Amy (2015) Film Review

Amy Winehouse. What a voice. What a talent. What a tragedy. I remember being blown away by her Black to Black album, and then she became this huge joke – a druggie who fought against the paparazzi and gave terrible performances – and then she was gone. And it was awful because she was young and watching this documentary, you see how little chance she had. Bad advisers who were after their own wealth creation, who wanted to milk her for everything she had and didn’t take care of her. It is such a tough film to watch partly because you know what happens to her, and the downward spiral is painful. But also because you know that so many people treated her badly and those who really wanted to save her didn’t have a hope. But oh! The songs! See it.

Amy won an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Documentary, Feature, and was nominated for Best British Film.

Tickled (2016) MIFF Review

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David Farrier is a journalist – the type of journalist who does short television reports on the quirky and unusual in New Zealand. So when he hears about a competitive tickling competition, he is intrigued, and only more so when his enquiries are met with a number of mysterious, homophobic and aggressive correspondences from the organisation. Then threats of legal action, including three representatives flown over from the US to put him and co-film maker Dylan Reeve off the story. And then the story becomes so much more than tickling.

If you like strange stories that veer off in unexpected directions, check this out. It’s funny, but also strange and, at times, hilariously unbelievable.

Miss Sharon Jones (2015) MIFF Review

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If you don’t know the music of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, stop reading this, go to iTunes or your music platform of choice and listen to all of her music. All of it. Now. She is just amazing – I’ve been enjoying her live shows for years, so when I saw this doco was playing at MIFF, there was no chance I was going to miss it. And it broke my heart a little.

As I hadn’t read the blurb, I assumed it would be about her background – where she came from, how she got involved with Daptone Records, that type of thing. Instead, it followed her shortly after she had surgery for pancreatic cancer, and how she recovers and returns to performing. I don’t know how well it would go for someone who doesn’t know Sharon Jones and her music, but for a fan, it’s hardgoing but worth it.

Audrie & Daisy (2016) MIFF Review

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It seems to be increasingly common that teenage girls are being sexually assaulted and having evidence of this then spread via social media or text message. Boys too, I’m sure, and not just teenagers. Audrie and Daisy focuses on two such cases; one girl went on to take her own life, and the other battled for a long time to get some kind of legal action taken around the situation.

The way the documentary was put together, it was able to capture the gravity of what happened without sensationalising it, and for this reason I think it would be good for use in schools. It recognises that the girls had been under the influence and therefore, in some people’s mind, they had contributed to what happened to them. When this attitude is shown by those in law enforcement, especially the man (whose two young daughters are shown in the film) who is supposed to be investigating this sexual assault, the film audience reacted audibly – and a room full of people making sounds of disgust gave me some hope that the world may, one day, be okay.

Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo (2016) MIFF Review

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What do you do when your Copenhagen Restaurant continues to win accolades for being the best restaurant in the world and is known for amazing experimental dishes and fresh flavours? Pack it all up and take it to Tokyo, of course! This documentary shows Rene Redzepi and his staff as they plan a six-week residency in a Tokyo hotel.

It was interesting to see them discovering new ingredients, trying new menu items, but I felt that there wasn’t really enough focus of the food – though it is perhaps hard to put into words, I’d have love to have heard the various chefs talking about why they used the ingredients in the way they did. What was created by adding ants to that shrimp? How did the creative process actually unfold? I’m glad we got a good look at the final product, though I would have loved a taster…

Dior and I (2014) Film Review

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Raf Simons is a designer recently moved to Christian Dior and preparing for his first haute couture show. The process is long and stressful and involves all kinds of hard work from some people and wandering around looking at things for others.

If you like fashion, this is probably a must see documentary. If you don’t like fashion, you may well be like me and quite enjoy this. What did I like? I found it fascinating to see what goes in to one of these shows – even if I don’t care about the show or the fashion or the scarily thin and creepy looking models or the massive amounts of money that go into this kind of stuff. I quite liked the people involved, although the artistic temperament of Raf made me most grateful I wasn’t working under him… And yet, at the culmination of all the work, the ridiculous show, I was totally with him.

 

Grey Gardens (1975) MIFF Film Review

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In a falling-down house in the Hamptons lived two Edith Bouvier Beales – a mother and a daughter. After the council threatened to demolish the house due to filth and squalor, their family put money into bringing it up to a reasonable living standard, but when this documentary was made only a few years later, it is already falling into disrepair. And here we meet this two women – the elder nearly eighty, with limited mobility and vision, the younger a former dancer and performer ruefully caring for her mother. They are related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and were formally of the high life. But now they are living in strange conditions with extremely eccentric behaviour.

It’s a fascinating documentary with such compelling subjects. There are so many documentaries out there that laugh at their subjects, and watching them is like rubbernecking a crime scene, but not this. Both Edies are presented sympathetically, and while you can’t help but laugh at some scenes, mostly you are compelled to sympathy and curiosity.

Grey Gardens is available on DVD, though you may need to order it in.

The Look of Silence (2014) MIFF Film Review

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A few years ago, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer went to Indonesia and made the documentary The Act of Killing, a film that introduced the world to men who had been part of the killing of thousands of communists (read by this Chinese people, plus a whole lot of other people they just didn’t like). These men are still in power and their actions are celebrated – so much so that they are happy to reenact the killings, and jeepers, some of them are brutal. In The Look of Silence, the film maker takes a man whose brother was killed around this time to meet the people who killed them. It was the Q&A afterwards that explained a lot about how this came about, and I’d recommend watching some of the videos that are available online of Joshua Oppenheimer talking at events.

It’s amazing, horrible, terrible, heartbreaking, awful and totally important. Both films are very hard to watch, but I cannot recommend them enough.

The Act of Killing is available on DVD. The Look of Silence will be screening at Cinema from November 17.

The Wolfpack (2015) MIFF Film Review

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One day, filmmaker Crystal Moselle was walking along a New York street when a group of teenagers, all quite striking looking with long, black hair, raced past. Intrigued, she followed to ask them who they were, and this was when she met the Angulo brothers. The six brothers, along with a younger sister, lived in an apartment with their parents. But their father feared the outside world, and only rarely took them outside the apartment. The boys had an extensive DVD collection, however, and would spend much of their time recreating the films inside their home. By the time Moselle met them, they had more freedom, but their own archival footage along with interviews give a good sense of what their lives were like.

It’s a fascinating idea, and one which leaves the audience needing to know more. How did they go once they were freed? Why exactly where they kept this way? What now for them? The boys are so engaging, and the Q&A session after gave me confidence that they were not just a project that would then be dumped. They have a future; but from what a strange beginning.

The Wolfpack opens at Nova Cinemas on August 27.

Do I Sound Gay? (2014) MIFF Film Review

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Approaching forty and recently single, director David Thorpe had a lot of self-loathing, and ended up focusing it on one thing: his voice. He hated his gay voice, and this documentary shows him meeting with speech therapists to try to sound more straight. Along the way, he interviews a lot of gay men, from his friends, to random people on the street, to famous folk such as George Takei and David Sedaris.

It’s really fascinating; there was some old footage, black and white movies, with ultra camp bad guys who clearly are just supposed to be evil gay men. The voice is not new, is it a self-imposed identifier (in some cases, potentially yes), or is it an actual genetic thing? Is it because some gay men spent more time with women as young kids? Is it actually anything?

Fascinating, and a really nice, fun documentary. At this stage, Do I Sound Gay? does not have an Australian release date, but hopefully at the very least, it will get a screening on SBS in the future.