This crowd pleaser will have viewers reaching for the tissues. Directed by Christopher Zalla, Radical is based on the true story of Sergio Juárez Correa, a teacher from Matamoros, Mexico who made a huge impact on the sixth grade students at Jose Urbina Elementary School. Eugenio Derbez stars as Sergio, a newcomer to the area who has a “radical” teaching methodology. When he takes over the sixth grade class of an impoverished school, he throws all the rules out the window. His unconventional methods spark the curiosity of kids who were otherwise expected to drop out of school within the next few years.
The movie spotlights three kids in particular. Nico is being groomed to become part of the local drug cartel. But he soon takes an interest in science, especially in boats, and hopes he can stay in school a bit longer to avoid a life of crime. Lupe is the oldest sibling of four and the expectation is that she help her parents with the care of her youngest. She is really interested in philosophy, especially the work of John Stuart Mill, but her intellectual journey puts her at odds with her family’s expectations. Sergio’s top student is Paloma, a bright young mind with an interest in aerospace engineering. She shows a lot of potential but is beholden to her responsibility as the sole caretaker of her sick father.
Eugenio Derbez really shines as the Sergio. He conveys a great sense of empathy and caring that demonstrates the impact a good teacher can have on students. The film as a whole really celebrates education. It also offers a sobering revelation that potential does not necessarily guarantee opportunity.
I could see Radical movie being the next CODA. However, given the limited appeal of foreign-language movies—Radical is in Spanish—I worry that not enough people will watch this terrific film. Radical is a bit on the longer side and could use some trimming. The ending is both awe-inspiring and heart-breaking. My hope is that this reaches a broader audience and that this will help the school get the resources it needs.
Radical premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Little Richard was a Rock ‘n’ Roll icon. He called himself the “brown Liberace” but really he couldn’t be compared with anyone else. He was a groundbreaking in his delivery and had a style all his own. He rocked a pencil thin mustache, a tall bouffant and his signature wardrobe. Songs like Good Golly Miss Molly, Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally have become bonafide classics. But Little Richard was never really given his due for just how influential he was.His explosive energy made him a force to be reckoned with on stage and inspired countless musicians including The Beatles, Elvis, David Bowie, James Brown, The Rolling Stones and more.
A new documentary sets out to set the record straight about who Little Richard really was. Directed by Lisa Cortés, Little Richard: I Am Everything paints the portrait of a man who was a walking contradiction. The film goes into depth about his music career, his early influences, how he molded his image and took the nation by storm and the many times he went unrecognized for being a trailblazer. It also explores LIttle Richard’s sexuality and how it often conflicted with his deeply religious beliefs.
The documentary is a bit on the long side and includes some stylistic elements and flourishes that seemed unnecessary. And ending felt rushed. With that said, the film was quite engrossing. It does a tremendous job demonstrating his impact on the industry as well as the dichotomy between his private and public life.
Talking heads include Mick Jagger, John Waters, Billy Porter, Tom Jones, Nile Rodgers, scholars, historians, family members and more.
Little Richard: I Am Everything premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It will air on CNN and stream on HBO Max at a future date.
The hybrid Sundance Film Festival kicked off this week. I’ll be attending virtually with coverage on a variety of feature films and documentaries. In the meantime, let’s kick off my coverage with some of my favorite short films from this year’s Sundance line-up.
Inglorious Liaisons (Les liaisons foireuses)
directed by Chloé Alliez and Violette Delvoye
Starting off with my favorite from this year’s festival, Inglorious Liaisons is a superb stop-animation short about attraction and expectation. Youths convene at a party and they go through the traditional rituals of drinking, dancing, flirting and playing a game of spin the bottle. An attraction sparks between two young women but societal pressure forces them to be matched boys they’re only mildly interested in. The characters are all light switches with wigs and painted on clothes. There are lots of small details to enjoy in the form of carefully designed miniatures. But what impressed me the most about this short was how it perfectly captures the subtle intricacies of physical attraction.
Help Me Understand
directed by Aemilia Scott
cast: Kali Raquel, Deirdre Friel, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Dana Powell, Rachel Harris, Kate Flannery, Ken Marino
When a group of corporate women are tasked to decide between two bottles of laundry detergent, it’s clear that the man leading the study wants them all to pick A. And most of them do pick A. That is until they all realize that there is one outlier. One of the women prefers B. Can they come to a consensus? Help Me Understand is like a modern day 12 Angry Men (1957) in a corporate setting. It demonstrates the dangers of caving to a single mindset and showcases the benefits of female solidarity. Thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable.
Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie
Directed by Nicole Bazuin
Cast: Kitoko Mai, Dustin Hickey, Myfanwy Charlesworth, Morgan Bargent, Grace McDonald, Andrea Werhun
As a fan of Nicole Bazuin’s short films Modern Whore and Last Night at the Strip Club, I was excited to see another offering from this director. Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie has the same style and vibe as Bazuin’s previous work—and even includes a small role for Andrea Werhun who was the subject of two of her shorts. Thriving is about a Black, nonbinary , disabled artist and her experience with DID (dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder). Based on Kitoko Mai’s real-life experience, Mai plays the host and alter Cheyenne, while other actors play the remaining alters. Stylish, sex-positive and educational, Thriving treats a sensitive subject with great reverence.
Directed by Mike Donahue
Cast: Adina Verson, Michael Braun, Florian Klein, Dylan Baker, Dana Delaney
New York City couple Thea (Adina Verson) and Charlie (Michael Braun) share a wall with their neighbor Troy (Florian Klein). The trouble is Troy is loud. VERY loud. He’s a full-time escort serving a male clientele and Thea and Charlie can hear every single sound. The couple soon becomes invested in what’s going on on the other side of the wall. Troy is a lighthearted film about the social complexities of urban life. It does a fabulous job demonstrating how we learn to adjust to our environment.
The Family Circus
Directed by Andrew Fitzgerald
Cast: Elyse Dinh, Michael Ironside, Scott Subiono, Michael Nguyen Manceau, Blake Dang, Christian Seavey
A mixed Vietnamese-American family faces a crisis when their wayward son gets into a drunk driving accident. No one is hurt but if the police catch on to what happened their son will go back to prison. The father concocts a plan to have their other son pretend to have caused the accident. When they call the police, their plan seems to work. That is, until the police officer becomes a little too comfortable. The Family Circus has a terrific build-up that leads to an incredibly satisfying ending. Pay close attention to Elyse Dinh’s performance as the family matriarch.
We Were Meant To
Directed by Tari Wariebi
Cast: Tim Johnson Jr., Amin Joseph, Karimah Westbrook, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Skye Barrett, Luke Tennie
Directed by Tari Wariebi and co-written with Christina K. Licud, We Were MeantTo imagines a world where young black men sprout feathers and wings and take flight in a cultural rite of passage. Akil (Tim Johnson Jr.) is a teen in high school who just came into his new wings. He and his friends travel through their community looking for the perfect spot for their first flight. However, No Fly Zone signs are posted all over town and a drone follows their every move. Akil prepares for his big day but unfortunately the odds are stacked against him. We Were Meant To is symbolic of the plight of young black men in American society. Even something joyful as a first flight is seen as a threat by a drone meant to represent an unnamed law enforcement. It’s an inherently political film with a strong social message skillfully disguised as a coming-of-age story with a touch magical realism. This short could easily be expanded to a feature length film.
Directed by Maisha Maene
Cast: Sefu Weber-Kal, Faustin Biyoga, Ibrahim Twaha, Sarah Bahati
When an “afronaut” (Sefu Weber-Kal) emerges from his spaceship, he finds himself in the volcanic crater of Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mysterious figure travels to Goma where he encounters locals and goes on a spiritual journey of enlightenment. Mulika is written and directed by Africanfuturist filmmaker Maisha Maene. Sefu Weber-Kal plays the lead role of the afronaut wears a silvery suit adorned with switchboard like plates and an illuminated helmet. The suit suggests that the afronaut symbolizes technology and DRC’s mineral rich land. An encounter with an older man dressed in more natural garb suggests a coming together of both the old and the new. Cryptic and thought-provoking.
Pro Pool (Piscine Pro)
Directed by Alec Pronovost
Cast: Louis Carrière, Alexis Martin, Sylvie de Morais, Sébastien Rajotte, Oussama Fares, Louis Girard-Bock
Charles-Olivier (Louis Carrière) recently graduated with a degree in history and a minor in Viking studies. With no real job prospects in his chosen field, he reluctantly applies for a job a pool store. The film follows Charles-Olivier as he becomes purposefully terrible at his job and releases his frustrations by singing to hardcore metal in his car. Written and directed by Quebecois filmmaker Alec Pronovost, who himself used to work at a Club Piscine, this irreverent comedy gives a big middle finger to those meaningless jobs many of us have to endure at one point in our lives. Pro Pool is reminiscent of both Billy Budd and Office Space and offers modern sensibility that Gen Z-ers will easily identify with.
Directed by Byron Hurt, Hazing explores the brutal culture of hazing with a particular focus on HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Hurt meditates on his own experience with hazing in a fraternity to explore why hazing, despite it being illegal in many states, still persists in college culture. Several victims who have died as a result of hazing are profiled. Their stories are harrowing and you can’t help but feel for their families. These needless deaths are a result of an ingrained culture in which young people are socialized to endure violence as a means of attaining respect in their given group. The initiated blindly trust the upperclassmen who then put them through barbaric rituals for no reason other than attaining pleasure from their own gross abuse of power.
Hazing has an important message to convey but it can get lost in a documentary format that is too long and a bit muddled.
Directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Town Destroyer examines the contentious debate around Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of Washington. This 13 panel mural decorates the walls of George Washington High School in San Francisco, California. Installed in 1936, the murals tell the story of George Washington and includes images of violence against Native Americans and African Americans. Some see the art as subversive. By painting the scenes, Arnautoff seems to be both telling history and criticizing it. Others find the murals incredibly offensive and believe the art is perpetrating harmful stereotypes and further traumatizing minorities.
This film follows the recent battle among those who believe the mural should remain and others who believe it should be painted over. Many arguments are made and the documentary does an excellent job not taking sides. It’s up for the viewer to draw their own conclusion.
Town Destroyer is a fascinating documentary about the debate between free speech and social justice told through the lens of one controversial piece of art.
This documentary was screened at the 2022 Mill Valley Film Festival.