Director : Lola Blanc
In this psychological horror short, Madeline Brewer (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) stars as an agitprop right-wing commentator in the model of Tomi Lahren, who will seemingly press any button in order to generate outrage. “Pruning” shows that Brewer’s character knows better than to say what she does but still going ahead anyway in the name of fame (or infamy) and money. When her commentary inspires violence, things go from bad to worse, and soon the young firebrand is experiencing surreal, extra-normal backlash—real or imagined being up for debate. Emmy-winner Brewer is in fine form, and even though this is a horror, the lesson of “Pruning” is that whatever words we choose to utter invariably have consequences (featured image is a still from the film)
Director: Jamie Boyle
The opioid epidemic has had many victims, whose faces and stories are as diverse as America itself. This fascinating documentary starts out in the eighties, with young Jamie Boyle (“Break the News”) becoming intrigued with the movie camera’s ability to record her family’s seemingly idyllic Colorado life. Her older sister Jordan aspires to figure skating glory until a terrible injury sidelines her dreams. Jordan is prescribed painkillers of a level that might kill an elephant, and Jamie’s camera captures the difficult teenage years as Jordan spirals into addiction—at the same moment that their mother, Julie, also fighting chronic pain, becomes addicted to pills as well.
With both Julie and Jordan now sober, Jamie bookends the older footage with contemporary interviews in which the family seeks to piece back together some semblance of normalcy. It’s but one shocking tale among millions and millions of lives upended in a culture where the supposed cure is more dangerous than the problem.
For screenings, visit https://www.anonymoussister.com/watch.
Director: Tyrrell Shaffner
Dina Meyer (“Starship Troopers”) is Nancy, a divorced mother in midlife who takes quite a fancy to her daughter Katie’s (Julia Tolchin) new boyfriend Alex (Aaron Dominguez)—who may not be what he appears to be. It’s “The Graduate” meets “Stacy’s Mom,” with the exact right combination of dark comedy, pathos and some positively terrific acting from Meyer in the lead. Needless to say, this situation cannot turn out well—and it doesn’t—but Meyer brings to Nancy an understated humanity as she perhaps desperately clings to her own desirability as “the change” comes a-knocking. Tolchin is charming and engaging as the uninhibited Katie, and Dominguez threads a difficult needle of fashioning a shady character whose charms attract both mother and daughter into bed.
“Katie’s Mom” recently played at Dances With Films in Los Angeles.
“PETER CASE: A MILLION MILES AWAY”
Director: Fred Parnes
Sure, we all remember that song from “Valley Girl,” but it turns out that the Plimsouls’ lead vocalist and songwriting Peter Case has had quite an intriguing life outside of that wondrous hit. Director Fred Parnes sits with Case in the years immediately preceding the pandemic, following him out on the road for what Case says will be his final tour. Parnes retraces Case’s life starting out as a troubled young man in Upstate New York who left for California at the first available opportunity. Moderate musical success ensued in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but it was with the Plimsouls that Case’s writing truly found its audience. For anyone who has seen “Valley Girl,” that’s Case and his fellow troubadours performing in the club visited by Nicolas Cage, but the decades since have been good to Case and his fans too.
Though he may not be as well known as other singer-songwriters such as Neil Young or Jackson Browne, Case’s story shows that success has many faces and goes by many names.
“LAKOTA NATION VS. UNITED STATES”
Directors: Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli
I freely admit I have enjoyed visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota several times, and have walked around Mount Rushmore and the still-unfinished Crazy Horse monument. It’s a beautiful area, and one that I’m grateful has been preserved. However, long before the United States essentially stole these lands from the Lakota people, the Black Hills were considered sacred to the tribe for thousands of years. “Lakota Nation Vs. United States” makes the ongoing case not only that these lands were unfairly taken, but that it may be time to return them to the Natives.
Directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli aren’t here with a polemic; rather, their aim to educate on the multiple bad-faith treaties and broken promises perpetrated against the Lakota for over a century—especially once gold and other treasures were discovered on the Lakota reservation, which led the U.S. government to drastically reduce the size of the reservation and essentially retaking the land a second time. Carving the likenesses of four White presidents—either imperial-minded outright or more subtly so—into the Black Hills was but a further insult.
George Floyd’s murder in 2020 leads to a reckoning, with footage capturing police squaring off against the Natives seeking redress for centuries of oppression—and serves as a reminder that, in addition to being Lakota, these are also Americas whose government continues to let them down. The horrors of “Indian schools,” wherein children were taken away and given new names to “kill the Indian and save the man,” are likewise discussed. The stain of these historic sins remain.
While the thought of “landback” is difficult to countenance (How would it work? How much land would be restored? Would the National Parks there cease to be? Would the presidents’ heads be dynamited?), these are indeed conversations worth having. Or, rather, it is time the rest of us shut up and listen for a change!
In select theaters.