Monday, April 02, 2018

Awards-season films


As I begin this round-up, just before the Oscar ceremony, I’ve seen only two of the nine Best Picture nominees, but this is the season when all the award candidates come to DVD in a rush, so I’ll be getting a steady diet, and updating this survey as they and other award-worthy films come to home video.

I’m going to start with the missing “tenth nominee,” namely The Florida Project (MC-92, NFX), which will certainly make my list.  Its only Oscar nom was for Willem Dafoe as Best Supporting Actor, and his performance was definitely an embellishment, but Sean Baker’s film has a lot more going on – its neophyte actors, its setting, its themes, and the humor and heart of its storytelling.   Foremost is the preternaturally poised and charming Brooklynn Prince, as the 7-year-old Moonee, who lives with her young single mother (Bria Vinaite) in the shockingly-mauve Magic Castle motel (where Dafoe is the sympathetic but overburdened caretaker) on an Orlando strip just outside Disney World, along with other “hidden homeless” parents and children.  It is literally a hand-to-mouth existence, but it is also a “magic kingdom” to Moonee and her friends, as they free-range over a tacky but kid-friendly environment, delineating both the deprivation and the delight of their enchanted existence.

There must have been something in the air, or the water, or the White House, for 2017 to welcome several films about a beleaguered nation in direst peril.  Two were nominated for Best Picture, but neither was my personal favorite on the subject of Dunkirk.  Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (MC-94, NFX) was a technical marvel (a good deal of which I missed by watching at home) with visual bravura, complex storytelling, and excellent actors, but did not in the end really satisfy me either as history or drama, more like an action flick with historical gloss.  I readily acknowledge it might have been different as a more immersive experience.

Somewhat better at the history and drama, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour (MC-75, NFX) stands or falls on Gary Oldman’s impersonation of Winston Churchill, who’s as perpetually present here as he is absent from Dunkirk.  Oldman does breathe some new life into the figurehead (as did John Lithgow in The Crown), but it still amounts to hero worship, and special pleading.  Ben Mendelsohn is good in the uncharacteristic role of King George, as are Kristen Scott Thomas as Clemmie and Lily James as the lovely typist who is our window into war room.  The film is not especially convincing or revelatory, but it is atmospheric, and suitably dark.

The Dunkirk movie I liked best was Their Finest (MC-76, NFX), which puts a frame on the event that is more humorous than super-serious, and leaks some of the hot air out of the other two.  Directed by Lone Scherfig, with an engaging lead in Gemma Arterton, and sterling support from the rest of the cast, the film follows an ambitious young woman into the film business, and into the making of a propaganda film about the Little Ships and Operation Dynamo, to serve the same purpose as Mrs. Miniver, to engage American popular support for Britain’s war effort.  After the elaborate CGI effects of Nolan and Wright, it’s a hoot to see how the movies at the time simulated the masses of men waiting on the beach at Dunkirk, by filming through a painted glass panel.  The rest of the film has a similar demystifying and humanizing effect, as a wartime rom-com.

Earlier in the year, I saw two films nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  The Oscar winner was Jordan Peele for Get Out (MC-84, NFX), though he was denied for Best Picture and Best Director, as was Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor.  This is another film that strikes me as a good-but-not-great extended episode of Black Mirror, which is indeed where I first took note of Kaluuya.  The premise is certainly provocative, and I can see that genre trappings might have helped sell a thoughtful perspective on racism, and bring it to a wider audience.  I get the horror-show metaphor for slavery by other means, but there came a point when I tuned out on the twists of the plot.  On second viewing, I was more impressed with the witty double-meaning dialogue of the beginning, but just as put off by the blood-splattered zombie ending (though I can imagine the cheers going up among black audiences). 

Won’t have to look again at The Big Sick (MC-86, NFX), an early-year favorite that received token recognition with a screenplay nom.  This is a film that delivers all its pleasures on first viewing, and they are substantial, beginning with the script by Kumail Nanjani and Emily Gordon, firmly grounded in the truth of their actual history together.  Kumail has already endeared himself on Silicon Valley, and he is paired with the equally endearing Zoe Kazan.  Trouble is, his parents are trying to arrange his marriage to a nice Pakistani girl.  “Emily” gets sick bigly, and Kumail must interact with her parents in hospital waiting rooms.  They are Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, so the riffs are pretty funny as well as wryly truthful, as is the whole film under the direction of Michael Showalter. 

I guess I must take back all the snarky things I’ve said about Greta Gerwig.  I’ve generally found her to be an oppressively free spirit, but in the wake of Lady Bird (MC-94, NFX), her first solo effort behind the camera, I have to acknowledge her artistry.  Clearly autobiographical in spirit, if not in fact, it follows the passionate and troublesome senior year of a Catholic high school girl in Sacramento, yearning to go to New York for college, despite her family’s sketchy finances.  One of the most amazing aspects of Saoirse Ronan’s pitch perfect performance (BTW, have you ever heard her natural Irish accent?) is coming across as more Greta than Greta, without slavish imitation.  Laurie Metcalf has been justly celebrated for her role as Christine’s (aka Lady Bird’s) mother, a psych nurse working double shifts to keep the family afloat, while Tracy Letts, in a gentler role than usual, is the sympathetic but superannuated dad.  Swift, funny, clear-eyed but affectionate, well-judged in every scene, Ms. Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated directorial debut certainly ranks among the best films of the year.  How could I not love a film whose central moment appropriates one of my own key insights (or lifts it from the same place I did, wherever that was, as a fellow English/Philosophy major) – that love and attention are the same thing?

Here’s a brief detour to a film that is not in any awards discussion, but may give you a glimpse of the next Greta Gerwig, if you’re in the mood for an accessible, inoffensive Millennial rom-com.  Noël Wells writes, directs, and stars in the transparently autobiographical Mr. Roosevelt (MC-73, NFX).  She’s trying to make it as a comedian in LA, when she hears from her ex-boyfriend back in Austin that her cat is dying.  Impulsively, she flies back and finds out that not only has her cat died, but another woman has moved in with her ex.  Very much part of the Austin milieu, this is a witty and promising calling card for Ms. Wells (late of SNL and Master of None).

I’m going to enter a minority report on Call Me by Your Name (MC-93, NFX).  Luca Guadagnino’s film did not turn me on, as it did so many others.  I did not fall in love with either precocious teen Timothée Chalamet or grad student Armie Hammer, or the sensuality of a ripe Italian summer.  Nor with the former’s father and latter’s employer, archaeologist Michael Stuhlbarg (though Amira Casar is nice as the boy’s mother).  Perhaps I am a dried up old man, but I did not see this film as the critical consensus did.  I saw vacancy where many were filled with emotion.  I found the whole production slick and overblown.  Not without merit, but the film did not call my name.

Another minority report:  I fervently disliked Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (MC-88, NFX), by writer-director Martin McDonagh.  I’ve never seen so many good actors so utterly wasted; I’m not even going to list them, to protect the innocent.  Somehow Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell won Oscars for this mess, and at least in her case, an argument could be made for her performance.  As in Olive Kittredge, she makes a sympathetic character out of an angry, strong, and difficult woman, but the material never rises to anywhere near her level.  To call the tone of the film uneven does not begin to address its lack of plausibility or coherence.  Is it an unfunny comedy, an unmoving tragedy, or a limp thriller?  I didn’t believe or care about a minute of it.  Watch if you must, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

With a predilection for documentary realism, I’m not generally a fan of movies dependent on CGI, though sometimes I simply have to acknowledge the state of the art.  I, Tonya (MC-77, NFX) was most acclaimed, and justly so, for the performances of Margo Robbie as Tonya Harding, and Allison Janney, cannily cast against type as her odious mother, deliciously evil.  Director Clark Gillespie sets a breakneck pace that is impossible to sustain throughout, even when driven by well-chosen pop songs of the era, but the film is grounded in a mostly truthful script, about the self-described redneck girl determined to make it big in the prissy, princessy world of figure skating.  Especially after watching the recent winter Olympics, it was fun to revisit early ’90s competitions, and I was particularly impressed (as with the tennis in Battle of the Sexes) at the way superhero and fantasy technology has been adapted into sports movies, for more seamless verisimilitude than heretofore.  I’m sure Margot Robbie and Emma Stone are fine athletes who worked themselves into shape, but CGI turns them into convincing professionals.  Fast, funny, factual, and even insightful, I judge this film to be an 8.1.

I approached the anointed “Best Picture” with mixed feelings.  Neither creature features nor Latin American “magic realism” have ever been my thing.  But I love Sally Hawkins, and I definitely appreciated Pan’s Labyrinth, so I had an open mind toward Guillermo de Toro’s latest, The Shape of Water (MC-87, NFX).  The film also features many familiar faces (mostly welcome):  Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon (though is he ever going to be cast against type, as a good guy?).  The unfamiliar face is the most striking, the Amazonian fish-god played by Doug Jones in a dazzling meld of make-up and CGI effects.  Our girl Sally, a mute cleaning woman in a nefarious military research facility where the creature is alternately studied and tortured, falls in love with the figure in the water.  The affair is worked out with some plausibility, at least emotionally, but I myself did not fall in love with this “beauty and the beast” fairy tale, even with its cinephiliac gloss.  So while I don’t call bullshit on the Oscar win, this film was not the best in my book.

Phantom Thread (MC-90, NFX) is another film for which I cannot work up the expected enthusiasm.  In my view, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson looks magisterial but misguided.  He is a master of style(s), but his understanding of story and character is not congruent with mine.  I am left dazzled but befuddled.  It’s no surprise that my favorite of his films, Inherent Vice, tells someone else’s story.  In fact, he seems much like the character played here (impressively but opaquely) by Daniel Day-Lewis, a British fashion designer in the 1950s.  Both of them piece together designs that are striking and impressive, but outlandish and inhuman.  Lesley Manville is cut from the same cloth, as the sister who is the no-nonsense business and personal manager of the sensitive, odd artist.  Vicky Krieps is the waitress whom our Pygmalion plucks from obscurity to be the next in his succession of model-muses.  She is not a person to be dislodged, however, and makes unprecedented demands on the fragile genius.  Is this a love story, or a tale of mutual mania?  Don’t ask me. 

Be forewarned that I have an inherent bias toward films in which we see a linotypist setting copy – shades of my father! – after the reporters have done their work, and before the pressmen and mailers can do theirs.  Roll the presses, and you’ve won my attention and affection.  So it’s no surprise that I loved The Post (MC-83, NFX), like Spotlight and so many other newspaper films, even though I can go either way with Steven Spielberg films.  A few of his signature scenes are a touch much here, but on the whole he’s shooting a good script with masterful ease.  The astounding cast manages to match very familiar actors to historical characters in a way that offers a double layer of recognition.  Starting of course with Meryl Streep as Kay Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, but the rest of the large cast comprises a who’s who of quality cable tv stars, too many to mention here, but you’re sure to glimpse some of your favorites.  Many strands are woven through the story of the Washington Post and the Pentagon Papers, rapidly braided with plenty of historical context and highly-pointed contemporary relevance, about government lies and freedom of the press.  So of the Oscar nominees, I would have voted for The Post as Best Picture, while citing Lady Bird as Most Perfect Picture.

In the category of Best Documentary Feature, the Oscar-winner Icarus (MC-68, NFX) was a fascinating mess – too long and too scattershot – but timely and suggestive.  It starts as filmmaker Bryan Fogel takes PEDs to improve his performance as an amateur long-distance cyclist, and to unmask the failure of testing to reveal cheating.  He enlists as his guru the head of the Russian anti-doping lab, and the film takes an abrupt turn when that flamboyant character becomes central to the state-sponsored doping scandal that got Putin & Co. banned from the Olympics.  So what starts as a narcissistic project turns into a very telling inquiry into how Putin and his cronies operate, borrowing in style from the Citizenfour playbook.

A far better film, but also timely and suggestive, was Steve James’ Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (MC-73, NFX, PBS).  Now here’s an accomplished documentarian (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), with an intimate approach that opens out into a wealth of important and overlapping themes.  Abacus is a bank in NYC’s Chinatown, which was the only one prosecuted for the mortgage meltdown of a decade ago.  All the big banks paid huge fines without ever admitting guilt and never going to trial, but Abacus is taken to court in what amounts to a show trial.  On top of a conviction of their own innocence, the Chinese family had three daughters who were lawyers and could mount a multiyear defense amounting to millions of dollars.  The personalities of the patriarch and founder of the bank, along with his wife and daughters, and the community of Chinatown, become as important to this multidimensional film as the outcome of the case, which is suspenseful and eye-opening throughout.

Whether or not you’re already a fan of Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners & I and The Beaches of Agnès, or all the other films of her 60-year career, you ought to see Faces Places (MC-95, NFX), a thoroughly charming and characteristic collaboration between the 89-year old doyenne of the New Wave and a young French street-artist named JR.  He has a photo booth van in which they drive around to villages (as in the French title, Visages Villages), and invite people they meet into the booth, which immediately produces large-scale portraits.  When JR finds a surface he likes – abandoned brick house fronts, sides of barns, water towers, etc. etc. – he and his crew paste up huge images of local appeal.  Then Agnès films the reactions of the locals, as she and JR banter along.  The result is a miracle of delight and substance, a roadtrip into the heart and soul of France.

Netflix gives wide distribution to Oscar-nominated documentaries, not just streaming but actually producing them.  The unjust deaths of black men have been well documented over the years, but Strong Island (MC-86, NFX) is a very strong and personal addition to the genre, with much to make it more than a story you’ve heard before.  (Though you have heard it before, with distressing regularity.)  Yance Ford’s brother was murdered twenty-some years ago on Long Island, in a case where he was transformed from victim to suspect, and the white triggerman never charged.  Ford dives deep into the case, and into the legacy of pain and disbelief in his family, as well as revealing his own transgender experience.  It’s an intimate and unflinching self-portrait of a family under the greatest duress.

The final nominee is also on Netflix, and probably a worthy exposé, but I’m sorry, I couldn’t get more than a few minutes into Last Men in Aleppo (MC-80, NFX).  The sight of a crying infant being unburied from the rubble of a bombed building was too much for me.  The humanitarian crisis of Syria and the wider Middle East is beyond my ability to comprehend or to bear.

So my personal fifth nominee would be Jane (MC-87, NFX).  Apparently as plain and simple as its title, Brett Morgen’s film relies on rediscovered footage of Jane Goodall as a twenty-something English rose, lovingly shot by her husband-to-be, living alone amidst a community of chimpanzees in the depths of Africa.  You can readily see why she became an international media sensation – lovely, captivating, brave and determined.  And with latter day interviews, and some filling in of the intervening years, you can see how Ms. Goodall has put her celebrity to good use, and the wisdom she has distilled from her experiences.  It’s interesting to compare personalities and fates between her and Dian Fossey (about whom NatGeo also did a doc series).  This film is as artful as it seems plain and simple.  See for yourself.

While on the subject of documentaries worth seeing on Netflix, let me highlight two that merit their high MC ratings.  Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (MC-87, NFX) follows the prima ballerina from twenty years of headlining for the New York City Ballet, through a late-career injury and extensive rehabilitation, to the reinvention of herself as a dancer – a beautiful, brutal, and inspiring journey.

Also beautiful and brutal, but rather dispiriting, is Chasing Coral (MC-86, NFX), which documents the widespread phenomenon of coral bleaching, caused by rising ocean temperatures.  The viewer is captivated by the passion of the coral scientists and researchers who set out to capture the process, the life and beauty it destroys, in time-lapse underwater photography.  It’s a quest, but when the results are shown to a conference on the subject (and to us), all faces take on a funereal aspect, literally watching an ecosystem die from climate change.  If facts don’t convince you, feelings might.

This year’s slate for Best Animated Feature was not as strong as last year’s, with two nominees I have no intention of seeing.  The winner was Coco (MC-81, NFX).  Pixar’s film is not on the level of Up or Inside Out, let alone Toy Story or the studio’s other early hits, but still was appealing.  It followed more in the vein of its owner Disney with Moana, trying to be authentically multicultural, in this case by exploring the mythology of Mexico’s Day of the Dead.  Full to the brim with humor, color, music, and family feeling, Coco checks all the feel-good boxes in a story about the afterlife, in which half the characters are skeletons.  The protagonist is a plucky 12-year-old boy who defies his shoemaking family’s ban on music, in force since the long-ago disappearance of his guitar-playing great-great-grandfather.  Coco was his little girl at the time, but now she is the venerable matriarch of the clan.  Checking out how successful the film was, I realized that of the fifty top-grossing films of the year, Coco was the only one I’ve seen, aside from Wonder Woman and Dunkirk.  Keep that in mind when evaluating my movie recommendations.

The Breadwinner (MC-76, NFX) approaches the gravity of Takahata’s classic Grave of the Fireflies, in portraying the survival (or not) of children in the direst of situations, in this case a mother and two daughters who have to navigate a narrow path to get food on the table in Kabul, after the Taliban have thrown the father in jail for no reason.  I have to agree with the IndieWire reviewer that Nora Twomey’s film “cements Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon as an animation powerhouse worth mentioning alongside the likes of Pixar, Laika, and the great Studio Ghibli.”  (He forgot Aardman.)  Like the The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, this film does drag a bit at times, but the simple graphic style is versatile and surprisingly expressive, like an excellent children’s picture book, and the story is worthily multicultural, giving a picture of Afghanistan from the perspective of its own history, even though the film is essentially a Western production (and decidedly PG-13).

I would have enjoyed presenting Loving Vincent (MC-62, NFX) at the Clark.  I’m sure art historians might quibble with the investigation of Van Gogh’s last days in this film by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, and painting aesthetes might sniff at jejune imitations of his style, but I still found the film remarkable in its unprecedented animation by thousands upon thousands of oil paintings.  The technique is something like rotoscoping, in that a live-action original is being rather woozily animated, but here it is not a digital process.  It’s created from a succession of painted frames based on Van Gogh’s iconic images, painstakingly executed by more than a hundred artists, in slightly varying styles, generating a pictorial kaleidoscope and an indelible homage to the beloved artist.  (The DVD includes a most interesting “making-of” extra.)

[I’ll be back to catch up with the nominees for Best Foreign Film, and other loose ends.]



Friday, March 02, 2018

Looking at the past year in film


As with my previous post on tv shows, I will lead with a somewhat gynocentric approach to the films of 2017, since most of my favorites featured women characters and creators.  That applies to one of the year’s best, My Happy Family, which I’ve already written about here.

Also guaranteed a place on my final best of year list is Mudbound (MC-85, NFX).  Though the film is the product of many voices, and seems to feature male characters, it is overwhelmingly a product of female sensibility, from the author of the original novel, to screenwriter/director Dee Rees (who is right up there with Ava DuVernay in the tiny elite of black female filmmakers) and cinematographer Rachel Morrison (first woman to get an Oscar nom in that category), to Cary Mulligan and Mary J. Blige, who are the soul of the cast.  The film truthfully depicts racial tensions in the Mississippi Delta in the Jim Crow years just before and after WWII, in a way that is both thoughtful and horrifying.  It tells the polyphonic story of two interlocking families: one white, poor and feckless but privileged to own their farmland; one black, hardworking sharecroppers with no rights to the product of their labors.  No Hollywood prettying up here, despite the intimately epic style.  These people are dirt poor, and bound to the mud from which they try to extract a living, and in which they wrestle with historic injustice.

A surprise possibility for my Top Ten is Marjorie Prime (MC-82, NFX, AMZ).  Though Michael Almereyda is the director, the soul of the film feels female, from its title to its two central characters, a mother and daughter played wonderfully well by Lois Smith and Geena Davis.  Jon Hamm and Tim Robbins play their respective husbands, in clearly supporting roles.  You might call this sci fi, or more probably speculative fiction – it could be a top-notch extended episode of Black Mirror – but it plays as a low-tech chamber piece.  I found out after the fact that it was a filmed version of a play, and that makes sense (I had to back up to catch some of the abrupt scene changes), but I did not feel my usual aversion to filmed theater.  The movie is a puzzle piece, and I’m not going to say anything more about the story, except that it’s a film to exercise your emotions as well as your intellect and insight.

Here’s a pair of 19th-century period pieces, each an unflinching portrait of difficult Victorian era womanhood, in their different ways.   In A Quiet Passion (MC-77, NFX, AMZ), Cynthia Nixon overcomes physical unlikeness to offer a highly credible portrayal of Emily Dickinson.  Terence Davies’ inventive and idiosyncratic approach to writing and directing renders her life with the paradoxical insight of his title, clearly identifying with her mysterious character, subdued and formal yet wild inside.  Jennifer Ehle offers superb support and counterpoint as Emily’s light-spirited sister, while Keith Carradine does the same as her rigid but intense father.  Like Dickinson’s poetry, this film requires submission to its individual vision, but rewards those who succumb to its lovely, subterranean power.

Lady Macbeth (MC-76, NFX) is based less on Shakespeare and more on a Russian novel, opera, and film about a 19th century character who is a cross between Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley, with an even darker shade of Gothic horror.  Transplanted from Siberia to the north of England, the story is immaculately filmed in a constrained style, directed by William Oldroyd, and held together by a magnetic performance from Florence Pugh, as the layers of the poor young woman’s abused character are disturbingly peeled away to reveal an amoral heart of darkness.  It’s an intense and unsettling experience, powerful but not at all uplifting.

To me, Kristen Stewart is not the mega-star of the blockbuster Twilight series, which of course I haven’t seen, but an inventive actress who inhabits challenging roles in independent films.  She is decidedly unglamorous but still transfixing in Certain Women  (MC-82, NFX), which Kelly Reichardt adapted from three short stories about women navigating the man’s world of small-town Montana.  You can understand why a lonely young horsewoman develops a crush on her, and your heart aches for that character, played by affecting newcomer Lily Gladstone.  In the other two barely-connected stories, the leads are played by Michelle Williams and Laura Dern, so you know there is some serious acting going on here, which makes it easy to ride out Reichardt’s slow-paced but meticulous storytelling.  Meanings remain elusive, but tangible reality is strong.

Kristen Stewart also made another film with Olivier Assayas, following up on Clouds of Sils Maria.  In Personal Shopper (MC-77, NFX), she is again a personal assistant to a celebrity, but now much more the center of attraction and attention, as she seeks paranormal contact with her recently-deceased twin brother.  I’m not much into ghost stories (or Ghost Story – see below), but this is definitely one that managed to be spooky without being real cheesy.  The film wanders and meanders, but one’s gaze never wavers from the morose Ms. Stewart, who can go from mousey to glamorous with a simple change of clothes.

A change of clothes also does wonders for Gal Gadot, but she is never mousey.  She is Wonder Woman (MC-76, NFX), and makes the movie well worth seeing.  I generally make it a rule not to watch any superhero flicks, but I made an exception for this film’s supposed feminist slant.  That may be overstated – all nine credited writers are male – but it is directed by a female (Patty Jenkins), and certainly is dominated by its actresses.  I was quite taken with the mythological backstory of the Amazon kingdom ruled by Robin Wright and Connie Nielson, and impressed by the transition to WWI Britain.  But the dazzle soon wore off in the inevitable and interminable action sequences.  Not my idea of cinema, but not an unpalatable taste of popular culture.

More my sort of thing, in various ways, was the backstory behind the female comic book superhero, in Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (MC-68, NFX).  First off, it added another black female writer-director for me to follow, in Angela Robinson.  In this cultural moment of female (dis)empowerment, she streamlines and dramatizes the same story told by Jill Lepore in The Secret History of Wonder Woman: how an academic psychologist wrote the comic in the Forties, to advance radically feminist ideas along with B&D sexuality, while living and having children with his wife and another woman.  As always for me, Rebecca Hall stands out in the cast, as the professor’s more brilliant wife and research partner.  Luke Evans is Marston, and Bella Heathcote is the student who becomes the other woman in the long-term triangle.  It’s all quite kinky, but serious and funny at the same time.  The Metacritic rating is decidedly on the low side, but Manohla Dargis’ review in the NYT captures the right note, in my estimation.

Speaking of wonderful women, Billy Jean King is engagingly played by Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes (MC-73, NFX).  As you would expect from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine, this film is rather obvious and crowd-pleasing, but it does have some genuine period flavor and a lot of appealing performances.  Steve Carell makes Bobby Riggs more manic clown than calculating boor.  Their eponymous 1973 showdown in the Astrodome (watched by 90 million people on tv, including yours truly) provides a foregone conclusion, but also an exhilarating thrill of nostalgia, as the tennis scenes unfold with verisimilitude.  Among the women, Sarah Silverman and Andrea Riseborough provide distinguished support, as Billie Jean’s promoter and newfound lover respectively.  In the year of #MeToo, the creepiest scene of all is the actual Howard Cosell with his arm wrapped around the neck of his co-commentator Rosie Casals.  An enjoyable movie, if not an estimable film.

Not vying for my best of year list, but mentioned here for their female directors, are two quite different films from careers going in different directions.  In Beach Rats (MC-78, NFX), Eliza Hittman takes a further step into the moody, sensual, scary world of teen sex in Brooklyn.  As in It Felt Like Love, this film is carried in all intimacy by its lead performer, in this case the captivating Harris Dickinson (incredible to learn after the fact that he is British) as a boy with a girlfriend, who nonetheless trolls the internet for hook-ups with older men. 

While Ms. Hittman is coming into her own and finding her voice, Sofia Coppola is reduced to repeating herself, and older films.  Her remake of the Civil War drama The Beguiled (MC-77, NFX) is also a reprise of her first film, The Virgin Suicides, in its depiction of the sexual urges of sequestered females.  Style is all well and good, but here it decays into nonsense, without grounding in any sense of truth.  This story of a wounded Union soldier taking refuge in a southern female seminary is pure fairy tale, and its arbitrary transplantation from Louisiana to Virginia is indicative of the film’s carelessness and unreality.  I generally like Colin Farrell, but he is no Clint Eastwood, for better or worse, and this character is just an unmotivated hash.  The schoolmarm is Nicole Kidman, and among the rest are Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, who are of course watchable, even when their actions are either too obvious or too senseless.  I’ve been a follower of Ms. Coppola’s career, but here she leaves me behind.

Now we turn our attention from women to men, as characters and creators.  Ken Loach is among my favorite workingdirectors, and I, Daniel Blake (MC-78, NFX) ranks with his best films.  David Johns is excellent as the title character, a Newcastle widower who has had a heart attack and is unable to return to his job as a carpenter.  As such, he falls into a bureaucratic hell where he is ineligible for either welfare or unemployment benefits, just churned through the system and spit out.  He forms a bond with another of the system’s rejects, a young single mother with two small children (Hayley Squires), and caring for them gives him a reason to persist, and eventually to enunciate the film’s credo:  I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user.  I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, nor a thief.  I am a man, not a dog. As such, I demand my rights.”  The lead actor’s background as a comedian does a lot to lift the mood of a film that could have come across as grim, though the residue of outrage remains.  The Criterion Collection disk of this film also contains an excellent feature length documentary, Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach.

Working in very much the same leftist vein as Loach, though in a different style, the Dardenne brothers’ latest is The Unknown Girl (MC-65, NFX).  I don’t understand the reservations represented by that Metacritic rating, twenty points lower than their typical score.  Maybe not quite up to the very highest level of their previous films, it’s nonetheless among the best of the year, IMHO.  In the same manner, the actress around whom the film revolves, Adele Haenel, may not reach quite the level of Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night or Cecile de France in The Kid with a Bike, but she is quite magnetic.  Maybe some critics were put off by the Dardennes spicing up their austere style with genre trappings of crime procedural, as a young female doctor investigates the circumstances of a death for which she feels guilty.  The setting, as ever for the Dardennes, is among the struggling lower classes of Seraing, Belgium, with a tone of deep human sympathy and understanding.

Lucky (MC-79, NFX) was written as a final starring vehicle for 90-year-old Harry Dean Stanton, and it turned out to be something beyond memorial or reminiscence, astringent rather than nostalgic, as befits the long-time character actor.  Another busy character actor, John Carroll Lynch, makes his directorial debut in this comic meditation on mortality and the meaning of life.  In a hardscrabble desert landscape, a cranky old codger goes through his daily routine, waking up to his first cigarette of the day, doing his set-up exercises in his underwear, walking to the local diner for coffee and crossword, home to watch his afternoon tv shows, then back out at day’s end to hang out with the local eccentrics at his regular tavern, declaiming mordant affirmations of misanthropy and atheism at every stop.  He’s wised up, and dried up, but he’s not giving up.

Another miserable guy you come to like and even admire for his peculiarities is the Ray Kroc portrayed by Michael Keaton in The Founder (MC-66, NFX).  I don’t know why this film was not better reviewed; certainly Keaton’s performance here was much more impressive than in Birdman.  As Kroc, he’s a sharp businessman in every sense of the word, screwing the MacDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and the aforementioned John Carroll Lynch) out of their name and franchise.  He’s by no means a sympathetic character, but he is shrewd and indomitable.  Sure he’s as predatory a capitalist as they come, sure he dumps loyal wife Laura Dern for equally mercernary Linda Cardellini, but somehow you have to grant his energy and drive in transforming the landscape (and waistline) of America, for better or decidedly worse.  With this witty cast and even-handed irony, director John Lee Hancock delivers a smart satire of business to rival The Big Short.

[Click through for a score more films of possible interest]

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Looking at the past year in TV

Politically speaking, don’t we all wish 2017 hadn’t happened?  Cinematically speaking, it wasn’t so bad, but still felt vaguely disappointing, though all the returns aren’t in yet, at least for a tardy viewer like me.  Frankly, I don’t get out of the house much, and wait for new movies to come to me by some medium of home video. 

One of the year’s disappointments was the end of my role as film programmer at the Clark.  So I don’t get to foist my favorites on a willing audience anymore, but I still want to call attention to films worth seeing, so I am going to persist with this blog as long as I keep watching oh-so-many films and tv series. 

I’m going to take an anecdotal approach to reviewing the past year, more raconteur than critic, dispensing pats and pans rather than analysis, a simple matter of thumbs up or down.  Not assuming the voice of authority, I’ll take a conversational tone and not strive for rigor or brilliance.

As I look down the list of films and tv I want to highlight, one thing strikes me as a thread running through the year.  In the media, 2017 was definitely a year of coming out for women, as much as it was in politics, from pussyhats to #metoo. 

I’ll start with tv shows, and with what might seem an exception to that generalization.  David Simon is a favorite of mine, and I am inclined to absolve him and George Pelacanos of the male gaze in The Deuce (MC-85, NFX, HBO), and to give extra credit to Maggie Gyllenhaal as producer as well as star.  As she is in the story, playing a Times Square hooker who moves into pornography production in the Seventies.  I thought this was a limited series, but apparently two more seasons are planned, each jumping seven years into the future.  In an unnecessary gimmick, James Franco plays two brothers, one a conscientious entrepreneur and the other a charming ne’er-do-well gambler (he also directs some episodes).  One of the pleasures of the series is getting re-acquainted with alums of The Wire and Tremé – though this show has not yet risen to quite that level.  But, believe me, this HBO series, despite its subject matter, depends a lot less on T&A than GoT.

I gather Big Little Lies (MC-75, NFXHBO) will return for further seasons as well, and I’ll definitely take another look.  How could you miss with a combine of Nicole Kidman, Reece Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern?  Direction by film pro Jean-Marc Vallee adds gloss to a soapy adaptation of a pulpy novel.  Deluxe setting in Monterey showplace homes is made delicious by gossip and infighting among the mothers of a group of first graders.  This could have been “Odious Housewives of Upscale Enclaves,” but rather is rich in characterization, as well as humor and sentiment, and domestic terrors of one sort or another.

Hulu clearly intends to drag out Handmaid’s Tale (MC-92) as long as possible.  I gave it five or six episodes before abandoning it in exasperation and impatience, and will certainly not come back for more.  For me the year’s infinitely better Margaret Atwood adaptation was Netflix’s Alias Grace (MC-82, NFX).  Since I don’t know Atwood’s work at all, the first guarantor of quality here was the adaptation by Sarah Polley, whom I consider a great filmmaker.  Director Mary Harron also has a track record.  Emerging star Sarah Gadon exceeds expectation in the very complicated lead role, of an Irish immigrant servant girl convicted of murder in Victorian Canada, whom many want to see released.  So many in fact, that they hire an American alienist to interview her (Edward Holcroft, a dead ringer for Matthias Schoenaerts) and determine how guilty or innocent she really is.  True to the historical case, it is never made clear whether the protagonist actually participated in the murders or not, but the kaleidoscopic telling and retelling of the story opens up more mysteries than it forecloses.  Absorbing and impeccably done period piece.

Not at that level, but quite entertaining and maybe a bit more, was Feud: Bette & Joan (MC-81NFX), carried by fascinating, resonant performances from Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford, centered on their wary, feral relationship while making Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci offer manic but effective support, as director Robert Aldrich and mogul Jack Warner respectively.  There are any number of backstage and backstabbing pleasures in this Ryan Murphy series.

I enjoyed a number of woman-centered half-hour comedies in the past year, about which I have already commented in previous seasons.  Better Things (MC-96, FX) was widely acknowledged as one the best current shows.  Pamela Adlon’s semi-autobiographical series about a single mom raising three daughters just keeps getting better and better.  Reality meets shtick and both are enhanced.  Similarly with Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi (MC-82, AMZ), also better and deeper in its second season.  Catastrophe (MC-96, AMZ), from the writing/acting duo of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, continued its too-true potty-mouthed hilarity into a third season.  Each series comes with my highest recommendation.

A new entrant in this category is GLOW (MC-81, NFX), which stands for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and jumps off from an 80s collective of women creating their own characters, or having them created for them, in a cross-gender attempt to capitalize on the popularity of totally fake professional wrestling.  The collective is not exactly feminist, as masterminded by impresario Marc Maron, but comes to be woman-dominated, by Alison Brie who assumes a Russian villainess role while her ex-friend Betty Gilpin assumes a cartoon Miss America persona.  The other women are engagingly varied in ethnicity and type.  Netflix also has an entertaining documentary on the original GLOW girls.

Joined by a connection to two of GLOW’s creators, and one of its stars, there was a concluded series that I was happy to binge-watch all seven seasons of.  Nurse Jackie (MC-78 avg, NFX) ran on Showtime from 2009-15, and I have to say it’s the first series from that channel that I ever watched and enjoyed from start to finish.  They seem to have a tendency to peter out, even when they start strong (Homeland is only the most extreme example).  Edie Falco as the title character – an extremely competent ER nurse who happens also to be a drug addict – is the rock that holds this whole thing together, though the rest of the cast are effective as caricatures, who develop a shallow depth over time.  Merritt Wever stands out as Jackie’s protégé, who eventually becomes her conscience and nemesis.  I watched this while editing a book about nursing, and it really felt like useful research.

Another show that I caught up with through its final season was AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire (MC-92, NFX).  I wrote about the first two seasons last year, and was engaged by the reversals of the next two seasons, though I was not blown away by the series’ concluding episodes in a way that would move it into my top ten (or however many) of all time.  I enjoyed the journey with Joe and Gordon, Cameron and Donna, as their relationships shifted and characters evolved.  Also, the techno-historic journey from the PC (“the thing that gets us to the thing”) to the wonders of Internet search.  In this series too, the women moved from the periphery to the center of the story.  Between this show and Silicon Valley, I feel that I know something about something I know nothing about.

A real candidate to enter the pantheon, Better Call Saul (MC-87, NFX) continued to rise in its third season, almost to the level of its precursor, Breaking Bad.  Bob Odenkirk is terrific as Jimmy-becoming-Saul, as is Jonathan Banks converging as Mike, but the real heart of the show has become Rhea Seehorn as Kim, especially with the season-ending departure of another major character (I’ll say no more).  It’s a major point of concern among many of us, what happens to Kim between the end of BCS and the beginning of BB.  This is the show whose return I look forward to most.

Here I take note of several highly-regarded shows to which I cannot make a commitment.  I’m on-again off-again with Fargo (MC-89, FX) – dismissed the first season, loved the second, endured the third.  That could be the way with these anthology series.  With American Crime (MC-90, NFX), so hard to differentiate from American Crime Story (source of the great O.J. miniseries), I’ve never had that on-again moment.  Similarly, so many critics declared The Leftovers (MC-98, NFX, HBO) the best show of the year that I had to give it a look.  Admitting that it’s unfair to judge a third and final season without watching the first two, I have to say that I was not grabbed at all, except by the performance of Carrie Coon, who was also the best thing in this season of Fargo.

I’ve lost all patience (and amusement) with HBO’s comedy centerpiece Veep (MC-88, NFX, HBO), but find Silicon Valley (MC-85, NFX, HBO) getting better and better, the only guy-centered show that I really enjoy.  On the subject of HBO comedies, I have to highlight the return of High Maintenance (MC-85, HBO), even though I haven’t yet seen all the current episodes.  Same with Netflix’s Black Mirror (MC-77avg, NFX), though I’ve written about both before.

Before turning to the British shows I enjoyed most of all this past year, I have to cite two highly heterogeneous series that ranked among my favorites.

Everybody’s heard about the new Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War (MC-90, NFX, PBS), but I wonder how many have actually endured it.  I’m here to testify that it is definitely worth 17+ hours of your time.  The rewards are great, however painful at times, in recapturing and understanding an era, especially if like me, that era marks your formative years.  Vietnam was the television war, so there is astounding footage throughout.  Interviews balance all perspectives, including Vietnamese.  The contemporaneous music track alone will carry you through those years.  A powerful, powerful experience.

Nobody’s heard about the new French series on Netflix, Call My Agent! (NFX), but I’m here to spread the word.  If you are a Francophile in cinema, as I am in nothing else (except maybe painting), then this is a series you should not miss, two seasons of six hour-long episodes.  The central characters are four diverse agents for a company that represents French movie stars, one or two of whom appear in each episode.  Some of them are longtime favorites of mine – Nathalie Baye, Fabrice Luchini, Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche – and some are totally unknown to me, but each episode is great fun, with undertones of real-life drama, backstage and in the office.

Though I am an Anglophile in many areas, the Brits really stood out in TV this year.  The second season of The Crown (MC-87, NFX) was every bit as good as the first, and cements Claire Foy as one of my favorite actresses.  It’s a shame she won’t be back as Queen Elizabeth in future seasons, but I will look forward to them nonetheless, since the intelligence of writing and quality of production will likely persist, and there’s some interesting history to traverse.  Talk about women in positions of power!  I don’t have the effrontery to name the best tv of the year, but I can say that there was no show I watched with more relish than this.

With much less notice or acclaim, the tv film To Walk Invisible (MC-71, NFX, PBS) gave a very credible and creditable portrait of the Bronte sisters, and how they broke into print from a world of familial fantasy.  The story and acting seemed true to what I know of the Brontes, and the Yorkshire locations for sure, as it was written and directed by Sally Wainwright, well known for Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.

I know there are a lot of cooking competitions out there, but I was never lured to watch one until I got hooked on the latest season of The Great British Baking Show (MC-88, NFX, PBS).  Highly entertaining, and more revealing of a diverse national character than you would expect.

Last but far from least, I was thrilled to learn that there were two more seasons (the 7th and 8th) of Doc Martin (BCG, NFX, ATV) available through the streaming service Acorn TV.  If you haven’t sampled the delights of this series, the first six seasons are also available on Netflix.  If you have, you will be delighted to return to the utterly enchanting Cornish seaside village of Portwenn, with its equally engaging tapestry of quirky village characters, stitched around the Aspergerish doctor from London, brilliant but with no people skills at all, played by Martin Clunes.  Against all odds, through each season, his love interest is played by Caroline Catz.  I don’t know that there is a more purely enjoyable show out there, given the humor and heart of the writing, the exquisite scenery and setting, the ease and charm of both the human and canine acting, and the seriousness of purpose that Doc Martin brings to his work.  There’s no show I recommend with more confidence that you will enjoy it, unless of course you’re a miserable human being.

Now that I’m rolling again with this reviewing business, I’ll be back soon with my round-up of the best films of 2017.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Unrest

This is more an alert than a review.  Unrest (MC-80, NFX) is a documentary that has been shortlisted for an Oscar, which was shown on the PBS series Independent Lens on January 8th (in most areas), and is now available for streaming on Netflix.  My temptation is to call it must-viewing since it profiles a little-understood and unfortunately-named disease, from which my daughter suffers.  “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” became the butt of jokes, and Myalgic Encephalomyeltis is not much more helpful (and a government committee’s stab at “S.E.I.D.” was a complete nonstarter). 

Jumping off from her own experience with the disease, director Jennifer Brea, who was stricken while a Ph.D. student at Harvard, began by filming her own struggles with the severely debilitating effects of the disease, and medicine’s flailing (and frequently derisory) attempts to come to grips with its nature and etiology.  Various doctors had little idea, based on minimal research funding or findings, as to its cause and cure.  Historically belittled as “hysteria” and “all in your head,” the condition has taken a while to be recognized as a post-viral disease that attacks the immune system in multiple ways, with perhaps a million sufferers in the U.S. and as many as 17 million worldwide.

Jen Brea, with strong support from her husband, tries all sorts of treatments, and reaches out by video chat to many other afflicted individuals and families around the world.  Her film has become a rallying point for an organization called ME Action.  It is a compassionate and reasoned plea for more public understanding of the disease and its victims, and for more medical research and training.

Your experience of the film will be different from mine, but I think that you’ll agree that it is moving and well-done, perhaps eye-opening as well.  For more on my daughter’s experience, see my compiled essay on “Rachel’s condition.”


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Categorical comments

My news is always old, but this is getting ridiculous.  I’ve had this final round-up in my survey of 2016 films half-written for more than half a year, as I waffled over continuing with this website or not, now that I can no longer call myself a film programmer. 

This is the answer I finally came to:  While I will no longer aspire to comprehensive coverage of the year’s best films, I will occasionally post my viewing logs to highlight particularly recommended films or tv programs, and when inspired by a film or a career worth celebrating, I may post longer essays.

To complete the survey of 2016, here I cover two separate categories, running through the best documentary and animated features of the year, starting with one that counts among the best of both.  Some of these comments will be categorical in the sense of a simple summary judgment of “thumb up” or “thumb down.”

Tower (MC-92, NFX) is a powerful and resonant retelling of the 1966 massacre at the University of Texas, which in retrospect may have initiated our era of mass shootings.  Though the film is told entirely from the perspective of those on whom the bullets rained down, we are reminded that the sniper with a high-powered rifle, on the observation deck of UT’s signature tower, was a young man who had just killed his wife and mother, and then proceeded to kill 14 people and wound 31 in 96 terror-filled minutes, before he was killed himself.  Director Keith Maitland takes retrospective interviews with survivors, bystanders, and interveners, and artfully mixes their stories with archival footage and rotoscoped re-creations of their memories, in which younger actors recite their words and reenact events, which are then animated by computer.  It sounds tricky, but comes across with conviction and depth.  The feelings the film generates are disturbing, but redeemed by the humanity of the telling.  
[P.S. The recent Las Vegas atrocity makes this film all the more relevant, and raises the question why things have only gotten worse over the past fifty years.]

In a strong year for documentaries, O.J.: Made in America (MC-96, NFX, ESPN) crossed over from tv to win the Oscar for Best Documentary, which it certainly deserved.  I commented on it inmy round-up of the yearin television, and now simply renew my strongest recommendation.

The other Oscar nominees offered strong competition, starting with two that also dove deep into America’s racial divide.  Ava DuVernay follows her powerful Selma with the even more eye-opening documentary 13th (MC-90, NFX).  The 13th amendment nominally ended slavery, but opened the way to slavery by other means, as this film cogently argues, weaving together themes – through history, culture, and commentary across the political spectrum – about the systematic dehumanization and exploitation of African-Americans, from lynching to mass incarceration.  Scattered facts are marshaled into a compelling case that explains way more than the simple title suggests.  This film is must viewing for anyone who confesses to a social conscience.

I Am Not Your Negro (MC-95, NFX) is less an argument than a portrait of an informed mindset, suggestive rather than convincing.  Taking its text from James Baldwin’s notes for his unfinished book about Malcolm, Martin, and Medgar – black leaders all shot dead in the Sixties, before they reached the age of forty – Raoul Peck’s film mixes Baldwin’s words, read by Samuel L. Jackson, with vintage footage of him on tv and in debate, and also of Hollywood films that he discusses as exemplifying American racial attitudes.  Speaking as someone who had his adolescent mind awakened and blown by Baldwin back in 1963, I was glad to be reminded of his greatness as a writer and social commentator, but I found this attempt to encompass his themes historically less convincing or illuminating than 13th, though still well worth seeing.  Somewhat ironically, I was just as gripped by an hour-long interview with the director that is an extra on the DVD.

Of the other Oscar nominees, I tried several times but never made it through Fire at Sea (MC-87, NFX), with a worthy subject in the plight of African emigrants shipwrecked on an island south of Sicily, but too slow and purely observational for my taste. 

On the other hand, the feel-good alternative among the nominees, Life, Animated (MC-75, NFX), appealed to me on several levels.  It jumps off from journalist Ron Suskind’s book of the same name, about how his family managed to break down communication barriers with an autistic son, by connecting with him through dialogue from Disney animated films.  Amazingly, the clenched-fist megacorporation allowed free use of its copyrighted films for this documentary, but maybe not so amazingly, since it does promote them as family-friendly vehicles of commonality.  The portrayal of autism seems honest if incomplete, and the compilation of film clips is entertaining and relevant.

Among the other highly-rated and readily available documentaries of the year, I start with the last I watched, having to gird myself for it.  Newtown (MC-87, NFX) was, as expected, an emotionally wrenching experience; not a recounting of the horrific event itself – the killing of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school – the film focuses intimately on several of the surviving families.  I was moved, but did not find the documentary especially artful or penetrating.

I thought Weiner (MC-84, NFX) was an outstanding probe into the sexual, and other, pathologies of the political personality, but at this point the Anthony Weiner story has been totally outrun by events, a dick pic gone viral.

With rare exceptions, I’m not a fan of true crime documentaries, so I was surprised to find Amanda Knox (MC-78, NFX) quite interesting and well-done.  Not exactly an exoneration of the young American woman accused of murder by Italian authorities, the film emerges as a piquant, self-revealing portrait of several characters, including Knox herself and the prosecutor and the journalist who pursued her for their own self-important motives.

I have to recommend The Eagle Huntress (MC-72, NFX) more highly than its Metacritic rating.  As much as its message has in common with You-Go-Girl Disney princesses, it does not come across as at all Disneyfied, though it does follow the template of many films about kids competing in sports and other contests.  Profiling a 13-year-old Mongolian girl who wishes to follow her father as a champion in festivals where grown men hunt with eagles, Otto Bell’s film is full of scenes of training and competing that make you wonder how they managed to film them, with drones and through re-enactments, but you are so swept along with the action that it hardly matters, until you inquire about its methods after the fact.  The action, the scenery, and the charming girl herself are all spectacular.

The pair of French directors who made Winged Migration return with the equally-captivating, though less acclaimed, nature documentary Seasons (MC-67, NFX), which also raises questions about how they managed to capture such scenes.  Rather than undermining the effect, when an extra on the DVD explains how rescued wild animals were trained to enact, say, a wolf pack chasing a herd of horses through the forest, so the camera could track along with them, you are amazed all over again.  All this cinematic and animal training legerdemain is put in the service of an ecological narrative that runs from the ice age through the natural depredations of humankind.  Again, the film strikes me as better than the Metacritic score.

Another film I want to single out for special commendation is Class Divide (MC-n/a, NFX, HBO).  Mark Levin’s film takes a singular perspective on the issue of growing inequality in America, namely the intersection of 10th Avenue and 26th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, where the High Line has fueled hypergentrification.  On one corner is a low-income housing development from the Thirties, on another is a high-end private school in a converted slaughterhouse, with tuition in excess of $40K.  It’s oh-so-hard to cross the street from poverty to unlimited opportunity, and it won’t be long till the poor are driven from the neighborhood altogether.  In a neat twist, one of the most hopeful characters is a poor but extremely bright young girl from the projects, and one of the darkest stories is a despairing preppie, but the iron laws of economics rule.  The film first appeared on HBO and so far that seems to be the only place to watch it. 

[Click through for more documentaries, plus animated films]