2009 Silverdocs Documentary Festival
Running from 15 to 22 June, in the shadow of co-sponsor Discovery Channel’s headquarters (the American Film Institute is the other co-sponsor), the 2009 Silverdocs Documentary Festival brought over 120 non-fiction films to Silver Spring, Maryland, just a few metro stops away from downtown D.C. The result was a rewarding and refreshing event, offering classic and independent documentaries and previewing several that will crop up over the next year or two on PBS, HBO, various Discovery outlets, and the occasional brave art-house theater screen…
Full feature coverage of Silverdocs (with images, trailers, and so much more) is up at PopMatters.
Let the Great World Spin
The method of Colum McCann’s exciting, maddening new novel Let the Great World Spin is cinematic, like a great deal of modern fiction. The setting is New York, circa 1974, right in the midst of its slide into near-complete dysfunction. The language has a sharp-focus clarity and tendency toward the edit-montage, blocking scenes and downloading them into neatly snapped-off bits.
Here is the book’s first of several narrators, Dublin-born Ciaran, laying out the landscape as he’s being driven through the South Bronx by his younger brother Corrigan, who’s come to the city on the latest stage of his saint-like progression toward self-abnegation and sacrifice…
Let the Great World Spin is available for sale at finer book outlets across the land. You can read the full review at PopMatters.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Eventually Michael Bay will tire of shooting orgasmically erupting explosions foregrounded by actors running in very, very slow motion, the sheen of heroic sweat on their faces and toned arms highlighted by an always-setting sun. He will tire of stringing together images that are less a story than a chain of ideas for dorm-room posters. The day will come when jamming together toilet humor, shattering machinery, and near-pornographic worship of American techno-military might will hold no more interest. Hopefully that day will come before Transformers 3: You Remember When We Said This Wasn’t Over, Optimus Prime? Well, We Were Telling the Truth. Anything’s possible. Nobody thought that Woody Allen would ever make a movie outside of New York…
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens everywhere in the known universe tomorrow. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.
An everything-goes kind of romantic comedy that gets some mileage out of being less horrible than it should have been, The Proposal marks one major turning point for modern Hollywood: Neither Kate Hudson nor Renée Zellweger are anywhere to be seen. The shenanigans concocted by producer-turned-screenwriter Pete Chiarelli seem right up their alley, after all: Hardbitten career woman takes a break from abusing her male assistant to blackmail him into marriage (she’s Canadian, wouldn’t you know). Much zany subterfuge and the occasional Hallmark moment then follow, ensuring that her heart of ice will be melted by his warm family and sweet sweet smile…
The Proposal opens tomorrow in all theaters everywhere. You can read the full review by your faithful critic at filmcritic.com.
Duncan Jones, a commercials director, former camera operator for Tony Scott, and the son of David Bowie, makes a sure-footed entry into the feature directing ranks with Moon, an impressive science-fiction allegory whose moral implications are as troubling as they are prescient.
Working literally on the dark side of the Moon in the near-future, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is technically an astronaut but is really like an outer-space oil-rigger for Halliburton. An employee of Lunar Industries, the world’s top supplier of clean energy (as the relentlessly cheery ad which opens the film proclaims), Sam minds the dingy Sarang mining station, whose sole purpose is the mining of Helium-3 for use back on Earth. His only companions are the station’s computer, Gerty (voiced with kindly world-weariness by Kevin Spacey) and a number of plants whom he’s given names to…
Moon opens in quite limited release today and should be sought out, as a quietly confident antidote to sci-fi explosion overkill like Terminator Salvation. Read the full review at Film Journal International.
The 2009 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
For its twentieth edition, the 2009 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival delivers not only a strong message about the abuses to human decency endemic around the globe — from anti-Semitism to cluster munitions to female genital mutilation — but also a glance at the recent past of issue-oriented documentaries. New nonfiction films make up the bulk of this year’s slate of 21 features and 11 shorts from 17 countries, showing in New York from June 11 to 25.
Unlike previous years, the festival is also showcasing five previous winners of the Nestor Almendros Award, named for the Spanish cinematographer who worked extensively with Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut and was one of the festival’s founders. Of these five films, at least two, 2004′s Born Into Brothels and 2006′s Iraq in Fragments, are nothing short of classics, and one, 2008′s The Sari Soldiers, is a strong also-ran for that label. Seen altogether, they comprise some of the most eye-opening documentary work of the modern era, where compassion and artistry work in complementary fashion…
Full(ish) coverage of the festival can be read at filmcritic.com.
Away We Go
A wonderfully well-intentioned flock of stock American-indie scenarios wrapped up in a cosy, folky soundtrack and lavished with charming comic interludes, Away We Go never strives to be much of anything and succeeds quite well in its aims. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, as all works of art should always know their limitations, but it seems like somebody might have tried a little harder. Maybe it’s asking too much, but for the screenwriting debut of two literary wunderkinds (married duo Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida) that just happens to be shot by a director (Sam Mendes) whose last film was one of the great literary adaptations in recent memory (Revolutionary Road), one expects at least a couple attempts to swing for the fences…
Away We Go opens today in limited release. You can read the full review at Short Ends & Leader.
New on DVD:
TCM Greatest Films Collection: World War II — Battlefront Europe
Anybody who might have had a thought that the Second World War’s European Theater was anything but an occasionally dangerous lark clearly hasn’t been witness to one of the more recent entries in the TCM Greatest Films Collection series, World War II – Battlefront Europe. Of the quartet of films included herein—The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, Kelly’s Heroes, and Battleground—only one makes a stab at actually trying to present the war as something quite awful. For the rest, fun viewing though they may be (and all most likely heavily researched by Tarantino as he was making the upcoming Inglorious Basterds), truth-telling is not really their bag…
World War II – Battlefront Europe is in stores now; you may either purchase, rent, or wait a day or so until one of its four films shows up on TCM or WGN some weekend. Read the full review at PopMatters.
Ten Movies Actually Worth Remaking
In reaction to the remake fever that’s sweeping Hollywood recently, the fine folks at filmcritic.com just put together a nifty feature titled “Ten Movies Actually Worth Remaking” wherein many of the site’s writers cite junky films of years past that could actually benefit from a second take.
Sean O’Connell nominated Waterworld, while Chris Null smartly noted that The Bonfire of the Vanities deserved something much better than it got. Yours truly went for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I know, sacrilege, but trust me).
In his studious and straightforward new book on the aftermath of Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda, The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget, journalist Andrew Rice makes a point of saying that the more Sweeney Todd-like tales about Amin were most likely not true. But his purpose in saying that is not to discount the scars that this madman left on his country, it is instead the journalist’s drive to uncover the truth at any cost, even if that does mean dispelling some long-accepted notions. Rice writes that “Africa the place is forever obscured by the shadow of Africa the notion.” It is this mythical, frequently racist, “notion” of Africa that he helps to dispel by relating one horrifying but undeniably true story about what Amin’s rule did to one Ugandan family…
The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget is on sale now. You can read the full review at PopMatters.