THE CAMPAIGN OF MINER BO (2020, doc)

October 19, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. During her campaign for the presidency, Hillary Clinton appeared at an Ohio Town Hall meeting, and while pushing green energy alternatives said, “We are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” It’s the kind of statement that makes headlines, and it did. Of course, Hillary went on to say that it was important we don’t forget about the people that work and depend on the coal industry, but that never became part of the story. Director Todd Drezner does include it here, while mostly focusing on how West Virginian native Bo Copley, a former mining company employee, became a candidate for U.S. Senate.

As a refresher, we see Hillary’s Town Hall statements, and we also see the clip of the roundtable where Bo Copley handed a family photograph to Hillary, confronting her with the real life impact of shutting down coal production.  That simple gesture turned Bo Copley into a “coal miner celebrity”, ultimately pushing him towards the campaign that inspired this documentary. The film opens in June 2017 in Williamson, West Virginia, as Bo rehearses his announcement speech. He’s neither polished, nor confident, and admits, this is “not my natural habitat”.

One thing that quickly becomes clear – Bo is a good dude. He’s a family man and a man of faith. Another thing that’s just as clear – Bo is in over his head for this process. He’s a well-intentioned nice buy, but his platform seems to be, “I think an everyday person should represent everyday people.” This happens to be a highly contested Republican primary featuring five other candidates, two of which are skilled politicians, and a third is a mining company owner who served prison time for a tragedy that killed 29 miners.

The film is structured as a countdown to the primary, and it follows Bo on some of his campaign stops – most of which reinforce that he’s not equipped for this race. He is the prime example of a guy who wants a change in politics and is willing to step up, but simply doesn’t have the understanding … or the funds … to actually compete. He believes if people like him, they’ll vote for him; so there’s no need to ask for votes, even as he’s coaching a kids’ soccer team.

Bo’s wife Lauren is also included here, and she’s supportive of his run, though not initially. Their Christian beliefs are on full display. Director Drezner’s and Bo’s best moment occurs during a talk show interview when the candidate answers the obvious question, “Why start your political career running for the U.S. Senate.” Bo’s answer is spot on and thought-provoking, and goes to the heart of the flaw in our system. The film should be watched by anyone looking to dive into a political run, as it excels as a how-not-to guide.

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MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003, South Korea)

October 19, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Between 1986 and 1991, 10 women were raped and brutally murdered in the province of Gyeong-gi outside Seoul. Considered South Korea’s first serial killer case, the crime went unsolved until 2019. The case was the inspiration for writer-director Bong Joon Ho’s second feature film, as was Kwang-rim Kim’s play, “Come to See Me”. Director Bong Joon Ho co-wrote the screenplay with Sung-bo Shim, and of course, went on to win an Oscar for PARASITE (2019), in addition to providing other popular features such as OKJA (2017), SNOWPIERCER (2013), and THE HOST (2006). This early film can be compared to David Fincher’s ZODIAC (2007), although this one is a blend of murder mystery, crime thriller, black comedy, and political commentary.

Kang-ho Song (PARASITE) stars as Park, a local detective called to the scene of the first victim. Almost immediately we can tell Park and the police force are borderline incompetent. Park is convinced he has “Shaman eyes” and can identify the guilty party simply by looking at them. Of course, this is ridiculous and is proven so on a few occasions. Park’s partner, Detective Cho (Roe-ha Kim), is a hothead who takes a heavy-handed approach to interrogation (though he later experiences true karma). When a second victim is discovered, a more seasoned professional, Detective Seo (Sang Kyung-Kim), arrives from Seoul. In contrast to Park’s gut-feeling approach, Seo puts faith in evidence, proclaiming, “Documents never lie”. These two detectives are at the core of the story and we watch as each evolves.

The film begins on October 23, 1986 as the body of the first victim is found. We witness how the crime scene is immediately corrupted by both cops and local kids. This is also our indoctrination to how the filmmaker is treating this much differently than most crime dramas. A stream of suspects Park refers to as “punks” are paraded through the station, but true chaos ensues at the scene of the second body. We can’t help but be relieved when a professional, big city detective arrives. Bits of evidence are slowly assembled – red clothes, rainy nights, a song on the radio – each may play a role in the actions of the killer. Frustration builds as more murders occur and the detectives are unable to pin down the perpetrator.

The mental and physical toll that detectives endure with such a case are on full display. The obsession with finding the murderer never ends and the fantastic ending proves that even a career change doesn’t erase the failure. We are inundated with crime thrillers these days, but it’s difficult to grasp how this masterpiece was put together by a director whose career was just getting started. Certainly today we recognize the brilliance of Bong Joon Ho, but this was 17 years ago! It plays as a time capsule of South Korea socially and politically in 1986, and it works on that level every bit as much as a crime thriller. Cinematographer Hyung Koo Kim (THE HOST) balances the crime scenes with the police station, as well as the telling facial expressions of the characters. Last year’s solving of these horrific crimes pushed this classic into release, and it’s well worth a watch.

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THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness.  Tom Hayden, Alex Sharpe, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Bobby Seale, Lee Weiner, and John Froines. Those were the defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 National Democrat Convention in Chicago. So why were there 8, when they are known as the Chicago 7? Well, writer-director Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) not only answers that question, but also fills in many of the blanks for those of us who have known only the highlights of the story.

This story has been told many times before in books, articles, and other movies, but it’s never before had Sorkin’s focus on the spoken word and the transcripts pulled from the 1969 trial. For those familiar with Sorkin’s work, his penchant for absurdly rapid and a bit too on-the-nose chatter is renowned. Here, he has assembled a truly superb cast that revels not just in the words, but in the historical aspect and the modern day relevance. There are a lot of characters to get familiar with, and Sorkin doesn’t delay in introducing each of them by name and affiliation.

Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne, Oscar winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, 2014) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) represent Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and are focused on the lives being lost in the war. Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) are the leaders of the Youth International Party (the Yippies) and their goal is to disrupt the system through chaos. Actual Boy Scout leader David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a conscientious objector and part of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, aptly nicknamed “The Mobe”. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is the leader of the Black Panthers, while Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty, “The Americans”) were protesters, but can’t understand why they are lumped in with the more recognizable group leaders.

William Kunstler (Oscar winner Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES, 2015) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman) are the attorneys for all except Bobby Seale, whose attorney was unable to attend due to a medical emergency. Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the hand-picked prosecutor for the Justice Department, while Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) is the presiding judge. Other key players include Kelvin Harrison Jr as Fred Hampton, leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, and the always great Michael Keaton as former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Lewis.

There is a lot going on here for a courtroom drama. The diverse personalities alone make this a must watch. Flashbacks to the violence and the interactions between police and protesters are mixed in between testimonies. We are also taken into the Conspiracy House, where conversations and debates between the accused get quit colorful. There are also glimpses of Abbie Hoffman’s college campus speeches/performances which illuminate his thinking, and some of the best conflicts occur when Abbie and Hayden are going at each other in such contrasting manners. Langella’s Judge Hoffman is a true lightning rod in the courtroom. Is he biased or incompetent … or both? His behavior is what drives attorney Kunstler, the ultimate believer in the law, to finally understand what Abbie had said all along … this was a political trial – a show of governmental power, and an attempt to quash anti-war activists. This trial occurred mere months after Nixon was elected, and though they never share a scene, the sword-fight between newly appointed Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman) and outgoing AG Ramsey Lewis (Keaton) is a thing of beauty. Keaton especially shines in his two scenes.

“The Whole World is Watching” became a common protest chant as the government worked to shut down the movement to end the Vietnam War. Netflix and Sorkin have capitalized on the current political and social environment to demonstrate what happened 50 years ago … the more things change, the more they stay the same. Abbie Hoffman states, “I’ve never been on trial for my thoughts before”, and that ties in brilliantly with the desire for Cultural Revolution. Hayden’s intellect in on display here, and Rylance is the real standout as Kunstler, though Langella (the Judge) and Abdul-Mateen (Bobby Seale) aren’t far behind. The scene where Seale is bound and gagged in an American courtroom is one of the most uncomfortable moments I can recall. There may be some questionable directorial choices, but the story and performances make this one to watch.

Premiers on Netflix on October 16, 2020

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LA RESTAURACION (2020, Peru)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We don’t typically look to Peru for observant black comedy filmmaking; however this first feature film from writer-director Alonso Llosa (story co-written with Gustavo Rosa) is one of those pleasant surprises we usually only get from film festivals or a spontaneous streaming selection. It’s yet another reminder that an entertaining film doesn’t require a massive budget or a mega-movie star. A terrific story with relatable characters and heartfelt performances will do just fine.

Shots of Lima’s towering and shiny new skyscrapers open the film as we hear from the narrator who describes the booming economy, as well as Peru being “a country of builders that peaked during the Inca period”. That narrator is Tato Basile (played by Paul Vega), a 50-ish failure at life. He dropped out of school which kept him from pursuing his preferred career as an architect. His marriage didn’t last. He has no job, lives with his mother, is addicted to cocaine, and claims he is ‘psychologically incapable of working”. His mother Rosa (Attilia Boschetti) is bedridden and near death, and is fairly disgusted with her grown man son who should have figured out life by now. Still, she grudgingly gives him money for his habit. Her long-time trusted housekeeper and personal assistant Gloria (Delfina Peredes) has protected Rosa from the fact that the family funds are nearly depleted … and the once glorious mansion is crumbling.

One day Tato runs into old friend Raymond (Pietro Sabille), who is now a real estate tycoon cashing in on Lima’s boom market. Their conversation leads Tato to concoct an ingenious and devious plan that requires the assistance of Gloria, as well as Eladio (Luis Fernando Ananos Raygada), the family friend-gardener-handyman-driver, and Inez (Muki Sabogal), Rosa’s young caregiver. The idea is to sell the family house to Raymond for top dollar, and to keep the transaction a secret from Rosa by telling her the family home is being renovated. To pull this off, the co-conspirators will re-create her bedroom in a remote location, and pipe in construction noise and the familiar aroma of the neighbor’s stew. Of course the plan is ludicrous, but desperation for money often leads to poor decisions.

Llosa includes humorous moments and memorable characters, in addition to the life lessons that Tato learns about 3 decades later than he should. Rosa has a recurring acute punchline about disliking “social climbers”, and the score has a 1980’s “Miami Vice” vibe that complements the retro look and feel of the film (including the credits). Llosa’s film is sweet, funny, and sad, and is an example of excellent story-telling. Mr. Vega perfectly captures adult Tato as he finds the soul and love that he’s been lacking. This one might take some effort to track down, but you’ll likely find it worthwhile and entertaining. I sure did.

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SHE IS THE OCEAN (doc, 2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea. And the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” That quote from William Wadsworth Longfellow sums up much of what makes the nine women (OK, 8 women and one younger girl) the subject of director Inna Blokhina’s fascination. The film takes us around the globe to meet these women who are drawn to the sea.

It’s a beautiful film to look at, and why wouldn’t it be? Most of it occurs on beaches, underwater, or on surfboards as the waves come in. Two key elements are in play here. First is the spiritual connection to the ocean, and second is women pursuing their passion and dreams as they relate to the ocean.

Cinta Hamsel is the youngest of those featured here, and her aging acts as a framing structure for the film. Her name translates to “Love” in Indonesia, and the filmmaker catches up with her over the years, including her “first big wave”. Cinta flashes a luminous smile from a very early age, and it’s a treat to watch her energy grow and change over the years.

The other women featured here get their own segments – some more expansive than others – and there is probably a 40 or 50 year range in ages. Coco Ho is a 20-something year old pro surfer and the daughter of professional surfer champion surfer Michael Ho. She has many surfing titles to her name all over the world, and is a proud icon for the power of women. Ocean Ramsey swims with sharks – not in the business sense, but rather in the real world. She is knowledgeable and protective of the species, and even educates tourists on what sharks are actually like in comparison to JAWS. Anna Bader is a world famous cliff diver, often executing dives from 24+ meters. She hails from Germany and is the daughter of an Olympic gymnast. Ms. Bader thrives on independence, and she opens up about how her life perspective changed when she got pregnant. Rose Molina is a spiritual vagabond. She has lived all over the world and she thrives on her alone time with yoga and meditation. Her dance and ballet training combined with her free diving, lends itself to her freedom and safety in the sea. Keala Kennelly grew up in Hawaii and became a professional surfer. She discloses how she tried to fit into the feminine model the sponsors wanted, but now she just focuses on being herself – especially after a severe facial injury. Andrea Mollen loves distance paddling in the ocean and surfing big waves. She gushes over her love for her daughter and her work as an EMT. Jeannie Chesser is a bit older than those previously mentioned. She has lost her husband and her professional surfer son Todd, who drowned. Ms. Chesser discusses her cancer diagnosis and how she uses surfing for healing. Finally, we have Sylvia Earle, who despite being the most interesting of all of these woman, receives the shortest segment. As the first female Chief Scientist of the U.S., Ms. Earl is a Marine Botanist who spreads the message that the history of life is in the ocean, and we must respect and protect it. She also inspires by encouraging us to re-discover that child explorer that we once were … embrace the sense of wonder.

If the film has a flaw, it’s that the focus is so concentrated on surfing, and underplays the message and accomplishments of Sylvia Earle. Filmmaker Blokhina opts to give each woman their own song/music (some work better than others). And of course, while each story is inspiring and interesting, it’s the shots of Hawaii’s Pipe Line and Jaws waves that literally take our breath away. Jacques Cousteau said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” These women certainly agree.

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2 HEARTS (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen it before. Two stories, seemingly unrelated, yet parallel. Only this time it’s based on a true story, and the 2017 book “All My Tomorrows” by Brian Gregory. Director Lance Hool and co-writers Veronica Hool and Robin U. Russin serve up a touching and inspirational story of how the lives of families can intersect, and how triumph can come from tragedy.

Admittedly, the film has a bit of Lifetime Movie Channel look and feel. It even begins with some conventional philosophy on life courtesy of our narrator: it’s either a miracle or it’s not, and life either happens to us or for us. These are neither particularly thought-provoking nor deep, however, they do set the stage well enough for the story. We first see an unconscious Chris Gregory (Jacob Elordi, THE KISSING BOOTH) being wheeled on a gurney into the surgical area of a hospital. His loved ones are obviously concerned. We then cut to a period many years earlier as a young Cuban boy passes out on a soccer field. We learn Jorge Bolivar has a lung disease, and has been told at various stages that he wouldn’t live past 12, 20, or 30 years old.

Despite the different time periods, we see the symmetry with the romantic interests of the men. Modern day college student Chris (also the film’s narrator) literally bumps into Sam (Tiera Skovbye, “Riverdale”), and the two become ‘Safety Buddies’ on campus – offering a ride to those students in need. An older Jorge (Adnan Canto, “Designated Survivor”) locks eyes with flight attendant Leslie (Radha Mitchell), which kicks off a whirlwind globe-trotting romance. Chris is a middle-class boy whose parents (Kari Matchett, Tahmoh Penikett) are loving and demanding. Jorge is part of a wealthy Cuban family forced to relocate to Miami due to political pressures under Castro.

Keeping up with the time period for Jorge and Leslie involves spotting the clothing styles and technology hints, and very few viewers won’t know where this is headed well before it gets there. The two staged weddings provide all kinds of cuteness, as does goofy, easy-going Chris. Life perspective is one of the key takeaways here, as is a fact that most people should already be well aware: organ donors make a difference and mean the world to those impacted. The film ends with a note on the Gabriel House of Care, a non-profit worth researching.

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STRO: THE MICHAEL D’ASARO STORY (doc, 2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. I would have not guessed a fencing movie could hold my attention. I’d have been wrong. But then, this isn’t so much a fencing movie as it is the story of the legacy of Michael D’Asaro, a former world class fencer and coach. Co-directors Gregory Lynch Jr and Doug Nichols previously collaborated on another fencing documentary entitled THE LAST CAPTAIN (2017), and it’s clear they are familiar with the sport and its history.

Beginning your film with a philosophical Carl Jung quote immediately sends the message that this is an unconventional sports project. In fact, psychology and philosophy played a key role in the success of Michael D’Asaro throughout his career, and his approach and style evolved greatly as he aged. He believed one could learn all of life’s lessons through fencing.

For those of us not as schooled on fencing’s finer points, the directors are kind enough to serve up a quickie education, with a key point being the three weapons used in completion: Foil, Epee, and Sabre. Each of the weapons has its own set of rules and demands its own particular skill set. Rare is the fencer who excels at all three. And yes you are correct, Michael D’Asaro was one of these. We hear from many of his teammates and pupils, and the descriptions are pretty consistent. D’Asaro had his own aggressive style. There was an “edge” to him, and he fought with fierceness.

Much of the film is structured like a standard biopic, with D’Asaro’s sister, son, and ex-wife (and fellow fencer) recollecting bits and pieces of the life of this Brooklyn boy. We learn his own mother nicknamed him “Chubby” and he was part of a street gang, which is why he initially had an interest in fencing – he hoped it would fine-tune his knife fighting. D’Asaro was certainly no choir boy, and we hear about his hard partying (drugs and alcohol), and get a timeline of his ups and downs involving the Olympics, Pan Am games, the U.S. Army, his hippie years on Haight-Ashbury, and his re-birth at Hans Halberstadt Club, which led to his coaching gig at San Jose State.

Speaking of psychology, it’s fascinating to read the body language of Al Morales as he recalls his rivalry with D’Asaro, and learning of D’Asaro’s Polish mentor, Jerzy Pawlowski, often referred to as the greatest fencer of all-time. By the end, we realize D’Asaro lived an interesting life, most of it on his terms. Despite all his wins ‘on the strip’, and the fact that he beat colon cancer, a brain tumor finally proved too much – although it may have led to his finding peace as a person, and with his legacy of performance, coaching, and impacting women’s sports.

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DRIVING WHILE BLACK: RACE, SPACE, AND MOBILITY IN AMERICA (2020, doc)

October 13, 2020

Greetings again from the darkness. When I was a kid, our family vacations consisted of loading up the car (with stuff and people) and hitting the road. Airline travel was not in the budget, and, at night, we typically piled everyone into one room at a low cost roadside motor inn (motel). We always had an ice chest, which allowed us to prepare most meals while on the trip … eating in a restaurant or café was a luxury that might happen once or twice on a trip. Why do I tell you this? Well because this is pretty much exactly how black people in this movie describe their long ago vacations. However, the few differences were substantial, to say the least. As a white family, we always had options for places to stop, while the black families were always concerned for their safety, and certainly never had the number of options we did. That anxiety and horror felt by blacks on the road in a racist society still exists today, and the history is expertly examined in this PBS documentary from author Gretchen Sorin and Ric Burns (brother of Ken).

We are told that the phrase, “Driving while black” covers much more than the time behind the wheel. It’s the constant concern for safety – while eating, sleeping, and living. The advent of affordable cars opened up the opportunity for blacks to answer the call of the road, and make memories with their families, but the constant fear never left. Mobility is emblematic of freedom, and the film goes back to the ‘forced mobility’ of slave ships and takes us through many progressions: slaves needing a note from their owner to cross the street, the Underground Railroad, the Fugitive Slave Act (the lit fuse to start the Civil War), the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that freed blacks but left them nowhere to go, Reconstruction as a hopeful era, cotton and tobacco sharecropping, the rise of the KKK and the Jim Crow era, the booming Interstate Highway era – with the sacrifice of black neighborhoods, the Great Migration (north and west), how integration impacted Black culture, history, and heritage, and finally, how the cell phone age has opened many eyes.

Since this is a detailed history lesson, Ms. Sorin and Mr. Burns include terrific interviews with historians, writers, and journalists. Some of the archival video and photographs are stunning, and the film includes pertinent quotes from such dignitaries as Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. Dubois, Richard Writer, James Baldwin, and Frederick Douglass. The photographs of actual lynchings are tough to look at, and the statistics provided are soul-crushing. As we hear people recount history with actual stories, it becomes very personal, rather than just title chapters in a social studies textbook.

Many “Black travel guides” existed, but it’s (NYC postal worker) Victor Green’s “The Negro Motorist Green Book” that is most well-known and the longest lasting. It contained “safe places” for blacks to stay, eat, and stop. The book could be found at many Esso stations, and we learn that it was published for more than 30 years. The fallout of integration meant that many black businesses failed as families moved to the suburbs … leaving only a very small percentage of ‘Green Book’ businesses with open doors.

An interesting segment on how the automobile industry, and Henry Ford in particular, led to the Great Migration of blacks from the south to the north (specifically Detroit). The promise of a job, decent pay, and independence were quite the draw. On the other hand, we see the many Chevrolet ads touting how the open road allows one to control their own destiny … but the folks in those ads were always white. This is a remarkable history lesson, and it’s very well documented. Today’s readily available cell phone footage has opened the eyes of the rest of us, so that we can understand the meaning of ‘Driving while black’.

The film premieres on PBS nationwide on October 13, 2020

watch the trailer on CNN:

https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/10/08/driving-while-black-pbs-trailer.cnn

 


YELLOW ROSE (2020)

October 8, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Immigration and the plight of undocumented workers is as relevant now as it has ever been. Writer-director (and fellow Longhorn) Diane Paragas and co-writers Andy Bienen, Annie J Howell, and Celena Cipriaso have expanded Ms. Paragas’ 2017 short film of the same name into her first feature length project. Although it covers some familiar topics, the film has a distinct look and feel to it … the vision of an interesting new filmmaker as she provides a glimpse at the struggles and challenges facing undocumented folks, both young and older.

Eva Noblezaba stars as Rose Garcia, a 17 year old undocumented Filipino living in the outskirts of Austin in the hotel where her widowed mother (also undocumented) cleans rooms. This is Ms. Noblezaba’s first film, and she’s best known for playing Kim in the stage production of “Miss Saigon”. Here, she’s the teenage daughter of a very protective mother, and she spends her time trying to fit in at school, while also jotting down Country Music song lyrics in her Townes Van Zandt notebook, and strumming the battered guitar her late father gave her. Rose professes no interest in singing her songs for others, but that and everything else changes in one eventful night.

Elliott (Liam Booth), a friend in her class and an admirer of hers, invites her for night out in Austin at the Broken Spoke, “the last of the true Texas Dance Halls”, where Austin Country Music icon Dale Watson is performing. An underage Rose over drinks, but also catches the performing “bug”, and loves everything about the honkytonk atmosphere. The youngsters return to the motel just as ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) is finishing up a raid, and are taking Rose’s mother (Princess Punzalan) into custody. Rose’s mother instructs her to seek shelter with her Aunt Gail.

Gail (Tony winner Leah Salonga) lives in an upscale Austin neighborhood – quite the contrast to the life Rose and her mother have been living. Gail is sympathetic to Rose’s plight, but Gail’s husband doesn’t want to get mixed up with harboring an illegal. So Rose recognizes that she’s unwanted and seeks refuge with Jolene (Libby Villari), the owner of Broken Spoke (Ms. Villari gives an excellent performance, though it should be noted that the infamous James White is the real life owner of the iconic dance hall). Jolene offers Rose a bed in a back room of the club, something a great many Austinites would pay handsomely for (maybe it should be an AirBnB!).

Dale Watson turns into a reluctant mentor for Rose, and the two write songs and perform together. Mr. Watson is a natural playing the on screen version of himself. There is a lot going on here, as this teenager from the Philippines proves she is strong-willed in both pursuing assistance for her mother, and in following her Country Music dream … all while maneuvering through the obstacles of being undocumented. There is inherent racism in the film’s title (Rose’s nickname at school), but director Paragas never allows politics to override Rose’s personal story.

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TIME (2020, doc)

October 8, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Our prison system is nothing more than slavery, and I’m an abolitionist.” So states Fox Rich, a successful business woman, and the mother of six boys. Director Garrett Bradley brings us the story of this woman who devoted 20 years to the mission of getting her husband’s prison sentence reduced. It was 1997, and the desperate Shreveport couple were arrested for armed bank robbery. Fox took the plea bargain, while husband Rob did not.

Fox served less than 3 years for her involvement in the robbery, while a Louisiana judge sentenced Rob to 60 years (the maximum sentence was 99), with no allowance for parole. Fox was pregnant with twins when Rob was sentenced. She named the twins Freedom and Justus. Director Bradley expertly weaves clips from the home videos Fox recorded for Rob with ‘in the moment’ discussions and observations of her attempts to get someone in the system to hear the case.

What we witness over the course of the film is a proud, strong, fierce woman who, as a single mother, raises 6 kids while she works – at her job and to get Rob released. Twice per month visits is all that she’s allowed with Rob, which leads one of the sons to comment that hiding behind the strong family image is a lot of pain. Fox discusses how her mother taught her to believe in the American Dream, but desperate people do desperate things … although we never get an explanation of just why Fox and Rob were so desperate to rob a bank. Fox’s mother states, “Right don’t come to you doing wrong”, and then she turns around and compared incarceration to slavery.

There are some mixed messages delivered here, which is understandable given how complicated life can get. Perhaps the most vivid message is the impact incarceration has on a family. Fox is an extraordinary woman devoted to raising her sons as strong and smart young men. But she also decries that her boys have never had a father and don’t even know the role one plays. While Fox displays the ultimate in polite phone decorum despite her frustrations with an uncaring, inefficient system, we do see her sincerity as she stands in front of her church congregation asking for forgiveness of her poor choices.

The film was highly acclaimed and talked about at Sundance 2020, and that’s likely because it strikes hard at family emotions and societal issues. A prime example is the phone call between Fox and Rob just prior to his re-sentencing hearing. From a filmmaking perspective, the black and white images are terrific, and as previously stated, the home movies and “live” filming are expertly blended. On the downside, the sound mix is horrible at the beginning, and the music (beautiful piano playing) often overpowers the dialogue throughout. It’s a film meant to create discussion amongst viewers, and it’s sure to do so.

watch the trailer