This week four sheltering-at-home movies try to handle the truth. The first is non-fiction, about a real person; the second is based on a true story of the war in Afghanistan, the third is called “The Truth,” and the fourth uses horror to get at the essence behind mother-daughter relationships.
Directed by Dawn Porter, the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” is an essential item for our times. It’s a primer on John Lewis, a U.S. Representative from Georgia since 1987, and civil rights leader who fought alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
For protesting against injustices, he claims to have been arrested 40 times before being elected to Congress, five times after, and expects to be again. He’s someone we all need to know about.
In a style perhaps inspired by Errol Morris’ films, Lewis speaks, looking directly at viewers, rather than the off-to-the-side interviewer. The eye contact makes his stories all the more personal.
He tells of his childhood, raising chickens in Troy, Alabama, and, in a radio interview, tells the awe-inspiring tale of his first meeting with Dr. King.
Lewis’ sisters paint a picture of him as a teen, wearing a tie and carrying his Bible to high school every day. In later years, he was one of the original Freedom Riders, and participated in the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery.
When speaking, he often implores people to act when they see something wrong. “Get in the way! Find a way to get in trouble! Good trouble! Necessary trouble!”
It’s a powerful film about an incredible man. If anything, “John Lewis: Good Trouble” is possibly too short, attempting to pack in so much biographical and personal information into a mere 97 minutes.
Such prominent interviewees as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Stacey Abrams barely even appear.
It’s not until the final third or so that the movie even makes mention of such personal details as Lewis’ marriage, to Lillian Miles, and her death in 2012.
But there’s no question of Lewis’ truly lovely character, as evidenced in a moving story told by his chief of staff Michael Collins or by a viral video of Lewis grooving to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”
Lewis can be seen passionately campaigning for Abrams for governor of Georgia, while attempting to fight against voter suppression. Unfortunately, Abrams lost, perhaps due to that exact phenomenon.
Voter rights are still an issue, but of course, even more is at stake now. In one scene, Lewis, 80, toddles down to the end of his driveway and retrieves his daily newspapers. He then sits at his kitchen table and reads them carefully.
Without a hint of despair, exasperation or exhaustion in his voice, he says he fears that one day we will wake up and democracy as we know it will be gone.
“As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can,” he says. This man has been fighting for his entire life, and the fight isn’t even close to being over. And that’s why he’s a hero.
John Lewis: Good Trouble
Starring: John Lewis, Michael Collins, Elijah Cummings, James Clyburn
Directed by: Dawn Porter
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Note: The film opens July 3 at the Roxie’s virtual cinema.
While a culture war rages at home, other wars are being fought overseas, such as what’s depicted in Rod Lurie’s “The Outpost,” available on demand.
Based on true events (a book by Paul Tamasy and Jake Tapper), the film is about U.S. Army Combat Outpost Keating. Built in 2006 in an unfortunate location at the bottom of a valley in Nurestan Province in Afghanistan, the outpost was boxed in and easily vulnerable to attacks from above.
Tensions grow as small bands of Taliban open fire on the Americans almost every day, while negotiations to win the hearts and minds of the locals slowly break down, and the men go through a steady rotation of new first lieutenants.
Finally comes the bloody Battle of Kamdesh in 2009, when the Taliban attacked with its full force.
Director Lurie, who served in the Army before becoming a film critic, and then a filmmaker (“The Contender,” “The Last Castle,” etc.), saves this battle for the entire last half of the 123-minute movie, and it’s an impressive piece of work.
Filmed in long, kinetic takes, these sequences show soldiers weaving through the outpost, ducking behind cover, and then continuing on in an attempt to rescue pinned-down squads or supply more ammo.
It’s powerful stuff, marred mainly by the fact that it’s frequently difficult to tell any of the many characters apart.
The notable exceptions are Scott Eastwood, who looks and sounds astonishingly like his father Clint during his “Rawhide” days, and incredible character actor Caleb Landry Jones (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Get Out”), with his vaguely moist, serpentine looks. (Jones spends the movie running around in helmet, flak jacket and shorts.)
Perhaps not coincidentally, these two play the two heroes of the piece, the Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, respectively.
As for the rest, Lurie’s roaming, jiggling camerawork isn’t exactly designed for close-ups or examinations of the human soul.
But even minus this personal element, “The Outpost” is a gripping story, dynamically told, and well worth a look.
Starring: Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, Orlando Bloom, Milo Gibson
Written by: Eric Johnson
Directed by: Rod Lurie
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
The latest from acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Shoplifters”), “The Truth” isn’t based on real life, but rather the search for truth that may be attempted by an artist, or, specifically, an actor.
For fans of Kore-eda, whose films include “After Life,” “Nobody Knows” and “Still Walking,” “The Truth” will seem like a step down, a move toward the mainstream with American and French stars. But even as a minor effort, it contains memorable moments of touching humanism.
Acting legend Catherine Deneuve plays acting legend Fabienne Dangeville, who is preparing to play an old lady in a new science-fiction film, opposite a beautiful up-and-comer, Manon Lenoir (Manon Clavel). She’s not enthusiastic about the prospect, but a job’s a job.
Meanwhile, her autobiography has been released, and to mark the occasion, Fabienne’s daughter, screenwriter Lumir (Juliette Binoche), Lumir’s actor husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and their small daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier), come to visit.
The book, filled with omissions and fictions, ruffles many feathers, but Fabienne shrugs. She’s not obligated to let mere readers in on her most intimate details.
Most of the movie is centered on Lumir and her mother as they clash over memories, misinformation and missed connections.
Meanwhile, the sci-fi movie has an interesting set-up: Fabienne plays the aged daughter of the younger Manon, who is ill and has lived her life in space, not aging. So the fictional scenes being filmed have a fascinating mirror-opposite quality to the real-life scenes.
Binoche and Deneuve are exceptional together, and Deneuve has quite a few wryly hilarious line readings, including one about hand-held camerawork. But the rest of the movie around them feels as if it trails off.
Hawke, who doesn’t speak French in a mostly French-speaking movie, is often left out, and doesn’t have much to do other than entertain his daughter while his wife fights with her mother. Other subplots, such as one about a woman named Sarah (who is never seen), don’t really connect.
However, the main thrust of “The Truth” is nonetheless thoughtful and gently engaging, offering ruminations on how truth built from memories may not be entirely factual, but remains undeniably affecting.
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Ludivine Sagnier
Written and directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
A feature debut by director and co-writer Natalie Erika James, “Relic” is also largely about relationships between mothers and daughters, but as a horror movie, it has much more going on.
Kay (Emily Mortimer) learns that her aged mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin), has not been seen in some time, so she packs up her teen daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) and drives from Melbourne to Edna’s woodsy country home.
Inside, Kay and Sam find a curious array of clues, such as odd post-it notes. They decide to stay and wait.
Amazingly, Edna suddenly turns up one morning, making tea in the kitchen. A doctor checks her out, and she’s fine, except for a weird black bruise on her chest. Kay and Sam must stay longer to keep an eye on her.
What follows is an increasing array of unsettling noises, icky, rot-filled nightmares, and, finally, an astonishing climax that recalls elements from Mark Z. Danielewski’s terrifying novel “House of Leaves.”
Compact and poetic, “Relic” is essentially a tale of generations and the inexorable deterioration of age, told emotionally through three fine performances, and physically through sinister design and its chilling horrors. In its way, it, too, comes close to the truth.
The movie has been scheduled to open in drive-in theaters for the July 4 weekend, and will be available digital/on demand starting July 10.
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote
Written by: Natalie Erika James, Christian White
Directed by: Natalie Erika James
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes