Feature Article, Film Festivals

Day 6


A Good American

Synopsis: Tells the story of the best code-breaker the USA ever had and how he and a small team within NSA created a surveillance tool that could pick up any electronic signal on earth, filter it for targets and render results in real-time while keeping the privacy as demanded by the US constitution.

This documentary was expertly made with a lot of directorial polish. You could immediately tell that a lot of thought went into crafting the visuals for this piece. The central story is great as it focuses on how greed and corruption poisoned the NSA (National Security Agency). Essentially, a team built a perfect tool to help monitor phone records, email, etc. while protecting the privacy of individuals. The problem is, some of the higher ups had connections to 3rd party companies (with whom they used to work for) and instead, opted to hire them to built brand new tools that weren’t nearly as effective.

This film is best when it focuses on this specific narrative. It traces the earliest days of this program up through the 1990s and, most critically, the lead up to 9/11. It builds an argument that this initial tool would have definitely caught the information of the terrorist plans before it happened and deals with the fallout of that miss. The film meanders a bit though when it flashes back to days in the Vietnam war and other times that doesn’t really add to this central narrative. Although the director did a great job adding visuals and doing fantastic reenactments, there’s no getting around the fact that talking about coding, algorithms, and metadata for nearly 2 hours can get a bit dry.

If you are fascinated by the NSA, its inner workings, and how they evolved throughout the years, you will love this.


Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America

Synopsis: Daryl Davis is an accomplished musician who has played all over the world with various legends. He also has an unusual hobby. Daryl likes to meet and befriend members of the KKK, many of whom have never met a black person. When some of these people decide to leave the Klan, Daryl keeps their robes and hoods building his collection piece by piece, story by story, person by person.

This, my friends, is one entertaining documentary. The concept alone is amazing but seeing it happen on screen is even better than you imagined. Daryl is not only unafraid of these KKK members but he even views them with a great sense of humor. He knows that what they believe is ridiculous and he simply talks to them about it in a calm way that allows them to let their guard down.

I was truly not expecting this documentary to be as funny as it is, given the subject matter. Some of these KKK members he meets say the craziest stuff in a way where you almost wonder if they realize how insane they sound. Daryl also has a great mindset about the whole thing though – he believes that if you truly sit down with someone and just LISTEN to what they have to say, they will begin to respect you, which can allow those barriers to fall and crumble. He understands race and psychology more than just about anyone, which powers his interactions with these people throughout the film. Highly recommended.


The Alchemist’s Cookbook

Synopsis: Suffering from delusions of fortune, a young hermit hides out in the forest hoping to crack an ancient mystery, but pays a price for his mania.

I had heard a lot of buzz about the director’s last movie, Buzzard, so I made a point to check this film out. It’s a nice little movie that takes place in one location but is still entertaining as hell. The main character is in a trailer in the woods, trying to make chemicals and mixtures for very strange reasons. We slowly come to understand what he’s trying to do and it is glorious. This is definitely a film where a plot is shoved into the background to instead focus purely on the 2 central characters – but somehow, it works.

Watching our main character come up with crazy concoctions is spellbinding. When his friend pops in and out, their interactions are comedy gold. And when we see just what he’s up to – when the supernatural element kicks in – it really takes off. Sometimes, all you need is a great concept and 2 great characters to power a film.


The Lure

Synopsis: The Lure revisits Hans Christian Andersen’s classic. At the crossroad between a musical and a rebellious horror film, this fairy tale for adults takes the viewer into a world inspired by Warsaw’s dance scene in the ’80s.

This movie pretty much had it all – electro-pop, disco music, killer mermaids, colorful lighting. Imagine if Dario Argento directed a fairytale adaptation…now imagine if Dario Argento had only shot movie videos for his entire life and had never seen an actual movie. That is The Lure!

This film doesn’t really care at all about rules of storytelling/plot other than to entertain the audience. Characters pop in and out with no explanation. There is a loose plot thread driving the film (which revolves around love) but it’s mostly about these mermaids who are trying to fit in with a dance club while also feeding on flesh & blood when necessary. It’s weird, it’s hip, it’s colorful and I liked it.

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