The LA Times reports that there are a number of movies on the fall release schedule that will make you cry, with a dying mother (“A Monster Calls”), a lost child (“Lion”), and a mourning mother (“Arrival”). I’d add “Loving,” based on the true story of the couple whose inter-racial marriage challenged miscegenation laws, “The Dressmaker” (sad deaths), slavery (“Birth of a Nation”) and a documentary about veterans (“Thank You for Your Service”). That means: get ready to be moved.
“Crisis in Six Scenes” is a new six-part series from Netflix set in the 1960’s. Writer/director/star Woody Allen plays a television writer married to a therapist (Elaine May), and Miley Cyrus is their daughter, who is caught up in the protests of the era. It will be available for streaming on September 30.
At the center of the story is Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave”), a young widow with five children living in dire poverty. She cannot afford to send her children to school, and so they sell maize in the street and at an open market. Her oldest daughter, Night (Taryn Kyaze) is a young teenager already attracting the attention of a man. The youngest is a baby. When Harriet’s daughter Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her brother are lured into a chess class with cups of porridge, Harriet is scared and angry. She needs the children to bring in money, and she believes that the chess teacher, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo of “Selma”) is using them for some sort of gambling operation. But Katende, who is waiting for a job as an engineer, persuades her that he just wants her children to learn.
Nair (“Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake”) has a great eye, and a great gift for creating vibrant, layered, wonderfully inviting communities on screen. As Harriet tries to protect her family, despite eviction, a sexual predator, a terrible injury, she recognizes that she has to do more than keep her children safe. She has to open the world to them. Phiona cannot read or count, but somehow she can see eight moves ahead on a chess board as only a very few masters of the game can do. Robert knows that poverty is only the beginning of the problem the children face. The snobbery and bigotry of the middle class Ugandans is the real obstacle. They will not even allow the children from the slum to compete. Robert tricks the official into agreeing to let them in if they can raise the entry fee. And then he raises the money himself, by playing soccer.
Newcomer Nalwanga, from a community much like Phiona’s, has a winning screen presence, and we can see that she has inherited her ability to think through chess problems from her mother’s canny navigation of the challenges to the family’s most basic survival. Nyong’o shows a grace and courage, even in the direst moments, that echo Phiona’s resilience.
Parents should know that this movie includes themes of poverty and deprivation, child is hurt in an accident with scenes of painful medical treatment, there are also some references to sexual predators and there is an out of wedlock teen pregnancy.
Family discussion: Why did Robert change his mind? Why did Phiona get cranky after she returned home?
If you like this, try: “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” “Brooklyn Castle,” and “Endgame”
You want to know what’s scary? A teenager dropping a wrench onto an aging but still very potent nuclear missile. Even scarier is that the wrench hit so hard it poked a hole in the missile, which led to a fuel leak, which led to a massive explosion, killing one man, injuring others, and destroying the launch facility. Scarier than that is that this happened in 1980, in Arkansas. It wasn’t a secret. Then-governor Bill Clinton appeared on television to reassure Arkansans that everything was all right. Here’s what’s scary: no one remembers it, and it was just one of many “broken arrow” accidents involving nuclear weapons stored on US soil, and that’s just the ones we know about that took place in America. Who knows what is going on in other countries?
Based on a book by reporter Eric Schlosser, “Command and Control” tells the story of the Titan II Missile explosion with riveting interviews and seamless re-creations, moment by moment of the night the young airman dropped the wrench and the steps taken at great risk and great speed to prevent contamination. We see how painful the events still are to the people involved and how terrifyingly close we — meaning all of us on the planet — were to complete annihilation. Schlosser, whose calm delivery somehow makes it seem even more dire, has assembled a terrifying dossier of denial and neglect.
Director Robert Kenner (“Merchants of Doubt”) wisely presents it like a “tick-tock” thriller, a “Mission: Impossible” or James Bond story come to life. But this film has no supervillain attempting total world domination. This is a Pogo-style “we have met the enemy and he is us” story. Somehow, it is easier for us to believe that a Dr. Evil out there can devise a strategy to destroy us than to believe that in a world where most of us cannot re-set our car clocks for Daylight Savings Time, we keep designing machines that are too complicated for us to operate, or, in this case, even store safely. The bombs used during WWII were built and dropped. The deterrence-arsenal built up during the Cold War has created an unprecedented maintenance problem. We simply do not know how to take care of them or even whether it is possible to do so for decades or centuries.
It seems pretty obvious that at some point, someone is going to drop a wrench. Indeed, that seems far more likely than someone breaking in to do intentional damage. And yet, Kenner and Schlosser show us, calmly, devastatingly, while we argue about every other political issue, this one keeps being overlooked. This movie should make it harder to continue to do so.
Parents should know that the topic of this film is nuclear weapons. There are scenes of peril and explosions and discussions of injuries and death.
Family discussion: Which politicians are paying attention to this issue?
If you like this, try: “Merchants of Death”