Wednesday, December 01, 2021

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Granger at the Movies: ‘The Social Dilemma,’ ‘The Comey Rule,’ ‘The Secret Garden’

By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow

Not to be confused with “The Social Network,” the timely new documentary “The Social Dilemma” explores the insidious addiction to social media that many of us face, particularly those born during the late 1990s and after.

Susan Granger at the Movies

As the logline says, “We tweet, we like, and we share—but what are the consequences of our growing dependence on social media? As digital platforms increasingly become a lifeline to stay connected, Silicon Valley insiders reveal how social media is reprogramming civilization by exposing what’s hiding on the other side of your screen.”

Director Jeff Orlowski (“Chasing Ice,” “Chasing Coral”) devotes much interview time to Tristan Harris, formerly a Google design ethicist and now head of the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit whose mission is to “reverse human downgrading by realigning technology with our humanity.”

Harris clarifies how and why social media’s manipulation is so malevolent – addicting and isolating users while harvesting their personal data – explaining, “If the service is free, then you are the product.”

That’s why the algorithms of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, etc. have the ability to encourage division, radicalizing users, influencing their actions. That’s echoed by Justin Rosenstein, the engineering manager who invented Facebook’s “like” button.

Stanford University “addiction expert” Anna Lembke explains how social media exploits the brain’s evolutionary need for interpersonal connections, while Facebook investor Roger McNamee, alleges that Russia didn’t hack Facebook; it simply utilized that popular platform.

There’s also a fictional re-enactment of a suburban family’s battle against social media addiction, focusing on the daughter’s obsession with her looks and the son’s tendency to withdraw and become anxious/depressed. It’s contrived but effective.

From that segment comes a new clinical term “Snapchat Dysmorphia,” pertaining to people who seek plastic surgery to look more like the filtered/altered image they see online.

And be sure to stay through the credits for clear, simple rules that concerned parents can adopt.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Social Dilemma” (streaming on Netflix) is a cautionary, relevant 9—a MUST SEE!

Not only is Election Day coming up soon but former F.B.I. director James Comey—pivotal to “The Comey Rule” (Showtime)—lived in Westport from 2010 to 2017 with his wife and their five children.

The former legal counsel at Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, Comey was placed in an untenable position during the final days of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign against Donald Trump as he struggled to be an apolitical public servant in today’s America.

Adapted and directed by Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass,” “Breach”), this two-part mini-series is based on Comey’s memoir “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” published in 2018 with Jeff Daniels playing Comey and Brendan Gleeson as Donald Trump, interspersed with actual TV news reports.

The first segment covers Comey’s determined commitment to priorities & procedures during the F.B.I.’ s second inquiry into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ill-advised use of a private e-mail server on the eve of the election. His wife (Jennifer Ehle) begs him to wait, cautioning: “You are going to convince everyone that she’s ‘Crooked Hillary.’”

The second follows the early days of Donald Trump’s Presidency, when Comey and his cohorts were investigating Russia’s election interference. Forced into an ill-fated, incendiary, intimate dinner at the White House, Comey took copious notes about how Trump arrogantly demanded his “loyalty.”

While poker-faced Daniels is stoically convincing, it’s Brendan Gleeson’s calculating, pugnacious performance that will be remembered, along with Holly Hunter’s poignancy as acting Attorney General Sally Yates and Kingsley Ben-Adir’s charisma as Barack Obama.

“I felt it was important that this work be shown to the American people before the election,” Jim Comey states: “Because it’s about the nature and character of our institutions and the damage that the person who would like to be re-elected has done to them. I hope it makes a difference because it tells the truth.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Comey Rule” is a uneven, yet significant 7. Timely and relevant, it’s streaming on Showtime.

British director Mark Munden’s new adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved 1911 fable “The Secret Garden”  is adapted by Jack Thorne who—with cinematographer Lol Crawley—leans heavily on eye-popping magical realism.

Appealing to youngsters who have been trapped in isolation for many months because of Covid-19, the theme of the wondrous fable is surprisingly timely.

This version begins in 1947 India during a cholera epidemic on the eve of its Partition from Pakistan, during which 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx) is orphaned. She’s sent to England to live with her reclusive, widowed Uncle, Lord Archibald Craven (Colin Firth), at cavernous Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors.

Willful Mary is placed in the care of Craven’s stern housekeeper (Julie Walters) who warns her to keep to her own rooms and not to “explore” her gloomy Gothic environs—which, of course, she immediately does, making fascinating “discoveries” along the way.

Following a robin through the rolling mists, Mary finds a disheveled, stray dog and makes friends with Dickon (Amir Wilson), the young brother of the housemaid (Isis Davis).

When Mary climbs over a tall fence surrounding abandoned ruins, she’s suddenly in a secluded garden, a veritable paradise filled with lush, tropical flowers and foliage, along with a muddy stream whose remedial waters seem to heal the dog’s paw which was caught in a trap.

Meanwhile, Mary realizes there’s another child in her Uncle’s home. It’s his sickly son, her bedridden cousin Colin (Edan Hayhurst). Eventually, Mary coaxes frightened Colin into the secret garden, where—miraculously—he thrives.

Plus, there are ghostly flashbacks to happier times when Mary’s mother and Colin’s mother—devoted sisters—languished there.

FYI: While there have been many British TV/stage interpretations, perhaps the most poignant screen version was in 1949, starring Margaret O’Brien; Agnieszka Holland remade it in 1993.

On the Granger Gauge, “The Secret Garden” is a fanciful 6, blurring the elusive line between a child’s imagination and reality. Rent/buy on Google Play, Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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