Listen, I think a lot of us might agree that America doesn’t look very good today. The land of the free and the house of the brave is exhausted, sick, anxious, scattered and at war with itself. Since we have only a few weeks after the important elections, it is safe to say that this is not the next moment in the country.
So, although I don’t know if it’s a plan or a coincidence, it’s unexpected that four films that premiered on digital services this weekend are trying to screw up a trick: to see America as it is and to find her hope. Two are film versions of famous Broadway plays; another ̵1; one of the most famous screenwriters in the country; and one is one of the best documentaries of the year.
The pictures that these films paint are by no means pink. They do not trade myths about the restoration of former greatness or that we are the best of ourselves. But the people who created them are looking for the core of humanity in the midst of injustice, and everyone finds it in their own way.
Combine all four and you will begin to see a portrait of America that is pensive, layered and hopeful, drawing on the past to understand the present and find something in the present that points us to the future. I can’t think of a better topic to look for in these difficult, difficult days.
Look Time for a heartfelt story of true courage and hope
Hearty and passionate, Time is a chronicle of delayed love and a life that can provide hope. Garrett Bradley’s documentary is about Fox Rich (aka Sybil Richardson), who for 21 years insisted that her husband Rob be released from prison. Rob is serving a 60-year sentence for a youth crime in which they both participated; Fox, meanwhile, is raising their six children and becoming a strong advocate for change in his community.
Time describes in detail her struggle, demonstrating how mass imprisonment persistently divides black families in America, and how bureaucracy and centuries-old stories obscure the truth and pain of these divisions. And all the while, Fox shot a video at home that seemed like a diary of her pain, endurance, and devotion to hope.
How to watch it: Time is broadcast on Amazon Prime Video.
Look What the Constitution means to me for an angry and credible view of law, debate and rights
When Heidi Shrek turned 15, she traveled to the Pacific Northwest for language competitions organized by sections of the American Legion, while addressing the significance and importance of various constitutional changes. Years later, she recreated this experience with What the Constitution means to me,, who received Tony and Pulitzer nominations during the 2019 Broadway. Shrek wrote and starred in a play in which she pretends to be her 15-year-old self, talking about the Constitution – at least until her youthful optimism is challenged by both her adult realism and the stories of her family’s past.
Removed version What the Constitution means to me (with direction from You will not become my neighbor(Meriel Heller) captures this touching, angry, heartbreaking and surprisingly inspiring show on Broadway. Shrek deftly switches between her own personal history, the stories of the lives of her female ancestors, and has deeply explored knowledge of Supreme Court decisions and arguments, intertwining policy, discourse on rights, and experience. And it ends with a sparring with a teenage partner in a debate about the future of the Constitution – a moment that shows the strength and true purpose of a real, thoughtful debate.
How to watch it: What the Constitution means to me is broadcast on Amazon Prime Video.
Look Court in Chicago 7 for a touching call for dissent and respect where it belongs
Court in Chicago 7 is the signature of Aaron Sorkin Hamdinger, a drama in the courtroom about the past with the present in mind. It is the subject of a six-month trial of a group of men accused of plotting and crossing state borders to incite riots in Chicago during the 1968 National Congress. The men did travel to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. The riot did happen. But the men did not agree – and moreover, they insisted that the Chicago Police Department began the violence.
Sorkin wrote and directed Court in Chicago 7, who fiddles a bit with current historical events in the service of history. But the film draws parallels between the problems that mattered then – racism, militarized police, unevenly defined justice, challenges to the right to protest – and those that resonate today. With a brilliant cast, including Mark Rylance, Eddie Redman, Sasha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Yahya Abdul-Matin II, Frank Langella and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Court in Chicago 7 it is a film aimed at connecting the points of the past with the present and proposing that sometimes the long arm of justice passes through rocky territory.
How to watch it: Court in Chicago 7 broadcasts on Netflix.
Look David Berne’s American Utopia for a floating, beautiful musical celebration of our differences
In 2019, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne staged a Broadway show that was not a concert or a show, a musical, or anything other than a recognizable Byrne-Ian production. On a gray-tinged stage full of lights and textures, accompanied by a group of brilliant barefoot musicians and singers dressed in matching gray costumes, Byrne made American history. The songs in his catalog have been reworked for a joyful walk through his mind – and because of how he imagines the possibility of an American utopia.
Spike Lee filmed it all, and the result is there David Berne’s American Utopia, both a realistic and a surreal journey through what makes a nation a nation: we have one home. Bern’s songs question the concepts of home and home and their significance in the American context. His answer is that we are all different; we look different, we speak differently, we believe in different things, and yet there is hope that we can decide to rebuild our house together. I dare not dance while watching.
How to watch it: David Berne’s American Utopia broadcast at 20:00 Eastern, October 17 and starts broadcasting on HBO Max at the same time.
If you are looking for something else …
- Cagilioner, Miranda July’s latest comedy this week comes to digital services to order (a full list of services can be found here). Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins, this is an eccentric, affectionate story about growing up and learning to love. (I loved the film and wrote about how it demonstrates July’s steadfast commitment to the freak in all of us.)
We select virtual cinemas: Martin Eden, which feels like a tribute to Italian cinema just like the film adaptation of Jack London’s novel. This is the story of a young man named Martin (Luca Marinelli, whom you may have seen on Netflix Old Guard), which seeks to join the ranks of the elite through self-education. This is a criminal, magnificently filmed tragedy.
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