Friday, April 28, 2017

God Grew Tired of Us (2006)


Newmarket Films
Directed by Christopher Quinn
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Sony)

Refugees in Kenya, who walked literally hundreds of miles from Sudan, are relocated to the United States. They  make the best of their life in the refugee camp, supporting each other through deep friendships. After a long flight, they arrive at their new homes in various locations in the US. They experience a few weeks of culture shock, then settle into their routines. Most take on several jobs, sending money back to relatives in Africa. One man reconnects to his family and has his mother flown in for a reunion after 17 years. Years pass, and most of them have adapted to American life while retaining their African culture. A bittersweet, moving story about overcoming the unthinkable with a positive outlook, humble attitude and an unflinching work ethic. I think Americans have a lot to learn from these refugees.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)


Sundance Selects
Directed by Göran Hugo Olsson
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, IFC Films)

Old footage shot by Swedish journalists of the leaders of the Black Power Movement in America is the basis of this documentary. Commentary is provided by contemporary artists, musicians and a few surviving members of the movement. The chronological structure of the film examines the roots of the movement in the late 60s as a response to police violence, its evolution to a political then confrontational stance in the 70s, then its eventual decline in the mid 70s. Manages to be an entertaining time capsule and riveting history of a movement that has been misunderstood, and often misrepresented.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015)


Magnolia Pictures
Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Magnolia)

During the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968, struggling network ABC hired political commentators William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal to "debate" each other for a few minutes every night. On diametrically opposite ends of the political spectrum, it quickly descended into personal attacks, most memorably when Vidal called Buckley a "pro-crypto--Nazi" and and infuriated Buckley responded with a homophobic slur. Extremely entertaining, even by today's standards, and, unbelievably, more relevant than ever.

Tchoupitoulas (2012)


Oscilloscope
Directed by Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Three teenage brothers who live on the west side of the Mississippi River in New Orleans spend a night in and near the French Quarter. They encounter brass bands, strippers, artists and other assorted street people living on the margins of the city. They miss the last ferry home and are forced to spend the night. They roam around the streets encountering more characters, hang out in Armstrong Park and visit a decaying house boat. At sunrise, the fog enshrouds the streets and they finally catch that ferry home. Vivid account of the unique place that is the French Quarter plays like a fever dream, the lights, music and atmosphere perfectly captured. Our three guides aren't exactly illuminating, but at least they don't get in the way.

The Order of Myths (2008)


The Cinema Guild
Directed by Margaret Brown
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Cinema Guild)

The oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country takes place in Mobile, Alabama, not New Orleans, and is divided among racial lines. Each group selects its own king and queen, holds separate balls and even parades separately. We get a glimpse of each organization as Mardi Gras day approaches. It is telling that among the white group, African-Americans are seen only as waiters, cooks or in other roles of servitude. Each side tries to justify the segregation, with appeals to tradition. To their credit, the African-American king and queen visit the coronation of the other king and queen, and are given a warm welcome. One is left with the feeling that this is only a tentative first step.

Prisoner of Paradise (2002)


Academy Awards, USA 2003

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Malcolm Clarke
Stuart Sender

PBS
Directed by Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, PBS)

The story of how Kurt Gerron, a German star of vaudeville and early cinema, made a propaganda film for the Nazis while interred at a concentration camp. Fleeing the Nazi terror in Berlin, he ended up in Amsterdam, working on the stage at a Jewish theater. He was captured and sent to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Given the choice of being sent to Auschwitz or directing a film, he chose the latter, which was a completely fictional sleight-of-hand depicting life there as nothing short of paradise. Yet another side of the Nazi horror story, informative, and heartbreaking, bolstered by the unique Gerron.

Winter Soldier (1972)


No director credited
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Recent Vietnam Veterans hold a press conference in Detroit to recount atrocities they observed or participated in during their time in Vietnam. Their description is explicit, believable and horrifying. Blame is squarely put on military "brainwashing", in which they are trained to de-humanize the enemy and get as many "kills" as possible. An extremely powerful anti-war testimony, just as relevant today as it was when released (and subsequently ignored).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fires of Kuwait (1992)


Academy Awards, USA 1993

Nominated
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
Sally Dundas

IMAX
Directed by David Douglas
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

Elite firefighters from around the world extinguish hundreds of burning oil wells in Kuwait, set by the retreating Iraqi military. The massive pillars of fire and their never ending plumes of black smoke blot out the sun of the desert landscape. The images are spectacular, the story, mostly consisting of "big machines", not so much.

Home Movie (2001)


Directed by Chris Smith
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Home Vision Entertainment)

Smith turns his camera on five unusual homes, and the even more unusual people who live in them. There is the couple who live in an abandoned missile silo in Kansas; the former Japanese sitcom star living in a remote tree house in Hawaii; a couple who has transformed their house into a haven for cats; a man who lives on a houseboat and feeds alligators in Louisiana; and a man obsessed with electronic gadgets. Immensely entertaining, but at just over an hour you are left wanting more.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed (2004)


Directed by Shola Lynch
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, 20th Century Fox)

Documentary on the unheralded and mostly forgotten presidential run by an African-American congresswoman from New York. The Democrat faced impossible odds, and rampant sexism and racism, but campaigned for months and eventually reached the convention. It is the portrait of an intelligent, determined woman, something that could not be taken seriously in 1972, and the mainstream still struggles with today. Featuring the usual array of talking heads and vintage footage, set to a funky soundtrack.