Two documentaries to help raise your IQ and a French farce to make you laugh: the three must-see movies this week are “Boys State” on AppleTV+, “Dateline – Saigon” on iTunes and Amazon Prime, and “My Dog Stupid” on Laemmle’s Virtual Cinema.
BOYS STATE AND OUR DEMOCRACY
My heart was both broken by and filled with hope watching “Boys State.” It follows a thousand teenage boys participating in a weeklong American Legion-sponsored training event, that teaches kids how to build a representative government from the ground up. It won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
The boys must get signatures to be nominated, need to create a party platform, must run a campaign, learn how to give speeches and win over voters, and then choose which candidate will become governor.
Set in Texas, the previous year’s group voted to have the state secede from the US. This group wanted to take things more seriously. What we see is a microcosm of politics in the US today: those who play the game only to win and those who take running for office seriously, considering the issues at stake.
Four teenage boys are the focus: Robert, who’s really just playing the game—and admits it. Steven, whose earnest and honest involvement gives me hope for the future. Rene, who’s up against racism and accusations of running an unfair campaign; and Ben, an amputee who’s as conniving a young strategist as Karl Rove must have been in his youth.
I will say that it’s incredibly depressing to see how the game players ape their real-life role models. There’s mudslinging, name calling, misinformation and propaganda campaigns, and winning takes high-testosterone precedence over substance and issues.
But the one ray of hope – someone I pray will run for office one day – is Steven Garza, the son of Mexican immigrants, who’s been an activist since childhood, and who is able, through his authentic, calm, peaceable and reasonable manner to persuade the mostly conservative teens (it’s Texas, remember) into understanding the progressive issues he believes in.
It’s a really engaging documentary and more importantly, it’s essential viewing to understand how what we do in today’s politics will influence the future generation of politicians and the fate of our very troubled democracy. https://boysstate.movie
ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE?
The current occupant of the White House believes that the media are the enemy of the people. “Dateline – Saigon” will remind you that it was the government, not the media, that lied about the Vietnam War. I think the parallels with today’s administration are clear enough.
And it was the “enemy of the people,” in the shape of five enterprising young investigative reporters, who unearthed the truth and exposed the lies that took place in the name of the American people, as our nation devolved deeper into the Vietnam mire.
Peter Arnett, Malcolm Browne and Horst Faas of Associated Press, David Halberstam of the New York Times, and Neil Sheehan of United Press International—all since Pulitzer Prize winning journalists—set out to see what was really happening in Vietnam. Massive numbers of soldiers, arms and aid were being sent ostensibly to prevent the “domino theory”— that communism was turning Southeast Asian nations one-by-one into puppets—from happening.
Sam Waterston narrates this documentary about the war that established the ground rules for journalists covering war for decades after, and created the antagonism that still exists today between the media and the military.
It doesn’t take much to remind me of the “weapons of mass destruction” that led to two wars in Iraq and a mission to destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan…and how these lies led to countless deaths in the name of protecting the US.
If you care about history, if you care about journalism and if you care about the truth, “Dateline – Saigon” is essential viewing. http://www.dateline-saigon.com
AND FOR LAUGHS – KINDA
Based on a novel by John Fante, who is better known for darkly serious books like “Ask the Dust,” the film “My Dog Stupid” (sounds better in French, “Mon Chien Stupide”) starts out as a bit of a farce and morphs into a more existential examination of a man’s life and relationship with his family, catalyzed by the appearance of a stray dog who wanders into their home.
Yvan Attal, the director and star (Henri), and his real-life partner, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Cecile), play a couple who have fallen into a dissatisfied marriage, along with their quartet of mostly-grown and entitled children, who display similar dysfunction. Henri once wrote a huge hit of a book that established his name and reputation and supported the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, but that was 25 years ago, and he hasn’t written anything of significance since. And everyone knows.
A big, gray and very horny Neopolitan mastiff walks into their house and Henri finds in him a kindred spirit. Henri names him Stupide, and decides to keep him, but his smelly and continual humping of anyone who comes to the house has completely upended the family, and one by one, they leave Henri behind, with only the dog to keep him company.
Henri’s journey toward personal understanding is prompted by this big, stinky beast and in the end turns what might have been a light-hearted comedy into a more thoughtful consideration of what makes us who we are.
“My Dog Stupid” is available on Laemmle’s Virtual Cinema through August 27. Check it out here: https://www.laemmle.com/film/my-dog-stupid
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.