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FYC 2018: Magnolia Pictures

This post includes mini-reviews of some of Magnolia Pictures’ 2018 releases with an eye on films they’re targeting for the 2019 Oscars and other end-of-year awards (including the OFCS awards which I’ll be voting on). If a film also has a full-length review, a link will be included. This will be updated through the end of 2018.

RBG Doc


RGB
RATING:
(2.5 STARS)

There are few public figures, especially in 2018, more deserving of a hagiographic documentary than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A fierce proponent, in both word and deed, of equal rights between the sexes, her reputation has become mythic as the Supreme Court shifted right over the last 15 years. Her decisions are important. Her dissents are epic. Her career before becoming an Associate Justice is worth knowing and exploring.

All that said, it’s still a hagiographic documentary, which is easily my least favorite type of non-fiction film. It comes down to how much you know about this person, how much you want to know about her, and how much surprises you. My answers to all of the questions are points in the film’s favor, especially when it comes to RBG’s relationship with her late husband, but it’s perfectly fair to have wanted something more probing or formally interesting (or both!) out of this one.

*****

The China Hustle


The China Hustle
RATING:
(3 STARS)

Infuriating and enlightening. That’s the best way to describe director Jed Rothstein’s powerful documentary The China Hustle. It doesn’t take a doc of any length, power, or skill to convince me that the financial services industry is completely fucked, but The China Hustle‘s specificity and clarity spoke to me in ways similar films haven’t. The titular hustle is related to something called reverse mergers wherein fraudulent companies that aren’t publicly traded join forces with publicly traded and long dormant companies for the purposes of acquiring investment capital and driving up stock prices. Like The Big Short, a handful of folks in the know realized what happened and made millions betting against these blatantly phony companies. The same money was made by the companies’ executives. But regular folks lost millions, and the practice is still occurring. The feelings you’ll experience are raw and real, but on presentation alone, this film’s a keeper.

*****

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes


Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
RATING:
(2.5 STARS)

2018 has been the year of the political documentary that seeks to explain the road to the Trump presidency. I’ve avoided as many of these as possible, but the media component of Divide and Conquer intrigued me. Roger Ailes is without a doubt one of the most destructive characters in the history of mass media, and Alexis Bloom’s film takes us back to his humble origins as a lively boy from Ohio with hemophilia. He also has a very stern, probably cruel, father, which is where his obsessive and fairly pathetic need to be loved stems from. But as the film approaches its conclusion, the nature of Ailes’ pathology becomes more apparent and brings into question certain assumptions we may have made about him. It’s not a pretty portrait. Many of the film’s talking heads (even conservative ones like Glenn Beck) are fair toward his specific brand of genius but unforgiving in terms of his illusions of grandeur and certainly his predatory sexual behavior. I’m not sure characters like Ailes need documentaries made about them, but this one exists, and it’s eminently watchable.

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