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Pre-gaming for the Oscars with last year’s winning doc

24 Feb

Undefeated

Everything I know about football I learned from Friday Night Lights. I still want to be Tami Taylor when I grow up.

I don’t love sports that much. But I do love documentaries. And Undefeated is one of the best sports docs I have ever seen. Brand-new to DVD/streaming, this is an incredible film.

Forget FNL. Forget The Blind Side. No big names, no theatrics, no force-fed emotion. Simply the remarkably inspirational true story of the 2009  Manassas Tigers, a ragged inner city high school football team in Memphis led by volunteer head coach Bill Courtney. There are moments in this film that seem impossibly scripted. But they’re not. You may even be tempted to dismiss it as another rich-white-guy-helps-poor-black-kids story. But do not.

Please see. Seriously! And restore your faith in humanity.

3 great foreign films you missed when all the hype was about “A Separation”

24 Oct

The 2011 Iranian drama A Separation fully deserved the Oscar it got for best foreign language film, but here are three others that I can’t seem to forget:

Bullhead (Belgium): The performances in this dark, deeply disturbing and testosterone-laden story of a man who endures a childhood trauma and never recovers are fierce, even though the backdrop—the cattle farming industry plagued by gangsters—is kind of weird. The plot can be hard to follow at times (it’s partly based on a real incident that occurred when a government veterinarian inspector was killed), but I found myself thinking about this movie long afterward.

Goodbye First Love (France): I’m a total sucker for young love stories because they make me recall my own innocent and all-consuming experiences from a million years ago. While some people might be bored by the minutiae of the affair (this is a very French film), I was hooked on the young girl’s attempts to finally move past the relationship and grow into a new person. I also secretly hoped the two lovers would find happiness together again.

Tomboy (France): One of the most thought-provoking films of last year is about a 10-year-old girl who identifies as a boy, dressing and acting like one (without her parents’ knowledge) when they move to a new town. The child actors do an amazing job—at times I felt like I was watching a documentary. Anyone who doesn’t “get” the issues surrounding gender identity should see this film; it’s impossible not to empathize with the girl’s confusion and struggle for acceptance.

Juice monkey

8 May

I’ve been wanting to get into juicing for a while now; the only thing preventing me was the cost of Breville juicers. But last night I saw Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and it really made me think. As far as documentaries go, it doesn’t examine the deep social and economic factors that contribute to obesity—this is director Joe Cross’s first foray into moviemaking (he’s actually an investor/entrepreneur).

Still, I couldn’t help but be touched by the stories of people in the film (especially Phil the truck driver). These men turn their lives around by consuming only macronutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables and combining that with exercise. While a complete fast may be difficult/unnecessary/too extreme for some people, there’s no doubt that frequent juicing can improve your health.

Am I a sucker? Maybe. But an inspired sucker who will be buying a Breville juicer (with a 20% off coupon).

The doc is available streaming on Netflix; also here on Hulu for free.

Two worthwhile movies you never saw

31 Jan

I streamed two very good films on Netflix last weekend.

1. Welcome. This fictional French film depicts the very real crisis of undocumented migrant workers in Calais (a port city on the north coast of France), where refugees congregate after escaping oppression in their home countries. Only 30 miles from the United Kingdom (where it is supposedly easier to obtain refugee status and receive aid), Calais is a magnet for people trying to sneak across the border. There is a Nazi-like atmosphere in the town, where anyone who is even suspected of helping “clandestines” can be prosecuted. Under these disturbing politics, even humanitarian workers come under attack. The main tale is told through the unlikely friendship between a French swim coach and an Iraqi boy who wants to swim across the English Channel. I felt real empathy for him—and others like him—who will stop at nothing to better their lives. Trailer

2. Lymelife. Set in the ’70s during a lyme disease scare, this indie dark comedy features a powerhouse cast: Alec Baldwin, Cynthia Nixon, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Emma Roberts and Kieran/Rory Culkin. The plot is your basic coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of suburban angst, with unraveling dysfunctional families tearing each other apart. But I found it witty, thoughtful and full of black humour. Apparently, first-time director Derick Martini based it on his real-life experiences. Trailer

Page One: Inside the New York Times

10 Jan

Finally streamed Page One: Inside the New York Times, one of the more interesting documentaries I’ve seen in a while. It’s not without its flaws–disjointed in parts and lacking explanation in others. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone who cares about the media even a little. An examination of the journalistic landscape in the face of the Internet, the film offers unprecedented access to the NYT‘s Media Desk, as reporters and editors navigate the paper’s response to—and responsibility in—the digital age. Appearances by David Carr (he’s sort of weirdly positioned as the hero), Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter and more. It thought-provokingly juxtaposes traditional, institutionalized legacy reporting with Twitter, blogs and aggregate sites, while reminding us that publishing is a business—one we hope the Times survives.

Check out the trailer.

And just because it’s fun (although not very flattering), here’s the NYT review of its own movie.

Get ready to get sad—Roadie looks like that kind of movie.

30 Nov

The trailer itself nearly broke my heart. I love how director Michael Cuesta explores heavy subjects that no one wants to think about. (Remember the pedophilia in 2001’s L.I.E.?) Roadie is about a guy who, after touring with a band for 20 years, returns to Queens to live with his mom and runs into his old high school crush and nemesis (who are now married). The film moved critics at Tribeca with its honesty and supposedly terrific performances by Bobby-I’m-So-Hot-Cannavale and Ron Eldard. Opens January 6, but on demand December 2. (What? Whatever.)

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

I like dirty hippies, so what?

14 Nov

The movie Magic Trip (rent-able) is not for everyone, and I fully admit that having (non-dirty) hippies for parents and the strong belief that I was meant to be a flower child contributed to my intrigue. In fact, I watched the film twice. Fascinating look at the famous, 1964 cross-country bus trip taken by Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and LSD experimenter) and his Merry Band of Pranksters (including Neal Cassady). You really feel like you are on the bus, thanks to raw footage narrated by these kids—now adults—detailing their exploration, search for freedom, relationships, and yes, acid trips. You would be wrong to assume that it’s only about drugs, though; there’s plenty about politics, the vibe of the era, Ken Kesey’s leadership, the protest movement itself and dissatisfaction/disillusionment.

So get a healthy dose … of American history. (What were you thinking?)