October 01, 2016. “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” is a gripping account of the, under reported, trial of the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only bank to have faced criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crises. Even though much bigger banks participated in deliberate and massive mortgage fraud, no criminal indictments were every brought against them. They were bailed out by the tax payers because they were “too big to fail.” In other words, had they failed they would have wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. So, they got a pass. Abacus, as the film’s title suggests, was small enough to pick on as the proxy for the much bigger banking corruption that was not, and apparently could not be, punished. Read the rest of this entry
September 28, 2016. ”Danny Says” is an incredible document and an important chronicle of pop culture. The documentary is an entertaining and meticulously made rock and roll biography about rock manager and entrepeneur Danny Fields.
Beginning in 1966, Fields played a crucial role in music, managing groups such as MC5, the Ramones and the Stooges. Fields worked with and for Nico, Judy Collins, Iggy Pop, Jann Wenner, Lou Reed, the Doors, Velvet Underground, Nico, Modern Lovers and many others. In addition, Fields was also director of publicity at Elektra Records as well as having been a pioneer of the punk rock movement. Director Brendan Toller perhaps sums it up best when he says that, “Fields created a platform for the outsider to exist in the mainstream.” Read the rest of this entry
July 2, 2016. I was nicely surprised recently when I signed onto Netflix to discover that Netflix is now streaming a documentary called “1971.” I first saw “1971” at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014, and have been trying to find it ever since.
“1971” is a fascinating pre-cursor to the times in which we live. The US government spying on its citizens? Today, in the age of hi-tech leaks involving Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, not to mention Edward Snowden, this question sounds like a story out of current headlines. However, as my late father would have said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Read the rest of this entry
June 27, 2016. From July 1 – 14 Film Forum will present a 4K restoration of the Coen Brothers’ tremendous 1984 debut film, “Blood Simple.” (“4K” is a high definition video format that is the current standard for film restoration. Simply put, it’s a really great copy of the movie, just as good, if not better, than when the film was released on actual film).
Often, when I attend Coen Brothers’ movies (brother Joel directs, brother Ethan produces, both write the screenplays), I feel as if there is a joke that everyone in the audience is in on…except for me. Fellow audience members seem to laugh at things which I just don’t get, or, if I do get them, I don’t find them to be funny. Maybe I’m just not “hip” enough (or maybe my fellow audience members are just acting “hip” since they are at a Coen Brothers’ movie and feel the need to act like a “hip, indy” type of audience). That having been said, maybe there is hope for me after all, because I really like “Blood Simple.” In fact, I will go so far as to say that “Blood Simple” is the Coen Brothers’ best film (“Big Lebowski” fans may start sending me their “hate” emails now). Read the rest of this entry
June 20, 2016. Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane’s new film “NUTS!” will have its U.S. Theatrical Premiere at Film Forum starting on Wednesday, June 22. J.R. Brinkley, the subject of “NUTS!” was a Kansas doctor who came to fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, for his claim that he had cured impotence by surgically implanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley also became a media figure through newspapers and as well as the new medium of radio.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Lane about “NUTS!” Our conversation mainly concerned the nature of “truth” (both in the life of her subject, J.R. Brinkley, as well as in her documentary) and the role of media in interpreting that which we see as fact. Read the rest of this entry
June 19, 2016. A wealthy man with no political experience running for office? A charlatan who defrauds his clients? A stolen election? No, this is not a story about current events, or even recent history. It is the story of J.R. Brinkley, who came to prominence in the America of the 1920s and 1930s, as told by documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon” 2013), in her new film, “NUTS!”
“NUTS!” is a funny, dramatic, engaging, intelligent and “off the wall” film which takes the documentary form in new and interesting directions. For me, as a college sociology teacher of mass media and popular culture, I found “NUTS!” to be a fascinating tale of a media personality. Read the rest of this entry
June 9, 2016. “Almost Sunrise” is the new documentary from director Michael Collins and producer Marty Syjuco. Their previous, and first, feature length documentary was the exceptional and, and much acclaimed, “Give Up Tomorrow” (2011). Their sophomore effort is assurance that these two filmmakers (and their production and post production crews) are here to stay.
“Almost Sunrise” is an insightful and powerful documentary. I have seen it twice and will see it again, on June 13, as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, running from june 10 – 19 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and at the IFC Center
June 1, 2016. More than 50 years ago, the murder of Kew Gardens resident Kitty Genovese captured the public’s imagination. The murder became a strong symbol of urban apathy when it was reported that 38 neighbors witnessed (either by seeing or hearing) the attack and murder, from their apartments, and did nothing. The media, led by no less an authority than “The New York Times,” reported that no one called the police or came to Kitty’s aid. In fact, I first learned about the murder of Kitty Genovese via a 1975 made for television movie provocatively entitled “Death Scream,” featuring a “who’s who” of popular 1970s actors.
When Kitty Genovese was murdered, late at night, on a Queens street, on March 13, 1964, I was about a month shy of my second birthday. Obviously I was not old enough for the event to have had a personal impact on me. Over the years though, I, like most, came to know the name Kitty Genovese and what it symbolized. Now, having seen “The Witness,” I realize that I have had only a very surface awareness of the incident. Read the rest of this entry