Oscar nominated documentary shorts for 2018: about racial profiling, disability, drug addiction, and compassion

The 2018 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts are playing at the Landmark West End in Washington DC this week, and so far this weekend shows have sold out.  I attended the 4 PM screening yesterday, exiting to find two inches of snow even in Foggy Bottom. There was a brief five-minute intermission after the first three films, and the presentation ended at about 7:10 PM.

The most important film in my view was the last one, “Knife Skills”, by Thomas Lennon, 39 minutes. This film chronicles the training of the staff and opening of one of the nation’s proudest French restaurants, in Cleveland, Ohio: Edwins, on Shaker Square. What is so remarkable is that the owner, Brandon Chrostowski, is eager to staff his restaurants with people who have gotten out of prison.  He sends 120 people after release through his cooking school (the Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute), but only a fraction make the cut.  How many entrepreneurs want to do this?   All the more, his wife has a new baby. In one scene, he cries.

The film resonated with me personally somewhat.  I spent summers as a boy near Oberlin, and often went into Cleveland in the 50s and 60s, particularly to Indians’s baseball games in the old stadium (especially when the Senators were in town).   Today my own relational ties are in the middle part of the state, and I have some knowledge of “small” business there.  I can also remember an announced field trip to a French restaurant (in Washington) for French class in ninth grade.

The longest film has a curious title “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405”, by Frank Stiefel (40 min), shown third.  The film starts out as if to be about Carmageddon, or maybe the recent wildfires, and in 2012 I stayed in the Angelino on the 405.  But soon the film moves indoors, to tell us the story of a sculptor, Mindy Alper, who has a lifelong mental health struggle, and who speaks very slowly.  She talks about her meds early on, and says she often throws up. But once we get into seeing her work, with the fascinating paper mache objects – animals and aliens – the film picks up.

Another film concerning medications is “Heroin(e)”, by Elaine McMillion Sheldon (39 minutes, shown fourth), from Netflix. It is set in Huntington, W Va, on the Ohio river, a town in which I spent a night myself in August 2016.  It starts out by telling us that this is a blue collar town, where people have “real jobs” and get hurt at work. That’s where the opioid problem gets started.  The film focuses on a sympathetic but firm lady judge in drug court – and she does send some people back to jail or to the general criminal court system – and to an EMS worker helping rescue people from overdoes, a mission of compassion.

The second film was “Edith+Eddie”, (Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright, 29 minutes, Kartemquin Films).  At age 95, Eddie, a widower and white, marries a black woman, Edith, also 95, who has lived in the same house in Alexandria, Virginia for years. Unfortunately, Edith, who may have mild dementia, has been placed into conservatorship by her adult kids, and the guardian seems unsympathetic to “Loving”.  She is forced to move to Florida, and in grief, Eddie soon collapses and passes away in intensive care. The film was interesting to me due to the long-winded experience I had with my own mother, who passed away (in Arlington) at the end of 2010 at age 97 after a two-year decline.

The first film, “Traffic Stop”, from HBO, directed by Kate Davis. An African-American math teacher Breaion King gets pulled over in a routine speeding stop in Austin, TX and winds up getting brutally handcuffed and arrested after a series of mistakes by both sides.  The film contrasts her classroom grade school teaching scenes with her panic at the arrest, reconstructed from police videocam. This does seem like an argument about police profiling.

I’ll share also the 2-minute “Traffic Jam” by Reid Ewing (2012), that looks like it may gave been filmed near the 405 and 110.  I’d love to see some of Reid’s other short films (“It’s Free”, etc) re-appear.

(Pictures: Kentucky, but near Huntington, mine, Aug 2018; Cleveland, mine, Aug. 2012)

(Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 11:15 PM EST)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Seeing Allred”: Gloria Allred fights for women and then gays, and she may have someting on Trump

Seeing Allred”, directed by Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain, gives us a complete history, a lot it in Gloria Allred’s own words (she is now 75, two years older than me) of her activism for women and sometimes other groups.

Much of the film focuses on the litigation against Bill Cosby, where she represents many plaintiffs. Sje also helped represent the Goldman family in the O. J. Simpson case in the 1990s.

But the film also traces the culture of intimidation, where women are silenced from speaking about rape.

Allred tells the story of her own rape, before Roe v. Wade, and her illegal abortion, from which she almost died.

Gradually, the film starts taking up LGBT rights. The early 1993 battle over gays in the military is mentioned, along with the early versions of the fights over gay marriage and adoption. Gloria seems to believe that homophobia is and indirect part of the way straight men control women and assert a claim to have a right to children by them anytime they demand.

Gloria assists clients in testifying before both Nevada and California legislatures on removing statues of limitations on rape prosecutions. “The privilege of being listened to” becomes an issue in one hearing. She also demands that a college become an activist as a way of giving back.

The last part of the film traces the 2016 election, through watching Election Night returns, and then the Inauguration protests and the Women’s March the next day. At one point at the March Allred turns back a fundamentalist homophobe (with a free speech meme) who doesn’t even realize that Trump has no specific objection to gay marriage. She has pointed out, however, that Donald Trump rejected a transgender Miss Universe contestant.

The last part of the film also deals with women who accuse Donald Trump of sexual harassment. The film makes it look like these cases could blow the presidency wide open.

Women’s March 2017/1/21 scene (wiki).

Name:  “Seeing Allred”
Director, writer:  Roberta Grossman, Sophie Saltrain
Released:  2018
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant, 2018/2/14
Length:  96
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  LA Times
Stars:  4-1/2 out of 5

(Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 11:30 PM EST)

“Do Not Resist”: the militarization of civilian police departments

On Monday night, at a late hour (11:00 PM), giving me time to rewatch Shaun in a compelling episode of “The Good Doctor”, PBS POV aired the 2016 documentary “Do Not Resist”, by Craig Atkinson, concerning the gradual militarization of local police departments, despite the Posse Comitatus rule.

The film’s beginning and end shows up close the energetic and sometimes violent demonstrations in Ferguson MO, the second segment after prosecutors said that white police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown.  In the film’s middle, there is a live enactment of major police action in the rural black community in Richland County, S.C.

A major centerpiece of the film shows James Comey lecturing a meeting of the International Federation of Police Officers in Orlando, FL.   At one point he says, “Violence is your tool, master it.” Dave Grossman also speaks, and police officers are expected to read his books on the psychology of violence.

Grossman at one point says that parents have to comfort their kids that monsters in the closet aren’t real. (This came up in the “Slender Man” trial, which ABC recently covered on 20-20, “Out of the Woods”).  But “We’ve all lied. Monsters are real.”   Rand Paul and Claire McCaskill also speak.

There is examination of the weapons police departments get.  Why do they need bayonets?  I remember “Fix bayonets” in drill and ceremony in my own Army Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

And there are plenty of peaceful demonstration scenes.  “Hands up, don’t shoot”.

There is also a sequence where a female police officer drives a patrol car in Marina Del Ray CA and show how facial recognition works.  There was mention of the concept of pre-crime profiling, with mothers being told that their male sons had a 50% chance of becoming criminals. The film “Minority Report” (2002) comes to mind, but was not explicitly mentioned; but “Terminator” was named. “I’ll be back.”

After the 72 minute film, the director, who is quite handsome, did a brief QA.

Then PBS showed two short films:

One is “A Conversation with My Black Son” (5 min) by Geeta Gambhir and Blair Foster. The parents warn their small child not to question police officers when approached and indicate the color of his skin will matter.

The second is “Mother’s Day”,  7 min., going to visit mom in a Corona CA prison.

Name: Do Not Resist
Director, writer:  Craig Atkinson
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2018/2/12 PBS POV
Length:  72
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS POV, Passion River Films
Link:  official PBS
Stars:  4/5   ****_

(Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2017 at 12:30 PM EST)

“The Force”: A look at the Oakland Police Department in the era of BLM and even sex scandals

The Force”, directed by Peter Nicks, documents the evolution of the Oakland CA Police Department under constant challenges from the largely minority community it polices.

The film indicates it started education of officers on profiling on 2013, a year before the Ferguson MO shooting and riots, and the growth of Black Lives Matter. Nevertheless, there have been at least four shootings.

The film gives some long memory history.  Police departments more than a century ago enforced Jim Crow laws and even supervised lynchings (as would fit into the late Gode Davis’s incomplete film, “American Lynching”).  In 1977 the West Oakland area had been ground zero for the Black Panther movement.

The film has many scenes of classes of uniformed officers being addressed.  A spokesperson says that emergency dispatch works 12 hour shifts without lunch breaks and can’t possibly control all the petty crime.  A street confrontation managed by a white Hispanic police officer shows how sensitive conditions can get.

Toward the end, the film deals with a sex scandal, possibly involving minor females, among some of the officers. The female mayor of Oakland scolds the police department and says that it is not a “frat house”.  Officers are accused of racist texts, but among the accused are African-American officers themselves.  The department is now under federal supervision.

The film makes me wonder about what it is like to become a police officer and put on the starchy overloaded uniform everyday.

Wikipedia panorama view.

Name:  “The Force”
Director, writer:  Peter Nicks
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS video, original airing 2018/1/22
Length:  84
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Independent Lens, Kino Lorber
Link:  PBS, KL

(Posted: Monday, January 29, 2018 at 1 PM EST)

Picture: Mine, Mono Lake area, 2012.  I was last in Oakland in 2000 for an SLDN event on Treasure Island.

“Marshall”: courtroom drama from early in Thurgood Marshall’s career

Marshall”, directed by Reginald Hudlin, centers itself on courtroom drama for its own sake, a presentation technique for many social and political issues in independent film (as I recall from one particular meeting with an actor in Boston in 2002).

Then, the film is also a partial biography of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), who would become the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court in 1967.

This film focuses on a critical case early in Marshall’s career, as he established a reputation helping young black men otherwise wrongfully convicted. After moving to New York in 1940, he takes a case in Bridgeport, CT, where a young black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) is accused of raping his boss’s wife (Eleanor Strubing, played by Kate Hudson) and throwing her off a bridge.  As the defense starts to unravel in typical courtroom fashion, Thurman concludes that the sex was consensual and could have resulted in a mixed-race baby, and that Eleanor was trying to hide this from her autocratic husband.

Marshall teams up with a former insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who has to deal with his own stereotypes of the day as a Jew.

The film contains a backdrop of FDR’s radio broadcasts of the early days of World War II, when the country had to come together, despite its racially segregated military (which Truman would fix in 1948).

The conclusion also does some interesting stuff with the problem of plea bargaining for an innocent but prejudice-baited client.

The film was actually shot around Buffalo, NY.

The original premier by Open Road films was canceled because of coincidence with the Las Vegas shootings (story).

Wikipedia picture of Bridgeport bridge in 1850.

Wikipedia picture of Buffalo, WWII era.

Name:  “Marshall
Director, writer:  Reginald Hudlin
Released:  2017/10
Format:  2.20:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, 2017/12/3, evening, small audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  Open Road
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, December 3, 2017. At 11 PM EST)

“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”: the hypocrisy of the world of a left-wing lawyer comes to a head (like it can for a blogger)

Roman J. Israel, Esq.” may not sound like the name of a black activist lawyer (played by Denzel Washington), but the new film by Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) starts in a most non-visual fashion, with an image of the legal complaint where Roman sues himself for hypocrisy (or perhaps gratuitous speech).

Yes, I’ve made little videos comprising images of paperwork. The opening image may explain why the film, long at 125 minutes, was shot in the conventional 1.85:1 aspect.

As the mains story line starts, we find out that the owner of the LA law film Roman works for is in a permanent vegetative state after a stroke, and that the law firm will close.  Enter George Pierce (Colin Farrell) who makes no bones about the fact that left-leaning law firms that help destitute underclass clients still have to make money.

That sets up the trap, where Roman has to play the system against itself.  I know that idea as a blogger. Roman needs money for his own life, fast.  Screenwriting 101.  Even so, he has floated the idea of a class action lawsuit to stop all plea bargains which deny poor defendants a chance at exoneration (and this brings up the idea of the Innocence Project and films about wrongful convictions, like “Dream / Killer” by Andrew Jenks about Ryan Ferguson).  He also mentions the privatization of prisons, and describes the hole system as one that keeps blacks in their place (as in the film “13th”.Nov 14, 206)

The firm gets a case involving a convenience store murder, where the guy who pulled the trigger disappears   Roman is first assigned to help the other know-nothing defendant, and even tries to cap a plea bargain with the butch female prosecutor . The Armenian community puts up reward money, and in time Roman takes the bait, literally pulling $100,000 in cash out of a trash barrel.

The film makes a lot of the pressure trial lawyers work under (much like the John Grisham novel movies like “The Firm” and “The Pelican Brief”, oh, and even “The Rainmaker”).  They have to think and talk on their feet for a client’s interests.  As a blogger/journalist, I don’t have to do that.  I feel like I’m not supposed to take sides.

There is a scene late in the film, as Roman contemplates his own end, as he drives alone out into the desert, and he thinks a sports car is following him.  He brakes and runs off the road. The teenagers (Kevin Balmore, who looks Hispanic, and Miles Heizer, who looks white) come back and actually want to help.

The music score, by James Newton Howard, is schmaltzy, with a touch of jazz.

I wasn’t sure if the technology was supposed to be current.  Some of the cell phones look modern, others were flips.  The computers looked more like late 90s.

There are scenes at the Los Angeles County Courthouse and later the federal district court in LA.  I kept thinking of Reid Ewing’s wonderful little short film “I’m Free” filmed in the former.  Roman is not , in this lifetime.

Intellectual Takeout (Annie Holmquist) offered a perspective on Denzel Washington’s own perspective on the film and the causes of violent or self-destructive behavior among men of color:  fatherlessness. Here is more about Denzel’s comments in the New York Daily News.  Don’t blame private prisons.  A fair question to follow up with could concern the moral obligations of childless people.

Picture: Along I-10, May 2012, near Ontario CA, my trip.

Name: “Roman J. Israel, Esq”
Director, writer:  Dan Gilroy
Released:  2017/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/11/25, night, fair crowd
Length:  125
Rating:  R
Companies:  Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 4:45 PM EST)

“Long Shot”: How Major League Baseball and some silly reality TV prevent a wrongful conviction

Long Shot” (2017), a “long short” (39 min) by Jacob LaMendola, tells the story about how a wrongful conviction was prevented, using baseball and reality television, in 2003.

In August, 2003, Juan Catalan was suddenly arrested by LAPD for the drive-by shooting of a 16 year old girl not too far from Dodger Stadium. A witness identified him from a police sketch but could only have seen him in dim light. Yet witness ID-ing often creates probable cause and can sometimes support convictions.

But Juan maintained he was at a baseball game in Dodger Stadium, where the Atlanta Braves scored seven runs in the top of the ninth to win 11-4.  Because the visiting team was mounting the long tie-breaking rally, no walk-off win ending the game suddenly could occur. Some of the telecast is shown in the film. The length of the rally may have helped Juan, as it prolonged the footage of an HBO reality show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gave defense attorneys a change to find him in the stands very shortly before the shooting.

The HBo episode involved a hooker’s stopping somone in the carpool lane of an LA Freeway when the ordinary lanes were blocked.

Prosecutors try hard to cling to their eyewitness theory until the end.

Wikipedia attribution link for Dodger Stadium picture.

I was an extra in a filming of a scene for WB’s “Major League 3” in November 1997, held at the Minneapolis Metrodome, now torn down and replaced by Target Field.  I got to hold up my “Do Ask Do Tell” book cover and a shot of it lasting ¼ second or so may have gotten into the film.  They fed us hotdog dinners.

The picture above is mine from a 2012 trip, actually in San Diego.

Name:  “Long Shot”
Director, writer:  Jacob LaMendola
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Netflix instant play, 2017/10/10
Length:  39
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  official (subscription)

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at 7 PM EDT)

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”: slow, stage-like back-story of “Deep Throat” whistleblower on Watergate

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”, directed by Peter Landesman, and based on the autobiography of Mark Felt and John D. O’Connor (by this name, as well as “A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat”, and the Struggle for Honor in Washington”.

Mark Felt was the FBI special agent who became the whistleblower who broke open the Watergate scandal.  Felt did not reveal his role publicly until a Vanity Fair article by O’Connor in 2005.

The film is slow-paced and studious, mostly indoors (actually the studios in Atlanta were used), often darkly lit, the furniture plain. It is rather like a stage play. Felt (Liam Neeson), shortly after the Watergate breakin in June 1972, becomes aware that the White House is interfering with the independence of the FBI, particularly in scenes with acting director Patrick Gray (Martom Csokas.  A few weeks before the 1972 election, he makes the famous (“Deep Throat“, as named after the infamous porno film, which I actually saw on Times Square in 1975) pay phone call to Bob Woodward (Julian Morris).  There’s no effect on the landslide in 1972, because Nixon is able to paint the protesters as essentially pinko radicals.

But after the election, moving into 1973, things unravel pretty quickly.  The film telescopes the final months of Nixon’s presidency, which I personally remember well because I was going through a major transition in my own life, having “come out” a second time.  I would start a new job at NBC that would lead to my moving into Greenwich Village the Monday after Nixon’s resignation.

Diane Lane plays Mark’s wife Audrey, and yet you get the feeling that their marriage has become an afterthought.  The script does mention all the scandals underneath J. Edgar Hoover, whose passing is honored early in the film (early 1972).  The script probably just barely hints at the idea that Hoover was likely homosexual himself.

The film never depicts Nixon with an actor, or even Carl Bernstein.

The film is not quite as eventful as “All the President’s Men” (1976, Warner Brothers) by Alan J. Pakula, based on the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Name: “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House”
Director, writer:  Peter Landesman, Mark Felt, John O’Connor
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/6, late, small audience
Length: 105
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony Pictures Classics, Endurance Media, Playtone
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)

“Kidnap”: a rather silly thriller invoking female vigilantism about a dangerous topic

Kidnap”, by Luis Prieto (written by Knate Lee), by its title suggests a very grave topic of something that can be a personal crisis.  If you get kidnapped, others may have to bargain for your life (or for a family member’s or a child).  Ron Howard’s 1996 film “Ransom” with Mel Gibson(Touchstone) is memorable for this. So is the 2009 French film “Rapt” (or “Abduction”) by Lucas Belvaux) dealing with this issue for a business executive.  With family members of intelligence agents, consider Pierre Morel’s “Taken” (2008)

But this new film plays like a combo of near gothic horror and typical crowd-pleasing chase female vigilante movie for the summer.

Halle Berry plays Karla Dawson, a divorced mom in a custody battle, who has a real job as a waitress in New Orleans, and who has little economic leverage to keep the kid. She’s takes her little boy Frankie (Sage Correa) to an amusement park, showing a Fire Ball like the one that broke in Ohio recently. When she gets a cell phone call about custody, she momentarily loses track of her little boy (despite calling him), and the boy is taken.

What follows is rather silly escapism. She loses her phone, and chases after the kidnappers who are in a no-license sedan around the Louisiana I-10 freeway interchanges, which I last visited in 2006.  The police are incompetent, and eventually the film leads us to a climax at the kidnappers’ safe house in the bayou.  The villains are a white couple, (Lew Temple and Chris McGinn) with the woman Margo particularly chilling as a monster.  The race roles are reversed here: the white people are the bad guys.   The scheme first starts out as a way to extort $10000 from a waitress who doesn’t have it (so that makes little sense), unless she could get it from the ex-husband (which means she loses custody and probably visitation).  But at the end we learn there is a sex trafficking ring of young boys deep in the woods.  The film was released (probably coincidentally) the same week that the Senate introduced the SESTA anit-trafficking bill, weakening Section 230 downstream liability protections for Internet providers, so this could have an indirect effect on future “free speech”.

As overwrought as the car chases and other conflict scenes are, they seem to conform to a certain idea in screenwriting aimed at selling movie tickets and achieving popularity:  make the circumstances of the heroine as dire as possible, even with a twist at the very end.  And maintain political correctness at all times, please.

Name:  “Kidnap
Director, writer:  Luis Prieto, Knate Lee
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/8/4, afternoon, small audience
Length:  94
Rating:  R
Companies:  Aviron, Relativity Media, Rogue, Di Bonaventura
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)

Audrie and Daisy: the outcomes of two cyberbullying cases

Audrie and Daisy”, directed by Benni Cohen and Jon Shenk, hits the subject of cyberbullying hard, especially for female victims of sexual assault, and especially underage, largely by presenting two tragic biographical narratives.

The story of Audry Pott, in Saratoga CA (a San Jose suburb) is wrapped around the narrative of Daisy Coleman in Maryville MO, which provides a long middle section for the movie.

In all cases the assailants are aggressive white teenage boys, some of them football players, all carrying out what seem like primal biological instincts that I don’t personally feel.

Audrie, apparently when drunk, endures body desecration at a party, the details of which need not be repeated here.  Cyberbullying in chat rooms will follow her for being a victim.  Later she will commit suicide at home, hanging herself behind a closed bedroom door when her mother is in the house.  At the end of the film, the juvenile offenders are processed by the criminal justice system but given light sentences.

One of her friends, Delaney Henderson, a surfing enthusiast, will talk on the beach about a similar experience, and say her family had decided to switch coasts and move to Florida to get away from the meanness.

Daisy’s family had moved to Maryville (north of KCMO, a city I know too well) after dad was killed in an auto accident in Albany, MO.  One night, some boys got her, at 14, and another 13 year old girl drunk, and then had sex with the girls (legally way underage).  She may have been on the verge of alcohol poisoning.  Detectives detained and questioned the boys, but eventually were charged only with misdemeanor offences.  The prosecutor said that the sex was consensual, which does not make sense if she was underage (does Missouri have a Romeo and Juliet law?)

Some interesting sidebars come across.  In Missouri, police say that Apple had deleted all footage of the incident, and that it was not recoverable..  Apple president Tim Cook is very serious about privacy;  delete means delete.  Not so, the police said, with Android.  Later Anonymous gets involved, blasting police allowing the “blaming the victim” result.  Daisy’s brother comes to her defense, and is shown working out in his bedroom at home with a sign “Endure” on the wall.

Finally, after the dust settles, a baseball coach, providing Army-style character guidance, counsels his team on how they should behave around young women and especially with victims of sexual assault. Could MLB use the footage?

Countering cyberbullying was supposed to be one of Melania Trump’s initiatives. It’s disturbing that the permissive atmosphere of ungated user generated content may depend so much on this kind of activity for “support”.  Bad karma.

Name:  “Audrie & Daisy
Director, writer:  Benni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Released: 2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play 2017/7/30
Length: 98
Rating: NA
Companies: Netflix
Link:  subscription

(Posted: Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 12 N EDT)