Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds isn’t a great documentary, but that doesn’t matter at all when its subjects are as dazzling (and as terribly missed) as Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Bright Lights, which premiered at Cannes last year, has become an elegy for the mother and daughter, who dwell next door to each other and interact as if their lives were one epic double act. Which, in many ways, they were: As Fisher puts it to one reporter ahead of an event, “We are always on a red carpet.” The Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens–directed film is filled with little gemlike moments, but none of them is a purer blast of personality than when Fisher offers the camera crew a tour of her house, which is bright and colorful and filled with tchotchkes. There’s the player piano in the bathroom, the Princess Leia sex doll, the wall of “ugly children portraiture,” and, nestled amidst pictures of her family, a photo of Fisher’s friend gap-mouthed in the middle of a dentist visit.
Where to see it: Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is available via streaming and on demand on HBO.
It’d be a mistake to call Raoul Peck’s searing Academy Award–nominated documentary about James Baldwin and the history of racism in America “comforting.” But there’s something resembling relief in what I Am Not Your Negro offers, which is the ability to envelop yourself in Baldwin’s shimmering brilliance for an hour and a half, to soak in his astonishing phrasing, quicksilver wit, and penetrating (and, unfortunately, still painfully relevant) observations.
Peck’s film is based on Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript in which Baldwin strove to consider the U.S. by way of the lives of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X — all friends of his, all murdered. Samuel L. Jackson narrates while Peck floods the screen with images from the civil rights movement and the Ferguson protests; text from a slave sale notice; video from the Rodney King beating; snippets from films; shots of present-day Times Square; and footage of Baldwin himself on television, called upon again and again to explain race in America. He’s totally magnetic, but even more so is Peck’s choice to include (toward the end of the film) a montage of black faces, past into present, over which Baldwin’s words play: “The world is not white; it never was white, cannot be white. White is a metaphor for power, and that is simply a way of describing Chase Manhattan Bank.”
Where to see it: I Am Not Your Negro is now in theaters in limited release.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid this ain’t. Agnieszka Smoczynska’s gory, sultry, wildly unpredictable fantasia The Lure owes as much to the body horror genre as it does to any fairy tale. Siren sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Gold (Michalina Olszańska) temporarily swap their fins out for legs and head inland to 1980s Poland, where they end up working as an exotic nightclub act. Entertaining comes easily to the pair — love less so, especially for Silver, who falls for a handsome bassist named Mietek (Jakub Gierszal) who tells her apologetically that “to me, you’ll always be a fish, an animal.” Did I mention this is a musical? The story pauses periodically for outsized song and dance numbers — some part of the characters’ acts and others offering insight into their states of mind, like the one pictured above, during which Gold reveals she has started missing her mermaid-standard diet of human flesh.
Where to see it: The Lure is now in theaters in limited release.
The Red Turtle is due to get trampled in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars later this month, mostly likely by one of the two Disney nominations, either Moana or Zootopia. Which is totally fine, as they’re worthy juggernauts. However, Michael Dudok de Wit’s feature is delicate and dialogue-free, the kind of work that gets stumbled upon rather than awarded with a trophy at the end of a long campaign. And The Red Turtle deserves your stumble: It’s a moody tale about a man who gets marooned on an island, with crabs and fish and the giant creature of the title — which keeps sabotaging his attempts at escape — as his only company.
There’s more to the turtle than first appears, and the film turns into something that seems like it’s adding up to — but always evades — a moral. While de Wit is Dutch, The Red Turtle comes from the venerable Studio Ghibli, the company responsible for such uncommon classics as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, which may explain why the film’s key moment — when the man first encounters the turtle — provides equal amounts fear and wonder. It’s not clear if the reptile is friend or foe, and the answer, wonderfully, turns out to be a lot more surprising.
Where to see it: The Red Turtle is now in theaters in limited release.
Paramount’s long-delayed threequel Rings finally arrives in theaters this week, 15 years after the first one, which was itself a remake of a 1998 Japanese movie. Not only are the VHS tapes so central to the premise long gone, the DVD format that succeeded it is on the way out too — which makes the self-awareness of Sadako vs. Kayako much more sensible than Rings’ attempts at serious scares. Yes, director Kôji Shiraishi made a Freddy vs. Jason–style matchup featuring the ghost from The Ring and the ghost from The Grudge, as well as a slew of disposable idiots for the two to destroy. But it’s when the two long-haired lady ghosts are pitted against each other that Sadako vs. Kayako really sings — or rather lets out an ominous clicking sound while lurching unsettlingly toward the screen.
Where to see it: Sadako vs. Kayako is streaming exclusively on Shudder.
Writer-director Cheryl Dunye also stars in her 1996 film The Watermelon Woman as Cheryl, an aspiring filmmaker who’s putting together a documentary about a black actor whose appearance in one of her favorite films is credited only as “the watermelon woman.” Cheryl, who is black, also starts dating a well-intentioned but oblivious white girl named Diana (Guinevere Turner), to the displeasure of her friend and co-worker Tamara (Valarie Walker): It’s a situation that resonates with Cheryl’s research of the historic past. Tonally, Dunye’s movie is playful, but it’s deceptively complex, pairing themes of historical racism, homophobia, black erasure, and black artistry with a present-day story. The film is rich in deftly explored ideas, but it’s also renowned for the sequence in which Cheryl and Diana first fall into bed together, a scene that’s both sensual and deeply rooted in a female gaze, making later arrivals from male directors like Blue Is the Warmest Color and The Handmaiden look like they’re leering.
Where to see it: A restored 20th anniversary edition of The Watermelon Woman is now out on DVD — the film’s also streaming on Fandor.