Spring and Arnaud: Art and Love

SA-Storeyteller-portrait-for-filmsmSpring Hurlbut is a successful artist, as is Arnaud Maggs. The two share the love of a lifetime.

Produced by Marcia Connolly, David Craig, and Katherine Knight, Spring and Arnaud explores their professional biographies, their work, and their love story. Being a card-carrying philistine, I do not fully understand their work; but as a hopeless romantic I love their love story of 25 years, and will be viewing the film several times just for those brief yet deeply endearing scenes.

A First Run Features release, Spring and Arnaud was produced with standard-bearing quality, and is thoroughly engaging—even for us philistines.

Music Note: Another powerful element is the film’s soundtrack by composers Ohad Benchetrit and Justin Small. Their music is as beautiful and delicate as the two artists and their love. I contacted the composers. I begged and pleaded to purchase the soundtrack, but was unsuccessful in my attempt. It is now my life’s quest to secure their soundtrack. (I hope the producers read this review.)

DRONE

“The United States has become a national security state whose raisin d’etre is war. We’ve created a terrorist-industrial complex that is self-perpetuating, and now—searching for the reason for this constant state of war—terrorism is the perfect case for us. We can do this forever.”

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2002-2005

static1.squarespace.comWritten and directed by Tonje Hessen Schei, DRONE tells and shows us what many have learned or surmised—that countless innocent civilians have been and are being killed by United States military actions. In addition to the tragic loss of life, Schei expands the film’s scope with interviews of authorities and experts on the military use of drones—including a projected vision of warfare by autonomous devices.

Former drone operator Brandon Bryant opens the film speaking of the painful emotions he has experienced subsequent to his service. He is haunted by the cognizance that he participated in the killing of innocent human beings. Bryant’s interview is peppered throughout the film concluding with his testimony at the United Nations.

Schei includes a brief outline of the history of clone deployment for military purposes, but the film’s central focus is the killing of civilians in Pakistan. We see and hear from victims, as well as both domestic and international efforts to hold the United States accountable for its actions, and stop the killings.

Seeing and hearing the ceaseless stream of news about terrorist activities and efforts to stop them has left yours truly with the feeling of the little boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ The mainstream reports focus on Islamic leaders and organizations, and not on the political and economic support of the destruction and killings. By generating more political support for the perpetrators, the ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy exacerbates terroristic activities rather than diminishes them. The Emperor may not have any clothes, but he sure has a lot of weapons.

In an attempt to understand this conflict I have come to the conclusion Col. Wilkerson states at film’s end. We have created the perfect enemy—the perfect justification for non-stop war.

A Ballerina’s Tale: The Saga of Misty Copeland

BayadereVeteran filmmaker Nelson George’s A Ballerina’s Tale tells the dramatic story of African American ballerina Misty Copeland who broke multiple barriers in the rarefied world of professional ballet—and found pop stardom along the way. In addition to the racial barrier, she broke morphological barriers with her curvy muscular physique.

In 2013, in the midst of her exciting ascent, Copeland performed the lead role in Stravinsky’s Firebird at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Although her performance was a triumph, she confessed to dancing in pain from previous injuries. Copeland spent many months overcoming a debilitating injury to become the first African American prima ballerina for a major ballet company.

George tells Copeland’s story with aplomb—Copeland relates much of the tale, and we are treated to several performances throughout the film. The effect is simple—exciting, thrilling, and heart-warming.

The world of ballet will never be the same.

Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages

Superman_Fan PhotoFirst time feature director Michael Valentine’s Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages is a thoroughly engaging documentary about the worlds of comic books. Valentine interviews fans, writers, line drawers, colorists, a movie celebrity or two, and industry icons—including the icon of icons, Stan Lee—all talking about the fun, the power, and the history of this uniquely American art form which has conquered the world.

Being that this is a visual art in consideration, viewers are treated to a non-stop exhibition of comic book art along with the amateurishly- and professionally-wardrobed fans and presenters at their Mecca, Comic-Con International: San Diego.

Michael Crane’s soundtrack perfectly captures the sense of drama and adventure associated with the books—their stories, and their fans.

The Kino Lorber DVD contains two discs: The feature along with plenty of bonuses; the second disc includes more interviews. The box also contains a mini-booklet of comic book art.

Begin Again: Once in a Blue Moon

10525625_312183912290336_3185001029639804208_nOnce in a blue moon I cover a narrative film. For context, here’s a list of the few I’ve covered:

Secretary (2002)

Tell No One (French, 2006)

Stardust (2007)

An Angel at My Table (1990)

Gaby: A True Story (1987)

Mostly Martha (2001)

Rango (2011)

What’s In A Name? (French, 2012)

I discovered John Carney’s Begin Again on Netflix. It stars the ubiquitous James Corden, Keira Knightly, and Mark Ruffalo—with support from Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, and Adam Levine. Ruffalo plays a way-down-on-his-luck music producer; Knightly, a broken-hearted singer/songwriter; and Corden, her scene-stealing friend.

Begin Again is a sweet story of redemption—lovingly smothered with great music. In addition to the story’s simplicity, I was inspired by the exquisite production quality and the actors’ standard-bearing performances. Carney is a master at exploring and capturing the richness of poignant moments.

You may find the film on Showtime, Netflix, and online sites that sell old-fashioned discs.

P.S. Oscar winner Carney is also the writer/director of Once (2007). His latest film, Sing Street, was released this year.

The Fear of 13

Nick MCU ProfileThe Fear of 13 joins the avalanche of documentary and narrative films about injustice in the United States of America. This film is not the usual socio-political polemic. Instead, it is a character study presented in a powerful and captivating ninety-minute monologue. The protagonist is Nick Yarris who was on death row for more than two decades for a murder he did not commit.

Yarris tells his own story. All the lines are his. Director David Sington honors those lines with evocative, atmospheric images that perfectly cradle Yarris’s narrative and deepen the viewer’s connection to the film and its character. Yarris’s story is classic, his presentation is thoroughly engaging, and his character is deeply inspiring.

Distributed by First Run Features, The Fear of 13 is a standard bearing documentary film that deserves a very wide audience.

Invitation to Dance

DanceInvitation to Dance tells two parallel stories: A biography of disability rights activist Simi Linton and a history of the disability rights movement over the last 4 decades. As Linton became active in this movement she discovered a unique focus on dance—and became known as ‘the instigator of dance’ in her national community.

The film honors its title well, there are many scenes of dancing in various contexts including professional. We are treated to dances produced by AXIS Dance Company.

Because of the many successes of the disability rights movement, we are more aware of those we refer to as ‘disabled.’ However much we may think we have adjusted our world to provide rights and access, there is much more to learn, to incorporate in our relationship with this community.

I was struck with several street scenes of disabled people practicing non-violent civil disobedience to bring attention to and further their attainment of rights. I’d watched these scenes countless times in television coverage of anti-war and civil rights causes, but never imagined this particular struggle.

This is a consciousness raising film. I now know more awareness is needed, more work to be done in securing full civil rights for the disabled.

Invitation to Dance is produced and directed by Christian von Tippelskirch and Simi Linton, and distributed by Kino Lorber.

Samsara

Boy, am I late to the party for this one. Samsara was released more than five years ago.

SamsaraI was watching Issabella Rossellini’s Green Porno Live on Netflix. The film kept freezing. After several tries I gave up, and began searching the site for something else, one that would not freeze.

The title Samsara intrigued me. I love knowing nothing about a film. Instead, I enjoy the process of discovery.

I put on the unknown, and was captured instantly. Like two recent films—The Pearl Button and In Pursuit of Silence—this film became a meditation. At times, a chaotic one.

When released from the film’s grip I ran to IMDBpro and discovered it was directed and shot by Ron Fricke—and co-written, co-produced, and co-edited by Mark Magidson who also worked with Fricke on Chronos and Baraka. I have seen Fricke’s brilliant work beginning with 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi—and then Chronos, Baraka, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and Fog City Mavericks.

His meditative films have a bad habit of leaving me speechless. With Samsara I was overwhelmed with the richness and clarity of images from the beatific to the horrific and everything inbetween.

There is one image that appears frequently throughout the film: The human face, looking into camera, piercing our eyes, seemingly our soul.

It would take several viewings to speak in detail about this film to sound anything close to erudite in an analysis. With a single viewing I can only speak from my heart: Samsara is a cinematic masterpiece that has a transformative impact on those who chose to let it in.

Better late than never.

(Pictured: Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson on set.)

Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art

Us humans have been messing with the Earth since we began cultivating the land.

charles_rossJames Crump’s Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art covers and uncovers a no-longer-obscure footnote of art history about a small group of artists who messed with the land for art’s sake.

In the sixties and early seventies this group ventured from New York to the American southwest to create land art—also called earth art. They were looking for much larger canvases. The land was both their subjects and their medium.

In a little more than an hour Crump covers the major players and the interested parties who supported, observed, and commented on their work. Most of the artists have passed on to even larger canvases.

But, the medium and the story continue. See, for instance Star Axis by Charles Ross. And take a gander at First Run Feature’s Levitated Mass about a project by one of the original Troublemakers, Michael Heizer.

Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art is a First Run Features release.

The Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West

chengmanching_lookleftThe ‘Professor’ is what his Tai Chi students called Cheng Man-Ching (1901-1975). He is acknowledged as the master who brought Tai Chi to the west. Tai Chi student and Hollywood writer/director Barry Strugatz has told the Professor’s story in his first feature documentary the Professor: Tai Chi’s Journey West.

Although the black and white footage of Man-Ching’s work is grainy, with his film Strugatz has breathtakingly captured the generous spirit of a master practitioner and teacher. That footage is alternated with interviews of Man-Ching’s students who became teachers. By film’s end it is clear there is no way to measure the depth and profundity of Man-Ching’s contribution to our world. This is a documentary film you will want to share with your friends and family.

I’ve known and wondered about Tai Chi for decades. Seeing this film has inspired me to finally start taking classes.

the Professor is a First Run Features release.

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