Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Get Bruce!

Release Date: 1999
Production Company: AJK Productions
Distribution Company: Miramax Films
Director: Andrew J. Kuehn
Run time: 84 minutes
Available on Netflix streaming

Get Bruce! is an entertaining look at the inside the creative process of a writer and actors.  Bruce Vilanch is an American comedy writer whose credits include writing for the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and Tonys.

The film includes interviews with legends such as: Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, and Robin Williams.  It is impressive to see how Vilanch can work with these hugely varying characters and create things that work for them.  He works with both comedians, who are used to speaking to a crowd, and actors, who are not used to public speaking as themselves.  Actresses such as Lauren Bacall or Raquel Welch used Vilanch to assist them when presenting for awards shows or fundraisers.

Overall, I would recommend this film as a clever and enjoyable look at a man behind Hollywood's known faces.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Thin Blue Line

Release Date: 1988
Distribution Company: Miramax Films
Director: Errol Morris
Run time: 96 minutes
Seen on: FLIXe, Channel 170, also available on Netflix streaming

I have had The Thin Blue Line on my DVR since January and finally got around to watching it last week.  This film by Errol Morris recounts the murder of a Dallas police officer in November 1976.  The film combines reenactments with interviews.  The same scenes are reenacted several times during the documentary.  They are showed from different perspectives and with different information from witnesses.  This technique helped to illustrate the differing viewpoints and clashing information.

They do not list the interviewees by names during the film.  I found this to be an interesting and effective technique because it made you pay attention to what the person was saying, not who they are and how they fit into the puzzle.  It definitely made me focus more on the film.

It was somewhat disturbing hearing how it appeared that the cops and DA railroaded a conviction.  The film showed both sides of the story, but you could see what the cops and DA were wrong.  Some witnesses appeared unreliable, with suspicious motives or memory problems.

This is another case of how a documentary can create new interest in a case and effect the individuals involved.   I won't ruin it for you, but you can Google it if you are interested.

It had a great use of music.  The cuts between scenes are silent, almost like the film ends each time.  I had enjoyed Morris' techniques in the film Tabloid  and I am looking forward to watching Fog of War.  It has also been sitting on my DVR, so hopefully look for it soon.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

These Amazing Shadows: The Movies that Make America

Release Date: 2011
Production Company: Gravitas LLC
Directors: Paul Mariano and Kurt Morton
Run time: PBS Version 57 minutes, Full Version, 88 minutes
Seen on: PBS Independent Lens, Available on Netflix streaming
Website: http://www.theseamazingshadows.com/

This documentary focuses on the National Film Registry, the United States Film Preservation Board's selection of films for preservation for the Library of Congress.  Each year, 25 films are selected for preservation which are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  The films selected must be at least 10 years old and range from blockbusters to technological advances.

I was impressed by These Amazing Shadows.  As a preservationist, I felt compelled to watch it to see what has been saved for the future.  It reminded me of great films (Toy Story and Blazing Saddles) and compelled me to watch more (Blade Runner).  When researching details from this post, I stumbled across a blogger who is watching all 575 films in the National Film Registry.  http://take575.blogspot.com/  I haven't had a chance to read many of her posts yet, but it looks like she has reviewed over 100 of them so far.

These Amazing Shadows reminds us what is great about films and why they are just as important to our heritage as painting, sculpture, or architecture.  Films are indeed a capsule of the time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Art of the Steal

Release Date: 2009
Production Company: 9.14 Pictures
Director: Don Argott
Run time: 101 minutes
Seen on: Netflix Instant, Sundance Channel
Recommended: Highly
Next Air Date: Wednesday, 7/18 9:00-10:45AM, 4:15-6:00PM on Sundance Channel, Baltimore Comcast Channel 165
Website: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/the-art-of-the-steal

The Art of the Steal tells the tale of the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA.  Located less then 5 miles from downtown Philadelphia, the Barnes held one of the best collections of Impressionist and Modern masters in the world.  Barnes Foundation was founded in 1922 as an educational institution. 

The purpose of the art was to teach students, not pander to the cultural elite.  His collection was exhibited to the public in 1923 and denounced as "primitive."  Paintings were hung for its aesthetic value alongside furniture and art from around the world.  Dr. Albert Barnes shunned the "elite" of Philadelphia and what they stood for.  "Philadelphia is a depressing intellectual slum."  "The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a house of artistic and intellectual prostitution."  Dr. Barnes was determined to keep his art out of the hands of the downtown interests.

Dr. Barnes' will was written to ensure the preservation of the school in perpetuity.  The commerical value would be removed if they were never sold or lent.  After Barnes' death in 1951, the Foundation was kept intact.  The Foundation and will was not weakened until 1988, upon the death of Violette DeMazia, Barnes' "Last Living Apostle."

The Art of the Steal chronicles the struggle of educators and polticians to "control" the Barnes Collection.  The argument was made that the original structure in Merion, PA was unfit for the collection.  To preserve it, one must move it to a proper location, perhaps in downtown Philadelphia as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It makes you realize that the fantastic, earth-shatteringly important collection was used as a pawn of politicians and charitable trusts. 

This film not only sheds light on an important and outrageous cultural struggle, but also presents it in a compelling way.  The news clips are shown on an old tv.  Newspaper clippings and photos are presented on a cork board, much like a detective would show his suspects.  The use of music is compelling and heightens the drama.  But above all, there are compelling stories from past students and educators which draw you into the film.  Once you realize what the Barnes stood for, you are that much more outraged at what they tried, and unfortuantely ultimately succeeded in doing.  The Barnes on the parkway opened in Philadephia in May 2012.  Tickets are sold online for this collection.  Tickets and online museum store are sold in direct contradiction to a man's wishes and will.  I urge you to watch this before your next trip to Philadelphia.

"It is the greatest act of cultural vandalism since WWII."

"This is the scandal of the art world in modern America."

"The name of the game is, if you're going to leave your paintings somewhere, don't let there be a politican within 500 yards."

"It's fair to say that there was a vast conspiracy to move the Barnes."

"One man's conspiracy is another man's political consensus."

"It's about whoever controls $25 Billion worth of art and everything else is bullshit."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Left by the Ship

Release Date: 2012
Production Company: VISITOR Q sri
Director: Emma Rossi Landi and Alberto Vendemmiati
Run time: Full length 81 minutes, PBS length 57 minutes
Seen on: PBS Independent Lens
Website: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/left-by-the-ship/

Subic Bay in the Phillipines  was a major ship-repair, supply, and rest and recreation facility of the United States Navy.  When it was closed in 1992, it was the largest overseas military installation of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Left by the Ship tells the story of three young Amerasians, Charlene Elizabeth Rose, JR Nielson Dyas, and Robert Ianne Gonzaga.  These young people are in a strange position, caught between two societies.  The Amerasian Homecoming Act  "provides for the immigration to the United States of certain Amerasian children. In order to qualify for benefits under this law, an alien must have been born in Cambodia, Korea, Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam after December 31, 1950, and before October 22, 1982, and have been fathered by a U.S. citizen."  The Phillipines are not included in the act, despite the estimate of 52,000 Amerasians fathered by U.S. military service members.

Robert was a journalist and acts as the narrator of the film.  It is powerful to have the narrator as someone looking from within, not an outsider.  After having children, Robert found it important to learn about his background and help others find theirs. "And the thread of my life joined theirs."  He worked with JR, gang member who always found struggles despite his loving mother.  Together they found and contacted JR's father, a former Blood gang member is California.

The background of Amerasians is evident on their faces, especially those who are half African-American.  They are often stigmatized and bullied by their peers.  The story of Charlene Elizabeth was quite interesting.  She was in college and gained entrance into a beauty pageant.  Despite the economic hardships the competition placed on her and her mother, she competed.  It seemed significant to her to be included in a beauty pageant as a half-Filipino and half African-American.  She got choked up when introducing herself in the competition.

Overall, the film is a compelling story of three young people.  They are "not so different from other Filipinos in the way we lead out lives, the way we speak, the way we dress.  But inside us is a secret burden, a weight we all share."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The City Dark

Release Date: 2011
Production Company: Wicked Delicate 
Director: Ian Cheney
Run time: Full Length is 84 minutes.  PBS version is 57 minutes.
Seen on: PBS's POV
Recommended: Yes, poses interesting questions
Website: http://www.thecitydark.com/
Watch NOW: http://video.pbs.org/video/2243423337, available until August 5, 2012

This documenary poses the question: "What do we lose when we lose the night?"

Director Ian Cheney compares the skies visible around the world.  He was raised in Maine, with amazing skies visible due to the lack of ambient light or light pollution.  After moving to New York City, he noted far fewer stars in the night sky.  The massive lights NYC is known to prevent one from seeing most stars.  He then wondered what the effects were of losing the connection to the night sky.

The film casts a broad net of what the night sky means for personal ego, health, endangered species, and mankind as a whole.  The film is broken into six parts, with each section posing questions to the next.  Because I watched the shorter PBS version, the film touches on each subject just enough to tantalize you and want you to learn more. 

I. The City Bright
II.  Islands of Dark
III. Nature and the Night
IV.  Night Shifts
V. Why We Light
VI.  Astrophilia

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Bronx-born astrophysicist, ends the documentary: “When you look at the night sky, you realize how small we are within the cosmos. It’s kind of a resetting of your ego. To deny yourself of that state of mind, either willingly or unwittingly, is to not live to the full extent of what it is to be human.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Times of Harvey Milk

Release Date: 1984
Production Company: Black Sands Productions
Director: Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen
Run time: 90 minutes
Seen on: FLIXe Channel
Recommended: Yes, interesting and powerful
Watch NOW: http://www.hulu.com/watch/234255

The Times of Harvey Milk is a documentary about the political life and assassination of the California's first openly gay elected official.  He won a seat on the San Franscisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.  This story was also the basis for the 2008 film, Milk, starring Sean Penn as the titular character.

The doc was released in 1984, only 6 years after the assassinations.  The film begins with news footage announcing the assassination of Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone by councilman Dan White.  While some documentaries might leave this information until later in the film, this event was such a significant cultural event. 

The film combines interviews with friends and colleagues, photographs, and news footage.  The film is also tied together by the narration of Harvey Fierstein.  Some of the most interesting interviews are with union supporters.  The gentleman interviewed didn't think he would like Milk.  But Milk stood not only for gay rights, but for the rights of all minorities: Chinese, senior citizens, and working class unions.

The most powerful image of the documentary was of a candlelight walk after the assassinations.  There were candles in the dark across a wide avenue as far as you could see.  "It was one of the most eloquent expressions of a community's response to violence I've ever seen."

"Without hope, the us's give up.  I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it life is not worth living.  And you, and you, and you, you've gotta give 'em hope."