Archive for the Documentary Category

I’m Still Here * * * 1/2

Posted in Comedy, Documentary, Drama with tags on July 18, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Casey Affleck.
Screenplay: Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Antony Langdon, Larry McHale, Sean Combs, Ben Stiller, Edward James Olmos, David Letterman, Tim Affleck.

In 2008, Joaquin Phoenix announces that he’s quitting acting to pursue a music career in hip hop. His bother-in-law, Casey Affleck, decides to film his every move over the course of a year and delivers a portrait of an artist at a crossroads in his life.

Beginning with home video footage from 1981 in Panama, of a young Phoenix jumping from a waterfall, this films sets it’s stall out in exploring a life that’s seemingly always been documented. Phoenix has been in the public-eye from a very tender age, having appeared as young as 8 yrs old in the television series “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” before moving onto “The Fall Guy”, “Hill Street Blues” and “Murder She Wrote”. His first recognisable movie roles came in the shape of 1986’s “Space Camp” or 1989’s “Parenthood” before moving into more edgier roles in Gus Van Sant’s “To Die For” in 1995. Up until then, he was better known as the younger sibling of (the late) River Phoenix but eventually gained the full respect of movie goers with two Oscar nominations (now three, since the release of this movie). It’s was through this steady rise in the film industry that brought so much media attention to his, seemingly, self destructive decision to abandon acting and become a rap artist under the guidance of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
This fly-on-the wall documentary follows Phoenix’s obvious lack of talent for rapping and the abandonment of his personal hygiene, while his fragile mental state increased due to a voracious appetite for cannabis and cocaine. As he’s constantly high and stoned, a frenzied media where clambering for his story and a reason for the meltdown of an actor in the prime of his career. Ultimately, though, the joke was on them (and us), as the whole thing was an elaborate hoax and an exposé of the nature of celebrity and their pandered ego’s and lifestyle’s.
Phoenix is entirely believable in his bearded, paunched appearance and his spiralling egotistical, mental anguish and arrogance. He even dares to tackle chat-show host David Letterman (in a now infamous episode) and when you consider that this was a role that completely consumed him – not only throughout the length of the shoot but in the eyes of the world, before and after – you realise how outstanding he is. It’s a powerful display of commitment and it’s probably one of the bravest and boldest moves that an actor has done.
As entertainment, though, it’s questionable. It goes on too long and there are points where the voyeurism pushes boundaries and comes across as bad taste. What could have been the downfall of a man going through a serious mental breakdown, struggles to decide whether it’s comedic or dramatic. That being said, it’s interesting viewing and it at least exposes the bitter behaviour of western media and how easily they can turn.

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Being a fan of Phoenix, will certainly add to the appeal of this film, but if you can normally take or leave him, then this won’t hold much of an interest. It’s flawed, but it’s a bold and noteworthy experiment all the same.

Mark Walker

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Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee * * *

Posted in Comedy, Documentary, Drama with tags on April 6, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Shane Meadows.
Screenplay: Shane Meadows.
Starring: Paddy Considine, Dean Palinczuk, Olivia Colman, Shane Meadows, Richard Graham, Seamus O’Neill, Alex Hunter, Matt Helders, Nick O’Malley, Jamie Cook, Nigel Reeks.

Director Shane Meadows is no stranger to low-budget filmmaking. In fact, most of his films to date have been made with relativity tight constraints. This time around, he goes that one step further and makes an all-out, fly on the wall mockumentary, which also happens to be his third collaboration with actor Paddy Considine.

Documentary maker Shane Meadows (playing himself) follow the life of music manager Le Donk (Paddy Considine), who reckons he’s unearthed a new talent in rapper Scor-Zay-Zee (Dean Palinczuk). As a slot with band The Arctic Monkeys opens up, the would-be manager and his protege hit the road to try and make a name for themselves.

If the brilliant “A Room For Romeo Brass” and “Dead Man’s Shoes” were anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for getting very excited about the prospect of Meadows and Considine working together again. I know I certainly was. Unfortunately, this film isn’t quite up to their previous high standards. In fairness, they’ve adopted a different approach but for a film with a running time of just over an hour you’d expect it to move briskly and get down to telling it’s story. In the early stages it does this, with some hilarious observational humour and “kitchen sink” drama that’s reminiscent of Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” but the delivery soon becomes a bit stale. The idea is good, the performances are good but for a film to enter into this mould it needs to provide more laughs than it does. I’m sure it probably will appeal to many people but for me, as a big fan of Meadows, I had set my sites too high. It loses it momentum and relies too heavily on the presence of Considine and his perfect balance of ambition and desperation. He’s most definitely the highlight here. However, there’s only so much one man can carry. The humour and awkward situations are well captured but it essentially there isn’t much of a story and becomes not much more than a showcase for real-life rap artist and freestyler Scor-Zay-Zee, who’s not that appealing to begin with.

An interesting, if unsuccessful, project from Meadows. He’s not made many bad movies and I wouldn’t say this is bad either. It’s just not as eventful as it could have been.

Mark Walker

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Baraka * * * * *

Posted in Documentary with tags on February 10, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ron Fricke.
Concept: Ron Fricke, Mark Magidson.

Released in 1992, it’s took me a while to get around to this one. It’s director, Ron Fricke, had previously contributed writing, editing and cinematography duties on the similarly themed and outstandingly powerful “Koyaanisqatsi” by Godfrey Reggio before embarking on this (his own) journey ten years later.

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I wouldn’t even call this a film. I’d call it more a series of moving images. But what stunning beauty there is to behold here. It was filmed by a five person crew over a period of 14 months in 24 countries across 6 continents and there are a plethora of images that will instil a myriad of emotional responses; they will enlighten and disturb, they will force you to ponder and wonder. In short, they are images of evolution and life and they will leave you in absolute awe of our natural world and the direct involvement we have in it. It explores different cultures and tribal rituals, it marvels at cloud formations and stunning sunsets. This is the flora and fauna of our environment in all it’s most natural beauty. If you can imagine Terrence Malick directing a dialogue free, documentary then you have a idea of what to expect here. It does contain a certain, loose, narrative structure and like the sublime, BBC, David Atteborough nature programs it is stunningly captured and assembled. As mentioned, it contains no dialogue whatsoever, relying solely on sounds and an ethereal music score, featuring the haunting and angelic vocal talents of Lisa Gerrard.

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Anyone familiar with the aforementioned and absolutely amazing, visual documentary “Koyaanisqatsi” or it’s follow up “Powaqqatsi” will know how much of treat they are in for here. If you haven’t seen any of these, then I urge you to do so.

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There isn’t much else I can say to describe this other than… the meaning of the word ‘Baraka’ is an ancient Sufi word that translates to “a blessing, or the breath, or the essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds.”
This and the extra photos I include speak a thousand more words that I ever could.

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It simply has to be seen to be believed.

Mark Walker

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The Imposter * * * *

Posted in Documentary with tags on January 9, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Bart Layton.
Featuring: Frédéric Bourdin, Adam O’Brian, Carey Gibson, Anna Ruben, Beverly Dollarhide, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Alan Teichman, Nancy Fisher,

Over the last couple of years, there have been a number of sophisticated documentaries which have been structured in such a dramatic way, as to become an exciting new style of filmmaking altogether. Maybe it’s just that I’ve reached an age where I have the patience and can fully appreciate how a documentary plays out but I don’t remember them ever being as gripping as they are now. Either way, this is another one that can be included alongside the recent, impressive likes of “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “Catfish“.

The true story of Frédéric Bourdin, a lonely but confident con-man who ends up in a Spanish orphanage, claiming he is Nicholas Barclay – a 16 year old Texan boy who went missing three years ago. The Barclay’s are contacted and Frédéric is flown over to meet with his estranged family. The fact that Frédéric has darker eyes, an accent and many other physical differences from the missing Nicholas doesn’t seem to bother the Barclay family; they are happy to welcome him back even though things just don’t add up.

This story unfolds while playing with the conventions of your average documentary. It’s has the obligatory interviews with the real life people involved but also intercuts with reconstructed dramatisations of the events and shapes the story with a film-like narrative. Anyone familiar with TV shows like “Crimewatch” will know what I mean when I compare it to such a style. That being said, it’s a highly effective approach and keeps you thoroughly involved. The biggest involvement comes from the actual events themselves, though. How these events even managed to take place is hard to believe. So much so, that it had me wondering whether this documentary was manipulated, much like the aforementioned “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “Catfish“. That being said, it slowly reveals it’s darker layers and becomes a classic case of the truth being, most definitely, stranger than fiction. At one point, there is a revelation – which I won’t explore here – where you realise that the very thing you thought to be a hoax is surpassed by an even bigger web of deceit and it’s an absolute punch in the gut. The only issue I had with the film overall, was a lack of probing or further investigation into the startling revelations but this with this, I’m just looking for fault.

An absolutely gripping and frightening docu-drama that manages to create a real sense of unease. What’s more frightening is the unusual behaviour of the so-called ‘innocents’ involved, though.
An impressive piece of work.

Mark Walker

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Catfish * * * 1/2

Posted in Documentary with tags on April 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Rel Schulman, Henry Joost.
Featuring: Nev Schulman, Angela Wesselman, Melody C. Roscher, Rel Schulman.

The social networking zeitgeist is certainly upon us. It has shaped a generation in their reliance on smartphones and the internet and contributed to a new global means of communication. It has brought us closer but sometimes a bit too close. It has opened up new dangers and has shaped us into voyeurs. This documentary is proof enough in showing this. It also shows how easily people can be manipulated.

Filmmakers Rel Schulman and Henry Joost find themselves in the midst of a film project, tracing an online romance between Rel’s brother Nev and a female artist on Facebook. Everything doesn’t add up though as the women’s real identity becomes in question and her stories don’t seem to make sense. Is she really who she says she is?…

After a slow beginning, we are soon informed of where this documented drama is heading and the path it takes becomes dark and intriguing. Prime candidate for mockery, Nev Schulman, is a good sport. He very rarely shy’s away from what is ultimately a major piss take of his trust in people. But what it also does, is remind ourselves (or those who use social networking sites) that everything is not as it seems when interacting with faceless names. For those who haven’t seen it, I won’t give too much away, but it shows the frailties in Internet use, as well as, the frailties in ourselves. The revelation of the strange events is quite awakening but is everything we told even true in itself? Some people took this documentary quite literally. I, however, had to wonder whether it was a double cross. I believed it to a point but there were so many chance happenings that were caught conveniently on camera that it couldn’t all have been purely documented.

Questions remain as too how authentic the film actually is but as a social commentary it’s message still stands. Despite some inconstancies it remains cleverly constructed.

Mark Walker

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The Troll Hunter * * * 1/2

Posted in Documentary, Fantasy, Horror with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Andre Ovredal.
Screenplay: Andre Ovredal.
Starring: Otto Jesperson, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morch, Tomas Alf Larsen.

First person shakey camera films have become an ideal way for budding filmmakers to make a name for themselves. To name a couple, “The Blair Witch Project” became a horror phenomenon in 1999 and “Paranormal Activity” has now become a horror franchise with consistantly reliant numbers at the box office. This time the Norwegians have a go with a competently handled mythological take on the sub-genre.

Student filmmakers Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud) and Johanna (Johanna Morch) set out to shoot a documentary about bear-hunting in Norway and trail mysterious, well-armed woodsman Hans (Otto Jesperson), whom they assume is a poacher. However, Hans turns out to be a government-sanctioned operative protecting the country from the ravages of giant trolls. Tired of secret heroism, the Troll Hunter lets the crew film his battles with monsters at great risk to themselves.

For budgetary reasons, films of this type keep the main attraction to a minimum. However, where the aforementioned movies relied predominantly on the human drama and reactions, this also happens to deliver the special effects when it matters. The trolls are impressively done. The effects provide more than enough to leave you happy with the technical achievements but also maintain a sense of wonder. The performances are also solid and natural which help in suspending disbelief. But like most films of this type, there is too much talking and not enough action. When the action is delivered though, the confrontations with the creatures are filmed with impressive tension and excitement. The mythological angle is also a refreshing one and it’s encouraging to see the Scandanavians reclaim their folklore.

Yet another foreign language film that’s due for an American remake and you can see why. The budget may be low but the film is still of a high standard.

Mark Walker

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Exit Through The Gift Shop * * * *

Posted in Documentary with tags on January 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Banksy.
Narrated By: Rhys Ifans.
Featuring: Bansky, Thierry Guetta, Debora Guetta, Monsieur Andre, Zues, Shepard Fairey, Ron English, Space Invader, Beck.

What defines art? It’s a question we often ask ourselves. Street graffiti artist ‘Banksy’ thinks if you shout loud enough about your talent (or on this case, the lack of) then people will show an interest whether you’re good or not.

That’s exactly what happens to (very) amature filmmaker Thierry Guetta, who decides after filming several street artists’ work, that he wants to enter into the world of art himself, despite being an abslolute imbicile and not possessing a creative bone in his body. This however, doesn’t stop the American public from being lulled into this so-called artist’s deranged view of his (non-existant) talent and buying up his work, amounting to Thierry accruing over $1million from his exhibition in Los Angeles and becoming very well known in the art world.
The man is a buffoon, but what does that then make the people who snapped up his pieces?

A great look into post-modern art and raising some serious questions as to what people percieve art to be. On this note, it is pretentious claptrap and shows up the proposterous cheese eating, wine sipping critics who talk right out their arse.
Is this documetary even for real? Is Thierry really this new modern artist adored by the public? Or has Banksy crafted a film to expose the tawdry and ostentatious opinions of pompous, upper middle-class snobs who pretend to have an opinion, but really only want a slice of the recent fad for themselves. Who knows?

The film itself may be a an experiment in life imitating art, imitating life. Either way though, the question still stands and it’s a thought provoking little documentary.

Mark Walker

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