"We Are Legion: The Story Of Hacktavists" (dir. Brian Knappenberger, 2011)
One of the greatest changes to activism in recent memory is the power of social media and the internet to mobilize, disseminate and even enact protest actions on a massive scale, all with the click of a mouse. As we have seen in events from the Arab Spring, Twitter and Facebook played huge roles for the citizens of those countries to both communicate with the outside world and organize their efforts. And while that might be the most high-profile example of the power of the online world to make massive change, moving much more below the radar are the loose knit, leaderless group of activists explored in "We Are Legion: The Story Of Hacktavists," a compelling, if wholly one-sided look at the rise of internet protest.
Directed by Brian Knappenberg, the film is a fast-moving, often very funny look at how at how 4chan -- a black hole website for all things awesome and horrible -- gave birth to the collective now known as Anonymous. Starting with attacks on white supremacist Hal Turner and Scientology, the group started making more and more politically motivated maneuvers against those they felt were inhibiting the flow of information and freedom. But within Anonymous themselves, some resented the shift toward the serious, and away from their 4chan beginnings, when thus begat LulzSec, who more or less hacked whatever they could, just because they can, regardless of whether or not the victims were "innocent" citizens or "guilty" corporations. And as fascinating, thorough and informative as 'We Are Legion' is (boasting an impressive array of interviews with current and former Anonymous members, tech experts, industry insiders and more), the documentary's blind allegiance to its subjects blocks the kind of necessary discourse about the short-term and long-term effects of hacktavism -- both positive and negative -- will have. It's an angle that prevents the film from being a definitive portrait of one of the most influential movements of the moment, but nonetheless, 'We Are Legion' is necessary viewing for anyone who wants a primer on the dissent that's happening just beneath your fingertips. [B]
"Alter Egos" (dir. Jordan Galland, 2012)
In a summer featuring superhero team-ups ("The Avengers"), youthful reboots ("The Amazing Spider-Man") and gritty realism ("The Dark Knight Rises"), on paper, "Alter Egos" promises to be a comedic alternative. But in execution, it never quite delivers. One of the latest films acquired by Kevin Smith's latest venture Smodcast Pictures, it follows on his promise thus far to support more modestly produced movies, though the low budget on this one is both a blessing and a curse. While the home user, digital camcorder quality of the picture is immediate, it also proves just as often to highlight the amateurish nature of the movie (and more regrettably, the special effects), which certainly isn't helped by the fact that the majority of the story takes in a number of locations that you can count on one hand.
The story is set in a world (not unlike "The Incredibles") where superheros are currently viewed in a negative light by the public, and due to the lack of supervillains, the government is looking to pull funding to caped crusaders now that their skills are no longer required. Though his personal life is in disarray, with his girlfriend cheating on him with his alter ego (one of the few genuinely inspired bits of comedy in the film), Fridge (Kris Lemche) agrees to go on a job with C-Thru (Joey Kern), which involves dealing with baddie Shrink (John Ventimiglia) who is tied up at a Hamptons Inn. But of course, nothing is quite as it seems, and moreover, during the job, Fridge finds himself falling for innkeeper Claudel (Brooke Nevins). The film is amiable enough -- with Kern in particular hitting the kind of comedic notes the picture is mostly missing when he's not around -- but it's also quickly forgettable, and not as fresh or sharp as a superhero parody could be. It has some fun poking at the genre, while never quite cutting as deep as you would hope, and as the movie heads into the third act, it winds up falling for the same conventions. Not to mention that an appearance by Danny Masterston in a small supporting role is mostly distracting and unfunny (and if anything proves he has a long way to go before shaking Hyde from "That '70s Show"). Before the screening at Fantasia, a movie unspooled by a local Montreal filmmaker who won funding to make a short based on one of the festival entries, and it's somewhat telling that he managed to sum up the tone and humor of Galland's film in a few minutes, while "Alter Ego" can't sustain it for 90 minutes. [C-]
If you need to know anything about "Nameless Gangster: Rules Of The Time," it's that it stars two of South Korea's best actors: Min-sik Choi ("Oldboy," "I Saw The Devil") and Jung-woo Ha ("The Chaser," "The Yellow Sea"). But it's also good to know that the film they team up in is worthy of their talents, a pleasurably slow burning, subtle, gangland tale that explores the poison of the corruption between organized crime and the government across the span of decades.
The story follows Choi Ik-yun (Min-sik Choi), an already dishonest customs officer in the port of Busan, who slowly starts doing business with hardened criminal Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo), who also happens to be a distant family relative. And it's that latter point that emerges to be the biggest piece of currency anyone looking to do crooked business can have at their disposal. While Ik-yun and Hyung-bae make tremendous strides thanks to the former's government and familial connections, and the latter's unflinching musclepower, they are also playing each other to raise their own individual profiles, with (as you might expect) life-changing consequences. That Min-sik Choi and Jung-woo Ha are great in their roles is a no brainer, but that the film itself is both smart and refreshing is the icing on the cake. While it contains a fair share of violence, it is notably sloppy, with brawls mostly highlighting the crudeness and inelegance of street fights or battles in unlikely places. Also, director Jong-bin Yun isn't afraid to delve into the absurd and surreal comedic aspect of a civil service worker putting on the airs of an underworld figure (the movie at times is as hilarious as it is dramatic).
As 'Nameless Gangster' draws to a close, it keeps the door wide open for a sequel, but leaves viewers with a chilling afterthought; that efforts to stamp out organized crime only last until the next generation comes of age. [B+]