JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Seventh Fire | Christine | Denial (Directors: Jack Pettibone Riccobono, Antonio Campos, Mick Jackson) - January 29, 2017

The Seventh Fire | Christine | Denial

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Three stimulating productions

Here are three films that at the very least should stimulate many discussions about the human experience.

The Seventh Fire
Jack Pettibone Riccobono, 78 min., 2016
Four stars

If only this prophecy could come true

“The task of the new people will not be easy. If the New People will find trust in the way of all things, in the circle and remain strong in their quest, they will no longer need the selfish voice of the ego and they can begin to trust their inner voice.”

- The Voice of the Ojibwa' by Edward Benton Banai

 The dark side of life on an American reservation (Pine Point, Minnesota) comes to troubling life with this portrait of perennial gangster, Rob Brown (now facing his fifth stay in prison) and his much younger protégé, Kevin Fineday Jr. The former finds some solace and strength in writing while the latter gives lip service to turning his life around but seems destined to reach his sad goal of being the toughest drug dealer around.

Riccobono has done a masterful job of juxtaposing Nature in all her glory (and anger: notably the thunder and lightning sequence) with the truly desperate lives of the two men. Viewers will come away with a better understanding of the pathetic results for those who choose to disappear from harsh reality via drugs, booze and party-hearty lifestyles.

By journey’s end, it is abundantly clear that the “selfish voice of ego” has most certainly trumped that of inner voices in search of a life-changing outlet for their all too fleeting dreams.

The cinematography is like the third principal character; Riccobono’s decision to largely leave acts of violence off the screen goes a long way to viewers’ understanding the pair of lawbreakers as being more troubled than mean. JWR

Antonio Campos, 121 min., 2016
Three and one half stars

Desperately in search of a juicy story

Here’s a cautionary tale for media outlets driven by ratings rather than content and real facts (so timely, given the recent spate of fake news causing the gullible amongst us to believe virtually anything they are told).

Rebecca Hall gives a convincing performance playing Christine Chubbuck: a struggling features TV reporter in small market, Sarasota, Florida. The station’s owner (John Cullum) shows up unexpectedly to see which of his on-air staff have the skill sets to be promoted to his much larger Baltimore outlet. General Manger Michael (a most believable outing by Tracy Letts) advises Christine that the only way out and up for her (and possibly keeping his own job) is to bring in juicy—as salacious as possible—scoop-the-competition stories to the newscasts. But be careful what you wish for.

Still living with her hippie mom (J. Smith-Cameron buoyant and caring as required), Christine finds quiet comfort in make-believe interviews with President Nixon during his impeachment troubles as well as giving hand puppet shows for very young minds. Her non-existent love life is temporarily lifted when the station’s best-looking on-air personality (Michael C. Hall, appearing as if he just walked off the set of WKRP in Cincinnati) invites his co-worker out for a long overdue meal.

Alas nothing seems to work out for the Gordon Lightfoot devotee, who finally gets a chance in the anchor chair. The true-story climax is as chilling now as it was decades ago, pathetically demonstrating what can go so terribly wrong when luring more eyeballs than anyone else to a report on the day’s events. JWR

Mick Jackson, 110 min., 2016
Three stars

Picture at an exhibition

A variation on the theme of fake news finds its way to the courtroom in this retelling of historian Deborah Lipstadt’s (played with determination and stoicism by Rachel Weisz) battle in a libel suit brought by adamant Holocaust denier, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson in superb form as the wily rewriter of facts), who chooses to provide his own counsel.

For the defence, Timothy Small is a model of cunning, timing and tone, breathing readily believable life into barrister David Irving. Astonishingly to some (most notably Lipstadt), the legal team’s strategy is not to have any survivor of the Holocaust testify, knowing full well that Rampton would delight in tearing their recollections apart in any way possible.

In retrospect, Rampton’s agreement (playing readily on his enormous sense of worth and ego) to trial by judge alone was likely his undoing. Of course, in the O.J. Simpson murder trial the jury was largely responsible for ignoring the obvious and letting emotion, rage and past grievances decide the outcome, rather than coldly calculating the facts related to the incidents themselves. All of which leads to the question: can a jury of peers ever exist?

Jackson’s film, despite its fine cast and wonderfully detailed production values, never finds a spark to light the fire under the issues at hand. Seeing the system work without hearing any of the voices of those “who were there” is intellectually satisfying but devoid of any real passion. JWR

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