Greetings from the aftermath of SXSW, where the best in tech and the bleeding edge of movies and music all swarm around downtown Austin, TX in a smorgasbord of capitalism and consumerism. (Don’t believe Sean Hannity saying otherwise)
And perhaps no film represented the worst, grifting, douchy edge of some of the folks attracted to this heady aroma of dozens of panels on blockchain and cryptocurrency than the new documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, making its rounds at SXSW before a premiere on HBO this month from Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear, Taxi to the Dark Side).
The Inventor refers to documentary subject Elizabeth Holmes, the quixotic/messianic founder of Theranos, which promised to change the medical industry with a revolutionary blood test that would be cheaper, simpler, and only require a finger prick. It was unfortunately too good to be true, and the film traces the evolution from Holmes’ time as a Stanford dropout to the implosion of her company just a few years ago.
It’s a powerful film that portrays Holmes in an interesting light. She’s not quite a fraud– indeed, we’re left believing that she very much believed in her company’s ability to (eventually) deliver on what it promised. We’re left believing that the people at Theranos were good people just caught up in a delusion, willing to compromise because they believed in their vision so much.
Unfortunately, the film also leaves some of the most interesting stones unturned in this whole affair. As a visual and auditory medium, film has the power to deliver some information that an article or book never truly could. And there have been plenty of articles and books about Theranos and Holmes.
But what of her fashion sense, which is only all-too-briefly touched on in the film, of wearing this all-black costume and Steve-Jobs-invoking turtleneck? What about her signature vocal fry? It’s incredibly clear, although never stated, how much harder it was for Holmes to operate in Silicon Valley as a young, attractive woman and be taken seriously. While Gibney is a great documentarian, one can’t wonder if a female director would’ve had a more interesting take here.
Speaking of Gibney taking a pass, this is another infuriating aspect of the documentary is Gibney plays softball with the signature underlying issue behind the Theranos fraud: this is what happens when you have too much capital in the hands of too few people investing based on a whim.
Much like in his profiles on Enron, Scientology, Eliot Spitzer, Jack Abramoff, etc, Gibney gets all the facts right but fails to indict the larger system. Maybe electricity shouldn’t be traded like a commodity on the open market / Maybe there’s too much money in politics / Maybe venture capital isn’t the best way to decide on how to run our economy. Income inequality has pushed soooooo much extra money into the hands of the 1% they simply don’t know what to do with it, and waste it on frauds like Theranos because no one bothered to actually do the science and the homework before writing a big check.
Regardless of these shortcomings, this was one of the best documentaries I saw at SXSW this year and is worth your time if you can catch it.
Marvel Comics Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski took over a packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Center during SXSW (South By Southwest) on its opening day, Friday, March 9 to deliver an important message to a rapt audience of cinephiles: read your comics.
During their hour-long presentation, they went through all of the various stories and creative artists and writers who inspired the blockbusters of today. No real surprises, (and no, they were most definitely NOT signalling the end of Marvel Comics) but essentially presented a greatest hits collection of the various IP that has been mined to bring us the MCU.
First, Dear SXSW, this needed to be in a bigger room. This was one of the most hotly attended panels of SXSW Day 1, and while seats remained plentiful in some of the keynotes in the larger venues, this was packed to capacity. Second, given the giant interest and hype around all things MCU in the film world right now, Marvel should’ve brought their A-game. Cebulski and Quesda did just fine, all things considered, (they usually do) but they basically talked over a slideshow. Past Marvel presentations at SXSW have literally broken the internet (ok, well, just a few websites) when they rolled out major digital comics initiatives. And they did a great job in years past bringing in surprise guests– including Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson himself!) via Skype. Compared to that, this just felt anti-climactic.
Plus, given the panel taking place on the release date of Captain Marvel and International Women’s Day, there was a relative paucity of representation of women. Perhaps my view is tinged by the fact that Marvel followed a presentation by the editors of Cherrypicks, the critical aggregator of female film critics, and the general “Up With Women” vibe of SXSW Day 1 in general, but it still felt odd to just have sort of the same old show we’d expect at any old comic convention. They did make a small news splash (pardon the pun) by announcing a new character, Wave, who will be the first Filipina character in Marvel’s roster, so that’s nothing to sneeze at, but the way it was tossed off in the room sort of non-chalantly made it feel like a less big deal than it could have been.
This was a squandered opportunity for both SXSW and Marvel, even though there was nothing technically wrong or bad about it.
Ok, so enough of the kvetching– the panel was actually pretty fun and would be a great introduction to the world of comics for more casual MCU fans who only know the characters from the screen, which, ostensibly, a lot of the Film Festival attendees are. I’ve had a lot of great conversations in line the last few days talking with other folks, especially about Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, and even among a lot of these rank cinephiles, not many have actually read the books they’re based on.
However, the crowd in attendance may have been a little more in the know, as there were cheers for luminaries like Jack Kirby and how their visual style inspired so much of the look of comics and our films. But, perhaps surprisingly, the biggest cheers came for Christopher Priest, as Quesada explained how much of last year’s blockbuster was inspired by Priest’s run on the Black Panther comic.
There were also a few fun nods to other Marvel adaptation and how they’ve inspired the cinematic universe. The 90’s X-Men cartoon was a gateway for so many people who now work in comics and in the movies. Storm, specifically, was a touchstone for so many young women to see a leader who is a black woman. The value in that representation can’t be understated.
Speaking of animation, they also pointed to the turning point in time when the “Infinity Gems” of the comics were re-branded as “Infinity Stones” and it just so happened to be. . . The Super Hero Squad Show? Indeed. Luckily, Quesada was otherwise mum on the cringy moment in the cartoon when Reptil and Hulk make a joke about their “cheesy friend” Joe (who served as Executive Producer). Good thing. We didn’t need to be reminded of that. Wait. Yes, yes we do:
Another interesting and unexpected break was a discussion of Blade, which almost everyone forgets was a Marvel comic. Quesada pointed out that Blade never sold comic books, but the success of the first film led other studios to produce more comic book movies. Those first two Blade movies are pretty good, especially the Guillermo Del Toro helmed second one.
This was a fun panel and a nice walk down memory lane of all of the comics that inspired the films that we love so much. But SXSW can do much better by putting this is the larger venue it deserves and bringing in a broader subset of Marvel talent. The panel begged the question of “Which Marvel storyline from today will inspire the movies of a few years from now?” Let’s bring in the creative teams behind The House of Ideas– even if just in a video montage let’s hear from folks working on some of their top stories. You know who would draw a GIANT crowd at SXSW (especially as politically-oriented as the festival is this year?) Ta-Nehisi Coates. Or here’s an idea– get some of the filmmakers from the MCU to talk about their favorite comic books. Don’t just tell us how much of a comic book nerd Kevin Feige is– do a trivia contest between him and Tom Breevort and let’s see how he does! Bring in Ryan Penagos and Lorraine Cink and have some banter. (Not that Quesada and Cebulski aren’t fine, but. . .) Look, we know Ike Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel, is notoriously thrifty and probably doesn’t want to shell out big bucks to promote their company. As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money– and when tv shows like American Gods and Good Omens are doing their best to take over downtown Austin, you need to get in the game!
I’m glad I attended the panel. But I hope if Marvel returns in 2020 they do so more like they have done in the past, and they bring in newer, more diverse talent. And SXSW better put them in the biggest room possible.
Jordan Peele‘s newest movie Us is a haunting horror film by a director with a lot to say. Premiering at the SXSW film festival, Peele was in attendance to introduce the thriller which presents the Wilson family, lead by Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe (Winston Duke). They return to a summer vacation at her parents’ home near Santa Cruz.
As we find out, she had some sort of traumatic experience getting lost in a creepy boardwalk attraction while there as a child, and after returning to the same beach near there while on vacation she begins to experience a lot of anxiety and wants to leave. At that point a family of shadowy figures appears in their driveway–murderous doppelgangers–and if you know anything more than that it is literally a spoiler.
What comes after is one of the scariest and most fun thrillers in recent memory. Peele shows that his visual sense and pacing and director’s eye is incredibly sophisticated.
But it’s Nyong’o who really sets herself apart here. She should immediately be the top of everyone’s Oscar list for Best Actress. We’ve seen her be great before, but what she does here is beyond any of that. What she does here on screen is indescribable without spoiling the film, but it is so nuanced and layered, it will take multiple viewings to fully get the depths of how good she truly is. There are seeds planted early on that blossom late in the third act. There are some just straight up intense moments that are an immediate gut punch. And there are moments you will want to revisit once you know the entire scope of the film to watch the additional bits she is adding to her performance to appreciate what she (and Peele) have done.
Also, completely forget everything you thought you knew from Get Out. Don’t let your views or expectations from that film color in any way your ideas about this film or what it is. First, let’s just go to Peele’s own words in how he describes his works:
While Peele tweeted this in response to Get Out being nominated for the Golden Globe as a “Comedy or Musical,” and this was a sort of puckish response to the “controversy” over its classification, he’s very clearly saying something important: that film was about real life.
Us is just a straight-up horror/thriller, unapologetically so, because there literally isn’t anything wrong with that. Peele’s point is well, taken, though: while many horror films have at their base some sort of social commentary (Romero’s zombie movies, The Purge films, etc) that’s not necessarily a needed ingredient.
I kept waiting for there to be something more. I wanted the social commentary. I wanted to know what the said about our moment in 2019, or more about what it meant to be black in America. But this isn’t that film and going in with such expectations and trying to put Peele into that same box is as much of a folly as expecting Get Out to be funny because of Peele’s previous success in comedy.
If anything, the social commentary of Us is not in the film at all (although there are a few lines and bits worth deconstructing). But just because the actors are black, and the director and writer is black, it doesn’t mean that we are going to get a movie about black identity with social justice themes. (Although, it’s hard to imagine many other films being able to get away with violent murder sprees set to NWA’s “F@#$ Tha Police”) Sometimes a thriller is just a thriller.
The social commentary of Us may also simply be that isn’t a true meritocracy in Hollywood. Duke and Nyong’o are so. good. here. but are often relegated to supporting roles in other films. Not that we didn’t love them in Black Panther, and it’s not like we didn’t recognize how amazing Nyong’o was in her breakthrough role in Twelve Years a Slave, and we’ve loved her in Star Wars, but it’s clear that their acting chops go for miles beyond this.
What we get is a film could have been cast with anyone. Any other director might have filled this with white actors, approved by Hollywood bean counters who have decided that that met the requisite amount of star power for the film. Two decades ago, this would’ve been Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfieffer in What Lies Beneath.
Instead the casting of black actors is a testament to the universality of the film and that in a truly colorblind society, the complexion of the actors would matter so incredibly little. Let’s hope the box office agrees, showing that black-led films are a great investment for the big studios (not sure why there’s any doubt after recent dominance by Marvel, Star Wars, but yet, here we are)
It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s close. It’s not Get Out levels of genius with layered social commentary, nor does it need to be. But like Get Out, which hit the top of my best films of 2017, it serves as an early high water mark for greatness for the year. It’s a great film and one of the scariest things you’ll see in theaters anytime soon.
Revealed at SXSW, Marvel has debuted Wave, the company’s newest Filipina superhero. Co-creator Greg Pak made the announcement on Twitter showing off co-creator Leinil Yu‘s design with color by Sunny Gho.
The character will debut for the first time in War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1 which features art by Gang-Hyuk Lim!
It’s new comic book day tomorrow! What’s everyone excited about? What are you getting? Sound off in the comments below! While you think about that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.
Clickbait sites are doubling down on the stupid in hopes to get traffic and the latest is speculation that Disney is closing Marvel based on a description of a Marvel SXSW panel. Like the usual game of telephone, the utter bullshit narrative spun out of control brings the comics blogosphere closer to nothing but “what character are you quizzes” and “top 10” articles.
We once again won’t link to the stupid, that’s what they want.
Dubbed “the dummbest comics conspiracy of the week” by Joe Quesada, the article is a conspiracy theory attempt to connect non-existent dots hopping from a ComicsPro speech, ignoring actual data and facts, to a panel description. The idiocy says that Marvel’s SXSW panel is actually an attempt by Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada to make a case that the success of comic intellectual property wouldn’t exist without the actual comics. All of that under the headline “Joe Quesada and C.B. Cebulski Fight for the Survival of Comics at SXSW” and sub-headline “The Marvel big wigs will argue that all of Disney’s success exploiting Marvel IP wouldn’t be possible without the comics that inspired them.”
Or, it could just be a panel about how today’s biggest films have been inspired by comics and an exploration of the connection. You know, something shops have been asking more for?
But, the above all seems to ignore actual data (sales rebounded in January and sales is still higher than its been for years), facts, and falls back on opinion, and utter bullshit, that makes up so much of “comics journalism” today.
Again the lesson is, ignore the clickbait and support sites that traffic in facts not fiction.
At this year’s SXSW, join Marvel for a special panel that celebrates the history and far-reaching influence of the Marvel Comics Universe!
On Friday, March 8th, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada will lead an interactive discussion about the history and landscape of Marvel Comics. Titled Marvel: From Comics To Screens, the hour-long panel will look at how some of Marvel’s most iconic characters and storylines have contributed to the games, movies, and television series that are so renowned among popular culture. Everything starts with an idea – and Marvel Comics is the spark that lights the fire!
The full panel descriptor can be seen below:
Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Chief Creative Officer + fan-favorite writer/artist Joe Quesada lead an interactive discussion on the unprecedented vast creative landscape and content factory that is MARVEL COMICS. Marvel’s characters have achieved international renown, and now the movies, television series, and games of the Marvel Universe are the most popular in the world – but everything starts with an idea, and Marvel Comics is the spark that lights the fire. Heroes and villains were teamed together in an epic challenge against each other in the first ever Marvel limited series Contest of Champions in 1982 before it became one of the most successful and popular mobile games of all time. The Guardians of the Galaxy as they were seen in the 2014 film assembled for the first time in 2007’s Guardians of the Galaxy comic book. Iron Man and Captain America had their first Civil War in the pages of the Marvel Comics series of the same name in 2006. Cloak & Dagger first came together in a 1982 issue of the Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man comic book. Are the next breakout stories of film, television, and gaming happening in the pages of Marvel Comics right now? Hear from two of the Marvel Comics’ biggest story-crafters on what it’s like to lead the way in the Marvel Universe!
The panel will take place from 3:30pm-4:30pm in Room 12AB on the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center.
Well, 2018 was quite a year. While I didn’t have a hard time picking my top five favorite films of the year, what I was surprised by was the “big middle” of everything I saw this year. Of the hundreds of movies I saw between theaters, film festivals, and originals thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, my average for everything I rated was a 3.461765 stars (out of 5). And while I only had a single 5 star movie (spoiler, it’s my #1), my most common rating for the year was a 4.5 (15 films) and a 3.5 (14 films). In terms of raw scores, my #36 isn’t that far off of my #6. That’s all to say we had a lot of really good movies– mixed with a few truly greats.
Because of that (call it indulgent, IDC) I’m giving you my Top 40, just like Casey Kasem back in the day.
The Top 40- 11: (if you skip these to get to the top ten I won’t be offended)
40. Operation Finale – Oscar Isaac leads a Mossad team to take down Adolf Eichman (Ben Kingsley) are you kidding me?!? Had to see this. File under: Jews kicking ass. 39. Overlord – the corollary to #40, but a black paratrooper taking out crazy Nazi scientists doing superhuman experiments. Reminds us Nazis are the bad guys. 38. The Rachel Divide-A Netflix documentary about Rachel Dolezal, mostly in her own words, the activist who claims she is trans-racial. It’ll make you think. 37. Ready Player One– This was my 13 yr old daughter’s favorite movie of the year. It reminds us that fun Spielberg is fun. 36. Ralph Breaks the Internet – It makes the list just for the Disney princess scene and “A Place Called Slaughter Race.” 35. A Simple Favor – Heavy on style, Anna Kendrick plays up the fun angle with director Paul Feig as a mommy blogger whose new best friend disappears. There’s a fun sort of “true crime” type mystery with the comedy here. 34. Mandy– this movie feels like a relic of another time — specifically, the 80’s with definite hints of Heavy Metal — and feels like it was made under the influence of a lot of drugs as Nicholas Cage takes revenge on a crazy cult who murdered his wife.
33. BlackkKlansman – I should’ve loved this movie more, but its weird tacked-on ending sort of blew it, and only in one shot in the entire movie did it feel like this was the same Spike Lee who gave us Do the Right Thing. 32. Quincy – Rashida Jones gives us the most intimate look at her father, master composer Quincy Jones. A great watch on Netflix. 31. Deadpool 2 – It’s a Deadpool movie. It’s great. 30. Widows – It’s a high stakes, high concept heist movie with an amazing female cast and political intrigue. It’s great. 29. Mary Poppins Returns – I love Mary Poppins. And Lin Manuel Miranda. It’s not as immediately classic as the original, but who expected it to? Emily Blunt is still amazing. And it’s great. 28. Hereditary – This is the movie that stuck with me the longest. Still, thinking about this movie makes me want to turn on all the lights in my house. Also, an amazing acting job by Toni Collette. 27. Number 37 – A movie you probably never heard of! I caught this gem at SXSW and fell in love. A South African slum gangland take on Rear Window by a first time black female director. Yes please. 26. RBG – This was a great year for documentaries. This one on the Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg checks all my boxes. 25. Incredibles II – This sequel to one of the greatest animated movies of all time (and one of the greatest superhero movies of all time) did some really amazing things thanks to director Brad Bird,, but the ending took it down a few notches. But the fact that this ended up at 25 tells you just how competitive this year was. 24. Blindspotting – Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal‘s tale of police violence, Oakland, and hip hop was a little too pat in its ending, but was otherwise masterful. A main reason Oakland ended up on my list of “Who won 2018?”
23. Searching – We’ve now seen several of these movies where they’re told only through what we can see on the screen of a computers. Like found footage, there are good and bad, and this is a good one. John Cho and Debra Messing deliver powerful performances in a story about trying to piece together the mystery of a missing daughter through her social media footprint, intertwined with a father losing touch with his daughter in the age of screens. 22. Bad Times at the El Royale – This might’ve ended up higher on the list if it had delivered more on substance over style, but this was still pretty amazing. And that soundtrack! 21. Minding the Gap – An amazing documentary about young adults growing up as friends in a rust belt town as skate punks and how life and domestic abuse has kept them back. Fascinating and maybe a bit too real. 20. A Quiet Place – Wow. Nothing quite shocked audiences as much as this, as well as exposed the worst theater-goers in America. Shut up or the monsters win! One of several reasons why I said Emily Blunt and John Krasinski won the year of 2018. 19. Leave No Trace – Props to writer/director Debra Granik and to amazing performances by Ben Foster and breakout star Thomasin McKenzie in this heartwrenching look at a dad dealing with PTSD who lives a solitary existence off the grid in the woods with his young teen daughter. Of course, when Child Protective Services finds out. . . well, you’re not exactly allowed to do that. And drama ensues. (18.- tie) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – There’s a debate as to whether this is a movie, as it is currently being presented by Netflix, or a tv miniseries, which was how the Coen Brothers originally pitched it. This is peak Coen in all their forms, but if this is a movie, this is where it would fall. 18. Mission Impossible: Fallout– Finally it feels like writer/director Christopher McQuarrie leveled up his directing to the level of his writing ability. The perfect summer movie, even if I liked a few other movies from the summer of ’18 a little more. 17. Annihilation – Along with Hereditary, this was the movie that stuck with me (in my nightmares). Astounding visuals and an amazing ending, and an amazing cast. 16. Avengers: Infinity War – We knew we’d get to this eventually, right? There isn’t much more to add. Bring on 2019’s conclusion and Captain Marvel.
15. Upgrade – Done on a tiny budget, this movie packs a punch of a $150 million blockbuster. Brutal, fun, and thoughtful. 14. Vice– Dear Writer/Director Adam McKay, Don’t lie– you made this movie just for me to enjoy, right? Built to my tastes? The fact this isn’t in my top 10 (it would be in any other year) says a lot about the other films on this list. 13. The Favourite– Dear Writer/Director Yourgos Lanthimos, Same Question. Also, thanks for bringing back the fish-eye lens. 12. Crazy Rich Asians – I haven’t wholeheartedly loved a romantic comedy like this in ages. Just pure fun, and its stellar cast is amazing. 11. Won’t You Be My Neighbor – The movie most likely to make me cry in 2018. This is just sheer goodness. Again, how is this not in my top 10?
The answer is because those movies in my top 10 are just so great themselves. Here you go, without any further ado:
“We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” A beautiful film by one of the best directors working today, Alfonso Cuaron. An ode to his maid, growing up in an upper-middle class house in Mexico City, this has some of the most beautiful and thoughtful cinematography of any film. The fact that it’s in black and white should also be telling. Even more importantly, the fact that Netflix is going to be in the mix for a Best Picture this year should have every movie studio quaking in their boots. If you watch this at home in your pajamas instead of in a theater, no one will think less of you, or at least I won’t. Just watch it.
9. Hearts Beat Loud
Without a John Carney movie musical around for me to adopt this year as one of my favorites, I went with this one. Nick Offerman owns a record shop and tries to connect with his daughter who is about to leave for college through playing music together, when she falls in love with her first serious girlfriend. She writes a great song, they put it on Spotify, it gets some notice… and more. Just beautiful performances, great music, and a movie about love and family. Also, Ted Danson as a bartender.
Wait, what? Who? This documentary about the women behind the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua is one of my favorite documentaries of the year in a year with amazing documentaries. (This isn’t the last one in my list) I first saw this at SXSW and fell in love. You will too if you can find a way to see this.
7. Paddington 2
There isn’t a better word for this film than just “charming,” or perhaps “nice” or “good.” This is comfort food you didn’t think you needed. It will heal your soul and fill you with good cheer. Also? Hugh Grant for Best Supporting Actor.
6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Dear Sony, THIS is what you should be doing with your extended Spider-Man universe instead of. . . well, Venom. Every single one of your spider-personas in the film was perfect, but especially Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales. Peter Parker means a lot to so many of us. But it’s great that there are others who can take up that mantle: Spider-Man isn’t an everyman unless literally anyone could be him, regardless of age, gender, race, or species. This new, fresh take is so important, but so so is this animation. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I can’t wait to see more. More Miles and Spider-Gwen please! And Spider-Ham and Spider-Man Noir. Ok, just all of them.
This was another movie I adopted as a favorite ever since seeing it at SXSW. I can’t state this enough: as a father of a 13 year old girl, this is the most true depiction of what her life is like that I have ever seen. The rest of my favorites don’t seem to be getting much notice for major awards, so I’ll be pulling heavily for writer/director Bo Burnham and especially breakout star Elsie Fisher.
4. First Reformed
I sadly missed this at SXSW, and only recently caught up with it. I wish someone had grabbed me by the lapels sooner and made me watch it. What I dreaded as homework and maybe another stolid but off-putting performance by Ethan Hawke I instead found a complex narrative about faith, pain, moral imperatives, and a Christian view of our responsibility to take care of the earth. That REALLY checks a lot of boxes for me. “Will God forgive us?” Not if you don’t see this movie, she won’t.
Here it is. The big kahuna. The mothership. The single largest, most important piece of pop culture phenomenon in America for 2018. I literally de-friended a few fellow critics on Facebook because they didn’t like this movie, and when I pressed them for why, their reasons were bull$#!t and a cover for racism. If you can’t appreciate the filmmaking prowess on display here by Ryan Coogler, you have no business calling yourself a film critic.No other Marvel film has ever felt so little like it came off the assembly line. No other feels crafted quite so carefully, so deftly, with precision in every shot, in the delivery of every line. And to that, we have to give credit to this amazing cast. Michael B. Jordan is the greatest Marvel villain, and when he demands to see the Wakandan sunset, and die rather than live in chains, my heart breaks every time. “Show them who you are!” You did, Black Panther, you did.
2. Three Identical Strangers
This documentary came out of nowhere and astounded me. Sold to me as a story of three identical triplets adopted by different families who reunite by happenstance seemed like it would just be a fun little romp. Oh, cool! Nature vs. nurture– look at all the similarities between these boys even though they were separated at birth. And then. . . you find out what’s really going on. There’s a crazy twist that I still won’t reveal because not enough people have seen this. But once you find out, it will challenge everything you think you know about nature vs. nurture, no matter which side of the debate you are on.
1. Sorry to Bother You
This is the best movie of the year and the only film I gave 5 stars out of 5 to. Is it, in fact, a perfect movie? No. But, it’s so audacious in what it is trying to do that I will forgive any small problems it may have. And what this tries to do is skewer the intersection of class and race, delivering a stunning repudiation of Bay Area neoliberalism and technocracy. This is about the closest we get to Terry Gilliam, Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry doing a woke black power narrative, and it is fantastic. I heard from a lot of folks that liked this movie ok, until the ending, which they hated. To me, the ending was perfect and what made this so audacious– I, usually silent in most movie screenings, literally gasped, “What the f@$%?!!?!” As crazy as it was, it fit with the film’s themes and made me love it even more. For being that willing to reach for it — no compromises — this was my favorite of the year.
So, that’s it. What do you think? You may have noticed some pretty big snubs in there. Some of those were intentional, some of those I never got around to see. Tell us what you loved and what you think I missed, overrated, underrated down in the comments.
This is the scariest movie playing at the SXSW film festival, because it’s all 100% real.
The film opens and closes with the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 and shows key background on how we got there and its aftermath. The documentary focuses on two key figures on both sides. The first is Richard Spencer, popularizer of the term “alt-right” and recipient of everyone’s favorite Inauguration punch.
The second is Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an Antifa activist whose work over the past several years has been exposing white supremacists and organizing counter protests.
Their styles and substance could not be more different. Spencer is the more polished, smug, and comfortable in the limelight he has courted. He also immediately goes for the throat, and attacks Daryle on his looks rather than his substance. (You know, for someone who claims he is of a superior race and academic style, he sure immediately goes for the ad hominem. Just sayin.) Jenkins talks about Spencer as a symptom of a larger problem, and even tells Spencer to his face that if all he has left to say is fat jokes, then he has already won. And the coup de grace comes in the final moments of the film, as each of them is asked how divided we are as a country and what is to be done about that. No spoilers, but their answers tell you everything you need to know about each of them and their agendas.
The documentarians here have done an amazing job. It feels like they just happened to be at the right place at the right time — including on the street in Charlottesville where a right wing terrorist plowed over peaceful protesters in his car, killing one. It’s unsettling and traumatic to watch. And it should be. But this is where we are as a nation.
And when the tiki torch brigade surround protesters, starting fights with them, shooting their guns at protesters, and the police stand by and do nothing, you can see exactly what is so wrong with the system. Indeed, you see the Antifa protesters getting tear gassed and maced, including Jenkins himself, but they remain undeterred.
Meanwhile, Spencer and his team of personal security plan for how to get in and out of a black SUV motorcade as though they expect the hippies to come after them with AR-15s. It’s comical, except that it’s so sad. Spencer and his fragile white male contingent really do feel that somehow they are threatened. They feel like their right to free speech is under attack, when nothing is further from the truth.
Free speech means the government can’t shut you down or arrest you for saying something. It doesn’t mean people have to put up with your bullshit, which is exactly what the Antifa contingent repeats during the film.
If there’s a fault in the film, it’s that even though trying to achieve balance by presenting Spencer and his ilk in their own words and going behind the scenes of their movement, the film feels heavily slanted against white nationalists. But, is that really a vice? I mean, did you want a documentary that was sort of milquetoast on Nazis?
It’s unsettling and sticks with you. And, unfortunately, doesn’t really leave with any sort of resolution, except, perhaps for the hope that Jenkins leaves us at the end.
Get ready to cheer for badass feminist socialist revolutionaries. ¡Las Sandinistas! tells the story of the women involved in the Nicaraguan revolution and government. They were key to their success; but their work, sacrifice, and goals have largely been erased.
This celebrates them and will make you root for them.
But, Sandinistas, you say? Weren’t they. . . c-c-c-communists? Yes and no. Watch for yourself before pre-judging anything, as the women of the movement saw themselves fighting for something wholly different than what we normally think of as “communism,” even in the vein of Cuba or Venezuela. However, the film does gloss over any real critique of the regime — except for the one brought by the women themselves, who claim they had to fight “a revolution within the revolution” for equality and against the raging machismo of so many of their compatriots.
The film is told through a series of interviews with five women, Dora Maria Téllez (pictured at right), Claudia Alonso, Sofia Montenegro, Gioconda Belli, and Daisy Zamora, and intercut with archival film, newscasts, and photos. Dora Maria becomes a sort of breakout star among them, especially given her pivotal role in the assault on the National Palace, seen as a turning point in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. She then became the first Minister of Health, leading to the eradication of polio and massive reductions in malaria and other illnesses as health care was provided to the masses.
Prepare to come out of this film with a giant social justice crush on Dora Maria, whom one of her fellow interviewees referred to as “the smartest woman in the hemisphere.” She may be right.
But all of these women are remarkable, and today continue their fight. Despite the Sandinista government re-taking power in 2006, they now face many of the same repressive barriers they had torn down previously, including a nationwide abortion ban. They also find their contributions to the revolution and as early government leaders suppressed and forgotten, literally removed from historical records and monuments that instead celebrate current president Daniel Ortega.
While the film is a little bit long, it is simply because there is so much story here to tell. They win the revolution at around an hour in and you think, “Ok, we’re done here, right?” Instead, the second hour takes you everywhere you had no idea it would, up to and including the present where they continue to fight in the political sphere.
This is one of the best documentaries in a while, and is hopefully seen widely enough to make it into contention for next year’s Academy Awards. It’s certainly Oscar-worthy.
4.5 out of 5 stars
¡Las Sandinistas!premiered earlier today at SXSW and has two additional screenings later this week that you should not miss!
Tuesday, March 13, 4:15pm, Alamo Lamar A
Thursday, March 15, 2:45pm, Alamo Lamar A