Friday, March 16, 2012

#SXSW Review: "Bernie"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

Richard Linklater’s Bernie begins with an irresistible disclaimer: “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.” It sets the table appropriately for the picture that follows, which has the inquisitiveness of a true crime story, but a documentarian’s fascination with time and place. The setting is Carthage, a small town in East Texas, and in a wonderful early scene, a local resident explains how you should really think of Texas as five different states, including East Texas and the People’s Republic of Austin—and that’s not counting the panhandle, he explains, which nobody does.

#SXSW Review: "Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

Uprising: Hip Hop and the L.A. Riots opens with the camera accompanying Mr. Rodney King on a walk through Los Angeles. Here’s a point of interest: “…and I was down here on the ground, getting my brains beat in.” That happened on the night of March 31, 1991, and it might have disappeared into the ether, yet another example of the brutality of the LAPD, had a resident in a nearby apartment building not had a video camera handy. The tape of Mr. King’s beating became one of the most famous amateur videos in history, and was at the center of a seemingly open and shut case against the four cops wielding those batons. And then they were all acquitted, and the city of Los Angeles went up in flames.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

#SXSW Review: "We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

Brian Knappenberger’s We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists is a rousing, informative, exciting documentary. It is also soft, selective, and almost completely one-sided. Because this particular audience member (like, presumably, most of those who saw it at this year’s South by Southwest festival) is sympathetic to and often in agreement with “Anonymous,” the hacker army upon which Knappenberger focuses, its borderline advocacy of the group is somewhat understandable—and I’m certainly no purist when it comes to documentary objectivity. But a bit more acknowledgment of the movement’s flaws could have made this a much stronger picture.

It starts with a personal story, of Mercedes Haefer, one of the so-called “Anonymous 16.” She was pulled from her home early one morning in fall of 2011, as part of the FBI’s round-up of the hackers who took down PayPal and other sites earlier that year. She’s twenty years old (she looks like your babysitter) and proudly defiant. “They weren’t expecting… this,” she says, of the “Anonymous” movement. The opinions of those in power didn’t matter, she explains, “because someone on the Internet was kicking ass.”

From there, Knappenberger looks back, to the early days of personal computing and the origination of hacking back at MIT. He then zips ahead, tracing the collective’s roots back to the Wild Wild West of 4chan, and in the process of explaining that site’s place in the proliferation of Internet memes and ideas, the film ends up presenting a sort of wonderful snapshot of what the Internet is right now—how it got there, and what it’s becoming.

The first real target as a movement was Hal Turner, a neo-Nazi Internet radio host who was hacked by the group; in his private files, they discovered he was a paid FBI informant. But the first real battle was with Scientology—a battle that began, surprisingly enough, with that ridiculous leaked internal video of Tom Cruise waxing insane about the power of the church. Anonymous wasn’t responsible for that leak—but when they found out that the Church of Scientology was getting it pulled from any website that posted it, well, that was too much. For “this creepy cult,” as one says, “to come in here and tell us we can’t post this? Fuck them!”

The group’s subsequent triumphs—a giant protest at Scientology churches across the world, an operation taking down Australian government websites for attempting to block the Internet, a targeting of the MPAA, their participation in the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt—are run down in detail, along with their most high-profile operations, in support of WikiLeaks, seen as “an extension of the hacker ethos: the truth wants to be free, and we want to release it.” When PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa cut off the donation apparatuses that funded WikiLeaks, Anonymous struck back by shutting down those websites for days on end.

The film details the intriguing logistics of these operations: the use of the “Low Orbit Ion Canon,” the “D-DOSing” process, the simple tricks to overwhelm servers and take sites offline. And the film is masterfully assembled, fast paced with hard-edged musical accompaniment, cutting together several set pieces (the simultaneous Scientology protests, the closing montage that draws the clear line from Anonymous to the Occupy movement) with skill and precision.

But the picture too clearly positions itself directly in the movement’s corner. The one time a target is interviewed (Aaron Barr, the onetime CEO of private security firm HB Gary) it’s a giant win for the movie and the movement, since he is monumentally, astonishingly full of shit. But there’s no comment for the film from the Scientology folks, or even an acknowledgment that they were contacted for comment; ditto anyone at PayPal, MasterCard, Sony, or PBS. And while the “collateral damage” of some of the operations are acknowledged (like all of that leaked personal information of Sony PlayStation users), the filmmakers seem anxious to hurry past that stuff.

We Are Legion is an impassioned film—its energy is electrifying, and if its rousing closing is not a direct call to action, it is at the very least an endorsement. But there are some fascinating contradictions to this movement, and a more thoughtful documentary might have given those a bit more consideration.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#SXSW Review: "Compliance"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

Craig Zobel’s Compliance opens with the words “inspired by true events” plastered across the screen in giant letters, and for good reason: the story that follows is all but impossible to believe. But it happened—I looked it up when I got home (and you will too). The names have been changed, and the details; in real life, it occurred at a McDonald’s (this film is set at a location of the fictional franchise “ChicWich”) in Mount Washington, Kentucky. But the events, even those hardest to swallow, are basically as they happened in April of 2004. There is no Hollywood exaggeration here.

#SXSW Review: "The Imposter"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

Nicholas Barclay was 13 years old when he disappeared from San Antonio, Texas in 1994. His family wept, and searched, and held out hope. Three years and four months later, they got a call. Their Nicholas had been found, alone and without identification, in Spain. When they brought him back, no one seemed to think it all that strange that his hair had changed color. Or that his eyes had too. Or that he had a bad case of five o’clock shadow. Or that he suddenly spoke with a French accent.

The man who came back to Texas wasn’t their son at all, of course; his name was Frédéric Bourdin, and he was a 23-year-old French con artist. “I wanted to be someone else,” he explains in Bart Latyon’s gripping documentary The Imposter. “Someone who was acceptable… I was reborn. I was born again.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On DVD: "The Adventures of Tintin"

Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin begins with a wonderful, Pink Panther-style opening credit sequence, rendered in good ol’ reliable, traditional animation. Only problem is, that animation is far more stylistically appealing than what follows: another attempt at “performance capture animation,” the peculiar and frankly unnerving technique that has preoccupied Spielberg’s friend and frequent collaborator Robert Zemekis for the past decade or so. At risk of putting too fine a point on it, your correspondent does not care for this style—it gives everyone a weird, waxy look, their dead eyes providing a shortcut to the uncanny valley. (My “get off my lawn, you damn kids” tendencies are further amplified by the film’s uninspired 3D presentation, which adds nothing but a couple of bucks to your ticket.) So the fact that I ultimately found Tintin so utterly enjoyable in spite of my resistance to its overall style speaks volumes to its entertainment value; aesthetically pleasing or not, this is an appealing and enjoyable picture.

On DVD: "Young Adult"

Mavis Gary, Charlize Theron’s leading character in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, is unapologetically brusque, brittle, and unlikable. The ghost-writer of a young adult franchise, she treats her work with such contempt that the Word file for her current masterpiece is called “pieceofshit.doc.” She wakes up each morning in her clothes, sleeping off the previous evening’s drinking, and pours Diet Coke down her throat. Her only consistent companion is her tiny, unappreciated dog. She spends her life in a dissatisfied daze, with the aural accompaniment of E! reality shows.

#SXSW Review: "21 Jump Street"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

If it offered nothing else to be thankful for, one could applaud Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street for giving us the most meta movie moment in recent memory. It comes early, when young cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are being reprimanded by their captain (Nick Offerman) for blowing an arrest by not reading the suspect his Miranda rights. (Jenko, not the brightest bulb, can’t remember them: “They always cut away on TV before they finish ‘em”). They’re being reassigned, their boss tells them. “They’re reviving a cancelled undercover police program from the ‘80s and reinventing it for a new generation,” he explains, primarily because they’re “completely out of ideas.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

#SXSW Review: "Somebody Up There Likes Me"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

“I think it’s funny that we all sort of think we’re not gonna die,” notes Sal (Nick Offerman) at the beginning—and the end—of Bob Byington’s sublime new comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me. The occasion is the funeral of his best, and possibly only, friend Max (Keith Poulson); the film is, among other things, the story of their relationship, and that of the woman (Jess Weixler) they both loved, maybe.

This Week's Links, Yo

From Salon:
“Silent House”: One movie, one shot

For the moviegoer who finds the rushed tempo, blunt force, spatial disorientation, and general Michael Bayishness of movie editing these days depressing, it’s worth remembering that, in the beginning, the movies didn’t even have edits—they came to an end after the train had entered the station or the men had finished dancing or (more importantly) the film had run out. It wasn’t until filmmakers like Edwin S. Porter started making longer films with actual stories to tell that the idea of cutting from one action or shot to the next, changing points-of-view or scenes or locations, became part of the filmmaking vernacular. This was the custom for decades, but periodically, directors would decide to flex their cinematic muscles by removing from their toolbox the filmmakers’ single greatest source of audience control—the cut—and seeing how long they could make a scene go without one (while still maintaining action, movement, and fluidity). Over time, long takes became an unspoken competition, each director’s long, unbroken tracking shot a little longer and a little more complicated than the last, each filmmaker proudly and breathlessly pushing further into the editless abyss.

From The Atlantic:
Film's Greatest Comedy Cliques, From the Rat Pack to Team Apatow

With Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm, and Chris O’Dowd reuniting for Friends with Kids, we may be witnessing the formation of a new (and thankfully estrogen-infused) cinematic comedy “clique.” These groups have always been a part of the film comedy landscape, though there seem to be an awful lot of them these days—primarily because the DIY nature of the current comedy scene lends itself to working with friends and regular collaborators. (There’s also a fair amount of cross-pollination between these groups, which makes classifying them a bit challenging. Crafty, these comedians.) To be clear: we’re not talking so much about actual declared comedy teams, like the Marx Brothers, the Bowery Boys, or Monty Python; we’re more interested in loose collectives that come together in varying combinations yet still craft a distinctive and recognizable comic style. We’ll take a look at a few of the biggest after the jump.

From Flavorwire:
12 Things We Learned from Joss Whedon’s SXSW Talk

Exactly fifteen years ago today, the upstart WB network aired the first episode of a program that few, if any, viewers or critics were feverishly anticipating. It was the first show created by an all-but-unknown writer; he’d adapted it from his screenplay for a film that had been, charitably speaking, unloved when it hit theaters five years previously. But when “Welcome to Hellmouth,” the inaugural episode of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aired on March 10, 1997, a Geek God was born. This morning, Whedon took the stage in front of a standing-room-only house at the South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas for a conversation with Whedon, moderated by Adam B. Vary of Entertainment Weekly. They discussed his TV successes and failures, his new film Cabin in the Woods (which had a smash premiere here at SXSW last night), his upcoming big-budget blockbuster The Avengers, and some future projects. A few highlights from that talk after the jump.

Patton Oswalt on Acting, Stand-Up, and Evolving

Randy Stevens, the Boy Scoutmaster played by Patton Oswalt in the new comedy Nature Calls (which premiered this weekend at South by Southwest), is a funny character with a sadness about him; beaten down by the disinterest of the boys in his troupe, living in the shadow of his successful brother (Johnny Knoxville), with little in his life but his love of Scouting—yet tirelessly dedicated to his self-appointed mission of bringing nature into the lives of his young charges. Though Oswalt’s most high-profile acting roles to date have been in an intense, low-budget indie (Big Fan) and an acid-tongued, big-studio comedy/drama (Young Adult), the leading role in this dark comedy isn’t too far removed from those seemingly disparate turns. “He’s very much a true believer in what he loves, even though he might not have the most amount of skill to realize its execution,” Oswalt told me in a phone interview last week. “So I think there’s a lot in common with some of the other characters that I’ve played: they’re sort of dreamers, they’re almost lethally optimistic about their chances in life.”

Video Essay: “The Martin Scorsese Film School”

For the past couple of weeks, movie buffs have been tweeting, discussing, and analyzing this piece from Fast Company, which distilled a four hour interview with Martin Scorsese into a list of 85 films “you need to see to know anything about film”—Mr. Scorsese’s mini-film school, if you will. If Marty is like us—and we’d like to imagine he is—there’s also a very good chance that these are just the 85 movies that were on his mind that day. Your list of favorite films is a living thing, always changing and amending, growing and revising; we’d bet good American money he thought of five films he should’ve included the second he walked out the door. But this is the list he made on that day, in that room, and it’s worth looking at; there are some really interesting choices here, titles worth seeking out if you haven’t seen them. In the interest of helping you sift through the list and load up your Netflix queue and Amazon cart accordingly, we've put together a video essay of clips and stills from the “Scorsese 85,” using his own words when possible. Check out our latest video essay after the jump.

Open Thread: Let’s Talk About Misogyny at the Movies

Over the course of the past few days, I’ve found myself reading a quite a bit of hand-wringing, and even engaging in a few spirited Twitter conversations, with regards to the number two movie of the weekend, Project X—specifically, the picture’s attitude towards women (towards anyone who’s not a young white male, really). If there’s a buzzword for the Project X’s opening weekend, it’s misogyny. “Project X is the male gaze substantiated and concentrated into ninety sweaty minutes,” writes Badass Digest’s Meredith Borders. “The way these guys talk about the girls, the way they look at them, the way Dax's camera presents them, validates every misogynistic tendency a high school boy may be capable of feeling. Project X celebrates and rewards that misogyny.” The L Magazine calls it “ a misogynist fantasy of high school wildness,” while View London says it’s “ultimately let down by some appalling misogyny and a deeply unlikable central character.” The reviews that don’t explicitly drop the “m-word” at least echo these sentiments (The best one-liner comes via the AV Club’s Keith Phipps: “It would be easy to say Project X objectifies women, if the word ‘object’ didn’t imply too much dignity”). For the most part, your author agrees with these criticisms, for reasons I’ll expand on presently. What’s curious, though, is how thinking through my feelings on this film and these ideas have led me to second-guess some ideas I’ve had about teens and pop culture and “responsibility” for decades, and that’s where I’m curious to know what you think.

12 TV Shows We Can’t Believe Aren’t on DVD

Taking a glance at today’s new DVD releases (as we do on many a groggy Tuesday morn), we noticed the continuation of a disturbing pattern. Happily Divorced: Season One. The New Adventures of Old Christine: The Complete Fifth Season. Transformers Prime: Season One. “Fan Favorite” collections featuring the “best” of Hogan’s Heroes and Macgyver—since every season of those shows has already been released. And the question we ask (aside from “who the hell is buying this stuff”) is this: How is it that we get every single episode of Fran Drescher’s new Nick at Nite sitcom a mere seven months after they aired, but we’re still waiting for our Wonder Years DVDs? After the jump, we’ll take a look at a dozen great (or at least interesting) TV shows that are inexplicably unavailable on DVD, and try to figure out why.

This Week in Trailers: “Men In Black III,” “ParaNorman,” “Ice Age,” and More

Every Friday here at Flavorwire, we like to gather up the week new movie trailers, give them a look-see, and rank them from worst to best—while taking a guess or two about what they might tell us (or hide from us) about the movies they’re promoting. We’ve got seven new trailers for you this week, including new looks at the Men in Black and Ice Age sequels, as well as the latest from the creators of Coraline. Check ‘em all out after the jump, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

#SXSW Review: "frankie go boom"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

There’s something crushingly depressing about watching a great performer trapped in a mediocre movie, giving their very best to kick some energy or spark into a narrative that is falling apart before our very eyes. Frankie Go Boom doesn’t stop with this sad sight; not only is Lizzy Caplan trying her heart out every time she comes on screen, but the picture actually supplies here with an intriguing character—and then lets her go to waste. Hey, I like this girl, one might think in the opening scenes. Wonder what they’re gonna do with her? Not much, come to find out.

#SXSW Review: "Killer Joe"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

The opening titles are simple but accurate: “William Friedkin’s Film of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe.” And make no mistake—William Friedkin has made a film of it, but this is undeniably “Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe.” Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winner’s first play, it is a dark, twisted, chilling piece of work, and with this writer, that’s saying something. It is also Friedkin’s second film adaptation of a Letts play, after 2006’s harrowing (and underseen) Bug. These are easily the two best pictures the filmmaker has made since his early-‘70s heyday; he’d be wise to continue hitching his wagon to this particular writer.

#SXSW Review: "Nature Calls"

Reviewed at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival

I would like nothing more than to tell you that Todd Rohal’s Nature Calls is funnier than it is. But there’s something missing from it; it’s the kind of movie you keep hoping will tighten up, that will pull itself together and take advantage of the considerable talent at its disposal. That moment never arrives. There are a few laughs, but they’re more about personality than material—the film itself is so slight, you keep waiting for it to drift right off the screen.