Friday, November 16, 2018

Beauty Queen (2018)

Following a discussion in one of her high school classes a Christina decides she would rather be beautiful instead of pretty. Taking steps to make that happen she eventually ends up meeting a photographer…

This excellent short film about how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us packs an emotional wallop. Because nothing terrible happens (sorry spoiler) filmmaker Nicholas Goodwin keeps this grounded and real. Also helping is that Christina Goursky as the girl at the center of it is herself beautiful. Making her just as lovely as the girls she thinks is more beautiful than herself allows us to see ourselves in the story. If she doesn’t see herself as beautiful then the rest of us who feel similar may also be beautiful. It forces us to consider how we think about ourselves.

A great addition to the film is Timothy J Cox as Christina's‘s father. Playing the sort of dad we’d all like to have Cox is the moral center of the film and the rock to which Christina is tethered. Its not a showy role but it is an important one that keeps things things real as opposed to just being a movie.

This is a solid film and worth tracking down.

DOC NYC Short takes

Sometimes when you see a film something happens and you don’t have a lot to say. It’s often not a reflection of the films, rather simply a matter of things not clicking in a way that gives you enough that you want to talk about. What follows are 8 films that kind I saw for DOC NYC that didn’t leave me with a great deal to say. I liked some, didn’t like others, but either way I simply didn’t have many word to say about them.

The Blessing
Is a beautiful film about an Native American family trying to come to terms with the intrusion of the modern world into their traditional community. As dad battles with the fact that the company he works for is mining the tribes ancestral lands, his daughter wants to break free of traditional roles. It will haunt you.

Boy Who Like Girls
Good but unremarkable film about efforts to change the attitude of boys toward girls in the wake of brutal gang rapes in India. This is good but considering the subject matter it should have been better

Colossus
An American young man born to parents who have deported tries to cope with being left on his own and living in the care of relatives. A charming young man at the center lifts this film up from being just another story about America’s immigration crisis

Crime + Punishment
Playing as part of DOC NYC’s Oscar Short List side, Crime + Punishment is about the NYPD’s quota system. Allegedly stopped years ago numerous officers go on the record to reveal that the police is still demanding they make arrests and write tickets. A very good, if slightly over long, look at official crime going unpunished is definitely worth a look, though I’m kind of at a loss to explain the Oscar talk.

16 Bars
Todd Thomas of Arrested Development works with those in and just out of prison in crafting music. This is a very good.

Great Mother
In the wake of so many deportations Nora Sandigo acts as the legal guardian for 2000 kids whose parents have been deported. This film will make you smile at the thought of one person stepping up and anger you that it is just one woman and we have been forced into this.

I Am The Revolution
Portrait of three women making a difference in the Arab world. This is a really good film but each woman could have had a film of their own and the brief run time (it runs 78 minutes ) kind of works against this being as good as it could have been.

False Confessions
Nominally a look at people who confess to crimes they never committed, it often seems to be more about Jane Fisher-Byrialsen who is working to clear people who have falsely confessed. While not bad, the fact that Fisher-Byrialsen remains front and center as much as she does makes this less compelling than if we had disappeared into the cases.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Nate Hood on the City That Sold America (208) DOC NYC 2018

At a certain point watching Ky Dickens’ The City That Sold America, I had to stop taking notes and just let the rest of the film wash over me. The information was coming too fast for my fingers to keep up, a veritable firehose of factoids and anecdotes. Just as I would finish typing how Chicago ad agencies invented Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer to help promote mail order catalogues to rural farmers, the film would already be a mile ahead of me, talking about how Kimberly-Clark revolutionized women’s hygiene in the 1920s with their discreet ads promoting a new product made from leftover wood pulp fiber—a disposable “sanitary pad” named Kotex. Here’s a meditation on the Marlboro Man and how advertising experts had to fight to get corporate bigwigs to accept him (they apparently thought city folk would be confused by cowboy mascots!); here’s a lecture on how Chicago was “the first great city created just by Americans” and how its nascence signaled a new age of American progress, one including the invention of skyscrapers, Ferris wheels, and Tony the Tiger.

With a run-time that doesn’t even reach 70 minutes, it’s a masterclass of cinematic compression, cramming in enough material for an entire TV miniseries. Yet it never feels cramped, as Dickens’ sheer enthusiasm for the Windy City keeps things feeling light and breezy, even when the material takes darker turns such as the mass migration of southern blacks flocking to Chicago to escape Jim Crow. The film’s central issue, then, is that it eventually forgets that it’s a documentary first and foremost about Chicago itself—why else would it include a history lesson about something as dangerously dry as how the city’s location near the geographic middle of the country made it the perfect distribution point for consumer goods?

But as Dickens continues to roll out talking heads, Chicago fades into the background entirely—I don’t think it’s mentioned once in the last 10 minutes. Instead it becomes a puff piece about benevolent advertising, climaxing in a 1967 speech where ad magnate Leo Burnett tearfully begs his employees to never forget how advertising should serve mankind for the better. It’s almost as if Dickens lost his ability to distance himself from professionals who are essentially glorified carnival barkers shelling beer and tampons. It seems the advertisers advertised themselves too well. Don Draper would be proud.

Rating: 6/10

THE INSUFFERABLE GROO (2018) DOC NYC 2018


Portrait of no budget filmmaker Stephen Groo who has made almost 200 films in the last 20 years by any means necessary. No budget is too small for Groo who makes films because he has to.

Full disclosure watching the film I realized that I have seen a couple of Groo's films over the years. I couldn't tell you what they were because other than the cheapness they never stayed with me. And to be completely fair I can't be certain I didn't turn them off before the end.

You have to admire his drive.

That said I'm really not sure we needed a 90 minute love letter to Groo. While I'm sure his fans will disagree, I was largely done after about 20 minutes. There isn't enough here to support a feature film. Its largely shots of him making the film and stories of past films. That's fine for a while but after a while it runs out of steam.

The idea of covering the work of a no budget film maker isn't anything new, but usually either they are short enough not to wear out their welcome or they have something more to offer (see Jason Kartalian's GIANT WOMEN MICRO-BUDGET or KUNG FU ELLIOT)

If you love low no budget films give it a shot. All others take a pass.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

DOC NYC Capsule reviews: THE PROVIDERS, THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD, and FAMILY IN TRANSITION

The Providers
Excellent and heart warming portrait of three health care providers in Health care providers in Northern New Mexico. These wonderful people do what they can to help those struggling with various forms of addiction. They are the sort of professionals that we'd all love to have taking care of us since they show a real compassion for the people in their care.

This film is a genuine gem. It is highly recommended and is one of the highlights of this year's DOC NYC

Smartest Kids In The World
Portrait of four kids who left the United States to go study abroad because they flt the systems in other countries (South Korea, Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland) A good film that is a guaranteed discussion starter. As good as the the ideas are and as charming as the kids are the presentation is a little too by the numbers for me with the result that we kind of get the sense that we've been here before when we really haven't.

Family in Transition
What happens when a family in Israel has to deal with the father's announcement that he wants to transition into becoming a woman? This is an heartfelt and kind of intense look at  the changing dynamics of a family. Wonderfully in the trenches we are there are the family goes through the seismic changes and everyone is forced to consider where they stand.  Recommended
(Family in Transition will open Friday November 16th in New York and Los Angeles November 23)

DOC NYC Capsule Reviews: FIRE ON THE HILL and SEE KNOW EVIL

FIRE ON THE HILL: THE COWBOYS OF SOUTH CENTRAL
Intriguing look at three young black cowboys living in South Central Los Angeles who fight to preserve The Hill, the last public stable in the city.

A super look at a part of life that most of us don't realize exists. It is an uplifting tale about three young men trying to keep off the street by keeping a tradition alive.  This is a small gem of a film that is better experienced than talked about. Highly recommended.

SEE KNOW EVIL
Portrait of photographer Davide Sorrenti who died while in his 20's. Sorrenti  had developed a rare blood disease as a child that should have killed him before he was five but he managed to hang on to become an influential image maker  who popularized heroin chic.

While I admire his images I really didn't care about his life. Honestly I've always heard he was a street kid who made good and I admired him pulling himself up, but my feelings were kind of dampened when I discovered that some doors were opened because of his parents which takes nothing away from his talent but does diminish the tale of the self-made man somewhat.

As for the film its a bit too in love with its subject with seemingly everyone having nice things to say. There also really isn't enough to this story to really warrant a feature portrait so I kind of drifted off after awhile at the sameness.

Worth a look for fans only.


Christina M Tucker ponders The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story (2018) DOC NYC 2018

Premiering at DOC NYC this year, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story, directed by Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney, documents the history of Nickelodeon, the first children’s-only television network from its founding through its heyday.


The story begins with Qube, an early cable television system from 1977 that explored interactivity, and one of the team members at the forefront of the endeavor, Dr. Vivian Horner, who began the earliest incarnation of Nickelodeon, a program called Pinwheel. (The documentary makes a point to highlight the numerous women whose insight and talent made Nickelodeon what it was.)

The team from the Pinwheel program went to New York and began the Nickelodeon network in 1979. The documentary starts here, from Nickelodeon’s humble beginnings. Much of the film is centered around the Founder and President of Nickelodeon Geraldine Laybourne, exploring her leadership methods, perspective, and philosophy, and ending with her exit in the late 90s. The Orange Years is thorough, reverent, and interesting with an impressive amount of archival video and printed material to supplement fascinating interviews.

PANTONE 021

The exposition, in which Nickelodeon’s philosophy and origins is explored, effectively sets up an emotionally genuine and still moving story. It makes every victory for the studio (their first original programming, their studio lot in Orlando, Florida, their foray into animation) feel inspiring and meaningful. Nickelodeon is positioned, both in this film and throughout history, as a contrast to Disney, and the philosophy and execution of typical Saturday morning cartoons. They presented entertainment without condescension, with a hint

of irreverence and rebellion that spoke to children’s experiences. Nickelodeon was an underdog with a team full of talent and creativity that was pushed and challenged by an initial lack of funds and struggles to find programming that created a network that became a powerhouse, and The Orange Years capitalizes on this inspiring underdog story throughout to marvelous emotional effect.

The film explores the creative risks Nickelodeon were willing to pursue in their original programming including Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Clarissa Explains it All and Nick News in their commitment to realistically depicting the high and low points of childhood. Their profile of Clarissa Explains It All is particularly interesting, as it shows without preaching or bragging, that boys will in fact watch a show with a female protagonist if it is well-made and speaks to something real.

The Orange Years also explores Nickelodeon’s history with animation Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Rugrats, their first three animated projects that all became hits, which all subverted of the norms of children’s programming in different ways, while all using top-notch animation, voice-acting, and writing talent.

“If a Show is Good, Anyone Will Watch”

The Orange Years effectively defends its assertions of Nickelodeon’s uniqueness with extensive archival finds including video and printed material, that are both informative and keep the documentary kinetic and energized. The film is also peppered with original new animations that accompany interviewer stories, another sign of the overwhelming effort that went into making this film a documentary that doesn’t simply pander to nostalgia, but is engaging in its own right.

There are a wide range of interview subjects from talent (including Melissa Joan Hart and Kenan Thompson) as well as producers and executives. Most interesting is the insight of the executive production members. Former President Geraldine Laybourne, Former VP of Nickelodeon Scott Webb, QUBE executive Burt Dubrow, Former Creative Director Anne Kramer, figures who may be unknown to the general public, are full of humor, admiration, and knowledge about the channel and its history.

The Orange Years doesn’t entirely shy away from negative elements of Nickelodeon’s existence (the tours of the studio that made young talent feel like creatures in a zoo and infringed upon their private lives, the deterioration of Nickelodeon’s relationship with Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi due to issues with content, timeliness, and budget.)

Most notable is the bittersweet ending that brings Nickelodeon into the present day. There is a feeling that the film and its interview subjects is holding back harsher sentiments as the film refers to the recent monetary successes that have come from the licensing of Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer, and an initial commitment to originality and subversion has been replaced with a commitment to monetary gains. Nickelodeon is no longer an underdog, and there is an implication that the company has become stagnant in the successes of the last several years and that without Laybourne’s unique vision the network has abandoned its former philosophy of honesty, experimentation, and creativity.

Sometimes the music is mixed too high, or a conversation on a particular series goes on for too long, but overall this is a near-perfect film that chronicles a revolutionary and inspirational method of engaging with children through entertainment that still resonates with people who grew up with these programs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Thanksgiving Second Helpings: 35mm 3-D + 4 Quad Favorites

Thanksgiving Specials
The Quad reprises four of this year's repertory favorites and revives our 35mm 3-D extravaganza for one weekend only!


Second Helpings

Wed Nov 21 – 22
To show thanks for our great audiences, the Quad is offering seconds of four recent repertory hits, none of them turkeys.
All That Jazz
Bob Fosse, 1979, U.S., 123m, 35mm

The Last Days of Disco
Whit Stillman, 1998, U.S., 113m, DCP

Purple Noon
René Clément, 1960, France/Italy, 118m, 35mm

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Mike Nichols, 1966, U.S., 130m, 35mm


Comin’ Back At Ya!
A 35mm 3-D weekend

November 23 – 25
The Quad reprises its now legendary 2017 3-D extravaganza with three days of demented three-dimensional mayhem. With today’s 3-D fully digitized into lockstep with DCP, we revisit some of the more arcane, quixotic, and disreputable uses of the process in the early ’80s over/under boom, that was heavy on horror sequels, sci-fi adventures, idiosyncratic cult movies, and grindhouse fare. Join us for an all-35mm survey.

Programmed by Harry Guerro in association with Exhumed Films
Amityville 3-D
Richard Fleischer, 1983, U.S., 105m, 35mm

Comin’ At Ya!
Ferdinando Baldi, 1981, Italy/Spain/U.S., 91m, 35mm

Flesh for Frankenstein
Paul Morrissey, 1973, Italy/U.S./France, 95m, 35mm

Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror
Enrique López Eguiluz, 1968, Spain/West Germany, 78m, 35mm

Friday the 13th Part III
Steve Miner, 1982, U.S., 96m, 35mm

Jaws 3-D
Joe Alves, 1983, U.S., 99m, 35mm

Parasite
Charles Band, 1982, U.S., 85m, 35mm

Run for Cover
Richard W. Haines, 1995, U.S., 83m, 35mm
With Haines in person Sat November 24!

Silent Madness
Simon Nuchtern, 1984, U.S., 93m, 35mm

Treasure of the Four Crowns
Ferdinando Baldi, 1983, Spain/Italy/U.S., 97m, 35mm

Romanian Film Initiative, BAM and Jacob Burns Film Center Announce the Lineup for Making Waves

The Romanian Film InitiativeBAM, and the Jacob Burns Film Center announce the lineup for the 13th edition of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema, November 26-December 5 

Highlights include festival winners Touch Me Not and I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, a new wave of films by women directors, and a focus on the darkly satirical work of internationally acclaimed auteur Radu Jude
 
New York, NY — November 13, 2018 — The Romanian Film Initiative, The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and the Jacob Burns Film Center are proud to present the 13th edition ofMaking Waves: New Romanian Cinema, to run November 26-December 5. The survey of new Romanian cinema has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal as having “helped define and establish the southeastern European country as a stronghold of socially incisive, independently minded personal cinema.”

Mihai Chirilov, Artistic Director of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema, states, “Following last year’s focus on Anca Damian, who returns this year with her latest mystery puzzle Moon Hotel Kabul, the 13th edition of Making Waves gives space to the brand new wave of female directors in Romanian cinema, with a program that opens the festival at BAM.” He continues, “The line up includes two of the most controversial films of 2018 — Adina Pintilie’s bare exploration of intimacy Touch Me Not and Ivana Mladenovic’s gay drama SoldiersA Story from Ferentari — the program also features three illuminating documentaries on Romania’s history: Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan’s mordant satire about the rise of nationalism, Free Dacians, Ana Dumitrescu’s touching portrayal of a 
centennial man who has seen it all, Licu, A Romanian Story, and The Distance Between Me and Me, Mona Nicoară and Dana Bunescu’s personal account of art and politics, fuelled by the convoluted destiny of dissident poet and icon Nina Cassian.”

“The work that the Romanian Film Initiative does to preserve and promote Romanian film internationally is unparalleled,” writes Gina M. Duncan, Associate Vice President for Cinema, BAM. “It's an especially strong year for Romanian films and we are excited that this edition of the program features a focus on women filmmakers and including the U.S. premiere of Touch Me Not which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.”

The only Romanian director to receive an award at Sundance (for The Tube With a Hat, one of his numerous shorts), Radu Jude took a spectacular turn with his extremely popular third film Aferim! After two contemporary family dramas that employed the trademark stripped-down social realism of the Romanian New Wave (the darkly funny The Happiest Girl in the World and Everybody in Our Family), Jude went back in time to tell this Western-like tale of Gypsy slavery in the 19th century. His interest in the darkest pages of Romania’s history — and specifically the issue of anti-Semitism — grew with his subsequent works (the essay-doc The Dead Nation and his literary adaptation of Max BlecherScarred Hearts), reaching an artistic zenith with his extravagant new work, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, which kicks off this focus showcasing all Jude’s 
feature length films to date, presented at BAM.

In addition to “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” and the Golden Bear-winning Touch Me Not, the New Releases showcase at the Jacob Burns Film Center highlights the ever-growing diversity of New Romanian Cinema: from Constantin Popescu’s slow-burning thriller Pororoca, and its maddening quest for a missing child, to Andrei Crețulescu’s strange mix of black comedy and retro melodrama Charlestonfrom Daniel Sandu’s autobiographical coming of age story, the box-office hit One Step Behind the Seraphim (winner of several Gopo Awards, the Romanian Oscars), to Paul Negoescu’s light-hearted rom-com, The Story of a Summer Lover. Last but not least, there is a screening of veteran film-maker Alexandru Solomon’s fascinating and multi-layered documentary, Tarzans Testicles,  which examines the troubled state of Abkhazia through the prism 
of a primate-breeding institute.

Corina Șuteu, Festival President, states, “Making Waves is a film festival more necessary than ever, as it presents in an independent spirit the most recent auteur films. More and more subdued by standard advertising and by a taste for easy entertainment, contemporary audiences are in need of art – as a channel for contrasted emotions and feelings. This is what the Romanian Film Festival in New York brings to the American public – quality, crafty, challenging art!”

This year’s festival also focuses on the intersection between film and literature. Following the screening of “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians”, Romanian and Romanian-American writers Andrei CodrescuAndrei Crăciun and Carmen Firan will be in conversation with Corina Șuteu to discuss how fiction interprets historical 
events, and the manipulations and revelations that can occur as a result.  

Guests of this year’s festival include directors Adina Pintilie (Touch Me Not), Alexandru Solomon (Tarzans Testicles), Ivana Mladenovic (SoldiersA Story from Ferentari), Mona Nicoară (The Distance Between Me and Me), Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan (Free Dacians), Paul Negoescu (The Story of a Summer Lover), and director of photography Ana Drăghici (The Story of a Summer Lover). Special guest of the festival is Ada Solomon, producer of no less than ten films in this year’s lineup, including all the films of director in focus Radu Jude, with whom she has developed a strong creative collaboration.

As well as introducing these filmmakers’ voices to U.S audiences, Making Waves aims to help them connect to, and network within, the American film industry. For the second year running, an industry event will also accompany the festival screenings and gala events.

Making Waves was founded by the Romanian Film Initiative and is co-presented in partnership with BAM and the Jacob Burns Film Center. Co-founded in 2012 by Corina Șuteu, Mihai Chirilovand Oana Radu, the independent Romanian Film Initiative aims to preserve and enhance the festival’s critical and creative spirit.

Lead support for the 13th edition of Making Waves is provided by The Trust for Mutual Understanding, the Romanian National Film Center and the Filmmakers Union of Romania, along with numerous individual donors.

Schedule
 

COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE (2018) DOC NYC


Director Judith A. Helfand takes a Michael Moore style look at global warming beginning with a look at what happened in 1995 in Chicago where almost 1000 people, largely poor old and non-white, died in a heat wave. From there she examine how the rich and powerful are controlling the debate and remaining less affected than the rest of us.

A good subject is hurt by a reporting style that is much to similar to that of Michael Moore. While it is nice to admire the work of one of the best it's usually best not to steer so close in your presentation that all the audience can think about is making comparisons. (You'll be saying hearing the narration in Moore's voice). The film also has some of the same problem as  Moore's films in that COOKED drifts in and out of being straight reporting and being an essay and the tones wandering around.  They are flaws that of late has made some of Moore's films less required viewing and COOKED as well.

While not bad, COOKED never quite comes together.

Birthday Boy (2004)

Short animated film about a young boy in 1951 Korea dreaming of fighting the war that is raging in his country. He is playing war games of a lonely sort on his way home.

Bittersweet film will probably strike most as well done but unbelievably sad. I liked it but didn't love it, finding the sadness over whelming my feelings for the film. Some films are too sad to say that one enjoyed them even if they are that good.

Nominated for best short animated film it lost the Oscar to RYAN the animated documentary about Ryan Larkin.

Worth a look if you run across it since it is a very beautiful film at times.

Touched (2018)

TOUCHED is exactly the sort of film Unseen Films was started to highlight. A small hidden gem of a film that is more than likely never going to appear on your radar. Never mind that the film was hit on the festival circuit and is getting a week long run in Toronto starting Friday, Touched is wrongly not on anyone’s radar.

Explaining the plot is tricky. This is a supernatural tinged mystery of sorts that requires you not to know too much since it works best not knowing anything. I think the best way to explain it is that it involves a lonely landlord who is investigating what happened to a missing tenant and his relationship with a mysterious 9 year old girl. (And no there is nothing sexual here-get your mind out of the gutter).

Low key brooding film is all about the people. There are no flashy effects, just actors. So since this is a character driven film the cast has to be up to the task and in Touched they are. Headed by Hugh Thompson as the landlord at the center, the cast kicks ass and takes name. They all grab us and pull us in. Even with ghosts walking around we believe everything that happens because they are that good.

This is a really good little film. It is moody and moving and it needs to be seen. It is a small little gem that is the perfect antidote to the big Hollywood money pits. TOUCHED is the sort of small film you’d search out if you knew it existed. Well it does exist and now is the time to go search it out.

Monday, November 12, 2018

In Brief: To Kid Or Not To Kid (2018) DOC NYC (2018)


Maxine Trump takes us inside her decision  whether to have kids or not.

How you react to this film is going to be determined by how you react to Trump and the people in the film and the presentation. For me the film was less an exploration of whether to have kids but some how a statement of privilege. Trump's long agonized exploration seems awfully drawn out and while she raises lots of good issues much of it seems self serving (this film seems geared to help her justify her decision).  And while I know the discussion about having kids is one that crosses all socio-economic levels, I walked out of the film think that making it was something that only a "rich" white person would do. I find that especially troubling because I almost never feel the need to comment on something like that.

Not really recommended.

DOC NYC capsule reviews: HEARTBOUND, GLOBAL FAMILY, ALICIA, INSIDE LEHMAN BROTHERS and BEI BEI

HEARTBOUND: A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE STORY
In a small region of a Danish Town there is an abnormally high percentage of Thai women who have come to the country to marry the men there.  Following the women and their husbands through meeting, marriage, divorce and all of life's moments the film  presents us with one of a kind micro-culture.
This is an intriguing little film about love and companionship and the seemingly odd course it some times take.

GLOBAL FAMILY
Ibrahim is a former soccer champion from Somalia now living in Europe with his family. When his mother needs to have a care giver the complications of now having a family spread across the globe becomes a very real problem as they must work out who will be willing to take care of their aging matriarch.

Very good look at at a problem that is now facing millions of families across the globe as the various refugee crisis and our mobile society keeps us thousands of miles away from each other. Why I have not run across a similar story before confuses me especially since so many people I know have similar situations, though not of the refugee kind. This is an eye opening film that is very much worth a look.

ALICIA
Heartbreaking portrait of girl over several years as she navigates the child care system in Denmark. Pulled from her parents at the age of one she has bounced between foster homes and institutions. We watch as she grows up and becomes a victim of the system.
Sad little film will make you realize that the child care system is broken and that for those stuck in it’s claws it is not helping the kids but hurting them. This is a sobering ice bath of a film
Recommended.

INSIDE LEHMAN BROTHERS
Excellent look at the implosion of Lehman brothers and their culture of “making money anyway we don’t get caught”. Told from the perspective of the whistleblowers and prosecutors the film reveals why it happened and why we are still feeling the aftershocks years on. It’s beautifully concise telling of the tale and recommended for anyone who wants to understand what happened and what we need to do to prevent it from happening again.

BEI BEI
Unhappy and despondent at being pregnant and no longer wanted by her boyfriend Bei Bei took rat poison in the hope of killing herself. She survived while her baby did not. Prosecutors used the note she left behind to charge her with murder claiming intent. Chilling tale about how various jurisdictions are seeking to limit a woman’s reproductive rights via laws that seek to protect the fetus at all costs. This is an very good film that should act as a warning to women about how jurisdictions are taking steps to control the reproductive rights of women.  Recommended

The Ghost of Peter Sellers (2018) DOC NYC 2018

THE GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN is a Peter Sellers film almost no one has seen. Made in 1973 at the instigation of Seller and fellow Goon, Spike Milligan, the film seemed like a good idea on paper. The biggest comedy star in the world would make a comedy with the hottest director in the world. It was a can lose proposition, and money was thrown at the production before the script was locked down. However things went wrong from the start as the pirate ship central to the story sank when it arrived on location. As if things couldn't get worse Sellers arrived to begin shooting only to decide he didn't want to do the film any more and did everything he could to stop production. The film was finished but it broke numerous friendships, wounded director Peter Medak's career and left everyone stinging from their time in hell.

What exactly happened and why was something that director Medak has been trying to work out over the last forty odd years. In an effort to put it to rest and move on Medak revisits the film, talks to those still alive, and finds a treasure trove of information he was completely unaware of.

Medak says at the start that this is the sort of making of that is usually done either after everyone is dead or by people not involved in the film under scrutiny. He reckons that this maybe the first time someone involved with a story like this has gone back to see what went wrong. The result is a masterpiece of a film.

The simple answer to what went wrong is Peter Sellers. Sellers was a comic genius but a deeply disturbed man who was known to be difficult. Medak thought he would have a fighting chance because he was friend, but he was dead wrong, Sellers was not giving quarter to anyone. Sellers was by all accounts functional, but mentally ill. He was moody, manic and prone to poor behavior. He had to be the center of attention, so when one of the first scenes filmed was found to be hysterical, despite his having no part in it, he wanted out of the film. Years later, when Medak met Sellers after years of estrangement he found Sellers would genuinely have no recollection of what actually happened.

Make no bones about it, this film makes it clear that people with mental illness need to be treated.

Medak has made a very complex film. There is a great deal going on and there is no way that I can hope to express how really good this film is or what all the threads are. We have the story of the film, of Medak's journey to find closure, a "you are there" look at Seller's and detailed look at how movies get made, a discussion of mental illness and a couple of others as well. All of them are tied together beautifully by Medak who makes every bit vital to understanding what happened. He has also created a film that will make you laugh out loud at the insanity of it and yet will reduce you to tears in the end. Frankly I need another time or two through to be able to really do the film justice. Its a feeling that has grown since I saw the film a few days ago since in thinking about the film I realized just how much Medak has put before us to ponder. This isn't just about a movie but about life on a larger level.

Bravo Mr Medak, Bravo.

I should let you know we also get a really good look at the mess of a film that is THE GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN. The film was actually finished and apparently kind of released in 1984. The film had been shelved after completion in part because so much was not filmed that the studio deemed it not finished, except it was as best as could be hoped to be finished.  The film, from what is in the documentary, looks really weird. It very much looks like insane Spike Milligan nonsense at Milligan's most WTF. When things were getting really bad Milligan, who wrote the screenplay, was rushed down to Cyrus to fix the script as they shot but he only made it less coherent and more surreal. (I've tracked down a copy for viewing down the road)

On it's own Peter Medak's THE GHOST OF PETER SELLERS is a must see for anyone who loves the movies. It is a wonderful look at film, at stars and what can go horribly wrong and how it can affect our lives. It is a hell of a tale expertly and grippingly told.

Claude Lanzmann's Four Sisters (2017) opens Wednesday at the Quad

This is a repost of the piece I ran when THE FOUR SISTERS played the NYFF in 2017

Over the last decade there has been a steady flow of films coming from Claude Lanzmann cut from the material left out from his legendary SHOAH. Despite being nine hours long there were things that simply didn’t fit. Some of the films were simply fuller interviews of what made the finished films. Other bits were things that simply didn’t make it because they didn’t fit into the finished film. As a result we have ended up with small gems such as THE KARSKI REPORT which hauntingly explains why no one did anything about the Holocaust- they simply didn’t believe the reports; or SOBIBOR, OCTOBER 14,1943,4PM which reveals one of the greatest tales of survival you’ll ever hear.

Joining the historical record is Lanzmann’s latest masterpiece THE FOUR SISTERS. the story of four women who somehow survived the wars. The films are exactly all his others quiet monologues that reveal what exactly happened. Yes, Lanzmann quietly nudges the tale but in all the films we are close on the faces of the women who dredge up a horrific time of their lives. As with all the other Lanzmann films we are at first surprised that the women tell their tales so calmly (relatively), but after a while we fall into their tale and the matter of factness overwhelms us and we are the ones left shaken.

While connected and billed as a series the four films are getting separate screening over several days at the New York Film Festival. Before I saw the films I thought this was a bad idea since I thought bingeing was the way to go. However now that I’ve seen the films I realize that the films are best seen away from the others. The films are such that they must be allowed to stand on their own. They shouldn’t be blended together. More importantly the films need to spaced because they are so quietly affecting that hours afterward you will still be thinking about them. I split up screening the films over the course of a about ten days, two on two days one week and two over two days the next and I found that I was still rocked and affected.

As “one” film they are a worthy companion to SHOAH in that they illustrate bits of history most people probably aren't aware of, more so since the events described are now close to a century old and have been replaced with fears of terrorism and cybercrime. And despite calling many of the enemies of freedom, real or perceived, Nazis or fascists most people really have no idea what the exactly happened. Because people don't really know these and all of Mr Lanzmann's films should be required viewing...unfortunately they are not and I don't think that most defenders of freedom will ever look toward the films, which is sad because they are truly compelling.

It should be noted that portions of each film appeared on SHOAH, however Lanzmann has recut the films so that the interviews run as one uninterrupted tale

One of the threads that run through all of the films is the question of what did people know about what would be called the Holocaust. Time and again Lanzmann asks the women what they knew about what was going on. They all say that they knew on some level what was happening. The how’s and whys they knew are explored in some cases. In the case of Paula Biren some interesting issues of memory since there is an implication that she and those with her in Poland knew on some level what was going to happen as early as the start of the war. Listening to her talk I’m left to ponder if her memory wasn’t 100% clear as to the time frame of events. I'm also left to ponder how our memories work when faced with something horrific as the extermination camps. I should stress that I have no doubt what they say happened did, more I'm left to ponder if the order was jumbled. (A side note- I had been scheduled to speak with Mr Lanzmann during his time in New York for the film festival however an illness forced a cancellation. I had hoped to ask him about the question of memory in the witnesses)

Looking at the titles of each film I was very curious as to what each one means. While not apparent going in the titles do make sense once you get through each film. I will not explain the titles since I would prefer you to discover the meaning on your own.



THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH
This was the one film of the four that was given a press screening for critics and was pushed as the one film to see. The trouble is that of all the four films the story of Ruth Elias was the one I remember from SHOAH. While I remember Ruth's singing I also remember her tale of getting married during the time in the ghetto and the complications of being pregnant while in the camps. While it was nice to see her story not spread out over nine hours, this was the film that affected me least simply because her's was a story I still carry with me from the several times I've seen SHOAH



THE MERRY FLEA
Moving film about Ada Lichtman from Krakow Poland who ended up in in Sobibor Concentration Camp. Ada's tale of confinement is notable for the dolls she helped to collect from people coming into the cmp. She helped to prepare them for new owners.

One of the most interesting things about the film is not Ada's tale as such, rather it’s the reaction of her husband who sits largely silent near her. His reaction to what she is saying is a commentary to just how bad thing were. He frequently winces with every sentence. That Lanzmann and his crew thought to record him is monumental because it says so much. It’s kind of like watching Dreyer’s JOAN OF ARC but in real life. It is his reaction shots which add a note of gravity to the proceedings that Ada's matter of fact testimony doesn't always convey. I was left shaken by the film and was haunted for days afterward



NOAH'S ARK
Sitting with her recently deceased husband’s diary in her hand Hannah Marton from Cluj recounts the story of Hungary’s Jewish population and the extraordinary tale of a handful of them. It’s a such an amazing story that I actually watched the film twice because on some level I wasn’t believing what I was hearing.

The story of the Hungarian Jews is an unlikely one in the face of all horrible things that happened. Since Hungary was allied to Germany they were not invaded by the Nazis until late into the war. As a result the Jews were much less oppressed when compared to what happened to the Jews elsewhere in Europe. When the Nazi’s finally took control in 1944 the Jews were rounded up and shipped out rather quickly. In a move that gives the film its title a number of Jews were given a chance to get out via train. It was a move that would echo down the years as people debated whether it was better that everyone should die together or if some should escape to continue on.

There is a great deal to the story and you need to see it for yourself. As this posts it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve seen the film and I’m still haunted by it and selling it to anyone who will listen.

Easily the best of the the four films and possibly one of the best individual films of the year.



BALUTY
This is probably the most run of the mill of the Four Sisters films. Don’t let that fool you, since it will still hit you like a ton of bricks in the end.

The story of Paula Biren who was a teenager when the Germans invaded Poland. She recounts in detail the existence of one of the ghettos. From the clearing of the designated areas by the Germans of gentiles, through the loading in of the Jews, its functioning and its destruction. It’s a cold matter of fact telling that is similar to other stories that we’ve heard before- however this is probably the first time where we’ve heard the story told by one person who was there from start to finish.

Paula‘s telling is intriguing because she seems at times to be one of the most dispassionate observers I’ve encountered in Lanzmann’s work. She rattles off details with a kind of clinical precision. Her story isn’t something that she tells as if it something she has to sit down to tell, rather she literally takes Lanzmann on a stroll by the sea and tells it to him as if it were a fond remembrance. Its disconcerting and it draws us in. It also provides for one hell of a kick in the end when the mask slips and we see the pain in the final moments.

The films begin playing at the Quad Cinemas November 14th as pairs (BAULTY and NOAH'S ARK on one bill and HIPPOCRATIC OATH and MERRY FLEA on the other.)

Bleed Out (2018) DOC NYC 2018

BLEED OUT, in a lot of ways, is the perfect distillation of all that is wrong with the medical industry. It clearly shows how the drive to make money at all costs is literally killing people. I just wish it was packaged slightly differently.

Medical misadventures is the third leading cause of death in America but medicos refuse to allow it to be listed as an actual cause of death lest no one go to them and their insurance premiums go completely out of sight. The people we go to help us in our time of need are literally killing us because of the way the administrators and insurance companies are driving them to make money. For example instead of having doctors on the floor of an ICU the patients are monitored remotely (in --- tale in another location far away) via cameras and then when the machines say something nurses are sent in. Clearly it’s a money saving idea doomed to spawn lawsuits.

Bleed Out walks us through all the problems with medicine in today’s world via the story of filmmaker Steve Burrows‘s mother. She fell and broke her hip and had to surgery, however her trusted doctor botched the operation and they had to operate again. However instead of waiting for a blood thinner to clear her system he operated anyway resulting in her bleeding out and going into a coma. From there things get worse and everything ends up in court. Burrows was filming all along the way and what he shows us will shock the shit out of you. Even if you know how bad it can get, you will b shocked- I was.

As a document of just how bad things can be and how willing to protect each other doctors are, Bleed Out is as good as they come. Burrows show lays it all out and leaves us a staring blankly at the screen. If any other industry was doing some of this shit and killing this many people the government would be stepping in to stop it, but things are allowed to blindly roll on as people die…

…no wait the government in some states has stepped in to put a limit on medical malpractice payouts. The idea is to prevent frivolous lawsuits and payouts but in reality it results in people not suing since its now a rigged game- any money you win (an amount way less than you would ever need) will go entirely to the lawyers. I wanted to throw up.

At its heart Bleed Out is a film that hopefully will provoke change, both in the care of Burrows‘s mom and on a larger level.

However as shattering as the core story is, the presentation sometimes works against the power of the story. It can be a little too light. I blame it on Burrows‘s day job as comedy writer, director and performer. While there is nothing wrong with keeping things light, it drifts a tad too much in to the Michael Moore style of delivery which doesn’t always give the desired effect.

Quibbles aside Bleed out is a must see. It plays November 13 at DOC NYC and will play December 17th on HBO. Either way see it and then contact you lawmakers and make them force changes which will prevent this sort of thing from happening to our loved ones.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

In Brief:Olympia (2018) DOC NYC 2018

Olympia is a wonderful portrait of the great Olympia Dukakis as she lives and breaths. This is not your typical birth to now recounting of her life but almost two hours with the great lady as she travels, performs and goes through paces. All along the way director Harry Mavromichalis peppers her with questions about her life and thoughts. We get it all, Olympia holds nothing back (really) with the result that we are pulled really close to her.

This is a truly wonderful portrait of the Grand Dame of the theater and big screen. Rarely has any person, of any sort, but this much of themselves out there for everyone to see. I honestly don’t think there is anything you’ll not know about her by the end. It is as good a cinematic biography as you are ever likely to see. (It’s so good that the only thing I can think of bad to say about the film is that some people are going to find it a little long at 105 minutes- but they don’t count)

Highly recommended

LAST STOP CONEY ISLAND: THE LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHY OF HAROLD FEINSTEIN (2018) DOC NYC 2018

Odds are you've never heard of Harold Feinstein but you should have. Born with an incredible talent he was selling his photos to the Museum of Modern Art as a teenager and as an adult he had solo exhibitions where all his works sold out. However a combination refusing to be part of MOMA's Family of Man exhibition and taking a job teaching kept him out of the public eye for decades.

This amazing look at the life and work of one man will make your jaw hang open. Told via talking heads and interviews made before Feinstein died, this film helps to put this remarkable man back on everyone's radar. Beginning in the 1940's a Feinstein simply took photographs. Mind blowing photos that chronicled life in NYC and Coney Island in particular. We watch as he got some success before being drafted, and then greater success when he returned and help do the art work for the Blue Note Record album covers. We watch his personal life ebb and flow as he career did.

Always however he was taking pictures and the film is full of them, some of the most amazing ones you'll ever see. He was always looking seeing and trying new things- His greatest success was his color photos taken with a computer scanner of flowers and shells toward the end of his life.  What I love about the film is that not only do we get to know the man we get to see what he is doing. We see how he took shots, or cropped them in the dark room (one image became three prints) or used a scanner to take picture that leave you breathless. The magic is explained and made more magical in the process.

What I love about the film is not only do we get to know the man and his art but the time he lived in. We see Coney in the 40's and 50's, the life of a soldier as only a grunt could see it, the Jazz greats, the counter culture and everything else along the way. This is a history of us as well as the man.

This film is a masterpiece. It is easily one of the best films at DOC NYC and a must see.

LAST STOP CONEY ISLAND plays November 14 and 15. For tickets and more information go here.

NateHood on GRIT(2018) DOC NYC 2018

The title of Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander’s new documentary Grit is a pun. One the one hand, it refers to literal grit, as the film centers on the aftermath of the Sidoarjo mud flow. Thanks to unsafe drilling practices, Indonesian oil and gas extraction company PT Lapindo Brantas accidentally triggered the eruption of the world’s biggest mud volcano in an impoverished area of East Java in May 2006, resulting in an environmental cataclysm which, even a decade later, spews up to 180,000 m³ of mud daily. Scientists estimate the mud flow will continue for another 25-30 years, all the while poisoning ecosystems and displacing nearby communities. The initial explosion swallowed 16 villages near the doomed drill site, leaving over 60,000 people homeless. It took a decade for the survivors to get full compensation for their lost property, as Lapindo tied up the legal process with claims that a) despite being a multi-billion dollar company they didn’t have the funds for compensation, and b) the eruption was caused by an earthquake some 180 miles away from Sidoarjo, so they weren’t actually culpable.

Here is where the second meaning of the title Grit comes in: the indomitable spirit of the survivors fighting against the corrupt Indonesian government and the smirking, sneering Lapindo executives. Though it focuses on a panoply of survivors—artists, activists, teachers, laborers—the main figure it keeps returning to is a fourteen year old girl named Dian whose father worked for Lapindo and died of cancer complications a year after the eruption. It charts her awakening as a political activist, organizing protests with her fellow school students, attending rallies, and finally going off to college for a degree to help her community.

Shot over six years, the film captures numerous set-backs and indignities thrust upon Dian and her fellow villagers—the most heartbreaking being a presidential candidate who runs a platform guaranteeing the Lapindo survivors full compensation only to immediately renege upon being elected. But Dian keeps moving forward, tirelessly, ceaselessly.

There have been several documentaries at this year’s DOC NYC festival grappling with environmental and economic injustice, but none have captured the earnest spirit of optimism better than Grit. It has no illusions that these problems will one day vanish; it will require lifetimes of work and sacrifice. But justice will come, even if it takes one step back for every two steps forward.

Rating: 7/10