California’s 13th District representative to congress is rightfully feeling vindicated about now with all the issues swirling around the United States stand on Afghanistan. This is because in 2001 she was the lone congress member to vote against going into war there. This aspect of her career also makes the release of documentary about her career all the more timely. Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power is an intimate portrait of the strong and inspiring politician who has represented her district, that includes Oakland and Berkeley, since 1998. The film presents her long and impressive tenure as an outspoken advocate for racial and economic justice, and one who is willing to take on unpopular, possibly career-ending stands such as opposing the war, post the 9-11 attacks. To confirm her political impact, the film includes appearances and talking points from Representative John Lewis, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Corey Booker, and CNN commentator Van Jones. They effectively drive home the point of Ms. Lee’s impact in the Black community, among all her constituents, and within the often volatile halls of congress.
As the highest ranking African-American woman in congress, with such a unique and stalwart reputation, it is not surprising that Ms. Lee would be the topic of a documentary, and done so by director Abby Ginzberg (And Then They Came, Soft Vengeance) who has a portfolio of documentaries focusing on politics and agents of change. That said, while Lee makes an understandable subject of interest, the actual film presentation does not rise above a charming portrayal. And that may be enough … for certain audiences and definitely to justify its creation. For those looking for something more politically charged, complex and engaging, this may be too tepid, but as a legitimate way for general audiences beyond the Bay Area to become more aware of Lee, her crusades, and what will be her legacy, Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power should definitely be in your cue.
Director: Abby Ginzberg
Stars: Barbara Lee, Corey Booker, Van Jones
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: None
Run Time: 1 h 22 min
Official Site/Trailer - https://speakingtruthtopowermovie.com/
Pre-purgatory and an Oddly Beautiful Life-Affirming Film
No one would blame you for entering the movie, “Nine Days,” based on the cast alone because it is a fine cast, headed up with Winston Duke (“Black Panther,” “Us”) Zazie Beetz (“Atlanta” TV, series, “Joker”) Benedict Wong (“Dr. Strange”) and Tony Hale (“VEEP” TV series). Likewise for the cinematography because Wyatt Garfield has created a stark, yet beautiful work of art within a very narrow landscape and a limited set. But stay for the film’s themes, creative premise and effective, moody aesthetic. “Nine Days” is a story of a somewhat nerdy and definitely reclusive man named Will, who is tasked with selecting one fortunate soul to be born and begin his or hers new earthly existence. There are five souls (in adult human form) vying for the coveted opportunity and being taken through a rigorous interview process and tests conducted by Will and his assistant, Kyo. Part of the process includes watching video of already existing humans navigating through life’s challenges and triumphs. Afterwards, Will fires questions at the “contestants” based on what they viewed, and establishes a series of hypothetical scenarios. Each of them have varying personalities and responses. One in particular, Emma (Beetz), continuously perplexes Will. In the end, the one chosen will be rewarded with an opportunity to become a newborn in the real world, while the others will cease to exist. It’s like purgatory in reverse.
Is “Nine Days” highly existential and metaphorical? Yes, indeed, but not annoyingly so or without merit. These such elements that can distract and detract from many films, our finely reigned in here, thanks in large part to a well constructed script by writer-director Edson Oda, and compelling performances by the ensemble cast. This heady, fantasy-like fare was no doubt a risk for a first-time director. Although it is quiet and slow, and sometimes does not consistently hold your attention, a character or a carefully crafted and delivered line draws you back in. “Nine Days” is also wildly imaginative and quirky in some of the best ways possible. Oda clearly does not believe in playing it safe and the risk paid off in this thought provoking, life affirming film about life, death and something in between.
Director: Edson Oda
Writer: Edson Oda
Stars: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 2h 4m
Production Site/Trailer - https://www.sonyclassics.com/film/ninedays