Journalism, both high and low, is under attack by conservative interests.
Directed by Brian Knappenberger
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Brian Knappenberger’s previous documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy, was about the life and death of Aaron Swartz, a wunderkind who hacked the JSTOR paywall, was viciously prosecuted by the Justice Department, and subsequently killed himself. Swartz was involved in the fight against the SOPA/PIPPA bills, so the film also worked as a kind of call to action against corporate control of the internet as well as a compelling story of a unique individual. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is clearly the work of the same director. Knappenberger is plainly invested in the free flow of information, no matter what it is or where it’s generated, and the forces aligned to staunch it. Like any agitprop filmmaker, he also unambiguously crafts his message for maximum manipulation. Whether the film works on the viewer depends on how willing they are to get on board with that message. I was skeptical about Swartz going in to The Internet’s Own Boy, but Knappenberger convinced me of his cause. In Nobody Speak, he’s less focused and alternatively chooses a difficult subject and an easy one, resulting in a mixed success.
The iconic, unique, jack-of-all-trades Werner Herzog sets his sights on a topic as large as the Internet in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. If that seems like far too big a bite for any documentary to chew, then Herzog is right in line with the characters and real figures he likes to make movies about. Films like Fitzcarraldo, my personal Herzog favorite, find its protagonist dragging a steamship up steep jungle hills, all so he can corner the rubber market and, through a series of further wild-eyed steps, bring opera to South America. My favorite of his documentaries, Grizzly Man, is about an animal rights zealot convinced that his love for bears is shared by the bears themselves, until one eats him and his girlfriend. Herzog himself is the hubristic one in Lo and Behold, not for thinking he can master nature through sheer force of will like so many of his protagonists and subjects, but in thinking that he can wrap his arms around a subject so huge. It’s a move that makes for a film that barely surpasses the level of an unnecessary primer for technology that most people use every day, but big foolish steps are perfectly in keeping with Herzog’s career.
When a director’s made as many films as Tim Burton has, they develop a distinct style. In Burton’s case, that style is mostly an eccentric jumble of affectations, often portrayed by Johnny Depp in a weird hat or Helena Bonham Carter… in a weird hat. His characters are often outsiders with no chance of fitting in to society but they give it a go anyways. Though he’s made plenty of fantasy films, even his films that ostensibly take place in the real non-magical present either have characters that push the envelope of what’s real (Big Fish) or live in their own fantasy worlds (Ed Wood). He’s also someone who’s burned through a lot of critical goodwill. Big Eyes feels like an attempt to get some of that back, as it has little in common with anything else he’s ever done. Released during 2014’s Oscar season to little effect, Big Eyes suffers from a feeling of going through the motions, like no one’s excited or challenged by this material.
When it comes to movies, I don’t have the sharp memories of childhood that most people do. An emphasis wasn’t placed on culture in my childhood and a lot of my adolescence was spent in a cold emotional shell, so I just didn’t get those kinds of revelatory cinematic experiences until I was 17 or 18. That being said, the network TV edit of The Silence of the Lambs was one of the first R-rated movies I saw, recorded late at night on a VCR. The sequel, Hannibal, was the first DVD I ever bought, and I do remember gleefully watching that on Christmas Eve 2001, to my mother’s great disappointment. The character of Hannibal Lecter and the world that Thomas Harris (author of the books) created around him has always fascinated me, and we’ve been fortunate enough to receive takes on the subject matter from directors as varied in their tastes as Michael Mann and Vincenzo Natali and in their talent levels as Ridley Scott and Brett Ratner (Ratner’s the shitty one). Jonathan Demme’s version in Silence of the Lambs is certainly the most iconic, dominating the Oscars and placing Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter continuously at the top of any Best Villain list. We just discussed another Best Picture winner in Dances With Wolves, and determined that it’s still an entertaining, if imperfect, film. Will Silence of the Lambs get a more generous sort of praise? Jon, aged 17, certainly would say so, but that kid was an idiot.
Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are a directing team with a handful of totally acceptable films to their names. The indisputable highlight of their careers is writing the script to Bad Santa, but behind the camera, they’ve got I Love You, Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love and Focus, three watchable if unexceptional (I assume, with the unseen Focus) films. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot makes four. This Tina Fey vehicle, adapted from a female war correspondent’s book by frequent Fey collaborator Robert Carlock, takes advantage of its cast’s abundant talent by turning a script with modest aims into the kind of weekend-hangover film that the world can never have too many of. There was potential here for something greater, but unlike its lead character, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is perfectly fine jogging in place.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.