Sarah Polley continues to become one of the most innovative and inventive directors working today and its proved by what she spills out on the silver screen in her newest endeavor Stories We Tell. A compelling and personal documentary about her own life, Stories We Tell blends and fuses the magic of non-fiction with the imagination of the cinematic mind. Read more on Stories We Tell (***½)…
The Project (***½)
Capturing graphic and stunning images of a war many are unaware, Shawn Efran & Adam Ciralsky’s The Project is a timely and smart documentary that hooks the audience into a world of foreign affairs. Profiling the precarious, real-life story of the Puntland Maritime Police Force, or better known as the PMPF, a shadowy group of pirate hunters, The Project highlights mutiny, murder, and diplomatic mischief within its dangerous quest to rid Somalia and its coastal wars of terror.
Read more on TRIBECA: The Project, Let Them Wear Towels, and Oxyana…
People in this line of work like to joke that documentaries only focus on incredibly downbeat or somber subjects. While that’s not 100% accurate, downer docs do tend to be in the majority, so when you come across one that doesn’t make you want to sit quietly in the corner and fight back tears, it’s definitely a welcome change of pace. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the film gets a free pass, and this non-fiction film from the Tribeca Film Festival suffers in that regard. Amusing at times, even with its own incredibly short running time, Little Bub & Friendz is a harmless little film that scores points for positivity but winds up not giving you enough interest to sustain.
Read more on TRIBECA: Lil Bub & Friendz (**½)…
It’s time for all of us film lovers to expand our horizons to films that are outside our normalcy. We encourage independent filmmakers to push the medium regularly but we have to attempt to seek some of these films out on a regular basis. With digital streaming in full force nowadays, it allows the opportunity to see some of these films that usually aren’t playing at a theater near you.
The Tribeca Film Festival is celebrating many independent cinema including foreign films and documentaries. A documentary that looks incredibly interesting is Lenny Cooke. Telling the story of a high school basketball player that was destined to become the next great sports legend, nearly twelve years later, he hasn’t played a second of professional basketball. The big question is why? If you love sports, especially basketball, this may tickle your fancy. The full synopsis is down below along with the trailer.
The film is directed by Josh and Benny Safdie and is produced by Adam Shopkorn.
Check it out if you can.
Read more on Trailer for Tribeca Film Festival Documentary ‘Lenny Cooke’…
When you sit and talk with passionate people, it tends to bring out the passion in you. I love talking politics, so getting to chat with author and chef turned activist Tom Colicchio about the way a bill got mangled in Congress was really an incredible experience (almost as good as when I was seated next to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews at a Sundance screening and engaged with him in political chatter). In association with the release of the documentary A Place at the Table (my review of which can be found here), which talks about food insecurity in America, I was invited to attend a press day about a week ago that included a press conference with Jeff Bridges and the minds behind the doc (plus Billy Shore, who is the founder and CEO of No Kid Hungry), while also getting interview Colicchio and the co-directors/co-producers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. What follows is the highlight of my 1 on 1 with Colicchio, Jacobson, and Silverbush, as well as a few choice quotes from the press conference (the audio for both could go up soon if all goes according to plan, though you all know what that means). I hope you enjoy, but more importantly I hope you take notice of this incredibly sad and preventable issue that too many American families are dealing with on a daily basis. If enough people make their voices heard, we can eliminate hunger, and I hope we do soon…
Read more on Jeff Bridges and Tom Colicchio are fighting hunger with ‘A Place at the Table’…
I generally enjoy the music of the band Journey as much as the next guy, but it never struck me as a group in need of a documentary. Yes, their new lead singer Arnel Pineda brings a very cool underdog story along with him (which I’ll detail in a bit for those who don’t know), but it’s very hard to see ‘Don’t Stop Believin: Everyman’s Journey’ as a doc that the world required. It’s got good music and goes down easy, but it feels more like a Special Feature on a Concert DVD of the band than anything else. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of music docs, though there have been some classic rock and roll themed ones over the years, but they tend to be helmed by master filmmakers like Martin Scorsese. Nothing against director Ramona S. Diaz, but quite frankly she’s just no Scorsese. If you dig Journey’s music, you’ll definitely have a leg up here, but unless you’re a hardcore fan, there’s likely not quite enough here to recommend to you (and even if there was, it’s on VOD the day after it hits theaters, so you could just watch it from the comfort of your own home that very weekend). I had a decently good time with this flick, but it tested my patience a bit too much, and by the end I really just wanted it to end.
Read more on Don’t Stop Believin: Everyman’s Journey (**½)…
There’s a lot of surprising facts on display in the new documentary A Place at the Table, a film focused on the shocking amount of people who are food insecure in the United States of America. Starting off of the startling premise that one in five children in America don’t know where their next meal is coming from, filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush set out to document the hidden struggle going on in this country and show just how easy this could be solved, if only people were to actually demand it. The goal here is to erase the misconception that hunger is the type of problem that will always exist. In this effort, Jacobson employ the likes of Jeff Bridges, T-Bone Burnett, and Tom Colicchio (among others) to raise awareness and hopefully push politicians to act. Read more on A Place at the Table (***)…
For those who have not seen the incredibly fascinating and inspiring documentary Searching for Sugar Man, I highly recommend doing so. Not only is it the best doc I saw this year, but it is one of the best films of the year as well. The Academy thinks so too, as it is one of the five nominees for Best Documentary Feature (and quite possibly we’re looking at the winner here). The subject of the doc is a musician who goes simply by the name Rodriguez, and it tells of his surprising flop as a musical artist. Well it turns out the 70 year old is re-teaming with his former producer – Steve Rowland – to head back to the studio to record his first album in 42 years.
Read more on ‘Searching for Sugar Man’s’ Rodriguez Set to Record First Album in 42 Years…
Stories We Tell, the sterling documentary from Sarah Polley, is a delicately assembled exploration of a family and how the stories they tell weave together a complicated tapestry. Sarah Polley starts the film nimbly enough presenting all of the subjects, her family members and close family friends. But what starts out as a simple exploration of memory quickly blossoms into an examination of secrets, memory and the human condition. It’s mesmerizing filmmaking, a combination of acted archival footage, interviews and voice recording sessions that congeal together quite well. Read more on SUNDANCE: Stories We Tell (***½)…
A moving, if one-sided documentary, After Tiller is an affecting look at the few doctors in the world providing third trimester abortions for women in the aftermath of the noted Dr. George Tiller being murdered in 2009. Directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson obviously care deeply about the right to choose, even in this extraordinarily controversial incarnation of the practice, and it shows. They’re not going to change the world with this doc and likely are preaching to the choir, but it’s a sermon that’s well worth hearing. Shane and Wilson put a human face on the practice by focusing on the doctors themselves as much as the issue, which gives the film an identity. Undoubtedly this will be an emotional documentary to sit through for some, and while I don’t see it being an awards contender, it’s a strong bit of cinema. As a side note, there was added security for the premiere due to the potential for some unpleasantness. That should let you know how strongly this issue gets to people.
Read more on SUNDANCE: After Tiller (***)…
I have a confession to make. It may shock some, considering how I wind up seeing just about everything that comes out in a given year. Are you ready? Well, here it is. This is my first time watching any of documentarian Michael Apted’s Up series. This new installment ’56 Up’ is definitely an interesting entry point into the documentary franchise, as it’s self contained enough to remain fascinating. I’m not in love with it like many of my fellow critics are, but I’m fairly confident that a lot of that has to do with not having seen any of the prior installments. It’s a real credit to Apted’s skill as a filmmaker that an admittedly too long movie at almost two and a half hours only starts to wear on you near the end. That’s me though, and I know lots of people are absolutely captivated by this latest look at a group of average human beings. The documentary hit theaters last week, so this is a bit of a belated review (it honestly took me forever to pop in the screener I got), but better late than never, right? Regardless, anyone who likes this series will love this latest look at where these individuals are now.
Read more on 56 Up (***)…
I can only imagine being an Israeli citizen watching the documentary ‘The Gatekeepers’. The closest thing for an American like me would be the experience of ‘The Fog of War’, but there’s really no current comparison. This film about the history of the anti terrorism unit Shin Bet, as told in interviews with 6 former heads of the department, is incredibly fascinating and made me long for a similar type of movie concerning the war on terror for the United States and the decision makers behind that. Documentarian Dror Moreh keeps things pretty simple here, mostly just using talking head interviews with each retired Shin Bet leader to move the story along. At times things threaten to get a bit boring, but by and large this incredibly interesting stuff. The documentary isn’t coming out in theaters until February of next year (minus a qualifying run this month in New York), but it’s an official 2012 release in play for a Best Documentary Feature nomination at the Oscars. I don’t know that it can actually win the Oscar, but it’s probably one of the more likely nominees. I can definitely see the Academy going for this flick. I didn’t find it perfect, and probably like it a bit less than most, but I still can easily recommend it, especially to foreign policy/Middle Eastern political enthusiasts.
Read more on The Gatekeepers (***)…
It’s hardly a spoiler to say that ‘The Imposter’ is a documentary where all is not as it seems. Just look at its tagline: “Deception Comes Home”. Few films in general this year have inspired so much post viewing conversation among those who have seen it, so it was a no brainer to accept the offer to interview the director behind the doc Bart Layton. I was complimentary to the film when I saw it over the summer (my review is found here), though I had very mixed feelings about some of his filmmaking decisions. I’d come around on them a bit since then though, so getting to talk to Layton about it really helped to flesh out what exactly he was trying to accomplish. We’ll know soon-ish if the doc is truly in play for a Best Documentary Feature nomination at the Oscars, but it’s well worth seeing no matter what. Here’s the transcript of my interview with Bart Layton, a man fascinated by ‘The Imposter’, much like I was. Enjoy!
Read more on Uncovering ‘The Imposter’ with director Bart Layton!…
From the documentary created by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, The Central Park Five (2012) is based on the injustices pushed onto five innocent boys. After running in film festivals both on the east and west coasts, this feature documentary will be released in theaters the weekend of November 30th. David McMahon, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson will, also, be in town to promote this film. Below is a new clip, the third, from a very defining part in the documentary that has just been released to the public.
Read more on The Central Park Five Clip Released!…
I’m always cognizant of how lucky I am to be doing what I do for a living, but sometimes, to be frank, I have the best job on the planet. Early yesterday was one such day, as I was lucky enough to be among the limited non-sports press to be invited to chat with New York Mets player R.A. Dickey. For those of you who don’t know anything about him, he’s a pitcher for the Mets who utilizes a very rare pitch called the knuckleball. Dickey literally is a real life fairy tale, and the embodiment of hope and perseverance. He’s currently actually the only pitcher in baseball who throws the pitch and was one of the subjects of the documentary ‘Knuckleball!’ this year (my review of which can be found here). He’s one of my very favorite individuals in sports, and just a few days ago he was awarded the Cy Young, which is a prize given to the best pitcher in the league. It’s a great moment in sports, and as a diehard Met fan this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.
Read more on Talking ‘Knuckleball’ and life with R.A. Dickey!…
It’s been a pretty good year for documentaries in my opinion, and few have been better than Alex Gibney’s latest film ‘Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God‘. An all too familiar and original story, in the sense that Gibney is focusing on the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church, but this time around he’s looking at disabled kids being molested, mainly deaf boys. It’s an emotional story, no doubt, but in lesser hands this easily could have seemed like a cheap production latching on to other stories of this ilk, but this is obviously not that. By taking this one particular case and using it as a jumping off point to discuss the church’s dysfunction and corruption, Gibney differentiates himself in a very powerful way. I fully expect this to be a major contender for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, not just for a nomination, but for a win as well. For my money, it’s among the very best things that Gibney’s ever done.
Read more on Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (***½)…
AFI Festival: The Central Park Five (2012) is a documentary about when law enforcement blamed one of New York’s most well-known crimes on five boys. The filmmakers, angered by the injustice, called into question whether or not the authorities that the public thinks are there to enforce the law really does that. Based on the true accounts of the five innocent boys; Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, who were accused, tried, and found guilty for raping a jogger, Trisha Meili, in Central Park, New York, in April of 1989. Sarah Burns, in collaboration with Ken Burns and David McMahon, chronologically shows both sides if the case, supporting events with some who were involved and others who could explain why five innocent young boys would confess to something they didn’t do. Read more on The Central Park Five (****)…
Categories: Film Reviews
Tags: Antron McCray
, Central Park
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, David McMahon
, day 3
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From the producer of The Cove (2009), Chasing Ice (2012) is one of the most profound and phenomenally shot documentaries to be released in 2012. From the beginning, the audience sees clip after clip of news footage about natural disasters that has happened within recent years, which successfully ends with a well-known reporter telling the world that there isn’t such a thing as global warming. I think this segment is meant to remind people of the dangerous encounters we’ve had with nature and it brings the audience into thinking about the serious fears awaiting in the future. Read more on Chasing Ice (***½)…
Read more on Chasing Ice (***½)…
Categories: Film Reviews
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There is no city in the United States more fully associated with hard economic times than Detroit. The hardships that are emblematic of many of the U.S. manufacturing issues of late are chronicled with a passionate eye in the documentary ‘Detropia’. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have made a movie that looks at the city in a matter of fact way that recalls their past effort ‘Jesus Camp’, even if the power of that film is somewhat superior to this one. Ewing and Grady don’t have a cure for the issues of Detroit, no solution that lawmakers need to follow, just a desire to highlight what’s going on in the Motor City, or more aptly what used to be the Motor City. In some ways this is just a tribute to what Detroit used to be, fully aware that it may never be that way again. That’s both a help and a hindrance to the documentary, but overall it’s done pretty well, even if the end result is more of a eulogy than anything else. Those from the area will obviously find it very moving, but any citizen of the United States will gain from watching ‘Detropia’. It’s not the happiest documentary in the world, but it’s a film that deserves to be seen. I’m not sure if members of the Academy will give it an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature or not, but it’s certainly in the hunt. The category is never easy to figure out, but something like this definitely is in play.
Read more on Detropia (***)…
Here we are, back again at the New York Film Festival. I missed a little bit of time due to a dental issue that needed taken care of, but I’m back now with a look at one of the most intriguing movies that’s playing at the fest. Among the other titles that have recently screened, we have ‘Caesar Must Die’, ‘Celluloid Man’, ‘Lines of Wellington’, ‘Memories Look at Me’, and ‘Night Across the Street’, but I’m going to be focusing on and talking about ‘Room 237′. It’s a documentary focused on the many different interpretations that people have about Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘The Shining’. I was looking forward to this movie more than anything not named ‘Flight’, ‘Frances Ha’, or ‘Life of Pi’, so suffice to say I sat down yesterday pretty excited to experience this doc. What did I think? Well, let’s find out…
Read more on NYFF: Taking a look inside ‘Room 237′…
Anyone who’s a baseball fan has an opinion about the pitch known as the knuckleball. Often looked at as a gimmick, no respect has historically been given to those who throw the pitch. For those of you who don’t know what the pitch is, it’s a pitch specifically thrown to minimize the spin of the ball in flight. This causes an erratic and wildly unpredictable motion that makes it nearly impossible to hit, and even harder to control for pitchers. The exception in the past decade has been Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and journeyman turned New York Mets star R.A. Dickey in the last few years, and their success is what drives the terrific sports documentary ‘Knuckleball!’. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg chronicle here with knowledge and affection the stories of Dickey and Wakefield, along with paying tribute to some of the knucklers who paved the way, including Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, and of course Phil Niekro. Even if you’re not a sports fan, this is an engrossing doc the champions the human spirit and the will to triumph over incredible odds. This is a stand up and cheer sort of movie. I don’t know that the Academy will be interested in nominating this flick for Best Documentary Feature, but it would certainly have my vote if I was a member and it deserves some real consideration…more than it’ll ultimately get, that’s for sure.
Read more on Knuckleball! (***½)…
With a catchy title suggesting a somewhat tongue in cheek horror film more so than a deadly serious documentary, there’s actually plenty scary about what’s contained in ‘How to Survive a Plague’…namely how those with AIDS used to be treated in the United States of America. Filled with pure emotion and terrifyingly real sense of desperation that had to have been felt at the time, this is a very good documentary that focuses in on the history and impact of the AIDS crisis in America and how a small group of activists were instrumental in getting medication into the world that saved countless lives. Mainly comprised of archival footage from numerous protests, group meetings, and other clips that had to have been previously unseen for the most part (with a little bit of talking head interviews thrown in for good measure), this isn’t your standard documentary, though it’s definitely a compelling watch. Obviously this is rather depressing subject matter, but it’s handled in a very solid way, which is important since this needs to work more than just in terms of making one cry. Tears are certainly a possibility for audience members who see this little flick when it opens on Friday, but its primary goal is to inspire people to act against social injustice. Director David France (a journalist who’s a first time filmmaker) is definitely successful in that way, leading you to connect the dots to current social issues if one is so inclined (or the Occupy Wall Street movement, for that matter), though if you don’t there won’t be anything lost on you in terms of how you feel about this movie. Regardless, this is a well made and important documentary to have in the world and I’m glad it’s getting a release.
Read more on How to Survive a Plague (***)…
The next big film festival of the year has started in the Big Apple ladies and gents, and I’m proud to be covering it for The Awards Circuit alongside our fearless leader Clayton. The high-profile titles begin screening next week, but there’s already things being shown at P & I (Press and Industry) screenings with the On the Arts and Cinema Reflected sidebars. Thursday had On The Arts sidebar films “The Savoy King: Chick Webb & The Music That Changed America,” “Ingrid Caven: Voice And Music,” as well as “Becoming Traviata.” Friday focused on the Cinema Reflected sidebar with “The War Of The Volcanoes,” “The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling,” and “Casting By,” a documentary about the unheralded work of the casting director on films. It was followed by a press conference by director Tom Donahue. Read more on NYFF: The 50th New York Film Festival gets underway!…
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Michael Haneke puts his best foot forward with “Amour”
Toronto Film Festival: Something extraordinary happened while screening Amour, the new film from Michael Haneke, something that has never happened to me before in a theater. Partway through this deeply emotional film, by far the most gut wrenching of the directors career, I could my eyes filling with tears. Memory merged with the images I was seeing on the screen, and I stifled a sob, but the next one escaped me, and I found myself struggling not to weep openly. Gently, as though in a dream, I felt a hand on mine, and a gentle squeeze. The woman next to me, well into her seventies, leaned over and whispered to me in Danish, and continued to hold my hand until I composed myself. When the film ended I sat watching the credits, admittedly afraid to move, and she leaned over and asked, “you OK?” I smiled and thanked her. “You lose someone?” she asked me with gentle green eyes? “Yes”, I answered, and she replied without hesitation, without knowing who I had lost, “pain never goes away…life helps” and she turned and walked out of the theater. Obviously she has loss in her life, as we all do. Read more on TIFF: Haneke Speaks Volumes, Polley’s Third is a Home Run…
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