Your one stop shop for a variety of entertainment reviews.

Documentary

Whatever your plans may be this week, make room for “Life Itself”

Roger Ebert & Gene SiskelIt’s hard to be objective when talking about the remarkable documentary “Life Itself” as a critic who admired it’s subject very much, the world’s most famous film aficionado Roger Ebert, as I imagine it has been for many sitting down to review this film. Director Steve James, of “Hoop Dreams” and” The Interrupters” fame, takes us through the life of Mr Ebert, but also manages to be the benefactor of opportunistic  timing as he takes the audience all the way through the end of his subject’s life as well. The stories of his long lasting feud that eventually turned to friendship with co-host Gene Siskel, his public speaking and movie deconstructions along with the love of his life Chaz, who he met at 50, are all examined, but they are juxtaposed between the documenting of the final months of Ebert’s life, caught on film by James himself.

life itselfLife Itself is at times heart wrenching, inspiring and revelatory throughout the film as James never shies away from Ebert’s very combative and unlikeable side, showing us a true portrait of the entire man. Starting off as a brash, outspoken and over confident young man, who at 21 inherited his movie review column at the Chicago Sun-Times that he never let go over the next 46 years, Ebert also quickly became an out of control alcoholic. Winning his Pulitzer Prize at a young age did not help either, as James examines all this material and shows us a much darker and angry Roger Ebert, light years away from the one most of the public knew. (more…)



Hot Docs 2014: Love Me (Dork Shelf)

Originally published at Dork ShelfLove-MeLove Me examines the Ukrainian mail-order bride business (which has gotten even more lucrative in the past decade) and the single men willing to risk their money to find companionship. The film follows 6 men of varying backgrounds and motivations and examines their relationship to the industry and the women they meet. The men take trips to the Ukraine where they encounter bombshells who cut straight to the point: they each want a man serious about marriage.

The 6 guys picked as the subjects for Love Me are very strategically placed to show the whole spectrum of outcomes of Internet dating, with some successful, some taken for a ride, and one in particular that’s to be a bit of a creep, yet he blames the women for not being interested. (more…)


Hot Docs 2014: An Honest Liar (Dork Shelf)

Originally Published at Dork ShelfAn-Honest-LiarJames “The Amazing” Randi is an 85-year-old magician who has been at the forefront of a movement to debunk frauds and phonies for decades. After dedicating his life to the magical arts from a very early age, Randi became a sensation mainly due to his impeccable skills as an escape artist. Randi has always referred to himself as being a “liar, cheat and charlatan.” But when the leading crusader against false propaganda is found to have been holding a secret for the past 26 years, will Randi be able to remain an honest liar?

Featuring appearances from other famous magicians, mentalists and skeptics like Penn and Teller, Banachek and Adam Savage from MythbustersAn Honest Liar is an excellent time capsule looking at the past couple of decades of magic and deception while also proving to be a very effective character study of Randi himself. The film is buoyed by a considerable amount of archival footage that’s edited and culled together in impressive fashion. The film’s pacing is excellent and keeps the audience immersed throughout the entire running time. (more…)


Hot Docs 2014: Domino Effect (Dork Shelf)

Originally Published at Dork Shelf

Domino-Effect

 

Abkhazia is a mainly unrecognized state on the Black Sea that has claimed independence from Georgia. What used to be a frolicking beach getaway for lucky Soviets now sits in post-Communist ruin. But for Abkhazian Sports Minister Rafael everything appears to be turning around. His new young wife, Russian opera singer Natasha, gives up her home and custody of her daughter to take a chance on a new life in the country.  But when the fiercely traditional locals don’t take to Natasha at all, and aren’t afraid to show it, their relationship starts to crack like the old buildings that surround them.

Domino Effect features a very static camera that doesn’t get involved with the proceedings for most of the film, something that sadly adds to its fiercely methodical pacing, making it feel much longer than its 75 minute run time. Rafael seems oblivious to the observations and conclusions of his wife, stuck in old world customs that show the vast chasm of difference between the couple. Natasha does have an epic encounter in a kitchen with a  local woman after a traditional custom not being observed comes crashing down hard on her. (more…)


Hot Docs 2014: Before the Last Curtain Falls (Dork Shelf)

Originally Published at Dork Shelf

Before-the-Last-Curtain-Falls

When the Belgian stage production Gardenia opened in 2010 it was a massive success: playing over 200 shows in 25 countries. The show is as much a performance art piece as it is cabaret, starring older gay and trans performers. The film follows the cast through their final performance and beyond, as they attempt to adapt and reintegrate themselves back into regular society after their final heart wrenching performance at home in Ghent.

Director Thomas Wallner has shot a gorgeous documentary (the performance pieces look outstanding), but the film seems to lack forward momentum throughout. The focus is more on performance than storytelling. These performers have led interesting lives, so the filmmakers’ choice to show us the troupe as a whole outside of the show instead of focusing on some of their stories dilutes the overall  impact and leads to a very superficial account. (more…)


Hot Docs 2014: The Basement Satellite (Dork Shelf)

Originally Published at Dork Shelf

The-Basement-Satellite

South Korean artist Hojun Song is determined to build the first civilian launched satellite. To accomplish this Hojun establishes the his own organization to fund the program. Sadly though, the only fundraising effort he undertakes is an ill-fated attempt to sell 10,000 T-Shirts with minimal advertising. The inexperienced Song then spends five years testing, tweaking, drawing up diagrams and soldering circuit boards trying to make his dream a reality.

While our protagonist is a fascinating character, driven and determined to build this satellite despite having no idea what he is doing, this a dense film. It follows the everyday carrying on of the project in all its banality, with brief interludes to talk about the botched fundraiser. The days continue to tick away until he needs to deliver the satellite (sometimes literally on screen) and he and his rag tag crew continue to crack under the pressure to deliver.

Of course nothing gets done ahead of time and he’s left scrambling to accomplish anything at all. It’s the full court press of this frantic construction in the third act, the very last days before the deadline that works best. But at an almost 2 hour run time, it’s a taxing journey just to get there.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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