By Ray Pride

Docs on Box: “Abacus: Small Enough To Jail” and “100-Year-Old Lovebirds”

Deceptively minor-key Steve James, Abacus: Small Enough To Jail is best in moments that add up to an intent portrait of the family fissures in a case on the sidelines of the 2008 financial crisis. The Chinese immigrant Sung family’s six-branch Abacus Federal Savings in New York City’s Chinatown was the only bank to be criminally charged (for loan fraud and 200 other alleged violations), an indictment and trial across five years that required the bank—and its founding family—to defend the bank’s standing in the community, as well as to redeem themselves. Founder Thomas Sung has an unlikely figure from whom he drew inspiration: George Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, who believed in building community through investing in the homes and businesses of Bedford Falls. Portraying the drawn-out trial, so many socioeconomic factors and issues are introduced, discussed, argued. Larger implications abound.

The nineteen charged employees crossed boundaries, but were the higher-ups, the Sungs, aware of what was done in their name? The saga comes back to the Sungs, making the movie less concerned with fiscal maneuverings and misprisions of prosecutorial zeal than family, with an underlying current of institutional racism. James excels at drawing out the dynamics of extended families under stress (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) and Abacus is no exception. Premieres on Frontline, Tuesday, September 12.

My Love, Don’t Cross That River

Byeong-man Jo and Kang Gye-Yeol have been together for seventy-six years. In the sublime My Love, Don’t Cross That River, a huge success in South Korea, writer-director-cinematographer Mo-young Jin watches the “101-old lovebirds” (as the 98-year-old Byeong-man Jo and his wife, the 89-year-old Kang Gye-Yeol are dubbed) for just over a year as they move through their day in traditional Korean raiment, inseparable from first light to final dark. At first, they are almost unbearably adorable. But sentiment surpasses sentimentality. Jin’s canny observation and cutting goes beneath the surface and into the bloodstream. What could have been in many hands autumnal sap or old-folks-sploitation is instead a document of the day-to-day tenderness of a long-lasting, even lifelong bond few couples experience in any culture. The ending, which we are prepared for in the sere, winter-set opening, is a thundercrack, earned, true, heartbreaking. Time stops. Time goes on. There is weeping. Premieres on POV in September; streaming here

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“So, what does it look like when he leaves the show? First, it looks like a ratings spike, and I had a nice chuckle about that. But the truth is, the ink wasn’t even dry on his exit papers before they rushed in a new guy. I was on vacation in Sicily, decompressing — it was a long working relationship and it was a tumultuous end and I needed a moment to just chill with some rosé — and they’re calling me, going, ‘What do you think of this guy?’ ‘What do you think of this guy?’ And they’re sending pictures. I was like, ‘Are you people fucking nuts? Why do you feel that you have to replace this person?’ I couldn’t believe how fast the studio and the network felt like they had to get a penis in there.”
Ellen Pompeo

“I am, as you indicate, no stranger as a novelist to the erotic furies. Men enveloped by sexual temptation is one of the aspects of men’s lives that I’ve written about in some of my books. Men responsive to the insistent call of sexual pleasure, beset by shameful desires and the undauntedness of obsessive lusts, beguiled even by the lure of the taboo — over the decades, I have imagined a small coterie of unsettled men possessed by just such inflammatory forces they must negotiate and contend with. I’ve tried to be uncompromising in depicting these men each as he is, each as he behaves, aroused, stimulated, hungry in the grip of carnal fervor and facing the array of psychological and ethical quandaries the exigencies of desire present. I haven’t shunned the hard facts in these fictions of why and how and when tumescent men do what they do, even when these have not been in harmony with the portrayal that a masculine public-relations campaign — if there were such a thing — might prefer. I’ve stepped not just inside the male head but into the reality of those urges whose obstinate pressure by its persistence can menace one’s rationality, urges sometimes so intense they may even be experienced as a form of lunacy. Consequently, none of the more extreme conduct I have been reading about in the newspapers lately has astonished me.”
~ Philip Roth