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Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...

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last update 18.Jul.12
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El Bulli: Cooking in Progress
dir Gereon Wetzel
prd Ingo Fliess
with Ferran Adria, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego, Aitor Lozano, Francois Chartier, Christian Rioux, Lluis Genaro, Andrea Correa, Mateo Casanas, Jesus Gonzalez, Lluis Garcia
castro release US 27.Jul.11,
Ger 15.Sep.11, UK 27.Jul.12
11/Germany 1h48
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress Molecular gastronomy is a dry topic for a fly-on-the-wall doc, as it's basically watching scientists experiment with edible chemicals for nearly two hours. And filmmaker Wetzel never explains what we're seeing, so it will help if you know something about El Bulli beforehand.

Long regarded as the world's most innovative restaurant, El Bulli is only open half of the year in an isolated Catalonia town, closing for the other six months while chef Adria and his team move to Barcelona to experiment with new recipes. The documentary opens with the team packing up the restaurant, then chemically playing around with colours, textures and flavours in their laboratory-style test kitchen. Adria and long-time collaborators Castro, Xatruch and Casanas have one simple goal: to push cuisine in new directions.

Oddly for a cooking documentary, the food isn't very appetising, although what they're doing with it is amazing. It's certainly artistically interesting, tiny portions with odd ingredients that make us wonder how they taste (it's impossible to guess). But since El Bulli is a vastly expensive restaurant in rural Spain that's impossible to get into, it's unlikely we'd ever get a chance to sample this food. Indeed, Adria closed El Bulli permanently in 2011 (he plans to reopen as a "creativity centre" in 2014).

There are moments of personality and humour along the way, such as when the chefs try to buy just five grapes in a local market. And debates about the impact of various ingredients are lively. About halfway into the film, the team returns to El Bulli for the season, which gives us a glimpse into the elaborate processes in the tightly run kitchen, in which Adria is revered with more than a little trepidation. When presented with a new dish, he's like a child who's nervous about trying a new vegetable.

Wetzel keeps the film sleek and clean, shooting mostly in close-ups of the faces of the immaculately groomed staff. There are moments when the experimentation and table service come together with bracing clarity, but mainly the film is a chance to experience an iconic moment in restaurant history as we wait for these principles to filter down to our everyday life. Which probably won't be in our lifetime.

12 themes, language
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I Am Bruce Lee
dir Pete McCormack
prd Derik Murray
with Bruce Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, Shannon Lee, Mickey Rourke, Gene LeBell, Gina Carano, Ed O'Neill, Kobe Bryant, Dan Inosanto, Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini, Richard Bustillo, Taboo
lee release US 9.Feb.12,
UK 20.Jul.12
12/US 1h34
I Am Bruce Lee Comprehensively documenting Bruce Lee's life, work and philosophy, this engaging doc is packed with terrific material, including extensive film clips. It's also relentlessly positive, interviewing only family, friends and people he inspired.

Born in San Francisco, Lee made more than 20 films as a child in Hong Kong and became a champion dancer. Facing racial and gang problems (he was a quarter German), he returned to America at 18, where taught martial arts and Chinese philosophy and fell in love with a student (Lee Cadwell). As a natural showman, TV producers cast him in The Green Hornet, but he hated being told what to do. Returning to Hong Kong, he was welcomed as a former child star and relaunched his film career on his own terms. He died at age 32 following a cerebral oedema.

This inability to let others dictate his fate is a recurring theme in Lee's life. One of his worst experiences was The Warrior, a TV show he developed that Hollywood executives refused to let him star in (they retitled it Kung Fu and cast non-Asian David Carradine in his role). He could never understand why race was such an issue for everyone, famously challenging Chinese martial arts experts to a throw-down to win the right to teach non-Asians.

This lively, fast-paced documentary has a knowing sense of humour that's never critical; even Lee's stubbornness and quick temper are seen as signs of a principled stand. Interviews bring out sharp personalities, exploring his influences and impact, such as how his blend of martial arts with boxing and fencing paved the way for today's mixed martial arts competitions. Although he always said what he did was combat, never sport.

Filmmaker McCormack puts the film clips into this context, revealing things we probably never noticed before. And we also see telling interviews with Lee himself, including a marvellous screen test when he was 24, plus home movies in which he trains the likes of Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris and Joe Louis. All of this combines to explore an unbeatable 135-pound man who exuded Elvis-style charisma and swagger and created a constantly evolving fighting "anti-style" (jeet kune do) that forever changed the way action movies are made.

15 themes, language, violence
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Revenge of the Electric Car
dir Chris Paine
scr PG Morgan, Chris Paine
prd Jessie Deeter, PG Morgan
narr Tim Robbins
with Bob Lutz, Elon Musk, Carlos Ghosn, Greg "Gadget" Abbott, Dan Neil, Danny DeVito, Jon Favreau, Anthony Kiedis, Adrian Grenier, Talulah Riley, Gavin Newsom, Arnold Schwarzenegger
gadget release US 21.Oct.11,
UK 20.Jul.12
11/US 1h30
See also:
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)
Revenge of the Electric Car Less thrilling than Paine's 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, this follow-up takes a more personal approach, focussing on four key people involved in developing mass-market cars that don't require petrol.

Over the last century, GM has made 400 million petrol-burning vehicles. They also created the EV1, the first modern electric car, but gave up on the idea, recalled and crushed them. As technology and commercial prospects improved, red-hot entrepreneur Musk launched Tesla, a high-end electric roadster. GM's car-guru Lutz responded with the Volt, a much-cheaper hybrid, while shark-like Nissan CEO Ghosn became determined to tap into a generation that won't even consider buying a fuel-burning car. Meanwhile, Gadget is quietly converting classic cars to electric engines.

The film centres on these four men, filling facts in with informative narration from Robbins and knowing commentary from journalist Neil. Old-school Lutz admits that the electrification of the car is a foregone conclusion, but idealistic pioneer Musk grew tired of waiting for corporations to get going. Modern-day businessman Ghosn aggressively leads the charge to the mass market, while Gadget is a feisty small-business owner doing everything his way. All four are forces of nature, battling against obstacles that make the usual questions (about pricey batteries and limited range) almost irrelevant.

Paine keeps things moving briskly, stirring in comments from high-profile celebrities, automotive executives and experts who speak with a blend of authority and earthy humour. The film's chronology includes the global financial meltdown, which has has a particular impact on the car industry, as well as more personal calamities, such as a devastating fire at Gadget's workshop and Musk's facing company problems in the middle of a divorce.

Along the way, Paine digresses unnecessarily into these men's personal lives and also tells the story of Preston Tucker, the last entrepreneur who tried to re-invent the car industry. More interesting is the question of why it's taken so long to break oil company control over the industry, especially after the EV1 debacle. As several interviewees say, this is only act two in the electric car saga: we still don't know what will happen next. But Paine's closing clips give us something to look forward to.

PG themes, language
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Searching for Sugar Man
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Malik Bendjelloul
prd Simon Chinn, Malik Bendjelloul
with Stephen Segerman, Sixto Rodriguez, Eva Rodriguez, Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, Clarence Avant, Mike Theodore, Dennis Coffey, Willem Moller, Rian Malan, Steve Rowland, Regan Rodriguez, Sandra Rodriguez-Kennedy
release UK/US 27.Jul.12,
Swe 24.Aug.12
12/Sweden 1h26

Searching for Sugar Man With a driving, twisty narrative, this documentary grabs hold with a thoroughly involving story that has a lot to say about the music industry and global culture. It also features vivid people whose lives and observations can't help but move us.

Cape Town record shop owner Stephen Segerman was nicknamed "Sugar Man" after his favourite song by early 1970s American folk singer Rodriguez. Since Rodriguez's two albums went unnoticed in the US, there's no information about the artist beyond conflicting rumours of his death. Segerman teams up with a journalist (Bartholomew-Strydom) to launch an international search, but no one has a clue. Even though Rodriguez was bigger than Elvis and the Rolling Stones in South Africa, providing a voice for the anti-establishment movement at a time when Apartheid was at its most brutal.

Swedish filmmaker Bendjelloul starts by following this crazy quest, which eventually results in the startling discovery that Rodriguez is still living in Detroit. But the story doesn't end there, documenting not only the decline of post-Motown record labels launched by pioneers like Avant, but also an economic and political reality that we rarely see on screen. But this isn't a political film: it's a personal journey with a hugely endearing pay-off.

What's most fascinating is the way the film highlights the huge cultural gap between South Africa and the rest of the world. Rodriguez's records flopped in America, despite great reviews and a relevant style that's like a punchier, more melodic Bob Dylan. But the South Africans took to his music because he sang about individual pain and freedom, and refusing to obey a corrupt system. Meanwhile, Rodriguez lived a tough life that's notable for its gritty integrity. So seeing him discovering his impact on the world is genuinely moving.

Bendjelloul assembles this without overstating the issues or sentimentalising the emotion. Even so, the stirs our righteous rage and makes our hearts leap. It's gorgeously shot to capture the natural beauty of each setting, from snowy run-down Detroit to the sun-baked Cape, punctuated by clever animation that adds texture and mood. Most intriguing is how it changes the way we see "failed" acts from reality shows like The X Factor. It should be mandatory viewing for all contestants.

12 themes, language, some violent images
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall