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Film Review

Three current good films

Summer is the slack season for good films and usually brings a host of mediocrities. No exception this summer but there are a few very good things on the screen now. First, would surely be Free State of Jones, an unlikely tale of a Confederate soldier in Mississippi, Newton Knight, who led a revolt against the Confederacy. Jones County was a timber and small farm area, with no cotton and few slaves. Knight deserts from his unit because local Confederate troops had stripped his farm of corn and livestock, leaving his family destitute and facing starvation over the coming winter. He returns home and begins to organize local farmers and escaped slaves into a fighting force. In an unusual technique, the film continues through reconstruction and skips forward to 1948, to a trial in Mississippi in which a descendent of Knight's is accused of miscegenation because the court claims he is one-eighth black. There is a great deal of previously not well known history here, well told, with text on screen that tells us of the characters and background history. A tense, dramatic story, well acted, with Matthew McConaughey as Knight. Outstanding cinematography and well done battle scenes (not for the squeamish). Has been playing for several weeks but still at the Kabuki and the Presidio (Chestnut Street). Running time: 140 minutes.

Another excellent film is the documentary, Wiener, about Anthony Wiener, former Congressman from New York City. Weiner, an intensely charismatic, articulate politician who does care about the 99%, has this thing about texting his own crotch shots to various women. This behavior despite being married to Huma Abedin, Hilliary Clinton's chief of staff. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 because the sexting scandal, but soon began to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of his constituents. He runs for Mayor, was widely expected to win, only to have new allegations of sexting emerge. One of his recipients of his texts was a Las Vegas card dealer, who is almost a satire in tackiness and ends up literally chasing Weiner. You cannot but help feel sorry for his wife, who ironically is faced with the same decision as her former boss. The filmmakers, friends of Weiner, had been invited by Weiner before the scandal broke to follow him everywhere and record anything. This is by far the most candid political documentary that I have ever seen, and is consistently fascinating, although at times like watching a train wreck. Still playing at the Embarcadero. Running time: 100 minutes. Don't confuse this with Todd Solondz's film, Weiner-Dog.

A third excellent film, that I had mentioned briefly yesterday, is Les Cowboys. A French/Belgian film, it tells the story of a small town French family whose teenage daughter disappears during a country western gathering in the early 1990's. The father reports this to the police, who understandably are dismissive since most teenage runaways return within 3 days. His daughter does not return, which begins a very complex story of the father and son's search, that continues over many years and in many countries. The director has fashioned a tense, riveting story, with outstanding acting and very good cinematography. This is a haunting film that looks at so much recent history in a very unexpected way. Just opened at the Clay. Running time: 144 minutes.

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