Rumsfeld: ‘The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.’
Errol Morris’ riveting new documentary is a feature-length interview with none other than the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld. The Unknown Known has been playing festival dates recently and is going to hit theaters on December 13.
My early review is at Short Ends & Leader:
In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…
Here’s a look at the trailer:
Khalid Abdalla (star of ‘The Kite Runner’) and Ahmad Hassan, two of the Tahrir Square activists profiled in ‘The Square’
Jehane Noujaim’s incandescent documentary about the Tahrir Square revolution first played Sundance back in January; she went back to Egypt to shoot later developments. The version of The Square that just opened in limited release now has a dramatic arc, from the 2011 resignation of Mubarak to this summer’s coup that toppled Morsi. It’s an elegantly put-together and passionate story of the tragedy of revolutions and the resilience of ideas.
My review is at Film Journal International:
The film is thick with dense collages of tear gas, gunfire, and seas of people leaping and shouting in unison. But it also cuts away to zoom in on a few of these people who would otherwise just be specks in a pointillist portrait. What Noujami has captured is not just a protest, but a diagnostic of the different emotional and political struggles which protesters like Khalid, Ahmed and Magdy are having in the street or on the phone because they don’t live in a country where those arguments can yet be honestly had at the ballot box.
The trailer is here:
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’
The winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is finally getting its American release after months of controversy, hype, and speculation. That’s what will happen with a sexually explicit, NC-17, three-hour romance about two young women who literally seem to fall in love at first sight. Blue is the Warmest Color is opening this week in limited release and should be expanding around the country through the fall; at least to those theaters that agree to screen NC-17 films.
My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:
Unabashedly romantic in the grandest, tear-stained way, Blue is the Warmest Color is also a strangely empty epic of the heart. Abdellatif Kechiche’s extravagant film is an indulgently overlong romance of long pauses, watchful glances, and infatuated lovemaking. It features two glowing performances from Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulous as the young women bound up in a relationship whose minefields and fireworks they can barely comprehend, let alone control. This old-fashioned, love-at-first-sight view of romantic attraction is not exactly en vogue these days, so it’s even more frustrating that Kechiche botches it…
The film is based very loosely on Julie Maroh’s gorgeous graphic novel, which is one of the best things to hit bookshelves this year. The author herself had some criticisms of the (male) director’s take on her story here.
You can watch the trailer here:
Zhao Tao in ‘A Touch of Sin’
It’s hard to know what to make of Jia Zhangke’s newest film A Touch of Sin. On the one hand, it’s a docudrama that links together four based-on-reality stories about Chinese people taking desperate measures in horrendous circumstances. But as much as it reminds one of great novels about people caught in the capitalist machinery of the 19th century (Balzac and Dreiser, in particular), it’s also a stylized revenge film with some surrealism thrown in for good measure. Whatever it is, this is not a film to miss.
Winner of the best screenplay award of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, A Touch of Sin is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International; here’s part:
The closest you’ll come to a happy person in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin is the grim-faced loner Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang). Unfortunately, he’s probably a psychopath. The film’s three other major characters are all eventually thrust into a type of insanity, but Zhou is the only one who seems to have both already crossed over and be content with it…
You can watch the trailer here:
‘Hank and Asha’
The 2013 Rhode Island International Film Festival ran from August 6–13, with films playing mostly in Providence. It was a somewhat sparsely attended but extraordinarily well-curated event; nothing that a little more publicity couldn’t help.
My overview of some of the films that played ran in PopMatters, here’s some highlights:
Keep your eyes peeled for them to come to a fest or high-number cable channel near you soon.
Terraferma is the second movie that’s in theaters right now which digs into the tragic drama of the refugee crisis. The other one is Elysium—you can tell them apart easily since Terraferma is the quieter one in Italian that won several awards at the Venice Film Festival and features beautiful Mediterranean scenery and many fewer gun-toting androids.
My review of Terraferma ran in PopMatters; here’s part:
What happens to an island fishing village in the Mediterranean when the only things the Italian fishermen seem to be pulling from the sea are drowned or near-drowned African refugees? The economic, cultural, and personal effects of this shift shape Emanuele Crialese’s story of stark choices and uncertain futures. In this elegantly structured film, everybody’s concept of home is in flux, their eyes fixed either stubbornly on the ground beneath their feet or hopefully on the horizon…
You can watch the trailer here:
A few times every year, journalists, artists, and filmmakers try to make the case to end America’s war on drugs. Expensive, ineffectual, corrupting … the list of reasons is legion. Yet nothing ever quite seems to change.
The latest salvo in this effort in Matthew Clarke’s compelling if overly jokey documentary, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, which is playing now in limited release after a number of successful festival screenings. Filled with interviews with dealers themselves (from “Freeway” Rick Ross to 50 Cent), as well as DEA agents, narcotics officers, and the random user (Eminem) and commentator (The Wire‘s David Simon), it’s got something for just about everyone.
My full review is at Film Journal International; here’s part of it:
… Cooke means the title to be taken quite seriously…sort of. Setting itself up as a kind of instructional video for would-be drug dealers, the film is structured as a step-by-step “training guide” to making it to the top of a viciously competitive but highly lucrative (albeit illegal) industry. Cooke advances his film level by level through the various layers of criminal enterprise (“Level One: Getting Started” to the top level: Cartels), examining all the operational hazards and institutional hypocrisies encountered along the way…
You can watch the trailer here:
The 2013 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, which runs through this weekend, is starting off well. The planners are continuing their trend of paring down the offerings and focusing more on their strengths (on-point documentaries, the occasional high-profile indie drama or comedy) than trying to appeal to everybody with a scattershot program overly reliant on marquee names and red-carpet events. The result is many stories about grim things, from Oxycontin abuse in Appalachia to the 1985 Philadelphia police’s fatal bombing of a radical group’s rowhouse.
I’ve been covering some of the first weekend’s films for PopMatters, here’s some of what was on offer:
- The Project and Big Men — Mercenaries stumble in creating an anti-pirate militia in Puntland, while American wildcatters confront pitfalls aplenty in Ghana and Nigeria, in two documentaries examining crises in Africa.
- Let the Fire Burn and The Kill Team — Two documentary autopsies of violent tragedies, the first in Philadelphia and the second in Kandahar, show the results of systematic dehumanization.
- Oxyana and Bottled Up — A gritty documentary and fluffy comedy bring a similarly hardheaded sensibility to the invisible epidemic of pain pill addiction.
More to come.
The 2012 Human Rights Watch Film Festival is playing now at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center through June 28th, having already toured through Chicago, Toronto, Washington D.C. and other cities. As every year, there is an electric mix of documentaries and even some human rights-focused narrative films, and just about all are worth checking out, whether in the theater or when they make it to DVD. Full schedule is here, below are a few films of note:
Color of the Ocean and Call Me Kuchu – In these two films, African refugees struggle for a better life on a deceptively idyllic island, and activists oppose homophobia in Uganda.
Reportero and Words of Witness – Two powerful films remind us of the dangers borne by those who bear witness to the cruelties and chaos of states in violent flux.
Habibi and The Invisible War - Two films focus on the oppressions men impose during wartime.