October 13, 2017. The beautifully shot and meditatively lyrical documentary, “The Departure,” asks the question that all of us have asked at some point in our lives, “What makes life worth living?” The pacing of the film is slow and contemplative, as befits the vocation of the protagonist, Tokyo native and Zen priest, Ittetsu Nemoto. The director, Lana Wilson, invites us into the life of this compassionate (and self-destructive) counselor to the suicidal who cannot emotionally separate himself from his clients, and is forced to consider the meaning of his own life when confronted with a life-threatening diagnosis at 44. Read the rest of this entry
September 8, 2017. I have to admit that I usually do not care for observational, cinema verite, style documentaries. The truth is that I want to be guided. I need title cards and/or a narrator to tell me where I am and what is going on. I want all characters to be identified. I also want to know what motivates them. Yes, even documentaries have characters…and the good ones have great characters. Mood and atmosphere are all well and nice…but I need a structured story – three acts if you please. Right or wrong, this is what I require for a documentary to hold my attention. My point of view on this may seem simplistic and reductive to some, as I am a film critic and, possibly, should be expected to have a wider range for film appreciation…but there it is.
Bearing all of this in mind, I have to ask myself, why then did I so enjoy “School Life”? “School Life” is an observational, “fly on the wall” documentary about a boarding school in Ireland. I know, from the film’s press notes, that the school is called Headfort and was founded in the 18th century. It is very much a story about teachers and students. Full disclosure, I too am a teacher, and so very much related to what this film depicts. Read the rest of this entry
Rhino Breeder John Hume.
September 8, 2017. It is really interesting that I should see the new documentary “Trophy” after just having taken an education course in something called Creative Controversy. The class was about having students research different sides of a particular topic, debate these opposing sides in class, in teams of two against two, and then switch sides and argue the other point of view. Then the teams give up all advocacy, evaluate the arguments and decide which arguments are best.
“Trophy” does this quite nicely. The film is a complex, at points heart breaking, documentary which manages, for the most part, the tricky balance of objectivity. This is not easy to do. Every documentary has a point of view, a position it wants to convey to the viewer. Staying objective is difficult, if not impossible. “Trophy” skillfully manages to present different points of view, largely without advocating for one over the other. As with all movies, viewers will bring their individual perspectives. This can lead to either latching onto the point of view with which they walked in, or, if they are really open minded, perhaps considering a point of view they had not had previously. Read the rest of this entry
August 12, 2017. Can one Canadian man’s vision bring relative prosperity to the poverty-ridden island of Flores, Indonesia? An inspiring story in discouraging times, “A Bridge Between Two Worlds,” is a documentary film that follows the innovative work of Quebeçois Gilles Raymond. Screened at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema before an appreciative audience, we see a man with no personal wealth of his own create an autonomous movement among agrarian villagers in Flores through micro-lending. Read the rest of this entry
August 11, 2017. “Off the Rails,” a documentary feature shown at the Kew Gardens Film Festival, is an extraordinarily compelling film about a man with a compulsion. Darius McCollum, now in his 50’s, has been obsessed with the MTA subway and bus system since he was 15. Dubbed a “train in the neck” by a local reporter, he has been imprisoned 32 times, more than half his life, for impersonating train operators, bus drivers, and even a superintendent! But, the film asks, does McCollum’s Asperger’s Syndrome (which is characterized by an intense interest in one subject, often leading to obsessive behavior), exempt him from responsibility for his criminal acts? Is prison an appropriate punishment for someone with a neurological disability? Ironically, though the MTA refuses to hire him, because he “doesn’t follow the rules,” he seems to know the rules and the workings of the transit system better than just about anyone else. He is even called upon by the MTA, while in prison lock-down (!), to reveal possible vulnerabilities within the system. Read the rest of this entry
August 10, 2017. The Kew Gardens Film Festival, in its first year, is chock full of little gems that the average filmgoer would not get to see otherwise. Here are two.
“Dancing Day,” which clocks in at only four minutes, was directed, written by and stars Tytus Bergstrom, an incredible dancer who creates a joyful fantasy through the magic of video technology. He emerges from his house, moving to some happy grooves, when another Tytus emerges from the same doorway, followed, surprisingly, by three more in succession. They dance separately, yet echo one another’s movements flawlessly as the five dancers periodically come into sync. Bergstrom’s carefree choreography and technological skill combine to create an unbelievably happy tour de force. Read the rest of this entry
August 9, 2017. The ”Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema,” continues now through August 13. Film festivals remind me of the story of three blind people describing an elephant. The person at the pachyderm’s trunk describes it one way. The person at the tail has a different point of view. Still, the person in the middle has a completely different experience. Considering that the festival is presenting 150 films from 24 countries, over a 10 day period, everyone who goes will come away with a different point of view. Read the rest of this entry
August 9, 2017. Presenting 150 films from 24 countries, the ”Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema,” the first ever film festival to be held in the borough of Queens, is now running through August 13. It is a veritable cornucopia of films which run the gamut from documentaries to narratives to experimental, feature length films and shorts. It is a varied collection which has something for every taste. This festival is a great way to see a lot of films in a short amount of time, but, most of all, it is about discovery.
I have, so far, seen many films at the festival, but feel I have not even scratched the surface of what this unique and eclectic festival has to offer. Then again, that is what a film festival should be. While one cannot see everything, I will admit to being partial to documentaries. Read the rest of this entry
Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven.”
August 3, 2017. Director and actor Clint Eastwood’s 1992 quadruple Oscar winning movie (including Best Director and Best Picture), “Unforgiven,” will have a run at Film Forum, in a stunning 4K restoration, from August 4 – 10. “Unforgiven is a dark, violent western that explodes the mythology and violent glamour of the old west. It is a story which movies in directions that are unpredictable and which defy expectations of the western genre.
“Unforgiven” is a fascinating meditation on the nature of violence, specifically the ideal of a “shoot ‘em up” versus the reality of actually killing someone. The difference between the “good guys” and “bad guys” in this film all depends on whose side you’re on. In this regard, “Unforgiven” is reminiscent of the Italian westerns, called “Spaghetti Westerns,” in which protagonists were not necessarily the “good guys,” a genre in which Eastwood made his bones as an actor. This influence is particularly felt in the film’s final credit, “For Sergio and Don” – Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. Leone directed Eastwood in his Italian westerns – “A Fist Full of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966). Siegel directed some of Eastwood’s movies state side, including the iconic “Dirty Harry” (1971), in which Eastwood plays a police inspector who lives by his own code. Read the rest of this entry
July 30, 2017. In the new documentary, “Brillo Box 3c Off,” filmmaker Lisanne Skyler has created a fascinating, playful, energetic, funny and highly enjoyable, multi-faceted, personal documentary about pop art in New York City in the 60s, her childhood, her parents and her family’s relationship to art, one piece of art in particular.
Ever since humans applied paint to cave walls some 40,000 years ago, people have debated the question, “What is art?” “Brillo Box 3c Off” addresses this question, as well as the ongoing controversy over who, or what, determines what art is worth. Skyler’s story revolves around pop artist Andy Warhol’s practice of re-creating the design of cardboard Brillo Boxes, in wood, and calling them art. In one of the film’s many archival interview clips, Warhol is asked why he doesn’t simply create art that is original instead of copying other’s works. Warhol, nonchalantly, and with easy candor, replies that it’s just easier to do. Warhol, notorious for his artistic appropriation, is probably best know for his paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans. To this end, one critic, upon attending one of Warhol’s shows quipped, “Is this an art gallery or Gristedes’ warehouse?” Read the rest of this entry