Posts Tagged ‘DOGWOOF’

A Glitch in the Matrix (2021) Dogwoof

Dir.: Rodney Asher; Documentary with Nick Bostrom, Erik Davies, Emily Pothast, Chris ware, Jeremy Felts, Philip K. Dick; narrated by Baffy Visick; USA 2021, 108 min.

After analysing sleep paralysis in his Shining spin-off Room 237, director Rodney Ascher has taken on a much grander project: convincing us that everything on this planet is the work of super-advanced computers who have built this super Matrix, perhaps for the enjoyment of equally advanced creatures to watch us earthlings toil on in his never-ending soap opera – a little bit like The Truman Show on an universal level.

To this avail he has summoned four eye-witnesses who have come to believe that humankind is at the mercy of programmers, and who write the narratives we call ‘life’. These ‘believers’ of a world in the permanent process of simulation are suitably dressed, face and torso transformed into video-game avatars, in front of a webcam. A fifth witness, Joshua Cooke could not be present since he is serving a prison sentence until at least 2043 for killing his parents – a result of his obsessions with the Matrix series. But at least he can warn others with this bizarre life story.

The simulation theory is not that new: Plato and Descartes are among many other creative souls who believed in the theory of sleeping humans whose whole lives are just computer-assisted dreams. Here a vast network of AI forms the background of all our life stories, including the vast army of non-player characters. It all feels like a secret message from some liberated creatures – Jehovah’s witnesses or other religious cults who have studied the vast conspiracy so you can eventually join them. But like all religions it’s a question of belief. Nick Bostrum, a Swedish academic, sounds most anchored in some form of reality: “We are not in, what ‘believers’ call, a ‘base reality’ but “in one of countless simulations, its inhabitants have been programmed”.

Much time is given to SciFi writer Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), author of Blade Runner fame , who had written 44 novels (the majority being adapted for feature films) and 17 short story collections. He visited his disciples in Metz, France in 1977 and gave a talk about the counterfeit worlds in his novels.

This how he describes his obsession with these worlds: “My fictional work is actually true, particularly the novels The Man in the High Castle, and Flow my Tears, The Policeman said. Both novels are based on fragmentary, residual memories of such a horrid slave state world.”

Dick also claims to have remembered past lives, and a very different present life; confessing these mystical experiences occurred after dental surgery in 1974. He goes on: “We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and we only realise this when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. Those alterations are felling like a deja vue. An alternative world branched off”.

All complex stuff, but fascinating if it appeals to you. There is much more: Elon Musk and the Mandela theory among others, but we will have to wait until we find out who is in charge of this giant conspiracy. Until then we’ll have to make do with our status “ALIVE BUT NOT LIVING”. AS 


The Fight (2020) **** VOD

Dir.: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres; Documentary with Lee Gelernt, Brigitte Amiri, Dale Ho, Joshua Block, Chase Strangio; USA 2020, 96 min.

Directors Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman and Eli Despres (the former two already well-known for Weiner (2016), take a look inside battles faced by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) via four cases that had particular impact on the road ahead in American politics.

There was a time when ACLU members were called “Fellow travellers”, a derogative term used by presidential candidate HW Bush in 1988 with great success against his democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. Today the ACLU is seen as a bastion against the Trump government. The ACLU has filed 147 (!) cases against the Trump administration, including the infamous Muslim travel ban.

According to Anthony D. Romero, executive director of ACLU, the core support of the organisation dates back to the Nixon era.  ACLU is seen as “cool” today, donations have rocketed since Trump took over in 2017 from three million USD three million to nearly 120 million, whilst the membership has almost reached two million. Not that this matters much to Dale Ho, one of the lawyers we will follow on the day of the judgement: “We are just several floors in a building in New York, we cannot keep the government with all its resources at bay. ” He calls for more volunteers and donations. Meanwhile the ACLU task force is taking phone calls, many accusing them of being pedophiles. ACLU has also come under fire for supporting the members of “alt-right” to demonstrate in Charlottesville, where a counter-demonstrator Heather Heyes was killed by a car driven by ‘white supremacists’. Romero points out that already in 1977, the ACLU defended a Nazi rally in Skokie (Ill.). Back then the demonstrators were not armed, or defended by the President of the USA.    

The finale is at judgement day in the four show cases. ACLU Deputy Director and team veteran Lee Gelernt, is – like the rest of the crew – exhausted. Gelernt has taken on the government in a family separation case, claiming the Trump administration had withheld constitutional rights from the plaintiffs, causing harm for both parents and children. Gelernt’s brief conveys the emotional impact of it all to the Supreme Court judges. Clearly breaking up undocumented immigrant families has caused untold grief going forward and there are emotive scenes of family reunion after the verdict is delivered. Joshua Block and Chase Strangio have been picked to challenge the Trump government on the Transgender Military ban.

The Trump administration subsequently banned any new recruitment of LGTB members into the army. “The guy never gives up” sighs Block. This labour of love is the perfect birthday present for the  ACLU’s centenary. And hopefully, our five heroes, and the rest of the two-and-half floors in New York, will be less busy come January 2021. AS


On the Record (2020) **** Streaming

Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering | Cast: Drew Dixon, Si Lai Abrams, Jenny Lumet, Tarana Burke, Kierna Mayo, Joan Morgan, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw | USA, 96′

More #MeToo stories, this time from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering whose controversial new documentary puts the spotlight on women who have come out to denounce hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. The focus here is Drew Dixon.

This is the filmmakers’ third foray into #MeToo territory and Drew Dixon takes centre along with  two other victims – out of twenty – who have filed sexual assault and rape charges against record producer and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. The incident became a news story before the film premiered at this year’s Sundance Festival. Oprah Winfrey, one of the executive producers, withdrew from the project she had fostered for a long time, thus destroying any chances of it being acquired by Apple+. The reasons are very opaque: there were threats from Russell, film critic and Ava DuVernay allegedly told Winfrey, that the documentary did not accurately flesh out the hip-hop world of the setting. Finally, Winfrey decided “there were inconsistencies in Dixon’s story that gave me pause” and the feature had been rushed to appear at Sundance. What ever the true reasons for Winfrey’s jumping ship, HBOmax won the screening rights for what turns out to be a worthy companion to Leaving Neverland, Surviving R. Kelly and Untouchable.

Drew Dixon (*1971) is the daughter of former Washington DC mayor Sharon Pratt and went to Stanford University. Becoming a record producer for Def Jam, a label led by mogul Russell Simmons, was her dream job. She overlooked the fact that Simmons would often come into her office, showing his member. In a milieu where the culture of celebrity “bad-ass” men was celebrated, Simmons’ behaviour did not seem to be totally out of place. Dixon became an A&R executive, responsible for the soundtrack of the 1995 documentary “The Show”, helping to build the careers of Method Man among others, whom she later paired with Mary J. Bilge. It all came crashing down for Dixon, when Simmons invited her to his apartment after a party. He appeared naked with a condom and asked her in a very harsh voice “to stop fighting”. Later, the writer Sil Lai Abrams would report a similar incidence with Simmons. After leaving Def Jam, Dixon worked for Clive Davis at Arista, but CEO L.A. Reid started to harass her. Out of spite, to destroy her career, he passed on signing a new talent, a certain Kanye West. Dixon left the industry all together, and it took her until 2017 to pen an article in the New York Times, to make the public listen to her story.

There are two issues which make the case of the three black women appearing on the documentary (Dixon, Abrams and Jenny Lumet) complex: until now, any public critique of the black community, by fellow blacks, is seen by the majority as treachery – helping the enemy, ie. the white majority. Secondly, black women still feel excluded from the #MeToo movement. Dixon claims she felt enormous pressure to denounce somebody of the standing of Russell Simmons. It took her twenty years – being alone with her trauma – to overcome the barriers.

As for Simmons, he decided not to appear in the documentary but send a written statement, issuing countless denials of he false accusations: “I have lived an honourable life as an open book for decades, devoid of any kind of violence against anybody”. In 2018 he nevertheless emigrated to Bali, Indonesia, a country which has no extradition arrangement with the USA. Reid too repudiated all allegations. He left his position as CEO of Sony Epic, and raised 75 $ Million to form a new company. Drew Dixon has recently gone back to the drawing board with a new career in the music business, working from her flat. AS

ON STREAMING PLATFORMS FROM 18 JUNE 2020 | Available on iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon Video, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, Dogwoof, Google Play, Rakuten TV, Sky Store, Virgin Media, YouTube


The Brink (2019) ***

DIR: Alison Klayman | US Doc 98′

Alison Klayman shadows political operative Steve Bannon from the time he leaves the White House to the 2018 midterms.

Political strategist Steve Bannon (1953-) is best known for being the co-founder of Breitbart, and is also a former investment banker, educated at Georgetown and Harvard. He served in the United States Navy for seven years and then went on to exec produce 18 Hollywood films, between 1991 and 2016. Thereafter he was the White House chief strategist from January to August 2017, and founder of nonprofit organisation The Movement designed to promote economic nationalism in Europe. Eventually he was ejected from the White House after the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Not as informative and intriguing as Errol Morris’ American Dharma that screened at Venice  last year, this fly on the wall affair manages at least to avoid glorification, hardly bringing anything new to the table – although Bannon clearly had his knees firmly under the metaphorical one in the Whitehouse during the early stages of the Trump administration.

Klayman’s (Ai Wei: Never Sorry) cinema vérité style treatment is the result of her following Bannon as part of his elite during the course of a year’s media tour intended to rebrand his image as the leader of a global populist movement. A strong and engaging orator (in the style of Ken Livingstone, Gladstone and Nigel Farage) he is clearly clubbable, and we see him taking his movement on the road, talking to various advisors on how best to support congressional candidates, and showing his support to European populist parties – including Farage’s – in preparation for the European Parliament elections in 2019.

In Europe there’s obviously the high birth rate among Muslims to consider (in Belgium), and these far-righters all agree that “immigration is a bad thing”. Bannon then sets off on a US tour, promoting Republican candidates such as Roy Moore, and those running in the 2018 midterms. This involves attending fundraiser dinners and rallies. A heckler interrupts him during a speech and he smirks, “Who invited my ex-wife?” Klayman intercuts all this with news clips from the Brett Kavanaugh hearing to the Tree of Life shooting. He keeps on keeping on. He also talks to journalists, who seem to have a low opinion of him. Meanwhile, his film TRUMP @WAR (the media) is released, about the President’s victory in the face of the violent left.

The Brink is another documentary about the general mayhem that exists in US politics, focusing on one extreme figure to another (Weiner and Get Me Roger Stone). Klayman avoids talking head interviews but there’s no mistaking her take on her subject matter.

Very much like Brexit for the UK, the Trump era is a thorn in America’s side. And The Brink tries to analyse how it all came about, but without much success. Basically politicians see themselves as in the game for the love of humanity, despite the majority of them being self-seeking, bottom-feeding forms of life. In Dante’s journey to Hell, Klayman is simply trying to explore some of the characters on the way. MT



Minding the Gap (2018) ****

Dir: Bing Liu | Doc US, 83′

Skateboarding is the lifeblood and unifying element for a group of young guys in Bing Liu’s terrific Oscar nominated debut.

They all grew up together in Rockford, near Chicago, where Liu began filming their adventures as the boys moved into early adulthood. It seems they all had difficult backgrounds, in one way or another. But Minding the Gap skates over these in its joyful kinetic playfulness.

Bing Liu’s fluid camera keep pace with the sporty action as the boarders refuse to be diminished by their setbacks, each scene froths with energy and alacrity. And even though the stories of family dysfunction and continuing anxiety are shared there is always at positive feel to the encounters. Clearly boarding is a hobby that makes their adrenaline flow with its mix of risk, dexterity and joy de vivre. In the meantime what emerges is a rich social tapestry of contemporary working class youth in all its pain and glory.

Each story slowly emerges through the wizardry of the skateboarding sequences as Zack Mulligan and his girlfriend Nina, Keire Johnson and the Liu himself share a common experience of camaraderie and togetherness that gets them through the days and offers focus on their lives and futures.

Keire had a controlling father who is now dead. Liu’s life was dominated by a coercive bullying father who manhandled his mother and took away his confidence. Zack has just become a father with his girlfriend Nina, but they are too young and marked by their own difficult childhoods to fall into parenthood easily, and there are trust and vulnerability issues at play, which gradually become resolved in the final segment.

There is a freshness and an appealing innocence to all these encounters. And  combined with the upbeat tone of the documentary Minding the Gap makes for a satisfying and enjoyable experience. MT


RBG (2018)

Dirs: Julie Cohen/Betsy West | US Doc | 98′


To say that ruth Bader Ginsburg is a force a to be reckoned with is an understatement. But never has a woman used her feminine charm to greater effect as this outstanding Supreme Court Justice. Variously called “a witch”, “a monster” and “a zombie”, among other things, Ginsburg is slender and rather attractive. Clearly despite her professional successes, she is not without her detractors, to put it mildly. And Trump goes so far as to call her an “absolute disgrace to the Supreme Court.” That said, Julie Cohen and Betsy West focus on her many achievements in their positive biopic. Far from being hagiographic, it doesn’t quail away from her outspoken nature that continues to make her, at 85, a fearsome and unswerving advocate of women’s rights. She has also been a loving wife and a mother of two. But it’s the calm and indomitable way that she achieves her professional goals that is the thrust of this intelligent documentary. 

Born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, 1933, Ginsburg lost her both sister and her mother before she graduated from hight school. But her husband Marty Ginsburg was to prove a guiding light in her struggle to make a name for herself, and she married him and had two kids family before starting Law school at Harvard, where she was one of nine women in a class of over 500 men. Despite her obvious talent she couldn’t fine a job in New York, a fact she put down to being a woman. 

As in all the professions, the devil is in the detail. But Ginsburg possesses a fine intellect and an infinite capacity for absorbing facts and legal complexities. This capacity to handle mind-numbing minutiae has served her well when tackling various legal ground-breaking legal precedents that have quite literally changed the working world for American women. Cohen and West move swiftly to chronicle Ginsburg’s achievement such as toppling the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy. Ginsburg came to office during the Clinton administration and still reigns in office despite her overt criticism of Trump which she acknowledges was probably not her best move. Yet her resilience and unfailing competence has helped her to move mountains in the fight for female rights and empowerment in the workplace. MT



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