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Sundance: Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

“This is the cost of doing business as usual.”

Garima Sehti

Directed by Rory Kennedy, Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is a scathing look at how corporate greed led to the deaths of hundreds of 737 Max passengers.

In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 departed from Jakarta only to crash 13 minutes after take off. The plane was a new 737 Max from Boeing, a redesigned and more fuel-efficient plane that was launched a few years earlier. At first aviation experts thought that the crash was due to pilot error. But it was soon discovered that it was a flaw with the MCAS system, which had been added to the 737 Max. However, pilots were not only not trained on the new system, they had no clue it even existed or let alone what to do if it malfunctioned. Several months later, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed in a similar fashion, only 6 minutes after takeoff, killing everyone on board. The two mass casualties, so close together and both with 737 Max airplanes sent the world reeling. 

Downfall is an incredible work of investigative journalism. Every facet of this story is explored including the crashes themselves, the aftermath, the effect on the victims’ families, the congressional investigation and the recent problematic history of Boeing which led those in power at the company to value financial results over safety. Talking heads include victims’ family members, aviation experts (including Captain Sully, politicians, former Boeing employees.

The subject matter is very upsetting but it is a must watch. 

Note: Boeing did not participate in the documentary but they did share a written response which appears before the end credits.

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It premieres on Netflix February 18th.

The Power of the Dog

Director Jane Campion is a force to be reckoned with. Her latest film, the sweeping Western The Power of the Dog, is simply put a masterpiece.

Set in 1920s Montana, the film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank, a troubled  rancher with a domineering streak. He runs a cattle drive with his brother George (Jesse Plemons) who is the polar opposite of him; a much more subdued and gentle soul. When George falls in love with widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil’s world seems to be turned upside down. He despises George’s new wife and her slender and effeminate teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).  Rose turns to alcohol to deal with the turbulent situation with Phil and Peter develops a strange bond with Phil that is ultimately volatile.

Stunningly shot, almost every frame of The Power of the Dog seems like it could be framed and hung up in a museum. There is a brutality to the setting that adds a sense of cruelty to the story and the characters. The landscape is unforgiving and so are the people who exist on it. I love how objects hold power in the story: a cowhide, a paper flower, a  memorial plate, a stack of magazines, etc. This film begs to be watched more than once. 

The characters are fascinating. Phil and Peter’s sexuality is explored in such a subtle yet powerful way.  I particularly enjoyed the performances by Benedict Cumberbatch who gives his role a natural intensity it deserves and Dunst whom we follow so anxiously as her character wallows in despair.

Jane Campion is one of my favorite directors. The Portrait of a Lady (1996), although not considered one of her best, is a personal favorite.  The Power of the Dog is a triumph and I hope we see more from her very soon.

The Power of the Dog is currently streaming on Netflix.

AFI Fest: Lead Me Home

Nobody deserves to be homeless. And yet, the United States is dealing with a serious homelessness crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic and bound to get worse. Directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, Lead Me Home is an empathetic and eye-opening look at the homelessness situation in three major American cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. It gives a face, a name and a story to these individual facing this crisis. It may not win over those who chose to turn a blind eye to the situation but it will reawaken a sympathetic spirit in those of us who do ultimately care. Lead Me Home is distributed by Netflix and will launch on the service November 30th. I hope this film will be submitted for Academy Award consideration because I think it’s a strong candidate for Best Documentary (Short Subject).

Lead Me Home premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.

Yes, God, Yes

Alice (Natalia Dyer)’s sexual curiosity is getting her unwanted attention at her Catholic high school. After an illicit AOL chat and a rumor about her performing a sexual act on another student, high school is now even more awkward for the already awkward Alice. When an opportunity arises to go to a supposedly life-changing spiritual treat, Alice jumps at the chance. However, at the retreat she quickly learns that the perception of purity is toxic especially when everyone has their own secrets, including her.

Written and directed by Karen Maine, Yes, God, Yes is a gentle coming-of-age story that examines problems with purity culture. Set during the time when AOL chats and Yahoo! searches online were the norm, Alice navigates the online world to discover her own sexuality. The film tackles all sorts of topics, including gossip, misogyny, homosexuality, and shaming, with a light touch. As someone who had a strict religious upbringing and grew up during this technological era, I found Alice’s story very relatable. The film could have delved into some other aspects of purity culture and religion or given us more background on the characters. However, doing so would have made the story more heavy-handed. Instead, Maine gives us a movie that is equal parts enjoyable and revelatory.

I Care a Lot

Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) craves the kind of power-wielding money rich people have. In order to get her hands on that money, she becomes a professional caretaker. But not just any caretaker. A grifter. Working alongside her girlfriend Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) and a network of shady doctors and nursing home executives, she finds targets for her scam: wealthy older people, many without next of kin, whom she can lure into her trap. She becomes their legal guardian, strips them of all of their assets and waits for them to wither away in a nursing home. Marla’s next target,  Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), seems  like an ideal candidate for her scam. But Marla gets much more than she bargained for as she faces Roman (Peter Dinklage), Jennifer’s son and the head of a dangerous underground network of criminals.

Directed by J Blakeson, I Care a Lot is a satisfyingly twisted tale. The villains are decidedly nasty and when they enter an all out battle of wits and violence, you don’t know who to root for. Rosamund Pike plays Marla with an icy cool and strength that makes her character endlessly fascinating. She’s not a one-note character. Audiences with be conflicted by their feelings towards Marla. They’ll hate her but they’ll hate her opposition more.

Every twist and turn of the story kept me guessing. Even when I thought I had found something I thought would be predictable, the plot goes in a different direction. I recommend going into this film knowing as little as possible (hence the spoiler free summary above). 

I do wish we knew a bit more about the characters and how they became criminals. Pike says one line about money and power that seemed absolutely key to her character’s motivation but we only get that one nugget. The movie focuses more on plot than character development. I also didn’t care for the depiction of vaping which is problematic at best.

I  Care A Lot is streaming on Netflix.

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