Kicking the Tweets

Blair Witch (2016)

Forest Ire

Blair Witch is spoiler-proof. It contains not one original or authentic moment, not one "twist" or character arc that its target audience won't have seen in The Blair Witch Project, or in the dozens of knock-offs it inspired. Most distressing of all, the scares depend entirely on the volume at which one watches the movie. Horror's found-footage sub-genre is on its last legs, and instead of giving audiences a reason to show up for more, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett hobble the flailing, wailing, pathetic beast before our very eyes. There's literally nothing to see here. Move along.

Unlike 2000's rushed sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the new movie dispenses with the meta-narrative of Blair Witch Project fans venturing into the Maryland woods. Blair Witch is a conventional follow-up to the 1999 sleeper hit, and finds the Heather Donahue character's younger brother, James (James Allen McCune) retracing his missing sibling's steps with another crew of amateur filmmakers. Armed with ear-mounted cameras, LED perimeter sensors, a drone, and absolutely no concern that they might actually encounter something in the legendary haunted forest, James and his polished, bitchy Dead Meat friends go camping--but they don't go camping...alone! DUN-DUN-DUN!

Or should I say, "Dumb, Dumb, Dumb"?

Blair Witch is the definition of marketing-driven filmmaking. Were it not for the brand-name recognition; Wingard and Barrett's cred in the horror community; and a clever unveiling at Comic-Con,* this movie would have been forgotten two minutes after crash-landing at Redbox. The story beats are a mash-up of The Blair Witch Project and Book of Shadows, down to the filmmakers separating into rival camps; discovering eerie artifacts ("Now with MORE rock piles and BIGGER stick-men!!!!!"); and walking in circles. The mysterious witch house springs up at precisely the same point as it did in the original, and the two hapless survivors barge into it, screaming like idiots.

Wingard and Barrett's "new" story contributions include a girl whose foot becomes infected with an otherworldly worm;** another character getting attacked by angry, growling trees; and an "homage" to the circular-purgatory twist of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which you won't need a drone to see coming. Say what you want about Joe Berlinger's ill-conceived Book of Shadows, that film had a point of view, a voice that took on the daunting chore of pushing an already somewhat novel idea in an even more novel direction. Blair Witch offers no evidence that Wingard and Barrett even have a voice beyond that of a parrot--one that sits atop a multi-million-dollar, studio-constructed perch, far above such pedestrian concerns as justifying its existence.

If you want a solid (and far more affordable) thrill this weekend, rent Bobcat Goldthwait's Willow Creek. It's a found-footage movie about two would-be YouTube stars looking for Bigfoot, and it's made by someone who can't stand the sub-genre's dull clichés. Like The Blair Witch Project, this smart, creepy (and occasionally funny) film understands that an hour-and-a-half of jump scares and frantic POV whip-pans around a moldy haunted-house is not inherently scary. It's just artifice in search of emotion. 

*An audience who thought they'd showed up for a movie called The Woods was surprised to learn that Wingard's latest was a new Blair Witch sequel. Cue the hype. Having now seen the film, I'm convinced that the positive buzz coming out of San Diego had everything to do with the high of being first--as close to, I'd wager, the bragging-rights euphoria felt by early Blair Witch Project audiences in '99, before the world at large knew it wasn't a documentary.

**If you take a shot every time the filmmakers sacrifice scares for squirms by depicting the wrapping and unwrapping of bloody wounds, you'll be drunk halfway through Blair Witch (not a bad idea, regardless).


Wonders of the Arctic (2014)

Tundra Conundrum

The arctic spans more than five millions square miles, and after watching Wonders of the Arctic, I felt I'd walked, swam, and hiked them all. Writer/director David Lickley has several movies' worth of stories to tell about life at the top of the world, but this 2014 IMAX documentary only teases them as he and his crew trek between identical landscapes with nigh-indistinguishable horizons.

I don't blame Lickley for his movie's lack of narrative thrust: by definition, there's not a whole lot of human activity in the coldest place on Earth. At fault are my own unreasonably high expectations after having enjoyed nearly a half-dozen such movies whose creators found a compelling hook in their subjects, a through-line that made the beautiful higher-than-high-definition imagery and sound almost secondary to the overall theme. Wonders of the Arctic plays as a forty-minute trailer compilation of movies I'm dying to see.

The film's greatest surprise is that the titular wonders aren't all related to arctic birds, polar bears, or sea creatures. There are some great human stories here as well, such as the American and British scientists working with the indigenous Inuits to measure ice thickness. We also get a glimpse at a nickel-mining operation in Quebec, where crews drill patiently into 1,9000-foot-thick blocks of ice. Nearby, a massive "icebreaker" ship makes its way through the thirty feet of ice separating surface from water, traversing a mere 400 feet in 5 days.

Then there's the remote Hudson Bay town of Churchill, where the one guideline for Halloween costumes is "No Polar Bears!". With global temperatures heating up, the polar bears' food supply is increasingly off schedule. Lickley catches up with a trio who haven't eaten in four months, and venture down to Churchill in desperation. The local sheriff has been working overtime keeping the creatures at bay, and I was fascinated by the humane process in which the polar bears are tranquilized, air lifted back to the wild, and revived (before the attendants scramble to get the hell back on the helicopter, of course).

Wonders of the Arctic is, like its recent IMAX home video companions, a movie about conservation. I got the feeling watching this that Lickley's film might one day be remembered as a gorgeous historical artifact instead of a postcard for a place that everyone could feasibly visit. As I mentioned in my review of The Last Reef, I'm not a scientist and have not done my homework on climate change. But as films like Lickley's track and model-out changes to eating and migration patterns, and describe the increasing amount of water at the top of the planet that doesn't freeze during winter months, it's hard to dismiss the threat (or at least the not-at-all-fanciful possibility) that our planet is in trouble.

To clarify: the planet will be just fine, long after we're gone. Just look at the shrimp and the ancient sharks that live in the sun-deprived depths of the arctic for proof that nature doesn't care about people or the documentaries we make about them. Nature will find a way to outlive us. Wonders of the Arctic makes some compelling visual arguments for our stepping up efforts to conserve our own species--and that means keeping the planet from reclaiming us.

But in between the tranquil, alien footage of frolicking narwhals, and a rookie whale scientist trying to tag a bowhead for study, there were just too many minutes-long landscape shots and spinning aerial views of ice caps to keep my attention's fires burning throughout. I found myself easily distracted as nature receded into the periphery. Hell, maybe that was Lickley's point.


The Last Reef: Cities Beneath the Sea (2012)

Coral History

If I sound like a broken record in my adulation of Shout! Factory's Ultra HD IMAX releases, well...get ready for more skipping. There's not a stinker in the bunch, and 2012's The Last Reef: Cities Beneath the Sea (which makes its home video debut this week) continues an unbelievable streak of immersive and imaginative entertainment. If you're new to my newfound fandom, know that I don't recommend these titles lightly. As a relatively new physical-media format, UHD is pricey, and it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that casual movie viewers drop thirty to forty bucks on a forty-minute documentary--especially when, last I checked, IMAX @ Home isn't actually a thing.*

Luckily, films like The Last Reef don't just offer demo material for state-of-the-art AV setups (though they're good for that, too). They provide distinct narrative access points for a wide variety of subjects. Journey to Space took us on a tour of extra-planetary travel's past, present, and potential future; Flight of the Butterflies framed its history of Monarch tracking with bona fide personal drama; Rocky Mountain Express and now The Last Reef delve into straight-up philosophical territory, examining the effects of man's quest to dominate seemingly intractable natural forces via technology.

Co-writer/directors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas kick off The Last Reef with a literal bang: chilling black-and-white footage of the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, which began in 1946 and continued for more than a decade after, plays beneath Charles Trenet's dreamy rendition of "La Mer". That same year, the world was introduced to a new kind of swimwear. In what might best be described as a master stroke of cosmic irony, the bikini became a symbol of leisurely exhibitionism, even as its namesake was being bombed into aquatic oblivion. 1946 also gave us the Aqua-Lung, which made SCUBA diving commercially viable and would eventually allow filmmakers like Cresswell and McNicholas to chronicle the literal depths of industrialization's far-reaching but little-seen after effects.

Unlike Humpback Whales, which overplayed its conservational hand, The Last Reef mostly tells by showing. In a brilliantly executed early montage, Cresswell and McNicholas juxtapose sped-up footage of Manhattan's daily hustle-and-bustle with various types of sea creatures going about their routines: people head to work in massive, synchronised traffic patterns the same way schools of fish move from place to place; a giant manta ray collects and drops off smaller fish who clean the parasites off its body in a fashion not dissimilar to the symbiosis between commuters and modes of public transport.

The filmmakers devote a fair amount of time to showcasing some genuinely alien underwater life,* and narrator Jamie Lee shares tidbits aplenty about the myriad organisms that comprise the global reef ecosystem. Halfway into The Last Reef, we're introduced to the sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor.

We never meet Taylor himself, only his work--massive artificial coral reefs depicting people as despairing, regret-filled relics. First, we see an obese man filling up a couch, entranced by the giant television sitting across from him. Later, a collection of onlookers gaze skyward from the bottom of the ocean; their blue stone faces are horrified and surprised, as if they'd all been sent to a watery grave by Medusa. As Taylor had intended, nature has already begun reclaiming his work; new life forms set up shop and add rust-colored splashes to their dead-eyed foundations. Elsewhere, sunken warships from forgotten conflicts past integrate with the ocean floor, becoming unseen symbols of progress and prosperity.

Taylor's message (and, by extension, Cresswell and McNicholas') ain't subtle, but neither is the threat faced by reefs worldwide. Pollution fed by consumption fed by a belief that energy just comes from desire or the sun or someplace is demolishing underwater habitats at an alarming rate. Full disclosure: the movie makes this case; in my capacity as a film critic, I have not independently verified any of the filmmakers' claims. But it's hard to un-see Bikini Atoll's ashen coral graveyards, or to not worry that we're losing the ability to observe creatures whose weird and wondrous abilities might hold the keys to doors we never even knew were locked. The Last Reef triumphs by slyly indulging us in impossibly pretty pictures while painting an altogether ugly one.

*Now that I've named the technology, though, I expect a three percent cut whenever Man Caves become Man Caverns.

**There is no greater evidence of Hollywood's creative bankruptcy than The Last Reef's brief but oh-so-memorable flat-worm footage. Watching what appears to be a paper-thin hybrid of a mushroom and a butterfly as it billows and glides through the water, I wondered why all the horror- and sci-fi-movie monsters of these last however-many years all look the same. You have to go all the way back to The Mist to find extra-dimensional creatures who don't just look like Deviant Art Geiger rip-offs--which is a goddamned crime, since we have, at this very moment, countless examples of real-world-unsettling monsters within a diving team's reach.


The Sea of Trees (2016)

The Sea of Trees doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but neither does suicide. In tackling grief subjectively, director Gus Van Sant and writer Chis Sparling have created a uniquely problematic film that’s shaky from a narrative standpoint but steady in its portrayal of the places (inconceivable to most, to the lucky) the mind can go when everything seems irredeemably pointless. Those places are often false in both their logic and promises of sweet release—two qualities that often attract us to the movies, and whose absence in The Sea of Trees makes recommending it a tricky proposition.

Following the death of his wife, Joan (Naomi Watts), college professor Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) visits Aokigahara, the sprawling Japanese woods known as “The Suicide Forest” (and as the titular “Sea of Trees”). He and Joan had had a long and rocky marriage before her cancer diagnosis, but the events leading up to her death (which I won’t give away, but will address later*) sapped Arthur of his will to live. While sitting on a rock, contemplatively swallowing pills one by one, Arthur sees man with bloody wrists stumbling through the greenery. His name is Takumi (Ken Watanabe), and he is lost.

It’s neither a spoiler nor a surprise that Takumi isn’t what he appears to be. The Sea of Trees is like an emotional super-cut of The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and It’s a Wonderful Life, complete with guardian spirits; flashbacks to dark times that seem lovely in retrospect, and which take on new meaning in the face of mortality; and geography as a metaphor for man’s circular quest to find reason in a universe governed by laws he wasn’t meant to understand. Takumi, having been nursed back to coherence by Arthur, even points out a special type of flower whose bloom means that a spirit has left the purgatory of Aokigahara behind (a new-ish twist on “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings”).

You may be thinking, “Great, another nonsensical Matthew McConaughey movie about Themes Too Grand to Comprehend.” Yes, The Sea of Trees is one of those, but unlike Interstellar, Van Sant and Sparling keep us on the narrative rails—even if we’re unsure of which stop we’re supposed to get off at.** I've read complaints that the film is downright silly in its opaqueness. Why, for example, do some ghosts appear as themselves, while others take forms that are more metaphorical in nature--especially when the former would clear up a lot of confusion for both the other characters and the audience?

I submit to you that these are not necessarily matters the filmmakers need to (or should) concern themselves with. Is 2001: A Space Odyssey ruined because, for some reason, Dr. Bowman turns into a giant space-baby at the end? No, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke left us with something to chew on, a piece of a part of a slice of a mystery that someone in that film's universe (pun accidental but apt) understands--even if the audience doesn't.

I've used the analogy of the ant and the cell phone before, and it bears repeating here: an ant walking across the screen of a cell phone might feel a vibration, might notice changes in its environment's light patterns, but to the ant it's just an obstacle to maneuver around. The ant has no concept of digital technology, of audible communication as we know it. You can also rule out its grasping cultures, continents, and everything else that this funny-looking hill was designed to connect, store, and disseminate.

So why should human beings expect the governing laws of the universe to conform to our ultimately ant-like understanding of it? Our ideas about how the afterlife should or shouldn't work (for those willing to even entertain such notions, if only artistically) have no sway over the greater governing reality--whatever that may be.

Someone suggesting that a character's interactions with otherworldly or extra-terrestrial forces "don't make sense" is not necessarily the stopping point for me. Going back to suicide being an unnatural, nonsensical act, Van Sant and Sparling create an unnerving clash of emotions from the outset. The bitter, passive-aggressive (and often aggressive-aggressive) husband-and-wife scenes are tinged with sadness, with regret that, at some point, their hopeful, love-filled life began to go horribly wrong. Brief moments of non-communication snowballed into years of reluctance to even share feelings with one another. Eventually, Arthur and Joan found that they could only express their winnowing love through secret acts of domestic tidying (refilling a favorite tea or pressing shirts when the other spouse wasn't around).

The cherry on top of this melodramatic but achingly sincere take on marriage is Mason Bates' wildly incongruous score. If you swapped out this pleasant and upbeat score for creepy horror-movie music and changed the film's title to The Suicide Forest, you wouldn't be that far off from an M. Night Shyamalan thriller***. For much of the movie, I actively tuned out the weird musical choices, so convinced was I that I knew what kind of eerie, Twilight Zone-style ending Van Sant and Sparling were headed for. In retrospect, Bates' saccharine score was a naked tell of what I assume was the filmmakers' real intent: to offer a bird's eye view of depression (via the score, which, of course, exists outside the reality of the story) while letting the visuals, performances, and dialogue take us on a guided (subjective) tour of depression's peaks and valleys.

Aokigahara (as the film depicts it) is a beautiful expanse, the perfect place to appreciate silence and to feel sufficiently small in the grand scheme of things. Yet hundreds of people go there every year to kill themselves. It's the ultimate irony of being so wrapped up in one's fears, guilt, memories and warped perception of self that one literally cannot see the forest for the trees. In these woods, Arthur receives a message that he isn't alone, and indeed never was. On the surface, it's a cheesy line that we've heard in a hundred movies better than this one, and it usually has something to do with ghosts.

Thematically, though, it's a reminder to us (more so than to Arthur) that we are always surrounded by people waiting to be loved and engaged with. Arthur lived in a sea of trees before entering The Suicide Forest. Yet he got so caught up in striving for a better career; for mourning the loss of his youth and romantic connection to Joan; and God knows real or imagined dramas we all carry around with us, that he couldn't find contentment in the admiration of his students, or significant enough engagement in revitalizing his wife's waning affections.

The Sea of Trees is neither a traditional relationship drama nor a run-of-the-mill ghost story. Its supernatural forces don't follow the rules of spirituality as we've classically recognized them in cinema. Whether Gus Van Sant and Chris Sparling meant to explore all the avenues I've posited here, or if their film is just a mess that stumbled upon profundity, I don't know. But this is not a film to be dismissed from the forest floor. Appreciating it requires height, perspective.

*Hell, let's just poach the elephant in the room. Late in the film, there's a scene involving an ambulance that telegraphs the scene after it from space. Van Sant uses such weary framing to service an already tired device that I wondered if the filmmaker simply forgot to remove this placeholder plot point from his movie. If you've seen The Sea of Trees, you know the part I'm talking about. If you haven't, just trust me and skip past the couple of scenes featuring an ambulance. You'll thank me later.

**Come to think of it, both films share a wonky third act device, in which McConaughey’s character—having glimpsed the cosmic grand-plan at the expense of nearly getting killed—ventures back into the unknown to rescue a loved one.

***Or the actual Aokigahara horror movie, The Forest, from earlier this year.


Southside with You (2016)

Love. Hate. Relationships.

Author Chuck Klosterman appeared on a recent episode of Filmspotting, in part to discuss his latest book, But What If We're Wrong: Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past. During the interview, the author and hosts Josh Larsen and Adam Kempenaar walked through their ultimate "Top 5 Films" list; not their favorite films, mind you, or the ones they considered "the best", but the ones they believe might transcend cinema itself, and be appreciated by a society 300 years hence, whose concept of movies as we know them today is as tenuous as our collective appreciation of centuries-old Ugandan pottery.

Each participant was tasked with coming up with five films that best represent the art form of cinema, films whose significance is not (necessarily) tied to critical reception, box office performance, or the immediate social context of their release. Could the importance of The Matrix, for example, lie less in The Wachowskis' furthering of special effects or their presaging our dependence on virtual reality, and more in the way the film and filmmakers addressed changing attitudes about human sexuality at the turn of the century? This layered and lively conversation helped me give voice to something that had bothered me for weeks about Richard Tanne's feature directorial debut, Southside with You.

Some critics have compared the film to Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. They're probably right,* but the characters at hand aren't your typical meet-cute movie couple: they're twentysomething versions of Barack and Michelle Obama. Tanne (who also wrote the screenplay) presents the First Couple's first date, taking us back to the sweltering summer of 1989, when the future President was a summer intern at a Chicago law firm; his wife-to-be was his advisor; and Do the Right Thing was igniting all-new conversations about race in America. We walk with Barack and Michelle as they meander from an African art exhibit to a community meeting to a screening of Do the Right Thing (with small stops in between), all the while getting to know them as they get to know each other.

I enjoyed Southside with You immensely and, for whatever it's worth, the film will likely end up on my year-end "Best of 2016" list. But I wrestled with it in the moment, and still now as I type this. I even struggled to keep my head straight during a press conference with the filmmakers a couple weeks ago--caught between wanting to completely give myself over to a warm story made by passionate people, and picking at a splinter of uncertainty that Tanne and company had slipped between the deep, hard-to-reach fibers of my brain. The question at hand isn't whether or not Southside with You is a good movie (it's irrefutably that), but to what extent it's good on its own merits, and to what degree it is elevated by the meta-context that overshadows it.

I'm jealous of Chuck Klosterman's hypothetical future society, which doesn't revere (much less think about) movies as much as we do today. Let's set aside the requisite qualifiers of wardrobe, acting styles, and other aesthetic concerns that, to some degree, challenge anyone trying to appreciate art from a far-bygone era, and assume that people of the twenty-fourth century might watch Southside with You with as much ease as they'd enjoy a piece of (their own) contemporary entertainment. Let's also assume it's possible for these future-humans to be denied a key bit of information that Richard Tanne also omits from his film: that his characters will someday become the President and First Lady of the United States. In this context-free scenario, does Southside with You hold up as a charming love story with its own identity? Does it also deliver the same punch as a light drama about two off-brand, young idealists caught between pursuing the spiritual rewards of fighting for the disadvantaged and settling for the security of high-paid Corporate Law? In short, does the movie work at all if the audience doesn't know that "Barack and Michelle" are the "Barack and Michelle"?

I think so, but there's a lot of meta-baggage to sort through.  

For starters, Parker Sawyers looks and sounds a lot like Barack Obama. I mean, a lot. At several points during the film, I had to remind myself that Southside with You is not, in fact, a documentary. In addition to the actor's physical resemblance to POTUS 44, and his ability to slip right into key mannerisms and vocal tics, Tanne's script conveys a level of conversational intimacy that sounds like much of the dialogue was transcribed, rather than fabricated. Tika Sumpter, who plays Michelle, strays a bit into "impression" territory with her voice work, a distraction that faded as the characters became more fully realized.

There's one key area where Sawyers falls short, but it's not his fault. Michelle makes a joke about Barack's large ears, comparing him to Dumbo the Elephant. We've heard variations of this line since 2004, along with Barack's unofficial branding of his own outsider status ("I was the skinny kid with a funny name"). These ideas of Obama's unconventional physical appearance pop up here and there in Southside with You.

"Unconventional physical appearance" is not a dig, and it's not code for something else. It's a straightforward reference to the fact that Barack Obama, though very handsome (it's literally his middle name), is kind of an odd-looking dude. I've met both Parker and POTUS 44, and can say that Tanne and company did an incredible job landing a talented performer whose resemblance is uncanny, but whose perfect features smooth out the slightly odd ones that make the Leader of the Free World more interesting to look at than outright attractive. Sawyers is outright attractive; he's not remarkably "skinny" so much as lean and well toned; and he doesn't have big ears--which may lead to some head-scratching on the part of our future audience.

Compare this to one of the less distracting elements: Barack smokes like a chimney throughout, and can only refer to his early schooling as being lost in "a haze of smoke". Also, and I could be wrong, but I believe I saw the famous hat in the background of Barack's establishing scene--the one in the photos that came out during the '08 campaign, when Obama was revealed to have been a youthful stoner. These meta-nods of past/future contrast are fun, but they don't eat into the notion of Southside with You as a stand-alone film.

For those looking for a glimpse of the Illinois Senator who burst into the global spotlight with a barnburner of a DNC keynote speech, the scene where Barack addresses a community meeting in a church may just set you ablaze. I could almost feel Sawyers reading the temperature of an already agitated room, a collection of concerned citizens whose bid for a community center had just been rejected by the city. Sawyers begins from a place of empathetic listening, rises into an invigorated plan that takes on the shape of his friends' anger, and hones it into a flaming arrow of compromise--a solution that codifies the group's power and aims it at smart targets, rather than all targets.

It's a stirring speech that made me question my own reluctance to support the President in his second bid for office. A later scene cemented this shame, as Barack and Michelle share drinks before hitting the movies. Barack tells Michelle that his father's life was incomplete, that he'd skipped out on every major opportunity (including a promising career and young family), becoming an anti-role model for what Barack wanted to do with his life. Barack would find ways to succeed, where his father looked for ways out--even if that meant setting aside ego and compromising a bit. On some level, Barack's confession is designed to give cover to his real-life future self whom, many have argued, campaigned on near-mythical systemic change, only to join the pantheon of predecessors who fell far short of nobility and effectiveness. In this sense, our future-knowledge adds poignancy to a theme that, without context, is more hopeful than sad.

Why am I so hung up on proving that Southside with You does (or doesn't) work as a context-free piece of art? Frankly, it's my in-laws. They're dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, and I've wondered since the middle of the movie if I might ever convince them to watch it. Sure, the pages of dialogue regarding corporate racism might be a turn-off (and a tip-off), but I want to believe that there's some way to convince half the potential audience for this film to give it a shot. Part of me needs to make the Klosterman future-society happen now, and to make Southside with You Exhibit A.

Just as Airplane! still works as a comedy today, regardless of whether or not successive audiences have ever seen the 1970s disaster movies it parodied, I believe Southside with You works as a film that could, in the mythology of its own enclosed cinematic universe, just be about two charming and likable people whose fate is left a mystery at the end. Barack and Michelle could never see each other after sharing a late-night ice cream; they could go on to be rivals at the law firm or in politics; hell, they might even become President and First Lady someday.

Out here, in the real world, we're mired in an unusually contentious political season, in which the Obama legacy is speculated upon, defended, and ripped to shreds, in some form or another, hundreds of thousands of times a day. Along comes a light date movie aimed at humanizing** a current President in the hopes of conferring some of that goodwill onto his party's nominee for successor.

Timing, as they say, is everything, and there's a part of me that wonders how much of Southside with You is merely propaganda, a lush and very moving advertisement for the Democratic Party's Little Guy spirit and progressive attitudes (Barack and Michelle's conversations about race in the corporate world, and Do the Right Thing's impact ring as true today as they did in 1989). Does the film's relaxed nature, charismatic cast, and easy-to-accept principles of justice make it's deceptively polemical thrust and too-perfect release date any less suspicious than Michael Moore's 2004 assault on the Bush administration, Fahrenheit 9/11 or Oliver Stone's W.?

I can't answer these questions. Southside with You's very DNA is an ouroboros of chicken-or-the-egg complexities that will have to be untangled by future minds more sophisticated than ours, or at least more detached from the momentary drama and incessant, pervasive media analysis of that drama. For these reasons alone, I can recommend Southside with You as one of the most fascinating and important films of the year. It's also really good.

I think.

*Confession: I've never seen those films, despite being a big fan of Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy. I'll get to them someday, when there's finally enough time to navigate the embarrassingly wide and intimidatingly deep sea of Movies I Should've Seen By Now.

**That is to say, bringing someone of near-mythical status down to levels relatable to us mere mortals.