Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cause of Death (2018) Other Israel Film Festival

Ten years after Jamal Barakat's police officer brother Salim was killed stopping a terrorist attack he discovers that there maybe more to the story than he was told and that his death may have been at the hands of someone other than the terrorist. The crushing trip down the rabbit hole that upsets Barakat's whole life comes from a comment from someone who was at the scene who tells him that it was tragic that his brother was shot, Jamal had been told his brother's throat had been cut. This puzzling comment then sets Jamal on the road to find the truth as little comments said to him over the years mix with things to uncover to make him realize that the official story  that his brother died at the hands of the terrorist he stopped from killing dozens of people may not be the entire truth.

Charting both Jamal's quest for answers as well as how his quest changes his relationship with those around him, particularly the police officers who were his brother's friends, CAUSE OF DEATH is heavy film. It is a stunning piece of filmmaking that shows us how one fundamental change in what we think is the truth can send us spinning. While there is no question about Salim's heroism, the fact that his death may have been a mistake is devastating over a decade later. It is a masterful piece of filmmaking that while working on the smaller level of this one incident sets our minds going about what if this happened to us, how would we react?

I was knocked back on my heals. Going into the film I had been told that it was possibly the best film at the Other Israel Film Festival, but I hadn't been warned that it might end up rattling around in my head for days afterward. The whole notion of having a fundamental truth of one's life altered haunted me. I am still pondering the film week on, and I don't think this film will leave me for a long time.

Highly recommended

The film plays Monday at the Marlene Meyerson JCC in Manhattan and Tuesday at the Alamo Draft Housein Brooklyn. For ticket and more information go here.

UNSTOPPABLE: SEAN SCULLY AND THE ART OF EVERYTHING (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Portrait of artist Sean Scully who is a self taught artist who rose up from nothing to be a big name in the art world with his bold abstract paintings

As good as Scully's art is the real story in this film is the man himself. A charming rogue he is open and very frank with his opinions and we are better for it. Also on view is Scully's joyous playfulness which comes out when we see him meeting various people or even messing with the camera crew. As much as I liked learning about Scully's art I had more fun just watching him be.

What a joy.

UNSTOPPABLE plays DOC NYC plays today. For more information or tickets go here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

MAI KHOI & THE DISSIDENTS (2019) DOC NYC 2019

The film opens when Vietnamese singer and songwriter Mai Khoi prepares to leave her home before the release of her latest album. She is leaving because she knows that her battles with the Vietnamese government are going to escalate when the album is released. She is taking a stand against the government which she feels is oppressive. The film then flashes back and becomes a portrait of the singer and how she came to be in that place.

This is an excellent look at one woman's fight for basic human rights being squashed by the government. We watch as she goes from darling to pain in the side of the Vietnamese to the point where they intentionally leave her off the ballots for the Parliamentary seat she was running for. It is an inspiring story about how one person can make a difference.

Best of all if you don't care for the politics you can see this for the music. While I don't speak Vietnamese, I still enjoyed Khoi's music which fills the film from start to finish.

One of the great unexpected finds at DOC NYC the film is worth seeing.

MAI KHOI & THE DISSIDENTS plays again at DOC NYC tomorrow. For more information and tickets go here.

Thoughts on GANDEN: A JOYFUL LAND (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Portrait of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Ganden. The original monastery was a centuries old bastion of Buddhism located high in the mountains of Tibet. However when the Chinese invaded and they were forced to relocate. Director Ngawang Choephel profiles the monks who knew the original monastery and those that know the new to discover its place in their faith.

Heartfelt and at times moving film plays for me like a cinematic prayer. Watching the film unfold I found myself carried along by the words and chants as if I was in a religious service. It was like going to a church or temple to which I don't belong and getting carried away by the word and passion of the people worshiping. While words or "god" may seem different, the fervor of belief was exactly the same and I felt transformed on the other side.

I love that the film is far from showy. Many of the shots are simple camera set ups. Choephel simply points his camera at his subject and lets them talk. He knows that the words are enough. There is no need for bells and whistles when his subjects are so eloquent. Some times less is a great deal more.

In all honesty this is a hard film to critique. As you can tell the film worked for me. I can not know if it will work for you. Not only will the simplicity not work for those who need to be distracted by showy things the subject matter and the philosophy may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand if you can click with it's vibe, this will be something special.

Recommended for those who are adventurous or predisposed.

Breaking Bread (2019) Other Israel Film Festival 2019

Dr. Nof Atamna-Ismaeel was the first person to win the Israeli Master Chef competition. Realizing that the best way to connect people and break down walls is to share a mill she creates the food festival which will bring together chefs who are both Jewish and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli in order to create friendships and connections based on a love of food.

This is a wonderful film. It is a glorious portrait of not only Atamna-Ismaeel but also many of the people whom she invited to the festival. Its a wonderful look into the various chefs' lives and loves of food. This is the cinematic equivalent to sitting in the kitchen of a really good cook and shooting the breeze while they cooked. Unfortunately since they are on the screen we can try what they are cooking.(this needs to screen with a buffett)

Truth be told this film is the best sort of  food porn. Watching the film I found I was getting hungrier and hungrier. I am a notoriously picky eater and yet while watching the film I kept going "I have no idea what that is but I want it". I was so hungry by the end, despite seeing this right after dinner that I ran to the kitchen and made a big second meal. (When you go see this at the film festival plan your eating accordingly)

What a great great film.

I love that this film works on so many different levels, it's a portrait of great people who cook, a portrait of society, it shows us food that we may never have known about and it shows us how we all aren't that different after all.

This film is a quiet little gem that will make your mouth water and stomach talk to you.

Thankfully the Other Israel Film Festival has scheduled it at 4:30 pm on Sunday the 17th so you can make a mad dash after the screening to one of the wonderful restaurants around the Marlene Meyerson JCC where it screens.

For tickets go here (You're on your own with dinner reservations)

DOC NYC ’19: Buster Williams Bass to Infinity


The bass is really quite a fitting instrument for a Buddhist jazz musician. It can create a drone-like effect, especially if played arco. Yet, more importantly, the bass provides the selfless foundation that the rest of the ensemble plays over. Bassists frequently comp under soloists and generally “keep the band together,” to quote the words of Buster Williams. He ought to know. Williams played with everyone and has become a popular bandleader in his own right. Viewers get to hang with the virtuoso bassist in Adam Kahan’s Buster Williams Bass to Infinity, which premiered at this year’s DOC NYC.

Williams played with undeniable legends, like Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson, and Sarah Vaughan. However, his first professional stint came in the ruckus band co-led by “Boss Tenors” Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. It was quite an education for the young Williams, as viewers learn from his colorful anecdotes and the lively animated sequences that accompany them.

Most of the film is more conventional and laidback, but it slyly builds to a significant point, appropriately delivered by NEA Jazz Master Herbie Hancock, whose Buster Williams story perfectly represents and encapsulates the film. Disappointingly, we do not get to hear Hancock play with Williams (oh well), but we do hear the bassist perform with famous friends, such as tenor-player Benny Golson, vocalist Carmen Lundy, pianists Kenny Barron and Larry Willis, fellow bassist Rufus Reid, as well as his own ensemble featuring Steve Wilson and George Colligan, so that’s definitely something.

Buster Williams is a likable screen presence throughout the film. Oddly enough, Infinity could be the best opportunity to hear Williams on his own, because he never hogs the solo spotlight, even at his own gigs. He really takes the business of “keeping the band together” seriously. But of course, his musicianship is undeniably accomplished.

Kahan’s approach also sneaks up on the audience. Initially, he seems to be trying to capture the vibe of musician hangs and informal sessions. Yet, Infinity turns out to be a highly spiritual documentary. He makes the transition seamless (even stealthy), but he admittedly gets significant assistance from Hancock and Williams.

Great credit should also go to the sound crew, because you really can hear Williams’ bass (miking them can be tricky, as most recordings not led by bassists can attest). It is a good showcase that gives viewers a vivid sense of Williams’ personality and chops. There is a lot of good humor and good music here. Highly recommended for jazz fans and the Buddhist-curious (how perfect is this film for the Rubin Museum), Buster Williams Bass to Infinity screens again tomorrow (11/14), as part of DOC NYC 2019.

Nate Hood's 400 words on on RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT (2019) which opens Friday


It’s quite rare for a film to outshine itself, to offer audiences a glimmer of some greater artistic instinct lurking beneath the surface. In many cases such moments can redeem a film from the depths of awfulness—or even worse, mediocrity. Matt Wolf’s Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, is one such example. Exploring the life and work of Marion Stokes, a Philadelphia civil rights activist who obsessively recorded 35 years of television news coverage stretching from the outbreak of the Iranian hostage crisis to the Sandy Hook Massacre on 70,000 VHS tapes, the film is a respectfully crafted yet remarkably chaste piece of documentary filmmaking.

Wolf’s execution is textbook biographical cinema, charting a troubled youth to a firebrand adulthood to a melancholic seniority, interspersing talking heads interviews with friends and relatives so every time we feel we get a handle on Stokes the narrative shifts beneath our feet. And indeed, her story is a fascinating one—her gradual transition from abandoned foster child to community Communist activist to wealthy reclusive hoarder is engrossing, but Wolf never loses sight of Stokes as a person instead of as a composite of strange eccentricities.

Peppered throughout the chronological retelling of her life are concurrent news clips from her archive, and we’re treated to some of the greatest hits of 20th century news. But things change when we reach the 9/11 attacks. The film cuts to a four-way split screen of the major 24-hour news networks as they go about their usual programming the morning of the attack as one by one, in agonizing synchronized real-time, they’re interrupted by Breaking News Alerts about the North Tower explosion. We continue to watch the four-way coverage until their four clocks strike 9:03 am and a second plane crashes into the South Tower, eliciting gasps and shrieks from the newsrooms. I say with little hyperbole that no other film I’ve seen better captures the real-world panic and surreal, reality-warping terror felt by those who lived through the attacks and the ensuing blitzkrieg of wall-to-wall media coverage. This sequence belongs in a museum as a permanent installation, not just as a testament to the attacks but also to the rise of sensationalized television news reporting, the kind Stokes spent her life distrusting and documenting for future generations. It’s the documentary’s mission statement compressed into five unbearable, unforgettable minutes.

Rating: 7/10

Anbessa (2019) DOC NYC 2019

I am trying to suss out how much of Mo Scarpelli's ANBESSA is pure documentary and how much is actual recording. The reason I am saying this is not because it is bad but rather it travels really damn close to many art house slice of life films that you could release it as a narrative and have it hailed as a masterpiece of naturalistic acting.

The film follows a young Ethiopian boy named Aslif who lives with his mother. They were displaced by developers building condos and the film follows the boy as he tries to survive in the world.

Gorgeously shot and compelling filmed this is a film where we get inside of the people on screen simply by following the way they look and move. Yea, they talk and interact but the words that pass between the say infinitely more than the words do. We fall into their lives and are carried along.

Watching this film is a stunning experience because the film makes us a feel the lives of the people on screen in ways that few films do. A towering achievement whether it is fact or fiction.

Recommended.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lifeline/Clyfford Still (2019) DOC NYC 2019

This is a great portrait of artist Clyfford Still who, along with Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko defined abstract expressionism.

I can hear the crickets…

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know Still, he was more interested in painting than self-promotion. Where other artists stepped forward into the light he stepped back. While by all accounts a great friends and a loving family man he could be a surly cuss when it came to his art. He hated critics (a hysterical part of the film has an art critic reading Land’s thought on critics) and warred with New York’s Museum of Modern Art who only wanted his minor works and seemed to shut him out making it difficult for people to discover him.

Frankly until this film I didn’t know much about him, knowing him from his connections to Pollack and Rothko as well as need to have some background on him so I could understand what a friend well versed in art was talking about. And to be honest until I saw this film I didn’t retain anything other than his name and vague familiarity with his work. After seeing the film I hit the internet and was searching out images of his paintings. (I am so jonesing to hit the art museums and see his work up close and personal)

This is a great film. Not only does it restore Still to a name that more than art aficionados know, it also explains his place with in the art community. We see how he interacted with Rothko and Pollack and saw how he influenced other artists as well. Because this film does more than just tell us about one artist but connects him up to those around him, the larger art community and the world we get a better understanding not only of the work and the man but of society in general. Still changed how we see the world and Lifeline explains that.

There are little joys sprinkled through out the film. Listening to Still’s daughters talk about his life is a joy. Also a joy is the moment when one of the curators of Land’s museum find out on camera that there are 34 hours of audio recordings of the artist talking about his work. A shot of someone at the Still Museum pulling out racks of his work overwhelms with the sense of just how much he created.

I love this film a great deal.

While I can’t be certain how those who are not art fans will react, I think those who love art will be delighted.

One of my favorite films of DOC NYC

Philophobia (2019) Pimedate Ööde Filmifestival

With a week left in school Kai, an aspiring writer tries to suss out what comes next. Bright enough to continue his studies he is uncertain of what the end will mean for his friends. There is much on his mind including Grace who lives across the street. She is attracted to him and frequently leaves her blinds open for him to look in at her. However she has a possessive boyfriend.

Slow building but wonderfully atypical coming of age film scores many points by not taking the road well traveled. Credit writer director Guy Davies, who along with Matthew Brawley have crafted a tale that feels closer to life than most other films that venture into similar ground. By insisting allowing the characters to live and breath they have created a film that doesn't just touch our hearts but worms it's way under our skin to be something we carry with us for days after seeing it.

I really liked PHILOPHOBIA. It is a beautiful little film. So long as you allow to play out as intended you are going to have a good time.

PHILOPHOBIA pays at the Pimedate Ööde Filmifestival on November 17. For more information and tickets go here.

Other Israel Film Festival Capsules: BORDER OF PAIN, SAMARITAN and COMRADE DOV

Border of Pain
This film will make you shake your head in disbelief and rage. This is the story of the sick in Gaza who are limited by Israel as to what sort of treatment is available. Should you have something as serious as cancer you are forced to either scrounge to get medical supplies or make an impossibly difficult trip into Israel proper in order to get treatment- assuming you have the right passes to get through the security. This is heart breaking tale that makes you wonder how this can happen in today's world. A must see.

Samaritan
Portrait of the dwindling community of Samaritans who have lived in what is now Israel for millennia and who have had their number reduced to just over 100. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian, they must carry identification from both authorities. This is bittersweet portrait of a people trying to live as their forebears did but finding it increasingly difficult thanks to the groups around them who would like nothing more than devour them. This is a really good look at a people most of us, myself included, didn’t realize were still around (I keep thinking of the parable from the Bible). Definitely worth a look.

Comrade Dov
Portrait of Dov Khenin, activist and member of the Knesset who cheerfully going about his life’s work of trying to help those needing help. From making sure funds go to the right place, helping immigrants or the down trodden Dov is there. The result of his always being in the thick of things he has been called ever name under the sun, and few others as well. This is solid portrait of a man who is forever trying to do the right thing regardless of who it pisses off. After watching the film I completely understand how the director’s one shot interview became a thirteen year mission to document his subjects life. Recommended.


 All three films play this weekend at the Other Israel Film Festival.For tickets and more information on these films go here

Night Sweats (2019)

Night Sweats is a tough film to review. While the film is the story of a skateboarder who begins investigating what is happening with a self-help organization following some deaths of people connected to it is the synopsis that will get you in the reality is that where it goes is something else entirely. The fact that the film goes into unexpected territory is what will keep you watching…

This is a small little joy. A solid well made thriller that simply is entertaining it isn’t trying to hit it out of the park so much as getting a few extra bases. Beautifully designed so as to give us a bunch of characters we really like, the film has created a tale that is twisting and turning enough that we genuinely want to know how it all comes out.

If you want to know how good it is consider that while I watching the film at lunch on my computer I ended up joined by a co-worker who came by not long after I started, got hooked, and then brought their lunch to sit and watch with me…. And they got really pissed off when we had to stop the film because out hour to eat was over. Then then made me promise to finish up the film before went home. When the film was finished I asked them what they thought they said “You know I liked it, I mean I stayed past quitting time to see how it ended.” That may not be a Siskel and Ebert two thumps up or five star review, but it does prove you will be entertained.

Night Sweats starts on November 14th in New York and VOD and is recommended

Ernie and Joe:Crisis Cops hits theaters Friday. It plays on HBO on the 19th

With ERNIE ND JOE hitting theaters and HBO this week I'm reposting my review from earlier this year

I’ve seen a lot of documentaries so far in 2019 and Ernie and Joe is the first film I think has a shot at an Oscar. This portrait of two officers in the San Antonio Police Department’s Mental Health Unit is a quiet stunner. It’s a film that will open your eyes and make you wonder why other police departments aren’t doing the same thing.

Opening with the two men answering a call to a court house where a man with mental issues refuses to leave a waiting room because he doesn’t feel safe. The two men sit down with the man, winning his trust and assuring him that if he goes with them all would be alright. He trusts them and goes off with them. The film then follows the men through their days, at home, at seminars and on patrol.

I don’t know what to say except this is a great film.

Vital and important this is a film that shows us something that could change the way the police operate. This film clearly shows us how one properly trained officer can make a difference. At a seminar one of the officers tells the story of how a woman called 911 saying she was going to shoot herself. The police responded with a tactical squad plus many other additional officers. As they were trying to decide how to handle it he called the woman up and talked her into putting the gun down and coming out. What could have (and in other places would have) ended tragically ended happily. Granted that doesn’t always work, we do hear of lives lost, but we also have our eyes opened to the possibility of saving more lives.

But he film does more than just show us the men working. We get to see them at home as well where we see the lives they lead and the toll the job is taking on them. We get a sense of the people it takes to do this job effectively.

You must see this film. Not only must you see the film we must use it as a rallying cry to get the police to change what they are doing.

And yes I really think that if the Oscars can get their collective heads together and realize that the best films don’t always need to be flashy or music filled this film could be taking Oscar gold.

The film plays DOC NYC Thursday, is in theaters Friday and on HBO next Tuesday. I will have an interview with Joe and Ernie at the beginning of next week.

Red Penguins (2019) DOC NYC 2019

I honestly don't know what I think of RED PENGUINS. While it is what was advertised as, a look at the partnership between the Red Army hockey team and the Pittsburgh Penguins right after the fall of the Soviet Union, there is a point where it, like the deal between the two hockey entities goes off the rails.

The quick version of the story is that the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins sense an opportunity to get the best Russian players after the fall of communism so they sign a deal with the Red Army team which is in desperate need of money. They send a guy who they are sure can turn things around and he does...but just as it becomes clear there is money to be made and Disney is interested things go weird as shadow partners appear, money disappears  and the danger level goes off the charts.

Its a hell of a story and I was hooked for the long haul early on. The twists and turns really are nuts  and for about half of the films running time this film is the sort of thing you can't take your eyes off of because if it wasn't true you wouldn't believe it.

The problem is as things begin to turn and the danger level begins to rise the film loses focus. Part of the problem is that as unnamed bad guys enter the film the details go by the way side and the time line is less certain. While I can understand not naming the name of Russian mafia guys who may hunt you down, the attached lack of details is bothersome. We seem to jump through time as if we are being told this in a bar not in a movie, other recountings of events are cursory and not as detailed earlier on and we lose any number of people who had been a focus earlier on.

Not long past the midway point I felt hopelessly lost.

Frankly this is a great tale about what it was like to do work with the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately it need more details to really work.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Daddy And The Warlord (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Cinematic exploration by filmmaker Shamira Raphaëla of journalist Clarice Gargard efforts to find out what exactly her father did twenty years earlier during the Liberian civil unrest. Her father was an official appointed by the president working and also working for a telecom company who was charged with taping phone lines and recording conversations and passing the calls and intelligence to a notorious warlord. Did he actually do it? If he did do it what else might he have done? More to the point does she really want to find out about the man she idolized?

Moody and atmospheric meditation on how the children view the sins of the our parents keep raises all sorts of questions most of us have never truly come to terms with. How well do we really know our parents, more to the point do most of us really want to know what they were/are like when we are not there? While the mystery at the heart of the tale is not one most of us can relate to, we have not been in a country at war, the issues surrounding it can’t help but echo in out head. Worth a look.

DADDY AND THE WARLORD plays with the gut punch short The Mortician of Manila on November 13th at DOC NYC. For more information and tickets go here

UNSCHOOLED (2019) DOC NYC 2019


A look at Peter Bergson who created established the Natural Creativity Center outside Philadelphia.The school strives to use unconventional means to teach the kids via trying to direct the learning through what interests them. His methods are put to the test when he takes on three inner city kids who are incredibly bright but have other issues

Intriguing look at what maybe a better way of teaching kids and the pros and cons related to it. As someone who had parents who followed Bergson's idea that if you allow kids to explore they will learn as they go, I am certain that the ideas actually do work. And we do get to see some of Bergsen's successes. However there are problems, one of Bergson's students is brilliant but doesn't have the required basics. What can he do?

While the film is undoubtedly a bit too rah rah at times the film does raise a lot of intriguing questions which hang with us for hours and days after seeing the film. Frankly this is a film I will have to revisit before I can truly do a proper write up- which is what is required of any great film.

Recommended for anyone interested in schooling alternatives

UNSCHOOLED plays again November 13th at DOC NYC. For tickets or more information go here.

Coastal Road Killer (2019) DOC NYC 2019

Israeli produced docu-series follows the shocking discovery that someone in the 1970's and 80's was traveling up the coastal road in Israel and killing women and depositing their bodies all along the the highway. What is shocking is that to a large degree no one had actually connected up the dots.

I am intentionally going to keep this review brief because this is the sort of film that starts off with you looking at it wondering "why am I watching this?" because it doesn't seem to be all that complicated...and then the next thing you realize is you are hooked because you have to see how this comes out, as more women go missing, suspects appear and.... well to say any more would be telling.

Seriously this is a series that quietly hooks you and then leaves you sitting on the edge of the road in a ditch wondering what car you just got thrown out of. Personally I got to the end stared at the screen for a minute or two before starting it all over again.

Talk about binge watching... It may be two and a half hours long but it certainly doesn't feel it.

I loved this film. I loved being dragged along which is why this piece is so brief.

COASTAL ROAD KILLER played it's one screening last night- but this is too good not to show up elsewhere. Do keep an eye out because you're going to want to see this not once but multiple times- I've seen it twice and I want to go again.

Midday Demons hits VOD tomorrow

Couple goes to Italy to check on the family property which has been inherited by her husband. While there Megan begins to see presences and flashes of past events. As he tries to sort out what it all means she ends up going down a spiral into the dark past of her husband's family and its past.

Euro horror that echoes any number of classic and semi classic films from the 60's 70's and 80's that had a new family member discovering dark secrets MIDDAY DEMONS entertains. While most of the older films banked on darkness and shadow to set the mood MIDDAY DEMONS is largely sun drenched. All of the nightmares come in broad daylight (I'm not even sure there are any night scenes) which upsets our notion of what a horror film should be...can evil exist in the daylight in the movie world? Apparently it can.

Gorgeous to look at thanks to its Italian setting MIDDAY DEMONS looks like a million bucks. There is nothing inherently evil or troubling about most of the things we see but thanks to the choice of the right angle and the suggestions set up in the story there is a sense of darkness.

Say what you will, I liked MIDDAY DEMONS. While it does echo some similar films, there is more than enough differences to make this stand on its own. Best of all the plotting is such that I genuinely wanted to know what the hell was going on.

Worth a look.

Advocate (2019) Other Israel Film Festival Opening Night Film


Excellent portrait of Lea Tsemel, Jewish-Israeli attorney she defends Palestinians regardless of what they did that includes petty crimes or attempted suicide bombing.  The film is a mix of reflection on her career and portrait of the woman in action. We watch her championing her clients, despite knowing what they are accused of and never giving anything less than her all.

Tsemel is a joy to watch and to listen to. Watching the film I wasn't sure we needed to have another portrait of a fighter of the downtrodden and then I saw her in action and fell head over heels with her. It takes a special kind of a person to be able to talk to the family of a man accused of stabbing 11 people about a plea bargain and not say your son is screwed. There was of course no doubt he did it but her attitude in discussing it is something rare. (I know I have a day job in criminal justice and can see how bad some attorneys can be.

A stunning film that is highly recommended

THE ADVOCATE opens the Other Israel Film Festival For tickets and more information go here.

Nate Hood on Midnight Family DOC NYC

If there was ever a film that could potentially radicalize the world in favor of socialized medicine, it might be Luke Lorentzen's astonishing documentary Midnight Family. The film takes place in Mexico City where there are only forty-five public ambulances for nine million people. This shortage led to an explosion of for-profit private ambulance services swarming the streets with their radios tuned to police channels to get tips for potential "clients." It seems like a laissez-faire capitalist's dream come true—surely the free market will make sure consumers get the best care at the cheapest, most competitive prices, right? But as Lorentzen discovers, the reality is so grim and disturbing it makes one almost pine for pre-Obamacare American healthcare.

The film follows the Ochoa family who operates one of these ambulance services as they wage a nightly struggle against bankruptcy, literally racing other private ambulances to accident scenes like NASCAR drivers on crowded streets. But since they frequently lose, their revenue is inconsistent at best, forcing them to skip meals to afford food and medical supplies. (One of the most pathetic scenes sees the father forced to feed his sons "tacos" of canned tuna and corn on saltine crackers.)

The final insult? Many of their customers can't or won't pay. After all, when they pick up a crashed motorcyclist or a young girl who fell from a roof, how are they to know if they're rich or poor? On the off chance that they do have money, what are the odds that they would have the $1500 peso for the ride physically on them when they get to the hospital? And finally, since they're not officially affiliated with the public hospitals, there's literally nothing compelling their customers to pay, particularly if they're unhappy with their care. It's a desperate, horrifying situation, even before things like police extortion and overcrowded hospitals are considered. As one of the Ochoa sons explains, the city would fall apart without private ambulances. But how could someone argue that it already hasn't?

In addition to being a powerful anti-capitalist polemic, Midnight Family is one of the best-looking documentaries to come out in 2019: scenes inside the ambulance are dyed an eery midnight blue and the nighttime streets are dotted with multicolored streetlights and storefronts like a Michael Mann film. It's the perfect neon-noir setting for a neo-noir hellscape.

Rating: 8/10