Movie Preview: “Peninsula,” the “Train to Busan” sequel — because what Korea and the World need right now is ZOMBIES

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Netflixable? “Dean” is drawn out, laugh-free

His feature film writing and directing debut, “Dean,” didn’t end stand-up comic, TV writer and sometime-actor Demetri Martin’s career. But truth be told, I had to look up who the dude was after watching it.

It’s a lifeless, nearly laughless rom-com about grief (kind of) which cast its well-over-40 star as a thirtyish cartoonist looking for love after losing his mother. And whatever assorted off-brand film festivals said about “Dean” and Demetri in it, he’s way out of his depth.

He has the title role, a pen-and-ink cartoonist of “The New Yorker” school, suffering writer’s block and avoiding his widowed dad (Kevin Kline).

But they’re both kind of dodging the grieving process. Dean’s mom died a withering death (we gather), Dean gave up on his fiancé and has gone fetal without curling up in a ball.

Dad? He’s an engineer. He’s working this loss “like a problem to be solved” — reading self-help books, seeing a therapist, but shut-down.

The phone-call dodging can only go on so long. But when they reconnect, they don’t — reconnect.

Dad strains to make jokes about the kid’s ’70s bowl cut — “I haven’t seen your forehead in 15 years.” He says the sorts of awful screenwriting cliches parents say after a break-up.

“I always liked Michelle (Christine Woods). You guys were good together.”

“You should see us apart.”

Dean struggles through his best friend’s wedding, where he has to accept that a boorish dolt has been promoted to “co-best man.” And avoiding Dad’s calls as he preps to sell the New York home Dean grew up in requires extreme measures. He has to fly to LA for an ad agency meeting over using his drawings for a viral body spray campaign.

Beck Bennett of “Saturday Night Live” stands out as a stereotypical hipster “creative,” shallow and insulting and here for a single scene.

But that’s kind of the rule, here. A few players on the periphery make an impression because the leads never do, especially Martin.

Gillian Jacobs (TV’s “Community”) is the fetching blonde Dean spies at a party and upends his plans to stick around and get to know. But her insufferably rude bowl-cut blocker best friend (Ginger Gonzaga) is the one who registers.

The not-late/never-quite-great Zach Braff made better versions of movies like this — thin, sensitive dramedies that lean on their soundtrack like a crutch. “Sensie” alt-pop, Braff called it — quasi-morose, heartfelt ditties which you’ll have to stay through the credits to identify, because they’re more a “Look who’s on my playlist” than any meaningful contribution to the film.

Which staggers along, trying to pair up Dean’s flirtation with Nicky with Dad’s backing into something with his cute new realtor (Mary Steenburgen).

It’s all pro forma, barely an original thought in it. And it’s neither funny nor sweet.

So while the TV work continues (sort of), if you ever wondered “Whatever happened to Demetri Martin,” here it is.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some suggestive material

Cast: Demetri Martin, Kevin Kline, Gillian Jacobs, Mary Steenburgen, Rory Scovel, Ginger Gonzaga and Beck Bennett

Credits: Written and directed by Demetri Martin. A BS Films.Netflix release.

Running time: 1:33

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Movie Review: Yorgos L. gets his start with the cryptic and obscure “Kinetta”


I deft anyone to take a peek at “Kinetta,” the cryptic 2005 debut feature of Greek directing stylist Yorgos Lanthimos and claim they see the Oscar-nominated dazzled of “The Favourite” in a single frame of it.

The dark, surreal obscurity of “The Lobster” and “Killing of a Sacred Deer?” Sure. “Dogtooth,” the feature that put him on the map, came just a couple of years later.

But the wholly Greek “Kinetta” is more overtly navel-gazing, obscure to the point of suggesting obscurant. It’s a 95 minute exercise in minimalism, behavior studies and psychology…and boredom.

I didn’t get much out of it, and I’m fairly certain there isn’t much there to get. But here it is, streaming on the Criterion Channel starting April 2. Dig in.

A resort hotel chambermaid (Evangelia Randou) practices miming a slap and being strangled in between changing sheets.

A chilly, emotionally-detached videographer (Aris Servetalis) stops at a freshly-overturned car to pluck a cassette out of it (the owner’s still trapped in the vehicle), something for the bearded “on the spectrum” weirdo to listen to on his walk.

And then a third party meets the other two in the parking lot of a cement building fabrication business. He (Costas Xikominos) is older, overly fond of his BMW, always in the market for a nice one, and he and the chambermaid begin to “act” as the videographer sets up.

It turns out the car (and go-kart) nut is an off duty cop. The chambermaid was rehearsing in that hotel room. Because with the cop co-starring and stage directing (in Greek, with English subtitles), they are acting out a crime at the scene of the crime. The videographer is taping the reenactment.

This isn’t, we gather, a part of any investigation. They’re like the characters in Cronenberg’s “Crash.” They get something out of this, and blurring the lines between themselves and the criminal (or crime victim) does something for them.

We think.

Is the cop gaining “control” of a crime he hasn’t completely solved?

“As the guy retreats,” he says, dispassionately acting and stepping back and reciting the “plot” of the crime,” “she finds the opportunity to kick him in the knee.”

Is this chambermaid living out some sort of dominance/submission auto-erotic asphyxiation fantasy?

Does the videographer just like to look?

All that unfolds afterward fleshes out the characters (just a tad) and charts their deepening engagement in this role-playing.

There’s little dialogue, none of it performed with anything we’d call “feeling.” Even the sex crime that’s created at one point has a clinical remove from anything human. There’s nudity with nothing particularly sexual about it and a glimpse or three at each of their day jobs — recording a fashion show, cop on the job or chambermaid cleaning.

As we see them, together or apart, we’re treated to Greece without the tourists, or much that suggests a reason to visit there.

There are possibilities here, a set-up that could deliver something more than a directing exercise in driving the viewer a trifle mad with boredom. But not much else, and certainly nothing that gives away Lanthimos becoming the darling of challenging, thought provoking international cinema.


MPAA rating: Unrated,  nudity, suggestions of violence

Cast: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos

Credits:Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, script by Yorgos Kakanakis and Yorgos Lanthimos.  A Kino Lorber/Criterion release.

Running time: 1:35

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Movie Review: A cult reckons with “The Other Lamb”


In horror cinema, cults are the gift that keeps on giving.

Even in films that skirt the edge of the genre, there’s something deeply unsettling with seeing seemingly sentient people give themselves over to a belief that’s easily disproven, a prophet who is obviously self-serving.

“The Other Lamb” takes the metaphors and imagery of many a fundamentalist Christian sect and carries them into David Koresh country. And even if we see what the 20 or so women, girls and children apparently cannot, even if we instinctively know where this is going, it’s still a rich and absorbing variation on a well-worn theme.

Somewhere in America’s remote highlands (County Wicklow, Ireland, actually), The Shepherd has used his Jesus coiffure and beard to lure dozens of women into his “Flock.”

They eat together and tend sheep together. At meals, he (Michiel Huisman) makes a point of thanking his “wives” and “daughters” for their efforts. And then he walks down the table and selects a bedmate for the night.

No one questions him. No one ponders his obsession with blood, wonders why only little girls are born here, or breaks ranks to protest his rejection/revulsion of young women who become “impure,” via menstruation.

But feisty Selah (Raffey Cassidy of “Tomorrowland”) is having these dreams — women underwater, violence, upheaval. She quarrels with her “sisters.”

And then she meets the “wife” in exile, who tends to others as they turn “impure.” Sarah (Denis Gough of “A Dark Place”) is the lone cynic in this community of females who dress alike, wear their hair in identical braids and weave thread out of the wool of their sheep, creating webs in the woods, covering the rafters of the structures in their woodland camp.

Sarah’s warning that as “pious and pure” and Selah might be, “Our great shepherd won’t be so sweet on you” once the blood begins.

Obsessing about it won’t help. She can’t hide it from her sisters. And these visions and dreams, coupled with Sarah’s warnings, make her question the way things are — how she got there and what’s really going on.


Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska (You remember “Body?” ) has crafted a pristine, chilly tale of faith, prophecy and slow-to-awaken empowerment, a world upended when The Outside (the cops) starts sniffing around.

The Flock’s cross-country flight from authority will test them, their faith and their pretty-boy Shepherd (Huisman was in “Game of Thrones” and “The Age of Adaline”).

The spare setting gives “The Other Lamb” the look and feel of a parable, a little feminist Biblical horror for us to immerse ourselves in as we’re parsing its (obvious, but metaphoric) meaning.

It lacks the shocks of “Midsommer,” the perverse comedy of “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” and the violence of “The Wicker Man.” But it’s still a good yarn, cautionary, allegorical, well-acted and stoically played out to its inevitable conclusion.


MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, sex, nudity

Cast: Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough, Michiel Huisman

Credits: Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska, script by C.S. McMullen.  An IFC Midnight release.

Running time: 1:37

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Movie Review: An Irish girl is haunted by the ghosts of buried babies in “The Perished”


Here’s a wee Irish horror tale that fails as drama, fails as horror and doesn’t really work as anti-abortion propaganda, either.

You can’t even be certain of which of those was top priority in “The Perished,” a dull, unaffectingly-acted story of Ireland in the last days of its abortion ban.

A young woman (Courtney McKeon) gets pregnant, gets an abortion in the UK, is kicked out of her house by her stridently Catholic mom (Noelle Clark) and then is haunted by staying in a former “mothers and daughters” house.

That’s where the Irish theocracy sent the unmarried and pregnant, part of the whole “Magdalene Laundries” scandal. And when the laundries were finally closed and the Church finally lost some of its hold on government and the culture, the occasional hunter of real-estate bargains snapped up such places as a country house.

That’s where Sarah’s gay BFF Davet (Paul Fitzgerald) takes her, to recuperate and relax and plan what to do with her life.

The ex-boyfriend who put her in this fix, Shane (Fiach Kunz) doesn’t know about any of this. But when he finally is filled in and comes to visit, he has something else he shares with Sarah.

They both hear the baby screams. They both have the nightmares — bloody, monstrous corpses and spectral children visiting.

No more of this “It’s all in your head.” But because the script operates outside of the realm of logic, Sarah keeps saying “I’m happy here. I’m not ready to go back to it all. ”


The frights aren’t frightening, the shouting matches about “You’ve brought shame on our family” are dated, the performances close to amateurish and the whole thing looks like it was shot on a cell phone.

What a waste of a half-interesting idea, and of Ireland as a location.


MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sex, profanity, horrific images, smoking

Cast: Courtney McKeon, Paul Fitzgerald, Noelle Clarke, Fiach Kunz

Credits: Written and directed by Paddy Murphy. A Celtic Badger release.

Running time: 1:31

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Netflixable? Another good B-movie from Mel, “Blood Father”


In the decade of Mel Gibson’s justifiable Hollywood exile, few moviegoers have seen him outside of his cameos in “Expendables” or “Daddy’s Home” sequels.

But he’s been doing his penance, or at least finding a reason to keep hitting the gym and occasionally shave his Old Testament beard in B-movies, violent action pictures that play to his acting strengths — a glib way with tough-guy talk, a relish for playing characters bloodied, tortured and martyred in the most violent ways.

 “Blood Father” parks solitary, unshaven Mel, covered in tattoos, in the self-exile of an ex-con, recovering-alcoholic biker — Indio, California.

He’s living in a 60 year old trailer, eeking out a living as a tattoo artist and still making it to his meetings.

“I’m John…I gotta kid that I can’t find, ‘cept on a milk carton…two years sober, one in The Joint, one out.”

Living just across the desert dump of a trailer park from his sponsor (William H. Macy) helps keep him straight.

But that daughter, Lydia? She (Erin Moriarty) has been squeezing a lifetime of bad choices into 17 years. We meet her at the cash register of a big box store in NRA  America, where she can load up on box after box of 9mm ammo, but “I’m gonna need to see some ID” before she can buy those Camel Lights.

She’s hooked on drugs and on an older man (Diego Luna), a violent mid-level functionary of a drug gang, and a lover who expects her to pull the trigger when they invade a contact’s house and try to torture and shoot info out of the woman left behind there.

Lydia louses that up, and she’s on the run and on the phone, reaching out to the father she barely knows. He nurses his ’71 Nova back to life and races off to fetch her, probation officer be damned.

And when the Mexican drug gang shows up at the trailer, he embraces his “comin’ up here, takin’ our jobs” MAGA party line and defends her.

He can’t have a gun, but she’s brought one into the trailer. He can’t fire it because “I’m gonna get BLAMED for this” and thrown back into prison.

“See? I MISSED ’em for you!” he bellows after his first fusillade.

Whatever he picked up in prison, “Link” as everybody but his sponsor and his ex calls him, doesn’t realize ditzy daughter can be tracked by her iPhone. Whatever he had to offer her as shelter, “safe house” is out the door. “Luxury” never figured into his decor.

“It kind of looks like you miss the comforts of JAIL!”

And now they’re on the run in classic B-movie fashion — cheap motels (Thomas Mann plays a smitten young desk clerk) and “I gotta see an old friend” stops to get help from a combat vet/biker (the late, great Michael Parks) and his old lady (Dale Dickey, of course), and even back to prison where Miguel Sandoval reigns.

He gets an earful of his little girl’s “thinking” — “My boyfriend thought we could get married, so I wouldn’t have to TESTIFY against him!”

And he checks in with Kirby, his sponsor. Because no matter how bad things get, he can’t crawl back in the bottle.

“I’m not dying, Kirby. I’m just in El Centro!”

It’s on the map. Like Indio. Look it up.

French director Jean-Francois Richet did the “Mesrine” escaped con-on-the-lam thrillers, and he keeps this one on its feet and on the move. Those French. If they’ll forgive Polanski, they’ll forgive Mel.

The script, based on a Peter Craig pulp novel, leans on droll, hard-boiled one-liners, profanity and just a tad of dead-end biker politics.

Preacher, the Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia dealer played by Tarantino pal Parks, has glorious speeches about the world Lydia’s daddy used to inhabit, and the one he makes his living in.

“All the losers make me money,” he says, showing off the Nazi and rebel flag antiques he peddles to racists who ride without helmets, unless they’re Wehrmacht issued.

There isn’t much of a plot and isn’t much logic to the one there is. It’s too violent for the squeamish, but that’s Mel for you — always looking for an on-screen crucifixion, even if it’s by Glock.

But like some of Mel’s other B pictures, “Blood Father” delivers the goods. And that’s all it ever promises to do.

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language throughout and brief drug use

Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, William H. Macy, Michael Parks, Dale Dickey and Miguel Sandoval

Credits: Directed by Jean-François Richet, script by Peter CRaig and Andrea Berloff, based on the novel by Peter Craig. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:28


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Netflixable? “Pretty Little Stalker”

Friends don’t let friends watch soap opera-sloppy tripe like “Pretty Little Stalker,” do they? And we’re friends, right?

The plot is thick, the makeup thicker in this potboiler about a stalker with an agenda and a big ol’grudge against a gorgeous self-help author.

Worst movie ever filmed in Louisville!

Nicky Whelan is Lorna, not-exactly-a-best-seller, but a very successful coiner of chapter headings like “Self-doubt has no age limit.” Not everybody adores her, as a reading she gives early in the film makes clear.

Married twice, living large with her teen son (Parker Mack) and ever-shirtless hunk travel writer husband (Jesse Hutch), she’s gone as far as somebody with zero qualifications to give anybody advice can — unless you’re counting Steve Harvey.

Then this woman Mallory starts running into her, and then her son. And into her son’s arms.

Mallory, played without a hint of subtlety by former child actress Ashley Rickards (“One Tree Hill,” “Awkward”), is what we used to call a sexpot before we became enlightened about such things.

But that’s the nicest word for Mallory, who is a modern stalker — she uses a DRONE.

“Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

People start dying around the happy family, but Lorna gets REALLY productive as a typist (writer). And gosh, even if husband Harry’s BFF Pierce was run over by SOMEbody…

“I know things have been really hard with Pierce…but I think we should go on a vacation!”

Half-hearted tennis matches, vampy murders and a whole lot of “Wait, how’s my makeup?” acting.


MPAA Rating: TV-14, violence, sexual situations

Cast: Nicky Whelan, Jesse Hutch, Ashley Rickards, Parker Mack

Credits: Directed by Sam Irvin, script by Patrick Robert Young. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:23


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Movie Review: “I Am Not a Witch”


All it takes is a silent stare from the child to startle the woman into tripping and dropping the water bucket balanced on her head.

And all it takes is an accusation from that woman to the local magistrate to put the orphan they name “Shula” (“Uprooted,” we are told.) on trial.

“She was just STANDING there! This child is a WITCH!”

Officer Josephine (Nellie Munamonga) may smirk. She makes a show of hearing out assorted “witnesses” that come forward. She even listens to the guy who tells the story of how Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) hacked him with an axe, only to admit that was in a dream (the arm she lopped off is miraculously still attached), rolling her eyes.

It’s just that the whole village seems to think the charges are true.

In “I Am Not a Witch,” the debut feature of Zambian-native/Welsh-raised filmmaker Rungano Nyoni, Officer Josephine does what bureaucrats the world over do when confronted with an official dilemma. She kicks it upstairs, where local appointed fat cat Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri) grabs it, and little Shula, and runs with it.

After, of course, “testing her.” He brings in a witch doctor to dance over her, kill a chicken and use its point of death to interpret whether Shula is “guilty” as charged.

As witchcraft is taken seriously by people rural and urban here, Banda at least wants to make a show of impartiality. And he wants to get his money’s worth out of the witch doctor, who is dancing himself exhausted to progressive jazz.

“Are you tired? Keep going!”

That’s the tone Nyoni seems most comfortable with, sort of a wry, patronizing poke at superstition with a female exploitation/oppression subtext.

Shula won’t speak up in her defense. When the witch doctor gives up, she’s locked in a shack and told to choose, either live as a witch or turn into a goat.


At least she takes her time with the decision. Because the witch’s life, which we sampled in an opening scene tour bus stop at the camp, is not bed of roses. They must wear long ribbons which “keep them from flying away,” and travel on a huge flatbed truck where the ribbons are rolled up, like cloth firehoses, on reels — restricting their movement.

Mr. Banda is the protector/exploiter of a local tourist attraction, the Witches’ Camp. They’re not just for the tourists. The many women, mostly old, are hired out to do day labor in the fields or rock quarry.

And they’re hired-out for traditional witchcraft, too. As there’s a drought, the littlest witch is a handy asset — rented to give a “Rain coming soon” reading to a local white landowner, showing up on the regional “Smooth Talk” chat show.

“Isn’t she just a child?” the host wonders.

Yes, she is.


“I Am Not a Witch” isn’t a line that we ever hear in the subtitled English patois of the people here. Shula lets on that she is, indeed, just a little girl. Her fellow witches take to her, though, and give her the forehead tattoo-marks that label her.

Yes, they buy outrageous wigs to cover their own tattoos, not that villagers or even city slickers are fooled by this.

Nyoni’s mostly amateur cast only have to be interesting and convincing enough to carry a scene or two as the movie progresses. More troubling for the film is its meandering narrative and increasingly downbeat tone.

It practically sprints out of the gate. But the story and energy flag at about the time Shula and Banda do the chat show. Everything after that is deflated, relying on a script that feels unfinished, ill-conceived and vaporous.

Movies from Zambia, especially one with a Welsh connection, are an exotic and rare thing. But while there’s novelty and promise to Nyoni’s little-girl-trapped tale, it tumbles into incoherence too early to merit endorsement.


MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Maggie Mulubwa, Henry B.J. Phiri, Nellie Munamonga,  Innocent Kalakula

Credits: Written and directed by Rungano Nyoni.  A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:33

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Netflixable? “Twin Murders: The Silence of the White City”


“Twin Murders: The Silence of the White City” is a Spanish mash-up of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Da Vinci Code.”

It’s a stylish, solidly-acted and terribly-promising thriller that serves up a serial killer story in the striking and little-filmed “White City” of Basque country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the northeast of Spain.

This latest “methodical” serial killer is posing his victims, paired symbolically as a couple, in the historic sites of the region — below the city’s principal cathedral, in the historic House of Cordón.

The killer is leading the troubled detective nicknamed “Kraken” (Javier Rey), his partner (Aura Garrido) and his boss (Belén Rueda) through centuries of Basque history, Celtic to Roman to Catholic Christian, making each pair of victims five years older than the previous pair.

So why isn’t this as fascinating as you’d expect?

Director Daniel Calparsoro and screenwriters Alfred Pérez Fargas and Roger Danès avail themselves of striking locations  — and a church calendar festival that appears to end in a flour-based food fight (Like a similar festival in Alicante?) — but never explain anything or give the history of any location.

There is no Professor Robert Langdon to lay out the back story, explain the symbolism of the posed bodies. Or rather there is, and he — the Hannibal Lecter of the tale (Alex Brendemühl), imprisoned for the original murders that these seem to have been inspired by — is neglected for much of the movie.

Calparsoro’s film, based on Eva García Sáenz de Urturi’s novel, is choppy, hard-to-follow and filled with blown opportunities and tedious “walking and talking,” “driving and talking” or “jogging and talking” scenes of the cops going hither and yon, trying to piece together what is happening, which stunningly scenic locale the next crime might take place.

And the picture is cluttered with the cops’ own “issues” — survivor’s guilt, romance, what have you.

Many a time we see Unai/”Kraken”( Rey) retreat to the family farm where he diagrams the case, gets clues from his beekeeper grandfather (the killer hides bees in the mouths of his victims). And yet Unai doesn’t put two-and-two together.

There’s a spirited chase with the killer, who is spying on Unai and the other cops, leaving them photographs as proof that he knows what they’re up to. They sprint across the roof and through the city’s glorious 12th century Gothic cathedral. But every foot chase ends with the person trying to escape outrunning the cops whom we see JOGGING THE EMPTY STREETS AT DAWN. Every day.

We hear “It’s not very professional, to get carried away on a hunch” (in Spanish with English subtitles), before this married cop starts fooling around with that widowed one.

There’s the inevitable “I’ll need your badge and gun” moment when things get personal.

And the fascinating KEY to the whole mystery, tucked in prison, a former “Unsolved Mysteries” TV show host, is left on the shelf.

It’s all a muddle and a disappointment. Even when it finishes with a flourish, the half-attentive viewer can pick up on clues not played-up, clever angles that would more creatively connect our pursuers with the wily killer who steals much of his shtick from “Silence of the Lambs.”

“The Sleeper Killer” knows Buffalo Bob (of “Silence of the Lambs”) worked with moths. So he’d better use BEES. To be, you know, original.


MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, torture, explicit sex

Cast: Javier Rey, Aura Garrido, Belén Rueda, Alex Brendemühl

Credits: Directed by Daniel Calparsoro, script by Alfred Pérez Fargas  and Roger Danès, based on the  Eva García Sáenz de Urturi novel. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:50


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Documentary Review: Citizens organize to “Slay the Dragon” of the Gerrymandering Conspiracy

“Slay the Dragon” is  documentary about what happens when you let “legislators pick their voters,” and not voters choosing their elected representatives, the way the Founding Fathers intended.

It’s about Gerrymandering, and co-directors Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman open their film about a crisis created when extremists, backed by callous wealth, no longer feared being removed from office for their misdeeds.

Flint, Michigan’s water contamination crisis of 2014-onward, is laid at the feet of the “Tea Party Revolution” of 2010, when big money and Republican strategists calculated a way to capitalize on drummed-up outrage over the bailouts of the financial crisis of 2008, and Obamacare, to create “permanent” majorities in legislatures, even when they were outvoted at the polls.

Flint’s voters had control of their city taken from them, and the next thing you know, the GOP appointed “dictator” had folks there drinking lead contaminated water, being sickened and killed by callous Republican “budget cutters” nobody voted for.

Michigan, Wisconsin and to a lesser degree, North Carolina become the focus of the film, which is about the years-long grass roots efforts to take Census-mandated legislative redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators and put it in the hands of “Citizen’s Commissions.”

In Wisconsin, a state which is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, an extremist legislature and hard-right Koch-backed governor not only Gerrymandered protections into their majorities, but used their untouchability to carry out the test case assaults on voting rights that spread through GOP Gerrymandered states across the country.

“Project Redmap” it was called, and the film details how this coordinated nationwide effort set out, using big data “consultants” scheming behind closed doors to cherry pick into existence impregnable GOP districts, to “quarantine Democratic trash” into a handful of districts, and use the unimpeachable power this gave them to suppress voting rights to guarantee minority rule in every state where this happened.

“The biggest heist in modern political history,” one historian calls it.

Does voter suppression (closing precincts where Democrats vote, purging voter rolls, etc) work? Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes in 2016.

While the filmmakers interviewed journalists, academics, some displaced legislators and even a few Republicans dismayed at this corruption of democracy, it focuses mostly on efforts to get a “Voters, not Legislators” redistricting initiative on the ballot in Michigan, an under-financed grassroots effort started by Katie Fahey.

Examples of how extreme American politics became —  in an instant — are illustrated by the redrawing of the district lines of popular moderate N.C. Democrat Heath Shuler, in the mountains of North Carolina. His biggest cadre of voters, the liberal tourist and arts city of Asheville, was erased from his electorate. Corrupt, far right GOP bomb-thrower Mark Meadowswas elected in his place.

While there’s ample evidence of the under-handed and heavy-handed way all of this was accomplished — hiding the process, railroading through sweeping assaults on unions, voting rights, unpopular broadening of “gun owner’s rights” and the like — a lot has come out since the film was finished.

One of the key figures mentioned, the death of “Gerrymandering King,” GOP consultant Tom Hofeller, laid bare the nastiest part of this “nuclear” use of big data to deny the public’s right to punish extremist, corrupt and incompetent elected officials.

Think Senator Richard Burr will pay for his insider trading? Even if he resigns, the N.C. legislature rewrote laws so that no matter who is governor (a Democrat, now), a GOP task force would select his replacement.

Good luck challenging that ina court-system packed with unqualified GOP hacksthanks to Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

“Slay the Dragon” takes its title from the first widely-known instance of Gerrymandering, the 1812 district contorting efforts of Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who created a district that looked like a salamander or “dragon.”

“Slay the Dragon” became the rallying cry of the Michigan and now national grassroots campaign to end this partisan practice. But as hopeful as the movie wants to be, it can’t help but make obvious how many steps “the people” are behind those Project RedMap masterminds.

The Supreme Court won’t make sweeping changes to the process, as Mitch McConnell, Trump and former Justice Anthony Kennedy conspired to “rig” it for the next 20 years. McConnell’s efforts to pack the lower courts aren’t even touched on here.

It will take dogged, exhausting state-by-state campaigns to wrest control of state and national legislatures from the Koch Brothers/WalMart/Chamber of Commerce/Wall Street crowd that owns them.

Be optimistic at your own peril.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language (profanity).

Credits: Directed by Chris Durrance, Barak Goodman. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:44

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