‘The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’
*** (out of four)
First things first: How in the world could anyone make a documentary in which the narrator continually mispronounces the name of the subject?! In “The Internet’s Own Boy,” a well-organized doc about Reddit co-creator and suburban Highland Park-raised Aaron Swartz, the narrator constantly alternates between pronouncing the film’s subject’s last name as “swortz” (correct) and “schwortz” (incorrect). That’s shocking and inexcusable.
In most other ways, writer/director Brian Knappenberger chooses wisely. Through interviews with Swartz’s family, friends and professional supporters, the filmmaker straightforwardly and convincingly captures the innovative developer—who at 12 conceived a version of Wikipedia before there was Wikipedia and at 26 took his own life in early 2013 while facing double-digits worth of felony charges—as a brilliant mind and advocate for change without making him a saint. In fact, as depicted here, Swartz eerily shares many Mark Zuckerberg-ian attributes, particularly in terms of social discomfort and a disinterest in using his wealth to live glamorously.
It’s hard not to be inspired by Swartz’s priorities. He sought to alter what he thought needed to be changed for the greater good, and it was that philosophy that led him to try to make costly academic journal articles free online and become the subsequent target of an FBI investigation. Unfortunately everyone on the other side of this story, from the government officials who advocated for Swartz’s prosecution to Swartz’s former Reddit colleagues to folks at MIT who didn’t have Swartz’s back, declined participation in the film, leaving Knappenberger with too much time filled with Swartz’s family repeating what they’ve already said about him. And the aforementioned pronunciation issue is so staggering it deserves to be mentioned again.
This remains an important, David vs. Goliath story, however, of a remarkable brain years ahead of his age with the courage and will to fight congressmen--and a system built to impede progress and common sense rather than encourage it. “The Internet’s Own Boy” will upset you. As it should. -- Matt Pais, RedEye
‘Listen Up Philip’
*** (out of four)
You don’t have to be a punctuation nerd to tell that the lack of a comma in that title is revealing. “Listen Up Philip” isn’t saying acclaimed novelist and grade-A jackass Philip (Jason Schwartzman) needs to get with the program, although he does. It’s describing a guy who regards his bluntness as a virtue despite being fully aware of how isolated it makes him. His girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss) says success has made him ugly. In spurts Philip feels liberated by telling off those he feels have wronged him and lets his short fuse toss awkwardness and tension into virtually every conversation he has.
He takes advice and temporary residence in upstate New York with Ike (Jonathan Pryce), a renowned author who believes in Philip’s work. The elder man’s salty competiveness makes him a kindred spirit and a vision of the extended loneliness Philip can probably look forward to in his later years. The script by director Alex Ross Perry (“The Color Wheel”) generates a ton of laughs from these characters’ rough edges: “I hope this will be good for us,” Philip tells Ashley about upcoming time at his new mentor’s country house. “But especially for me.” Philip’s not a likable guy, but his stubbornness to play ball might almost be admirable if he weren’t so aggressive.
Loaded with voiceover and literary satire reminiscent of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Listen Up Philip” overdoes it with the voiceover by Eric Bogosian. What’s happening on screen is too amusingly acidic to require a narrator constantly telling us how everyone’s feeling. And Philip and Ashley spend so much time despising each other it’s unclear why it takes them so long to address that their relationship has a gigantic fracture.
Perhaps Perry depicts many relationships that have lasted about two years to say that that’s the length of time it takes for something that’s not really right to fully go wrong. That’s just a guess, though. A dry movie about the pointlessness of pettiness, "Listen Up Philip" focuses on an egotistical, defensive guy whose self-loathing and external loathing puts him on an island he’s created. It also shows that indifference can be just as poisonous as anger. And a lot less productive. -- Matt Pais, RedEye
**1/2 (out of four)
I’m not sure if you know this, but a lot of young people in America want to be famous, and many have become stars for outrageous, viral video-related reasons.
To those who are surprised, thank you for emerging from that rock.
An obvious point like this is unexpected in the directorial debut for David Cross, a comedian who’s both very funny and very unafraid to go after sensitive targets. In “Hits,” though, he’s firing on the easy range. Meredith Hagner (“Men at Work”) plays Katelyn, who’s convinced that once she records a demo she’ll make it onto “The Voice” and be mere minutes away from an interview on “Ellen.” Meanwhile, Dave (Matt Walsh), Katelyn’s dad, fights the city council in Liberty, New York about its unwillingness to fix potholes and give citizens their proper voice. When a group of NYC hipsters (including James Adomian and Wyatt Cenac) turns Dave and his humble activism into a YouTube star, the man earns a supportive following while his daughter looks on in disbelief that pops has achieved the stardom she thinks she deserves. As if that weren’t bad enough, even Cory (Jake Cherry), the obnoxious kid with a crush on Katelyn, becomes a brief, unfortunate Internet talking point thanks to a video of a kid interrupting Cory’s terrible rapping by knocking him in the crotch.
Movies from the lame “American Dreamz” to Bobcat Goldthwaite’s “God Bless America” have satirized our country’s fixation on fame and the painful grandstanding that often passes for entertainment. “Hits” has none of the bite of “Mr. Show,” not so much commenting on pop culture garbage but pointing at common knowledge and saying, “I hate that, too.” The presentation of foolish, angry citizens is smarter on “Parks and Recreation,” and Cross also includes a strange subplot in which Maddy (Erinn Hayes of “Children’s Hospital”) so desperately wants the child that her effeminate significant other (Adomian) can’t give her that she briefly treats their drug dealer (Michael Cera) like he’s their son.
All that said, “Hits” moves quickly enough and has its share of laughs, including Jason Ritter as a shady, amateur record producer and Katelyn’s friend drooling over a pal who got her writing published—by sending a letter to People magazine.
That’s amusing. But even when “Hits” is pretty funny, it’s also pretty stale. -- Matt Pais, RedEye