| Peter Kon Dut, one of the 4,000 "Lost Boys of Sudan" who were brought to the United States in 2001, was just four when he lost his parents to ethnic violence. As a young adult, he is struggling to build a new life in America.|
Dir. Megan Mylan and John Shenk (NR)
When Peter Pan's Lost Boys flew off to Neverland, they never grew up. When Peter Kon Dut and Santino Majok Chuor were orphaned by Arab intruders from the North, they were forced to grow up quickly. They are among 20,000 boys uprooted by pogroms in Sudan who, after an arduous, hazardous journey, found shelter in a refugee camp in Kenya. In 2001, 4,000 "Lost Boys of Sudan" were brought to the United States.
In the documentary of the same name, Megan Mylan and John Shenk follow two of them from their flight out of Africa through their first 14 months in the United States. Just four when he lost his parents, Peter is 17 when he arrives in Houston. For Sudan's lost boys, Texas is another kind of Neverland, where the novelty of cheeseburgers, deodorant sticks, and electric stoves soon grows old.
Mylan and Shenk record the experiences of Peter and Santino without voiceovers or any other overt intrusion. We accompany the refugees on their first plane trip, on which they marvel at the vistas and the airline food. In Houston, a YMCA case worker introduces them to a kitchen garbage disposal and a supermarket. For four months, benefactors pay the rent on the apartment shared by several Sudanese. Santino finds employment in a plastics factory, Peter in a machine shop.
Five months later, no closer to the education he seeks, Peter skips out on Houston and Santino. The rest of the film crosscuts between Kansas, where Peter enrolls in Olathe East High School, and Houston, where, while sending money back to Africa, Santino bears the entire burden of the rent.
Except for some African-Americans, whose skin is lighter but whose intentions appear darker, everyone the Sudanese meet oozes with benevolence and glows with innocence. Once settled in our country, they assume, the poor refugees live happily ever after.
Distressed by a boring job, financial woes, and solitude, Santino is more of a lost boy in Houston than Kenya. Peter, more successful at Yankee individualism, is at best ambivalent: "I cannot say if America is good or America is bad."
When a perky student journalist asks him to recount his grim experiences, Peter cannot begin to explain. An eye-opening take on the American Dream, Lost Boys of Sudan, which is screening theatrically prior to September broadcast on PBS's P.O.V., could tell her more than she wants to know. — Steven G. Kellman
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism
Dir. & prod. Robert Greenwald; feat. Rupert Murdoch, Bill O'Reilly, Robert McChesney (NR)
The most chilling moment in Outfoxed, the new and predictably controversial documentary analyzing the ultra right-wing politics of Fox News, is when one of the network's talking heads proclaims: "196 days until George W. Bush is re-elected president."
In the 1970s, Richard Nixon had CREEP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President; 30 years later, as this prophecy disguised as news demonstrates, George W. Bush has his own creeps working on his behalf: Rupert Murdoch and the muckety-mucks at Fox News.
Murdoch's media empire, including newspapers, cable networks, publishing houses, and transmission lines, touches 4.7 billion people - three-quarters of the world's population. Concentrated power in anyone's hands, the film points out, let alone a media mogul with fascist tendencies, is detrimental to democracy.
While conservative media, including the Wall Street Journal, have bashed Outfoxed for its polemics and for neglecting to secure copyright to use Fox footage, no one is arguing the facts: Culled from internal memos, interviews with former network employees, and thousands of hours of broadcasts, t's obvious that Fox's "fair and balanced" "newscasts" are torn straight from the administration's playbook.
Fox could be held partially responsible - with the U.S. Supreme Court - for Bush occupying the White House. Roger Ailes, the network's CEO, worked as the media strategist for three Republican presidents; footage shows one Fox "journalist," chatting with the president about the newsman's sister, who is working on his campaign. Most notably, John Ellis, Bush's first cousin, who was working in Fox's election analysis department on Election Night 2000, "broke the story" that that Bush had won Florida and thus the presidency.
Greenwald has stated that "We watch Fox so you don't have to,"and for that, we owe the filmmaker thanks. It's hard to stomach debates about whether John Kerry looks French, or to watch bully Bill O'Reilly ordering countless numbers of his interviewees to shut up, including Jeremy Glick, the son of a Port Authority worker who died in the World Trade Center attacks.
While Outfoxed lacks the directorial finesse of Fahrenheit 9/11, it's still a fascinating dissection of the network. And by showing the film on DVD at private parties (with the help of moveon.org), where people could discuss it afterward, Greenwald is fomenting a media-savvy grassroots movement.
Yet, my viewing companion noted that the film fails to include one important detail: the Fox audience. Who are the voracious viewers devouring the network's hatred and bias? If Greenwald had threaded comments from the millions of Fox devotees - family, neighbors, co-workers - then those of us who left the house parties feeling righteous would have realized that we still are in the minority. — Lisa Sorg
Dir. Stephen Chow; writ. Stephen Chow and Kan-Cheung Tsang; feat. Stephen Chow, Vicki Zhao, Man Tat Ng, Yin Tse, Sarondar Li, Yut Fei Wong (PG)
If professional matches were as predictable as sports movies, bookmakers would be the losers. But filmmakers keep their books balanced by repeating the same winning formula; a sorry squad of scrappy underdogs claws its way to victory in the final moments. Shaolin Soccer is a kung fu fairy tale, a story of how the discipline and intensity acquired from Shaolin martial arts enable a bunch of pathetic underachievers to become the soccer champions of Shanghai. Since their opponents in the finals are a squad named Team Evil, the climax offers as much suspense as an election in Syria.
Director and co-writer Stephen Chow also stars as Sing, a likable pauper with a steel leg and a determination to accomplish something worthy of his late master of Shaolin, an offshoot of Buddhism. When Sing meets Golden Leg Fung (Ng), a former star athlete crippled by gangsters, the two resolve to put together a competitive soccer team. Their nemesis is Hung (Tse), an odious team owner who gives his players drugs and arranges to have his rivals maimed. Sing recruits his five brothers, a miserable assortment of siblings that includes a cynical dishwasher, a harried businessman, and a gluttonous supermarket worker. Sing's optimism is so powerful that it transforms an unsightly bun vendor, Mui (Zhao), into a beauty worthy of his love.
In their semifinal match, the Shaolin team comes up against a group of women who momentarily outplay them. "How'd they do that?" wonders one of the men. "It must be special effects." Shaolin Soccer is a mock-epic tour de force of special effects: acrobatic, even aeronautic, strikers who fly and whirl; balls that are kicked so hard they arrive at the goalie in flames. At unexpected moments, characters break into song, dance, or flight. "Soccer is war," says Coach Golden Leg, but oh, what a lovely war Chow contrives.
A boisterous soundtrack that includes American hip-hop keeps the Shaolin ball rolling until the final frame, when Sing and Mui achieve apotheosis on the cover of Time.
In a new book of the same title, Franklin Foer offers thoughts for American readers on How Soccer Explains the World. Someone needs to explain why Chinese soccer requires validation from an American magazine. — Steven G. Kellman