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documentary | John McDonald

documentary

Twenty Feet from Stardom

November 23, 2013

One of the features of world cinema over the past decade has been the resurgence of the feature-length documentary. Two outstanding new examples are getting theatrical releases this week: 20 Feet From Stardom, which looks at the careers of some of the leading back-up singers in popular music; and Blackfish, which examines the lives of … More


Blackfish

November 23, 2013

Blackfish is the kind of documentary that picks up on an issue that will rarely have entered the consciousness of most people, and makes it a matter of urgency. The starting point is the death of Dawn Brancheau, an experienced trainer of Orcas (or “killer whales”) at SeaWorld, Florida. The agent of destruction was Tilikum, … More


The Act of Killing & Rush

October 5, 2013

There are limits to a social conscience. When a film has attracted every possible superlative it takes on the status of a must-see event, but after about ten minutes you know The Act of Killing will be both sickening and unforgettable. As one deadpan horror follows another in an interminable procession, many viewers will decide … More


I’m So Excited & Salinger

September 21, 2013

It’s slightly disturbing to be sitting on a airplane writing about I’m So Excited, set almost entirely on an airplane. It could’ve been worse. There are real life docu-dramas such as United 93, where one spends the whole movie waiting for the plane to thump into a field in Pennsylvania. I’m So Excited is a … More


We Steal Secrets, A Gun in Each Hand, Pacific Rim

July 13, 2013

If ever you had a sneaking feeling that Julian Assange was not the ultimate hero and martyr of our time, Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets will turn suspicion into certainty. The portrait of the WikiLeaks founder that emerges from this documentary reveals a man whose quest for truth has become an exercise in personal propaganda. … More


Hyde Park on Hudson & Silence in the House of God

March 30, 2013

Hard on the heels of Lincoln comes another movie about a great American President. But if Steven Spielberg seemed to be sending a message to Barack Obama about being steadfast and determined, it’s hard to know what Richard Michell is telling us about Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. Allowing for its Spielbergisms, … More


Amour & Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir

February 23, 2013

As a Valentine’s Day promotion this year, Madman Entertainment put together a package of eight DVD releases intended to take the “guesswork” out of finding a gift for one’s nearest and dearest. The selection was decidedly off-beat, including A Declaration of War, about a couple whose child has cancer; A Royal Affair – an historical … More


Anna Karenina & West of Memphis

February 16, 2013

William Faulkner, Nobel prize winning author and sometime Hollywood scriptwriter, was once asked to nominate the three greatest novels of all time. He replied: “Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina and Anna Karenina.” The problem with making a film adaptation of a literary masterpiece is that it is impossible to translate the complexity of the book into … More


Pitch Perfect & Love Story

December 8, 2012

There’s nothing more gruesome in the cinema than films that are “just good fun”, and Pitch Perfect is a textbook example. Even as I write this I can imagine readers thinking I’m a terrible old curmudgeon for not responding positively to a movie that aims to be nothing more than light entertainment. “What could be … More


Skyfall & Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

November 24, 2012

In his James Bond Dossier of 1965, Kingsley Amis wrote: “Not much mind is needed to notice that Bond’s adventures have been getting more fantastic all the time and some critics have actually done it.” After fifty years and some 23 features, it would be an understatement to say Bond’s cinematic adventures are getting more fantastic … More