Reviews of Features at the Maryland Film Festival
Unbylined blurbs indicate a movie not available for screening before press time. An asterisk by the title indicates a must-see favorite recommended by the CP Film Fest Frenzy review crew.
James Pongo (co-writer Morgan Krantz) is a fairly typical twentysomething in that his entire life is bound up with a parallel world of digital data and web connections. When James comes to after a drunken bash and finds his laptop missing, he has no life until he gets it back. What distinguishes director/co-writer Eugene Kotlyarenko's debut feature from any other indie flick is his treatment of the frame as a computer desktop filled with apps and pop-ups that relate not only to digital life, but to the action onscreen. When James is considering heading somewhere, a window appears plotting distance and directions; a painful party conversation also plays out in overlaid IM chat script; the band name and track title of whatever Los Angeles indie hit is currently constituting the soundtrack shows up in a playback widget. The witty and inventive conceit doesn't prevent James and his travails from being a bit annoying and predictable, but 0s and 1s is engrossing for its execution alone. (LG)
The docu-duo of Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, The Boys of Baraka) do not fear the nether regions of America: This documentary tackles the long war over abortion rights. The entire film takes place at the corner of 12th Street and Delaware Avenue in Fort Pierce, Fla., where an abortion clinic and an anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center sit crossly across the street from one another. Because the filmmakers are insistently evenhanded, the first half of the film presents the perspective of anti-abortion activists, including the charismatic director of the "pregnancy crisis" center who pursues her goal of convincing women not to abort far more doggedly than the affable clinic workers across the street. While the anti-abortion protestors--who are such a fixture they appear on Google's street view of the clinic--and the clinic employees are forgettable, the women who come to both the pregnancy center and the clinic remind us how abortion rights are both personal and political, practical and moral. (MLJ)
Two women carry writer/director Paz Fábrega's debut feature. Mariana (Lil Quesada Morúa) is one half of a middle-class couple spending their New Year's Eve holiday at a Costa Rican beach, where her boyfriend (Luis Carlos Bogantes) hopes to close a business deal. Arriving late at night, they come across the 7-year-old Karina (Montserrat Fernández). She's sleeping by the road and explains why, though she might be fibbing a bit. Nevertheless the couple sleeps there, too, planning to return Karina the next morning. When she's gone, Mariana begins a slow descent into apprehension, while Karina, walking herself back to her family, goes right on being an astutely observant and precious kid. Fábrega fills Agua Fria de Mar with beautiful vistas--such as sea snakes lining the beach at low tide--but the movie never quite accrues any deliberate energy. Things happen at an organic rhythm, but inconsequentially. Fernández' Karina--the entire cast of kids, actually--totally owns the flick. (BM)
An atypical portrait of an American who has dedicated his life to fighting for Islam, American Jihadist paints the protagonist--Isa Abdullah Ali, aka Clevin Raphael Holt--in a sympathetic light and his fight for justice on behalf of Islamic people across the world as something that's created positive change in his life. Ali was raised in the projects in Washington, D.C., and he describes his youth as full of conflict, confusion, and fear. He converted to Islam and traveled to Lebanon and Beirut to fight alongside other Muslims; as a result, he is now considered a terrorist by the United States government, though he has never been charged with a crime. American Jihadist combines interviews with terrorism experts, journalists, Ali's family, and Ali himself to create an image of a "terrorist" that is both terrifying and compelling--but probably not for the reasons most would expect. (ES)
Steven Soderbergh's long-awaited documentary about the life and work of the late monologist Spalding Gray.
Pretty photography punches up this listless tale about a rudderless and passive aspiring filmmaker who leaves the West Coast and heads back east when his relationship with a woman crashes and burns. A llama farmer gives Linas (Linas Phillips, who also wrote and directed) a beat-up shorty van that he drives across the country, encountering a handful of people who help him get in touch with whatever it is within himself that he's been looking for. The film is a ramble from one unusual encounter to another; it's fairly predictable and low-key, but it has its lively moments. (ES)
Candy Darling was only 29 years old when leukemia took her in 1974, and footage of the young, vibrant, glamorous, and beautiful Warhol Superstar is what director James Rasin offers in this lovingly unsentimental if non-rigorous documentary. The doc was produced in part by Jeremiah Newton, Darling's early '70s roommate/fan, the keeper of her memories decades after her death, and the de facto guide through Darling's story, but it's the interviews with people who remember her that try to bring her to life: a veritable wit parade of Fran Lebowitz, Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead, Paul Morrissey, Julie Newmar, John Waters, and the irrepressible Holly Woodlawn. For good and bad, though, Rasin relies on a wealth of Darling footage to distill who this biologically born male who turned herself into a classic '50s movie star was during that odd limbo after the '60s had died and before the '70s really got going. A must for fans of the tragic satellites that always orbited Warhol's detached gravitational pull. (BM)
The taxi driver is the globetrotter's intelligence agent, always willing to provide a pithy sound bite or prescient analysis of what's really wrong with the city he or she drives around in for a living. Miao Wang's first feature-length documentary addresses the changes Beijing underwent in preparation for the 2008 Olympics through the viewpoint of three taxi drivers. The characters in the film are reality-television compelling, and Wang, who immigrated to the United States from China in 1990 and has lived here since, matches an outsiders fascination about everything with an emigrant's appreciation for what Beijing is leaving behind in their embrace of modernity. (MLJ)
The fall of lobbying goon/genius Jack Abramoff and his associates/cronies was well-documented in the media at the time, but the sheer scope of the Abramoff story and its many chilling implications about who actually runs our country and why was perhaps difficult to grasp delivered piecemeal and spread out on paper. Alex Gibney (Enron doc The Smartest Guys in the Room) has condensed Abramoff's life as the ultimate Washington insider into an efficient package that skips the hysteria that drags down a great many left-leaning watchdog flicks. Abramoff played the United States' political system, and its systems of institutionalized bribery, with a degree of heartlessness that should give anyone pause, all the way down to K Street's scummiest. And, given that many of them speak in the film, humbled if not fearful, it would seem that that pause has been delivered. This could be one of the more terrifying films you see this year. (MB)
This 1927 silent docudrama about villagers and elephants in rural Siam gets the live-soundtrack treatment from the MFF vets of the Alloy Orchestra.
A flawed but sweet low-budget indie take on the mystery movie. Scruffy thirtysomething Doug (Cris Lankenau) moves back home to Portland after giving up studying forensic science, which he doesn't seem too stoked on even though he's really into Sherlock Holmes; frustratingly, we're never given much idea as to why. The plot's nuts and bolts aren't all that worth getting into, but a situation develops between his ex-girlfriend, a co-worker, and a briefcase of money. Doug gets to use some of his investigative skills and smoke a Sherlock Holmes pipe, and the very Hardy Boys-esque mystery kinda/sorta gets solved. And all the while, he's reconnecting with his estranged sister--which may have been the point anyway. (MB)
The mumblecore-associated writer/director Duplass brothers return with a likely somewhat glossier family comedy starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, and Marisa Tomei.
Shock-haired thirtysomething NYC hipster doofus Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) is a "cool dad," while simultaneously being a not-cool-at-all dad. During his two-week visitation with his two young sons (big-eyed real-life brothers Sage and Frey Ranaldo), the rules go out the window in favor of anarchic fun, but Lenny is enough of an irresponsible child himself that he neglects and endangers his kids almost as much as he entertains them. Director brothers Benny and Joshua Safdie based the lead character and his exploits loosely on their own father, and their affection for Lenny and for the side streets of Lower Manhattan beams through, not least due to Daddy Longlegs' jumpy vérité energy. A dream sequence seems like a serious misstep in a dramedy this otherwise warts-and-all real. (LG)
How is this not John Waters' pick for this year's festival? In Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' clever dark comedy, a father (Christos Stergioglou) creates a perfect, untroubled, harm-free existence for his three children by never letting them leave the grounds of their comfortable home and keeping them utterly ignorant of the outside world. (They believe Frank Sinatra is their grandfather, house cats are ravening predators, and the end of the driveway is a de facto line of death.) But as the children enter their 20s, sex, barter, and '80s movies just can't be kept out forever. At turns affecting, ribald, and brutal, Dogtooth never breaks its wicked deadpan as the brother (Hristos Passalis) and two sisters (Mary Tsoni and the absolutely brilliant Aggeliki Papoulia) guilelessly grapple with their world imploding like the ape people from the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's like a Michael Haneke comedy but, you know, actually funny. (LG)
An astronaut aboard a space station and a pregnant woman become somehow linked in the genuinely creepy Earthling, a sci-fi-feeling flick that plays out more like an existential crisis. The astronaut, who opens the movie seeing a ball of intergalactic something-or-other, functions almost like a forgotten memory to Judith (Rebecca Spence), the pregnant high-school teacher who has a seizure while driving at the same time the spiky bit is seen from the space station. What follows is Judith's losing herself, drifting away from her husband and friends, and her body, which starts to sprout strange nodes near her hairline. Soon, she's coming into contact with a mysterious man (Peter Greene) and a student (Amelia Turner) who say they know what she's going through and can help--by which point writer/director Clay Liford is only partly through screwing with your mind. Earthling has the look and tone of 1970s sci-fi flicks that don't play by genre conventions, opting instead for a metaphysical experience. And while Earthling doesn't quite open your third-eye, it definitely keeps you unsettled while it tries. (BM)
Indie-film pioneer John Cassavetes' 1968 classic centers on a middle-class married couple (John Marley and Lynn Carlin) drifting apart and into affairs (with Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel, respectively).
You would think that accidentally shooting his older sister would be the worst thing that ever happened to Chico Colvard, the director of this documentary. Instead, the incident uncovered years of familial sexual and physical abuse, most of which had been happening without the then-10-year-old's knowledge. Now an adult, Chico struggles to understand how his three sisters, who were raped and beaten by their father, have been able to form caring adult relationships with the man. This hauntingly personal film explores the aftermath of incest in a way that is amazingly complex and heartfelt. It's not a fun movie, but one well worth seeing. (AD)
In 1960, a Supreme Court decision ended segregation for public transportation passengers engaged in interstate travel. But only on paper: In the South, Jim Crow still prevailed. Then, in 1961, a group of brave activists--both black and white--decided to test the new ruling by taking a two-week bus trip through the South. Freedom Riders is the riveting account of what happened to them. The young activists began their journey expecting trouble; they even held simulated confrontations to practice non-violence. But nothing could have prepared them for the angry mobs that awaited them. They were badly beaten, repeatedly. One bus was burned, and many Riders were sent to Parchman Farm, Mississippi's notorious state penitentiary. Yet the ride rolled on. The story is beautifully told, entirely through interviews, photographs, and news footage. Interviewees include historians, former politicians, and numerous Freedom Riders, including U.S. Congressman John Lewis. The film is deeply moving, evoking pride and shame in equal measure. Everyone should see it. (AA)
If you don't already hate self-absorbed pretentiously unpretentious New York artist types, this movie should do it. Gabi (Sophia Takal), a 20-year-old narcissist, liar, and artist/Oberlin student, moves in with her brother Sam (director Lawrence Michael Levine) in New York for the summer. Gabi thinks repeating everything a potential employer says at a job interview is high art. She also asks her brother to lick whip cream off her naked body, because it would be subversive. Even the good characters like Sam turn out to be reprehensible. Levine and Takal also ping-pong monotonously between medium shots of each other. Takal, Levine, and the rest of the cast are all fine actors giving believable performances; it's too bad they use those talents in a film that might make the audience want to throttle them. (AD)
A lamentation on the loss of a South that never was, Robert Persons' debut film, clearly a labor of love/obsession, is haunting and disturbing along several axes. General Orders No. 9 looks and sounds like a collaboration between Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and Leni Riefenstahl. Billed as a "deep geography" and a meditation on the loss of Georgia's wild space to urban encroachment, the film's mantra--"the county is at the center of the state; the town is at the center of the county; the courthouse is at the center of the town"--should be jarringly familiar to anyone aware of the Christian Identity movement and its militia progeny, and so becomes creepy and foreboding in ways perhaps not apparent to most denizens of indie film festivals (and maybe to the filmmakers themselves). The movie is beautifully shot, though lugubriously paced. There are almost no people, save for a fleeting shot of an African-American man tending a burning tree, and what look like black people in white masks. Though mentioned nowhere in the press kit, the title is central to the theme of lost paradise and crumbling order. "General Orders Number 9" was Confederate General Robert E. Lee's farewell message to his army in Northern Virginia, April 10, 1865. "The Lord loves a broken spirit," the narrator intones. "Pray that we are well and truly broken." (EE)
"Stacking rocks. It's the oldest profession known to man," says one of five folk architects profiled in Zack Godshall's documentary. Castle builders, mountain makers, and monument creators are profiled in this gentle, open film. Godshall gives his characters plenty of time to speak about the personal challenges and religious inspiration that led them to dedicate their lives to making roadside attractions. While the details of the buildings are familiar to anyone who's been to the American Visionary Art Museum, spending time with the artist-builders makes it clear how normal their lives seem even though their surroundings appear so otherworldly. (MLJ)
The festival's annual throwback 3-D offering expands to a double feature, sort of: a Western by schlock maestro William Castle and a Three Stooges short in 3-D.
Equal parts John Sayles exploration of a small community and Carlos Reygadas poetic visual rumination of the otherwise mundane, director Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool quietly plunges you into one man's life. Loner merchant marine Farrel (Juan Fernández) puts ashore when his cargo ship stops at Ushuaia, Argentina's southernmost city, en route around Cape Horn, and he sets out to see if his mother is still alive. Liverpool is little more than Farrel's journey from port to a remote, rural hamlet, where his bed-ridden mother doesn't remember him, and a young woman, Analia (Giselle Irrazabal), shows a perhaps unusual interest in him. Alonso follows Farrel in a series of nearly wordless medium shots that seem to drift on dry land the way a boat might without sail or motor at sea. The movie becomes a series of windswept character sketches--of Farrel, of Analia, of different kinds of loneliness--that may be an acquired taste, but can offer subtly powerful rewards, (BM)
Scant information is available about this Russian film about a mother caring for her obese adult son.
The premise of Geoff Marslett's debut feature film is simple: Kinky Friedman is president, and astronauts from NASA are on a mission to Mars to discover whether or not there really is life on the planet. The film is unashamedly Texan, from its cast--Friedman and mumblecore maven Mark Duplass, who plays the cutest and least important astronaut--to its design: the rotoscoping Richard Linklater employed to great effect in Waking Life is used here in a visual style heavily indebted to graphic novels. Despite the bare-bones plot, the dialogue is charming, particularly the female scientist's (Zoe Simpson) speech when she finally steps foot on the red planet. Mars predicts the sad but probably true fact that when we do start colonizing other planets, we'll experience it as reality television, not history. (MLJ)
Three Los Angeles women endure every complicated aspect of the mother/daughter relationship axis. That's the reductive story and themes of writer/director Rodrigo García's Mother and Child, and while the surface of that plot may feel manipulative, its central three performances anchors its just over two hour running time. Annette Bening stars as a difficult, high-maintenance single woman scarred by having to give up a daughter when she was 14; Naomi Watts plays that eventually adopted child, now a high-powered lawyer who needs to be in control of almost every aspect of her life. And Kerry Washington plays a wife unable to conceive herself seeking a child to adopt. What eventually brings these three disparate women together eventually feels like belief-suspending coincidence, but the mothers/daughters the actresses create are who you remember, especially Watts and Washington, who meticulously craft two of the more believably complex female characters in recent memory. (BM)
This debut feature from director Anocha Suwichakornpong shares many of the trademarks of contemporary Thai cinema: languid pacing, unlikely characters, and an unparalleled enthusiasm for including experimental or just plain weird moments in otherwise uneventful films. Mundane History is a buddy film of sorts, only this time the relationship is between a young man who is paralyzed and his male nurse. While the film does contain some dramatic encounters, particularly between the paralyzed man and his father, its strength comes from the philosophical conversations between the nurse and his patient and a series of moments toward the film's end. The postrock soundtrack gives the film a moody atmosphere that reflects the frustrations of the central characters. (MLJ)
This Oscar-winning documentary short might be best known for producer Elinor Burkett's bizarre interruption of producer/director Roger Ross Williams' acceptance speech. But the MICA-sponsored film is, in fact, a gentle portrait of a disabled Zimbabwean singer, Prudence Mabhena, who leads the Afro-pop band Liyana. Although the short stylistically feels a bit too paint-by-the-numbers, its subject is compelling enough to make up for what is, in the end, a biopic of a woman just at the start of what promises to be an amazing career. (MLJ)
Kerry Washington finally gets a chance to carry a flick with her considerable talent in this unexpectedly engaging drama from filmmaker Tanya Hamilton. Washington plays a single mother and perhaps former radical in late 1970s Philadelphia. She begins an unlikely romance with Marcus (Anthony Mackie), a former Black Panther who has been gone for years and is finally making his way back to the neighborhood, at a considerable personal cost. How Washington and Mackie create their characters is what makes this onscreen relationship work so well--you suspect it is going to be difficult from the outset, without knowing why, and they try to keep the bubbling-up politics at bay as they work on their personal lives. Patiently tense and consummately acted--total pros Wendell Pierce and Jamie Hector are supporting players--Night Catches Us loses focus as it strives to Make a Point, but Washington, as always, turns out a woman that feels real from the very first moments onscreen. (BM)
Documentarian Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country) turns her attention to the story of two former bodyguards to Osama bin Laden.
The story of the abandoned and found child is a very old one, and Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimel's quietly devastating La Pivellina ("the little one") may not appear much of anything new. Patti (Patrizia Gerardi), a red-haired post-middle-age urban gypsy of sorts, finds a 2-year-old girl (Asia Crippa) on a Roman playground with a note in her pocket begging the finder to take care of the child. Patty and her extended family of intermittent circus performers grow fond in the ensuing weeks, as will any viewer with the smallest shred of heart. Rarely has simple kindness been captured in a character so effectively as in Patti; you spend a considerable amount of time just fearing for her, because we know the little one's mother is returning and Patti and her family will have no choice but to give the child up. The emotions behind the film are understated, and, fittingly, the story's conclusion is left to the viewer's imagination. It will send you out searching for a loved one to hold. (MB)
Emotionally arresting, gorgeous to look at, and a small formal revolution in filmmaking, Matt Porterfield's largely improvised Putty Hill would already have burrowed deep beneath our skin. But it also happens to be one of the best Baltimore films ever made, delicately painting that white, blue-collar part of the city--suburban Northeast Baltimore--with grace and power. Cory, a character we never see save for a photo, is dead of a drug overdose; vignette by vignette, the audience is introduced to moments in the lives of his friends, family, and the people that surrounded him. Slowly, the film adds characters, building to an eventual wake--featuring a take on "I Will Always Love You" worthy of your tears--and the film's math becomes clear. This is the film Gus Van Sant wishes he could make. (MB)
Rajendra Prasad chews it up like an Elvis impersonator playing John Wayne in deepest India. Created as a character to sell MTV to India in the early 1990s, Quick Gun Murugun developed his own following as his catchphrase ("Mind it!") took off. This feature film strings together absurd shootouts (one features 10 paces over car roofs and even a motorcyclist's head) and the inevitable musical set pieces along a plot that every Clint Eastwood fan will recognize. And yet . . . our hero dies twice defending vegetarianism against the arch-villain Rice Plate Reddy, and he is not quite getting the girls--either of them. The potential catch phrases fly: "Eat my dosa or die!" and "I have done Google on you, Rice Plate!" Vegetarianism is, indeed, the need of the hour. Rise! (EE)
This wry short surveys the titular London housing project, a familiar sort of modernist concrete construction erected in 1972 and now slated for demolition. Director Martin Ginestie spends a few minutes each with those who admire the buildings and want them saved (an artist, an architect) and those who would be happy to see them leveled (a politician). The residents, mostly South Asian immigrants, don't actually get a say on-screen, which seems like a serious flaw. (LG)
It sounds like your typical righteous-white-person-swoops-in-to-save-disadvantaged-people-of-color flick. Instead, Jennifer Arnold's film shows how a small act by a Holocaust survivor living in Sweden changed the life of a Kenyan child and started a ripple effect that helped countless others. Hilde Back donated money to send Chris Mburu to school, and he then created a foundation to help other poor Kenyan children go to school. Arnold tells the stories of Back, Mburu, and three children in Mburu's village competing for scholarships to secondary school poignantly without getting overly sentimental. If you don't at least consider giving Sally Struthers a call after this movie, you're dead inside. (AD)
Writer/director/star Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture may be the most adorable movie ever made about people who can't be bothered to recognize your existence. It's a fairly typical liberal-arts-graduate-returning-home-after-college-to-figure-things-out movie, only home is a gorgeous, two-story Tribeca flat where mom and sister (Dunham's real-life mother, artist Laurie Simmons, and sister Grace Dunham; her father is the sublime painter Carroll Dunham) live the privileged life of, well, people who live in a gorgeous, two-story Tribeca flat. Dunham's Aura is merely sorting things out and feels like a visitor in the apartment--and city--where she grew up. Kudos to Dunham for capturing this life with an insider's beguiling eye; many shots work as comedic puns and create visual divides between Aura and others. If Tiny Furniture feels a little coy, it is a post-collegiate finding-myself flick. Co-star Jemima Kirke steals every scene she's in here, not only because she delivers "let's go to Odeon and order everything on the menu" like she's actually done it before, but because her Charlotte embodies the sort of indolent downtown decadence that has been drawing young people from the contiguous 48 to the Manhattan below 14th Street for generations. (BM)
Right now, this 1990 combination of director Paul Verhoeven, future governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a Philip K. Dick short story about an ordinary Joe who may be a highly skilled government operative feels less like a fun sci-fi actioner and more like a work of sublime supergenius. Conan the Republican plays Quaid, your average 6-foot-2 former bodybuilder construction worker who dreams of Mars--so much so that he pursues a Mars "vacation" at Rekall, a business that can implant fake memories, providing the illusion of an experience. But the Rekall operators discover an identity already implanted in Quaid, who may be one of the Mars rebels fighting the corporate leviathan mining operation that controls the small planet with a military fist. Co-starring Sharon Stone before she discovered her baser instincts, Michael Ironside and his Teflon sneer, and Ronny Cox as the requisite evil rich white man. Hey reality, Screw you. (BM)
Paul Greengrass' naturalistic style not only makes watching the events of Sept. 11 replay on a big screen bearable, it makes for surprisingly effective cinema. In a piercingly bittersweet evocation of what life was like just nine years ago, no one expects that something like terrorists hijacking multiple planes can happen, when it first starts happening they can't believe that it is, and when they realize that they must do something, no one knows what to do. As the situation grows more desperate, Greengrass' camera jumps back and forth between the nervous hijackers, the initially oblivious passengers, the air-traffic controllers, and air-defense officers woefully unprepared for a "real-world situation," a line delivered several times as if they were talking about a formation of deadly flying pigs. The overall lack of polemics here seems fitting for a story as somber and still raw for most Americans as this one. (LG)
While the ooky-spooky sound and trappings of black metal have become yet another hipster enthusiasm in recent years, it bears remembering that the roots of the genre were truly flame-licked and blood-soaked. Documentarians Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell focus on the cabal of young Norwegians who first took death metal to a danker, darker place, in particular Fenriz, drummer for Darkthrone, and Varg Vikernes, the man behind Burzum as well as several burned churches and the 1993 murder of fellow black-metaller Euronymous. The story is shopworn lore for true fans, but Aites and Ewell create compelling portraits of relatively mensch-y lifer Fenriz and the imperiously callous Vikernes, still in prison at the time of filming. The contrast between the roots of the genre in a particularly chilly puddle of teenage bile and the dressed-up, gallery-friendly quality of later waves also makes for a tidy illustration of how genuine rebellion becomes mere style. (LG)
Co-directors Cédric Dupire and Gaspard Kuentz's We Don't Care About Music Anyway . . . is less a narrative documentary about some of Tokyo's most off-the-map musicians--from electronics hijackers such as Otomo Yoshihide to the spellbinding sound/performance art of Yamakawa Fuyuki and free improviser Sakamoto Hiromichi--than an experiential immersion in their worldview and sound. Music darts from location to location before resting for a performance in some odd/unique place--viz., the Umi No Yeah! duo of the tireless Takehisa Ken choking rhythms out of electronics while model Shimazaki Tomoko, who sheds her silvery spacemen bodysuit to reveal a polka-dot bikini beneath, shreds guitar at some barren stretch of sand/beach near a wind farm. You won't learn much about the musicians, but you'll definitely leave this Koyaanisqatsian experience totally tuned in to their vibe. (BM)
Culture is nearly always serving at the behest of real-world social shifts. Look at Seattle's '70s funk and soul culture, once big enough to have the run of downtown clubs but until recently literally forgotten as part of the city's musical identity. As R&B got pushed out in favor of disco, the city's African-American population also found itself pushed out of the Central District into outlying parts of Seattle. A poignant scene in Jennifer Maas' excellent documentary about the scene, Wheedle's Groove, finds an aging funk performer touring the gentrified "CD" and marveling at how familiar and foreign it seems at the same time. Wheedle's Groove has a happy ending, however, as a local DJ memorializes Seattle funk with a compilation album, a brand new record, and a funk all-stars concert. The story is far bigger than Seattle, and viewers in a great many cities, including Baltimore, should find it familiar. (MB)
William S. Burroughs became a household name in your more interesting households through his pioneering fiction, with its cold intelligence, brutal sexuality, view of drugs as an alternate reality, galloping paranoia, cut-up sense of sense, and mummy-dry wit. You would hardly know it from Yony Leyser's biodoc, which mostly skips past Burroughs' writing in favor of thumbnails of his history intercut with brief sidebars on his sexuality, his visual art, etc. While some of the footage proves revelatory (e.g., home video of an aging Burroughs smoking weed and shooting guns in the woods like a teenager), A Man Within seems less concerned with rendering a full portrait than making Burroughs sympathetic. That's not an unworthy goal, but the resulting film is far from definitive. (LG)
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201