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A Great Dark Comedy that Echos the Style of the Coen Brothers
I had the pleasure of seeing the local premiere of Three Billboard outside of Ebbing, Missouri tonight at the Paramount Theater as part of Austin Film Festival. The film's style and humor is reminiscent of some of the better early Coen Brothers films (Blood Simple, Fargo, and Raising Arizona). The writer/director has basically stolen their style. Basically, a story that on paper is very dark and serious played with characters that are essentially humorous for dark comedic effect. The presence of Francis McDormand more-or- less completes the linkage. (She may well earn another Oscar nomination.) The film is deeply disturbing built around a mother's quest for justice after her daughter's violent death, themes of death and dying, police incompetence and brutality, and hints of racism and spousal abuse. At the same time, it can be hysterically funny and absurd. You want to laugh during one scene and cry during the next. The dis-functionality of just about every character is somehow both disturbing and hilarious. I think like the Coen Brothers, writer/director Martin McDonagh want you to take the issues raised seriously, but perhaps not to take ourselves too seriously. Overall, the acting and directing by a stellar cast is first-rate. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates this sort of dark comedy.
Lady Bird (2017)
A Meditation on Place and Family
Lady Bird was very well-received at its local premiere at the Paramount Theater for the Austin Film Festival. I found it to be a sweet, charming coming-of-age film. It is a serious film, but with flashes of humor. Greta Gerwing wrote and directed the film which seemed to be partly autobiographical in that she grew up in Sacramento, CA at about the same time as her character. The film is a meditation on what it means to be from some place and what that idea of home means in shaping who you become. She has a love-hate relationship with her city, her family and her place in both. It is also very much a story of young girl struggling with her own and her mother's expectations for herself. The script is really charming with the best scenes being those of Lady Bird and her mother. Lady Bird is struggling with sexuality, family, friendship, religion and even her own name all at the same time. Like all of us, she is trying to find her place in the world. Saoirse Ronan is excellent as Lady Bird as is Laurie Metcalf in the role of her haggard struggling mother trying to hold her family together through difficult times. Recommended to those who like drama, particularly coming-of-age films.
Infinity Baby (2017)
A Failed Attempt at Satire
Infinite Baby premiered at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. This local product was a failed attempt to satire something although it wasn't really clear what it was trying to do. The audience seemed confused and befuddled and asked the director who seemed like he might be drunk fairly gentle questions, because they didn't seem to know how to break it to him. There was some attempt to make fun of parenting and dating relationships. Some individual scenes were mildly funny and might have worked as SNL sketches. But the screenplay was a mess and the skilled actors couldn't really save it. There is no point in this film being widely released. Back to the drawing board.
The Big Sick (2017)
A Beautiful Sweet Film about Complexities of Diversity and Relationships in Modern America
The Big Sick was very warmly-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The Big Sick is a superbly original romantic comedy/drama based on a true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife Emily Gardner; they co-wrote the script together. Kumail stars as himself. It starts from the premise of the inherent difficulties of interracial, inter-religious relationship between a Pakistani- American comedian and white woman in Chicago who face both the normal difficulties of relationships combined with the pressures of Kumail's overbearing, but loving family who demand that he participate in an arranged marriage to a Pakistani girl. Kumail is caught between competing worlds. The situation spins out-of-control when Emily becomes extremely ill and Kumail has to deal with her parents.
The amazing part of this movie is that it deals with deeply serious complex issues, but does so with humor and grace. The screenplay is remarkable and nuanced, but is infused with a comedian's sense of humor that captures the real human comedy that exists in all personal relationships. You will die laughing when Emily's bewildered father turns to Kumail in a hospital cafeteria and asks him, "What do you think of 9/11?" and Kumail responds as a comedian should to such an outrageously stupid question. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are excellent in the roles of Emily's parents.
While based on a true story, I'm sure parts have been fictionalized to bring the drama and the humor of the events to the screen, but it appears that the basic Romeo & Juliet premise is based on the screen writers' real relationship. The film's ability to balance the deadly serious and the comedic reminds me of the wonderful film 50/50 (2011) which also dealt with a deadly illness with a similar light touch. This beautiful film which deals so well with the complexities of overcoming cultural differences serves as a good anecdote to our charged political climate and especially with the demonization of Islam that has become all too dangerous in this country. I hope it is the breakout comedy hit of the summer when it goes into wide release in July.
Easy Living (2017)
A Peculiar Story about a Woman Trying to Turn Her Life Around
Easy Living seemed to be warmly-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is entertaining quirky film about Sherry Graham, a door-to-door makeup saleswoman, who is struggling to fix her rather messy life. The writer/director Adam Keleman has crafted a strong lead character. The lead actress, Caroline Dhavernas, delivers a really strong performance. Sherry is trying to turn a corner and escape her dead end job and really her dead end life. While much of the film is entertaining and provocative, the bizarre ending doesn't really do the rest of the movie justice. It is as if the Keleman wrote himself into a corner and couldn't figure out how to get out of it so he just came up with a completely unanticipated and illogical way to resolve the story. It is unfortunate, because it undermines the intelligence nuanced writing and acting that had occurred up to that point.
I Am Another You (2017)
A Beautiful Profile of the Struggles of a Homeless Man
I am Another You was extremely well-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is a daring attempt by a Chinese director to explore the nature of homelessness in America by spending time traveling and living on the street with a homeless young man named Dylan Olsen. She actually spends a few weeks living with Dylan on the streets which is an amazing act of artistic commitment. The film takes a really interesting and somewhat unexpected path to explore the trials and tribulations of homelessness. I want give away the story arc. I will say the film was really touching to me, because I Dylan reminds me of college friend who also ended up homeless for similar reasons.
Director Nanfu Wang has done a beautiful job of presenting the story of homelessness through microcosm of one man's story. Sadly, we have all learned to dehumanize the homeless just so that we don't start crying each time we see a human being sleeping in the dust on street. This film gives us a chance to gain a better understanding of why people live on the streets. Dylan can help us personify and comprehend a larger problem. I hope this film is gains distribution so that more people are able to share Dylan's story. Additionally, I hope the film is used in schools to educate young people about the experience of homelessness. The level of homelessness in this country is a disgrace and addressing that problem requires educating the public about the underlying issues like mental illness and addiction that are interconnected with homelessness.
Most Beautiful Island (2017)
A Powerful Provocative Film about the Dark Side of the American Dream
Most Beautiful Island was extremely well-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival where it won Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature. This eloquent film explores the experiences of Luciana, a recent undocumented immigrant, who has recently arrived from her home land and is just trying to get by in New York. The film focuses on a single day as she takes various odd jobs and then gets invited to work at a mysterious party where she will be extremely well-paid for a single night's work. The suspense builds towards a truly shocking and deeply disturbing climax. This film shows the truly dark side of the American Dream and the truly disturbing nature of class privilege in a society with huge gaps in class and, therefore, power and privilege.
The story is described as inspired by true events so there may be some exaggeration in the actual climax, but it is still quite powerful and leaves the audience awestruck. Ana Asensio directed, wrote and stars in this fascinating and absorbing film. It is beautiful written, filmed and acted. The tension builds towards the disturbing climax. The American Dream is not always what it seems to be and needs to be re-imagined for our current economic and political realities. I hope the film gets distributed so more people can learn to empathize with the immigrant experience which has sadly become a political punching bag in recent years.
Rat Film (2016)
A Failed Attempt to Address an interesting Animal
This was one of the worst films a SXSW Film Festival. The audience found it confusing and almost incoherent. The experimental attempt kept jumping around from rats to video games to the sociology of race in Baltimore to some sort of attempt to recreate crime scenes. None of these parts seemed to be connect to the other parts. It just jumped from one part to another without any real transition or clear narrative. The narration was also done in this strange voice that sounded almost like a computerized voice. There were individual scenes and characters that seemed somewhat intriguing particularly as they related to the human relations with rats. Some people wanted to exterminate them while others treated them as pets. But none of it connected in this poorly edited mess of a movie. This was film is sadly a failed experiment.
Let There Be Light (2017)
An Informative Documentary on Important and Poorly Understood Subject
Let There Be Light was generally well-received during its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It raises some vitally important issues about the massive scientific endeavor of trying to develop nuclear fusion technology which if perfected could solve the world's energy issues almost overnight and end our dependency on fossil fuels. It is a tantalizing possibility that international researchers have been quietly working on for decades. The film raises some important and fundamental questions. It also examines some of the bureaucratic and political hurdles (including some utterly clueless members of the U.S. Congress) that have undermined the research.
Unfortunately, it also meanders a bit through different research projects without clearly explaining why the various scientific approaches really matter. While it is a fairly accessible introduction to the subject for a lay person, it seems to go off in too many different tangents. Much of the film is not particularly visually interesting with a lot of shots of scientific talking heads in laboratories. Still, this is an important research which needs to be funded and in a country deeply lacking in scientific knowledge that recently seems to be rejoicing in its own ignorance, the film is quite worthwhile. This important research has a better chance of being properly funded if more Americans at least gain a basic understanding of what fusion is and why it is so important. I hope the film gets distribution so more people can learn about this important research.
The Work (2017)
A Compelling Intense Documentary about a Prison Therapy Program
The Work was extremely well-received during its world premiere at Austin SXSW Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize in Documentary Feature Competition. This is one of the most intense films that you will ever see and it literally takes your breath away. It is follows several prisoners many serving long sentences for violent, often gang-related, crimes - in a group therapy program at Folsom Prison over a four-day period in which they push each other to confront their demons. They discuss their betrayals which often involve deep-seated and painful issues in their family lives. They confront each physically and emotionally. They open up the darkest corners of their lives so that outside observers can understand that much of the anger that made them criminals comes from deep well-springs of personal suffering and often abuse.
Indirectly, this film asks a very deep question about our criminal justice system: Is it supposed to warehouse and punish offenders or is it supposed to rehabilitate them to return to society? If it is the former it is doing so at a very great cost. If it is the latter than we need to invest in programs like this so that we can return these men to as productive members of society. This film shows us what rehabilitation looks like and subtly makes that argument. We need a national conversation about how the criminal justice system is failing and about how we can begin to repair it. We have begun discussing some aspects of this complex problem including reconsidering the "War on Drugs," but we also need to be discussing how to rehabilitate those currently imprisoned as well. I hope that it gains distribution so that a wider audience can see this powerful and compelling film and begin this conversation about the criminal justice system.
A Fascinating True Crime Story about a Bizarre Murder at Baylor University
Disgraced was well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film explains the complex issues around the tragic disappearance and ultimate death of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy. The events that led to the arrest and conviction of one of his teammates Carlton Dotson - are complex and remain confusing since there was little explanation of that player's motivation. The director and his team did an excellent job of laying out the details of that multi-layered investigation.
The web events that played out was complicated and ultimately led to a NCAA investigation of rules violations by Coach Dave Bliss and others. These included extensive allegations that Bliss likely backed by boosters paid player tuition and expenses. The director does an excellent job of dissecting this complicated true crime investigation. It reveals a pattern of extensive corruption at the heart of the world's largest Baptist University (which has continued recently with the cover-up of a massive sexual assault scandal). It is clear that Baylor University put winning ahead of the rules of amateur college athletics. As someone who has taught college athletes in Texas, I have to wonder if Baylor was worse than other college or just more careless so that they got caught? I suspect that Baylor may merely be one of the worst offenders in a deeply corrupt system. This is powerful film that asks may important questions about these tragic events and more broadly about the nature of college athletics. It has been picked up by Showtime so it should be widely seen by a wide audience and hopefully adds to a wide debate over college athletics. Oh, by the way, Baylor is #3 seed in the NCAA tournament announced this week.
Stranger Fruit (2017)
A Detailed and Fascinating Account of the Killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO
Stranger Fruit was extremely well-received in its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX. In many ways it provides Michael Brown with his day in court that he was denied by the actions of the authorities in Ferguson, MO. Michael Brown's 2014 was a tragedy and it seems clear that authorities prevented the full truth from coming to light. They dissect the available evidence to show how Officer Darren Wilson likely lied about the shooting to justify his own actions. More importantly they document the institutional racism that likely led County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to intentionally act in a manner that led the grand jury not to indict Officer Wilson. There is a lot that has been said about these events, but this film provides a highly accessible visual accounting of this controversy. It should be widely viewed, because it is crucial for the public to get a real accounting of these important and controversial historical events.
Many of the details of these remain murky, but this film certainly provides a clearer look at these events than most Americans have seen before. It corrects some of the misinformation that have been spread about Michael Brown. Unfortunately, it is hard to call it a fully objective accounting. The film was clearly made in cooperation with the family and supporters and sometimes allows its rhetoric to exceed its facts. There are sometimes where it appears to exaggerate. It tries to make Michael Brown into a saint instead of an ordinary person. Some of the connections drawn among peripheral players are conspiratorial without real evidence. In one place where they compare statistics, they state that there are over 1100 police killings annually in the U.S. compared to only 14 in China. While the U.S. figure may well be true (and should be unacceptable), it is absurd to accept such a statistic from the authoritarian Chinese authorities as a reliable point of comparison. Their comments in the screenings also present the director more as an agenda-driven advocate than as objective film maker. Again, this is unfortunate, because it makes it more difficult for people to fully believe the film's interpretation. This is an important story that deserves to be told in an objective manner. While Stranger Fruit does add some important detail to the story, Michael Moore- style documentaries that start from the conclusion they want to reach lack the neutrality to fully answer the unanswered questions. Michael Brown deserves to have his tragic story told and this film partly does so, but a better more objective accounting is still needed.
Served Like a Girl (2017)
An Extremely Moving Film about the Lives of Female Vets
Served Like a Girl was extremely well-received during its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is a beautifully directed and edited film describing the compelling experiences of four women veterans who compete in the Ms. Veteran America contest. The contest is held each year to raise money for homeless women veterans. Their stories are compelling and patriotic. The film is a wonderful statement about the need to treat women as equals in society in general and in the military in particular. It also points out despite the policy under which until recently many women were not officially serving in combat, many actually served in virtually the identical combat roles as men. This is a compelling and powerful film about an under reported subject. They also faced additional traumas such as sexual abuse in a male dominated environment. Despite the heaviness of much of the narrative, the first time director managed to make the film remarkably humorous by finding the funny stories from their lives. It makes the film much easier and much more human than it would have otherwise been. I hope this film is widely distributed, because these important stories deserve a wider audience.
The Price (2017)
An Immigrant's American Dream meets Wall Street -
Dara Ju was warmly received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is an interesting first feature directorial debut with reasonably good acting, but a messy screenplay that tries to do too much at the same time. It tries to deal with a young Nigerian immigrant's American Dream, his confrontation with racial prejudice, his dysfunctional immigrant family with its own buried secrets, a cross- racial romantic relationship and his growing drug addiction. The screenplay just feels messy with too many subplots and too much happening to allow the stories and characters to fully develop. It is clearly closely related to the director's own family experience as a Nigerian- American immigrant. It is an interesting story and enjoyable although it doesn't feel like it is quite complete in its attempt to cover too much ground in to little space. Even the title is not clearly explained to the audience. The director said it means "better" and that its about the aspirational experience of the immigrant.
A Powerful Mediation on the Campus Rape Culture and its Consequences
MFA was really well-received in its premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. There is a long tradition of vigilante films dating back at least to Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. There have even been a few female vigilantes (Jodie Foster in Brave One, for example), but this seems to be the first set against the issue of campus rape culture and a woman seeking vengeance for being horribly violated. The script and the acting is Francesca Eastwood (Yes, Clint's daughter) and Leah McKendrick (who wrote the screenplay) is excellent. The script is subtle and nuanced. The use of original artwork by the Noelle who is an art student is particularly powerful. There are some aspects of this revenge fantasy that are a little unbelievable, but that doesn't really take away from the powerful story which raises an important issue that is gaining more attention (typically in documentaries like Hunting Ground). While this issue has gained a lot more attention in recent years, the conversation really needs to continue. I hope this film gains distribution, because it deserves to be more widely viewed.
The Blood Is at the Doorstep (2017)
A Powerful Account of Man's Tragic Death
Blood is at the Doorstep was extremely well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It does a beautiful job of telling the story of the tragic killing of 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton by Milwaukee policeman. While the concept is very similar to Stranger Fruit (about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO), Blood is at the Doorstep is a much better film. It is a less angry and less propagandistic film. It tries to tell the story in a way that presents an honest picture of the victim and which clearly documents the institutional racism involved in the police action and the criminal justice system. It is less about trying to reconstruct the crime and more about the reactions of the family and the movement that grew out of Dontre's death. It tries to show how the community reacted. The tone was less about accusations and more about trying to develop a space for healing the community following this terrible injustice. I hope this film is widely distributed, because more people need to see this take which really points in the direction that the movement for racial justice should be going.
Signature Move (2017)
A Moving Film about Diversity, Romance, and Family
Signature Move was well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is a beautiful film. As the director alluded to in her introduction, the film is a lesbian love story between a Pakistan- American Muslim immigration lawyer and Mexican-American bookstore owner in a peaceful diverse Chicago. Basically, it is about everything Donald Trump hates! More seriously, it is about a diverse multicultural melting pot where people of different cultures come together and learn from each other and grow and sometimes come to love each other. The film is well-acted and the script is quite subtle. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Fawzia Mizra as Zaynab and Shabbana Azmi as her mother. The family relationship as Zaynab gradually figures out how to share her true self with her traditional mother is compelling. There are parts of the story that are a little too predictable, but basically it very enjoyable and a great anecdote to today's mean-spirited political climate.
Barbecue is a Scrumptious World Tour
Barbecue was extremely well-received in its world premiere at SXSW in, (where else would you premiere a BBQ movie?), but in Austin, Texas. It was beautiful filmed as the film makers ate their way around the planet to explore the BBQ traditions on 6 continents in Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Japan, Mongolia, Jordan (among Syrian refugees), Armenia, Sweden, South Africa, Texas, Mexico and Uruguay. While each was unique in its cultural traditions and rituals for flame-cooking meet, there was something deeply primordial about the idea of humans cooking meeting. The specific methods of preparation differed from country-to-country, but the core experience was shared and universal. The experience is a communal one that brings together families and friends the world over. The process seemed to be one that binds communities together.
Barbecue is beautiful filmed so that you can almost smell the meet cooking over the flame and almost taste it. In a world where human beings often seem so deeply divided, BBQ is a tradition that unifies people. I honestly don't understand vegetarians who choose to reject this essential element of human existence. I hope that folks get to enjoy this luscious charming documentary about one of world's best culinary experiences.
An Interesting film that could have been Better
Maineland was well-received at its world premiere at SXSW Film Festival. It is an interesting look at Chinese exchange students going attending a private school in Maine. The director does an intrepid job following the young high school students lives from urban China to the contrast of rural Maine. Some of the scenes are certainly entertaining, but the film seems to lack a clear direction and story arc. It does too little to clearly explore the sociological impact of both the young people and how they impacted those around them. They didn't really focus on the racism they experienced or the impact on their peers. There was too much of just cinema verite presentation without really clearly steering the narrative clearly enough. Often the exchange students seem just like any other student coming-of-age, but that doesn't provide a very intriguing story for the audience. A different editing of the same material might well have produced a more compelling portrait of what happens when cultures collide.
An Excellent Portrayal of the Emotional Issue of Big Game Hunting
Trophy was well-received at the SXSW Film Festival last night. It presents a surprisingly nuanced picture of the complexity of a subject that is usually viewed through memes and brief clips about the killing of Cecil the Lion. The filmmakers provide a nuanced and complicated explanation of the issues around the economics and conservation of wild game. They spent a long time filming and interviewing some of the participants in this complex industry. They clearly show those who are there simply to assuage their egos and usually their masculinity by killing lions and rhinos. They show those who seek to profit off of commodify these beautiful animals. But they also show those who are trying to save these animals and sometimes are doing so in surprising ways. The positive effects on the local African economy are also worth observing. I was particularly intrigued by John Hume who has preserved hundreds of rhinos, but is trying to sell the rhino horns (which are removed from living animals) in order to support his rhino preserve. Ironically, the laws that are designed to save the rhinos by banning the sale of the horns are creating a black market and may be endangering them.
I can't say that I came away more sympathetic to the big game hunters who seem to be killing wild beasts more for their own pleasure than to help conserve them. Human beings need to live in greater harmony with these great animals rather than kill them for sport. It isn't sporting and it isn't fair competition. I don't see how the benefits outweigh the costs. Living creatures shouldn't be murdered as commodities of the market.
The filmmakers exploration is commendable. They are trying to educate the public on a complex issue. The African filming in South Africa and elsewhere is beautiful. I did find that it ran a little long and probably needs to be shortened from its current 108 minutes. The film is scheduled to run on CNN and I hope that it gets a wide audience which begins to help those on either side of a polarized issue begin to re-examine the complexity of the situation so that we can work to better preserve these animals and regulate their environment and protect them from poachers and others seeking to exploit them for ego and profit.
Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)
A Compelling and Disturbing True Crime Documentary
Mommy Dead and Dearest was extremely well-received in its world premiere today at SXSW Film Festival. This film morphs from apparent case of matricide into one of the journey of Gypsy, a severely abused child. Her journey as recounted in recovered VHS tapes and interviews will shock you even if you think you can no longer be shocked by what human beings are capable of. It is best not to give away too many of the details of Gypsy's story. The filmmakers have taken care to present the story with both sympathy and nuance as we learn the disturbing details behind Gypsy's story and most disturbingly how every institution that was supposed to help her medical, educational, social workers, the criminal justice system failed to attenuate the abuse and allowed the conditions that produced this bizarre and disturbing situation to continue. The film is scheduled for HBO and this story deserves to be more widely seen and understood. Unfortunately, in so many ways, the criminal escaped punishment and the victim has been imprisoned by what has happened. The filmmakers have done an excellent job of bringing this troubling story to life for the public.
Silicon Cowboys (2016)
Silicon Cowboys: A Great History of the Role of Compaq in the Rise of PCs
Silicon Cowboys was very well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. Whereas the narrative of the era is usually the competition between Apple and IBM, this film based on a book by Compaq's founder, refocuses the narrative on the competition between IBM and the PC clones led by Compaq. The film's David vs. Goliath narrative arc is absorbing and entertaining. It presents a highly entertaining history that avoids getting lost in technical detail that would overwhelm and confuse non-tech geeks. They focus on intriguing accessible concepts such as the Compaq's introduction of the concept of first portable PC weighing at 28 pounds - as the predecessor to the modern laptop and eventually the tablet and the smartphone. The filmmakers were able to dig up tons of entertaining archival footage and conduct extensive interviews with most of the major players in the 1980s clone wars. The editing and the music are fabulous. The period music and look evokes the nostalgia for the 1980s. Highly recommended for those who want to try to understand a technological revolution that they may have lived through, but didn't fully understand at the time.
Powerful Film Recreating the 1966 UT Tower Shooting
Tower received huge ovations and overwhelming support in its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. It has already won the grand jury award for best documentary. This is powerful spectacular film that brings back the most traumatic event in the history of this city when a gun man from the UT-Austin's iconic tower committed mass murder on sunny day in August. The film was made to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the one of the earliest and one of the worst mass school shootings in American history. It will be released widely on PBS's Independent Lens later this year and possibly in theaters as well. There are still many folks in Austin who remember that day. The filmmaker made the brilliant choice to combine original news coverage with animation so as to recreate the tragic events nearly perfectly (without having to actually film people shooting on the UT- Austin campus). They use actor's voice to recreate the events which are based on interviews with many of the original participants (victims, police, witnesses). Very little is said about the gun man.
For those of us came to the Forty Acres (UT-Austin campus) years later, there is an eerie feeling in just watching the events play out at the center of campus where we know every building, every column, every statue like our own homes. The film is haunting and spellbinding. I really couldn't look away. Afterwards, many of the still living original participants who were portrayed in the film were present on the stage. The moving presence was Clare Wilson, the woman who was 8-month pregnant, and lost her baby and her boyfriend that day.
Tower remains mostly non-political as the film is mostly just a recreating of horror of August 1, 1966. Towards the end, it does speak to the current politics of the issue particularly the Texas campus carry. That law is scheduled to take effect at 4-year universities in Texas on the 50th anniversary on August 1, 2016 supposedly by coincidence. Those current day politics have become an unavoidable epilogue that have forced themselves into the debate. That will also be the day when they are planning to unveil an official memorial to the victims on the UT campus. This is a difficult film to watch, but it must be seen, because the history remains completely relevant today.
Asperger's Are Us (2016)
A Fascinating examination of Four Young Men with Asperger's
Asperger's Are Us was warmly received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is a beautiful little film about what it is like to enter adulthood still dealing with Asperger's. We often hear about children and rarely hear about happens to those kids as they enter adulthood. This shows these young still struggling, but basically making it. Their effort to perform comedy a difficult skill for Aspies is inspiring. While their comedy is not all that funny in many ways, their efforts to work together and achieve something creative are powerful. For those of us who don't have a lot of experience with Aspies it is a great way to learn about their struggles. The filmmakers captured a lot of their intimate interactions as they rehearsed together. I appreciated their bravery in sharing their story with the world. The film is well-made and well-edited.
A Peculiar Story about the Complexities of Racism
Accidental Courtesy was well-received at its World Premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. Its protagonist musician Daryl Davis seems well-intentioned in his peculiar efforts to reach out to Klansman. He seems to think that if he as a black man can just talk to these Klansman he can talk them out of their racist. The view seems really naive. Over 30 years, he seems to have won over a few Klansman, but none of his arguments seem to really address the deeper issues. The KKK is only the tip of the iceberg and none of his arguments ever get at the structural causes of racism or the deeper roots of institutional racism. Human contact can certainly breakdown some boundaries and its positive if a few of these extremists get to know a black man and learn that he is human and begin to rethink their views. But I was really glad that the film makers realized how deeply limited Davis's approach was and decided to include his critics from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Black Lives Matter movement. The film is entertaining and well- filmed, but got a bit repetitive after a while as we saw Davis's numerous encounters with different Klansman. Davis is an interesting idiosyncratic character, but his approach to racism is ultimately a bit simplistic.