Author Archives: unpaidfilmcritic
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?”
Intrepid reporter Wendy Moscow tests out virtual reality at Tribeca Film Festival.
April 22, 2018. The April 21 premiere screening of director, producer and editor Dava Whisenant’s new documentary “Bathtubs Over Broadway” was outrageous, electric and exciting. It was a hilarious, joyous and heartfelt event about a sub-culture and a piece of entertainment history about which almost nothing was known…that is until now. Read the rest of this entry
The Tribeca Film Festival is in full swing, and with the incredible variety of films and other media to choose from – narratives, documentaries, and “immersive” presentations (virtual reality), it’s hard to know where to begin.
The films “Jellyfish” and “United Skates,” though very different (the first is a narrative from the U.K., the latter a documentary made in the U.S.), are surprisingly linked by their ability to address contemporary issues of alienation, oppression and empowerment honestly and unflinchingly. Read the rest of this entry
April 22, 2018. “Howard” is a detailed and absorbing documentary about the life and work of Howard Ashman. Ashman was the lyricist behind Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladin” and “The Little Mermaid.” He frequently collaborated with Alan Menken. “Howard” shows us that Ashman was far more than a lyricist. He was also a director and writer. Sadly, Ashman died of complications from AIDS in 1991 at the age of 40.
“Howard” depicts Ashman as a relentless perfectionist who knew what his vision was and strove to achieve it. Ashman’s work was ground breaking. His music brought a Broadway musical quality to animation – witness the many long running Broadway adaptations of Disney’s animated feature films. Read the rest of this entry
April 22, 2018. Class, gender, Jesus, Red Bull and a will to survive, might be the best terms to describe “Tanzania Transit,” an incisive documentary, by director Jeroen van Velzen, about travelers on a train crossing Tanzania. This is a very well edited film that depicts the train as a self contained world in which an unusual collection of passengers, just three people out of many on the train, tell their stories. Read the rest of this entry
April 22, 2018. In the college sociology classes which I teach we talk about something called an “objective reality.” An “objective reality” is the thing that just is without adding any meaning to it. How people interpret an “objective reality” is called the “social construction of reality.” I would be hard pressed to think of better examples of “objective realities” and the “social constructions of reality” put to them than those portrayed in the documentary “The Man Who Stole Banksy.”
The film actually has two “objective realities.” The first is the large, highly controversial, wall that Israel built, which has attracted international attention. To the Israeli’s the wall represents security. To the Palestinians the wall represents repression. Entering into this debate about the meaning of the wall is the secretive and controversial artist Banksy, someone who, apparently, no one has ever seen. His identity is a mystery. Read the rest of this entry
February 13, 2018. Think “animation,” and most people conjure up images of cute anthropomorphic animals cracking wise, and good winning the day over evil. But animation, especially offerings from other countries, can be complex, deal in adult themes, and utilize the fine-art aesthetics of sculpture, collage, pastel, watercolor and ink. The films I was lucky enough to see at “Animation First,” the first ever French Animation Festival in the U.S. (presented by the French Institute Alliance Française) were all of this and more. Read the rest of this entry
December 8, 2017. As a film critic who writes primarily about documentaries this may sound sacrilegious, but, I don’t usually care for “fly on the wall,” verite style, documentaries. I am referring to documentaries that will show a situation and then leave it up to the viewer to interpret it. I gravitate toward documentaries that have stories, points of view and interesting subjects that make me care about something or someone. Call me shallow, but I want to be guided through a film. That having been said, I am a bit amazed, and, at the same time, quite gratified, that I truly enjoyed, and was very intrigued by, the new, verite style documentary “Quest.” Read the rest of this entry