Friday, April 4, 2014

15 Must See Documentaries and The Week in Reviews

[I review "The Grand Budapest Hotel" as well as DVDs "The Past," "The Great Beauty" and "Diana."  The Book of the Week is "Leggy Blonde."]  


BUT FIRST...

Documentaries are one of my favorite film genres. 

I guess that falls into line with my preferring to read nonfiction over fiction.

There is something about truth being stranger than fiction.

There are so many great documentaries out there, it is difficult to choose just 15, but these are the ones that either affected me personally or were just so effecting, I never forgot them.

Try something different this weekend.  Watch a documentary.  I guarantee you they are as exciting and riveting as feature films.

I have included some trailers so you can see for yourself along with my usual trenchant comments.

 

1. 56 Up (The Up Series)

Director Michael Apted has followed 14 British children since 1964 in a series of films that started with "7 Up," then every seven years after that culminating in the current title, "56 Up."  This is a fascinating study in class and free will.

The aim of the series is stated at the beginning of "7 Up," the first in the series as:

"Why do we bring these children together? Because we want to get a glimpse of England in the year 2000. The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old."





This latest catches you up and gives you some background, but if you want the full story of each child, see all eight in the series.

Why it's a must see: "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man." 
Is this true?  This series debates class consciousness and destiny.





2.  Grey Gardens (1975)

There was quite a scandal when it was discovered that Jackie Kennedy's socialite aunt and cousin, Edith Beale and her daughter "Little Edie" were living in squalor in East Hampton, New York. 

This film gives us a glimpse into their lives and some possible reasons why they descended into a kind of madness. Little Edie was known for wearing eccentric "costumes," such as sweaters as headdresses.



A stage musical has been made from their story, as well as an HBO film starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.





Why it's a must see...it's touching, eccentric, and poignant, and in 2010 this film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."






3.  51 Birch St. (2005)


After the death of his mother, a son discovers her many secrets.




Why it's a must see...a case study in how we never really know our parents and how each of us just "wants to be known."




4.  Project Nim (2012)

Can a primate raised in close contact with humans learn our language?





Why it's a must see...yes, but at what cost?  A tear jerker, especially for animal lovers.






5.  Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

In the mid-1990's there was a perfectly good electric car being manufactured.  What happened?

The automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, the California government and others....that's what happened.

Why it's a must see...if it were not for this film, we would never have known why we are not driving around electric cars.




6.  Elaine Stritch Shoot Me (2013)


She is not a household name but she should be. 

Stritch is an 89 year old actress who made her stage debut in 1944.  She is the grande dame of theatre. She has won countless awards and lived a flamboyant life.




Why it's a must see...Because you need to know who she is.





7.  Searching for Sugarman (2013)

This film is a mystery as well as a documentary. 

What happened to the singer known as Rodriguez, an American who never had fame in the U.S. but was a national treasure to South Africans?  Supposedly he committed suicide on stage.




Why it's a must see...it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2012 and is an engrossing, powerful film.





8.  Grizzly Man (2005)

Director Werner Herzog chronicles the life and death of bear lover Timothy Treadwell, who spent 13 summers communing with and filming the bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska until he and his girlfriend were killed by the bears. 

Treadwell's video camera was found and his last images were on it, including the sounds of the bear attack. Thankfully, that piece is not included in the film, though it shows Herzog listening to it, clearly disturbed and asking that it be destroyed.

Why it's a must see...the story of an obsession gone terribly wrong told by an expert filmmaker. 
You won't be able to take your eyes off this film.



9.  Woodstock (1970)

The Big Mama of all rock festivals. 

The culmination of the Summer of Love and Hubby was there.




Why it's a must see...because we will probably never see anything like this ever again.  It's the benchmark of concert movies.



10.  Night and Fog (1955)

Directed by French director Alain Resnais, it shows the Nazi death camps ten years after liberation along with stock footage. 

It's graphic and frightening and if you have ever doubted that the holocaust ever happened, you need to see this film. 




Why it's a must see...so this kind of thing will never happen again. 
I saw this film in college and I have never forgotten it.




11.  Dreams of a Life (2011)

Joyce Vincent was found in her London flat surrounded by Christmas presents and with her TV on three years after she had died unnoticed. 

She was young, sociable, did not do drugs, and had no history of mental illness.





Why it's a must see...how does something like this happen?
A cautionary tale to look after your family and friends.



12.  Roger and Me (1989)

Then burgeoning filmmaker Michael Moore explores the negative impact of General Motors closing its plants in his home town of Flint, Michigan, and goes in search of then CEO Roger Smith.

Dejected by his failure to bring Smith to Flint, Moore proclaims that "as we neared the end of the 20th century", as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, "it was truly the dawn of a new era." After the credits, the film displays the message "This film cannot be shown within the city of Flint", followed by "All the movie theatres have closed."

Michael Moore went on to produce films "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Bowling for Columbine," "Sicko" and other controversial documentary films.





Why it's a must see...this is the film that started it all for Michael Moore...and it's really funny.




13.  Monterey Pop (1968)

If Woodstock was the Big Mama of concert films, this one was the baby. 

This started it all covering the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967.




Why it's a must see...Mama Cass of The Mamas and Papas seeing Janis Joplin for the first time and mouthing "Wow," and Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.  Classic rock moments.





14.  Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)

A hideous murder of three little boys, a false confession and three teens go to prison. 

Did they do it?  The film was followed by two sequels: Paradise Lost 2: Revelations and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.

False confessions are not anomalies.




Why it's a must see...a scary portrait of what can happen if you have a bad reputation or lack mental capability to deal with the police.





15.  Gimme Shelter (1970)

Chronicles the last weeks of The Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour which culminated in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert.




Why it's a must see...The end of The Summer of Love.  The Party's Over.
 


What is your favorite documentary?

 
 


Now on to
 


The Week in Reviews
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The story of Gustave H. renowned concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel and his Lobby Boy, Zero.

It seems everyone wants to work with writer/director Wes Anderson:  Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, Jeff Goldbloom, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban and Fisher Stevens (did you know Stevens was once married to Michelle Pfeiffer?) are all in this (did I leave anyone out?) and many of whom are Wes Anderson regulars.

Anderson has written and directed "The Royal Tanenbaums," "Rushmore" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and others, but pulls out all the stops in this beautifully crafted, stylish and hilarious comedy, which has all of the elements of a French farce.

This is Ralph Fiennes as you have never seen him, as in really, really funny.  He is at once the charming, refined concierge, but delivering lines like this when he finds himself in a prison fight:

Zero:  What happened?

M. Gustave: What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living shit out of a sniveling little runt called Pinky Bandinski. You should take a long look at his ugly mug this morning. He's actually become a dear friend.

And what will become a classic:  "Keep your hands off my lobby boy!"

Rosy the Reviewer says...This is a wonderful romp that you don't want to miss. Best film of 2014 so far.



***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
And Some You Should Be Glad You Did
(I see the bad ones so you don't have to)
 
 
The Past (2013) [subtitles]
 
 

From the Asghar Farhadi, the director of "A Separation," which won last year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, this French-Iranian film is another study of a relationship collapsing. 

This time Ahmad, who has apparently deserted his wife, Marie, has returned from Iran to get a divorce from Marie (Berenice Bejo), who is already living with another man, Samir, and his son, Fouad. Marie's daughter is acting out and Ahmad tries to help, only to uncover some devastating secrets.

You may remember Bejo from "The Artist," for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the Golden Globes, Screen Actor's Guild and the Academy Awards.  Here she plays a complicated woman juggling many roles - soon-to-be ex-wife, soon to be wife, mother, soon to be step-mother.

Farhadi's gift is his ability to create something extraordinary out of the seemingly ordinary lives of his characters.  Here he weaves his character's  pasts together to reminds us that our pasts lead us to our present.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a mature and engrossing look at complicated relationships.  Recommended.




The Great Beauty (2013) [subtitles]


 
Italian Journalist Jep Gambardella turns 65 and reflects on his past - his lost love, his lost youth and life.
 
If films epitomize the phrase, "A picture is worth a thousand words," then this Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film this year delivers to a certain extent.  It's beautiful to look at.  It's a love letter in pictures to Rome.  But the thousand words...not sure.

But as for the story itself, though reminiscent of Fellini's "La Dolce Vita (1960)," I found it unapproachable, often incoherent and indulgent. Maybe it's because I don't like the decadence of the very rich even in satire. In 1960 it was new; today it's tired.
 
The major bone I have to pick is -
why did this film need to be almost two and a half hours long?  If I wanted to spend two and a half hours listening to the phlegmatic conversations of the decadent rich, I would watch Fox News. 

I watch a lot of movies and get through some slow metaphoric ones with ease, but this one is not only slow and metaphoric, but opaque.

Excuse me, but Best Foreign Film of 2013? Yes, it's very arty, but self consciously so. Pretentious even. 

I liked "Broken Circle Breakdown (also nominated)" better, as well as "The Past (which wasn't even nominated -see above)."

If you have two and a half hours to spare, OK, it's beautiful to look at, but if you can actually figure out what this was about, let me know. 
I found this ultimately disappointing. 

And there will be those who find meaning here and it would definitely stir debate, but I just found it blah, blah, blah.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...Yawn. 




Diana (2013)




This film concentrates on the last two years of Princess Diana's life and her supposed ill-fated love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan after her separation from Prince Charles.

If you have been a regular reader of my blog, it's no surprise that I am a huge fan of Princess Diana and was devastated by her death.  So I wanted to love this film.  It was respectful and included her influence in banning land mines and other good works, but it failed to capture Diana's luminescence - why it was she was the "Most Famous Woman in the World," the most beloved.  In trying to portray "Diana in love," she came across as a lonely manipulator.

Naomi Watts had many of Diana's mannerisms down and wore some of the classic clothes, but she played much too old. Hard as I tried, I couldn't believe her as Diana, though it was a serious and respectful portrayal on her part. The script didn't help, though, with melodramatic lines, such as surgeon Khan saying, "You don't perform the operation, it performs you" and Diana saying, "Now that I've been loved, I don't feel lonely anymore."

According to this account, Diana and Hasnat had recently broken up due to his family's disapproval and his desire to concentrate on his career and not be married to the most famous woman in the world.  However, the implication here was that it wasn't entirely over between them, and Diana was just using Dodi Fayed to make Hasnat jealous.  In fact, in the film, while at the Ritz before the fateful car ride, Diana is hoping that Hasnat will phone her.  As she leaves her hotel suite, we hear the phone ringing.  A cheap shot for us to think that if he had called sooner she wouldn't have died. 

On the positive side, many of my fave British actors are in evidence: Douglas Hodge as butler Paul Burrell and Juliet Stevenson and Geraldine James as her friends, though in small parts.  Naveen Andrews who made such a splash in "The English Patient" stars as Hasnat Khan, but as dashing as he was in "The English Patient," Diana's attraction to him doesn't play.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a notch above a Lifetime Movie.  Much as I have a penchant for Lifetime Movies, though, Diana deserved more.  But it still made me cry remembering it all.
 


***Book of the Week***
 
 
 Leggy Blonde by Aviva Drescher (2014)


 
Real Housewives of New York City Aviva Drescher shares her story.

I have already confessed my addiction to Bravo's Real Housewives franchise and my predilection for juicy celebrity memoirs (even quasi-celebrity) on my blog "My Guilty Pleasures," so I won't apologize or get into that here. 

To me, it's fun to read about someone who I am also watching on television, and it's a bonus when the book turns out to be better and more illuminating than expected.  And it's timely as the storyline on the show right now includes a fight between Aviva and Carole about who wrote their books (both claim they did not have ghost writers).

But Housewives aside, that aspect of Drescher's life only takes up one chapter. 

The rest of the book talks about her unusual, though privileged, childhood (her parents were interesting characters, to say the least), her losing a foot in a childhood accident and how she coped with it, her fears, her career choices and her marriages, all told in a candid and self-deprecating way.  Up until now, she was not one of my favorite characters on RHONY.  In fact, I thought she was a pain in the ass.  But now, I have renewed respect for her.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you watch "The Real Housewives of NYC" you will enjoy this.  And if you have had to cope with the loss of a limb or panic attacks, hypochondria, or have a fear of Jacuzzis, you might also like this.



That's it for this week.
 



See you Tuesday for

"Librarians:  The Reality Show"



 


Note:  Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).
If I reviewed a movie, you can now find my reviews there too.
When you get there, click on "Explore More" on the right side panel and then scroll down to "External Reviews."  Click on that and you will find me alphabetically under Rosy the Reviewer.
 



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