The Final Year

During the last year of his presidency, it was business as usual for Barack Obama and his staff. Documentary filmmaker Greg Barker concentrates on the most powerful man in the world’s foreign policy team – Secretary of State John Kerry, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and National Security Advisor Susan Rice – as they manage American foreign policy during “The Final Year.”

Laura's Review: B

Three years after the death of her struggling actress mom Amanda (Malin Akerman, "Watchmen," "I'll See You in My Dreams"), Max (Taissa Farmiga, TV's 'American Horror Story: Coven') is begged by Duncan (Thomas Middleditch, HBO's 'Silicon Valley') to appear at a campus anniversary screening of her mother's most enduring role, that of an 80's scream queen in "Camp Bloodbath." Max reluctantly agrees, but when a raging fire engulfs the theater she machetes her way through the screen to escape and she and her friends find themselves within the movie they were just watching in "The Final Girls." Screenwriters Joshua John Miller & M.A. Fortin have come up with a twist on the meta-horror movie that gave us films like "Scream" and "The Cabin in the Woods." Director Todd Strauss-Schulson ("A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas") milks it for every knowing wink at the genre's filmmaking tropes while grounding it with a truly moving theme of grief and letting go. "The Final Girls" is a lot more clever and inventive than one might expect. After kicking off with a trailer of the fictional film, we're thrust into a flashback showing what a terrific mom Amanda was, and how much her career was haunted by her early slasher film. Once Max, her upstanding boyfriend Chris (Alexander Ludwig, "The Hunger Games," "Lone Survivor"), Chris's bitchy ex Vicki (Nina Dobrev, TV's 'The Vampire Diaries'), Duncan and Aunt Gertie (Alia Shawkat, "Cedar Rapids," TV's 'Arrested Development') realize where they are, Max begins to wonder if she can save her mother from Bloodbath's homicidal masked maniac Billy Murphy (stuntman Dan B. Norris). After the film's yellow VW van has circled up to the group for the umpteenth time (on a cycle reflecting the movie's running time), they accept slutty Tina's (Angela Trimbur, "The Kings of Summer") offer of a ride. Max gets tears in her eyes as soon as 'Nancy,' her mom's character, sits up in the back seat. Nancy tries to comfort her, mistaking her tears for homesickness, an unexpectedly lovely bit of writing and acting that sets the film's dual tone. But when Nancy confides in Max that she's planning on losing her virginity to egotistical horndog Kurt (Adam DeVine, TV's 'Modern Family,' "The Intern"), Max is determined to stop the fateful deflowering. The filmmakers have a field day playing with flashbacks, slo-mo, set design, title cards and "Friday the 13th" musical cues while the group tries to subvert the film while also playing into it. But at some point their presence begins to adversely affect "Camp Bloodbath's" natural order and when the long awaited 'final girl' Paula (Chloe Bridges, TV's 'The Carrie Diaries') finally makes her appearance it's distressingly short lived, making her role up for grabs. When one realizes where the movie's headed, it seems impossible to pull off, but Strauss-Schulson lands it perfectly. The beautifully assembled cast is solid, standouts being Akerman and the ever reliable Shawkat, whose reactions to Middleditch's ad libs are priceless. Cast against type, Dobrev is capable of making us dislike Vicki then turn it all around. Farmiga is saddled with a straight (wo)man role, but she's a solid center and conveys Max's loss. Grade:

Robin's Review: B-

Love him or hate him, President Barack Obama left a legacy of hope at the end of his tenure in the White House. Unfortunately, the current inhabitant of the Oval Office is systematically dismantling that legacy for some unfathomable reason. But, the filmmakers, during their year long fly-on-the-wall look into the last year of Obama’s administration did not know or expect the result of the 2016 presidential election. I was reluctant to watch “The Final Year” because, after the past year of political disaster and subterfuge, I simply did not want to sit down and cry. I, like many people the morning of 9 November 2016, made a wish that we could keep President Obama for four more years. (Of course, the XXII Amendment of the Constitution prohibits that from happening – but we could still wish.) The filmmakers and the subjects did not expect the outcome of the election and this is what makes “The Final Year” a fascinating study of the four people in the Obama administration that helped shape our foreign policy. The thing that I notice most as Barker’s camera follows his subjects is the dedication to the policy makers’ job and their country. We follow each of the four as they travel around the world, with the president and on their own, to such varied lands as Vietnam, Laos, Hiroshima, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Paris and Greece. As the final year progresses, the staff begins the lengthy preparations for the smooth transition to the incoming administration. They assumed, early on, that the transition would be to Hillary Clinton. The realization, toward the end of the campaign, that would not be is met with palpable sadness. Here is a case where the filmmakers and their subjects, over their months together, live with certain expectations of seamless transition of power. In a weird twist of fate, Hillary lost and Donald won and the tone of “The Final Year” turned from hopeful and optimistic to resigning to what that fate brought on us all.