Category Archives: Recommendations

On Cable: TERROR AT THE MALL

terror-at-the-mall-tv-review-hboComing to HBO tonight, Monday, September 15: TERROR AT THE MALL

Dan Reed’s harrowing account of last year’s massacre in Nairobi makes its official debut tonight, the third of three films the director has made on infamous terrorist attacks around the world.

The present film comes just under a year after the attack on Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall. On September 21, 2013, four young Somali gunmen affiliated with Al-Shabaab strolled through the building, indiscriminately and inconsistently shooting patrons as a supposed act of revenge for some vaguely defined affront against Somalia and Islam. Effectively conveying a sense of raw danger and immediacy, Reed structures his film primarily through surviving security camera footage in various locations in the embattled complex, identifying various subjects in the grainy material who supplement his terse narration with interviews. As a result, the viewer is immersed in a shocking, nearly first-hand experience of panic, confusion, and fear that is hard to shake.

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On DVD/VOD: CASTING BY

casting byComing to DVD and VOD tomorrow, Tuesday, September 16: CASTING BY

Tom Donahue’s appreciation of the casting director debuted in Toronto in 2012. Festival screenings followed at the New York Film Festival, Los Angeles, Sarasota, Montclair, Denver, Cleveland, Ashland, Provincetown, and RiverRun, among others. In addition to DVD, the doc now becomes available via iTunes.

I previously wrote about the film upon its initial release here.

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On VOD: DICK: THE DOCUMENTARY

dickComing to VOD tomorrow, Friday, September 12: DICK: THE DOCUMENTARY

Brian Fender’s exploration of men’s relationships to their penises debuted at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival last year. IndiePix now releases the doc on VOD, with a DVD release planned for next year.

Placing an ad on Craigslist back in 2008, Fender solicited the participation of anonymous male subjects willing to expose their bodies for his camera. Using a simple, utilitarian camera set-up, framing the men from the neck down, the director appears as an offscreen interlocutor, posing a range of questions to engage them on the topic of their dicks and how they relate to them. Representing a cross-section of ages, races, sizes, and sexualities, the men take the opportunity afforded by anonymity and curiosity to open up about self-perception, early sexual experiences, and traumas, from sexual abuse to small penis jokes to prostate cancer. Despite clocking in at barely over 45 minutes, the project feels a bit overlong – even if the men are engaging, some anecdotes are excessive, and the basic set-up wears thin after awhile. That said, while there have been other documentaries that have explored the topic, this is still generally unexplored terrain, at least in comparison to media and writing that features women considering their own bodies, so Fender’s film is a welcome attempt to focus on an unnecessarily taboo topic.

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On TV: REBUILDING THE WORLD TRADE CENTER

Rebuilding-the-World-Trace-Center-Key-Image-580x300Coming to the History Channel tomorrow, Thursday, September 11: REBUILDING THE WORLD TRADE CENTER

Marcus Robinson’s chronicle of rebirth from the perspective of construction workers made its debut on Britain’s Channel 4 last year. It went on to screen at DOC NYC, and now screens on the anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers.

I previously wrote about the film for DOC NYC’s program, saying:
As construction began on Ground Zero, with new towers being raised in a symbolic rebirth from 9/11, artist and filmmaker Marcus Robinson documented the entire process. Stunning time-lapse photography, paintings, drawings and, most affectingly, interviews with the men and women working on the site, capture both the physical enormity of the six-year task and the emotional impact the undertaking has on the workers, and, by extension, New York as a whole.

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In Theatres: BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB VS GRAVITY

born to flyComing to NYC’s Film Forum today, Wednesday, September 10: BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB VS GRAVITY

Catherine Gund’s portrait of a pioneering pop action choreographer debuted at SXSW this year. It went on to screen at Cleveland, Full Frame, MountainFilm, Seattle, Sydney, Brooklyn, Sheffield, Frameline, and deadCENTER, among others.

Elizabeth Streb has developed philosophy of movement over decades, putting it into gloriously experimental practice in her Brooklyn-based Streb Extreme Action Company. The film delves into the self-assured taskmaster’s past and present, recounting the evolution of the MacArthur genius’ unusual synthesis of acrobatics, dance, and circus performance even as she prepares her troupe for their most impressive spectacle yet – performing death-defying actions on and off famed London landmarks as part of the 2012 Olympics. Gund deftly captures a palpable sense of what Streb subjects her performers – and herself – to, flinging themselves against objects and leaping off of whirling machinery, often risking serious injury. Though lacking a driving conflict or transformative arc, the film nevertheless offers a compelling profile of a self-assured, successful artist unwilling to stop pushing herself from attempting the impossible.

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On DVD: THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR

galapagos affairComing to DVD today, Tuesday, September 9: THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN

Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller’s chronicle of a bizarre 1930s murder mystery bowed at Telluride last year. It went on to screen at the Hamptons, Berlin, New Orleans filmOrama, Palm Springs, and Bermuda, among others.

I previously wrote about the doc upon its theatrical release here.

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On DVD: WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?

dayaniComing to DVD today, Tuesday, September 9: WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?

Marc Silver’s intimate look at immigration debuted at Sundance last year, winning the World Cinema Documentary Cinematography Award. Its festival circuit also included Hot Docs, San Sebastian, San Diego Latino, Abu Dhabi, Zurich, Rome, Miami, and the New York Film Festival, among others.

I profiled the doc before Sundance here.

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