THE YOUTUBE EFFECT. As a Luddite, my contact with YouTube is infrequent, shallow and glancing: the occasional how-to, stand-up specials, squinty-eyed late-night music video ping-pong sessions, that's about it. Living as I do in the allegory of the cave, though, I have at least some sense of how central the site is to many (most?) peoples' experience of the world. It is a primary source for the Zillenials and Zoomers with whom I am acquainted, essentially a search engine that is the entire internet. I have peers who, from frugality and paranoia, use it in lieu of music and movie streaming services, understandably seduced by the very real depth and breadth of the catalog and the more spurious sense that, for its megalithic omnipresence, it must somehow be more secure — or at least more anonymous — than anything subscription based. Not so, says director Alex Winter's latest.
Winter, best known to most as Bill S. Preston, Esq., has built a mid-late period career directing insightful, balanced documentary features on subjects as disparate as Blockchain and Frank Zappa. With The YouTube Effect, he sets out to examine the origins and implications of the second most used website in the world (which is in turn a subsidiary of the most used). In exposing the odious undersides of those internet stones, Winter also excavates the nature of information-age corporate monopoly, the myth of neutrality and the troubling intersection of self-generated content and corporate control.
Using interviews with YouTube's founders, users, executives and victims, combined with footage culled from congressional hearings and the site itself, Winter retraces YouTube's steps from quasi-innocent startup — no real surprise the site was initially imagined as a video adjunct of objectification engine Hot or Not — to teenage starmaker to global information-harvesting superpower. There are stops along the way at the neo-fascist American political movement, the uprating of murder videos and a number of other troubling corners of the new internet, but the movie's agenda leans more on critical thinking than it does any particular ideology. All roads within it lead to the inevitability of the present moment, though, when YouTube and its algorithm have captured the attention and the data of most of the world's population, created a self-sustaining ecosystem of fame and wealth generation and, hopefully, sparked a growing backlash against its own monopolization and monetization.
The argument is introduced in The YouTube Effect that a website or other media outlet can only be as bad as the median cruelty of its users, but the movie tidily turns that notion on its head, countering that vileness and atavism are easy click generators, ergo in the best interest of the multi-billion-dollar company playing host to them.
There is a corollary here to Bobcat Goldthwait's Call Me Lucky (2015), which took up the life and work of the now-late comedian Barry Crimmins as its subject. Crimmins, a survivor of childhood sexual violence, discovered in the early days of the internet that AOL, certainly among others, was actively hosting child abuse chat rooms. Crimmins undertook an independent investigation, eventually sharing his findings with the FBI and Congress, all of which led to AOL finally shutting down the chat rooms in question.
Although Winter doesn't name-check Crimmins, they share a spirit of advocacy, a desire to re-empower the individual in the face of the seemingly unstoppable, profit-driven rape machine. Unfortunately, The YouTube Effect leaves us with minimal hope: Maybe the machine really is too big to fail. 99M. STREAMING.
STRAYS. On an entirely unrelated note, here is an R-rated comedy about dogs with the voices of celebrities!
Reggie (Will Farrell), a cute little ratty thing, finds himself adrift in the city after his definitively deadbeat owner Doug (Will Forte) tries to get rid of him once and for all. Reggie falls in with Bug (Jamie Foxx), a Boston terrier with codependency and abandonment issues, Maggie (Isla Fisher), an Australian shepherd with a family and a preternatural sniffer, and Hunter (Randall Park), a neurotic police academy washout who now provides emotional support to dying elderlies. Setting out initially to reunite with Doug, Reggie comes around to the idea of exacting revenge instead, meanwhile finding true fellowship with his ragtag road crew.
Picking apart a movie like this, provided it is the least bit charming and successful, goes against the very nature of comedy. Fortunately, Strays has enough going for it to outweigh its weaknesses. Sure, some of the jokes could have used more work. And yes, a movie about real dogs with CG lips uttering lines is inherently limited in its visual potential. But overall, Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum (his 2013 The Short Game is positively charming) and produced by the formidable Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (among others), balances the sweet and sour to amusing if not astounding success. R. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
ASTEROID CITY. Stars, stargazers and awkward family moments of deadpan humor shot in the Wes Anderson filter. PG13. 105M. MINOR.
BARBIE. Barbie and Ken live in a colorful, seemingly idyllic world but want to leave it behind for the real one. Where can I sign up for this version of Freaky Friday? With Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Will Ferrell. PG13. 114M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BLIPPI'S BIG DINO ADVENTURE. The kid's series on the big screen. G. 68M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BLUE BEETLE. Xolo Maridueña plays a teen granted alien superpowers in this DC Comics adventure. PG13. 127M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
GRAN TURISMO. Archie Madekwe as a gamer who wins a spot on a real race track with David Harbour as his new mentor. PG13. 135M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE HILL. Baseball biopic starring Dennis Quaid and Colin Ford. PG. 126M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JURASSIC PARK 3D (1993). Spoiler: Nature finds a way. PG13. 127M. BROADWAY.
THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER. Dracula's on a boat! Starring Javier Botet, Aisling Franciosi and Corey Hawkins. R. 119M. BROADWAY.
THE MEG 2: THE TRENCH. Jason Statham and Jing Wu fight another prehistorically ridiculous shark. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY.
OPPENHEIMER. Christopher Nolan's biopic about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the atomic bomb." Starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. R. 180M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
RETRIBUTION. Liam Neeson stars a bank executive trying not to get blown up with his kids by a criminal mastermind. R. 90M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SOUND OF FREEDOM. Child trafficking drama/thinly veiled Q-Anon propaganda film. Starring Jim Caviezel. PG13. 135M. BROADWAY.
STRAYS. An abandoned dog falls in with a gang of tough pooches in this talking-pet comedy voiced by Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx and Isla Fisher. R. 93M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE 3D. Mustachioed brothers race to save a princess. Starring Chris Pratt, Charlie Day and Anna Taylor-Joy. PG. 92M. BROADWAY.
TALK TO ME. Aussie teens commune with spirits via an embalmed forearm handshake and things get ... out of hand. R. 95M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEM. The crime-fighting brothers emerge from New York City's sewers for an animated adventure. PG. 99M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456