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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

My Childhood, My Country: 20 Years In Afghanistan

Director – Phil Grabsky, Shoaib Sharifi – 2022 – UK – Cert. tbc – 90m

**1/2

The story of a boy from his harsh childhood in a mountain cave through to his life as a husband and father of three in present day Kabul under the Taliban – out in UK cinemas on Tuesday, September 20th

Mir Hussain has already been the subject of two previous Grabsky documentaries The Boy Who Played On The Buddhas Of Bamiyan (2004) and The Boy Mir (2011). The first covers his time as an eight-year-old living in the caves of Bamiyan, beside the remains of the famous monuments which had been destroyed by the Taliban. The second documents his life from eight- to eighteen-year-old. This third film takes a longer view, following Mir’s life from that early period through to the present day.

Afghanistan has undergone huge changes in the last twenty years, from Taliban rule through occupation post 9/11 by NATO forces led by the US to the withdrawal of Western forces, the collapse of the Afghan government and the return to power of the Taliban. That story is related here via clips of various news reports from TV channels all around the globe.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Moonage Daydream

Director – Brett Morgen – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 135m

*****

David Bowie explored through his own words, accompanied by images of his life and art, many of his songs and extracts from numerous live performances – out in IMAX in the UK on Friday, September 16th and wide in cinemas on Friday, September 23rd.

In 2018, seasoned writer-director-editor Brett Morgen (Jane, 2017; Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, 2015; The Kid Stays In The Picture, 2002) was granted unprecedented access to David Bowie’s personal archives and four years later we have the first film to be supported by the Bowie estate. Knowing all this, you enter the cinema wondering exactly what you’re going to get.

You’re immediately confronted by a quote about Nietzsche and God which is then revealed as a quote from Bowie 2002, the film immediately putting Bowie on a par with one of the nineteenth century’s greatest philosophers and arguably even God. The subject of Nietsche doesn’t come back up, but God does, quite a bit, with Bowie’s religious-leaning song “Word On A Wing” putting in an appearance and David’s voice-over talking about “something…a force directing the universe”. Like many of us today, he struggles with the word ‘God’ – is it the right word?… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

Directors – Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12 – 118m

***

The career of writer-turned-singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, with particular emphasis on his best known song Hallelujah – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16th

There have been films about Leonard Cohen before, hardly surprising given his status as one of the major singer / songwriters of the twentieth century. This one falls between two stools.

Leonard Cohen

On the one hand, it’s an attempt to document his career, and as such comes across as another Leonard Cohen movie which is fine as an introduction if you don’t know his career and music and I suspect fine for Leonard completists. As someone in the middle, this aspect seemed to be all talking heads treading mostly predictable ground.

On the other, it explores Cohen’s best known song Hallelujah, his struggles in writing it and how the piece ultimately took on a life of its own. This second aspect hasn’t been explored that widely to the best of my knowledge and proves a far richer seam into the mind, workings, practices and artistry of Cohen, making you wish the filmmakers had dumped much of the other material and explored this area at greater length.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Directors – Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 127m

*****

A warm and compelling look at the life of writer Kurt Vonnegut, the influence upon him of the bombing of Dresden, and his decades-long friendship with director Weide – out in cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday, July 22nd, BFI Player Rental from Monday, August 22nd

Read my shorter review for Reform magazine.

The documentary Weide eventually made about Vonnegut took him the best part of four decades to complete. Weide opens with a statement about Vonnegut walking in the woods, feeling a tree and seeing the bombing of Dresden before it occurred. There seems no reason to doubt Vonnegut. He was unstuck in time, jumping around the years and decades. Weide first contacted him in 1982, never imagining that it would take him anything like as long to complete the film as it did. He starts looking at interviews of himself (“who wants to see a documentary in which a filmmaker appears as himself?”, he asks) – defined by where they were shot or what shirt Weide was wearing at the time.

Whatever else Vonnegut and his writing are, they are not conventional.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Free Chol Soo Lee

Directors – Julia Ha, Eugene Yi – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 83m

****

Imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, Korean American Chol Soo Lee became a figurehead for a protest movement, something he felt unable to live up to – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 19th

In San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1973, Korean loner Chol Soo Lee was arrested and subsequently convicted for a gang murder. While it’s true he had foolishly borrowed a gun off a work colleague a few days previously and accidentally discharged it into his apartment wall giving himself a police record, he was not the murderer. He was identified on the flimsiest of premises by unreliable witnesses, possibly not helped by white cops who wanted to convict a felon for the crime and consign the case to history.

On what was to be his last journey through the outside world before many years in prison, he heard the Tower of Power song “You’re still a young man” on a car radio crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. It resonated. As the years passed in prison, his mother abandoned him. He had fallen for a Japanese American girl he’d met Jean Ranko who subsequently told him in a letter that she had no romantic interest in him.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Fadia’s Tree

Directors – Sarah Beddington, Susan Simnett – 2021 – UK – Cert. U – 84m

***1/2

A friendship between British artist Sarah and Palestinian refugee Fadia sparks the former into a search for a tree in the latter’s village to which she is currently unable to return – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 5th

Sometimes less is more. This takes what is essentially a very simple idea and runs with it to its logical conclusion. Fadia Loubani is a Palestinian born and living in Beirut’s Barajneh refugee camp. Her refugee status prevents her from visiting the part of what was then Palestine and now Northern Israel from which her family originally came. Even though the village of Sa’Sa’ is only about 15 miles away, it can only be accessed by a far longer round trip, the final part of which involves crossing a border which her status won’t permit. In this village is her father’s house and a mulberry tree that sits opposite it. If Fadia could achieve one thing in her life, it would be to visit Sa’Sa’ and find both the tree and the house.

She originally struck up a friendship with Sarah Beddington in a Beirut restaurant, subsequently introducing the artist to the community in her refugee camp.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Fire Of Love

Director – Sara Dosa – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 93m

The volcano footage *****
(and there’s lots of it, plus footage of the volcanologists themselves)

The brief animated inserts ***1/2

Almost everything else **

The 25-year career of the late volcanologist couple Katia and Maurice Krafft is explored through their extensive film archive of volcanic activity – out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

There have been volcano movies before, but nothing quite like this. Most of them fall into the disaster movie category, with the better ones (The Last Days Of Pompeii, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1935; Dante’s Peak, Roger Donaldson, 1997) delivering incredible visual effects. The force of nature that is the volcano is obviously extremely dangerous to film so you can understand why film producers would want to recreate images of the phenomenon for the big screen rather than attempt to go out and film them.

This current film, however, is not a fictional feature in that mould but something entirely different: a documentary. It perfectly fits the remit of its distributor National Geographic of “exploring, illuminating, and protecting the wonder of our world”. It’s ostensibly a film about two real life volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft who first met in 1966 and died in an volcanic blast in 1991.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Transformed by an atrocity

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Certificate 15
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)

Full review published in Reform magazine.

The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.

Back in the States… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is out in cinemas and on Altitude Film digital platform in the UK from Friday, July 22nd.

Read my longer review.

Adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night (writer-producer Robert B. Weide, 1996) – review.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) also covers the bombing of Dresden – review.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Exhibitions Features Live Action Movies

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema

A virtual exhibition of Hong Kong movie unit photography stills

*****

Accessible from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, August 14th in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves

The online platform hosting the exhibition

Funny things, virtual exhibitions. Like online platforms for viewing movies, they can take a bit of getting used to. In a real life exhibition in a museum, you wander from room to room, either looking at everything or, perhaps, looking at particular exhibits that take your fancy or that you want to study in further depth.

All that happens too in an online exhibition. I guess they can be viewed on a smartphone, but I was looking at this on my PC. There are help instructions on the menu, but I, like many others I suspect, ignored them and worked out how it all worked as I was going round.

I must have seen quite a bit of the whole before I realised that the best way to proceed might well be the ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons taking you from exhibit to exhibit. Before that, I’d worked out that if you clicked on a photographic image hanging on the gallery wall, your viewpoint / the screen / the camera would zoom in on the exhibit and frame it perfectly.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Donna

Director – Jay Bedwani – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 75m

***1/2

A look at the everyday life of Donna Personna, a trans activist from a Baptist background living in San Francisco – released in cinemas and on Bohemia Euphoria on Friday, July 15th

This threw me at first because it appears to be partly Welsh funded yet it’s about someone living in San Francisco. No matter. The seventysomething Donna Personna is first seen powdering her face and telling a story from her youth about getting her sister’s boyfriend to kiss him when she wasn’t around. She seems a genial person, who I would imagine is a lot of fun to be around in real life and a perfect subject for the camera who lights up the screen whenever she’s on it (which is most of the time).

What’s great about this film, for a non-trans viewer, is that it gives an idea of what it‘s like to be trans, both in terms of day to day living and upbringing. It doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind, rather it just wants to show how life is for someone like Donna. Her father was a Christian minister and her mother (not surprisingly) a minister’s wife who between them had a total of 15 kids!… Read the rest