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Documentary

Review: Eva Hesse

May 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220557:42943:0[/embed] Eva HesseDirector: Marcie BegleiterRating: NRRelease Date: April 27, 2016 (NYC, with future limited release in select cities) Hesse began her career as a painter and illustrator, and her early work could be described as abstract expressionist or post-abstract expressionist. She'd later flourish by combining painting and sculpture, using texture, repetition, humor, protrusion, interruption, surrealism, and absurdity to create a style all her own. The film develops connections between the work, Hesse's Jewish identity, and her strained or distant personal relationships, and with varying degrees of success. It's all engaging, yet I felt the movie was in a more comfortable groove when in the thick of the art and the art scene. Hesse's best known works are generally her post-minimalist sculptures crafted from industrial materials like resin, fiberglass, plastic, and rubber. Many of these materials were purchased along Canal Street back when New York City was a bohemian wonderland. Like all movies about that creative boom period, the images of dangerous and affordable squalor left me wistful for a place and a scene that no longer exists. Pearl Paint was still there, today it's no more. Director Marcie Begleiter uses Hesse's diaries, letters, and calendars to structure a intimate portrait of the artist and her work. Yet Begleiter is careful in her approach, suggesting connections between life and work without delving into the psychological drives or underpinnings. Writer Lucy Lippard, a friend of Hesse's who's interviewed in the film, even stops herself mid-answer from making any definitive psychological pronouncements about the work. It's a careful balance, the difference between appreciation and diagnosis, and while the life is the material of the work just as much as string and resin, the work is more than just the manifestation of an irresolvable turmoil. Hesse is anxious over a trip to Germany given her childhood anxieties and strife about her homeland, and yet she's able to find her own voice as an artist by being there. Later as Hesse struggles with her health, her reliance on chance, gravity, and materials that degrade may suggest a kind of resignation and acceptance. As a nice correlative, Begleiter punctuates a celebration of the artist's legacy with a memento mori straight from Hesse's journals. Even without this knowledge, Hesse's work has this beguiling power given its singular vision. This may just speak to the autobiographical nature of encountering artwork. It's an imperfect Venn diagram: the life and times of the artist and the life and times of the person encountering the art meet in the middle-space of the work itself. Selma Blair reads excerpts from Hesse's journals with a lulled sadness, sort of like an adult Wednesday Addams, yet Blair's croaks and pauses in delivery have bruises in them. We only hear Hesse's real voice once in the film, and it's totally different from Blair's line reading. Hesse's New York accent is thick and endearing and vulnerable in its own way. It got me wondering about the different ways we read and interpret writings aloud, and how there's a seriousness about reading from diaries and letters that's never quite present in our extemporaneous speech. Even when Blair's voicing letters between Hesse and her friends, the read is more like a monologue than a conversation. Maybe even private writings are really conversational. Whatever minor qualms I might have about form and content, it doesn't detract from the documentary's primary focus, which is an appreciation of Eva Hesse the artist and Eva Hesse the woman. Hesse's life, like her work, leaves an impression, a little fingerprint on a plastic vessel, or the drip of resin on the floor of a Bowery loft.
Review: Eva Hesse photo
The artist is her material
Almost every creative work is inescapably autobiographical. We can't get outside ourselves, so whatever's been experienced finds expression in the work, whether consciously or unconsciously. Even formal attempts to divest the...

Tribeca Review: The Banksy Job

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220520:42931:0[/embed] The Banksy JobDirectors: Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan HarveyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: UK  AK47 is the head of the art collective Art Kieda, a self-described "arto-politico humorist movement" (because who else would describe it that way?). He becomes obsessed with Banksy after the artist refused to sign a print purchased at a party. AK47 could have purchased a signed print from the same party, but he wanted to save money. Out of spite, he steals The Drinker. Seriously. Is a Heist a Work of Art? Maybe. The heist itself plays out like a sloppy, slackery bit of municipal roadwork, but there's a kind of brazen moxie about it all. If it's not a work of performance art, it may be a great bit of silliness. You get a sense watching AK47 that he views everything as a kind of lark, from his previous careers as a rave organizer and amateur porn star/pornographer to his current attempts at art making. And yet saying it's a work of art might be off--is any act a work of art simply because someone says so, even if they're taking the piss? The way AK47 giggles and preens during and in retrospect, it almost seems as if he's also having a wank. Is AK47 an artist? AK47 calls himself an art-terrorist, and to the extent that this entire act of thievery caused a kind of interruption of routine he's accurately described himself. And yet in stealing the art and later trying to sell it (after a series of unexpected complications), he offers a weird exercise in the philosophy of art. AK47 delves into the origins of The Drinker's creation and presents the audience with the kitsch equivalent of the Theseus' Ship Paradox. Maybe AK47 is an artist who relies on the work of others--Banksy, Al Qaeda, Plutarch, Exit Through the Gift Shop--to arrive at salient aesthetic ideas. It's sort of like being drunk and finding the $20 that someone else left in the ATM at the bar.  Is The Banksy Job Just Taking the Piss? Like Exit Through the Gift Shop, much of The Banksy Job leaves the viewer wondering how much is real, how much is invented, and how much is just a series of weird half-truths. There's a bit of everything in there, including a recitation of the Art Kieda code, yet something tells me the collective isn't quite the army AK47 suggests. Banksy appears in the film as an interviewee, or at least it's some guy with his face blacked out and his voice digitally altered to protect his identity. It fits the AK47/Art Kieda aesthetic, though--whether real or not, it's all pretty much about taking the piss. Okay, But Is It Art? Good question. Hell if I know. The safe answer is "Maybe?"
Review: The Banksy Job photo
Taking the piss, but is it art?
There are cock and bull stories and there are shaggy dog stories and there are complete piss-takes. The Banksy Job is kind of a mix of all three. At its center is a Bansky obsessive who goes by the artsy sobriquet AK47. His r...

Tribeca Capsule Review: The Last Laugh

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
The Last LaughDirector: Ferne PearlsteinRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD  It seems a cop out to say your mileage may vary, and yet that seems the only viable answer. Mel Brooks appears in the film doing an excellent Hitler impersonation using a black comb. (A subtle adjustment of the comb and he becomes Joseph Stalin--tada!) Brooks will mock Hitler relentlessly and delights in it, but could never make a joke about The Holocaust itself. It's his personal limit. The Spanish Inquisition is fine, though--jokes are all about the timing. Sarah Silverman, on the other hand, goes all out. There's even mention of the mixed response to Hogan's Heroes and Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, with polarized opinions coming from comedians, filmmakers, and a representative from the Anti-Defamation League. The discussions aren't particularly new since any discussion of the uses of comedy has to consider the limits (if any) of comedic material. There's the idea of inflicting ridicule as a type of power for the powerless and the idea of hope and the idea that certain communities and groups are able to make certain kinds of jokes while others aren't--with Holocaust jokes, the suffering is a Jewish experience and so should be the comedic catharsis. What's interesting is the juggling act between Firestone as a survivor and an speaker at museums who shares her pain and the comedians who never had to live through her experiences. A generational aspect is added to the subjective one. Yet the two sides don't quite gel, which makes the movie feel like a bit of a Venn diagram--two separate docs with something common between them. There's probably a more substantive discussion about comedy, its limits, and what comedians should consider when making jokes about oppressed groups or about a particularly dark period in history. The Last Laugh might not delve much deeper into that discussion about the art of comedy, but that's fine. It gives a human face to a survivor of the worst indignities of the 20th century. That Renee smiles is hopeful. We can't possibly laugh at her, and it's presumptuous to say we laugh for her just given the subjectivity of humor. We laugh with her because she's still able to do so herself; maybe we laugh because otherwise we'd just cry.
Review: The Last Laugh photo
There's no accounting for bad taste
As I've gotten older, I've noticed more conversations and thinkpieces about what topics are off-limits for comedians, such as racist jokes, jokes about rape, jokes about The Holocaust, and so on. This might stray into a large...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Apr 24 // Nick Valdez
Abortion: Stories Women TellDirector: Tracy Droz TragosRating: NRRelease Date: April 18, 2016 (limited) Abortion: Stories Women Tell is eye opening. I'm not going to sit here and pretend I knew everything about the subject, so some of the film's perspectives are heartbreaking. Stories follows two women for the most part: one who's about to undergo the procedure because she doesn't want another child (and has way too many responsibilities already) and one who's protesting the procedure because of religious beliefs. The doc takes care to normalizing the subject just in case you were squeamish to any part of the process. It's treated as just another part of life, another facet of heatlhcare, and regardless of your personal feelings the subject is standing on neutral ground. Sure there are some digs into either side in the way it's being filmed, but those are viewpoints the audience has to infer for themselves. It's great the final product is basically the open start to a conversation, presenting as many arguments as possible.  While this make the documentary sound weaker overall, it's true purpose is to inform rather than to judge. It's astounding to see how many viewpoints are represented here. Reflecting how wide open the subject is, and how many opposing views of it there are, Stories cast a wide net and talks to women of various ages, races, and creeds. And while Stories may follow one or two particular women for the majority, the audience is just witness to a particular moment of their lives. We're given a brief look into who these women are, but never enough to form attachment. Stories never loses sight of its subject for an instant, and that makes it all the more powerful. It's handled so well, in fact, I'm left wondering why it's regulated as much as it is now. But given the opposition opposes it so strongly, it's easy to see why. But as I mentioned before, the judgment is entirely ours to make as a viewer. This doc just wants to make sure you know what's going on.  Abortion: Stories Women Tell was the strongest documentary I'd seen at Tribeca. A strong, fair, and ultimately open ended film that captures a pocket of the frustration surrounding the issue. For letting me in on a fraction of what the women presented are feeling, this documentary has done a lot more for the issue than anything has done in the past.  To anyone unknowledgeable about abortion or the debate surrounding, you owe it yourselves to watch and listen to Abortion: Stories Women Tell. 
Stories Capsule Review photo

Although it's been technically legal ever since the famous Roe v. Wade legal battle in the 60s and 70s, states across America still do as much as they can to limit healthcare, and by extension abortion, to the nation's women....


Tribeca Capsule Review: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four

Apr 21 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220511:42918:0[/embed] Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio FourDirector: Deborah EsquenaziRating: NRRelease Date: April 20, 2016 (limited) In 1994, four women, Anna Vasquez, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh, were charged with the sexual assault of two underage girls, Elizabeth's nieces. And thus began a weird trial where the four defendants had to deal with a litany of accusations all stemming from their sexuality. With accusations ranging from the deplorable to the highly nonsensical (such as suggesting the crime committed was some sort of satanistic ritual), the four women just want to clear their names and be freed from the system that condemned their lifestyles. Thanks to the seemingly never ending nature of the trial, the four women are still contesting their convictions to this day and with the latest development happening only two months prior to the film's release. Unfortunately, with that big of a period to cover, Southwest of Salem fails to catch everything. As the case is constantly developing, we never quite get the full picture of it. Instead the film feels like an attempt at advocacy rather than a full fledged documentary. We're only told one side of the case, and it's clear what the filmmaker believes. But we're not given enough information to make a decision ourselves, and are instead told to believe what director Esquenazi believes. In the same breath, Southwest excels at telling that single side.  Since we're not given enough information on the case (Neither members of the prosecution nor expert testimony on the "bogus science" scrutinzed later on in the case were interviewed), director Esquenazi chooses to anchor the documentary with emotion. Following the four women on different stages of their incarceration and later release, Southwest benefits from having credible and highly personal footage for each of the women. Opting to capture a slice of each woman (namely Anna Vasquez, who's become the "face" of the four)'s life, the film creates a connection between the audience and subjects. Some of the footage is incredibly heartbreaking as the film manages to capture integral moments like their initial release from prison or home movies depicting the women's final moments of freedom. Southwest of Salem makes sure you care about the San Antonio Four. As the film's main goal is awareness, most of the film is dedicated to moments like these. And because of that laser focus, the film's emotion and heartache feels earned rather than manipulative.  Regardless of how you feel about the technical flaws of this documentary, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four is a heartbreaking look into a little discussed case. Some of the developments are baffling. You'll feel rage, sadness, and hopelessness, and you'll still only feel a fraction of what these four women are going through. But for even capturing even a fraction of that feeling, Southwest of Salem is powerful, flaws and all. 
Salem Tribeca Review photo
Devastating
Growing up in San Antonio you witness a lot of things like gang violence, racial and class divides, and the occasional public drunkeness, but twenty two years ago something happened in my small town that changed it forever. I...

Tribeca Review: My Scientology Movie

Apr 19 // Hubert Vigilla
My Scientology MovieDirector: John DowerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Gibney's documentary--an adaptation of Lawrence Wright's book of the same name--is a top-to-bottom takedown of the entire Church of Scientology, looking at the group's origins via the eccentric L. Ron Hubbard to its current state. Sweeney's Panorama pieces were more upsetting. The first, Scientology and Me, and featured Sweeney getting stalked and harassed by high-level members of the Church of Scientology; the follow-up, The Secrets of Scientology, revealed how the Scientology operatives intimidated Sweeney, with the go-ahead coming from Scientology leader David Miscaviage himself. I mention the above works for their clarity of purpose and strong execution. Theroux's movie is more impish by comparison just based on circumstance. He'd originally intended to make a documentary on Scientology and sought full cooperation of the cult. The Church of Scientology declined his request. They no longer allow journalists access to the church, perhaps because of Sweeney's damning work, which revealed just how nuts the organization is at its core. Undeterred, Theroux makes his own movie about Scientology featuring dramatic recreations and reinterpretations of events. There's an open casting call for people to play David Miscaviage and Tom Cruise, the former played by an alarmingly talented guy named Andrew Perez. For accuracy and insight into his film (and to bait the Church of Scientology), Theroux also contacts Mark Rathbun to help as a consultant. Rathbun was a former high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology, at times a brutal protector and enforcer for the church. He's now an apostate who suffers continual harassment from Scientology operatives. My Scientology Movie sort of reminded me of Theorux's 2003 special Louis, Martin & Michael, in which he tried to get an interview with Michael Jackson but instead wound up hanging out with Michael's father and Uri Gellar. By not getting directly to Michael Jackson, Theroux got a great portrait of the strange world that Michael lives in. Similarly, by not working directly with the Church of Scientology, Theroux maybe gets a more unique portrait of Scientology. The film isn't a takedown in the Gibney mode and it's nowhere near as intense as Sweeney's pieces, but Theroux's clever ability to disarm offers a roundabout look at Scientology and how it affects former members. One of the film's recreations centers around a detention center for misbehaving Scientologists. We witness the kind of intimidation and humiliation that church members endured at the hands of their leader. Perez shifts into Miscaviage mode, becoming an abusive, self-righteous demon eager to demean as he is to shove and to strike and to break furniture to make a point. The Church of Scientology sends its team of stalkers to see what Theroux is up to. What might be unnerving is oddly undone thanks to Theroux's unshakable calm. Theroux does what he's always done best in these sorts of situations: he renders scary things absurd. Theroux does get to apply his trademark naivete, though it's on Rathbun rather than a current cult official. Rathbun's the closest that Theroux can get to the church directly, and he tries to ask questions, discern original motives, and get into the mind of a high-level Scientologist. Rathbun is practiced in the art of manipulation and intimidation, however, and a resentment builds between them. Those awkward moments in a Theroux piece are compelling to watch because they are such unguarded moments. Theroux is able to get a slight glimpse at the innerworkings of Rathbun, a complicated man who is much more of a mystery (and maybe more interesting) than whatever's going on in the Church of Scientology.
My Scientology Movie photo
A Theroux perspective, but not thorough
Louis Theroux won me over many years ago with the show Weird Weekends. In each episode, Theroux embedded himself in a subculture and use his extreme mild-mannered niceness to disarm his subjects. He'd hang out with porn stars...

Tribeca Review: National Bird

Apr 18 // Hubert Vigilla
National BirdDirector: Sonia KennebeckRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD We're introduced to three American whistleblowers involved with drone warfare in Afghanistan--two women and a man--each of them haunted by their role in the U.S. Air Force program. There are supposed to be checks between various operatives in charge of a drone strike, and yet something is bound to go wrong. We've all read or watched stories about innocent victims of this type of warfare, and in the most disturbing and important moment of National Bird--maybe the primary reason the documentary exists and is essential--we watch actual footage of a drone strike mistake. Targets enter vehicles and they drive down a road in no particular rush. They stop somewhere to pray. They drive again. Prior to this tense situation we're told that the Air Force trains their people to distinguish between civilians (particularly women and children) and actual terror suspects, but from so high up they're just black and white blobs. Two voices recreate the conversation between operatives, who receive incentives to strike rather than show discretion. They're like sadistic children waiting above a trail ants with magnifying glasses. There is no human regard in their words. We watch the strike and its aftermath. The explosions are like a futurist nightmare, and victims rush away waving for mercy. Cutting from the cameras in the sky, we go to cell phone footage on the ground of the murdered men, women, and children. The images are from their relatives. The up-close footage is thankfully grainy, and the bodies are difficult to discern in the digital noise, but you can easily make out the wails of grief and rage from their loved ones. There were 23 deaths in this strike, none were militants. According to a report from The Intercept, the United States killed more than 200 people using drone strikes between January 2012 and February 2013; only 35 of them were the intended targets. These tragedies are common, and given the increased reliance on unmanned warfare, they tragedies may become even more common. Even U.S. optimistic numbers suggest that innocent civilians are killed between 10% to 15% of the time. Despite the power the film achieves in its final half, I can't help but think there's a structural flaw in National Bird. Kennebeck spends a long time with the whistleblowers in the United States first, introducing their issues with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and overwhelming guilt for their role in the deaths of civilians. Yet in many ways the film doesn't really begin until we get to the sequences in Afghanistan. It's Afghan innocents that ground the film since its their tragedy that drives the three whistleblowers to speak out. The last half of the movie lends the first half some much needed weight, but I wondered if there was a way to braid the stories of drone-strike victims with the whistleblower narratives rather than saving the Afghan side of the story for later. At one point of National Bird, we watch dozens of Afghani amputees getting fit for prostheses. Many of them are victims of drone strikes and the other hazards of war. Back in the United States, one of the whistleblowers talks about her depression and PTSD, and she breaks down in uncontrollable sobs. Kennebeck sends a camera drone over an American suburb, and in those images of houses laid in a grid there's a hypothetical implication: someday someone might use drones to attack people within the United States. The technology is there, and time moves forward. The fear is the reality: we can't go back.
Review: National Bird photo
Eyes in the sky
One of the most memorable passages in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five involves World War II played in reverse. Bombers flying backwards rebuild cities, and the dead become high school students and babies, and everything r...

Tribeca Review: After Spring

Apr 17 // Hubert Vigilla
After SpringDirector: Ellen Martinez and Steph ChingRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD A man gets an order on the phone: pizza for delivery. We're in the Zaatari camp. The pizza man makes the pie in a small oven, boxes it up, and has his son deliver the pizza on his bike. It's strange (is it condescending to use the word "strange"?) to think of a Syrian pizza parlor that delivers in a Jordanian refugee camp, yet this is the new normal for those who no longer have a home. In Zaatari, there are restaurants and rows of shops. After arriving at the camp, displaced Syrians decided to rebuild the quotidian as best as they could. You can buy cell phones, you can rent formal wear, you can buy little toys and bric-a-brac. New arrivals tend to stay in tents first before given mobile trailers to live in. There are 80,000 people in the camp, and more than half of them are children. It's not Syria before the war, but it'll do, at least for now--a prolonged now. Martinez and Ching divide their focus between families who live in Zaatari and a handful of the aid workers there. The head of the camp, Kilian Kleinschmidt, has years of experience in humanitarian aid, and he approaches his job with equal measures of optimism and grim reality. Zaatari is one of the biggest and most well-known refugee camps in the world, and Kleinschmidt hopes to leverage the camp's profile to attract celebrities and world leaders to visit, make donations, and raise awareness, There's an air of marketing in this approach, but maybe that's what donors will respond to more than the moral obligation to the refugees per se. Ching and Martinez rarely leave Zaatari in their film, a spend most of the documentary chronicling the daily rhythms of displaced life. Babies are born, aid requests are made, and some of the people in camp even contemplate a return to Syria. Life outside of the camp is much more difficult, even outside of Syria. Ching and Martinez catch up with one woman and her family who left Zaatari to live in Jordan, but her struggles have made her consider a return to the camp. Getting to the camp was difficult enough, but leaving its confines might prove more difficult. Jon Stewart added his name to After Spring as an executive producer, which will hopefully get more eyes on the movie. With the new wave of international Islamophobia spurred by the ISIS attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels, After Spring is much-needed counterweight. It's a humanizing movie, one about empathy and our duty to others (literally millions) in need. It's far too easy to discount the lives of other people when they're just an abstract ethnic group or religious group. After Spring gives faces to the Syrians similarly affected by the war. One of the refugees at Zaatari mentions bringing down Bashar al-Assad toward the end of the film, and that sudden injection of politics and factionalism reminded me that the conflict within Syria is maybe as irresolvable as this humanitarian crisis. With so many children in the camps, one of the aid workers sets up a taekwondo academy to provide structure and discipline. There's hope in this--something so simple and suburban, yet it provides a center that holds. Like ordering a pizza for delivery, here's a reminder of the comforts that give people a sense of home, and the little things people do to restore humanity to others. It's a small bloom in the desert, a fragile and beautiful thing.
Review: After Spring photo
A day in the life of a Syrian refugee
The Syrian Civil War has led to a humanitarian crisis that's only getting worse. As of now, roughly 4.6 million Syrians have left the country, many of whom have fled to neighboring Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, with others fle...

ND/NF Review: Peter and the Farm

Mar 22 // Hubert Vigilla
Peter and the FarmDirector: Tony StoneRelease Date: TBDRating: TBD Though I can't remember the term right now, there's an old idea that the health of a king would be reflected in the state of his kingdom, and that when a king's reign is in decline, so too the kingdom would fall to ruin. Dunning constantly mentions how this farm he bought in the 1960s isn't what it used to be, and how things are falling apart. He recalls glory days with his family (who are no longer present), and even shares a story about conceiving one of his kids while trying to shoot varmints. Yet the planks are rotting and the paint is peeling, and Dunning's lonely and depressed and an alcoholic. Stone catches the high and lows of this life in solitude as the seasons pass, showing concern for Dunning as a person as well as the subject for a documentary. It's a tough balance, and I sometimes wonder how documentary filmmakers manage it. Dunning's a salty guy, and he sometimes rags on city-boy Stone and his crew from New York as they come up to his farm. Still, there's a sense that Dunning is hungry for the company. The crew generally tries to stay out of Dunning's way to document the life he leads, but there's are moments of concern they express on camera, and it expressed my own concerns for Dunning's well-being. This might be the city-boy in me talking, but there's a sense of romance about living a sustainable life on an organic farm. Stone cuts through that, however, getting into the mud and shit and sheer dissatisfaction that are the realities of Dunning's livelihood. In one particularly fetid scene, a cow in the foreground of a shot makes a healthy bowel movement for the unflinching camera. A farm veterinarian checks if the cow's pregnant, which involves shoving his arm into the cow's rectum all the way up to the bicep. Thankfully that's just out of frame as a hail of dislodged of dung scatters to the barn floor. To the camera after he's done, the vet laughs and says he's going to get some lunch. The land and the man are one in Peter and the Farm, and we have to take the high and the low as part of a whole. There's a rustic beauty to the solitude of the farm, and Dunning's recollections of his marriages and his friendships have a kind of poetry about them as well. He was an artist and a marine and into the counterculture, and now he's on a farm. That's one hell of a story. But there's always a kind of misery underlying it all, and countless regrets. For every joy there's a desire for something lost and irretrievable in the past, an acknowledgment of more work to be done, and a dark sense that the work to be done won't be worth it in the end. Dunning confesses so much on screen, and with such sincerity, it makes me wonder about what's too painful to disclose, and what kinds of equivocation might be at play. With farming there's a larger metaphor for tilling the land, taming it, enriching the soil, making it yield what we want. One of my big takeaways from Peter and the Farm is that the metaphor sounds great in theory, but it's hard to work in concept. The actual, physical ground we work on and our own interior lives often resist the impulse to be tamed. That struggle is the stuff of stories like Peter Dunning's--shit and sundowns and the occasional moment to reflect.
Peter and the Farm Review photo
Salt of the earth
The first thing I noticed about Peter Dunning, the subject of the documentary Peter and the Farm, was his injured hand. It's gnarled and he's missing fingers, and at 68 years old he's managed to function with just a thumb and...

ND/NF: Thoughts on the documentary Weiner by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg

Mar 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220420:42870:0[/embed] Weiner is cringe comedy at its most painful, with so much said in clenched jaws, nervous posture, and sad eyes. What's most fascinating is how, at least for me, the initial schedenfreude turned into empathy. I felt bad for Weiner, sure, but more so for and his wife, Huma Abedin, who suffers the failed campaign mostly in silence. Huma's appearances are brief but momentous. When she occasionally looks at the camera and emotes, I'm reminded of Jim from The Office or Buster Keaton; when the camera catches her in a candid moment, I'm reminded of seeing distressed strangers suffering through some private turmoil on the subway. While watching Weiner, I kept thinking about Marshall Curry's 2005 documentary Street Fight, which covered Cory Booker's run for mayor of Newark. Booker remains a rising star in the Democratic Party (though he seemed to burn brighter as a mayor than he currently does as a US senator), and Street Fight is all about his high-minded, aspirational campaign which was characterized by an inexhaustible surfeit dignity. Weiner, on the other hand, is all about exponentially expanding indignity, both on the part of the candidate and also on the part of a media obsessed with salaciousness, moral outrage, and sanctimony. [embed]220420:42872:0[/embed] The early buzz over Weiner is that the film's release could have an impact on the general election. Huma is a close confidante of Hillary Clinton and currently serves as vice chairwoman of Clinton's presidential campaign. I don't think this will have much sway on the primaries or the big vote in November, but it may help people reflect on what matters in politics. With so much focus on personality and personal lives, the focus on policy gets lost. In other words, Dick Pics > The Middle Class. As we watch Weiner struggle to get his message out on the campaign trail, all anyone can talk about are his personal indiscretions and how they affect perceptions of trustworthiness. Some express moral outrage, and use it as an excuse for the worst kind of bullying. How much of this is rooted in legitimate concern for New York City politics, and how much of it is just a love of political theater? [embed]220420:42871:0[/embed] I developed a strange admiration for Weiner as the documentary progressed. Part of that is how we begin to feel bad for a person when they've been publicly humiliated, but Weiner is also a fighter. When I first heard about him several years back, it was because of his passion as a Congressman when advocating for 9/11 first responders. The first sexual disgrace would come a year later, but that fighting spirit carried on in his comeback/mayoral bid, though he became a total palooka for the public. Even with everything collapsing, he continued into the fray, taking punch after punch after punch, and yet, against all good judgement, he decided to stand and fight rather than fall. Is it odd to admire the punching bag and the punch-drunk? The big question is if Weiner believed he could salvage his comeback or if it was just the weight of expectation and obligation that kept him going. Most likely both. Maybe it was also a kind of public flogging that he secretly agreed with. It's weird to admire that, but people are strange and complicated, and sometimes they run for office. Whether or not I'd vote for them is a different matter entirely.
Weiner documentary photo
Politics (and dick pics) in our time
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner is one of the must-sees at New Directors/New Films. The documentary chronicles the inspiring comeback and catastrophic implosion of Anthony Weiner's 2013 bid to become mayor of New Y...

Review: Thank You for Playing

Mar 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219244:42855:0[/embed] Thank You for PlayingDirectors: David Osit and Malika Zouhali-WorrallRelease Date: March 18, 2016 (limited); March 29, 2016 (VOD)Rating: NR Just seeing Joel on screen is heartbreaking. It's the way his eyes cross, which seems troubling, not a routine case of strabismus that lots of kids have. A whole flood of emotions winds up in the content of That Dragon, Cancer. The first-person experiential game allows players to push Joel on a swing, to feed ducks with Joel at sunset, to catch Joel coming down a slide as he giggles--it's his real laugh. There are also visits to the clinic, mournful walks through dark rooms of the house, and even a metaphorical flourish of indoor rain, like something out of a Tarkovsky movie magnified to Biblical proportions. While That Dragon, Cancer offers a space to participate in the life of the Green family, it also conveys a sense of helplessness. There's only one outcome to all of this. Ryan and Amy are people of faith, and it seemed that an underlying pain of their situation is how God could let this happen. I never sensed that their faith was in question--it's something stable--and the game and the documentary convey the frustration of trying to find hope when none seems possible. For instance, in the design of the game, Joel's face lacks features. By not particularizing Joel's face, it opens up the possibility for a more universal experience of the loss. Yet there's also the facelessness of the real Joel. He should be verbal at his age and have more of a personality, but his development has been stunted. Ryan says that he loves his son, but he doesn't really know him and he'll never get to really know him. Directors David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall play a difficult balancing act since their film is both a making-of documentary about That Dragon, Cancer as well as a chronicle of a family's sadness along the lines of Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary. There are times when the making-of aspects of the film feel at odds with the heartache in the Green family, but they're generally all of a piece. Art gets made to address an experience, so the creative process of making That Dragon, Cancer is an essential interpretive component to the movie. There's little division between lived life and creative life. There's a scene in which Ryan records some dialogue for the game. His lines seem like private poetry if you just read them as words on a screen: "Fear is cancer's preservative; cancer's embalming oil. And you, oh Accuser, are Fear's oil salesmen." He reads his lines again, this time with something to wrap his hands around, like he's choking the Devil, or cancer, or his anxieties, or death itself. He reads with so much conviction, and he brings to life all of the ineffable emotional stuff that his words alone can't convey. There's another important function to art that comes across in both That Dragon, Cancer as well as Thank You for Playing: it's to remind others that no matter what, whether in joy or in grief, we are not alone.
Thank You for Playing photo
Love letters, memorials, videogames
There are moments of Thank You for Playing that are so painful because the documentary feels so personal. It's about Joel Green, a boy with terminal brain cancer, and how his parents try to cherish the little joys in life whi...

New Directors/New Films photo
New Directors/New Films

NYC: New Directors/New Films starts next week (March 16-27)


A showcase for emerging filmmakers
Mar 08
// Hubert Vigilla
The 45th edition of New Directors/New Films starts next week in New York City. New Directors/New Films showcases emerging filmmakers from around the world, and screens some of the most talked about films on the festival circu...

Review: Where to Invade Next

Feb 11 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219845:42640:0[/embed] Where to Invade NextDirector: Michael MooreRating: RRelease Date: December 23, 2015 (NY/LA); February 12, 2016 (wide) We start the invasion in Italy. Moore sits down with a couple in their living room to discuss what their paid vacation situation is like in the country. They get more than a month off, not including national and local holidays, and any unused vacation time rolls over into the next year. Moore's mouth is agog most of the time--he was genuinely learning all of this for the first time. But there's more. The wages tend to be better, the lunches are longer, and employees tend to be more productive on the job because they are so relaxed. Moore's invasion continues through Europe, with stops in France, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, Norway, and Portugal, continuing over the Mediterranean to Tunisia, then across the sea to Iceland. Each time, there's a novel innovation, and each time Moore seems surprised and inspired. He focuses on one thing each country seems to be doing right. In Slovenia, for instance, all college is free, even for students who've come from abroad. In Finland, they've abolished homework. Moore admits that these countries have their own problems and he's mostly accentuating the positive. My job is picking the flowers and not the weeds, he says. He's also picking cherries, but that's not the biggest problem with Where to Invade Next, which, when it works, offers a fine rebuke of the "Fuck you, I got mine" mentality that pervades much of American culture. Moore's generally at his best when he's a deadpan observer rather than a fiery polemicist. Roger and Me is still his finest film (even though he did fudge the timeline of events) since it's mostly Moore as a citizen journalist documenting others. While framed around Moore trying to get an audience with General Motors CEO Roger Smith, the movie is driven by people who get to tell their own stories about the painful decline of Flint, Michigan. As Moore's clout grew, he became a more prominent figure in his films, and in turn his movies were more about Michael Moore's opinions on a subject rather than the subject itself. Moore develops a feel-good thesis in Where to Invade Next. These innovations in other countries could make America a better place, and they all have a shared origin. But Moore oversteps his skills as a documentary essayist through sloppy thinking and oversimplification. He walks past part of an old section of the Berlin Wall with a friend, and they reminisce about being there as it came down. Hammering and chiseling--the solution was so simple, they say. Well, no. History doesn't work that way. The Berlin Wall didn't come down just because some people in West Germany began chipping away at it for a few nights. There were decades of global history that culminated in that moment, and none of it was easy. While Moore smartly identifies the systemic racism underlying the US drug war, he dumbs down cause and effect in other parts of the film to suggest that the catalyst for change is something really simple. By that logic, the Arab Spring was easy as pie: all it took was for someone to self-immolate. No problemo. The systems themselves are simple and elegant, and yet the implementation of these solutions--free college, prison reform, education reform, greater gender representation in government--would have to be accomplished through legislative action and, even more difficult, a fundamental ideological shift in American attitudes regarding the bullshit of global capitalism and antiquated gender roles. These aren't so simple, they'll take time. But they're worth fighting for, which is why there's an oddly ennobling aspect to Where to Invade Next even for its flaws. In my head during each slip up, all I could think was, "Your argument is facile, but yeah, I agree, Michael." Moore's rhetorical missteps in Where to Invade Next come from a genuine place of concern. It's like a bad college essay. The larger point is good, but it's articulated and argued inartfully, whether through selective anecdotes rather than facts, or through emotional appeals rather than reason. The pat close of the movie is mushy and inspirational at the same time. Moore references a well-known fairy tale that takes place in the Midwest, and in the process made me think of another work (a book by Thomas Frank) about the contradictory relationship between political ideology and voting against your best interests in the Midwest. When film critic Stephen Whitty reviewed Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004, he wrote that Moore tends to worry liberals about as much as he infuriates conservatives. "They're people who agree with what Michael Moore says--but refuse to defend to the death the way he insists on saying it," he wrote. Some things don't change.
Review: Where to Invade photo
A feel good movie (but oversimplified)
Michael Moore and Donald Trump have something in common. No, seriously. They want to make America great again. In Where to Invade Next, Moore pretends he's been sent by the Pentagon to invade other countries. His mission: to ...

Review: Very Semi-Serious

Dec 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220186:42734:0[/embed] Very Semi-SeriousDirector: Leah WolchokRelease Date: November 20, 2015 (limited); December 14, 2015 (HBO premiere)Rating: NR While Very Semi-Serious isn't wholly obsessed with the process of creation and failure (it's just semi-serious, after all), that process is just one of many small hooks that make the movie a light, funny, and enjoyable watch. Maybe it's lighter, funnier, and more enjoyable if you're already a reader of The New Yorker, or if a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the magazine and its editorial process is of interest to you. Wolchok spends a good amount of time focusing on Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff. A celebrated cartoonist himself, Mankoff is writing a memoir while sorting through new work by past contributors and up-and-coming artists. Humor is a matter of taste, and most of the cartoons are the kinds of things that appeal to Mankoff and ultimately to New Yorker EIC David Remnick. Sometimes he laughs at a gag and then dismisses it. "This is beneath him," he says as he rejects a cartoonist he likes. There's a gentle mentorship to Mankoff, who's picking and choosing magazine content but also finding ways of encouraging an artists' sensibilities. Their work may not be right at the moment, but there's talent worth cultivating and he encourages them to try again, fail again, and to fail better. Two of those young artists that Mankoff takes a liking to are Liana Finck and Ed Steed. Their quirky styles are closer to contemporary web comics rather than the droll New Yorker style, and it fits with their personalities. Steed speaks in a perpetual whisper that masks his comedic talent, and Finck is like a weird but lovable heroine in an indie film. Mankoff probably sees a bit of himself in each of them, and gives them the gentle push they need to keep doing their work. Before getting their work looked at in the New Yorker offices, the artists mull around with other cartoonists, almost all of them socially awkward and none of them speaking to one another. It's a nice visual gag. Very Semi-Serious covers a lot of ground, and does pretty well for its scope. There's the history of the cartoons, little nods to famous New Yorker cartoonists of the past like James Thurber, 9/11, Mankoff's life at home, and The New Yorker's recent move from Times Square to One World Trade Center. Nothing can be lingered on too long, so Wolchock juggles the elements that are important, presenting them and then passing them off with a certain light deftness. There's also the question of diversity. The New Yorker's cartoonists tend to be white and male. Even the handful of women cartoonists (Finck, Roz Chast, and Emily Flake) are white. During the scene of cartoonists waiting to be evaluated, I don't recall a single person of color, and I wonder if that will change, and if so when. Though maybe it says something about The New Yorker. Part of me wants a longer chronicle of a few New Yorker cartoonists given how long they've been in the industry and how it's changed. Cartooning can't be done full-time anymore, for instance, so the craft winds up a passion pursued on the side. I'm not necessarily expecting something like Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, but nearly all of the cartoonists are such characters themselves with stories to tell. (A documentary on New Yorker covers and cover artists could be interesting as well given the wide array of artists and subject matter.) Chast, for instance, has such a great on-screen presence. She's one of the few (if not only) women who contributed cartoons to The New Yorker decades ago and still contributes today. In archival footage, Chast slips through the background of the tuxedo-clad boys' club. It's funny and telling and smart the way Wolchok contextualizes the clip. It could have been a New Yorker cartoon--all three captions kind of work too.
Very Semi-Serious photo
More to it than "Christ, what an a-hole"
There's a joke about the cartoons seen in The New Yorker: pretty much all of them can be re-captioned "Christ, what an a**hole." It works surprisingly well about 90% of the time. (The other two evergreen captions for New York...

DOC NYC 2015 photo
DOC NYC 2015

DOC NYC starts this week, runs November 12-19


The largest documentary fest in the US
Nov 09
// Hubert Vigilla
DOC NYC is one of my favorite film festivals in New York City. Each year, DOC NYC showcases some of the best non-fiction filmmaking from all over the world, including a number of Oscar winners and Oscar contenders. DOC NYC st...
WOOOOO! photo
WOOOOO!

ESPN is doing a 30 for 30 documentary on Ric Flair, WOOOOO!


WOOOOO!
Nov 05
// Hubert Vigilla
According to The Washington Post, ESPN is doing a 30 for 30 documentary on pro-wrestling legend "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
ESPN 30 for 30 photo
ESPN 30 for 30

ESPN 30 for 30: Angels in the Outfield


A straight-faced College Humor parody
Oct 23
// Hubert Vigilla
While I don't necessarily like baseball, I really like the idea of baseball, especially documentaries about baseball. That goes for pitching docs like Fastball and Knuckleball, as well as underdog stories like The Battered Ba...

Review: Junun

Oct 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219966:42655:0[/embed] JununDirector: Paul Thomas AndersonRating: NRRelease Date: October 9, 2015 (MUBI) Junun is all about the music being made, so much so that the filmmaking seems a secondary concern. While multiple angles are covered during the recording sessions, we still see cameras suddenly picked up and repositioned, and get views of the ornately designed ceilings of the fort in the process. It sets the viewer down among the musicians as they perform or just outside the room looking in. There are a few humorous moments, like when a pesky pigeon winds up in the room, and there are moments of downtime when the musicians wait for rolling blackouts to pass. Occasionally Anderson offers a sublime cinematic flourish, like a drone shot of dozens of falcons swirling around the top of the fort as a man tosses them bits of meat. In the sunset and sunrise, Rajasthan looks gorgeous--gold skies, and many of the buildings an inviting blue--and a few times in Junun there are excursions into the bustle of the city itself. Anderson returns continually to the music--and more so the members of the Rajasthan Express and Tzur than Greenwood--blanketing the film in the songs from end to end. The collaborative compositions are mesmerizing, structured on galloping percussion, repetition and variation, and virtuosic touches. It might be a testament to the music that it elevates many of the images that would seem otherwise too much like home movie fare. The falcon shot might be the best marriage of sound and vision, though the music also invigorates plain moments walking the streets or shooting the people of Rajasthan from a tuk-tuk. I caught Junun in the Walter Reade Theater. The music resounded through the space and the seats. It made me wonder how different my experience would have been if I watched it via the VOD service MUBI. Something visceral might be lost from the big screen to the laptop, and unless you've got a really good sound system, it might fail to have the same impact. But Junun is worth a watch, or even just worth a listen, and not because it's a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie. It's more like a Paul Thomas Anderson music recommendation--check these guys out. It might be the first of his movies you can just play in the background.
Review: Junun photo
It's about the music (film is secondary)
How do you review a home movie with a great soundtrack? In a lot of ways that's precisely what Paul Thomas Anderson's Junun is. Anderson shot the footage earlier this year, chronicling a month-long recording session between R...

Nintendo Quest photo
Nintendo Quest

Trailer: Nintendo Quest features a man trying to collect the entire NES library without the internet


A speed run for obsessive collectors
Oct 01
// Hubert Vigilla
In the documentary Nintendo Quest, Jay Bartlett is on a mission. He has 30 days to collect all 678 North American NES titles. The problem: Jay's not allowed to make any purchases on the internet. Luckily it's just the cartrid...
New Michael Moore film photo
New Michael Moore film

Trailer: Where to Invade Next may be Michael Moore's comeback movie


Let's take their precious ideas
Sep 14
// Hubert Vigilla
It's been a few years since Michael Moore's previous film, Capitalism: A Love Story. He's back with a new documentary called Where to Invade Next, which may be a comeback movie for the filmmaker. Where to Invade Next has yet ...
Tower Records documentary photo
Tower Records documentary

Trailer: All Things Must Pass covers the rise and fall of Tower Records


Remembering the big chain record store
Aug 31
// Hubert Vigilla
If you were a teenager before the 2000s and lived in a decently sized town or city, chances are you went to a Tower Records. Tower used to be one of my go-to spots to buy/browse music while I was a high school kid in the Bay ...

Review: I Am Chris Farley

Aug 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219746:42540:0[/embed] I Am Chris FarleyDirectors: Derik Murray & Brent HodgeRelease Date: August 11, 2015 (VOD & DVD)Rating: NR  I Am Chris Farley is an interesting mix of interviews and video clips, most of which appear to have been ripped from VHS tapes. They span his time at Second City all the way through his various film appearances. It periodically cuts to an interview with David Letterman which is probably supposed to be representative of his success... but looking at his eyes, I only saw fear. The bulk of the film is made up of interviews. School friends, family, other actors. Big names, small names, no names. There were so many of them that I often forgot who the smaller names were. It seems to be intended for TV (made by Spike), as every so often it decides to reintroduce them with new title cards. Every 20-30 minutes or so, after they're back from the commercial break. I wish they'd done that more, honestly. But at some point, it didn't matter if that was the guy who was with him at Second City or the one who played Rugby. They're not there to serve themselves. They're there to help document Chris Farley. The whole thing is pretty straightforward. It starts with his youth and ends with his death. We're walked through the kind of person he was and the near-inevitability that he would end up a star. He was the entertainer, always looking for the spotlight. Of course he was. He was Chris Freaking Farley. And, as I sort of knew but very clearly learned, he was really flipping funny. But even if you know that, there's a lot of interesting stuff to be gleaned from these interviews. He used to be a jock, for example, super into football and rugby. He was an excellent improvisor but he never wrote any of the sketches he was in. He was the mold that everyone else used to make beautiful sketch sculptures. And oh what a mold he was. [embed]219746:42544:0[/embed] You could argue that I Am Chris Farley is a little on the shallow side. It's not until the last fifteen or so minutes that his death even comes up. Heavy on the happiness and nostalgia and then just a little bit of, "Also, the bad." And it's something I'm sort of conflicted about. By virtue of this fact, I Am Chris Farley is not really an accurate representation of who he was. If he was in and out of rehab, then a couple of mentions towards the end are hardly enough to accurately depict his struggle. This is a whitewashed version of Chris Farley. But I can also appreciate the desire to not dwell on the negative. It makes the film less of a historical document, but I also don't think that makes it somehow less worthwhile. Just go in with your expectations in check. This is how people want to remember him, all of the good times they had together and the laughs that everyone shared. This is about the idyllic version of the man – the myth and the legend. I think that's okay. I honestly do. There's something unfortunate about it, perhaps, but this was a man who just wanted to make people laugh. He wanted to be famous so he could go make sick children at the hospital happy. That's the stuff people want to think about and remember. Everyone has their flaws... but sometimes ignorance is bliss. I think this is one of those times.
I Am Chris Farley Review photo
Some version of him, anyhow
When I went into I Am Chris Farley, I couldn't have honestly said that I was a fan of his work. Not because I didn't like it, but because I didn't know it particularly well. I'd seen some stuff over the years, but I miss...

Review: The Nightmare

Jun 05 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219463:42422:0[/embed] The NightmareDirector: Rodney AscherRelease Date: June 5, 2015 (limited, VOD)Rating: NR Rather than rely on scientific rigor or consultations with medical professionals, The Nightmare is more about the experience of sleep paralysis and what it means to the people who suffer from it. The focus on individual voices rather than experts makes The Nightmare similar in some ways to Ascher's previous documentary, Room 237, which was about conspiracy theories and off-beat critical interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Each segment of The Nightmare is generally the same: a subject recounts his or her experience with sleep paralysis, and Ascher recreates the hallucinations with actors, generally culminating in a mini-horror set piece of some kind rife with Dario Argento color schemes and creepy sound design. What distinguishes each experience is the individual interpretations and descriptions of the sleep paralysis sufferer. In one of the most memorable of these horror tableaux, a giant three-dimensional shadow creature hunches over the bed. It's so tall, this shadow, that it has to stoop in order to fit in the room. The only distinguishing feature about it are red eyes and fangs. In the distorted voice of nightmares, the shadow tells the dreamer, who's frozen and staring up into its eyes, "You're going to die." He's told this repeatedly. He can only listen. It's a menacing moment, and there's something about the angles of the room and the vulnerability of the dreamer that makes it an effective horror spectacle. But it's more than mere spectacle, which comes back again to the importance of the individual voices of The Nightmare. Dreams are so personal, and while therapists and sleep specialists can help uncover the neuroses and the neurology that influences them, the visceral experience of dreaming is always something private until someone chooses to share it, and even that can fall short. Think about when friends recount their nightmares, but the terror seems foreign to you because of the difficulty of relaying the physical and intensely psychological experience. The Nightmare recreates the visceral space of bad dreams, and the voices of the subjects add the personal dimension that heightens the terror of being helplessly at the mercy of our minds--it makes a personal experience participatory. Keeping expert analysis out of The Nightmare also helps relate the personal discoveries and struggles that people with sleep paralysis experience, as if they're finding touchstones and footholds in the real world to make sense of their interior lives. Inevitable references are made to horror movies and science fiction movies with similar imagery--A Nightmare on Elm Street, Communion--and there's brief mention of the various manifestations of sleep paralysis hallucinations around the world. All these people, all over the world, throughout history, terrified but not alone in this helplessness. That's almost comforting, at least until the next episode of sleep paralysis. When I interviewed Rodney Ascher about Room 237, he referred to The Shining as a machine for spontaneously creating synchronicities and coincidences, which also seems like a nice way of describing the way we try to make sense of dreams, in this case bad ones. When confronted with something so existentially dreadful that's rooted in the unconscious and subconscious, there's an attempt to make sense of it somehow. The dream might point to some greater psychological or spiritual need (maybe these aren't separate concerns). We get to ask, "Why did I dream about x-thing?" or "Why did y-person do this to me?" or, ultimately, "What does this mean?" If we couldn't ponder meaning or create meaning from this mental matter, that would be absolutely terrifying.
Review: The Nightmare photo
So much for a good night's sleep
Sleep paralysis is a condition that affects people in a liminal state of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. When it strikes, a person is unable to speak or move. Several people who discuss their own experiences with...

Not Crying photo
Not Crying

Trailer for Batkid Begins cuts so many damn onions


Also looks like an interesting doc
May 21
// Matthew Razak
All the feels. Batkid Begins opens in select theaters on June 26. You'll probably start crying before the end of the trailer though.

Review: Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World

May 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219427:42372:0[/embed] Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (Dark Star: HR Giger's Welt)Director: Belinda SallinRelease Date: May 15, 2015 (limited)Rating: NRCountry: Germany/Switzerland Dark Star: H. R. Giger's World is a fans-only sort of film. His art is striking, imposing, especially given the sheer size and scope of it. Even Giger's oversized art books like Necronomicon I or Necronomicon II--essential texts for fans of dark fantasy who came of age in the 80s and 90s--can't begin to convey the scale. In one room of the Giger Museum, the walls are covered in an ornate tableau of pale cyborg women worshiping Baphomet; a recurring motif of columns topped with the heads of babies look like rows of necrotic phalluses, and any gap in a wall is a potential mechanoid vagina. The film doesn't give much of a scaffold of appreciation for non-Giger fans, though, or any sense of his position as a figure in the underground and punk/new wave movement, or just how many people have been influenced by his creations. The archival footage that shows Giger creating his artwork is more illuminating than the comments from friends and family. The commentary about his art is the same series of platitudes that have been said about Giger for years: darkness, a technological and organic blend, ugly eroticism, the night of the soul. Even as a fans-only proposition, Dark Star tells Giger fans things they've known for years rather than adding new dimensions or depth. When we see a young Giger work, there's excitement even if the footage is familiar. He allows images to spray out quickly from his subconscious onto paper through an airbrush. He doesn't sketch ahead of time but simply lets the images flow from him, as if any additional intermediary between brain, ink, and surface would occlude the process of rendering his multi-textured dream world. It's a tragic counterpoint to the elderly Giger. Gargle-voiced and hunched over, his demeanor suggests he's been hobbled by a stoke in old age. He struggles to sign his name, and his speech has a labored quality. He wanders his home, which is domestic in some parts and Giger-esque in others. I wish Dark Star had explored the Giger house and its layout in greater detail since it seems like his home is his entire world; it's not Harlan Ellision's eccentric abode (aka The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars), but it does have a train track and a dining room fit for xenomorph royalty. For some artists, the space in which they work is a manifestation of the interior world that makes the work possible. The only art Giger creates for Sallin's camera is a pencil sketch of a familiar form--the delineation of a phallus maybe, the suggestion of a passage possibly, the general enticement of sex. But the sketch is only a wireframe rather than a fully realized idea. Giger may be in pain as he speaks, which is why so much of the talking is done by others for him in the documentary. He smiles, though, and when Giger smiles, there's a genuine warmth to it. It's like watching the last glimmers of light in a darkening room.
H.R. Giger's World Review photo
A fans-only look at H. R. Giger that may disappoint Giger fans
H. R. Giger passed away a year ago this week. His biomechanical art is instantly recognizable--Egyptian and yet otherworldly, simultaneously erotic and repulsive; a combination of flesh, alloy, suppurations, and vertebral for...

Look of Silence Trailer photo
Look of Silence Trailer

The trailer for The Look of Silence offers a glimpse at one of the best films of 2015


A follow-up to The Act of Killing
May 08
// Hubert Vigilla
Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary The Act of Killing was one of the best films of 2013. The film examined the Indonesian genocide from the point of view of the killers, and in the process provided a chilling look at the way hi...

Tribeca Review: Monty Python: The Meaning of Live

Apr 26 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219309:42350:0[/embed] Monty Python: The Meaning of LiveDirectors: Roger Graef and James RoganRating: NRCountry: United Kingdom  I'm on the younger side of New York film critics. I'm certainly not the youngest (not anymore), but I know a whole bunch of critics more than twice my age. And that means that many of the people who I saw The Meaning of Live with were alive when Monty Python was big, and a fair number of those were probably old enough to remember them. Those people were laughing at the film for different reasons than I was. Those people were laughing because they were seeing sketches they knew by heart for the hundredth time, though with the added quirk of thirty years. Monty Python is no longer made up of spring chickens. They're older, grayer, and feeling the effects of those first two things. Going between clips from back in the day and the modern iterations, the sketches themselves haven't changed much, but the people definitely have. Seeing John Cleese in a wig as a young man was funny. Seeing him in a wig as an old man is freaking hilarious. The film isn't just about the stage show, though. It's also about the past, about their time in Britain and then going abroad. It's about what led them to split up in the 80s and then return in the 2010s. It's about the entire Python timeline. And it's all fascinating, because they're fascinating people. And they're funny. I mean, of course they're funny, but that doesn't make it any less noteworthy. Watching them talk and interact, seeing how they do this thing and then talk about what they did, it's all enjoyable because they're just enjoyable to watch. Near the end of the trailer, John Cleese is in a hallway and he trips over his own feet. He's on camera, but he's not doing it for the audience. He's doing it for the two workers in the hallway with him. He turns it into a bit, doing it a few times, just to get some laughs out of the people who are doing all of the thankless work to get him up on stage. It's a wonderful moment, and it makes you fall in the love with man yet again. The Meaning of Live feels like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, even though it's professionally done. The camera people honestly aren't that great at their job, and frequently try to find focus as everyone involved walks around. It looks kind of guerilla, to be honest, and that's unfortunate. Even if the show that's being filmed has some technical hangups, there's no excuse for the film to as well. Moments of brilliance were obscured in a camera operator's inability to find focus. I've filmed things like this before, and I know how difficult it is to do this job, but that doesn't excuse it. They should have been on point. Because everyone else was.  Whether you could recite Monty Python sketches in your sleep or just have vague memories of hearing someone discuss a holy hand grenade, there's something in this movie for you. You don't need to know Monty Python to find their story fascinating. I expect you'll get more out of it if you do, but it's hardly a requirement. Really, the only thing you need to bring is a sense of humor. And that shouldn't be a problem. If Monty Python can't make you laugh, then you're definitely dead inside. 
Monty Python Review photo
Always look on the bright side
Even though Monty Python ended their run in the 1980s, they're still curtural icons. Even for people like me, born after their disbanding, films like Monty Python and the Holy Grain (though less their Flying Circus roots...

Tribeca Review: The Birth of Sake

Apr 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219229:42341:0[/embed] The Birth of SakeDirector: Erik ShiraiRelease Date: TBD Rating: TBD A second family is essential for the brewers at Yoshida Shuzo. (The brewery has produced Tedorigawa label sake since 1870.) They spend an entire season at the brewery tending to the sake rice, waiting for the precise moment of fermentation, stirring vats or letting them sit still and bubble. They eat meals together, they sleep in on-site quarters, they party together, and they toil. All the while, the camera lovingly considers the winter outside and the activity indoors, making the rice and steam both a counterpoint and a complement to the falling snow. It's not food porn, it's food poetry. The general sentiment from the brewmasters and Shirai is that the brewing process is almost like raising a child. (Hence The Birth of Sake rather than The Making of Sake.) When they're away from their baby, we see the various men in isolation and get to understand the kind of necessary camaraderie that builds through this rearing of sake. At one point, some of the older brewmasters bathe together. In another context, these men ought to be retired, but at Yoshida Shuzo, they're like brothers playing in the tub. There's a generational divide in the sake brewing process, which reflects a change in Japanese drinking habits just as much as the way that most traditions fade generation by generation. The primary seller for Tedorigawa is much younger than the veteran brewers, and he spends his off-season traveling the world to promote the brand. Sake is his life, but he's had to feel his way around the changing market for it. He shares some wine with his fellow brewmasters, and the differences in their palettes are apparent with the first swirl and sniff. The other young brewmasters, when off work, hang out with the other young brewmasters, and they talk about dating women, though maybe "girls" given the teenage tenor of their conversation. The cycle of making sake would get in the way of those plans. It's the difference between a job and a calling, which leaves the future of the craft in question. Shirai captures both the beauty and the melancholy of the sake brewing process, and it's fascinating that The Birth of Sake never feels forced in its various observations. That's probably because the brewmasters have such fondness for what they create, and for the family that's created because of it.
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The brotherhood of brewers
At a certain point in Erik Shirai’s documentary The Birth of Sake, it becomes apparent that the film isn't just about the art of making of sake. This is common in movies that are about making something—food, art, ...

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First trailer for My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


A documentary about Refn, by Refn's wife
Feb 16
// Per Morten Mjolkeraaen
It seems documentaries about eccentric filmmakers is the next big thing, as My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn follows suit with last years, Jodorowsky's Dune, when it premiers to VOD platforms and select theatres on F...
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15 documentaries advance for Academy Awards


You probably haven't seen any
Dec 02
// Matthew Razak
Documentary film is awesome, but most people don't rush out to watch it or even have the ability to do that if they wanted. You usually get sucked into a documentary by accident and then you remember how great they can be. So...
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Look of Silence

First trailer for Act of Killing follow up The Look of Silence


Oct 22
// Nick Valdez
Joshua Oppenheimer's Indonesian genocide documentary The Act of Killing was one of the best films of 2013. It was unique in that it forced those who bragged about their killings to reenact them and see it from a different pe...
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Superman bein' Superman

Trailer for The Death of Superman Lives documentary is kookoo bananas


Aug 20
// Nick Valdez
Remember how bad everyone thought Man of Steel was? Could you imagine that film being about six times worse? The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? is a Kickstarter funded documentary that explores a film that near...

Review: Kill Team

Jul 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215318:39994:0[/embed] Kill TeamDirector: Dan KraussRelease Date: July 25, 2014 (New York, National rollout to follow)Rating: NR  The primary focus of Kill Team is Private Adam Winfield and his family. Private Winfield was the whistleblower who attempted to bring attention to these criminal acts for months. Despite his efforts and his family's efforts, military brass never acted in an urgent way. Private Winfield's own father, who also served and was the reason that Private Winfield enlisted in the Army, reached out to as many professional contacts as he could that might be able to do something. None of these people could help, and many deferred responsibility to other parties. The reason these kills took place was the squad leader, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs. Gibbs is an imposing figure, an all-American freedom machine with the features of a GI Joe. He served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and in addition to his hardcore machismo, there's a major psychopathic and sociopathic streak to him. He looks at the Afghan population as sub-human, and even makes a necklace of index finger bones for his own amusement. As trophies of his kills, Gibbs also gets tattoos, and he encourages those under him to do as he does. Gibbs is never interviewed for the documentary, and it's no surprise that he'd avoid participating in this film since he wouldn't come out of it in any sort of positive light. A few of Private Winfield's fellow soldiers are interviewed, however, and they are so blunt about what happened it adds additional chill to what they say. It's like they're describing trips to the store rather than the murder of innocent people; as if they're talking about others planting grenades and pulling the triggers rather than themselves. It seems like they viewed the peacekeeping side of the mission as tedious rather than essential, while the firefights were where the fun was at. Private Winfield was coerced to murder an innocent civilian himself under threat of death. The rest of his company knew he wanted to reveal what they've done, and they made it known that if he blew the whistle, they'd kill him and make it look like an accident. If  they could make innocent civilians seem like enemy combatants, it wouldn't be so hard to make another murder seem like part of routine combat. Under that kind of duress, Private Winfield had no choice but to comply. His parents were helpless to help, and Army higher ups weren't too concerned. On top of that, Private Winfield's small in stature and even though he has a lot of heart, his rucksack weighs as much as he does. Private Winfield seems like the only person interviewed that shows any remorse about the killings. He recalls the moment and calls it the worst thing in his life. The other troops who are so matter-of-fact describe a kind of compartmentalization of military action and civilian life. Back home, a troop may be filled with angst and anxiety that they try to tamp down as best as they can. They express no desire to kill when on leave, but things are different when back in Afghanistan. Obviously this isn't the case with all troops and the documentary isn't painting everyone who serves in the same light, but Kill Team does a good job of profiling just how dark these impulses can become. Much of the film's focus is on Private Winfield's fate and how his family copes with the legal defense. In some ways this points out part of the film limitations in its exploration of this issue. No doubt a lot of this had to do with access, and director Dan Krauss makes the most out of his time with the Winfields. While some of Private Winfield's fellow troops participate in the documentary, none of their families appear. Part of me wonders how their experiences were and what their personal stories involved, especially in the case of Gibbs's loved ones. Did they notice something wrong? Did they know what was happening? How do they feel now that they know what's happened? One minor issue I had with Kill Team had to do with its presentation, of all things. When Krauss is in documentary journalism mode, the film is brimming with power. The more cinematic flourishes in the film seem less effective, though. The cinematography is nice, but it seems like a bit of a distraction -- a kind of garnish rather than something that complements the content. There's also the slow crawl of text from Facebook chats between Private Winfield and his father, which are more affected than effective. It's a testament to the power of this story, maybe, that I'm critical of a choice of presentation that gets in the way of the facts. Quibbles aside, Kill Team is an important film that may be the first of many to come. Once again, as we're told in the film, this is something that happens more that we think. Other units have engaged in similar actions, and the civilians who witness it are going to harbor deep and legitimate resentments that will be passed through villages, conveyed to the next generation. When more of these stories are revealed and more time has passed when the last troops have left, we may get a larger and more complicated picture of the country and the conflict. The silence can't last for long.
Kill Team Review photo
Examining US troops that murdered innocent Afghan civilians for sport
The war in Afghanistan is the longest military conflict in which the United States has been involved. The operation is nowhere near as successful as hoped, which is part of the reality of fighting a war in Afghanistan, a less...

Review: Particle Fever

Jul 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217974:41645:0[/embed] Particle FeverDirector: Mark LevinsonRelease Date: iTunes (July 1, 2014); VOD (July 15, 2014)Rating: NR And now for a digression: In college, I took a course called "Crazy Ideas in Physics." A fundamental part of that class was essentially a live action role play, where the class was broken up into multiple factions. These factions were pitching ideas to a commission (made up of students) that would then dole out (fake) money based on the legitimacy of the pitch, which by powerpoint presentations and a poster session where the pitches were elaborated, as well as appearances on a television program hosted by Hildy Johnson, the journalist, as portrayed by yours truly. (Yes, I did have a better college experience than you.) The commission was set to look for Revolutionary Ideas in science, physics or otherwise. One of the proposed theories involved a proposal to build a large, extremely expensive machine that would allow us to learn the mass of a neutrino. It had important scientific implications, but the question came up again and again from the members of the commission: what good does it do us as a society? Will the mass of a neutrino cure cancer? Will it incite world peace? No? Then why should we care? Watching Particle Fever reminded me a lot of those "meetings." Thousands of people from over 100 countries spent $6 billion on a giant circular tube that smashes together particles in order to find new particles. The big one that everyone was looking for was the Higgs Boson, which is the particle that gives mass to other particles. Modern physics requires the Higgs Boson to exist, and physicists knew it would be found one way or another, but they didn't know how heavy it was. That question matters, but it doesn't matter to the public. Knowing the mass of the Higgs Boson won't cure cancer. In fact, it doesn't really do anything except disprove a number of theories about the universe. It doesn't prove a single one, or even really clearly hint at a true answer. It just confirms the existence of someone everyone knew already existed. To most people, that wouldn't be worth $6 billion. But to those who really want to understand the world around us down to its most fundamental elements, the announcement that the Higgs Boson has a mass of approximately 125MeV matters a whole lot, and the investment was completely worth it. (And now more money is being invested to find out what's next.) Particle Fever follows several physicists through the current life of the Large Hadron Collider. Some of whom were directly involved in its experimentation, and others stayed on the sidelines. It's a film that's been years in the making, and it's one that may deserve a sequel in a few years when the LHC is booted up again for Round 2. But the LHC itself is the least interesting part of Particle Fever, as is the science in general The film tends to gloss over the technical stuff, going so far as to put a musical interlude on top of an important talk because it would have just gone over everyone's heads anyway. Some things are explained, but if you don't have some grasp on the fundamentals of the universe, you're going to be really confused really quickly. Big points, like the fact that the Standard Model of physics upon which basically all modern knowledge is based is fundamentally flawed, are mentioned but not addressed, and that strikes me as an unfortunate oversight. That point is especially important, since it's the entire reason for the LHC's existence, but it's just sort of shrugged off with a "Gravity's really weak," something that won't make any sense to most people. Yeah, a proper explanation would have added to the runtime, but it also would have made everything a little bit clearer. (As an aside, I found it interesting that so much time was spent on SUSY, by the way, considering that the revelations from the LHC has thus far only served to discredit SUSY theories, something the films admits but doesn't really go into... But that's neither here nor there.) Instead, the thing that really got to me was the philosophy of the whole thing. Each of these physicists comes to the Large Hadron Collider, physically or emotionally, for a different reason, but all of them have made physics their livelihoods. The mass of the Higgs Boson affects all of their careers (and thus their lives) in a meaningful way. And especially in the time leading up to the unveiling of the data, the way they viewed the possibilities of the information was fascinating. I may not have learned any new science, but I learned a whole lot about the outlook of these people who obsess day in and day out over these abstract concepts. None of us will be able to ever really "see" the Higgs Boson or whatever it is the LHC (and its potential successors) reveal next, but there are people who devote themselves to it. Seeing and hearing these incredibly intelligent people talk about this thing that may one day help us quite literally understand life, the universe, and everything. That is what makes Particle Fever worth watching.
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More philosophy than science
I like physics. I probably have as good a grasp of the field as any film critic, and I frequently read articles about things like the Large Hadron Collider and the revelation of the mass of the Higgs Boson and how that revela...

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Trailer for Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


Cowabunga!
Jun 12
// Isabelle Magliari
As a young lady whose favorite childhood toys were a garbage bag full of Ninja Turtles action figures and who arrived at the theater for 2007's TMNT dressed up as Michelangelo, I will pretty much sit through anything th...
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New trailer for whimsical soccer movie This is Not a Ball


May 30
// Liz Rugg
Leading up to the 2014 World Cup, (which is taking forever, am I right?) artist Vik Muniz has created the quirky, tongue-in-cheek documentary This is Not a Ball. This is Not a Ball follows Muniz all over the world as he expl...
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Woman replaces the dead with dolls in "The Valley of Dolls" documentary


first Furbies, now this
May 01
// Isabelle Magliari
Filmmaker Fritz Schumann visits the mostly abandoned village of Nagoro in his creepily sweet short documentary The Valley of Dolls. Schumann profiles 64-year-old Nagoro resident Ayano Tsukimi, a woman who constructs lar...

Tribeca Review: Mala Mala

Apr 24 // Isabelle Magliari
[embed]217663:41468:0[/embed] Mala MalaDirector: Antonio Santini, Dan SicklesRelease Date: TDBRating: NR Mala Mala spends its 89 minute run profiling nine key members of Puerto Rico's trans and drag communities. It delves lightly into each of their stories while successfully balancing talking head segments with seemingly candid shots of the nine men and women interacting within the communities they live and work. Mala Mala's unflinching, 'fly-on-the-wall' style of portraying its subjects stands as the film's crowing achievement. Whether they're hanging out at The Doll House (a drag club) or picking up clients on the street, Mala Mala allows its cast to speak their minds, for good or bad, and it's incredibly refreshing.  The film begins with Sandy, a transgender woman, telling the camera about the importance of passing for a woman while working the streets. Sandy acknowledges that, although she has had top surgery done, preserving a certain other appendage does have its disadvantages while trying to lure a john, and that the best solution to this problem is to simply be more beautiful than any biological woman. While Sandy talks, the documentary listens. There is no music to dictate our feelings and most of the segment is uncut, allowing us to observe Sandy while she applies her makeup for the night and jokes good-naturedly about venereal diseases. It would be easy to paint this woman's life in a highly sympathetic light, but when Sandy is allowed to speak candidly, there is a sense that she doesn't at all resent the way she lives. Sandy isn't a pitiable person, and Mala Mala is an outlet through which she can become charming and likable through her own merits.  This sense of honesty is present in all of Mala Mala. If the documentary has any agenda at all, it is only to show the immense love and companionship within Puetro Rico's trans and drag worlds. Whether it's  Paxx's, the only male transgender profiled in the film, flirting coyly with his girlfriend or Sandy nuzzling up to her boyfriend, love in this community beams throughout the film. This sense of unity stems from Mala Mala's utmost respect for its subject matter. It reports on the lives of these people in a matter-of-fact way and does not condescend with sappy music or propagandize with its footage. Struggling though life, especially as an underrepresented and often misunderstood subset of society, is both inspiring and soul crushing, but people do not live solely in these extremes and neither does Mala Mala. Additionally, Mala Mala's clever inclusion of RuPaul and her drag competition, RuPaul's Drag Race, makes this film even more relatable and its message further reaching. As a massive fan of RuPaul's Drag Race myself, I was happily surprised to see season 6's very own drag superstar April Carrión amongst the queens at The Doll House where she excitedly talked about appearing on the show. April and her drag sisters are packing suitcases together, and the scene feels overwhelmingly genuine and joyful. The beauty of being alive in a time when a woman like RuPaul can rise to incredible fame is not lost on April, and it's endearing to listen to her marvel at the massive impression RuPaul has left on the world ("She even has a wax figure at the wax museum in New York!").  This is not to say that Mala Mala doesn't have its upsetting moments. RuPaul's mark on the world aside, the transgender community is still highly marginalized. The documentary spends much time with a young woman named Ivana, the transgender spokesperson for the Butterfly Trans Foundation, and her struggle fighting for equal employment for people who are transitioning. Yet even this seemingly impossible effort is met with success by the end of Mala Mala when Bill 238, which prohibits employment discrimination because of gender identity and sexual orientation, passes.  Over all,  Mala Mala exists as a celebration of Puerto Rican drag and trans life. Directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles understand that sometimes showing the triumphs of a marginalized group of people can hold more power than reiterating their struggles alone. The film is powerful because it is not afraid to celebrate something that many still consider taboo. And the best part is, the subjects in this film are comfortable celebrating themselves as well. 
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An emotional, political, and physical transition
Mala Mala is the type of documentary that you feel privileged having watched. The Puerto Rican drag scene and transgender communities are endlessly fascinating, and watching them thrive through Mala Mala's respectfu...

Tribeca Review: Maravilla

Apr 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217654:41466:0[/embed] Maravilla Director: Juan Pablo Cadaveira Release Date: TDB Rating: NR I find boxing kind of upsetting. I have no problem with its existence or popularity, but the whole concept of watching people actually hit each other in the face until one of them gets a traumatic brain injury just doesn’t appeal to me. So the first few minutes of Maravilla were difficult, because it’s primarily close ups of the knockout blows that made Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez the champion that he is. But it’s not just the knockout blows but the sounds of the punches. Most people know that Hollywood sounds aren’t actually the sounds that come from a fist hitting flesh. And though boxing gloves bring the sounds a bit more in line, the squishy crunches accompanying the big strikes were clearly pumped up. And while I knew that was the case, it was hard to divorce myself from it, and it took the already-unpleasant reality of boxing and pumped it a notch. But then Maravilla turns away from boxing and moves primarily to the boxer. Sergio Martinez is an Argentinian boxer who won the World Middleweight Championship fair and square before having the title stripped from him due for complicated political reasons. Through a series of events, Mexican boxer Julio Chavez Jr. got the title without ever going up against Martinez. Understandably, Martinez was unhappy about that, and that quest to take on Chavez Jr. is the focal point of Maravilla’s story. If you’re a boxing fanatic, I don’t know how much of this film will be new to you. Maybe you’ve got posters of Martinez above your bed and know everything about his life, but for those who are completely new to his story, Maravilla basically covers all of the important ground. The only question that I left the theater with was how exactly the scoring system worked. When Martinez deals a knockout blow, obviously he’s the winner. But how do they decide who wins when they both finish the fight standing? Turns out, there’s a complicated scoring system that determines it, which is important and something I wish I’d known beforehand. But aside from that, I never really felt like I was lost. Boxing has always struck me as a pretty simple sport, and nothing about Maravilla changed that. But even though the final result may seem pretty simple, what happens behind the scenes is anything but, and that’s why the film is interesting, because it exposes boxing’s interesting politics. Martinez may be the best middleweight boxer in the world, but as far as the big leagues were concerned, he wasn’t a big name. People didn’t know him and they wouldn’t pay for him. And if they couldn’t sell him on pay per view, they weren’t going to put him up against the extremely marketable Chavez Jr. The amount of work they have to go through to make the fight happen, all of it in the public eye, is fascinating. They hold up events, make public insults, and even get Martinez to become an Argentinian dancing star. All of this to bring Martinez to a fight. But Maravilla is a one-sided affair. Although director Juan Pablo Cadaveira talks to people who believe that Chavez Jr. is worthy of the title he was given and that Martinez is overrated, those people are never given the same weight that the pro-Martinez camp are. And why should they be? It is named after Martinez after all, but it feels like the film is trying to present itself as fair when it obviously isn’t. Numerous people are featured in the film, and all of them have something to say. But when Maravilla doesn’t agree with their viewpoint, their words lose their impact, and they may as well not be there at all. It’s just fluff that the film disregards. And that’s fine, but why pretend? When it gets to the big showdown, Maravilla becomes legitimately gripping, but the intensity of the fight is mitigated somewhat by the way the film cross-cuts with footage of Martinez’s family and friends watching on TV from Argentina. In and around the ring there’s a palpable sense of tension that’s missing from the spectating scenes. Perhaps it’s the obviously different cameras that create a jarring effect or maybe it’s the fact that these other people are not really swept up in the pageantry of this enormous spectacle, but every time it cut to Martinez’s mother shouting, I wanted desperately for it to return to the fight. It moved away from the action too frequently and stayed away too long. Even so, I was still invested in the fight, especially since I didn’t know how it would end. The documentary was being made as the fight was being set up, and I believe it would have come out for better or worse, so with each successive round, I gasped and cheered (internally of course) in much the same way that people likely did last June when the fight took place. It didn’t convince me that I should watch more boxing matches, because I still find it an unpleasant sport on concept alone, but now I can understand why others are so enamored. If you are a big fan of Julio Chavez Jr., you’ll probably hate Maravilla, but everyone else will find something to enjoy.
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The politics of punching
One of the most significant differences between a documentary and a film based on a true story is that documentaries can be about things that failed. Documentaries about big events are often started during the setup, and it&r...

Tribeca Review: Super Duper Alice Cooper

Apr 21 // Isabelle Magliari
[embed]217643:41459:0[/embed] Super Duper Alice CooperDirector: Reginald Harkema, Scot McFadyen, Sam DunnRelease Date: April 30, 2014Rating: NR Super Duper Alice Cooper is a bio-documentary focusing on the rise and fall of Alice Cooper: the band and Alice Cooper: the man. From Alice's humble beginnings as an unassuming pastor's son, the film and chronicles each watershed moment of his career from being black booked from venues to becoming a premier rock god by the end of the 1970's. The film starts with the introduction of teenage Alice Cooper, then Vincent Damon Furnier, and his first high school band. Cooper narrates the documentary himself and is both likable and funny, serving as a bright spot throughout a film which unfortunately begins to drag after the first twenty minutes.  The film's plodding place is caused in part by its bizarre visuals, which include concert footage, old photographs, and special effects exclusively. Living legends Iggy Pop and Elton John provide interviews and only their incorporeal voices can be heard as their testimonials are laid over a constantly moving collage of antique photos/film clips/etc. No interviewees' faces are ever shown, Cooper included, and watching nothing but a collage of pictures and video for 86 minutes kills the film's momentum.  And when the film loses steam, the story loses impact. There's a portion of Super Duper Alice Cooper which touches upon Cooper's alcoholism and how it affected his family, health, and musical career. Outside of some well-placed Jekyll and Hyde silent film clips, which cleverly illustrate the break between the Alice Cooper character and the man behind the make up, the film fails to explore the ramifications of his addiction in a meaningful way, instead relying too heavily on goofy-looking effects. To its credit, Super Duper Alice Cooper does try to tell a massive story in a very short amount of time, which is admirably ambitions but ultimately foolhardy. I feel as though the film would have been more successful had it chosen to focus on a single part of Cooper's career, such as his addiction or his first tour as a solo artist. Trying to convey a forty-year story without showing the faces of the people who were personally involves makes this film feel long and, at times, uninteresting. In the end, Super Duper Alice Cooper was informative, and if you're a massive Alice fan then definitely check it out, but I wouldn't rush out to see this film in the theater. Vincent's journey from religious pre-teen to chicken-throwing rock god is a fascinating one, but this documentary feels hollow.
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An ambitious title for a blasť rock doc
As a child, my parents lived and breathed Alice Cooper. My father had a particularly terrifying poster of his made-up, screaming face thumbtacked into the cork-board wall of his office that scared me too much to ever listen t...


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