On the Topic of the Documentary about Flat-Earthers, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix

We live in interesting times. I was pointed toward a documentary about members (adherents? disciples?) of the Flat Earth movement that’s currently showing on Netflix, called Behind the Curve.

The documentary primarily follows Mark Sargent, a prominent evangelist for the Flat Earth movement that has taken on a bit of momentum in recent years. We meet others as well, from Patricia Steere to Math Powerland (no, really).

Each of these people seems sincere in their beliefs. That could easily make this a challenging watch. It’s not, though. It’s fascinating. In many cases the subject matter is stronger than the structure at play, but it all comes together to create a compelling moment. It’s certainly one I won’t forget.

Flat Earth is a bunch of bunk, but I want to give people a hug and tell them it's OK that the world is crazy and scary.
The flat-hand signal there is apparently the “salute” (?) that Flat Earthers give.

I have to give the documentary a lot of credit for remaining kind in the treatment of its subjects. It’s a force of habit for many people simply to ridicule and deride others who don’t believe accepted doctrine.

This is especially true when it comes to accepted consensus. You need only to turn on your television to see everyone from Neil Degrasse Tyson to Stephen Colbert turning derisive sneering into an oft-lucrative art form.

In short, it’s easy to call someone “stupid” or “crazy” and move on with your life. It’s an emotional bloodsport we’ve elevated to a place of great honor in our society. Everything from sitcoms to Twitter have reinforced the idea that the best way to deal with “heterodox” thought is to tear down the person.

I agree instead with the person speaking at a convocation of scientists, captured in this movie. He points out that many of the people who believe things as outlandish as flat earth theory, faked moon landings, or the artistic merit of The English Patient, aren’t stupid people.

In many cases, they’re intelligent people who would benefit greatly from empathetic communication. They can and should be spoken to with a presumption of respect and intelligence, and work from there.

Calling someone stupid simply stops the conversation. Finding out why they believe something like Flat Earth Theory can go a long way toward understanding how to discuss it with them. If you start from a point of disrespect and attack, any human being is going to go into a defensive mode and stop listening.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t point out the flaws in their reasoning. You’re not obliged to go along with a delusion, as much as that seems to be the cultural norm these days. It’s fine to pretend someone you love is Teddy Roosevelt, but only so long as you’re Abby and Martha Brewster.

There will also be people you simply can’t reach. It might be beyond your personal ability. That’s OK, let them encounter someone else who can continue the conversation.

By and large, the movie does a terrific job of approaching these people sympathetically. Where it fails is that it diverges every so often from the intellectually curious to the self-righteous, as if it’s forgetting its own lesson.

Then it wraps up with a moment that needed more exploration than being interspersed with the end credits. A Flat Earth group, doing an experiment to prove that curvature is a lie, fails. Instead of continuing to explore their reaction to the failure in detail, it’s seemingly played for a chuckle. That’s all well and good, but undercuts the empathetic approach advocated earlier in the movie.

There’s another experiment earlier in the movie that works against another set of Flat Earthers, but that’s not followed up, either. It’s left dangling, and as a viewer I was unsatisfied that it was discarded and we just kept moving.

You can’t help but feel like the movie moves past these moments because the director can’t completely resist the default urge to mock just a little bit. That may feed into the perspective of other viewers, but for me it just doesn’t work.

In all, it’s a worthwhile movie to watch. If anything, it’s a fascinating exploration of the human desire to be important, to be heard, and to be special. It’s a testament to what makes conspiracy theories enduringly powerful; their adherents can hold a claim to intelligence and perception beyond the average.

There are undoubtedly conspiracies in this world. But we should approach the claims of them with extreme skepticism. The burden of proof should be on the people proving them to exist, not vice versa.

In short, I recommend this movie to you, if you have Netflix.

This review can also be found on my Letterboxd profile. Share and share alike, as it were. I also talk about it on a podcast. Cheers!

In Honor of #AvengersEndgame Crossing $2 Billion in Worldwide Box Office Here’s My Art for the Home Release Cover

In honor of #AvengersEndgame crossing $2 Billion in worldwide box office, I decided that it was time to share another new image here on the blog showcasing what you can do with a funny face.

I think that if Marvel®™© really wants to give me a reason to buy #AvengersEndgame on home release, they need to work this shot into it. They could also give us a steelbook version with this on the cover.

C’mon, Russo Brothers. Your movie’s made $2 Billion and counting. Use this art on the home release packaging. It’s better than anything else you’re considering.

AVENGERS ENDGAME is a movie with the AVENGERS that needs CRAIGULA
May this silly expression haunt you as it does me.

So You Don’t Overlook It: My Review of “On Deadly Ground,” Starring Steven Seagal

I’ve been in the habit of sharing reviews through my blogging, so I wanted to double back and share this little gem that I watched for RetroPerspective, where we’re walking through 1994 one week at a time, sharing re/viewings of films on the 25th anniversary of their release.

There have been a lot of clunkers so far, but few as memorable as Deadfall and On Deadly Ground. Since I already shared my review of Deadfall, here’s the one for On Deadly Ground…a movie which seems to have singularly wrecked Steven Seagal’s career while somehow leaving Michael Caine (!) untouched.

Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground a movie called On Deadly Ground starring Steven Seagal.
This…this is about as emotionally deep as we get in this movie.

My Review of On Deadly Ground, Starring Steven Seagal

This is a singularly baffling action movie. It’s out of place and time, sure of what it wants to be, but unable to achieve even a fraction of it. There’s not even a sense of fun about the action, which can and should be the saving grace of something that seems like it was created from a discarded draft of Commando. (That’s a so-bad-it’s-still-bad-but-fine-let’s-watch-it Schwarzenegger movie if you’re not familiar.)

You could argue that in the hands of a more experienced director, this may have been something worthy of its goal: an action movie with an important message of environmental stewardship. You’d be lying to yourself, though, because there’s roughly enough material here for an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger. The dialogue is on par with Tommy Wiseau’s efforts in The Room or Neil Breen in…anything Neil Breen has written.

Seagal seems to have given only one direction throughout the filmmaking process: more cartoonish. I’d almost feel bad for Michael Caine, but he’s had a storied career and I’m sure he’s been in movies equally bad to this one I’ve mercifully avoided.

I’ll also say that this is a movie with an unhealthy fascination with testicles. There are so many nut shots in the first reel that it gets old, and then when the old man is killed with death-by-pipecutter-to-the-balls, it’s a crescendo moment of male genital torture. Not to be outdone, Seagal then has his character beset upon by dogs who target…go on, you know where.

What’s the craziest moment? It’s hard to choose. Our selections include:

  • Seagal traveling through the spirit world is in contention.
  • An environmentally-concerned super soldier who stockpiled tons of C4 causing more environmental damage in one night than even the most irresponsible company does in six months.
  • A monologue at the end of the movie that feels like the screen equivalent of John Galt’s verbose musings.
  • A helicopter searching the Alaskan mountains for someone who possibly was thrown from an explosion at sea level.
  • Seagal’s entire performance.

I could go on, but it almost feels mean at this point. I know that everyone who works on a film wants to do their best. The actors and actresses show up and want to have something that reaches an audience and resonates with critics, that can act as a calling card for future roles.

Traditionally I give movies half a star if only for the fact that they were made and released. A lot of hard work goes into getting something out into the multiplexes.

I struggle to think of a reason to give this even half a star, still. But I will because some of the moments are so bat guano nuts I did get a laugh. And seeing a young…well, you have to watch to see who has a bit part, or listen to RetroPerspective to find out who it is.

The Only #AvengersEndgame Review You’ll Ever Need

This week will be awash with “Explainer Videos,” podcasts, think pieces, reaction blogs, and hot takes to celebrate the release of #AvengersEndgame. Cutting through this virtual crop of digital reaction will consume more time than the movie’s actual, three-hour run time.

You will be surrounded by qualifiers like “for me,” Statements of Epic Import like “over a bajillion movies and umpteen years,” and “I’ve been there since the beginning.” These qualifying statements will let you know that each piece is to be taken with an implied thoughtful gravity.

We all didn’t just watch a movie, we were part of an experience.

Some people will argue finer points. Each critic will offer a token flaw to prove they’re not blinded by the hype. They can tell you Iron Man’s waist size, and recount the emotional import of Movie A that impacted Movie B to be paid off in Movie C, but they’re not clouded by minutiae.

I promise you something more. Follow along with me.

Avengers Endgame #Avengers #AvengersEndgame #Endgame #AvengersEndgame is an #Avengers movie with the #Avengers in #AvengersEndgame.
“Watch what you say.”

The Only #AvengersEndgame Review You’ll Ever Need

For this part, I want you to walk to the mirror. Look in it.

While looking into your own eyes, give voice to what you thought of #AvengersEndgame. Say it loudly, and say it proudly.

There you go. That’s the only #AvengersEndgame review you’ll ever need.

Have fun discussing it. Get carried away dissecting it. Allow the monumental achievement of watching 22 movies in 11 years give you pause.

Each person’s reaction is their own. It’s not anyone’s responsibility to defend the movie against those for whom it resonated less. It’s not anyone’s mandate to hack on the movie to prove their point with those who liked it more.

I’m not saying anything that anyone doesn’t know. I think I wanted to write it out because sometimes I wonder. As a veteran of the Star Wars Prequel Slap Fights, and various other movie reaction debacles over time, it seems like we’re poised for problems with every event movie that’s released.

Even after seeing #AvengersEndgame, I’m avoiding discussions of it. I’ll participate in a few. One will be recorded. There are a few friends where I’ll talk it over, one-to-one. I just don’t see anything good coming out of online participation anymore.

I just don’t ever see it going “well” anymore in the larger conversations. Every review becomes a personal battlefield. If it’s in disagreement with yours, it’s important to attack or defend as the case may be.

It becomes a battle of comparisons, where the temerity of someone who dis/liked [a Movie] to try to [praise/defend] this movie is a high crime worthy of rhetorical scorn. It’s also a joy as people say that “anyone who dis/likes X is a dope…but don’t take that personally.”

Better to let it settle, remember opinions on movies are subjective, and keep the conversations small. I can promise you a more in-depth review on Letterboxd later. After the dust settles, we’ll see what everyone thinks of it there.

I still wish I didn’t have to give a star rating. But that’s the world in which we’re livin’, amirite?

We’ll see how it goes.

It Took Me 25 Years, But I Watched “With Honors”

You know the drill. This was a review I wrote originally on Letterboxd, one of the few social media networks that I don’t consider brain poison (yet). I’m sharing it here because I’m compulsive and there’s a lot of momentum with this blog posting streak, and I’m not tired of it (yet).

With Honors is a movie released in 1994 which is a 1994 movie called With Honors starring Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser in a movie called With Honors Hi Craigula
So zany!

The kesseljunkie Review of With Honors (1994)

This is another film that I’ve watched for RetroPerspective over on The Nerd Party podcast network. We’re marching through 1994, and by golly, this movie came out then.

The premise of the movie is anodyne; a homeless guy living in the basement of a Harvard library gets possession of a thesis paper that a student happens to drop down a grate with a perfectly-placed pratfall. You roll with it.

Naturally, they have to come to terms where the homeless guy holds his thesis hostage in exchange for basic living comforts. Along the way, he naturally spreads the wisdom earned from a hard life to leads our protagonist to question whether graduating with honors is all that important.

Never mind he’s graduating from Harvard. It’s most important to him to graduate with honors.

This is one of the most challenging parts with the movie. It’s not that his graduation or livelihood are ever actually in peril. It’s just that he won’t have that extra feather for his cap. It seems such a marvelously whiny place to put your protagonist.

One interesting side note is how optimistic he is about the impact of technology on the trajectory of the fundamentals of US government. He’s also marvelously wrong about another thing, but then that’s just me getting on my soapbox.

I also realized that With Honors, released during the same Gen X existential crisis wave that birthed “Reality Bites” and “Threesome,” is part of a cultural tectonic shift in how movies treated college as a whole. I’m sure plenty of other people have written about this, but maybe I’ll write more about it on my blog at a later time. Or talk about it on a podcast. Who knows?

What I do know is that this movie comes apart in the back half. The setup is expected-but-clean, and the conclusion never gels. It’s also too heavy for its own good, while still delivering a happy-go-lucky bland band of kids ready to go out in the world and do bland things.

The entire cast feels like they’re struggling to give the movie as much impact as they can, but are constrained by the material itself. It plateaus early and treads water until the end. As a result, the emotional “punch” is more of a “tap.” Madonna’s song on the end credits has more pathos, by comparison.

Oddly enough, I had a much better experience with another college movie released the same week, PCU…but that’s a story for another time.

While I had a passing interest in this movie in 1994, 25 years goes by in a flash. What can you do? Fortunately RetroPerspective gave me the opportunity to revisit and finally see what I’d been missing. It wasn’t much, but it wasn’t terrible.

With Honors is a movie released in 1994 which is a 1994 movie called With Honors starring Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser in a movie called With Honors Hi Craigula
Before Patrick Dempsey’s hair mocked us all, we mocked Patrick Dempsey’s hair.