January 30, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Virtual Sundance Reviews: “R#J” & “A Glitch In the Matrix”


R#J:  Every generation gets its Romeo & Juliet.  In Carey Williams’ R#J, the words of Shakespeare are only occasionally heard.  Instead, these extremely up-to-date Capulets and Montagues communicate almost exclusively over social media on their phones, and those screens are where the bulk of the film takes place.  As written by Williams, Rickie Castaneda and Alex Sobolev, some of the translation of text to text message is ingenious and witty (the comments on the Instagram Live videos are great), and there’s surprising force to the section where social media cancel culture turns on Romeo and Juliet.  The decision to keep some of the original language, though, was something of a backfire–the dislocation is too extreme, as if the characters in Clueless had suddenly started to recite Jane Austen’s own dialogue in the middle of a scene.  There’s also an inherent problem in trying to depict one of literature’s greatest romances in a mode that gives them hardly any in-person contact.  That could have provided the opportunity for an interesting commentary on our moment, but it doesn’t seem to have been the intent.  (Changing Shakespeare’s ending also doesn’t have much resonance beyond cleverness for its own sake.)  Given all these limitations, the actors are more cool presences than sustained performers, and both Camaraon Engles and Francesca Noel are photogenic and committed.  The real achievement of R#J, though, is in its technical dexterity, which takes this kind of narrative a step beyond laptop dramas like Unfriended and SearchingR#J is more an experiment than a full success, yet well worth a look with that in mind.

A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX (Magnolia – February 5):  The documentarian Rodney Ascher has found a niche in stories of particular types of true believers, who may be cranks or visionaries depending on your mileage.  His short The S from Hell focused on those terrified by the 1960s Screen Gems logo, and Room 237 was concerned with people who had developed elaborate theories around the meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s The ShiningA Glitch In the Matrix is a study of “simulation theory,” a way of interpreting human existence in a way most widely known from the movie referenced in the title:  namely that we don’t live in the “real world” at all, but in a mammoth imitation of a world created by beings we can’t hope to comprehend.  This is a wider and more resonant theme than Ascher’s previous subjects, and perhaps even more topical than he knew as he made the film, as this nation has itself become obsessed with issues of electoral and experiential reality.  The film ranges broadly, from interviews with those who believe in the theory (and who are depicted visually through CG-animated avatars), to extensive footage of a talk by the writer Philip K. Dick, whose fiction often centered around alternate realities, and who came to believe that his dreams were actual visions of such realities.  More disturbingly, Glitch also includes a lengthy interview conducted with a man who committed awful crimes in the belief that he was acting in a virtual world.  Ascher’s visuals and sonic landscape are imaginative, but this unwieldy subject is tough to contain, and the film struggles tonally between the relatively academic statements of the believers and the horrible consequences evidenced by the jail interview.  Ironically for a film that questions real life, reality itself may have made A Glitch In the Matrix inadequate to fully realize its thesis.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."