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Review: Fire at Sea

Oct 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220906:43140:0[/embed] Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)Director: Gianfranco RosiRating: TBDRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (limited)Country: Italy Fire at Sea is two different movies. In one movie, dozens of malnourished refugees die from inhaling gasoline fumes from the ship's engine. In the other film, a 12-year-old boy named Samuele struggles to steer a rowboat at the pier. One moment's dire and heartbreaking, the other is played for laughs. There's the coziness of Samuele's town, and then there's the squalor of a refugee ship. We watch Italian boys shoot cacti with slingshots and play war. We also watch a man from a war-torn country hyperventilate after being saved from a ship; he might be dying, he might have died. Everything about the town seems inconsequential, particularly two or three scenes involving a diver who adds little to the film save for some nice underwater photography. While a mix of emotional highs and lows can work, here's it's just so mannered, calculated, and done with an off-putting emotional disinterest. Fire at Sea has so many obvious counterpoints to highlight thematic or symbolic material, it's as if Rosi cared more about the metaphors than the actual human suffering. There's minimal connection between the refugees and the people in town. None of the townspeople in the film work in the Italian coast guard, and only one person actually interacts with the refugees or talks about them meaningfully. For everyone else, the refugees don't seem to exist. Toward the beginning of the film, an elderly woman cooks while listening to a radio. The DJ reads a report about drowned refugees. Those poor people, she says, and carries on. There's a doctor in town who treats refugees fished from the Mediterranean. He recounts this in troubled tones. The things he's seen, the dire conditions, haunt his dreams. The doctor later appears in the film talking to Samuele about the boy's lazy eye. (A metaphor for how many people choose not to see or cannot see the horrors that refugees face--okay, yeah, I get it). Samuele goes off, performing for the camera like a neurotic elderly man. In another movie, this may be charming. In Fire at Sea, the moment made me angry, and probably not in the way that Rosi intended. Yeah, okay, I get it, the contrast is meant to upset the audience's comfortable lives and sensibilities. But isn't all of this also obvious? Fire at Sea is most effective when focusing on the refugees and the rescue teams. That's when the film feels humane rather than an exercise in contrasting aesthetics. A man who's been beaten on the boat literally cries blood. A woman breaks down before the camera, and despite being severely dehydrated, she first pours a cup of water over her head in relief. In a refugee processing center, a room of refugees prays as if in a Pentecostal revival, singing their story of survival. At night, refugees from different countries have a pick-up soccer game, as if some humanity, that dignity they risked their lives for, has been restored to them. But then back to Samuele, who slurps up spaghetti good and loud for laughs. I understand Rosi's intentions intellectually, and this collection of contrasts and disconnects does sound interesting in the abstract. But these are real people, and the last thing I want out of films or books is to be merely interesting. Being merely interesting is easy. The more I think about Fire at Sea, the more I'm offended by the choice to aestheticize human suffering for the sake of mere interestingness. Rosi may be well-intentioned, but Fire at Sea came across as unintentionally callous. That may have been the point. That doesn't mean I have to like it. It's telling that the final scenes of Fire at Sea are all about Samuele rather than the refugees. Those poor people, Rosi's film seems to say, and carries on.
Review: Fire at Sea photo
When refugees are a secondary concern
Sometimes I'll see a movie and that makes me shake my head and say, "Okay, yeah, I get it". These sorts of movies are ones that I can understand at a formal, metaphorical, or thematic level, and yet even though I understand t...

NYFF Review: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

Oct 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220930:43141:0[/embed] The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait PhotographyDirector: Errol MorrisRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD "Nice" is such a loaded word. It's often equivocal, a sly insult hidden in a mild compliment rather than a genuine endorsement of character. Stephen Sondheim parsed the word in the musical Into the Woods, noting that nice and good are two different things. (The latter is always preferable to the former.) It's telling that Dorfman uses it as part of her self-description. She's so humble and self-effacing on camera. It's the sort of goodness that can be passed off as niceness and/or mistaken for mere shyness. I got the feeling that this is how she is off camera as well. Morris' adoration for Dorfman comes through in the way he comments on her work and chronicles her career. These warm feelings wouldn't be possible if he subjected his friend to the Interrotron. Dorfman initially seems more like a friend's mom or an aunt than an artist, as if these identities are mutually exclusive. That distinction is ridiculous. Dorfman was something of a fixture in the New York literary scene in the 1960s, taking photos of literary luminaries passing through the city. It's there that she started a lifelong friendship with poet Allen Ginsberg. She would take portraits of him and with him for the next few decades. She's wistful when she looks at Ginsberg's portraits, and while I wondered what she was thinking, I didn't feel like prying. It's not as if I could. The large Polaroids shared in The B-Side are a mix of famous people and everyday folks. In addition to Ginsberg, Dorfman has a few images of Modern Lovers frontman Jonathan Richman. Richman's earnest, wonkily cool/uncool music might be the proper sonic equivalent to Dorfman's portraiture and personality. The intimacy is palpable throughout The B-Side. Morris recreates the experience of hanging out with a good friend and looking at their body of work. If not looking through a portfolio, it's at least the experience of flipping through photo albums and mementos with a live commentary. This sounds merely nice, but there's more to it. Like the little details in a photo that bring it to life, there's an ineffable humane quality to The B-Side, and I think it has as much to do with Dorfman's personality as  her chosen medium. Polaroids are a "nice" format. There's a retro-chic about them, which explains their appeal--cooler than a disposable film camera--but they're impractical by today's standards. What's more, they're intended for common images and not the domain or typical format for high art. Dorfman is essentially offering a Polaroid photobooth experience (photobooths = nice), but she magnifies the internal life in her images. In her own self-portraits, there's an overwhelming domesticity, but her hand-written captions are revealing in the way that diaries and journals are revealing. The portraits themselves are art in plenty of ways: in how they play with expectations, in the way they hint at some story or feeling beneath the surface, in the way their material (Polaroid film) made me rethink the common uses of the material. When the meaning of the film's title is explained, the whole collection Dorfman's shared gains new and endearing meaning. There's something so likable about this nice Jewish girl who's been doing this since the 1970s. There's something charming about these imperfect images in this mostly dead format. There's something so delightful about The B-Side. It's not Morris' best film in terms of scope or depth, but it's also not just nice. I think The B-Side is Morris' most generous movie, and it's generous in a way that only friends can be to one another.
Review: The B-Side photo
There's something about Elsa
The B-Side is an atypical Errol Morris documentary. He doesn't use the Interrotron at all, his tool that allows interviewees to stare directly into the camera. Instead, the camera's just off to the side. The score is delicate...

NYFF Review: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Oct 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220905:43129:0[/embed] Abacus: Small Enough to JailDirector: Steve JamesRelease Date: TBDRating: TBD  Thomas Sung seems like a model for the Asian-American immigrant experience. He helped found the Abacus Federal Savings Bank in Chinatown during the 80s to serve the local community. He knows his customers, he does right by them, and the bank has given his kids opportunities for success. His two eldest daughters, Vera and Jill, help run the bank and will eventually take over. Here's a healthy slice of promising Americana served in Chinatown. But then, Murphy's Law: a handful of Abacus employees commit loan fraud, and then the housing crisis strikes, and then the great recession. Rather than go after Chase, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office throws the book at Abacus. Even though Abacus cooperated fully with authorities for a loan fraud investigation and did everything ethically and by the books in the aftermath, they were considered easy prey. At the beginning of the documentary, Thomas and his wife, Hwei Lin, are watching Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. James returns to that yuletide staple again and again, finding parallels between George Bailey's savings and loan and the Thomas Sung's Abacus. Similarly, the Sungs come across as Capraesque heroes--the set-upon optimists, the embattled idealists, everymen and everywomen always trying. This might be why the film doesn't feel like most other Frontline documentaries. Abacus is in many ways a character-driven film. I feel odd thinking about real people in documentaries as characters, but the Sung family is comprised of memorable personalities. James films them alone and in conversation with one another. The interactions can get nervy and uncomfortable, but they're all well-picked given how well they reveal the family dynamic. James offers another compelling thread in his exploration NYC's Chinese community. Chinatown residents (Abacus' primary clientele) tend to be tight-knit and insular, which goes back to the formation of family-based support groups. The representatives from the DA's office interviewed in the film are baffled by what goes on there. Jurors on the case similarly don't understand how Chinatown operates. I worried that this confusion from non-Chinese people would affect the case. There's such a fascinating contradiction at play. The closeness of the Chinese community gives them a collective strength that they wouldn't have otherwise as a minority group, but the foreign nature of these cultural practices and their minority status make the residents of Chinatown more vulnerable. I mentioned that a sense of Capraesque optimism pervades the film, and yet I couldn't help but read a larger brand of pessimism into the proceedings. The little guy can always get picked on. While it's nice to see the little guy fight, there's a knowledge that this won't be the last time it happens. What about the major banks, who really should have been held accountable somehow for what they've done? But the world isn't so kind to those that are easily trampled. And yet. This reminds me of one the great lines about disillusionment in film: "Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown."
NYFF Review: Abacus photo
Mr. Capra Goes to Chinatown
Steve James may be incapable of directing a bad documentary. His films includes Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, and Life Itself. With Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, James continues his record as one of America's most relia...

NYFF Review: 13TH

Oct 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220907:43127:0[/embed] 13THDirector: Ava DuVernayRelease Date: October 7, 2016 (Netflix)Rating: TBD DuVernay's central thesis is that while the 13th Amendment ostensibly abolished slavery, the systems of oppression in the 1800s evolved into different forms of oppression that are currently in practice today. It's a compelling argument that begins with the Reconstruction Era following The Civil War, in which imprisoned black men were used as labor to rebuild the south. It continues into segregation and Jim Crow, the war on drugs, the Republican's Southern strategy, and so forth. DuVernay is expert at cycling various ideas, phrases, and images throughout 13TH, which helps make her overraching argument cohesive.  13TH generally follows a linear and chronological crawl through 150 years of American history, intercutting archival footage and talking heads. Our guides through history include activists (e.g., Angela Davis), academics (e.g., Henry Louis Gates Jr.), commentators (e.g., Van Jones), and politicians (e.g., Senator Cory Booker). While the primary draw of 13TH is the outrage at a corrupt criminal justice system, formal touches contribute to the riveting watch. The settings for each of the interviews, for instance, are often industrial spaces that evoke the feel of jails and prisons. DuVernay withholds identifying many interviewees until their third or fourth appearance on screen. I don't know why that seemed so novel, but I was hanging on people's words a little more that I might have been. There are a few contrarians among the interviewees who don't think systemic racism is a problem. Of course they're white dudes. Surprisingly, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich isn't one of these clueless white guys. Gingrich appears in 13TH and says that many white people don't understand what life is like for black people in America. I may not agree with his politics, but credit goes to Gingrich. He's relatively more woke than some people I know. 13TH is predominantly concerned with mass incarceration and how the prison population increased dramatically through the '70s, '80s, and '90s. It's neat and brisk through most of its 100-minute run time, though it becomes loose once we focus on the mid-2000s to today. From prison privatization we then cover issues of police militarization, the rise of Black Lives Matter, and even (perhaps unavoidably) Donald Trump's ugly rhetoric in the Presidential race. (Trump makes an earlier appearance when he calls for the execution of The Central Park Five.) If she wanted, DuVernay could have made a mini-series out of this, or a long-form doc in multiple parts a la Ezra Edelman's O.J.: Made in America. DuVernay's such a skilled cinematic essayist that she's able to rein in 13TH even as it seems to stray. I mentioned her cycle of ideas and images earlier. Just when I felt like the movie was moving off track, she would reintroduce an idea or an image to show why one particular point is a reticulation of a previous one. The death of Emmett Till haunts the deaths that gave rise to Black Lives Matter. Phrases like "law and order" take on a sinister quality. The idea of the black man as a rapacious criminal similarly casts its unending shadow. The most memorable recurring image in 13TH involves a black man in a suit and hat. It must be from the 1950s. He's walking through a suburb. There's a mob of angry white men around him. They shove him. They yell at him. He gets punched in the back of the head. But the black man keeps walking. He's being insulted and assaulted, but he's carrying on unphased. During a press conference, DuVernay referred to this anonymous person as "the dignified man". I don't know where he was walking or if he got there, but I hope he made it okay. I hope everyone does somehow.
NYFF Review: The 13th photo
Slavery didn't end, it adapted
13TH feels like a culmination of Ava DuVernay's career to this point. The documentary brings together the racial and social history of Selma, her years of work as a documentarian, her stint as a journalist, and even her under...

NYFF Review: Gimme Danger

Sep 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220909:43126:0[/embed] Gimme DangerDirector: Jim JarmuschRelease Date: October 28, 2016Rating:  TBD I'll start by accentuating the positive. It's great to watch the Stooges take a victory lap. After years of being a posse of indigent riffraff, The Stooges are now music demigods. On camera, Iggy Pop has such a smooth, comforting cool about him. Whenever he's telling a story, I experienced an anticipatory glee, waiting for that smirk to flourish into laughter and an unbridled smile. Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, by contrast, has a labored voice of a working class life lived hard. His late brother, Ron, pops up in archival interviews. Latter-day Stooges member James Williamson sits near his amp in a bathroom; we also spend some time with Minuteman frontman Mike Watt, who's part of The Stooges' reunion lineup. After the pre-title stinger (standard issue in so many docs these days), Jarmusch starts in Iggy Pop's childhood. Little James Osterberg, who lived in a trailer, tortured his parents with a drumkit and learned punk stagecraft from The Howdy Doody Show. We then zip through the band's formation in the '60s, with a little bit of exploration of the political scene in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Stooges live communally, and share the stage with their big brother band The MC5. Then they record their self-titled album, and then they put out Funhouse, and then it's on to Raw Power. And then this happens, and then this other thing, oh and this. At a certain point it dawned on me: Gimme Danger was mostly comprised of "and-thens". It's more like the events as fleshed out bullet points, not the life of a band as an essay. Jarmusch includes footage of the infamous Cincinnati Pop Fest performance in which Iggy Pop, held aloft by the crowd, smears peanut butter all over his chest and goes hogwild. So oddball and unconventional, which makes the limp plainness of Gimme Danger a bummer. It doesn't feel like a Jarmusch movie at all. Instead, it's more like a competent TV documentary on The Stooges, but one that never really goes deep enough. They mention the radical politics of Ann Arbor and hanging with The MC5, but that's it. They mention a stint in the Chelsea Hotel, but not much more than the fact they stayed there. So much room for expansion, amusing tangents, the sorts of anecdotes that give texture to a life. But mostly it's all back to the bullet points. I come back to the idea of shape that I mentioned earlier. While talking about "Search and Destroy" on Raw Power, Iggy explains the metaphoric shape of the song. Williamson's guitar fills the space in such a dense way, and that informed how Ron played his leads and how Iggy did his vocals. Pieces come together, play off each other, rework and reconstitute themselves, and find a means of working in combination that kicks like a goddamn drum. You hear or sense that shaping everywhere on Raw Power, which is why it's one of the best albums of all time. You're listening to a band when it gets it and gels. Gimme Danger seems to lack this sense of shape, or cohesion, if you prefer. If this interview goes here, how is it complemented there? And if this footage does this, what should that footage do to complement it? Admittedly, editing seems like the most difficult part of documentary film. Still, I wonder what Gimme Danger might have been with just a bit more shaping. It's not bad, don't get me wrong, but it's not something I'll put on repeat.
NYFF Review: Gimme Danger photo
I just wanna be your doc
Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch sound like an unlikely pairing. One's the primal frontman of proto-punk legends The Stooges, the other's a mellow, measured indie auteur. But maybe there's something magnetic about their respective b...

Review: The Lovers And The Despot

Sep 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220842:43121:0[/embed] The Lovers and the DespotDirectors: Robert Cannan and Ross AdamRelease Date: September 23rd, 2016Rating: NR  It's 1978. Choi Eun-Hee is one of South Korea's top movie stars, often starring in the films of her husband, director Shin Sang-Ok. North Korean Kim Jong-Il kidnaps her in Hong Kong. Then he kidnaps her husband. After years in a prison camp, eventually the two of them are reunited. Kim Jong-Il tells them to make films. They do. They make lots of them (17, in fact) and even travel to foreign festivals to show them. And then, of course, they escape. It all sounds a bit silly, but, of course, it's all true. Oversimplified? More than likely, but ultimately True nonetheless.  The Lovers and the Despot tells this story almost exclusively through interviews, with Choi, her family, people involved with the case, etc. Shin passed away a decade ago, but some of his audio makes it in as well. The video and audio clips are interspersed with footage from Shin's films (including some of the ones made in North Korea) and reenactment shots. I thought the decision to do reenactments was interesting, but their effectiveness is diminished somewhat by the footage from the films. In a couple of cases, rather than using reenactments, they pull directly from his films. Those moments are some of the most compelling, and everything really comes together. The reenactments are fine, but you're hearing them narrated at the time, so they lacks any real oomph. They're just there to keep you from getting bored. They're successful in that regard, but they don't do much more. This stands in contrast with certain audio clips, which are literally just audio clips playing over a generic background. And they're fine, but they're also... ya know, audio clips playing over a generic background. At that point, you're not really watching anything. And maybe you're getting a little bored? Some people certainly might, though I can unequivocally say I did not. I didn't know anything about this story before going into The Lovers and the Despot, and I was enthralled by the story itself from beginning to end. The audio-only parts could have just as easily been an exceedingly compelling podcast or something, but what's important is that now I know this story, and that I have seen some footage from these North Korean films, and that I really, really want to see them now. Choi Eun-Hee says at one point in the film that, if she were to make a screenplay of her life, she would gloss over the bad things. She would focus only on the good. It seems to me that The Lovers and the Despot did as well. There are hints here and there of the horrors that they faced, but nothing is ever explicit and the filmmakers don't seem particularly interested in going down that path. Even though this is a film about the evil of North Korea, it's not about the evils of North Korea. And while that may sound like some obnoxious semantic thing, it's an important distinction. More often than not, Kim Jong-Il comes off as weird, to be sure, but not particularly scary. As citizens of the world, we know that he is, but there are only a handful of moments where that really comes across here, and the most impactful one is a scene that comes right from his mouth: Actual audio captured by the two of them of Kim Jong-Il. (It is genuinely fascinating to hear his voice, by the way; until that point, I was pretty sure he sounded like Trey Parker.) It's him talking to his kidnappees about that whole five years in prison that Shin went through. It basically amounts to an, "Oops. Sorry." That complete disregard for a person's existence — and of a person who was brought in to make him movies! — is kind of shocking. And, of course it's not all that shocking that the leader of North Flipping Korea would behave that way, but in a film that isn't about evils, it stands out as the exception that proves the rule. We're missing huge swaths of this story, and I'm conflicted about that. A very real part of me is glad for that, because it allows for some level of whimsy. This whole thing is so ridiculous, but it actually happened. And if you forget all of the awful things that came with it, it could totally be the plot of some weirdo comedy (possibly made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker). I liked being able to laugh and not have to constantly think about the awful things that weren't being said... But the other part of me thinks about sort-of-humanizing dictators and demagogues, and The Lovers and the Despot does a little bit of that. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. Probably. But I'm not going to damn it for that. It's sanitized a bit so that it can play to the widest possible audience, and that is a good thing, because everyone should see this movie. Everyone should learn more about this story. This story is truly incredible. Like, seriously, it's one of the craziest things I've ever heard, certainly the most interesting one related to cinema. And if glossing over the evils of dictatorship is what it takes to get it in front of people? Well that's alright by me.
The Lovers and The Despot photo
Truth is stranger than...
It can be kind of exhausting getting a dozen (or more) emails a day about movie X, Y, and Z. Do I want to see this? Do I want to learn more about this? And I'm sure I've turned down a lot of great movies because the sales pit...

Morgan Spurlock's Rats photo
Morgan Spurlock's Rats

Trailer: Morgan Spurlock's new documentary Rats looks like an intense horror thriller

Vermin, vermin everywhere *vomits*
Sep 16
// Hubert Vigilla
Rats are the worst. Like, seriously guys, the worst. There's this vacant building next to my apartment that's rife with them and the city seems helpless about controlling the problem. We may disagree about a lot of things, bu...
OJ marathon screening photo
OJ marathon screening

NYC: Metrograph has marathon OJ: Made in America screenings, director Ezra Edelman Q&A

The best documentary of 2016
Sep 15
// Hubert Vigilla
O.J.: Made in America is the crowning achievement of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentaries. Director Ezra Edelman's five-part, seven-and-a-half hour film is an imposing masterpiece, one which delves into the details of the O.J. Simp...
Werner Herzog Netflix photo
Werner Herzog Netflix

Werner Herzog's volcano documentary Into the Inferno will hit Netflix October 28th

Piping hot from the festival circuit
Sep 06
// Hubert Vigilla
Netflix is putting out everything these days, from Bill Nye talks shows to Mythbusters build team shows to Christopher Guest mockumentaries about sports mascots. Now they've acquired the brand new, critically acclaimed Werner...
Honorary Oscars photo
Honorary Oscars

Jackie Chan and Frederick Wiseman will receive honorary Oscars

They should co-star in a buddy cop movie
Sep 01
// Hubert Vigilla
Action icon Jackie Chan and influential documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (Titticut Follies, High School) will both receive honorary Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Honorary Oscars will also...
Documentary Now! 2 photo
Documentary Now! 2

Watch the season 2 trailer for IFC's Documentary Now! starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader

Jiro, Talking Heads, Maysles, and more
Aug 28
// Hubert Vigilla
Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers' Documentary Now! is a loving in-joke of a show for fans of non-fiction film. The first season of the IFC show spoofed seminal documentaries like Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line, the...
The Lost Arcade photo
The Lost Arcade

Watch the trailer for The Lost Arcade, a documentary on NYC's Chinatown Fair

A look at New York's arcade culture
Jul 23
// Hubert Vigilla
As someone who still wears the occasional onion on his belt, I remember arcades quite fondly. They were in steady decline when I was a kid, but they were a good way to kill time at the mall or to spend a Sunday morning. They'...
Man vs Snake trailer photo
Man vs Snake trailer

Watch the trailer for Man vs Snake, which may be this year's King of Kong

Diabetes of Justice
Jun 06
// Hubert Vigilla
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was highly entertaining (even though the filmmakers fudged a lot of the facts). Much of that was thanks to the clash of personalities between Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe and the obsessiv...

Thoughts on the documentary Weiner by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg

May 17 // 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 was one of the must-sees at New Directors/New Films earlier this year. The documentary chronicles the inspiring comeback and catastrophic implosion of Anthony Weiner's 2013 bid to be...

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
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 lighter on substance and information, and much 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 an oblique 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 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...

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

ESPN is doing a 30 for 30 documentary on Ric Flair, 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...

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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...

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