‘Epicentro’ Review: A monumental and monumentally complex observation of Cuba at a crossroads

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.

Cinema is described as many things in the challenging and compellingly conceived new documentary “Epicentro”: The machine of dreams, magic, tourism, witchcraft, war-winning, world-changing. In the latest work from Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sauper, the medium is both something to interrogate and something to marvel at (and sometimes the same subjects do both). But it isn’t until we start to consider the intentions of those behind the scenes as much as what those scenes depict that we begin to get closer to the foundational question “Epicentro” seeks to unpack as Sauper takes his camera through the streets, homes and beaches of 21st-century Cuba.

What he finds, through conversations of intimate candor and urgent appeal, is a nation that continues to be at odds with how history has shaped it. You could say that the film debates itself on the power and potential of the camera, but Sauper’s portrait feels as graceful as it is incisive. Synchronizing harmoniously with vivid flashes of Havana life, “Epicentro” (the Spanish title translates to what you expect) focuses on the intersection of identity, history and the moving image itself in observing how historic forces have brought the island nation to the point it finds itself at now, largely by remaining where it was at the moment of initial American intervention over 100 years ago. At the same time, Sauper’s central inquiry comes into view: Who affixes the lens through which history is viewed?

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‘Boys State’ Review: Political maneuvering knows no (age) limits in enthralling new documentary

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.

“Our masculinity shall not be infringed!” So proclaims a teenaged, blonde-haired boy to roaring applause in “Boys State,” and you’d be forgiven if the moment gives you whiplash, along with tinges of awe, amazement and uneasy skepticism. We can imagine another much more well-known blonde-haired politician a few decades his senior saying the same thing as he walks through the White House

For an annual conference of passionate junior politicos which can call prominent bureaucrats like Dick Cheney and Cory Booker alums, there’s little explicit talk of future aspirations in “Boys State,” a marvelous Sundance award-winning documentary that hits Apple TV+ Friday. The opening minutes see a Ronald Reagan action figure being proudly shown off, but Donald Trump’s name is mentioned two, maybe three times. “Washington” is heard even more scarcely.  

That’s all by design in this enthralling and thoroughly engaging documentary, about a group of high school Texas boys who converge on Austin into create their own mock government. The film, shot in the summer of 2018 by co-directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, is a masterclass of implication, and bursts with relevant dot-connecting about the flaws in our modern democratic systems—even when the doc begins to suggest that they’re not flaws so much as tenets. The teenagers’ week-long crash course in gubernatorial process becomes our microscope into backdoor political maneuvering and front-stage bickering.

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Review: Theron stunningly powers ‘Long Shot,’ in which politicians try to act their age

There’s a lot of unsubtle implication in “Long Shot.” So very many will be turned off by it. I rather think it works in its favor.

The comparable presence of things said and unsaid – many times they’re one in the same – powers the movie’s comedy, its sweet core and the unexpected veracity of its progressive commentary, which provides the political rom-com a greater degree of substance than initially expected to the first third of that trifold description.

The movie is funny. Really funny. And the high levels of enthusiasm forming the foundation of its jokes and romance over roughly two hours, the stuff that makes watching “Long Shot” akin to peering into a warped alternate timeline of our own political reality, ensure the movie is simultaneously a time capsule of starkly 2019 window dressing and an evergreen suggestion of accountability on the part of those whose steady gaining of influence correlates with a slow drying-up of conviction at the well of power. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘High Flying Bird,’ stadiums are darkened, but the game goes on

Arena lights are off, locker rooms are empty and primetime TV slots are dotted with holes.

We don’t have to be told that explicitly in Steven Soderbergh’s confidently insightful new film “High Flying Bird”. Curiously empty New York City sidewalks and forlorn attitudes tell us what we need to know: Professional basketball games are at a standstill amid a lockout, something seemingly as inevitable as the rising sun or a Russell Westbrook triple-double grinding to a halt. (Translation: Team owners and players’ representatives can’t come to an agreement, putting on-court action on hold.)

But a whole new kind of battle is underway, one the film touts as “the game on top of the game.” And it’s a game that Soderbergh and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney take a magnifying glass to, exposing the centuries-old racial systems that labor relations in pro sports leagues are powered by.

In the hands of a director with trademark kinetic swagger and a screenwriter just two years removed from winning an Oscar for “Moonlight” and channeling his inner Aaron Sorkin, watching the politics of a basketball league (that is essentially the NBA in all but name) play out at a nonstop, infinite dribble is a joy. “High Flying Bird” is like being in a game of pickup where the stud you’re defending tells you exactly how he’s going to score on you, yet you’re still amazed when he pulls it off.

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Visiting the Rio Grande Valley amid President Trump’s first visit

The Rio Grande Valley is a community of communities, located just north of the U.S.-Mexico border and bursting with life. The residents here are primarily Hispanic, Democratic and RGV born-and-bred. Ahead of President Trump’s first visit to the area since he took office, and amid his continued push for $5.7 billion border wall fortifications and an ongoing federal government shutdown, I visited the area to get to know it and its population. Continue reading →

In Hidalgo, Texas, a life of normalcy and defying misconception with the border in their backyards

This story was first published on KENS5.com. View the original post here. 

HIDALGO, Texas – The eyes of a country turned to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday, a borderland city in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley where President Donald Trump arrived for a few hours to visit with local authorities amid hundreds of protesters and supporters. The main topic on the agenda during his brief visit: Border security, and pushing for his divisive wall proposal.

To those who live there and also those reading about the visit from across the country, it is indeed a border community. But if it’s the entry into the United States, Hidalgo is the doormat.

About seven miles south of McAllen, this much smaller community is home to some of the southernmost U.S. residents in Texas. Gas is as low as $1.65 (at least it was on the day after the president’s visit), and you can see the steel bollards and slats driving down most of its main streets. Continue reading →

President’s visit shows divide among Rio Grande Valley residents

This story was first published on KENS5.com. Click here to see the original post.

MCALLEN, Texas — Hidalgo County, encompassing the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas along the edge of the US-Mexico border, is a primarily blue region, but you wouldn’t know it if you were in McAllen on Thursday.

On the morning that President Donald Trump was expected to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley for the first time since he took office to discuss his divisive border wall propositions, dozens of protesters and supporters convened just across the street to make their voices heard, beginning at around 9:30 a.m.

By 11:00, the dueling rallies soon numbered in the hundreds, potentially thousands, as each corner of Wichita and 10th Street was packed with passionate community members. Continue reading →

GALLERY: Hundreds turn out to welcome, protest Trump in first visit to Rio Grande Valley

In deeply blue Hidalgo County, where home is in southern Texas right across the border from Reynosa, Mexico, hundreds turned out to both support and protest President Donald Trump and his border fortification proposals during his first visit to the Rio Grande Valley since he took office.

Trump was only in town for a few hours on Thursday, January 10, during which time he met with local Border Patrol officials and leaders as a large portion of the community made their voices heard.


Even supporters of the president’s policy were surprised at the turnout on their side of the debate. Despite the heated issue at the center, the dueling rallies for the most part remained respectful of one another, despite the occasional verbal sparring matches.


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Near US-Mexico border, confusion at Trump’s ‘crisis’ label

This story was first published on KENS5.com. Click here for the original post. 

MCALLEN, Texas — Passing the historic Cine El Rey in the heart of McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, you wouldn’t have noticed the marquee advertising that evening’s live comedy attractions, nor the next movie showings.

Instead, Owner Bert Guerra posted the message: “WELCOME TO MCALLEN, 7TH SAFEST CITY IN AMERICA.”

That welcome isn’t just for tourists. President Donald Trump is expected to make his first visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday to address what he has referred to in recent weeks as a humanitarian crisis unfolding along the border. But talking to Guerra and others who live in McAllen, the surrounding communities, and the regions of northern Mexico that sit just a few miles south, people here in the community say that if there’s indeed a crisis, they haven’t experienced it. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Widows’ is an increasingly rare caliber of thriller, and bold new territory for Steve McQueen

There’s a scene early in “Widows” – Steve McQueen’s latest and most unorthodoxly mainstream movie – in which Robert Duvall’s aging, racist local statesman tells his son and heir that his new $50,000 painting comes across as mere wallpaper.

Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan responds with a nondescript rebuke, as if on a deeper level he doesn’t fully disagree: “It’s art.”

The brief exchange can garner a universal chuckle for those watching in a moviehouse, but one gets the sense that isn’t McQueen’s intention. How we react to the scene, after all, is also a product of our experiences.

Would $50,000 turn our lives around? Is it pocket change? Do we ever dream of being at a place where that sum of money could be spent on a single, needless piece of wall decor? Could we dream of it? Continue reading →