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"America's Heart and Soul"

Directed by Louis Schwartzberg.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  7/7/04


"America's Heart and Soul", the new Disney documentary about the Americans that never seem to get a TV sitcom any more--the working-class, blue-collar types that comprise the "real" America--is a nice little ditty on the true heroes of this country.  It's essentially 20 different snippets on various people across the map:  a preacher here, a coal worker there...a quilter here, a farmer there.  Imagine a movie full of those NBC-style Olympic profiles they will be shoving down our throats next month during the Athens Games, then cut them in half (about three minutes apiece), and there you have "America's Heart and Soul."

But, the genius of the film (and, maybe its greatest irony) is that even though it profiles the old-school throwbacks that make up much of the working-class American citizen, it seems to think that those watching all have short attention spans, because the way it is cut is mainly appealing to the plop-on-the-couch white collar style of the people that are not featured in the movie.  Let me explain.  In one sequence, we get a number of very fast cuts of Americans speaking to the camera about their passions, or playing a sport, or sweeping shots of mountains...and I'm thinking

"Man, it's like someone from MTV walked into the editing room and took the controls of the Avid!"

It was moving that fast!  It's like they felt like to appeal to the short attention span, they needed to cut the film that way, when in reality, I think most folks in the MTV generation are going to skip this film altogether since it has the Disney tag slapped right on the front of it.

The vignettes themselves are almost all very interesting, albeit brief; the Americans profiled don't go over the top in their opinions of what they think makes this country so beautiful, and director Louis Schwartzberg mixes a couple of celebrities in with his handful of other peeps, like a farmer from Vermont that works seven days a week AND has time to shoot home movies AND star in the local theater production, or a two-brother tandem that plays N'awlins-style R&B for their neighborhood.  The fabric of the people in this country really is beautiful, ain't it?  It felt like Asian-Americans got hosed in this flick, though...Schwartzberg seems to get everyone else in there that has at least a minor presence in the U.S., so we had some black profiles, some white profiles, an American Indian, a couple of Jewish families, even a trio of Latin salsa dancing brothers.  But, no Asians?  As my buddy Chi might ponder, "Where's the love for the yellow?"

The strongest part about the film is the beautiful cinematography; Schwartzberg also shot the film and his work is magnificent in this movie.  His work with an aerobatic pilot, a rancher and the salsa trio is just cool to watch, for various reasons; because we keep moving from subject to subject, the film is never very boring.  This being a Disney film, things never get too exciting, either...and, this is probably the reason why some folks, for whatever reason, simply won't enjoy "America's Heart and Soul", because of its strict adherence to Disney crowd-pleasing, heart-tugging policy.

I felt that this flick was actually too short, but I could see why the filmmakers felt like 80 minutes was enough to get the point that us white-collar coast dwellers should never forget about where the real passion for this country lies, whether I like it or not.  And, I didn't enjoy the montages as much as some other folks might; they definitely are good to bridge the gap between a handful of profiles, but then I saw some scenes in the montages that I wished were made into full-blown profiles, and this was not to be.  Otherwise, this is strong stuff, and when it blows out of theaters be sure to catch it on home video come Christmas time.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09