REVIEW: Totally Under Control [2020]

Politics got in the way of science. Documentaries like Alex Gibney (who also wrote), Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger‘s Totally Under Control have a tendency of falling prey to their activism. And being that this film specifically was shot, packaged, and released in just a handful of months before a very contentious United States presidential election only augments that potential. Because how much information about the COVID-19 pandemic is there that we don’t already know? How does putting what we do together into a cohesive, well-researched piece facilitate much-needed education…

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BIFF20 REVIEW: Runaway [2020]

Tears in cornflakes taste awful. Every story can be tackled from multiple angles depending on its narrative intent and lead character. It’s therefore a conscious choice when selecting a focal point because everything that follows will inherently center him/her as the protagonist. While generally not a bad thing considering most stories we tell are purposefully drawn to lift up their subject in that way, some demand a more complex and nuanced approach. The reason is simple: certain events prove more important than any single player within. And that’s definitely the…

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REVIEW: American Murder: The Family Next Door [2020]

Her medication is still here. Director Jenny Popplewell went through the late Shanann Watts’ cellphone and personal computer with her family’s blessing to piece together her final days in as close to her own words as possible. It’s an admirable exercise considering the only other way to even guess at her state of mind and actions came from what others were saying. And since her husband Chris gradually alters that story once more evidence is uncovered (as revealed through police recordings) to refute previous iterations, we find ourselves in desperate…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: MLK/FBI [2021]

Those are pieces of information we shouldn’t have. It’s no secret that J. Edgar Hoover surveilled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s. Not only was his impact during the civil rights movement too powerful for the long-standing head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to ignore, but we also know King was sent a recording and letter calling for his suicide that only the department could have created. We didn’t, however, know the specific details of how it was accomplished or the series of events that led…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: David Byrne’s American Utopia [2020]

Us and you. We open on an illuminated square with a table at its center: the stage from an overhead perspective of which the sold-out crowd at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre is never privy. That’s the appeal of a filmed performance. By setting up cameras and documenting David Byrne‘s 2019 stage show from every angle, director Spike Lee is able to present the minimalist aesthetics and artistry in a way that its original format can’t. And with a through-line message of inclusion and connection, that ability is necessary. Just look at…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: Underplayed [2020]

Talent is everywhere. Opportunity isn’t. Like every industry built under the watchful eye of a global patriarchy, the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene is grossly tilted in favor of its male artists. And like many of those same industries, this fact exists despite the presence of women pioneers at the inception of electronic sound as a medium. For every Robert Moog that acknowledged their genius (he enlisted Clara Rockmore’s expertise to better the advancement of his synthesizer), there were unfortunately countless others like Don Buchla (who agreed to sponsor a…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel [2020]

People, profit, and planet. Sixteen years after author Joel Bakan‘s book The Corporation was made into a feature length documentary by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, the time to revisit his thesis and see how the market adapted has arrived. Joining Abbott in the director’s chair himself for the follow-up, The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel looks to introduce viewers to what was probably the only logical progression for a for-profit corporation to take after achieving the rights of a human being under the court of law. Anyone who’s…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: Inconvenient Indian [2020]

Once a story is told, it cannot be called back. As author Thomas King states near the end of Michelle Latimer‘s feature-length documentary inspired by his novel of the same name, Inconvenient Indian: “The problem has never been ignorance, but arrogance.” White, Christian colonialists can only say that their ancestors didn’t know any better so often before the words prove meaningless. Whether of not their actions towards the indigenous populations of North America were malicious in intent becomes inconsequential once the case for the pain and suffering wrought is made.…

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TIFF20 REVIEW: Enemies of the State [2020]

The truth doesn’t matter. Documentarian Sonia Kennebeck‘s feature debut National Bird focused on three whistleblowers speaking about the United States military’s use of drones in secret wars waged overseas. She gave those veterans a platform with which to tell their story and perhaps assuage some guilt while striving to find a hopeful path forward within a world plagued by technological warfare more akin to videogame detachment than seeing the “whites of an insurgent’s eyes.” So it makes sense that she’d also gravitate towards the wild conspiracies surrounding another whistleblower-adjacent figure…

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FANTASIA20 REVIEW: Feels Good Man [2020]

The violence becomes the meme. Every artist’s worst nightmare is watching his/her work become appropriated for a cause antithetical to its origins. It happens all the time. Just this week the Republican National Convention played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” despite being told they didn’t have the permission of the late songwriter’s estate. Whereas the latter now has legal grounds and copyright law on its side to discuss filing suit in response to the infraction, things get murky when fair use rears its head and even murkier after falling further into the…

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FANTASIA20 REVIEW: Clapboard Jungle [2020]

The reality doesn’t always live up to the dream. If you know anything about the independent film world, it won’t be surprising to discover the project writer/director Justin McConnell is hoping to get off the ground at the start of Clapboard Jungle isn’t going to be much further along in its pre-production process four years later. That’s the nature of the beast. You’re going to have moments of elation when it appears that funds have come through and the inevitable spiral downward when those plans evaporate. You’re going to hit…

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