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876 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Quiet, slow but ultimately informative and touching, 23 August 2014

Interesting, if slow building, documentary on Stuart Hall, one of England's leading leftist thinkers of the last 40 years.

The film eschews some of the usual tropes of bio-docs, using no new talking heads interviews, but only clips from Hall's various TV and radio appearances over the years, along with old film clips of the eras being discussed, close shots of magazines, and some very poetic (I assume) newly shot footage of skylines and people. The music is mostly Miles Davis, who is Hall's favorite musician, although it really adds more emotion to the film when later on Akomfrah switches tactics and uses more music by a film composer and others as well, including Brian Eno.

For those of us who know little about Hall, the film can be frustrating for a while, because it recounts a lot of biographical details without getting into exactly what it is that Hall espouses or believes, or why he was/is so important to the left or UK culture. But over time the film starts to dig deeper, and it's hard not to be struck by Hall's thoughtful, powerful but non- didactic views. After listening to screaming partisan talking heads on American television it's wonderful to listen to someone who injects such civility and thoughtfulness into presenting his views, and never seems to resort to simplistic answers or blame. He also acknowledges and embraces how his views and perceptions have continued to evolve over the decades as the world around him continues to change. Would that we had more such people speaking on both sides of the political spectrum.

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Moving and powerful, 17 August 2014

Touching and powerful documentary, that gains much from it's plain, heartfelt telling.

One year in the life of one of America's working poor. People who have jobs, sometimes more than one, or lose them and desperately want to make a life, but can't seem to get a break. It would be hard to imagine even the most hard hearted call Ms. Gilbert a 'taker' -- watching her struggle to do the best she can for her three children while earning $9.49 a hour. She works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home, a job that demands expertise both human and medical. Yet she earns too little to be able to do anything but barely scrape by.

A stinging and powerful rebuke to those who feel the poor somehow deserve their fate, the film does so much by letting us get to know one woman and her story, instead of only trying to paint a huge canvas to tackle one of the most important crises facing our nation.

Omar (2013)
8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Excellent emotional and human thriller, with a political backdrop, 16 August 2014

Though it has it's occasional flaws (some overstatement) this is generally a terrific political thriller.

A young Palestinian radical is put through the emotional, moral and physical wringer after being blackmailed into becoming an informer (or at least professing to) for the Israelis, following an arrest that could put him in jail for life. While Abu-Assad's sympathies clearly lie with the Palestinians, his characters and situations are much more complex and human than good guys and bad guys. He sees the damage that being in a constant state of war and occupation does to both sides.

Beyond that, this is not a 'political' film first. It's complex web of betrayal, love, fear, bravery, and paranoia could be anywhere two sides are facing off in a morally and politically complex situation, especially where one side is a guerrilla uprising, the other an established government. It could be Ireland and the IRA, or South Africa in the more militant days of the ANC. The beauty and terror of Abu-Assad's film is that it's about people not ideology. And the reality that people on both sides are capable of great good and great evil, often for reasons personal as much as political. I happened to see this within days of the also critically acclaimed "Bethlehem" which tells a remarkably similar tale, but from an Israeli point of view. Seeing both heightened the power of each -- for where they overlapped and where they differed. I'd recommend seeing both to anyone interested in good, human thrillers and who is interested in examining the middle east conflict in more than simple 'right and wrong' terms.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Funny, sweet, inventive and wonderfully acted, 15 August 2014

A wonderfully funny fable of the adventures of world's greatest hotel concierge (a brilliant, inventive and hilarious performance by Ralph Fiennes) and the friendship he strikes up with the hotel's new lobby boy (a strong debut by newcomer Tony Revolori).

The story goes in many unexpected directions, every one entertaining and eccentric, and the cast is full of first rate highly comic performances by F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, with terrific cameos by Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Jude Law and others I feel bad for forgetting here.

While not Anderson's most profound film, it may be his most joyful. I don't think I stopped smiling from first frame to last, and I laughed out loud quite a few times. And yet, as in any good fable, there is some real poignancy as well. A top notch marriage of a lovingly crafted art-film and a wacky human comedy, something rarely pulled off with such panache. Even my friends who don't enjoy Anderson's work in general had nothing but good things to say. The sweetest treat of the movie year so far.

The March (2013) (TV)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Tremendously intelligent, detailed and moving, 9 August 2014

Made on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (itself held on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation) - this one hour film is a tremendously intelligent detailed and moving exploration of what led up to that march - the planning, the controversies, the personalities, the compromises, the politics, the passion - that culminated in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech -- one of the rare pieces of oratory that helped change the very course of history.

But while most of us know King's speech, and it's powerful effect on America, few, myself included know the history of how the march came together, and the many other heroes besides King - from famous leaders to simple office staffers - who gave so much to help make it happen.

Director Akomfrah (a long under known and undervalued film-maker) does a terrific job combining archival footage (much of which was new to me), very nicely shot modern reminiscences of those who were there and part of making that day happen, and beautiful images that aren't so much 're-creations' as poetic capturings of the spirit of those people and that moment (a tremendously striking shot of a seagull soaring free amidst the towers of a modern city sticks in my mind).

A wonderful educational piece for younger people who might not know about "The March" and it's impact, but with a great deal to offer even those of us old enough to grow up with memories from that time. I didn't realize how much I didn't know, and that's one of the best things you can say about any historical documentary.

Land Ho! (2014)
19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
A funny sweet and likable little film, emphasizing character over story, 8 August 2014

Two aging ex-brothers in law - the extroverted, lovable and slightly embarrassing Mitch, and the more introverted, sad-sack Colin take off for a getaway to Iceland. Their adventures are low key and episodic, but the comic rapport between the two men makes it hard to stop smiling.

There's no big catharsis or lesson learned, no moment when the smiles turn to tears, nothing that screams 'important movie'. Just an enjoyable hour and a half spent with two eccentric old guys finding themselves and each other on the road in a strange place.

The film looks very nice for it's tiny budget, and the two lead performances by Earl Lynn Nelson (a surgeon in real life) and Paul Eenhoorn (an accomplished Australian actor) create a fun naturalism that feels as authentic as if it was all improvised, with us just listening in on these two quite lovable older men.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Moving, intelligent, informative, inspiring and more than a little sad., 7 August 2014

This is chronicle of the first year of the 'Occupy" movement, its successes, and failures, its growth into something that seemed to promise the hope of real change, and then its beginning to fade back into the background noise of society.

Like the movement itself, it's sprawling and messy, goes off on tangents, is directed by many people, and yet - also like the movement - captures something essential and important about democracy and freedom in a nation increasingly dominated by those with the money.

It's naive to think that money and property haven't long been a source of much power, even modern democracies, but the film illustrates how important it is not to just give in to the lobbyists, billionaire donors and corporations (now defined as people), even while seeming to acknowledge how nearly impossible uprooting that ever more entrenched system may be.

It's brave enough to make you want to take a stand, and honest enough to painfully acknowledge there are limits of change that will be hard to exceed.

Kudos to the film-makers for allowing critical voices to intelligently question whether the movement's 'there are no leaders' collective approach can ever really be organized enough to force change. It's a valid question, and one that has to be a part of the future of trying to restore balance in the U.S.

700 Sundays (2014) (TV)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Sweet and touching, 6 August 2014

Unabashedly sentimental, at moments arguably too shticky, but there's a lot of heart and laughs, along with a good set of smiles in Billy Crystal's one-man show remembering his youth, especially the 700 Sundays he had with his father before his untimely death.

From the telling, Crystal had a remarkable childhood, and came from a remarkable family. His father owned a music store and promoted concerts, and knew and was loved by many of jazz's all time greats. His family come off as sweet if eccentric. As related here, this was a family without many of the painful skeletons in their closets that most of us grew up with. It's sort of the Jewish version of Norman Rockwell's America, but I don't mean that as a put down. Crystal seems to truly appreciate the blessings he's had, and to honor and love the people who made him who he is. He doesn't deny that life can be painful, but that doesn't mean for a second he's going to say it's not wonderful and worthwhile.

If a few moments of emotion feel forced in the unforgiving close up lens of a camera, there's a lot that ring true, no matter that Crystal has performed variations of this monologue on stage hundreds of times.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Clever and original, if uneven, 31 July 2014

This low key mockumentary is so dry in it's humor that it's more likely to produce a nostalgic or rueful smile than a belly laugh. Set at a 1980s man vs. computer chess competition, and shot on what looks like a video camera from the time, it certainly succeeds in capturing a time, place and atmosphere.

On the other hand, some of it starts to get a bit repetitive and meandering. Unlike Christopher Guest's hysterical mockumentaries, this is so close to 'real' for much of it's length that it started to wear down a bit. And then when it switches to a more 'over-the-top' tone, as when one of the young leads is hit on by a pair of middle- aged swingers, it suddenly feels like a scene from another film.

None-the-less, this is an impressive accomplishment, using it's lack of budget as a plus to create the feel of a truly home made documentary of the time. It may not be brilliant, but it's sweet, inventive, and fun, which puts it well ahead of most of what's out there.

Tamango (1958)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
An interesting moment in film history, 16 June 2014

Arguably more interesting as a social document and a step forward in mainstreams films dealing with race, than as a drama.

On a slave ship carrying Africans from their homeland to slavery in the American south, a charismatic young warrior attempts to organize a revolt. Meanwhile, Dorothy Dandridge plays captain Curt Jurgens' mistress, featuring interracial kissing and sexuality at a time very few American films would go near the subject. Add in the complexity that Dandridge's subjugated Lucy is a far more empathetic figure than any white character, and that Tamango and his fellow captives are show to be in every way – morally, strategically as well as physically better than their white captors, and you have a film that was way ahead of it's time.

That said there is odd flat quality in the drama and less than thrilling acting and film-making that keep the actual story from living up to it's potential. But it's still pretty involving, and worth seeing at least as a part of films' maturing around racial issues.

Interestingly, blacklisted director John Berry, went on to direct another racially 'ahead of it's time' film; 1974's "Claudine", one of the first mainstream American films to try and intelligently deal with the struggles of poor urban African Americans without falling into exploitation, violence or cliché.

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