By Sean Boelman
The 2021 Sundance Film Festival had the premiere of plenty of great films which remained in the conversation throughout the year, and 2022’s lineup looks to be much of the same. With a slate that includes plenty of high-profile premieres with big directors and stars, as well as plenty of exciting indie films from across the world waiting to be discovered, this year looks to be a strong one.
We at disappointment media are excited to be covering the 2022 virtual edition of the Sundance Film Festival. Here are some of our thoughts on some of the films we have been able to screen! Be sure to check back on this article regularly, as we will be adding more capsule reviews throughout the festival.
Leonor Will Never Die
The feature debut of Filipino filmmaker Martika Ramirez Escobar, Leonor Will Never Die is an intriguing work of metafiction, although like many first films, its interesting ideas don’t always come to fruition. The film follows a once-popular filmmaker who finds herself transported into her unfinished screenplay, and is an exploration of the relationship between life and cinema. However, it’s a bit too goofy to take it on its face value as a serious drama, and not funny enough to work as a satire. As such, what we get is a series of solidly-crafted homages, albeit ones that show the promise of a budding voice.
La Guerra Civil
The fight between Oscar de la Hoya and Julio César Chavéz was, at the time and still now, one of the biggest matchups in all of boxing history. And in her documentary La Guerra Civil, Eva Longoria Bastón tells the story of the fight while also exploring its context and significance within the Latino community. As a sports documentary, it’s not the greatest — its straightforward presentation causes the fighting scenes to be pretty dull — but its cultural aspects are fascinating. In other hands, it would have been another dime-a-dozen boxing doc, but Longoria makes it into something genuinely refreshing.
Fire of Love
The best thing about nature documentaries is often their stunning cinematography, and while there is absolutely no shortage of that in Fire of Love, filmmaker Sara Dosa has made a film that is part nature documentary and part real-life romance. Following a husband-and-wife volcanologist duo, the film focuses on both the work they did in regards to exploring the mysteries of the Earth, as well as how their common love for the planet brought them together. It’s a gorgeous film in more ways than one, and its unorthodox approach makes it easy to recommend, even for those who aren’t typically a fan of scientific documentaries.
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs virtually January 20-30.
By Sean Boelman
After a virtual edition in 2021 that was one of the most successful and talked about film festivals of the year, Sundance hoped to return in 2022 with a hybrid edition to knock cinephiles’ socks off. And while Omicron did derail those plans, Sundance went ahead with an all-virtual edition on the same dates, with only one film in the selection opting out of the pivot.
As a result, film fans across the United States have the opportunity to watch all of the great films that are part of this year’s Sundance lineup from the comfort of their own home. From high-profile premieres of star-studded projects to new discoveries of independent films from the U.S. and abroad, there are plenty of great films to choose from.
We at disappointment media are excited to be covering the 2022 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, and we have gotten the chance to see some of the films that will be playing at the fest beforehand. Here are some of the films that we think you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see them now:
The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future
There is always at least one major discovery to be found in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at Sundance, and hopefully this year, it is the Chilean film The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future. There are a lot of moving parts in Francisca Alegria’s drama but they all come together in a way that is profound and poetic. Alegria sets out to explore its central themes in the human drama while also offering a timely environmentalist message, and she pulls it off very confidently, especially given that this is her first feature.
One of the highest-profile films to premiere at this year’s festival, Dual is sure to earn some eyes thanks to it’s A-list cast. Director Riley Stearns’s follow-up to cult-favorite dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, this film yet again uses his deadpan style, albeit this time in the context of a sci-fi premise. Karen Gillan plays a woman with a terminal illness who clones herself, but then must fight her clone in a duel to the death when she miraculously recovered. It’s a wild premise that’s just as wild in execution as it sounds. You won’t want to miss this.
The French abortion drama Happening was one of three films that France was considering to submit for the Academy Award for Best International Feature (a submission which was given to the not-shortlisted Titane), and they made the wrong choice by not selecting it. Audrey Diwan’s film is absolutely harrowing, and while it deals with subject matter that has been explored in several films recently, none of them has had as visceral of an impact as this one does. It’s a bit on the graphic side, so it’s not for the faint-of-heart, but it’s the type of film that will leave the viewer feeling shaken.
The crisis involving Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a major news event in 2014, and while that is a major plot point in Maryna Er Gorbach’s film Klondike, there is much more to the film than that. It’s really the story of a family torn apart by the uncertainty of war. It’s the type of film that is just building and building and you’re waiting for it to explode, and once it finally does, it just absolutely crushes you. It’s understated, yet impactful in its approach, and something that will linger long after the credits roll.
Sundance documentaries can be a bit hit-or-miss, but Sierra Pettengill’s Riotsville, USA is one of the most successful in recent memory. Composed entirely of archive footage, the film explores a training compound to help the military and law enforcement prepare to respond to the protests and riots happening in the 1960s. There is an eerie parallelism to be drawn between what was happening then and now, especially in regards to how the government saw it, which makes this one of the most angering films to play at this year’s festival.
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs virtually from January 20-30.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #779): MULHOLLAND DRIVE -- A Mindbending Trip Into the Head of David Lynch
By Dan Skip Allen
Mulholland Drive is a famous street above Los Angeles and has a mystique like no other in Hollywood. So go figure one of the most mysterious filmmakers in Hollywood, David Lynch, would make a movie named after this street. The film lives up to the name because it's a weird film, not unlike Lynch's other films and television work like Twin Peaks and Eraserhead.
The film starts with a memorable credits scene with a car driving down Mulholland Drive. The car stops and the men inside tell a woman (Laura Harring) to get out. At that moment, two cars are racing down the street and one of them runs into the limo, sending it careening into a nearby ditch. The woman crawls out of the car and stumbles around, eventually walking down a hill and falling asleep by a bush. She wakes up and goes into another woman's home while she's gone.
That's the beginning of this crazy Hollywood story. It's even wilder than it sounds, though. When the woman's niece (Naomi Watts) comes to stay in the house, she helps the woman who now has amnesia find out what is going on. They work together to uncover this mystery. The film also focuses on a film director (Justin Theroux) and a bunch of shady gangsters and assorted other weirdos in darkened rooms and cowboy figures. This film is one of the weirdest David Lynch has ever done, but it's done very well like all of his movies are except Dune.
Lynch infuses this film with everything including the kitchen sink. It has a noir feel to t even though much of it is set during the daytime. Lynch knows how to add odd moments like when the two women visit a theater with a trumpet player and then the room turns blue or when the director visits a cowboy at a horse ranch. He talks to him in weird language or riddles if you will. All Lynch's trademark tropes are in this film. The 4K version helps all the colors stand out as well.
The technical aspects of the film are very good as well. The score by Angelo Badalamenti is moody and helps set the atmosphere while it has a song sung at the theater that is breathtakingly amazing. The cinematography by Peter Deming and production design are both very good. This film goes to a bunch of locations and they all look gorgeous and have a vibe all their own. Only David Lynch could have made this wild, outside-the-box (pun intended) film. It has so much craziness in it it's hard to describe it and what's going on.
The cast has some amazing cameos full of stars viewers might recognize like Robert Forster as a police detective, Billy Ray Cyrus who's having an affair with Justin Theroux's character's wife, Michael J. Anderson as the man in the darkroom, and Dan Hedaya as a gangster. That's just the tip of the iceberg of all the weird and interesting casting choices. Lynch always picks interesting people for roles in his film. This one is no different.
Mulholland Drive is among a plethora of David Lynch films in the Criterion Collection. Among them, this one might be the most metta considering it's a film about making a film. It has a lot of other aspects as well: a noir, a mystery, and a love letter to Hollywood. Lynch shows in this film how much he loves Hollywood in his weird and offbeat way... the only way he knows how to make a film. Lynch was nominated for the best academy award for his work on the film. It was very deserved.
By Sarah Williams
Cinessance is a new streaming service that intends to be the first US streamer exclusively for French film. As an alternative to arthouse streaming like Mubi or Criterion Channel, what Cinessance programs isn't bound as much by pedigree in critical circles or international precedent, but a subsection of French film that tends to stay within national borders. It is worth a wonder as to who tends to subscribe to specialty streaming services, whether it’s cinephiles committed to finding legal access to rarer classics, or a casual viewer who likes a particular formula. The selection favors a more traditional breed of cinema, steering clear of genre pictures, but that isn’t to say there’s no potential for the best of this populist simplicity to slip through. If you enjoyed Cédric Klapisch’s The Spanish Apartment, some deeper cuts like Russian Dolls and Family Resemblances are now streamable, and recommended. It’s also nice to see a small family section, particularly after recent online discourse as to whether non-English cinema precludes a ‘snobbish’ set of interests. The democratization of non-Anglo culture is of course commendable, especially as a selection of kid-friendly films is incredibly helpful for promoting early language learning, something harder to achieve with other, solely-adult specialty services.
Perhaps it is wrong of me to criticize a service for what is not. There is a solid start for a platform of largely '90s and '00s French film that isn’t easy to find overseas. While major arthouse features, and controversy-drivers, tend to make it across the ocean, the language of French comedy is largely lost on audiences that can access little of it. While it would be nice to see more from the era (I’m particularly partial to a lot of the '80s/'90s films by women that writer Françoise Audé championed), there is a skewed perception of popular French film in the US, and the platform does change that, by providing more of it, though near exclusively this palatable portion. In terms of the addition of more recent releases, Mélanie Laurent-starring Return of the Hero is under the coming soon subheader. It’s a lightly comedic, pleasant historical drama of small scale, and a good sample for the sort of content that Cinessance distributes.
This week, the streaming platform added a hub to watch both the short and feature lineups of My French Film Festival. While the shorts are free in other places (personal highlights I’ve seen in the past from the lineup are Hold Me Tight and Little Bear), the feature film selection is more exclusive, often boasting premieres for films that do not have US distribution, this year, MFFF includes major festival titles of the past year such as Honey Cigar, All Hands On Deck, and Nadia Butterfly, as well as underseen Marguerite Duras adaptation The Lover. These films engage France, and its film culture, in a broader world context, and give a greater perspective than what the initial streaming lineup may show. This partnership shows a lot of potential for what the service can become, with events to connect a past and present of French film beyond Breathless or Amélie.
By Dan Skip Allen
Uncut Gems was like a whirlwind when it came out in 2019. It showed people Adam Sandler was more than the SNL goofy comedy guy. He was now considered a serious actor in a lot of people's minds, enough so that he was being tapped as an Oscar contender. This is with great respect. He wasn't nominated, but the role of Howard Ratner is such a realistic portrayal it's scary.
Adam Sandler plays the owner of a jewelry shop that deals in rare gems, watches, and other rare antiquities. He gets in over his head with a loan shark and it causes him problems with his family, mainly his wife (Idina Menzel), and his other business associates. A long-term deal that he had been working on could be the answer to all his problems.
Adam Sandler has a skittish nature to his character. The slick nature of Howard Ratner plays into Sandler's sensibilities as an actor. Sandler is used to playing the everyman that people can relate to or quirky oddballs in his film career. This is totally different for him in his career. He played into the script perfectly. His style melded with the script like they were meant to be together.
The Saftie Brothers (Good Time) have the reputation of guerilla filmmaking and quick cuts and fast-paced storytelling. This film has that. The story moves very fast and it's hard to keep up with at times. This world of these shady people keeps the film moving and it's not clear where or when it'll end. It is like a merry go round and they create a film like nothing I've seen in my entire life. This is a seminal film.
The cast in this film is amazing besides Sandler and Menzel. Lakeith Stanfield, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Judas and the Black Messiah last year, plays a hustler and business associate of Sandler's character. Boston Celtics champion NBA legend Kevin Garnett plays himself and he is great in the film as an athlete acting even if he's playing himself. The revelation in the film is Julia Fox. She is incredible as a gumar of Sandler's character.
This transfer by Criterion is incredible. The colors pop so well in this version. Various shirts and items in the film shine and jump out in 4K. The framing sequences are gorgeous. Along with that goes the grain of the film. It has a gritty look to it that reminds me of '70s films. The cinematography by Darius Khondji is some of the best of 2019. I can't say enough how incredible this transfer is.
The film has some good music choices as well, from the Weeknd playing himself singing a song to some techno music and various other forms of music from Daniel Lopatin. It has a sound that jumps out while watching the film. The score and music both play into the uneasy nature of the film's storyline and plot. At times it's very frantic, and other times it's very soothing and relaxing, all depending on what's going on in the film.
Sanders's character is his own worst enemy. He does everything wrong until he finally does something right. This film shows how people can be a detriment to society. This entire world of jewelry and rare gems is explored very thoroughly by the Safdie Brothers. The look and feel of the film are so beautiful. This 4K Criterion is a nice addition to anybody's collection for sure.
By Dan Skip Allen
Sidney Poitier is one of the greatest Black actors of all time. His career is varied with great films such as Lilies of the Field, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, and Raisin in the Sun in his credits. His best film, though, is In the Heat of the Night, directed by Norman Jewison.
Philadelphia Detective Virgil Tibbs (Sydney Poitier) has to go down to tiny Sparta, Mississippi to investigate a murder but he gets arrested by hard-nosed police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Stiger). Having to prove his innocence to the police chief, he eventually joins forces with him to try to figure out who actually was the murderer of the victim. They reluctantly get along with each other on this journey.
Jewison creates an atmosphere of racism and prejudice throughout the film. Even though Poitier's character is a respected detective in Philadelphia, he is a third-class citizen in the South. He even has to defend his own name. "They Call Me Mr. Tibbs," is a very famous line from Poitier in the film. The investigation isn't about the murder, it's about how this Black man is daring to ask these southern white-privileged people questions about it. How dare he do this? It's pretty huge deal.
This film crossed so many cultural barriers at the time, even with the Academy Awards. This film won Best Picture in 1968 along with three other awards, but Poitier didn't win anything that year. His co-stars in both In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? were nominated for Best Actor, and while Stiger won the award, Poitier wasn't even nominated. It's a travesty. Although he did win an Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1963, it would have been great to see him get nominated for this film.
Poitier has to do all the heavy lifting opposite Stiger, even getting slapped in the face by old man Endicott (Larry Gates). Jewison puts Poitier through his paces throughout the film. It's in the script, though, because it's adapted from the book by John Ball. In the era of civil rights, this film touched on so many difficult topics and everybody involved was part of a powder keg. It showed in the end product. Tensions were at an all-time high and Poitier had an uphill battle trying to do his job under these circumstances.
With everything going on around this film, Poitier gives the performance of a lifetime. Having to act opposite Stiger wasn't an easy task. Jewison had to be a soothing influence on this film. He was also the leader of this production that had other great aspects such as a score by Quincy Jones. The music was so good. The cinematography and editing worked very well as well. This film had everything going for it at a difficult time. Poitier was the glue that kept this film together. He was great in it as well.
The Criterion Voyages: CITIZEN KANE (Spine #1104) -- A Film That Deserves the Moniker of Masterpiece
By Dan Skip Allen
Citizen Kane is widely considered by many to be the best movie of all time. It's the magnum opus of legendary filmmaker Orson Welles. It is quite an achievement for Criterion to get this great film. Now it's available as Spine #1104, the first 4K Blu-ray in the Criterion Collection. The format lends itself to this great film quite nicely.
The film is about the life of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). Newspaper reporters have found out that the last word from Kane before he died was "Rosebud", so they try to figure out what that word means. They go from person to person trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, from his ex-wives to his best friend, Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton), with whom he built his newspaper empire. That famous word is part of what made this film an absolute masterpiece in the eyes of so many people.
Welles's filmmaking style is also what helped make this film so great. He has some amazing camera shots in the film. One, in particular, is where he's looking into a stand-up mirror and it seems like it keeps going forever. Other tracking shots and camera movements throughout the film are done impeccably. Fade-ins and so forth are used perfectly to pass time throughout the film. Welles is a master with the camera and framing shots.
Citizen Kane has various forms of music in it, from one of Kane's ex-wives singing opera to the score by Bernard Hermann, one of the greatest composers of all time. The film has amazing moments of music throughout using various forms of strings and the piano to create moments of joy and or depression. Even bands in the background create a sound for the film.
Kane spent a lot of his fortune on his property known as Xanadu in Florida, as well as expensive trinkets which he littered throughout the expansive property grounds. He built it for his second ex-wife Susan (Dorothy Comingore), an opera singer. It turns out it was just a giant place where he ended up all alone in his final days. Millions of dollars worth of property, art, statues, and everything under the sun that couldn't buy him happiness.
Citizen Kane is often claimed to be a film about newspaper magnate William Randolf Hearst. Welles was ruined for years after the film came out in 1941. Hearst considered it an insult and kept Welles from ever becoming the great filmmaker he was destined to be because of Citizen Kane. He was in a few other films and directed a few as well, some of the most notable of which are The Third Man, Touch of Evil, and The Magnificent Ambersons. Even Netflix acquired a lost Wells film, The Other Side of the Wind, that was preserved. People have always devoured anything from Welles. He is such a magnanimous personality and a terrific director.
By Sean Boelman
After a bizarre year, 2021 saw the cinematic landscape return to a bit of normalcy, as we had the return of big-budget blockbusters (Spider-Man: No Way Home is breaking records, both for the pandemic and in general) and in-person festivals to debut the big prestige pictures. As a result, cinephiles have had no shortage of options to feast on, including the return of some beloved auteurs and a stronger-than-average year for international cinema. Although narrowing a list down to 10 films was difficult — it was hard to leave out films like Antlers, Bo Burnham: Inside, and The Nowhere Inn — here are our favorite films of the year!
10. The Lost Daughter
It often takes an actor-turned-director a few attempts before they are able to confidently fall into their style, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is the newest in a recent line who have hit a home run on their first time up to bat. The Lost Daughter is a complex, quiet character study that weaves its tale of motherhood and regret in a way that is profound and moving. And it is clear that Gyllenhaal knew how to get the best out of her collaborators, as the work from lead actress Olivia Colman and cinematographer Hélène Louvart is exceptional.
9. A Cop Movie
Alonso Ruizpalacios has made the best documentary of 2021, even if it doesn’t stick to the established conventions of nonfiction filmmaking. Following two actors who go deep into character in an investigation of the Mexican police system, A Cop Movie utilizes the tropes of cop action movies to make the audience question their preconceived notions of real-life law enforcement. The way the film dissects these timely issues is quite harrowing, making Ruizpalacios’s technique much more than just a gimmick.
8. The Green Knight
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the film industry in 2020, and it resulted in a lot of films being delayed to this year. The best of those is David Lowery’s fantasy epic The Green Knight, which used the extra fifteen months from when it had been scheduled to premiere to be re-edited to its director’s satisfaction. The result is a unique take on Arthurian folklore that is both very atmospheric and an effective parable about honor. It’s a high spot on Lowery’s already impressive filmography, which is saying a lot.
If in 2013, you had told me that the guy who played the stoner in The Cabin in the Woods would make one of the finest films of the year of its release, and that it would be a serious drama about mass shootings, I would have had you committed to an insane asylum. But Fran Kranz’s Mass is a truly astounding film, with a stagey but powerful screenplay that will leave audiences shaken. And the ensemble is phenomenal all-around, especially with career-best work from Jason Isaacs and Ann Dowd.
6. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?
It’s a shame that Georgia did not select What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? as its Oscar submission, as this is an extraordinary romance. The two-and-a-half-hour runtime is a bit off-putting at first, but filmmaker Aleksandre Koberidze absolutely enchants the audience with his storytelling. It’s essentially a more complicated body swap romance, but the uncommon empathy with which Koberidze approaches it, as well as some creative camerawork, which makes this stand out.
Graphic novel artist Dash Shaw made his cinematic debut in 2016 with My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, a quirky and fun coming-of-age comedy, but his sophomore feature Cryptozoo (co-directed with his wife Jane Samborski) is a whole different level. An ambitious, painstakingly-crafted adventure with shades of real-life mythology, Indiana Jones and Wes Anderson — it’s enjoyable, inspired, and hypnotic, making it one of the greatest independent animated films of all time.
4. Licorice Pizza
After one of his more serious outings in Phantom Thread, it was nice to see acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson embrace his funny side once again with Licorice Pizza, an ode to Los Angeles in the 1970s. It’s not one of the more substantial films of the year, but the vibes that Anderson deals in here are absolutely amazing. Cooper Hoffman (the son of the late Anderson collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim make for some charismatic leads, and Bradley Cooper is a scene-stealer in his small but memorable supporting role.
3. The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Coen Brothers are some of the most iconic filmmakers of their generation, but Joel went solo for the first time (although Ethan isn’t credited on their early films) with his Shakespeare adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth. It’s a distinctive vision of well-known material, taking “The Scottish Play” and turning it into a moody horror film of sorts. Strong performances all-around with unexpected casting, crisp black-and-white cinematography, and a faithful but interpretively directed script make this one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever.
2. A Hero
Asghar Farhadi is a skilled filmmaker, often taking small-scale melodramas and turning them into a riveting, human story, and his latest film is one of his finest. A Hero tells the story of a man who does a good deed while out on leave from debtor’s prison, setting off an unexpected whirlwind of consequences. It’s not a film that reveals its hand early, instead taking its time to build to a climax that is entirely soul-crushing.
1. Drive My Car
Japanese filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi is without a doubt the MVP of cinema in 2021, having delivered not one but two strong films. But Drive My Car, his three-hour adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story, is the one that is truly unforgettable, having an emotional impact that no one would expect. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea — it’s a very talky film with long sections that are just recitations of Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya — but what Hamaguchi does with it is absolutely profound.
What were some of your favorite films of 2021? Let us know in the comments below!
Review by Sean Boelman
In the thick of autumn, film festivals start to become a showcase of some of the biggest and best cinema that the year has to offer. However, the spotlight is all too often taken by the A-list narrative films competing for above-the-line prizes, leaving some great nonfiction films in the dust. DOC NYC sets out to remedy that, with a program that is both a showcase for some of the films which will be racking up prizes in the months ahead and a platform for exciting new films to be discovered.
For the second year in a row, disappointment media will be remotely covering the DOC NYC film festival which runs November 10-28. Make sure to check out this article in the weeks ahead, as we will be sharing our thoughts on some of the films we get to screen as part of the festival.
There is an undeniable beauty to Jessica Beshir’s Faya Dayi, but it takes observation to the extreme, basically forsaking traditional narrative altogether. That isn’t to say that the film is entirely meaningless — there are a lot of powerful moments spread throughout — but Beshir’s portrait of this community is perhaps a bit too sprawling for its own good. That said, the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is a sight to behold, and is worth watching the film for on its own.
The story of artist Jesse Krimes is undeniably extraordinary, as he persevered through extraordinary adversity to create some powerful work, but filmmaker Alysa Nahmias doesn’t know what to do with it. This is a pretty standard documentary, and while it hits all of the beats to get a reaction from the viewer, the storytelling is so rushed that it doesn’t have much of a lasting impact. This is definitely a case of a film where the subject is what carries the film.
Mr. Bachmann and His Class
The observational documentary Mr. Bachmann and His Class took the Silver Bear award at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival, and the reason why is likely its powerful impact. Following a German teacher who approaches education with an uncommon level of empathy, the film is both an examination of the educational system and a portrait of today’s youth and the way they are being shaped by society. And even though watching a bunch of kids go to school may not sound like the most exciting way to spend three-and-a-half hours, it’s unexpectedly absorbing.
Dean Martin: King of Cool
Dean Martin: King of Cool is exactly what one would expect from a documentary that was made to air on TCM: a not too deep, infotainment dive into Hollywood history. And while there are some fascinating tidbits and anecdotes, there’s just not enough going on to make it memorable. Fans of Martin will undeniably find this to be a pleasant nostalgia trip down memory lane, but then again, anyone who has an intimate familiarity with his career won’t find anything new here.
The Silence of the Mole
Anaïs Taracena’s The Silence of the Mole tells a fascinating story, but in a way that is so extraordinarily dry that it loses all of its impact. Although the subject of the film is an exceptional man who showed great bravery in infiltrating and fighting back against the corruption in his government, the film doesn’t really do anything to communicate the power of what he has done. Instead, it misguidedly tries to be poetic, and in the process ends up being quite empty.
Adrienne Shelly’s story is quite tragic but also very hopeful at the same time, and her widower Andy Ostroy’s documentary Adrienne does an amazing job of paying tribute to her while recounting her life in a meaningful way. Part true crime documentary and part biography about an artist with a passion for creating her work, it’s a riveting watch in every sense. Featuring extensive interviews with Shelly’s friends and family, the emotional section of the film dominates even though it’s somewhat uneven.
There have been quite a few documentaries in recent years that have explored the dangerous sport of climbing, but Max Lowe’s Torn stands out because of its highly emotional nature. Although there are definitely some sporting elements here, the film is more about the grieving process that Lowe faced after his father unfortunately passed while on a climb. It’s a devastating story, and the film is quite effective, but it would have been much more efficient had it been a short rather than a feature.
Mr. Saturday Night
The first half of Mr. Saturday Night, a documentary telling the story of disco pioneer Robert Stigwood, plays out like any other music doc about the history of disco that you have ever seen, but with one damning difference: it has absolutely no energy. However, when it starts talking about the behind-the-scenes drama that surrounded the production of the unexpected smash hit Saturday Night Fever, it becomes a ton of fun to watch and offers some really interesting anecdotes which viewers may not have heard before. It just takes a bit for the film to get there.
DMX: Don't Try to Understand
We have seen plenty of documentaries about late rappers which turn their tragic stories into cautionary parables, but that is not the intention with DMX: Don’t Try to Understand. Although the film does explore the (very public) struggles that Earl “DMX” Simmons had with addiction, it does so in a way that feels extremely empathetic, rather than trying to teach the audience a message through his misfortune. Fans hoping for a documentary heavy on his music may not be fully satisfied, but this is a much more personal film, and is arguably better for it.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening
One would think that the premise of Three Minutes: A Lengthening wouldn’t make for that compelling of a feature documentary, but Bianca Stigter’s work is unexpectedly intriguing. Diving into a single, three-minute home movie of a Jewish community in a Polish village soon before WWII would have devastating effects on them, this film shows the amount of power and information there is in even the briefest of glimpses into the past. It can definitely feel like a film school lecture at times, but the presentation and information is strong enough to hold the viewer’s interest.
After its premiere at TIFF, the Music Box documentary Jagged picked up some controversy when its subject turned against the film, claiming that the filmmaker violated her trust. It’s easy to understand why, as like many of the other films in this series, this is a no holds barred look into the life of Alanis Morissette. Although filmmaker Alison Klayman, a self-proclaimed fan, is quick to (deservedly) praise Morissette for the brilliant work she has done as a musician, she also doesn’t shy away from the disparity between the words in her lyrics and what she (and he band) did in their private lives. It’s a fascinating, insightful watch.
Nothing But the Sun
Every year, a few documentaries are submitted by their countries of origin as the representative for Best International Feature, but few earn the honor of a spot on the shortlist, much less a nomination. The Paraguayan film Nothing But the Sun is unlikely to buck that trend, but it’s quite good nevertheless, and it’s totally understandable why this was chosen as a submission. A moving exploration of identity and colonialism, Arami Ullon’s film dissects a very important issue that most people are privileged to not have to think about. The result is poetic and often quite captivating.
The 2021 DOC NYC Festival runs November 10-28.
By Dan Skip Allen
When J.K. Rowling created a book series about a boy wizard it was just that: a book. That is until it grew into a phenomenon that spawned a series of movies, the first of which is called Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone in Great Britain). Twenty years ago, this movie series started and it's one of the most popular and profitable in movie history.
From that moment that Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) uttered those famous words, "You're a wizard Harry," in that dank house on an isolated island who knows where, I was all in on this series of films. Of course, I had read the book already by then, so I was excited to see this book I loved being made into a big-budget feature film.
Chris Columbus was already a successful film director by the time Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was going to be in production, but he wanted to direct this film. His career from working with Macaulay Culkin on the Home Alone films, Adventures in Babysitting, and Mrs. Doubtfire prepared him to direct this film about a bunch of kids in a wizarding school. He has great experience making family films of this ilk. He was a great choice to direct this film.
The casting process of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was quite arduous, but David Heyman, the producer, found the perfect three leads to star in this film. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) we're all terrific as these three characters. They embodied these three young wizards perfectly. I couldn't see anybody else in these roles.
That being said, the films had other characters that had to be cast and these roles weren't given to newcomers. They were won by some of the great British actors of this era the film came out in. Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore), Maggie Smith (Professor McGonigal), and Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) were all phenomenal as these iconic characters. I could hardly remember other roles these great actors were ever in. That means they were cast perfectly. I love them all in the roles.
The production as a whole was quite successful. The sets worked as well as they could to embody the place envisioned in Rowling's books. The grand scale of the castle, train station, Gringotts, and various locations in the film looked amazing on screen. The behind-the-scenes people from the set production team, camera people, and costumes, and hair and makeup teams are all first-rate. This film looked amazing from that perspective.
With all the great production value and other crafts departments also comes the music of the film. Herman and Columbus enlisted the talents of probably the greatest composer of all time, John Williams. I'm a little biased on that because I have great memories of him as the conductor of the Boston Pops as a child, as well as some of his most memorable scores such as Jaws, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Empire Strikes Back, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Raiders of the Lost Ark which were etched in my brain at that time. He created a wonderful score with great melodies and a beautiful timeless sound to it.
The fact remains that when someone creates something like Harry Potter, such as J.K. Rowling, that millions of people around the world are so enamored with it's hard to create something that lives up to the expectations of what people want to see in this material. All of that is set aside when this film is finally released. This film lived up to the expectations perfectly. It was a critical and financial success by anybody's standards.
Twenty years after this film was released, we've gotten all the sequels and plenty of physical media releases and television airings of this film and the rest of them. They continue to be watched by millions of families all over the world. They have made billions of dollars and spawned a stage production as well. As a fan of watching movies and reading books, I can honestly say this was the perfect combination of a literary work being turned into a great film. I loved this movie and I've watched it countless times. I never get sick of this film.
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