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posted: 9/26/2013 6:00 AM

Reel Life: 'Inequality' doc tries to save the middle class

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  • Writer, speaker, professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich holds court in a university class in the documentary

      Writer, speaker, professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich holds court in a university class in the documentary

  • The wife (Moon So-Ri) of a secret agent falls for a murderous double-agent (Daniel Henney) in the jumbled comedy-action film "The Spy."

      The wife (Moon So-Ri) of a secret agent falls for a murderous double-agent (Daniel Henney) in the jumbled comedy-action film "The Spy."

  • Video: "The Spy" trailer

  • Video: "Inequality For All" trailer

 
 

Mini-review: "Inequality for All"
Robert Reich seems like a really nice guy. Smart, too.

In Jacob Kornbluth's illuminating documentary "Inequality For All," the Harvard and Berkeley professor becomes a modern-day academic Robin Hood extolling the virtues of taking from the rich and giving back to the poor middle class, which he asserts has been teetering on the edge of the financial cliff for the past few years.

Should the middle class go the way of the dinosaurs, the United States of America as we know it will disappear, too. And for 85 fleet minutes, he demonstrates how that will happen, suggesting another Great Depression may be looming if things don't change soon.

In effect, "Inequality For All" combines an intro-level college lecture (including animation and PowerPoint!) with a financial horror story designed to frighten all the nation's union-busters. (Strong unions protect the middle class welfare, he notes. When they go, it's bye, bye, Mayberry.)

I'm not going to pass on the reams of data that Reich cites in this doc. (But did you know that the top one percent of earners now take in more than 20 percent of all income, three times what they did in 1970? Me, neither.)

Part of the charm of watching "Inequality" is observing how the diminutive Reich (a genetic disorder kept him under 5 feet tall) passionately pushes his middle class endangered species agenda that he has been espousing all his career, especially as President Clinton's Secretary of Labor.

Saving the middle class -- and America -- is Reich's avowed mission. Kornbluth's doc captures Reich's energy and message in a concise, engaging package undoubtedly more entertaining than most economics classes.

Reich wisely declines to demonize the wealthy and Wall Street, preferring to lay out his evidence for an impending black economic cloud over the U.S. should nothing change its current financial path.

Why does he care so much?

Reich relates a personal story about when he was a young boy, and a kindly neighbor protected him from bullies. Could it be that simple? He's protecting us, the middle class, from danger?

Like "An Inconvenient Truth," "Pandora's Promise" and other similar docs, Kornbluth's movie is about personality and advocacy, not discussion. No other points of view enter the frames. No one challenges Reich's heartfelt statements. He isn't required to defend them. (Not that he couldn't, that's for sure.)

In a way, it's just as well. A real journalistic approach to Reich's warnings of financial doom would destroy this doc's marketable good will -- and probably confuse viewers with too many voices.

"Inequality for All" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated PG. 85 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Mini-review: "The Spy"
The funniest part of the Chinese comedy/action film "The Spy" is the characters' obsessions with money and job security.

A middle-level spy supervisor constantly frets about losing his job. The titular spy can't believe how little pay he receives for protecting his country and risking his life.

These guys sound even more American than American workers.

For years, Agent Chul-Soo (Sol Kyung-Gu) has kept his job a secret from his traditional wife Young-Hee (Moon So-Ri), who thinks he's a businessman.

When Chul-Soo investigates a mysterious explosion, Young-Hee winds up in the arms of a devastatingly handsome double-agent (Daniel Henney). Meanwhile, shootings, blood and explosions break out as poor Chul-Soo tries to save the day and preserve his secret identity.

Lee Seung-Jun directed "The Spy" (also called "The Spy: Undercover Operation") with no feeling for consistent tone or attitude. The result is a mishmash of a whimsical domestic comedy, a 007 espionage adventure and a violent action movie. It's like Quentin Tarantino, Blake Edwards and Guy Hamilton tried to direct a movie at the same time and this is the mess they created.

"The Spy" opens at the AMC Showplace in Niles. In Chinese with subtitles. Not rated, but contains violence. 121 minutes. ★ ★

Film notes:
• Former Mount Prospect resident Sam Logan Khaleghi presents his feature film "Approaching Midnight" at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette. Khaleghi, 29, wrote, directed, produced and stars in a drama about a soldier who returns to his hometown to discover his girlfriend has been killed. Tickets cost $10. wilmettetheatre.com.

• The Chicago Film Critics Association presents a special showing of Jonathan Demme's horror classic "The Silence of the Lambs" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, as part of the Film With a View program at Studio Movie Grill, 310 Rice Lake Square in Wheaton.

CFCA Vice President Brian Tallerico of hollywoodchicago.com and rogerebert.com will serve as host and moderator of a post-screening discussion about this Oscar-winning 1991 best movie. Go to studiomoviegrill.com/Twist.aspx.

• Join me and film historian Raymond Benson as Dann & Raymond's Movie Club presents "Watch the Skies! The Great Science Fiction Movies Part 1." We'll whisk through the most notable sci-fi films from the silent era through the 1960s. Clips from such features as "A Trip to the Moon," "Metropolis," "Fantastic Voyage," "Forbidden Planet," "Them!" and many others. Join us at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg. Free admission. Go to stdl.org for details. (Part 2 will be presented Nov. 7.)

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

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