When “RBG” was over, I wanted to applaud and hoot my approval. I did not give in to the impulse, but I tell you about it now because it’s that kind of film. Or, to be specific, it’s that kind of film if you admire an agile brain and fearless attitude in a woman in her eighties; if you wince at how the “weaker sex” used to be viewed and if you care about advances in women’s rights over the past 50 years; if you enjoy witnessing gently taught lessons on compassion and empathy given by a very tiny woman to an imposing group of old, self-important, mostly white men. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known on social media as “Notorious RBG,” played a huge role in changing the laws that dealt with inequality of the sexes and, at just over an hour and a half, this documentary is a stellar example of how a singular individual can transform the world using not rudeness, anger and emotionalism, but brilliant logic and clear, vivid writing. It covers her childhood, her long marriage to a man who was supportive of everything she did, her odd couple friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the intensity of her work ethic and the huge barriers she had to overcome. And we see how she is today, a two-time cancer survivor who works with a trainer and does 25 pushups—real pushups, not the wussy kind—every day. “RBG” is a treasure trove of historical information, landmark court cases, and a glimpse into the mind and world of this living legend. Long may she reign.
A good sports film is a nice way to obliterate the outside world for a little while, and “Borg vs McEnroe” fits the bill. After a brief theatrical release, it’s available now for streaming, and it’s highly enjoyable, even if you’re not a huge tennis fan. The film takes us back to the summer of 1980 and the lengthy, fiercely-fought battle between four-time Wimbledon winner Bjorn Borg and brilliant upstart John McEnroe. Using flashbacks to illustrate their differing childhoods and personalities, we get real insights into the taciturn, seemingly emotionless Swede and the crude, raging American. I found it helpful that I didn’t remember who won that particular tournament, so I was swept up in the tension, uncertain who to root for, or even who to care about. It is in the private moments that we learn to feel some understanding and even compassion for each; in the public moments we are simply swept away by athletic excellence. Written and directed by Swedish filmmaker Ronnie Sandahl, the film stars Sverir Gudnason (a dead-ringer for Borg) and Shia LaBeouf (all manic energy and tantrums), with marvelous support from Stellan Skarsgard as Borg’s trainer/manager.
If you can, go see “The Rider” while it is in limited release in the LA area. A highly unusual undertaking from director Chloe Zhao, it’s about a teenage rodeo rider and his search for meaning in his life after he is injured. Set amid the vast, lonely vistas of the South Dakota plains, an actual family of Native American non-actors, the Jandreaus (father, son, daughter), play a fictional family of Native American horse trainers named the Blackburns, who are eking out a hardscrabble existence in a world that has less and less need for their services. The film’s focus is on young Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) and after we get used to the fact that we are not watching professional actors at work, we are soon totally involved in his small dramas and dreams, as well as those of his father and sister. With its slow pace that subtly builds tension, its breathtaking camera work and its heartbreaking-yet-life-affirming view of a world unfamiliar to most of us, “The Rider” swept me away.