I was moved by Peter Jackson's World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which uses digital wizardry to conjure empathy, not spectacle. I didn't have space to go into it in my NPR review, but I wondered how J.R.R. Tolkien's experience of the war might've shaped Jackson's sense of it. Jackson did spend a sizable chunk of his career adapting Tolkien's novels, for better and for worse.
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Filtering by Tag: documentaries
For NPR, I reviewed Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's documentary De Palma, wherein the man behind Carrie and Dressed to Kill and The Untouchables and about three dozen other features walks us through his long, idiosyncratic career. This film won't change anyone's mind about the guy, but it's a candid, briskly edited retrospective. I enjoyed it.
Kung Fu Elliot, a documentary about a man who aspires to be the Canadian Chuck Norris, turns nasty enough quickly enough to call its makers' intentions into question. I reviewed the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winner for Documentary Feature for The Dissolve.
Muhammad Ali is already the subject of many, many fine books and films. The distinguishing feature of the new documentary I Am Ali, which I reviewed for NPR today, is that filmmaker Clare Lewins was given permission to use never-before-released private tapes that Ali made of his conversations with his daughters and close confidants for his own enjoyment.
As someone who has listened to all 537 episodes of This American Life, many of them more than once and some of them more than twice, and who has annoyed my parents, brother, friends, and girlfriends by recording lengthy interviews with them on various occasions, this approach strikes a chord with me. The recorded voice of someone speaking to one other person will always feel more intimate than a close-up photograph ever could – to me, at least.The excerpts Lewins uses mostly date from the late 70s, by which time Ali, having reached his mid-30s, had slowed down and was getting hit more than he ever had in his twenties. He also started to exhibit symptoms of the Parkinson’s syndrome with which he would finally be diagnosed in 1984.
With so much strong Ali scholarship in the world already, I Am Ali can muster only slight contributions to the canon, but it’s a well-made and inspiring tribute to The Greatest if you're looking for an all-in-one Ali doc. Like I said in my review, the best Ali documentaries have tended to zoom in on a single fight or era of his life. What I happened to learn from this one is how Ali came to pose as St. Sebastian for the April 1968 issue of Esquire.
Here's my review of the disappointing Kartemquin Films' documentary The Homestretch for The Dissolve. I made a boneheaded mistake in the version of this where I filed wherein I ascribed the phrase "cruel to kind" to Nick Lowe, not to Hamlet -- even though I'd already referenced Hamlet earlier in the review, and in fact, the other piece I filed the day I filed this one was a review of King Lear. Embarrassing. Editors sometimes save your neck.
I am acquainted through mutual friends in DC theatre with Marc Okrand, the man who developed the Klingon language to for Paramount Pictures. I was surprised to seem him make a very brief appearance in Jennifer M. Kroot's documentary To Be Takei, which I reviewed for The Dissolve.
My review of Deepsea Challenge 3D, the new National Geographic documentary about James Cameron's historic March 2012 dive to the bottom of the deepest part of any ocean on the planet in a one-of-a-kind sub he co-designed himself, is on The Dissolve today. When he isn't busy being a real-life Steve Zissou, Cameron is still one of my favorite filmmakers. And I didn't even like Avatar all that much.
I know: He annoys you. His dialogue is clunky. He should've been nicer to Kate Winslet during the production of Titanic 18 years ago, when the world press was writing every day that he was going to bankrupt 20th Century Fox and rooting for him to fail. He should've played it a little cooler up at the podium on Oscar night 1998, when he won Best Director for the film that was absolutely, positively going to end his career, except that it became the biggest worldwide hit in the history of cinema.
But you know what? Hollywood, and the world, are full of people who have 100 percent of Cameron's ego and one percent of his talent. And the guy who wrote and directed The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Titanic -- as well as the admittedly problematic True Lies and Avatar -- can do whatever he wants.
Whatever He Wants turns out to be designing revolutionary submarines and risking his own life to take them to the most inhospitable climate on Earth, where no rescue would be possible if something went wrong, to show us all what's down there and remind us how little we know of the ocean that covers most of our planet. Wrinkle your nose at him if you must.