Movie Reviews: Children of Invention, Mother, The Art of the Steal 

Also, Green Zone, Remember Me, She’s Out of My League and more

Thursday, Mar 11 2010

AMERICAN RADICAL: THE TRIALS OF NORMAN FINKELSTEIN Noam Chomsky reveres him. Leon Wieseltier hates him. Alan Dershowitz called him an anti-Semite and applied successful pressure to deny him tenure at DePaul University. All of this will give you a rough idea of where political scientist Norman Finkelstein stands on the political spectrum, though "American radical" may be a misnomer for an intellectual whose life has been forcefully shaped by a mother whose concentration-camp experience turned her into a fiery booster for every available underdog. Directors David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier mean to redress calumnies heaped on Finkelstein, author of the book The Holocaust Industry, which accuses Israel (whose existence he supports) and its Diaspora Jewish supporters of playing the Holocaust-victim card in order to divert attention from the oppression of Palestinians. Finkelstein is partly right, but American Radical shows — albeit with great reluctance — how a formidable intellect partnered with an absolutist disposition can get you absolutely nowhere. With the eyes of a suffering fanatic, Finkelstein calls Jewish preoccupation with the Holocaust "an extortion racket" and announces to a delighted audience of Arab students that "it was a good thing Hezbollah delivered a huge defeat to Israel" in 2006. It never seems to occur to this born martyr that his overkill might lose him the support of Israeli peaceniks like Yoav Shamir, whose 2009 documentary, Defamation, shows sympathy for Finkelstein, until Shamir catches him on camera summing up Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman with a Nazi salute. (Ella Taylor) (Music Hall)

GO  THE ART OF THE STEAL Matisse called the Barnes Foundation "the only sane place to see art in America." But the clamor over moving one of the world's foremost collections of impressionist, postimpressionist and modern art from its small, intimate home in the bucolic suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania, to center city Philadelphia (4.6 miles away) has been anything but reasonable. Unapologetically on the side of those who oppose the relocation (executive producer Lenny Feinberg is, like many of the doc's impassioned interlocutors, a former student of the Barnes Foundation), The Art of the Steal presents its aesthetes versus Phila-stines argument cogently and engagingly. Director-cinematographer Don Argott digs deep to recount the struggle for control of this legendary institution, founded by cranky, liberal physician Albert C. Barnes in 1922 solely for educational purposes. The film makes clear that arguments about the foundation's inaccessibility in Merion are disingenuous at best — that moving the collection to the city represents the triumph of money and power not just over the express wishes of one man, but the public's opportunity to have a singular experience with an astonishing array of art in its original setting. The Art of the Steal's thorough research makes it one of the most successful advocacy docs in recent years and may prompt some firsthand investigating of your own. (Melissa Anderson) (The Landmark, Sunset 5, Town Center, Playhouse 7)

GO  CHILDREN OF INVENTION The young director Tze Chun is not a flashy filmmaker, but he understands the vulnerability of immigrant workers in the sleazy sub-rosa economies of a floundering 21st-century America. Tze has lived that life, and observes it with acuity in this straightforward tale of Raymond and Tina (played by the enchantingly solemn Michael Chen and Crystal Chiu), two Asian children trying to look after themselves while their single mother (Cindy Cheung) becomes embroiled in an illegal Boston pyramid scheme that leaves the undocumented family equally exposed to exploitation by some who mean well — and others who don't. Children of Invention was edited (on her living-room floor) by Anna Boden, co-director with Ryan Fleck of Half Nelson and Sugar, and Tze's movie is infused with the same quality of (mostly) unsentimental mercy, and the same sensitivity to the way in which being placed at risk without basic rights invariably breeds more and more risk. In the children's creative response to their apparent abandonment we see — only a little wistfully — the capacity of kids to fashion a viable world out of the materials available, as well as a rueful homage to American dreams both wonderful and warped. As a bonus, there's no spurious uplift. (Ella Taylor) (Downtown Independent)

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GO  GREEN ZONE Better late than never — a bang-bang pulse-pounder predicated on the Bush administration's deliberate fabrication of WMDs in Iraq. Paul Greengrass' expertly assembled Green Zone has evidently been parked for some time on Universal's shelf. Had the movie been released during the 2008 election season, it might have been something more than entertainment. Easily grasped as an amalgam of Greengrass' artfully vérité docudramas, Bloody Sunday and United 93, and his Bourne thrillers, Green Zone is set in the early months of the Iraq War and seen through the eyes of Matt Damon's chief warrant officer, parachuted in to find Saddam's hidden weapons of mass destruction. After three successive sites yield nothing but mobs of looters and calcified pigeon shit, Damon is pissed; what's more, he has the guts to stand up at a mass briefing and complain. Boldly asking for the intel source, he's slapped down by the brass, brushed off by his C.O. and told by a Pentagon smoothie (Greg Kinnear) that "democracy is messy." Then, following a tip by a friendly Iraqi (Khalid Abdalla), Damon begins to get the picture and sense the fix. Damon's two-fisted, patriotic megarogue Boy Scout cum investigative soldier is a far less likely figure than the thrill-crazy hero of The Hurt Locker — grabbing Kinnear by his collar and hissing, "Do you have any idea what you've done here?" That kiss-off is a bonanza of false consolation that transports the movie into the fantasy zone of Inglourious Basterds. (J. Hoberman) (Citywide)

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