DURHAM - Four days of cinema realness is around the corner. The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival runs from April 4-7 in delightful Durham, North Carolina. There’s a sense of calm to Full Frame that you rarely encounter at its peers. Why? You’re not running around like a maniac figuring out how to get to various cineplexes during a blizzard or stuck in traffic caused by Kim Kardashian’s entourage. The films are screened within one downtown complex that includes the Carolina Theatre, Durham Arts Council and the Durham Convention Center. Once you get to Full Frame, you don’t have to use GPS to know where you ought to be. All you need to be is there. Everything else will take care of itself.
What will I be covering on this year’s impressive schedule? Music oriented documentaries are dominating my schedule. Luckily Dave Grohl’s Sound City film isn’t playing here. This frees up 8 hours of time that won’t be spent watching his junior version of Ringo Starr’s All-Star playing to hype the film. The only live appearance worth catching is D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back) now that he’s an Lifetime Oscar honored filmmaker. I want to hear what it was like to hang out with Hal Needham.
Thursday kicks off with Citizen Koch taking viewers into the Wisconsin recall election. This was a case of voters realizing their politicians are nothing more than tools for billionaire brothers. They do their best to remind their legislators that they represent more than two paying customers. The Record Breaker is a little bit lighter with a biography on Ashrita Furman. He has 300 entries in the Guinness Book of World Records. He doesn’t hold the only record that counts: Worlds Fattest Twins on mopeds. The film plays with Battery Man about Biba Struja’s ability to receive high levels of electricity. He can withstand a million volts. I’m going to see if he can recharge my phone during the Q&A. Spinning Plates promises to be a fine night of watching other people eat. The movie looks at the restaurant experience. Gideon’s Army is the big opening night film. People get to witness what three public defenders experience with their massive caseload.
Friday is a big day for Alex Winter is coming! That’s right, Alex Winter directed Downloaded about the history and impact of Napster. We’re going to do our hardest to interview Alex so we can find out what happened to the Hammer in Freaked. The big question I’ll have is “what’s the statute of limitations when it comes downloading Clay Aiken songs?” I might need to start a bail fund on Kickstarter. Muscle Shoals also plays that night. This film gives the detail on the legendary studio that has made hits from Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. What was the magic in the Alabama building?
Saturday has a triple feature of music in the schedule. AKA Doc Pomus is about the legendary songwriter who wrote for Ray Charles and Elvis. Bob Dylan worships his “A Teenager in Love” song. “Twenty Feet From Stardom” scoots the camera over so the focus is on the backup singers. What does it take to remain that voice behind the star? Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer investigates the Russian girl band that became Putin’s worst nightmare when they put on an unannounced performance at a historic church. Which Way to the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington is highly anticipated coverage of the combat photographer. During 2011, Hetherington’s Diary, a short film about his life ran at Full Frame. I had put in a request to interview him since he had also co-directed Restrepo. But I was told something had come up and he couldn’t make the festival. A few days later, news would come out that he had been killed in Libya. What made it strange for me was that he had died with Chris Hondros, a fellow photographer. Hondros worked with me at NC State’s Technician.
Sunday features all the prize winners getting a second screening. If you’re in the area, this is a fine day to drop on by the festival. “Meet Mr. Toilet” is the most enticing new title of the day. The short film is about a man doing his best to get toilets to those who need them. The festival wraps up with Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. Do you not know about Big Star? How can you not know about Big Star? Do you have a clue about Alex Chilton? Have you ever heard that song about writing a letter and flying on a jet plane? “The Letter” by the Boxtops should be familiar. That’s Alex Chilton singing. Do you know the theme song to That ’70s Show? Well that’s Cheap Trick performing a Big Star song. What you need to know is that Big Star rates with the Velvet Underground as bands your parents (or grandparents) were fools for not buying their records. Big Star’s Sister Lovers remains the most brilliant dark record about relationships. The film is free so come on over at 8 p.m.
I’m excited knowing there’s four days to immerse in documentaries just around the bend. We live in an era where the documentary is far superior to the fictional film that has been reduced to comic book characters. For further information about Full Frame, visit http://www.fullframefest.org. You can get single tickets to many of the movies, but they did have a lot of sell outs last year so don’t dilly dally.
DOCS AT HOME
We Are Egypt: The Story Behind the Revolution is unique in that filmmaker Lillie Paquette arrived in the country a year before the revolution forced Hosni Mubarak out of office. Instead of people talking in the past tense about a major event, she gets figures speaking in the future tense. You can smell the uprising simmer as Arab Spring approaches. This wasn’t merely multitudes of Egyptians responding to a Twitter hashtag to come down to Tahrir Square. There was careful planning and alliances that were making this event become more than just a demonstration that could easily be put down by military action. Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia) discusses his beliefs about what’s in the air. For those who merely tuned in to the network news coverage, We Are Egypt gives the necessary insight to capture what inspired things to finally reach a crest. There’s 82 minutes of bonus footage that includes more Omar Sharif (always a good thing) and time with Noam Chomsky.
Into The Cold takes us along on a nearly two month journey across the Arctic to the North Pole. This isn’t a simple journey on snowmobiles. This is a scary frosted landscape over an unforgiving ocean being tackled on foot with little boats to be used when necessary. Sebastian Copeland and Keith Heger take this adventure to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Peary’s expedition to the top of the world. The goal is to follow Peary’s path and not take the easy way of a quick helicopter trip. The duo train extensively for this challenge. When they arrive on location, they quickly learn that you can’t fully simulate how to survive in the sub-zero world in a storage freezer. Things get hairy fast. The ice is shifting as they make the trek. A cautious man might just call for the quick helicopter ride. Copeland and Keith Heger are obsessed with standing at the top of the Earth. They won’t give up until the GPS gives them the news. There’s a deceptive calm to the land as captured in their cameras. The weeks they spend walking towards that goal is astonishing in beauty and fear. How many times do you debate walking down the driveway to get the newspaper on a frosty morning? You should watch this on a large HDTV with the air conditioner blasting.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXVI takes us back to a time when studio executives swore supermodels were going to be the next force in entertainment. Why shouldn’t the pages of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition come to life? This trend thankfully never became a genre thanks to efforts such as Alien in L.A. Kathy Ireland was part of the ’80s wave of super models that dominated high school lockers. She seemed infinitely talented while spread out on a beach. What couldn’t she do? Well her limitations started with acting in a major motion picture called Alien in L.A. Thankfully this little gem wasn’t tossed away in the vault. It proved to be a potent torture for Mike Nelson, Crow and Tom Servo on the Satellite of Love. They get hit in the face by Kathy’s wooden acting and we get to enjoy the pain. The Magic Sword is Bert I. Gordon’s fantasy film that allows him to indulge in his Hollywood magic. Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes) is an evil wizard who kidnaps a princess. It’s up to Gary Lockwood (2001) to bring her back. This episode is best known for Crow’s love song to Estelle Winwood. Danger! Death Ray is an Italian James Bond rip-off. Starring as the 007.4 is Gordon Scott, a former Tarzan. He’s more of an ape than man in the role. Tom Servo is overjoyed to sign a sneaker deal, but there’s one issue. Mike gets a “This Is Your Life” segment. “The Mole People” is another Jack Arnold Universal Sci-Fi flick. The film is the perfect crossover since the Mole People start working in Deep 13. Mike and the Bots get to make fun of Hugh Beaumont in the film. Prepare yourself for lots of Leave It to Beaver references. There’s plenty of bonus features made for the boxset. “Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker” interviews Mr. BIG about his epic scifi flicks that became staples of MST3K. “Of Mushrooms and Madmen: Making the Mole People” gives the tales from the subterranean set. Alien From L.A. director Albert Pyun gets to give his tips on working with Kathy Ireland. Finally there’s a “Life After MST3K: Mike Nelson.” One of the things he did was befriend a young Ken Plume. This volume reminds us that Kathy Ireland was wise to not make Alien in SF.
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 5 is an enthralling cop procedural from Canada. It’s different from most C.S.I. clones since Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) has to investigate crime scenes in Victorian Toronto. “Murdoch of the Yukon” opens the season with him escaping his life. He’s quit being a cop and wants find a glory hole of gold. He also needs to forget his love for the now married Dr. Julie Ogden. But his past catches up to him in the form of a dead body. He can’t forget how to pick apart a crime scene. Mummy-mania hits town for “Evil Eye of Egypt.” Who got cursed? “Murdoch at the Opera” is the case of the wrong corpse. A young singer gets poisoned, but Murdoch senses the fatal drink was meant for the diva. Will they try to silence her for the encore? “Who Killed the Electric Carriage?” reminds us that Henry Ford wasn’t a fan of cars that didn’t work on oil. He might have killed a battery maker to keep his dream going. “A Stroll on the Wildside” brings a two-parter about a librarian’s kinky other life. “Murdoch Night in Canada” kills a hockey player. Gordie Howe is not a suspect since he hadn’t quite been born yet. “Twentieth Century Murdoch” brings a time machine to town. One of the users saves Murdoch from Santa with a Shotgun. Is this device for real? Murdoch is eager to see what life will be like in 1912. There’s quite a few bonus features covering production of the show including a polite “things that made me uncomfortable” segment. Murdoch Mysteries is the perfect murder show for people who enjoy a sense of history with their corpse play. This is worth getting on Blu-ray to enjoy the period costumes and sets.
Woochi: The Demon Slayer was a massive fantasy hit in South Korea. Turns out the way the world works is based off the Pipe of Prophecy. This instrument of destiny falls in the hands of wicked goblin creatures. After a fight, wizards recover the pipe and split it in half to keep it more secure. Things were secure until Woochi, a student, pulls a stunt that puts everything into jeopardy. He’s punished by being frozen for centuries. The goblins return and it’s decided to release Woochi from his cell. He must save the world from the forces of evil. However the battle isn’t easy since Woochi enjoys being in modern South Korea. He gets even more out of focus when he falls in love with a local girl that reminds him of a woman from his old days. Mankind is screwed. The goblin effects look really good in 1080p. There’s plenty of bonus features that dip into what it took to make the film.
Hemingway & Gellhorn reminds us all that if you want to see a quality film, forget driving down to the Cineplex. Turn on HBO. The movie is about the romance between writer Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and journalist Martha Gelhorn (Nicole Kidman). The duo meet up at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West. The sparks fly between the duo right from the start. He’s a man’s man and she’s a woman not afraid to wear pants. She’s not a reporter. She’s a war correspondent. There’s an issue to their romance since Mrs. Hemingway (Swingtown’s Molly Parker) is still at home. Eventually this problem is worked out as the writers join up and split to the Spanish Civil War. Can their passion survive the battle against Franco and their explosive nature? The 155 minute film really gets into the romance. Director Philip Kaufman makes a bit of a comeback here after the meh fest that was Twisted. This puts him back on the track that let him make Henry & June and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Even better is that the script features the work of Jerry Stahl (Café Flesh). I’m not quite sure why Lars Ulrich has more than a cameo in the film, but seeing how it was shot around San Francisco, he must have let them use his pool for the Atlantic ocean for the role. A bonus feature covers how they faked the world in the home of Rice-A-Roni. There’s also a commentary track featuring Kaufman and Splicing God Walter Murch. The Blu-ray brings out the rarely seen sizzle in Nicole Kidman’s face. The bell tolls so much richer in DTS-HD Master Audio.
Killing Them Softly brings back the grubby Brad Pitt of Fightclub. He’s a mob hitman who needs to clean up a mess in a small town. The movie is based on George V. Higgins’ novel Coogan’s Trade. This is not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan’s Bluff. Higgins is a literary legend for having written The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Killing Them Softly also enters the underworld. While the book was about Boston, the movie takes place in a neutral Louisiana (thanks tax credits). Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) runs a mob protected big stakes Poker game. Years before, he scammed himself by secretly having the game robbed. One of the boys in the area decides to use this info against Ray by staging his own robbery so it can be blamed on Ray. It’s up to Pitt to dish out justice for the mob. Brad brings in James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) to help with the hits. Trouble is that Pitt doesn’t think Ray robbed his game this time. The mob doesn’t have much patience for the truth. They need someone to suffer. This is an extremely art house mobster flick with a lot of long dialogue scenes that seem lifted from a stage production. Gandolfini goes on for a while talking about a hooker in Florida for what seems like 10 minutes. Nobody is in too much of rush in the movie. Director Andrew Dominik gets rather pensive to create a crime film that doesn’t try to juice you with fast cuts and over the top heist action. This is about the mundane figures that live as outlaws in America. When the violence happens, it’s cringe-worthy. There’s nothing glossy and fun in the beatings. I’m still waiting for Dominik to make a Brad Pitt film with the pacing of Chopper.
Howdy Kids! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup takes us back to those thrilling days when TV stations weren’t showing infomercials and year ancient ESPN specials. Saturday afternoons were a time when cowboy shows dominated in a chance to unit children with their father on the sofa. This three dvd collection is a fine sampler of those days of yesteryear. There’s 24 episodes of horse and six-shooter action that can easily be cracked open when you realize that you never liked soccer, but you don’t want to leave the sofa. Right off the bat you get The Lone Ranger. This is important viewing to remember what the character was really about before you get confused by the mystical Johnny Depp reboot. Also given a little time is the iconic The Rifleman, The Roy Rogers Show, Annie Oakley, The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Cisco Kid, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Buffalo Bill Jr. and Sky King. There’s also obscured shows such as The Range Rider, The Adventures of Rick O’Shay, Fury and The Adventures of Champion. What is really exciting is getting to see Red Ryder. He’s the character that inspired the Red Ryder B.B. Gun in A Christmas Story. He’s the reason Ralphie would have shot his eyes out. This is the perfect Father’s Day gift to give the old man so he doesn’t whine about why there’s nothing on TV every Saturday afternoon.
Boss: Season Two wraps up the time that Kelsey Grammer running Chicago. He’s a mayor with several secrets to keep buried around the city. The biggest one is that he’s got a major neurological issue that requires large amounts of medication. He is willing to do anything to keep this a secret from the press. The Mayor is not done cleaning up his office from those who will sell him out in order to further their political dreams. He’s ruthless to the next degree. His wife (Connie Nielsen) gets more into the act. The big thing is Kathleen Robertson’s Kitty O’Neill seems a bit spooked since she her old pal didn’t leave the job with a letter of recommendation. The big mystery is if Kitty will get scared out her clothes as much as Season One. While it’s a shame there will be no third season, the 10 episodes do a fine enough job bringing the show to a close.
Family Ties: The Sixth Season is the penultimate go around for the Keaton family. This is best known for being the time that Alex Keaton (Michael J. Fox) hooked up with Lauren Miller (Courtney Cox). They were students together who shouldn’t have clicked but did. Alex takes part of her experiment in “The Last of the Red Hot Psychologists.” “Dear Mallory” has her giving advice to Jane Adam (Hung). I’m willing to say that advice should only come from Nick (Scott Valentine). Did you know that Scott Valentine is cool if you call him Nick accidentally? It’s true. Don’t call him Eddie Money, though. “Dream Date” has Tina Yothers using one guy to get another guy jealous. How evil of her. “Invasion of the Psychologist Snatcher” has Campbell Scott wanting to hook back up with Courtney Cox. Alex is jealous. “Mr. Sister” turns Nick into a beloved janitor in Mallory’s sorority. He has to clean up spare feathers from their all night pillow fights. “The American Family” is a clip show under the guise of Courtney doing a paper on the Keaton’s past experiences. “Anniversary Waltz” turns the Keaton’s 20th anniversary into a nightmare. “The Blues Brother” has Alex announce a jazz performer is dead during his radio show. Turns out the guy is alive and wants to visit. “Read It and Weep” steps into the banned book controversy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) is part of the fun. “Sign of the Times” gives us future star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Dougie, the new Skippie. “Father, Can You Spare a Dime?” has Nick’s dad played by ’80s sex symbol Dan Hedaya. There’s so much macho heat between him and Scott Valentine that you might have to put ice on your TV screen. What’s amazing is they made 28 episodes during a time when Michael J. Fox was cranking out his movies. He was a very busy guy, but he had time for his little TV brother.
A Turtle Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise starts off with an extreme trauma when the sea turtles get grabbed by humans. A few of the little ones escape to the sea. But what will happen to their relatives? Will they become turtle soup? Not to spoil the film, but it turns out that the large turtles are the new residents of the underwater nightclub at a resort. They’re living the mega-aquarium life. This doesn’t sound like too bad of life except there’s a few scary elements including getting to see the humans eat lobsters. Naturally the wild life wants to escape captivity so they can be properly eaten by big fish instead of feed by human hands. The CGI animated feature has the proper ability to scare kids and relieve their fears quickly. If the kids liked the first Turtle Tale, they’ll enjoy more shelled action.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: Series One is as catchy as a Louis Armstrong solo. Phyrne Fisher(Essie Davis) is a jazz age wonder who loves the times. She’s up for a night of speakeasies, dancing and homicide. And like any responsible women living freely, she carries protection. Although in her case it’s a golden revolver with a pearl handle that just goes right with so many occasions. “Cocaine Blues” immediately points out that Miss Fisher is not a clone of Miss Marple. She’s Auntie Mame minus the kid. She solves a drug related killing while having a tryst with a Russian dancer. “Murder on the Ballarat Train” ruins her trip when she must defend a girl being attacked by a fellow passenger. Things get worse when a body turns up. “The Green Mill Murder” turns a night of dancing into a crime scene. Alchemy and poison dominates “Raisins and Almonds.” “Ruddy Gore” might introduce you to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruggigore. There’s a trip to Chinatown for a little opium den action. “Murder in Montparnasse” reveals Miss Fisher’s modeling days for an artist. The guy’s widow would like someone of the work back. Before things can get nasty, the widow vanishes. Will someone ended up framed? “Blood and Circuses” introduces her nemesis. Murdoch Foyle is the man who was accused of killer her sister. Can he be back to snuff her out too? “Queen of the Flowers” plucks a finishing school student from the water. “King Memses’ Curse” brings the classic Egyptian object gone bad story into Miss Fisher’s life. For those who love international mystery, make a date with Miss Fisher.
The Borgias: The Second Season reminds us all about how much fun Popes used to be. When is the last time a Pope had to worry about his semi-wife, mistresses, sons and daughter while running the Vatican? Well that’s what was going on during Pope Alexander VI’s reign. The historical series touches about all the back biting and diabolical plotting that took place in the Roman Catholic Church. This is all the good stuff that the nuns liked to skip over during religion classes at Our Lady of Eternal Sneers. The Borgia family is completely in control at the start of this season. Dad (Dead Ringers‘ Jeremy Irons) is fighting back amongst the haters who don’t think a Spaniard can speak for God. They don’t like his nepotism since one son belongs in the College of Cardinals while the other leads the Papal army. His daughter Lucrezia is sweet, charming and deadly. Strangely enough, like Pope Francis. Pope Alexander VI starts the season devoted to helping the poor. He had no idea of the poverty on the streets of Rome. Don’t worry that somehow this season turns into a weepy charity infomercial. There’s a lot of evil plotting to oust Alexander via the French. There’s killing of baby daddies. There’s the Pope picking up women who like to dress like men. It’s all good and tawdry in a historical context for 10 episodes. The bonus features include “World of the Borgias,” interviews and behind the scenes footage. There also include episodes of House of Lie$ and Californication.
House Arrest busts The Game and Stacey Dash (Clueless‘ Dionne) in a romantic comedy with an ankle bracelet. The duo are a dating couple when the cops come down on them. Even though Stacey swears she’s innocent, the judge won’t dismiss her charges. She gets placed on house arrest and forced out of her good life. She has to return to her mama’s house in the not so nice part of town. Can she handle this reality slap? She learns a hard truth when she attempts to bling out her ankle monitor. The Game seems ready to play a tougher version of Ice Cube with his thug love for Stacey. Can these two shape up, beat the charges and let love allow them to live a clean life.
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