Sicario: Day of the Soldado


Hispanics with guns: Donald Trump’s nightmare.

(2018) Action (Columbia) Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Manuel Garcia-Ruffo, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham, Elijah Rodriguez, Howard Ferguson Jr., David Castañeda, Jacqueline Torres, Raoul Trujillo, Bruno Bichir, Jake Picking, Tenzin Marco-Taylor, Alfredo Quinoz, Nick Shakoour, Lourdes del Rio Garcia. Directed by Stefano Sollima

 

Our Southern border has been a hot button item for those on the left and on the right. Blue staters tend to look at the issue as a humanitarian crisis born largely of our own policies in Latin America while red staters see it as an invasion of criminals, layabouts and terrorists.

Following the destruction of a Kansas City big box store by suicide bombers, the U.S. Government has had more than enough. They bring in “consultant” Matt Graver (Brolin) and his nearly indestructible assassin Alejandro (del Toro) to ferment war among the Mexican cartels who were responsible for smuggling the bombers across the border. To do that, Alejandro kidnaps the daughter (Moner) of a particularly vicious cartel boss. This predictably stirs up a hornet’s nest and while it gets the desired results, the conscience of Alejandro – whose family was wiped out by drug lords like the girl’s father – doesn’t go unscathed.

The movie sorely misses Denis Villaneuve who directed the first one; his sure hand could have made this a better film. Italian television director Sollima, best known for the ultra-violent Gomorrah series, does pretty well with the action series and keeps the pacing of the film up to snuff. He has more trouble with character development as other than the three characters mentioned above, nearly all the characters get lost in the shuffle, including a young Mexican-American boy in McAllen, Texas played by Rodriguez who falls into working for the cartels and ends up in a violent confrontation with Alejandro. A little more depth of character there might have given the film some oomph.

Del Toro and Brolin are both outstanding and are the real reason to see the film. I understand that this is meant to be the middle chapter in a proposed trilogy and although the box office numbers don’t really seem to point the way for a third installment, I nonetheless wouldn’t mind seeing one.

Emily Blunt, who starred in the first film, is also sorely missed and while the filmmakers assert her story had gone full circle, it still leaves the film without much of a moral center and I suppose that is merely appropriate. When one considers that in many ways this movie is making the case for the right’s take on the border, it’s hard to justify it in the face of children who continue to be separated from their parents at the border. But then, that’s just my own personal bias rearing its head. I guess it is fairer to say that Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a solid action film that has political elements that makes it very relevant to what’s going on at our border. If you leave the theater chanting “Build that wall” though, it’s on you.

REASONS TO SEE: Brolin and del Toro make an excellent team.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little less focused and a little more cliché than the first film.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a surfeit of violence and profanity as well as some fairly bloody images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Denis Villaneuve, who directed Sicario, was unable to commit to the sequel due to scheduling conflicts.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miss Bala
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Tomorrow, Maybe?

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Perception (2019)


It doesn’t take a psychic to figure out what’s coming in Perception.

(2018) Thriller (Gravitas Ventures) Wes Ramsey, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Caitlin Mehner, Max Jenkins, Jro, Vee Kumari, J. Barrett Cooper, Adam & Ali Zoumzoum, Valerie Jane Parker, Matthew Davis, Apollo Bacala, Kelly Mengelkoch, Takayla Williams, Tshombi Basemore, Davis Aguila, Daniel H. Shoemaker, Shaleen Cholera, John French, Sarah East. Directed by Ilana Rein

 

When we lose someone we care about, their spirit stays with us in a sense; they are on our mind as we hold on to their presence for as long as we can. We see them wherever we go; in memories and sometimes as apparitions from better days. We have a tendency to forget the bad memories but they’re there as well.

Daniel (Ramsey) is a high-powered go-getter at a bank that is foreclosing on a suburban shopping strip in L.A. that has seen better days. One of the last tenants of the strip mall is a palmistry shop. When a silent little boy named Hugo (Zoumzoum) stows away in Daniel’s SUV, he figures out that the boy might have come from the shop which, indeed, he has. His mom Nina (Kumbhani) is shocked – “he’s never done this kind of thing before,” she explains once she gets over the shock of seeing her boy with a complete stranger.

Out of a sense of gratitude she gives Daniel a free reading and tells him that he has a spirit attached to him, following him, someone recently deceased. “Your wife?” she inquires. In doing so, she hits a raw nerve. Maggie (Mehner) indeed passed away recently and Daniel is desperate to contact her, willing to pay anything if Nina can do the job for him. Nina’s business partner Jro (Jro) congratulates her on hooking what is an apparently wealthy fish and urges her to reel him in. In the meantime, Hugo is acting out in school and his teacher (East) suggests an expensive private school who can better take care of Hugo’s needs.

And so, Nina starts doing “sessions” with Daniel, even though she is shocked to discover that the spirit of Maggie is angry. “She’s in control,” Nina tells Daniel forthrightly, “She decides what memories she wants you to see.” Indeed, the memories of Maggie are not always pleasant but Daniel wants more. Nina is reluctant but she needs the money so she allows the sessions to go deeper but deeper is dangerous – much more dangerous than even she knows.

This thriller harkens back to the sort of psychosexual thrillers that were popular in the 90s, often as direct-to-VHS or cable. The supernatural element is never overplayed and although we see Maggie as a ghostly apparition once, mostly we see her in flashback.

Sadly, the script veers from what was a promising thriller into fairly cliché territory. Ramsey is a veteran soap opera actor and in some ways the sudsy froth of this script is likely familiar territory for him. Most of the acting performances are pretty strong, although as the movie reaches its climax Ramsey indulges in some serious scenery chewing. However, both Mehner and Kumbhani deliver strong performances and Jro delightfully steals the scenes that he appears in.

The pacing is pretty slow for most of the film and the script gives away a bit too much to make the big twist really effective. That’s the real shame; a little more imagination could have taken this film a long way. As it is it’s fairly mundane but not entirely without entertainment value.

REASONS TO SEE: The performances are for the most part decent.
REASONS TO AVOID: Slow-paced until the plot goes off the rails near the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sexuality and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film had its world premiere at the world-famous Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Redbox, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/19/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dead Again
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America


Saying goodbye doesn’t have to wait until you die.

(2019) Documentary (HBOLeila Johnson, Linda Johnson, Steve Berkoff, Guadalupe Cuevas, Guadalupe Cuevas Jr., Amalia Cuevas, Alicia Cuevas Gonzalez, Barbara Jean, TJ, Sarah Singer Green, Lisa Bransine, Dick Shannon, Will Corbett, Ryan Matthews, Emelie Matthews. Directed by Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz

 

Death is a taboo subject. We tend to shove it to the back of our minds; we don’t like to think about it and we certainly don’t like to talk about it. Our mortality makes us uncomfortable, regardless that all of us are eventually going to die. Most of us have little clue as to how we want our endgame to play.

The Baby Boomers who are of an age now where they are beginning to get visits from the Grim Reaper with regularity are changing the way we think of death and dying. While some still opt for coffins that cost as much as cars, a ceremony in a place of worship and a viewing at the local funeral home, there are other ways to say goodbye now.

This new HBO documentary revisits the way we look at the end of the road. A visit to the National Funeral Directors Association convention in Boston reveals holographic final messages from the deceased to their loved ones, elaborate urns – don’t call them urns, they’re memorial art – and boxes of good Irish soil so that the deceased may get buried at home, even if their casket is thousands of miles away.

Others may prefer having their cremated remains shot into outer space as one teacher’s family did in New Mexico. His family was one of 45 whose loved ones became part of the final frontier. Although I would imagine that would be fairly pricy, so those cost-conscious about final send-offs may want to be aware of that.

There are also things called “green burials” which Texan Barbara Jean has selected. She wants instead of a coffin to be wrapped in biodegradable material and have her decomposing remains nurture the life of a new tree. I admit there is some appeal in having your corpse be put to good use.

One of the hardest segments to watch was that involving a celebration of life. 5-year-old Garrett Matthews was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He told his mommy and daddy (Emilie and Ryan) that he didn’t want a funeral. He wanted a party complete with fireworks, bouncy houses, snow cones and an appearance by the Caped Crusader himself, Batman so after their child passed on, his parents did exactly what little Garrett wanted. Yes, it was a celebration of life but I don’t know if I could have had the emotional ability to approach it with the kind of joy they did and to be honest, one imagines there was a whole lot of tears and grief that didn’t appear on-camera.

Silicon Valley engineer Dick Shannon had terminal lung cancer and decided he wanted to decide for himself how and when to die. California’s “Death with dignity” laws enabled him to do that so Dick had a cocktail of drugs that would ease him off into the void peacefully and painlessly. Before he goes, Dick helps design (and build) his own coffin and also throws a farewell bash with a hefty amount of gallows humor.

We are shown Dick drinking his hemlock and sharing his final moments with his wife and family and that was a little uncomfortable, like we were invading the privacy of the family at a particularly painful time. I suppose we are conditioned to think that way.

The option that I’d go for was the first one presented; having your ashes mixed with concrete and made part of a Memorial Coral Reef. Considering the harm we’ve done to the ocean, it feels like the least we can do. Again, though, that one might be pricier than some of the other options presented here.

Some of this might seem a little new age-y to you (certainly the green burial had some elements of that) which might detract from the merits of the various options here, so try to keep an open mind. As Dick Shannon accurately says, the dying in America have no part of their own process of dying. They are removed from it to a large degree. Obviously those who die suddenly may not have time to consider what they want for their end of life choices, but it behooves most of us no matter how young we are to have at least some idea of how we want our families to handle our final arrangements. And death doesn’t necessarily have to be more about those left behind; I must admit I take some comfort in that.

REASONS TO SEE: Presents different viewpoints on death and how to deal with it.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some might find this a little too new age-y.
FAMILY VALUES: The matter-of-fact approach to death and dying may be too intense for the sensitive and the immature.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In 2018, more people opted for cremation than for traditional funerals in America for the first time ever.
BEYOND THE THEATER: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/17/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gates of Heaven
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Xenophobia

The Buskers & Lou


The slack life.

(2014) Drama (RandomMarshall Walker Lee, Megan Carver, Tyler Andre, Margaret Douglas, Robert Thrush, Jordan Wilgus, Steven Felts, William H. Wilson, Nickolas Mitchell, Ethan Zinn-Brown, Luke Potter, The Crow, The Wolf, Wes Lysiak, Skylar Jensen, Shay Bjorndahl, Perla Bonilla, Erin O’Connor, Alexandra Metaxa, Katerina Georgiou. Directed by Alex Cassun

 

Welcome to being a grown-up. I know it’s not something you particularly wanted to do; it just happened. There’s no real prize for getting here and it tends to be a pain in the you-know-where. For your trouble, however, you get free elevated stress levels. Isn’t that nice?

Lou (Lee) returns to his home town of Portland after an absence of an unspecified number of years; his friends are at first happy to see him back but more as a curiosity and Lou isn’t really forthcoming about where he’s been and why he’s back. Some, of course, are happier to see him than others.

Lou had been a street musician, playing for pocket change and using what he made “busking” for what things he needed – mainly food and alcohol. He’s determined not to resume that lifestyle however; he wants a job and a life, but considering that he’s never really had gainful employment before it’s not easy to find anything other than a dead-end minimum wage job which he takes.

Lou is crashing for now in his friend Jackie’s (Carver) van where she also lives; the two are, as friends in close quarters often will, start to get on each other’s nerves. Lou spends time talking to a therapist (Wilson) on a park bench when he’s not trying to navigate the rat race, much to the contempt of his friends.

You see, they are all continuing to busk and live life on their own terms and are all the happier for it. They have an event to look forward to; ten years prior they (including Lou) had buried a time capsule in the yard of a house some of them owned. They have decided to dig it up and are organizing a party, called “The Big Dig” to celebrate it. Lou has been inviting but he is often a no-show for things that he is invited to these days.

I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that made me feel quite so much like a crotchety old man in quite some time. This is a young person’s film dealing with young person’s issues and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Happiness is important to these characters as it is indeed to all of us; most of us in the rat race aren’t necessarily there because we don’t want to be happy. Even mind-numbing make-work kinds of jobs can occasionally give us a feeling of satisfaction and/or accomplishment though.

There is almost a contempt for people who work here at times an that might be irritating to those who actually, you know, work. Portland can be a great place for street musicians but not all of us live there; I get that the artistic mentality is different from that of the working class and just as valid in its own way but I can see how those who work hard just to tread water might be a little bit insulted by this.

The performances are pretty decent considering that the cast is largely locals and unprofessional. I suspect Cassun comes from a musical background because his soundtrack choices betray a really good ear. The problem I had is that I couldn’t get into most of the characters; there was nothing here for me to grab onto and as a result I found myself less and less enthused about finding out what happens to Lou and his friends. By the time the Big Dig rolls around, the mystery behind Lou’s disappearance is revealed (you should be able to figure it out) and I didn’t really care very much about it to begin with.

I try to give low-budget indies a pass for the most part and it’s plain to see that the director invested heart and soul into this film but sometimes that isn’t enough. I need to be invested in the lives of the characters; I need to care about what happens to them. I need to be excited about what comes next. None of that ever happened during the film. As you can tell by the release date, it’s been bopping around the Festival circuit and otherwise sitting on the shelf for five years until Random Media got hold of it for home video release. They believe in the film and maybe you will to once you see it but this was one I never found myself connecting with.

REASONS TO SEE: Tackles the age-old question of happiness versus adulting.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit of a bore.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house where the “Big Dig” takes place is actually the rehearsal space for the Portland-based band Typhoon.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Portlandia
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Them That Follow

Fyre Fraud


The face of a modern conman.

(2019) Documentary (Hulu) Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Calvin Wells, Vickie Segar, Jia Tolentino, Ben Meiselas, Erielle Reshef, Jesse Eisinger, Anastasia Eremenko, Emily Boehm, Aubrey McClendon, Corolla Jain, Delroy Jackson, Ava Turnquest, Dave Brooks, Austin Mills, Elliot Tebele, Oren Aks, Michael Swaigen, Maria Konnikova, Daniel “Skywalker” Goldstein, Alyssa Lynch. Directed by Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason

 

Some of you may have seem the term “FOMO” when browsing social media. It stands for “Fear of Missing Out” and is a particular curse of modern youth culture. Our society has become obsessed with the illusion of the good life, perhaps because it seems unattainable to us in an era when the gap between haves and have-nots is widening.

This documentary, one of two on the ill-fated Fyre Festival in 2017 that promised supermodels, luxury accommodations, 5-star cuisine, and a music festival on a private Bahamian island delivered only FEMA tents and stale cheese sandwiches in Styrofoam boxes. It has become a symbol of hype vs. reality as the organizers who were always in way above their heads but resorted to keeping their investors and employees in the dark and left thousands of Bahamian workers holding the bag, fleeced thousands of Instagram-obsessed would-be hedonists.

There is a little bit of an eye-twinkle to the Hulu documentary which without warning was made available five days earlier than the competing documentary on the subject on Netflix, and utilizes dozens of clips from TV shows to illustrate certain points – almost all of them available to binge on Hulu, don’t you know. However, in the main, the filmmakers go for the jugular when explaining how things went so horribly wrong.

The big difference between this documentary and the Netflix one (comparisons are inescapable) is that the filmmakers got main culprit Billy McFarland for an on-camera interview. Temper that information, however, with the knowledge that McFarland was apparently well-paid for his time; most journalists shy away from paid interviews for a lot of ethical reasons, not the least of which is that the appearance of being soft on the subject is almost inevitable. To be fair though, the filmmakers didn’t go easy on McFarland at all. He’s asked some pretty tough questions to which he often gets evasive or in some cases, outright lies in response. He’s a charming man, no doubt, but he is also fast and loose with the truth. Shortly after his interview was filmed, he was convicted of wire fraud (notice how it rhymes with the documentary title) and sentenced to six years in prison.

Much of the film takes square aim at what I suppose they would call Millennial culture – the directors themselves are Millennials – but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. It’s not just Millennials who contribute to the out-of-control consumerism that dominates social media although they certainly contribute to it. The whole culture of “influencers” is raked over the coals; if influencers are doing the job they’re supposed to, that makes their followers little more than gullible sheep.

Some of the most cogent commentary comes from New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino who helps put the Festival in perspective. Many of those who worked for the Festival were surely aware that they were headed for a train wreck of epic proportions but they were reassured by the brass that things would work out. It is easy to believe in such reassurances when the alternative is unthinkable.

Both of the documentaries on the Festival are flawed and taken together they do form a pretty complete document, so if you have the opportunity to see them both by all means do. However, I’m not so sure that it is worth the time to do that; while they are a chilling comment on our attitudes towards celebrity and consumerist success, they are also not really vital subjects considering everything going on in the world these days.

REASONS TO WATCH: Has the benefit of getting things straight from the organizers.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not as comprehensive and a little bit on the raw side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McFarland agreed to appear in the film on the condition that he be paid.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Hulu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes:79% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fyre
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Buskers and Lou

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened


Beware of bikini promises; they can be unrealistic.

(2019) Documentary (Netflix) Billy McFarland, Jason Bell, Gabrielle Bluestone, Shiyuan Deng, Ja Rule, Michael Ciccarelli, MDavid Low, Samuel Krost, Andy King, J.R., Brett Kincaid, Mick Purzycki, James Ohlinger, Grant Margolin, Keith van der Linde, Marc Weinstein, Martin Howell, Mark Musters, Luca Sabatini, Maryann Rolle, Calvin Wells, Jillionaire, Alyssa Lynch. Directed by Chris Smith

 

The Fyre Festival of 2017 has become a symbol of disaster. Mismanaged from the get-go, the ads promoted an experience of living like a celebrity (while rubbing elbows with supermodels), living in luxurious accommodations on a private island in the Bahamas, dining on five-star cuisine and listening to some of the hottest bands on the planet. Social media was all (excuse the expression) a-twitter over the event which had social media “Influencers” (a term I absolutely despise) raving about the party of the decade, one that would be remembered for decades as an iconic event.

The event will certainly be remembered but not for the reasons the promoters implied. When festival-goers arrived they found an absolute shambles; rain-soaked FEMA tents, cuisine that was comprised of a sad-looking cheese sandwich and a limp salad, no running water, port-a-potties, no musical acts and a staff which had no idea what was going on.

The Festival was the brainchild of Billy McFarland, a slick promoter who had sold a credit card to those who wanted to be associated with a particular lifestyle, a lifestyle he believed would reach its apex with the Fyre Festival. Partnered with rapper Ja Rule, McFarland hadn’t the least idea of what the logistics of putting together that kind of massive event entailed but he was sure an expert in promoting it, promising things that weren’t there and he didn’t have a prayer of getting.

This documentary, one of two that were released on competing streaming services within a week of one another, has one of those subjects that is very much like an automobile accident; you can’t look away even though you know it’s going to be a horror show. The splashier Netflix documentary mostly looks at the fall-out from the con but it does a great job of showing the rise and fall of the Festival through the eyes of those who worked on it.

It’s easy to be a little bit delighted that the young, wealthy Millennials who went got exactly what they deserved and there is some justification to that; one festival-goer brags about tearing down tents and pissing on mattresses because he didn’t want any neighbors (class act, that). You won’t feel sorry for those folks; after all, you know what they say about fools and their money. The people that you end of feeling for most are the Bahamian construction workers and caterers who went unpaid and were left holding the bag. Marianne Rolle, who was in charge of catering, lost $50K of her own savings and ended up establishing a GoFundMe account to get her workers paid.

Others who worked on website programming and promoting also had their lives and careers negatively affected. Some of them talk about realizing that there was a disaster looming on the horizon but being constantly reassured that things would work out. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Mostly talking head interviews along with some cell phone footage from those who attended the disaster, Smith puts together the story in a concise and entertaining manner. Neither Ja Rule nor McFarland are interviewed here so we get little of his side of the story but as you’ll see from our upcoming review of Fyre Fraud that may not matter much in the long run. This isn’t world-changing but it is a good cautionary tale.

REASONS TO WATCH: A fascinating story that tackles the fallout from a con.
REASONS TO AVOID: More context is needed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was nominated for four primetime Emmys.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fyre Fraud
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Fyre Fraud

Unmasking Jihadi John: Anatomy of a Terrorist


The face of a modern barbarian.

2019) Documentary (HBO) Mohammed Emwazi, Richard Verkaik, General David Petraeus, Dr. Emman El-Badawi, Jo Shorter, Claudia Giarusso, Douglas H. Wise, James Foley, Jesse Morton, Nicholas Henin, Federico Motka, Simon McKay, Dr. Mamadou Bacoun, Richard Walton, Steve Warren, Robert Harrison, Diane Foley, Lord David Anderson, Bethany Haines. Directed by Anthony Wonke

 

News junkies will remember the saga of Jihadi John, a member of ISIS who beheaded journalists and aid workers on-camera after forcing them to read documentaries repudiating their home countries. What distinguished him from other terrorists was his accent; he was British and well-educated, nothing like the terrorists we’d come to expect. When he spoke of the United States or his home United Kingdom, it was in a voice dripping with venom and hatred.

Eventually, intelligence agencies identified him as Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait but brought to London by his family when he was six. By all accounts through teachers and classmates he was a shy student who was teased about his bad breath and who had a passion for Manchester United, the soccer club. He also liked to drink and watch The Simpsons. What led him to become a brutal terrorist capable of torture and murder, and of making videos so that his savagery could be seen in all its barbarity?

That’s the question that you would think this documentary was posing based on its title but you’ll be sorely disappointed if you do. We get lots of talking heads – often filmed starkly in pools of white light against black settings not unlike an interrogation – chatting about his upbringing, utilizing school mates and teachers (although no relatives who likely didn’t want to participate). From there we see him as a young man, wanting to travel to Tanzania to go on safari but by that point he was already on a terrorist watch list for his visits to Somalia and for some of his expressions of radical fundamentalist Islam. From there on, we are given the perspective of those chasing him, and those who survived capture (Motka and Henin) and relatives of those who did not (Haines and Diane Foley).

Wonke, a veteran British documentarian, gives us plenty of background behind the formation of ISIS and of the terrible deeds done by the group that elevated them even ahead of Al-Qaeda in the ranks of terrorist organizations. Still, we never really get much insight into how Emwazi became what he did. There are no a’ha moments, no major events that radicalized him. It seems to have been a process, something harder to document. Wonke chooses not to which is what makes this documentary so disappointing.

It’s not that this isn’t a useful film by any means – if you want to look at how ISIS and Emwazi in particular utilized social media to get their radical message across. We are also reminded how these men did unforgivable things in service to their religious message, a warning of the dangers of religion turned radical. This isn’t a film for the squeamish (although they have the decency not to show the actual beheadings but excerpts from the tapes just prior to the crimes) nor is it for the hateful but it is for people who need to be reminded just how warped obsessive belief can make even the most ordinary of people. I just wish that the filmmakers had been more successful in explaining how it was done in this case.

REASONS TO SEE: Utilizes recreated footage very nicely.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t really deliver on the promise to explain how he became radicalized.
FAMILY VALUES: There are depictions of violence and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emwazi attended the University of Westminster where he studied  information systems with business management, eventually securing a degree..
BEYOND THE THEATER: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Homegrown: The Counter-Terror Dilemma
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Teacher