Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kick-Ass

Okay, so I actually saw Kick-Ass almost two weeks ago, and have really just been way too busy to write anything about it.

This will be brief, but I wanted to get something down to distract myself from writing my three remaining papers.

"Kick-Ass" is the lynchpin to the superhero genre. It is a bold, audacious, disturbingly violent look into the cult of the hero and its social implications for young and old alike. Much has been written about how the movie involves children, how its language and gore are over-the-top past the point of satire, but of course those who cry foul are those not willing to ask why.

The film wants to provoke us, to make us uneasy about the superhero in a way I feel is actually kind of similar to "Watchmen" and yet wholly different - for Kick-Ass is camp and Watchmen is dread-ridden noir. Its cavalcade of heroes are not super, not powerful; they aren't fighting a diabolical madman, but a mafia kingpin. Their costumes are not elaborate, but stolen goods - Kick-Ass wears a scuba suit; Big Daddy wears a Batman outfit.

Its assortment of intertextual references to popular culture - to other superhero films, to spaghetti westerns, to Quentin Tarantino (which is of course a wormhole of intertextuality), makes it a film concerned with films. Matthew Vaugn is a director clearly in tune with how representation can be configured and thought about, and how the superhero is supposedly a beacon of mythic proportion. It's a giant deconstructing act that, somewhere in its third act, actually goes in reverse and starts letting the superhero, well, kick ass. Everything comes out squeaky clean, give or take a few horribly mangled and disfigured corpses, and the film's ideology ends up seeming pretty okay with superheroes despite all the horrific humor the narrative spits in the spectator's face.

Is this an ultimate negativity, or does it make us feel even worse about what we've just watched? To make these characters so, in a word, cool, so campy, so fun, so identifiable, Vaugn understands that we want to project ourselves into the superhero - that we all wish we could be a guardian and a protector. But a protector of what and for what? Kick-Ass is remarkably ambivalent about all of this - even as we enjoy it, there are little-to-no stakes, just individuals so run amok with their egos they forget why a superhero mask matters in the first place - or perhaps they do, and they've just willingly manipulated it.

I'll say this though, "Kick-Ass" will be a cornerstone of my thesis. If "The Dark Knight" represented the apex of the genre, its artistic and discursive high point that so fluidly articulated the superhero in our post-9/11 world, "Kick-Ass" seems to represent the next cyclical step in the genre - self-knowing, deconstruction, an opening of inconsistencies and a shift towards the parodic to understand the follies of associating with people who get a kick out of dressing up in costumes.

It's a wild, relentless ride, and one that nobody should feel totally okay about. But that's what makes it great.

Monday, April 26, 2010

My own summation/take on South Park controversy

Property The Daily Gamecock

Comedy Central’s flagship animated series, “South Park,” may be into its 14th season and 200th episode, but that doesn’t mean creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have stopped rubbing the world the wrong way.


With their 200th episode blow-out on April 14, the satirists brought back every celebrity they’d ever offended — including the prophet Muhammad, who appeared disguised inside a bear suit so they wouldn’t have to actually depict him.


After the episode, which was part one of what would be a two-part episode, Revolution Muslim, a fundamentalist group based in New York City, made vague threats against the creative team.


A blogger on the group’s website, revolutionmuslim.com, said, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show.” Van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 after making a film that was critical of Islamic society.


Comedy Central responded with tact and censored the show’s episode even further than Parker and Stone intended, adding audio bleeps over several moments of dialogue. The creators placed a bar that said “censored” over Mohammed to avoid actual depiction.
Jon Stewart then devoted nearly half of Thursday night’s “The Daily Show” to discussing the issue.


The comedian pundit defended Parker and Stone, who in his eye are, “purely for expressing themselves,” and turned somber to rant about Revolution Muslim, who “get to enjoy [New York City] because of how much we in this country value and protect even their freedom of expression.”


While Stewart has been known to skewer religious hypocrisy in his years as “The Daily Show” host and has recently done several pieces on the Catholic Church scandals involving the pope, he was clear to note where the line was drawn.


“Revolution Muslim, your type of hatred and intolerance, that’s the enemy,” he said. “Comedy Central decided to censor the episode. It’s their right ... it was a decision they made to protect their employees from any possible harmful repercussions.” Some “South Park” fans have pointed fingers square at the network for caving under the censorship pressures from Revolution Muslim.


Over the years, Comedy Central has encouraged diverse, at times button-pushing entertainment (most notably in, ironically, “South Park”), and it would be foolish to think they are a cowardly group of executives. But their decision to censor further than what Parker and Stone wanted certainly draws up larger questions of a network’s responsibility for representing major issues and how they perceive the effects of their programs.


At what point should the omission of images and words be accepted? At what point should we give in to demands?


Make no mistake, this may seem like minor controversy, but it is a remarkable instance of how cultural terrorism continues, how freedom of expression is so often more an ideal than a reality.


We often take our entertainment for granted, and the kind of content available on television is too often viewed as a detriment rather than something to celebrate. But hey, look at the conformist, ultra-censored 1950s for ideologically sound programming.


The freedom to express at higher and higher levels will always be fought, and the producers and writers who try to push the envelope should never feel they have to back down.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Cold Weather" review

* * * 1/2 / * * * *

Property The Daily Gamecock

Writer/director Aaron Katz’s new feature, “Cold Weather,” was shown out of competition at Columbia’s Indie Grits Film Festival this past Thursday. The mystery/drama, which collected major raves at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival several weeks ago, is an accomplishment of a genre film executed with subtlety.


With a realistic style that pits beautiful shots of Portland’s landscape against slightly out-of-focus human faces struggling to get a grip, it’s an investigation into a seemingly unsolvable mystery and, more importantly, into the nature of communication.


Cris Lankenau stars as Doug, a college dropout who’s gone from studying forensic science to ice factory working, nurturing his detective impulse through Sherlock Holmes fiction as opposed to trying to apply himself. He lives with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and makes friends with co-worker Carlos (Raúl Castillo), and for a while it seems Katz is trying to draw a minute character study.


He indeed does, but when Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) comes to visit and then suddenly vanishes, Doug quite literally decides to smoke a pipe and emulate Holmes as best he can, using Carlos and Gail as interchangeable Watsons to track down the missing girl and uncover a potentially more sinister threat.


“Cold Weather” importantly never feels like high drama. Its characters rarely speak more than a few sentences at a time, and even then it’s never very loud. There’s remarkably little said or discussed in this film that would have devolved into a wholly plotted affair under a lesser director.


With Katz, the emotion and the shifts come in slight changes of the camera. Characters look at each other a certain way; they move differently, or lighting adjusts. “Cold Weather” is occasionally very suspenseful, building discomfort through awkward silences and off-key music cues.


As it goes on, however, it becomes almost obvious that the mystery doesn’t matter. This is a story about Doug, specifically about him and his sister. The movie opens with a dinner scene where the two share a meal with their parents and awkwardly trade banter about the state of their lives.


From that point on, they struggle to communicate on the most basic level. A night of cards offers little conversation, and a diversionary trip to the coast has them silently sharing sandwiches instead of engaging with each other.


As they try to figure out exactly what’s going on with Rachel, Doug and Gail open up to each other. They make jokes, they get involved in how the other is behaving and they form a strange partnership, as if they were two friends re-discovering each other after a long absence.


Part of the reason this works so well is because of Trieste Kelly Dunn, an actress who makes Gail fully lived-in, a woman trying to get by as best she can. Her modest accomplishments play well against Doug’s angst, and Lankenau hits his stunted ambition with full force.


“Cold Weather” is a surprising look inside the detective film, and its deliberately ambiguous conclusion feels so remarkably observed, tilting the film from outward investigation to interpersonal connection. It’s a movie about how external forces help re-ignite internal fires.
The film seems to start at a simmer and stay there the whole time, but it’s not until well after the end credits that one realizes Aaron Katz actually does remarkable shifts in character and emotion with how he incorporates music and visual space.


“Cold Weather” almost seems like a trick, an elusive mystery where the characters dig deeper and deeper while the plot makes less and less sense. But in the best tradition of suspense, it’s not about the plot. It’s what the plot means to those involved.

Indie Grits write-up

Property The Daily Gamecock

The Indie Grits Film Festival devoted a portion of one of its sessions this past Thursday to honoring the life and work of local filmmaker John Lewis through footage compiled of his early 1970s movie, “Miracle at Valley Park.”


The documentary chronicled a concert performance by the Chambers Brothers at the height of racial tensions in Columbia after several students rioted at Dreher High School. The footage, assembled for the screening by USC’s Moving Image Research Collections, contains the concert footage as well as contextual interviews with Lewis, members of his crew and the Chambers Brothers.


Lewis passed away earlier this year from complications stemming from Parkinson’s disease.


Another man featured in the documentary was the Rev. James Redfern, who at the time was a self-described black militant in Columbia working for equal job opportunities for African-Americans. Redfern was in attendance for the screening and shared his thoughts on the documentary and on Lewis.


“John Lewis changed Columbia and South Carolina,” he said. “This [film] ... is the forerunner. Every major show that has come through the Coliseum is because of John.”
Redfern spoke at length and answered questions about the state of the civil rights movement in Columbia at the time of the concert. He said the event and its film helped open up doors and gather attention for the way it brought people together at a time of great tension.


The documentary was produced at bare-minimum cost, as Lewis used his job at WIS to provide his crew with equipment. John’s wife, Inge Lewis, was also in attendance and offered her reflections on how the project came to be.


“John just did it,” she said. “He was so persuasive. They built the stage. I don’t know how because they didn’t have any money.”


The celebration of Lewis and his documentary was only one part of what was a larger presentation of footage culled from the Moving Image Research Collections. The Collections’ interim director, Mark Cooper, said the event hoped to “highlight and celebrate the indie and gritty spirit.”


Items showcased included excerpts from the Fox Movietone News Collection and the recently acquired Chinese Film Collection. One item from the Home Movie Collections was of a family hosting a party full of illegal drinking during Prohibition. Ben Singleton, MIRC’s production manager, told the audience that the short will be used by famous documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in an upcoming series on Prohibition.


While the event as a whole showed off many gems from the MIRC, which Indie Grits director Andy Smith called one of Columbia’s “finest treasures” full of world-class programming, the star of the evening was very much Lewis.


“John could see all our communities, and he empowered us,” Redfern said. “We never even considered the power of art,” he said, speaking of Lewis’s civil rights efforts.


He was sure to emphasize that having someone so willing to use all his creative prowess to document these crucial civil rights moment helped spread and support the local movement.


Unfortunately, MIRC does not hold a complete print of “Miracle at Valley Park.” Cooper encouraged the audience to let him know if anyone knew of any surviving portions of the film for the Collections to house.


It was clearly an evening of celebration, remembering one of the largely unseen and unknown cultural landmarks of Columbia’s recent memory.


“I’ve known people around the world, and there was only one John Lewis,” Redfern said.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cannes finally reveals competition lineup

In Competition

"Another Year," d. Mike Leigh (U.K.)
"Biutiful," d. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Spain/Mexico)
"Burnt by the Sun 2," d. Nikita Mikhalkov (Germany/France/Russia)
"Certified Copy," d. Abbas Kiarostami (France/Italy/Iran)
"Fair Game," d. Doug Liman (U.S.)
"Hors-la-loi," d. Rachid Bouchareb (France/Belgium/Algeria)
"The Housemaid," d. Im Sang-soo (South Korea)
"La nostra vita," d. Daniele Luchetti (Italy/France)
"Of Gods and Men," d. Xavier Beauvois (France)
"Outrage," d. Takeshi Kitano (Japan)
"Poetry," d. Lee Chang-dong (South Korea)
"A Screaming Man," d. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (France/Belgium/Chad)
"Tournee," d. Matheiu Amalric (France)
"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Spain/Thailand/Germany/U.K./France)
"You, My Joy," d. Sergey Loznitsa (Ukraine/Germany)

Un Certain Regard

"Adrienn Pal," d. Agnes Kocsis (Hungary/Netherlands/France/Austria)
"Aurora," d. Cristi Puiu (Romania)
"Blue Valentine," d. Derek Clanfrance (U.S.)
"Chatroom," d. Hideo Nakata (U.K.)
"Chongqing Blues," d. Wang Xiaoshual (China)
"The City Below," d. Christoph Hochhauster (Germany/France)
"Film Socialisme," d. Jean-Luc Godard (Switzerland/France)
"Ha Ha Ha, " d. Hong Sang-soo (South Korea)
"Les Amours imaginaires," d. Xavier Dolan (Canada)
"Life Above All," d. Oliver Schmitz (France)
"Los labios," d. Ivan Fund, Santiago Loza (Argentina)
"Octubre," d. Daniel Vega (Peru)
"Qu'est-il arrive a Simon Werner?," d. Fabrice Gobert (France)
"Rebecca H.," d. Lodge Kerrigan (France)
"R U There," d. David Verbeek (Taiwan)
"The Strange Case of Angelica," d. Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal)
"Tuesday, After Christmas," d. Radu Muntean (Romania)
"Udaan," d. Vikramaditya Motwane (India)

Out of Competition

"Robin Hood," d. Ridley Scott (U.S./U.K.)
"Tamara Drewe," d. Stephen Frears (U.K.)
"Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps," d. Oliver Stone (U.S.)
"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," d. Woody Allen (U.K.)

Special Screenings

"Kaboom," d. Gregg Araki (U.S./France)
"L'autre monde," d. Gilles Marchand (France)
"Abel," d. Diego Luna (Mexico)
"Chantrapas," d. Otar Iosseliani (France)
"Draquila -- L'Italia che trema," d. Sabina Guzzanti (Italy)
"Inside Job," d. Charles Ferguson (U.S.)
"Nostalgia de la luz," d. Patricio Guzman (France)
"Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow," d. Sophie Fiennes (Netherlands)



If anything, reviewing the Cannes lineup is only a reminder of how little foreign films we still get access to in the U.S. I'll probably never see most of these movies, but Europe (and particularly France) has a particularly strong lineup. Interesting that Doug Liman is the only U.S. director in competition.

So there are a few past Palme d'Or winners in competition - Mike Leigh and Abbas Kiarostami - along with a few international/art house well-known directors - Inarritu, Weerasethakul, Amalric, Tavernier. Additionally, like last year, Korea and Japan have a nice showing.

As far as "Un Certain Regard," I'm just jumping up and down that Godard's new film will be premiering at Cannes. Ditto Lodge Kerrigan's latest.

Interesting that the U.S. is mostly out of competition here, but it's unfortunate that Terrence Malick couldn't complete "Tree of Life" in time to enter -- it could have been a major contender.

Also remember that Tim Burton is the head of the jury this year -- I'm sure that will influence what kind of winner we have.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Glee really IS changing the TV landscape

Property The Daily Gamecock

Fox has been airing a series of promos for the return of “Glee,” which describes the show as having “changed the TV landscape.” That may seem like a silly, hyperbolic statement, especially for a show that’s only had 13 episodes, but Fox’s high-wire genre-bender has not only caught on like wildfire, it’s given the network a different way to think about how to keep its shows afloat.

Perhaps one of the smartest things the television executives could have done with the show, which melds soap opera, high school social politics, broad comedy and energetic musical numbers into a non-traditional comedy/drama, was to give it an equally non-traditional release pattern.

The show’s pilot aired last May as a stand-alone television special, posting great reviews, high ratings and launching the show’s first single, a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” to number one.

Fox was quick to order 13 episodes, but it probably wasn’t until the television show produced a No. 1 song that they realized how they could make a relatively expensive and hard-to-market show work. After several more episodes, Fox ordered nine more episodes, which will start airing tonight, and a complete 22-episode order for a second season.

For most people familiar with Fox television, their willingness to embrace “Glee” produced more than a few double takes; after all, this is the network that canceled fan and critic favorites like “Arrested Development” and “Firefly” just a few years ago.

The real kicker for the show is that, as they so readily advertise, it’s already posted two No. 1 albums and more than four million song downloads. Holy revenue stream, Batman!
Unlike most television shows, which rely almost exclusively on advertising space, DVD sales and, if they can get to 100 episodes, syndication sales to help networks recoup the cost of production slowly over time, Fox has created an alternative source of income to complement their show.

Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the show has already scooped up the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Musical/Comedy, the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series and a Peabody award, in addition to nominations from the Directors Guild and Writers Guild.

Perhaps the runaway success of “American Idol,” television’s most-watched show over multiple years, has allowed Fox to loosen up how it thinks about its programming and take risks. Perhaps “Glee” is a sign of more unique, madcap shows that try to push general conceptions of how television programs work.

Of course, that idea of how programs “work” certainly isn’t limited to their content. While “Glee” has pushed “high school shows” in a brave new direction that’s almost blissfully manic even in its most uneven moments, Fox has found a way to utilize individual song downloads and album sales in its favor.

At a time when cable television stations like FX and HBO threaten to yank the best writers and directors away from broadcast television, and most networks are looking for ways to ease the cost of production, Fox has found a way to draw viewers back.

This merging of narrative programming, CD sales and digital downloads takes the model “American Idol” established and turns it in a new direction. “Glee” is a phenomenon not only in how it’s created a veritable cult following in just 13 episodes, but for how Fox has continued to find ways to use its popularity to fuel its continued production.

Maybe that’s an essential step to changing a medium’s landscape. That’s Entertainment.

Conan heads to TBS

According to The Wrap, Conan O'Brien will be hosting a 4-a-week late-night program on TBS starting in April.

You snooze, you lose: Conan O'Brien is bringing his late-night act to Time Warner-owned cable network TBS, breaking off talks with Fox and making plans to move to cable in November.

O'Brien and Fox had been engaged in serious discussions about launching a late-night show for months, with most indications pointing to a deal eventually getting done. But Fox had always indicated that an agreement came with serious limitations: Less money, no guarantee of wide affiliate clearances and little chance for O'Brien to own his own show.

And while Fox Entertainment executives made no secret of their desire to get O'Brien, other parts of News Corp. seemed agnostic at best -- consistently stressing that an agreement would have to make sense financially.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Katzenberg on 3D

From Variety, an interview with Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks Animation on why 3D is a major industry crossroads.

Read the full interview here.

3D is either A) The industry's biggest bigscreen innovation in decades and its biggest growth opportunity; B) In danger of fading within a year; or C) All of the above. According to Jeffrey Katzenberg, the answer is C.

The DreamWorks Animation head says Hollywood is at a "genuine crossroads," and the decisions studios and producers make in the next few months could ensure a healthy life for film-going -- or kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Last weekend was significant in the evolution of 3D because it marked the bow of the highest-profile 3D conversion: "Clash of the Titans," which Warner Bros. converted from 2D at the last minute. On that weekend, DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon" was in its second week and Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" continued its run -- giving auds a chance to experience three very different applications of the same technology.

The issue for Jeffrey Katzenberg is what he calls the "cheeseball" conversion of "Clash," with results that have been almost universally panned by critics. Warners insiders conceded to Variety that some at the studio were unhappy with the look of "Clash 3D" as it was seen at some screenings. But in public, Warner execs have defended the movie and argued that its strong box office performance proved that moviegoers are satisfied.

All over town, in film and TV offices, 3D is being debated. To get the dialog started, Katzenberg was invited to meet with a group of Variety reporters and editors for a wide-ranging discussion on 3D and why, in his opinion, the industry is in danger of incurring a major self-inflicted wound and setting back the entire bigscreen experience. Here are excerpts of that discussion.

Comcast is pretty stupid

I've been trying to find time to write a piece on why 3D is already doomed, but Comcast is contributing to it...

Property The Daily Gamecock

Comcast is having quite the week. The media provider is pushing boundaries and buttons left and right, but they’ve been at the heart of two key moments over the last several days, both on television and on the Internet.

As far as television goes, Comcast has worked out a way to dedicate two hours of 3D coverage a day to the Masters, making it the first time a national sports broadcast will be shown in the new format.

Of course, viewers will only see the Masters in 3D if they have a special 3D television and glasses, making the experience only possible for the very select few who have access to the expensive technology.

Additionally, Comcast will offer a 3D stream to view online but that again will require a 3D media player, 3D monitor and 3D glasses.

This is only the latest extension of the seeming fetishistic relationship numerous media outlets are currently forming around 3D. Of course, it begs the question of whether or not all this 3D is really worth it. Paying a few extra dollars to get an added dimension of “How to Train Your Dragon” is one thing but investing hundreds of dollars to get the gimmick in your home seems a little ridiculous.

Besides, golf doesn’t exactly offer dozens of exciting angles to really make the experience transcendental.

While Comcast’s decision has certainly sparked debates among tech circles, it pales in comparison to the court decision handed out in a contested issue over Internet practice between Comcast and the FCC.

The Federal Communications Commission took issue with a method of controlling Internet traffic Comcast was employing on its subscribers. “Net neutrality,” as it has been named, argues that Internet traffic should be as equivalent as technologically possible across all Web sites.

As an Internet service provider, Comcast is attempting to slow down certain content providers and sites, typically in the form of bit torrents, to deter users from accessing certain areas in favor of others.

A U.S. court ruled in favor of Comcast, saying that federal regulators could not interfere in how the business chose to influence its Internet traffic.

While this may seem unfair, Comcast is still only one of many Internet options, and it is still — by virtue of its title — providing a service. Like most businesses, they can choose how to provide that service.

The tricky grey area comes in where Comcast’s status as an Internet service provider and cable company start to blur. For example, Comcast’s recent move to acquire NBC means that if they were successful, they would be able to control a content generator (e.g. they make television shows) that is then broadcast over their cable and Internet services.

So were Comcast to gain NBC, and were the court’s decision on net neutrality to stand over time, Comcast could speed up traffic on Hulu — where NBC shows are available to stream — and slow it on alternative video stream sites, essentially forcing subscribers to choose the one that most benefits Comcast.

Of course, this is all hypothetical, but it’s certainly clear that Comcast is playing big risks, gambling on how they can manipulate the Internet and utilize the emerging 3D technologies on platforms other than cinema.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Most Dangerous Man in America" review

No, I'm not dead. I've just been taking two weeks off, mostly because I spent last week at the PCA/ACA national conference. Blogging should get back to normal...

Property The Daily Gamecock

A story of secret papers, multiple U.S. presidents, a war that divided the country on several levels, personal integrity and an argument about freedom of the press. No, it’s not “All the President’s Men,” it’s directors’ Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.”

Nominated this past year for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the film details the events leading to and the fallout from the New York Times’ 1971 decision to publish a series of top secret documents about the Vietnam War that became known as the Pentagon Papers.

Specifically, the story revolves around Daniel Ellsberg, a Pentagon aide who decides photocopy and turn over to the press nearly 7,000 pages of information about the Vietnam War in order to try and stop it.

“The Most Dangerous Man in America” sheds a spotlight on a pivotal moment in national discourse. A wealth of narrative and documentary films have been made regarding the Vietnam War or Nixon’s presidency, but this is one of the few that tries to align a moral conscience behind the proceedings.

As a piece of ethics and debate, the film tackles its issue head-on. Using interviews from many of the key players involved, including Ellsberg, it dissects what went wrong with Vietnam while at the same time arguing both why Ellsberg felt he had to release the papers to help his country, and how others felt this represented an act of treason.

The film tells its history as well as it can, firmly establishing the perspective of the individuals involved and using their testimonies to steer the narrative. It tries to put a human face on a political and ethical issue.

While it’s a great story and captivating for most of its 94-minute run time, “Most Dangerous Man” doesn’t really take any risks with documentary form. Much of the film is told through “talking head” interviews, with subjects framed in perfectly lit interview shots.

Other sections of the film rely on a wealth of archival photos, news reports and several well-timed dramatic recreations to try and create diversity in how the story is presented. While it works, it doesn’t particularly set the film apart.

Though it strives for, and occasionally hits, a sour note on a pivotal moment in our country’s political discourse, it still plays more like a History Channel documentary.

Directors Ehrlich and Goldsmith sublimate the form of their documentary to its content. There’s nothing wrong with that; its let the viewer focus on what’s happening as opposed to how it’s being presented, which is helpful if the filmmakers are trying to “teach” this historic event to those who may be unfamiliar with it.

But Daniel Ellsberg was a risk-taker, someone who put his whole career on the line in the name of what he believed was right, and for the documentary to play it so safe, so simple, makes it hard for the film to really jump into the compelling.

The beginning of the film briefly discusses Ellsberg’s relationship to Robert S. McNamara, and the former Secretary of Defense’s mention can’t help but call to mind Errol Morris’s powerful and provocative 2003 documentary “The Fog of War,” a film that tackles the issue of the Vietnam War and what went wrong with exacting visual prowess.

“The Most Dangerous Man in America” is a film worth watching, if only for how it helps discuss the importance of the political moment. It entertains, it tells its story well, but it tells it a little too typically.