2015 Updates

2015 in Review: 7/21 – 9/21

Since the last update, we’ve gone station to station, met mistress America and a grandma, interviewed multiple documentary filmmakers, said good night to mommy, climbed a mountain, gone on impossible missions, and more.

Paper Towns review

“This all might feel more honest as a subversion of teen dream girl stories if it felt anything like what it was supposed to be in the first place. But it’s a flat experience. The disconnect is vast between the supposed gravitas of what the characters are experiencing and those scenes’ actual emotional resonance. A road trip which is said to be life-changing is depicted as one instance of a guy peeing in a beer can, one manic trip to a gas station store, and one close encounter with a cow. That’s it.”

Stevan Riley interview about Listen to Me Marlon

“One of my first questions was, ‘Have we got any archives? What have we got?’ They said we had access to a lot. There were boxes and boxes and boxes that had all been in storage for 10 years. At the same time that they were thinking about a documentary, they were archiving these boxes. Things were coming out — reams of documents. It was almost overwhelming. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, there’s actually a lot of stuff here. How on earth do I ever get through it?'”

Listen to Me Marlon review

“Riley eschews the traditional biographical doc format. Brando’s voice, and his voice alone, takes up around 90 percent of the running time. Any words from other people come from archive sources — no one who knew the man is looking back in reflection, nor are experts on hand to explain historical tidbits. The personal tapes, as well as interviews in which the other party’s voice has been excised, have been chopped up and remixed into a long-form soliloquy. It’s an impressive feat of editing.”

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation review

“Cruise’s mad physicality aside, he demonstrates again that he can somehow be both superhuman and human at once. Alec Baldwin gets many lampshade-hanging speeches about the absurdity of the IMF’s adventures in this film, and his final one strains the supports of the fourth wall, as he describes Ethan Hunt as the embodiment of destiny itself. And yet the sometimes slapstick quality of Hunt’s escapades (a wise carryover from Ghost Protocol), the fact that he gets smacked down and exasperated and frustrated so often, keeps the sense of danger thrillingly alive.”

Best of Enemies review

“I’m not going to say that it’s outside the realm of possibility to make a good film about public intellectuals. But I’m unsure that I could ever connect with a movie that takes for granted that their profession is due any respect, that their lives are worthy of study, and that their conflicts are in any way compelling.”

The Prophet review

“The wisdom at the heart of these poems may be basic at best and questionable at worst, but the directors take them more as a springboard for their own imaginations than as gospel. At its best, The Prophet is a kaleidoscopic sampling of the best of contemporary animation. It’s more valuable for introducing children to Plympton’s ultra-caricatured crayon figures or Moore’s dizzying geometric fractals than it is for dosing them with Gibran’s musings. Paley illustrates a poem about children with a mesmerizing sequence of humankind regenerating itself over and over. The Brizzis concoct an achingly resonant image of birds bound to a vast shapeshifting wire prison. Sfar imagines marriage as a late-night garden dance. Each work is totally distinct from all the others, and collectively, they make the movie worth visiting.”

Mistress America review

“In Mistress America, writers Noah Baumbach, who also directs, and Greta Gerwig, who also stars, have harmonized their distinct voices into something marvelous. Millennial communication patterns—a constant, rapid shuffle between angst, oversharing, self-mythologizing, self-abasement, insincere social ritual, and sincere shared enthusiasm—slot incredibly well into the framework of a screwball comedy. Though that suggests a classic-Hollywood throwback, this story thankfully feels fresh and original.”

Meru interview

“For a while, I didn’t really know if I had the footage or the story, necessarily. I do distinctly remember after shooting Renan’s monologue — the one that comes at the end of the film — putting the camera down and thinking, “Oh, that would make an incredible ending to this loose idea for a film I have in my mind.” But I didn’t think about it seriously for a long time because I didn’t want to commit to it seriously. I’m the type of person who, if I start to think about something really seriously… well, you see right now.”

Meru review

“As new technology makes cameras more and more compact and versatile, we’ll be seeing more documentaries like Meru. The in-the-moment first-person footage the team captured on their climbs, particularly the second, is astounding. It is imagery almost unprecedented in mountaineering docs. It does more than capture the sweep and majesty of the Himalayas; that the cameras are rolling even as a storm sets in lend a real-time effect to the events. At times, it seems impossible that Chin, Anker and Ozturk survived. It’s a fine addition to the ranks of memorable documentary adventures.”

Station to Station review

“Station to Station has a reasonably intriguing premise: A train travels from New York to San Francisco, and over the 24 days this takes, various artists and musicians are brought aboard to contribute their thoughts on, and expressions of, creativity. Beck, Jackson Browne, and Patti Smith all hop on at one point or another. The result is a series of 62 one-minute films that use the train and its journey as a muse. But my hope that the documentary would be good was dampened very early on, as the title cards referred to the project as ‘a happening.'”

Grandma review

“Movies often have difficulty granting humanity or a recognizable interior life to the elderly, or acknowledging that elderly women even exist. Ellie’s fully-realized development is the greatest strength of writer/director Paul Weitz’s script, which is probably his best since About a Boy. It’s quite skillful at quickly sketching out characters with shorthand. Witness, for instance, the office of Ellie’s daughter, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden): a paragon of modern careerist relentlessness, down to the treadmill desk. And the supporting cast (Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, and Sam Elliott, among others) works ably with this material. They have to, since the story is mainly a two-woman show between Tomlin and Julia Garner, and most of them only show up for a scene or two.”

Goodnight Mommy review

“Society cannot abide a bad mother, and our stories will punish them time and again for their choices. In horror films, such transgressions translate into outsized crimes and literal shapeshifting, and punishments become cosmic and more brutal. On Goodnight Mommy’s isolated stage, a house of too-clean surfaces and rigid furniture arrangement, the war between mother and child plays out as a game of hide-and-seek with a demon. Directors/writers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala make this space an outsized version of the tank habitat in which Lukas and Elias keep a colony of roaches. All the characters are trapped, and grim developments—like the suspicious death of a stray cat the boys take in—make catastrophe appear inevitable.”

Preview of #YESALLWOMEN auction

“In the run-up to the auction, #YESALLWOMEN will feature various writers and performers meditating on the namesake hashtag: Actress Rose McGowan, the evening’s emcee, will show the trailer for her short film, Dawn; Rain and Summer Phoenix will read a selection of Tweets from the movement; There will be spoken word pieces, poetry readings, and performance pieces; Deap Vally will play some of her music. It’s a vibrant cross-section of contemporary feminist art.”

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.