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The Human Side of Drone Warfare

National Bird (2016), Produced and Directed by Sonia Kennebeck— What happens to humanity when you take the humanity out of warfare? The documentary, National Bird, which opens in theaters in New York and around the country on Veterans Day, November 11, addresses this question head on. The official argument would have us believe, that at least in the US, humanity benefits. Our servicemen and women conduct war safely, here at home, playing with cool technology that negates injury and losses. But, as with any adoption of a new technology, the planned effects may differ drastically from the actual outcome. National Bird offers us an opportunity to see this war through the eyes of both the operators and their victims. The film … [Read more...]

Crypto Nazi vs Queer

Best of Enemies, (2015), Directed by Morgan Neville Robert Gordo, Magnolia Pictures — One of the most consequential U.S. elections is only days away. Finally. The past eighteen months have seen constant bickering and insults from the two front-runners, "oppo research" and dirty tricks orchestrated by their campaign teams and an endless stream of threats, leaks, ugly invective and sexual allegations. Instead of a polite exchange of ideas and policies, non-stop "mud-slinging" has clogged cable news networks; as voting day draws near, only the candidates' foibles and flaws are highlighted. People around the world remain perplexed by America's staggering expenditure in electing a president—a billion dollars, per race, … [Read more...]

Heavy Traffic on The Royal Road

The Royal Road (2016), Written and Directed by Jeni Olson, Wolf Video — The Royal Road is a curious sort of documentary by filmmaker Jenni Olson.  She gives us a lot to see and think about--perhaps two or three elements too many—in just over an hour. Her smart art film is a loving look at San Francisco and Los Angeles with a smattering of U.S. and California history. There are musings about remembered times and places, unrequited romances, a meditation on nostalgia and the internal monologues of a modern Lesbian woman longing for love. Olson is the writer, producer and director as well as voice-over narrator of this ambitious work. But equal credit should be given to her cinematographer, Sophie … [Read more...]

The Godfather of the Media Hoax

Joey Skaggs, Art of the Prank, directed by Andrea Marini — Credit: Relight Films LLC At the NYC premiere screening of the movie Art of the Prank, media satirist Joey Skaggs, the movie's subject and protagonist, pulled a prank. The movie screen went blank and the projectionist claimed that the disc was blank. Nobody fell for it. Unlike the mainstream media and much of the rest of the world, too many us in the 500+ audience at the SVA Theatre were already fans of the man who brought us the Cathouse for Dogs, Dog Meat Soup, Comacocoon vacations, The Fat Squad diet commandos, Baba Wa Simba, the roar therapist and Maqdananda the psychic attorney; all news stories, none true. A rarity in any day and age, Joey Skaggs has succeeded in … [Read more...]

3 Cards on a Box Top and the Politics of the Repellent

Shame in the New Gilded Age Part 2 — At Boston Court in June of 2015, Steven Leigh Morris of the LA Weekly, along with his colleague Luis Reyes and theater artist Mark Seldis suffered through a long afternoon of tech challenges in order to arrange, by satellite simulcast, the reading of new American theater texts by actors in Poland, and the reading of new Polish texts by American actors on the Pasadena stage. It was a while ago now and the technical aspects of the event dominate my memory, but I do recall being struck again and again by an interesting point of contrast between the Polish and the American actors. The gifted director Nancy Keystone, who staged one of the texts that day, captured that difference in a simple … [Read more...]

The Master Framer

A Week with Wim Wenders, March 2015 —   MoMA’s recent career retrospective of Wim Wenders—the iconic, modest, humorous, down-to-earth filmmaker with an uncanny knack for bringing magic to the ordinary aspects of life—screened 20 restored films and numerous shorts in sixteen days this March. The retrospective kicked off just weeks after Wenders was given the lifetime achievement award at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. In New York City for the screenings, speaking before and after each showing, the retrospective gave an eclectic set of followers the chance to see Wim Wenders' films in their rightful format, as well as hear from the man himself. I found myself surrounded nightly by a familiar set of faces, and … [Read more...]

A Score for Steamboat Bill

TCM's Classic Film Festival, History According to Hollywood, March 2015 Hollywood hosted the 6th annual TCM Classic Film Festival during the last week of March and fans could not have been happier. Nearly one hundred of the greatest movies ever made were screened at three original "cinema palaces": The Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, both built by flamboyant showman Sid Grauman in the 1920's; and the El Capitan, gorgeously restored over the last two decades by the Walt Disney Company. With multiple screenings in the same programming blocks, there was no way any patron could see more than a handful of the scheduled movies. This was my own inaugural season attending a TCM Fest, despite being a Hollywood native, a life-time worker in "the … [Read more...]

Cinema Outre

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), A Film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Newly Restored, Cinefamily, 2015 — Michael Powell, in 1939, after a decade spent writing, editing and learning everything cinematic, teamed with Hungarian writer Emeric Pressburger  in what would become surely the most inventive, original pairing of their time. For the next two decades, the partners co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed unique, visually striking films including The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and Peeping Tom. However, the collaboration considered by some critics to be their masterpiece was The Tales of Hoffmann. This dreamlike, Technicolor film of an operetta by Jacques Offenbach whose arias were lip-synched, … [Read more...]

Mr. Turner and Time

Mr. Turner, Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2014 — A windmill, a silvery river. From the right two women in peaked white Dutch caps walk into the frame, continuing on in a gentle diagonal along the river bank, talking together in intimate good-humored conversation. Is it sunrise or sunset? This is a question that will turn out to matter. They walk lower left out of the frame, revealing Turner behind them, a monolith, a stone of Stonehenge, on a rise. A Monolith Two girls return, a different pair, giggling together in complicit intimacy as they run up a flight of stairs. Turner has arrived! He strides through the rooms of a country estate, a good fellow at ease among his patrons, men who are as willing to debate the nature … [Read more...]

The Archaeology of Delusion

The Unknown Known (2014), Written and Directed by Errol Morris — Suppose I replace Moore's ‘I know’ with ‘I am of the unshakeable conviction’? -- Wittgenstein, On Certainty §86 Twenty-five hundred years of thinking about it and we are hardly closer to a definition of knowledge. We can't even decide whether it should be a noun or a verb, metaphysical or metabolic, particulate or discursive. But at least we know this: the worst thing you can do, maybe ever, is confuse knowing with believing, with certainty. According to Socrates, and Plato on Socrates via Vlastos, knowledge is something which, and only which, survives repeated testing in the process of elenctic inquiry. Me using you as a whetstone. True beliefs and certainties, in … [Read more...]