Trailer: Albert Maysles’ Iris

“I didn’t give a damn about going to the party, or being at the party. It was getting dressed for the party – And there is poetry in that.” Albert Maysles‘ penultimate film, Iris, gets a high energy, very funny trailer with its 93 year old eponymous subject, fashion artist Iris Apfel, having full comfort in front of the camera. The more documentaries I watch, the more I fall in love with character-based ones, and this one looks to be full of vim and vigour. Maysles himself gets a nice on-camera cameo at the end, too.

Magnolia is releasing the documentary theatrically on April 29th.

Iris Apfel, quick-witted, and flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades. More than a fashion film, the documentary is a story about creativity and how, even at Iris’ advanced age, a soaring free spirit continues to inspire. IRIS portrays a singular woman whose enthusiasm for fashion, art and people are life’s sustenance and reminds us that dressing, and indeed life, is nothing but an experiment. Despite the abundance of glamour in her current life, she continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during a middle-class Queens upbringing during the Great Depression.

Albert Maysles 1926-2015.

“Making a film isn’t finding the answer to a question; it’s trying to capture life as it is.”

he elder half of the famous Maysles documentary filmmaking team, Albert Maysles died yesterday at 88. David (who passed on in the late 1980s) and Albert documented The Rolling Stones in one of the best documentary films ever made, Gimme Shelter, shot during the infamous Altamont Concert; a touch-point considered the end of the Hippie movement, and the beginning of the flower-power narcotics hangover. (We did a Movie Club Podcast on the 1970 doc here.) They were leading proponents int the Direct Cinema Movement which aimed to minimize cinema tricks in the documentary form to represent their stories honestly (and as the name states, directly.) They also documented The Beatles, IBM, The extended Kennedy family (Grey Gardens)the dynamic of the modern salesman in the classic documentary, Salesman. In his solo career Albert Maysles made an equally diverse stretch of films from the 1950s all the way up to 2009. Maysles was a titan of the documentary field, as important to its development as Robert J. Flaherty, Frederick Wiseman, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.

The New York Times has more.

Friday One Sheet: The Seventh Fire

When you get Terrence Malick to lend his credibility to your documentary, you make darn sure to put his name on the poster. Jack Pettibone Riccobono directs a documentary on a Minnesota Ojibwe reservation that has a gang problem, but he does it from the point of view of a 5-time incarcerated gang leader and his 17 year old protege.

The classic, minimalist one-sheet emphasizes sun down, and the wide open space of the midwest, but the deep red-orange could equally mean love or violence.

The Seventh Fire opens at the Berlinale Film Festival this week. The gorgeous trailer is also tucked under the seat.

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Trailer: Lost Soul – The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

 

The tales of epic cinema disaster that involve the 1990s remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau are many. Two extremely difficult actors to work with, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, the former was dealing with the suicide of his daughter, the latter was going through a nasty divorce at the time. Richard Stanley had developed the project for four years, but was replaced midway through shooting by New Line Cinema with John Frankenheimer. Stanley legendarily kept sneaking onto the set to sabotage shooting, as his original script was slice and diced on a daily basis. Basically a very expensive studio film was being changed on the fly while the actors and former director were hell bent on destroying the thing. The result is a terrible film, that is surprisingly watchable if only for its terribleness.

In the spirit of Jodorowski’s Dune and Lost in La Mancha, filmmaker David Gregory has interviewed many of the people involved, in particular showcasing Richard Stanley, in the whole debacle as a lessons-learned documentary. I missed this on the festival circuit, where it got a quiet, and quite sparse, release, but it is now getting theatrical/VOD distribution, and as a result, a new trailer was cut for the film. Enjoy.

Review: Love and Terror On The Howling Plains of Nowhere

 

[It’s out on iTunes today. Give this one a whirl. The film was on Kurt’s Top 10 films of the year.]

 

In a sparse corner of Nebraska, as far as possible from the state’s cities of Lincoln and Omaha sits the high-elevation prairie town of Chadron, population 5600. The town, described as ‘politely hanging on’ after peaking somewhere in the 19th century is host to the State College and was the hometown of NFL wide receiver Don Beebe, but is now quite remarkable for its motley collection of characters unearthed and endeared by author Poe Ballantine (himself one of those characters) in his memoir-slash-true-crime novel, “Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere: A Memoir.”

It has been adapted, wrangled, and condensed into documentary form by Dave Jannetta in the same tattered, rascally spirit as the book – equal parts pragmatism and poetry. Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is morbid, hilarious and whipsmart film-making that belies strained budget and open-ended narrative. It will never look as good as The Imposter or offer the closure of The Thin Blue Line, but its humour is mighty. The Chadron Record’s ‘Police Beat’ newspaper column which features heavily here (more on that in a minute) alone is a treasure of treasures.

In deep, dark winter of 2006, the college’s resident PhD theoretical mathematics professor, Steven Haataja, withdrew $100 from the local cash machine and bought a large bag of charcoal from the Safeway before trundling off onto the wilderness in sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures. The townsfolk and the local police are baffled that the introverted professor, who appeared to be settling into the community just fine, left just before the end of the semester without offering any closure to his occupation, family, or colleagues. Chadron has always been a town of transience, a way-station for drifters (or footballers) to Denver or Omaha or any other American city, so someone up and leaving for greener pastures was a common enough event and an eccentric exit from a nebbish math professor was chalked up as just that. Already a source of gossip and amateur sleuthing, when Haataja’s corpse was found in the spring by a rancher on his property a few miles from campus, in copse of trees bound with electrical cords and burned right down to the bones, it becomes the towns biggest mystery.

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Trailer: The Amina Profile

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This Sundance selected documentary on Amina Arraf, a pretty Syrian-American revolutionary who’s having an online affair with Montrealer Sandra Bagaria, looks interesting. Arraf launched the provocatively named blog, “A Gay Girl in Damascus.” back in 2011, as the Syrian uprising gains was gaining momentum. Amina’s subsequent abduction that sparked an international outcry to free her. Playing out like a detective story, The Amina Profile involves American intelligence agencies, major global media outlets, and a host of activists and sympathizers. But what started as a love story becomes the tale of an unprecedented media and sociological hoax, infotainment, deceit and betrayal.

Carrying forward the ‘texting and social media’ on screen aesthetically is as much of interest to me here, as the socio-political aspects. Sundance has a way of picking their docs in a larger hit-to-miss ratio than their features. Even if there seems to be a fair number of talking heads here, I’ve got my eye on this feature from Sophie Deraspe.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 22 to February 1, 2015. The Amina Profile has multiple screenings over the festival.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Que Caramba es la Vida

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When you think of Mariachi, the first that comes to mind is likely not a woman but in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, female Mariachi are a presence even though they’re still a minority. In her latest feature Que Caramba es la Vida, German filmmaker Doris Dörrie travels to Plaza Garibaldi and gets to know a few of the women who make a living belting out traditional Mexican music in a cultural art form that is still dominated by men.

Dörrie introduces us to a few of the women who eek out a living by singing soulful tunes. María del Carmen is the best of the bunch, a single mother who spends her nights singing in the square in order to support her mother and her young daughter. Del Carmen seems an unstoppable force as she applies her make-up and dons her uniform for the evening but Dörrie slowly chips away at the calm and collected exterior and as the documentary progresses, del Carmen and the other women begin to talk candidly about the struggles of a career that is dominated by men and the harassment and hardship they face on a nightly basis.
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Review: La Bare

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Director: Joe Manganiello
Producers: Joe Manganiello, Nick Manganiello
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 90 min.


I must admit that when I watched Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, the thought of whether the life of the male stripper portrayed in the movie was accurate, never once crossed my mind but when it was announced that one of the movie’s co-stars was making a documentary about male strippers, I did find myself musing just how accurate Soderbergh’s take was.

Joe Manganiello directs La Bare, a very enjoyable documentary about the men that bring the world famous Dallas strip joint to life and watching the doc, it’s hard not to wonder if 1) Soderbergh sent the boys there for research before the movie and 2) whether this is where Channing Tatum danced because Magic Mike feels like a dramatic interpretation of day to day life at La Bare.

Manganiello opens with a little history lesson on La Bare, the club that has been operating off and on since the 70s. It’s here we meet Randy “Master Blaster” Ricks, the real life version of Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas, a long time dancer who is always looking out for his boys. Ricks is a charismatic character. Still living with his mom who calls herself his number one fan, Ricks comes across as the father figure, the guy who goes out of his way to teach the new guys the ropes so that they don’t screw up their careers and the club along the way. From here we meet some of the other players: the former special ops soldier, the newby and the former dancer turned DJ, among others. These guys all have similar stories about how working at the club has changed their lives but what’s most interesting is the back-stage locker room talk. When Manganiello and his camera wonder around backstage on a work night… that’s when you really see the truth about these guys and that truth may surprise some because for the most part, these men come across as some of the most down-to-earth, respectful guys you could possibly wish for.

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Review: Mission Blue

I am never one to say no to beautifully lit underwater photography, either in grainy 16 mm or pristine HD. Here there is plenty, but the most compelling image in activist/biopic documentary, Mission Blue, is that of a lone plastic lawn chair, sparsely illuminated on the ocean floor. It is a bit of detritus found thousands of miles from land and a reminder that the consequences of our civilization of convenience and plenty, range far. This is hardly news to you, savvy filmgoer and documentary enthusiast, and director Fisher Stevens (with Robert Nixon) are aware that the audience for their film knows the ocean has been used by humanity as a vast sewer.

Thus, the intent of their documentary is to frame things in a new perspective. That is to say, collectively, we have made this colossal mess over pretty much a single lifespan. Take a minute to think about that. With no irony whatsoever, the example span, writ large, is the accomplished Marine Biologist Sylvia Earle, celebrity scientist since the 1960s who is now pushing 80 and still full of life and passion for preservation of earth and memory. But things have changed pretty dramatically since she dipped her toe into the Gulf of Mexico as a child.

Stevens, if you recall, has an Oscar for producing another piece of aquatic activism, 2010’s The Cove, and here he spent three years with Earle, in wetsuits, diving off The Galapagos Islands, on the lecture circuit with bottled water, and in her memories – as a child, spouse (three husbands), mother, numerous expeditions to untouched parts of the world, and even a brief time as government bureaucrat managing The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mission Blue again confirms Werner Herzog’s musing that exploring the deep oceans is analogous to exploring the stars. How deep is the ocean, how high is the sky. The difference is that in our terrestrial big blue, there are teeming amounts of ‘alien’ lifeforms, glowing and gracefully moving; things that make James Cameron’s chemiluminescent CGI recreations in Avatar kindergarten stuff by comparison. Cameron and Earle respectfully tussled over who got to ride in his deep diving submersible to the bottom of the Mariana Trench a few years ago. Earle broke deep diving records via JIM suit in the 1970s, earlier, she was of the first people to live for a lengthy period of time in an underwater habitat. She lobbied the ‘king of the world’ to get his his tall skinny ass out of his own gear, and give her a shot at going deeper.

She burned through several marriages, had a bunch of kids, and generally shattered any 1950s or 60s notion of the domestic female, becoming a celebrated science icon along the way. She reflects on the difficult of the balancing act for family, and it’s not hard to scale up the notion to how we manage the planet. Mistakes were made, and things chug along, older, more frail, but still hanging in and carrying on. It is a major plus to have the Earle do the bulk of the films voice-over; she is as complex and compelling a human being as one would expect.

She can say, “I saw the before. I saw the after,” when it comes to the death of so many of the worlds great coral reefs and other vibrant parts of the planets hidden depths. The massive depletion of so many types of species of fish (Cod, Menhaden and even the mighty and feared shark) in service of feeding, often indulging, a human population that ballooned from two billion to seven billion people, happened over her lifetime.

How many sharks have people killed compared to how many people sharks have killed? A million to one ratio, most likely. And that is just fishing for the fins that are craved so much in Chinese soups. This does not even count all the dead zones in the ocean we’ve caused in the past 50 years: not just dumping garbage, or Exxon Valdez oil-disasters, these are almost minor compared to the run-off of farming fertilizer carried in the water table and rivers into the oceans which plays holy hell with the eco-system. If the oceans are the planets temperature regulations system, climate change is not just carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is also the barren spaces we’ve wrought; a chair with a view of the annexation of Earth’s very own ‘Galaxy of Life.’

OK, one can get a little depressed about this stuff, and so, like many activists docs, Mission Blue exits on a hopeful note. The eponymous organization to designate the equivalent of 20% of the ocean space as aquatic National Parks. (No drilling, no dumping, no hunting.) A fifth of the ocean allowed a breather to recover from the burden the last 100 years of human history seems reasonable and sane.

Whether or not you find this documentary didactic or obvious (humans muck up nature, it’s what we do) or even a commercial for Earle’s Mission Blue project, this does not change the fact that it is all clearly and compellingly presented. The discarded lawn chair is a source for almost a paralyzing melancholy, but we can just pick the damn thing up and let nature fix herself.

Mission Blue available exclusively on Netflix, and the trailer is below: