Department of Weekend Reading: October 10, 2014

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New in Theaters: In ‘Evolution of a Criminal’ the Director Tells How He Became a Bank Robber

Bad decisions in 'Evolution of a Criminal' (Independent Lens)

Bad decisions in ‘Evolution of a Criminal’ (Independent Lens)

Darius Clarke Monroe was a straight-A student from a tight-knit family in Houston; the last kid anybody would have picked to become a criminal. But nevertheless, he and two friends left high school one day to rob a bank. Evolution of a Criminal is Monroe’s confident, morally astute documentary about what led up to and followed that life-changing decision.

Evolution of a Criminal is opening this week in very limited release and will be broadcast on PBS in the near future.

My review is at Film Journal International:

As in Night of the Gun, where journalist David Carr reported his past history as a violent drug addict as though he were covering any other story, Monroe approaches the bank robbery that changed his life with a similar degree of distance. The background he paints through closed-framed, emotional interviews shows a vibrantly family-filled childhood in a quiet Houston neighborhood. His mother and father and other relatives describe a bifurcated existence, where his lively confidence was shadowed by worry about the family’s severe financial problems. After a robbery leaves the family devastated—the thieves actually broke through his bedroom ceiling—Monroe’s jokes to his mother Sigrid about robbing a bank to help her out take on a more insistent edge. Like just about everybody else Monroe talks to, she can’t believe that her friendly, outgoing, well-behaved boy would ever do anything of the sort….

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Bird People’ Perches Between Rapture and Oblivion

'Bird People' (Sundance Selects)

Anaïs Demoustier and friends in ‘Bird People’ (Sundance Selects)

birdpeople-posterTwo people, one hotel next to an airport, an atmosphere of rootlessness, a little bit of magic, and lots of sparrows. Those are the ingredients of Pascale Ferran’s gorgeously odd Bird People, which has almost everything going for it but a story. Plus Bowie.

Bird People is playing in very limited release now and deserves to be sought out. My review is at PopMatters:

Airports are all about promise. Springboards to the great elsewhere, they are also, for passengers en route, a comfortingly null zone wherein the normal rules of adult life are suspended. The promise of airports can be intoxicating. But the reality is more often deadening, not transportive.

In Bird People, Pascale Ferran’s ode to the in-between, Charles de Gaulle airport takes on both qualities. It’s at once an escape and a trap for the unwary…

You can see the trailer here:

Reader’s Corner: Banned Books

We’re a week late on this, but in case you hadn’t heard, Sept. 21–27 was Banned Books Week. Below is the current list of the 10 most frequently challenged books in school libraries. Some of them make a certain sense (50 Shades of Grey, for instance), but Bone?

  1. bone-cover1Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

Department of Weekend Reading: October 3, 2014

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New in Theaters: ‘Last Hijack’ Gets Inside the Mind of a Somali Pirate

'Last Hijack': Let's steal a ship. (The Match Factory)

‘Last Hijack': Let’s steal a ship. (The Match Factory)

In the latest take on the Somali pirate phenomenon, Last Hijack comes from a more innovative direction. It mixes on-the-ground documentary footage of Mohamed, the pirate captain who’s pushing for another escapade even as his parents and new wife beg him not, with imaginative animated segments that portray his roiling internal strife and traumatic memories of war.

Last Hijack opens today in limited release after playing a number of film festivals. My review is at Film Journal International:

In the rash of recent films centered on the Somali piracy outbreak, almost none have been shot from the pirate’s point of view (the 2012 short and 2014 feature Fishing Without Nets being a rare exception). It’s not surprising, as Western audiences prefer their pirate-centric films to be more lusty, fun-loving, highly fictional, and safely mired in the past. When the films, and the many books and magazines, about the subject have tiptoed into the causes behind the outbreak of piracy, some have fallen prey to the too-easy explanation of: The pirates were once fishermen, and after other nations’ fishing vessels stripped the ocean clean, they resorted to piracy to make a living. That’s a big part of the story. But what Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting’s smart, well-rounded documentary understands is another quite obvious explanation: Piracy in this scenario is not only a way to make easy money in a poverty- and war-ravaged land, it’s an addictive thrill…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Harmontown’ Goes Deep Nerd

Dan Harmon gets angry on 'Harmontown' (The Orchard)

Dan Harmon gets angry on ‘Harmontown’ (The Orchard)

In between crafting one of the modern era’s great meta-TV-sitcom gems (Community) and self-destructing on social media, Dan Harmon hosts a weekly podcast that usually starts in drunken tomfoolery and ends with an even more drunken round of Dungeons & Dragons.

The documentary about that highly nerd-centric podcast, Harmontown, has been playing various festival dates and opens next Friday in limited release.

My review is at Film Journal International:

Harmon, who first made his name as co-creator of the famously unproduced Ben Stiller and Jack Black comedy show “Heat Vision and Jack,” was a guerrilla hero to appreciators of his cult NBC sitcom “Community.” Since it began in 2009, the show smuggled meta-fictional memes and a thick webbing of deep-geek culture into a surprisingly emotional show about outsiders struggling to put their lives together at a community college. The low-rated but well-reviewed show was kept alive by its rabid fan base until finally getting the axe this year after its fifth season (a sixth season was picked up for online distribution by Yahoo!). After well-publicized tussles with one of the stars, Chevy Chase, Harmon was fired by the network after the third season. Harmontown picks up with the recently axed Harmon embarking on a 20-city tour with “my intrepid friends” from his podcast. It’s half escape from the two network pilots Harmon is supposed to be working on, and half public-forum therapy in front of his devoted “army of nerds”…

You can see the trailer here: