof Thorne hastens to add: “I doubt the laws of physics permit traversable wormholes. If they can exist, I doubt very much they can form naturally in the astrophysical universe.

THE POETRY OF INTERSTELLAR

We have come to expect science fiction films to create representations that challenge assumptions we have grown accustomed to living in. In that broader sense, Interstellar is no different. What brought out the core sentiment of Interstellar was really a few lines from a Dylan Thomas poem (see below), that were repeated several times in the film. In a way its also the core of what we know as the “pioneering spirit”.

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Its what led Steve Fosset to attempt the risky balloon-ride across the globe. It inspired Felix Baumgartner to attempt the highest ever jump from a balloon hovering 39-miles up at the edge-of-space. It inspired James Cameron to take that perilous submersible trip 7-miles deep to observe and film the Marianas Trench (the world deepest point in the ocean). It inspired Amelia Earhart to attempt her transatlantic flight back in 1928. It also inspired an intrepid 14-year old Dutch girl Janice Dekker to sail solo around the world in an old unpowered yatch her sailor-dad restored for her. (Her filmed-footage was turned into an amazing documentary MAIDENTRIP). And it keeps people like Richard Branson ticking restlessly with a vision of commercial space travel. Damn the celebrity, full steam ahead.

The poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was published in 1951-52, but couldn’t be more true for these pioneers. Here’s how it goes.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing

Pras on World Films: CHASING ICE

Chasing Ice” documents the melting of glaciers, sometimes at startling speed over a short time, and it links this activity to global warming with an opening montage of flood and drought. It covers the brave and risky attempt by a scientist & photographer named James Balog and his team of researchers on the Extreme Ice Survey. Its also the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Film-maker Jeff Orlowski shares Balog’s smoldering rage at a society that refuses to face the consequences of its actions, and that rage forms the necessary spine of “Chasing Ice.”

In the spring of 2005, National Geographic photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change and a cynic about the nature of academic research. During repeated expeditions to Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana, his team took stop-motion cameras, anchored them in place, and shielded them from violent winter weather. Some were destroyed, and they returned with improved installations, using ingenious methods to match up camera locations in a constantly evolving ice-scape of blinding white. The Extreme Ice Survey has been collecting the results since 2007. The images in this film are mostly three years old, but definitive.

Early on in the film, “An Inconvenient Truth”-style charts show us a millennia-long dance of carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures, rising and falling in lockstep; in the past 50 years, the CO2 soars off the charts. But numbers mean little next to Balog’s photos and Orlowski’s video footage, which between them balance on a fulcrum between beauty and distress.

Within months of a trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.

As the debate polarizes America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face to face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.