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OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE (2019) review

September 24, 2020

 

produced by: Kathryn Clinard, Leigh Howell, Bonnie Lafave, Katie O’Rourke, Nathalie Rosa, Greg Sorin & Ingmar Trost
directed by: Ric Burns
rating: not rated
runtime: 111 min.
U.S. release date: September 25, 2020 (virtual cinema)

 

If you don’t think you know who Oliver Sacks is, yet you’ve seen Penny Marshall’s 1990 drama “Awakenings”, then you have an idea who is and what he’s done. That Oscar-nominated drama was based on Sack’s 1973 memoir of the same name and starred Robin Williams as a fictionalized version of the British neurologist at a time in his life when he was treating catatonic patients in a Bronx hospital. The new documentary, “Oliver Sacks: How Own Life”, reminded me that “Awakenings” was inspired from real life and after watching it I felt awakened myself, leaving with a better understanding and appreciation of who Sacks was. He may have died in 2015 at age 82, but director Ric Burns’ presents a fascinating and thoughtful man who is still impacting many today, and the way in which the voice of Sacks is incorporated throughout the documentary makes it seem like the physician and prolific author is indeed still alive. Read more…

ALONE (2020) review

September 18, 2020

 

written by: Mattias Olsson
produced by: Jordan Foley, Mike Macari, Jonathan Rosenthal, Nick Smith, Thom Zadra & Henrik JP Åkesson
directed by: John Hyams
rated: not rated
runtime: 98 min.
U.S. release date: September 18, 2020 (virtual cinema, select theaters and VOD) 

 

The title is misleading. The woman at the center of this thriller is never truly “Alone”. Maybe a better title would be “Pursued” since that’s what happens to her from start to finish. Screenwriter Mattias Olsson wrote and co-directed (with Henrik JP Åkesson, who serves as on of many producers here) the 2011 Swedish film, “Gone” (or “Försvunnen”), a more appropriate title, which this Americanized version is based on. Olsson returns to pen this English-language redo, teaming with director John Hyams in an attempt to craft an suspenseful viewing experience, that barely offers any real unsettling moments or straight up thrills. It is essentially an abduction and survival tale that delivers mood over any real tension. Read more…

Interview with THIS IS PARIS director Alexandra Dean

September 15, 2020

 

With her latest documentary “This is Paris”, and her last one, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”, director Alexandra Dean has now made two films that take a look at popular albeit overlooked women, individuals who couldn’t possibly be considered intelligent due to their beauty and public persona. These films prove such perceptions are not only wrong, they’re also damaging. No one likes to be pigeonholed or stereotyped, but it happens all the time, especially to women in the spotlight. If they’re not disregarded, they’re mansplained or they get a label that sticks with them for a while, unfortunately. Read more…

THIS IS PARIS (2020) review

September 13, 2020

 

produced by: Eli Holzman and Aaron Saidman
directed by: Alexandra Dean
rated: not rated
runtime: 110 min.
U.S. release date: September 14, 2020 (YouTube Originals)

 

Director Alexandra Dean has accomplished something I never thought possible. She not only got me to watch a documentary on Paris Hilton, but I left “This is Paris” with an understanding of Hilton and even found myself conjuring up a certain amount of empathy for her. I’ve had no interest in Hilton, nor did I have any curiosity as to what she’s been up to lately, but since Dean’s last documentary “Bombshell”, managed to reveal unique and unknown chapters in the life of actress Hedy Lamarr, I felt compelled to give this doc a chance. Sure enough, what Dean uncovers here about Hilton is quite unsettling and eye-opening, giving insight and context to how the world has perceived her. Read more…

SIBYL (2019) review

September 11, 2020

 

written by: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari
produced by: Serge Hayat, Philippe Martin and David Thion
directed by: Justine Triet
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: September 11, 2020 (virtual cinema & VOD)

 

When I first read the title of French director Justine Triet’s new film out loud, I immediately thought of Daniel Petrie’s 1976 TV mini-series, “Sybil”, staring Sally Field as a woman who was so scarred from her traumatic past that she developed sixteen personalities. Then I realized the titles are spelled differently. What’s funny is how there’s at least one similarity between the two in that the protagonist of Triet’s film, which she co-wrote with Arthur Harari (an actor she’s directed in her last two features), displays a range of personalities herself throughout the film’s story. What we see doesn’t get into the teens, but there is still a compelling and fascinating character study on display here that show a multi-layered and fully-realized woman, who is as relatable as she is flawed. She’s a passionate woman trying to follow her dreams, yet haunting by her past and conflicted with the decisions of her present. While some may feel like there’s a bit too much packed into “Sibyl”, there are actually three actresses here that definitely steer it all in the direction of worthwhile viewing. Read more…

RENT-A-PAL (2020) review

September 11, 2020

 

 

written by: Jon Stevenson 
produced by: Annie Baker, Brian Landis Folkins, Brandon Fryman, Robert B. Martin, Jon Stevenson & Jimmy Weber 
directed by: Jon Stevenson
rated: not rated
runtime: 108 min. 
U.S. release date: September 11, 2020 (virtual cinema) 

 

It’s strange that a story set in 1990 seems oddly relevant to life as we know it in 2020, but such is life in a pandemic, when lonely people searching for companionship tend to feel even more isolated. How far into madness can isolation drive a person though? Writer/director Jon Stevenson explores such a descent with “Rent-A-Pal”, his slow-cooker of a thriller which finds a man wrestling with well-intended family duties and a need to connect with a kindred soul and how a strange VHS tape slowly twists it all. The film benefits from spot-on pacing and a solid cast that intuitively inhabit characters who would likely be overlooked in real life, while balancing an unsuspecting tenderness and a simmering insanity. Read more…

ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO (2020) review

September 4, 2020

written by: Rob Christopher and Barry Gifford

produced by: Michael Glover Smith and Rob Christopher

directed by: Rob Christopher

rated: not rated

runtime: 75 min.

U.S. release date: September 2, 2020 & September 6, 2020 (DWF-LA Film Festival)

Calling “Roy’s World” a documentary does this work of art a disservice. It’s not that the film is beyond categorization, it’s just that there’s so much going on here that it’s almost unfair to describe it in such a manner. It should simply just be experienced and then discussed and then championed. While it does offers a look back at Chicago in the 50’s and 60’s through the semi-autobiographical lens of of author/poet Barry Gifford (hence the subtitle),  the way in which director Rob Christopher goes about delivering these recollections is not only engaging, it’s creatively infectious and feels unexpectedly alive. It’s as if you’re watching a life performance for the first time of an artist you’ve just discovered. 

Read more…

CLASSICS: Return to Oz (1985)

August 29, 2020

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written by: Walter Murch & Gill Dennis (screenplay), L. Frank Baum (novels)
produced by: Paul Maslansky
directed by: Walter Murch
rated: PG 
runtime: 113 min.
U. S. release date: June 21, 1985 (now streaming on Disney+)

 

“The king mentioned a risk… what is it that we are risking?”

 

Disney’s strange risk-taking period of the early-to-mid 80s produced a lot of rather dark and expensive children’s entertainment. They’ve obviously emerged from these literal dark ages to be an entertainment juggernaut, home to the absolute most field-tested, audience-approved, triple-quality-checked children’s entertainment imaginable. 1985’s live action “Return to Oz” is the opposite of this in nearly every way possible. Read more…

ALL TOGETHER NOW (2020) review

August 28, 2020

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written by: Marc Basch and Brett Haley
produced by: Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner and Jonathan Montepare
directed by: Brett Haley
rated: PG (for thematic content, some language and brief suggestive comments)
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: August 28, 2020 (Netflix)

 

What prevents good-hearted people who continuously go out of their way to help others accept help from those they’ve impacted? We probably all have a friend or family member like that. Are they too stubborn, embarrased or prideful to ask for help? Do they even see that help is available to them? Do they realize they need help? So many questions swirled in my mind after watching Brett Haley’s latest film, “All Together Now”, while wiping the tears streaming from my exhausted face. There are other themes present in this tender and endearing dramedy, but this idea of accepting help from others was the standout. Read more…

ENTWINED (2019) review

August 27, 2020

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written by: John De Holland and Minos Nikolakakis
produced by: Lilette Botasi and Minos Nikolakakis
directed by: Minos Nikolakakis
rating: not rated
runtime: 89 min.
U.S. release date: August 28, 2020 (virtual)

 

The feature-length debut from Minos Nikolakakis, “Entwined”, has a tangled tale that could be either folk or fairy, with hints of something that Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft would conjure. It has a main story that’s shrouded in mystery that somehow revolves around a remote location in Greece and there’s even an underlying (albeit undeveloped) theme debating “science vs. tradition”, but despite a sincere approach this is a film that unfortunately offers very few surprises and nothing really unique in terms of storytelling. Read more…