Friday, February 16, 2024

Bob’s Cinema Diary: February 16, 2024 -- 'God & Country,' a documentary, and 'Monolith, a drama set in one location

God & Country

Religion and politics can make for a toxic mix, something the founding fathers of our enduring but often wobbly nation understood. Director Dan Partland, in a documentary produced by Rob Reiner, delves into the fervor that lights the Christian Nationalist fire. Does Partland's God & Country preach to the secular choir? Not entirely. Some of the best voices in this volatile documentary are raised by people of faith, notably Rev. William Barber, New York Times columnist David French, author Jamar Tisby, historian Anthea Butler, and sister Simone Campbell, a nun, lawyer, and activist. An  equal number of fiery voices spout their nationalist convictions with tub-thumping fury. The gist of their proclamations include the claim of direct instructions from God, the assertion that the U.S. is a Christian nation, pro forma condemnations of abortion and Joe Biden, as well as unwavering allegiance to the MAGA movement. Served in large doses, so much Christian Nationalism will leave many viewers fearful about a country founded on the genius idea that church and state should be separate. I don't think Partland aims to change any minds. Instead, he sounds a warning about Christian Nationalism and explains its origins, linking it to racism inflamed by school desegregation. Put another way, the film sounds an alarm for everyone who subscribes to a common sense bromide, "You go to your church. I'll go to mine." To which I'd add, "or no church at all." Partland's incendiary documentary reminds us that if the US falls apart, it won't be because of any external enemy; it will be because of intense factionalism, in this case represented by extreme Christian Nationalism.


focuses on a disgraced journalist (Lily Sullivan) who’s licking her wounds at her parents' isolated but austere home. In an effort to reclaim her reputation, Sullivan's character (referred to only as The Interviewer) dives into the turbulent waters of podcasting. She works on Beyond Belief, a series in which she applies investigative skills to oddball stories.  She interviews characters (always heard and never seen) in pursuit of a story that will reopen doors for her. Early on, she encounters a woman who tells her about a 20-year-old event involving a rift with the wealthy family for whom she worked. At the heart of the story: a mysterious black brick that contains indecipherable writings and exposes those who possess them (there's more than one brick) to bizarre visions. A warning from aliens? Obscure art objects? Australian director Matt Vesely blurs the line between reality and paranoia, and fabrication and truth, putting Sullivan’s character into an increasingly agitated state. He opens up a one-woman show by allowing his camera to explore the house, observe  the journalist’s computer screen, listen to her phone calls, and see the many text messages she receives. Monolith ultimately works better as a character study of a desperate woman than as a fully realized sci-fi thriller, but credit Vesely with getting further than you might expect from a minimalist approach.

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