Film Brief: Free Solo

There’s no margin for error.  Imagine an Olympic-gold-medal-level athletic achievement that if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.

That’s pretty much what free soloing El Cap is like.  You have to do it perfectly.

At some point I will finally publish my Ratings Explained post.  Case in point is Free Solo: why is it less than a 9/10?  It’s completely gripping and a profound examination of life.  Answer: there are obvious comparisons to The Walk.  Free Solo is probably the best of the year so far, but I didn’t have that feeling of unbridled joy that The Walk gave me.  9/10 is a high bar — almost as high as El Capitan.

So, for now, Free Solo stands tall at the high end of 8/10.

Comparison Notes: Meru, Everest, The Walk

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Docu-Log: The Act of Killing

Within 5-10 minutes of the beginning of this film, I knew what it was about and wondered where do we go from here? The answer is not very far.  Critics were besides themselves with this one; me, I like good movies.

I found the presentation ‘cute’ — and not in a good way.  A straightforward accounting of events would have been much better.  4/10

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Comparison Notes:  The infinitely better Mr. Death

PBS Log: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Another recent PBS highlight was the airing of Janis: Little Girl Blue, which I had missed during its theatrical release a few months back.  I love good PBS programming, and American Masters is continually excellent, but it would be nice if they wouldn’t claim films as their own original production without a nod to prior release; this is not the first time they’ve done that.

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WHEN JANIS SINGS, I’M GLUED.  At the program’s start, I said ‘ho-hum, I’ll flip between this and baseball.’  That flip never happened, and baseball took a night off.

This documentary ended up being one of the most magnificently compelling musical biographies I’ve seen — in a sense, much deeper than Amy.  It features a ton of never seen before footage (by me anyway).  Janis Joplin was a joyously, deeply talented performer, heralded in her lifetime as “Queen of the Blues.”  Little Girl Blue does a good job sticking to her life story, which is all that needs to be done.

One more dig though on the PBS airing: they kept bleeping out any one of the 7 words you can’t say on television.  Very annoying.  But a funny thing about those words.  Although I wish PBS would have some cojones, it’s almost always readily evident which one of those words is being bleeped.  So, annoying, but not enough to truly diminish the powerful story.  And then there is this on the PBS airing:

Never-before-seen extended cut features new interviews with Alecia Moore (a.k.a. Pink), Juliette Lewis, Melissa Etheridge, Laura Joplin and Narrator Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power)

These interviews are key, so kudos to PBS on that I suppose.  Make sure you see the version with them (I can’t imagine the film without).  I haven’t checked, but I would guess that if you watch it via PBS VOD, there should be a good chance of escaping the aforementioned censorship.  9/10

Availability: PBS

Film Brief: City of Gold

City of Gold is a fun film for foodies, and a refreshing chronicle of the ever-fascinating, eternal city of the angels.  A nice little follow-up to last year’s Tangerine, if you will.  From a documentary filmmaking point of view, no ground is broken, but the content is amply strong enough to propel the picture. Bethany Jean Clement for The Seattle Times:

It’s a testament to his (Jonathan Gold’s) prowess that the voice-overs of his writing are riveting; you may want to stop watching and just go read everything in his Los Angeles Times author archive. …While the film’s formula gets repetitive, little revelations peppered throughout keep it engaging. Gold’s the unlikely hero with the golden palate, but his work also involves obsessive scholarship and research, and if you don’t know about his background, surprises await.

I concur about this movie making you head over to LATimes.com to read his articles.  A great little character study, and a nice break in the otherwise vapid movie season we find ourselves in.  7/10

Expose Where to Invade Next [u]

Where to Invade Next starts like a firecracker (by documentary standards) and rolls briskly for a good hour before hitting something of a brick wall.  Up to that point it competes among the best, most fast-paced comedies.  Though down-shifting in the second half, Moore remains on task.

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Now I’ve known about some of the differences between Europe and the U.S. for eons now, but even so Where to Invade Next is perhaps the most eye-opening film I’ve ever experienced, and a must-see for all Americans.  We can all feel the burn.  9/10

UPDATE: True value: 8/10