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last update 25.Sep.13
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The Crash Reel
dir Lucy Walker
scr Pedro Kos, Lucy Walker
prd Julian Cautherley, Lucy Walker
with Kevin Pearce, Shaun White, Pia Pearce, Simon Pearce, Adam Pearce, David Pearce, Andrew Pearce, Sarah Burke, Rory Bushfield, Jack Mitrani, Scotty Lago, Danny Davis
pearce release US 5.Jul.13,
UK 4.Oct.13
13/US HBO 1h47

The Crash Reel This documentary has an urgent kick as it explores safety issues in extreme sports. But what makes it utterly gripping is how it profiles one family dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury. In addition, it's a remarkable portrait of a gifted young man whose life changed in an instant.

Snowboarder Kevin Pearce was at the top of his sport when, less than three months before the 2010 Winter Olympics, he had a serious accident on a half-pipe in Utah. With serious damage to his brain and eyes, his survival was a miracle. And when his rehabilitation started to show results, all he could think about was getting back on the slopes. But his family, who carefully nursed him through the two-year ordeal, were terrified that he would die if he hurt himself again.

Filmmaker Walker assembles this with remarkable skill, bringing in home movie footage shot by Kevin and his childhood pals, including rival champion Shaun White. This lets us see not only the pivotal accident, but other potentially life-threatening crashes as well. These "Frends" and Kevin's family talk to the camera about their feelings before and after Kevin's accident. Including the realisation that Kevin's desire to snowboard again probably comes from his injured brain.

Operating on several levels, the film sometimes feels exhausting as it provides details about brain injuries, the Pearce family's close-knit approach to life, the Frends' love of pushing the extremes of a relatively new sport, and serious questions about how sports participants are protected and insured. These big issues make the film feel vitally important: the honest exploration of brain injury challenges sports officials to make changes.

But it's the personal story that wins us over, as Kevin is surrounded by these life-loving Frends and his powerfully involved family. Most emotive is the bond between Kevin and younger brother David, whose Downs Syndrome provides an intriguing connection between them. Their scenes together before and after Kevin's injury are powerfully moving and sometimes a little too intimate. But they add a quiet depth to the more viscerally exhilarating snowboard sequences and spectacular mountain scenery. And they're what we remember afterwards.

12 themes, language, violence
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dir-prd Stephen Finnigan
scr Stephen Hawking, Ben Bowie, Stephen Finnigan
with Stephen Hawking, Jane Hawking, Mary Hawking, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jim Carrey, Buzz Aldrin, Richard Branson, Sarah Hardenberg, Peter Guzzardi, Al Zuckerman, Kitty Ferguson, Niki Pidgeon
hawking release US Mar.13 sxsw,
UK 20.Sep.13
13/UK 1h26

edinburgh film fest
Hawking An autobiographical essay mixed with comments from friends, family and colleagues, this film takes a first-person trip through the life and work of the iconic physicist in his own words (with the help of two cowriters). It's involving, but the straightforward approach doesn't say much that we don't already know.

At 71 Hawking looks back on his life, starting with his birth into an intellectually stimulating family in Oxford. He's had a lifelong curiosity about the cosmos, and found school and university a bit easy. Then shortly after beginning his PhD studies at age 21 at Cambridge, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given three years to live. It didn't develop as quickly as expected, so he married his girlfriend Jane and continued his studies, having eureka moments that forever changed scientific understanding.

Hawking's narration is packed with snappy one-liners and pithy observations about science, culture and sex. He also reveals a lifelong yearning for recognition. This is vividly shown in his astonishing efforts to write a bestseller about the origin of the universe (A Brief History of Time), plus photos of him schmoozing with celebrities from Steven Spielberg to Barack Obama. We also get to see his hilarious appearance on The Simpsons, as well as a funny TV interview with Carrey.

Sometimes this adoration gets rather cloying, as there is scene after scene of people applauding him at appearances and pestering him for photos. There are also glowing comments from Aldrin and Branson, who has given Hawking a free ticket on his first Virgin Galactic space flight. On the other hand, many clips reveal the curious child still inside, such as footage of his zero-gravity flight and candid comments on the breakdowns of his two marriages.

In the end, this feels more like a personal chat than a biographical documentary. Hawking is clearly happy that he's part of the cultural zeitgeist, and the film leaves that fact hanging in the air without digging in to why he's made such an impact or how his work links with others in his field. The film concludes with Hawking's triumphant appearance at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics, a moment of sheer joy that reminds us that physical disability has nothing to do with who someone is or what they can achieve.

PG themes, language
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dir Daniel Gordon
scr Daniel Gordon, Nicholas Packer
prd Deirdre Fenton, Daniel Gordon
with Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Calvin Smith, Desai Williams, Dennis Mitchell, Robson da Silva, Ray Stewart, Angella Issajenko, Joe Douglas, Robert Voy, Tom Tellez
narr David Harewood
christie, johnson and lewis
release US 9.Oct.12,
UK 20.Sep.13
12/UK ESPN 1h20
9.79* This straightforward documentary takes a thorough approach to an intensely brief moment in sporting history (less than 10 seconds, as the title reminds us). And while it's too specific to resonate widely, the level of detail is fascinating.

The 100-meters final at the Seoul 1988 Olympics was hugely anticipated, with Canada's upstart Ben Johnson cementing his year-long lead over America's swaggering champ Carl Lewis. Then in the most prominent drugs scandal in Olympic history, Johnson was disqualified for using a banned substance. Denials and accusations of sabotage followed, as Johnson went from national hero to global shame. And over the next decade, most of the other participants in the race were also tainted with doping scandals.

The filmmakers interview all eight competitors - Johnson, Lewis, Christie (UK), Smith (US), Williams (Canada), Mitchell (US), da Silva (Brazil) and Stewart (Jamaica) - plus coaches, fellow competitors and drug-testing experts. So we get the remarkable stories of each runner merged with the history of drug use and testing in the sport. At the centre is an exploration of the riveting rivalry between the ambitious Johnson and the fame-seeking Lewis, whose career was also dogged by a suspicion of drug use.

Johnson talks honestly about his childhood in Jamaica and how he got into sport to escape racism as the only black kid in his Canadian school. Then as he began to compete, he felt it was unfair to compete against doped-up runners from Eastern Europe. With big money at stake, supplements allowed everyone to develop more quickly, although Smith and da Dilva preferred to work harder to achieve clean results. Drug testing didn't begin at the Olympics until 1984, and was still a new technology in 1988.

Comprehensive but simple and understated, this is a remarkable portrait of the unapologetic confidence that's required to compete at this level. It's intriguing to hear all eight finalists talk about their mindsets before, during and after the fateful race in Seoul. At times the film feels like a spy thriller, with suspicions and revelations. And it's also telling in light of more recent scandals like Lance Armstrong, especially when a doctor retests old samples and discovers all kinds of things that snuck through back then.

PG themes, language
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Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers
dir Havana Marking
prd Mike Lerner
with Mike, Lela, Mr Green, Novak, Lucky, Yan Glassey, Herve Conan, Milena Miletic, Awad Mustafa, Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Tomislav Benzon, Jasmin Topalusic, Daniel Vivian, Rob Kennedy
Smash & Grab release UK 27.Sep.13
13/UK BBC 1h28

east end film fest
Smash & Grab More like a slick thriller than a documentary, this film traces the rise of the world's most successful gang of diamond thieves using a remarkable range of interviews and never-seen footage. It's pacey and often exhilarating. And also strikingly timely.

The Pink Panthers have stolen more than $300 million worth of jewellery since 2000 without ever injuring anyone. While well-armed, they only use guns to scare their targets and commit their outrageously brazen robberies in under 30 seconds. This is a fiercely organised international gang of some 200 members, most of whom come from Montenegro and Serbia, where they're regarded with a sense of national pride. Detectives know these heists are just like an action movie, and have to remind people that these are actual bad guys with guns.

Director Marking adeptly assembles the film with an incredibly eye-catching range of footage from surveillance clips of cars ram-raiding jewellery stores to newsreel film and even tourism movies. But the main material comes from secret interviews with gang members, illustrated with snappy animation and revoiced by actors to narrate each smash-and-grab heist with striking details that are even more exciting than the movies.

We also hear from cops (Glassey in Geneva, Conan in Paris and Mazeina in Dubai) and journalists (including Miletic and Mustafa), but it's gang members like Mike, Mr Green and Novak who hold our attention as they talk about the all-important "kitten" (safe) and how "wherever they sell rich stuff, we can be there". Then there's Lela, who explains the specific role of women to look beautiful and have nerves of steel as they case the joints, figuring out who needs seducing to get the job done. And Mike comments that the byproduct of this career is crippling paranoia about being caught.

These personal details are fascinating, but the filmmakers don't stop there, digging into Yugoslavia's past to find the roots of this gang in European history, as Tito's contrived blending of some 20 ethnicities collapsed into hatred. And the subsequent genocide led to a global blockade that created a starving ghetto of people whose only recourse was crime. The Pink Panthers aren't exactly modern-day Robin Hoods, but this film's complex portrait is both thought-provoking and hugely entertaining.

12 themes, language, violence
17.Jun.13 eeff
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