For moviegoers, there might not be a more quintessential summer movie than Jaws. (Pun intended.) But even if you’ve absorbed every documentary about the making of Steven Spielberg‘s template-setting blockbuster, you’ll probably find something new in Inside Jaws.
Jamie Benning creates what may be the ultimate fan documentaries, or “filmumentaries,” as he calls them. He’s done the job on the original Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark; now he turns to Jaws. Benning’s films are like hyper-extended commentary tracks that collate interviews, production info and photos, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and other materials into a hyper-detailed “making-of” portrait. And so Inside Jaws is a 2 1/2-hour commentary track/documentary that will give you an impressive understanding of how the film was made.
Watch it below. Read More »
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The trailer for Salinger plays like a great thriller, especially with the opening scene establishing the capture of one of very few photographs of reclusive author J.D. Salinger. The man who wrote The Catcher in the Rye withdrew completely from the public eye in the wake of his sensational success. That only enhanced the appeal of the book, and the man, and so the nature of J.D. Salinger has been one of the enduring mysteries of the late 20th century.
Savages screenwriter Shane Salerno, fascinated by Salinger, has worked on this documentary for the past few years, recruiting many recognizable Hollywood types to talk about precisely why many of us are so fascinated with the author. There are some lurid flourishes here meant to draw an audience in — the questions about Salinger’s private life, the effect of the war on his character, and his unpublished works, just for starters.
But those are also the long-unanswered questions about the man, and as always with mysterious creators, there’s the sense that answers could offer some insight into how he did what he did. Whether this doc really offers answers remains to be seen, but if nothing else it may frame the questions in a new way. Read More »
It’s almost a crime that most people only know the music of Big Star through the theme song for That ’70s Show. Many viewers probably never realized the song is a re-recording of ‘In the Street‘ from Big Star’s first album ‘#1 Record.’ (The show initially used a cover of the song by Todd Griffin, but for seven of the eight seasons opened with a cover by Cheap Trick.)
That first album by Big Star is, in a word, glorious. Songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, who as teens saw the Beatles perform in Memphis, wrote the album in a back and forth fashion that honed the twelve tracks into brilliant pop gems. The record was never distributed well, and so despite widespread acclaim, it became one of those artifacts that music enthusiasts revere and the public at large missed. The band (without Bell) made two more albums, both of which are also excellent, but they never really made it.
Some of those enthusiasts are now in the position to make films, and so we have the doc Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. The film charts the formation of the band, and its fate as a near-obscurity, with a redeptive final chapter that has taken almost 20 years to play out as more and more people finally hear the record that everyone should have had in 1972. Read More »
Whether it’s about a real movie, like the documentary Room 237, or a fake movie, like in Robert Altman’s The Player, there’s a lot of potential in making a movie about another movie. There’s just something special about taking the post-movie experience of analyzing and sharing opinions and moving it from the lobby into the theater. And while it happens on a pretty frequent basis, rarely do major blockbusters get the star treatment.
A director calling himself Ivo Shandor (more on that below) is making his own movie about a movie, but he’s tackling a true fan favorite: Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. He’s made a documentary called Spook Central, which takes the 1984 blockbuster and dissects it looking for subtext, subliminal messages and more. The first trailer is out now and whether you like it or not, there’s no way you’ll watch Ghostbusters the same ever again. Read More »
The documentary Blackfish looks into the death of a Sea World employee who was drowned by the killer whale she trained. In 2010 the orca Tilikum gripped 40-year-old female trainer Dawn Brancheau in his mouth, drowning her during a performance. The film uses that death to look at the way the species is treated in captivity, and at the effect certain conditions have on the animals’ well-being. The orca whale is related to very few human injuries in the wild, but Tilikum has been connected with three human deaths in the span of two decades.
This look at Blackfish presents experts proclaiming the intelligence and awareness of the animals, and also talking about the process of capturing and penning the creatures, which is significantly less than humane. What happens when intelligence and mistreatment collide? As one interviewee says, ”[It] probably led to what I think is a psychosis.”
This trailer for Blackfish is chilling not for the behavior of Tilikum, despite the fact that relatively few people seem to know about the 2010 death, but for the inherent horror aspect related to a creature lashing out at conditions in captivity. Read More »
I know no one who has emerged unscathed from The Act of Killing. The film might be one of the strangest ever made, as it forces men to confront their actions by recreating them in movie form. But these aren’t just any men — they’re guys like Anwar Congo who, as death squad leaders during the “Thirtieth of September Movement,” staged a coup d’etat in Indonesia in 1965, and then committed genocide through an anti-Communist purge.
Estimates of the death toll vary widely, from 80,000 to one million. By any standard, these are heinous crimes. ”War crimes are declared by the winners,” Anwar Congo says, before happily proclaiming “I’m the winner!”
Today Anwar and other death squad leaders have not been tried as criminals; rather, they hold positions of some social standing. The Act of Killing features their full cooperation. It invites the death squad leaders to recreate their actions as genre movies — westerns, musicals, and so on — and in so doing bring their past back to life. The trailer below shows you some of the effect, and even in this abbreviated form it is deeply chilling. Read More »
Thirty years ago this Saturday, the Star Wars trilogy came to an end. Return of the Jedi hit theaters May 25, 1983 with the kind of hype and anticipation that’s become almost standard for big movies. In 1983, however, it was not. Fans were rabid to find out the fates of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Darth Vader with most assuming it would be the last time we’d see these characters on screen. The film went on to gross $252 million that summer, making it the number one movie of the year.
So much has changed since then. We’ve seen three new Star Wars movies, we’re on the eve of seeing many more, and the film itself has seen some major changes. (Jedi Rocks, the Ewok song, the addition of Hayden Christensen.) Something that hasn’t changed is our memories of Return of the Jedi.
One of the biggest Star Wars fans in Hollywood, Fanboys director Kyle Newman, put together a short documentary about those memories. It’s called The Return of Return of the Jedi: 30 Years and Counting. Featuring interviews with Kevin Smith, Seth Green, Chris Hardwick, Jaime King, Topher Grace, Fall Out Boy, Eli Roth and Jason Mewes, the film originally played at the Entertainment Weekly Capetown Film Festival to raucous applause and, now, it’s finally online. Read More »
When I first saw Stories We Tell I was stunned. When I saw it again, I knew that reaction was warranted. And when I talked to the film’s director, everything was further illuminated. That director is Sarah Polley, who is probably best known for roles in films like Go and Dawn of the Dead. Polley is undeniably great in those movies, but after seeing her third feature film Stories We Tell, there’s no doubt she’s an even better director.
Polley approaches Stories We Tell with brilliantly layered execution. On the surface, it’s a personal documentary about her family history, featuring accounts from her brothers, sisters, parents, and friends. The basic story follows how her mother and father met, and started a family. From there, Polley questions the construction of story and truth. She breaks down the structure, turning the camera on herself. Finally, Polley uses this pleasant, thought-provoking documentary to pose surprising questions regarding the essence of cinema. Stories We Tell is now playing in select cities nationwide, so you can finally see what I mean for yourself.
Which brings us to a warm May morning poolside at a Beverly Hills hotel. I was lucky enough to sit down with Polley to discuss her wonderful film and ask all the burning questions I had after seeing it. You can read the conversation below. Read More »
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