This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

NETFLIX’S THE SOCIAL DILEMMA Live Discussion and Q&A

Who: Jeff Orlowski, Tristan Harris, Tim Kendall, Cathy O'Neil, Rashida Richardson, Katie Couric
What: Live discussion and Q&A about The Social Dilemma
Where: 92nd St. Y online
When: Tuesday, September 29, free, 7:30
Why: If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t pull yourself away from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or any of the other social media platforms, writer-director Jeff Orlowski’s The Social Dilemma has the answers, and it’s not a pretty picture. The feature documentary, streaming on Netflix, investigates the big business behind keeping everyone addicted to these sites through manipulative algorithms that work hard to not let you go. Orlowski (Chasing Coral, Chasing Ice) speaks with men and women who worked for the social network giants, in addition to tech experts and lawyers, and what they have to tell us is downright frightening; in addition, scripted narrative segments follow a young man (Skyler Gisondo) who represents how each one of us can be controlled by Silicon Valley. You can find out more on September 29 at 7:30 when the 92nd St. Y hosts a free, live discussion and Q&A with Orlowski and several people who appear in the film: former Google Design ethicist and president and cofounder of the Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris, former Facebook director of monetization and current Moment CEO Tim Kendall, data scientist and ORCAA founder Cathy O'Neil, and civil rights lawyer and Rutgers visiting scholar Rashida Richardson, moderated by journalist Katie Couric.

MARTHA MATINEES: THE EVE PROJECT

Martha Graham Dance Company concludes The Eve Project with livestream September 23 & 26 (photo copyright Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc.)

Who: Martha Graham Dance Company
What: Finale of The Eve Project
Where: Martha Graham Dance Company YouTube
When: Wednesday, September 23, and Saturday, September 26, free, 2:30
Why: Martha Graham Dance Company’s “Martha Matinees” series continues this week with the conclusion of The Eve Project, its celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, as well as honoring the current renewed focus on gender and power. On September 23 and 26 at 2:30, MGDC will stream Julien Bryan’s 1935 film of Martha Graham performing Frontier: American Perspective of the Plains, which pays tribute to the spirit of pioneer women; a recent performance of Errand into the Maze with Charlotte Landreau and Lloyd Mayor; and the premiere of 19 Poses for the 19th Amendment, an Instagram challenge that asked people to re-create any of nineteen photos of Graham performing such poses as “Prelude to Action,” “Masque,” and “Spectre 1914” from Chronicle, “Clytemnestra,” “Phaedra,” “Satyric Festival Song,” “American Document” and “Primitive Mysteries.”

“Experimentation with technology has always been a significant part of how we make our work accessible to all audiences,” artistic director Janet Eilber, who hosts the “Martha Matinees” livestreams, explained in a statement. “Our use of media onstage and off, our interactive projects online, and our substantial presence on social media have prepared us to face the digital urgency of the Covid crisis. Our ninety-fifth season will be enhanced by the new, virtual journeys we are creating — coordinating our many online events and offering context to the depth and breadth of the Graham legacy and all we do to move into the future. Our dancers are not only nimble onstage but in the creation of online artistry.” Head over to the MGDC YouTube page to see such previous virtual presentations as Immediate Tragedy, Larry Keigwin’s Lamentation Variation, Justin Scholar’s Eve Forging, Landreau’s Opus One, and So Young An and Lloyd Knight in . . . Remember. . . .

KAJILLIONAIRE

Kajillionaire follows a family of minor-league grifters struggling to pay the rent

KAJILLIONAIRE (Miranda July, 2020)
Opens theatrically September 25
Live virtual red carpet with Q&A September 24; live Q&A September 28
www.focusfeatures.com
www.mirandajuly.com
www.bam.org

Miranda July’s third feature is another wholly original, endlessly inventive tale, this time about a rather unusual family with a unique approach to their day-to-day life. The follow-up to July’s 2005 engaging romantic comedy, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and her 2011 eccentric domestic drama, The Future, Kajillionaire is a family portrait of the Dynes, a trio of extremely low-level con artists whose dynamic changes considerably with the addition of a new member.

Evan Rachel Wood is sensational as Old Dolio, the twenty-six-year-old daughter of Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) Dyne. Although a practical reason is given for her name, Dolio, the word is the preterite form of the Spanish verb doler, which means “to hurt.” And Old Dolio is hurting something fierce, even if she and her parents don’t realize it. The three of them appear to live on their own planet, in their own time and space. They pull off absurdly tiny swindles in order to try to keep up with their meager rent. They live in a vacated office next to a company that manufactures bubbles; twice a day (and three times on Wednesday), pink bubbles start flowing down the far wall in their “home,” so they have to be sure to be there at those designated hours to catch the bubbles in garbage cans and steer them down the drain to avoid flooding. July adds wacky moments of physical comedy each time they have to get to their door without their strange landlord, Stovik (Mark Ivanir), seeing them and demanding money. It’s both hysterically funny and hugely pathetic, but there’s a beautiful magic to it, reminiscent of the peeling wallpaper in the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink. It’s also representative of their Sisyphean lives as a whole, repeating the same patterns, getting nowhere, just bubbles disappearing.

Old Dolio is like a feral child, reminiscent of the boy in François Truffaut’s The Wild Child, Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, and even Brendan Fraser’s caveman in Les Mayfield’s Encino Man. (Los Angeles is very much a character unto itself in Kajillionaire, as the Dynes make their way through various LA neighborhoods to pull off their very minor-league ripoffs; July grew up in Berkeley and lives in California with her husband and child.) Old Dolio looks down at the ground, shuffles her feet, and talks in a low-pitched voice with no nuance, as if she is still learning language. Her father admits that she was taught how to write via forgery. She can’t relate to other people, unable to have a real conversation, even with her parents, unless it’s about their cons.

The family structure shifts when Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) enters the picture, like a new baby sister who her parents nurture and care for more than they ever did Old Dolio. They meet when the Dynes are in the midst of a luggage scam, the parents acting as if they don’t know Old Dolio, which is a rather apt metaphor. Sitting next to Theresa and Robert on a plane, the outgoing, talkative Melanie instantly feels comfortable with them while Old Dolio looks on from another row, jealousy quickly building, likely a new emotion for her. The relationship between the two women drives the second half of the film, as they teeter on the edge of sisterhood, friendship, and maybe even a little more. Meanwhile, the parents recognize a change in their daughter, but they don’t necessarily know how to react, or even if they want to; they’re more like mini-cult leaders than mother and father. “They’re my parents,” Old Dolio tells Melanie, who replies, “In what sense?”

Director Miranda July and actor Evan Rachel Wood plan out a scene on the set of Kajillionaire (photo by Matt Kennedy / copyright: © 2020 Focus Features)

Kajillionaire is so enrapturing, so expertly made by writer-director July — with lovely, humorous cinematography by Sebastian Winterø, fun production design by Sam Lisenco, and a sweet score by Emile Mosseri — it is easy to wonder why it’s only July’s third film in fifteen years. But she’s also a performance artist, an author, a visual artist, an actress (she starred in her first two films), and an app creator. She has written the short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You, the book It Chooses You, and the novel The Last Bad Man; created the Somebody app in conjunction with her 2014 short film Somebody; has released several records on the Kill Rock Stars label; has staged such interactive art projects as Eleven Heavy Things, Learning to Love You More, and New Society; and has just released her first monograph, to which I contributed a few photographs. Thus, film is only part of her vast, multidisciplinary oeuvre, but it is one she has mastered with her singular style.

Oscar nominees Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman, Urban Cowboy) and Jenkins (The Visitor, The Shape of Water) make a terrific oddball pair, with Emmy nominee Wood (Thirteen, Westworld) and Golden Globe winner Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin, Filly Brown) as the very different “children,” an introvert and an extrovert in search of some kind of real bonding. This family does not operate like the smooth hustlers of The Grifters or Ocean’s 11, Melanie’s favorite movie, but have more in common with the petty swindlers of Paper Moon and Nagisa Oshima’s Boy. In one of the film’s many running gags, the Dynes are terrified that a giant earthquake, “the big one,” is liable to hit at any moment; they freeze at the tiniest of tremors, as if the end of the world is near, but nothing of any sizable consequence ever happens to them; they’ve trapped themselves in a paltry existence they have created, a dour loneliness and sadness hanging over them like a dark cloud (as opposed to cute pink bubbles). “Me, I prefer to just skim,” Robert explains. July has done much more than skim in this captivating film that captures peculiar and idiosyncratic aspects of the human experience as only she can. Now, if we can only get her to make more movies.

Kajillionaire begins streaming through BAM beginning September 25, preceded by the three-day festival “Made Up: The Multiplicity of Miranda July,” a Focus Insiders exclusive consisting of screenings of Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Future, Love Diamond (her first full-length performance piece, which debuted in 1998), and other videos, along with a virtual red carpet and Q&A with July and the cast on September 24; you can also join a live Q&A with July and Spike Jonze hosted by American Cinematheque on September 28 at 10:30 EDT.

NATIONAL DANCE DAY: SC7NARIO

Who: Tyler Hanes, Virgil ‘Lil O’ Gadson, Alex Wong, Max Clayton, Ryan Steele, Karla Garcia, Amber Ardolino, Christine Cornish Smith, Terk Lewis, Francesca Granell, Ryan Breslin, Blair Beasley, JJ Butler, Lauren Butler, Damian Chambers, Reanna Comstock, Adam Coy, Alexa De Barr, Joseph Fierberg, Lexi Garcia, David Guzman, Jordan Fife Hunt, Erin Kei, Major King, Katie Laduca, John Manolis, Mateo Melendez, Hamilton Moore, Nicolette Pappas, Whitney Renee, Madeline Rodrigue, Hilary Smith, Katherine Stanas, Ryan VanDenBoom, Richard Westfahl, Gabriella Whiting
What: Livestream premiere of dance film
Where: BroadwayHD
When: Saturday, September 19, free
Why: You can celebrate National Dance Day on September 19 by checking out the premiere of SC7NARIO, an eighteen-minute film choreographed by Banji Aborisade and directed by Aborisade and Moogie Brooks that features more than three dozen performers from Broadway and off Broadway moving and grooving to a score by Mason Bonner. The narrative involves a writer in a cafe working on a new tale that suddenly comes alive around him. The film was shot at Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters in Greenpoint prior to the pandemic; Barton Cortright served as cinematographer and editor, with costumes by Kathryn Bailey. A subscription service, BroadwayHD will also be streaming such shows as An American in Paris, 42nd Street, Cats, Fame, Pippin, the Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland and The Nutcracker, and other productions as part of National Dance Day.

A VIRTUAL PRINCESS BRIDE REUNION

Who: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Christoper Guest, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Chris Sarandon, Rob Reiner, Josh Gad, Eric Idle, King Bach, Finn Wolfhard, Shaun Ross, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Reitman, Patton Oswalt, Norman Lear
What: Benefit reunion reading of The Princess Bride script
Where: Act Blue
When: Sunday, September 13, suggested donation $27, 7:00
Why: After voting Democratic from 1988 to 2012 in the presidential election, Wisconsin went red in 2016, helping Donald J. Trump become the forty-fifth president of the United States of America. Amid protests and riots in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back by a police officer, Wisconsin is once more a key swing state, this time in the battle between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. One way to contribute to turn the Badger State blue again is by signing up for an amazing livestreamed reunion reading of Rob Reiner’s 1987 cult classic, The Princess Bride. On September 13 at 7:00, most of the original cast will participate in a one-time-only table reading of the script, with Cary Elwes as Westley, Robin Wright as Buttercup, Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, Wallace Shawn as Vizzini, Christoper Guest as Count Rugen, Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, Carol Kane as Valerie, and Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck; joining them are director Rob Reiner as the Grandfather, Josh Gad as Fezzik, Eric Idle as the Impressive Clergyman, Finn Wolfhard as the Grandson, Shaun Ross as the Albino, Whoopi Goldberg as the Ancient Booer and the Mother, Jason Reitman as the Narrator, and King Bach as Yellin, the Assistant Brute, and the King, with Patton Oswalt as the Q&A Moderator and executive producer Norman Lear as the Man That Made It All Happen. Gad has been the king of reunions during the pandemic, having hosted online cast and crew reunions for Back to the Future, Splash, Lord of the Rings, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters, and The Goonies on his YouTube channel.

Based on William Goldman’s 1973 novel — he wrote the screenplay as well — The Princess Bride is a riotously told fairy tale about power, family, vengeance, and true love, with memorable lines appearing throughout. (My favorite is “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” You might prefer “As you wish,” “Anybody want a peanut?,” “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles,” or “Inconceivable!”) In order to get the Act Blue link, you have to make a donation of any amount to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which explains, “Anything you donate will be used to ensure that Trump loses Wisconsin, and thereby the White House,” as per the famous saying “As goes Wisconsin, so goes the nation.” In a statement, Elwes added, “I think most people are aware by now that Donald Trump has completely abdicated his duties as president to represent and stand up for all Americans. He has failed to keep the country safe from Covid-19 and as a result he is responsible for the devastating chaos, violence, and economic collapse that we are now experiencing. If America is going to have a real chance at healing we must get rid of Trump. And that is only possible if we win Wisconsin. I am thrilled to be part of this very rare reunion of my colleagues from The Princess Bride as a way to increase awareness and garner resources for the state that will determine the fate of America.” Be sure to take a moment of silence to pay your respects to the crew and cast members who are no longer with us, including Goldman, Peter Falk (the Grandfather), André the Giant (Fezzik), Peter Cook (the Impressive Clergyman), Mel Smith (the Albino), Margery Mason (the Ancient Booer), Anne Dyson (the Queen), and Willoughby Gray (the King). When Westley says, “We’ll never survive!,” he’s of course referring to another four years of the current administration, but we also can’t forget what the Grandfather explains: “Life isn’t always fair.” (For more Princess Bride fun, check out the star-studded Quibi home movie version here, benefiting World Central Kitchen.)

STAR TREK DAY (with live Q&As)

Who: Mica Burton, Sonequa Martin-Green, David Ajala, Alex Kurtzman, Michelle Paradise, Wil Wheaton, Cirroc Lofton, Alexander Sidding, Nana Visitor, Armin Shimerman, Terry Farrell, Ira Behr, Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, Ethan Peck, Akiva Goldsman, Henry Alonso Myers, Akela Cooper, Davy Perez, George Takei, Rod Roddenberry, Kate Mulgrew, Robert McNeill, Ethan Phillips, Robert Picardo, Tim Russ, Garrett Wang, Scott Bakula, John Billingsley, Dominic Keating, Anthony Montgomery, Linda Park, Connor Trineer, Mike McMahan, Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes
What: Online celebration of all things Star Trek
Where: CBS All Access and startrek.com
When: Tuesday, September 8, free, select shows streaming at 3:00 am on CBS All Access, panels beginning at 3:00 pm on startrek.com
Why: With so many small and large indoor and outdoor gatherings shut down during the pandemic, one of the industries taking the hardest hit is conventions. On September 8, CBS All Access and startrek.com are adapting by having a major online edition celebrating the Star Trek universe. The pop-culture phenomenon created by Gene Roddenberry continues to impact society and technology fifty-four years after the original series kicked off a three-season run on television in 1966, spreading to the big screen and the internet, with numerous live-action movies, prequels, sequels, and animated tales.

The first episode of Star Trek, The Man Trap, aired on NBC on September 8; this September 8, CBS All Access will be streaming twelve hours of shows from all over the Trek map, followed by eight live discussions on the official Star Trek site, all free. The event will be hosted by Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton and feature panels dedicated to Discovery, Deep Space Nine, Strange New Worlds, Voyager, Enterprise, Lower Decks, the original series, and The Next Generation and Picard, with more than three dozen ST veterans participating, including George Takei, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, Robert Picardo, Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes. May they all live long and prosper.

EPICENTRO (with live Q&As)

Epicentro takes a look at paradise, imperialism, war, slavery, freedom, utopia, and the power of cinema in Cuba

Who: Hubert Sauper, Eric Hynes, Beth Gilligan
What: Epicentro (Hubert Sauper, 2019)
Where: Museum of the Moving Image (August 28 - September 13, $12)
When: Sunday, August 30, free, 3:00; Saturday, September 5, free, 3:00
Why: Nothing was ever the same once Christopher Columbus and the Europeans arrived in Cuba on October 28, 1492. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Hubert Sauper explores more than five hundred years of Cuban history in the poetic and intimately honest Epicentro, which opens virtually August 28 through the Museum of the Moving Image here in New York City. Hubert Sauper (Darwin’s Nightmare, We Come as Friends) wanders through the streets of the island nation, taking his camera into apartments and businesses as he passes by burned-out buildings and cars, speaking with men, women, and children about such complex issues as utopia, dystopia, imperialism, racism, slavery, and freedom, relating it all to the invention of film. “Cinema projects our soul. Cinema moves humans to emotion,” a man tells a group of young students while screening documentary images of military battles and Georges Méliès’s fantastical 1902 A Trip to the Moon. The kids boo as America raises its flag in Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War. “Havana means heaven, the dwelling place of angels, and it was the epicenter of three dystopian chapters of history: slave trade, colonization, and globalization of power, ingredients of modern empire,” Sauper narrates.

The film was inspired by Johannes Schmidl’s 2014 book, Energie und Utopie, and it isn’t hard for Sauper to find the indomitable energy of the Cuban people. Sauper eschews talking-head experts, historians, politicians, and well-known faces and instead lets the people tell their own story, especially two young girls who are wise beyond their years. At one point they have a rather remarkable conversation about Americans. “What happens here in Cuba is that we Cubans are used to . . . it is because they are treating other people like . . . they are superior to us, and they have more money and more of everything. They are richer than us. Some of us don’t know what goes on abroad,” one says. The other adds, “Some Cubans think that they are coming to harm us and treat us badly.” First girl: “Now there is that damned Trump.” Second girl: “Trump cares about nobody . . . he has no feelings.” First girl: “He does not lift the embargo, talks about the bad things in Cuba, and he closed the borders to migrants.” Later, on a rooftop, the first girl explains, “Nobody should be treated as if they were trash. Because black just like white means being a person.” As serious as the girls can get, however, they are later shown having a ball as they dress up and take pictures of each other pretending to be fashion models.

Sauper, who wrote, directed, photographed, and co-edited the film (with Yves Deschamps), also encounters prostitutes; a single mother; lots of people driving classic old cars from the Mafia era; a crowd mourning the death of Fidel Castro; a white photographer who refuses to pay his subjects (“to be photographed by me is an honor”); Oona Castilla Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter, who teaches the kids about acting and music; and a tango-loving Bavarian man who notes, “Travelers who come here are people who have already traveled the world. And they are on a quest for the yet undiscovered paradise.” Meanwhile, a man in a bar complains, “I’d like to say that tourists are humanity, are human beings in their worst possible form. What kind of future is built by tourism? None. It only devours the future. It devours the past and culture, it renders everything superficial, into stupidity, into a relationship of power, constantly. . . . How much does making cinema resemble tourism?” But more than anything, Sauper captures the innate love Cubans have of their country, their history, their culture, and life itself. Their eyes glow with an infectious spirit even when they’re immersed in poverty, always ready to make the best of a situation, particularly the children, whom Sauper refers to in the credits as “little prophets.”

“Cuba is the beauty for the whole world,” a man says while pointing out the tiny island nation on a giant floor map in a theater. And Epicentro, winner of the Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, is one beauty of a film.

On August 30 at 3:00, the Museum of the Moving Image will host a live Q&A with Sauper, moderated by film curator Eric Hynes, followed on September 5 at 3:00 by a live Q&A with Sauper and Coolidge Corner Theatre director of development and marketing Beth Gilligan.