Category Archives: Movies

“The Paris Opera” hits all the high notes when it comes to a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary

Sweeping in scope yet full of intimate moments, Film Movement’s The Paris Opera,  offers a candid look behind the scenes of one of the world’s foremost performing arts institutions. Over the course of one tumultuous season, director Jean-Stéphane Bron nimbly juggles multiple storylines, from ballet and opera rehearsals, to strike negotiations, last minute crises and ticket disputes, revealing the dedication of the talented personnel who bring breathtaking spectacles to the stage night after night.

 
It’s Autumn 2015 and, at the Paris Opera, new director Stéphane Lissner is putting the finishing touches to his first press conference.  Backstage, artists and crew diligently prepare to raise the curtain on a new season with Schönberg’s opera, Moses and Aaron.  However, the announcement of a strike and arrival of a 2000-pound bull in a supporting role complicate matters greatly.  As the season progresses, more and more characters appear, playing out the human comedy in the manner of a documentary Opera.  Enter promising young Russian singer, Mikhail Tymoshenko, who begins at the Opera’s Academy; in the hallways of Opera Bastille, his destiny will cross paths with that of Bryn Terfel, one of the greatest voices of his time.  And Lissner will have to weather star choreographer Benjamin Millepied jumping ship soon after taking over as director of ballet at Palais Garnier.  But when the terrorist attack at The Bataclan plunges the city into mourning, the company recognizes the show must go on.
And it does.

 

Nancy Cartwright’s wonderful “love affair” with Federico Fellini shines in “In Search of Fellini”

We have been in love with Federico Fellini’s films since we were 8 1/2.
We’ve also been in love with Lucy. Of course, that Lucy, but we’re on the ball with a different Lucy.
Let us explain.
A coming-of-age adventure, the film In Search of Fellini follows Lucy, a small-town girl from Ohio who discovers the delightfully bizarre films of the legendary Italian filmmaker and sets off on a journey across Italy to find him. Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson for nearly 30 years!) is a co-writer and executive producer; the film is actually inspired by her true life events: her fascination with and search for Federico Fellini, in Italy, as a young woman. Nancy has even kept the original letters that she wrote to Federico Fellini (on a Corona typewriter) in the mid ’80s as well as correspondence from his office. This winsome drama, from Spotted Cow Entertainment, also starring Maria Bello and Mary Lynn Rajskub, arrives on DVD on February 23.
Lucy Cunningham has never kissed a boy, never had a job and never really had friends. Her best, and perhaps only, friend is her mother, Claire (portrayed by Bello), who has shielded her from all the bad in the world, including Claire’s own terminal illness. Claire’s no-BS sister, Kerri (Rajskub), urges her to break her silence and tell Lucy the truth before it’s too late. Lucy, aware that something is up, goes to Cleveland for an ill-fated job interview. There, she stumbles into a bizarre and wonderful festival of the films of legendary Italian director Federico Fellini and is instantly swept away with his Oscar-winning film La Strada (1953).  The cleverly enigmatic tragicomedy leaves Lucy restless and aching for answers, and in a burst of courage, she leaves her small-town home to find the filmmaker and unlock his mysteries and her own.

What follows is a strange and spectacular journey through the romantic dreamscapes of Italy, as Lucy encounters characters, fantasies and nightmares from Fellini’s films.  Her journey of discovery and life counterpoints Claire’s gradual decline into death. Apart but connected, they fulfill both of their dreams as truth and fiction intertwine into the ultimate Felliniesque journey.

 

Indiepix celebrates Black History Month with a trio of must-films in a nifty DVD box set

Indiepix has made is easy (and cost-efficient)to celebrate Black History Month. They have released a value-priced three film DVD box set, featuring three powerful, thought-provoking documentaries, each focusing on a different part of the African American experience. The must-see gems include The Nine Lives of Marion Barry, The Vanishing Black Male and In His Own Home.

With unprecedented access, The Nine Lives of Marion Barryfrom filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, tells the continuing saga of this despised, beloved and resilient politician. It’s a potent story of race, power, sex and drugs; the tale of a complex and contradictory man who is the star of one of the most fascinating and bizarre chapters of American politics.
Many people remember Barry as the philandering drug-addled mayor, the one who famously uttered the phrase “bitch set me up” as he was arrested during an FBI sting in 1990.  He’s the poster boy for corruption, a pariah who will never be forgiven for bringing shame on the nation’s capital.  Yet to others, Marion Barry is a folk hero.  Hailed as a civil rights champion and defender of the poor, he’s the man who transformed Washington, D.C. from a sleepy southern town into a political stronghold of Black America.

In 2005, director Hisani DuBose looked around and realized that with over one million black  men incarcerated, and high homicide and death rates, the African American male just may be becoming an endangered species.  So, she set out explore whether or not black men are in danger of becoming extinct in The Vanishing Black Male.  In a provocative and probing documentary, actor Melvin Jackson, Jr.  speaks with African American men of all walks-  doctors, politicians, college students, teachers, law enforcement personnel and others–to determine the state of the black man in America.  Edited by award-winner Alfred Santana, the compelling and incredibly timely exploration is interwoven with music, art and a series of monologues.

Before Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri, the headline-making killing of Trayvon Martin and the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police officers, there was the shocking 2010 shooting of Kofi Adu Brempong, a disabled Ghanaian graduate student attacked by University of Florida campus police responding to a 911 call.  And though few media outlets outside of Gainseville reported the story, the powerful, hot-button documentary featurette, In His Own Home, recounts the events of that fateful March day and their aftermath: we watch live video of the police attack on Kofi’s apartment; we hear accounts of those who marveled at the number of snipers “ready to shoot at any time” as they surrounded the apartment of a lone student, as well as from fellow students who attest to Kofi’s peaceful demeanor; and, we hear from police officers who explain how they felt threatened and had to shoot.
And, in the aftermath, we bear witness to the administration’s shortcomings and the students and community activists who demand justice.  Underlining a pattern of racism and police brutality, as well as the frightening “militiarization” of campuses nationwide, In His Own Home speaks to widespread and pervasive issues in our country that will, for the time being, remain among our most controversial and disconcerting.

Jimmy Smits corrects history with “Secrets of the Dead: America’s Untold Story” 

History retold, correctly. While most history textbooks depict the British settlements on the East Coast as the first European presence in what would later become the United States, they largely ignore the Spanish men and women who built a string of culturally-diverse colonies, missions and forts here, beginning two generations before Jamestown and Plymouth. Spanish-claimed “La Florida” stretched along the East Coast as far north as Nova Scotia and as far west as Texas, and contained what is still today the oldest, continuously-occupied European colony in the U.S. Did early American historians deemphasize this period due to lack of evidence or were they glossing over national differences on race and slavery?

Secrets of the Dead: America’s Untold Story will be available on DVD March 20. The program is also available for digital download.

Broadcast on PBS as the two-hour special Secrets of Spanish Florida, America’s Untold Story (narrated by Jimmy Smits) expands to four hours to trace the Spanish presence in La Florida from 1565, when the Spaniard Pedro Menéndez established St. Augustine, through 1821, when Spain formally and finally ceded the entirety of its remaining territory to the Americans. The series details the complicated history behind this part of North America–highlighting the dramatic battles for control between European powers, the diverse populations that inhabited, fled, and fought for the peninsula over 256 years and the dramatically different status of blacks and Native Americans under the Spanish.

The program follows historians, archaeologists and marine scientists as they unearth documents and artifacts previously not known to the general public, piecing together a fuller picture of the contributions of the Spanish and the multicultural society they created, and uncovering why this story never made its way into textbooks.

Two hot IFC movies edging their way to DVD

Laird Hamilton is perhaps the greatest big wave surfer of all time, a living legend who has tamed some of the world’s mightiest waves. Among the surf community, he is also one of the most controversial figures, an innovator who has revolutionized the sport often to the dismay of purists. The thrilling, up-close portrait Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton (IFC Films) traces his remarkable journey, from his rebellious childhood in Hawaii to his fearless first forays into surfing to his relentless pursuit of ever-bigger waves, a quest that ultimately led him to conquer what’s been called “the heaviest wave ever ridden.”

Academy Award-nominated director-producer Rory Kennedy blends candid interviews with breathtaking action footage  to create a visceral, white-knuckle look at a life lived on the edge.


One of the most renowned card magicians of all time, Richard Turner astounds audiences around the world with his legendary sleight of hand. What they may not even realize, and what makes his achievements all the more amazing, is that he is completely blind. Charting Turner’s colorful life from his tumultuous childhood to the present, Dealt (IFC Films) reveals how through determination and force of will, he overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to rise to the top of his profession.

The  film is both a tantalizing, up-close look at the secretive world of magic and a candid, awe-inspiring portrait of a man who lives beyond his limitations. The IFC Films theatrical release has been widely honored, including winning the audience award for best documentary at SXSW, the Dallas International Film Festival and the Independent Film Festival of Boston.

For the record: Celebrate Black History Month with these historically important films and records

Black Wings  (PBS Distribution)
For early aviators, conquering the forces of gravity was a daunting challenge. But black aviators had an additional challenge: to conquer the forces of racism.

Image result for PBS BLACK WINGS

Meet the men and women of color who took to the skies throughout the 20th century and helped prove to a segregated nation that skin color didn’t determine skill level. From biplanes to commercial jets, and from barnstormers to war fighters, meet the path-breaking pilots who opened the skies for all.


In the firmament of rock ‘n’ roll’s first-generation creators, no artist looms larger than Chuck Berry. In a consistently innovative recording career that spanned more than 60 years, the iconic singer-songwriter-guitarist, who passed away on March 18, 2017, laid much of the groundwork for modern rock ‘n’ roll, while creating some of rock’s most distinctive and enduring anthems, including “Johnny B. Goode”, “Roll Over Beethoven,”, “Rock and Roll Music” and “Reelin and Rockin”.

Geffen/UMe are paying tribute to the immortal spirit of Chuck Berry with the ultimate vinyl version of his landmark greatest hits compilation, The Great Twenty-Eight, with The Great Twenty-Eight: Super Deluxe Edition.

The five-disc vinyl box set housed in a textured box, complements the original two-LP, 28-song compilation with an additional LP, More Great Chuck Berry, containing 14 more hits, rarities and B-sides missing from the original, as well as a rare live album, Oh Yeah! Live in Detroit, available on vinyl for the first time. The collection also include a newly created bonus ten-inch EP Berry Christmas, featuring four holiday-themed classics on “Rudolph-Red” vinyl, with one song on vinyl for the first time as well. A limited edition version on “Chess Blue” vinyl, limited to 500 copies.

Bob Dylan once called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll.” John Lennon stated, “If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.'” As Keith Richards writes in the booklet intro, “Chuck Berry is the gentleman who started it all.”

And if those testimonials aren’t convincing enough, one listen to The Great Twenty-Eight: Super Deluxe Edition will make the case for Chuck Berry’s singular, timeless rock ‘n’ roll brilliance.


 

Cruel and Unusual, a profound documentary telling the story of three men—Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, known as the Angola 3. Wrongfully convicted for murdering a prison guard in 1972 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, these men have spent longer in solitary than any other prisoners in the US.  On his release, Albert Woodfox had spent 43 years in a six foot by nine foot cell for a crime he did not commit.

Cover for the documentary, "Cruel And Unusual"

The film is available for sale and rental on Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

Told in detail by interviews and prison phone calls from King, Wallace and Woodfox, Cruel and Unusual allows viewers to experience these men’s pain and anguish. From the worst of the worst in their cells, these men managed to find the best of the best that the human spirit has to offer. They have fought for justice and never accepted defeat so that no one else will ever suffer the way they did. A call to action, the film aims to support the growing campaign to end the overuse of long term solitary confinement in America’s prisons.


The rich history of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) began before the end of slavery, flourished in the 20th century, and profoundly influenced the course of the nation for over 150 years—yet remains largely unknown. This latest documentary from Stanley Nelson, America’s foremost film chronicler of the African American experience, is the powerful story of the rise, influence, and evolution of HBCUs come to life.

The story is told in Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (PBS Distribution).

A haven for Black intellectuals, artists, and revolutionaries—and a path of promise toward the American dream—HBCUs have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field while remaining unapologetically Black for more than 150 years. These institutions have nurtured some of the most influential Americans of our time, from Booker T. Washington to Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois to Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison to Oprah Winfrey, Alice Walker to Spike Lee to Common.

“Frontline: War on the EPA” shows how a minor league baseball team owner came to political prominence by pledging to fight federal environmental regulations

How did Scott Pruitt go from fighting the EPA to running the agency and rolling back years of policy? The gripping documentary Frontline: War on the EPA (PBS Distribution) investigates the conservative political forces and causes, like climate change skepticism, that propelled Pruitt’s takeover of the EPA.

With access to key players on all sides of the issue, the film traces how the fossil fuel industry fought back against Obama-era regulations with the help of a “strike force” of industry-funded state attorneys general, led by Pruitt. It also explores how Pruitt, a former state senator and minor league baseball team owner, came to political prominence first in Oklahoma and then in Washington, D.C. by pledging to fight federal environmental regulations, and defend the oil and gas industries.

With Pruitt now leading the federal agency he sued 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general, the documentary is an inside look at the triumphant ascent of the anti-regulatory movement in America.

 

“North Korea’s Deadly Dictator” takes an eye-opening look at how King Jong-un thinks and perpetuate his own power

In 2017, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was ambushed in a Malaysian airport by two women bearing a lethal chemical weapon 10 times more powerful than sarin. He died en route to the hospital. Who planned the murder of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, and what does it reveal about the leader and his regime?

Frontline: North Korea’s Deadly Dictator is now available on DVD. The program is also available for digital download.

As nuclear tensions between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un escalate, producer Jane McMullen examines claims the North Korean leader and his intelligence services ordered the assassination on Kim Jong-nam, and sheds light on his broader intentions and nuclear capabilities.

Drawing on interviews with a leading North Korean defector, diplomats, experts, Kim Jong-nam’s school friends and even a former North Korean secret agent, the documentary is a rare glimpse inside the secretive country; an eye-opening look at both how King Jong-un thinks, and how he’s trying to ensure his regime’s survival and perpetuate his own power.

We think of “Same Kind of Different as Me” as a miracle, a film that proves how a simple act of kindness can change everything.

Love is all around. And love is the same kind, even if a person is different.

Welcome to Same Kind of Different As Me, arriving on Blu-ray and DVD on February 20 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  The film arrives on Digital tomorrow.

Based on The New York Times bestselling book and recipient of the Dove Foundation seal of approval for ages 12+, Same Kind of Different as Me follows successful art dealer Ron Hall (portrayed by Greg Kinnear) and his wife Debbie (Renée Zellweger), who seemingly have the perfect life.  But when their faith and family are tested, an unlikely bond with a homeless drifter (Djimon Hounsou). The film shows how a simple act of kindness can change everything.

The Blu-ray includes over an hour of behind-the-scenes bonus content, including deleted and extended scenes, featurettes, and commentary by director Michael Carney and writers Ron Hall and  Alexander Foard.  The DVD includes the feature film only.

“VA: The Human Cost of War” is a probing, profound film, another winner from Ric Burns

What is the exact human cost of war? Directed by six-time Emmy -winning filmmaker Ric Burns and executive produced by Lois Pope, VA: The Human Cost of War (PBS Distribution) takes a broad look at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, examining the organization’s history, leadership, structure, funding and relationship to veterans.The documentary examines the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, from its inception to the present day, exploring its successes and failures in properly caring for veterans upon their return from war, its critical role in the American healthcare system, and the need for major reform.

 Tracing its troubled beginnings as the Veterans Bureau of the 1920s through to the organization’s transformation into a modern healthcare system after World War II, the film tracks the ways in which the VA has had to quickly adapt to new challenges and obstacles as it attempts to care for veterans. Beholden to the executive branch for its funding and detached logistically from the leaders who plan and execute war, the VA has had to find ways to deal with the consequences and costs of war, which are incurred long after the fighting ceases. From the psychological and physical wounds of soldiers returning from Vietnam, to the changing demographic make-up of the troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, the film investigates the Department’s successes and gross missteps as its burden continues to grow larger, more complicated, and increasingly politicized.

Told through a series of personal stories from veterans and intertwined with deep historical and political analysis from leading scholars and elected officials, the film illustrates the key ways in which the VA, and we as a society, fail our veterans, who, according to Department of Veterans Affairs research, continue to commit suicide at the harrowing rate of 20 veterans per day.