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FREAKONOMICS (directed in part by Seth Gordon; “Pure Corruption” written by Peter Bull and Alex Gibney, directed by Alex Gibney; “A Roshanda by Any Other Name” written by Jeremy Chilnick and Morgan Spurlock, directed by Morgan Spurlock; “Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed?” written and directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady; “It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life” written and directed by Eugene Jarecki. Based on the book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner; cinematographer: Bradford Whitaker; editor: Tova Goodman; Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Chad Troutwine/Chris Romano/Dan O’Meara; Magnolia; 2010)
“Moderately interesting documentary.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s basedon the best-selling book by economist Steven D. Levitt and author Stephen J. Dubner. The moderately interesting documentary features a group of top-notch documentary filmmakers each creating a segment that has a different theme.

Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) uses some talking heads to tell about the significance of choosing a baby’s name, as the filmmaker tries to decide if a name really matters for later success. It goes into a riff about white names mostly differing from black names, as it emphasizes the wide cultural divide between those popular names chosen among whites and blacks.

Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) does an investigative journalist piece on the surprising discovery that there’s rigged matches in the world of sumo wrestling, which in Japan is supposed to be a pure sport, tied to traditional religion, that is above suspicion. Somehow it connects the sumo corruption with the recent financial corruption scandal in America.

Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight”) has the most controversial chapter and the film’s best, as he explores all the likely reasons for the surprising drop in crime rates in the 1990s and offers the unlikely explanation, which goes against what all the experts are saying, that it’s because America has legalized abortions. This response might not be right, but it might be just as good as any of the other responses mentioned.

Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (“Jesus Camp”) tell about the University of Chicago offering in its experimental program financial incentives to certain failing ninth grade students in a Chicago high school as a means of getting the selected students to see if they can at least rate a C in every subject. If so, they receive $50 and a limo ride home at the end of the month. The filmmakers follow two young failing loudmouth students, who take up the challenge with confident talk. The report concludes that the results for the entire group was discouraging, as there was only a seven percent success rate with the incentives. This was the thinnest segment, as it didn’t dig deep enough to tell why money incentives couldn’t change the behavior of the failing students.

Though somewhat stimulating and certainly entertaining in its lighthearted joker approach, the film is too slight as a feature film to really matter. Its best venue would probably be on some news magazine TV show, like Anderson Cooper.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”