Posts Tagged ‘Southside With You’

*Note: Portions of this review were originally published during coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

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During the course of an extremely long first date, future president Barack Obama won over a disinterested Michelle Robinson, despite several biting arguments, by demonstrating his oratorical prowess and sneaking a kiss over some dessert. At least, that’s the version shown in “Southside With You,” the Before Sunrise-esque film about the First Couple’s early relationship.

Unfortunately, writer-director Richard Tanne’s script lacks the depth and subtlety of Richard Linklater’s classic. “Southside With You” is bogged down by the weight of its characters’ futures and so concerned with what is to be that it forgets that its actually telling a story set in the present tense. What should be a love story between two young and promising adults in Chicago is instead a pseudo-mythic “Obama: Origins” story, as if at any moment a radioactive spider will jump out and transform them into their full potential.

For his part, Parker Sawyers is an effortlessly convincing young-B.O., slipping skillfully into 44’s mannerisms without resorting to gross caricature. The same can’t be said for Tika Sumpter (also one of the film’s producers) who is stilted as Michelle Obama and who relies on sullenness as a substitute for the future first lady’s principled strength.

“Southside With You” bets every chip it has on the allure of young POTUS and FLOTUS. But imagine for a moment not knowing who Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson grow up to be, and what’s left is an overly presumptive film about an otherwise generic meet cute, in which the budding romance between its protagonists is too short on chemistry to be convincing.

Grade: B-

*Southside With You opens in Salt Lake City and select theaters nationwide on Friday, August 26.

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Jacqueline (Argentine)

Imagine a documentary in which nothing happens, and what little does happen is made up. That’s Jacqueline (Argentine), the difficult-to-describe film directed by The Daily Show’s Bernardo Britto.

Ostensibly about a French government employee living in exile in Argentina because she unearthed a CIA assassination conspiracy, the film spends it’s first half unconvincingly pretending to be real before fully revealing itself as fiction in part two. The cracks begin to show as glaringly rehearsed embellishments give way to recognizable actors like Richard Kind playing “real” people. All of which is drowned under the incessant, monotonous and ham-fisted narration of Britto who waxes philosophical about benign details in an attempt to hide that there is nothing to see here.

Grade: C-

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Christine

Rebecca Hall stars as Christine Chubbuck, the real-life Florida newswoman who, in 1974, committed suicide on live television. The film follows Chubbuck’s final months, as loneliness, social anxiety and mounting pressure from work pull at her fraying nerves.

Hall is excellent, convincingly playing the barely-contained eruptions behind her character’s fixed expressions. Her Christine is simultaneously off-putting and sympathetic, perpetually getting in the way of her own happiness, which seems just one good day away but always out of reach.

Beyond Hall, however, the film is thin. Aside from her infamous death, Christine Chubbuck was an otherwise uneventful person, a small-market television reporter who lived with her mother and focused on her work. Director Antonio Campos attempts to compensate with a pleasant ensemble of coworkers (played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, Veep’s Timothy Simons) but the end results feels undercooked.

Grade: B-

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Newtown

The community of Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, is ripe for documentary attention, and in “Newtown,” director Kim Snyder proves she is up to the task. A comprehensive examination of community grief, with dozens of subjects interviewed over the space of three years, the film paints a picture of collective tragedy, mourning, resilience and, ultimately, resolve to move forward.

Grade: B+

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Under The Gun

Stephanie Soechtig and Katie Couric, the team behind “Fed Up”, 2014 searing takedown of the sugar and soda industries, return to Sundance this year with “Under the Gun,” a searing takedown of the nation’s gun laws.

Some of those laws are (relatively) well known, like the loopholes that allow individuals to sell and purchase guns without background checks. Others, however, have flown under the national radar, like the prohibition against the ATF digitizing its innumerable amount of paper records or the restrictions on gun research by the CDC.

“Under the Gun” dissects those laws and their histories, as well as turning the camera on  the mass shootings that have overturned American communities and the ongoing and largely overlooked gun violence in cities like Chicago. But more than a simple crusade against guns, the film looks at the broad consensus (including majorities within NRA membership) for closing background check loopholes and excluding suspected terrorists from gun purchases.

America, according to “Under The Gun” is a nation ignored by its leaders while citizens are hurt and dying.

Grade: A-

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Southside With You

During the course of an extremely long first date, future president Barack Obama won over a disinterested Michelle Robinson, despite several biting arguments, by demonstrating his oratorial prowess and sneaking a kiss over some dessert. At least, that’s the version shown in “Southside With You,” the Before Sunrise-esque origin story of the First Couple.

Unfortunately, writer-director Richard Tanne’s script lacks the depth and subtlety of Richard Linklater’s classic. “Southside With You” is bogged down by the weight of its characters’ futures and so concerned with what is to be that it forgets that its actually telling a story set in the present tense. What should be a love story between two young and promising adults in Chicago is instead a pseudo-mythic Obamas: Origins story, as if at any moment a radioactive spider will jump out and transform them into their full potential.

Grade: B-

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