Films you may want to catch at the Mill Valley Film

The Filipino war on drugs, failed justice in rural Alabama, an aging filmmaker, and documentaries on one of the worst, and one of the best, men in recent American history. Here’s my opinions on five films that will screen at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival.

A Watch List

The Philippines’ outrageously inhuman war on drugs makes a terrifying backdrop for this wrenchingly suspenseful thriller. Recovering addicts Maria and Arturo struggle to support their three children. Then someone murders Arturo, Maria must find a way to make a living, while trying to find out who killed her husband. She offers her services to the police, and soon she discovers that she’s made a horrible bargain with the devil. Morally compromised to the extreme, Maria has no good options for herself or her children.

A- Opening night: Just Mercy

Can true justice prevail for a black man in rural Alabama? Maybe, but you’ll need a gifted, well-trained, intelligent, and altruistic lawyer. Michael B. Jordan plays that lawyer in this riveting, based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama. Jamie Foxx plays the convict on death row who finds new hope thanks to the lawyer’s work. But clear evidence of innocence doesn’t mean much for a black man here.

As the Opening Night film, Just Mercy will play Thursday, October 3 at 7:00, on all screens at the Rafael and Sequoia. These screenings are sold out, but rush tickets may be available. If you miss it, the film will open theatrically, probably early in 2020.

B+ Where’s My Roy Cohn

Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary strongly argues that the famously malicious lawyer helped put our country into the mess it’s in. I’m not entirely convinced, but Cohn was certainly a major part of the problem. A self-hating Jew and a self-hating gay, he put Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on the electric chair, became famous as Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel, worked for the mob, and taught Donald Trump how to be evil.

B+ Pain and Glory

Salvador (Antonio Banderas) loves to make movies, but he can’t make them anymore. With age comes back problems, throat problems, and all sorts of physical problems. He frequently thinks of his childhood, with Penélope Cruz playing his strong, poverty-stricken mother in beautiful flashbacks. For the aging writer/director who made this film, Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory may be therapy. For the rest of us, it’s a view of an old man in distress.

  • Rafael, Sunday, October 6, 8:15
  • Sequoia, Tuesday, October 8, 2:30
  • Outside of the festival, Pain and Glory opens Friday, October 11 at the Embarcadero and the Aquarius.

B The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash

This documentary follows the life of the genre-bending Country singer from childhood to old age, covering his music, his drug problems, his fight against racism, his very happy second marriage, and his deeply-felt Christianity. It’s an inspiring story, and filmmaker Thom Zimny gives us time to enjoy the music. Much of the narration comes from Cash’s own audio recordings, but considering his talent as a singer and songwriter, it’s surprising how dull he sounds. His family, friends, and other musicians fill in the rest of the narration off-screen.