"Super Dark Times"


5/25/2019

“Super Dark Times” delivers what it promises.  The film is dark and honest look time at the lives of a few teenagers living in suburban America and an event that will change all of their lives forever.  Although this promising film does suffer from a third act breakdown all of the stuff beforehand is well executed.

The story is grounded in a typical suburban American reality, Zach and Josh are best of friends who spend their days at school and riding bikes around their small rural town.  They hang out with a few other kids Charlie and Daryl.  Daryl is a character that everyone can probably remember knowing growing up.  He is the foul-mouthed fat kid, who tries way too hard to be liked.  With not much to do the teens wander around on their bikes usually ending up at someone's house.  The characters and dialogue feel extremely naturalistic and true to life which sets this film apart.  Stereotypes are held to a bare minimum and the characters feel lived in.  While at Josh’s house, they go into his older brothers room, who is currently in the Marines, and find some weed and a samurai sword.  Josh tells them to leave the weed, but they go outside and horse around with the sword.  What could go wrong right?

Daryl’s constant harassment of the others and the fact that he actually stole the weed pisses off Josh and they get into it a little bit.  But when Daryl sucker punches Josh, who is currently holding the sword, an unfortunate accident occurs.  Daryl is stabbed deeply in the throat and everybody freaks out.  This scene is hard to watch and its graphic realism is something that cuts to the core of anyone who sees it.  All three teens panic and cover up the body, they get rid of the sword and make a pact not to tell anyone.  This obviously creates a heavy sense of paranoia, guilt, and anxiety that takes this film to its ultimately unsatisfying ending.  Also at this time, Charlie’s girl crush at school starts to show interest in him.  Charlie is the heart of the film and the character the story primarily follows.  His journey is our journey.  His friendship with Josh quickly spirals into paranoia and fear of each other.  Although it's hard to say what a person would do in this situation you assume one if not both of the kids will crack under the pressure.  What Josh does seems to betray the strong sense of realism that the film has built up.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it just felt wrong.  This is a film about morality and doing the right thing and when you’re a teenager this can be very tricky.

“Super Dark Times” draws comparisons between 2001s “Bully” and 2004s “Mean Creek” although to me “Super Dark Times” feels more authentic while “Bully” like its title is more mean spirited.  Both films involve a sort of misguided revenge, while “Super Dark Times” revolves around an accident.  While made for under a million dollars “Super Dark Times” looks and feels like movies ten times its budget, as the characters really shine.  This is definitely a film to see despite its wayward ending.

REVIEW - "Mean Creek"
REVIEW - "Bully"

Bill Maher's "Religulous" is a Laugh Riot!


5/16/2019

Comedian Bill Maher is a man who doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, he once has a TV show called “Politically Incorrect” and currently has a long running talk show on HBO called “Real Time with Bill Maher”.  The 2008 documentary “Religulous” takes a hilarious and unflinching look at religion and all its forms.

Maher had an interesting upbringing himself with his father being roman catholic and his mother Jewish. Obviously, when you start questioning peoples beliefs you’re going to run into some resistance, but Maher approaches this as a person with an open mind and doubt at its core.
Maher’s trademark sarcasm and quick wit have made him both a champion for his far left leaning supporters and a lightning rod of controversy for conservative America.  “Religulous” makes the point that “Religion has been detrimental to human progress”.  

Maher visits with numerous religious leaders and followers primarily in the American Midwest (the Bible belt) and asks simple questions that usually end up in laughs and awkward silences. Religion is quite the business and is very adept at exploiting peoples beliefs to fund lavish lifestyles for clergy members.  Maher travels to Florida to a Christian themed amusement park called “The Holy Land Experience” and interviews Jesus, who is some dude on a summer job. The park re-enacts the crucifixion and of course has a gift shop.  Maher’s presence alerts the staff and security similar to when people see Michale Moore with a camera crew.  In his travels, Maher brings up the very real issue of God and Nationalism.  While America is supposedly a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and freedoms it has always been fully enmeshed in Christianity.  

Maher interviews a number of Muslims who defend their beliefs and characterize their wrongs and denials as “politics”.  When it comes to Scientology and Mormon’s Maher has a field day in pointing out the eccentricities of these newer religions and their truly bizarre origins.  No matter what religion a person is affiliated with, how do these people come to believe the things they do?  Is it indoctrinated at youth like in the documentary “Jesus Camp”?  To take everything on blind faith is quite dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.  All too often beliefs are forced upon people and this also very troublesome.  Religion and politics always get mixed up together and are usually dealt with in a serious and contentious manner.  That’s why it's such a breath of fresh air when a guy like Bill Maher can bring some humor and levity to such subjects.  Sure he can be a pretentious smart ass but he is not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.  It looks like he could’ve made a good lawyer since he is so good at making other people look like idiots.

I found “Religulous” to be a laugh riot and Maher to be a lot more palatable than Michael Moore.  Larry Charles, who directed “Borat” a few years earlier, directed this film as well.  Although Maher is not Borat, he still gets the same amount of laughs.

The Controversial and Thought Provoking "Jesus Camp"


5/8/2019

It’s been true since the dawn of time if you want to stir up intense debate and controversy just bring up religion or politics.  The 2006 Oscar nominated documentary “Jesus Camp” is full of both.  Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady focus their attention on the far right Evangelical Christians of middle America.  No matter what your personal beliefs are this film stirs up passionate responses on both sides.

We meet Becky Fisher a Pentecostal children’s preacher who holds these camps that indoctrinate children into a way of thinking.  They are told they are soldiers in a war to reclaim America for Christ.  Becky and the other adults in the greater scheme of things are using children as pawns to actively recruit others.  This whole practice sounds similar to how Nazi Germany used the Hitler Youth to push their agenda.  It’s a sickening practice that desperate and fearful extremist use to serve their own twisted ego’s.  Kids of course just want the love and attention of their parents and will do anything to get it so they just go along with it not really knowing what they are doing or what it all means.

The families involved in these camps look to be lower middle class families and this is punctuated by a young boy that the filmmakers choose to follow.  Levi is a 12 year old boy and a stereotypical trailer park kid with baggy clothes and a long rat tail running down his back.  He has bought into all of these teachings and preaches himself.  While most of the kids interviewed seem either extremely nervous or extensively coached, Levi has confidence and belief in what he says.

The filmmakers also make it abundantly clear the beliefs of the Evangelicals.  The theory of evolution is heresy and global warming is a political myth.  That Harry Potter is the anti-christ meant to lure kids to Satan (seriously, I’m not joking here).  It is mentioned that 75% of homeschooled children are evangelical, which points to a deep mistrust in society at large.  The filmmakers then follow Levi and some other kids as they visit Colorado Springs and the church of famed minister Ted Haggard.  Hagged also happened to be the President of the National Association of Evangelicals.  The camera follows him on stage as he makes a number of off-color remarks about gays.  But wouldn’t you know a little after this film was released Haggard found himself embroiled in a scandal with his own gay lover/drug dealer.  The Hypocrisy just doesn’t get any better than this.  Religion is just a business like any other with usually the poorest of people giving money to the rich for “salvation”.  

In conclusion, the way a person chooses to live their life is totally up to them, but when it comes to extremists and using children to fight your battles is cause for concern no matter what you believe.  The question of whether these Jesus Camps actually do harm to these kids is up for debate like everything else.  Is it child abuse?  Where Becky Fisher’s methods a little too intense?  Religion is one of those topics that raise existential questions like Mankind’s attempt to rationalize its own existence an will continue until we as a people finally destroy ourselves or as Evangelicals believe the return of Jesus Christ. I won’t be holding my breath.


"The Miseducation of Cameron Post"


5/7/2019

Winner of the 2018 Grand Jury prize at the Sundance film festival “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is a powerful and heartbreaking drama that is based on an all too real tragedy that is being put upon many young people still to this day.  The concept of the gay conversion camp where parents send their kids to “become straight” is ridiculous, barbaric and just plain wrong on every conceivable level. 

Taking place in 1993, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Cameron Post a teen girl who has found love with another girl named Coley.  Their relationship is kept quiet until they are found making out in the back seat of their car at the prom.  Cameron’s Christian parents send her to a place called “God’s Promise” a gay conversion camp run by Reverend Rick and Dr. Lydia Marsh.  They really don’t seem to know what they are doing but Lydia is very strict and determined to “heal” these kids at any cost.  Cameron’s meets up with Jane (Sasha Lane) upon arrival and then with Adam (Forrest Goodluck).  This trio bonds over smoking pot in the woods and their collective desire to live their own lives with dignity, respect and freedom to make their own choices.  

This concept of gay conversion therapy is so infuriating, this prison camp brainwashes teenagers into thinking that they are these horrible diseased people who are no different from drug addicts who need rehab.  All of this under the guise of religious “love and understanding”.  Cameron and the others are told they are gender confused and suffer from SSA or Same Sex Attraction.  Their treatment revolves around the metaphor of an iceberg and they must find out what lies under the surface that has made them this way.  Basically, if you're a girl who loves sports you're an obvious lesbian and boys who spend too much time with their mothers will turn up gay.  The tragic consequences of these teachings are emphasized by Mark, Adam’s roommate after he is denied a chance to come home by his father he has reached rock bottom.  Rejected by his family and constantly told he is unworthy, he attempts suicide by genital mutilation.  When Cameron is asked by an investigator about what goes on in the camp and if people are being abused, she sums up everything in one sentence. “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse”.  After these events, Cameron, Jane, and Mark decide enough is enough and plan their escape.  Reverend Rick is in a state of shock and denial and basically allows them to leave on a hike deep down knowing they’re probably not coming back.  They hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck and for the first time feel the freedom to be their authentic selves without shame and embarrassment.