Monday, November 20, 2017

Cradle of Champions (2017) DOC NYC 2017

The Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament has turned out more champion boxers than any other event including the Olympics. The competition is so fierce that even great boxers of the caliber of Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson lost at one time or another in the Golden Gloves. Of all of the Golden Gloves tournaments held across the country the best known and most highly regarded is the one held in New York City. It takes boxers from across the Tri State New York area and has them compete for the glory and a necklace of actual gold gloves. CRADLE OF CHAMPIONS follow three fighters  as they begin the process of competing for the title of the best amateur fighter in New York,

The fighters are Titus Williams who has already won a multiple Golden Gloves Championships and who wants to win one more before turning pro. James Wilkins, an up and coming prospect with killer hands and Nisa Rodriguez who is going for her sixth Championship, something very few fighters, male or female who have ever done. We follow them over the course of the Golden Gloves season  as they go on their hopeful march to the finals (perhaps).

This is a great film. It is one one of the best films to have played at this year's DOC NYC. It is a you are there portrait of three fighters trying to better themselves not only in the ring but in life. Having been a Golden Gloves fan for  years I can assure you that what we see is what it's like. They hold nothing back and we see it all including the struggles many boxers face to do the thing they love.

One of the things that I love about the film is it very clear is that despite calls by some to end boxing, the gyms, the tournament and the sport itself are all vital to the survival of many of the fighters. Listening to the people talk about how the various boxing programs have changed the lives of thousands for the better is moving. The sport is not really just about fighting but finding discipline and a family who will help to keep kids and adults off the street and on the straight and narrow. It is a sentiment we see expressed by ex-fighter and trainer Teddy Atlas before one of the cards of boxing. His words were moving and I was touched seeing it play out over the course of the film's 100 minutes.

A full confession, this is the second review of the film I've written. Because of the large number of DOC NYC films  and how I wrote some of them up three reviews go lost this year. One I found a draft for however two others, CRADLE being one, I've had to go back and rewrite.

Before I rewrote the piece I decided to rewatch the film. I needed to take new notes and be more aware of the details of the film. Sitting down to do so I realized just how good the film really is. Freed of the need to have to watch it, retain everything before writing it up and rush on to the next film I found that CRADLE OF CHAMPIONS improved in my eyes as I saw it for what it is a great film. Seeing it a second time I realized that this is a film that I want to see again...and again.... not because I will ever again write on it but because the film is just so damn good. Director Bartle Bull hasn't made a just documentary, he has made a grand narrative. This is a film that is an uplifting film about three people trying to overcome circumstances. Its a narrative that doesn't stand on it's own but mirrors the mythic tales of antiquity that we still listen to because they help us chart our lives.

This is grand filmmaking.

Before seeing the film a second time I as a fan of the film, now upon seeing it a second time I am kind of in awe of it because it is so unexpected in how it's simply telling the tale has made something momentous.

Highly recommended, this was and is one of DOC NYC's best films.

Afterschool (2008) Thanksgiving Turkey 2017

I'm trying to figure out why this was shown at 2008's New York Film Festival. At the same time I'm so incredibly happy that I didn't see it there and over paid for the privilege to watch paint dry.

The plot of the film has an internet addicted teen at a prep school who is so disconnected with the world that the only thing real is what he sees in the You Tube clips or through his video recorder accidentally record the drug overdose of two of the girls in the school. We then watch as events play out.

Long dull shots framed off kilter so as to cut off peoples heads combine together to reveal a story about teen life that is so artificial that you'd have to have limited exposure to either children or the films about them to truly be shocked at revelations.

Alienation? Who would have thought? Drug Use? Amazing.Adults that are condescending and don't listen? Who knew? I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing did.

When the overdose occurs, I'm not sure how long into the film, a good distance, I was bored so my sense of time was all screwed up, I figured that the film would pick up. It really didn't.

Honestly they sort of lost me with the opening montage of viral clips. One instantly got a sense of where it was going and what the filmmakers were going to be saying and the film didn't disappoint.

I thought for awhile that the off kilter camera was always from the hero's point of view and then I realized that not, his head was chopped off sometimes too.

Sometimes you wonder why a film can play something as prestigious as the New York Film Festival and not get a distribution deal or one that delays the release for a year or more, thats not the case here, its clear why no one picked it up, its dull and far from revealing. As I said at the outset the real question is how this dull little film ended up in any film festival at all.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

More Than Meets the Eye: William Wyler December 1-11

The Quad proudly presents New York's most extensive William Wyler retrospective in 15 years with 25 films—22 on 35mm!—from favorites Ben-Hur, Funny Girl, Jezebel, and Roman Holiday to rarely screened titles like The Liberation of L.B. Jones and A House Divided

In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris grouped William Wyler in the dreaded "Less than Meets the Eye" camp, alongside Huston, Wilder, and Lean as “directors with reputations in excess of inspirations.” And what a reputation Wyler has: this consummate perfectionist worked for nearly half a century, from the silent age to the New Hollywood era, earning the most-ever Best Director Oscar nominations with 12 (and three wins). His name has become virtually synonymous with Hollywood craftsmanship and prestige; Wyler made unapologetically big movies about big themes with big performances. But a closer look reveals countless grace notes between the crescendos, and shows Wyler to be an acute chronicler of mid-century American life. He had the range of an accomplished journeyman, but whatever the genre, he proved a fluid stylist of startling invention. The Quad is proud to present New York's most extensive Wyler retrospective in 15 years, a much-needed reconsideration of this vital film artist.

Ben-Hur 1959, U.S., 212m, DCP
The Best Years of Our Lives 1946, U.S., 169m, 35mm
The Big Country 1958, U.S., 166m, 35mm
Carrie 1952, U.S., 118m, 35mm
The Children’s Hour 1961, U.S., 108m, 35mm
The Collector 1965, UK/U.S., 119m, 35mm
Counsellor-at-Law 1933, U.S., 82m, 35mm
Dead End 1937, U.S., 93m, 35mm
The Desperate Hours 1955, U.S., 112m, 35mm
Detective Story 1951, U.S., 103m, 35mm
Dodsworth 1936, U.S., 101m, 35mm
Funny Girl 1968, U.S., 151m, DCP
The Good Fairy 1935, U.S., 98m, 35mm
The Heiress 1949, U.S., 115m, 35mm
A House Divided 1931, U.S., 70m, 35mm
How to Steal a Million 1966, U.S., 124m, DCP
Jezebel 1938, U.S., 104m, 35mm
The Letter 1940, U.S., 95m, 35mm
The Liberation of L.B. Jones 1969, U.S., 102m, 35mm
The Little Foxes 1941, U.S., 116m, 35mm
Mrs. Miniver 1942, US, 134m, 35mm
Roman Holiday 1953, U.S., 119m, 35mm
These Three 1936, U.S., 93m, 35mm
The Westerner 1940, U.S., 100m, 35mm
Wuthering Heights 1939, US, 104m, 35mm

Gold Star (2017)

Victoria Negri's GOLD STAR is one of those films that makes you sit up and wonder why the hell more people aren't talking about it. Having played the festival circuit, where it won numerous awards, and containing a performance that in a perfect world would have an Oscar buzz for Robert Vaughn, the film is now quietly slipping into theaters and being missed by way too many people who should be out talking about the film to friends and family. It's a gem of a film that deserves to be on everyone's radar.

Based on writer/director/producer and star Negri's own experiences the film charts the course of a young woman spinning her wheels in a seeming dead end life. There is nothing wrong with things as such but her boyfriend doesn't thrill her and her music career has been sidelined for shifts at a health club. Things get derailed further when her dad has a stroke and she is pressed into service as a caregiver.

Where to start?  

Perhaps with the Negri's achievements which are massive. She hits every mark perfectly and has made a film that will leave you tearing up as the credits roll. 

While I could wax poetic about all that Negri has pulled off  let me just talk about the script which is top notch. Crafting a script that is filled with complex characters the film has  real lived in quality. Having had to care for parents with health issues its clear that Negri really has been there and she doesn't dumb things down. I can't tell you how many films I've seen, often touted as coming from a person's real life experiences and the film ends up feeling sanitized. Best of all Negri has done something that few filmmakers  ever do and that is make every character on screen well rounded and more than one note. No one is only one thing. Characters arc. Annoying ones become sympathetic, ones we like have off moments and people behave like people. 

What a joy.

While the cast is first rate across the board the real stand out here is the late Robert Vaughn who turns in an Oscar worthy performance. Silent, almost immobile, Vaughn makes it clear that there is a tiger behind his eyes. His looks in the final minutes of the film are crushing as in a few quick looks we see the love he has for his daughter, as well as the pain and uncertainty of his situation. I was sobbing.

The film is, in its way a singular achievement of a filmmaker who has taken her vision and put it on the screen. This film is a quiet calling card of a filmmaker who should be a force to be reckoned with with the films that follow.

Thinking about the film in writing this review I've come to realize that I think the reason the film isn't getting the notice it should is that on the face of it the film doesn't look any different than many similar films. Its only after the film starts and things begin to play out that you realize this is not the film you thought it was, it is something more human and more moving.It is a film you want to share and see again.

GOLD STAR starts in LA November 20th, Boston November 27th and is available on Amazon Streaming

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Man on a Ledge (2012)

Odd ball caper film has a an escaped prisoner climbing out on the the ledge of a hotel and holding the police at bay while across the street his brother and his brother's girlfriend make an effort to break into the vault of the man who framed him.

Mindless popcorn film is exactly the sort of thing that is perfect to curl up with on the couch. While far from high art and not particularly logical it is worth seeing if only to watch the cast of  Sam Worthington, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie and William Sadler go through their paces.

I liked it and I'm at a loss as to why the film has more or less completely disappeared off the face of the earth. Worth a look if you run across it.

(not to be confused the THE LEDGE with Patrick Wilson and Terrance Howard and is extremely pretentious)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars (2017) DOC NYC 2017

ERIC CLAPTON LIFE IN 12 BAARS is a loving portrait of the man that doesn’t shy away from the darkest periods of his life. It is a film that will delight his fans and probably win him many more. It was a super way to end this year's DOC NYC.

The film was directed by Lili Fini Zanuck who was brought in by Clapton to organize all of the material he had been collecting. Knowing something had to be done with the story of his life, he turned all the material to Zanuck whom he had met when they worked on the film RUSH together.  She agreed to do it, warning him that she was not going to shy away from the bad parts of his life. He was fine with that since that was part of the road that brought him to the here and now.

And the whole road is on view here, from his being raised by his grandmother when his mother ran off, to the finding a home I the blues, the Patty Boyd romance, the drugs, the alcohol, the truly horrible behavior, the birth and death of his son, the sobriety and the finding of a family in the wake of tragedy. It’s a moving tale that is firmly focused on the man who is revealed in ways most people probably have never seen, including Clapton who said in a post screening Q&A he has no memory of some of what is revealed in the film.
Thom Powers, Lily Fini Zanuck and Eric Clapton (Photo courtesy of Chocko)
While filled with glorious music, the film, outside of the Derek and the Dominos album and an odd bit here and there the film is not a recollecting about how his albums were made. This a portrait of the man and his head space. A recounting of all of the music is not specific to that journey. However Layla and the other songs on the album are musical resprentations of his heart and soul at the time so we get the deeply moving story of the album's creation. It is a glorious, and, ultimately, doomed love story that moved some to tears.

We get details on how Clapton brought the blues to attention of generations of people. Bookended by BB King ,who influenced Clapton, the film is in love with old school blues artists who Clapton revered so much since the film always keeps them in sight. As BB King says Clapton opened doors for many artists by simply making audiences accepting of the music and over the course of the film we see how that happened.

I have to applaud Zanuck from not shying away from the darkness. We see Clapton stoned, drunk and ugly. We get a real sense of how bad things got via video, news clippings and personal testimony of friends and family who suffered at his hands. On a personal level I got a real sense of why friends of mine who loved Clapton in the early days drifted away from him only to return to him when he became sober once more. It’s clear that he understands that while he regrets all of the bad things he did in the past.

Lily Fini Zanuck has done Clapton proud and made a film that makes us feel the long road he has traveled. I was moved and I freely admit I got misty a couple of times. I love that by the time the film ends there is an earned cathartic release. We’ve traveled with Clapton through the good and bad times and are happy for him and the happiness he’s found.

One of the best music documentaries of the year, it was a hell of a way to end DOC NYC.

The film will be released to US theaters next week. It his theaters in the UK in January 2018. It will play on Showtime in February 2018

Animal (2005)

This is the story of a man nick named Animal. Baddest of the bad, Animal was the head of a crew in ghetto neighborhood he lived in. One day he's arrested and sent to jail leaving behind a wife and child. While in jail for years he continues his violent ways, at the same time his son takes after his old man and becomes known as "Little Animal". With the help of a fellow prisoner Animal changes his way and is eventually paroled. Back at home he now must struggle with carving a out a new life while trying to figure out out how to save his son from ending up like him, or worse.

I stumbled upon this film by accident and I'm glad I did. Animal is a brutal, heartfelt look at life in the "hood", how nothing ever changes, and what it takes to change things. Its a well told story that has some of the best performances of the year in any film. Every one in this movie is excellent from Ving Rhames on down. The acting alone is reason enough to see this film, however there is a very real story being told. It will move you and break your heart.

Forgive me I finished the film not long ago and I still feel the effects of this wonderful movie.Its left me with a loss of words. I think all I can really say is see this film and be moved too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Revolt: Aliens Invade Kenya

Many terrorism and infrastructure experts worry about the potential damage an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack could wreak on our power grid. However, an EMP could be the best hope for humanity in the dark days following the alien invasion. Despite his scrambled brains, a U.S. Special Forces amnesiac intends to be part of the last stand in Joe Miale’s Revolt, which opens tomorrow in New York.

The last thing he remembers was fighting the metallic spider-like aliens—poorly. Coming to in a provincial jail cell, the mystery soldier is now a sitting duck for unsavory local and galactic elements alike. However, the French NGO doctor in the cell next to his is probably in an even worse position. Nadia is pretty cynical for an aide worker, but she is somewhat impressed when he escapes from a smalltime warlord’s gang and returns to rescue her. Henceforth, Nadia will call him “Bo,” based on the two remaining letters stitched on his uniform.

Bo and Nadia decide to team up and head towards a series of radio telescopes a hundred miles or so from the current battle zone. They seem to be the only man-made structures in Kenya that have not been damaged by the aliens, so Bo hopes they can rendezvous with the American military there. It is not a great plan, but it is better than standing around waiting to be killed or abducted.

Revolt is not exactly the most original or spectacular science fiction film to land in theaters, but it is sturdily effective. There is no question the key to the film’s success is the chemistry and charisma of the co-leads, Lee Pace and Bérénice Marlohe. Pace, the Halt and Catch Fire actor (who was excellent in City Center’s production of Terrence McNally’s The Golden Age) makes a credible and compelling action figure, while Marlohe has successfully transitioned from Bond Girl-victim (in Skyfall) to a take-no-prisoners sf butt-kicker, here in Revolt and Kill Switch before it. Frankly, they are only cast-members who get character development arcs to speak of, but they handle them rather dexterously, between all the running and shooting and crashing.

Revolt is definitely red meat science fiction for meatheads, but the plain truth is we would like to see a sequel with both these principle characters. Nobody will confuse it for Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but it works on its own terms—quite nicely. Recommended for fans of action-driven alien invasion movies, Revolt opens this Friday (11/17) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

Spiral (2017) DOC NYC 2017

A look at the rise of anti-semitism in Europe and France in particular. We follow an attorney who battle anti semitism, a family in Israel, another in France preparing to leave, a comedian who got into trouble making jokes, and a few others. Stitched together with anti-Jewish comments and videos the film hopes to give one a sense of what is going on across Europe.

Heartfelt and honest in it's intentions SPIRAL never truly catches fire. While the subject is vital and important, the presentation is too low key as to spark action or interest.  I know there is a problem and I know that the world must be aware but at the same time we need more than people talking quietly in rooms or gorgeous landscapes to get the point across.

To be honest I'm not entirely sure what director Laura Fairrie is going for with some of sequences where little happens.Scenes of people sitting around talking, walking in court house halls or standing in the landscape, while beautiful and allow a  moment of reflection don't really add much. If they are to be bridges between moments there are too many of them.  Somewhere about  the half way point I found my interest waning.

An important subject given an okay presentation.

Sweet Virginia (2017)

Sweet Virginia is one of the seeming increasing number of neo-noir films that are flooding the market. That’s both a pleasure and curse for the film which is a bit predictable but as comfortable as a favorite t-shirt

The plot of the film has a small town rocked by murder burglary. The police are of course baffled as are the residents in the town including the local motel owner and the widow of the deceased. As Sam deals with the aftershocks he begins to slowly put the pieces together…

Make no mistake we’ve been here before. From the infidelities, hidden secrets and strange visitors we’ve been here any number of times since the early days of movies. The plot is so familiar that if you love noir you’d be checking off details and rounding up suspects before the revelations of the film. The overly familiar nature of the plot makes this a film that is good but would have been so much better had we not been ahead of everyone on screen.

On the other hand the film is done well enough that despite reservations when I saw the film at Tribeca the film remained in my mind enough that six months later I was ready to try it again. Seeing it again away from the crush of the festival I found that the film played better. While far from perfect it’s an enjoyable film, the sort of thing you’d pick up again and again when it hits cable.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tormenting the Hen (2017)

To be honest I don't know what I think of TORMENTING THE HEN. It is a film where volumes are unsaid and what is said isn't always what is meant. It is a film where the structure as unclear as the motivations of the characters. Clearly director Theodore Collatos is striving for something but I'm not sure if he achieves whatever it is he is aiming at. On the other hand it has great moments and the themes it's striving to explore are often nicely handled.

Playwright Claire leaves New York City for the Berkshires  where her new play is being produced. Traveling with Monica, her fiance, the couple is hoping to have a working vacation. However circumstances seem to conspire against them as the actors in Claire's play don't want to perform it as written and Monica is made very uncomfortable by Mutty, the son of people who own the house they are staying in. He is large and menacing and clearly has some mental issues. As outside forces put a strain on the women and their relationship begins to fracture.

More a study of a relationship than narrative the film is looking to explore the spaces between characters. What fills the silences and the things unsaid? Do we really know the people around us or do we simply know the idea of them that we have inside our own heads? What at do we mean when we say or do something and is that how other people see our actions? Director Collatos is aiming to explore some heavy questions and he has some interesting things to say about how we see and communicate with each other. It's on it's most basic level that the film works best. Unfortunately it isn't always on view.

While seeming conventional in construction it's clear from the opening credits that we aren't in "Kansas" but somewhere else. Quick clips of violence and sexual imagery intermingle with more pastoral images. One is left feeling unsure what one is seeing.  When the film started I really had no idea what the film was about since I went into the film completely blind. I simply agreed to review the film because a friend asked me to. While was not completely unaware of the film, I know Ben Umstead, one of the producers and I had run a crowdfunding appeal for the film here at Unseen Films, I had no knowledge of the plot whatsoever going in because I had been asked by a third party to review it and didn't connect the screener back to earlier conversations. Going in blind, and based on the credits, I thought this was going to be either a horror movie or thriller, however despite the use of horror movie tropes and some thriller like music the film is simply a drama of uncomfortable interactions. The film's structure is a physical representation of the theme of misdirected expectations.

I'm just not sure it works and I wasn't really sure why. I struggled with the question for several hours when I started to write the review, becoming  so tangled up in trying to deduce the cause of my feelings that I had to go to bed and pick up the review the next day.

Thinking about the film overnight I came to realize that for me the film makes one misstep in that I don’t think it fully trusts it's audience to feel what it wants us to feel. The film through opening credits, music and structure wants us to think its a thriller and be on edge. This is fine but it puts us outside the characters world. We are being clued to feel as we would toward characters who are in a thriller when they simply in a character driven drama. Things are being misrepresented so watching the film becomes kind of frustrating because the rhythm is off. We didn’t need the music and framing to pump up our emotions when the natural awkwardness of the situations between the characters is as sharp as it is. The film would have worked better just taking it straight.

Unfortunately the film is also saddled with the unwieldy character of Mutty. He is a problem for the story because in a film that is otherwise wonderfully subtle with its points (we slowly and naturally come to realize the gulf between characters) Mutty is a bull in a china shop. He is, beyond the music, the reason that we think this is all going to turn dark, since he would normally be the typical horror movie character who snaps. He keeps us feeling the film is one thing when it is not. Worse Mutty’s inability to really communicate well with the other characters gilding the lily. He is boldly painted in broad strokes and thick lines in a film that is otherwise made up of characters who are drawn with fine detail. It’s as if director Collatos needed to add extra exclamation points to a sentence that didn’t need any.

On some level I feel like I need to apologize for not being able to take the film completely on its own terms. I’m a strong believer in seeing a film divorced of hype and explanation and taking the film exactly for what is on screen. While in this case I went in no expectations because I literally knew nothing about it before it started, I've come out saying that the film should be something it isn't. It's not fair I know but in watching it I had a sense that the film itself doesn’t know what it is. I think it thinks it’s a thriller and acts that way but in behaving that way it misses the fact it has a really intriguing drama at its heart. After hours and hours of thought I think I would have loved it had it just stopped the misdirection and played it all straight.

And the weird thing is that as much as I’m bitching about the film I don’t think it’s a bad film. I certainly don’t dislike it. There are some really good performances and super exchanges that highlight the themes it’s trying to wrestle with. If they were allowed to fully flourish this would be a kick ass film. As it is I think it’s an interesting misfire.

Is it worth seeing? I would say it’s worth trying. It definitely has some killer moments. Additionally after seeing the film I read several other reviews of the film and many other writers spoke well of the film.

TORMENTING THE HEN begins a week long run at Brooklyn’s Spectacle Theater tomorrow. For information and details go here.

Saving Brinton (2017) DOC NYC 2017

When Indiana Brinton passed away all of the material, books, posters and movies that she had collected over the years was taken by her executor who had hoped to sort out its historical significance. It seems she and her husband has spent decades touring the Midwest of America screening films in the true infancy of motion pictures. What she left behind was a vast collection that related to film prior to 1910. When the executor died he still had the collection which was taken over by Michael Zahs who kind of sat on the material for another 30 years. With the need for room Zahs turned the material over to the University of Iowa’s Special Collection and wondrous things were discovered.

SAVING BRINTON is a curate's egg of a film. On one hand it is a beautifully rendered portrait of Michael Zahs who happened upon the belongings of the Brintons, but on the other hand the film doesn’t show us a hell of a lot of what was in the collection. I absolutely loved the film but was left kind of unsatisfied the film.

As a film on its own terms it’s a kick ass film. A wonderful portrait of Zahs, a gregarious raconteur with a drive to collect, the film is a film fans delight. Watching Zahs talk about the collection and its history is just damn awesome. As a film lover and a man with celluloid in my veins I ate up everything that was on screen. This is the sort of a tale that film fans always talk about. I mean we watch the discovery and restoration of a lost George Melies film, which is just incredibly cool. I mean it even impressed the legendary film historian Serge Bromberg who is seen being physically moved by the discovery. If you love film this film will make you want to dive into the collection with wild abandon to see what else is there...

Which brings me to the problem with the film, we don’t see a hell of a lot of the collection. We see some posters, some photos, a projector and a couple of clips. We are not allowed to really wade into more of the material. We see the covers of the various books, catalogs and pamphlets but we don’t see inside them. There are posters but we only get a look at a few. And then there are the films which are discussed as being ripe with possibilities, but what are they exactly? We really don’t know. While we get to see the missing Melies, we don’t really see anything else, worse I don’t think we’re even told much, if anything about, any other films other than in passing. . There is a moment where a historian describes the find as not just finding gold on a shipwreck, but also the bills of lading and all of the backstory it as well. The problem is we see one bar of gold and none of the backstory

And before anyone points out that the condition of the items and the films in the collection I have to say that know some stuff is in rough shape. At the same time we should have been shown as much of the collection as possible and not just followed Zahs around. He’s an interesting guy but how many times do we need to see him eating at a social?

Of course I’m nitpicking. I mean I love the film, but there was this point about an hour in when I suddenly realized that the one thing I wanted, which was to see more of the collection, wasn’t going to happen and I kind of deflated. I wanted to feel like Serge Bromberg and look at these wondrous things but we didn’t get the chance.

Despit my reservations SAVING BRINTON is a must, more so if you’re like me and bleed moving images.

SAVING BRINTON has finished its run at DOC NYC, however it will be getting a theatrical release in 2018

The Breadwinner, Another GKIDS Masterwork

Girls passing for boys was a staple of Shakespeare’s comedies, but the stakes were never so precariously high as they are for young Parvana. In Taliban-dominated Kabul, the arrest of her father, the male head of household, effectively imposes house-arrest on his wife and daughters. For their continued subsistence survival, Parvana must pass herself off as a boy, but the consequences will be unspeakably brutal if she is discovered. Islamist misogyny and intolerance have dire consequences in Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner, an animated GKIDS release, which opens this Friday in New York.

Parvana’s father Nurullah is a former schoolteacher, but the former Soviet occupiers cost him a leg and the current Taliban oppressors left him unemployed. Books and photos are now forbidden and women can only leave their homes accompanied by a senior family member. When a former pupil has Nurullah arrested out of spite and fundamentalist fervor, there is no one left at home to shop for food or earn money. As their supplies dwindle, Parvana tries to make purchases at the market, but no vendor will risk incurring the Taliban’s wrath by selling to her.

Out of desperation, Parvana disguises herself as a boy, donning the clothes of a brother killed by a Soviet booby-trap. In the short term, Parvana develops the survival skills necessary for day-to-day survival. She also rekindles a friendship with Shauzia, a former classmate in very much the same situation. However, her long-term goal of securing her father’s freedom remains elusive. Thus far, she only has a beating to show for her efforts.

Frankly, the punch to the solar plexus she takes from a prison guard is far from the most brutal attack on women viewers witness in Breadwinner. GKIDS has often pushed the envelope of animation sophistication, perhaps mostly notably with the urbane and elegiac Chico & Rita, but Breadwinner is easily their toughest film yet. Its PG-13 rating is debatable, but there is no question Twomey shows the violent, intolerant realities of life under the Taliban, in uncompromisingly vivid terms. There is also a messiness to the conclusion that will frustrate naïve viewers, but it stays admirably true to reality.

Twomey co-directed The Secret of the Kells and served as “voice director” of Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea, which are certainly credits that inspire confidence, but Breadwinner is still a shockingly powerful cinematic statement. Arguably, Deborah Ellis’s YA novel could only be adapted as an animated film, because a live-action feature would place its primary lead in grave danger, much like the young actor in The Kite Runner, except it would be even worse for a girl. Regardless, Twomey and screenwriter Anita Doron do right by Ellis’s characters and the real-life girls and women they represent.

Despite the desperate circumstances Parvana faces, Twomey’s animated is often quite lovely. Yet, there is more truth in Breadwinner than most “adult” films released this year. Thanks to this film and Loving Vincent, 2017 has already proved itself as an exceptional year for animation. If one of them does not win an Oscar, it will be time to seriously consider abolishing the Academy. Very highly recommended, The Breadwinner opens this Friday (11/17) in New York, at the IFC Center downtown and the Landmark 57 in Midtown way west.


Portrait of Edwins a restaurant in Cleveland where almost all of the staff is made up of men and women who have just gotten out of prison. The restaurant acts as school giving the staff skills that they can use to put their lives back together and break the circle of jail release jail. This is a wonderful heartwarming tale about people trying to change their lives for the better. Its a super film, that is more satisfying in it's 30 odd minutes than most feature documentaries,
Highly recommended.

Portrait of Aura, a woman who has been cleaning houses for 30 years. However she soon will have houses of her own. A very nice portrait of a woman most people would never give a second look to.

Director Mads Hedegaard ponders the role of memory and perception in our lives as he looks a traumatic injury he suffered and asks various people connected to it to tell him what they remember about it. An excellent film that requires multiple viewings to full comprehend what it is showing us about how our memory works and how perception of those outside us alters how we see events. A must see.

The director and his mother recall his estranged father.
It looks good but beyond that the film eluded me

Portrait of Dr Carlo Musso an emergency room physician who helps to oversee executions by lethal injection in Georgia. It is a moving and thought provoking film, regardless of where you tand on the issue of capital punishment. Very recommended

Bill Frisell: A Portrait (2017) DOC NYC 2017

BILL FRISELL: A PORTRAIT is an excellent look at the man and his music. However despite being a great look a the guitarist the film is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

Nominally your typical bio doc with long discussions of Frisell and the people he's worked with and influenced (that's pretty much everyone) mixed with tons of music the film pretty much lets you know everything you want to know about the man.We hear stories about his working with everyone in every type of music as we hear the music that they made together. Its a wonderful celebration of the man.

The trouble is if you don't know Frisell, and even if you do, this can be a long haul. Sequences go on and on. Discussions with various people seem to repeat points and the whole thing takes a leisurely pace. Each piece is wonderful on its own terms but together the films almost two hour run time seems to stretch out. I found that watching the film on Festival Scope Pro I was turning off the film and walking away. It wasn't that the film is bad it's just I was drifting off.

Don't get me wrong I don't did like the film, I think it's super. Hell, sequences such as the opening one with artist Jim Woodring where they talk about how some things such as art and music being beyond words are stunning. However I just found that it's simply too much of life happening (and maybe some of it is too inside).

Recommended for fans.


Ariela on ZERO WEEKS (2017) DOC NYC 2017

Elizabeth de Leon Bhargava, Esq, Deputy Secretary of Labor and Workforce, activist Ellen Bravo, one of the subjects in the film, and writer/director Ky Dickens
ZERO WEEKS is such an important documentary for everyone to see. How is it that the US and Papa New Guinea are the only two countries with zero weeks of paid family leave (paid leave for maternity leave, leave to take care of an aging family member, or if you are very sick). Every other country has paid leave. Russia has 28 weeks, China has 16, Ethiopia has 25, and the US has none. Now certain states are starting to have paid leave (CA, NJ, RI) and finally NY which begins it's paid leave starting January 1, 2018. (& Washington just started it as well).

Bill Clinton had passed a law that people can get unpaid leave. However, this only works if there are 50 or more people in your company. 40% of people don't qualify for unpaid leave. Furthermore, a lot of people can't afford to take unpaid leave.

Only 14% of people in the US have jobs that do give paid time off.

The film focuses on several people who are jeopardized because of the lack of no paid leave in the US. One was a very sad story about a woman with cancer. She has to get radiation on her lunch break, and because she only has Saturday and Sunday to relax and heal, her cancer is taking a lot longer to recover from, and she's in constant pain. (She also has a daughter to take care of).

Another couple dealt with the loss of their babies and only got a handful of days off for their bereavement. They later have another child and have to deal with the father's lack of paternity leave.

I think this documentary was really well made. It will leave you angry and frustrated at our country. It definitely held my interest the whole time. I teared up quite a bit, which I didn't expect so bring tissues if you see this! I definitely think this is a must see, as so many people in the US assume they will get time off if needed, and are unaware that that this isn't the case, so it's important to find out when starting a job if your job has time off if you get very sick, pregnant, or have to deal with an aging parent.

Go see it and tell everyone about it.

Go to to take action

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ariela looks at One of Us (2017) which is playing at DOC NYC's Short List sidebar

This documentary focuses on three people who aren't happy in the Hasidic community and are trying to break away. (Hasidim are a close knit of ultra orthodox Jews who live by very strict laws. They don't believe in anything secular). There's a woman named Etty with 7 children, who has an abusive husband who she is trying to divorce. There's Ari, who isn't sure about if God exists and is excited to learn about secular things. He talks about discovering Google and Wikipedia and feeling like he was in heaven. Lastly, there is Luzer, who was married with two children, who just wasn't happy, he learned about the outside world from watching movies in his car. He wanted to act and left his family to move to California.

The documentary is well made and it's a sad glimpse of the lack of freedom that the Hasidim have. Etty's story in particular was very upsetting. Her whole family turned against her for wanting a divorce. People stalked her and harassed her. The husband wanted full custody of the children. These Hasidim seem to live by different laws that the rest of the world doesn't. How is this allowed in the US?

The film states that only 2% of people leave the Hasidic community. One man in the film mentions that most people are content with their lives. But how many really are? How many are miserable and too scared to break away? Breaking away, means leaving your family.

This documentary was a good glimpse into lives we don't hear about often. I would be interested in finding out where these three individuals are a few years from now.

ONE OF US plays again at DOC NYC Thursday, for tickets and more information go here.


More essay or experimental film then documentary, SMALL TALK is a kind of waking dream filled in Havana Cuba. I have no idea if it means anything but it sure is damn interesting to try and work out what that might be. Recommended.

The life and times of four ankle monitors and the people wearing them.
This intriguing film fills in what exactly it means to have to wear an ankle monitor, which is something we've all heard about but very few of us have actually seen. I was riveted since the film fills in small little details about everyday existence with one that I never considered. Recommended.

Portrait of Jordan Casteel who paints portraits of black men. A wonderful look at an artist and her work that does what the best art bios do which is give an understanding of both the artist and their work. One of the best shorts at DOC NYC.

Wonderful portrait of Kitty and Ellen two survivors of the Holocaust who have been friends for almost 75 years. WHat can I say about this film other than its glorious time with two charming ladies. A must.


An almost too breezy look at ArtPrize, the world’s most attended art show. The show, held in Grand Rapids Michigan, turns the city into a giant art gallery as artist from around the world descend upon the city in the hope of winning the half million dollar prize- which is decided by both critics and the general public. The film looks at several artists, organizers and members of the public in an effort to reveal that art can sometimes be a democratic endeavor. Highly entertaining the film is wonderful, if not particularly deep, look at the state of the art world. Recommended.

A bracing document of the Detroit riots of 1967 told by the people who were there using home movie footage, photos and archival recording mixed with present day remembrances. This is a you are there film which beautifully explains what happened and why. Recommended.

The Problem With Apu DOC NYC 2017

Hari Kondabolu confronts the stereotype of South Asians as represented by the character of Apu on the Simpsons, a character which has bothered him all for all the years the show has been on the air.

Kondabolu has made a very good look at the question of representation in the media and the problems that stereotypes can cause for the group being mocked. Speaking from experience,  Kondabolu lays out the troubles he has faced over the years as a result of the character and the shows popularity. While primarily addressing the question of South Asian stereotypes the film also addresses to the larger question of ethnic jokes and representations in the media making it a film one can't easily walk away from. It is a film that forces us to consider the very nature of comedy.

One of the things I admire is that Kondabolu doesn't sy away from the fact that,Apu aside he genuinely likes The Simpsons. While some of the people he speaks to doesn't like the film because of the character, Kondabolu finds that hating the show isn't so easy since he knows that the film was important to shaping who he is

While I like the film a great deal I hate that the film was made for TV. Running a fleeting 49 minutes the  film feels rushed, even if it covers a great deal of ground thoughtfully. The film also has the current TV doc sensibility which is talk in soundbites and be splashy making the film seem less deep than it is.

While perhaps it isn't the definitive statement on stereotypes in the media THE PROBLEM WITH APU is an excellent place to begin the conversation.

THE PROBLEM WITH APU World Premieres tonight at DOC NYC and plays on truTV Sunday November 19th