Documentary Review: Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)

Release Date: May 13th, 2011
Directed by: Craig McCall
Music by: Mark Sayer-Wade

Modus Operandi Films, UK Film Council, National Lottery, 86 Minutes

Review:

I was glad to find this documentary streaming on FilmStruck, a service which every film lover should already be subscribed to.

I have known of Jack Cardiff and his contributions to movies for years but never have I seen anything that talks about the man and really analyzes the great work he did behind the camera for decades.

He was a master of color, of style and became one of the most sought after cinematographers in motion picture history. He was an auteur in the same vein as the greatest directors who have their own distinct styles.

This documentary is done in a general biography style but it spends a lot of time focusing on all the important and trendsetting films that Cardiff was a part of. It also gave me some films that I had to add to my “must see” list.

The coolest thing about Cameraman is that it interviews Cardiff and lets him speak about his work and his experiences. It also showcases directors, actors and other artists who worked with or were influenced by Jack Cardiff.

For those truly interested in filmmaking, film history and film culture, this is a documentary that is definitely worth your time. It is well produced, finely presented and paints a glorious picture of the man’s contribution to the art that he loved.

Documentary Review: Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows (2007)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2007
Directed by: Kent Jones
Narrated by: Martin Scorsese, Elias Koteas

Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Entertainment, Sikelia Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing this on television a decade ago and it is where I really discovered who Val Lewton is and why his contribution to the film industry was so important.

When I was a kid, I discovered classic film early, as my mother and grandmother were both avid watchers of AMC, which at the time still stood for American Movie Classics. I also watched a lot of TCM, or Turner Classic Movies, when that cable network debuted. I got pulled in to old school horror, as I loved the Universal Monsters movies, Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe pictures and the movies put out by Hammer with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I didn’t quite experience Val Lewton’s body of work though, until years later.

My appreciation for all that other stuff, really gave me the foundation to appreciate and understand what Lewton was trying to do for RKO Radio Pictures. His mission was to run the B-movie unit for the studio, where he and the artists he brought in, would create films to rival what Universal was doing with all their successful Monster franchises.

I’m glad that I found this on television a decade ago and it was really fantastic revisiting it now, as it is streaming on FilmStruck.

It is produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese with Elias Koteas jumping in to narrate Val Lewton’s actual words.

It is a nice and quick documentary that covers a lot of ground and gives a good amount of time to each of Lewton’s pictures. It also gets into how his collaborations with Boris Karloff came to be and how Lewton initially didn’t want to work with Karloff but quickly grew to love the man’s work, as he helped contribute to these films, which were much more psychological and intelligent than the majority of Universal’s horror pictures.

Lewton created horror movies that had a noir style about them. In fact, his films sort of built a bridge between German Expressionist horror movies like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the film-noir movement of the 1940s.

If you love classic horror or film-noir and haven’t seen Lewton’s films, you need to. You should also check out this documentary, which is a great primer on the man and his work.

Documentary Review: Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light (2006)

Release Date: July 18th, 2006
Directed by: Gary Leva

Leva Filmworks, 68 Minutes

Review:

Right out of the gate, I’ve got to say that this is one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen on film-noir. There was one other good one that was either on TCM or AMC back in the 90s but I haven’t been able to track that one down. This is pretty damn thorough though.

For only being 68 minutes, Bringing Darkness to Light is incredibly comprehensive and covers a lot of ground.

This goes through the history of film-noir, especially on how it developed and came to be. It discusses its roots in German Expressionism and gets into why the cinematography was done in the style that became synonymous with noir.

It also covers some of the stars, directors and has a section discussing the music style used in these films. It also clears up a lot of misconceptions on noir, especially in regards to how people somehow associate jazz with noir, even though most of these movies didn’t feature brass instruments in their soundtracks.

The film has real legitimacy, simply for the fact that Eddie Muller, the “Czar of Noir”, is one of the people interviewed. It’s also pretty cool to see Henry Rollins in this, expressing his views on film-noir.

The best thing about this, at least for right now, is that it is streaming for free on YouTube. Stuff like this pops up from time to time but can get pulled down, if someone puts a copyright claim on it. Check it out, while you can. Assuming you’re a fan of film-noir. But if you weren’t, why would you have read this far?

Documentary Review: You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016)

Release Date: December 2nd, 2016
Directed by: Chris Griffiths
Music by: Lito Velasco

Dead Mouse Productions, 217 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Condensed version)

Review:

If you don’t like Fright Night, we can’t be friends. I mean, seriously, it’s a hell of a good time and was a much needed return to traditional monsters in a decade ruled by slasher films.

This long documentary covers everything you could ever want to know about Fright Night and it even goes into its mostly unappreciated sequel.

The coolest thing about this film and what I love about these modern documentaries about old horror franchises, is getting to revisit the cast and creators all these years later.

It may seem bizarre to have a documentary that is much longer than the subject matter it is discussing but a lot goes into filmmaking and this documentary doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. You get candid looks at the special effects, props making, creature makeup and how certain sequences were shot.

The interviews with the cast, the director and all the other key people were really the best part of this film though. It was especially cool seeing William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys in 2016. Geoffreys’ bits I liked because it showed the man himself and how different he is from the Evil Ed persona. He also discusses how he was apprehensive about performing certain aspects of the character.

Tom Holland, the director, discussed at length about how the whole project came to be, as well as shedding light on what lead him to it.

If you are a fan of the original Fright Night or you’re hardcore and love the whole franchise, this is certainly worth checking out.

Documentary Review: ESPN 30 For 30 – Soccer Stories – Short Films (2014)

Release Date: April 22nd, 2014 – May 6th, 2014 (run of six short episodes)
Directed by: various
Music by: various
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III (4 episodes)

ESPN Films, 6 Episodes, 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

ESPN returned with their 30 For 30 series this year. This season was strictly about soccer and saw two feature films and six half hour episodes dedicated to the sport. The first feature film Hillsborough is reviewed here. The second film White, Blue and White will be reviewed after I see it. This review here is for the series of six half hour-long episodes that were wedged between the two feature length bookends.

I thought that this series was really well done and covered a diverse set of stories even though they were all from within the soccer world.

There was an episode about Diego Maradona’s performance at the 1986 World Cup, which showed the superstar from every angle on and off the field. There was an episode about the Chilean military coup in the early 1970s and how it affected their national soccer team in the World Cup in 1974. Another episode dealt with a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland on fans of the Irish national team, which lead to a ceasefire by both opposing paramilitary groups involved in the long term conflict. Mané Garrincha, Brazil’s legend was featured in an episode that focused on his legendary status as well as his struggles. Brett Ratner directed an episode about the Jules Rimet Trophy and how it has an insane story that involves Nazis, crime and going missing. The last episode of the six short stories was about goalie Moacir Barbosa and how he went from being a Brazilian soccer hero to a pariah after he allowed a game-winning goal by Uruguay. That goal won Uruguay the World Cup in 1950.

Every chapter of this series was great. All were well shot, well edited and the subjects interviewed were compelling in every episode. Each director in this series made an interesting film. The varying degree of subjects kept it fresh and engaging. The only complaint I have of this series, is that each episode would have benefited more if they were each at least an hour in length or more. They did feel a bit rushed and too condensed.

Documentary Review: Hillsborough (2014)

Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Directed by: Daniel Gordon
Music by: Tim Atack, Joel Beckerman
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III

ESPN Films, BBC, 121 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hillsborough is a film that kicked off a new series of 30 For 30 on ESPN. It is the first part in the Soccer Stories run, which were released over the last few months in order to build for the World Cup, which itself just started a few hours ago. I plan on reviewing the whole series in its complete form but since this part stands out as a film, where the other parts are half hour episodes, I felt it deserving of its own review.

This film told the story of the Hillsborough disaster, which happened on April 15th, 1989 in Sheffield, England. For those who don’t know, this tragedy happened during a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and saw the death of 96 people who were crushed to death in the standing room only pens of the stadium. Following the tragedy, families of the victims have been seeking justice for decades but been denied it.

Hillsborough gives a pretty solid rundown of everything that happened leading up to the tragedy and everything that happened during and after, painting a very clear picture of what actually went down years after media spin and corruption tried to weave a different story.

The film was beautifully edited and presented, the interviews were conducted very well and I felt like the people involved, who had been victimized by this disaster were able to get some form of closure and peace by being able to be involved in this project while getting out their individual stories.

As a film, it was one of the best 30 For 30 chapters ever produced. It’s a definite must see for fans of the ongoing ESPN series or fans of real football (or soccer as we Americans call it).

Documentary Review: The Last Gladiators (2011)

Release Date: September 9th, 2011 (TIFF)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Music by: David Kahne

Locomotion Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

I just recently came across a hockey documentary on Netflix’s streaming service called The Last Gladiators. The film was about some of the biggest goons in the NHL during the 80s. The film covered several players but primarily focused on Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who mostly played for the Montreal Canadiens and won a Stanley Cup with them in 1986.

Nilan is one of the toughest guys to ever play the game and didn’t care if he was facing another tough guy or someone towering over him. He appeared to have no fear and was willing to scrap with anyone on the ice that got in his team’s way. He was a dominant enforcer and built up one hell of a reputation in an era where fighting wasn’t as controlled and stifled by the rules as it is now.

The director Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, does a pretty good job of painting a clear picture of hockey culture and the role of an enforcer that the uninitiated can follow. It starts like a highlight reel of classic fights while the backstory is laid out and finishes up with a tragic story that is still incomplete, leaving you with a sense of hope for the main attraction of the film, Chris Nilan.

I wouldn’t call this a great sports documentary but I would say that it was thoroughly engaging and did a proper job of showcasing goon culture respectfully. Especially in an era where more and more busybody know-it-all idiots are calling for a ban to fighting in hockey.