One of the great things about film festivals is you can find loads of lower budget and independently made cinematic gems, amidst the big studio projects. Thus, I like to try and see as many smaller scale films if I can, rather than just watch the ones that are likely to go on general release anyway.
Due to my daily work commitments I didn’t get to see as many films as I would like, but here are three I have seen this week. Each is very different, but they all demonstrate, despite featuring some well- known actors, an independently-minded cinematic spirit.
***** SPOILER FREE *****
CALM WITH HORSES (2019)
First time director Nick Rowland has an assured debut with this contemporary rural gangster film set in Southern Ireland. Caught between the right and wrong side of the law, Arm, portrayed with brutal tenderness by Cosmo Jarvis, finds his loyalties torn between his family and venal crime bosses. The ever-impressive Barry Keoghan features as his drug dealer friend, who doesn’t necessarily have his best interests at heart.
It’s a harsh tragedy with an element of hope represented by Niamh Algar’s struggling single mum, hoping to escape for a better life. Ultimately, the story beats inhabit familiar territory, with elements ofMean Streets (1973), Of Mice and Men (1937), Bullhead (2011) and Miller’s Crossing (1990), echoing amidst the slashes of violence, colourful language and tough Irish characters.
Mark: 8 out of 11
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)
Filmmaker Richard Stanley had not directed a film for over twenty years, so when I saw he had filmed a HP Lovecraft short story – I WAS IN! Stanley was famous for being sacked from the ill-fated Island of Dr Moreau (1996). Indeed, the 2014 documentary, Lost Soul (2014),is still one of best docs I have seen about filmmaking. Mainly because everything went wrong, but also because Richard Stanley is such as interesting person too. Thankfully, this latest low-budget horror film was completed without too much trouble.
Given it is an adaptation of Lovecraft, Color Out of Space (2019) is unsurprisingly a cosmically bonkers horror film, which descends into all manner of insane occurrences. It centres on the Gardner family, portrayed by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, who along with their teenage kids, must confront the terrors that befall them when a meteorite hits their isolated farm. Building slowly, all hell breaks loose in the final act, as Cage lets rip with another crazed performance. Trippy and stylish with some fantastic gore, it lacks depth, but has cult film written all over it!
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)
Set in a desolate border town, the film opens with the kindly Magistrate (Mark Rylance) meeting Johnny Depp’s venal Colonel Joll for the first time. Joll is convinced those “Barbarians”, who live in the desert and mountain areas are going to threaten the fabric of the mighty Empire’s society. So, Joll begins a campaign of torture and oppression against them. The Magistrate and Joll constantly clash as the former seeks understanding and empathy over brute force.
This cerebral and allegorical drama is based on a famous literary classic, written by J. M. Coetzee. Brought to the screen by the ultra-talented Columbian filmmaker, Ciro Guerra, it’s quite slow, but I found it absorbing nevertheless. Mark Rylance is absolutely spellbinding. No one can do contemplative acting quite like him. His character was so noble and just, I really felt for him and the oppressed indigenous peoples’ cause. Arguably, the film could have been more dramatic in places, however, it still presents a damning indictment of colonialism and heavy-handed military rule.
I thought I would make an effort to watch more documentaries over the last few months. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds created by writers, show-runners and filmmakers etc. but sometimes it’s important to face the “truth”.
Having said that are documentaries actually reflecting reality or the truth? Because the documentary genre over the years has become ultra-sophisticated and many “true” stories are not just simply filmed documents or events or interviews. Now, documentaries are often carefully constructed narratives with as much if not more drama and turns in their tales than fictional works.
I wasn’t the only one who was gripped by Netflix’s Making a Murderer (2015) or HBO’s exceptional The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Moreover, I’ve always been an avid viewer of the work of dogged filmmaker Nick Broomfield, the disarming talent of Louie Theroux, and at his best the polemical Michael Moore. However, you always have to be aware that what one is watching has been manipulated and finessed to tell a story or a certain agenda; thus truth is not always absolute and should always be questioned.
Nonetheless, the documentary film or programme remains an important tool to confront existential, sociological, historical and political events and issues. It also tends to be a lower budgeted medium – compared to fictional works – with which to illuminate and entertain an audience. So, here are some documentaries I have been watching of late.
Crime documentaries are big business and along with historical Nazi dramas fill up the TV screens and online. Netflix has some well-presented and often controversial documentaries, one such is AMANDA KNOX (2016), which interviewed many of those involved in the despicable murder case of Meredith Kercher a few years back. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself.
With the Nazis in mind, the BBC documentary AUSCHWITZ: THE NAZIS AND THE FINAL SOLUTION (2005) is a horrific examination of wartime atrocities which probes the means with which the Nazis tried to wipe out all the Jews. This is a challenging yet incredible mix of interviews, dramatic re-enactment and detailed research on the evil death camp Auschwitz. While not an easy watch it is a brilliantly devised series which illustrates the blackest stain of one of humanity’s darkest periods in history.
From World War II to a very contemporary conflict Netflix presents THE WHITE HELMETS (2016), which over a hard-hitting forty minutes profiles the heroism of the eponymous rescue workers striving to save civilians from conflicted Aleppo and Syria on the whole. The short film won an Oscar but having done some research online the other side of the argument suggests this is a propaganda piece and does not represent the real work of this group. All I can say is someone somewhere is blowing the hell out of Syria and it is a bloody tragedy because people are dying! Indeed, whichever side the White Helmets are on the filmmakers show the insane destruction of war and suffering occurring for reasons that are beyond my understanding.
For something far more heart-warming I recommend the majestic film THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016). It documents the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter in her country. Beautiful vistas and soaring eagles amidst the snow are to the fore in a very sweet tale of a young lady facing up against years of cultural chauvinism and prejudice, for something she loves doing.
More harrowing though is the well-constructed Killer Whale documentary BLACKFISH (2013) which highlights the cruelty to these beautiful creatures in captivity and the alleged corporate greed of SeaWorld following the deaths of trainers at the park. It also illustrates, in my opinion, the idiotic folly of human beings who think it is wise to get in the water with gigantic aquatic hunters. We are imprisoning animals for our own apparent entertainment and killing ourselves because of it. Idiots!
More human lunacy can be found in the harrowing film VIRUNGA (2014) set in the Congo where director Orlando von Einsiedel stabs at the heart of darkness and finds Soco International and civil war damaging the natural beauty of Virunga National Park. It’s another sad indictment on humanity as the people who live there and the animals, notably the Gorillas, find their habitat is surely being destroyed in the name of greed and insane mercenary bloodlust.
Taking the nature documentary in the direction of horror is Morgan Spurlock’s brutal film RATS (2016). This sickeningly impressive doc takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the globe with gruesome scenes of rat-catching, scientific experimentation, baiting and butchering of rats. Most disgustingly the eating of rodents in Vietnam is considered a delicacy. Gross!
Arguably the most powerful of the documentaries I watched was Ava DuVernay’s polemical and politically charged 13th (2016), a film which slams years of Government policies in regard to incarceration. Indeed, the evidence presented shows systematic lobbying from big business to turn the prison system into a means of enslaving the less socially advantaged. The mass rise of inmates in jail from the 1970s to now bares out this fact and the harsh stories within the documentary too are shocking. 13th is a savage indictment against the United States Government treatment, over the years, of black and Hispanic communities, and while it’s very one-sided, the points it is well researched and makes are incredibly powerful.
An altogether less incendiary and academic approach comes via Noam Chomsky’s interviews represented in REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM (2015) where the ultra-intellectual argues lucidly that a half-century of policies have been designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority. It’s thought-provoking and makes you wonder if this real life “They Live” style of social domination by the rich is truly real or just a dreamt up socio-liberal political conspiracy. To me, and I am not particularly bright when it comes to such matters, believe it is capitalist Darwinism at its worst and the wealthy and powerful are simply protecting what they have to the detriment or the less socially advantageous. Bastards!
I have to say that I admire the bravery of many documentary filmmakers, especially the ones who get right into the nitty gritty of the action. One such filmmaker Matthew Heinemann and his film CARTEL LAND (2015) has a lot of bottle going to Mexico and the US border to film events relating to the drug trade, criminality and nefarious Cartel factions and Government groups. Heinemann and his crew deserve praise for bringing these incredible events concerning an ongoing bloody civil war which seems to have no end in sight.
America is a continual goldmine for fascinating documentaries and Louis Theroux has proved time and time again he is a dab hand at gently poking a stick into some of the darker areas of humanity. Two such BBC documentaries he made are LA STORIES (2014) and THE CITY ADDICTED TO CRYSTAL METH (2009) where Theroux’s unassuming style examines the lives of people and animals affected by drugs, paedophilia, death and social decay. I like Louis Theroux as he isn’t afraid to ask important questions and his work gets into your psyche, without ever smashing you over the head with a definite agenda or tunnel-vision polemics.
The comedian Russell Brand presented a more vigorous approach when challenging the UK government’s ‘war on drugs’ policy by finding out how other countries are tackling their problems of drug abuse. RUSSELL BRAND – END THE DRUGS WAR (2014) was an passionate crusade by Brand to treat drug addiction as a disease and not a crime and he made some excellent points in carrying his case to legal and Government figures.
For some lighter viewing I also watched an informative documentary about filmmaker, actor and theatre genius called: MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING WORK OF ORSON WELLES (2014), which entertainingly ran through the career highs and lows of Orson Welles. Meanwhile, I AM YOUR FATHER (2015) was a likeable tribute to the man who WAS Darth Vader in the original Star Wars franchise – David Prowse. However, the film was ruined by the Spanish director crow-barring himself into the film and also trying to create some drama out of Prowse being gazumped by George Lucas for the shooting of Vader’s death scene. Prowse had a great career and I found the attempts at controversy were unnecessary and the film should’ve concentrated on the man in the suit himself.
Last but not least if you love filmmaking docs you must watchLOST SOUL: RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014). This documentary charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer and hedonistic extras to the mix and you get a box office turkey burning in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
Not sure why I did this as it’s not like Netflix needs any marketing assistance from me, but I was bored so I did it anyway! Of course there are loads of programmes and films that could make this list but here are fifteen things that are essential viewing in my opinion! Obviously if there’s something that should be on this list then let me know.
** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **
AMERICAN HORROR STORY(2011 – ) SEASONS 1 – 3
The first three seasons of this insanely delightful horror show have had me hooked from the start. Featuring a recurring ensemble cast including: Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters and many more it mixes: ghosts, witches, serial killers, torture, sexual deviants and voodoo to grisly and hilarious effect. I can recommend it wholly to any fans of period, gothic and murder porn horror as it rips through a splattering of sick deaths, gripping drama and black comedy.
BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015)
This stunning drama leaves you battered and burnt emotionally. It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset because Cary Fukanaga’s film is a terrifying journey into the heart of darkness. A career-best performance from Idris Elba and phenomenal acting debut from Abraham Attah, as Agu, make this a stunning film. This is heart-cracking drama of the highest quality.
BETTER CALL SAUL (2015) – SEASON 1
I don’t usually like prequels as the drama is generally undercut by knowledge of what has gone before but – pre-Breaking Bad – Jimmy McGill’s story (and Mike’s) was funny, dramatic and actually quite touching. It’s a really compelling plot that takes some unexpected twists throughout and contains some damn fine acting. Bob Odenkirk as our charismatic and occasionally heroic anti-hero is a joy and I look forward to watching Season 2 which has just begun streaming on Netflix now.
BREAKING BAD (2008 – 2013)
This show deserves all the hype and accolades as a contemporary crime thriller, family drama and character study par excellence. It’s the story of a “good” man and teacher, Walter White, who having sadly been diagnosed with cancer sets about funding a nest egg for his family in the future. This involves, rather incredibly, using his chemistry know-how to make the most powerful methamphetamine in the United States. With his streetwise sidekick Jesse Pinkman (the bitchin’ Aaron Paul) Walter begins a dramatic, murderous and dark journey; becoming a tour de force criminal going by the nom de plume of Heisenberg. Vince Gilligan and his team write and produce a modern classic which has so many great characters that are good, ugly and breaking bad!
DAREDEVIL(2015) – SEASON 1
This brilliant TV show concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and as an origins story it’s very well written; with a gritty noir shot-in-the-shadows style. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdock and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet at the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in superhero films but overall it transcends the generic components to become compelling viewing.
DOCTOR STRANGELOVE (1964)
Stanley Kubrik is the greatest filmmaker of ALL time; and it’s my humble opinion that every single one of his films is a masterpiece. His darkly comical satire about the threat of nuclear war is not only a damning indictment of the stupidity of man and his lust for war; but also an ingenious series of sketches that creates humour from the most darkest of threats. A stellar story and cast, including the unique talents of Peter Sellers (playing three characters), finds paranoid Sterling Hayden’s Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper inducing a nuclear attack on Russia and his superiors blustered attempts to stop World War III. Funny, unsettling and unflinching in its satirical critique of the military and those in government, this is a comical tour-de-force from a genius director.
DOCTOR WHO (2005 – )
If you love fantastical programmes about intrepid time travellers who battle with vicious alien foes across space and time then do check out the rebooted jewel in the BBC’s crown which recently hit a 50th year anniversary. The Doctor is the original Guardian of the Galaxy who travels into our homes via the TARDIS like a sci-fi James Bond but without the misogyny and faint whiff of STDs. Eight seasons exist on Netflix starring the Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi incarnations of the Doctor. My favourite episodes can be found here at this link. Hours of dynamic, silly, scary, sci-fi action and drama are to be found; in the show, not my article, that is!
I used to listen to Frank Sidebottom (AKA Chris Sievey) on the John Peel sessions when I was a teenager and while baffled by this strange entertainer, I always enjoyed the alternative humour of his music. I was also intrigued by the fact this eccentric Northerner was pictured in the NME wearing a papier mache head. I was concerned this could be a weird for weird sake story, however, Lenny Abrahamson, has crafted – from a script by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan – a tremendously odd yet moving character study. The story focusses on Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) and his encounters with Frank’s experimental rock band as scene after scene of weird and wonderful events occur throughout, leading to a very poignant reveal when Frank’s (majestic Michael Fassbender) mask finally comes off.
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2005 – )
This riotous comedy has the most unlikeable, unattractive, insane, narcissistic characters that do all manner of god-awful things to themselves, each other and total strangers. It is frantic, sick, irreverent, disgusting, manic, hyper-real, cartoon-like, politically-incorrect, satirical and incredibly hilarious. Indeed, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the closest you would get to a live-action version of South Park. Set in the dismal Paddy’s pub in Philadelphia it initially concerned four (in Season 1) then five (when Danny DeVito joined) individuals who are complete fuck-ups and whose main existence generally aims to scheme and out-do the others. This is now one of my favourite comedies EVER! If you haven’t ever seen this show then you should. Check out my favourite episodes here:
LOST SOUL: RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU(2014)
I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. This documentary charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreauto the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer and hedonistic extras to the mix and you get a box office turkey burning in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
MAKING A MURDERER (2015)
Making a Murderer is a ten-part documentary which concerns a number of high-profile court cases which took place in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos deserve incredible praise for their painstaking work in bringing the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to the screen because based on their film an incredible miscarriage of justice may have occurred. It is as thrilling and suspenseful as the behaviour of law enforcement is called into question time and time again and the documentary stands as both an indictment on the United States legal system as well as being a gripping thriller. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but WATCH THIS SHOW for an incredibly designed “TRUE” story. It has to be seen to be believed, and whether the defendants are guilty or not, this saga re-writes the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
THE MIGHTY BOOSH (2003 – 2007)
“Come with us now through a journey of time and space!” so uttered Julian Barratt as he welcomed us to the weird and wonderfully surreal world of the Boosh. I still love this ingenious comedy which over a mere twenty episodes introduced us to: Howard Moon, Vince Noir, Naboo, Bollo the Ape, the Ape of Death, Charlie the Bubble Gum monster, Dixon Bainbridge, Old Gregg with the mangina, Tommy Nookah, the Cockney Hitcher, irrepressible Bob Fossil and all manner of other crazy nut-jobs. Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding created and performed one of the most imaginative shows I have ever seen with a rocking soundtrack too. It’s wild, funky, mind-bending, melodious, colourful and just downright ruddy marvellous.
THE OFFICE (2001 – 2003)
I would’ve included the US version of the Office too must that mysteriously disappeared a year or so ago from Netflix. Still, the UK version remains one of the funniest sitcoms ever and fully launched the careers of creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; as well as the acting talents of Martin Freeman, Lucy Davis, Mackenzie Crook and Ralph Ineson. Centred on the mockumentary stylings of a day-to-day Slough office we find deluded fool David Brent (perfect Gervais) and his woeful attempts to motivate and manage his staff. Rich in ridiculous, awkward and embarrassing comedic situations it also contains some wonderful moments of pathos and romance. The Office remains a genuine comedy classic and twelve episodes and two specials are always worth revisiting.
PEAKY BLINDERS(2013 – )
I missed two seasons of this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post first World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Tom Hardy, and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote and directed the superb Locke(2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)
DiCaprio is amazing in this memoir of disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort – a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-hedonist. The Wolf of Wall Street follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it? But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!
In the month of August I themed my viewing down a couple of varied avenues. Firstly, watch a few more documentaries or non-fiction programmes. Secondly, get even MORE value out of my NETFLIX subscription!
There are some great shows on Netflix and if I had to recommend ONE then it would be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is arguably one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen. Netflix UK is also full to the brim of docs, stand-up, films and drama series to watch. Here are some of the shows I caught up with during August.
COMMUNITY (2009 – ) – SEASON ONE
Featuring a diverse set of archetypes within a US Community College this is good quality character comedy. Great cast, witty scripts and lots of self-reflexive parodies for film and TV fans to take in. Clearly influenced by The Office I’m pleased it doesn’t have the direct address mockumentary style and while only nine episodes in but I’m really enjoying this sharp comedy.
DAREDEVIL (2015) – SEASON ONE
This is an absolutely brilliant TV show! It’s actually better than many of the Marvel films that have been knocking about recently; certainly some of the superhero sequels. It concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and blind “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and is a brilliant origins story well written and developed.
It has a gritty noir feeling and style and is terrifically shot in the shadows, bouncing off the feel Nolan’s Dark Knight series established. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdoch and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet near the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in Superhero and Gangster films such as: the perky, plucky female assistant; cheeky, funny sidekick; Chinese, Japanese and Russian mobsters; uncompromising investigative journalist and more but it does it with such style that it transcends its generic components to become compelling viewing. Highly recommended!
HOUSE OF CARDS (2015) – SEASON THREE
The first two seasons of the US drama adapted from classic 80s TV programme were sensational as they used the backdrop of American political chicanery and conspiratorial ambition to propel Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) from Chief Whip to the Presidency itself. Ably abetted by Lady “Robin Wright” Macbeth his plotting of revenge and avaricious pursuit of power was fantastic to watch.
The 3rd season has not reached the dizzy heights of the earlier seasons in my view. That could be because I have been watching it on the “drip” week by week or there is more emphasis on political shenanigans and conflict arising from Underwood’s attempts to get America Works off the ground, plus his ongoing feud with Vladimir Putin. Not the real Putin obviously but the show’s thinly veiled version of him. Still, while I enjoyed the more noir and thriller aspects of the first two seasons this remains high quality drama with great direction, style and fine performances.
PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – ) – SEASON ONE
I missed this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post 1st World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Charlie Creed Miles and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice their way from the dirty streets in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote Eastern Promises (2007) and directed the superb Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.
BIGGIE AND TUPAC (2002)
While the theories on the deaths of Biggie and Tupac presented within this documentary may no longer hold up it’s still a fascinating film from unassuming master of the passive aggressive: Nick Broomfield. His persistence in tracking down and interviewing various elements potentially involved in the murder of these hip-hop legends really drew me in. Plus, the final interview with shadowy rap boss/gangster Suge Knight was both chilling and illuminating.
THE BRIDGE (2006)
You need a strong stomach to watch this documentary film. During 2004 the filmmaking team shot the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and captured many suicide attempts; some where people succeeded in killing themselves and the occasional one who was saved. It’s a dark and upsetting look at depression and those who it affects plus reveals some of the reasons why people choose the Bridge as their intended final departure point. It’s an elegant film: poignant but a tough watch.
What begins as a dig around the history of “the bogeyman” and other mythical baddies soon becomes a feature on Staten Island and the children that went missing from there in the 1970s and ‘80s. The film looks mainly at the prime suspect Andre Rand and whether he was guilty or not of murdering the kids and the media’s response to his case. It’s a bit slow overall without much in the way of revelation. Plus, there’s some dark matter which felt under-examined such as the abuse at the mental institution for kids where Rand worked. Overall though a slow yet thoughtful watch.
DARK DAYS (2000)
Marc Singer’s fascinating documentary from the late 1990s was an incredible look at the people who lived under the subway system of New York City and how they survived. Shot in grainy black and white it captures the hopelessness yet camaraderie amongst the homeless souls. It also demonstrates their desire to survive and build a home despite the grim conditions. The film would become a useful tool to put before City Hall in order to re-house the unfortunates, addicts and lost down there in the recesses of the underground.
MIND OF A RAMPAGE KILLER (2013)
Is a human being born evil or turned deadly by life events? The perennial nature versus nurture debate is looked at scientifically and psychologically in this pretty unsensational analysis of rampage killers. Of course there is no hard answers as there are a myriad of varying reasons why people go on killing sprees. While the psychology is murky as depression and bullying can play a part in equal measures, the main reason these individuals murder is because they have guns. Take away the access to weapons and you may at least prevent some of the senseless murders which occur Stateside.
LOST SOUL: DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014)
This was probably the best documentary I saw; mainly because I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. It charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer, hedonistic extras and tropical storms to the mix and you get a box office turkey blowing up in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
Top documentary filmmaker Errol Morris points his camera at Southern Belle and crackpot Joyce McKinney and her various run-ins with the press over the years. Aside from cloning her dog in Korea in the noughties, McKinney was infamous for the “Manacled Mormon” story which delighted the lurid British red-tops in the ‘70s. McKinney is a lively interviewee as she recounts the tale of how she “rescued” the love of her life from the Mormon cult and attempted to turn him back in love with her through sexual programming. Yeah, chaining a bloke to a bed and screwing him will make him turn his back on God. Well, so SHE thought. McKinney did all that she did for love and cannot be faulted for that but came off as a delusional woman who just has to be heard to be believed.
VIDEOGAMES: THE MOVIE (2014)
Dry run through of the Video Games industry from its humble beginnings to the multi-billionaire cultural behemoth it’s become today. I love video-games but this was pretty boring and although there was certainly some nostalgia to be had from looking back to my youth I wanted more controversy and dirt rather than the bland run-through of the history and uninteresting “talking heads” we got here.
WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (2013)
Some great comedians from the now and yesteryear discuss the nature of Jewish comedy and whether it is an actual “thing” and whether it still exists today. I enjoyed watching the old clips of greats such as Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield and many of the contributors are funny too. However, the filmmaker himself seemed to be working through some angst and guilt which at times detracted from the loose but amusing documentary nonetheless.