Author Archives: unpaidfilmcritic
Hal Linden and Ryan Ochoa in “The Samuel Project”
October 14, 2018. “The Samuel Project” certainly has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately has trouble in the execution of its story. Eli, a high school student (charmingly played by Ryan Ochoa) wants to make an animated documentary about his grandfather’s early life in Nazi Germany. The film is a project for Eli’s media class. The grandfather, the eponymous Samuel, is played by Hal Linden. It was nice to see Linden (best known for the TV sitcom “Barney Miller,” 1975 – 1982) back acting. Read the rest of this entry
October 14, 2018. Filmmaker Alexandria Bombach could not have known that Nadia Murad, the subject of her quietly powerful documentary “On Her Shoulders,” would be the co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Bombach’s decision to share Nadia’s story had little to do with the fame thrust upon her, but, rather, the compelling urgency of her message to the world. Not an activist by temperament, Murad is driven to tell a tale of genocide and sexual slavery perpetrated by ISIS upon her people, the Yazidis, over and over again. When ISIS invaded her village in northern Iraq in 2014, they murdered 700 individuals (including all of the elderly women). Eighteen members of Nadia’s own family (including her mother) were killed or abducted. Girls over nine years old were raped and enslaved as objects of continuous sexual predation. Nadia Murad, now 23, was one of them. Read the rest of this entry
Artist Jeff Koons in “The Price of Everything.”
The new documentary, “The Price of Everything,” is an in depth and fascinating film that raises interesting questions about modern art: “What is art?” “Why does one artist’s work sell for millions while another toils in poverty?” “Can art and money be reconciled?” “Is it necessary that a piece of art be worth a lot to ensure that it will be saved?” “Should a piece of art wind up in private homes where no one else will see it?” “Should art only be displayed in museums?” Read the rest of this entry
Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and Halston, at Studio 54.
October 3, 2018. Mick Jagger, Paul Newman, Liza Minelli, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan, Andy Warhol, sex, drugs, income tax evasion, Page Six, costumes, transvestites, extravagant performances, topless male bartenders, scandals, Studio 54 was a sub culture (within the disco subculture) that pushed the social mores of the time right up to the edge. The new documentary “Studio 54” is, much like its subject, a high energy, kaleidoscopic adrenaline rush that truly captures the rise and fall of the famous, and infamous, disco. Read the rest of this entry
September 24, 2018. Charismatic, subversive and enigmatic, Joseph Beuys was a provocative figure in the international art scene from the 60’s through the mid-80’s. Wearing his trademark fedora and soulful gaze, Beuys inhabits nearly every frame of an engaging (and occasionally infuriating) new documentary about his life and work, simply called “Beuys.”
Director Andres Veiel chose not to create a narrative documentary chronicling the artist’s life. Rather, he draws upon 300 hours of archival video and 20,000 photographs to construct a free-wheeling portrait of an artist whose life itself was a performance. Beuys, a popular professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, was radically democratic in his approach to art, as were many of his colleagues in the 60’s and 70’s. He believed that “everyone is an artist” and used his art (often conceptual and performance based) to promote a progressive social vision of economic equality and reconciliation with the natural world. Read the rest of this entry
Detritus from Annette Ontell, in “306 Hollywood”
September 24, 2018. “306 Hollywood” is a documentary that is unique, inspired, and inspiring. Sister and brother filmmakers Elan and Jonathan Bogarin have made a film which takes the documentary form in directions that are highly original, poetic, surreal, philosophical and thought provoking.
The subject is one that most will have to face – cleaning out the home of a deceased loved one. In the case of the filmmakers, it is the home of their beloved grandmother, Annette Ontell, a dressmaker to the rich and famous, who lived at the eponymous address, in New Jersey, for 67 years. Read the rest of this entry
“Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable” at Film Forum, September 19 – October 2, 2018 (Seth Shire).
Photographer Garry Winogrand, in his younger days.
The new documentary, “Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable,” opened at Film Forum on September 19 and will continue its run until October 2. Garry Winogrand (1928 – 1984) was a former journalist who became a street photographer and defined, or perhaps, re-defined what street photography could be. I have heard it said that the greatest success also has the greatest number of failures. For example, Babe Ruth held the record for the greatest number of home runs, but also held the record for the greatest number of strike outs. In line with this reasoning is the astounding fact that Winogrand shot over a million rolls of 35 mm film with his Leica camera and, at that time of his death, actually left several thousand rolls still undeveloped. Winogrand photographed whatever he came across in his attempt to capture the emotional complexities of people living their lives. He looked for those raw moments that reveal who we are as human beings. His search took him from New York City to Texas and Los Angeles. Not every one of Winogrand’s pictures was a success, although a small percent, obviously were, or his work would not have received the critical acclaim that it has. What was Winogrand looking for and could it have been somewhere in those undeveloped rolls of film? Was taking the picture but never actually seeing it enough for him? Read the rest of this entry
June 27, 2018. “Love Cecil” is the new, remarkably detailed and researched documentary, by director Lisa Immordino Vreeland, about the life and work of Cecil Beaton (1904 – 1980), an artist who was many things: photographer of Hollywood and British royalty, New York City street photographer, war photographer, fashion photographer, designer, theatre director, stage designer, insecure social climber, foppish dandy, writer, costume designer, seeker of style and glamour and a serious diarist (155 volumes). Beaton was a three time Oscar winner, for Best Costume Designer for “Gigi” (1958), then won two more Oscars for Costume Design and Art Direction – Set Decoration for “My Fair lady” (1964). He was a dedicated scrap book creator (77 volumes), friend of Garbo, a fan of Edwardian bravura, contributor to “Vogue” and “Life” magazines. All of these melded into one point of view – that of Beaton, a talent in so many areas. “It’s always Beaton’s look, Beaton’s touch,” one interviewee explains.
The result is “Love, Cecil,” a kaleidoscopic portrait of artistic talent tied to a man, an outsider to English high society who desired, and received, the company of what he called “Bright, Young Things” (mainly code for closeted, gay, upper class), of the then fashionable British society. Beaton was never confident that he had been truly accepted into this upper class stratum, as he was not “to the manor born,” something which actually may have been a driving force for his art, in which he continually tried to prove himself. Beaton was also gay at a time when homosexuality was against the law – another aspect of his life which made him feel like an outsider. Beaton was a complex artist whose life itself was, perhaps, a performance of sorts. Read the rest of this entry
June 1, 2018. At a pace befitting its subject, the life of Ayurvedic practitioner Vasant Lad, the new documentary “The Doctor From India” unfolds like an extended meditation on holistic healing and the power of radical empathy. To those for whom finding sacred wisdom within oneself, living in balance with nature, and seeing holiness within every being seems like unbearable spiritual claptrap, seeing this lovely film by director Jeremy Frindel just might be a transformative experience.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian form of medicine that employs not only the rate but the movement and rhythm of a patient’s pulse as the primary means of diagnosis. The three pulse types – “vata”, “pitta” and “kapha” (correlated with energies/physiological functions in the body and in nature) must be in balance, according to this system, for the patient to be healthy. An Ayurvedic practitioner might suggest plant-based remedies as well as a change in one’s mental outlook and physical habits. But, says Dr. Lad, everyone must discover that inner spark of sacred knowledge of their own existence – the “I AM” that allows someone to realize who they are at the very core of their being. Then, self-healing is possible. Read the rest of this entry
Baseball, Jews in sports, “Mensch on a Bench,” yarmulkas, yeshiva students, cheer leaders, rabbis, pre-game Purim services at a stadium, anti-semitism, Israel and the Middle East conflict, all come together in “Heading Home: the Tale of Team Israel.” Ironbound Films, a stellar documentary production company, hits a home run again (sorry, I couldn’t resist) with its latest documentary – a joyous, funny, heartfelt and compelling portrait with a host of great characters. Even a documentary has to have great characters, and “Heading Home” delivers.
I will admit that despite being part of a Jewish, baseball loving family, I never developed an interest in baseball, or sports in general for that matter. My thing is film. Now, having said this, I think that there must be some genetic, Jewish/sports influence as I have always liked movies (narratives and documentaries) about sports and about Jewish issues. To this end, “Heading Home: the Tale of Team Israel” fired for me, on all pistons, as I know it will for audiences of many different backgrounds. This documentary’s themes of pride, culture and, most of all, identity, will cut across cultures and resonate with people of all ethnicities.
When it comes to baseball, the State of Israel may not be the first name to come to mind. After all, there is the stereotype about Jews not being good at sports and, as we learn in this documentary, Israel has only one baseball field…in the entire country!
“Heading Home” is the story of 10 Jewish American baseball players (former big leaguers) who join a team to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic (which consists of 16 baseball teams, each representing a different country) held every four years. To play in the WBC, a player has to be a citizen of the country for which he is playing. To be a citizen of Israel, one has to be Jewish, which means having, at a bare minimum, one Jewish grandparent. As long as each of these players can provide the proof, they are within WBC rules. A picture of a grandfather’s grave stone, marriage contracts in Hebrew and a father’s World War II dog tag, with the word “Jewish” embossed on it, come pouring in as evidence. Despite this, the issue of whether this is just an American team supporting Israel is raised, at one point.
What the film is really about, though, is what happens to these Jewish American players as a result of playing for Israel. Some of them are religious, others not so much. However, Margo Sugarman, the team’s Assistant General Manager, explains that the emotional aspect of coming to Israel is “a whole new ball game.” The documentary also explores how Jews playing baseball might positively affect how people view Jews and, as a result, break down anti-semitism.
Directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger have created a meticulous documentary that follows the team from its qualifying game (to get into the WBC) up to Team Israel’s final game (no spoilers here). Their cameras are always in the right places at the right times. Kramer, who also edited the film, keeps the story consistently interesting by balancing interviews with the players, managers and coaches intercut with game footage, media coverage, press conferences, background information, fan reactions and great “off the cuff” moments. As pitcher Josh Zeid puts it, “No better stage. No better team. It’s my favorite game in the world. Why not play?”