Coming to Discovery tomorrow, Saturday, October 22: RATS
Morgan Spurlock’s look at the titular rodents around the globe debuted at Toronto last month. It has also screened at Camden and Fantastic Fest.
Wisely eschewing his signature on-camera presence here for a change, Spurlock remains behind the scenes as he takes viewers through an often disturbing survey of rat infestations that has been conceived of as a horror film in documentary form. Full of shock cuts, skin-crawling sound design, and more scenes of extermination than anyone would likely ever want to witness again, the doc unapologetically presents rats as a pestilence that needs to be wiped out, save for one segment, late in the film, which visits a Hindu temple dedicated to the rodents, its 35,000 rat residents lovingly viewed as reincarnated loved ones. Leaving aside the images of pilgrims praying to the scurrying critters, the remainder of the film details how invasive, ubiquitous, disease-ridden, and resistant to death rats are – this is not for animal lovers or the faint at heart. Spurlock’s main thread consists of an interview with Ed Sheehan, a veteran exterminator who looks like he’s straight out of central casting, smoking a cigar in a dark cellar and sharing his hard-fought wisdom about his longtime nemeses. Woven around his disturbing revelations are segments detailing efforts to combat or study the vermin, from a New Orleans research team documenting the disgusting parasites carried in their bodies and a Vietnam eatery that specializes in rat cuisine to a British rat terrier hunting party and a Mumbai night patrol that tries to keep infestation manageable by killing the rodents with their bare hands. While broad in its shock tactics, the film has undeniable, visceral impact as it successfully taps into the viewer’s primal repulsion to the nocturnal creatures.
Coming to PBS’s Doc World this Sunday, October 23: WAITING FOR AUGUST
Teodora Ana Mihai’s verité study of a Romanian teen’s life had its world premiere at Visions du Réel in 2014. Screenings followed at Hot Docs, Karlovy Vary, Dokufest Kosovo, Moscow, Camden, Bergen, Vancouver, DMZ Docs, IDFA, and BFI London fests, among other events.
I previously wrote about the doc here.
Coming to Showtime tomorrow, Saturday, October 22: WEINER
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s behind-the-scenes look at a doomed political comeback made its bow at Sundance this year, where it won a grand jury prize. Its fest circuit has included True/False, New Directors/NewFilms, Hot Docs, Full Frame, RiverRun, Nashville, San Francisco, Montclair, Sydney, and the upcoming DOC NYC, where the film appears on the Short List.
My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.
Coming to DVD tomorrow, Friday, October 21: MORPHINE: JOURNEY OF DREAMS
Mark Shuman’s chronicle of the alternative band made its bow at the Austin Film Festival in 2014. Screenings followed at IFF Boston, IndieLisboa, and Salem, among other events.
Boston-based band Morphine emerged during the explosion of the indie rock scene of the early 1990s. Characterized as “low rock,” their distinctive sound, under frontman Mark Sandman, led to surprising success, moving from small record deals to major label recording contracts and international touring. Shuman’s fairly conventionally-constructed film painstakingly reveals Morphine’s development and the impact of instant fame on their creative process, offering the reflections of fans, associates, loved ones, and band members – but not Mark Sandman. As reverentially detailed here, in the middle of a performance in an idyllic Italian outdoor concert in 1999, Sandman succumbed to a heart attack. A decade later, the band reunites in Italy to commemorate his passing. While offering a primer to Morphine for the uninitiated, the film remains primarily of interest to pre-existing Morphine fans.
Coming to PBS’ Great Performances tomorrow, Friday, October 21: HAMILTON’S AMERICA
Alex Horwitz’s behind-the-scenes look at the acclaimed musical debuted at the New York Film Festival earlier this month.
There’s no denying that HAMILTON has resonated with audiences, critics, and cultural gatekeepers, bestowing the show and its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, with multiple Tony awards, as well as a Grammy and the Pulitzer Prize. Horwitz reveals both the inspiration behind and the impact of the show, drawing on footage of Miranda as he develops his groundbreaking musical starting more than two years before its debut at The Public Theater, and following his efforts as it came together, originally inspired by a random vacation read of a biography of Alexander Hamilton. Interwoven with this behind-the-scenes creative process is more recent, but very manufactured-feeling, footage of cast members exploring some of the history behind the show in visits to places like Valley Forge and Mt Vernon, as well as commentary from admirers like Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Sondheim, and even George W Bush and Elizabeth Warren. Plus, of course, a meeting with President Obama, who famously hosted Miranda when he performed the very first rap number from the show, a performances that went viral. For fans of the show or its soundtrack, Horwitz’s uncritical tribute will be much appreciated; but for those who don’t understand the hype, don’t care for musicals, or just don’t see HAMILTON as the second coming, little here will be convincing.
Coming to theatres tomorrow, Friday, October 21: BEFORE THE FLOOD
Fisher Stevens’ look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s work as the UN’s environmental ambassador made its debut at Toronto last month. The film has also screened at BFI London and the Hamptons.
DiCaprio has been an outspoken advocate for environmental messages for much of his career. In 2014, he was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations, using his high public profile to raise awareness on the urgency of combatting human-made climate change. Stevens follows him as he fulfills his duties, traveling around the world to witness the consequences of fossil fuel addiction, while also reflecting on his own carbon footprint and the sobering reality that his efforts might not be able to affect any real change. While the film trades in the very familiar – covering topics addressed in any number of other environmental docs, from tar sands to melting polar ice to deforestation for cheap palm oil production – it makes effective use of its charismatic subject and his ability to open doors, gaining audiences with not only President Obama but Pope Francis, and, perhaps, leading his fans to pay attention and potentially change their habits. Still, as DiCaprio himself uncomfortably admits when chastised by an Indian activist about the developed world’s rampant overconsumption, that’s not likely to change…
Now available on VOD: TRAPPED
Dawn Porter’s look at the impact of restrictive reproductive health care legislation debuted at Sundance this year, winning a special jury prize. It went on to screen at SXSW, Miami, Athena, Martha’s Vineyard, Ashland, and Montclair, and appears at the upcoming DOC NYC in the Short List section. It now comes to VOD via Netflix.
My pre-Sundance profile of the doc may be found here.