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last update 24.Nov.12
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dir-scr-prd Caroline Rowland
with John Orozco, Heena Sidhu, David Rudisha, Majlinda Kelmendi, Qiu Bo, Laura Trott, Missy Franklin, Chad le Clos, Caroline Buchanan, Katie Taylor, Bruno Fratus, James Ellington
release UK 23.Nov.12
12/UK 1h49
First Being the official documentary of the London 2012 Games, there's never a question that this might be a gritty exploration of the Olympic experience. Earnest and relentlessly positive, the film focusses on first-time Olympians while letting us see them competing against their famous rivals.

In the months before the Games start, young Olympians talk about how they got into their sport and what competing in the Olympics has meant to them since they were children. Gymnast Orozco is in the USA, shooter Sidhu is in India, runner Rushida is in Kenya and judoka Kelmendi is in Kosovo. Then in London, these and other athletes talk about their road to the Olympics, the thrill of victory and, yes, the agony of defeat. All of them rise to the challenge of world-class competition, and some even go home with medals.

Oddly, the interviewees aren't identified on-screen, everyone is essentially saying the same thing: "I've been working for this all my life, am giving it all I have and want to enjoy it." Although some speak about past difficulties, none says anything terribly new about their preparations or the competition. Even so, it's nice to hear their first-person thoughts rather than the hyperbolic sports commentators. And the filmmakers add variety by talking to competitors from a range of nations and sports.

The footage is very slick, augmented by fluid editing, a surging score and lots of slow-motion, all of which relies on the audience being inspired by the Olympic rings shimmering at the bottom of the swimming pool or reflected in a cyclist's visor. There are also continual shots of astoundingly fit young people showing off their toned physiques. Interviews with the competitors, their friends and family are used mainly as voiceover, giving insight into their training and experiences.

Clearly, the film is too much of a PR exercise to tell us anything we didn't already know about the Olympics. The focus remains tight on these competitors, only lightly exploring the atmosphere in London. But the personal stories are involving, even if they're never as moving as we wish they'd be. The film's main value is as a memento of London 2012, and of course it'll be more important for the families of the featured Olympians as well as young people who are aiming at Rio 2016 and beyond.

U some themes
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Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel
dir P David Ebersole
scr P David Ebersole, Todd Hughes
prd Todd Hughes, Christina Soletti
with Patty Schemel, Courtney Love Cobain, Eric Erlandson, Melissa Auf der Maur, Larry Schemel, Terry Schemel, Joe Mama-Nitzberg, Sarah Vowell, Roddy Bottum, Nina Gordon, Kate Schellenbach, Gina Schock
schemel release US 13.Apr.12,
UK 16.Nov.12
11/US 1h43
Hit So Hard The drummer for the iconic rock band Hole is the focus of this energetic documentary, which is aimed at fans of the Seattle music scene. But this engaging, well-assembled film also tells a much more universal story about surviving addiction.

Hole has been referred to as "the ultimate dysfunctional family". Guitarist Eric Erlandson and vocalist Courtney Love formed the band in 1989, were introduced to drummer Patty Schemel by Kurt Cobain, and later recruited bassist Kristen Pfaff. Their journey to fame involved both huge creative energy and increasing drug use. Cobain's death in 1994 was a massive shock, prompting Patty to check into rehab: "I'm not ready to die yet!" Then two days after she returned home, Pfaff died of an overdose. Subsequent years were a rollercoaster of relapses and interventions.

Told from Schemel's perspective, the film centres on the band's exhaustive 1995 world tour, and the bandmates' antics are captured on home video that was mostly shot by Love. Filmmaker Ebersole intersperses this with present-day interviews, archival material and additional home movies of some private moments, most notably a sequence with Kurt, Courtney and their baby Frances. Along the way, Schemel's lively sense of humour infuses the film.

After being the life and soul of the party, Schemel left Hole following the troubled recording of their biggest album Celebrity Skin in 1997. She then disappeared into a drug abyss, and ended up attending rehab 11 times before becoming sober six years ago. Meanwhile, this fast-paced film also documents the Seattle grunge scene with rare performance footage and a witty closing credit exploration of female drummers through history.

Throughout the film, Schemel is remarkably open about her background, letting viewers see how years of addiction (she started using drugs at age 12) pushed everything else into the background, including her music and her love life. And she also talks openly about the difficulty of finding gay and lesbian role models as she was growing up, and the responsibility of being one for others. By surviving against the odds, she knows that maybe she can make a difference.

E strong themes, language, some nudity


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dir-prd Rob Curry, Anthony Fletcher
with Zephryn Taitte, Paris Campbell, Emily Wallis, Roy A Weise, Stef O'Driscoll, Charlotte Gallagher, Mitchell Bonsra, Jummi Bolaji, Afra Morris, Kieran Edwards, Nathan Wharton, Tom Kautill
release UK 2.Nov.12
12/UK 1h16
tempest Five years in the making, this film documents a clever, ambitious project to re-enact Shakespeare's well-worn The Tempest in the context of the 2011 riots. It's full of life and insight, but isn't very accessible to people unfamiliar with the project.

In South London, 17 acting students gather to workshop a new production of The Tempest. In between clips of rehearsals in the park and in a practice room, we meet actors such as 21-year-old Zephryn, who gives interviews as himself and as his character Prospero. These young people are interpreting the play by inhabiting the roles and making them relevant to their lives. And their energetic final performance is given for an audience of friends and family.

Instead of recounting events chronologically, the filmmakers use The Tempest as the narrative, weaving together interviews and scenes from the play, with the young cast blurring the lines between their lives and their characters. The improv-style dialog makes it tricky to tell whether the actor or character is speaking, but this does draw out the play's universal themes, which frankly could be applied to pretty much any situation on earth. This also means that both the production and the play's plot itself are mainly conveyed by actors talking and gossiping about what has happened, rather than acting it out.

All of this is punctuated with urban nature photography and mood-creating animated sequences. In an attempt to keep things clear, visuals shift between sun-drenched outdoor scenes, black and white rehearsals and the costumed final performance. Even with constant on-screen captions, it's too jumbled to make much sense, revealing neither the The Tempest's plot nor the production's progress. So we just enjoy the youthful energy and vivid photography, plus some sharply telling observations about British society.

The problem with this approach is that it removes any engagement for the viewer. The story becomes merely a tool for these young people to play with, while their own experiences are only recounted as asides. A few glimpses of their final production look intriguing, but perhaps this would have been much more effective as a TV series in which we watched the production take form as we got to know the actors more personally, so we could enjoy the loose energy of their performances.

12 themes, language, violence
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We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
dir-scr-prd Brian Knappenberger
with Mike Vitale, Mercedes Haefer, Brian Mettenbrink, Gregg Housh, Barrett Brown, Steven Levy, Ryan Singel, Adrien Chen, Tim Hwang, Peter Fein, Chris Wysopal, Gabriella Coleman
we are legion release US 19.Oct.12
12/US 1h34
we are legion Fast-paced and urgent but also rather geeky, this documentary keeps us entertained with skilful editing and a topic that links to several current headlines. Although while exploring web-based activism, filmmaker Knappenberger often gets lost in the technical details that make the campaigns so effective.

The Anonymous movement is an unstructured grassroots group of internet users who protest injustice by taking down major websites. Their primary target is anyone who tries to curb freedom of speech, so most of their action is aimed at overreaching organisations and governments. And for their troubles, these freedom-fighters are labelled by the US government as terrorists, which means that 19-year-olds like Haefer and Mettenbrink are brutally detained and questioned. But while some "hacktivists" are breaking laws, most are simply trying to protect the right to express opinions.

The rather unwieldy film recounts the history of hacking through computer nerds like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who uncovered technological ideas before striking it rich, to more current examples like Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks site was set up to let tax-payers see what their governments were doing. The Anonymous community traces its roots to 4chan, an anarchic, unfiltered site that publishes things deemed forbidden. Out of this grew a relationship-based group going after racists, bigots, oppressors and anyone who takes themselves too seriously. Like Scientology.

Knappenberger assembles this with an infectious sense of righteous outrage, cleverly using the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta as a symbol of how Anonymous has gone global. "How long has it been since we had a relevant protest of people standing up for a big cause?" asks Haefer, as she talks about hacktivists crashing PayPal and Mastercard for allowing donations to neo-Nazi groups but not WikiLeaks. Or how they unblocked censored websites in North Africa during the Arab Spring.

While the film may wear us down with too much surface information, it also acknowledges that causing chaos can sometimes cross legal and ethical lines. And it's fascinating to see how these passionate young people are making a vital point, standing up to oppressive corporations and authorities who are dismissing them as nutcases or harassing them as terrorists. But through ground-level movements like Occupy, they're the ones who are truly fighting for democracy and freedom.

15 themes, language, disturbing images
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall