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Entries in documentaries (202)

Tuesday
Jul262016

Doc Corner: 'Women He's Undressed' Reveals Hollywood Couture

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

Gillian Armstrong is nearly as prolific as a documentarian as she is a dramatic filmmaker. While the likes of her “Seven Years On” series (an Australian 7 Up), her Bob Dylan concert doc Hard to Handle, or the true crime murder mystery of an interior design queen in Unfolding Florence aren’t as well-known as her collaborations with Judy Davis, Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, and Winona Ryder, they are eclectic and passionate works nonetheless. As she said in her interview with Jose last year at Toronto, “there’s a different art to making documentaries” and unlike many other directors who split their time between mediums, her documentaries do feel distinctly unique from her other work and yet equally essential.

Her latest non-fiction work is Women He’s Undressed, a peek behind the velvet curtain at Orry-Kelly, a costume designer from Hollywood’s golden age. Armstrong posits that he is a virtual unknown – a claim a deliciously acidic Ann Roth, one of the doc’s more entertaining talking heads, doesn’t have a bar of – including in his home country of Australia. What we do know is that he was gay, secretly dated Cary Grant, Bette Davis was fiercely loyal to him, and that he had a hand in some the greatest films of all time from Casablanca to 42nd Street, An American in Paris to The Letter and many more. You don’t win three Academy Awards without being a little bit special!

[Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe's breasts and more...]

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Thursday
Jul212016

Ava DuVernay Documentary to Open New York Film Festival 

The Fall Film Festivals (Venice, Toronto, Telluride, New York and London) are almost upon us. Or at least the announcements of their programmes are. TIFF announces next Tuesday, Venice at the end of of July. New York announced its opening night selection this week, Ava DuVernay’s The 13th, a documentary about the high incarceration rate, particularly of African Americans, in the United States.

The title refers to the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

The film mixes archival footage - from the civil rights movement, Ku Klux Klan to the Black Lives Matter movement - with modern day commentary to present the ramifications of the amendment and the history of racial inequality in the US. It’s an apt choice for all that’s unfolding in 2016. The 13th will be released in cinemas and on Netflix on October 7th.

Lupita Nyongo'o and Madina Nalwanga in Queen of Katwe

Meanwhile lists are also being made for what other movies will appear on the festival circuit. London will open with Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, and Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe will have its European premiere there, meaning it will debut somewhere on this side of the Atlantic first. Let’s speculate what else could play at New York, based on precedent that is arbitrary and will probably mean nothing in the end. But it’s fun to speculate:

• Damien Chazelle’s La La Land - this film, with the beloved trailer, will open Venice. Another Emma Stone film, Birdman, opened Venice and closed New York, it could happen again.

• Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk - because Life of Pi opened NYFF in 2012.

• Martin Scorsese's Silence - remember when Hugo started its Oscar campaign with a surprise screening in New York in 2011?

• Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals - the rumour is that it will play in competition at Venice. Come to New York soon after, Tom. We'd like to see Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal together in a movie, too.

• Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea - there’s always a Sundance movie that makes it to NYFF, Whiplash and Brooklyn being the last two examples.

• Robert Zemeckis’ Allied - his last two films, The Walk and Flight, both played at NYFF before opening nationwide.

That's just a few titles, we will know much more in the next few weeks. Are you planning to attend any of the fall film festivals?

Tuesday
Jul192016

Doc Corner: 'Miss Sharon Jones!' 

Glenn here. Each Tuesday we bring you reviews and features on documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

Barbara Kopple is an old-fashioned filmmaker who is free of flash. Whether she is documenting the lives of everyday people or celebrities, she has a knack for zeroing in on subjects whose lives demand closer inspection. We saw this in Shut Up & Sing about the Dixie Chicks and her Oscar-winning debut masterpiece Harlan County, USA, even in A Conversation with Gregory Peck, which we looked at recently. And we see it again in her latest film, Miss Sharon Jones! What could have been a simple tribute doc becomes something much more poignant by pointing her camera at a subject who’s trademark energy and spirit has been pointedly struck down my destructive cancer and its ramifications on those around her.

The early parts of Kopple’s film are actually a lot like its subject: hectic. A rough start that shows signs of a filmmaker at uncharacteristic odds with how to tell her story. In these early passages we get our only instances of awkward narration, out-of-place talking head testimonial that never appear again, and an all-too brief history lesson that isn’t thorough enough to add anything of any real consequence. The editing is skittish, bouncing around the story, cutting off performances, and taking unnecessary diversions. Was Jones not allowing herself to be truly seen on camera? Who knows, but it thankfully doesn’t last when at the 30-minute mark Kopple’s camera remains fixed on Jones as she performs “The Eye is On the Sparrow” in a gospel church. It doesn’t cut, it doesn’t flinch, it just lets Jones’ miraculous voice and performance physicality take over. The film is never the same. [more...]

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Tuesday
Jul122016

Doc Corner: 'Zero Days' is One of the Year's Best

Glenn here with our weekly look at documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

Alex Gibney works with such ferocious regularity that it’s sometimes hard to keep track. Last year alone he had three films released following two the year before that. His latest, Zero Days, falls into the camp of Gibney films in which he most excels - those like Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room that allow him to exercise his skills at investigative journalism and dig deep into exposing organizations and those who surround them. While it lacks the pop fancies that made Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief such a success, Zero Days is Gibney’s best documentary in years.

Told with all the propulsive, thrilling excitement of a Hollywood spy blockbuster, Zero Days lifts the lid on a series of cybercrimes (reportedly - the film certainly makes a valiant case for it) committed by the US government in alignment with Israel against Iran and their potentially dangerous nuclear program. The crimes backfired drastically and exposed America and the world to a future of uncertain technological warfare...

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Tuesday
Jul052016

Doc Corner: Norman Lear's Golden Age of TV

Glenn here with our weekly look at documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand.

We get told time and time again that we are in a golden age of television, and it’s impossible to deny that the expansion of the viewing landscape has resulted in a boon of creativity that can be seen in every single corner of the television globe. There are times throughout the brisk Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You where it appears directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady are attempting to suggest that this golden age was birthed some 40-odd years ago when Norman Lear was the centre of the small screen universe with a collection of series to his name that not only snagged record-busting ratings, but also critical acclaim and pop culture buzz that saw his shows watched by some 120 million American a week.

You could say he was like David E. Kelley and Shonda Rhimes of his day.

While guest appearances by the likes of Amy Poehler, Jon Stewart and even George Clooney highlight his influence both creatively and politically, Ewing and Grady’s film is far too concerned with the man himself to truly dive into the reverberations of his work on modern television...

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Tuesday
Jun282016

Doc Corner: 'O.J.: Made in America' a Compelling Success

Glenn here with our weekly look at documentaries from theatres, festivals, and on demand. This week we're looking at ESPN's much-buzzed five-part documentary about O.J. Simpson.

Even more coincidental than the release of ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America so soon after Ryan Murphy’s star-studded FX mini-series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, is that the rise to fame of their subject coincided so precisely with the rise to prominence of the African American civil rights movement. The irony was not lost on Simpson with the handsome man who everyone thought “had it all” never being able to out-run the shadow that his own meteoric ascent cast over seemingly the United States’ entire black population. Nor is it lost on director Ezra Edelman who makes the parallels the structural spine of this exceptionally thorough, exquisitely compiled, and exhaustively compelling five-part documentary. It’s not called “Made in America” for nothing – another coincidence it’s worth noting, Made in America is also the name of a pretty good 2008 documentary about the Crips and Bloods war in L.A. by Stacy Peralta – and across 463 minutes, Edelman and his collaborators have crafted a powerful demonstration of the dichotomy of race, fame, and justice in America.

Starting in the 1960s with Simpson’s rise in college football, Edelman’s film wisely doesn’t focus exclusively on the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman and the trial that followed. In fact, it takes until the third episode to even bring it up, instead preferring to spend time examining these early passages of his life for clarity and for clues. Unlike the FX series, O.J.: Made in America is more concerned with attempting to find out how a man like Simpson and the country came to be. [more...]

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Tuesday
Jun212016

Happy Birthday, Juliette Lewis!

We don't get many screen talents that defy simple categorization as much as Juliette Lewis. One minute she's raw and dangerous then vulnerable and timid the next, her humor at once bawdy and passive. Even when playing a supportive girlfriend trope, she always draws you in with a flash of the unexpected. She's so consistently arresting and specific that you forget how disimilar some of her characters are.

Filmmakers of late aren't giving her the type of heavy lifting she can handle, even though her heyday 90s work (including her Oscar nominated Cape Fear performance) still deliver on repeat viewings. Of course her most unpredictable turn was in the early 2000s with the launch of her rock band The Licks, developing a rock persona as vivid as her screen performances and then some. Of her screen peers that have stuck around, none of them kick this much ass.

Michael Rapaport's documentary short on Lewis, Hard Lovin' Woman, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. It's a fun look at her career but also a reminder of her ferociously versatile talent - and you can watch it online for free!

What is your favorite Juliette Lewis performance?