It’s been a stellar few months for documentaries: “RBG,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” “Whitney,” the HBO film on Robin Williams. “Three Identical Strangers” belongs on the list but I need to warn you that the less you know about the film before seeing it, the better. I won’t go into it much here except to give the bare bones of the set up: Identical male triplets, born in 1961, were adopted by three different sets of parents, none of whom knew about the others. Through a series of strange coincidences, the boys meet for the first time when they’re 19 and the high they are on from finding each other, not to mention the media coverage that results, carries the story along for a while. Then reality rears its head, slowly at first, then with more intensity, bringing with it all kinds of dark secrets, questions of nature vs. nurture in childrearing, ethically questionable scientific research and a whole lot more. It’s an awfully good movie, unsettling and fascinating. British filmmaker Tim Wardle has done an exquisite job of gathering old TV interviews and news coverage, conversations with friends and family, thoroughly tracking down previously unavailable scientific data and those who worked on it, and weaving it all together like a well-made mystery, full of twists and shocks and possible villains. In the end, it’s about what was acceptable more than 50 years ago compared with today, about blood bonds, raising kids and just plain being a human being, imperfections and all. The only jarring note for me was the usage of soft-focus re-enactments to illustrate some of the memories. They felt superfluous and took me out of the drama in the moment. But that’s a minor nit; “Three Identical Strangers” should be on the top of your to-see list.
Boots Riley, the writer/director of “Sorry to Bother You,” described his film this way: “It’s an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing.” Yes, that about sums it up. When I saw the film in a theater with a mostly young audience, I wanted to like it more than I actually did, because so much of what it satirizes needs exposure: racism, corporate greed, slavery for profit, the lure of major money over compromised morality, government versus the individual, news as entertainment and, let’s not forget that bane of modern existence, anonymous, intrusive and serenity-destroying telemarketing calls—in other words, all that is going on today in America, much of which is causing unheard-of levels of stress in its citizens. To its credit, it has a charming and talented cast—Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Danny Glover, Steven Yuen—and some outrageous moments, such as Armie Hammer’s cocaine-addled corporate head, Steve Lift, as he riffs on his accomplishments. But much of the humor totally escaped me and I walked out only mildly impressed. Still, “Sorry To Bother You” has gotten excellent reviews elsewhere, so it’s possible—as I’ve confessed in other reviews—that I am simply not the target audience. See for yourself.
I found two old (from 2004) British detective shows on Amazon Prime this week and am enjoying them both: “Vincent” stars Ray Winstone (remember him in “Sexy Beast”?) as a thuggish former cop-turned-PI and “Donovan” casts Tom Conti as a forensic expert who suffers from blackouts. If the heat has you seeking your air-conditioned home, and you’re a fan of British mystery shows, you’re all set.