Dinesh D'Souza interviewing George Obama in Nairobi, Kenya Obama's America Foundation
2016: Obama's America
Everything in the president's background paints him as nothing more nor less than a hard-left activist
by Megan Basham
The box office juggernaut that is 2016: Obama's America just keeps rolling along. After earning more than $20 million in its first two weeks of wide release, it is on pace to pass Bowling for Columbine and An Inconvenient Truth to become the second-highest-grossing political documentary ever (Fahrenheit 9/11 holding the top spot).
Clearly its tagline's promise to reveal the Barack Obama the media failed to investigate ("Love him, hate him, you don't know him") has proved a powerful enticement for moviegoers. And to a certain degree, the film delivers.
Writer/director/narrative-guide Dinesh D'Souza offers up plenty of heretofore unpublicized information about the president, including his relationship with communist writer and activist Frank Marshall Davis and the pains his mother took to inculcate him with her leftist ideology. We learn, for example, that she intentionally separated him from a stepfather who tended to have views far more pro-American and pro-capitalist than her own. Segments dealing with the college-age Obama's political activities and his later involvement with domestic terrorists like Bill Ayers are similarly valid and illuminating territory for viewers who haven't heard these things before.
Where the film falls short, however, is when D'Souza plays poor man's psychoanalyst. While it is fair to speculate that Obama's absentee Kenyan father influenced his beliefs about colonialism, it doesn't seem just to pronounce definitively what that influence might be. Many young men grow up without a dad around. Not all of them grow up to become community organizers espousing socialist philosophies.
It's particularly strange that D'Souza devotes so much time to his Obama-as-Third-World-Anti-colonialist theory given how much evidence he has amassed for Obama-as-run-of-the-mill-radical. From his mother, to his college associates, to his pre-presidency career, to his actual words, everything in the president's background and, well, foreground paints him as nothing more nor less than a hard-left activist. This may not be quite as exotic, but for a center-right country, it's still just as frightening.
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Lauren Greenfield/Magnolia Pictures
The Queen of Versailles
Raw portrayal of two individuals suffering the death of their idols is the most distressing part
by Emily Whitten
When photographer/director Lauren Greenfield met billionaire Jackie Siegel during an Elle magazine shoot, Greenfield was already preparing a long-term photographic work on "wealth, consumerism, and the international influence of the values of the American Dream." As Greenfield got to know Jackie and her husband, David, they must have seemed easy targets for a consumerism exposé.
The Siegels live in a 26,000-square-foot "starter mansion," which they hope to leave behind for their new home-a 90,000-square-foot Vegas-style replica of Versailles with 30 bathrooms, two movie theaters, a bowling alley, an ice-skating/roller rink, and a health spa, making it the largest home in America. Jackie, a former model and beauty queen, regularly flaunts her shiny purses, blonde hair, and super-sized chest implants. David-basically, Donald Trump with less hair-is founder and CEO of the world's largest time-share company, and his ego is as large as Jackie's, er, personality.
But even early in Greenfield's vision, Jackie shows a depth that the Kardashians don't. "I found her refreshingly friendly and candid," Greenfield later wrote, "with a combination of chutzpah, self-effacing humor, and lack of pretense, qualities that are sometimes obscured by the protective veil of great wealth." Jackie's life doesn't only revolve around material things. She and David have had seven children together and raised another child they "inherited."
But when the 2008 financial meltdown hit, Greenfield had to change her template. No longer uber-rich, Jackie shopped at Walmart, they let go their hired help, and they put their dream house, Versailles, up for sale.
Although the documentary is rated PG for thematic elements and language, its raw portrayal of two individuals suffering the death of their idols is the most distressing part (save Jackie's immodest dress). David loses his empire, and Jackie loses David's adoration. Without treasure in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy, it's a painful dethroning.
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Sony Pictures Classics
Searching for Sugar Man
Indie film sneaks into No. 7 spot at the American box office
by Emily Whitten
Despite opening in only 28 cities the first weekend of August, Searching for Sugar Man, an indie film by Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, quietly sneaked into the No. 7 spot at the American box office. And for good reason: Bendjelloul rightly describes the film as "like a fairytale, almost, like Cinderella or something."
Imagine a singer-songwriter comparable to early Bob Dylan-piercing lyrics and anti-establishment politics-with one difference: This artist never made good. Now imagine that halfway around the world, say in South Africa, a few kids heard his music and liked it. A lot. And from a few bootleg copies, the artist became a sensation bigger than Elvis or the Rolling Stones in their country, all without the artist knowing about it.
Despite how incredible that sounds, it's exactly what happened to Sixto Diaz Rodriguez. During the 1960s and '70s, South Africans were isolated by apartheid, and though Rodriguez's songs became the anthems of anti-apartheid revolution, his music was officially censored by the government. Once apartheid was over, Rodriguez's record label had gone under and rumors swirled that he had burned himself to death or shot himself in a final act of social conscience.
What was the real story behind his death? That question drives the documentary, as we retrace the detective work of fan Stephen "Sugar" Segerman from Cape Town to the studios of record execs in Detroit. The answer he finds is so wonderful that, in the director's words, it's "like learning that Elvis is alive."
The film stutter-steps at times, but the story is well-crafted and compelling. It is rated PG-13 for brief language and drug references, and conservative viewers won't appreciate Rodriguez's politics. However, Rodriguez is far deeper and more gentle than most rockers. And for Christians who feel unimportant by society's standards, the story of a man who lives without earthly fanfare, but who is more cherished than he could imagine may itself be a treasure worth searching out.