Just when you think you've heard every story about Vietnam, along comes Rory Kennedy's documentary Last Days in Vietnam, about the brave 1975 rescue mission in Vietnam to evacuate South Vietnamese to safety from the North Vietnamese during the final days of the war. The White House ordered the American soldier as well as diplomats to evacuate U.S. citizen only, but those orders were disobeyed when an American helicopter rescued as many South Vietnamese as possible as they gathered around the U.S. embassy. Last Days in Vietnam incorporates talking heads with plenty of archival footage that presents the story of the evacuation clearly, concisely and quite thrillingly as well. This certainly isn't one of those dry documentaries bombarding you with facts while leaving you "when is the exam?" Director Rory Kennedy wisely doesn't tell you how to think not does she provide you with a thorough or conclusive political analysis of these events; what to make of Henry Kissinger's interviews and The White House's attitude toward the South Vietnamese is up to you. Curiously, though, she leaves out a rather crucial, overarching question which is "Why were American soldiers in Vietnam in the first place?" Perhaps she assumes you already know the answer to that question. Younger generations who weren't alive during Vietnam might have benefited from more background info including the answer to that overarching question, but at least this provocative, well-edited doc will compel them to ask questions and do more research. Last Days in Vietnam would make a great double feature with Hearts and Minds. IFC Films opens it at Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. Over at AMC/Loews Village 7 there's the doc Pay 2 Play, distributed by Shoot First Inc. Director John Ennis makes a very persuasive argument that America has been and still is in control by the 1%. Corporations can use lobbyists and donate millions to politicians. If an average Joe, i.e. Surya Yalamanchili, with little to no money for campaign ads wants to run for Congress, it's a huge uphill battle against the other much more wealthy candidates. Ennis compares our economcs problems to Monopoly where whomever is wealthiest has the most power. But what about the 99%? They have every right to be a part of our government and lead to change. With the 1% controlling our country, democracy is surely at stake. Ennis wisely incorporates some humor to balance the heavy, frightening insights. One of the most important facts that he sheds light on is one that hasn't been exposed in a documentary before: the existence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) where corporate lobbyists and state legislators get together in secret to propose bills that change the laws in America---and not always in favor of average American citizens. Those bills are biased and have conflicts of interest---in other words, the rights of U.S. citizens are yet again undermined. Perhaps that's why toxins like MSG are still legally allowed into food and beverages (click here for more info). Have you ever heard of gerrymandering? Ennis also briefly gets into that topic as well as, inevitably, the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Pay 2 Play is a potpourri of different aspects of our economy that threaten our democracy, and it's certainly much more illuminating and thorough than Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. You'll never look at the game of Monopoly the same way again. Rocks in My Pockets, directed by Signe Baumane, tells the story of Baumane's family history starting from her grandmother's struggles in Latvia as a mother of 8 children and as a wife of an entrepreneur with issues of his own. Baumane includes the stories of other members of her family as well, but, as shown through the opening scenes, she's not shy about discussing her own struggles with suicide. This could have turned into a depressing, naval-gazing documentary if it weren't for Baumane's boldness, witty narration and off-beat animation that puts a rather darkly comic spin on many of the events. She's also not afraid to be self-deprecating and brutally honest which comes across as refreshing albeit a bit startling and off-putting at first. The animation is part hand-drawn, paper mache and stop-motion with plenty of bright, lively colors that pop, but do keep in mind that this isn't even remotely meant for kids or even teenagers for that matter. Zeitgeist Films opened Rockets in My Pockets at the IFC Center on Wednesday.
God Help the Girl
Thunder and the House of Magic
A cat (voice of Murray Blue), later given the name of Thunder, ends up inside a house of a children's magician, Lawrence (voice of Doug Stone), after his owners abandoned him on the street upon moving out. Lawrence welcomes him warmly, but the magician's bunny, Jack (voice of George Babbit), and a mouse named Maggie (voice of Shanelle Gray) greet him with hostility. Their hostility changes when Lawrence gets into an accident leaving him bedridden at a hospital while his greedy, selfish nephew, Danny (voice of Grant George), a real estate agent, attempts to sell the house. Danny just so happens to be allergic to cats, so Jack, Maggie and Thunder hatch a plan to stop Danny from acheiving his goals.
Harmless, breezy and mildly entertaining are words that come to mind while watching Thunder and the House of Magic. Some animated films, i.e. Ratatouille or the recent Ernest & Celestine, succeed in entertaining both children and adults equally. This one, though, would probably be enjoyed much more by children than adults. The plot remains simple, Thunder looks adorable, the villain remains cartoonish and not too scary, and the action is fast-paced.
The CGI animation, in case your wondering, looks pretty great with lots of color that provides some eye candy. Kids should find themselves in awe of the many toys, gidgets and gadgets that come to life in the titular house of magic. There might not be any laugh-out-loud scenes or zingers for adults nor are there any truly memorable characters, but many scenes do feel amusing to watch. It's also beneficial that the running time is only 1 hour and 25 minutes because that's an ideal running time for a kid's movie. Kids will love it.
Trailer Park Boys: Don't Legalize It