Archive for the ‘Box Set’ Category
Tuesday, October 25th, 2011
There are five movies, comprising six discs, on the new Art of Filmmaking box set, out October 25th from First Run Features. Think of a director, or a big-name actor, or a giant music producer, and chances are they appear in at least one, if not more of the five documentaries. Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorcese, Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Jerry Bruckhemier, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Susan Sarandon, the list goes on and on and then some.
This is the ideal box set for the aspiring filmmaker – the best of the best talking about their craft in all sorts of different film genres. Herzog, Morris, Kevin MacDonald, Scott Hicks and dozens of other documentary filmmakers talk about their craft in the 2008 movie Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. To hear an interview I did with the director of this film, Pepita Ferrari, click here. The one complaint I have here is that the initial DVD release of Capturing Reality came with an excellent second disc of bonus features, and that disc is not included in this set.
Spielberg, Eastwood, Scorcese, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Robert Altman, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, Terry Gilliam, Sydney Pollack, a ton of other directors and some huge-name actors (Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Dustin Hoffman) appear in the movie Directors: Life Behind the Camera. Both discs of this film are included in this box set, and they’re a bit of an effort to get through – you’ve got to click through on a ton of different menus – but with this incredible list of participants, it’s totally worth it.
John Carpenter, who wrote Hallowe’en, Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption), and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) are just three of the dozens of screenwriters who appear in Tales From The Script, a wonderful documentary about the art of screenwriting. This is probably the most entertaining movie in the box set – the screenwriters are more engaging and funnier than many of the directors and actors in the other films.
Light Keeps Me Company is more focused – a look at one man, Sven Nykvist. Nykvist was the legendary cinematographer behind many of Ingmar Bergman’s most famous movies, and a two-time Oscar winner. Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Susan Sarandon and Bergman himself show up in the movie to talk about Nykvist, and the clips of Nykvist’s celebrated cinematography are still magnificent – especially when described by fellow movie legends.
The fifth movie in the set is 1997′s Lavender Limelight, which takes a look at lesbian indie filmmakers like Cheryl Dunye, Heather MacDonald and Jennie Livingston. This is a much different film than the others in the set, if only because nobody being interviewed is a really big name, and most of us have never seen their movies, like Watermelon Woman or Paris Is Burning.
That’s the best thing about this box set – every documentary is different, interviewing big-time filmmakers, little indie filmmakers, documentarians, cinematographers and writers, all in one box. An amazing box, that you can get here, from First Run Features.
Monday, July 27th, 2009
There are seven movies contained on the Human Rights Watch DVD box set, out July 21st from First Run Features. I have chosen to review each of the seven seperately because I think many of them are terrific films that deserve their own reviews, and all of them are worthy efforts in terms of furthering human rights around the world. A quick recap:
Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World (4/10): A documentary about gays and lesbians who are oppressed far worse in their native countries than anyone could imagine in North America. The thing is, I get it. It’s worse in Iran than it is in the U.S. But I need more than just a list of abuses that I could find online.
Silent Waters (8/10): A powerful film about a Pakistani Muslim woman whose past comes back to haunt her when her son gets caught up with a group of Islamic fundamentalist nutjobs. Not terribly well made, but it has a lot of heart.
S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (10/10): A small but very ambitious documentary surrounding the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 70s. A genocide that claimed the lives of 2 million people, a film maker brings the victims of the toruture and genocide together with the perpetrators of the same events at the place where it all took place. A magnificent film.
The Devil’s Miner (9/10): A remarkable, charming and heartbreaking film about a 14-year old who has worked in the mines of Bolivia since he was ten, and his 12-year-old brother who is joining him in the mines for the first time. Miners work themselves to death searching for silver that may no longer be there at all, and pray to the devil since they believe that it must be he that controls the mines. A terrific movie.
Dreaming Lhasa (8/10): A passionate, moving story about Tibetan exiles living in Dharamsala, India. An American film maker goes to India to learn more about her roots and the freedom fighters and the Chinese occupation of her homeland, and end up on a journey of revelation and self-discovery. Mostly cast with non-actors, Dreaming Lhasa has a uniquely genuine feel to it.
Roses in December (5/10): This is the story of Jean Donovan, a lay missionary who was murdered in El Salvador along with three nuns by military police in 1980. The U.S. government tried very hard to ignore the whole thing. But instead of exploring any of the reasons behind the murder, or the reasons behind the United States platform of non-involvement, the film is an hour-long biography of Jean Donovan. She was a remarkable and interesting woman, to be sure, but I wanted to know more than just that she rode a motorcycle.
The Camden 28 (8/10): A remarkable documentary about several priests and ministers, part of the anti-war “Catholic left” in the 1960s, who broke into a draft office to destroy draft cards in an act of protest against the Vietnam war. What ensued was a trial that changed protests, changed peoples’ perception of the war, and even changed the laws of the United States.
Monday, May 18th, 2009
To hear the review
To hear the review
Truly, I gave the Star Trek Original Motion Picture Collection a better rating simply because I’m a completist. I like the fact that there are a ton of extra special features on each disc, and the full series comes with an extra disc for Star Trek fanatics where William Shatner talks to Patrick Stewart for an hour and a half. None of this is particularly useful to the non-fanatic, but it’s essential to a good Blu-Ray release. And really, I like the three movies contained in the Trilogy. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is deservedly a classic movie, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is a decent follow-up, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home closes out the little trilogy nicely.
But I liked Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country quite a lot. In fact, I liked it better than Star Trek IV. And I always like to have a complete collection. That being said, Star Trek The Motion Picture was awful, and the William Shatner-directed Star Trex V: The Final Frontier was even worse. So you’re not missing out on much if you go with the trilogy instead. The special features on all three discs are the exact same that you get on those same three movies were you to get them in the full set. Just know that there are options out there!
Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
To hear the review
To hear the review
Inside The Third Reich, a four-disc box set of documentaries about Nazi Germany, comes out April 21st from First Run Features. It’s a fascinating look at four different facets of World War II, all stuff I didn’t already know. And I am a big World War II history buff. The four discs are as follows:
Television Under the Swastika (10/10):
“Good Cheer And Willpower”
An absolutely riveting documentary about the world’s first television network, one created by the Germans and the Nazi party in the 30s, years before television became a staple in American households. This German TV was on the air for nine years, and featured an amazingly wide range of programs. For the purposes of this documentary, some of those programs are shown, although very few examples have survived all the years until today. Fitness programs, childrens’ gymnastics shows, variety shows with singing and dancing and piano playing, and the 1936 Olympics were all covered on this station.
Although it seems, initially, like a pretty innocuous television network, closer examination reveals the sinister propaganda behind much of the programming. Watching the shows is a lot like watching a college-training TV station, in that there is a large amount of inept camera work and some terrible interviews. After all, it was a brand-new medium. Some of Hitler’s rallies are covered, with shaky cameras that could capture only one shot at a time. The fact that the rallies and parades were shot with one, long, take actually reveals some things that would otherwise have remained hidden.
A lot of the Nazi propaganda behind the programming, such as cooking shows, is fairly subtle. Then again, in some cases it is absolutely overt. But it is always there. Some of the scenes – like one of a bumbling, stupid Nazi official being interviewed – are actually quite funny, although it’s almost painful to laugh at something like that, knowing the historic context. One of the most amazing unearthed shows is called “Good Cheer And Willpower”, where a bunch of war amputees with one leg run an obstacle course to show soldiers in the field that losing a limb isn’t such a bad thing – I mean, look how happy these guys are! Again, it’s almost funny. But mostly, this documentary is chilling. Terrific stuff.
“At 2:25 a.m., a new term, until then unknown, was entered in the records of the German Civil Air Defense Department: Firestorm”
Firestorm refers to the British practice, toward the end of World War II, of firebombing. They would drop flares during their night time raids on German cities, partly to light the way for their bombers and partly to set the cities ablaze. The film examines this tactic, and asks whether it crossed the line. Many of these firebombing raids came after the British had already basically defeated the Germans, and they seemed to be more retaliatory than necessary. Especially since the bombing campaigns claimed the lives of civilians, more so than soldiers.
35,000 people killed in one attack on Hamburg. Tragic, disturbing pictures of dead people, children and babies, many of whom would later be buried in paper sacks. People rendered homeless, historic buildings destroyed, all by incendiary bombs. After the Battle of Britain, the English targeted civilians with their bombing raids. While most concede that at first, this was a legitimate war tactic, it soon became questionable. The best argument for the actions of the British comes from one man who says “these [German civilians] knew why they died. In Auschwitz and the gas chambers, they didn’t.” The film is a very interesting one, and seems to come down against the British. Although, it does end with the line “a consequence of 12 years of the Nazi regime”.
The Reich Underground (8/10):
A two-part documentary about the massive network of underground tunnels the Nazis built under German cities during the second world war, mostly toward the end when they needed to protect their factories from bombing raids. The movie deals with the slave labourers who were forced to work in these areas, digging out the tunnels in inhuman and brutal conditions. One man in the film estimates the life expectancy for any slave working in the tunnels at 40 days. The film details the brutality of the SS, the production of the V2 rockets that were supposed to win the war for Hitler, and also talks about the “Dam Busters” squad which dropped “tallboy” bombs into some of the deepest, most impenetrable building sites. It also shows stock footage of chemical weapons being tested by the Nazis on a monkey and a cat. That is disturbing to watch, knowing they were hoping to use those weapons on human beings. It’s too long, with two parts, but it’s very interesting.
The Goebbels Experiment (10/10):
“National Socialism is a religion. All we lack is a religious genius.”
Joseph Goebbels was the Nazi party’s Minister of Propaganda, the man responsible for turning the German people to the side of the Nazis. He kept extensive diaries, and it’s those diaries that make up The Goebbels Experiment, the best documentary in the box set. The story is told entirely in the words of Goebbels, as read from his diaries by Kenneth Branagh. It’s a fascinating look into the brain of a brilliant but evil man.
Goebbels was at turns paranoid, petulant, bitter, loyal, petty, treacherous, and euphoric, depending on his mood and what was happening around him. He complained bitterly about people at one time, then praised them effusively at another. (In particular Hermann Goering, the commander of the Luftwaffe.) The one thing that remains constant in Goebbels’ writings is that he was a very insecure man. He thinks Himmler hates him. Then he thinks Goering is out to sabotage him. Then he thinks Hitler doesn’t appreciate his advice enough. Then he believes that he is under surveillance by the SS (chances are that one was absolutely true).
“Jews don’t respond to generosity or to a spirit of magnanimity. You have to show them what you are prepared to do.”
The documentary features many speeches by both Goering and Hitler. It’s easy to forget, in hindsight, that “propaganda” wasn’t always a bad word. That when these speeches were being made, no one saw the horrors that were to come. And there is no denying that both men had a powerful ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy. The diaries dissect both his speeches and Hitler’s. Goebbels critiques them, usually heaping praise on his own speeches as well as those of the Fuhrer. He has an affair with a mistress, then blames her for being angry. Goebbels is not a man who is capable of seeing his own faults.
There isn’t much in the film about the beginning of the war. Perhaps Goebbels was too busy at that time to write very much. And since the whole movie is told in his words, only the subtitles in certain locations exist to fill in the gaps. The one time Goebbels seems to be even a little self-aware is when he discusses, with a grudging respect, the writings of Winston Churchill, and contemplates stealing his phrase “blood toil, tears and sweat” for himself and German propaganda. This is far and away the most fascinating documentary in the set, and this film alone makes it worthwhile.
One more thing – since the movie didn’t cover this, I thought I would make mention. Goebbels, at one point, writes of the elation he felt when Max Schmelling, a powerful German heavyweight fighter, knocked out Joe Louis, an inferior black man, in a heavyweight title fight in the United States. He heard about the great Schmelling victory on the radio, and he is thrilled. Well, I am a boxing buff as well as a World War II buff. And I was pretty sure that Schmelling never knocked out Joe Louis. In fact, I was absolutely positive. I don’t know whether this was because German radio was editing the fight to make it seem as though Schmelling was the victor, or whether Goebbels lied into his diary.
Either way, I looked it up to be sure. I was right – Louis fought Schmelling twice. Once in June of 1936, a knockout in the twelfth round, and once in June of 1938, a first-round KO. Both fights were won by Louis.