Everyone paying attention to the news knows of the displaced populations the world over. Ai Weiwei's documentary Human Flow gives a distinctive, empathetic face to the global crisis even as the statistics, periodically seen in text on screen, accumulate with a powerful force: an estimated 65 million forcibly displaced individuals, the most since World War II. 

Equally haunting are the quotations from contemporary and ancient poets and philosophers, also superimposed over the footage shot in more than twenty countries and forty camps. From Syria and Iran, Palestine and Myanmar, Kenya and Afghanistan they come in droves, seeking peaceful existence. And yet, as Human Flow makes clear, while refugees increase, resources diminish. 

A well-known Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei shows a heightened sensitivity to the dire circumstances depicted. In fact, for this year's Telluride screening of "Human Flow," Ai wrote that he felt he grew up a refugee in his own country as an activist who suffered his own government's repression including being detained and beaten, leading eventually to his self-exile. Here Ai Weiwei is an unobtrusive, essentially non-speaking but comforting presence throughout the film, appearing occasionally during interviews or capturing what looks like cellphone video.

Ironically, his footage and that of eleven cinematographers is beautiful: rafts packed with men, women and children emerge from the fog at Lesvos, Greece; dozens of African refugees huddle in their golden space blankets; masses of the dispossessed surge forward, walking down a rural road. Drone footage illustrates the magnitude of the refugee tent camps and, from their aerial perspective, project an eerie calm that belies desperate struggles. As one Afghan woman says, "No one leaves their country lightly," and yet refugees average twenty-six years displaced from their homes.  

As tragically serious as this is, the kindness of aid workers and the spirit of the displaced persons are inspirational in this calm, haunting documentary. Human Flow is in English and with English subtitles and screens at Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.

 

In the jaw-dropping documentary Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton director Rory Kennedy wastes no time presenting astonishing footage of the waves Laird surfs. As a voiceover narrator observes about Hamilton, "Other people ride waves. He rides 100 foot waves," with another commentator adding, "To put that in perspective, that's high enough for this man to be insane." 

Laird's take on this is, "I've been waiting a lifetime to ride this thing out here." "This thing" is a monster wave that Laird welcomes. Kennedy's documentary follows this introduction with a chronological relating of Laird's total embrace of surfing, inevitably leading to this fearless ride on a truly mammoth wave. Details of Laird's life do suggest his commitment to surfing seemed fated since his mother and his father both surfed. But his mid-1970s home was no sanctuary nor was school in Hawaii where he was regularly picked on and beat up. Laird took out his frustration in disruptive mischief and retreated to what he calls the equality in the ocean. 

Kennedy's profile includes interviews with Laird's half-brother, his current wife (professional volleyball athlete Gabrielle Reece), friends, critics, and an array of surfing professionals. Laird never competed professionally, and his alpha male aggressiveness in the big wave community antagonized some who consider him an egomaniac. Laird pressed on, through deep water ballistic pool training, injuries, and engineering breakthroughs to ride big waves--jet ski tows, foils, straps, towboards. At times veering into psychological analysis, Kennedy non-judgmentally allows Laird to speak for himself as well.

All of the descriptive commentary is overshadowed by truly dazzling, awe-inspiring cinematography, some of it shown in a 60-Minutes profile of Hamilton but some of it new. All of it is so astonishing it's worth a documentary of its own. As if any more adrenalin is needed, Nathan Larson's music pumps up the excitement. For a one-time, very small wave Hawaii surfer like me, for those who go for the big waves, or for anyone interested in elite, even death-defying athletes, Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton offers a thrilling two hours. At Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.

There's a new Marshall in town, but this marshall does not wear a shiny, pointed badge. He carries two suitcases, filled with his law library. He shleps from town to town, armed with intelligence, anger, forbearance, and cunning. This Marshall is Thurgood, and the year is 1941.

Long before Marshall became the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, he was a lawyer for the National Association of Colored People. Correction: he was the lawyer for the NAACP.  In 1941, he was sent to Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell, a black man accused of raping and murdering a white woman. 

Marshall cannot practice law in Connecticut: he is not enrolled in that state's bar. So another lawyer, one Sam Friedman, is shanghaied into sponsoring Marshall. Friedman is an insurance lawyer, highly protective of his budding reputation, and he's never met anyone like Thurgood Marshall. The tussle between those two, a Jew and a Negro, forms one of several foundations of this fine film.

The other foundations are the law, civil rights, racism, sexism, and class -- the very issues that concern not a few folks in America today. Those links between the past and the present may explain why Marshall seems to be so manipulative, in a muscular effort to finally get someone to heed history and do something about the future.

Chadwick Boseman, so praiseworthy in his role as Jackie Robinson in 42, carries off this powerhouse role as well, bending into the shadows in order to stand in the light in the end. He is foiled neatly and admirably by Josh Gad as Friedman. Dan Stevens, the weakest link in the cast, is outshone by Kate Hudson as the victim. Reginald Hudson directed the film with an agenda, but the flawed film works beyond that goal. 

 

Watching paint dry involves more neurons at times than watching Lucky. Glaciers grow faster. And, then, just when it appears to defy the "moving" part of moving picture, Lucky perks up, like a corpse that twitches. That makes watching it worth it. Lucky is, after all, Harry Dean Stanton's last.

Stanton was never a leading man, and his starring as Lucky, the derelict bachelor in the desert, is only his second leading role in 60 years. He embraces the role of the philosopher, the cruciverbalist, the raconteur, the geezer. He's been called Lucky a long time. He is lucky -- not dead at 90 despite smoking cheap cigarettes. Even his doctor is impressed.

Lucky is a man of ritual. Every morning, he performs yoga exercises and drinks a glass of milk. Milk is all that's in his ice box. He eats at the local diner, where everyone knows him and everyone discreetly coddles him. He is friends with the Chicana who sells him his fags. He is friends with a man who's lost his pet tortoise, named, oddly, Roosevelt after the president (never mind which one). He is friends with a man on a red phone. But he is a loner.

Stanton's decrepit looks are Lucky's. His lope is Lucky's. He spent his last days as Lucky. It was a good way to go.

Stanton is supported by a pretty amazing cast, from James Darren to Beth Grant, from Ron Livingstone to David Lynch, for god's sake, from Ed Begley Jr. to Tom Skerritt and Barry Shabaka Henley. Each person plays a compass point to Lucky's world.

Lucky was written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumanja. Director John Carroll Lynch, who first starred in drag on The Drew Carey Show, moves the film like a tortoise, on purpose. It's slow, but when it has something to say, it's worth listening to the philosophy of Lucky, a 90-year-old gar in his underwear.

 

In director Denis Villeneuve's most-anticipated sequel to the glorious 1982 Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, the dystopian world holds sway as LAPD officer K continues to seek and destroy rogue replicants. I'm honoring Villeneuve's request to reveal no specific plot details. I will say that at two hours 43 minutes, the second hour quite slowly and yet deliberately advances its agenda.

This is a minor quibble, to be sure, given the provocative subjects explored and debated in significant encounters. In fact, Hampton Fancher and Michael Green's screenplay interrogates nothing less than what makes us human, the nature of a soul, the contributions of memory, and what enslavement truly costs civilization. There are also some gratifying nods to Blade Runner, my favorite the inclusion of Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and his origami.

Several actors in supporting roles give superb performances; among them, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, and Ana de Armas. But it falls to Ryan Gosling as K to make the film work. His eyes tell the story, confrontationally communicating determination, surprise, shock, and, yes, pain, conveyed with the twitch of a facial muscle or the absence of a blink of an eye. His K is understated and yet eloquent. Harrison Ford bestows an indispensable gravitas with his extraordinary presence. Deckard is still a force to be reckoned with.

The remarkable art direction of Blade Runner 2049 extends from the music and sound to the costumes, the lighting and color scheme to the architecture of space. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer's music, at times a bit too amplified, emotionally power scenes, alternately ominous and nostalgic, the latter through projected holograms of iconic singers. Renée April's costumes (detailed in the New York Times' October 1 edition) express characters' identities--collars and hats protectively hiding faces, color asserting moods, or, as with Joi, her manifestation segueing through personalities. 

Roger Deakins' cinematography reinforces the gray, denuded, sooty, futuristic environment while warm yellows, sparkling and shimmering like water, drape defiantly hopeful incidents. Every detail has been so carefully designed that it's too much to process on one viewing. That's fortuitous because science fiction and the alarming, anarchic worlds so often depicted therein will benefit from the contributions of Blade Runner 2049 through multiple screenings. At area cinemas.

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