Screening Room: ‘On Broadway’

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In Oren Jacoby’s new documentary On Broadway, a host of theater stars and other artists explain just what makes the Great White Way so wonderful. It’s a treat.

On Broadway is making the rounds at film festivals now. My review is at PopMatters:

On Broadway is generally at its best when delivering nuggets of theatrical lore, particularly those involving surprise discoveries. Some are fairly well known, such as how Lin-Manuel Miranda premiered his first number from Hamilton at a White House event before it was even a play. It’s a story worth retelling if only for the curious immediacy of the footage and the laughter that greets Miranda when he informs the audience that he has been working on a rap about … Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton…

Scene of the Day: ‘Instrument’ (1999)

From Jem Cohen’s must-see 1999 documentary on the band Fugazi (you can see the whole movie here), this clip lays audio for their instrumental “Guilford Falls” over a hypnotic, electrifying montage of concert clips from their all-out performance at an anti-apartheid benefit concert:

Screening Room: ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’

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Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn (Sony Pictures Classics)

How do you get from the McCarthy era to the Trump presidency via one black-hearted individual? Find out in the new documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn?, opening next week.

My review is at Slant:

For those wanting to stare into the face of misery personified, look no further than Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary about “legal executioner” Roy Cohn. From the opening scenes of Cohn whispering in Joseph McCarthy’s ear in 1954 to clips of him denying his homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis not long before his death in 1986, the man’s hollow eyes show nothing but rancor. His mouth is pursed tight, waiting to launch the next poisoned barb. He looks like a man devoured by hate, a third-string movie villain transported to real life…

Here’s the trailer:

Scene of the Day: ‘Woodshock’ (1985)

Richard Linklater’s first movie, Woodshock, was a 7-minute documentary short from 1985 about the Texas indie music festival. A couple minutes in, you can see a very shy Daniel Johnston getting ready to perform (“I work at McDonalds. This is my new album.”). Later diagnosed with schizophrenia, Johnston recorded some of the greatest, oddest, most heartbreakingly sweet music of the last few decades. He died this week at the age of 58.

Here’s Woodshock:

(h/t: Morning News)

Screening Room: ‘One Child Nation’

onechildnation (Amazon Studios)

In the new documentary from Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow), she returns to her native China to find out what 35 years of the one-child policy meant to people. What she finds is horror, guilt, resignation, and corruption, with a deeply personal angle.

One Child Nation opens in limited release and on Amazon this week. My review is at PopMatters:

In the 1970s, China faced a population crisis with potentially devastating consequences. Still years away from economic transformation, the government feared exponential population growth would result in Malthusian collapse and chaos. In possibly the most far-reaching social engineering project in human history, the Chinese government decreed each family would be allowed just one baby…

Screening Room: ‘The Great Hack’

The Great Hack is a new documentary about how Cambridge Analytica worked with private user data happily served up by Facebook in order to minutely target propaganda that helped win the 2016 election for Donald Trump.

Not available on Netflix until this Wednesday, it is already stirring up legal issues in the UK.

My review is at The Playlist:

It’s a sign of how quickly it feels like the world is being torn apart around us that even a ripped-from-the-headlines documentary, such as Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Great Hack,” can feel almost dated…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sea of Shadows’

The new documentary Sea of Shadows uses the incredible story of how environmental activists and the Mexican military are fighting cartels to save an endangered whale to highlight what the extinction of one species means for the future.

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Richard Ladkani (The Ivory Game), Sea of Shadows opens this Friday. My review is at Slant:

The whale in question is the vaquita, a dolphin-like creature endemic to the Gulf of California. At the time of this film’s making, there were most likely less than 15 left alive. Not a target of hunting themselves, the vaquitas had the bad luck of swimming in the same waters as the heavily fished totoaba and dying in the nets meant to catch their more valuable neighbors. The vaquitas are ultimately collateral damage in an illegal fishing scheme driven by greed, economic insecurity, failing security apparatuses, interstate organized crime, and more…

Here’s the trailer: