Movie Review ~ Mayor Pete

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With extraordinary access to the candidate, an inside look at the 2020 Pete Buttigieg campaign for President of the United States.

Stars: Pete Buttigieg, Chasten Buttigieg

Director: Jesse Moss

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  As I began watching Mayor Pete, I started to get this uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I suddenly began to long to check a bunch of news sites that had laid dormant in my history for over a year and felt the urge to confirm the events of the last twelve months hadn’t all been some Dallas-style Bobby-Ewing-was-just-in-the-shower dream.  That PTSD related to the November 2020 election is still alive for many, and this documentary about the race to secure Pete Buttigieg as the Democratic nominee for President wasn’t the first major media I had faced that reminded me what our country went through.  It was, however, one of the more interesting looks inside the inner workings of a campaign that sought to change and challenge the status quo.  While it doesn’t delve quite as deeply as it could, there’s an interesting portrait provided of a hometown boy makes good while living his life in a way many sadly still condemn. 

Full disclosure, I was never going to vote for Pete Buttigieg to be on the ballot for President.  As a gay man myself, trust me, it had nothing to do with his home life or anything like that.  It was simply that I had other candidates that I leaned toward more at that time.  I think the former Mayor of South Bend, IN has a strong political future and after watching this new documentary streaming on Amazon Prime from director Jesse Moss (Boys State) I’m inclined to think we’ll see him around for a long time. 

The current Secretary of Transportation under President Joe Biden, Buttigieg made the bold move to run for President without holding an office higher than his Mayoral post.  While not unheard of, experience is such a key factor for many voters that his lack of political years in office as a governor or senator meant he faced an uphill battle, not to mention he was also an out gay man married to his husband, Chasten.  Conservative America had only recently elected the first African American president and still was unsteady about a woman holding the top elected office…would they accept a gay man in that same position? 

The film shows that Buttigieg didn’t seek to “normalize” himself as much as refocus the discussion on the things he thought really mattered to the American people…and how that largely succeeded in advancing him far into the races for a time.  Working with his skilled team of young and hungry staff, including senior communications director Lis Smith, a strong and at times foul-mouthed (hence the R-Rating) powder keg, Buttigieg parlays his inexperience in the larger political arena into a benefit in being the change people were seeking for 2020.  For what it’s worth, you can see the idealism present before, during, and (importantly) after the campaign.  If Buttigieg was greatly discouraged with the overall outcome, Moss doesn’t show it and I don’t get the impression this is a total puff piece by the director.

It can be, at times, though.  I think the film skims the surface of the personal life of Buttigieg and rarely digs too deeply into his family history or much in the way of his life with Chasten.  If this was going to be about the man that wanted to be President and lost, giving more context into who he is would help so the next time he’s up to bat there is more info out there for people to draw from.  Keeping those chapters out of this book makes the story feel incomplete and Buttigieg winds up still being that frustrating enigma he was, which I believe cost him the overall primary votes.  It has to be said that his husband also has some…interesting ideas about how much he should be involved and included.  I’m not saying he has an Eva Peron vibe to him but…Don’t Cry for Chasten, South Bend.

Far from a frivolous composition but lacking greater detail to make the story come off as complete, Mayor Pete is a perfectly entertaining watch for ninety minutes and should make fans of his on any level happy.  If you voted for him, you’ll enjoy seeing this process unfold.  If you didn’t vote for him but liked the energy he brought in challenging his more experienced colleagues, I think you’ll appreciate watching the way he thinks about politics and his place in it.  All those that voted for the other guy…maybe give this a watch and see how a friendly, but still competitively agile, campaign can be run by intelligent staff.

Movie Review ~ Boys State

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up.

Director: Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Show of hands.  How many of you out there reading this have been watching your favorite news network and watched the politicians of our great nation squabbling over some pithy thing while a huge issue goes unresolved and thought to yourself “Geez, they’re acting like children!” You’re raising your hand right now, aren’t you?  Ok.  You can put your hand down and continue on.  Yes, it’s true that more often than not, politicians are no longer looked at as the distinguished men and women that are elected to serve for the people but more as misbehaving children and petulant teens.  Actually, having watched Boys State I think that comparison isn’t fair to teens because this insightful and surprisingly agile documentary shows that maybe the young leaders of tomorrow already have something on their elder statesmen and women: decorum.

Let’s back up a bit.  When I first saw the preview for Boys State I was expecting something far more wince-inducing to get through.  I fully thought I’d be grimacing during this look inside the yearly event sponsored by The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary and held in every state.  Began in 1935 by a Loyola law professor and an American Legion chairman, the program has expanded throughout the country and is a massive event for high school juniors that gives them a crash course in the day to day operations of local, county and state government.  Throughout their weeklong stay, the students will elect their own officials and debate issues that are of importance to them, all in service of understanding their roles in government and politics.  Being elected to office looks mighty good on a college admission application, too.

Though every state offers programs for boys and girls, directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss choose to focus solely on the 1,000+ strong Boys State event that was held in Texas several years ago and what they’ve captured is pretty eye-opening.  Instead of the staunch conservative red-blooded American indoctrinated teenagers I thought we’d be spending two hours with, we’re instead greeted with a diverse cast of interesting personalities that come from different backgrounds and perspectives.  Make no mistake, all of the boys McBaine and Moss follow have been painstakingly chosen to play a role in a certain unspoken narrative but it’s not as manipulative as it might seem on the surface.  There is good representation of all sides for the most part and gun control seems to be the lynchpin much of the action hinges on, but even though viewers may disagree on the politics of the subjects the kids themselves are kind of great in their own way.

As anyone who has ever been to summer camp without their close friends accompanying them can attest, your first moments off the bus in a new group of people your own age is scary.  Though students mostly stay with their cities so they at least know a few familiar people, I’d have to imagine a sea of largely white faces must be intimidating for the few minority members that are in attendance.  Even so, it isn’t hard for socially conscious René Otero to find his place in the crowd or for the popular and gregarious Robert Macdougal to ingratiate himself with anyone he decides to charm.  Then there are those that have to work a little harder, double amputee Ben Feinstein has a game plan going into the week that could prove to make him a hero or villain at the end of it all.  Finally, the quiet Steven Garza wants to get to know people on an individual basis and treats even the brief responsibilities of mock government with respect.

How these four and others will work together within two opposing parties is the stuff of good documentary filmmaking – you’ll be highly engaged and maybe alternatively enraged at some of the tactics that go on.  Cheering on small victories leads to laughter at deserved losses for those unprepared to go toe to toe with more qualified candidates…much like the enjoyment we may get in seeing our current government officials challenged.  Don’t be surprised to find yourself holding your breath when votes are tallied and decisions announced and keep a tissue handy because a tear or two might fall – not for any reason other than seeing some goodness in the next generation that many leaders are sorely lacking in.

Available on Apple+ and arriving just after the first batch of primary elections have wrapped up, I imagine Boys State will generate some more buzz as the November elections get underway.  My hope is that the way these young men conduct themselves is used as an example of how decorum and acceptance can be a good fit in politics and that inclusion, not exclusion benefits everyone in the end.

31 Days to Scare ~ Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.

31 Days to Scare – Last Minute Ideas

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Boy, where did the time go?  October just flew by and, though I went a bit AWOL toward the end, I hope you’ve found your way to one or two new movies to add to your horror watchlist.  Until next year, I leave you with some last minute ideas if you’re looking for something different.

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The Woods

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.

Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell, Marcia Bennett, Emma Campbell

Director: Lucky McKee

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The Woods didn’t get much attention when it was released back in 2006, bypassing a wide release and arriving for home consumption with little fanfare. Pity. It’s quite a good little scare show with some nicely creepy moments. The performances are on target (notably Patricia Clarkson, an expert at mellow menace) and I loved how the forest elements made their way into the school corridors and even the wardrobe of the increasingly tightly wired staff. Though it gets a tad overstuffed toward the end and betrays a bit of its ‘girl power’ intentions, it’s an overall taut watch.

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Killer Party

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends get trapped at a baby shower when a mysterious outbreak starts turning people into homicidal maniacs.

Stars: Drew Benda, Stephanie Beran, John Brody

Director: Alex Drummond

Rated: NR

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not too keen on films that deal with mass hysteria surrounding the population turning into raging monsters but there’s something fun just on the edges of Killer Party that keeps things interesting. This low-budget effort earns high marks for its appealing cast and its attempts to both poke fun at the genre while making a not totally unsuccessful attempt at breaking some new ground. There’s a bevy of uber fake blood and guts and at 80 minutes feels too long, but the unexpected moments of humor and the feeling that everyone in front of behind the scenes are pals makes me look forward to the next film from these guys.

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 The Conspiracy

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary about conspiracy theories takes a horrific turn after the filmmakers uncover an ancient and dangerous secret society.

Stars: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Ian Anderson, Alan C. Peterson, Julian Richings

Director: Christopher MacBride

Rated: NR

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Please don’t run away when you hear the word found footage, ok? If you pass up The Conspiracy you’re missing a golden opportunity to take in a most surprising descent into the secret society the filmmakers discover. Most effective in its final act, the buildup may feel like it’s taking too long but the ultimate pay-off is worth the wait. This one gave me some good chills!

 

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Clown

The Facts:

Synopsis: A loving father finds a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to realize the suit is part of an evil curse that turns its wearer into a killer.

Stars: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Those with even the slightest fear of clowns likely recoiled at the above poster so let me make this clear…if the sight of Bozo or Ronald McDonald gives you the slightest bit of the heebie jeebies, steer clear of Clown. Though it feels like it should have been shorter and part of an anthology package, Clown gets it right most of the time by not being afraid to go to some dark places. Well designed with solid gore and splatter effects, this one sat on the shelf for a bit before being released but it’s well worth a watch. Just make sure anyone with coulrophobia isn’t anywhere near the vicinity.

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Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.