Rock documentaries generally skew towards humanizing musical icons and paint portraits of overcoming personal adversity. That’s just the kind of way they lean, complete with a rise and fall and redemption arcs. But the soulful and affecting “David Crosby: Remember My Name” is special nonetheless, managing to break through those tropes as it chronicles a similar architecture of ups and downs, successes and tragedies. Directed by A.J. Eaton, with the help of producer Cameron Crowe, who acts as Crosby’s interlocutor throughout, it’s almost impossible to not be taken by this brutally honest and emotionally vulnerable film about a famous musical icon, who’s also just a man who’s beginning to contemplate his last act in life. It’s moving stuff and regardless of whether you’re a fan or not, chances are this winning doc will hit you hard.Read More
I am re-posting my Sundance review of Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” because of its impending theatrical release this coming Friday. Also, look for an interview with Wang to be posted later this week — she has truly directed one of the very best movies you will see this summer.Read More
I had heard more than a few months ago that John Cooper was going to step down as head director of the Sundance Film Festival. It was, however, only officially announced today that, after just 10 years on the job, Cooper will move into a newly-created “emeritus director” role after the 2020 edition of the festival next January.Read More
Young, female, brown, carrying oh-so-terrifying socialist ideals of equality for the underrepresented, and not afraid to speak her mind loudly, U.S. House of Representatives politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez currently has the Washington D.C. establishment quaking in their boots. Laugh if you want to, but there’s absolutely a reason a brand new, relatively inexperienced 29-year-old congresswoman—the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States—has found herself in the crosshairs of Fox News, The Daily Caller, and dozens of alt-right conservative voices. She’s absolutely dangerous to them because she represents a wakeup call to America and a voice of change they desperately want to suppress.Read More
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger and late collaborator Bruce Sinofsky were always interested in making films about the way our justice, or injustice, system works; the perpetrators, the victims, the fascination was there seeped into every frame of “Brother’s Keeper” and “Paradise Lost.” However, in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile,” Berlinger decides to turn his camera towards the charismatic killer and the way evil can easily be shaded by charm.Read More
I can “review” HBO’s upcoming “Leaving Neverland” or just give an opinionated schema of Michael Jackson and his history of sexual abuse allegations towards underaged teenage boys. I’ll try to do both.Read More
I had totally forgotten that Dan Gilory’s “Velvet Buzzsaw” was released on Netflix until I scrolled through the streaming giant’s service this past week. I had seen it at its world premiere on January 27th at the Sundance Film Festival.Read More
A film based on women trying to break through the restrictive barriers of their parent’s religious upbringing is nothing new. However, Minhal Baig‘s “Hala” is unique because it tackles a gifted, hijab-wearing, skateboarding Pakistani (Geraldine Viswanathan) student who tries to navigate both her duties as a Muslim and her academic social life with poetic grace. The complications that arise in Baig’s film can be deemed conventional for this type of film but regardless they feel fresh and, more importantly, authentic because of the way Baig’s camera relates, in such intense ways, to Hala’s on-screen plights. Her sudden and out-of-the-blue romance with Jesse (Jack Kilmer) takes Hala away from the restrictions of her religion, the arranged marriage her father has in mind. And her own parent’s disintegrating relationship, threatened by her dad’s infidelities with a white woman in his office, only makes her life worse. Expanded from Baig’s 2016 similarly titled short film, the American female perspective in “Hala” is unique, bringing a new, much-needed perspective to the coming-of-age genre. Despite being apart from the intense Muslim world our main character lives in, there’s a relatability to her tribulations that hits home. Viswanathan (“Blockers”) proves to be a formidable actress, showcasing a woman trying to take the liberties that come in living as a woman in America and creating her own destiny, free of restrictions. [B/B+]
It’s a cliché, but “more than you bargained for” documentaries are typically the best ones. Those films that feature a filmmaker on an odyssey quest for one piece of truth, but discovers something richer and more profound along the journey. Such is the case with what Mads Brügger‘s astonishing “Cold Case Hammarskjöld,” about an investigation into a mysterious murder that strikes a vein and the blood of discovery comes gushing. What begins as a look into a plane crash, and the consequent death of United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld in the early 1960s, quickly turns into something much more transfixing: the confirmation of a conspiracy theory that has existed for more than five decades.
Despite a population of close to 9 million, Mexico City’s government operates only 45 emergency ambulances. This shortage crisis has resulted in private paramedics becoming first responders to the critically injured. One of them is the Ochoas family, zigzagging through high-speed ambulance rides to care for the critically injured. Despite being unregistered, they are the underground lifeline for many. At first, you don’t know if what you’re watching is fiction or non-fiction. The masterful cinema vérité camerawork in Luke Lorentzen’s “Midnight Family” has a knack for sucking us into after-hours Mexico City and the fractured health care system at its disposal. From local competition to police bribes to patient’s unwillingness to pay their bills, the Ochoas have to navigate through all of that to make ends meet, then there’s the ethically questionable practice of making money off dying poor patients. This 81-minute masterpiece will change the way you look at documentaries forever; its style reads like an action movie, its themes like a socio-political drama, and, yet, it still is very much a work of non-fiction, with a camera always exactly positioned to capture a society on the brink of moral collapse. [A]
The bible belt of early 1960s rural Oklahoma wasn’t a great time and place in America for outsiders. And this god-fearing country is certainly no place for two girls that may be slowly falling in love and calling too much public attention to all the time they’re spending together. Director Martha Stephens (co-director of 2014 Sundance film “Land Ho!” with Aaron Katz) adapts Shannon Bradley-Colleary‘s screenplay on intolerance and class-warfare in pre-sexual revolution America into an artfully visual feast, but one that unfortunately plods along at an uneven pace into heavy-handedness as the drama intensifies. It’s a missed opportunity for something more poignant despite the wondrous black & white photography and a strong level of intimacy between the lead characters.
The idea that we can modernize familiar narrative tropes is something that Hollywood always strives in achieving. After all, why change a formula that has been working so well, and making money, on audiences since the beginning of time when you could just freshen it up for contemporary audiences, whose sensibilities, let’s be frank haven’t changed all that much. Please keep in mind that in the millions of years the homosapien has lived on this planet, their DNA has barely changed, nor has their way of responding to triggers which prompt the usual emotional reactions.Read More
Aesthetics and substance are two entirely different things in cinema. You could have a film that is bracingly inventive in its visual approach but falls flat in the narrative drama. Ditto the reverse, a visually flat film with a well-realized narrative. The latter is usually worth a recommendation, but the former can be problematic, even when you have a film as visually accomplished as Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”Read More
When Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) was assigned to lead an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program he did not know it would become his own personal "heart of darkness". In a way, Jones' painstaking analyzing of the extensive evidence at hand, his report turned out to be 6000 pages, revealed just how much our civil liberties were stripped by the Bush administration and, consequentially, the Obama administration, spearheaded by, then CIA director. John Brennan (Ted Levine).Read More
In two short years, America, has turned race, privilege, and class into incendiary topics while amplifying intolerance, and Julias Onah‘s powerfully constructed “Luce,” mixes all these socio-political subjects into a provocative Molotov cocktail that shatters, burns and leaves no easy answers.
Before I reveal my best of the fest I need to mention the elephant in the room …
Throughout the fest I wanted journalists to be honest with me about why they thought this year's program was lackluster, at least in terms of the narrative features. Amost all of them mentioned the fact that Sundance's militant and adamant stance on inclusivity was to blame. Of course, you won't get these critics admitting that on print, but many personally confessed that was a problem.Read More
The unbelievable strangeness inherent in truth has made for some incredibly destabilizing documentaries about the blurred lines of fact and fiction. Films like “Dear Zachary,” “Catfish,” “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “The Imposter” all blow themselves up in the middle all featuring “oh shit!”-like twists so disarming, so surprising they make one question the very reality and existence of what you’ve been watching. So, prepare to be fooled, thrilled and surprised with a new classic of this upending subgenre with “Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary,” a doc that uses the integral subject of magic and artifice to create a riveting meta-story about the illusory nature of truth, trust and the self-examining questioning of what you thought to be real.
Arthouse horror is on a tear right now, and it’s no secret. One of the most inspiring movements in American cinema right now, modern classics like “Hereditary,” “Get Out,” “The Witch,” “It Follows,” et al. have reinvigorated a genre blunted by the cheap slasher films of the ’80s and ’90s and sparked something of a movement, thoughtful, emotionally bruising and sometimes glacially paced horror. Who knows, look back in 10 years, and cinema historians may find an even deeper correlation that we can see to our toxic, uncertain times, and this cinema of unease and collective trauma.
Many attempt to mix the outwardly-delicious peanut butter and chocolate tone of comedy and horror, and there are many good ones—“Shaun of the Dead” “Cabin In The Woods,” “Get Out,” the “Evil Dead” films, etc.— but it’s actually a deceptively tricky genre hybrid to get right. For all the classics, much like horror, there’s a lot of cheap, garish junk that gets churned out each year that hurts the overall quality score.
As the year’s pass, the deceitful excuses and the disturbing decision by the Bush Administration to wage war against Iraq in 2003 grow increasingly criminal. The continuous barrage of first-hand knowledge that has been revealed over the last 15 years since the invasion, has made it quite clear that the intelligence community distorted facts and manipulated the American people. This shameful time in American history has resulted in a slew of scathing films (fiction and non-fiction) and the latest zeroing in on this topic— following its recent appearance in Adam McKay‘s satirical Dick Cheney biopic “Vice“— is “Official Secrets,” by South African director Gavin Hood (“Eye in the Sky”).