Where to Invade Next

American Problems/American Solutions

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Where to Invade Next

What a surprise. An audience streaming out of a Michael Moore documentary is usually arguing before it gets to the exit door – a sure bet that liberals and conservatives have been re-stoked in their hard core positions. Not this time. At a showing of Where to Invade Next, the audience laughed, sighed in approval, and stood to clap as the credits rolled. What has happened to you, Michael Moore?

In a timely burst of insight, Moore made a list of problems facing America, and because those problems are universal, he decided to visit other countries to see how they deal with them. His list: Italy, to discuss labor. France/ health. Finland/education. Slovenia/quality of life. Germany/work. Portugal/crime. Norway/human dignity. Tunisia/women’s health. Iceland/Women.

It’s easy for us to say that these are smaller countries, that our problems are too big to solve in any definitive way. That’s too facile an answer. The attitudes expressed by the leaders, officials, protestors, and criminals in these countries are rooted in an honest search for solutions. If you feel like raising an eyebrow when human dignity is offered as the basis for a solution to grave problems, at least think of this movie as an invitation to look at how other countries do things. You may be surprised.

It is precisely because of the determination of national leaders to build on such concepts that our own skepticism is suddenly dimmed, if not extinguished. America ranks 29th in the world in education. Listen to the Finns explain how they did it. You say they have a homogenous population? That it can’t be done here? Try to open you mind to their underlying concepts, to those generalizations that we tend to dismiss. The results in Finnish education are not only compelling but deeply appealing.

And then the big surprise. Nearly every one of these countries tells Michael Moore that they built their turnarounds on some version of an American principle. And they wonder why we can do it in our own country in the 21st century. And when one says, “You play more solo,” he hands us the thought that rolls around in our heads for a long time after we leave the theater. Yes, we do play solo, but haven’t we come to the point where we have to devise solutions that will affect many?

If it’s a stretch to say that the strident Michael Moore we all know has become an optimist, it’s a revelation to hear him say “The American dream is alive and well everywhere but America.” Almost everyone he talked to said they have based their new systems on an American idea. So put aside your annoyance at his disheveled appearance, his gimmicky flag plantings, and especially at his past movies that annoyed you. Just ask yourself if we just might be able to steal back our own ideas in working to change our habit of fighting among ourselves. American problems/American solutions.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Title : Where to Invade Next
Word count : 491
Distributor : Dog Eat Dog Films
Running time : 1:59
Rating : R


This review was posted on February 19, 2016, in Documentary.

Merchants of Doubt

Corporations vs Scientists
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Method of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt is a sobering view of American corporate power. This strong documentary begins with an exploration of how the tobacco industry managed to overwhelm science with money for five decades.

One example: when public opinion began to ask the industry to develop a self- extinguishing cigarette to cut down the number of house fires caused by people falling asleep while smoking, the tobacco companies refused and campaigned instead to infuse furniture and clothing with flame retardant chemicals. Small children went to sleep after that in chemically saturated pajamas while their parents soaked up poison as they sat on treated couches.

As late as 1994, tobacco company officers testified under oath before Congress that nicotine is not addictive. At this point, tobacco was killing a half million people each year while corporations spent millions on hired lobbyists to prove tobacco was not the cause.

The film moves on to the now thoroughly politicized issue of climate change. In 1988, climate scientists testified that the cause/effect equation of the greenhouse gas blanket is at the root of the problem. Twenty-seven years later scientists see CO2 as the root cause of the blanket that is enveloping us while corporations insist it is a harmless gas. Sound familiar?

The core of this film lies in live interviews with the lobbyists who admit they cherry pick data in order to build a case for the people who hire them. Most of the lobbyists interviewed are still rooted in the anti-Communist emotion of the Cold War era, often labelling the climate change movement as Socialist/Communist. The debate, the movie holds, has become an entirely political one about corporate fear and hatred of any regulation by the government. And so you have the scientists (who are not a polished group of speakers) vs the Cato Institute whose twisting of scientific data is exposed in a blistering revelation.

One lobbyist admits his stories were manufactured anecdotes that he told in exchange for $240,000. “I wasn’t under oath,” he said. Three corporations funded “Citizens for Fire Safety,” to promote retardant chemicals for clothes. Think tanks were created for the purpose of tailoring data to support a political conclusion. Though scientists have neither the money nor the skill to respond in kind, they attack what they see as the corporate lie.

Former oil company lobbyist Bill O’Keefe, CEO of the George C. Marshall Institute, shapes arguments into weapons for his clients – “We’re fighting regulation in the name of freedom.” Conservatives see the science of global warming as an attack on their way of life, an undermining of the economic system. Scientists see the approaching loss of coastal cities like New York, Tokyo, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Miami.

It took five decades for the public to catch up with the truth that tobacco companies designed their product to be addictive. The scientists’ point: we don’t have fifty years to prove this one, and we’ve already used up twenty-seven.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Merchants of Doubt
Distributor : Sony Pictures Classics
Running Time : 1:36
Word Count : 495
Rating : PG-13


This review was posted on March 29, 2015, in Documentary.