A first-person semi-documentary by Nance about his uneven love life, which also contains a second-person semi-documentary by Nance (How Would You Feel?) about his uneven love life, plus fragments of a first-person documentary by Nance’s ex Namik, plus drawn animation and stop-motion and other things. The presentation is great fun, and though all the navel-gazing relationship talk gets to be a bit much, it’s not an overlong movie and all the shape-shifting kept me happy.

Not the first documentary I’ve seen to contain its own test screening. I thought Nance had a new movie in Sundance last month, but I guess it was a live performance of his project where he googles phrases about black kids and follows the results down a wormhole, then posts the results on his vimeo page. I watched for a few minutes, but the online version seems to be missing essential narration.

Flying Lotus did the music for this and LoveTrue which I saw a few weeks later. And I tried to look up articles or interviews about the film but instead got caught up in a highly entertaining essay Nance wrote about Exodus: Gods and Kings in which he convincingly labels Ridley Scott a white supremacist. Ah no wait, here’s a Filmmaker interview in which Nance claims he was playing “the type of guy she wouldn’t like” on camera so the story would make sense, which complicates things even more.

Second weekend afternoon in a row I’ve watched a mid-1950’s true-crime drama. It’s not intentional, they’re just the shortest movies I’ve got. Newsreel-style intro tells us about a wave of riots protesting poor conditions in American prisons, featuring real footage, then cut to cell block 11 (the punishment block) in a California (?) prison where the inmates have decided to join the trend, holding their captors captive and calling for the warden and the press.

A tight, tense little movie which mostly comes down on the side of the prisoners – most of them, anyway. Master negotiator Dunn ends up fighting for control with Crazy Mike. Dunn gets an audience with the press, then Mike throws a knife into a guy outside. The next morning some lower-security cell blocks escape and join in the action. The cops contemplate blasting a hole in the cell block wall, which would also kill the guards held within, but ultimately the governor caves.

Warden (left) with Commissioner:

Politics: the first black guy who opens his mouth gets knocked out by Dunn. One of the ringleaders’ demands is that the young naïve guys be kept away from “certain prisoners” – I assumed they meant the crazy violent ones like Mike, but the commentary says it’s code for The Gays. And the warden basically wants the same things as the prisoners, has wanted it for years, but his hands are tied by tight-fisted state politicians.

Victory! I think that’s Crazy Mike at left, Dunn in center:

Noble Leader Dunn was Neville Brand (Eaten Alive and The Ninth Configuration), Evil Leader Mike was Leo Gordon, who had served time at San Quentin, and played Dillinger in Baby Face Nelson. The Warden: Emile Meyer (the priest in Paths of Glory, corrupt cop in Sweet Smell of Success), Commissioner Haskell (the governor’s stooge who gets knifed): Frank Faylen of 99 River Street and The Lost Weekend, and the injured, sympathetic hostage guard: cartoon voice actor Paul Frees. Written by friendly-witness commie Richard Collins, an early work by Siegel a couple years before his Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

C. Fujiwara:

The film had its origin in Wanger’s own experience as an inmate. After shooting agent Jennings Lang in a jealous rage over Wanger’s wife, Joan Bennett, Wanger was convicted for assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to four months, which he served at a minimum-­security prison north of Los Angeles. He emerged so appalled by the experience that he set out to use his access to mass media to arouse the public in favor of prison reform … With [Siegel] at the reins, Riot becomes not just a social-problem film but a ferocious depiction of human beings pushed past their limits.

“You know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul towards justice has ossified in white men and women … White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.”

I’m not fully convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln is realistic – he seems too wise and charming, too capable and upright, too able to manipulate fellow politicians who ought to know better, too perfectly Spielbergian. But that kind of politics sure felt good to watch in the present day when leaders of the “Party of Lincoln” run our government like cartoon villains. This is actually covered in the film when TL Jones dresses down a spineless adversary: “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you’ve attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.” Even after all the acclaim I wasn’t sure it’d be that captivating a film, but every performance is on point, the story is true-ish and meaningful and inspiring, there’s drama and humor and it’s got the best lighting I’ve seen in any movie all year.

Opens unexpectedly with post-battle David Oyelowo talking to the president. Besides Lincoln and his wife Sally Field and son Joey Gordon-Levitt there’s David Strathairn as the hesitant secretary of state, James Spader and John Hawkes as the president’s lobbyists sent to change senators’ minds (via bribery if necessary), Tommy Lee Jones (with a hairpiece so ridiculous he makes a joke of it himself) as a radical leftist senator. Walt Goggins and Adam Driver pop up, and Stephen Henderson of Fences, and Jackie Earle Haley and hundreds more.

Soldiers sent to meet the confederate delegation:

I didn’t know who James Baldwin (writer/activist) was, nor one of the friends/subjects of his unfinished manuscript, Medgar Evers (killed for working for the NAACP to integrate schools). So I watched this half as history lesson and half as experience, taking in Baldwin’s great language and experiences, the director’s intercutting of film history (Baldwin commented regularly on the movies), and Sam Jackson’s narration in a low, very un-Sam-Jackson voice.

M. Sicinski:

Baldwin’s prose focuses on his memories and observations of these three pivotal men, but also veers into other related questions: his sense of duty to leave his expat life in Paris behind and return to America at the height of the Civil Rights movement; the historical legacy of slavery and the culture of the South; the psychopathology of the white man; and his becoming reconciled with his position as a “witness,” a man of letters in the midst of a historical epoch too often cemented by bloodshed.

Sicinski comments positively on Peck’s filmmaking – M. D’Angelo counters:

The conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words … and he does a thuddingly literal job … Most of this just isn’t a movie — it’s a visual audiobook.

Second of the oscar-nominated documentaries we’ve seen at the Ross this month. We’re almost through the O.J. doc, about to watch Life Animated, and we’ll see if we can get to 13th before True/False.

Dramatisation of when totalitarianism expert Arendt was sent by The New Yorker to cover Israel’s trial of nazi controller Eichmann and she returned with a different story than everyone was expecting, bringing up the complicity of certain Jews in the holocaust and Eichmann’s non-evil ordinariness. Besides the social problems this causes, Arendt (Barbara Sukowa, Fassbinder’s Lola, also Europa and M. Butterfly) appears to be in constant, low-burning inner crisis. It’s well-acted, but I’m not sure the movie does a great job of visualizing philosophical thought by showing Arendt looking pained and distant for two hours. Katy was distracted by her “open marriage” which her generally supportive husband Heinrich took advantage of while Hannah dreamed of days past with Heidegger, and what it had to do with anything. The use of actual Eichmann footage instead of hiring an actor was a nice touch.

Six more Charlie Brooker-written dystopian fictions, now streaming in our dystopian reality.


Nosedive

Not the best opening to the new series, too blunt and screamy for my tastes. A yelp/ebay/etc star-rating system gone out of control, with everyone rating everyone else over every interaction, and all social status and even home loans depending on personal ratings. Lacie (Bryce Howard of Lady in the Water) gets increasingly desperate as her plan to increase her ratings for a society wedding backfire, and she spirals down until she can’t even get picked up hitchhiking due to her short-term social media reputation. Trucker Cherry Jones gives her an inspirational speech about living outside society, then Lacie crashes the wedding. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), cowritten by Parks & Rec‘s Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, and featuring the best Black Mirror music ever, courtesy Max Richter, who incorporates the downvote sound effect into the music during Lacie’s death spiral.


Playtest

Cooper (Wyatt Russell, the guy who pretends to still be in college in Everybody Wants Some!!), kind of a likeable idiot, gets stranded while traveling the world, signs up to earn some quick cash playtesting a VR game. I’m a sucker for movies with dream/game layers where you can’t tell what’s real, and this was a good one. The idea behind the game is a haunted-house horror experience that uses your mind’s own fears against you, and Coop’s biggest fear is losing his mind like his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father did, which is what happens when his attempts at trade-secret espionage interfere with the equipment and it fries his brain. Director Dan Trachtenberg made 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Coop playing an early, harmless demo:


Shut Up and Dance

I don’t think this one is based on any technology that doesn’t already exist. After trying to have affairs or look at child porn or other blackmailable offenses, strangers with prankster-infected laptops get dragged around the city making deliveries and being asked to do increasingly terrible things, including bank robbery (“I saw it in a documentary. It looked easy”) and fistfighting to the death. Then their secrets get leaked to friends and family anyway, a grinning trollface sent to each of the victims. Director James Watkins made The Woman in Black and Eden Lake, lead Alex Lawther played young Turing in The Imitation Game, and his older partner in crime was Jerome Flynn of Ripper Street, not Michael Smiley like I first hoped.


San Junipero

Just what I needed after the nihilism of the previous episode, a lovely story with complicated ideas about (virtual) life and (actual) death. Opens with a Lost Boys poster and Belinda Carlisle song on the radio and Max Headroom on TVs, pushing its 1987 setting hard, but then “one week later” we’re in 1980, and “one week later” it’s 1996. Shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis of Always Shine) met exhuberant Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) one night in a time-hopping Matrix fantasy world but didn’t have the nerve to follow through on their relationship, and now searches for her every week during their time-limited trials, as their actual, aged bodies live in separate nursing homes. The most human-feeling Black Mirror, and also the one that ends in the most inhuman manner, a robot arm attending to its databank of disembodied consciousnesses. The director did last season’s Be Right Back, also about personal/virtual relationships.


Men Against Fire

Not my favorite episode, by director Jakob Verbruggen (Whishaw/Broadbent miniseries London Spy) who makes a hash of the action scenes, but it’s one of my favorite evil technologies – military implants that help soldiers kill the enemy without hesitation by making the enemy “roaches” look and sound inhuman. Lead soldier Stripe, whose equipment glitches so he can see the truth, is Malachi Kirby of the new Roots remake. He’s briefly allied with Ariane Labed (Alps, The Lobster) before his partner catches up with him, kills Ariane and his equipment is recalibrated to brainwash him back into blissful ignorance and conformity.


Hated in the Nation

A combination of previous ideas – rogue hacker messes with people over social media leading to their deaths, and intrusive government technology leads to dystopian horror. In this case the gov-tech is bee-drones which replace the country’s dying honeybees and happen to double as ubiquitous surveillance devices. After our hacker uses a sort of twitter poll to let the people decide whose brains the bees will burrow into through their ears, cop Kelly Macdonald (voice star of Brave) tries to protect future victims. She finally gets lead beemaker Benedict Wong (Prometheus and The Martian) to try deactivating all bugs, but instead they go after everyone who participated in the online death polls, killing hundreds of thousands. A nicely apocalyptic way to leave off. Director James Hawes made a TV remake of The 39 Steps a few years back.

“Vote – this is something I cannot do … because I am a felon”

Opens with camouflaged forest war games, then cut to scraggly Mark and girlfriend Lisa, who are often naked and taking drugs. Such shockingly good photography and uncensored access to the subjects that I had to stop the movie and make sure it’s a documentary. And it’s… complicated. Minervini: “There is no screenplay, there are no fake characters. People aren’t playing themselves, they are themselves. Re-enactment or direction I still consider a necessary tool to successfully to complete a project with such a high degree of difficulty.”

Family visits, political talk, daily life, drug making and taking, a funeral, work and sex and so on… it’s a portrait of ordinary lives, but not the kind we see in movies.

Mark’s grandma:

Working at the junkyard with Jim for $20 per day:

Then the last twenty minutes is something new: a fourth of july weekend training camp and/or drunken party for an alarmingly large white militia group united in their hatred of “Obama” and love of “freedom”.

“Some of the people in the militia are related to the people in the first part. I won’t go any deeper, because there is a certain anonymity that has to be granted there, but there are family ties between the two worlds.”

Celluloid Liberation Front:

Minervini has been observing these communities throughout his filmography with neither ethnographic pretensions nor sentimental bias, counting on that rarest of all aesthetic devices: human empathy. In The Other Side the spectator enters a world alien from his own with a subjective purity … it is that basic formal honesty that makes The Other Side a film to be felt and experienced for what it does to you rather than for what it is supposed to mean.

Minervini in Filmmaker:

I’ve already approached the topics of pain and fear, and I needed to dig into the sociopolitical causes of it. I think my intentions are very clear with The Other Side … This time, it is the angry me that takes over while filming, who wants to look for who’s responsible for this self-destructive, violent social behavior. It was time for me as an American filmmaker, living and working in America, to look for the responsibility at an institutional level.

Minervini in Cinema Scope:

Instead of a revolution, Southerners want devolution. They think that they would be better off with a more powerful local government than with an allegedly intrusive central one. This false belief is partly due to the chronically low level of political knowledge in the US … it remains a largely economically divided, pathologically anxious, and inherently racist country, brainwashed by fallacious information on crime rates, national security threats, and, last but not least, the ever-incumbent fear of the loss of individual freedoms.

Sam wanders his Italian island town with his slingshot, dealing with a sight-correcting eyepatch, getting family history stories from his elders. Meanwhile, the Lampedusa coast guard detects and rescues overloaded boats full of dead and desperate refugees. We’re told these things are happening nearby each other, though they never intersect.

Rosi in Fandor:

Samuele, he’s afraid of the life coming. Everything he does is somehow creating suspense for something we don’t know how to face, with our laziness and our anxiety: the world that is coming through Lampedusa … Subconsciously the viewer identifies with Samuele, but they are not able to say that they do. So in the end they’ll say it’s a film about migrants, but it’s not. It’s really on the coming of age of a little kid who lives on an island where everything reminds him about the sea. About the harshness of the sea, about the life on the sea, about becoming a fisherman, about suffering the sea sickness. But the people are not aware of that. So at the end they come out and all they remember is a film about migration.

Of course Rosi is the guy who made the terrifying guy-in-a-room interview doc El Sicario Room 164, not the terrifying guy-in-a-room interviewing doc Collapse, which is what I told Katy.

Celluloid Liberation Front is suspicious:

Rosi’s idea of cinema remains highly questionable and Fire at Sea is ethically inadequate at best. Like virtually anything dealing with refugees these days, the film never bothers to mention the reasons why the wretched of the earth are being forced to flee their countries. This approach puts us in the very comfortable position of not being implicated, leaving us free to think about the amount of indignation and mercy we have to spare.

Jamie is growing up with single mom Annette Bening, best friend Elle Fanning and housemate Greta Gerwig, three-ish generations of women (plus would-be father-figure Billy Crudup), and Bening asks the two girls to help her out by spending more time with Jamie and talking with him about life and such. Sounds cornball but it’s a beautiful, warm-hearted movie. It’s maybe a variation on those movies about modern-era disconnection where the characters can’t understand each other’s points of view, only in this case they really try hard and still fail, plus it’s a comedy (or tragedy: see below) with a great soundtrack.

Does Greta get to dance? Of course she does:

D. Ehrlich:

20th Century Women focuses its attention on a single idyllic summer and strains to hold on to that one perfect moment when everything felt like it would last forever. This is the rare movie that’s redeemed by its unchecked nostalgia.

The director’s other parental film was Beginners, which I apparently need to see. He’s not the guy from R.E.M., and Pitchfork says he designed the cover of Sonic Youth’s “Washing Machine.”

Mills:

Directing is kinda like running a mid-sized American city. You’d better be used to a whole bunch of different shit going on that contradicts itself. And often when you’re doing things that are opposites or contradictory — like punk and Santa Barbara, or an intimate scene from a distance — film for whatever reason loves that. It loves these cross purposes.

M. Sicinski:

[Dorothea/Bening] knows that she loves Jamie, and wants to raise him to be a good man. But her 70s feminism leaves her unsure what a good man looks like … We watch as Dorothea’s brash feminism ages into cautious motherhood and an unexpected suburban conservatism … The turning point of the film, really, is an interaction between Dorothea and Jamie. After reading various books on feminism, Jamie reads his mother a passage that struck him as poignant, and made him feel a tinge of deep empathy with her. It was about how society discards women of a certain age. Dorothea, unprepared to hear this from her young son, shames him. “You think you understand me now, because you read a book?”

From this point forward, she doesn’t exactly support Jamie’s growth as a pro-feminist, sexually aware man. She doesn’t always stymie it, but her enthusiasm dampens. Jamie clearly didn’t intend to mansplain, but Dorothea’s reaction is potent because in a way it is Mills setting the stage for the Reagan 80s. Like so many others, it seems, Dorothea thought she wanted new forms of thought, but when they hit too close to home, chose instead to retreat. Add together enough of these small private slights, confusions, and resentments, and you have a tragedy.