Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Adapted from August Wilson’s 1985 Tony Award winning play set in 1927 Chicago by George C. Wolfe, this features Viola Davis in the title role and Chadwick Boseman as trumpeter Levee who fights for his independence. Rainey runs her jazz/blues band with a tight fist and doesn’t take no for an answer when her record company and manager balk at simple requests like providing her with Cokes. The band drinks alcohol and smokes reefers during rehearsals, but otherwise they’re a pretty clean group. Tempers flare toward the end leading to an unnecessary tragedy. Boseman passed away from colon cancer in August; Levee was his last role, which he dove into with gusto like when he played James Brown in Get on Up. And Davis is a badass Ma Rainey (Whoopi Goldberg portrayed her on stage).
My Psychedelic Love Story
Veteran documentary filmmaker Errol Morris digs into the life of Joanna Harcourt-Smith like a detective. She famously met up with Timothy Leary in Europe after he escaped from a California prison in 1970 on a marijuana charge. Leary fell for the Swiss native; they traveled together from Switzerland to Austria to Lebanon, taking plenty of acid along the way. By 1972 the couple was captured in Afghanistan and returned to California where she worked to free Leary who was jailed again. This is where the story gets complicated. Harcourt-Smith claims Leary wanted to make a deal and agreed to become a government informant. The Acid King became a snitch with the help of Smith? It’s true. While Morris presents a compelling case, he provides only one witness: an aging, emotional and reflective Harcourt-Smith, who passed away on October 11 at 74.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band
Robbie Robinson’s version of The Band’s history, as told by Daniel Roher, is clearly one-sided. Sadly, three of the original group members have passed away. The straight one in the group, Robertson saw things splinter when heroin entered the picture and car crashes while tooling around intoxicated in Woodstock, New York became too common. The chronology from Ronnie Hawkins to Bob Dylan to forming The Band and finally The Last Waltz is well told with archival footage and interviews. Guided principally by the Canadian-born singer-songwriter/guitarist, Robertson reflects on the issues that led to their breakup in 1976 without confessing to any regrets.
Nyles (Andy Samberg) is a nihilist (ha ha) who finds meaning when he gets caught in a time loop with Sarah (Christin Miloti), who meet at a wedding. It’s a bizarre concept that gets tiresome as it repeatedly pays homage to Groundhog Day. Nyles and Roy (J.K. Simmons), who’s also in the loop, do some lines and Sarah and Nyles take mushrooms. But Max Brabakow’s film is just an excuse for a conventional rom-com, albeit with some stony special effects.
Reefer Madness is alive and well in this shockingly negative documentary about Colorado by Jane Wells (narrated by Robin Quivers). Police (Glenwood Village chief John Jackson) and addiction specialists (Ben Cort, Kevin Hill)) dominate the 77-minute film, while advocates (Michael Bowman, Kayvan Khalatbari) play secondary roles. Aside from a couple of visits to picturesque hemp/CBD farms, Wells treats the first state to legalize marijuana like a runaway train.
Robert Riffberger digs into the details that have led to a 50-year government battle to rein in illegal drug use in America. The sections on Nixon and the presidents that followed - Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan - are solid, but then the film rushes through the Clinton, Bush and Obama years. At a running time of just 68 minutes, Riffberger could have filled out the story more effectively. Another misstep is the failure to explain how NORML founder Keith Stroup and former White House drug czar Peter Bourne, both interviewed, are inextricably linked.