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935 reviews in total 
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40 out of 48 people found the following review useful:
A doc that just may effect how you live, 8 January 2015

Wow. This unassuming, even occasionally goofy documentary packs one hell of a punch. It aims to be a sort of follow up to "An Inconvenient Truth". But in some ways this is arguably an even more powerful film.

It asks a couple of simple questions, and finds answers that are so disturbing that it's the rare film that had an immediate impact on my behavior. Basically the film asks "how much does modern animal farming contribute to global warming and other pollution problems?" And the answer is, more than cars, trucks, planes and all other transportation combined. Maybe a LOT more depending on what metrics you use. It also asks, 'given these facts, why are no major environmental groups aggressively trying to change how we farm and eat, the way they're trying to change how we drive or power our houses? ' The answers are several and disturbing, and there's a bit of the thriller in how the filmmakers get sources to explain, or more chillingly suddenly clam up on camera as they realize what's being asked.

At times the film seems so personal and home-grown that I might have tended to dismiss it as the work of someone on the fringe, but doing some follow up reading it became clear that all this is pretty well grounded in solid science. (There are a some controversial claims here, but what becomes clear on further looking is that the basic points are hard to dismiss. For example, there's a review on here questioning the film's numbers about the greenhouse effect of methane. But if you go to the film's website, they list almost all the claims in the film, explain where they come from, and give links to the paper or article. In the case of methane it's from a NASA study on the upper atmosphere -- hardly some wild eyed fringe group.)

And some of the facts themselves are rather astounding. In a world short of clean water, do you really feel OK eating a burger that takes 660 gallons of clean water to produce?

Like all the best 'issue' documentaries, this will likely leave you examining your own lifestyle choices in a new light. What more can one ask from a 85 minute film?

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
I was surprised I liked this film so much., 8 January 2015

While I grew up enjoying Johnny Carson, he wasn't somebody I felt driven to know more about. But this almost 2 hour documentary does a terrific job of dovetailing both the public and private sides of the man to give a portrait of a tremendous talent who could handle anything on his show with amazing spontaneous grace and humor, but had a much harder time dealing with people, love and family out in the real world. A complete extrovert on-stage, he was a true introvert away from the lights, struggling with drinking, anger and extra-martial affairs. Yet while the film doesn't flinch in looking at his sad and dark sides, it does so with compassion and never feels like a hit job. It balances these darker, sometimes very moving sections with great clips from "The Tonight Show" that remind one just how damn funny the guy could be, in spite of his troubled personal life.

For a film I wasn't sure I even wanted to see, it did an excellent job of hooking me in and riveting me in telling the story of a great entertainer who was far more complicated than I imagined.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A charming and likable documentary portrait of a charming and likable man, 8 January 2015

Shep Gordon has managed many huge acts, first in the music business, and then in other areas ranging from film to cooking. He has also befriended just about every heavyweight in Hollywood. And yet it seems he's managed to do so while still being a good guy, a nice guy, an honorable guy.

There are on camera interviews with Alice Cooper (who was Shep's 1st client, and who he has managed for 45 years!), Mick Fleetwood, Michael Douglas, Tom Arnold, Emeril Lagasse, Anne Murray, Mike Meyers, Willie Nelson, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Tyer. But the best interview subject is Shep himself, who has tremendously entertaining, often funny and occasionally tragic anecdotes about his many years in show business. Among the most interesting are the various clever, and sometimes amusingly devious ways Shep would raise his clients' public profiles and help make them stars.

There's a genuine wisdom and even a spiritual side to Shep, who befriended the Dali Llama, and spent a week cooking for him as a way of giving back. Ultimately Shep realized, sadly late in the game, that there was more to life than work, and that he was missing out on having kids and a family.

Not a 'change your life' film, but it's always engaging, like listening to the most fun and intelligent guest at a great party.

Big Hero 6 (2014)
6 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Not a classic, but fun, funny, and sweet, 7 January 2015

If not quite at the emotional or intelligence level of the very best animation, this is still fun and quite endearing. A young computer genius has his life turned upside down by a tragedy, but forges a bond with a goofy robotic blow-up nurse. This robot, Baymax, is designed only to help, not fight. But our hero equips him to be able to be a warrior machine to help take down a mysterious villain who has stolen our wunderkind's invention and is using it for nefarious purposes. The gap between the personality programming and body type of the puffy, gentle, cute robot nurse and it's re-purposing leads top most of the films biggest laughs.

If the film has a weak spot it's that the bad-guy is not very interesting, and makes a lot of illogical choices that let our team of good guys (our computer nerd hero 'Hiro' has gathered a bunch of super-brainy grad students to be his back-up team) get away far too easily. The best cartoons almost always have a great villain. But it does have a world class sidekick in Baymax who was created walking a great line between anthropomorphic adorableness and staying somewhat honest to its imaginary actual programming, instead of suddenly becoming a sentient creature. Not a classic, but I'm glad I saw it.

Mostly strong filming of a wonderful opera, 7 January 2015

It was fun to see this opera come to life after being familiar with it on CD. Certainly it makes the experience more emotional on both ends; the humor and wit are much clearer, as are the darker and sadder elements of change and loss.

Peter Sellars, who directed the stage production also guided the filming during a live performance. Sellars relies a great deal on close-ups, only going to wide shots occasionally. I found this surprising, and occasionally annoying, since his own careful theatrical visual compositions get cheated in the process. Also, extreme close-ups are not the most forgiving way of seeing stage wigs and make-up. On the other hand, it was nice to really be able to see the emotions on the singers' faces, and to realize what good actors most of them are. Even though they're playing in a large theater, most are subtle enough that these tight shots don't reveal tremendous over-acting, and give the opera a wonderfully intimate feel. Since a lot of the emotional drama of this opera is really internal, especially for both Richard and Pat Nixon, this close-up approach emphasizes the human as opposed to the spectacular, to strong effect.

On second viewing, the constant close ups seemed even more problematic. It struck me that much of what's going on in the opera is about the counterpoint in simultaneous 'conversations' and interactions. You might have Pat and Richard Nixon on one side of the stage, and Chairman Mao and his wife on the other. Or multiple groups at once in the 'big' scenes, all singing right over each other, 3 and 4 stories occurring simultaneously. But by relying so much on close ups and tight 2 shots, we lose some of the juxtapositions built into the music and staging. It works well in the truly intimate one-on-one scenes, but when there are many people on stage the close ups start to feel like they're interrupting the appreciation of the big picture.

The interviews conducted between acts are also less than thrilling. They tend to be very rushed, not giving time for any thoughtful or complex answers, and the interviewer has an irritating habit of chiming in and cutting off even those brief answers. I found myself skipping the interviews altogether after about the half-way point.

Stardust (1974)
Less a sequel and more a 2nd act, 6 January 2015

Not a truly great film, but one with impact -- especially when viewed with the film for which this 'sequel' is really more of a 2nd act; "That'll Be The Day". Together the two films give us over 3 hours of the life of Jim MacLaine as he goes from bright mid 1950s schoolboy to an aimless drifter shagging every woman he can get his hands on, breaking the hearts of everyone close to him, to stumbling into a career in rock 'n roll, to becoming one of the biggest stars in the world, with all the attendant hollowness of super-stardom in a business designed to make you self your soul and lose sight of what's real.

This 2nd film makes up the rock-star years of Jim's life, but the 1st film makes it clear that his self-destructive tendencies were there long before stardom, And if he's taken advantage of by managers and record labels, he's also a man who was amoral, selfish and at sea long before that.

It's a shame that pop star David Essex isn't an even stronger actor. He's not at all bad, but this is the kind of rich, juicy role in which a great actor could have exposed multiple layers of depth and complexity. Essex does his best, and is always natural, but isn't able to go that step beyond. (director Michael Apted apparently learned that lesson, and had actors play singers to great effect in his later 'Coal Miner's Daughter').

It would also have been great if the film had managed to avoid some of the clichés around rock and roll. It may well be that they're clichés because they're true, but we've also seen them many times, in many films before – even by 1974 when 'Stardust' was made.

One odd thought; on some level the film seems to be channeling Peter Watkins' far more original, political and challenging 1967 U.K. rock film "Privilege', with more slickness, but less grand ambition. No idea if that's intentional, but watching this film made we want to go back and re-visit that one.

Lake Mungo (2008)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Intelligent, creative, sad and creepy, 5 January 2015

Intelligent, creative, sad and creepy, this is not a horror film by any traditional measure, but more of an elegiac ghost story that is more about loss and grief than about scares (although there's a lovely chill that runs under the whole film.).

Anderson tells his tale of a drowned 16 year old girl whose short life held sad secrets, and the ghost that seems to remain behind as a documentary, complete with talking head interviews with the family and experts, old photographs and home movies, etc.

The acting is quite strong, which helps a lot. This is a tricky thing to ask actors to pull off – play 'real' people who are being interviewed on camera about emotional and personal events. To make it believable you need just the right blend of emotion, awkwardness, stiffness and humanity – all without coming off as a performance, and Anderson's cast is up to the task about 90% of the time. Yes that 10% does hurt a bit, but not fatally.

Anderson does a great job of capturing all the tropes and of these kinds of docs, without feeling like parody. Indeed, if you didn't know otherwise you might easily believe this really was a documentary. That's no mean feat. But more important is that this quiet film leaves you with real emotion and a deeply haunted quality that most straightforward 'horror' just misses entirely.

Beeswax (2009)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Grew on me..., 4 January 2015

Intelligent, very low key mumble-core comedy/ drama that I liked better on reflection than while I was first watching it.

While I was viewing, the lack of plot and forward motion seemed frustrating. But looking back I found all the little honest moments of human weirdness that Bujalski captured with his (apparently) semi-improvised style gave me more of a real look into the lives of these late 20 somethings than I would have gotten from a more plot driven narrative.

And there IS a plot – about careers, about commitments, and about friendship. The tension over whether two friends who co-own a shop are actually going to sue each other over how the store is run is palpable, if not heart pounding. It's just the focus is more on details than on the big picture -- which is actually a lovely change from most films out there.

Kudos too for having a lead character in a wheelchair and a) not making that the most important thing about her, and b) allowing her to be sexy, sexual, funny, angry, grumpy – all the things people with challenged lives rarely are in movies.

A subtle and sad view of race relations, 4 January 2015

Thoughtful and quietly disturbing as opposed to having the more open rage of most documentaries dealing with modern racism. In Mobile Alabama, 2007, there are still two Mardi Gras celebration, one white, one black. The weirdly uncomfortable anachronism of two 'separate but equal' parades and balls is defended (primarily by the whites) as preserving history, and as not racist, but somehow more inclusive. And it does seem like both sides of the color line are in no rush to lose their own celebration for fear of being swallowed by the other.

This is a far more subtle and complex study of the nature of race relations in America than we usually get to see. It's clear that one day the wall will come down. We see the King and Queen of the black Mardi Gras visit the white celebration, and vice versa -- marking tentative and deeply awkward steps to the time when a future generation will marvel that there ever were two Mardi Gras. But for now we also see how deeply race has split and wounded the town, so that it's almost as though two worlds exist in different dimensions in one space, occasionally seeing each others ghosts as they float by each other.

Titanic (1997)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A triumph of Hollywood dazzle over an overblown, needlessly trumped up script., 4 January 2015

There are a ton of problems in "Titanic" – the cartoon villains, the stilted dialog, much of it obviously re-recorded in post production. Some weak supporting performances, the betrayal of a number of historical facts, and taking what was already one of the most dramatic nights of the 20th century and needlessly pumping it up with chases, gunfire, theft, scheming, etc.

Yet a lot works. As much as I didn't want to give in, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio make a great, old fashioned, star crossed romantic couple. Many of the effects and stunts are amazing (although at other times you realize some wide shots are basically giant video-game like cartoons). And it made me cry -- while I felt like a fool for being swept up in it's shameless melodrama.

I can't argue that "Titanic" is art, or deep, or a great film, but I can say it's a terrifically effective entertainment that everyone should see at least once.

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