FlixChatter Review: The Social Dilemma (2020)

To say social media is addictive is really putting it mildly. Even as someone who’s relatively new to social media (I’ve actually opened a personal Facebook account just three years ago when I made my first short film), it’s impossible to refute the impact of social networking. Gone are the days when we actually use our phone to make/receive a phone call… that’s hardly the reason why we can’t put our phones down.

Set in Silicon Valley, the documentary fuses investigative documentary with tech experts who helped build the social networking platforms, and narrative drama that present how a family is dealing with the social media addiction. The concept being presented here is hardly surprising, but it’s still pretty alarming to reflect that the obsessive appeal of social networking isn’t a bug, it’s a feature – that’s the exact logline on Netflix.

I personally don’t think the dramatic narrative are necessary to grasp the concepts director Jeff Orlowski and his subjects are presenting here, but they are quite entertaining and certainly makes the big ideas like social engineering, and surveillance capitalism more relatable on a human level. What I find most fascinating are the fact that the experts being interviewed had a hand in building the platforms they are exposing and calling disturbing, even malevolent.

Two of the experts in particular, Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist and Justin Rosenstein, former Google & Facebook Engineer (who’s one of the people who invented the LIKE button) have some particularly damning revelations about the Big Tech industry. While we think of them as innovative industry that create ‘tools’ to make our lives more connected are nothing more than profit-driven industry that gain their billions trillions from manipulating human behavior.

”There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”

”If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.”

”Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.”

Many of these tech experts admit that they too became addicted to their own products, even after spending hours building them, they too still fall prey to what those platforms are build for. One of the most intriguing part of the dramatization is when multiple AI (played by Vincent Kartheiser) are manipulating a teenage boy (Skyler Gisondo), complete with a digital dummy akin to a voodoo doll, to keep him engaged on screen as much as possible. It seems funny and hyperbolic, but the experts, especially Tristan Harris are saying the engineers behind these platforms are paid big bucks to ‘enslave’ us for their own gain. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are not a passive ‘tools’ like a bicycle waiting to be used, but on the other side of these platforms, there are engineers who work with acute, unscrupulous precision to ensure that their users are addicted to their products.

I’ve already limited my time on many social platform and disabled notifications even before I watch this film, and I’m not one of those people who check their phone first thing in the morning either. But I have to admit that on occasion I had been so distracted by social media that an hour or two have gone by without me realizing it! It’s really terrifying to take in just how dangerous social media has become as the AI and algorithm become increasingly smarter and adept at predicting what we want to see/hear/buy/vote, etc. Most people who weren’t born in the age of social media (I’m going to date myself here, but I still had to do my college research using a Microfiche machine at the library!), I realize that technology as powerful as social media is going to have an evil, dark side to it, but I doubt many young people are conscious of it. Even if they are, they probably are too pressured by their peers to limit their use of it.

My heart goes out to the parents of Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, as mobile phones have become available to them since they’re in middle school. It’s no wonder that there’s skyrocketing levels of depression among children and teens… it’s bad enough kids get bullied in person, but being bullied through social media that reach beyond their own school/community is another matter. The film also touched upon some of the dire social implications all over the world. For example, it talks about how Facebook is used to spread false information, including Covid misinformation, and how it’s used to incite violence by white supremacist, etc. It even has an influence in something as horrifying as the genocide in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Social Dilemma might seem hyperbolic at times, and I feel that is on purpose for a cautionary tale such as this one. I certainly find if eye-opening and sobering, even downright terrifying at times. It potently illustrates just how important it is for people to connect on a human level outside of the digital ecosystem. It’s also a visually-arresting film with beautiful animation to illustrate various points. I think it’s important for documentary filmmakers to use creativity to deliver information in an entertaining way, and Orlowski certainly did that. If there is one documentary you should watch this year (well, of any year), I can’t recommend this one enough.


Have you seen The Social Dilemma? I’d love to hear what you think!

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On The Basis of Sex and RBG are re-released in theaters – In tribute to justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Los Angeles, California, September 22, 2020 – In tribute of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and unparalleled legacy upholding justice, Focus Features and Magnolia Pictures jointly announced that they will be re-releasing On the Basis of Sex and RBG, both films about the iconic Supreme Court Justice, this coming Friday in theaters, alongside the films’ availability via on-demand platforms. Both film companies will be donating their net proceeds from the films’ theatrical re-release to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation in support of their Women’s Rights Project, which was co-founded by Ginsburg back in 1972.

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in ON THE BASIS OF SEX

On the Basis of Sex and RBG were both originally released in 2018. On the Basis of Sex, which was released by Focus Features and presented by Participant, chronicled Ginsburg’s early life in law school and her groundbreaking case Moritz v. IRS, the first case ever to rule that gender discrimination is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary RBG, directed by award-winning filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen and released to theaters and on demand by Magnolia Pictures and Participant, chronicled the inspiring and personal story of Ginsburg’s rise to the nation’s highest court while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. RBG is executive produced by CNN Films and is a Storyville Films production.  CNN is the North American broadcast distributor for the documentary.

Participant, a partner on both titles, will join the distributors on #ThankYouRuth, a social tribute campaign asking fans to share posts honoring the legacy of Justice Ginsburg.

Academy-Award® nominee Felicity Jones, who portrayed Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex, said of her passing: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave us hope, a public figure who stood for integrity and justice – a responsibility she did not wear lightly.  She will be missed not only as a beacon of light in these difficult times but for her razor-sharp wit and extraordinary humanity. She taught us all so much. I will miss her deeply.”

Betsy West and Julie Cohen said in a joint statement: “From her Supreme Court chambers to her exercise room, what a privilege and a joy it was for us to train our cameras on RBG, and capture the story of this feisty, determined, brilliant woman who used her talents to make our world a better place.”

Focus Features and Magnolia Pictures said in a joint statement, “Justice Ginsburg spent her life upholding fairness, the law, and the rights of all Americans.  These films highlight only a small portion of her legacy to screen, but her vast impact on our country goes far beyond them. We hope that moviegoers are re-inspired by her passion, her courage and take that back into the world.” 


The films will be available in approximately 1,000 theaters nationwide.  Audiences should consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.


FlixChatter: SHORTCUT (2020)


Directed by: Alessio Liguori
Written by: Daniele Cosci

In Shortcut, five students (Jack Kane as Nolan, Zak Sutcliffe as Reggie, Sophie Jane Oliver as Bess, Zander Emlano as Karl, and Molly Dew as Queenie) are thrown into a nightmare when, after their bus is highjacked my an escaped criminal (David Keyes), they break down at the entrance of an abandoned underground military base, where they are menaced by a terrifying and bloodthirsty creature.

When I first read the description of the movie, it sounded like a rip-off of Jeepers Creepers 2. Fortunately, Shortcut is a unique and genuinely entertaining horror movie. The production design is great. The creature design is cool and creepy; it’s mostly kept in the shadows or shown in quick flashes, keeping the tension high and making it look more realistic. There are a couple full body shots of it where it just looks like a person in a cheap homemade costume, but they’re mercifully brief. The score is eerie, intense, and really helps create an unsettling tone throughout the movie.

Acting-wise, the cast is small but solid. The five main characters are teenagers, and the young actors all do an excellent job with their roles; they’re fun and realistic, and even the ones who are meant to be obnoxious are kind of endearing. There’s some dialogue that’s too cheesy to even pass off as teenagers trying to sound cool, but that’s more the writer’s fault than the actors. Terence Anderson is delightful as Joe, the bus driver, and it’s a shame he’s not in more of the movie. David Keyes as Pedro Minghella, the escaped convict, is spooky, unhinged, and will probably give me nightmares with his performance.

Overall, Shortcut is an enjoyable horror movie, and with the focus being on a group of kids and the film not being too bloody or gory, it would be a good one for young viewers just getting into the genre. Shortcut will be released in both theaters and drive-ins on Friday, September 25th- just in time to kick off the Halloween season.

laura_review


Shortcut is currently playing in 600+ theaters
VOD Release: December 22, 2020


Have you seen SHORTCUT? Well, what did you think?

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FlixChatter Halloween Special – Introducing ‘HallowStream’

Hey, FlixChatter readers!

As the blog’s resident horror reviewer, it’s probably obvious that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love all things spooky, and a holiday that celebrates spook is tailor-made for me. Unfortunately, Halloween will probably be a little different this year, what with a raging pandemic going on. No big costume parties, no crowded haunted attractions, no throngs of trick or treaters (okay, we don’t know that for sure yet, but I’m pretty sure there will be significantly fewer trick or treaters this year). What’s a Halloween enthusiast to do under these grim circumstances?

Why not binge some spooky TV shows? Between all of the streaming services available now, there are plenty of shows to get you into the Halloween spirit, from kid-friendly series to darker horror anthologies. From the end of September through the end of October, I will be featuring different horror shows, starting with Netflix’s incredible Haunting of Hill House

… to prepare for its follow-up, The Haunting of Bly Manor

Besides these two, I will be focusing on some lesser-recognized shows, because goodness knows there are already enough articles about American Horror Story and The Walking Dead.

Here are the shows I’ll be covering:

  • So Weird – An American-Canadian family friendly sci-fi/supernatural TV series
  • Fear Itself  – A series of  13 stand-alone episodes written and directed by well-known horror writers and directors
  • Lore – A show based on a popular podcast discussing how popular folklore/horror stories are rooted in truth

So cuddle up on your couch with some Halloween candy and your favorite fall beverage (FYI, pumpkin spice lattes are SO much better with half the pumpkin flavor and an extra shot of espresso) and prepare to be scared!

Happy HallowStream!


– Laura Schaubschlager

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FlixChatter Review – 21 Bridges (2019)

Before the superhero genre dominated the box office, super cop action thrillers were the blockbusters of the 80s and most of the 90s. Films such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop spawned several sequels and earned millions back in the days. 21 Bridges tried to bring that genre back to the big screen and it starred the late Chadwick Boseman as the action super cop.

The story takes place in one night in NYC as two low level criminals Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephen James) decided to steal some cocaine from a local mob restaurant. Things didn’t go as planned when the cops showed up and a shootout ensued. Ray ended up killing several cops at the scene and he and Michael was able to escape. Police Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) is furious and wants justice for the fallen officers, so he called in Detective Andre (Chadwick Boseman) to track down the two criminals. Andre is forced to partner up with another cop named Frankie (Sienna Miller).

Knowing that Ray and Michael are still in Manhattan somewhere, Andre order all of the 21 bridges in the island to be closed. As the night progresses, it’s a cat and mouse game between Andre his new partner Frankie and the two criminals. To anyone who’ve seen this kind of genre before, the story is pretty simple and most the audience will figure out what’s really going before the hero does.

Stephen James & Taylor Kitsch

The screenplay by Adam Mervis and Mathew Michael Carnahan started out pretty well, it has the potential to be a great action thriller with the real time chase element. But as the story progresses, they couldn’t help but to bring in eye-rolling clichés that’s been done in several cop action thrillers of the past. Also, not helping was how the climatic sequence was written, it’s basically something out of a Steven Seagal’s films of the 80s and 90s. My guess is that the scene was probably a reshoot after test audience didn’t like the original ending.

Director Brian Kirk did a decent job with keeping the story moving along with some good action sequences and didn’t try to make it into some super serious action thriller that plagued too many action films in the last decade.

Being that the script was kind of weak, Boseman was good as the action hero even though he didn’t really have much to do except to chase the criminals. Same can be said of Sienna Miller’s Frankie, although her NY accent was pretty bad. As for the rest of cast, they played their part well but nothing spectacular.

This is a good example of a film that has good ideas, but the execution just wasn’t there. Probably another round of rewrites of the script would help. I think with a better talented group behind the scenes, it could’ve been a really good suspense and thrilling action film.

TedS_post


So have you seen 21 BRIDGES? Well, what did you think?

Musings on Christopher Nolan’s TENET (2020)

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that Christopher Nolan is one of those filmmakers whose films I always anticipate. Even if I don’t end up loving the film (*cough* Interstellar *cough*), I still consider his film release as an ‘event’ and this one is no different. The repeated delays–it was supposed to be released this Summer on July 17–due to Covid-19 somehow made it even more highly-anticipated by film fans, me included. After careful considerations and reading all kinds of articles on it, my hubby and I decided to go ahead and see TENET at a cinema, as it’s always intended, and we chose EMAGINE’s EMAX theater with its wall-to-wall screen and Dolby Atmost surround sound.

Let’s just say that even after a couple of days mulling over it, consuming all kinds of articles and videos of ‘TENET endings explained’ … I still can’t fully explain just what the plot is about. But then again I shouldn’t feel too bad as even some of the actors couldn’t really explain it during the press tours! Those who are familiar with Nolan’s work should expect the fact that Nolan often treats his films as a big puzzle piece… he’s not interested in spoon-feeding the audience with straightforward premise and neat endings wrapped nicely with a big red bow. If you think Inception and Interstellar is confusing, be prepared for a discombobulating treat with TENET. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal any spoiler here, but if I do, I’ll be sure to give you a fair warning.

As a scientist said in the film, ‘Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.’ I remember hearing that in the trailer and you know what, given how confusing this movie was, I’m glad I took that advise to heart. Per Nolan’s tradition, his films opens with with a high-octane action piece, this time at an opera house. It’s full of adrenaline, suspense and mystery that definitely gets you in the mood for what about to unfold. Unfortunately, I immediately notice sound issues which apparently has plagued other screenings as well. According to this article, apparently the hard-to-hear dialogue is on purpose, which I find hugely irritating. I mean, I don’t mind a puzzling plot, but how do they expect us to figure out what’s going on if exposition dialogue are delivered in muffled speech or drown out by all kinds of noise. It’s also quite eerie seeing characters in this movie using masks (it’s even on some of the posters), even if it’s got nothing to do with a pandemic.

One thing for sure is Nolan’s obsession with the spy genre, given his affinity for the Bond movies, having seen The Spy Who Loved Me as a young boy with his dad. But he said in interviews that he wants to up the ante and deliver something that’s geared towards the modern audience. Nolan basically fused his favorite genre with a high-concept of time inversion, not to be confused with time travel. More on that later, but let’s start with the Bond-ish elements. John David Washington‘s The Protagonist, who’s a CIA agent, oozes 007’s coolness and swagger, sporting one sleek suit after another and can effortlessly take out half a dozen goons in a cramped kitchen with his bare hands without breaking a sweat. His ‘Felix Leiter’ is Robert Pattinson‘s Neil, sporting tousled blond locks who looks equally dashing in a suit. The two has a fun chemistry, definitely the best ‘bromance’ in Nolan’s movie so far. I love the scene where they first met in Mumbai and later when the two try to break into a high rise apartment.

I’m surprised Kenneth Branagh hasn’t played a Bond villain yet, but well, he practically plays one here as an arms dealer oligarch Andrei Sator, complete with a droll Russian accent. In classic Bond-baddie fashion, Sator threatened our protagonist with choking him with his own balls, ahah. There’s also a damsel in distress in the form of Sator’s estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) – if you have seen The Night Manager miniseries, Debicki’s character is basically similar to Jed who’s also the love interest of an arm’s dealer.

The high-concept element here is the time inversion, where characters can move backwards in time. Some key phrases are required to understand just what TENET is about… Entropy Inversion, Temporal Pincer Movement, Turnstile, Palindrome are just a few of them. It’s the kind of movie that would require a glossary of physics to comprehend. Of course, the title itself is a Palindrome, which refers to a word, phrase or sequence that reads the same backward as forward. Clearly I had fallen asleep in physics class as the word entropy is as perplexing as Kenneth Branagh‘s Russian accent.

Apparently Nolan worked with physicist Nobel laureate Kip Thorne once again, the same physics expert he consulted with in Interstellar on wormholes and time travel. This time, he’s consulted on the subjects of time and quantum physics, specifically time inversion where characters move backwards in time. Even after reading all kinds of articles explaining the science of the movie, some things just don’t add up. SPOILER ALERT – just how in the world would a kill switch on Sator’s Fitbit would be able to activate the Algorithm to reverse entropy that would make the future cease to exist??   I find that TENET is best enjoyed when you just surrender to the movie and all its cool spectacle, like the backward car chases, instead of trying to process it all during the movie. Now, I don’t advise you ‘park your brain at the door’ the way you would when watching a Fast & Furious movie, but I would refrain from overthinking it as you are watching it. I actually have a better appreciation of it after I had spent time reading about its concepts afterwards.

That said, I’m not going to let Nolan off the hook in his storytelling style, as I think there are flaws that dampen my enjoyment. The one sequence in particular is the climactic battle at the end in an abandoned Soviet banker. There are so much information going into it, delivered by a soldier by the name of Ives (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) that’s quite tough to follow. By the time the two set of troops are on the ground, things are moving fast, loud and bombastic that it was hard to decipher just what in the world is going on. SPOILER ALERT – it actually took me a while to realize that half the troops are attacking while inverted (that is they’re moving back in time) and the other half moving forward as normal. I wish this sequence were filmed in a way that’s more comprehensible as I practically tuned out because the massively loud sound mixing alone was simply an attack on my brain.

Another major issue I have is in regards to Sator who could’ve been a strong villain. I think his motives are pretty lame (as lame as most Bond movies) and Branagh’s performance is so uneven–at times he can be genuinely menacing but in a few scenes he’s hilarious, and not in a good way. While he’s obviously a talented actor and filmmaker, I don’t think Sator is a particularly strong villain. Oh,  I think it needs to be said that Nolan isn’t great about writing female characters either. I’ve mentioned the similarity of Kat to another role Debicki has played within the past five years that’s also a spy genre, I think it’s a waste of her talents to see her play essentially the same type of role. I do think she made the best of what she’s given, but I’d love to see Debicki portray someone who’s worthy of her prowess, both physically and in terms of her acting ability.

Many people have regarded Nolan as the ‘savior of cinema’ given how TENET was supposed to lift Hollywood’s box office during this unprecedented time of a pandemic. It remains to be seen of course how much TENET made, which undoubtedly would still be far less than what it could’ve made when things are normal. I think he is a talented filmmaker and a visionary, but I feel like he might have over-reached with this one and have substituted high-concept for good narrative. I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive, but I feel like here, Nolan seems to care more about the fantastical spectacle and time-inversion/ thermodynamics extravaganza than he is about an affecting story, so the result frankly, is a cold, detached film. I think the only bit that has a semblance of emotional resonance is the ending exchange between the Protagonist and Neil, but there’s barely any heart-string tugging moment the entire film.

If you’re on the fence about this one though, I still recommend it despite its flaws. The 200+ million dollar budget allows for the best kind of escapism cinema could give you. If you love action, there are the cool car chases + fight scenes like you’ve never seen before, a supercharged catamaran race, AND a Boeing 747 crashing into a building! Given that Nolan doesn’t like using green screens nor visual effects, that’s an actual plane being used, not a miniature one. Props to Ludwig Göransson for the dynamic soundtrack with some seriously cool beats, and Hoyte Van Hoytema for the stunning cinematography. I’m still obsessed with the song The Plan by Travis Scott used in the final trailer – I never thought an American rapper would be featured in a Nolan movie, but it worked!

Of course Nolan’s longtime collaborator Nathan Crowley is always superb on his production design, he certainly had his work cut out for him creating some of the set pieces in various locations around the world. Speaking of locations…having been cooped up for more than half a year, I live vicariously through the characters as they globe trot to London, Mumbai, Amalfi Coast, Oslo, Tallinn, Estonia etc. Of course the filmmakers made it seem so smooth and effortless to jump from place to place and nobody seems to be having the slightest bit of jet-lag.

I’d also recommend it for the actors, particularly J.D. Washington and Pattinson. Oh shout out to Bollywood actress Dimple Kapadia in her Hollywood debut playing an elegant arms dealer Priya. Washington proves even more of his star quality and given his athletic background, he’s perfect for this physically demanding role. I have to say though that I’d like to see him in something with a little more heart as I’d love to see more of his emotional intelligence on display.

Lastly, while I still think Nolan is a visionary filmmaker, I’d love to see him tackle a smaller film (maybe under $50mil) and come up with something stronger narratively instead of just a big puzzle piece. That said, I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, and considering how confusing the movie is, the 150-minute running time actually doesn’t feel tedious or overlong. I only wish Nolan gave us a bit more for the heart as he did for the head. I will definitely be renting this once it’s available, and hopefully I’d enjoy it more on second viewing.

P.S. This movie is more of a 2.75/5 but since I grade this by half point measure, I’d bump this up to 3.


So, have you seen TENET? I’d love to hear what you think!

 

THIS JUST IN! Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE (2020) trailer

Woo wee!! Can you believe it’s been five months since the first official FIRST LOOK photos of DUNE were released?! I remember hyperventilating then just looking at a bunch of photos, well… finally, the trailer is here!

Behold…


I had been standing in front of my laptop since 10:45 CST… waiting w/ bated breath to see the trailer. Well, as it turns out the studios had a special event Q&A w/ the director Denis Villeneuve and the entire cast, hosted by Stephen Colbert, here’s the convo if you missed it:

 

My reaction is: WOO HOO!!! Cannot. freakin’. wait for this!! As if I weren’t anticipating this enough already, the Q&A w/ the cast/crew really whet my appetite even more! The world building, the set pieces, outstanding ensemble cast… boy, it LOOKS AMAZING! Glorious, atmospheric, mysterious, suspenseful… everything I expect from a sci-fi epic.

I respect Villeneuve as a filmmaker and I trust that he’s going to bring something that’s truly worth the hype!

Hollywood’s it-boy Timothée Chalamet is perfectly cast here as Paul Atreides… the narration of DUNE’s famous quote about fear gives me goosebumps!

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear and I will permit it to pass over me. When the fear is gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I quite like the pairing of him and Zendaya too as Chani, a Fremen woman.

Full cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.

Great seeing several of them on the Twitter trailer event Q&A today!! They all look happy, even emotional, seeing the trailer, just like the fans!

Twitter trailer event Q&A w/ director + cast

DUNE’s full synopsis:

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Chalamet as Paul Atredes with Charlotte Rampling’s Gaius Helen Mohiam

The film is currently set for theatrical release on December 18 in the U.S. and the UK.


Well, what do you think of the DUNE teaser?