I had a bad cold/virussey thing this week, on the back of travelling for a month, I've had time to watch all of the films. I love good films, but hate wasting time on bad ones, and have usually had my fill of looking at glowing rectangle screens for work. Anyway here is my flu movie review. There may be 3-4 of these annually, but do not seek a doctor for minor side effects.
A documentary about a filmmaker who is a bit of a social misfit, trying to finish his projects and come to terms with the hands he's been dealt, and the cards he's thrown on the floor, and occasionally set fire to. It's kind of heart-warming, but with slightly sinister overtones.
I'm also kind of in love with his friend Mike, who is a great cinematic character, genuinely loveable and probably a very good warning on why you should not do all of the drugs.
It's good for demonstrating the role of creating art in curing, and causing many psychological problems.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
This is another documentary with slightly less blurred lines between creative expression and mental health. Daniel Johnston is a folk musician and artist, who first caught my ear upon hearing his particularlarly weird, haunting, catchy, cute songs of love, hope and despair.
I've always loved music that comes from the heart, and creative expression that reaches past production values and just kicks you in the soul. His crackly vocals, might not win a singing contest, but that leaves the other expressive elements a gap to fight their way in to.
This is not a sentimental view of mental health problems either, you see the effect on Daniel, and his family as his irrational behaviour takes over. Including when having a paranoid manic episode he runs up to confront a lady who has been shouting at him from her apartment, the lady subsequently jumps out of a second floor window, breaking both her ankles.
The tragedy of mental health problems, the ups and downs that occupy any artistic career are amplified hugely and the portrait painted in this documentary is complex, and thought provoking, whilst soundtracked, and filled with Daniel's music and art.
The Great Hip-Hop Hoax: Silibil n' Brains
Little known to me until watching this documentary, I had a sticker of hip hop group Silibil n' Brains on the back of my guitar from the early noughties. I wonder what stage of their journey I would've found this sticker, during the height of the hype, or when they were on the way down with a lot of stickers to get rid of and no record released...
It's a great story about two scottish rappers from Dundee, who tried to make it in London only to be dismissed as the rapping proclaimers. Hurt and pissed off that they were not being taken seriously, they decided to adopt new accents, move south of the border and try and blag it as Californian skate punk rappers. Within a couple of weeks they'd gone from sleeping on their sister's floor, to having a flat paid for and access to a huge advance with studios to record in. It seemed too good to be true, and it was a lie, but no-one realised...
The story of how this happened, the consequences, the ironic beauty of beating a music industry at it's own game, is weighed with the strains on a friendship and the issues or pretending to be something you're not all the time. Great documentary that Storyville picked up. Well worth watching if you get a chance.
The music theme continued with this very different film which is kind of a mumblecore, naturalistic romantic comedy musical type film. I watched this on my laptop on the Megabus going from Washington to New York so was pretty keen for some escapism. It's a very cute film, with some great music.
I first saw Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova perform on one of NPR's fantastic tiny desk concert sessions, and the powerful raw vocals, and dense guitar work really blew me away.
They seemed like funny cool guys too. They are not actors and this kind of shows through, though predominantly in a good way. Handheld cameras, handheld performance and realistic dialogue ensure this never veers to far into saccharine territory, and just comes across as a life affirming, sweet film, that avoids cliche enough and showcases their excellent musicianship.
Sleepwalk with Me
NPR have their hand in this movie too as it's produced by Ira Glass of This American Life fame. It's the, seemingly true to life, story of comedian Mike Birbiglia and his travails with forging a career in comedy, and a career in life. Naturalistic acting comes across here too, it's a very cute film, worth seeking out, though probably don't watch it with your partner if your relationship is a little on the rocks. Maybe watch Once instead.
This film had great reviews this year, so I bought it on itunes. The front cover and the poster make it look like the worst film in all of human history, a young black guy is skipping, pushing, an older white man in a wheelchair down a hill with paragliders in the background. I can see how the marketing department had a tough job, as one of this films strengths is avoiding the typical, refusing to be captured too simplistically, which ain't so great for posters. This film cheered me up a great deal, it's a bit cheesy, but not too much that it's annoying. Hollywood, I know you're reading this, take note. This can be done.
5 Broken Cameras
Finally as my weekend of staying in and recovering drew to a close I watched 5 Broken Cameras, a fascinating documentary about Israel/Palestine and the West Bank, as shot through a demonstrator's eyes, and several of his cameras. You are engrossed from the first minute. This film has got you. The device of telling the story through each of his cameras as they degrade, get shot at, and damaged, lends itself a great narrative arc. It leaves you feeling moved, angry, and impressed with non-violent resistance in the face of overt aggression. It's pretty hard to imagine what you would do in this situation, as a filmmaker myself, it was a choice for me. For Emad, this is his route to salvation, his way of taking power back, and protecting himself against external forces and the reality of his situation. When you have no control, it's easy to become hopeless or hostile. When someone breaks your first camera, it's easy to give up or react to the provocation. Who can say what we would've done in his situation. It's clearly a complex area, but you should really watch this film, it will make you want to understand more.
The humble Braggs and X-ray crystallography: Solving the patterns of matter
Lastly is a shout for a film I watched about 30 times this month, because I made it. It's a little hard for me to tell how good this is, probably have to look at it again in a year when I have some distance. It's gone down really well though, and thanks to everone who tweeted it and shared it around, it means a lot.
One Youtube comment says 'I've seldom seen a more boring documentary about such a most remarkable person! Shame on you for wasting 9 minutes on this botched up "whatshallwecallit".'
ouch, but the person who wrote it, only seems to like Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares.
So I'll be taking that as a compliment.