— Michael O'Sullivan
Two rather different but worthy prison-themed documentaries debut this week. “Time” follows New Orleans car dealer Fox Rich (formerly Sibil Fox Richardson) as she works to free her husband Rob Rich (formerly Rob Richardson), who was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the 1997 armed robbery of a Louisiana credit union. “Belly of the Beast” is an exposé about the illegal practice of sterilizations performed on women in California’s prison system without informed consent.
The latter film is the more traditional of the two movies, following crusading attorney Cynthia Chandler — co-founder and former executive director of Justice Now, which advocates for the abolition of prisons — and Kelli Dillon, who was unknowingly sterilized while incarcerated. It’s shocking to hear the rationale for forced sterilization, articulated by former prison OB/GYN James Heinrich (as reported by journalist Corey Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting): It’s cheaper than welfare.
The black-and-white “Time,” on the other hand, is a more artful and ambitious work in scope and tone, mixing fly-on-the-wall footage shot by filmmaker Garrett Bradley with home movies shot by Fox Rich over 21 years, after she herself was released from 3½ years in prison for her role as an accessory to the crime. Bradley’s film accomplishes two things at once. It’s a portrait of a woman with a steel will and undying love; and a meditation on the passage of time itself, as we watch the Rich’s six sons grow up. Both films echo a single theme: The penal system has become a form of modern-day slavery, and needs to be reformed.
“Time.” PG-13. Available on Amazon Prime Video. Contains some strong language. 81 minutes.
“Belly of the Beast.” Unrated. Available at afisilver.afi.com. 82 minutes.
Having barricaded themselves in their respective apartments during a pandemic that is turning people into bloodthirsty zombies, neighbors Aidan and Eva (Tyler Posey and Summer Spiro) develop a socially distanced attraction in the thriller “Alone.” As Aidan tries to figure out a way to rescue his across-the courtyard crush from the descending hordes, he enlist the assistance of an enigmatic stranger (Donald Sutherland). R. Available on various streaming platforms. Contains violence, bloody images, some crude language and partial nudity. 92 minutes.
Jimmy O. Yang (“Silicon Valley”) plays an office worker pursuing his dream of performing stand-up comedy in “The Opening Act,” whose supporting cast also features Cedric the Entertainer, Ken Jeong, Bill Burr, Alex Moffat and Whitney Cummings. Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms. 90 minutes.
The documentary “Push” looks at the global housing crisis through the eyes of lawyer Leilani Farha, as the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing “unearths familiar tales of poor residents being forcibly evicted to make way for luxury investment units to be sold to wealthy overseas buyers,” according to the Guardian, which calls the film a “powerful” exposé of a $217 trillion scandal. Unrated. Available at afisilver.afi.com. In English, Spanish, Italian, German and Korean with subtitles. 92 minutes.
“She Is the Ocean” is a documentary portrait of nine women around the globe, each of whom shares a passion for the sea. Its subjects include a cliff diver, marine biologist, oceanographer and several surfers. Unrated. Available at virtualavalon.org, themiracletheare.com and Angelika virtual cinema. 99 minutes.
First-time filmmaker Cooper Raiff wrote, directed, co-edited and produced the South by Southwest award-winning “S---house,” a romantic dramedy about a lonely college freshman named Alex (Raiff) who falls for his sophomore resident adviser (Dylan Galula). The Hollywood Reporter writes: “Raiff is so credible in the part one can’t help but suspect there’s a lot of him in Alex; the film’s willingness to look so frankly at his vulnerability, in an unmanipulative way, feels especially refreshing now.” R. Available on various streaming platforms. Contains strong language throughout, sexuality and drug and alcohol use. 100 minutes.
The documentary “White Riot” revisits the formation of the Rock Against Racism movement in late-1970s England, catalyzed by a racist, xenophobic rant by a drunken Eric Clapton during a 1976 concert in Birmingham. The New Music Express calls the debut feature by Rubika Shah “one of this year’s most engaging rock docs.” Unrated. Available at afisilver.afi.com. 84 minutes.