13th

A few weeks before the election, race relations, police brutality, and mass incarceration are on the forefront of many voters minds. Fittingly, Netflix just released the stirring documentary 13th by Ava DuVernay which delves into the issues through historical background and extensive expert interviews.

13th decides to tackle issues so huge that it somewhat struggles with what it wants the main focus of the film to be. The title and core thesis reflects a very important and often overlooked clause in the 13th amendment, the abolishment of slavery except as punishment for a crime. This loophole, as the film reflects has allowed for hundreds of years of legal slavery in the form of mass incarceration of mainly african-american men. DuVernay, deftly establishes the long history of systemic racism in law and politics that has led to the highest incarceration rates in the world. She uses numerous interviews with incarceration activists, historians, and other notables including, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Michelle Alexander to discuss the history. Alexander, is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, whose thesis that the US prison system is the modern equivalent of slavery is at the core of the film.

The film amazingly clocks in under two hours while managing to highlight the past 200 years of racism, laws, and rhetoric that has led up to the incarceration rates of 2016 and the current political climate. It even takes time to focus on the racist and inflammatory rhetoric both of the current political candidates have said over the past twenty five years. The pacing never feels too rushed and DuVernay tries to eliminate any major bias by incorporating a few apposing viewpoints and some whose minds have changed as policies have evolved.

Most interesting is hearing the ALEC spokesman try and defend the years of racist policies they’ve been able to push into law. DuVernay doesn’t try to make the film about contrasting views, her argument is clear enough just by laying out the history and increase in the prison system over the last twenty years. While highlighting the specific lawmakers, like Clinton and Bush whose policies nearly doubled the prison population.

The film ends with a slight examination into how new technology has brought national attention to police brutality. Now, with the help of filming devices more non people of color are witnessing and becoming aware of the thoroughly embedded societal inequality, which will hopefully inspire positive change in the coming years. The film ends while intercutting montages of Trump rallies with those of anti-segregationists in the 1960’s. Showing that in many ways, we still have far to go.

13th is available to stream on Netflix with subscription

 

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Deadpool

This week, I decided to mix it up from my usual viewing choices and watch a superhero movie. However, Deadpool is not your average superhero movie. From the opening credits to the final after credit sneak peak the tongue in cheek dialogue and R rating level violence makes this film stand alone in a sea of superhero movies that have inundated audiences over the last ten years.

The film acts as Deadpool’s origin story, with Ryan Reynolds playing the titular character Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. The story jumps back and forth in time, going back in time to tell the origin story of Deadpool and his relationship with his love Vanessa to present day dealings with his nemesis Ajax. Throughout the film Reynolds breaks the forth wall to have quips with the viewer and to defy against standard superhero stereotypes. While the film prides itself on its self-awareness it was sometimes too much, as the viewer gets the main idea from the opening sequence.The dialogue varies from downright crude humor to insightful thoughts on sexism in the film industry.

For those who don’t know (spoilers ahead) Wilson is former special forces mercenary who, after falling in love with stripper Vanessa gets diagnosed with incurable cancer. Wilson decides to turn towards a mysterious lab run by mutants like Ajax and Angel Dust who promise to cure his cancer by making him mutant. For his mutant abilities to show Ajax and Angel Dust subject him to inane torture which leaves him permanently disfigured. Eventually Ajax kills him which releases Deadpool’s power of superhuman healing and – the inability to die.

After figuring out his costume and alter ego with the help of his best friend Weasel  (played by the great T.J. Miller) Deadpool goes to exact revenge on Ajax while trying to keep his being alive a secret to Vanessa. Chaos, blood, and action ensues as Deadpool ends up defeating Ajax and Angel Dust, with the help of some other lesser known X-Men.

The film is highlighted with top notch CGI and action scenes that are on par with any of the larger budget action movies. The pacing of the film can be a bit slow at times with the director Tim Miller relying on long drawn out shots, a stark contrast from the rapid fire dialogue. The plot is also open enough where someone who hasn’t has much exposure to the Marvel Universe can understand the world of Wade Wilson and his associated friends and villains.

Deadpool is a rollicking good time (not for the whole family) and a good foray into superhero movies – if you’re not that into superhero movies.

Deadpool is available to stream via HBOgo with subscription

Amanda Knox

The name Amanda Knox is synonymous throughout the world with murder. In 2007 Knox, a twenty year old American studying abroad in Italy was thrust onto the national spotlight after being arrested for the brutal murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher. Nine years later, Netflix has released a riveting and highly stylized documentary on the murder, arrests, and trials of Knox, her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and the convicted killer Rudy Guede.

The films starts by evaluating Knox’s character with personal interviews, showing her as somewhat naive and excited to go abroad. Also interviewed are, Sollecito, Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, and Nick Pisa, the DailyMail journalist whose yellow journalism helped to bring the international spotlight on Knox. With the inclusion of Pisa the filmmakers try to raise the question, was Knox’s trial by media or evidence?

The film delves into the media circus surrounding the murder and trial as well as the character accusations against Knox whose “quirky” personality are quickly be manipulated by the media and prosecution into something more sinister. The film’s story is a bit scattered sometimes jumping between interviews, stylized reenactments and archival footage as if the filmmakers struggled with what elements to highlight. The core of the film is the exclusive access and interviews with Knox who is presented in a raw unbiased factor, leaving the viewer to be the ultimate judge of her guilt.

The other interviewees also become quickly characterized, Sollectio – the quiet romantic, Pisa – the ruthless journalist, and Mignini – the morally righteous (and heavily religious) prosecutor. The focus on Mignini’s religiousness is interesting as it contrasts against the heavy use of science and logic involved in law trials. Even with Knox’s and Sollectio’s convictions overturned Mignini believes that they will have to answer to the higher power as “god will judge them” for their actions.

Some of the subtle highlights of the film include the pulsating soundtrack and beautiful arial shots of the Italian countryside and Perugia. Which juxtaposed against the grainy  police footage of the murder scene made the crime even more horrific in appearance and action.

The film ends with Knox and Sollectio being exonerated by the highest court in Italy. Guede – who was convicted of murder in 2007 – remains an afterthought in the whole media circus while Knox’s party believe he was the sole killer. While, innocent in the eyes of the law, it is Knox, and to some extent Sollectio, who will never be able to escape the judgement of the the public and media. Overall, the film gives an detailed and high access look into one of the most covered trials of the 2000’s and shows that sometimes the evidence is not as important as a juicy story.

Amanda Knox is available to stream on Netflix with a subscription

Fleabag

As the weather has quickly turned from sweltering summer to grey chilly weekends, I’ve returned inside for hibernating mode. This includes, baking, knitwear, and excessive binge watching.  This weekend I discovered the wonderful Amazon Prime show (originally BBC) Fleabag. Dubbed the British answer to Girls Fleabag is a wonderful feminist comedy that highlights the struggles and joys of trying to figure out your 20’s. Similarly to Dunham, Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes, produces, and stars as the main character Fleabag (a childhood nickname).

The Girls characters are known for being narcissistic millennials and Fleabag is no exception. Though her self-awareness separates herself by managing to remain endearingly vulnerable and relatable. Part of Fleabags charm has to do with Waller-Bridges’ wonderful acting and witty dialogue, the other has to do with her breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the viewer . The commentary ranges from her making excellent faces to updating the viewer on the lies she tells others in the show. This makes the viewer connect with Fleabag on another level – as if she’s saying what everyone really thinks.

The joy of Fleabag is that for all of her misgivings everyone else in her life is equally awful, from her uptight sister, absent father, and evil stepmother (played by the always wonderful Olivia Coleman). Rounding out Fleabags family is her best friend Boo, obnoxious brother in law and a parade of men. From her too sweet off and on again boyfriend Harry to various hookups Fleabag manages to expertly show the range of relationships young single millennial women deal. Throughout the season Fleabag uses the men for physical relationships, though often it seems she is getting nothing from them at all. As one scene with Harry she only achieves orgasm on her own, showing that really she’s using these men to hide her loneliness or to show her family she’s successful.

The show has this feminist perspective throughout and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Especially in scenes with Fleabag and her perennially uptight sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and how they deal with the loss of their mother. It expertly captures the nuances of a older/younger sister dynamic while making both characters appear relatable despite their many flaws.

All in all Fleabag is a wonderful, crude, feminist look into the mind of young 20somethings in 2016 and says what most are thinking. Accompanied by a great soundtrack and a well rounded cast Fleabag is your next show to binge watch this weekend.

Fleabag Season 1 (6 episodes) is available to stream on Amazon Prime with subscription

 

The Big Short

Like most millennials,  I usually experience slight heart palpitations when words like “sub-prime mortgage” and “credit rating” are used. The Big Short takes these work and explains the concepts we hear everyday and how they helped to contribute to the housing collapse and recession in 2008. You might think, oh, is this an educational documentary? Nope. The Big Short is adapted from Michael Lewis’s book of the same name and includes an all star cast of Steve Carrell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling. Who explain how the financial crisis went down and play the people who knew it was going to happen.

The film focuses on a select group of hedge fund managers and bankers whose main goal is to bet against the system. Before 2008, the housing market was seen as infallible, however Michael Burry, (played by Christian Bale) sees that the once impenetrable housing loans are now being handed out to anyone regardless of credit.  This created “sub-prime mortgage’s where the homeowner could not pay the bank back which in turn had the bank lending out money that wasn’t being repaid – resulting in massive foreclosures.

The film starts in the early 2000’s when the economy is booming and leads up to the months after the collapse giving a well rounded timeframe to crisis and shows how unaware the general public was of the whole issue. It also highlights the excellent acting by the main cast and supporting characters, especially Carrell, who over the course of the film transforms from greedy and crude to defeated knowing that the rich bankers who started the collapse would not get penalized and it would hurt the middle class the most. The A-list talent and snappy dialogue help to hide the generally lackluster visual aesthetic and cinematography.

Throughout the film director Adam McKay explains the crisis and other complicated financial terms by breaking the fourth wall and having celebrities like Selena Gomez explain them to the viewer. This tongue and check method captures the viewers attention while trying to actually help the viewer understand the concepts instead confusing words by boring old men.

The Big Short is fun, a little flashy, and in the end is a sobering view on how the housing crisis was created and encouraged by greed and disregard on wall street and beyond.

The Big Short is available to stream on Netflix