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posted: 5/31/2012 6:00 AM

Eye-opening 'U.N. Me' not for optimists

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  • Director Ami Horowitz interviews U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois for a segment on the documentary "U.N. Me."

      Director Ami Horowitz interviews U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois for a segment on the documentary "U.N. Me."

  • Video: Trailer for "U.N. Me."

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: 'U.N. Me'
"U.N. Me" horribly depressed me, not only because it charts the numerous failings of the United Nations, but because it reports how the baser elements of human nature have slowly killed the dream of a better world dedicated to global security and protection of human rights.

Dramatic movies have already included scathing indictments of the U.N. peacekeeping forces ("Hotel Rwanda" and "Beyond the Gates" spring to mind), but the extent of corruption, violence and sexual exploitation perpetrated by U.N. forces chronicled in this doc boggles the brain and shakes the conscience.

This is why, I am guessing, that directors Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff opted to start "U.N. Me" with Horowitz performing an amusingly upbeat Michael Moore knock-off by pretending to seek out an elusive top official at the U.N. headquarters in New York, only to find nobody. No one anywhere in the offices, despite 16 peacekeeping U.N. operations going on around the globe at the time.

It starts us out on a light, chipper note. But the film quickly segues into a serious piece of investigative journalism, using archival clips, comic strip visuals, news reels and extensive interviews with present and former U.N. personnel (some of whom have their identities concealed).

"U.N. Me" runs through a never-ending list of botched opportunities, misjudgements, acts of cowardice and downright incompetence while failing to fulfill its lofty mandate to serve and protect the world.

I won't detail all the allegations here. It's too depressing. "U.N. Me" shows how U.N. vehicles have been used in terrorist strikes, when U.N. forces fired upon unarmed Côte d'Ivoire protesters whose crime was singing in unison, how U.N. deals made Saddam Hussein ever richer and more powerful and how officials refused to acknowledge or stop U.N. soldiers from campaigns of rape and sexual exploitation, many times involving children.

Then there's how the U.N., by its failure to act, has allowed nations such as North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear weapons by simply stalling U.N. inspectors for time.

This doc reports that the U.N. hasn't yet identified a single country as a terrorist threat. That might be, Horowitz points out, because the U.N.'s Security Council (Syria and Iran are members) cannot agree on a definition for terrorism.

This is not a doc for rosy optimists. Despite its quirky opening, "U.N. Me" is as serious as a bullet in the head -- which, by the way, is how one suicidal U.N. guard in New York was found next to another U.N. guard who didn't even wake up from his on-duty nap.

"U.N. Me" opens at the River East in Chicago and Video On-Demand. Rated PG-13 for language, graphic photos and news clips. 93 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

Glen Ellyn man directs
Jack Newell grew up in Glen Ellyn and now he's about to unleash his first improv comedy movie upon the world. It's called "Close Quarters" and it shows at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Century Centre in Chicago as part of Mike McNamara's monthly Midwest Independent Film Festival. Doors open at 6 p.m.

IO (formerly "Improv Olympics") and Second City regulars Bill Arnett, David Pasquesi, T.J. Jagadowski, Susan Messing, Greg Hollimon and "SNL" vet Tim Kazurinsky star with other Chicago comedians in Newell's mostly improvised movie.

"I feel like I made my first feature the hardest way possible," Newell told me. "What made that a challenge was getting everyone on board and excited for a film that was, by design, out of control. I wanted to make an imperfect film that had a life, an energy and a genuineness that we can no longer get from glossy multimillion dollar Hollywood movies.

"When you see improvisers improvising, there's a look in the eyes that cannot be manufactured, there's the fearlessness of reality that you don't see in movies. It's an exciting and scary place to be, but it's impossible to duplicate or manufacture."

Kazurinsky, one of the nicest guys in the business (he served as emcee of the very first Chicago Film Critics Awards Show in 1990), plays a salesman who befriends a suicidal girl in a coffee shop.

"We shot his conversation with the girl for an hour and a half, all live, with three cameras, and then pulled out about eight minutes for the finished product," Newell said. "At least the best eight minutes we could fit into the story. A lot of good stuff Tim gave us is now on the cutting room floor."

Go to midwestfilm.com/nowshowing for tickets, location and information.

Killer 'Grill' opens
Wheaton gets the newest movie theater in the Northwest suburbs starting next Friday, June 8, when the Studio Movie Grill opens for biz at 301 Rice Lake Square. The theater will house eight auditoriums with seating capacities from 100 to 275.

All auditoriums will be equipped not only with Dolby 3-D sound and digital projection, but comfy lounge chairs and actual dining tables. Tickets start at $5 for shows before noon. Go to studiomoviegrill.com.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time Out!

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