A Thousand Cuts

*** If it's felt as though democracy has been on the ropes this month, this year, this century, A Thousand Cuts is a harrowing snapshot of its knockout. Since President Rodrigo Duterte's election in 2016, the Philippines' "War on Drugs" has effectively given the federal government carte blanche to execute anyone suspected of dealing or using narcotics. In A Thousand Cuts, director Ramona S. Diaz turns her lens on the beleaguered Philippine free press illuminating that state violence—mostly Maria Ressa, CEO of the journalism website Rappler and Time's Person of the Year in 2018. (Ressa is currently appealing a conviction for "cyber-libel" that Reporters Without Borders has deemed "Kafkaesque.") The most tragic and canny component of Diaz's documentary is simply its demonstration of how unpopular journalists are in a country where propaganda has accelerated through social media at an unprecedented pace. Sure, Ressa procures Amal Clooney's personal email in one slightly hopeful scene, but Diaz shrewdly cuts back to a rally of several thousand Duterte supporters bellowing for a strongman who freely jokes about rape and turns murder into explicit federal policy. It's a terrifying reminder for pro-democracy advocates to act now. Because once one side is unpacking publishing principles and the other is wholly comfortable with bloodshed, it's probably too late. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21 Virtual Cinema.

Rebuilding Paradise

** When he's directing fiction, Ron Howard's voice tends to be that of a centrist dad: Obstacles loom impossibly large in movies like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, but that's what makes these men's jobs worth doing, kids. Howard takes pretty much the same stance in his documentary Rebuilding Paradise, sifting through the ashes of a 2018 inferno that consumed Paradise, Calif., claiming 85 lives and leaving little standing. Like all Howard efforts, except maybe that Grinch remake, Rebuilding Paradise clings to the best intentions, and it's more emotive than inquisitive. The documentary's favorite refrain is that the Paradise residents didn't just lose homes, they lost home. That's a powerful and worthy sentiment the first few times, but Howard's tendency to bask in the Rockwellian fantasy of this lost community clearly takes precedence over more hard-nosed insights on lawsuits against the electric company PG&E, regional and international climate concerns, and relevant Indigenous history in Butte County. The documentary actually tips its hat to all three of those ideas, which only really serves to highlight the more melodramatic approach. In interviews, Howard has called himself merely a "wannabe journalist." He's being humble, of course, but with this documentary, it shows. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. rebuildingparadise.film.