Category Archives: Film

On VOD: WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN

1968PaulNewman-7821Coming to VOD tomorrow, Friday, May 22: WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN

Adam Carolla and Nate Adams tribute to the late actor’s passion for car racing made its debut at a special charity event in Los Angeles last month. It now becomes publicly available across VOD platforms via FilmBuff, including iTunes, Vudu, XBOX, Google Play, PlayStation, Amazon, and cable VOD, alongside special one-night only screening events, including one in conjunction with the Indy 500.

It’s revealed at the end of this affectionate celebration that comedian Adam Carolla, who serves as one of the film’s directors, is the present-day owner of several of Newman’s racing cars. This kind of personal affinity informs the project, which is heavy on anecdotes and love for the Oscar-winning Hollywood icon, but otherwise struggles to find a driving force to compel casual viewers forward. The film is most interesting as it details how Newman caught the racing bug while making the 1969 film WINNING, and otherwise does an only serviceable job recounting his growing dedication to the sport over time, eventually winning national championships and co-owning his own team. Interviewees include contemporaries in the racing world, including Willy T Ribbs, a trailblazing African-American driver, and Mario Andretti, as well as admirers from without, like famously car-crazy Jay Leno and Pixar’s John Lasseter, who developed a CARS character specifically for Newman to voice, in what was to be the actor’s final role.

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In Theatres & On VOD: (DIS)HONESTY – THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

dishonestyComing to theatres and to VOD tomorrow, Friday, May 22: (DIS)HONESTY – THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

Yael Melamede’s exploration of why people lie had its world premiere at Full Frame earlier this year. It has also screened at Hot Docs, Montclair, and the new Bentonville FIlm Festival. In addition to a limited theatrical release, the doc will be available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and VUDU via Bond/360, as well as through the film’s website.

Melamede’s guide through the big question that her film explores – human dishonesty – is behavioral economist Dan Ariely, whose pioneering work on irrational human behavior inspired this straightforward but pleasantly diverting survey. Threaded throughout the film is the affable Duke University professor’s lecture explication of a series of experiments he conducted to tease out how and why people choose to be dishonest, revealing the sliding “fudge factor” that allows people to rationalize their behavior in relation to the context and beliefs of what is or is not morally or socially permissible. Beyond his engaging, and often surprising, research findings, Melamede regularly highlights individual anecdotes by self-confessed liars, some with positive consequences, such as an author who calmed a hysterical fellow airline passenger by claiming he was an aeronautical engineer, and others with decidedly more negative outcomes, from insider traders to job loss, when the deception was uncovered.

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In Theatres: SEEDS OF TIME

seeds of timeComing to theatres this Friday, May 22: SEEDS OF TIME

Sandy McLeod’s cautionary tale about the future of our food debuted at SXSW last year. Other fest appearances have included Berlin, CPH:DOX, Full Frame, and Seattle, among others.

McLeod’s film profiles Cary Fowler, a renowned agriculturalist who has been at the forefront of preserving biodiversity through seed saving and storage, most famously through the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a remote Norwegian seed bank located just 800 miles from the North Pole. Operating against the grain of our modern, industrial farming industry, which privileges monocultures as a way to maximize profits, Fowler and his fellow preservationists warn of the potential catastrophic damage that could easily be wrought on our global food supply if a new disease were to wipe out the single strain of crops upon which we’ve grown to depend. The projects he champions around the world aim to preserve crop diversity for the benefit of future generations, from large scale efforts like Svalbard to regionally-specific initiatives, such as a partnership with indigenous Peruvians to prevent the further loss of hundreds of varieties of potatoes to climate change. Fowler emerges as a passionate, if somewhat dry, advocate, and McLeod offers an often visually arresting backdrop while while traversing the globe with her protagonist, but the film often proves over-reliant on statistics and a fairly repetitive survey approach.

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On DVD: ON TENDER HOOKS

tenderNew to DVD this week: ON TENDER HOOKS

Kate Shenton’s look at the suspension subculture debuted at the London FrightFest in 2013. Other fest appearances have included fantastic fests in Puchon, Bruges, and Ravenna, among others.

Shenton’s film, an expansion of a short of the same name that screened at Slamdance and elsewhere in 2012, explores the world of suspension, a subculture of individuals who insert hooks through their skin and are suspended on cables to work through pain, achieve ecstatic states, embrace a kinship with like-minded individuals, or to have fun with unusual body-altering experiences. For the majority of its running time, the film merely functions as a survey of the practice, interviewing various adherents with different levels of experience and various motivations for the unusual act – some who’ve been suspended countless times and are proselytizers, and others who’ve just done it once and are still reeling from the intensity of the experience. Close to the end of the film, Shenton herself becomes suspended, and has a very intense, at times painful, experience, which she doesn’t regret, but is not interested in repeating. It’s refreshing that the outsider filmmaker not only takes a non-judgmental approach to an alternative lifestyle practice that might otherwise be too easily portrayed as a freakshow, but she even participates in it, even briefly. Ultimately, however, the project suffers from a lack of a compelling through line, and, to a lesser extent, very rough production values.

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On DVD: LAST HIJACK

lasthijackComing to DVD today, Tuesday, May 19: LAST HIJACK

Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting’s portrait of a Somali pirate had its world premiere at Berlin last year. It went on to screen at the New York Film Festival, CPH:DOX, Rio, Tempo Doc, Revelation, and Sitges, among others.

One of several recent films, both fiction and nonfiction, focused on the dangerous, desperate piracy taking place in the international waters around East Africa, Pallotta and Wolting’s project is distinguished by its extensive integration of rotoscoped animation, as well as a separate interactive element that allows viewers to inhabit the experiences of Somali pirates. Looking specifically at their standalone documentary, the subject is Mohamed, an Everyman of sorts, scarred by his country’s violent past and willing to take on a dangerous, illegal occupation in pursuit of economic mobility. As the filmmakers follow Mohamed in his daily life, he pledges to stay away from piracy in order to take a new bride. At the same time, the viewer is privy to the knowledge that he has essentially abandoned multiple children from various women with his long-suffering parents, so there’s no reason to believe he’s a changed man – and, in fact, he’s not: Not long into his new marriage, he’s making plans to go back to sea, despite his wife’s promise to divorce him if he does. Periodically, the filmmakers illustrate Mohamed’s background with animation – sometimes effectively, but often superfluously, though an opening sequence, wherein he transforms into an imposing bird of prey that clutches a ship from the ocean, is impressive. Still, the film effectively speaks to Mohamed’s motivations – money, thrills, status – even if it too easily dismisses from consideration the costly – and sometimes deadly – consequences of his actions to hijacking victims.

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On DVD: DESPITE THE GODS

despite the godsComing to DVD today, Tuesday, May 19: DESPITE THE GODS

Penny Vozniak’s behind-the-scenes look at a film director’s seemingly doomed comeback had its world premiere at Hot Docs in 2012. It also screened at Sydney, Fantasia, Raindance, Stockholm, Sitges, Chicago, Atlanta DocuFest, and Minneapolis St Paul, among others.

I previously wrote about the film out of Hot Docs here.

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Special Screening & In Theatres: SUNSHINE SUPERMAN

sunshineComing to NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction series tomorrow, Tuesday, May 19 and to theatres this Friday, May 22: SUNSHINE SUPERMAN

Marah Strauch’s portrait of a pioneering extreme sports figure took off at Toronto last Fall. It went on to screen at the New York Film Festival, Martha’s Vineyard, Sarasota, Montclair, Atlanta, Cleveland, Vancouver, and Florida, among several others.

Strauch’s subject is Carl Boenish, an energetic engineer who gave up his career to devote himself to the activity he termed BASE jumping – an awkward acronym denoting the fixed point from which the jump would originate: Building, Antenna, Span (bridges), and Earth (cliffs). Notably, and to the film’s great benefit, Boenish also became obsessed with filming his activities, rigging small cameras to the helmets of jumpers to create nonfiction adventure shorts that Strauch draws from extensively, and which in turn draw in the viewer into an immersive experience of the thrill-seeking sport. This footage, while sometimes crude, most successfully conveys Boenish’s extroverted personality, and the lengths he goes to challenge himself, sneaking into construction sites and making retrospectively ridiculous deals with park rangers to allow him to cultivate his passion. Present-day interviews with old colleagues and especially his widow, Jean, who became as enamored with BASE jumping as her much more excitable spouse, are far more conventional, while re-enactments add slickness to the proceeding but not much else, and instead diminish the impact of Boenish’s own footage and existing archival records. Strauch understandably structures her narrative to build up to Boenish’s strange 1984 death, where, just one day after he set a record, he appeared to attempt a reckless jump from a mountain peak that had explicitly been deemed far too dangerous, and did so without telling anyone, leading to armchair psychologizing and speculations about suicide. Despite its protagonist’s demise, and the the inherent danger of the activity he popularized, however, somehow the film manages to maintain a feeling of celebration and exploration.

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