Category Archives: SXSW
What takes Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil beyond the interest of pop music fandom is its unabashed honesty without pandering to sensationalism. Directed and cobbled together with interviews of friends and family, Ratner creates a film which succeeds as an intense biopic of Lovato’s addiction crisis. With input from icons like Elton John, Christina Aguilera, and work colleagues like Will Farrell, Ratner shows a women in revolution and evolution. Assuredly, covering all bases the filmmaker grills her creative team, rehab coach, trainers, new manager Scooter Braun. Then Ratner blows up the celebrity image and brand to shatter the Lovato myths. If teens follow her as a role model and advocate for mental health, eating disorders and sobriety, Lovato’s revelations take her mission to a new level of relevance.
The film hits it out of the park by showing Lovato’s pathos in picaresque. Ratner divides the action in four, non-linear, acutely edited segments. And in a heightened alert, he begins with the months in 2018 when it all went wrong. Of course during the course of the film the full poignancy is that Lovato affirms it had gone wrong for a long time. However, she, her friends, family and team had bought into the “devil’s dance” that obsessive control answered her internal problems. Thus, her determination and teamwork convinced her that as long as she stayed slender and sober, she remained healthy. Sadly, she fooled everyone, especially herself. Her choices belied her ability to handle deep-rooted emotional and psychological issues. Past trauma whether conscious or unconscious bled into the present and tortured her.
Distress intensified to overwhelm Lovato with misery and the need to self-medicate. As these internal pressures pushed her to open the floodgates, Lovato suffered a drug relapse. Each of Ratner’s segments touch upon her addictive OCD personality. The documentary’s overarching themes about the fatal flaws that come with celebrity deification crash into the human factor. Inevitably, Lovato believed her own BS. Vulnerable, her unresolved life and death problems infiltrated her daily struggles.
Ratner selects various clips of Lovato commentary. In the more salient ones she discusses how she lived on the edge seeking destruction in secret silence, despite being surrounded by loving individuals. Examples abound. Lovato’s discusses regrets about her father’s ignoble drug death alone, his body found decomposing. And she relates that she never worked through sexual traumas (a rape by a co-celebrity, etc.). Though the “me” aspect of the documentary sometimes slogs from “reveal” to “reveal” without variation, Ratner keeps Lovato’s story uplifting. In the final analysis Lovato moves to summarize what she’s learned. And we find comfort in empathizing with her journey into a hell of her own making to emerge into healing.
Ratner nearly completed an earlier a documentary on Lovato in 2018. Filmmakers employ the footage of the earlier film to compare Lovato’s state of mind. As highlights of her Tell Me That You Love Me World Tour shine the shimmering Lovato, current footage reveals the truth of her condition during that time. Especially after her overdose, the filmmaker contrasts her promises and affirmations against her current truthful revelations. Even in this age of lying her statements shock. So many of her statements resound as obfuscations as she points out her hidden misery, pain and anger. Amidst this backdrop of illusions about being well when actually heading forward on a collusion course, her voice sounds incredible. Ratner includes a sound clip of her mother Dianna De La Gaza in June 2018, one month before Demi’s overdose. De La Gaza tells Demi, her voice is “the best ever.” At the height of her talents, death comes knocking and nearly takes her.
During the tour Lovato fronted all the positives to maintain the good girl sobriety image. She fooled those closest to her. But the tour documentary of 2018 never got off the ground with the exception of salvage clips. Instead Ratner and Lovato split open her guts and set the record straight bravely and boldly in Dancing With The Devil. Lovato confesses she did drugs unbeknownst to her friends and team. After celebrating her choreographer Dani Vitale’s birthday, Demi called a drug dealer. Early morning, when none of her friends or team were around, Lovato sabotaged herself, her life, her career, her self-love and her agency. She overdosed on a mega combination of crack cocaine, heroin and OxyContin laced with Fentanyl. These she chased with alcohol. Meanwhile, she remembered later that the drug dealer had non consensual sex with her and abandoned her. Ten more minutes from discovery, she would have died.
In this first part of the four part series, we understand how driven and obsessed Lovato pushed her beyond her limit for wellness. Ironically, her abstemiousness actually fueled her desire to jump off the merry-go-round of sobriety. Ratner even includes the physician who saved her life. And he discusses just how miraculous her recovery was, but not without costs. Lovato’s overdose caused brain damage: she had a heart attack and three strokes. And the twenty-four hour period after she was found by an assistant was touch and go with her fans, family and friends praying for her.
Now, she is able to laugh with friends. But the film is also revelation to fans that Dani Vitale who fans blamed for Demi’s overdose was wrongfully blamed. Vitale received death threats and lost her career, teaching jobs and everything that was meaningful to her because of the rumors she had given Lovato the drugs. A lie. So in setting the record straight, those who worked for Lovato and her new manager like Scooter Braun also go on record to do right by her after this incident.
However, from her sisters Madison and Dallas, her mother Dianna and her step father as well as her friends, all agree Demi has to want to be sober and drug free. It is up to her. And appointing monitors to make sure she didn’t eat any cake or cookies and didn’t do alcohol was not a balance she could live with. Indeed, it sent her in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, friends Matthew Scott Montgomery and Sirah have been through Demi’s hell with her, suffering their devastation wondering if she would make it to the next day. Now they joke that at least she is 28; she made it past the curse of the twenty-seven year olds of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Amy Winehouse.
The documentary is a cautionary tale for all those who start out in beauty pageants. If they as child stars possess the talent to parlay their success to accomplish world wide tours at twenty-five, the exposure can be treacherous. The overriding question becomes emotionally and psychically can they withstand all that the music industry siphons out of its celebrities? Lovato is back on course with her career. However, she considers her unconscious flirtation with suicide. Importantly, she recognizes she must confront herself during the journey of reclamation and accept herself as her own best friend.
Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil airs on YouTube from 23 March.
The documentary I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter in its World Premiere at SXSW 2019 is a provocative and compelling look at a case which stunned New England. Directed by Erin Lee Carr, presented in the Spotlight Section, the filmmaker examines two different perspectives of the case against Michelle Carter who the court found culpable in the death of her friend/boyfriend Conrad Roy III. Carr features the prosecutions arguments, replete with video clips taken from the courtroom. Also, the filmmaker features the arguments presented by the defense in the courtroom. She does some follow-up interviews of the witnesses on both sides.
The eighteen-year-old, Conrad Roy III, was found in his pick up truck asphyxiated by carbon monoxide at his own hand. He had purchased a generator which trapped the carbon monoxide from his car’s cabin as he sat parked behind a local K-Mart. He didn’t leave a suicide note. Instead, he and Michelle Carter left 60,000 text messages of their relationship, feelings for one another, their mental states, fantasies about being like Romeo and Juliet and more.
However, as the texts made clear, Roy III was in pain and wanted to commit suicide. He was being treated for depression and he was on the medication Prozac which has been tied to suicide deaths. Whether as a friend, help-meet, or as a self-serving, dastardly and willful individual looking for attention as the prosecution painted her, some of Michelle Carter’s final text messages encouraged him to finish his goal to end his life. What was never recorded was the final phone conversation they had together. Whether this was up until the moments of his death is unclear. Only the text messages remain as evidence.
In the first segment, Carr presents an outline of the backstory of the texting relationship between Carter and Conrad Roy III who only saw each other face to face around 5-6 times, but in teenspeak were “talking” which meant they were close. Indeed, Michelle Carter referred to him as her boyfriend. In the first segment Carr includes many of their texts, out of order in following the prosecution’s case to hone in on various arguments. They often texted that they loved each other. Carr culled through the approximately 60,000 texts between the two individuals. She uses their texts and sound effects on a black screen for full effect in both segments of the HBO presentation.
Carr uses video clips from the public hearings during the case. She interviews Conrad Roy III’s family members. There was difficulty between his parents who were divorced and were with other individuals. Clearly, Conrad Roy III didn’t have an idyllic home life, however, the extent to which this contributed to his pain and wanting to commit suicide was only alluded to by Carr briefly in the film. Michelle Carter’s family life was not covered, but her parents are together and supporting her throughout the ordeal and civil lawsuit by Conrad Roy III’s family.
Interestingly, there was no jury trial, but three judges decided the case. Since the media had garnered such an outcry spiking controversy against her, the Defense decided no jury trial was in her best interests. In Part II of the series which is an HBO Showcase and scheduled to air some time in the summer, the documentarian presents the Defense’s perspective why Michelle Carter should not be held accountable for Conrad Roy III’s suicide..
Michelle Carter never gave voice to her own feelings testifying before the judges in court. Nor was she interviewed for the film. Her testimony, the missing piece of the puzzle, may never be revealed now that she is serving her prison sentence after she lost her appeal.
Carr chronicles the events mirroring each perspective. The film is structured precisely to allow the audience to decide where they land, in support of Michelle Carter or in favor of the prosecution. I found both arguments riveting, but the situation is extremely complex and the film does not evidence the complexity. One must “see” between the lines.
The femme fatale image of Carter whipped up by a media hungry for clicks and viewers tragically skewed the case beyond a proper examination of the mental background related to both Conrade Roy III and Carter. Carr includes the Defense testimony of the doctor who discusses Conrad Roy III’s mental state. Also this witness ties in the effects of Prozac which in some individuals create suicidal tendencies. However, in this area, the film and perhaps the defense’s medical strategy doesn’t go far enough.
I know of at least three individuals who were on Prozac who either attempted or succeeded in committing suicide; these were adults. Conrad Roy III was 18-years-old and it is unclear the extent to which this drug exacerbated his pain on his young mind.
Nevertheless, the focal point of the prosecution’s argument became Michelle Carter’s encouragement of Conrad Roy III in the last hour and one–half of his life to choose death, not life. The Defense strategy used a freedom of speech argument saying Michelle Carter’s speech was protected, and couldn’t be used against her, even though it was morally reprehensible to encourage someone else to commit suicide.
The judges ruled against Carter using as evidence her texts of encouragement. She urged Conrad Roy III to get back into the truck and finish what he set out to do as the carbon monoxide was filling up the cabin. Because she did not encourage him against killing himself, she was given the sentence she received. The Defense could disprove the prosecution’s faulty logic, however, there was no answer for what the judges deemed in their opinions indefensible, which was her encouragement to suicide.
Obviously, Conrad Roy III had doubts the last hour of his life whether to kill himself or not. Interestingly, he sought out Michelle Carter precisely for what she gave him: support in his endeavor. He did not call his parents, his sister, or go on youtube where he would have been discouraged. His parents notified? He would have been put in the Psych Ward. His will to choose one who would support him kill himself is clear: indeed, in that he holds the ultimate responsibility, the ultimate choice of texting her, of phoning her and not someone who would stand in the way and prevent his wishes.
However, in that the judges obviated and ignored his obvious, willful selection and damned her. Her texts were used as the weapon to kill him, not his own will, determination, previous texts, treatment for depression, known wishes to commit suicide and the youtube video he posted about “social anxiety.” The evident misogyny in not looking at Conrad’s ultimate selection of Michelle Carter to get what he needed in the last moments of his life is apparent. It was his choice; the responsibility was his, and he took her down with him.
Indeed, the judges and prosecution believed that Michelle Carter should have “gone on record” inspiring Conrad Roy III toward life, though clearly the fact that Conrad Roy III purchased the generator and sat in the pick-up and eventually stayed in the cabin to inhale enough of the poison to kill himself, ultimately revealed that his will was toward death, as heinous as that may seem. The tragic irony is that the text messages “appear” to reveal what happened. However, not even Michelle Carter knew what was going on in the final moments with Conrad Roy III. She only responded to what he told her. Only he knew what he did, for only he was present. Thus, though her Defense didn’t enforce this argument, Carter was swept up in what is largely circumstantial evidence.
Following the judges’ logic, examine the instance of a jumper at the top of a building who is cursed at and screamed at with encouraging phrases to jump by the crowd below. If he jumps, all in the crowd should be held responsible for his death. They are not. Ultimately, the choice whether to jump or not is in the mind/will of the jumper.
The filmmaker by the very nature of her selection process cannot be objective, though she tries. She includes some trial clips over others and interviews of Conrad Roy III’s parents and Michelle Carter’s friends over others. She also interviews the reporters who covered the case.
However, in presenting the clips, to my mind questions are raised about the adequacy of the defense and the adequacy of the testimony of the mental health professionals in the cross examination of the prosecution’s medical professional. There should have been more health professionals testifying about Conrad Roy III’s mental health, the side effects of Prozac, and Michelle Carter’s mental health, etc.
In attempting to organize the series into two parts and “leaving it up to the viewer to decide” the approach is a quick and dirty way to further sensationalize this tragedy and “involve” folks in the “harmless” game of having an “opinion” about Michelle Carter. To actually dig deeper and approach the subjects from another angle would have been more profound and elucidating. The question remains. Where is Michelle Carter’s viewpoint, opinion and testimony in all of this?
Though this isn’t a focal point, the film does raise additional questions philosophically as to whether it is “right” to assist someone else in their wish to commit suicide to escape extreme mental anguish. If the person appears to aver, should one encourage them in support, or take the opportunity to help them stop their plans, knowing they will try again, perhaps until they succeed? Indeed, teen rates of suicide are increasing as suicide rates overall are increasing in our nation, and especially for those veterans who have PTSD. What is the law’s stance regarding suicide? Did Michelle Carter know? Or is this a matter of human rights and one’s autonomous decision?
Suicide is a slippery slope. Taking into consideration the ages of these individuals (Conrad Roy III was of age), Michelle Carter at the time was younger, the teen mind set, the teen subculture, the lack of communication with parents and siblings of both families, the effects of Prozac, many variables need to be examined to understand better what may have happened. However, Conrad Roy III enacted all of the steps he needed to kill himself, even elected to use carbon monoxide and not a gun or pills. Michelle Carter a supportive friend/girlfriend reacted to what he told her with her texts. But no one was present except Conrad Roy III.
Carr’s work is intriguing in relaying teen social constructs that are current. She focuses on raising the specter of suicide that haunts our culture. The clips of Roy speaking on social media are particularly gut-wrenching. Did his parents see these? Now, more than ever, parents need take note and make sure lines of communication are always open with their children. If this had been the case, would Conrad Roy III have taken the ultimate path he choose for himself?.
The organization of the documentary is sufficient for what the filmmaker’s intended purpose may be, to “have the audience decide.” Another approach might have yielded much more information. The documentary will air in the summer on HBO.
The Day Shall Come directed by Chris Morris, co-written by Chris Morris and Jesse Armstrong takes real-live accounts of how the FBI attempts to trap terrorists and hate groups and spins a fantastical yarn that is in whole is frighteningly realistic. Indeed, Morris culled research from stories which run to the overarching plot of this film, NOT the specifics. The events recall dastardly Keystone Cops episodes of law enforcement who entrap faux criminals, while real killers, i.e Parkland, 911, Columbine, Tree of Life Synagogue, Las Vegas, etc. have their way with US citizens.
Chris Morris creates a complicated, humorous and sardonic plot to send a powerful message to us about real terrorists and the convenient conversion of folks into harmless, safe, FBI-styled terrorists in the wake of the Bush era “war on terror” and Trump era terrorists on the border mantras used to herd the brains of American Citizens. At the bottom of Morris’ contentions? If we are not circumspect watchmen, law enforcement can become overweaning and abuse its powers. This is especially so when the risk reward ratios are tied to terrorist quotas which allow agents to convert folks to terrorism rather than locate actual terrorists and skillfully infiltrate their groups which takes years/decades.
In The Day Shall Come, Morris’ compact film resounds with currency, insanity and selects as its hero a black man. Considering historically blacks have proportionately not engaged in terrorist activities and have continually been victimized by law enforcement, this is an extremely satiric choice.
Moses, a self-proclaimed Floridian preacher, his wife Venus and four saintly “soldiers” attempt to raise up a religious following and by peaceful means, overcome the corrupt white culture that is displacing hundreds with gentrification and soulless development that decries affordable housing. On a wing and a prayer, some meds for bi-polar disorder, his converts and his raggedy church/farm that sells eggs and chickens to make ends meet, Moses (a hysterical and well-paced performance by Marchánt Davis) attempts to stop the continual threats of eviction and sell-out to developers with a shuck and jive routine that grows tired even for his once empathetic landlord.
Money is king. Money is the soul and song of existence in a culture which has extruded Moses and his church from its society and left them on the precipice of humanity. Without money, one cannot live even a meager existence with dignity. And Moses rag tag group Star of Six, cannot even begin to think about activism with any viability.
Desperate to forestall the end of his ministry and the abject misery of extreme poverty for himself, his children and his church family becoming like the thousands of Floridian homeless, Moses is driven to use “any means necessary” to fulfill his destiny and keep his church in the promised land where God has placed him. But where will he come up with the rent?
Enter a slimy pedophile miscreant with a taste for teenage girls and the FBI’s immunity to abuse them in a continual quid pro quo. Reza (Kayvan Novak) is the enslaved puppet informant of the FBI whom they send out with gobs of taxpayer cash to lure, entrap and capture those groveling for their last dimes (like Moses) to turn them into “enemies of the state” and terrorists. Terrorists are needed to prove this branch of the FBI “are worthy” of their budget and the jobs they hold.
In the case of Moses who goes off his meds to speak to God and Satan and refuses to carry rifles, AK-47s, glock pistols or anything that shoots bullets, the impoverished preacher, his wife and four congregants are hard cases to prove as terrorists, even though they are an uber tiny “radical” group. The nature of who the FBI is willing to convert to terrorism is beyond the pale. But Reza is the perfect foil for his handlers to squeeze. He is stressed to come up with a ready plot to snag Moses, though a three-year-old can see Moses has mega mental issues and terrorism is not one of them.
But desperate to continue his sexual abuse of teen girls, Reza’s urges compel him to work quickly or his equally amoral, slimy handlers Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), Andy (Dennis O’Hare) and other FBI officials will cut off his chick supply and throw him in a greasy Florida jail with worse perverts. That they are more into “fighting” terrorism with the most unlikely of candidates than get a red, hot, live sex offender, is ironic and damning. But, hey, this is credible considering the backlash against the #metoo movement and rampant world sex trafficking that could be ameliorated if… but it is not considered that important, nor is rape, for that matter.
With Reza’s lust working overtime, a plan is conceived to snare Moses who by this time, enveloped with stress about money, has gone off his meds and is convinced the lightening strike on a large crane in a development zone is God’s sign that he is with Moses whatever he does. How Moses goes from a poor, non-violent preacher who means well to an FBI terrorist supplying arms to the KKK is the stuff of satiric greatness that only a Brit like Chris Morris could evolve with horrific authenticity, supple comedy and riotous laughter. The coda at the end which identifies what happens to Moses, his wife, his four congregants and the FBI agents is both sickening and too realistic.
The Peter Principle is alive and well according to Chris Morris in The Day Shall Come, which also proves that in a septic tank, the really big turd chunks rise to the top. By comparison, Moses and his church are crystal clear water preyed upon by evil creatures twisted by their own hellishness.
The actors who portray the agents are depicted with skill. We dislike them immediately once we understand their self-dealing intentions. And indeed, Davis’ comedic “performance with a purpose” as the bi-polar preacher who hears from God and Satan is truly exceptional. The supporting cast and wife Venus (Danielle Brooks) do their wacko leader proud.
The themes Morris touches upon are numerous, varied and styled with clever twists. Many vital concepts about human nature and the human condition, good vs. evil reversals, abide with humor in this clever work. Most importantly, we understand how corruption self breeds like a toxic bacteria once it begins. When there is no moral force to oversee the rabidly power-hungry and abusive who are supposed to be caretakers of the law, every wicked trope, every sick meme congregates on the warped and diseased host, then spreads. This is not a pretty portrait of the FBI, but it is a darkly wicked one which will resonate. Physician? Heal thyself or your own disease will rot you from within.
The Day Shall Come will be released later in the year. Don’t miss this sardonic, zany and “too-true-to-look-away” film. And do not in any way confuse it with satire against black activist organizations. This is aimed front and center at the FBI. Moses and his group are cast in the most extreme and crazy light possible to reveal “how” terrorists are made and how economic inequality and overweaning power structures mold harmless, faux “terrorists” into bogey men then use them in their institutional PR campaigns.