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last update 11.Mar.18
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dir-scr Alexandra Dean
prd Alexandra Dean, Katherine Drew, Adam Haggiag
with Diane Kruger, Robert Osborne, Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks
Denise Loder-DeLuca, Anthony Loder, James Loder, Nino Amareno, Tony Rothman, Stephen Michael Shearer, Charles Amirkhanian, Fleming Meeks
release UK 16.Mar.18
17/US 1h28
Bombshell Based around the discovery of a lost interview recorded on cassette tapes in 1990 when she was 76, this documentary traces the extraordinary journey of movie siren and brainy inventor Hedy Lamarr from her childhood in Austria to her reclusive old age in America. Filmmaker Dean assembles this beautifully, using Lamarr's own voice and a wealth of footage and stills.

Lamarr shared the screen with all of Hollywood's biggest stars as the most beautiful woman in movies. But she was always aware that no one took her seriously. "Any girl can look glamorous," she said famously. "All she has to do is stand still and look stupid." And now it emerges that Lamarr had a secret life of curiosity and scientific ambition, including a working friendship with Howard Hughes. She also came up with the idea that would lead to modern communications systems like wifi and bluetooth.

The main point here is that not only has she never received credit for her achievements, but she and her descendants were also robbed of the benefits. According to the filmmakers, the US government never paid her for her patent, which would amount to some $30bn today. And while Lamarr built the first ski resort in Aspen, it was stolen from her by a vindictive ex-husband. All of this unfolds in a lively narrative linked with voice recordings Lamarr made at age 76.

Along the way, the film traces her gadget-obsessed childhood in Austria, her naked on-screen romps in the early 1930s and her move to Hollywood. All the way, her beauty obscures people from seeing who she really is ("No one could get past my face"). The footage and stills are terrific, a comprehensive collection of materials that are beautifully assembled along with interviews with a wide range of friends, family and experts, who also trace her later years as a blur of addiction and plastic surgery.

There's also a timely reminder of the significant contribution this immigrant made to the US war effort (both through her inventions and selling war bonds) before being dismissed as an enemy alien. And when she stands up to this injustice, she is labelled as "difficult". So she was sidelined for decades before the truth came out. In recounting her story, this film is packed with emotional kicks. And it also carries an inspiring final message from Lamarr herself, reminding us that when the world treats us badly, we should give our best anyway.

12 themes, language, imagery
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The Ice King
dir-scr James Erskine
prd James Erskine, Victoria Gregory
with John Curry, Johnny Weir, Robin Cousins, Lorna Brown, Christa Fassi, Cathy Foulkes, Heinz Wirz, Meg Streeter Lauck, Rita Curry, Nathan Birch, Elva Corrie, Ed Mosler, Peter Martins
narr Freddie Fox
curry release UK 23.Feb.18
18/UK Dogwoof 1h39
The Ice King With a fascinating trove of archival footage, this documentary traces the life of John Curry, one of the first to combine dance with athleticism in competitive figure skating, winning the world championship and Olympic gold in 1976. His life story lacks the usual exaggerated cinematic moments, but it's a journey with real emotional resonance.

Like Billy Elliot, John grew up in working class Britain with a father who forbade him from indulging in his passion for dance. Then he discovered skating, which was acceptable because it's a sport. Then John reinvented it by mixing smooth ballet movements with athletic strength and precision. His goal was to win Olympic gold and prove his point, so after accomplishing that, he launched an ice-dancing troupe that travelled the globe, redefining sport, theatre and dance. John also never hid his sexuality, even at a time when being gay was illegal in England.

Filmmaker Erskine assembles this with a mix of new interviews, crisp new footage and a range of archival material that provides a rare look at Curry's life and work, including extended narrative clips taken from his TV interviews, as well as letters (voiced by Fox) written to his close friend Wirz. This helps us see beneath the sheen of his spectacular performances, which are often shown on blurry home video, the only known footage that exists. Why he didn't document his own work on film is never mentioned.

And there are other things that feel slightly skimmed over, including a couple of pivotal relationships that clearly had a huge impact on his life. But the film addresses his sexuality straight-on, from his outing in the 1960s by a German newspaper to his open discussion of his experience with Aids before his death at age 44 in 1994. This is a man who bravely confronted every expectation that was heaped on him personally, professionally and artistically. His life was never easy, for a variety of complex reasons, and he died far too soon.

Curry's profound impact is rarely acknowledged, but he brought a new sense of artistry to male figure skating and athleticism to dance that changed both disciplines. His elaborate stage shows, which triumphed both in the West End and on Broadway, are a glimpse of an artform that disappeared with him. Seeing them even in this grainy footage is exhilarating, as Curry's talent and passion shine through. This is an unusually moving documentary about a remarkable man.

12 themes, language
9 Jan.18

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Last Men Standing
dir-scr-prd Erin Brethauer, Tim Hussin
with Peter Greene, Jesus Guillen, Ganymede, Harry Breaux, Kevin VandenBergh, David Spiher, Ralph Turlow, Eileen Glutzer
Last Men Standing release US Jul.16 ofla,
UK Mar.17 flare
16/US 1h06

flare film fest
Last Men Standing As an exploration of the lives of long-term survivors of the Aids epidemic in San Francisco, this documentary has plenty of archival value. It recounts the stories of eight people with an unusual honesty, adding an emotional kick along the way. But the filmmakers focus on the past, which makes the film feel morose and relentlessly gloomy. It's as if these people are unable to look forward.

All seven of these men were diagnosed with HIV in the early 1980s and watched their friends and lovers die as they waited for their own demise. But here they are. For example, lively 61-year-old Peter is living with compassionate nurse Eileen, because he was evicted from his home due to his disability. At 57, Jesus has a spark of musical energy even though neuropathy makes it painful to walk. David and Ralph are a couple dealing with a cognitive condition that ended Ralph's career as a veterinarian and will eventually claim his life. And Kevin struggles to find a reason to keep living.

Filmmakers Brethauer and Hussin are simply chronicling these lives, rather than searching for deeper insight. As a result, the film indulges these men in their personal issues, letting them go off on sideroads and drift into nostalgia rather than analyse their experiences or comment on how they are looking at life moving ahead. This backward-facing approach is sometimes a chore to watch. It's as if these people are ghosts themselves, living without meaning in the present or purpose for the future.

That said, these men all have very important stories to tell, as does Eileen, representing the nurses who at the start of the epidemic understood the human side of the situation. For example, they refused to wear gloves, offering dying men dignity and compassion. And it's seriously important that each of these men are able to share their experiences and talk about losing their lovers and best friends until they were alone and still disabled by their illness.

The film is skilfully shot and edited, creating sombre rhythms that match the subject matter. There are a couple of fly-on-the-wall sequences that inject some badly needed real-life humour, and a climactic disco dance for the survivors that at gets them smiling and dancing. What's missing here is the other side of grief, the anger and determination to live meaningfully whatever time is left. Yes, there are terrible challenges, and much of the economic impact is deeply unfair, but a sense of hope would have made this film much more powerful.

12 themes, language
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Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things
dir-scr-prd Mark Kenneth Woods, Michael Yerxa
with Jack Anawak, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Allison Brewer, Maureen Doherty, Jerald Sabin, Suzanne Schwartz, Jesse Mike, Nuka Fennell, Michelle Zakrison, Kyla Gordon, Kieran B Drachenberg, Paul Okalik
Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things release Can Jun.16 io,
UK Mar.17 flare
16/Canada 1h11

flare film fest
Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things There's nothing particularly inventive or flashy about this simple little documentary, but the situation it depicts is riveting. Centred in an isolated community near the top of the world, the issues the film explores are relevant all over the world, with some big implications for nations still struggling with their response to sexuality in society. And the people who speak to the camera are articulate and compelling.

The location is Nunavut, the territory Canada set aside for its Inuit population. And the issue is the position of the LGBT community within the larger population. Problems date back to Catholic missionaries who brought European morality and changed nomadic tribesmen into townspeople. This included prohibiting plural marriages and labelling homosexuality a sin (the film's title refers to how pre-colonial Inuits referred to same-sex relationships). It's only in recent years that Allison and Maureen have launched a Pride celebration in the provincial capital Iqalit, which was tricky since this humble culture doesn't value pride.

Filmmakers Woods and Yerxa take a fairly loose approach to the narrative, interviewing a seemingly random array of residents and experts. What they find is fascinating, with a terrific selection of personal experiences and a sharp account of the impact of European colonisation on the Inuit population. What's missing is a sense of Inuit life before the Catholics and traders arrived. Even the concept expressed in the title is shared anecdotally. This is no doubt due to the fact that Inuit history is passed down orally, but surely there is some anthropological research that could inform and deepen these ideas.

What sets this film apart is the look at how Inuit culture was subsumed by foreign interlopers. Even so, it becomes a rather standard documentary about how difficult it is to be queer in a place that has a traditionally religious base. In other words, this is more about growing up in a Christian community than an Inuit one. So these stories will ring true to anyone with a rural or religious background, regardless of which faith it is.

That said, this is an important document about a specific place, especially as it chronicles the Pride movement in Iqalit. So while the film kind of sidesteps a proper definition of what sexuality meant in pre-colonial Inuit culture, it is a sharp exploration of the situation today, as a community tries to make sense of its own history. And that makes it worth a look.

15 themes, language

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