Review: ‘The Janes’ tell their abortion stories and ‘The Righteous’ does a slow burn
Before the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision cleared the way for legal abortion across the United States, many American women had to resort to paying exorbitant amounts of money to mobbed-up criminals for quasi-medical procedures that could be life-threatening. Starting in the late 1960s, an underground network based out of Chicago tried to connect women with actual doctors, while charging whatever the patients could afford. The organization disbanded when their services were no longer needed, but the connections they formed helped lay the groundwork for the ‘70s feminist movement.
The timely documentary “The Janes” — co-directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes — tells the story of this group, which advertised in counterculture periodicals and on bulletin boards in hippie hangouts, advising women in trouble to “call JANE.” The surviving, now-aged members of Jane give the filmmakers a rundown of how they got together, how their law-skirting process worked and why what they did matters.
“The Janes” is filled with alternately harrowing and darkly amusing anecdotes, covering everything from the index cards that recorded the patients’ pertinent details to the legend of the adept amateur abortionist who passed himself off as a licensed pro. But what really resonates are the memories of women helping women by talking openly about the specific economic and health concerns that the male-dominated establishment typically ignored. JANE’s supportive atmosphere opened eyes, showing a possibility of a world where everyone, regardless of social status, could be seen and heard.
‘The Janes.’ TV-MA, for violence, adult content and adult language. 1 hour, 41 minutes. Available on HBO Max
Actor Mark O’Brien wrote, directed and plays a pivotal role in his feature filmmaking debut “The Righteous,” a slow-burning, black-and-white psychodrama that has echoes of Ingmar Bergman and gothic ghost stories. O’Brien plays Aaron, a mysterious stranger who shows up one night outside the backwoods home of Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk), an older couple grieving the accidental death of their adopted daughter. Aaron initially seems to be a drifter, but as he talks with Frederic he seems to know a lot about his host: that he used to be a priest, that he violated his vows decades ago and that he’s been praying to God for deliverance.
O’Brien tells Frederic’s story — covering both his dark past and grim present — through a series of provocative conversations that have the intensity and conviction of great theater. These characters tackle the big subjects. Must sins always be punished? Can two wrongs make a right? Is unimaginable tragedy God’s warped way of exacting justice? Viewers with no interest in theology may find these concerns a little esoteric, and may wish O’Brien had spent more time on the mystery of who Aaron is and why he seems to have supernatural powers. But this movie’s a must for anyone who enjoys seeing terrific actors given the space to explore their characters’ pain — and to spin riveting moments out of rich words and subtle moods.
‘The Righteous.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 36 minutes. Available on Arrow
Though the execution is clunky, the subject matter and scope of the historical drama “The Walk” is mostly compelling enough to compensate. Directed by Daniel Adams and co-written by Adams and George Powell, the film is based on the men’s memories of Boston circa 1974, when the courts ordered the public school system to integrate by busing kids from Black neighborhoods to white schools and vice-versa. The story is mostly focused on a white cop, Bill Coughlin (Justin Chitin), assigned to escort the Black students to class.
“The Walk” also follows a Black teenager, Wendy Robinson (Lovie Simone), whose father (Terrence Howard) is afraid to put her on the bus; and it gets into how Coughlin’s roots in South Boston’s Irish-American gangs makes him fearful for the future of his own daughter, who is as casually racist as her friends and neighbors. The dialogue is blunt, and the plot overly centers white heroism; but the period detail is well-observed, and the filmmakers show a real understanding of the ingrained attitudes and anxieties that make moments of social progress so difficult.
‘The Walk.’ R, for language throughout including racial slurs, and some violence. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Available in select theaters and on VOD
‘The Policeman’s Lineage’
The baby-faced “Parasite” star Choi Woo-shik puts his guileless vibe to good use again in “The Policeman’s Lineage,” a twisty crime drama about the moral compromises some cops accept in their pursuit of the bad guys. Choi plays Choi Min-jae, a third-generation police detective whose reputation for honesty gets him assigned by Internal Affairs to an antidrug task force rumored to be corrupt. As Choi starts gathering evidence against his new boss Park Kang-yoon (Cho Jin-woong), he begins seeing the veteran’s cops methods as perhaps more effective than illegal — and he also gains insight into his father, who died on an undercover mission. Directed by Lee Kyoo-man from a Bae Young-ik screenplay (adapting a Joh Sasaki novel), the film’s exploration of crime-fighting’s gray areas is familiar; but strong performances, some stylistic flair and a matter-of-fact tone give “The Policeman’s Lineage” the ring of truth.
‘The Policeman’s Lineage.’ In Korean with English subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 59 minutes. Available on VOD
The horror-comedy “Keeping Company” strikes an at-times uneasy balance between its two genres, as director and co-writer Josh Wallace goes for barbed satire at the expense of thrills. Devin Das (who also co-wrote the script) and Ahmed Bharoocha play door-to-door salesmen for a shady insurance company, who cross paths with a family of serial killers and discover their customers can be as predatory as their bosses. Wallace and Das pack a lot into a short running time, including one subplot about a disgruntled claimant threatening to expose the company’s exploitative practices and another about a political candidate whose tough-on-crime policies add another layer of comment about cynicism and hypocrisy to the film. Between all the characters and plot, there’s not as much room as there should be for shocks and jokes. Still, it’s rare that a movie like this gets dinged for having too many ideas. Though it doesn’t quite come together, “Keeping Company” is never pat or predictable.
‘Keeping Company.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 22 minutes. Available on VOD
The brisk and cheery documentary “A Sexplanation” is about a fairly serious topic: the woeful state of sex education in the United States and how many people rely on rumors, religion, politicians and pornography to determine what “normal” sexual desires are. The director and onscreen host Alex Liu talks with friends, family and clinical experts, looking for some common examples of how Americans learn about sex — and of the things they do in their bedrooms that they’re still too ashamed to discuss openly. The film’s structure is too loose and scattered, and overall it’s skewed more toward personal anecdotes and observations than hard data. (A segment that covers what men and women watch most on the website Pornhub is more revealing that hearing one of Liu’s friends talk about masturbation, for example.) But on the whole, this is an entertaining movie with admirable intentions, pushing the audience to rethink their presumptions about pleasure.
‘A Sexplanation.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 16 minutes. Available on VOD
“Hustle” is the latest dramatic effort from comedian Adam Sandler, who has a knack for these kinds of roles. In this crowd-pleasing underdog sports story, Sandler plays a pro basketball scout who yearns to be a coach and sees his ticket to the big time in a talented Spanish hoopster (Juancho Hernangómez) with a troublesome past. Available on Netflix
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“The Northman” is a thrilling, stylish, blood-soaked Viking action epic from “The Witch” writer-director Robert Eggers, who roughly combines the psychologically complex plot of “Hamlet” with the macho swagger of a Mel Gibson picture. Alexander Skarsgård plays an exiled prince with a big sword and a vengeful streak, who makes life miserable for his scheming mother (Nicole Kidman) and her new husband (Claes Bang). Focus/Universal (also available on Peacock)
“The Place Promised in Our Early Days,” “5 Centimeters Per Second” and “Children Who Chase Lost Voices” are three early films from the acclaimed Japanese animation writer-director Makoto Shinkai, whose more recent movies “Your Name” and “Weathering with You” have been international sensations. These three features-packed special edition Blu-rays are a boon to Shinkai’s newer fans, drawn to the way he blends science-fiction and fantasy into stories about the real-world concerns of young people. GKIDS/Shout! Factory
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