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last update 10.Nov.13
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Cutie and the Boxer
dir Zachary Heinzerling
prd Patrick Burns, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Zachary Heinzerling, Sierra Pettengill
with Noriko Shinohara, Ushio Shinohara, Alexander Kukai Shinohara, Ethan Cohen, Alexandra Munroe, Shuhei Yamatani
ushio and noriko shinohara release US 16.Aug.13,
UK 1.Nov.13
13/US 1h22

london film fest
Cutie and the Boxer While this documentary sets out to explore the colourful life of offbeat husband and wife New York artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, it finds its strongest resonance in its observations about marriage itself. It's fascinating to watch their creative processes, especially the long-overlooked Noriko. And their banter is amusing. But it's what holds these opposites together that gets under our skin.

Ushio has long been globally recognised, but his wife Noriko is only just emerging from his shadow. He treats her like his assistant, but she actually runs everything in their rambling New York loft. Her main artistic creation is the cartoon character Cutie, who like her arrived in America at 19 and met the 41-year-old Bullie, an oblivious artist who like Ushio creates his trademark paintings with boxing gloves. Cutie immediately got pregnant (cue a visit from their real son Alex) and gave up her artwork to keep the family afloat.

The title sequence is a striking single-take of Ushio creating one of his boxing paintings, and Heinzerling continues like a reality TV show, following this couple through some very personal aspects of their lives, which gives real insight into the way they work and interact. But the most telling details comes from Noriko's paintings, which are cleverly animated on-screen. There are also a lot of terrific archive footage.

Throughout this scruffy, entertaining film we eavesdrop on their conversations, which are hilariously spiky (including an argument about whether the young Spielberg was better than the older one). Now 80, Ushio's childish approach is thoroughly engaging, but we can see the stress it puts on the even-keeled Noriko, struggling to pay bills while putting up with his drunken antics and dismissive attitude. And yet we can see a tight bond between them.

This makes them fascinating to watch, especially as Noriko depicts the adventures of Cutie and Bullie for her first gallery show. She admits that Cutie is is better at taming Bullie than she is with Ushio, and both understand the urgent push of the creative temperament. As Ushio puts it: "Art is a demon that drags you along. You can't stop even if you want to." And they both see love as a force that attracts opposites and holds them together. So it's no surprise their joint show was called Love Is a Roarrr.

15 themes, language, some imagery
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dir Joey Figueroa, Zak Knutson
prd Joey Figueroa, Zak Knutson, Ken Plume
with John Milius, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Richard Dreyfuss, Charlie Sheen, Robert Zemeckis, Oliver Stone, Randal Kleiser, Bryan Singer, Ethan Milius, Amanda Milius
schwarzenegger and milius
release US Mar.13 sxsw,
UK 1.Nov.13
13/US 1h43

london film fest
Milius This biographical doc traces filmmaker John Milius' huge impact on cinema. A notorious figure whose real influence has often been behind the scenes, Milius is a raconteur who's clearly loved by his friends. And what emerges is the story of an unstoppable storyteller.

Milius is a man's man. Unable join the military due to asthma, he entered film school in the 1960s with a gang that included Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese. After writing Dirty Harry (uncredited) and other hits, he moved into directing. His crowning achievements are the screenplay for Apocalypse Now and his passion project Big Wednesday, which languished after being abandoned by the studio. And then there was Red Dawn, the controversial pro-gun teen fantasy that made him a pariah. Today, while recovering from a stroke, he's working on an epic about Genghis Khan.

Filmmakers Figueroa and Knutson open with Milius' admission that he's not interested in cinematic aesthetics: for him it's all about the story. And his style of filmmaking forever changed the movies, from creating Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Conan) to the iconic USS Indianapolis speech he wrote for Robert Shaw (in Jaws). This pacey documentary tells his story using interviews with key players in Milius' career plus a terrific range of film clips, archive footage and photos.

Packed with witty observations and connections to the bigger picture, this is a superbly detailed but utterly uncritical exploration of his character. Seen as risky for his right-wing views, he calls himself a "zen anarchist". And it's fascinating to see the contrast between this smiley big bear of a man and the gun-toting tough-guy bravado. He's also passionate about filmmaking, with an extraordinary grasp of dialog and plotting. So it's no wonder that he hates studio meddling so much.

In addition to a terrific profile of Milius, this is an eye-opening document about 1970s Hollywood, which discovered this group of young mavericks just as the studio system was fading. Together they created the blockbuster, and changed cinema completely with movies like The Godfather, Jaws, Taxi Driver, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian. Specifically, Milius was willing to make society uncomfortable simply by refusing to play it safe. And he's not finished yet.

15 themes, language
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Pandora’s Promise
dir-scr-prd Robert Stone
with Stewart Brand, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger, Richard Rhodes, Charles Till, Len Koch, Helen Caldicott, Ted Nordhaus, James Inhofe
Pandora's Promise release US 7.Nov.13,
UK 15.Nov.13
13/US 1h27

Pandora's Promise This documentary could change the way you think about nuclear energy. But while the filmmakers and interviewees offer hope for the future, it's depressing that their movie probably won't make much of a difference in the way political interest and public paranoia are driving the planet to destruction. Just ask Al Gore.

Nuclear power has long been a target of left-wing protests and right-wing support. Which is ironic since the scientific truth is that a shift to nuclear energy is probably the only chance civilisation has to slow the ravages of manmade climate change. The science proves nuclear energy is the safest option, showing up the false claims about both meltdown danger and the perils of radiation leaks. More people have died producing solar energy than in the entire history of nuclear power. And the only adequate alternative is to continue burning coal and oil, which kills millions annually while destroying the environment.

Stone assembles this film with skill, mixing archive footage and beautifully photographed interviews with nuclear experts, activists and politicians. Although with this gang of experts, the movie has a tendency to drift into technical gobbledygook. It also only briefly mentions the fact that the oil companies are the ones who are responsible for much of the false information, stirring up an unfounded fear of nuclear fallout that has wrongly been accepted as fact.

Importantly, Stone carefully undermines of this paranoia, using facts to shoot down the three main arguments: (1) new reactors don't produce waste, they recycle it over and over; (2) new reactors can't actually melt down; and (3) the radioactivity around a nuclear plant is actually ten times less than than on a flight across the Atlantic. He also visits Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island to prove that, even after notorious incidents, radiation levels are far lower than we think.

So the big question is obvious: since we live in a world that needs to more than double energy production, why are we so reluctant to use the safest, cleanest option we have? Listening to these interviews, it's clear that nuclear energy is the only clean way forward, and yet the public perception remains exactly the opposite. And even though the film ends with the requisite glimmer of hope, it's been proven (see the Kyoto Protocol) that just having the facts isn't enough to get politicians and the media to speak the truth and take responsible action.

12 themes, language
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Seduced and Abandoned
dir-scr James Toback
prd Alec Baldwin, Michael Mailer, James Toback
with Alec Baldwin, James Toback, Ryan Gosling, Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Jessica Chastain, Berenice Bejo, Diane Kruger, James Caan, Neve Campbell
baldwin and toback release UK 8.Nov.13
13/US 1h40

Seduced and Abandoned Movie-lovers will adore this witty journey into the messy business of filmmaking. Packed with wit and intelligent observation, this cheeky documentary offers a telling glimpse behind the curtain. What we find isn't hugely surprising, but it makes us wonder about the future of cinema.

With a plan to make an Iraq-set riff on Last Tango in Paris, Baldwin and Toback head to the Cannes Film Festival to look for funding. They're immediately told that their film is worth about $5 million, about a third of what they were hoping for. So they consider finding a more marketable star than Campbell, talking to Chastain, Bejo and Kruger. They also consult with the maestro Bertolucci himself, plus various actors and financiers. But as they meet the money men, they begin to wonder if the film will ever get made.

Frankly, Last Tango in Tikrit sounds like a joke project, especially as Baldwin explains to prospective investors and costars that it involves explicit sexual content. And in their conversations, Toback considers shooting scenes in Russia and China to attract funding, and even rewriting the script so it takes place in America. Along the way, comments from billionaires are fascinating, as is input from various experts.

But the best thing here is the chance to watch big stars drop their guard to talk about the business they're in. Gosling turns out to be a terrific storyteller, with several marvellously recounted anecdotes including one of the best actor-audition stories ever. Chastain, Bejo, Kruger and Caan add telling insights from a acting point of view, while Scorsese, Coppola, Bertolucci and Polanski discuss challenges they've had along the way.

Yes, all of this is a feast for film fans, as we hear stories that have never been told, including an insiders' view of the Cannes Film Festival that may make you want to stay away (attending it once did that for me!). Although the glamorous history and old photos are pretty fabulous. There are several other big names who pop up, and everyone contributes to a running commentary on how difficult it has always been to make a movie. But it does seem to be worse now, with marketing taking precedence over artistic passion. Thankfully there are filmmakers like Toback who are willing to have some fun with it.

15 themes, language
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall