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last update 5.Jun.16
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Heart of a Dog
dir-scr Laurie Anderson
prd Laurie Anderson, Dan Janvey
with Laurie Anderson, Julian Schnabel, Dustin Defa, Jason Berg, Elisabeth Weiss, Pierre Riches, Evelyn Fleder, Paul Davidson, Margaret Hafitz, Elizabeth Wymer, Alex Kaufman, Sasha Grossman
anderson with lolabelle release US 21.Oct.15,
UK 20.May.16
15/US 1h15

Heart of a Dog By dedicating this film to her late husband Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson offers a strong hint about the nature of this kaleidoscopic, offbeat odyssey into memory, art, joy, death and grief. Anderson deploys her skills as a performance artist, using her voice and a wide array of imagery and sound to create a remarkably immersive experience, although it feels oddly disconnected.

Anderson narrates the film in a flatly amiable voice, talking about her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, who accompanied her when she moved from Manhattan to Northern California in search of some solitude. Their life is filled with hikes across the hills to the beach and more offbeat activities like visiting a dog-therapist or Lola's piano recitals. But eventually Lola becomes ill and dies. According to Tibetan ritual, Anderson takes 49 days to observe Lola's afterlife journey, pondering the meaning of life and death.

The film is a flurry of random-seeming sequences that are funny, silly, darkly introspective and sometimes deeply sad. Put together it's a remarkable journey into the deepest feelings of grief and longing for a lost loved one. The film is obviously centred on Lola, but Anderson is also subtextually expressing her deeper feelings about losing Reed. Woven into her thoughtful commentary are several terrific anecdotes, plus a hilarious collection of clips showing Lola's piano performances.

Visually, this is an artful collection of film, video, stills and animation. There's a wide variety of imagery, from the achingly beautiful to the darkly disturbing, as Anderson traverses through her range of emotions. Her voiceover sounds almost like a teacher reading a story to her very young students, sometimes touching on something annoyingly obvious or making an obtuse observation that clearly ought to mean something. There's also the heavy infusion of Tibetan philosophy, which sometimes feels a bit wistful or alien.

Fortunately, it's very easy to identify with the feelings Anderson expresses all the way through the film, while the imagery itself takes us on a voyage into our own repressed memories of how we have dealt with death and grief. But this is a cinematic poem that shouldn't be unpicked; it needs to wash over us, carrying us into our own emotional depth. Even if it often feels rather mannered and out of reach, Anderson's inventive, soulful little movie does this beautifully.

12 themes, language
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Street Dance Family
dir Debbie Shuter, Adam Tysoe
prd Debbie Shuter
with Tashan Muir, Jade Hackett, Evion Hackett, Jordan Shepherd, Keir Walsh, Max Newman, Bo Liston, Albie Lewington, Ethan Tysoe, Chaise Miller, Fiyon Gibson, Somoya Turgott
entity release UK 27.May.16
16/UK 1h28
Street Dance Family A rousing documentary about England's most successful youth dance crew, this film puts its focus on the backstage drama. Filmmakers Shuter and Tysoe have terrific access to rehearsals and families, which draws the audience into the lives of these bright young people as they battle a series of obstacles. And a sharper exploration of their dance routines would have brought the story home.

Entity is an acclaimed dance crew that found fame on Britain's Got Talent and now competes internationally. But leader Tashan Muir is frustrated at what he sees as blatant efforts to stall their progress through late rule changes by bigoted officials. The film follows Entity through 2014 as they triumph at the UK championship but are ruled out at the semifinal stage at the European competition in Italy. Even so, they quality for the World Championship in Germany and tenaciously face their rivals despite further setbacks.

Muir is a fascinating central figure: at just 27, he's the director, choreographer and papa bear for these lively young people, many of whom come from backgrounds that have involved bullying and violence. The boys have had to be especially resilient, ridiculed at school for wanting to dance. So it's no wonder Muir has such a chip on his shoulder, seeing oppression from every side. And the film vividly shows that his frustration is not unfounded. The challenges Entity faces genuinely feel unfair.

Filmmakers Shuter and Tysoe keep the focus on Tashan and a handful of dancers, never widening to look at the bigger picture, such as the source of this apparent prejudice. One British dance official shows his true colours in a shocking outburst, and one set of parents has an off-camera fallout, but these are never followed up with any sort of explanation, which is a problem since we're clearly only seeing a part of a larger story. Just a few scenes with people outside Entity's tight circle might have added some perspective.

Only one performance is shown in its entirety, over the final credits. Instead, the film focuses on the volunteer mothers who travel with their performing children. Their compelling journey is packed with seriously emotional highs and lows. But we want more of these talented, resilient young teens, who express themselves through dance in a way that's hugely moving. They may be scrappier than their slick competitors, but they're also far more honest and engaging. And they've only just begun to take the world by storm.

12 themes, language
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dir-prd Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
scr Eli B Despres, Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
with Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Sydney Leathers, Frances Weiner, Barbara Morgan, Amit Bagga, George McDonald, Maura Tracy, Andrew Noh
anthony and huma release US 20.May.16,
UK 8.Jul.16
16/US 1h36

Sundance film fest
Weiner This is a fascinating documentary about a politician who desperately wants to get past a scandal of his own making. And since we're talking about Anthony Weiner, filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have a seemingly endless supply of wickedly entertaining jokes to work with. Even as the filmmakers remain in fly-on-the-wall mode, the film snaps with energy and wit.

Of course, Congressman Weiner had one of the most public falls from grace imaginable when his sex-fuelled conversations with strangers on the internet were exposed across the news media. He weathered the storm as long as possible with his loyal wife Huma at his side, but ultimately resigned and returned home to Manhattan. A few years later he re-emerged as a candidate for New York mayor, and his lively people skills made him the front-runner until further revelations emerged about phone-sex between his internet alter-ego "Carlos Danger" and a woman (Leathers) in Las Vegas.

Weiner agreed to make this film to document the election, so this second wave of the scandal is caught on-camera as it happens. These scenes are often painful to watch, as the barely healed fissures in his marriage are rattled right in the public eye. It's clearly not the story Weiner intended for the filmmakers to capture, and yet he tenaciously weathers the storm, challenging his accusers and forging on with his doomed campaign before admitting that this story has become bigger than he is.

All of which makes this film far more important than it seems to be. Kriegman and Steinberg wisely stay in the background, merely observing the action (with one hilariously pointed exception). So what emerges is a bracing depiction of the media climate in America, in which the press and public leap to all kinds of judgments about people they think they know everything about. And in the middle, squirming to shift the focus back to his political ideals, Weiner is realising that he can't swim against this stream.

The filmmakers have remarkable access, including private scenes in the Weiners' home, crisis meetings with his campaign staff and backstage angles on his now notorious media appearances. What emerges is a man who would probably make a great mayor being swamped by his own quagmire. Oddly, the film never tries to get under Weiner's skin, sticking to his perspective even in a final interview sequence. But it's so telling about the political process that it leaves us amazed that anyone dares to run for office.

PG themes, language, innuendo
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Where to Invade Next
dir-scr Michael Moore
prd Michael Moore, Tia Lessin, Carl Deal
with Michael Moore, Amel Smaoui, Vigbis Finnbogadottir , Borut Pajor, Jon Gnarr, Rached Ghannouchi, Claudio Dominicali, Halla Tomasdottir, Krista Kiuru, Nuno Capaz, Valerie Rano, Tom Everhardt
release US 12.Feb.16,
UK 10.Jun.16
15/US 2h01

Where to Invade Next Michael Moore is back for another expertly assembled, entertaining documentary that makes a very serious point, this time about the damage the "American Way" is doing to the United States, and the truth about why countries Americans vilify are happier and more prosperous. Yet while this material is vitally important, it's clear that no one in America will ever try to change anything.

Moore begins by asking why the US has had decades of decline in education, employment and politics. So he invades countries to bring back keys to success. In Italy, companies happily to give employees eight weeks of paid holiday, boosting profitability with more reliable, healthier workers. In France, healthy school meals teach kids how to eat properly. In Finland, a revolutionary revamped education system has become the best in the world.

On to Slovenia, where there's no college debt, and to Germany where a thriving middle class earns a liveable wage with universal health care. Portugal has vastly improved its drug problem by focussing on dignity instead of punitive imprisonment. Norway designs prisons that result in a 20% recidivism rate (the US rate is 80%). Tunisia has a progressive approach to women's rights, while Iceland elected the world's first woman president in 1980, and is still the only country that has prosecuted its corrupt bankers.

Moore cleverly frames this with some 30 years of presidential rhetoric about dangers abroad, all while domestic decay grows. He's not saying that other countries are perfect, but that common sense care for your neighbour makes life better. Providing education and health care isn't socialism, it's good for productivity. And America pays much, much more for basic services, while people in every other Western countries get far more benefits.

This snappy, riveting film is packed with startling facts about the US that people in other countries find difficult to believe. Meanwhile, American media stresses paranoia and jingoism, leaving viewers ignorant about the truth. As Tunisian journalist Smaoui says, Americans need to use their power wisely and learn about what's really happening in the world, because just thinking you're the best and that you know everything simply won't work. Moore notes that drastic change doesn't have to be difficult: look at the Berlin Wall or Apartheid. And he concludes with a terrific final ironic kick: "You've always had the power to go back to Kansas."

15 themes, language, violence, drugs, brief nudity
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall