Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and second film or series available on DVD or instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
Strong Island (2017)
The close-up is a psychological shot: we get physically close to the subject, and then we get emotionally close. It can be uncomfortable. Especially with people we don’t know, we don’t like being that close to others. This touching documentary from first time director Yance Ford does just that: it makes us get uncomfortably close to several different characters, especially the director. The film chronicles her brother’s slaying at the hands of a Long Island gunman, and as she tells the story of her brother’s death, we sit up close with her and listen to her story. It is unnerving, uneasy, and uncompromising. And wonderful.
Yance Ford’s brother William, an African-American male, was killed in 1992 in Long Island by a white male mechanic. He was shot in the chest. The grand jury of 23 whites ruled that the shooting was in self-defense and never made an indictment. His killer never went to trial. The film thus sets out to tell the family’s whole story—from the parents meeting in high school in South Carolina, to moving to New York City in the 60s, to starting a family, to moving to the suburb of Long Island, to William being killed. It is a version of the American Dream—albeit the limited version this African-American family was allowed, since they could only move to certain areas (black areas) of Long Island and then never got a fair trial after William was killed. The dream turned into a nightmare.
Overall, the documentary is close and personal and then stylized and striking in its aesthetic. It is visually mesmerizing at points and poetic in its narration, recalling such poetic narratives as the Holocaust documentary Night and Fog. The poetry and visuals work together to sustain the gravity of emotion and despair of the subjects in both films, and while covering different topics, they both achieve the same aim: Why? And will we let this happen again?
You will like this documentary if you enjoyed Night and Fog, Traffic Stop, and/or The Central Park Five.
Now available on Netflix.
Sneaky Pete (Season 2—2018)
In my review of Sneaky Pete, season one (March 2017), I wrote: “This is a well-written, professionally produced, and engaging series that is dominated by the acting. [Giovanni] Ribisi is fantastic, and he carries the series the way most other protagonists of cinematic TV only wish they could.” I am happy to report that this review still holds true for season two, and in addition, the series goes much further in this ambitious sophomore outing. The acting is still superb, but Ribisi only helps to carry the show as the wonderful cast rises above the secondary function it served in the first season and moves the show into a worthy ensemble endeavor with numerous plotlines, thrilling action, and more twists and turns in one episode than in most full seasons of other series’. Where to start? At the end of season one, the ruse catches up to Marcus/Pete when two well-connected fixers nab him to find his mother, who purportedly stole $11 million from their boss. Pete’s mother, that is. That is where we ended.
Season two then sets us on the path to find Pete’s mother as Pete tries to outwit his captors; meanwhile, Grandma (Margo Martindale) tries to evade the police after she helped the demise of a crooked NYC cop; Grandpa (Peter Gerety) is abducted by the son of a man he hired to kill him (Grandpa hired the man to kill him so the family could get the insurance money, but the man was killed instead); cousin Julia (Marin Ireland) attempts to launder money for a former client (the same man who killed the man who was supposed to kill Grandpa) who threatened to kill her ex-husband; cousin Taylor (Shane McCrae), a local cop, tries to divert the NYC detective investigating the death of the crooked NYC cop away from grandma while being followed for having an affair with someone’s wife; and young cousin Carly (Libe Barer) investigates the truth about Pete/Marcus. (And yes, I just wrote all of that in one sentence.) In other words, everyone gets their own storyline.
The ambitious story could fall apart in other shows, but the crisp writing and acting here carry the show forward briskly and expertly. Everything good from the first season remains, and more: the cinematography is particularly striking in this season, and the editing hits a breakneck pace without confusing us. Everything adds up to a swift binge and then a long wait until the next season. This season was worth the wait.
You will like this show if you enjoyed Breaking Bad, Bosch, and/or Patriot.
Now available on Amazon Prime.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.