Posts Tagged ‘experimenter’

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Spotlight (2015)

If you still haven’t seen last year’s Best Picture winner, then you have no excuse now. Spotlight has arrived on Netflix, so it’s the perfect time for a first, second, or hundredth viewing of the film, which focuses on the dogged work of a team of reporters at The Boston Globe that exposed the widespread cover-up of child abuse  by Catholic priests. It’s heavy stuff, but not without its moments of levity, all of which are performed exquisitely by the talented cast (led by Michael Keaton). And as a fellow journalist, the newsroom scenes are on point.

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The Big Short (2015)

Another of last year’s Best Picture nominees, The Big Short is one of the two best movies ever made about the subprime mortgage crisis (the other being Margin Call, which unfortunately is not streaming on Netflix right now). The economy took a nosedive in 2008, taking  a lot of regular people down with it. A few Wall Street watchers saw the crash coming and bet against the markets, but the hard thing about foresight is being proved right. Watch this movie, and prepare to get angry.

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We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

Do you have kids? Do you ever worry that they might grow up to be mass-murdering sociopaths? Don’t worry, they won’t.

Unless they do…

Tilda Swinton stars as a mother who struggles to bond with her son and, over time, is increasingly suspicious of his actions. The film squeezes a suffocating amount of tension out of the inevitability of Kevin’s evolution, and Ezra Miller (the future Flash) stars in a  breakout role that toes too many emotional lines to even describe.

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An Honest Liar (2014)

This biographical documentary looks at the life of  James “The Amazing” Randi, a magician and escape artist who retired from performing and devoted his life to debunking psychics and mystics as charlatans and frauds. He excelled in both careers, going from guest appearances in Happy Days as “The Amazing Randi” to exposing televangelist Peter Popoff, who relied on a hidden earpiece to receive diving inspiration about his flock.

The dual-track of Randi’s legacy is affectionately captured in An Honest Liar, as is the charm and charisma of Randi himself. He is, as they say, a character, and this documentary does him justice.

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Experimenter (2015)

Did you ever hear about that study where people were told to shock a man for giving wrong word-association answers? And they did, for the most part, despite the man’s pleas to stop?

Or perhaps you’ve heard about six degrees of separation, the idea that everyone can be connected through a chain of six people?

They both are the work of Stanley Milgram, a controversial social psychologist with a penchant for devising thought-provoking experimentation on human behavior. His work gets the biopic treatment in Experimenter, starring Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder and a brief appearance by the late Anton Yelchin, who died last month.

 

 

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*Note: This review was originally published during coverage of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

The-Experimenter

Midway through “Experimenter,” Michael Almereyda’s biopic about social psychologist Stanley Milgram, a morose Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) enters a classroom and tells his students that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.

They don’t believe him, so a woman pulls out a portable radio and the classroom listens to news reports about the assassination. It must be a radio play, the classmates whisper to each other, like War of the Worlds.

It’s a bit of dark humor that encapsulates “Experimenter,” which chronicles Milgram’s controversial career using deception (or “illusion” as he prefers) to study human nature. You’ve already heard of his experiments, even if you don’t remember his name. That famous study that asked people to administer electric shocks to a man screaming in pain? That was his. Six degrees of separation? He had a hand in that.

The movie draws Milgram as a brooding yet playful mind, sending his students out into the world to disrupt people’s lives so he can observe the result. It also borrows shades from House of Cards, with Sarsgaard frequently staring through the fourth wall to address the audience directly, offering insight into Milgram’s brilliant and quizzical brain.

Throughout all of this is a healthy dose of academic think-speak, kept at an accessible vernacular that lets the audience feel as though they’re in on a trick, smarter than those people who don’t know Milgram’s story or, more so, the subjects of his famous studies. It’s an impressive bit of sleight-of-hand that adds some levity into what could have been a dull history lesson.

Grade: A-

*Experimenter opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, October 23.

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The-Experimenter

Experimenter

Midway through “Experimenter,” Michael Almereyda’s biopic about social psychologist Stanley Milgram, a morose Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) enters a classroom and tells his students that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.

They don’t believe him, so a woman pulls out a portable radio and the classroom listens to news reports about the assassination. It must be a radio play, the classmates whisper to each other, like War of the Worlds.

It’s a bit of dark humor that encapsulates “Experimenter,” which chronicles Milgram’s controversial career using deception (or “illusion” as he prefers) to study human nature. You’ve already heard of his experiments, even if you don’t remember his name. That famous study that asked people to administer electric shocks to a man screaming in pain? That was his. Six degrees of separation? He had a hand in that.

The movie draws Milgram as a brooding yet playful mind, sending his students out into the world to disrupt people’s lives so he can observe the result. It also borrows shades from House of Cards, with Sarsgaard frequently staring through the fourth wall to address the audience directly, offering insight into Milgram’s brilliant and quizzical brain.

Throughout all of this is a healthy dose of academic think-speak, kept at an accessible vernacular that lets the audience feel as though there in on a trick, smarter than those people who don’t know Milgram’s story or, more so, the subjects of his famous studies. It’s an impressive bit of sleight-of-hand that adds some levity into what could have been a dull history lesson.

Grade: A-

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The Hunting Ground

With the infamous Rolling Stone article about campus rape still sending ripples through the academic community, it’s easy to see Kirby Dick’s “The Hunting Ground” as especially timely.

But what the documentary makes uncomfortably clear is that the epidemic of campus sexual assault is not a recent evil to hit our college and university campuses, nor is it limited to the prestigious upper crust of academia. It is a nationwide plague that has been thriving in  for decades, reaching one out of every 4 or 5 women who set foot on the campus of an institution of higher education.

The statistics are damming and well-documented, but what “The Hunting Ground” makes clear is the insidious circumstances that lead universities to downplay or even cover-up the criminal acts taking place under their noses. They know where the problems are, with a minority of student predators accounting for the majority of assaults and statistically higher rates of violence among student athletes and fraternities. But higher education runs on money, and it’s easier to shame a victim into silence than take on the powerful booster-check-writing parents of football stars and frat house presidents.

It’s impossible to watch “The Hunting Ground” without becoming angry, hearing first hand accounts of women and men who describe the treatment they received at the hands of campus officials as worse then the actual crimes committed against them. We see them describe, in choked-back tears, how they were ostracized from the campus community while their attackers are allowed to thrive, attack other students and, in one high-profile case, win the Heisman Trophy ahead of a likely first-round draft pick in the NFL.

Grade: A

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Sembene!

Ousmane Sembene is known by many as “the father of African film.” His books and movies challenged the power structures of Africa, including the political corruption and religious traditions of the region.

In “Sembene!” directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman present a largely biographical take on the Senegalese filmmaker’s life. They explore his early years as a dock worker in Marseille through his controversial and internationally acclaimed filmography to his death in 2007.

The reverence for Sembene is clear in the film, while still showing some of his rough edges. But for a figure largely unknown to the Western world, “Sembene!” never quite transcends what feels like a museum audio track to become something truly engaging.

Grade: B-

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