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Entries in documentaries (133)

Sunday
Jun212015

Sydney Film Festival: Unconventional Creature Features

Glenn here offering some final thoughts on films at the Sydney Film Festival...

Let's talk about a couple of new documentaries and a horror-romance hybrid. 

The Russian Woodpecker
Chad Garcia’s The Russian Woodpecker is fascinating. It’s a wholly unexpected surprise from this debut director that not only presents an involving story that links the nuclear devastation of Chernobyl to the modern day revolution of Ukraine with plenty of conspiracy theory intrigue, but also presents it in a formally adventurous way. The film’s central figure is the eccentric artist Fedor Alexandrovich and he’s the sort of man that would drift through a party before promptly leaving and making everybody turn to each other and say, “Well he was a character!” If this wasn’t a documentary he would almost be too hard to believe as he rattles off his (as it turns out, not entirely absurd) theory that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was a planned plot by the Russian government to disguise the failure of a nearby Soviet-built radar tower that emitted a persistent clicking sound known as “the Russian woodpecker”.

Alexandrovich’s amateur sleuth skills are hardly credible, but his growing unease at his proposed discoveries – his interviews with former workers of the radar tower seethe with barely contained tension – leads brilliantly into a navigation of the current political unrest on the streets of Kiev and his growing unease with choosing to bring these Russian grievances to light. Visually arresting, Garcia’s film is an uncomfortable must-see.

Oscar? I'd like to think it can find a general release and compete for Oscar. After a few years of music and sport films winning, perhaps last year's win for Citizenfour will turn them back to politics. Barring The Look of Silence, nothing has emerged out of the festival circuit looking like a winner so it's an open playing field.

Horror on the Italian seaside and an elephant in Hawaii after the jump...

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Friday
Jun192015

The Troubled Musical Tribute to 'Amy'

Glenn here offering some thoughts on films at the Sydney Film Festival. Here he is discussing the music documentary 'Amy'.

Given what director Asif Kapadia was able to accomplish with the otherwise (to me) uninteresting world of vroom vroom speed racing in Senna, logic would dictate that when handling a subject of great interest to me that the results would be even more outstanding. That doesn’t quite prove to be the case with Amy, another scrapbook collection of archival footage presenting the life of somebody who lived fast and died young, Amy Winehouse, but one which lacks quite the same verve of the director’s predecessor.

Kapadia is in the unique position of making a documentary about somebody whose life isn’t just rife for the Hollywood biopic treatment, but which actually feels like it already has been. Is her story not almost note-for-note for Mark Rydell’s The Rose with Bette Midler? It’s curious as a viewer of a documentary to feel as if I’d seen it all before in a fiction film (albeit one highly inspired by a real life person) and being disappointed because it comes off second best.

The Rose, Kurt Cobain and more after the jump...

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Wednesday
May272015

HBO’s LGBT History: Common Threads (1989)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed films & miniseries produced and distributed by HBO.

Last week we looked at the quietly touching film Tidy Endings (1988), written and starring Harvey Fierstein and a must-see for Stockard Channing completists. We’re not going far this week, since much of HBO’s early LGBT output tried to grapple with the AIDS epidemic that had dominated the cultural conversation about gay men in the 1980s.

Did you know that films produced by HBO have won over 20 Oscars? This past year alone, HBO dominated both documentary categories with Citizenfour and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 emerging victorious. It has been a stealth awards run which Sheila Nevins (currently the president of HBO Documentary Films but her involvement stretches back to 1979) has all but nurtured herself. 

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989)
Written & Directed by: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (based on the book, The Quilt: Stories From The NAMES Project by Cindy Ruskin)
Narrated by: Dustin Hoffman (who'd just won his 2nd Oscar)

HBO’s commitment to strong documentary storytelling goes back to the late 1980s; their first Oscar win came in 1985 when the American Undercover special Soldiers in Hiding won the Best Documentary Feature award, the first time it was bestowed to a pay cable service. Having hosted the then-surgeon general in their 1987 informative special, AIDS: Everything You and Your Family Need to Know…But Were Afraid to Ask, it’s not surprising HBO would help produce Epstein and Friedman’s Common Threads which won Best Documentary Feature at the 62nd Academy Awards, the year Driving Miss Daisy took Best Picture (how’s that for a double feature?). Common Threads continued the network’s commitment to mining urgent and contemporary social issues in their documentaries...

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Monday
Apr272015

Hot Docs "Best of Enemies"

Amir continues his coverage of Toronto's Hot Docs festival. Will he spot any future Oscar nominees?

It is hard to imagine today that there was once an America where political debates in the media were sensational, not just sensationalized. Harder yet is to envision a time when conservative political commentators weren’t complete buffoons, but rather eloquent, smart thinkers. That is exactly the time that Best of Enemies transports us to, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s film about the televised debates leading up to the 1968 Republican and Democratic national conventions. ABC, then trailing as America’s third network and in search of a ratings boost, decided to pit two of the country’s most famous commentators against one another: the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. The two were known to dislike each other and their pairing on live TV was sure to cause a stir.

Their prediction proved to be correct when on the 8th night of a series of incendiary discussions, Buckley reacted to Vidal’s name-calling and being labeled a “crypto-Nazi” with a momentary burst of anger...

Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the face and you’ll stay plastered.”

 

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Friday
Apr242015

"Listen to Me Marlon"

The Hot Docs 2015 Film Festival started in Toronto yesterday. Our Canadian correspondent Amir is on hand to cover the proceedings.

The best film of last year’s Hot Docs festival was Robert Greene’s Actress, a rich and moving film about the life of The Wire’s Brandy Burre. It went on to become one of the most praised films of the year; and it’s easy to imagine the same level of acclaim for this year’s buzziest title at the festival, the similarly actor- centric Listen to Me Marlon. As the title suggests, British director Stevan Riley’s film is about Marlon Brando, and it defies any expectation one might have going into a documentary about a deceased actor.

That this film has been made is something of a miracle to begin with. Brando apparently recorded more than 200 hours of audiotapes about himself, of which none has been available to the public heretofore. Riley has been granted access to these by Brando’s estate and has assembled and edited them for the voice-over narration of his film. There is no new footage and no interviews shot for this film, only archival material from Brando’s performances, his television interviews and some behind the scenes footage and rare videos of his personal life. The result, a raw and immensely personal look at the actor’s life, is absolutely mesmerizing...

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Friday
Apr172015

Tribeca: Relating to "The Wolfpack"

The Tribeca Film Festival 2015 kicked off this week and we'll be bringing you our screening adventures. Here's special guest Joe Reid on a buzzy documentary...
 

I thought a lot about Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth during Crystal Moselle's Sundance winning documentary The Wolfpack, now playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. How could I not? The Wolfpack tells the story of the Angulo family, including the seven siblings whose extreme home-schooling meant they were rarely permitted outside their modest Lower East Side apartment. That kind of forced isolation of children is always going to make me think of Lanthimos' dark comedy.

Knowing the premise, you might expect the Angulo kids to end up as warped as those kids in Dogtooth, but they're decidedly not. They speak about their unusual childhood with uncanny emotional intelligence and articulation. And the more you watch The Wolfpack, the more you might want to chalk it all up to the power of the movies.

The dynamite opening to the film sees the Angulo boys' filmed reenactment of Reservoir Dogs (1992), complete with costumes, props, and honestly? Some pretty decent line-readings. You immediately get a sense of how long the boys have had to perfect this production. It helps when you're never allowed to leave your home. These boys are no mere dabblers; they're movie fanatics, with hand-drawn movie art papering their walls; with lists at the ready ranking their personal favorites. They're shown transcribing Pulp Fiction, studying Blue Velvet, poring over Scream. I found myself leaning forward, relating so hard.

More...

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