And just this week, "The Cartel" (about NJ public schools, particularly Camden's) hit the big screens and was reviewed on Friday for the NY Times by Jeannette Catsoulis. Actually, "reviewed" is hardly the word for what she wrote; better to say trashed, skewered, shredded, ripped, and thoroughly humiliated in every possible sense for its argumentation, presentation, and even film-making values. As a film project, she obviously rates it a total F. There's a vast (and, too often, intentional) gulf between reasoned advocacy and flat-out propaganda, although few seem really to care any more.
Catsoulis's review is so devastatingly harsh, it would be positively hilarious if it were not for the knowledge that so many of the converted will just see this as further support of their "ed reform" positions. Regardless, for those who might, like me, take some comfort in having the "emperor's clothes" publicly called out for what they really are (or should I say, aren't) by an objective reviewer with no particular stake in the issue, I have included the full text of her review below. Those wishing to try a second (and critically similar) review source, as opposed to Kyle Smith's slavish, slobbering write-up in the NY Post, try Stephen Whitty's review from the (NJ) Star-Ledger.
Herewith, Ms. Catsoulis's positively priceless review from the NY Times:
Children Left Behind
A mind-numbing barrage of random television clips and trash-talking heads, “The Cartel” purports to be a documentary about the American public school system. In reality, however, it’s a bludgeoning rant against a single state — New Jersey — which it presents as a closed loop of Mercedes-owning administrators, obstructive teachers’ unions and corrupt school boards.
Blithely extrapolating nationally, the writer and director, Bob Bowdon, concludes that increased financing for public schools is unlikely to raise reading scores but is almost certain to raise the luxury-car quotient in administrator parking lots. To illustrate, Mr. Bowdon rattles off a laundry list of outrages — like a missing $1 billion from a school construction budget — and provides a clumsy montage of newspaper headlines detailing administrative graft.
The evidence may be verifiable (and even depressingly familiar), but its complex underpinnings are given short shrift. Instead Mr. Bowdon, a New Jersey-based television reporter, employs an exposé-style narration lousy with ad hominems and emotional coercion. In one particularly egregious scene he parks his camera in front of a weeping child who has just failed to win a coveted spot in a charter-school lottery — another tiny victim of public school hell. Later, confronted with the president of the New Jersey Education Association, Mr. Bowdon performs the rhetorical equivalent of poking a lion with a stick and running away.
Visually horrid and intellectually unsatisfying, “The Cartel” demonstrates only that its maker has even more to learn about assembling a film than about constructing an argument.Here, here!