What We Do Next

What We Do Next is small in scale but tackles wide-ranging issues such as familial trauma, social justice, and moral responsibility. The tense drama focuses on a young woman released from prison after 16 years for using funds donated by community activists to purchase a gun and kill her father. Writer/director Stephen Belber confronts the difficult question of who was responsible for the young girl and if it was wrong to provide her a pathway to crime.

Belber’s film uses an intimate theatrical structure to craft a strained atmosphere. Each scene only includes two or three actors often shot in tight close-ups, occurs in an enclosed space, and takes place in real-time. This filmmaking style amplifies the pressure the characters feel and the impact of the actors’ heated performances.

A pensive and determined Corey Stoll plays a liberal lawyer now doing corporate work who agrees to take the fall for loaning Elsa the money. Karen Pittman is powerful as the conflicted Sandy, an intelligent and ambitious politician who truly wants to help others but unwittingly aided a murder. Michelle Veintmilla deftly captures the pain and trauma that lies beneath Elsa’s blinding rage and manipulation. Elsa has a short fuse that frequently sets off and burns everything in its path. At times Ventmilla’s crackling energy is over the top, but it shows how Elsa is desperately clawing her into an acceptable future.

Despite its title, What We Do Next doesn’t offer any pat answers. Instead, the film challenges the audience to consider the harmful ramifications of political idealism. What We Do Next teaches us that solving the problems of inner-city youth is easier said than done, and there are no tangible solutions for an entire systemic issue. The film approaches such ideas with a thoughtful intensity.

MICerz

MICerz revolves around a hapless group of mostly male comedians trying to make it in Hollywood. Most of the comedy is derived from them roasting one another. If crass humor is not your style, this film may not appeal to you, especially because the acerbic jokes obnoxiously go on for the entirety of the film. The flat, dark visuals match the cynical tone of Omar Dzlieri’s screenplay.

Arnold is a down-on-his-luck comic who lives in a van. He agrees to help out Dave, the grouchy owner of a hole-in-the-wall club The Bomb Shelter, in exchange for parking nearby and practicing there. The best part of the film is Arnold’s dynamic with the other comics, despite a few stilted performances from some of the ensemble. Through their quick-witted sparring, Dzlieri authentically captures how they find humor in every situation and are constantly striving to perfect their craft.

The Bomb Shelter allows the group of comedians to test their sets on one another, and they call each other out when they bomb (hence the club’s name). While it is fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes of a comedian perfecting their set, the constant barrage of failed jokes starts to irritate the viewer.

MICerz is not a triumphant tale of upward mobility. Told with wry humor and a touch of cynicism, the film navigates the failures and flaws of people who are dedicated to finding the humor in those very same things. This is not a story of finding stardom but of exposing the underbelly of Hollywood. Not all viewers will be able to handle the boorish humor, but MICerz has a gritty outlook that makes the comedians’ quest for success compelling.

Facing Nolan

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Facing Nolan is a simple and sweet biography of famous baseball player Nolan Ryan. A cheeky, Southern-style narration opens and closes this earnest recollection of Ryan’s incredible accomplishments. At the core of this idyllic sports tale is Ryan’s relationship with his wife and high school sweetheart Ruth, and the strong family unit they raised. The documentary explores how Ryan deftly balanced his familial and professional duties.

Director Bradley Jackson skillfully interweaves past footage of games, vintage photographs, interview segments with other baseball players and Ryan’s family, and some reenactments. A playful period soundtrack including “Everybody’s Talkin'” and “The Heat is On” guides the viewer along Ryan’s journey—mostly his triumphs and the hard work it took for him to get where he is today.

Since the film is a family affair, with Nolan serving as an executive producer alongside his sons Reid and Reese, it is an aggressively positive portrait, but not too saccharine. Ryan has a deep love for the family he’s built and has had many stellar achievements, including setting 51 Major League Baseball records such as the most strikeouts, most no-hitters, and longest career that went through seven presidential administrations (LBJ to Clinton).

This uplifting documentary is crucial viewing for baseball fans, but Ryan’s awe-inspiring story has universal appeal. Anyone—even the most baseball-illiterate—can be moved and inspired by Ryan’s innate talent and dedication that made his dreams come true. Facing Nolan has a heartwarming optimism and Americana charm that is irresistible.