Tickled is a captivating documentary that begins with a reporter's attempt to interview those behind an internet-based company that produces "competitive endurance tickling" videos. Taking surprising turns, Tickled reveals a dark story of one man's 30 year obsession with athletic young men who are lured into performing for money and gifts, only to become harassed and exploited when they no longer want to be involved with the "sport". Ultimately, this is a revealing expose of David D'Amato's psychological issues and his desire to exert control over the lives of the young men who he ensnared (Klaus Ming June 2017).
A surprisingly poignant drama about love, loss and loneliness
A Ghost Story is an extraordinary film that employs a white sheet with eye holes to cover the title character who haunts the home that he and his wife had inhabited. Unlike most films of this genre, Lowery's story might more accurately be entitled "A Ghost's Story" - and with that, I am giving away too much of the plot of this surprisingly poignant drama about love, loss and loneliness. Lacking any audible dialogue from the deceased, this is a slowly paced, thoughtful and rewarding film - and one of the best of the year (Klaus Ming November 2017).
Frozen Time is a sophisticated documentary and an astonishing feat of film editing that combines still images and previously lost footage from the silent film era that was literally unearthed by archaeologists in Dawson City in 1978. Used as back-fill and buried for fifty years, over 500 reels of highly combustible nitrate film lay forgotten in an abandoned swimming pool, over which a hockey rink was constructed. Using clips from these restored films and newsreels, as well as early still images, Morrison retells the story of the 1890s Gold Rush and the history of Dawson City and its people within the context of world events (Klaus Ming December 2017).
Maudie is a beautifully made biographical drama about the Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis who lived a life of poverty with her husband Everett in their tiny roadside house where she sold her paintings to tourists up until her death in 1970. As the title character, Hawkins gives a brilliantly understated performance of a woman whose painful physical limitations are only surpassed by her ability to see the inherent beauty in life and her surroundings. A hidden gem, Maudie is one of the best films of 2016 that is now likely to receive the attention it deserves, after Hawkins' heightened notoriety from her work with Guillermo del Toro in The Shape of Water.
Notfilm is a deeply thoughtful and intriguing "Kino Essay" of Samuel Beckett's 1965 experimental film that featured Buster Keaton, and was simply entitled "Film". Through the use of archival footage, in-depth back stories and character analyses, Lipman shines much-needed light on not only the meaning of Film, but Beckett's unrealized intentions in his one-and-only foray into moving pictures.
Though Film is described as a failed experiment, Notfilm convincingly argues that Beckett's own deeply personal issues with privacy and public perception are deeply embedded in his work. Surely to be of great interest to film and literary students as well as die-hard Buster Keaton fans, Notfilm is an important contribution to film analysis, and a must- own disc for my movie collection.
A bizarre short experimental film penned by author Samuel Beckett, Film is based on his interest of philosopher George Berkeley's concept of "subjective idealism", an 18th century philosophical notion which suggests that the existence of material substance cannot exist without being perceived. As "O" – the Observer, Keaton attempts to escape "E" – the Eye of observation, which includes the camera – to which his back is turned throughout much of the production.
Largely indecipherable without Beckett's explanation, "O" hides from the gaze of every living thing, including himself, in a small cell-like room as both precursor and condition for his character's death.
And, if you are the least bit curious about Film, be sure to watch Ross Lipman's fascinating Kino Essay "Notfilm" (2015).
Banned to "protect both the young and the unintelligent spectators"
As with most of Theda Bara's work, The Eternal Sapho is unfortunately a lost film. A controversial drama in its day, Bara plays a notorious vamp whose plans for her married lover go awry. Filled with scenes of "impropriety", it was reported in Moving Picture World (1916) that the Minneapolis Board of Censors banned this film to "protect both the young and the unintelligent spectators" (p.1733). Of note, Theda Bara's skirts which were described as "commercially exaggerated" – and though I'm not quite sure what that means, other objectionable scenes included drunkenness, and a married man's clandestine affair – Oh my! Though they admittedly stated that "No really intelligent person is likely to be led astray by this film", a Cincinnati theatre manager was "taken from his bed at midnight' (p.1727) and placed under arrest based on a warrant that charged him with exhibiting Sapho without the eliminations ordered by the Ohio Board of Censors.
Big hats were indeed a nuisance in early cinemas, especially since a woman's hair was her crowning glory!
Based on the old adage, "A woman's crowning glory is her hair", Her Crowning Glory is a romantic situation comedy featuring one of film's early comedic stars, John Bunny, who plays a rich widowed husband who hires a governess to help bring up his motherless young daughter. To the dismay of the daughter and his child's nurse, he falls in love with the otherwise unlikable long-haired governess, played by the scarecrow-like Flora Finch. The film's gentle comedic elements are found in the pranks that the nurse and daughter employ to break up the happy loving couple.
Unheimliche Geschichten is an anthology of five short "Uncanny Stories" read by Death, the Devil and the Harlot who step out of three life sized paintings in an old bookstore after closing. Though really none of these tales are very frightening, Conrad Veidt's menacing looks and dramatic performances in each, undoubtedly helped him secure the role of Caesar in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920). Oswald's use of the anthology format may also be the earliest in the history of the horror genre of cinema.
The Monster is an early "Old Dark House" styled comedy which features a mad doctor whose oddball band of henchmen kidnap unsuspecting motorists who happen to be in the vicinity of the old sanitarium where he conducts his experiments to discover the secret of eternal life. Investigating the local disappearances is Johnny Goodlittle, a timid amateur detective, who provides much of the film's comic relief. Disappointingly, the film never really delivers a monster, nor does it make much use of Chaney's mildly frightening character (Klaus Ming March 2017).
Beggars of Life is a melodrama about a young woman who takes to a life on the run after the death of her abusive stepfather. Wanted by police, the girl (Brooks) disguised as a boy, comes to find herself riding the rails with a group of unlikely friends. Released in both sound and silent formats, and thought lost for many years, the silent version of Beggars is noteworthy not only for Brooks's appearance, but for its cinematography and on-location shoots, not to mention the alarmingly dangerous looking train sequences (Klaus Ming March 2017).
finds a delicate balance between parody and homage
Released less than a month before the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Shoulder Arms is an amazing First World War farce.
As part of the "Awkward Squad", Charlie finds himself in boot camp dreaming of action on the front lines. Dug in and longing for home, his character experiences the miserable conditions in the trenches while defeating the enemy with unusual tactics which include lobbing Limburger cheese and infiltrating German lines disguised as a tree.
This is a daring comedy in which Chaplin remarkably finds a balance between a parody of the events, and an homage to the soldiers who he was portraying.
An emotionally distressing exploration of artificial intelligence and notions of existence
Chappie is a satirical near-future science fiction drama about a damaged and discarded police robot who is reprogrammed to be self-aware. Abducted along with his creator, the robot begins his child-like existence with a group of South African crooks who name him Chappie and teach him how to be a gangster.
An emotionally distressing film, Chappie's betrayal by his "parents" is astonishingly effective, as is the film's exploration of a number of social and cultural themes, not the least of which is the concept of being an outsider.
Both Ninja and Yolandi's contributions as actors and musicians is substantial, if not mesmerizing. Blomkamp's ability to balance the film's action, comedy and drama along with his exploration of artificial intelligence and notions of existence is unsurpassed by other films in this genre.
Inexplicably disliked by many critics, Chappie is a severely under appreciated and misunderstood movie that should be considered one of the best of the year.
Space Station 76 is a parody of the science fiction film genre that draws much of its dark and subtle humour from its retro-futuristic surroundings and its ability to play with the cultural differences between the 1970s and the present day.
The film's plot is focused on the attempts of Jessica (Liv Tyler), a new crew member, and her attempts to fit in with station's terribly dysfunctional crew.
Though built on an intriguing premise, but concluding rather abruptly and with little resolution, Space Station 76 promises much, but never fully delivers.
Umshini Wam is an absurdly entertaining short film based on a song previously associated with the militaristic elements of the African National Congress during apartheid and currently appropriated by violent xenophobic elements of South African society.
As a film, Korine places Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of Die Antwoord into wheelchairs as a disabled couple dressed in one piece pyjamas who desire to be taken seriously as "gangsta" rappers. A cute and oddly sentimental, yet violent film, Umshini Wam appears to be a warped parody of recent violence perpetuated in the name of the song (Klaus Ming July 2015).
An ethically dubious, yet engrossing and surprisingly heartfelt documentary
Kumaré is an ethically dubious, yet engrossing and surprisingly heartfelt documentary about self-proclaimed yogis and their "spiritual" powers. In an effort to explore the legitimacy of these so-called spiritual leaders, Vikram Gandhi invents both his own philosophy: "finding the guru within", and a bearded character he names Kumaré which he plays with a fake Indian accent throughout the film. In successfully gaining a small group of dedicated followers, Kumaré unexpectedly becomes an integral part of the lives of the people who have found meaning in his "teachings". In attempting to extricate himself from his character in an unveiling that will expose the truth about his identity, filmmaker Vikram Gandhi reveals as much about himself as he does about human nature and people's willingness to follow others (Klaus Ming September 2015).
What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious mockumentary that gains "full access" to a secret New Zealand society who gather for the "The Unholy Masquerade". At the film's outset, we meet Viago, a fastidious vampire who introduces his fellow flatmates to discuss the challenges of their shared "living" arrangements. Among their issues is the fact that Deacon hasn't done the bloody dishes for five years. Much of the film's humour is understated and deals with the more mundane aspects of vampire life. Although there is little in the way of plot, the documentary format serves as ample basis for the many satirical gags that pay homage to almost every theme in the vampire genre (Klaus Ming March 2015).
Exploring the beauty and creativity which lies at the root of our humanity
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a wondrous documentary about the spectacular Upper Palaeolithic art of the Chauvet Cave of southern France. In depicting some of the earliest and most pristine cave art yet discovered, Herzog's 3D film provides a visual experience which captures the contours of the cave walls which the original artists used in the creation of their images. The documentary also provides a glimpse into Chauvet which otherwise could not be gained, owing to the fact that the cave is virtually closed to all but a few researchers as a means to maintain environmental conditions which have preserved these images. The film's score as well as Herzog's use of silence provide a hauntingly beautiful backdrop to Chauvet's images, and while some of Herzog's commentary is at times peculiar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a mesmerizing film which explores the beauty and creativity which lies at the root of our humanity (Klaus Ming August 2011).
Tabu might best be described as ethnographic-fiction which combines Robert J. Flaherty's documentary style with F.W. Murnau visual sensibilities. The result is one of the last great silent era films. The naturalistic setting is perfectly matched by the realistic acting of the non-traditional cast, the local Polynesian people. As a tragic love story, the plot is deceptively simple, yet it is unexpectedly engaging. Murnau's expressionist background continues to be expressed through his artful use of light and shadow. His decision not to use inter-titles to explain dialogue was perhaps the most fitting to the story and the setting, leaving the majority of the plot development to the actions of the characters and the work of the camera (Klaus Ming November 2008).
Set in post-war Tokyo, One Wonderful Sunday is a sentimental recounting of a day in the lives of a poor young couple who spend an eventful Sunday together wondering how they will ever be as happy as they once dreamt they would be before the war ruined their country. Throughout the day, the camera follows their mundane but increasingly desperate attempts to find an affordable apartment, to cheaply amuse themselves and to remain optimistic through it all. Despite the bleak reality of their situation, and the fact that all they have is each other, this seems enough to sustain them, and ultimately it is their heartfelt hopefulness which provides a glimmer of hope for their future together. As a reflection of post-war Japan, One Wonderful Sunday demonstrates of the power and importance of optimism in the country's eventual renewal and prosperity (Klaus Ming January 2011).
Interstellar is a visually stunning and superbly scored science fiction epic about the last days on earth and the astronauts who travel to a distant galaxy to find a home for what is left of humanity. With a challenging story that is monumental in scale, it is the personal motivations of the ship's pilot and his heartrending relationship with his daughter that provides the emotional glue which holds the film together. Their relationship is also the main plot device that carries humanity's fate and which is the basis of the film's emotional power. A beautiful blend of fiction, science and drama, Interstellar is an incredibly ambitious and intensely engaging film that is destined to be a future classic of the science fiction genre (Klaus Ming March 2015).
US 102m, Colour Director: Brett Wood; Cast: Jane Bass, Bryan Davis, Veronika Duerr, Sandra L. Hughes, Ted Manson, Daniel May, Rob Nixon, Lisa Paulsen, Daniel Pettrow, Rachel Sorsa
Named after Richard von Krafft-Ebing's infamous 1886 "medical text" of the same name, Psychopathia Sexualis is a documentary-style narrated period re-enactment based on hundreds of late nineteenth century case studies of sexual behaviour. Once considered authoritative, these clinical writings are interwoven into a number of vignettes which obliquely suggest that some of the doctors should have also looked at their motivations. Potentially more interesting than entertaining, this Victorian sexual history unfortunately lacks direction and an overall sense of purpose, and largely misses much of the real story – the treatment and mistreatment of the patients documented in these writings (Klaus Ming September 2013).
UK 52m Colour Director: Christopher Miles; Cast: Tim Brinton, Gregory Munroe, Carol Hazell, Shane Rimmer, Richard Marner
A fun mix of fact and mostly fiction, Alternative 3 was a hoax documentary that featured Tim Brinton, a well-known presenter on British television who lent the production a degree of credibility. Comparable to the War of the Worlds radio broadcast, Alternative 3 connected the UK "brain drain" to issues of global warming and NASA's Apollo missions to a global conspiracy to relocate earth's intelligentsia to Mars from a space station based on the Moon. In the history of space-based conspiracy theories, Alternative 3, followed by a 1978 novel of the same name, played an important role in the growth of conspiracy-based productions which have been popularized by films such as Capricorn One (1978), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon (2001) and Apollo 18 (2011) (Klaus Ming July 2013).
US 43m, B&W Director: Jack Smith; Cast: Francis Francine, Sheila Bick, Joel Markman, Mario Montez, Arnold Rockwood, Judith Malina, Marian Zazeela
Flaming Creatures is an often comedic sexually explicit experimental film which begins with an "advertisement" for lipstick which features close-ups of men and women applying lipstick adjacent male genitalia. Deemed "obscene" upon its release, Flaming Creatures is a surreal jumble of moving sexual images, often shot in close-up which serves to further confound the already sexually ambiguous participants, including a vampire in drag who rises from the coffin to the unlikely country vocal styling of Kitty Kallen and 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels". Irreverent and shocking, Flaming Creatures might be described as pop pornography, and along with the likes of Scorpio Rising (1964), inspired the films of Andy Warhol and John Waters (Klaus Ming July 2013).
A well-crafted low-budget movie that contains some unexpectedly good special effects
US 98m, Colour Director: Matthew Avant; Cast: Dave Potter, Jed Himel, Matthew Avant, Hal Maynor, Nathan Avant, Sarah Avant, Arte Richard
A documentary styled film that is reminiscent of Alternative 3 (1977), Lunopolis is a science fiction film surrounding the discovery of a time machine. The film maker's investigations lead them to a conspiracy involving a Scientology-like cult and their control over knowledge surrounding the settlement of the moon and time travel which is used to reshape earth's future by changing events in the past. An excellently scripted production, Lunopolis is a well-crafted low-budget movie that contains some unexpectedly good special effects, and opening and closing scenes which neatly bookend this entertaining film (Klaus Ming July 2013).