Is Hillbilly Elegy the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

A lot of people are writing the same review of Hillbilly Elegy. They talk about how people on the left hate it because J. D. Vance, the author of the memoir the movie is based on and the central character in the film, is a conservative and how people on the right are finally glad someone is telling a story they can find the truth in. Entertainment Weekly, of all things, called it “fact-based.” You’d only need to say that if you felt the need to be defensive. Most people don’t feel the need to call someone’s life story “fact-based.”

There is a narrative that develops around anything political that gets poor reviews. It’s predictable: Hollywood critics hate it, people love it, the critical set is out of touch, Real America knows what’s best. I’m sure there are cases where that’s true and if you read enough reviews you read some crazy stuff. It’s easy to not be a part of the target audience for a movie or to just not connect with something and to rank something with redeeming qualities as a poor experience just because it isn’t for you.

That is not what’s happening here. Hillbilly Elegy is a messy, boring, frustrating exploration of one man’s experience that he’s turned into a political movement about how laziness and welfare are destroying America. It’s impossible to engage with it without engaging with the politics behind it, but it is entirely possible to love a piece of art you disagree with or to hate one that you think makes great points. If the last few years have taught us little else, it’s that your politics alone don’t make you worth people’s time. You have to have something interesting to say, whether your audience agrees with you or not.

The real J. D. Vance is tweeting conspiracy theories and truly ugly nonsense as I write this, but I checked in just to confirm what I expected might be true. He’s running for Senate in 2022 and he’s backed by billionaire super-villain Peter Thiel, famous for saying that freedom and democracy are not compatible and women’s rights and welfare are big reasons why. Vance worked for Thiel and became a celebrity among the political right when he published his memoir. Ron Howard directed it as a film, thus we have to engage with Oscar-nominated Hillbilly Elegy.

It’s easy to track how this happened, but harder to say why it happened. No one’s mind will be changed by this movie. The premise appears to be a typical American story, with a character literally telling Vance’s character in the film that he’s the American dream because he paid his way through college by joining the military and got out of the South and into high society. Vance initially rejects this statement with a big flourish about how the South and rural people are smart and capable and no one should shame them.

This is a cringeworthy scene, but it sets the table for who Vance is and what he believes. He then spends the entirety of the movie insistently walking away from this premise and behaving inconsistently with it. It establishes the film’s desire to have it both ways and to play loosely with the point behind the memoir when it doesn’t work for the performance. You have to bend reality to make it make sense, so they bend it. Vance’s book is designed to make an argument about poverty, but the film is designed to show it off as a contrast to what you might accomplish if you don’t live like this.

I knew I wasn’t going to like this, but I really tried. I’m from the South, but not this part, and I moved away, but not to that part. My life is not very much like Vance’s and my childhood was not much like his, but I am familiar enough with the experience to see parts that ring true and parts that ring false. One moment that’s intended to be endearing is when Vance finally lets his guard down towards the end of the story and lets his girlfriend in on his experience. He says “syrup” when they’re making pancakes and she makes fun of his accent. It’s meant to be a charming scene, but it’s about ten minutes before the story is over. The effect is to suggest that who Vance becomes after this story, after he goes home and sees that things are even worse than he remembers, is someone who can laugh at himself.

This is my major issue with Hillbilly Elegy. The premise is a mean one, arguably cruel, and it’s delivered in a way no one should find sweet. Amy Adams plays his mother and is intended to show us the cycle of addiction and how opiates can lead someone to dark places. The reality, we learn more every day, is that this cycle is destructive and isn’t generally people who get high for fun and want to shirk responsibilities. There’s a darker version of this story, but Vance wasn’t interested in that argument and Howard’s film isn’t, either. You can argue that it’s all “fact-based” and whatever Vance’s mom does in the movie is what she did in real life, but this is where it matters if this is one man’s opinion or a larger story about the Southern or rural experience.

Adams does what the script asks of her, but it asks her to be a cartoonish villain. We mostly see her in flailing desperation and see her lows played for drama, but it’s so continuous and so repetitive that it becomes cyclical. Vance has to leave a big interview with a law firm because he has to go back to the country and take care of his mother. She has relapsed and only his presence can save her. We see him go to great lengths, all to his credit, but he just can’t get her the help she needs because she doesn’t want help.

There’s an opportunity here to make a few different, competing statements. Adams’ character could be a statement about how you fall into addiction and your life is impacted and stops being yours. Vance, again, is not interested in that argument, so it’s instead a statement about how family can hold you back if you fall into their negativity. I won’t rob the movie of what little surprise it has, but a line delivery between Gabriel Basso, who plays Vance, and Adams during the climax shocked me. I expected this to trigger a larger argument and her final, destructive move, but it doesn’t. It’s a horrific, terrible moment, but in the world of Hillbilly Elegy, that’s actually the moral.

Vance then experiences a great life. Everyone else is okay, we learn through 1980s-style credits that show where everyone is today, but Vance specifically, his life rules. It’s all because he had the strength to pull himself up by his bootstraps and do the work. Heroin is just pain leaving the body or whatever, just tough it out. It’s such a bizarre message and such a strange way to deliver it that I still kinda can’t believe it’s the centerpiece of the story.

Along the way, Vance is taken in by his grandmother, played by Glenn Close. Close is up for an Oscar for this and I really hope she doesn’t win it, entirely because of the rest of the movie. Youn Yuh-jung in Minari is nominated for a very similar role and a much more interesting one, but given the history of the Oscars you have to expect Close is the favorite. Beyond the “critics hate it; they don’t get it” narrative, there’s also an argument that Close is excellent in Hillbilly Elegy even if the movie stinks. She does a great job, it’s impossible to argue with that, but there are so many impossibly ridiculous moments that it isn’t enough to overcome the script.

I would not believe it if someone else told me this, but I am telling you that one of her moral lessons to a young J. D. Vance is that everyone is a “good Terminator,” a “bad Terminator,” or a “neutral Terminator.” I could not contextualize that for you if I tried. She exerts tough love over her grandson and does have an honest moment that I really liked where she tells him that it’s about working hard and getting lucky. We don’t spend a lot of time on this lesson, probably because it refutes Vance’s premise that anyone who doesn’t make it out of poverty or addiction does so because they’re lazy.

Howard’s direction puts his typical positive vibe on this and the film keeps veering into brief lessons. A teacher tells Vance he’s too smart to get bad grades. His grandmother tells him his friends are all a bad crowd. None of these are very interesting, but they show why Howard found his story worth telling. Maybe he didn’t care about the politics behind it and maybe he did, but Vance’s muddled, one-point-plan of “just work hard, if you fail it’s because you didn’t work hard or because of The Government but also don’t blame The Government” shines through everyone’s fake accents and aww-shucks jokes.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? Mank is similarly dour, but suggests that not trying is a good way to avoid having to find out if you can make it or not. There’s a lot more cynicism in Mank but also a lot more story to tell. I think Mank is more worthy of your two hours and more likely to cause you to think about how people treat each other, even though Hillbilly Elegy is more expressly going for that.

Is it the best movie of all time? No, and I think it’s the worst movie we’ve looked at so far in this series. It’s just not the most interesting version of this story. I would be most interested in a version where Vance isn’t so much of a clean-cut hero, though. It’s rare to see a person whose central trait is ambition played this way because that’s not how most of us think of ambition. There is a story to tell here, but you’d need Vance to not be the one telling it.

You can watch Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix. You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

Is Mank the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

People clown on the Oscars for a number of valid reasons, but I’ve always been most fascinated by the Best Actor category. The Academy needs to become more inclusive and it seems to want to become more relevant, but attempts on both fronts feel clunky. There’s a lot of room to improve for America’s supposed arbiters of what makes great cinema great and I do hope they figure it out. I don’t think the answer is a “Popular Film” category or whatever that was, but I do think any move to fix the larger representation problem is a good one.

All that said, I pick Best Actor because I feel like, especially recently, there’s been a streak of wrong choices. In 2017 Gary Oldman won for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, which may be one of the ten worst movies nominated for any award in the last ten years. Oldman does strong work, but it’s a heightened performance because it needs to be to survive in a ridiculous movie. Rami Malek won in 2018 as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek was obviously great and really nailed what had to be a difficult challenge, but that movie is even worse than Darkest Hour, with distracting, breakneck edits for no real reason and cliched dialogue even in the most important moments of Mercury’s life. Joaquin Phoenix won as Joker in Joker last year and I feel like that completes the three-peat. Joker is full of capital-c Choices but at a basic level, it’s a remake of King of Comedy that didn’t seem to understand the message of King of Comedy. It’s a weird mess.

All three of those movies are bad, arguably among the worst if not the worst of the nominees in their respective years. Very often the award seems to go to whoever did the Most Acting rather than any other metric of quality. I definitely think all three of those roles are defensible as great performances, but shouldn’t it matter if you did your great work in a bomb or not?

I don’t know if Oldman will win for Mank this year or not, but it’s the most nominated film at this year’s Oscars. This is typical of the Academy, to the point where wasting breath on jokes about the movie with the Oscars as a central plot point being heavily nominated at the Oscars is not necessary. Of course they did, because of course they did. It’s the story of the writing of the screenplay for Citizen Kane. Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz split credit for it, but for decades Hollywood elites argued about who actually was the man behind Kane. Welles directed and starred in it, so he’s the name you know, but “Mank” is the man director David Fincher wants to sell you as the genius.

There’s a few things to know before we move on. This story might have happened the way Fincher tells it, but it almost certainly didn’t and most people agree this version has been discredited over the years. Mank and Welles both created Citizen Kane and you are welcome to argue that one was more important than the other, but Fincher’s version paints Welles as someone out to steal Mank’s hard work. You don’t always lose points for twisting the facts to make a good story, but this is extreme.

Fincher seems to think it’s necessary that Mank be a sole genius with Welles in dark shadows for most of the film. The actor playing Welles does his best, but it comes off as a parody of the director and I assume that’s in Fincher’s directing. Welles isn’t the hero here and he’s arguably the villain, though one of many in the larger story about how Herman J. Mankiewicz couldn’t get out of his own way.

The story goes that Mank was the funniest guy in the room but also the drunkest, both traits most people in his social circle had some of, but never more than him. He worked on a dozen things you love and he’s an icon of this era of Hollywood. That’s apparently not enough, which is why Fincher hangs sole credit for Kane on him. Interestingly, Fincher says the finished product of Mank is a revision from earlier “anti-Welles” versions. I can’t imagine what happened in the first cuts; Welles must have tried to kill him.

Oldman is working extremely hard here, which is why I think he’s a safe bet for the Oscar. This is ten times the movie Darkest Hour was and it’s at least a better performance, though with a smaller gap. You want Mank to “win” every time you see him, but you start to realize early on that won’t happen. He shows up drunk to important meetings and charms his way through parties, but mostly because people have an attitude of “oh, that’s just Mank.” He’s a jester, which mogul Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard, Cowboy from Full Metal Jacket) and William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance, Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones and a million other things) tell him directly.

For as bad as the Welles role is, Mayer and Hearst are terrific. The movie is only partially about the actual construction of a screenplay, it’s also about exploring Mank’s life to see how he got his ideas. Mayer’s worldview and political dealings provide the acid and Hearst’s power provides the central character for Citizen Kane. None of these are secrets or inventions for Mank, but they’re explored well and the personalities live up to what they need to get done. Dance especially is impressive and gives an incredible final speech about how we see ourselves in the world and what it amounts to in the end. Amanda Seyfried does a fine job as Marion Davies, but Oldman is the center of even their scenes, so it’s hard to really get into her character. I can’t imagine she’ll win for Best Supporting Actress, but that field is always hard to predict.

If you really love old Hollywood or you really love Citizen Kane or you really love black and white cinema, you’ll probably like Mank. It’s not completely a true story and some of the side stories don’t really go anywhere and it bloats a little bit as it moves into act three, but none of that is really the point. Fincher said he made this because he thinks the idea of Mank writing a brilliant script under the terms that he wouldn’t get credit for it, but then that he did want credit for it, is an interesting enough idea to carry a movie. This is his attempt to prove that as true and we should judge Mank by whether it is or isn’t.

I guess it is, but not by much. The performances are mostly good and sometimes great, and by the established metrics Oldman could certainly deserve his statue for this one, though one hopes we’re looking for something a little more ambitious than this in 2021. Mank is the story of a guy who had to ruin the dinner party or the birthday party to prove a point. Even if the point is sometimes worth making, it’s difficult to watch as a hero to root for, and that’s even before you factor in that he’s drunk to the point of throwing up.

I’m a big fan of Welles, though there are many reasons not to be. He was absurd, aggrandizing, and brash. Mankiewicz certainly had more to do with Citizen Kane than Welles would want you to believe and there is a story in that discussion that’s worth telling. I don’t think it’s this one and Mank feels like too many tales wrapped up in one story as a result. I enjoyed Mank, but I’m squarely in the target audience, and I think anyone who isn’t will struggle with this one. Oldman does the best he could possibly do, but it feels like another movie where the surrounding pieces can’t live up to the central performance. This is a much better movie than all three recent Best Actor films, but those same weird problems with those three are present again in Mank.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? No, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is tighter and more consistently makes the point it aims to make. These are very different movies, with Master and Commander focused on keeping complex, busy scenes of naval chaos easily understandable through clear cinematography and Mank almost entirely conversational and black-and-white. The difficulty in Master and Commander is all in the visuals and Mank is all about the central character and keeping us hooked on how he’ll navigate the politics of the big studios and the “great men” he deals with all the time. Both nail the “look” of what they’re doing, but Master and Commander succeeds to a greater degree with the story because it picks one lane and stays in it.

Is it the best movie of all time? No, it’s not even the best David Fincher movie. The reviews are interesting, with most of them making the point that the politics behind the characters are the central argument and the screenplay production isn’t really the heart of the story. Fincher seems to believe that, but Mank can’t ever decide which story it wants to tell you. I think that’s why it ends up not really connecting with audiences and why people seem to want to praise the visuals and performances but struggle to talk about the story.

You can watch Mank on Netflix. You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

Is Uncut Gems the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

On Marc Maron’s podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Eddie Murphy talked about his recent career and why he wants to get back into acting. It’s a fascinating interview for a number of reasons, but what will stick with me the most is his frustration at being named the “worst actor ever” by the Razzies. Officially the Golden Raspberry Awards, the Razzies are a loose group of people who award negative versions of the Oscars for things like worst acting or worst directing. I can’t find the specific version Murphy is talking about, but he was named worst actor of the decade once, beating out nominees Rob Schneider and Mike Myers.

Typically people do not care about the Razzies, but Murphy mentioned it several times and seemed, at least in some way, to have taken genuine offense at the joke. He said it made him want to make good movies, if for no other reason than for people to remember that he is genuinely funny and can do good work. Who wouldn’t feel the same?

Adam Sandler’s career has been very weird. He has significantly more nominations at the Razzies than Murphy does, just three shy of the record-holder Sylvester Stallone. Sandler seems willing to add to his fake trophy case, as well, as he’s still making trash at a breakneck pace. He’s been in more than 60 films and does not seem to be slowing down, and most of them are so bad you wouldn’t even pretend to imagine seeing them. It just doesn’t matter to him, clearly, and most of the worst of them don’t even make an attempt to seem like a real movie.

That’s what makes it so confounding when he makes something good. There are similar actors in this space, depending on your preferences you may call to mind some of Nick Cage’s weirder stuff or Jim Carey’s inconsistent forays into drama. Sandler was best in either Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People, for my money, and both show that he absolutely could do this, he just doesn’t want to work that hard.

Uncut Gems was sold as Sandler’s best yet and it might be just that. The central role of the film was briefly going to be played by Jonah Hill and it is unimaginable to me to picture that version of Uncut Gems. Both Hill and Sandler have the same nervous energy, but Sandler is unique in that you don’t really want him to win. I kept coming back to that during the frequent terrible challenges that Sandler’s character Howard Ratner faced. Do we actually want him to win, as he so clearly wants for himself at all costs?

Howard Ratner is a jeweler and a gambler. His life is a disaster. Everyone in his professional circle seems to view him as a risk at best and a dunce at worst. His family life is in tatters, with his estranged wife negotiating the date of their separation and his brother-in-law kidnapping and torturing him as part of a larger loan shark deal. There is no aspect of Howard’s life that works and all of it, clearly, was his fault. He prioritized the wrong things and felt like he was always one deal away from making this all come together.

The plot of Uncut Gems is based on the premise that if you just hit once and hit big enough, you can fix everything. But the thing is, as you know from dozens of other movies and from your actual real life, that’s not how it works. Howard is pretty consistently reminded of this, but he misses the lesson and focuses on the problem being that he’s just not hitting big enough.

There are some interesting performances in this, mostly from either non-actors like NBA legend Kevin Garnett (who is great) and sleepy, weird radio host Mike Francesa (who is not). Lakeith Stanfield continues to be great in everything as the broker who finds clients to shop in Howard’s jewelry store, including Garnett as himself. Howard dazzles Garnett with a rare stone from Ethiopia and through several overlapping deals, Howard tries to turn the stone into a fortune.

The thing about movies where someone “does deals” and acts slick to make quick money is that the lesson is almost always “don’t do this,” but the style seems to contribute to people not getting it. The most obvious version is Scarface, but there’s some of that in Uncut Gems. Howard’s life is a mess, top to bottom, but there’s a sense that he’s the smartest person in the room and if he could just get the chips to fall right, he could be in charge of all of this. That’s the surface level, but the Safdie brothers who directed Uncut Gems certainly do not want you to walk away with that feeling. The ending is a powerful exclamation point, but there are reminders all along the way. Every time Howard meets someone famous or important, he messes it up or can’t seem to convince the room of his greatness.

I still prefer Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, but this is a remarkable performance. Sandler never stops talking all the way, giving a kind of run-on-sentence feel to his performance. He’s continuously scheming and trying to be one or two steps ahead on his own chessboard, but he’s not building effective contingency plans for when people see his moves. He’s on three phone lines at once and screaming obscenities at someone in the same room. Based on this not-that-scientific list, Uncut Gems has 560 instances of the f-word, making it one of the most obscene films in history by just that metric. It’s never as distracting as you’d expect, but the general anxiousness that runs underneath Sandler’s performance really, really is. That’s the point, but it’s an exhausting movie.

Roger Ebert said of Sandler’s positive performance in Punch-Drunk Love, “He can’t go on making those moronic comedies forever, can he?” He was only partially right. Sandler absolutely can and will continue to make some of the worst films available to mass markets, but he also seems to want to do one of these every few years. I think with anyone else, Uncut Gems wouldn’t really work. It needs to be someone you aren’t really rooting for but don’t actively hate. Sandler, especially behind sunglasses and with amped up nervous energy, hits that sweet spot. If he did it more often or more consistently, it might become less interesting when he actually nailed it. It’s an extremely generous reading of his career and his choices, but I’d prefer to think it’s intentional.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? I don’t think so. Minari feels complete, with every intention examined and every character explored. We spend a ton of time with Sandler’s character in Uncut Gems, but most of the cast doesn’t really feel real. His wife hates him because of who he is, but who is she? His girlfriend makes self-serving decisions, but also is committed to him at the risk of her own life. None of these are fatal flaws, but there’s a lot of Uncut Gems that moves to react to Sandler. It’s not really a criticism of Uncut Gems, but it is something you notice when you compare it to something like Minari.

Is it the best movie of all time? No, I’m still going with In the Mood for Love. I don’t think it’s quite Sandler’s absolute best performance but I do think it’s extraordinary. Joaquin Phoenix won the Oscar this year for Joker, a tremendously bad movie that he’s admittedly pretty great in, but Sandler wasn’t even nominated. It’s clearly because of all the garbage he keeps producing and the Academy’s unwillingness to let him put “Oscar-nominated” on the cover of some movie where he plays an animated fart brought to life or whatever, but Sandler’s performance cannot be overstated. There are very few people who could have done this and made it watchable for two hours. That alone is a big accomplishment even if most of the rest of the movie just happens in the background.

You can watch Uncut Gems on Netflix. You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Simon Barry’s Continuum


Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going.

A few years ago, everyone was bemoaning the loss of quality SF programming on television. Lost had delivered one of the most reviled endings of all time, Battlestar Galactica had wrapped up, the Sci-Fi Channel had just been bought out by Swedish media conglomerate Syfy, which for some reason thought Americans only cared about ghosts and those who hunt them. There was a bit of a dry spell there for a minute, but in the past couple of years TV producers have looked at the success of shows like Battlestar and Lost and threw SF into a lot of their primetime fare with a gleeful what-will-stick-to-the-wall type attitude. The majority of these shows are major flops (I do not know first hand, but I hear Extant is terrible), but in defense of the television executives, a lot does actually stick to the wall. One such show is Continuum.


Pictured: the man in charge of all Syfy programming.

Its premise hooked me quick. In the year 2077, governments across North America have defaulted, and corporations bailed them out. State sovereignty no longer exists, and the North American Union is administered by a Corporate Congress, where the most powerful corporations run everything. So what’s different, you may ask. Fair enough. Today, if a corporation does not like an organization, they will take a senator out to a very nice lunch and talk to them about all the nice lunches and campaign contributions to come in the future if they sponsor legislation against the interests of said organization. In the future of Continuum, corporations own the police, which is now a private security force, and they would simply pay these security professionals to kill literally everyone involved in any way with this organization. Ah, the invisible and silenced gun of the free market! The show opens with the apprehension of the leaders of a terrorist organization that bombed the Corporate Congress and killed thousands of people. They are going to be mass-executed in a weird future electric-dais thingy, but when the machine activates, the terrorists throw a device into it. Kiera, our hero, is a cop guarding the detainees. She sprints towards the machine to see what’s going on, and then all people anywhere near it disappear in a massive blast. Kiera wakes up in Vancouver in 2012. All the terrorists went back in time as well, and she has to singlehandedly stop them, relying on nothing more than her pluck, determination, and highly advanced bio-implants and supersuit.

The show is hybrid organism, SF-time-travel tissue over a procedural cop drama endoskeleton. The presence of technology in the show is appealing. Kiera is sent back in time solo, but she has many implants (for example, a communications suite implanted directly into her brain/ears, and an eye implant that provides a super-soldier style HUD, can take fingerprints, record evidence, etc) and a standard-issue supercop suit, which is bulletproof in addition to giving her enhanced stamina and strength, cloaking abilities, and a built-in taser. Aside from this, and the advanced technology sometimes employed by the terrorists, most of the show stays in 2012 as far as equipment goes. The technology is central to the narrative, but it is non-intrusive. Kiera’s main weapon is not her suit, but her ability to insinuate herself into the Vancouver Police Department and use police strategies to track down her targets. The story definitely relies on the tropes of future-tech, but it’s not overused, nor is it ever the source of some goofy deus-ex-machina. Kiera herself is the center of the show – torn away from her family (a husband and a little boy), unable to get back, knowing that any change made by her or the terrorists could mean her son will never exist (like Back to the Future, but with less Chuck Berry and more complete isolation and existential terror). The show also does well by not simplifying the terrorists – sure, these are mass-murdering monsters, but the system they want to bring down is horrifying. Kiera wants to take them out to preserve her way of life, which her and many people in 2077 enjoy. Fine, woohoo, let’s root for Kiera! On the other hand, if you go into debt in that world, they implant you with a chip that turns you into a hindbrain-using meatpuppet building microchips in a dark factory forever, so the goals of the terrorists, if not their methods, are eminently understandable. There is a delicious complexity around this issue – as an audience member, do you root for the good person supporting a corrupt system, or for the bad people trying to take down that system?

The season one trailer, to get a basic feel for the actiony parts of the show

The most high-minded trope of the show is time travel. None of the big players fully understand how it works – they work under the assumption that present actions will change future consequences, but they don’t really know anything. The show draws a lot of water from this well, but it’s okay because the well is very deep. Some questions raised are how can the terrorists even know their actions will have the outcomes they want, how can Kiera ever return to her actual future now that her very presence in the past is changing it, and how, over the course of time, people become what they are. This last question is explored mainly through Alec Sadler, Kiera’s hacker buddy (no timewrecked futurecop ever goes long without finding a hacker friend). He meets Kiera because the rig he built in his parent’s barn can access her military-encoded communications chip. This is because he built that chip, or will build it – Alec Sadler is the CEO of the biggest corporation in the North American Union, which makes him de facto leader of the world. He is the one behind many of the evils of 2077, but in 2012, he’s just a shy, geeky tech dude. In a standard cop drama, seeing the hacker buddy becoming ever more competent, more self-confident, seeing him get the girl and outwit the competition, would be a positive thing. In Continuum, there is always an ominous shadow over his character development, as it is taking him ever closer to becoming basically King Bowser.


Pictured: Alec Sadler. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Of course, in the future, he feeds them with the blood of his enemies, so.

The show uses some tired cop-drama tropes, but it is concept-driven, entertaining, and while it’s not quite as cerebral as Primer, it explores the intricacies and implications of time travel with honesty and detail. You should watch it, and the following five words are the most convincing part of my (or really anyone’s) argument to watch Continuum (or really any show): every episode is on Netflix.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at

An Obama Campaign Worker Watched the Documentary Mitt. Should You See it?


Alex Marino

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see the new doc about Mitt Romney?

Given that all my other pieces here are about yelling at kids to get off my lawn, I could understand the belief that I spend my days sitting on a porch in a lawn chair being grumpy at the world.  But before all that I worked for the Obama campaign doing data work in North Carolina for all of 2012. It was exhausting and exciting and unhealthy and incredible all at the same time. Like so many of my colleagues, once everything was over and I actually had an ounce of free time I decided to occupy it with reading as much as I could about the election. I’ve read almost every book that’s been written about the campaign. Hell I was reading short e-books about the campaign during the campaign. It was always interesting to see what journalists got right (that we used data incredibly well) and what they were completely clueless about (how we used that data). I had read so much that by the time the highly-anticipated sequel to Game Change called Double Down came out there really wasn’t a whole lot of never-before-seen content. I finished it craving an account that actually understood what we did or at least brought a fresh perspective to the race. But I never thought that a documentary about the guy I worked to beat would be that account.

Mitt isn’t about the inside politics of a national campaign. It’s not about the internal struggles or the war room drama. You don’t see Paul Ryan until 70 minutes in. You don’t see the campaign manager until 80 minutes in. It’s the story of a man and his family on the campaign trail since 2007.

When you work on a political campaign it’s easy to lose perspective on how you view your opponent. For so long I held this belief that Romney was completely out of touch with working-class Americans. And while Mitt didn’t show any evidence that directly refutes that belief, there was a really touching scene where he talks about his father, former Governor of Michigan and candidate for president George Romney. He was showing the notes he took while on stage at the first debate. At the top of the first sheet was “DAD”.  He went on to explain:

“I always think about dad and about [how] I’m standing on his shoulders… There’s no way I’d be running for president if dad hadn’t done what dad did. He’s the real deal. The guy was born in Mexico. He didn’t have a college degree. He became the head of a car company and became a governor. It would have never entered my mind to be in politics.  How can you go from his beginnings to think ‘I could be head of a car company. I can run for governor. I can run for president.’ That gap. For me, I started where he ended up. I started off with money and education and Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School. For me, it’s moving that far. (moves his hands, palms facing each other, slightly apart) For him it was like that. (moves hands considerably apart)

Even after the first debate I felt so confident that Obama was going to win that I couldn’t imagine the conversations going on at Romney HQ. I thought they had to be living in some strange bubble where only good news gets passed along. But after the first and second debates it was Romney who was even-handed. He knew he did well in the first debate and he knew he didn’t do as well in the second. This was in the face of his family being excessively supportive (as they should be). Even on election night as everyone else is trying to find ways to hold on to the belief that he can win, Mitt is well aware that it’s over and seems remarkably relaxed.

I remember feeling so strongly that Mitt was this out of touch rich guy.  His life consisted of car elevators and dressage horses! I never once thought that those things helped make his wife’s life a little easier as she dealt with multiple sclerosis. And while those things may seem excessive, if you were as rich as the Romneys wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make coping with a disease like MS easier?

But while Mitt did such a better job than the campaign in making the candidate seem human, there were many puzzling things the film revealed how informed Romney was about the state of the race. In the last few weeks of the race he saw huge crowds everywhere he went. I understand how he could feel like things were on an upswing. But a look at the numbers would have quickly brought him back down to Earth. During election night Ann mentioned that they were hoping to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Polling just before election day never showed any of those states as even being close. The fact that the candidate and his wife weren’t aware of their path to victory is baffling to me. They got most of their return information from external news sources rather than their internal analytics team. But was he actually not briefed on these things or did the documentary just not show any of that?

The scene that hit me the most took place the day after election day at Romney HQ in Boston. After he and his campaign manager each spoke, you saw the tears of sadness streaming down the faces of his staff. Most people don’t understand what’s in those tears.  For so many of us this race meant moving across the country, barely seeing friends and family, putting off school for a year, relationships collapsing under the stress of the campaign, 3:30 a.m. wake up times, 10:00 p.m. checkout calls, 11:00 p.m. dinners, and more takeout than you can imagine. It was our entire life and to not have it all end with a victory is nothing short of devastating. I was lucky to be on the winning side that was filled with tears of happiness on election night.  I can’t imagine how I would have felt had the results been different.

Should You See It? If you have Netflix make sure to watch Mitt. If you don’t have Netflix what the fuck is wrong with you; are you 90? Because while it’s easy to get caught up in the passions of a long political campaign and view your opponents as enemy robots seeking to destroy your entire existence, it’s healthy to remember they’re people too, from the field intern all the way up to the candidate.

Image source: ABC