THE FIGHT (2020, doc)

July 30, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The American Civil Liberties Union has been around since 1920. That’s 100 years of striving to be the stewards of our nation’s liberties. Eli B Despres, Josh Kriegman, and Elyse Steinberg are the three credited directors who bring us a behind-the-curtain look at the dedicated and hard-working ACLU attorneys in the New York office.

The film picks up on January 27, 2017, just seven days after President Trump’s inauguration and subsequent immigration order, also known as the “Muslim ban.” We are shown a sea of volunteer attorneys set up to assist affected immigrants – especially those seeking asylum. The basic premise of the movie is to provide a glimpse of the challenges faced by the ACLU against the Trump administration.

Since there have been approximately 140 lawsuits filed since this President took office, the filmmakers wisely focus on four specific cases, along with the assigned attorneys:  Garza v Hargan, which involves the right to an abortion for an immigrant minor; Stone v Trump, the administrations military ban of transgenders; Department of Commerce v New York, dealing with the “citizenship” question proposed for the U.S. census; and Ms. L vs ICE, a family separation case tied to a child taken from her mother at the border.

The cases are presented in an easy-to-follow manner, and we get to know each of the attorneys and their individual challenges, both with their specific case and their own personal or family life. Each of the attorneys provide their unique “tour” of the ACLU offices, and we quickly understand how they are focused on their own specialties, rather than the organization as a whole. One of them remarks that there are more tattoos and piercings present than at the DOJ, which underscores not just the age difference, but also the attitudes of these crusaders.

A very brief history of the ACLU informs us that their mission dictates they support civil rights for all, which means not just the 1967 interracial marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving, but also the Charlottesville Rally which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. In keeping with protecting ‘everyone’s rights’, the organization has even defended the rights of Nazis. Still, it’s obvious where the organization stands when Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court is discussed … the attorneys admit it will make their jobs that much more difficult.

Despite attorney Lee Gelernt’s middle-age struggles with technology (somehow the dude can’t keep his cell phone charged), the dedication and commitment of these folks is on full display (they even celebrate with “train wine”). Court cases, by definition, have two sides, and since we aren’t allowed in the actual courtroom to witness the cases being presented, this film focuses on one side. Because of that, it often plays like a fundraising or recruiting video for the ACLU. Still, the behind-the-scenes view of what these attorneys go through to fight for liberty is fascinating and worthwhile.

Magnolia Pictures and Topic Studios will release the film VOD on July 31, 2020

watch the trailer:


WEINER (doc, 2016)

May 14, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival 2016

Weiner Greetings again from the darkness. Normally I would have no interest in a movie with this title, but in this case, it’s a chance to get a glimpse into the psychological make-up of a guy who obliterated his own political career … by simply being unable to keep his privates private. The end result of the efforts from filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg is nearly unrestricted access to a NYC mayor candidate’s campaign, as well as a look at a politician that is at times tense, and other times funny (in a laughing AT you kind of way).

In 2011, seven-term New York Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned in the aftermath of a sexting scandal made worse by (what else?) … his lying and attempted cover-up. The film begins with a clip of one of Weiner’s explosive speeches, meant to portray his expertise as a legislator and politician. This is quickly followed by the pun-filled headlines that exposed his sexting habit, seemingly leaving his political career in the dust.

Picking up two years later, the film finds the disgraced former Congressman running a campaign for NYC mayor. We can’t be too surprised as we have learned numerous times that many politicians are addicted to power and life in the public eye. What makes this an interesting subject is two-fold: how publically humiliated Weiner had been, and the fact that his wife is Huma Abedin, long-time Hillary Clinton advisor and aide.

We don’t learn how it happened, but we do find Anthony and Huma are still married, are parents to a young child (she was pregnant when the first scandal hit), and that Huma fully supports his mayoral candidacy. As the campaign kicks off, Weiner is a frontrunner, proving that we are a forgiving lot. The cameras capture him in full candidate mode – making calls to potential donors, giving speeches, dealing with staffers, and working the crowds at his energy-filled parades. Of course, it’s all a façade … or at least half of one.

When the second sexting scandal hits and “Carlos Danger” makes headlines as Weiner’s online pseudonym, the real trainwreck begins, and we find it impossible to turn away. It’s at this point where our feelings are confirmed … Huma is by far the more interesting of these two personality polar opposites. Where Weiner is two-faced – bouncing between humbled and overly ambitious; Huma is cool, collected and (seemingly) smart.

Weiner remains clueless about his chances, and the level of tension skyrockets in meetings and during spousal moments. It’s impossible not to believe that the energies used towards the campaign would have been better spent in therapy – both individual and as a couple. His stream of lies proved he had not changed his ways, and his periodic reflective and apologetic moments are diminished by his true color nastiness, which is more pervasive.

The film gets unnecessarily sidetracked during a segment that features one of Weiner’s phone sex relationships – codenamed “Pineapple”. Entirely too much time is spent on her pathetic publicity grab, and fortunately it all falls flat. It is a reminder that the media never misses a chance to film a frenzy … even if they have to manipulate it. There is no room in a documentary for TWO trainwrecks!

After the film and the irresistible draw of watching this ego-driven dude never once come to grips with why he is socially unacceptable as a leader, we realize there are unanswered questions. Why did Huma stick with her husband? Why was she onboard with him getting back in the game … did she really miss the public eye? The filmmaker flat out asks Weiner “Why have you let me film this?” Perhaps the answer to that last question is somewhat explained when you know that Anthony Weiner made an appearance in Sharknado 3. Some people just need the spotlight.

The hecklers, the eye rolls, the angry outbursts all lead up to Lawrence O’Donnell asking Weiner “What’s wrong with you?” I asked myself that same question after the movie when I realized that I was mesmerized the entire time. As for Huma ever allowing herself to be the subject of a documentary, we can only assume that she is too sagacious to allow such unfettered camera access to her work. I suppose her appearance in the next “Sharknado” is equally unlikely.

watch the trailer: