Life as performance, personality as melodrama, persona as hope. This is the superlative movie I’d hoped a filmmaker (director, editor, producer, shooter, critic, academic) as intelligent and driven as Robert Greene would make someday, but so soon? “Actress” is an intimate collaboration with his neighbor, Brandy Burre, an actress who had been in “The Wire” and who now juggles relationships, children, wayward emotions and unstemmed ambition. Brandy Burre plays “herself,” but it would take pages, a few thousand words, or maybe another film in reply, to indicate the richness of what’s on screen. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
The most teemingly competitive category in the Oscar race may well be documentaries rather than features. While 323 movies were eligible for the 87th Academy Awards, the documentary contest started with 134, reduced to fifteen, and finally, five.
For the final quintet, the disappointment over the exclusion of Steve James’ “Life Itself,” about the life of Roger Ebert, wasn’t limited to Chicago, although the surprise of the inclusion of Charlie Siskel and John Maloof’s “Finding Vivian Maier” offers some salve to local pride. (The other 2015 nominees are Laura Poitras’ portrait of whistleblower Edward Snowden, “CitizenFour,” Rory Kennedy’s you-are-there archival-footage driven “Last Days in Vietnam,” Orlando von Einsiedel’s “Virunga,” a Netflix-streaming exploration of the struggle to save the last of the planet’s mountain gorillas in the Congo, and Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s “The Salt of the Earth,” following the life and recent projects of the great photographer Sebastião Salgado.)
But the shortlist of fifteen also omitted Gabe Polsky’s “Red Army,” a taut, sprightly eighty-five-minute history of the Red Army hockey team, from the days of the USSR to modern Russia, a gripping portrait of one man’s fall from national hero to political enemy, while reflecting the upheavals of his country as well. Read the rest of this entry »
(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
There’s a delicate and beautiful dance in Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden’s “Almost There,” a seven-years-in-the-making engagement with an elderly Northwest Indiana outsider artist, Peter Anton (whose work was shown at Chicago’s Intuit Gallery in 2010). The movie transforms before our eyes, as it did for the filmmakers, a dance between a willful subject and filmmakers who intend not to stray too close but ultimately can’t help themselves. Anton lives not only in poverty, but also in squalor, in a falling-down house left him by his parents, and the ethical question of how involved the filmmakers ought to be, in light of his circumstances, grows uneasy. “I’m not your subject,” Anton bursts out at one point, “I thought you were my friend.” “Almost There” has its Chicago debut at Siskel this week, and I’ll write more about its innerworldly kick when the Kartemquin-ITVS co-production is released theatrically. Read the rest of this entry »
Why is universal healthcare considered radical, even un-American in some quarters? That’s not the subject of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s quietly urgent, painfully of-the-moment “Remote Area Medical,” an observational documentary that leans into three days of the title organization’s encampment at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway. There’s no preaching here, only a selection of the amassing figures. Thousands of nearby citizens line up from the darkest hours of the morning to receive the most basic of medical and dental attention. “We don’t have jobs here, and the jobs that are available aren’t paying living wages,” we hear. Are we in a third-world country? (RAM began its activities aiding the dispossessed of other nations.) No, just the greater mid-South: America. The structuring of incident and character sneaks up on you: this is one of the most Altmanesque of large-cast nonfiction films, yet infused with a tenderness, a quiet dismay that Altman never cared for. Read the rest of this entry »
Documentarian Judy Irving follows up her 2003 documentary hit, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” with another gentle avian adventure by the Bay, the charming, affectionate “Pelican Dreams.” “Gigi” is a California brown pelican that’s found on the Golden Gate Bridge, and Irving illuminates the lives of pelicans along the Pacific Coast through her patient observation and lush, loving photography of Gigi and her fellow pelicans’ charm Read the rest of this entry »
Marshall Curry’s strange and beguiling “Point And Shoot” is a worthy addition to the observant documentarian’s work (after the political tagalong of “Street Fight” and the ecopolitics of “If A Tree Falls”). Everyday Baltimorean Matthew VanDyke is his subject—compulsive, seemingly borderline OCD from the start: an ordinary American narcissist who winds up traveling from Maryland to Africa on a four-year, 35,000-mile motorcycle jaunt, joining the battle against Muhammar Khadafi in Libya in 2011. He points, he shoots. Read the rest of this entry »
Gifted, attentive documentarian Amir Bar-Lev takes the Jerry Sandusky child-molesting case as a cautionary tale against sports practiced as religion. The small town of State College, Pennsylvania, known locally as “Happy Valley,” is home to Penn State and beloved football coach Joe Paterno, fired after forty-six seasons for his complicity in covering up Sandusky’s history of sexual predation since at least 1998. Bar-Lev’s portrayal of the aftermath is judicious, especially of the fevered disappointment of devout fans and their rejection of the facts unearthed in media coverage. The portrait is as much of the town and the larger culture of American sports as of the criminal and his accomplices.
Read the rest of this entry »
Three hours of Frederick Wiseman watching people watch art, restore art, revel in the possibilities of art: there’s serene poetry here. In “National Gallery,” as in most of his work of the past five decades, Wiseman takes a few weeks to capture what goes on at an institution, listens, observes, goes back to his edit suite and makes sense of it all. In this case, Wiseman spent twelve weeks in 2012, while there were major exhibits of J. M. W. Turner, Titian and Da Vinci. Read the rest of this entry »
“Hopeless is a lie.” Jesse Moss’ specific yet elusive, moving observational portrait of a pastor in the fracking-wracked North Dakota oil boom town of Williston demonstrates the limits of community in the face of insurgent need: it’s nothing less than a nonfiction latter-day “The Grapes of Wrath” that’s both heartbreaking and urgently beautiful. “The Overnighters” is the name Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke gives the emigrants who arrive by the busload, broken yet driven men who change the face of the small prairie town. Read the rest of this entry »