Sunday, May 30, 2010

Get Mad at Sin!

Andrew Dinwiddie's "Get Mad at Sin!," directed by Jeff Larson and running at the Obie Award-winning Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City, Queens, takes as its starting point a delightfully ripe concept - to craft a one-man show from an out-of-print vinyl record of a sermon Jimmy Swaggart gave at an Arkansas church in 1971 (over a decade before sex scandals brought about his downfall in the late 80s). And a hell of a sermon it is! Smartly, Dinwiddie, wearing a cheap polyester suit and JC Penney-style loafers, dispenses with any irony and simply channels the fire and brimstone preacher at his Sunday best. Stalking a worn red carpet, that divides the audience seated in folding chairs on raised platforms with rec room-type wood paneling, Dinwiddie orates and shimmies with abundant sincerity, letting Swaggart's own incredible words ring out loud and clear.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“Presumed Guilty” at the 2010 Human Rights Watch festival

“Presumed Guilty” is the title of this year’s closing night doc at the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, a co-presentation of Human Rights Watch and The Film Society of Lincoln Center that takes place June 10th – 24th at the Walter Reade Theater here in NYC, showcasing 30 diverse cause-driven films from 25 countries. It’s also a fascinating peek inside the Orwellian and oxymoronic Mexican justice system where corruption is so ingrained that those in charge are left nearly flabbergasted when young lawyers Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete, along with filmmaker Geoffrey Smith, show up to challenge the status quo camera firmly in tow.

To read the rest of my review visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Juche Idea

Though I haven't seen director Jim Finn's prior "utopian comedies" exploring communism in the USSR and Peru, his current venture into North Korean ideology with “The Juche Idea” leaves little doubt as to why he's a darling of the experimental filmmaking world. Nabbing Best Narrative Feature at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, the 62-minute flick takes as its starting point Kim Jong Il's Juche (choo-CHAY), a philosophy of self-reliance that the Dear Leader applied to his film industry beginning in the late '60s. While Finn makes ample use of footage from North Korea's state-sanctioned propaganda docs and hokey narrative features, the heart of the story lies with a South Korean video artist named Yoon Jung Lee, tasked to breathe new life into Juche cinema during a North Korean art residency at a collective farm. While the character of this video artist was inspired by an actual South Korean kidnapped in the '70s and forced to work for Kim Jong Il's moviemaking machine, her true role is as Finn's own imaginary stand-in.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Disinterment on the Killing Fields: “Enemies of the People” at the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Having taken home the 2010 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize earlier this year, “Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath’s subtle look inside the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge through interviews with the killers themselves (including Nuon Chea, a.k.a. “Brother Number Two,” co-ruler with Pol Pot and the highest ranking member still alive) now arrives in NYC, premiering June 18th at the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival where it is this year’s recipient of the Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking. It’s also a case study in investigative journalism done right.

To read the rest of my review visit Global Comment.

Monday, May 17, 2010

After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United

As its title suggests, “After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United” follows Israel's underdog Bnei Sakhnin soccer team in the aftermath of their shocking advance to the National Cup. Through shots of dusty small-town Sakhnin and straightforward interviews with the team's Arab president, Jewish coach, players (a mix of Arab, Jewish, and foreign-born athletes), and even the anchorman for Neptune Studios (the local TV station that makes our public access seem as polished as CNN), filmmaker Christopher Browne travels far beyond David-and-Goliath cliché to paint a portrait of life in a schizophrenic state. Instead of charting the team's skyrocketing to the top of their game, Browne takes the reverse course of documenting its inevitable downward spiraling in a land in which over a million legal citizens are Muslim Arabs uneasily residing in a Jewish state.

To read the rest visit Slant Magazine.

Monday, May 3, 2010

“The Killer Inside Me” stands out at Tribeca Film Fest

The Tribeca Film Festival, Robert De Niro’s annual glam-fest on the Hudson, is glitzy and obnoxious and very L.A. – which is exactly why I enjoy covering it. It’s like traveling to the West Coast to get a glimpse of how exotic Hollywood lives without leaving New York City. It’s a fun lark, a break from the heavy-handed sobriety of “Film as Art” that defines New York Film Festival and The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films, which TFF arrives fresh on the heels of.

Like most festivals there’s a lot of dregs to sit through to discover the gems, but when you emerge from a screening of “Soul Kitchen” from Fatih Akin, the most exciting director Germany has produced since Werner Herzog, or the under-the-radar (though not for long) doc “Sons of Perdition” you remember just how powerful cinema can be. De Niro founded the fest to lift spirits after 9/11, after all. In other words, to remind us of the joy that got all of us – even the most hard-nosed film snobs – going to the movies in the first place.

The best case in point this year is Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me.”

To read the rest visit Global Comment.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

“Enron” at the Broadhurst Theater

"We're going to put it together and sell it to you as the truth," proclaims the lawyer for the villainous CEO Jeffrey Skilling, played with surprising nuance by song-and-dance man Norbert Leo Butz, at the outset of “Enron,” referring to the grand spectacle that's about to unfold before our eyes. The calamitous fall of the energy giant in 2001, a harbinger of the financial meltdown to come, has been exhaustively documented, first in the 2003 book “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, and later in Alex Gibney's 2005 Oscar-nominated doc based on that source. So the latest incarnation, a ballsy Broadway musical, is smartly less concerned with the how's of the scandal than with asking "Why?"—as the company's own tagline urged in its advertising.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door at Slant Magazine.


Pity the Focus Features marketing team behind “Babies,” a near-wordless French production directed by Thomas Balmès that follows four babies from disparate parts of the world from birth to the dawn of self-awareness. Surprisingly, the doc isn't as unbearable as that might sound: The HD images Balmès captures, breathtaking landscapes in Namibia and Mongolia shot from a tripod, visually cast the infants in the greater context of their surroundings. The director's attention to lighting and composition is painterly, the babies perfectly framed. But the result is a cinematic coffee-table book set to music and ambient sound, an aesthetic exercise that gets at no deeper truth than "babies are basically alike no matter the culture."

To read the rest of my review visit Slant Magazine.