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last update 29.Apr.15
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dir-prd Ron Mann
scr Len Blum
with Robert Altman, Kathryn Reed, Lily Tomlin, Elliott Gould, Sally Kellerman, Keith Carradine, James Caan, Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Lyle Lovett, Paul Thomas Anderson
altman release US 4.Nov.14,
UK 3.Apr.15
14/US Epix 1h36

london film festival
Altman This is more of an homage to filmmaker Robert Altman than a documentary, letting his family and friends explore what made him such an important force in cinema. Packed with terrific clips, home movies and footage shot behind the scenes of some of his greatest films, it shows how his movies continually forced Hollywood to reinvent itself.

Mann's documentary is peppered with Altman's actors defining the term "Altmanesque" as it relates to the man, not his work. It's an intriguing twist that forces viewers to unpick the filmmaker's singular use of improvisational ensemble casts, intertwined narratives and rebellious themes. These elements continually got Altman in trouble with the studios in his work on both films and television, and yet these are the things that make his work iconic. As notoriously demanding critic Pauline Kael once wrote about Altman, "He can make film fireworks out of next to nothing."

This is an unashamed love letter to Altman and his work, only briefly touching on criticism, commercial failures or controversies. For example, there's virtually nothing about his activism on anti-war issues or marijuana legalisation. And aside from some terrific scenes involving his sons (including footage they shot), there isn't much about his personal life, although it does include his heart transplant and death from leukaemia in 2006. The focus is instead on Altman's innovative filmmaking, which has had far-reaching impact on how films are shot, scored and how sound is recorded.

It also traces his life chronologically, from his Kansas City childhood to his early work directing industrial films. Moving to Hollywood, he moved between movies and television, developing his naturalistic use of overlapping dialog and political subtext. This style came into its own with MASH (1970), a Cannes and Oscar-winning comedy-drama that established him as a top filmmaker with a distinct voice. While moving through Altman's filmography, Mann packs the screen with superb clips, narrating the story using interview footage with Altman and his widow Reed.

Fans of Altman's films will love every moment. Not only does it offer fresh details about his life and his way of working, but its a powerfully nostalgic survey of a great filmmaker's legacy. Most intriguing is how putting his films together reveals a larger narrative about humanity from a refreshingly subversive perspective, constantly refusing to follow expectations and peeling back the veneer of propriety to show the earthy reality. And he did all of this with a mischievous wink.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Emperor’s New Clothes
dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Russell Brand
prd Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter, Michael Winterbottom
with Russell Brand, Richard Brooks, Geraint Anderson, Paul Mason, John Hilary, John Christensen, Andrew Craig, Richard Murphy, Richard Rahn, Greg Smith, Bill De Blasio, Lord Heseltine
brand release UK 24.Apr.15,
US Apr.15 tff
15/UK StudioCanal 1h41

See also:
The Emperor's New Clothes Rap

by Cassetteboy
(from the closing credits)
The Emperor's New Clothes Thanks to Russell Brand, this pointed documentary has a raucously entertaining tone even as it explores the seriously intense issue of income inequality. Amid the laughs, director Winterbottom offers a lucid exploration of exactly how we got here and what needs to happen now. It may get bogged down in numbers, but it still gets our blood boiling.

Brand starts by saying that there's nothing in this film that you don't already know, then puts generally accepted information into context with facts and figures. Using hilariously pointed wit and astute sarcasm, this is a strikingly simple approach that explains why the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the gap between them is growing to frankly insane proportions. But things can change, and history teaches us that they will.

The lively, fast-paced approach shows how even a child can understand how we got into this mess, chronicling how Reagan and Thatcher introduced an economic system they promised would trickle down from the wealthy to the workers. Only in the past 35 years that hasn't happened. Instead, "free market fundamentalism" has made the highest-earning 1 percent even more greedy and selfish, avoiding paying their fair share of taxes while claiming far more benefits from the government than the poor do. As a result, people struggle, towns fail and businesses collapse, but the rich get richer.

In 2008, collapsing banks received bailouts of £13 billion in the UK and $2.5 trillion in the US, and yet no one has faced the consequences of his or her criminal actions. Normal people saw life savings and pensions deliberately stolen, after which bank bosses have been paid some £100 billion in bonuses even though they claim to be losing money. And they earn up to 300 times what their employees get (compared to 10 times before Reagan-Thatcher came along).

Some bits don't work as well. There are too many clips of Brand trying to be Michael Moore and talk to a bank leader, and the numbers become a blur. But it's also packed with urgent details. Most intriguing is the comparison to the 1929 crash and how FDR solved the problem not through austerity (which takes money from the poor and gives it to the rich), but by taxing the wealthy to fund infrastructure projects that created jobs for people who spent their salaries in their communities and erased the deficit, leading to the most buoyant global economy in history until Reagan-Thatcher shifted profit-making to the wealthy in the 1980s.

Yes, it's that simple. And yes, this film is timed to the UK's upcoming general election, with the Tory Party promising to continue policies that will clearly strip the system dry, selling off badly needed public housing, strip-mining transport and the health service for private profits and blaming everything on immigration, which has nothing to do with what's happening. In other words, we are reverting to feudalism, forgetting that one of the basic human values we teach all children is sharing. And as long as corporate lobbyists run our government, we don't live in anything close to a democracy. But the people have the power to change this.

15 themes, language
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Lambert & Stamp
dir James D Cooper
prd James D Cooper, Douglas Graves, Loretta Harms
with Kit Lambert, Chris Stamp, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Terence Stamp, Richard Barnes, Heather Daltrey, John Hemming, Irish Jack, Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall, Bill Curbishley, Colin Jones
lambert and stamp
release US 3.Apr.15,
UK 15.May.15
14/US 1h57

sundance london film festival
Lambert & Stamp With a groovy visual style and a superb collection of interviews and archive footage, this documentary traces the career of The Who through the men who guided them, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. It's a lively and insightful film that sometimes gets lost in unnecessary sideroads but remains a fascinating exploration of both the 1960s music scene and how show business still works today.

After growing up in war-torn London, Chris was looking for a way to express himself when he met Kit in a cafe. They immediately clicked with their love of art, music, philosophy and cinema, and decided to find a band they could make a movie about. The High Numbers were perfect: not perky like the Beatles or thuggish like the Stones, but they kept their audience mesmerised. Rechristened The Who (a name they'd used before), the band spent years building a fanbase before their rock opera Tommy catapulted them into stardom.

It's fascinating to see how Lambert and Stamp developed The Who while following their own dream down each unexpected turn. This leads somewhat predictably to the excesses of fame, money, drugs and resentment. But filmmaker Cooper infuses the film with big personalities, editing in a clever mix of colour and black and white that makes maximum use of old photos and archive footage. It's lively and witty, recounting a strong narrative with terrific details and, best of all, very personal memories.

Most intriguing is the dynamic between them: Chris was working class, Kit was super posh (and gay at a time when it was illegal), but together they managed the band's music, look and stagecraft while encouraging the musicians to try new things and develop their art. Along with things like a guitar-smashing montage, the film reveals the complex behind-the-scenes relationships that helped them exploit Britain's class system.

As these relationships begin to collapse, the narrative falls into the standard messy cycles of arrogance, addiction and acrimony. But until then the film captures something strikingly original: Lambert and Stamp's ability to spot potential in a group of guys who were lost, then watch the trends and create a successful band through a combination of planning and accident. As Townshend notes, the most important thing he learned from them is that "you don't market to the audience, you market them". Indeed, even now he says he writes songs about "you, not me".

15 themes, language, nudity
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A Sinner in Mecca
4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr-prd Parvez Sharma
with Parvez Sharma
sharma release Can 29.Apr.15 hdff
15/India 1h20


See also:
A Jihad for Love (2008)

A Sinner in Mecca This bold documentary takes a rare inside look at Islam, following a true believer on his ritual pilgrimage to Mecca. But what makes the film extraordinary is that this man happens to be gay, and is concerned at what he sees as the perversion of his religion by fanatics who would kill him if they knew he was there. In addition to documenting it surreptitiously, he goes through an experience that's hugely moving for anyone who has ever struggled with issues of religion and sexuality.

After making the documentary A Jihad for Love, about homosexuality within Islam, filmmaker Parvez Sharma is on various hit lists. And he also feels the need to affirm his dedication to his faith. Through chats with gay men in Saudi Arabia who fear being beheaded for their sexuality, he yearns to prove that he can be a good Muslim and also be gay. So he decides to perform the hajj, leaving his husband Dan in New York and travelling to places non-Muslims aren't allowed to visit, with only his iPhone to document the trip.

As Sharma describes his personal crisis of faith, "Islam has always been a central part of my very being, but it would condemn my marriage." Filmed guerrilla style, his hajj is a series of journeys as a spiritual act to cleanse his sins. Despite being closed to non-Muslims for 1400 years, Mecca is one of the most-visited destinations on earth, as millions migrate there every year to circle the Kaaba, the heart of Islam in the only place male and female Muslims can worship equally.

In addition, Sharma travels home to India to make peace with his own personal history, including a troubled relationship with his disapproving mother that wasn't resolved at the time of her death. Along the way, Sharma makes witty observations that are warm and honest, intriguingly highlighting the contrasts between his free, open life in America, prejudice in India and oppression in Saudi Arabia. He also explores Sunni, Shia and Sufi factions of Islam, and points out how the Wahhabi Saudis have commercialised the hajj by building a massive shopping mall right next to the Kaaba, complete with Starbucks.

Sharma's main point is that contemporary Islam is at war with itself, in need of reformation. "My Islam is about peace and redemption," he says, noting that fanatics have turned it into something Muhammad himself wouldn't recognise. "According to Islam all of us are sinners, so there must be a place for a sinner like me." This openly searching attitude is deeply resonant, and by combining it with such daring footage Sharma makes a powerful statement about the nature of religion.

15 themes, language, violence
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