Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (Pt.2)

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LALLY SAYS G IS FOR: Garbage Warrior (2007)

“We’re trying to develop a method of living that allows people to take care of themselves”

Garbage Warrior is a documentary about American architect Michael Reynolds and his quest to evolve his designs for independent, sustainable living. Highly critical of the wasteful nature of his profession, Reynolds began his career experimenting with various technologies including thermal mass construction, wind and solar power, and green house designs. His experiments resulted in the Earthship, a self sustaining house built out of recycled materials such as car tires and beer cans.

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“You’ve got to be able to make mistakes otherwise you never evolve”

Filmed over the course of three years, Oliver Hodge’s film introduces us to the architect’s designs and the long standing New Mexico based community who build with him. Reynolds’ 35 year battle with waste, however, was forcefully halted in the early 2000s by the State Planning Department due to the buildings’ unconventional nature and experimental design. Whilst he was caught in a bureaucratic ‘catch 22’ in America, Reynolds and his crew were invited to Indonesia where in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami their Earthship technology was immediately welcomed and put into practice by the residents of the devastated Andaman Islands.

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“If you don’t want to look at the problem, why would you want to come up with a solution”.

Michael Reynolds, ‘warrior’ against waste, had to wade through years worth of paperwork and petitions just to be allowed to experiment with his radical designs on his own land. Ironic, given that in the past New Mexico sacrificed thousands of acres to irradiation experiments for Atomic bomb testing.

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Oliver Hodge’s film provides us with an interesting insight into the inner workings of the State legislature, where hidebound attitudes and pitfalls await around every corner. It is not a scaremongering film intent on shocking its audience into action, but rather an inspiring account of how much positive change just one person can make with enough determination.

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Garbage Warrior is the story of one man’s passionate and energetic efforts to change the way we treat the world, and to show us that change is not only obviously necessary, but well within our capabilities; the technology is here we just have to examine how we live our lives and act.

Since the release of Garbage Warrior, Reynolds and his crew have continued to evolve their designs and share them all over the world. You can check out his adventures and progress here: earthship.com

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Simon Says: Next Goal Wins (2014)

The_poster_for_the_film_Next_Goal_WinsNext Goal Wins (2014) – dir. Mike Brett and Steve Jamison.

This is  a remarkably entertaining documentary about a football team with an astonishingly dismal record – only 2 goals scored in 17 years and a humiliating 31-0 defeat to Australia – no, it isn’t England! It is American Samoa.

fullwidth.c005d2a3This tiny Pacific island team is now facing the prospect of a world cup qualification campaign and, for the first time, turn to a foreign coach in the shape of Thomas Rongen, a maverick Dutchman whose persona could not be more different to many of these islanders.

After a somewhat  troubled start, we share in a wonderful friendship that develops between coach and players, including one of the team, Jaiyah Saelua (a fa’afafine – the third sex of Samoa, born male but having both male and female characteristics and very important in Samoan culture), whose gender is not only accepted within the team, but welcomed with open arms. Hard to imagine it happening elsewhere in the world of football!

What follows next is not just a football documentary, but a wonderful into this extraordinary island culture with the highs and lows wonderfully filmed, and a moving recognition from the coach about what effect the American Samoan philosophy had on his own outlook to life.

A wonderful tribute to the power and purity of sport.

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Interview with goalie Nicky Salapu

Interview with director Steve Jamison

Telegraph article on Jaiyah Saelua

The Observer feature on the transformation of the team

“If you continue to be boring, I will hire an actor in New York to pretend that he’s Errol Morris.” – Harvey Weinstein. Xxx

58th Berlinale Film Festival - Standard Operating Procedure PhotocallErrol.

A (whip-) cracking letter from a distinctly less-than-impressed Harvey Weinstein – Miramax movie mogul – to Errol Morris after the director gave an interview promoting his latest feature, the ground-breaking and, eventually, multi-award-winning whodunnit documentary, The Thin Blue Line.

“I’ve never been able to make a living as a documentarian; it’s a terrible thing to say; a terrible admission. My movies have always been costly; they lose money – I hope distributors aren’t listening…” – Errol Morris in The Making of The Thin Blue Line.

Transcript

MIRAMAX FILMS

August 23, 1988

Errol Morris
c/o The Mondrian Hotel
8440 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Errol:

Heard your NPR interview and you were boring. You couldn’t have dragged me to see THE THIN BLUE LINE if my life depended on it.

It’s time you start being a performer and understand the media.

Let’s rehearse:

Q: What is this movie about?

A: It’s a mystery that traces an injustice. It’s scarier than NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. It’s like a trip to the Twilight Zone. People have compared it to IN COLD BLOOD with humor.

Speak in short one sentence answers and don’t go on with all the legalese. Talk about the movie as a movie and the effect it will have on the audience from an emotional point of view.

If you continue to be boring, I will hire an actor in New York to pretend that he’s Errol Morris. If you have any casting suggestions, I’d appreciate that.

Keep it short and keep selling it because that’s what’s going to work for you, your career and the film.

Congratulations on all your good reviews. Let’s make sure the movie is as successful.

Best Regards,

(Signed)

Harvey Weinstein

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(Source: Letters of Note Images: Harvey here, Errol here)

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Catch Errol Morris’ most recent film, The Unknown Known on Donald Rumsfeld on DVD now:

posted by Dixie Turner

Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talk about ‘The Act of Killing’ (2012)

The blurring of performance and reality; the difference between ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ – two great documentarians, both of whom are executive producers of the film, discuss Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary on the anti-communist purge that was the Indonesia killings which took place in 1965-66. The film chronicles – via re-enactment – many of the killings by the gangsters who were put in charge of the death squads, one of whom allegedly killed up to 1,000 people personally.

Interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer for the BFI

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Look out for Oppenheimer’s latest film ‘The Look of Silence’, currently doing the rounds at various film festivals and, hopefully, to make it’s way to a cinema near you sometime soon (as of yet, there’s no UK release date)..

 

posted by Dixie Turner

Roger Ebert’s Letter to Werner Herzog

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Dear Werner,

You have done me the astonishing honor of dedicating your new film, “Encounters at the End of the World,” to me. Since I have admired your work beyond measure for the almost 40 years since we first met, I do not need to explain how much this kindness means to me. When I saw the film at the Toronto Film Festival and wrote to thank you, I said I wondered if it would be a conflict of interest for me to review the film, even though of course you have made a film I could not possibly dislike. I said I thought perhaps the solution was to simply write you a letter.

But I will review the film, my friend, when it arrives in theaters on its way to airing on the Discovery Channel. I will review it, and I will challenge anyone to describe my praise as inaccurate.

I will review it because I love great films and must share my enthusiasm.

This is not that review. It is the letter. It is a letter to a man whose life and career have embodied a vision of the cinema that challenges moviegoers to ask themselves questions not only about films but about lives. About their lives, and the lives of the people in your films, and your own life.

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Without ever making a movie for solely commercial reasons, without ever having a dependable source of financing, without the attention of the studios and the oligarchies that decide what may be filmed and shown, you have directed at least 55 films or television productions, and we will not count the operas. You have worked all the time, because you have depended on your imagination instead of budgets, stars or publicity campaigns. You have had the visions and made the films and trusted people to find them, and they have. It is safe to say you are as admired and venerated as any filmmaker alive–among those who have heard of you, of course. Those who do not know your work, and the work of your comrades in the independent film world, are missing experiences that might shake and inspire them.

I have not seen all your films, and do not have a perfect memory, but I believe you have never made a film depending on sex, violence or chase scenes. Oh, there is violence in “Lessons of Darkness,” about the Kuwait oil fields aflame, or “Grizzly Man,” or “Rescue Dawn.” But not “entertaining violence.” There is sort of a chase scene in “Even Dwarfs Started Small.” But there aren’t any romances.

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You have avoided this content, I suspect, because it lends itself so seductively to formulas, and you want every film to be absolutely original.

You have also avoided all “obligatory scenes,” including artificial happy endings. And special effects (everyone knows about the real boat in “Fitzcarraldo,” but even the swarms of rats in “Nosferatu” are real rats, and your strong man in “Invincible” actually lifted the weights). And you don’t use musical scores that tell us how to feel about the content. Instead, you prefer free-standing music that evokes a mood: You use classical music, opera, oratorios, requiems, aboriginal music, the sounds of the sea, bird cries, and of course Popol Vuh.

All of these decisions proceed from your belief that the audience must be able to believe what it sees. Not its “truth,” but its actuality, its ecstatic truth.

You often say this modern world is starving for images. That the media pound the same paltry ideas into our heads time and again, and that we need to see around the edges or over the top. When you open “Encounters at the End of the World” by following a marine biologist under the ice floes of the South Pole, and listening to the alien sounds of the creatures who thrive there, you show me a place on my planet I did not know about, and I am richer. You are the most curious of men. You are like the storytellers of old, returning from far lands with spellbinding tales.

I remember at the Telluride Film Festival, ten or 12 years ago, when you told me you had a video of your latest documentary. We found a TV set in a hotel room and I saw “Bells from the Deep,” a film in which you wandered through Russia observing strange beliefs.

There were the people who lived near a deep lake, and believed that on its bottom there was a city populated by angels. To see it, they had to wait until winter when the water was crystal clear, and then creep spread-eagled onto the ice. If the ice was too thick, they could not see well enough. Too thin, and they might drown. We heard the ice creaking beneath them as they peered for their vision.

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Then we met a monk who looked like Rasputin. You found that there were hundreds of “Rasputins,” some claiming to be Jesus Christ, walking through Russia with their prophecies and warnings. These people, and their intense focus, and the music evoking another world (as your sound tracks always do) held me in their spell, and we talked for some time about the film, and then you said, “But you know, Roger, it is all made up.” I did not understand. “It is not real. I invented it.”

I didn’t know whether to believe you about your own film. But I know you speak of “ecstatic truth,” of a truth beyond the merely factual, a truth that records not the real world but the world as we dream it.

Your documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” begins with a real man, Dieter Dengler, who really was a prisoner of the Viet Cong, and who really did escape through the jungle and was the only American who freed himself from a Viet Cong prison camp. As the film opens, we see him entering his house, and compulsively opening and closing windows and doors, to be sure he is not locked in. “That was my idea,” you told me. “Dieter does not really do that. But it is how he feels.”

The line between truth and fiction is a mirage in your work.

Some of the documentaries contain fiction, and some of the fiction films contain fact. Yes, you really did haul a boat up a mountainside in “Fitzcarraldo,” even though any other director would have used a model, or special effects. You organized the ropes and pulleys and workers in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, and hauled the boat up into the jungle. And later, when the boat seemed to be caught in a rapids that threatened its destruction, it really was. This in a fiction film. The audience will know if the shots are real, you said, and that will affect how they see the film.

I understand this. What must be true, must be true. What must not be true, can be made more true by invention. Your films, frame by frame, contain a kind of rapturous truth that transcends the factually mundane. And yet when you find something real, you show it.

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You based “Grizzly Man” on the videos that Timothy Treadwell took in Alaska during his summers with wild bears. In Antarctica, in “Encounters at the End of the World,” you talk with real people who have chosen to make their lives there in a research station. Some are “linguists on a continent with no language,” you note, others are “PhDs working as cooks.” When a marine biologist cuts a hole in the ice and dives beneath it, he does not use a rope to find his way back to the small escape circle in the limitless shelf above him, because it would restrict his research. When he comes up, he simply hopes he can find the hole. This is all true, but it is also ecstatic truth.

In the process of compiling your life’s work, you have never lost your sense of humor. Your narrations are central to the appeal of your documentaries, and your wonder at human nature is central to your fiction. In one scene you can foresee the end of life on earth, and in another show us country musicians picking their guitars and banjos on the roof of a hut at the South Pole. You did not go to Antarctica, you assure us at the outset, to film cute penguins. But you did film one cute penguin, a penguin that was disoriented, and was steadfastly walking in precisely the wrong direction–into an ice vastness the size of Texas. “And if you turn him around in the right direction,” you say, “he will turn himself around, and keep going in the wrong direction, until he starves and dies.” The sight of that penguin waddling optimistically toward his doom would be heartbreaking, except that he is so sure he is correct.

But I have started to wander off like the penguin, my friend.

I have started out to praise your work, and have ended by describing it. Maybe it is the same thing. You and your work are unique and invaluable, and you ennoble the cinema when so many debase it. You have the audacity to believe that if you make a film about anything that interests you, it will interest us as well. And you have proven it.

With admiration,
Roger

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(Source: rogerebert.com)

posted by Dixie Turner

Fire in the heart: Teenage (2013)

teenageposterReviewed by Rob Munday

It feels like the birth of the teenager has been well covered by film and television and yet generally boils down to: “Elvis arrived, shook his hips, and set fire to youngsters hearts minds and groins”. Teenage takes a different, and altogether more interesting, tack. It charts the rise of the teenager over the first half of the 20th century and Presley doesn’t even get a look in.

Teenage combines archive footage and soundbites with modern re-enactments and narration. Based on the book by British author Jon Savage the narration is based on teenage diary entries and concentrates on four emblematic characters: Brenda, a self-destructive Bright Young Thing; Melita, an idealistic Hitler Youth; Tommie, a rebellious German Swing Kid; and Warren, a black Boy Scout. The focus on Britain, Germany and America works well in contrasting the different youth movements while encompassing the central driving forces of war and music.

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The tale starts with the abolition of child labour that gave kids the chance to stay in school and experience adolescence without the burden of work. When the first world war hit these burgeoning teenagers were sent into battle. But with war comes travel and the arrival of US forces in Europe bought a new musical craze: Swing. It’s fascinating to see the development in youth movements from Scouts to the Hitler Youth, flappers to sub-debs, and how they link in with history and politics.

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The re-enactments are well done with suitable grain and scratch but lack the life of the archive material. You can see the idea of adding continuity to the visuals and filling narrative gaps but as the film progresses they feel increasingly redundant. There is also something mannered in the use of established actors reading the narration that grates against the fizz of teenage existence. In contrast to this the archive footage feels fresh and alive. To see old home-movies reminds us that kids were just the same back then: full of energy and swagger, interest and uncertainty, always willing to arse about. This brings immediacy to these old stories with the realisation that the events back then aren’t so far away.

The various elements in this collage of sound and image are pulled together by the ambient music of Bradford Cox that works to heighten the ebb and flow of the narrative. Director Matt Wolf has succeeded in translating this book to screen without it ever feeling weighed down by the scale of the story or the complexity of history. Teenage manages to be an accessible and enlightening picture of a modern phenomenon and an effective comeback to the rock ‘n’ roll clichés.

Représentation!

Sébastien Lifshitz’s Les Invisibles (2012) is a documentary about gay men and women born in France between the two world wars. It’s elegant and important. It’s beautifully paced, coolly proud and it’s exciting.

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“We do not reproduce. Thus we do not perpetuate the bourgeoisie. With us, legacy is screwed. It’s over. What really angers the hetero-pigs, is that they made us. And they keep on making us. Making children. We reject this value system. We reject the family as the foundation of society. Thus, we reject society. Consequently, the only possible political position is one of revolution.”

Les Invisibles is suitable, nay advocated for all ages. Find it on our staff recommends shelf. Lifshitz has since made Bambi which hopefully will appear on our shores and in-store, soon.

posted by William Goodey

O So Topical… Privacy, Panopticism and Privation

499247958_415bc5df68_zThe Lives of Others (2006) – dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

A meticulous Stasi secret police agent becomes involved in the lives of a writer and his lover who are under his surveillance. Perhaps we too can touch the lives of those who listen by living a more intriguing life (whisper whisper plot plot)

600full-1984-poster1984 (1984) – dir. Michael Radford, starring John Hurt, Richard Burton and Suzanna Hamilton.

Based on George Orwell’s fantastic dystopian novel, where everyone is watched and communication monitored ALL THE TIME. Burn your Rolodex and watch your thoughts, people. The thoughtcrime police are coming up the stairs…

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The Conversation (1974) – dir. Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gene Hackman.

A surveillance expert obsessed with his own privacy has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he has been watching are in danger of being murdered.

gatekeepers_ver2The Gatekeepers (2012) – dir. Dror Moreh

State-secrets galore in this fantastic documentary on Israel’s Shin Bet security agency.

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We Steal Secrets (2013) – dir. Alex Gibney

The stories we all want – and need – to hear, but no-one wants to tell. Almost no-one…

How the whistle was blown, the consequences and the distractions.

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posted by Dixie Turner

Video City Staff A-Z: D is For… (Pt.1)

ALY SAYS:

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D is for Despicable Me (2010)

Despicable Me is a fun-filled family tale by Pixar (Up, Wall-e, Toy Story) about a super-villain, Gru (Steve Carell) who is finding life tough when a new villain comes on the scene! Gru decides to hatch a new plan involving adopting three orphans who he will use to pinch his rivals new gadgets. But then, inevitably, he finds himself becoming attached to his little kids, and wonders whether fatherhood is more his style after all.

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This film made me laugh non-stop especially Gru’s army of minions – tiny, goggled yellow marshmallow creatures who are loyal but not too bright. It’s lots of fun for kids of all ages and all the parents that have watched have said it made them laugh too.
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Word of advice – make sure you watch the extra features especially the Minions Short Films, lots more laughter guaranteed there!

JESS SAYS:
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D is for Death in Gaza (2004):
A heartbreakingly sad watch, particularly if you know the outcome. It certainly puts our somewhat insignificant worries to rest when you see the lives of some of these children.
A good documentary is unbeatable, and this is one you should invest two hours of your life on.

LALLY SAYS:
1986-down-by-law-poster1D is for DOWN BY LAW (1986) – dir. Jim Jarmusch

“Iscreamayoucreamaweallscreamforicecream.”

A prison comedy that walks at its own pace,  ‘Down by Law’ which stars Tom waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni is Jim Jarmusch’s break through film.
The plot is relatively simple as films go, but DBL is not so much about what happens to some characters but about who these people are and what is learnt about them through their enforced interaction with each other. The simplicity of the story allows room for the characters’ development and Robby Müller’s beautiful cinematography, which together, create a powerful comic beat-noir atmosphere.
A fairly consistent theme of Down By Law is the dispelling of preconceptions, from the type casting of the three stars to the projection of their characters’ relationships with each other. Before Waits and Lurie starred in this film both were, for American audiences at least, already cult names predominantly in the music world. Their contribution to the film would have initially been a pull for these audiences, but through the film we understand a little more of the people themselves over the stage characters already projected.

6310_2Waits and Lurie’s characters, have a “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” type situation, partly symbolised by their rhyming names, Jack + Zack. It is the optimistic sincerity of Benigni that allows them to look beyond their initial personality clash.
The collaborative nature of this film heavily contributes to its charm. The soundtrack was provided by both Lurie and Waits, while certain lines and monologues were improvised both accidentally and intentionally by Benigni. The line ‘It is a sad and beautiful world,’ was the happy result of a misunderstanding due to language difficulties (DBL was the Italian actors’ first visit to the USA),  whilst the rabbit monologue was taken straight out of Benigni’s childhood memories of his mother.
down-by-law-1986-02-gIn comparison to Jarmusch’s first two films ‘Permanent Vacation’ and ‘Stranger Than Paradise’, which both carry a more thoroughly ‘Beat’ pace, the almost classic slapstick nature of Down By Law’s comedy makes this film an easy heart warming ride.”I am a good egg…we are a good egg, my friends.”

Michael Moore: Smug, Self-Righteous and Generally a Bit Annoying, But Still…

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…Happy Birthday, anyway.

If you haven’t seen Bowling for Columbine, now’s probably as good a time as any. In light of America’s continued inability to curb its gun laws, Bowling for Columbine – which looks at America’s fascination with bearing arms in light of the Columbine High School tragedy – is a pretty topical watch. Amongst the most memorable moments are the scene in which Moore goes to a bank that gives away a free rifle when you open up an account (am pretty sure Nat West won’t even give you a smile) and the footage of (and subsequent interview with) Charlton Heston, former president of the National Rifle Association, yelling “From my cold dead hands” as he holds aloft a rifle at a rally. Who will ever watch The Ten Commandments and think of Moses in the same way again?

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From: “Thou shalt not kill”…

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…to: “FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS”. Wow.

(In some respects, of course, it’s perhaps not such a leap. I mean, if there has to be a National Rifle Association, there’s a beautifully warped logic to having Moses as President. Who better than Moses to remind you of your right to defend yourself when your adulterous wife steps out with another man? Defend your moral indignation by shooting him down (but, take heed: it’s only righteous if you have two fingers resting on the Bible whilst you pull the trigger). Lockheed Martin’s new logo will feature Gandhi riding a nuclear missile and I’m sure World War III will be brought to us by Disney. Freedom will be delivered with deadly force, and Mickey Mouse ears. God Bless America (P.S. Thou shalt not kill).)

So, thank you Michael Moore for ruining Ben-Hur and El Cid etc. Now, when I think of Touch of Evil, I of course think of it as one of the greatest – and last – of the film noirs; I think of the incredible cinematography and Orson Welles’ incredible bulk – but in the back of my mind is a new and annoying association between the name Charlton Heston and the words ‘touch-of-evil’.

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Charlton ‘Touch of Evil’ Heston and the incredible bulk of Orson Welles.

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Anyway. It’s also worth having a look at the documentary made about Michael Moore (Manufacturing Dissent). Whilst not being a fantastic piece of filmmaking (and obviously having an agenda of its own), some of the aspects of Moore’s allegedly less-than-ethical methods of journalism that it digs up are a bit of an eye-opener. Not sure Noam Chomsky would approve.

By the way, if you’ve seen Farenheit 9/11 and thought that was good, it’s worth checking out Why We Fight, by Eugene Jarecki (director of the more recent, and excellent, House I Live In), all about the arms trade – that’s a real eye-opener. Happy hunting!

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by Dixie Turner

FILM OF THE DAY: PAGE ONE – INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011)

“Could the New York Times go out of business?”

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“WE’RE HERE TO TAKE NOTE OF THE FACT THAT JOURNALISM IS ALIVE AND WELL, AND FEISTY…”

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ONLINE VS. PRINT – THE COLLISION OF TWO WORLDS.

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David Carr: “Y’know what this reminds me of? A newspaper! Is this the bridge to the future or… no, it’s a gallows!”

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REGULATION OF A DYING INDUSTRY? WHAT IS TO BE THE FATE OF PRINT MEDIA AND HOW MANY OF THESE JOURNALISTS WILL BE EMPLOYED TO RUN A BLOG…?

This Week’s New Releases: 7th Jan.

TAKE THIS WALTZ:

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Following the success of her 2006 film, Away with Her, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley brings us another relationship-led drama again touching on the issues of extra-marital affections and, in this case of Take This Waltz, the question of whether love can ever remain fresh or if all relationships are destined to end in disappointment… The ever-watchable Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) remains ever-watchable, portraying a woman whose sensitivity and seeming fragility in the face of sheer existence is sadly not sufficiently explored in the film, leaving the viewer wondering if loads of footage had been ditched from the final cut, or if Williams is just too good an actress for a script that promises more than it delivers. Still worth watching, but you may need to mutter a few reassuring words to your beloved at the end. Also starring Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express) and Luke Kirby (Labour Pains) and Sarah Silverman as the under-explored character of the alcoholic sister-in-law. Cert. 15

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THE IMPOSTER:

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One of the most highly anticipated releases of recent months, The Imposter is one of a new generation of ‘super’ documentaries, shot and marketed like a Hollywood blockbuster – described by The Hollywood Reporter as a “mesmerising psychological thriller”. A boy goes missing in Texas and reappears three years later to be reunited with his family and yet…. AND YET, all is not what it seems. Or, more to the point, the boy is not who he seems. Or is he? Hmm.

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CROSSFIRE HURRICANE:

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Another documentary on the Rolling Stones because, apparently despite years of publicity, no-one knows anything about them. To be fair, this is meant to be pretty good so, rock on.

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THE GIRL:

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The first of two films made to mark the centenary of the great man who not only single-handedly kept Havana in the cigar trade, but whom apparently also made a few decent films as well. Made for HBO, The Girl stars Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds (and mother of Melanie Griffith).

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ALSO OUT THIS WEEK:

WEDDING VIDEO:

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JACKPOT:

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INSPECTOR MONTALBANO SEASON 3:

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SUBURGATORY SEASON 1:

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Paint Me Brutal

Not unlike his paintings, this portrait of the celebrated artist Lucian Freud – constructed through interviews with those whose portraits he himself captured – is bold, beautiful and disturbing. Love him or not, the documentary makes for fascinating viewing as those who sat for him reflect on the artist and attempt to dispel some of the myths and inaccuracies that have crept up around him.

Clip: http://youtu.be/O-0HtdFohJI

What the Frack Do We Know…?

By Jesse Tadini Rybolt.

Josh Fox’s mostly overlooked 2010 feature Documentary Gasland may now take on new significance for British viewers.

Gasland (2010)

With ministers currently deliberating whether to give the ‘unconventional gas’ industry the green light in the UK, Natural Gas welling may soon be in your back garden. This process, known as fracking, was already making headlines last year when two minor earthquakes were triggered in Blackpool as a result of drilling the wells. Fracking involves drilling 2 kilometres into the earth, a ton of explosives, millions of gallons of water and a load of carcinogenic chemicals – do that near a fault line and no wonder you get earthquakes.

Much like the majority of the DogWoof output, Gasland  follows the paradigm of the little guy vs. corporate or governmental (or both’s) greed and corruption. However, unlike the majority of DogWoof’s mostly political and environmental catalogue, Gasland manages to intertwine the classic talking-heads documentary form with moments of visual and aural beauty, serving to remind us that whilst documentary must serve its’ purpose, it is still cinema and still art. Little White Lies’  Zara Miller described it as: “The 21st Century’s answer to Erin Brokovich, with a Banjo”.

Not really sure where that’s going, but fear not, you will not be subjected to an hour and half of a dungareed, porch-dwelling Julia Roberts strumming away, grinning a toothless Mona-Lisa smile. Just the all American road-trip and a shed load of good ol’ fashion sticking it to “The Man”.

All that said, the film is rather one-sided but it’s a side that the gas companies and politicians can easily shout above. I need to look further into it myself, and we all have to make up our minds. Either way, we may all be affected soon, so for the time being, this is well worth watching.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZe1AeH0Qz8

Werner Herzog/Cave of Forgotten Dreams

On the 30th April, Herzog’s latest documentary feature, Into the Abyss, will be released on DVD.

Into the Abyss

Through interviews with death row inmates and those effected by their crimes, the film looks at murder and state execution and questions the sacredness of life and whether there can ever be justifiable reasons for killing.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uV1_Yc8OSw

In anticipation of the release of Into the Abyss, Rob Munday looks back at Herzog’s last documentary feature:

 Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

By Rob Munday

The Chauvet Cave in the South of France contains the earliest known cave paintings dating back 35,000 years. They provide the location for the latest documentary from master filmmaker Werner Herzog (a mere 68 years old in comparison).

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a typically odd ode to early mankind and the urge to create.

Throughout his career Werner Herzog has been restless in his pursuit of the unseen, unknown, ill-formed, wondrous, and beguiling in both man and nature. Here he has gained access to the highly restricted Chauvet caves which when discovered in 1994 revealed a brilliantly preserved array of ancient artwork.

The paintings are remarkable. What you assume will be naïve or barely formed scribblings turn out to be fully realised scenes. An assortment of creatures (now long gone from the region) are depicted with skill and subtlety. These are messages from beyond the grave – a glimpse into our ancestor’s lives. As they emerge from the shadows these images remain startlingly fresh and alive.

This is Herzog’s first 3D film and the results of using this technology are mixed.

It works well within the caves to place us within these damp walls and glowing visions. Despite being constrained by the use of a narrow metal walkway and minimal lighting Peter Zeitlinger’s camera glides elegantly across the curving walls. The sense of depth from 3D succeeds in mapping the contours and layout of this environment. All this may be useful for geologists of the future but you do wonder if it helps the effectiveness of the overall film. Outside the caves and in the interviews the 3D serves no purpose and its downsides of fuzziness and a grey pallor reduce the power of Herzog’s intimate vision.

Herzog has a knack for delving beneath the mundane to reveal the remarkable. This is particularly true of his distinctive interviews. His voice (he is always off-screen) prompts, interrupts, and unearths brilliant nuggets. His genuine interest and unfailing humility always seem to bring out the best from his subjects.

Herzog’s narration is also enjoyably idiosyncratic. He draws you in effortlessly with his philosophising and bizarre observations. There is something about his Bavarian tones that is both comforting and comical.

Despite the central wonder of its subject this film does at times fail to grip. The extended sequences inside the cave get claustrophobic and the film can occasionally drift into the arid arena of the educational documentary.

You feel that Herzog needs a central personality to focus on and to battle with like Timothy Treadwell in his previous film Grizzly Man. This film could have been an excellent 30 minutes (like his beautiful short doc Le Soufriere) but at feature-length the interest will wane for those who aren’t geologists.

Despite this there is a brilliantly mad epilogue where Herzog’s dulcet tones muse on the future of mankind while we observe albino alligators.

This may be a minor work in comparison with 2010’s best film (Bad Lieutenant), but Herzog remains a filmmaker to cherish.