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Entries in Review (82)

Wednesday
Sep182019

Doc Corner: Musical Chairs with Linda, Miles, Aretha and... Bros

By Glenn Dunks

It’s that time of the year where we play musical chairs and look at some of the music documentaries that have come along because there are just too many. Not all that much connects this batch of musicians – other than I am a fan of them to a degree, I suppose – but watching the films and there is a surprising spread of style and form. Surprising, also, because the artist that comes out on top is the most unexpected of them all.

The most informal, yet ultimately least satisfying of the batch is Linda Ronstadt: Sound of My Voice. It is somewhat disappointing that Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet) decided on such a rudimentary structure considering their subject was somebody who repeatedly coloured outside of the lines of the artform.

But any film about somebody as talented and interesting as Ronstadt, there is always going to be much enjoyment even if it is assembled rather blandly.

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Wednesday
Sep112019

Doc Corner: 'American Factory' has Oscar in its sight

By Glenn Dunks

Because not everybody can be in Toronto or Venice, there are still plenty of great movies to watch!

American Factory is a film that hovers over the precipice of tragedy for its entire runtime. Its subjects exist in a state of perpetual uncertainty, never sure about whether they have a future or if the rug is going to be pulled out from under them yet - again. They are all workers from the Moraine Assembly Plant, once owned by General Motors, in Dayton, Ohio, that closed down during the recession, but which has since been purchased by Chinese company Fuyao to begin operation producing glass for (cars that America no longer seems to make).

Directors Steve Bognar and Julie Reichert return to the location of their Oscar-nominated short documentary The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. That film, which charted the factory’s production of its final automobile, filmed its subjects predominantly from inside cars as they arrive at work or in bars as they mulled over their futures. American Factory, then, is a major step up from a production stand-point, but offers just as humane a portrait of people struggling to find their place in a changing world. A world that is rapidly moving away from the old ideas of the “American Dream”.

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Wednesday
Sep042019

Doc Corner: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

By Glenn Dunks

Music documentaries are a dime-a-dozen these days, and musicals have been a Hollywood staple for as long as there has been sound to go alongside the flickering images of movies. But it hadn’t really dawned on me until I watched Max Lewkowicz’s Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles that documentaries about Broadway shows are surprisingly rare.

Among this rare subgenre The Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened will probably find a lasting cultural place thanks to Richard Linklaker’s latest long-form cinematic folly of Merrily We Roll Along. It's a surprise that Show Business: The Road to Broadway has not already become a staple thanks to its amazing line-up of big Broadway hitters. There are also shows like  Every Little Step, The Heat is On: The Making of Miss Saigon and Life After Tomorrow, which offer a glimpse back stage to what it is like to put on a Broadway show. But I can’t actually recall a documentary that took a single show like Lewkowicz does with Fiddler on The Roof and examine it all the way from its inception through to its lasting legacy. Perhaps it will inspire some more – I certainly hope so, for A Miracle of Miracles is a delight of a documentary that educated me and made me into a bigger fan of the show...

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Wednesday
Aug282019

Doc Corner: 'Vision Portraits' and 'Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins'

By Glenn Dunks

Aware that people with vision impairments may likely read this review, I have included accessable captions underneath the images. In my day job I regularly have to work to accessibility guidelines and I think it's something we should all think about.

I’m not going to lie. There really isn’t all that much connecting the two films I’m going to talk about today other than they’re both being released around the same time and I wanted to give them some attention. And, truly, what are we even doing here if we can’t throw a wee bit of love to movies that would otherwise go completely under the radar?

Film poster for Vision Portraits showing Rodney Evans' face against colourful lights that are out of focus.I have no doubt that Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins will find an appreciative audience. She was, after all, a famous writer with dedicated fans right up to her death in 2007. I am less convinced that Rodney Evans’ delicate and partly autobiographic Vision Portraits would manage the same. It’s small, you see. Small in the sense that it doesn’t call attention to itself. Small in the sense that it tells its story with grace and humanism and allows its audience to depart with a mind full of contemplation. It is a morsel of a documentary (it is 78 minutes long), but one that should open its viewers to ideas that it would otherwise likely have little reason to consider.

Evans’ film is certainly the most interesting of the pair thematically and stylistically...

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Wednesday
Aug212019

Doc Corner: 'Cold Case Hammarskjöld'

By Glenn Dunks

Sometimes a movie can turn you off in such an extreme fashion that it almost becomes interesting. Almost. Underlined and in bold for effect. After all, I don’t want to give the false impression that Cold Case Hammarskjöld is in any way a movie that you should watch. Lord knows, my reaction to this smug and smarmy directorial ego trip and non-fiction lark was violently negative, and while I admit that there’s something striking about a documentary that so callously appears to mock its subject and audience, Danish director Mads Brügger can’t spin it into a film that I enjoyed the experience of watching.

It’s also, sadly, completely of the moment. It’s themes of international intervention and conspiracy are probably the sort of thing that will no doubt appeal to certain audiences who can't help looking over at the metaphorical grassy knoll. But this story of (possible) intrigue, (maybe) scandal, and even (potential) AIDS warfare (!!!) is treated with none of the acute seriousness that it (probably) deserves...

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Wednesday
Aug072019

Doc Corner: 'One Child Nation' is an Oscar Frontrunner

By Glenn Dunks

When introducing One Child Nation at a recent screening at the Sydney Film Festival, co-director Zhang Lynn noted that all of the Chinese crew were of the generation born to the nation’s one child policy. For both Lynn and her directing partner Nanfu Wang, this searing documentary is clearly more than just an examination of their homeland’s shameful history, but a personal exorcism of sorts. A cleansing for themselves and their subjects, many of whom Wang and Zhang force to confront the demons that have haunted them for decades.

With just two films to her credit about China, Wang has become an important name in the documenting of contemporary Chinese society...

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