Reviews - Page 76

Giving you our points of view on the latest docs in release and on the circuit.

Review: ‘Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey’

Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey (USA, 99 min.) Written and directed by Sally Sussman   Alan Parker’s 1978 film Midnight Express generally holds up as a Hollywood classic. The film, which won Oscars for Oliver Stone’s screenplay and Giorgio Moroder’s memorable disco score, is a tense political thriller about the arrest of college student Billy Hayes who was caught carrying two kilograms of hashish while travelling in Turkey and sentenced to an irrationally harsh life sentence. Tough, dark, gritty, and violent, the film remains controversial for its intense story of a prison break and survival. Despite

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Review: ‘Two Trains Runnin’

Two Trains Runnin’ (USA, 80 min.) Dir. Sam Pollard   The number of good American music docs that combine the songs of the South with the nation’s turbulent history of racism are too numerous to count. Add Sam Pollard’s Two Trains Runnin’ to the list, however, since it smartly intertwines the two historical narratives and articulates the arts’ ability to articulate the soul of a nation. Pollard (Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me) mixes interviews, archival images, animation, and musical performances to create a piece of living history. Like many other music docs, Two Trains Runnin’ sees in the

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Review: ‘The Final Year’

The Final Year (USA, 89 min.) Dir. Greg Barker   Don’t let The Final Year get you down. See it as an optimistic reminder of goodwill, rather than a tragic portrait of lost progress. It’s been one year since Donald Trump took the presidency and turned the world into a “shithole.” It’s been two years since director Greg Barker started following Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and documenting the final twelve months in his second term as president of the U.S.A. One can debate if Barker sensed Trump’s unfortunate victory during the course of filming or if The Final Year partly

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Review: ‘Aida’s Secrets’

Aida’s Secrets (Israel/Germany/Canada, 90 min.) Dir. Alon Schwarz, Shaul Schwarz   “From 6,000 survivors, 1,300 babies were born.”—Alon Schwarz about the Jewish survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp who lived in a Displaced Persons camp after World War Two Imagine what you would do if you survived a living hell. Would you be concerned about conventional morality? Everyone in power, every institution, had abandoned you to a grisly fate. Yet somehow you didn’t die, perhaps out of luck or because you had a skill that your oppressors valued. With hope abandoned, you did what you could to stay alive until,

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Review: ‘Mountain’

Mountain (Australia, 74 min.) Dir Jennifer Peedom   Jennifer Peedom’s 2015 documentary Sherpa takes audiences high up Mount Everest for a white-knuckler of a confrontation between climbers and their guides. The film is an Occupy-era parable featuring the reactions of Sherpas after sixteen of their comrades die in an avalanche after risking their lives for meagre pay while enabling/being exploited by the growing consumer sport of mountaineering. It’s a riveting film full of dramatic peaks and daring acts. Peedom climbs different terrain in Mountain, a new companion piece to Sherpa that reflects upon the magnitude and grandeur of the rocky

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Review: ‘Unrest’

Unrest (USA/UK, 98 min.) Dir. Jennifer Brea   While iPhones can be a grievance in movie theatres, one can’t deny that they’re friends to documentary filmmakers. Just look at Jennifer Brea’s deeply personal and sensitive film Unrest, a film that simply could not have been made a decade ago but is now touching audiences and a dark horse on the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature. Brea chronicles her experience with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, and she begins her journey with the documentary by picking up her iPhone in her bed to record the

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Review: ‘Wormwood’

Wormwood (USA, 240 min.) Dir. Errol Morris; Writ. Kieran Fitzpatrick, Steven Hathaway, Molly Rokosz   “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” observes director Errol Morris while interviewing subject Dr. Eric Olson in Wormwood. Morris talks with Olson at great lengths about the bizarre but true story surrounding the death of his father, Frank Olson. The quote from Hamlet is an on-point conclusion for the Shakespearean proportions of the very strange circumstances of Frank’s death. Eric Olson is the first to raise the Hamlet parallels while describing a story that spirals from messy tragedy into full-fledged government conspiracy. It’s

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Review: ‘Chavela’

Chavela (USA/Mexico/Spain, 93 min.) Dir. Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi   “My name is Chavela Vargas,” says the titular subject in on the opening of this documentary. “Don’t you forget it.” While fans might know the singer as “La Senora,” “Chile Verde,” “The Rough Voice of Tenderness,” or, more likely, simply on a first name basis, non-Hispanic audiences might be hearing Chavela’s name for the first name. However, they’ve almost certainly heard her music, perhaps on the soundtracks for films such as Julie Taymor’s Frida, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, or any number of films by Pedro Almodóvar, including his most recent

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Review: ‘Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas’

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas (Canada, 55 min.) Dir. Larry Weinstein   Don’t let Adam Sandler’s The Chanukah Song fool you: the Jews sure know how to write a good Christmas carol. Larry Weinstein (Our Man in Tehran, Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star) playfully chronicles the unsung Jewish history of the holidays in Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas. The doc dives into a history that many viewers might have heard in passing or anecdotally, but never received at length. It’s the story of Christmas carols written by Jewish musicians. Carols like The Christmas Song and White Christmas were penned and tuned by writers such as Mel Tourmé and

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Review: ‘The Devil’s Freedom’


The Devil’s Freedom (Mexico, 74 min.) Dir. Everardo González   Introducing his new film at a RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montreal) screening, Everardo González said that his primary motivation was to give voice to Mexicans brutalized by his country’s relentless violence. The horror can come from many directions. You can be kidnapped, tortured, and buried alive not just by representatives of the drug cartels, but also the army and the police. The approach that makes The Devil’s Freedom so different from the many other films and media reports about lawless persecution is that González does not limit himself

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