Review: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League,’ starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill

March 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Set in several fictional DC Comics places such as Gotham, Metropolis, Central City and Atlantis, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians), ranging from superheroes to regular citizens to villains.

Culture Clash: An all-star group of superheroes called Justice League gather to do battle against evil entities that want to take over the universe.

Culture Audience: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of epic superhero movies that have a dark and brooding tone.

Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a four-hour superhero movie that can be summed up in four words: “definitely worth the wait.” Also unofficially known as “The Snyder Cut,” this extravaganza is the director’s cut of 2017’s “Justice League,” an all-star superhero movie that was panned by many fans and critics. Even though Snyder was the only director credited for “Justice League,” it’s a fairly well-known fact that after Snyder couldn’t complete the film because his 20-year-old daughter Autumn committed suicide, writer/director Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the movie. Whedon made some big changes from Snyder’s original vision of “Justice League.” (There’s a dedication to Autumn that says “For Autumn” at the end of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”) The “Justice League” that was released in 2017 had a lot of wisecracking jokes, and the violence and language were toned down to a more family-friendly version of the movie.

Since the release of “Justice League” in 2017, fans of DC Comics movies demanded that Warner Bros. Pictures “release The Snyder Cut” of the film. And due to popular demand, Snyder was able to make the “Justice League” movie he originally intended to make. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is part of HBO Max’s lineup of original content.

As promised, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a darker and more violent version of the 2017 “Justice League” movie, but it also has a lot more emotional depth and gives room for more character development and intriguing possibilities within the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was written by Chris Terrio, with Snyder, Terrio and Will Beall credited for the story concept. Terrio and Whedon were credited screenwriters for “Justice League.”

Does “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” live up to the hype? Mostly yes. The scenes with the main characters are of higher quality and are more riveting than in the original “Justice League.” The action scenes are more realistic. The overall pacing and tone of the story are also marked improvements from the 2017 version of “Justice League.” However, the reason for the cameo appearance of The Joker (played by Jared Leto) in the movie’s epilogue isn’t what it first appears to be, so some fans might be disappointed. And the appearance of Ryan Choi/Atom (played by Ryan Zheng) is very brief (less than two minutes), and he doesn’t talk in the movie.

Many people watching “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” have already seen “Justice League,” so there’s no need to rehash the plot of “Justice League.” This review will consist primarily of the content in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” that was not in “Justice League.” For those who have not seen “Justice League,” the basic summary is that an all-star group of superheroes have assembled to battle an evil villain that wants to take over the universe by gathering three mystical Mother Boxes, which are living machines that have enough energy to cause widespread destruction.

The superheroes are Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck), Superman/Clark Kent (played by Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (played by Gal Gadot), Cyborg/Victor Stone (played by Ray Fisher), The Flash/Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (played by Jason Momoa)—all seen together in a live-action movie for the first time in “Justice League.” The villain is Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), but “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” features the first movie appearances of two arch villains that have more power and authority than Steppenwolf: DeSaad (voiced by Peter Guinness) and the supreme villain Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is divided into chapters with these titles:

  • Part 1 – “Don’t Count On It, Batman”
  • Part 2 – “Age of Heroes”
  • Part 3 – “Beloved Mother, Beloved Son”
  • Part 4 – “Change Machine”
  • Part 5 – “All the King’s Horses”
  • Part 6 – “Something Darker”
  • Epilogue

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” Steppenwolf is more of a sniveling lackey than he was in “Justice League,” because there are multiple scenes of him acting subservient to DeSaad. Steppenwolf is still aggressive against his foes, while DeSaad is sinister and imperious, and Darkseid is fearsome and unforgiving. In a new scene between DeSaad and Steppenwolf, DeSaad scolds Steppenwolf for betraying the Great One and Steppenwolf’s own family. Steppenwolf replies with regret, “I saw my mistake!”

When Bruce goes to Iceland to recruit Arthur, their confrontation is a little more violent and Bruce flashes a wad of cash to entice Arthur to join Justice League. This scene is extended to show some Icelandic women singing on the seashore after Arthur declines Bruce’s offer, Arthur takes off his sweater, and swims away. One of the women picks up Arthur’s sweater and smells it, not in a salacious way, but as a way to give her comfort.

Back in Metropolis, there’s previously unseen footage of Daily Planet newspaper reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) getting coffee for a local cop. It becomes clear that this was a routine for her, since she’s seen doing this again in the scene where she finds out that Superman has come back to life. It gives some depth to Lois trying to have a normal routine after the death of her fiancé Clark Kent/Superman. It’s mentioned in the movie that Lois took a leave of absence from the Daily Planet after Clark died.

And there’s an extended scene of Wonder Woman fighting off terrorists in a government building. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has less shots of Wonder Woman fighting in slow motion and more shots of her speeded up while she’s fighting. And in the terrorist scene, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” puts more more emphasis on Wonder Woman saving a group of visiting schoolkids (who are about 10 or 11 years old) and their teachers, who are taken hostage during this fight.

After Wonder Woman defeats the terrorists, she says to a frightened girl: “Are you okay, princess?” The girl replies, “Can I be you someday?” Wonder Woman answers, “You can be anything you want to be.”

Victor Stone/Cyborg gets the most backstory in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Viewers will see the car accident that led to his scientist father Silas Stone (played by Joe Morton) deciding to save Victor’s life by using the Mother Box on Earth to turn Victor into Cyborg. The love/hate relationship that Victor has with his father is given more emotional gravitas in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” Viewers see in the movie that even before the car accident, there was tension between Silas and Victor because of Silas’ workaholic ways. There are also never-before-seen scenes with Victor’s mother Dr. Elinore Stone (played by Karen Bryson), who died in the car crash.

And speaking of car crashes, there’s an added scene of Barry Allen /The Flash applying for a job as a dog walker at a pet store called Central Bark. Before he walks into the store, he locks eyes with passerby Iris West (played by Kiersey Clemons), in the way that people do when they have mutual attraction to each other. Iris gets into her car to drive off, but a truck driver (who was distracted by reaching for a hamburger he dropped on the floor of the vehicle) slams into Iris’ car, and Barry rescues her.

During this rescue, Barry grabs a hot dog wiener from a food vendor cart that was smashed in the accident and gets back to the pet store in time to feed the wiener to the dogs. Barry then quips to the store manager, “Do I start on Monday?” It’s an example of the touches of humor that the movie has, to show it isn’t completely dark and gloomy. By the way, this car accident/rescue scene is the only appearance of Iris in the movie.

“Justice League” got a lot of criticism for the movie’s corny dialogue that many viewers thought cheapened what should have been a more serious tone to the movie. And even the parts of “Justice League” that were supposed to be comedic were slammed by fans and critics for not being very funny. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” removes a few of the most cringeworthy lines that “Justice League” had.

For example, in the “Justice League” scene where Barry/The Flash and Victor/Cyborg are digging up Superman’s grave, Barry makes an awkward attempt to bond with Victor by extending his hand in a fist bump toward Victor, but Victor doesn’t return the gesture. Barry then makes a remark that the timing might be off and the fist bump might be too racially charged for the moment. These lines are completely cut from “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” but the movie still has The Flash/Cyborg fist bump after the group showdown battle with Steppenwolf.

The gravedigging scene in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is changed to Barry saying to Victor: “Wonder Woman: Do you think she’d go for a younger guy?” Victor replies, “She’s 5,000 years old, Barry. Every guy is a younger guy.”

Another removal from “Justice League” are some words that Lois utters when she and a resurrected Superman are reunited, and he takes her to a corn field on the Kent family farm. In the original “Justice League” Lois tells him, “You smell good.” And he replies, “Did I not before?” In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” Lois’ line is changed to “You spoke.” And Superman gives the same reply, “Did I not before?”

But make no mistake: Even though “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has some dialogue that’s intended to be funny, the movie definitely has a heavier and edgier tone than “Justice League.” Aquaman still does some joyous whooping and hollering during the fight scenes with Steppenwolf, but it’s toned down in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” so he doesn’t sound so much like a happy guy at a frat party. And these superheroes say occasional curse words that wouldn’t make the cut in a movie that’s intended for people all ages.

Even the music that plays during the end credits reflects this more somber and more reflective tone. In “Justice League,” the music playing over the end credits was Gary Clark Jr.’s bluesy-rock, upbeat version of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” the music that plays over the end credits is Allison Crowe’s raw and soulful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is a song that’s often played at funerals in tribute to someone.

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” there’s a lot more screen time devoted to showing the aftermath of death and how the loved ones left behind are grieving, including extended scenes of how Superman’s adoptive mother Martha Kent (played by Diane Lane) and Lois are dealing with Clark/Superman’s death. Arthur/Aquaman keeps going back to the deep ocean to spend time with the preserved body of his father. Victor visits the gravesite of his mother. And then later, Victor goes to the gravesites of his mother and his father, who was killed when a STAR Labs building exploded. Wonder Woman and Aquaman discuss a past war between the Amazons and the Atlanteans and how there are still lingering repercussions of that destruction.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” also delivers more details on what happened in the STAR Labs building during the part of the movie where Superman was resurrected and Steppenwolf stole the Mother Box that was hidden by humans on Earth. This new scene gives more context and shows that Steppenwolf did not get the Mother Box so easily. Victor made a decision that cost him his life, while certain members of Justice League were inside the building soon after the Mother Box was taken.

There are also extended scenes with Mera (played by Amber Heard), Nuidis Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe), Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons) and Deathstroke (played by Joe Manganiello). And the epic battle with Steppenwolf toward the end is truly a spectacle to behold. Viewers will see DeSaad’s and Darkseid’s reactions to this fight. The movie’s epilogue includes a conversation between Bruce and Martian Manhunter that strongly indicates that fans should look for Martian Manhunter to play a major role in another DCEU movie. Simply put: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is mostly a triumph and can easily be considered one the the best DCEU movies of all time.

HBO Max will premiere “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” on March 18, 2021.

Review: ‘The Little Things’ (2021), starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto

January 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rami Malek, Jared Leto and Denzel Washington in “The Little Things” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Little Things”

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Culture Representation: Taking place in California in 1990, the crime drama “The Little Things” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and the working-class.

Culture Clash: Two police detectives with contrasting backgrounds team up to find a serial killer.

Culture Audience: “The Little Things” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching slow-paced and dull crime movies that waste the considerable talent of the starring cast members.

Denzel Washington and Rami Malek in “The Little Things” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Take three Oscar-winning actors and put them in a crime thriller written and directed by filmmaker who has a solid track record of making crowd-pleasers. What could possibly go wrong? When it comes to the disappointing crime drama “The Little Things,” it’s not so much what went wrong but what should have gone right. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (whose best-known movie is 2009’s “The Blind Side”), “The Little Things” ultimately fails to be exciting or innovative, considering that it stars the very talented Academy Award winners Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto.

Almost everything about “The Little Things” has been done before in other movies and done much better. There are key parts of the movie that will definitely get comparisons to director David Fincher’s 1995 classic “Seven,” written by Andrew Kevin Walker and starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey. The irony is that “The Little Things” was written by Hancock back in the early 1990s, before “Seven” (a far superior film) was released.

There are some noticeable similarities in both movies. “Seven” and “The Little Things” are about two cops (one middle-aged, one younger) who team up to hunt down a serial killer. The prime suspect is a mysterious creep who leads them in a cat-and-mouse styled investigation where he keeps them guessing about crucial aspects of the killing spree. (Freeman and Pitt were the cops in “Seven,” while Spacey was the suspected serial killer.)

In “The Little Things,” which takes place over a few days in October 1990, Washington plays the more experienced and older cop named Joe “Deke” Deacon, while Malek is the younger cop named Jim “Jimmy” Baxter. Leto has the role of a sleazy loner named Albert Sparma, who becomes the prime suspect in a string of murders of young women in Southern California. Unfortunately, there’s so much about the story that’s unimaginative and sluggishly paced that there’s very little suspense throughout the story.

The opening scene of “The Little Things” looks like something out of a formulaic horror movie: A young woman is driving by herself at night on a deserted road somewhere in the Los Angeles area. She gets tailgated and then chased by a mysterious driver. She panics and drives off of the road to a diner, whose outside lights are on, but she finds out too late that the diner is closed and no one is there. She runs off into a desert area, and the mystery stalker gives chase on foot. Luckily, she’s able to run back out onto the road and flags down a passing truck in order to get rescued.

Viewers later find out that her name is Tina Salvatore (played by Sofia Vassilieva), and police think that she narrowly escaped from a serial killer who has been targeting young women and stabbing them to death. However, most of the murder victims have been prostitutes, and Tina doesn’t fit that profile. She didn’t even get a good look at the guy who tried to kill her and never heard him talk, so the chances are slim to none that Tina can identify this criminal. Tina, just like most of the female characters in this film, is essentially sidelined. Except for a brief scene later in the movie, this key witness is never seen again.

The women with speaking roles in this movie only serve one of three purposes: to be a crime victim; a current or former love interest; or someone who is subservient to men. These one-dimensional characters include Jimmy’s dutiful and adoring wife Ana (played by Isabel Arraiza); Deke’s ex-wife Marsha (played by Judith Scott), who works as a medical examiner and does whatever Deke asks her to do; and Los Angeles police detective Jamie Estrada (played by Natalie Morales), who follows the lead of her male colleagues and has a very thankless role in the investigation.

Deke is a deputy who works in the Kern County Sheriff Department, which is about 133 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s a much more rural area than Los Angeles, where Deke used to work as a sergeant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide department until he left under a cloud of bad circumstances. While investigating this serial killer, Deke was suspended and had what’s described by a former colleague as a dangerous, stress-related emotional “meltdown.” He also had a heart attack.

Deke’s abrupt departure from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department caused some hard feelings from his former co-workers there. One of them is Deke’s former boss Carl Farris (played by Terry Kinney), the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s homicide captain who ended up replacing Deke with Jimmy. Carl describes Deke’s exit from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department as Deke being “run out” of the department, while Deke describes it as choosing to leave on his own.

It just so happens that Deke has to go back to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department to pick up evidence for a robbery case that he’s working on in Kern County. And what do you know, one of the first people Deke meets when he goes back to the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department is Jimmy, who’s annoyed that Deke’s truck is blocking Jimmy’s parking space. It’s not exactly a “meet cute” moment, but people who won’t know anything about this movie before watching it can immediately tell from this scene that Deke and Jimmy will end up spending a lot of time together.

Deke finds out there’s going to be delay in getting the evidence he needs, so his former boss Carl sarcastically tells Deke he can kill some time by catching up with his former colleagues. One of the few people in the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department who’s still willing to be cordial to Deke is a detective named Sal Rizoli (played by Chris Bauer), who tells Deke over a meal at a diner that things just aren’t the same since Deke left the department. Sal says that the current department employees are “a bunch of nancies” who’ve “got no soul” and the department head honchos have “weeded all the heart out of the place.” Sal describes Jimmy as a “good cop, a college boy, a bit of a holy roller.”

Jimmy and Deke couldn’t have more different lifestyles. Deke is a divorced father of two adult daughters, and he lives by himself in a small, ramshackle house out in the desert. Jimmy is happily married with two young daughters, and he lives in a comfortably middle-class and well-kept home. Deke is not religious and is very jaded about life. Jimmy is supposedly religious and “by the book,” but this shoddily written movie doesn’t really show proof of that, because Jimmy ends up breaking all kinds of laws in his obsessive quest to solve the murders and arrest Albert.

Through a series of implausible circumstances, Jimmy invites Deke to help him investigate the murders, even though Deke is only supposed to be in town for a few days and the cases are out of Deke’s jurisdiction. The evidence that Deke is supposed to bring back to Kern County for an upcoming court case ends up being completely ignored in the rest of the story. That’s how bad this movie is.

Albert becomes a prime suspect because he works for a small-business appliance store that was called to repair a refrigerator in a young woman’s apartment. She ended up getting slaughtered on the day that Albert was supposed to be there for the repair appointment. And so, Deke and Jimmy immediately zero in on oddball Albert after some snooping around at his seedy apartment building. He’s also on their radar because eight years ago, Albert confessed to one of the murders and knew certain details that the killer would know, but he wasn’t held responsible for the murder because he had an alibi when the crime happened.

“The Little Things” wants to keep viewers guessing over whether Albert is the serial killer or if he’s just a nutjob who wants the police to think that he’s the culprit. There are too many plot holes to mention, including how the movie never explains how in a large urban area such as Los Angeles, the police are so sure that all of these murders are being done by the same person. In “Seven,” the serial killer left very specific clues so that law enforcement knew the same person was committing the murders. In “Little Things,” there is no such proof.

Instead, the movie is more concerned about showing the over-used crime movie trope of the “world-weary cop” partnered with the “eager-beaver cop” and how their personalities clash before they learn to work together for the same cause. What Jimmy and Deke have in common is that they’re both obsessed with finding the killer. Getting back on this serial killer case also seems to trigger something disturbing in Deke, because he starts to hallucinate seeing the dead women come to life in his dumpy motel room and in other places. And Deke talks to the corpses. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Washington does a passable job of playing Deke as a cynical and emotionally wounded cop who’s haunted by his past, but “The Little Things” is a very forgettable entry to his impressive body of work. Malek is stuck playing a generic character who makes an implausible switch from being stringent and uptight to being a rogue cop who breaks the law with Deke. Among other law violations, Jimmy acts as a lookout/getaway driver when Deke intrudes in Albert’s apartment, while Albert is away, to look for and possibly steal evidence. Any cop or good screenwriter would know that this illegal break-in would make the evidence inadmissible in court, but it’s in this ludicrous movie anyway.

Leto makes the most effort to bring some unpredictability and nuance to his Albert character, but his performance is hindered by the substandard screenplay that doesn’t give Albert much to do except act like a weird scumbag and annoy Deke and Jimmy. And if these “detectives” are so great, why haven’t they investigated Albert’s activities over time to possibly tie him to the murders? Doing a couple of stakeouts just wouldn’t pass muster in the real world of homicide detective work.

“The Little Things” wants viewers to believe that these murders can be solved at lightning-fast speed during the few days that Deke is in Los Angeles. But ironically, the film moves at a sluggish and mind-numbing pace. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is often cringeworthy too. At one point, Jimmy tells Deke when they have one of their personality clashes: “If you piss on my leg and call it rain, we’re through.”

The movie gets its title because Deke has a mantra that “the little things” count in an investigation, and criminals often get caught because of “the little things” they do when they make mistakes. In other words, Deke is one of those cops who believes in the old saying, “The devil is in the details.” Unfortunately, “The Little Things” is very careless with details, and a more appropriate title for the movie is “The Big Plot Holes.”

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Little Things” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on January 29, 2021.

Jared Leto reveals his snapshot of American culture in his documentary ‘A Day in the Life of America’

April 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jared Leto at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Carla Hay)

“A Day in the Life of America,” directed by Jared Leto, is a documentary that’s exactly what the title says it is: It’s a compilation of footage filmed in various parts of the United States over the course of single day. In this movie, that day was July 4, 2017 (Independence Day), when Leto dispatched 92 camera crews to get footage of people living their lives and voicing their opinions on what America means to them. (Click here for Culture Mix’s review of the film.)

The results show a wide range of emotions and opinions that reflect the diversity—and divisiveness—of the United States. “A Day in the Life of America” had its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. After the screening, Leto (who is also the lead singer/chief songwriter of rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars) sat down for a Q&A, where he answered questions from a moderator and some members of the audience. Here is what he said.

You’ve said this documentary was inspired by National Geographic’s “A Day in the Life” book series. Can you elaborate on why these books captured your attention?

I just think it’s the idea that you could use creativity, use art to further understanding about culture, about society. As a kid, I was just compelled by the images. I encourage everybody to check out that book [“A Day in the Life of America”], because it’s still fascinating to see.

The artists, the photographers, they all found images you didn’t really expect—things that you didn’t necessarily see every day, and it showed you a part of the world that you hadn’t visited. I always love when films do that. I guess that’s what I love about documentary films—they take you to a part of the world or to parts of someone’s life you’d never been to before.

There are parts of the film I don’t agree with, but I thought it was really important to … not censor who we are, who our neighbors are, who America is, and try to give an accurate depiction of the nation in this really tumultuous and important time. Watching the film with everybody made me want to spend more time with certain characters.

Jade Jackson in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Gabe Mayhan and Gabe Gentry)

You mentioned that we’re living in a tumultuous time. Was there a particular incident for you that inspired you to make the film?

It started with the music. It started with the album [“America,” Thirty Seconds to Mars’ 2018 album]. I am in a band. And I had an idea to make an album where I would travel around the country, I would interview people, and I would write songs loosely wrapped in the people and places that I heard.

But I did it kind of backwards. I ended up writing this album, and I thought, “Man, maybe this is that ‘America’ album that I’ve always wanted to do.” And I ended up making the companion piece [the documentary film], and did a couple of other crazy things across the country, but that’s another story.

What criteria did you have in deciding which footage would go into the film?

That’s a good question. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hundreds of hours of footage we have. We were just buried in footage. We couldn’t make a film much longer than this. It was really hard to decide what to include or not. There are so many stories that are compelling. And when you make a film, that’s part of the challenge. What do you include? What don’t you include?

It’s interesting to see people you may not agree with. I’m not so sure I agree with Mr. Drinking Man With a Gun, but I really want to spend a little more time with him. That’s what’s kind of cool about the movie … You don’t have to agree with everybody on all fronts to get along with them, to have them be your neighbor, to have them be your friend. And that’s kind of a really nice thing. But it was hard.

And 10,000 people [from the general public] also contributed. We had our 92 crews, and most of the footage—I would say 95 percent of the footage—came from the crews, because the quality of footage was better, the storytelling was a little bit more succinct and consistent. But some of the footage that you saw at the end was from the footage that was crowdsourced.

DeAndre Upshaw and Stuart Hausmann in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Evett Rolsten)

Part of this documentary project involved asking people who don’t live in the United States to give their opinions of America. That footage wasn’t really a part of the film. What did you find out from that footage?

Should I tell you the truth? You can probably imagine. I did ask people from all over the world to send in their thoughts, because I was thinking of including that. You’ve got to ask your neighbors if you want to get an accurate depiction of who you are.

We did end up using that footage. We kept [the movie] in the States, with the exception of the Space Station. Things that were broadcast on the news or radio were also fair game. This [footage in the documentary] is all one day, and it’s just a tiny tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot that happens in this country. But the footage that we got outside the States was interesting.

What was the most important lesson you learned through this process?

It’s always a good reminder that ideas are pretty worthless unless you do something about it. This is a film that was an idea for a really long time, and it’s fun to see it become a reality, to dig in, get a great group of people together, and go make something happen.

I love to tell stories. I love to make things and show things with the world, and it’s an absolutely amazing thing to do. I never take it for granted. It’s great to watch it with you guys. I learned so much talking with you. [He says jokingly] And I’m going to take the film now, and totally ruin it, and make into five-minute episodes for Instagram.

Renan Ozturk in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Renan Ozturk)

This movie seems awfully dark. Did you did find a lot of people who were patriotic, or did you think it wasn’t worth including?

We did find quite a bit of optimism. We didn’t ask people to film dark stuff. I think we were specific about some things—events we wanted to capture, certain people we wanted to spend time with—but we didn’t dictate what stories people told. We didn’t dictate a point of view. We went to every single state in the country, so we didn’t avoid areas.

It is dark, but I do hear a surprising amount of optimism. I hear people go, “Yeah, shit’s pretty tough right now, but I still think we can do it,” which is pretty incredible. What’s so important about America and the American dream is that we have instilled inside of us this idea that with hard work, with passion, with help from our friends and neighbors, that anything is possible. And I still took that away, personally, from the film.

It’s a tough world out there for a lot of people in this country, and that’s what we see. But I didn’t write the script. I’m just the messenger, so it’s really your movie. It’s not mine. I just held up the mirror with 92 other [camera crews].

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘A Day in the Life of America’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

A Day in the Life of America
DeAndre Upshaw and Stuart Hausmann in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Evett Rolsten)

“A Day in the Life of America”

Directed by Jared Leto

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival  in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto, who is also the lead singer/songwriter of the rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, has been steadily building a portfolio of interesting work as a director—beginning with Thirty Seconds to Mars videos, and progressing to the award-winning 2012 documentary feature “Artifact” (which chronicled the band’s fight to get out of its contract with EMI Music) and the non-fiction digital series “Beyond the Horizon” and “Great Wide Open.” The documentary “A Day in the Life of America” is his most ambitious directorial project so far. Inspired by National Geographic’s “A Day in the Life” book series, the documentary is a fascinating mosaic of people in the United States, all filmed on a single day: July 4, 2017. Leto solicited video footage from the public, but the majority of what made it into the final cut of the movie is footage that was professionally filmed by the 92 camera crews that Leto dispatched across the United States to capture everyday people on Independence Day. The documentary is also a companion piece to Thirty Seconds to Mars’ 2018 album “America.”

Because we’re living in an era where millions of people have put their video diaries on the Internet, one of the documentary’s biggest accomplishments is that it takes all of that type of noise and shapes it into an eclectic and riveting symphony of varied human perspectives. Not all of it is easy to digest. There are so many contrasting viewpoints expressed in the documentary, that people watching this film are bound to see things that will make them angry, sad, offended, entertained, hopeful and inspired. The movie’s top-notch editing, seamless cinematography and compelling Thirty Seconds to Mars music score all contribute to making “A Day in the Life of America” an engrossing cinematic journey. The movie does not interview political pundits or news commentators to give their distracting opinions. The people in the movie are not identified by name when we see them talk. It’s a wise decision, because what everyday people have to say in this movie is more important than the possibility that anyone could become a star by being in this film.

“A Day in the Life of America,” whose main scenes are shown in chronological order, begins with a pregnant woman going into labor during a home birth. During the course of the documentary, viewers hear from a wide variety of people from just about every region of the United States. In Arkansas, two drunk redneck men fire assault rifles in the air, and complain that white Americans are a dying breed. In California, a porn actress is shown working on the set of one of her movies and talks about how much she loves her job. In New York, a Hasidic trans woman shares her experiences of what it feels like to be discriminated against in and outside her religion. In West Virginia, a young, white single mother who’s addicted to meth smokes the drug on camera, and expresses shame and guilt for not being a good parent. In Texas, a gay black man at a skating rink expresses his thoughts on LGBTQ rights and the ongoing fight to be accepted in the same way as heterosexuals.

On the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., people who are gathered at the Capitol Building range from Donald Trump supporters to anti-Trump protesters. Trump and wife Melania are shown greeting the crowd outside the White House. Speaking of Trump, his administration’s Muslim ban—and people’s contrasting views about it—are given notable screen time in this movie.

For many viewers, the most emotionally triggering aspect of “A Day in the Life of America” is the movie’s raw look at racism. In North Carolina, male and female members of the Ku Klux Klan are shown planning for a race war and spewing hatred against people who aren’t white and Christian. In Louisiana, African American adults talk about how there are two Americas: one that gives more privileges to whites and one where people who aren’t white still have to struggle to be accepted as equals. Meanwhile, the black kids in the Louisiana footage express more optimism about the future, saying that America represents freedom to them.

One of the movie’s effective devices is how contrasting viewpoints are edited right next to each other. After the KKK members from North Carolina are shown ranting that immigrants are ruining America, the next footage shows Native Americans in South Dakota celebrating their heritage. In another scene, there’s a ceremony where people are becoming U.S. citizens. The next scene is of white nationalist American Freedom Party members gathered for a meeting and talking about how they want their own country so they can have stricter laws against immigration. There’s a scene with people dressed as Revolutionary War-era Americans during a patriotic ceremony in Virginia. That footage is followed by a scene of a Muslim teenage girl in a boxing ring talking about how she won a hard-fought legal battle for her right to wear a hijab while boxing.

The documentary also takes a searing look at crime in America, particularly in how crime disproportionately affects black people. In Chicago, black residents in a working-class neighborhood express fear and sadness on the Fourth of July when they can’t tell if they’re hearing fireworks or gunshots. During filming, police arrive because a boy got shot. (The shooting is not in the movie.) In Detroit, young black residents on the streets are jaded and pessimistic about their future. In Oklahoma, a black man in prison (the details of his criminal record aren’t mentioned) talks about not getting justice and feeling like he’s invisible.

Health care is another big issue that’s covered in the movie. Tennis player Sebastien Jacques (who recovered from a life-threatening brain tumor) is shown in Kansas during his Walk Across America campaign to promote hope in dealing with health problems. That footage is in contrast to the next scene that shows a bed-ridden man dying from cancer.

Of course, it’s impossible for one movie to capture all the subcultures and issues that exist in the United States. For example, the wealthiest “one-percent” of people in America are noticeably absent from the film’s featured interviews. It would have been great to include the perspective of a self-made billionaire—not necessarily someone who’s famous, but someone who represents what is often described as the ultimate American Dream. Even though the super-wealthy aren’t really given a spotlight as a contrast to all the poor and middle-class people who highlighted are in the movie, “A Day in the Life of America” does a fairly comprehensive job of capturing a great deal of the contemporary diversity that exists in the United States. Simply put: “A Day in the Life of America” just might be the most honest documentary about the United States that could be released this year, because it’s the collective voices of people in America speaking their truths.

UPDATE: PBS’s “Independent Lens” series will premiere “A Day in the Life of America” on January 11, 2021.