Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 4/30/13

David O. Russell’s critically acclaimed crowd pleaser SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is the next to last of 2012’s Best Picture Oscar nominees to be released on Blu ray and DVD (Michael Haneke’s excellent AMOUR is the hold-out with no set release date), and it’s available today in either a double disc Blu ray set (Two-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet) or a single disc DVD. Special Features: deleted Scenes, featurettes (“Silver Linings Playbook: The Movie That Became A Movement,” “Dance Rehearsal,” “Learn To Dance Like Pat & Tiffany,” “Going Steadicam With Bradley Cooper”), and edited highlights from various Q & A sessions promoting the film.

A movie I quite enjoyed makes its debut too today on Blu ray and DVD: David Chase’s NOT FADE AWAY, starring John Magaro as an aspiring ‘60s rock ‘n roller and James Gandolfini as his disapproving father. Special features on both the single disc Blu ray and DVD include a doc entitled “The Basement Tapes,” which contains 3 segments called “Track 1: The Boys in the Band,” “Track 2: Living in the Sixties,” andTrack 3: Hard Art,” deleted scenes, and a featurette (“Building the Band”). I love how big they made the words “From David Chase creator of The Sopranos” on the cover.

A movie I missed from last year (and will most likely keep on missing), Anne Fletcher’s comedy THE GUILT TRIP, starring Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen, is also out today in a 2 disc Blu ray (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) and single disc DVD. Its bonus material includes five featurettes: “Barbra & Seth,” “Barbra's World,” “Guilt Trip: A Real Mother of a Road Trip,” “In the Driver's Seat,” and something called “Not Really a Road Trip Movie.”

Another I didn’t see in its brief theatrical run was Allen Hughes’ BROKEN CITY, starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but from what I hear I didn’t miss much. Folks who may be more interested in it than I may want to note that it’s out today in the expected Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy package. Special Features: deleted scenes, and “in-depth” documentary about the making of the film, and an alternate ending.

Other releases today include: Jacob Aaron Estes’ indie comedy drama THE DETAILS, starring Tobey Maguire, James Plumb’s ultra cheap zombie horror flick NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD RESURRECTION (DVD only), and the extensive rock band bio-doc HISTORY OF THE EAGLES, which contains 4 hours of never before seen material of the Californian band from the past 40 years. The 3 disc Blu ray or DVD Eagles release has a lot of special features but I’m not going to go into them because as the Dude says “it’s been a long night and I hate the fuckin’ Eagles!” 

On the older movie front, Paramount is releasing all of the STAR TREK movies on individual Blu rays just in time for J.J. Abrams’ high anticipated STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (May 17th).

Other vintage releases today on Blu ray include the 1951 Humphrey Bogart classic THE ENFORCER, and Marlon Brando's  1950 film debut in Fred Zinneman's THE MEN, which soon will kick off a new series here on Film Babble Blog: Marlon Brando Mondays. Hope you stop back by and check it out.

More later... 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Redford’s Vanity Project THE COMPANY YOU KEEP Is A Star-studded Dud

Opening today in Raleigh at the Colony Theater and the Raleigh Grande:


(Dir. Robert Redford, 2013)

Robert Redford’s ninth film as director, and 39th as actor, is polished and moves along briskly, but its tired political themes and its preachiness exposes what it really is: a vanity project. 

Redford’s character, a widowed public interest lawyer living comfortably in Albany, New York, was once part of the Weather Underground, a radical organization formed in the late ‘60s with the intent to overthrow the U.S. Government. Redford changed his identity in the late ‘70s as he is wanted by the F.B.I. for his alleged involvement in a Michigan bank robbery back then which resulted in the murder of a security guard.

The cast is full of famous faces who have gone into hiding like Redford, including Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, and Stephen Root. Intrepid scruffy Albany Sun Times reporter Shia Labeouf makes the connections between them that lead to Redford being exposed as a former antiwar radical and the chase is on.

Redford was ready for this with a stash of fake I.D.s, cash and a baseball cap as part of an ingenious disguise when in public, as well as custody papers for his brother (Chris Cooper) so that he can take care of Redford’s daughter (Jackie Evancho). This gives Redford the chance to restage scenes from THE FUGITVE with him cleverly eluding the authorities at every turn.

Labeouf, who, of course, has to answer to a hard-assed editor (Stanley Tucci), theorizes that Redford is on the run, not just to escape the F.B.I. led by another hard-ass, Terrance Howard, but to somehow clear his name.

The tone is even more self-important and self-righteous than Redford’s last film, the pretentious LIONS FOR LAMBS. Here, instead of Andrew Garfield, Labeouf symbolizes the young generation who Redford can lecture to. The gist being that the children of the ‘60s took it to the streets to protest the government’s involvement in Vietnam, while you kids are more concerned with updating your Facebook profiles as Jenkins, a former radical now a college professor, puts it in a laughable attempt at a meaningful line.

While interviewing Brendan Gleeson as the cop that originally investigated the robbery, Labeouf conveniently comes across indie film darling Brit Marling as Gleeson’s adopted daughter. While flirting with her he figures out her connection to Redford, and while I won’t spoil what it is, I’ll tell you that it’s no exciting revelation.

But then nothing is in this star-studded dud that’s only really about Redford fighting to still be relevant. The man has made some excellent films, among them ORDINARY PEOPLE and QUIZ SHOW, but here he’s treading water while he shakes his head at younger generations for dropping the ball.

I’m not sure what he wants us to do. Go hold up a protest sign on the corner? Join whatever is today’s equivalent to the Weather Underground? What?

When his noble character re-unites with his old flame Julie Christie whose help he needs in a nicely-lit cabin and they discuss old times there is a semblance of dramatic weight, but the phoniness of the dialogue and the predictability of the situation bog it way down. That pretty much sums up every scene come to think of it.

Throughout the film, we see Redford’s porn-stached mugshot from the ‘70s (actually a re-purposed still from ELECTRIC HORSEMAN it looks like to me) as if to remind us that not only was he hot back then, he was a man of major conviction. But then, he always is in every movie he’s made.

Here, our Uncle Redford has made a disappointing film about how disappointed he is in us. Too bad his incredible cast and impeccable narrative skills (I will concede that it’s not boring), can’t elevate it to be anything more than that.

More later...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 4/23/13

The biggest new release on Blu ray and DVD this week is Ruben Fleischer's GANGSTER SQUAD, which was released earlier this year to bad reviews and poor box office. Still, with a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Michael Peña, and Giovanni Ribisi, it's one to rent at least. If you purchase it you get these Special Features: commentary with director Fleischer, deleted scenes, and several featurettes.

Next up, Sergio G. Sánchez's THE IMPOSSIBLE, which depicts Ewan McGregor and an Oscar nominated Naomi Watts caught with their family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, also hits Blu ray and DVD today. Special Features: Audio Commentary with Director J.A. Bayona, writer Sergio G. Sanchez, producer Belén Atienza and Maria Belón, trailer, deleted scenes, and a few featurettes.

Steven Spielberg's 1993 crowd pleaser JURASSIC PARK was recently re-released in 3D theatrically, so now there's a 3D Blu ray release for those who don't want to leave their home (and their new 3D TVs). The 3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet package also features a smattering of bonus material like storyboards, footage of pre-production meetings, Special Effects supervisor Phil Tippett's animatics, trailers for all 3 JURASSIC PARK movies and the obligatory "making of" featurette.

A movie I didn't care for (and didn't even review), Gus Van Sant's PROMISED LAND (aka that movie about fracking) written by and starring Matt Damon and The Office's John Krasinski, also drops on the market today in a 2 disc Blu ray edition and a single disc DVD. Special features are one "making of" featurette and one extended scene. Hmm, sounds as slight as the film itself.

Also out today: Michael Tiddes' Marlon Wayans headed horror comedy A HAUNTED HOUSE, Ken Burns' 2012 documentary THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, and the Blu ray release of Jack Clayton's 1974 version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, just in time for the new Baz Luhrmann 3D adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio which opens on May 10th.

More later...

Friday, April 19, 2013

OBLIVION: Convoluted But Packs Plenty Of Visual Power

Opening today at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:

OBLIVION (Dir. Joseph Kosinski, 2013)

If I was rating this movie on the merits of its vast visual impact alone, as I experienced on an IMAX screen, I’d have to give it the highest marks. Kosinski, in his follow-up to his directorial debut, TRON: LEGACY, immerses us in the incredibly convincing post apocalyptic landscape of our world in 2077, after it’s been devastated by an alien attack that also destroyed the moon (that’s quite a sight - a demolished moon).

Tom Cruise, in deadly serious mode meaning he's refraining from flashing that blinding grin, is one of the last humans on Earth. Like WALL-E, he’s there to do a job though it’s not making skyscrapers out of trash, it’s repairing the drones that patrol Earth. In his coolly recited narration, Cruise calls himself part of the “mop-up crew.”

The rest of the human race has relocated to a colony on one of Saturn’s moons, while Cruise, protects the huge ‘hydro-rigs’ (pictured above) that harvest Earth’s remaining water.

But despite being haunted by visions of being on the observation deck of the Empire State Building with a mysterious woman during the invasion, Cruise has a nice set-up living in an iPod shiny single unit pad in the clouds (literally) with his co-worker and girlfriend, Andrea Riseborough. Their boss, Melissa Leo, pops up on a video monitor every now and then to check in and ask Riseborough, “Are you an effective team?”

The aliens, called Scavs (for “Scavengers”) have been mostly defeated, but there seem to still be some left behind lurking in the rubble.

Things get weird when Cruise comes across a crashed ship containing Olga Kurylenko in a hibernation capsule and recognizes her from his fractured Empire State Building flashbacks.

Things get weirder when Cruise and Kutylenko are captured by a ragtag underworld resistance army led by Morgan Freeman, apparently upset that he wasn’t tapped to narrate the film (I kid).

I got a bit lost in the twists and turns of the convoluted story-line and the ins and outs of the love triangle - this stuff makes sense when you have the whole story at the end but while its happening you may be like “wha?” - but the action set-pieces were gripping, the pacing swept me along, and the immaculate imagery kept my eyes a-popping.

Many critics are pointing out how many elements of OBLIVION allude to a slew of sci-fi movies, such as I AM LEGEND, THE MATRIX, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE PLANET OF THE APES, etc., but to me the movie came off most like it wanted to be a larger scale action re-imagining of Duncan Jones’ 2009 film MOON (also accused of being an amalgam of established sci-fi tropes), but it would give away too much, Spoiler-wise, to really go into it.

Perhaps Kosinki’s unpublished graphic novel that this is based on sorts out the narrative better but since that will probably never be published (bet some panels will make the Special Features of the Blu ray release though) I can only speculate.

I must re-iterate that the CGI, coupled with the sweeping cinematography of Claudio Miranda (TRON: LEGACY, LIFE OF PI) is really stunning - definitely the best I've seen so far this year. I've been so aware of watching actors walking around on sound stage in movies like OZ, but it never seemed like that in OBLIVION.

Along with its incredible visual impact, Cruise’s intense performance strongly carries the film. As MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL proved, the man is not going to let turning 50 take away any of his action star power. His steely focus carries us through what essentially is a popcorn picture posing as something more cerebral.

More later...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 4/16/13

Quentin Tarantino’s blaxploitation Western revenge romp DJANGO UNCHAINED, starring Jamie Fox, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio, heads the pack of new releases this week with a Two-Disc Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet) edition, or a single disc DVD version, if you don’t have a Blu ray player. 

Special Features: A smattering of featurettes: “Reimagining the Spaghetti Western: The Horses & Stunts of DJANGO UNCHAINED,” “Remembering J. Michael Riva: The Production Design of DJANGO UNCHAINED,” “The Costume Designs of Sharen Davis,” “20 Years in the Making: The Tarantino XX Blu-ray™ Collection,” and “DJANGO UNCHAINED Soundtrack Spot.”

Tarantino’s specialty label Rolling Thunder Pictures takes advantage of the home video release date of DJANGO with a Triple Feature Presentation of Ho Meng-Hua’s THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (a.k.a. GOLIATHAN, 1977), Arthur Mark’s DETROIT 9000 (1973), and Jack Hill’s SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975). Each film is presented with scratchy prints, and there is no bonus material, but if you’re a fan of grimy grind-house cinema, it’s a neat DVD-only single disc deal. 

Having seen all three films (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS screened in Raleigh as part of the ongoing Cinema Overdrive series at the Colony Theater in 2010), I can say that there is a fair amount of schlocky fun to be had, but I have more than a feeling that Tarantino is so much more amused by this sleazy stuff than I am. 

The cool retro release of the week has to be the Criterion Collection’s Blu ray Special Edition of Alec Cox’s REPO MAN. The 1984 cult favorite, which I wrote about seeing on the big screen in 2009 (Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of REPO MAN, 3/19/09), has been given a Cox-approved new high-definition digital restoration, commentary featuring Cox and other cast, interviews with Cox, Richardson, and Zamora and more cast, deleted scenes, the complete “cleaned-up” television version of the film (!) prepared by Cox, trailers, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Sam McPheeters. Nice! Oddly, the DVD edition is a 2-disc set while the Blu ray is a single disc. Usually it's the other way around.

This being an ever lamer Blu ray and DVD release date than last week, there’s not much to report on. Two movies I haven’t seen, the French CGI-animated feature, Bibo Bergeron’s A MONSTER IN PARIS, that got good critical notices but little attention, hits both formats, and Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s 2011 martial arts thriller DRAGON gets a Blu ray release, but beyond that I’d be hard pressed to point out anything very interesting. Check out Amazon’s list of today’s releases and tell me I’m wrong.

More later…

Friday, April 12, 2013

Danny Boyle’s Surreal Thriller TRANCE Is A Flashy Blast

Opening today exclusively in Raleigh at the Colony Theater:

TRANCE (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2013)

Despite its digital trappings, Danny Boyle’s 11th film is a visual feast for the eyes, a stylish thriller that has the drive of his cult classic TRAINSPOTTING as filtered through the cerebral invention of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION.

James McAvoy, in a role that I guess Ewan McGregor is too old for, plays an auctioneer who gets mixed up in a heist of a Goya painting worth 27.5 million British pounds. A gripping opening sequence of the robbery has Boyle’s flair for flashy quick cut action firing at all cylinders, neatly timed to U.N.K.L.E.’s “Hold My Hand” (including a sample from David Bowie’s “Be My Wife”). 

Then the problematic yet punchy premise kicks in: McAvoy gets hit in the head by Vincent Cassel as the leader of the gang of thieves, and later after the dust settles, he can’t remember where he hid the painting. Even a icky torture scene can’t bring the memory to surface.

That’s where Rosario Dawson, as a high end hypnotist, comes in. Although Cassel and crew (including Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, and Wahab Sheikh) outfit McAvoy with a wire, and attempt to keep the reason for the therapy hush hush, Dawson figures them out immediately and wants in on a cut of the painting’s profits.

So some sequences of hypnotherapy surreal-ness are in store, as is a love triangle between McAvoy, Cassel, and Dawson. The plot mechanics around the twists and turns of the third act become a bit strained (I agreed with Cassel when he complained about the process to get the information from McAvoy taking too long), but the film retains its clever energy in a way that didn’t piss me off even when it kept faking me out.

The screenplay by Doctor Who writer Joe Ahearne and Boyle collaborator John Hodge (SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING, THE BEACH) gives us a bunch of cinematic puzzle pieces that keep you guessing about what’s real and what’s a dream, what the character’s real motives are, and most interestingly, who’s the real protagonist here that we should be rooting for?

With her poise, confidence, and stunning presence, Dawson steals the movie every time she’s on camera. It’s quite possibly her finest performance in film to date, one that pleasingly takes on an incredibly implausible character, but that could well be overshadowed by her being as visually stunning as Anthony Dod Mantle’s (another long-time Boyle collaborator) cinematography.

McAvoy brings a convincing stressed out vibe, and Cassel gives it his Euro-trash best, but again, your eyes will most likely always be on Dawson.

As the director/producer Boyle’s recent work goes, TRANCE isn’t as substantial as Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE or 127 HOURS, but it’s a lot of vivid, visceral fun. If one doesn’t scrutinize it too deeply, or take it too seriously, they should be in for a blast.

More later...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

R.I.P. Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Had I not been so busy covering Full Frame 2013, this would’ve been posted a lot earlier.

A week ago today, one of my biggest writing influences, world famous Chicago author/critic/former television personality Roger Ebert passed away at age 70 after a long public battle with cancer. I learned the sad news of his death from the Facebook status of a fellow local critic, Kenneth R. Morefield (1morefilmblog.com):

“Somehow it seems fitting that I should hear of Roger Ebert's passing in a press room full of people who love film. May we all be blessed to be able to do what we love until the moment we can't do anything at all. Rest in peace.”

I was in that same press lounge with Morefield at Full Frame when he wrote this, and I immediately lost interest in the screener I was watching. In fact I thought about blowing off all the documentaries I was going to see, just so I could read all the many memorials that people were posting online. But the spirit of Ebert reminded me that I had a job to do, one that was extremely inspired by Ebert’s thrill and passion for discovering new films and their makers.

Now, I’m back at home with a box full of videotapes, a few of Ebert’s movie guides, and I’m pouring over the man’s prolific career. I’m happy that the man left so much behind - from thewrap.com: “Roger Ebert by the Numbers: 7,202 Reviews, 3 Screenplays, 1 Pulitzer...” plus all his blog posts and tons of YouTube clips including hundreds of segments from his shows with the late great Gene Siskel (Opening Soon at a Theater Near You, Sneak Previews, At the Movies), and lots of the man doing comic bits on Letterman, and many other programs – that we can have to refer to forever.

I don’t think Ebert was the first film critic I ever read (my family got Time Magazine so I think it was Richard Schickel), but he was the first that I felt I had a connection to, mainly because of his work on television. When I got to reading his reviews, I loved how conversational and unpretentious they were. The writing in film magazines such as Film Comment (a mag that inspired the name of this blog) was often above my head, but Ebert never was. He used casual talk, sometimes the parlance of our times, like when he wrote that the ending to Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE was “really off the wall.”

Over the years I’ve read a number of his over 2 dozen books, and thumbing through one, a beat copy of the 1990 Edition of “Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion,” I was reminded of a long going argument I’ve had with the man. I should say it’s a very one-sided argument, but it’s about his 1972 review of HAROLD AND MAUDE.

In my copy, 20 years ago, I checked off by movies I’d seen (or had on VHS, I forget which) with a black pen, but by HAROLD AND MAUDE I also added a big question mark. I was obviously baffled by Ebert’s one and a half star review of what I still think is one of the greatest movies ever, and that led to me writing to him several times through the “Movie Answer Man” department on his website about whether he still disliked the film all these years later.

I figured that he’s changed his mind about his initial reaction to a number of later well regarded cult movies, most notably BLADE RUNNER in which he wrote in a “it is time to cave in and admit it to the canon,” but then that movie got 3 stars the first time around. Still, I thought he may come to see the light about HAROLD AND MAUDE, as its grown such stature over the years, and he loved the work of film makers who were very influenced by it like Wes Anderson. If he stood by his original review, which also bothered me by not mentioning the terrific wall-to-wall soundtrack by Cat Stevens at all, then that would be interesting too. So hoping that I’d someday get an answer I kept posing this question to him in different ways, but I never got any reply. Maybe, that’s the real answer, I dunno.

Writing this, I realize that my trying to engage with Ebert about whether he still held the same viewpoint says a lot about this big conversation about movies that I love taking part in.

Ebert’s reviews always felt like a guy casually, yet with complete concentration, starting a conversation about the most recent movie he saw. He was always full of ideas and insights even if the films he was talking about sucked, and his everyman humor spread a lot of warmth even if you strongly disagreed with him (hello, HAROLD AND MAUDE).

I will miss cyber-needling him about his 42-year old opinion of a hippy dippy era Hal Ashby movie that did pretty damn well without his endorsement (it was released as a Criterion Collection Edition Blu ray last year, for Christ’s sake!), but seriously I’ll really miss his amazing weekly output much more. It was so amazing that being unable to speak due to illness didn’t rob him at all of his voice as a writer. Ebert wrote several reviews a week, along with lots of blogging, and 31,260 tweets (!), so for much of his last decade with us it never felt like he had been silenced.

That’s what makes it so hard to deal with, that he is really gone now.

I just know that I’ll still have that instant reflex with whatever movie of the moment to go to his site to get his take on it for a long-ass time.

R.I.P. Roger Ebert

More later...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 4/9/13

Not a terribly exciting day for new releases, but there’s a few intriguing titles out today including the Criterion Collection Blu ray of David Cronenberg’s 1991 cult classic NAKED LUNCH. The film, called by Jonathan Rosenbaum “a highly transgressive and subjective film adaptation” of William Burrough’s 1959 novel, has been given a Cronenberg-approved High-definition digital transfer, a commentary featuring Cronenberg and actor Peter Weller, Chris Rodley’s 1992 television documentary “Naked Making Lunch,” Special effects gallery, a collection of original marketing materials, audio recording of William S. Burroughs reading from his novel “Naked Lunch,” a gallery of photos taken by poet Allen Ginsberg of Burroughs, and a booklet featuring reprinted pieces by film critic Janet Maslin and more. If that doesn’t satisfy NAKED LUNCH fans or obsessive cinephiles, I don’t know what will.

The Criterion Collection is also releasing Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1953 Japanese drama GATE OF HELL today on Blu ray and DVD, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1954. The Special Features aren’t as extensive as NAKED LUNCH’s, but the film also got a High-definition digital transfer and features a fancy booklet.

Despite a charming Bill Murray performance as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert Michell’s HYDE PARK ON HUDSON was one of 2012’s most disappointing films. It got mostly dismissive reviews from critics (though Roger Ebert liked it and gave it 3 stars), and got little award season action (it won one British Independent Film Award for Olivia Colman’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth), but here it is out today on Blu ray and DVD in a prestigious looking package pretending to be more popular than it is. The ample Special Features attest to that: Audio Commentary with Director Roger Michell and Producer Kevin Loader, deleted scenes, and a few featurettes (“First Days,” “A Look Inside HYDE PARK ON HUDSON”), and something called BD Live.

A much better use of your time would be to watch Sang-soo Hong's IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, out today on DVD and available on Netflix Instant, which is where I saw it. French actress Isabelle Huppert stars as three different women, all named Anne, in three different scenarios (though some elements and people overlap) in the seaside town of Mohong, South Korea. It's freewheeling nature reminded me of some of Altman's spare experimental work (like THREE WOMEN). The DVD (no Blu ray release) doesn't have any bonus material but a film so spare and pretty really doesn't need any.

The second season of the Starz show Boss, starring Kelsey Grammer as the sinister Mayor of Chicago, is also out today in 2-disc Blu ray or 3-disc DVD sets. The show, which at times comes off as a blend of House of Cards and The Wire, was cancelled at the end of last year, but a movie follow-up is reportedly in the works. It’s obvious that Grammer want to get as far away from Frasier as he could with this role (he also executive produces the program), and his steely gravitas is effective here, but it’s pretty standard-issue political blackmailing stuff over and over. 

The premise of the mayor suffering from a disease of dementia (Lewy bodies) makes the show get more interesting, however, as his guilt filled hallucinations start getting the better of him. The surreal messiness of the man’s mind, captured with some of Grammar’s finest acting, is a welcome contrast to the boring slick office-set surroundings, and that helps make the last few episodes of this 10 episode batch 
of Boss something I wish the rest was: great T.V. Special features: audio commentaries on 3 episodes, and the 15 minute featurette “The King and His Court.” 

If you’ve been at all curious about Snoop Dog’s recent re-invention of himself as a Reggae artist named Snoop Lion, then Andy Capper’s documentary REINCARNATED is for you. We hang out with the always stoned superstar as he visits Jamaica and gets even more stoned, but that’s because it’s part of his spiritual journey, you dig? I’ll go into more depth next week about the doc when it goes digital (on iTunes, Amazon, XBox, Playstation/Sony), but for now I’ll just say that the single disc DVD release out today contains Special Features such as the featurettes dealing with “Tuff Gong Studios,” and deleted scenes featuring “Snoop Meets Ali,” and “Rita Marley” among others.

More later...

Monday, April 08, 2013

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013: Day Four

Whew! I'm exhausted but very satisfied from four days of non-fiction film fun at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013. Please check out my coverage of Days One, Two, and Three.

Here's what I saw on the fourth and final day, Sunday, April 7th:


(Dir. Barbara Kopple, 2012)

After the Kennedys, the Hemingways were the “other American family with a horrible curse” as Mariel Hemingway describes them early on in Barbara Kopple’s very affecting and aptly named doc RUNNING FROM CRAZY.

In the film, Hemingway speaks at length about her family’s troubled history in which seven members have committed suicide. Her super model sister Margaux killed herself 35 years to the day that her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, likewise took his life.

Footage Margaux shot in the ‘80s for a never completed doc about the legendary writer in which she visits and interviews family members is some of the most fascinating of the clips here. Margaux was, like her grandfather, what Mariel called a “heavy liver,” so she emulated his partying lifestyle, a lifestyle that Mariel was repulsed by as we see when she is saddened by the empty bottles of booze that litter her grandfather’s grave.

Except for some brief excerpts, Mariel Hemingway’s film career is not given much screen-time because the focus is on her personal struggle to distance herself from her family’s demons. She has two daughters (one a supermodel) from a previous marriage who she worries about, and a boyfriend, Bobby Williams, that she rock climbs with (a bit with them bickering in their car out in the desert is priceless) so we get to know her concerns in absorbing detail. 

Kopple’s doc is a heartfelt and entertaining examination that doesn’t get too sentimental or fluffy piecey. Mariel never met her famous grandfather (he cut his life short 3 months before she was born), but his personal influence is obviously enormous over her and the rest of the family, as much as his writing is over the literary world. This fine film makes a good case for that I must say.

THE EDITOR AND THE DRAGON: HORACE CARTER FIGHTS THE KLAN (Dirs. Walter E. Campbell & Martin M. Clark, 2012)

“I never wrote an anti-Klan editorial that I enjoyed writing, I write those editorials because in my mind that was a duty.” Says former newspaper man Horace Carter (pictured on the right with the film makers) in this short doc that every North Carolinian should see. Carter was the editor and publisher of the Tabor City Tribune here in N.C. and in 1950 he wrote in his paper that the Klan was “the personification of Fascism and Nazism.” This got a lot of negative feedback in the community and earned Carter a visit from Thomas Hamilton, Grand Dragon of the Association of Carolina Klans.

Luckily, film makers and UNC graduates Campbell and Clark got Carter on camera before his 2009 death to tell his tension-filled tale that led to him getting a Pulitzer Prize in 1953. Photos, archival footage, new interviews, and Morgan Freeman narration make up the doc may be in too much of a History Channel-style, but that may be the most appropriate angle for this material. Full Frame was world premiere of the must see doc, so no word about a theatrical release or television broadcast yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

(Dir. R.J. Cutler, 2012)

This solid polished biodoc, which premiered on Showtime last month, tries to get into the mind of the former President, sorry Vice President, and finds that it's a dark defensive place. Director Cutler (the docs THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE, A PERFECT CANDIDATE) gets Cheney to sit down and discuss the highs and lows of his political career, so we get to go through Watergate, the Iran Contra hearings, the 2000 election recount, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, and the war in Iraq all over again. Yep, mostly lows; all the stuff many of us have been trying to forget for years.

Cutler's one on one chats with the Dark Lord (sorry), are augmented by interview snip-lets by the likes of Bob Woodward, Bob Suskind, and Cheney biographer Barton Gellman along with file photos, and news footage with narration provided by Dennis Haysbert (best known for being the first black President in the world that the popular Fox show 24 took place in). The takeaway from this film is that Cheney doesn't concede to anything. It's apparent that the man, who at age 34 during the Ford Adminstration became the youngest White House Chief of Staff in history, has a ginormously self righteous ego especially when he repeatedly says that he regrets nothing.

Cheney says that he “doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults,” but for the almost two hour running time of this doc we sure do.

(Dirs. Drew DeNicola & Olivia Mori, 2012)

I have to admit I'm way biased about this doc as I'm a big Big Star fan who contributed to the production's Kickstarter campaign a few years back. The feature length debut by Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori assembles a passionate cast of fellow musicians, rock critics, to tell the story of the power pop band who should've been Beatle-sized superstars in the early '70s but alas the stars did not align.

Big Star, made up of Alex Chilton, who sadly passed in 2009, Chris Bell (died in a car accident in 1978), Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel, is the favorite of many music snobs so much of the material will be familiar to fans. Non-fans will probably appreciate it too because there's plenty of funny anecdotes and personal insights into the music that make it a worhwhile primer.

With their mix of heartbreaking vocals and shimmering guitars that made such incredibly catchy non-hits as “September Gurls,” “Thirteen,” “Ballad of El Goodo,” and “In the Street,” among many others (well, three albums worth anyway) Big Star is a band that deserves more recognition and this film, which gets released theatrically this summer should help that happen (at least a little, I'm not talking about a Rodriquez-style revival).
As a fan I, of course, have criticisms of certain areas being glossed over (though they made the right decision in glossing over the band's 2005 reunion album In Space), but the doc works as a visual overview of Chilton and company's history, encapsulating the precious little original footage shot of the band (only 20 minutes or so exist), with the usual but necessary doc decorations (talking head interviews), photos, etc. in an extremely appealing package.

Before the film, N.C. native, and former Alex Chilton protégé, Chris Stamey and his band The Fellow Travelers played an all too brief set of Big Star classics. You can watch them play “September Gurls” here (other songs from the performance are accessible from that page). 

Well, so that's another Full Frame! Time for me to get some much needed sleep.

More later...

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013: Day Three

Here’s what I saw on Day 3 of Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013 on Saturday, April 6th (Oh, yeah – please visit my recaps of Day One, and Day Two):

(Dirs. Amy Browne, Tony Hale, Jeremy Kaplan, & Brian Wilson)

This film, one of several at the Festival that concerned North Carolinians, won the Audience Award for feature films and the Nicholas School for the Environment Award. It’s the touching tale of musician/psychiatrist Clark Wang’s dying wish to have a green burial. Wang had been battling lymphoma for 8 years, and was realistic about the disease ultimately defeating him: “I’d like to use whatever time I have left to help set a pattern in our community of going back to really traditional and natural ways of preserving our dead.” While taking us through Wang’s process involving Pine Forest Memorial Gardens in N.C., the doc examines the green burial movement and the ecological issues at hand. Well made and intentioned, A WILL FOR THE WOODS sure packs an emotional wallop and I’m glad those voting agreed.

A.K.A. DOC POMUS (Dirs. William Hecter & Peter Miller, 2013) 

Most folks don’t know the name Doc Pomus, but they for sure have heard some of the many songs he’s written including such major hits as “Viva Las Vegas,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Little Sister,” and “Suspicion.” I only knew the man through Lou Reed, who was a big friend of Pomus’s and dedicated his 1992 album Magic and Loss to him, so it’s great to have his story filled in with vintage interviews, footage, and photos, along with testimonials from friends and fans such as Reed, Dr. John, Ben E. King, Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin and his biographer Alex Halberstadt. Unfortunately Hechter and Miller’s biodoc is uneven with many photographs being shown more than once, and some anecdotes being too vague to much impact. 

But the film overall captures the essence of how a polio-stricken kid from Brooklyn became a larger than life figure through his master song writing. Pomus’ brother, Raoul Felder, whose sound-bites may be the most insightful in the film puts it like this: “I suppose at some level, all greatness comes from pain. I think my brother had everything possible going against him in the history of the world from poverty, to illness, to incapacitation, you could not create a worse scenario for failure except that he wasn’t black. And he did as well as he could in that direction too.”

(Dir. Patrick Creadon, 2013)

This doc, about an idealistic young couple (Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller) teaching a high school design-build class, has a good inspirational can-do spirit. It takes us with Pilloton and Miller, respectively a humanitarian designer and an architect, as they take their class through 3 phases of a project, first building cornhole boards, then chicken coops, and finally building something for the community: a Farmer's Market pavilion for Bertie county, N.C. That the couple do on grants without a salary says a lot about them and their sincerity to try to fix the “broken school system,” as Pilloton puts it. Even the overuse of sped-up time capture montages or the dropped story strands (a thick-accented teenager named Rodecoe is focused on in the first third then fades away), doesn't detract from the impressive accomplishments of these kids. More power to them.

(Dir. Sebastian Junger, 2013)

Probably the best straight-up biodoc of the Festival. In her introduction, Full Frame Director of Programming Sadie Tillery sadly recollected that Hetherington, who was killed in an attack in Libya in 2011, was a guest at Full Frame in 2010 promoting his excellent doc RESTREPO. 

That film, which I reviewed the DVD of, was co-directed by the maker of this one, Sebastian Junger. A great friend of Hetherington, Junger appears along with members of Hetherington's family, and colleagues, and Hetherington himself from various interviews, to tell us the noted British photojournalist's story and it's stirring as hell. Despite having a new girlfriend and talking of settling down, Hetherington had a HURT LOCKER-like drive to keep going back to dangerous terrain to do his job. Emotionally gripping footage of the actual attack is included, presented in a manner that's not exploitative. It's one unforgettable piece of a profoundly powerful portrait of a man that everybody should know.


(Dirs. Mike Lerner & Maxim Pozdorovkin, 2012)

With a name like Pussy Riot, most folks have heard of this band, but don't know their story. Lerner and Pozdorovkin's thorough doc rectifies that by giving us the background of the Russian feminist punk rock collective and showing how and why two of their members are currently in prison. On February 21st of last year, five members of Pussy Riot ran into Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior and performed what they called “Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” before being stopped by church security. Three of them, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were arrested on charges of hooliganism.

While these women go through the twists and turns of legal nonsense, the other members go into hiding so there's no interviews with any of them. The doc is competently constructed and informative but it doesn't have the oomph this material deserves. In the court footage that dominates the film, we see the women, who when we get to hear speak are funny and articulate, sitting in a glass box in the middle of the court room looking indifferent and bored.

As much as I liked getting the story straight and what it says about the sad state of Russian democracy, too often when watching it I felt just like those detained members of Pussy Riot. If only the doc did what they so wanted to do: think outside of the box.

Check back for coverage of Day Four.

More later...

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2013: Day Two

The sun came out for the second day of Full Frame 2013, and so did masses of movie fans as attested by the long lines to the Carolina Theatre in Durham throughout the day. It’s late and I got to get up early for Day Three, so let’s get right to the documentaries I saw that screened today:

(Dir. Nicole Triche, 2012)

As I tweeted earlier, Taxidermy has always weirded me out but after seeing TAXIDERMISTS ...well, it still weirds me out. Still, it's a good breezy 20 minute film that told me something I didn't know, that World Taxidermy Championships (WTC) are held every year. Durham film maker Triche's neatly edited succinct short doc puts forth interesting insights into a few of the competition's participants. If you don't get spooked by some of their work, that is.

(Dir. Patrick Reed, 2012)

A moving portrait of Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian Senator and retired general who has made it his life's work to end the employment of child soldiers mainly in Africa. 

Based on Dallaire's book, “They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers,” the film features striking animation (produced by Together: Words+Pictures for Art and Culture) narrated by a former child soldier, and such stirring moments as when Dallaire visits a transit camp for former LRA abductees and notes: “These soldiers were killing machines, and abused, and indoctrinated, and seen every possible horror, and then they were there, back as children. Because the raw material of youth and positiveness was still there.” Highly recommended.

(Dir. Scott Calonico, 2012)

This 8 minute hoot and a half concerns recently declassified White House telephone tapes of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, with photographic and official diary enhancement. It's hilarious to hear LBJ's folkys gusto when talking with a clueless operator, or discussing his diet with his assistant.

(Dir. Penny Lane, 2012)

LBJ’s successor, Richard Milhous Nixon, gets a lot more screen time in this full-length doc constructed from over 500 reels of Super 8 home movies filmed by his top staff members (Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Deputy Assistant Dwight Chapin) that had been confiscated during the Watergate investigation and went unseen for 40 years.

Vintage news clips of Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and other late '60s to early '70s newscasters help the footage form a narrative, from the set-up of the Oval Office’s taping system to the dark downfall of the administration, and excerpts from those incendiary tapes give us some priceless Tricky Dick dialogue. I was into it, greatly enjoying all the glimpses behind the scenes (it felt like watching an evil version of The West Wing at times) however sloppy the filming, but other folks not as fascinated by the enigma that is Nixon might get bored.

(Dir. Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier, 2012)

The legendary “Muscle Shoals Sound” gets its doc due in this rock, rhythm, and soul packed film that tells the story of two studios in the small Alabama town and the iconic artists who recorded there. First, there’s producer / songwriter / music publisher Rick Hall’s FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios, where Hall took elements of his tragedy filled life and turned them into hit songs, and then there’s the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio which was started by three of the Swampers, former members of FAME’s Rhythm Section.

Hall’s once trusted crew being enticed away by Jerry Wexler and leaving him meant that a war was on (in Hall’s words), but the doc never takes sides or tries to determine who won, but it doesn't need to when it has so many great anecdotes told by folks like Keith Richards (often ending sentences with a mumbled SLING BLADE-ish “Mhmmr”), Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Mick Jagger, Clarence Carter, and U2’s Bono, who waxes philosophically about the river being the source of the soulful country sound: “it’s like the songs came from the mud.” Musical documentary gold.

(Dir. Alex Winter, 2013)

The final film for Friday was Alex Winter’s DOWNLOADED, which examines the downloading revolution through the story of Napster, the ill-fated file-sharing Internet service that was all the rage in 1999 to 2000. Winter, is best known for playing Bill in the 1989 cult classic BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (and a sequel and animated series), but he came to the subject via decades of directing music videos. 

Winter’s cutting and swift establishing shot skills are immediately apparent, and he engagingly covers the twists and turns of both a personal (mostly seen in the passion of Napster co-founder and developer Shawn Fanning), and a far-reaching narrative that asks good questions about how growing technology threatens the long running business models of the recording industry. Indeed Napster, at one point 80 million registered users strong, was taken down by über-expensive lawsuits, one that had co-founder Sean Parker (later of Facebook and Spotify) in trouble for using the dreaded words “pirated music” in an email.

As a former user of Napster, a lot of the film was a trip down memory lane with television clips (a lot of MTV when they actually had somewhat substantial news reports), old interfaces I’d forgotten, and Senate hearing footage (involving Lars Ulrich of Metallica, one of Napster’s biggest adversaries, but what made Winter’s doc ultra compelling is how he filled in so much fascinating information that I, and I’m sure many, hadn’t heard before. A production of VH1 Docs, DOWNLOADED is one of the finest films of the Festival, and one of the best documentaries about the Internet age that I’ve ever seen.

Whew! Another solid day of docs, especially those last two. But tomorrow's roster, which includes films about war photographer Tim Hetherington, songwriting icon Doc Pomus, and the infamous Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, doesn't look too shabby.

Check back for coverage of Full Frame days three and four, and check out Day One if you haven't already.

More later...