Category Archives: Film

Doc Edge 18 | Spielberg

United States | 2018 | 147 min | English | Susan Lacy

Stephen Spielberg had always wanted to be a director, but when he watched Lawrence of Arabia at age sixteen he decided to give up on his dream because the perfection of that film had set the bar too high. How, he thought, am I ever going to make anything that good? Thank God, he changed his mind.

No director has ever made so many films that are universally loved. Especially if you grew up in the 90s, Spielberg movies were a huge part of your childhood. Blockbuster hits like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and E.T. made him a household name. The documentary Spielberg, directed by Susan Lacy, explores the person behind the Hollywood living legend. It provides illuminating insights into Spielberg’s relationships, personality and life experiences.

This documentary is extremely interesting in a surprising way. You know all his movies, so you almost feel as if you have grown up with Spielberg and that you know who he is. Spielberg may be a movie-making machine, but the documentary does a great job of revealing how human he really is.

The famous director talks openly about how nervous he gets each day he walks on set and his insecurities when he was young. Making films was a way he could focus and escape from his anxiety – a kind of therapy. “When I had too much time to think, all those scary whispers would start up. It was not fun to be me in between ideas or projects”, says Spielberg. When you understand his personal life, including that he was bullied as a child and the divorce of his parents, you realise how he has weaved those themes of the underdog and family ties into his movies.

It is amazing to see someone so revered reveal such vulnerable and sensitive aspects of himself. However, one would have to be sensitive to be able to create films grounded in humanity that speak to the audience the way Spielberg’s do. The documentary features interviews with his peers, such as directors and producers Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorcese and Kathleen Kennedy. All say that Spielberg has a natural, intuitive talent for the art of telling stories through images like no one else. That is why he has such popular appeal.

The producer Walter Parkes said it best: “Stephen is arguably the most commercial director in the history of motion pictures. And I think it’s because he has a deep understanding of how the language of cinema elicits an emotional reaction in an audience.” Spielberg’s road to success was by no means smooth and paved with moments of doubt, but he persisted because he knew that film was his calling and there was nothing else for him.

Spielberg has come a long way from sneaking into Universal Studios to learn how to make films. Fascinating and endearing, the documentary Spielberg is an intimate look at one of the greatest directors of all time.

5 Stars

 

Spielberg is showing at the following times in Auckland as part of the Documentary Edge Festival 2018:

Rangatira/Q Theatre: 3 June, 6.30pm.

Doc Edge 18 | Dealin’ with the Devil

Dealin’ with the Devil – New Zealand / 2017 / 102 mins / English / Phil Davison

Phil Davison, accomplished New Zealand song-writer and blues aficionado, tells the story of his influential friend and musical mentor Ralph Bennett-Eades, as he makes the harrowing descent to his untimely death, through the sultry and often dark sound of the blues.

Phil’s background as a Film Editing lecturer clearly shows, as he uses effective and visually stimulating animations, including a scene of aliens coming down from their galaxy to jam with his alter-ego Dr Marigaux – genuine Dr of Theology, within the barren walls of his ramshackle home in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.

The ‘Blues’ – characterized by it’s lyrics, bass lines and instrumentation.  All things that Davison certainly brings to this documentary through soulful genre and his unique mode of story-telling, as he takes us on a journey of human reflection and personal heartbreak through animation and music.

He references such greats as; BB King, Muddy Waters and Johnny Lee Hooker as he taps into the life of his loved companion Ralph and the journey his life took after he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.   Not forgetting a notable mention to his trusty guitar named Hazel.

A vibrant, colourful man and like most humans, flawed.  The film speaks of Ralph’s decision to make a deal with God to start playing Gospel, and in doing so he would relinquish the blues, if only he should be allowed to keep living.  ‘Dealing with the Devil’ so-to-speak, while his closest friends speak of his final days and the darkness that would often creep in after his fatal diagnosis, and Ralph’s inner-most fear of the ‘Man in Black’ …

Phil Davison, himself a talented and inwardly-thinking musician, sings the blues in his definitively hoarse, morose and poetic style. But with doses of dry humour that make the journey that little more entertaining.  The tracks ‘Embryonic Blues’ and ‘Hotel’ being such examples of his signature style of story-telling.

He films this documentary right up until Eades’s final days on his death-bed, echoing the sound of the deepest roots of the Mississippi as he sings of redemption and salvation, right here, in our backyard of N.Z  – while the fiddles and guitars of his backing group unite in the name of Gospel, this performance being a tribute to his dear friend and mentor, and a promise to him, he vowed to keep.

‘Dealing With The Devil’,  was at times quite an undertaking to follow, with the sadness and decline of someone suffering from an incurable illness.   However, I enjoyed the philosophical essence of the film as a whole, and found it absorbing with it’s visual content, as well as it’s welcoming moments of humour, that provided refreshment from the dark subject matter.  With an uplifting sense of peace towards the end, it is a loving tribute to a man who has lived his life to the brim and his wish to leave a lasting legacy that truly reflects who he was/is.

Ralph Bennett Eades had a wicked sense of humour as he clearly demonstrates,  even from his death-bed, with a mischievous hoax that defies gravity …

***3.5 Stars!

 

 

 

 

“Dealin with the Devil’ – is now showing in Auckland at the following times:

Loft / Thu 31 May 8:30PM
Rangatira / Fri 1 June 4:30PM

 

Doc Edge 18 | Whispering Truth To Power

South Africa, Netherlands | 2018 | 88 min | English, Sotho, Zulu | Shameela Seedat

“Whispering truth to Power”.  Never a truer word uttered and straight from the film’s main protagonist’s mouth – Thuli Mandosela.  South Africa’s first female Public Protector and direct opposer to the deception and inequity that ran rife within the country’s ruling and democratically elected power under the Zuma administration.

Shameela Seedat (filmmaker and human rights lawyer) produces and directs this film, as she follows Thuli throughout her tenure as ‘Protector of the Public’.  Beginning with initial investigations during her earlier days in office, as she leads a case into alleged corruption, involving President Zuma and a questionably large sum of state funds (246 million Rand to be precise) used in security upgrades to his home in Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

His definitively unapologetic and vitriolic response to these allegations, clearly demonstrated the lack of justice that is still prevalent in South Africa,  even decades after apartheid.

The documentary traces back to the Mandela years and the subsequent release of political prisoners in 1990.  Of which Thuli Mandosela had been an active underground member, before they became the ruling party in 1994.  Following thus, her 7 year term in 2004.

It also references the disenfranchised town of Bapong – North West South Africa, and the millions that they stood to gain in mining rights after 1994, but yet to experience any direct benefit into their community, from these supposedly vast profits.

“Corruption derails efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone”  (Thuli Mandosela).

An extremely articulate, well-educated and softy spoken woman,  yet with an innate power within.  Thuli Mandosela proves she is not a person to back down, even when those in power try to denounce the honesty and transparency of her findings.  Case in point; when President Jacob Zuma, with his air of invincibility along with his supporters, try to derail her work.  Using suggestions of association with the ‘White Monopoly Capital” in attempt to deflect the focus from his own scandalous business associations

Thuli is dedicated to her career and to her calling, in a country where the basic needs of it’s people are barely met; food, housing and education.  Accountability is pivotal to her position and the respect that she coincidentally gains is evident, when towards the end of her term, there is a fear among it’s less fortunate citizens, that their personal plight/cases will not be fairly heard without her representation.  Considering the strained history of this country and the continuing social and racial prejudice, theirs is an anxiety that one can vehemently understand.

‘Whispering Truth To Power’  also provides us with a glimpse into her family life; and her children Wantu and Wenzile.  Allowing them to describe their own perception of their mother and the incredible media interest that she holds to the public, as well as how  that impacts them personally.   It also touches on Thuli’s own self-image as a youth and her somewhat blighted perception, to how she perceives herself now …

Moments of humour are felt when her son Wantu and friend laughingly joke about his mother’s soft demeanor and loll voice, the film then also delves into her own daughter’s interest in politics and her opinions regarding this.  A subject very relevant to the foundations of this film, as it outlines the racial conflict still prevalent in universities today in South Africa, regarding inequality and the right to free education for it’s people.

The film then leads us into the final days of Mandosela’s term as ‘Protector of the Public’.  The highly anticipated and publicized release of her ‘Legacy Report’ (also know as the ‘State of Capture’ report).  Emotions are high, as is the social and political unrest of the country.

Those who are abreast of the political status of South Africa, will be aware that this report led to the inexorable resignation of President Jacob Zuma.  Yet the film is necessary to understand the absence of morality in many of our political constitutions today, and the importance of women in power, like Mandosela, in exposing the criminal activity within a corrupt parliament, and in turn bringing justice back to it’s country’s people without violence and without threat.

“Corruption is a cancer that erodes everything that is good”. (Thuli Mandosela).

***4 Stars!

‘Whispering Truth To Power’ –  is showing at the following times in Auckland as part of the Doc Edge Festival 2018:

Loft / Sat 26 May, 9:30PM
Rangatira / Sun 27 May, 9:45AM

 

 

Doc Edge 18 | George Michael: Freedom: The Director’s Cut

United Kingdom | 2018 | 113 min | English | George Michael, David Austin

As glamorous, provocative, sexy and recognizable as the subject of this documentary herself; Kate Moss (global supermodel) presents the film, in a swinging director’s chair all George Michael fans will recognize from the infamous ‘Fast Love’ video.

A'still' from the opening of the documentary film.

Singer Adele’s haunting rendition of ‘Fast Love’ plays as the credits roll out to us from the screen, of all who have contributed to the production of ‘George Michael: Freedom: The Director’s Cut’, most poignantly the man himself, who died not long before the final takes were edited. On Christmas day 2016.

The film launches straight into the early stages of George’s burgeoning career.  From short-lived beginnings in a start-up SKA band called ‘The Executive’s’ with his formative music partner Andrew Ridgely, to the formation of WHAM in 1981.  George’s earlier life and upbringing are somewhat missing in the introduction as to how this superstar came into being, while it focuses instead, on the man post WHAM, the subsequent trappings and downside of fame and fortune, as his solo career reaches unprecedented heights.

It describes the parallel’s of the upbeat, whimsical sound of WHAM, to the seriousness of the political situation in the U.K at the time, during the late Thatcher years.  A band whose success was insurmountable with hits from their 1983 debut album ‘Fantastic’; ‘Club Tropicana’ and ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’.  Which was later shadowed only, when George’s own image and personal achievement surpassed that of the ban

George Michael was a man very aware of his superstar status (a fact which is also evident in his decision to narrate the majority of this story himself).  He also reveals that his motivations from early-on, were driven by his desire for fame and recognition, and with a film that features running commentary from the toast of pop-culture, fashion & music’s finest; Stevie Wonder, Jean Paul-Gaultier, Nile Rodgers, Naomi Campbell and Mary J Blige, to name but a few …  His successful pursuit for stardom and the impact he left among his  dearest friends are not left in question.

We are then taken on a musical history tour throughout his solo years, as he decides he needs to create a new character alongside his equally as famous contemporaries; Madonna, Prince etc …   From 1984’s  ‘Careless Whisper’ to the soulfully beautiful ‘One More Try’ (1987).  He experiences unrivaled fame in the U.S as the audience resonates with the sound of this t’deep, honest and profound lyricist’.

His R&B connections ran even further to collaborations with such soul greats as; Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and of course, Stevie Wonder.

Freedom: The Directors Cut,  also touches on the heartbreak and low-points throughout George’s most formative years.  With the heart-breaking loss of his first love to AID’s, his clash with the management at SONY records driven by his need to break-free and refusal to longer self-promote, to the death of his beloved mother …  It also describes the loneliness and emptiness that comes from such unimaginable levels of fame.   Yet with such heartbreak emerges such artistic brilliance, with his 1996 album entitled: ‘Older’ that follows the equally as symbolic ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ (1990).   A record which he proclaims to be his “Greatest achievement yet”.

The film, is a tribute to George Michael’s hall of fame of hits, and their often very deep relevance to his situation at the time. eg – ‘Jesus To A Child’ (a ’94 ode to his lover Anselmo Feleppa).

However, as much of George Michael fan as I may be,  I just did not quite understand the visual mash-up at the end, with it’s juxtaposition of videos and highlights throughout his extensive and colourful career.  I suppose to me, it may have seemed slightly self-indulgent.  Yet perhaps it was necessary, to create a lasting image as vivid and captivating as the artist himself.

*** 3 Stars

George Michael: Freedom: The Director’s Cut – is part of the Doc Edge Film Festival 2018.

Screening in Auckland:

Loft / Tues 29 May,  8.15 PM
Rangatira / Sun 03 June,  4.00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watched | Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci is the famed creator of Veep and British political satire show The Thick of It. He is back with a feature length wonder of wit and dark humour. The Death of Stalin depicts the final hours of Stalin’s tyrannical rule and sudden unexpected death which is followed by his top aides clambering around and jostling for keys to the now empty throne.

The film opens with a piano concerto broadcasting music of Mozart going out live on Radio Moscow. A telephone call is received by the stations director who is instructed to ring Stalin in precisely 17 minutes, when he does Stalin demands a recording of that evening’s concert. Panic ensues when the director realises the live performance
wasn’t in fact recorded. He rushes to keep the audience from leaving the building, exclaiming ‘Take your seats, don’t worry nobody is going to get killed, this is just a musical emergency’’. All the while at that exact moment dozens of people are being rounded up by the NKVD security forces for imprisonment or execution. The opening scene really highlights the general underlying theme of the movie which is fear.

Some truly grim and horrific elements of communist rule are portrayed in a comical way, which makes for an interesting watch, forcing a mix of emotions felt as the film endures. The fast but calm pace of the film is packed with brilliant one-line quips that cheer up rather ominous events.

One of Iannucci’s greatest talents as a writer is how he illustrates the sheer incompetence of those holding the reins of power. The films cast is an eclectic combination of American and British actors who play the role of Russians seamlessly well. Stalin’s deputy is played by Jeffrey Tambor who’s character comes across as not being terribly sharp, but delvers some of the best lines in the film. Khrushchev the 1 st Secretary of the Moscow Committee is played by Steve Buscemi, a wound-up power player who is enraged by being unanimously voted in-charge of all the funeral
arrangements where he is mockingly called the Minister for fixtures and fittings.

The Death of Stalin is a stunningly funny comedic depiction of some truly horrific, confusing and sad events. In theatres now and certainly worth a watch.

Directed by Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs

Rated R16