Casino Jack and the United States of Money (+)
This film about Jack Abramoff is one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time.
While attending Brandeis University, Abramoff was chairman of the Massachusetts Alliance of College Republicans, and as an adult, he became one of the country's top lobbyists. Among his clients were Indian tribes trying to gain an advantage over other tribes in obtaining gambling licenses. He swindled those clients, referring to them as being dumb and deserving to lose.
Abramoff also allegedly used to his advantage the former majority leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, as well as others in the U.S. Congress and Senate. In exchange for campaign contributions, they allegedly provided special favors for Abramoff's clients.
In 2006, Abramoff pled guilty to various swindles and felonies, and he is currently serving a four-year sentence in a Maryland prison. I don't believe the four-year sentence was sufficient. However, so many others who commit similar crimes of using members of Congress to their advantage and manipulating Wall Street haven't been punished at all. Why is it that we do so well in apprehending the small-time crooks who steal thousands of dollars but fail to catch and punish the big-time criminals who steal millions and billions of dollars?
I believe you will enjoy this film as much as I did. Each scene packs a wallop, and I was glued to the screen from beginning to end. I saw it at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema located on Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets.
Happiness Runs (-)
There are times when it seems as though Hollywood and independent filmmakers are producing only dreadful pictures. During those periods, I have stated that a particular movie was the worst I had ever seen. Let me tell you, this one is the worst.
You may wonder why I decided to see it. I did so for two reasons. One is that my Bloomberg radio call-in show airs on Friday evenings from 7-8 p.m., so the film I see following that program must begin around 8:30 p.m. Secondly, I depend on The New York Times reviewers to suggest a picture that meets minimum standards.
Stephen Holden of The Times treated this movie about a commune in Vermont involving lots of sex and drugs as a relatively serious work, writing a full-length review about it. He wrote, "This strident expose may gladden the hearts of some anti-'60s conservatives, but it is a shapeless mess steeped in prurience. Its grain of truthfulness, however, is just enough to leave you unsettled in the pit of your stomach."
Films about the lifestyles of hippie communes can be interesting so I decided to it. When I entered the theater just as the curtain rose at 8:20 p.m., I knew I had made a mistake. There were only eight people in the audience. Clearly the people's drummer had mysteriously sounded the alarm. On opening night, this garbage film (unknown to me at the time) had already been dumped. I've been looking for that drummer all my professional movie-critic life and, as of now, I still haven't located him.
This movie is so bad that I'm not even going to cite the names of the actors or the theater where I saw it so as not to further damage reputations. I stayed until the bitter end, as I always do. When the lights went up, there were only four people in the audience. Run from this happiness as though you were running from the plague.
Henry Stern said: "The picture was not good, but it was not that bad. It exposed life in a hippie commune dominated by a guru who slept with a different woman every night. For a picture The Times called 'prurient,' it was remarkably prudish in what it showed, although fetishists on women's breasts may get a small charge. A cousin of mine lived in one of these groups for ten years, ant it was interesting to watch what he may have experienced. It is sad to see what a promiscuous, drug-addled mess some people make of their lives. It is a particular outrage to raise children in such a setting. The movie is not entertaining, but don't blame it for the human misery it describes."
Harry Brown (-)
Sorry to say, this is British junk and a knockoff of other films. Michael Caine plays a tough guy similar to those portrayed by Charles Bronson, but Bronson did it much better, particularly due to better scripts. Caine is a terrific actor, and I especially enjoyed him in the 1966 film "Alfie." At the age of 77, however, he is far to decrepit to play a role where he not only kills much younger guys with guns and bayonets, he physically struggles with them as well.
Harry Brown (Caine) lives in a public housing apartment which in England is called estate housing. Young thugs terrorize the project residents by selling drugs and assaulting people. Harry, a former marine, has suffered the death of a daughter, his wife is ill in the hospital, and his close friend and chess partner, Leonard (David Bradley), has been killed by the thugs. Harry decides to take on the brutes directly.
Harry is one of the people interviewed by Detective Frampton (Emily Mortimer) who is investigating the murders. At that point we're back in the world of television drama, only once again not very well done. Remember Helen Mirren's wonderful portrayal of Detective Superintendent Tennison in the PBS series "Prime Suspect?" Mortimer doesn't come close to matching that performance.
The strong English accents, particularly that of the thugs, made it difficult for me to understand a lot of the dialogue. I like films that contain violence, blood, and lots of action when it all makes sense, but this movie did not. Some of the antics were preposterous. All in all this picture, which I saw at the Angelika Film Center on West Houston Street, was a waste of my time.
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