More Kubrick!

I’d gathered far more material than would reasonably fit in my previous post on Stanley Kubrick, so I’m including some of it in this follow-up. This is a grab bag of interviews, profiles, photos, clips and quotes to pick and choose from.

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A profile of Stanley Kubrick by Jeremy Bernstein in New Yorker magazine in 1966 can be accessed here.

Below is an interview with Kubrick conducted by Bernstein. The sound of Kubrick’s voice is very interesting to me. It lends a human dimension to all that’s been written about him and all the published photographs I’ve seen. Kubrick claimed to hate being interviewed, yet he clearly had no problem speaking at length.

Here is Kubrick at the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. This aired on Dutch television after his death in 1998.

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Much has been written about Stanley Kubrick over the years, many books and articles. I haven’t come close to reading everything, but books I’ve found useful include The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, edited by Jerome Agel and published in 1970, two years after the film opened. Michel Ciment’s Kubrick: The Definitive Edition (2001) is packed with interviews, photographs, and insightful analysis of all his films. Stanley Kubrick Interviews, edited by Gene Phillips, was published in 2001 by the University Press of Mississippi in their excellent series, Conversations with Filmmakers. Additionally, I’m currently half-way through Micheal Benson’s exceptional Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece (2018), which I mentioned in the previous post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here is a series of videos examining different aspects of Kubrick’s career.

Here is Ryan O’Neal speaking about Kubrick and Barry Lyndon.

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** Kubrick’s interest in science fiction predates 2001 by several years. Here’s a passage from Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey concerning Dr. Strangelove. There’s no way to know if this was seriously considered, but probably not. Regardless, it’s pretty funny.

Dr. Strangelove’s script had contained a sci-fi framing device until shortly before filming commenced in 1963. The film’s opening credits were supposed to start with “a weird, hydra-headed, furry creature” snarling at the camera under the opening title “A Macro-Galaxy-Meteor Picture.” After an effects shot in which the camera moved through stars, planets, and moons, a narrator evidently of alien origin was to have explained that the “ancient comedy” the audience was about to see had been “discovered at the bottom of a deep crevice in the Great Northern Desert by members of our Earth probe, Nimbus-II.” At the end, following the film’s crescendo of exploding hydrogen bombs, scrolling titles were to conclude by noting that “this quaint comedy of Galaxy pre-History” was “another in our series, The Dead Worlds of Antiquity.”

** Kubrick on voice-over narration (from Michel Ciment’s Kubrick book in an interview re: Barry Lyndon): “A voice-over spares you the cumbersome business of telling the necessary facts of the story through expositional dialogue scenes which can become very tiresome and frequently unconvincing… Voice-over, on the other hand, is a perfectly legitimate and economical way of conveying story information which does not need dramatic weight and which would otherwise be too bulky to dramatize.”

** I recently re-watched Jan Harlin’s documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, which came out in 2001, ironically enough. It’s very good and well worth seeing. I was especially struck by something Jack Nicholson says in it regarding Kubrick: “His movies are completely conscious.”

** Kubrick quoted in Vincent Lobrutto’s Stanley Kubrick: A Biography: “I don’t like to talk about 2001 too much because it’s essentially a non-verbal experience. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to the feelings than it does to the intellect. I think clearly there’s a problem with people who are not paying attention with their eyes. They’re listening. And they don’t get much from listening to this film. Those who won’t believe their eyes won’t be able to appreciate this film.”

I really like “not paying attention with their eyes.”

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The following radio interview seems to have been done after Barry Lyndon was released in 1975.

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Stanley Kubrick filmography and awards.

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Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), followed by Full Metal Jacket (1987) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

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Kubrick’s 1998 acceptance speech receiving DGA D.W. Griffith Award – with opening comments by Jack Nicholson

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Thanks for going on this ride with me and Stanley Kubrick. I hope you had a good time. – Ted Hicks

Posted in Books, Documentaries, Fiction, Film, Home Video, photography, Streaming, TV & Cable | 2 Comments

Stanley K Is in the House!

It feels like Stanley Kubrick has always been with us. He hasn’t gone anywhere. This is especially true of late. Through a Different Lens, an astonishing exhibit of his still photography for Look magazine in the late 1940s, is on display at the Museum of the City of New York. A revealing documentary titled Filmworker, about Leon Vitali’s life as Kubrick’s assistant, recently played here at the Metrograph theater. A new “unrestored” 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey is currently being shown at the Village East Cinema. A new book, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson, has just been published. For the true believers among us, this is all a gift.

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On display at this exhibit are selections of the thousands of photographs Stanley shot for Look magazine from 1946 to 1950. He was still in high school when he made his first sale. He’s 20 or 21 in the shot below, taken in 1949.

Here is a short film produced by the museum to promote the exhibit.

In the photographs, you can see Kubrick developing his eye, his way of seeing the world. You can also see how these photos inform the look of his early features, Killer’s Kiss (1955) and The Killing (1956). Below are some of the ones I shot at the museum earlier this month. Photos of photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photo below is especially evocative of the visual style of Killer’s Kiss. Note Robert Wise’s great noir boxing film The Set-Up on the theater marquee in the background.

It wasn’t all black-and-white, though. Stanley shot several covers for Look. The one below is a stunning example of what he could do in color.

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Here is an extremely interesting and well-done video about Kubrick’s time at Look and how he worked. It’s part of a series called The Kubrick Files, by a blogger named Cinema Tyler.

Also included in the exhibit is Kubrick’s first film, Day of the Fight, which he made in 1951. He financed it himself, confident he could sell it (which he did). Kubrick produced, directed, photographed, edited, and did sound, as well as being his own grip and setting up lighting. The music was by Gerald Fried, who would score Kubrick’s first four features, Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, and Paths of Glory. Two years earlier, Kubrick had shot a photo essay for Look of prize fighter Walter Cartier preparing for a boxing match. He later decided to use Cartier as the subject for a film. A page of the photo essay is below.

Here is Kubrick’s Day of the Fight, narrated by newsman Douglas Edwards.

Something I got a big kick out of was learning that the older photographers at Look watched out for Stanley, and formed a “Bringing Up Stanley” club. They could see the talent.

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Through a Different Lens will be at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue @ 103rd Street) through October 28th of this year. If you’re in New York during that time, this is not to be missed.

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Filmworker, Tony Zierra’s study of Leon Vitali and his life with Stanley Kubrick is a fascinating and often moving behind-the-scenes view of Kubrick at work and how it was for Vitali. Leon was an actor in film and television when he was cast as Lord Bullington in Barry Lyndon (1975). The experience of being in that film made Vitali want to work for Kubrick, which he ended up doing for over two decades until Stanley’s death in 1998. And beyond, actually, as he continues to be involved with the business and legacy of Stanley Kubrick.  Filmworker vividly shows how impossible it could be working as Kubrick’s right-hand man, constantly on call, expected to do any and everything. You get the feeling it was an all-consuming calling for Vitali, a kind of fulfillment. We learn nothing of his family beyond a few glimpses of his daughters, but that’s it. Vitali’s life begins and ends with Stanley, and that’s just fine with him (or so he says).

Here’s an interview with Vitali talking about Kubrick. This isn’t from Filmworker; it was done for DP/30’s Oral History of Hollywood series.

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Many of Kubrick’s films were poorly received, both critically and commercially, upon their initial release. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Barry Lyndon (1975) are probably the most prominent examples of this. The test of a film’s worth is how well it holds up over time. Once the dust has settled we can see what’s still standing. Both 2001 and Barry Lyndon are now regarded as masterpieces. Along with The Killing and Paths of Glory, they are my favorite Kubrick films. (I wrote previously on The Killing and Paths of Glory, which can be accessed here.) I remember seeing 2001 for the first time in 1968 at a Cinerama theater in Sacramento, California. I’ve seen it many times since then in different formats. Fifty years later 2001 is still being written about, talked about and seen by audiences. I saw it again last week, the new “unrestored” 70mm print. This was initiated and overseen by director Christopher Nolan, a firm believer in shooting and projecting films on celluloid film stock. Images and sounds on film tend to have greater texture and weight than they do in digital formats. As I understand it, the prints were made from new printing elements created from the original camera negative. Per Nolan, there were “no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits” in the making of these prints. He wants audiences to have the same experience seeing 2001 they would have had in 1968. Here’s a link to an interview with Nolan in Film Comment that speaks to the importance of this, as he sees it, in some detail. It’s well worth reading.

The opening of 2001 always makes me feel like something momentous is about to happen (and it is). It gets me every time.

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I’ve just begun reading Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece. You’d think the subject had been exhausted after 50 years of books, articles, and documentaries. I don’t claim to have read everything that’s been written about the film, but this one feels fresh. The book jacket boasts rave blurbs from no less than Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Peter Biskind, and others.

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There is a vast amount of material available online about Stanley Kubrick and his films. I’ve collected way too much to include in this post, so I’ll be doing a follow-up in a few days with other items I think are interesting. Stay tuned. In the meantime, just a moment… just a moment… – Ted Hicks

Posted in Art, Books, Documentaries, Film, Film posters, Home Video, Music, photography, Streaming, TV & Cable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Before the Wall Came Down: Polish Poster Variations

Until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. publicity materials for American films had been banned in Poland. During that time, Polish poster artists responded with clever, inventive interpretations that were often astonishing and even subversive. In some cases, I suspect the artist hadn’t actually seen the film being advertised, but was inspired by the title or some aspect to create something new. The IFC Center here in New York frequently shows a sampling of Polish film posters on screen before the feature, which is where I first started seeing them. Most of the posters in this post are for films from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. They reflect a variety of styles. Other than identifying the films, I’ve tried to let them speak for themselves.

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The poster at the left is for Un Chien Andalou, made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali in 1929. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is at right. I like the skull motif.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The original Godzilla (1954) at left, and Godzilla vs. Hedora (1971, aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster in the U.S.) at right. Both are dynamic and really pop. The Godzilla at left seems quite friendly, while the one at right seems to be doing a little dance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here are two from 1963, Cleopatra at left, and Irma la Douce at right. The Irma poster is quite beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Below is an in-your-face poster for Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970).

Below at left, Klute (1971), and at right, Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below: Cabaret (1972). This one is insane.

Chinatown (1974) at left below, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975 at right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day of the Jackal (1973) at left, Last Tango in Paris (1972) at right. Both are very clever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No problem identifying this one, but for the record, it’s Jaws (1975). Below this are two posters for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), one fairly literal and the other definitely surreal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taxi Driver (1976) at left, Apocalypse Now (1979) at right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The poster below for Raging Bull (1980) is amazing. Pow!

In a similar vein (so to speak), the poster below for Saving Private Ryan (1998), though done well after the Wall came down, is too viscerally striking not to include.

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Young Frankenstein (1974) at left, The Shining (1980) at right. Shelley Duvall’s hair reminds me of a nun’s habit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spartacus (1960) below left, Blue Velvet (1986) below right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Working Girl (1988) below left, Wall Street (1987) below right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The poster at left for Missing (1982) is very powerful. The one for Christine (1983) is  disturbing for some reason. Maybe I should check with Freud on this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve been gathering these posters for some time now, but I just stumbled across Rebel Without a Cause (1955) earlier today. It really knocked me out. I had to look at it more than once to sort it out.

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The following stressed out poster is for the little-seen, though quite excellent, Stormy Monday (1988). This poster is uncomfortably compelling. That neck!

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I’ll close with this quite literal poster for John Woo’s Face/Off from 1997. Like Saving Private Ryan, it was done after the Wall came down, but I think it’s too good not to include here.

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If you’d like to see more of these Polish film posters, they’re a Google-click away. This is just the tip of the iceberg. — Ted Hicks

Posted in Art, Film, Film posters | 4 Comments

On Set, Off Camera

Recently, while doing Google searches for posters and stills, I began running across shots of actors in off-camera moments during the making of a movie. There’s nothing particularly profound about any of these, but I think they’re fun to see, and occasionally unexpected. These are mostly from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, with a few from earlier and later years.

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Below are Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner on the set of Cast a Giant Shadow (1966).

A card game during the filming of The Magnificent Seven (1960). Left to right are Robert Vaughn (back to camera), Yul Brynner, Brad Dexter, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Below that is a shot presumably from the same card game, with Robert Vaughn raking it in next to Steve McQueen.

Below are McQueen and Vaughn between shots on The Magnificent Seven.

James Coburn, John Sturges (director), Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson on the set of The Great Escape (1963), followed by a shot of Sam Peckinpah (director), James Coburn, and Kris Kristofferson on the set of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).

In the shot below, Muhammad Ali visits the set of The Dirty Dozen (1967) and talks with Lee Marvin and Clint Walker.Below are Lee Marvin and Richard Burton while making The Klansman (1974). I really like this shot. They both appear quite relaxed, despite, or perhaps because of, reportedly consuming gallons of booze on a daily basis during the shoot.Here’s a shot of Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Richard Brooks (director), and Woody Strode while making The Professionals (1966).

Below, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune promoting Hell in the Pacific (1968).

Here is a great shot of director Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune during the making of Red Beard (1965). I like the way they’re sitting and the cigarette in Mifune’s hand. This is followed by a photo of Kurosawa being visited by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas during the production of Kagemusha (1980).

Here’s a shot of Roy Scheider and Steven Spielberg on the beach while filming Jaws (1975).

Below, Christopher Walken, director David Cronenberg, and Herbert Lom on the set of The Dead Zone (1983).

Nancy Allen, director Brian De Palma, and John Travolta killing time while making Blow Out (1981). Below that is an interesting shot of Martin Scorsese and De Palma, followed by a shot of Scorsese, Nick Nolte, and Robert Mitchum during Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear (1991).

Here are Robert Mitchum and director Charles Laughton discussing Night of the Hunter (1955). Below that is a shot of Mitchum and Charles Bronson on the set of Villa Rides (1968).

Here are Charleton Heston, Stephen Boyd, and director William Wyler on the huge chariot race set for Ben-Hur (1959), followed by a shot of Heston, Wyler, a visiting Kirk Douglas, and Jack Hawkins.Below, Heston talks with Sam Peckinpah while making Major Dundee (1965).

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Stanley Kubrick (director) and Ryan O’Neal making Barry Lyndon (1975).

Kubrick and Keir Dullea on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Below, Kirk Douglas and Kubrick while making Paths of Glory (1957).

Woody Strode, Kubrick, and Douglas in the arena for Spartacus (1960), followed by Charles McGraw, Kubrick, and Douglas in the gladiator quarters.

Below, Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas celebrate the first year of production of Spartacus.

Below, Joe Turkel, Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson in the bar for The Shining (1980).

I love this shot taken on The Shining, with Nicholson out of focus in the foreground and Kubrick in focus reflected in the mirror as he takes the photo.

And this shot of Nicholson and Kubrick, with Jack flashing his trademark killer smile.

Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell preparing a scene in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Below, George C. Scott plays chess with Kubrick on the set of Dr. Strangelove (1964).

At left, Tony Curtis and Kubrick during Spartacus; at right, Curtis and Marilyn Monroe while shooting Some Like It Hot (1959).

 

 

 

 

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Director George Stevens, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor on location for Giant (1956), followed by a great shot of Hudson and Taylor.

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Colin Clive, Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester take a break on the set of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), followed by Karloff being made up by Jack Pierce for Frankenstein (1931).

Karloff in costume, surrounded by fans (one presumes). I’m not sure when this would have been taken, but given the Monster’s appearance, I’d guess it was during The Bride of Frankenstein.

Here’s a great shot of Karloff on a tea break, out of costume, but made up as The Monster. Notice the dainty way he’s holding the cup.

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I’ll close with this shot of John Wayne, Angie Dickinson (with mile-long legs), and Dean Martin on the set of Rio Bravo (1959). I hope you’ve enjoyed this barrage of photos. — Ted Hicks

Posted in Film, Home Video, photography, TV & Cable | 13 Comments

Best TV & Cable Supplemental: “Better Things,” Interviews & More

Someone asked why I hadn’t included Better Things (FX) with my list of best TV & cable shows of 2017. Simple answer: I forgot! I shouldn’t have, because this is a terrific series. We didn’t start watching until the final episode of the first season, which hooked us for the second season. It’s funny in a very deadpan way, but the emotions are authentic and moving. Pamela Adlon stars as Sam Fox, a single mother raising three daughters in Los Angeles. Better Things was created by Adlon and Louis C.K. The series received a Peabody Award in April 2017, which stated “…the result of this searingly funny and beautiful show is an at-times raw examination of the vicissitudes of working motherhood, crackling with feminist verve and energy, that consistently cuts new ground.” (Since admitting last fall that sexual misconduct allegations against him were true, Louis C.K. is no longer involved with the show. In the meantime, FX has renewed Better Things for a third season.)

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For those who want to go a little deeper, here is a selection of interviews and articles concerning many of the titles from my Best TV & Cable post for 2017. — Ted Hicks

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The Americans (FX)

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Big Little Lies (HBO)

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Billions (Showtime)

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Bosch (Amazon Prime)

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The Crown (Netflix)

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Homeland (Showtime) The following clip is from the first episode of season 5. I just found it yesterday and was struck by how sharp and focused the show can be. Plus it has my favorite character in the spotlight, Peter Quinn (played by Rupert Friend).

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime)

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Mindhunter (Netflix) Here is an audio interview with David Fincher, followed by a link to an article about the series in Rolling Stone.

The Rolling Stone article can be accessed here.

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Silicon Valley (HBO)

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Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime)

A Rolling Stone article on Twin Peaks: The Return can be accessed here.

An article concerning David Lynch’s approach to violence can be accessed here.

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The Wizard of Lies (HBO)

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Posted in Books, Fiction, Film, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 3 Comments

What I Watched Last Year: Best TV & Cable 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mindhunter (Netflix). This is my absolute favorite of everything I watched last year. I’ve seen it twice so far. It’s strong stuff, and probably not for everyone. The production is impeccable. I knew I was hooked when Talking Heads’ “Pyscho Killer” kicked in at the end of the second episode (which was typical of the show’s sharp use of music throughout). David Fincher is an executive producer of the series, and from what I’ve read, he acted as showrunner as well. Besides directing the first two and the last two episodes, he was reportedly  involved in every aspect of the production, even on the episodes directed by others. Based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, this material is definitely perfect for someone like Fincher, whose past films have included Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007).

I think the following trailers are different enough to justify including both of them here.

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Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime) The original series, created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, quickly achieved iconic status. This is impressive when you consider that it aired in only two seasons from 1990 to 1991. Hardly seems possible it was that long ago. After some fits and starts, the new series finally arrived last summer, comprised of 18 episodes written by Lynch and Frost, all directed by Lynch. One thing you can say about David Lynch is that he frequently shows you stuff you haven’t seen before. Even when I was lost, when I didn’t understand what the hell was happening, I had to keep watching. Though I was tempted to stop during the eighth episode, the one with the atomic explosion that releases the Evil that has permeated the series from the beginning (maybe). But I stayed with it, and then felt like I’d really been pulled through something by the end of the hour. The original Twin Peaks starts out in a fairly normal place and then gets weirder and weirder. This one is out there right from the start. It forces you to try to make sense of what you’re seeing, even when it seems impenetrable. Lynch isn’t one to provide tidy answers. This can be frustrating, but I never doubted that he knew what he was doing. As Joseph Yanick aptly put it in his review of the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me Blu-ray release in the new issue of Cineaste, regarding the films of David Lynch, “…meaning may be opaque but the experience is worth the ride.” Indeed.

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The Crown (Netflix) We didn’t start watching The Crown until the second season had been released, but we quickly burned through both. I don’t recall seeing Claire Foy before, but she’s wonderful as Queen Elizabeth. It was a bit of a disconnect seeing Matt Smith as the frequently loathsome Prince Philip, since I’d gotten to know him as the title character in Doctor Who (2010-2013), which was another thing entirely. It’s a great series, thoroughly engrossing. The next season will have a different cast, with Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch and The Night Manager) replacing Claire Foy as Elizabeth.

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) This series, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, engaged us completely. Set in New York City in the late 1950s, the period detail and production design are perfect. Rachel Brosnahan plays Miriam “Midge” Maisel is a Jewish housewife who lives on the Upper West Side in apartment directly below her parents (the great Tony Shalhoub is her long-suffering father). Her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), is a business man who wants to be a standup comic. He performs at the Gaslight club in Greenwich Village, but it turns out that Midge is better at standup. In a nice touch, Midge is befriended by Lenny Bruce (played by Luke Kirby, who nails Bruce’s look and speech patterns). The Gaslight is more or less run by Susie Myerson, who reluctantly becomes Midge’s manager. The sarcastic Susie is wonderfully played by Alex Borstein. Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote or co-wrote six of the eight episodes. The writing is terrific. She previously wrote for Roseanne (1990-1994) and is probably best known for creating, writing and directing Gillmore Girls (2000-2007). Rachel Brosnahan, who we’d previously seen in House of Cards (2013-2015) and the underrated Manhattan (2014-2015), is great as Midge. We’re looking forward to season two, which begins production this month.

In the following clip, Susie gives Midge some advice on how to develop her act.

If you’d like to go deeper, here’s the complete first episode.

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Big Little Lies (HBO) Based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, this miniseries was created by David E. Kelley, who wrote every episode. Jean-Marc Vallée directed all of the episodes as well. As with Twin Peaks: The Return, having the same writer and director throughout ensures a unity of vision and purpose that’s difficult to attain otherwise. This was a class production all the way, especially in the casting. Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley have the lead roles, and they power the film. Alexander Skarsgård is frightening as Kidman’s abusive husband. Big Little Lies was very successful, both critically and with viewers. Production began this month on a second season, which will premiere next year. Everyone is returning, with Meryl Streep joining the cast. All it needs now is Tom Hanks.

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The Wizard of Lies (HBO) This excellent production was based on the book about Bernie Madoff written by Dianne B. Henriques. It was directed by Barry Levinson. Anyone who doubts that Robert De Niro can still act should see this. He’s amazing as Madoff. It’s an extraordinary performance. Michelle Pfeiffer is equally good in the less flashy role of Ruth Madoff.

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GLOW (Netflix) I realized only yesterday that I’d somehow left this show off my list. Not sure how that happened, because it’s really terrific and we liked it a lot. Based on Glorious Ladies of Wrestling, a syndicated women’s wrestling series that debuted in 1986, GLOW is a fictionalized version of how that show came to be. Alison Brie plays Ruth Wilder, an aspiring actress in Los Angeles who auditions for the show before realizing what it is, but eventually really gets into it. Marc Maron is great as Sam Sylvia, the director who’s trying to put the show together. He’s a hustler, sarcastic and verbally abusive, but his bark is worse than his bite, so to speak. He has a heart, though he’s loathe to admit it. GLOW is very funny, but more than that. It was renewed by Netflix for a second season of 10 episodes, which will probably premiere this June.

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The following titles are carry-overs from previous years.

 The Americans (FX) – The 6th & final season premieres 3/28/18. This truly excellent series comes to an end with this season. I’m especially looking forward to FBI agent Stan Beeman’s reaction when he realizes his next-door neighbors have been Russian agents all this time. At least I hope that happens.

Better Call Saul (AMC) – season 4 premieres 4/10/18. (Update: Season 4 will apparently not begin until sometime this September.) This Breaking Bad spin-off just gets better and better. Maybe this time around Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) will finally take the name Saul Goodman. I could only find short teaser trailers for the new season, but the season 3 trailer below gives a good sense of the series.

Billions (Showtime) – season 3 premieres 3/25/18.

Bosch (Amazon Prime) – season 4 premieres 4/13/18. This is a great series, one of my favorites. It’s especially nice seeing Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector, both veterans of The Wire, in this.

Fargo (FX) There’s no word yet on when the 4th season will be ready or what it will involve, but season 3 was great (though I still haven’t seen season 2, which I’ve heard is the best one so far).

Grantchester (PBS Masterpiece) From what I can find, a decision hasn’t yet been made on whether there will be a fourth season. I hope there is, because even though I didn’t think the third season was quite on the same level as the first two, it’s still a very good series. The interplay between James Norton as clergyman Sidney Chambers and Robson Green as Detective Inspector Geordie Keating is especially satisfying.

Homeland (Showtime) – season 7 premiered 2/11/18. The conflict is domestic this time around, though the most recent episode brought up the possibility of Russian interference in our politics and culture, so the show is making real-world connections. I hear season 8 will be the last. Homeland may not be quite as good as it once was, but it’s still compelling and we’re in for the whole ride. Though I miss Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn.

House of Cards (Netflix) — season 6 premiere TBA. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the departure of Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood. His counterpart in the original British series was assassinated, so I expect we’ll get something like that, though obviously off-screen. It’s been a good show with a great cast. I’m sure Robin Wright is more than capable of carrying on.

Humans (AMC) – season 3 premieres mid-to-late 2018.

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime) – did not air in 2017; season 4 began on 2/16/18.

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) – season 6 airdate TBA. Season 5 took place over the span of three days, picking up immediately after the end of season 4. It was brutal and intense. I don’t understand how this series could ever have been entered in the comedy category for the Golden Globes.

Silicon Valley (HBO) – season 5 premieres 3/25/18.

Veep (HBO) — 7th & final season delayed until 2019. Considering how absurd and bizarre the White House has been since the 2016 election, Veep seems almost like a documentary by comparison. It will be a challenge for the show to stay ahead of that curve. Whatever, we’ve loved it so far (the show, not the reality).

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Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS) — currently airing.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) — currently airing.

Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) — currently airing.

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The Vietnam War (PBS) — Directors: Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. Writer: Geoffrey C. Ward. I’m sorry to say that I’ve only seen the first episode so far, which is weird, since I’ve always had an intense fascination with this war. I felt like it was “my” war, though the closest I got was being stationed in northeast Thailand in 1969 while I was in the air force. But based on the first episode and Ken Burns’ track record, I’m including the series here. I intend to catch up on this soon.

All episodes are currently available on YouTube and Amazon.

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There are a lot of shows I haven’t seen yet that might otherwise be on this list, such as Stranger Things, Jessica Jones, Legion, Atlanta, and The Handmaid’s Tale. And these are just ones I know about. It’s not possible to see everything, but I do what I can. — Ted Hicks

Posted in Books, Documentaries, Fiction, Film, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 4 Comments

What I Saw Last Year: Best Documentaries 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s hard to single these out, but the five films above are my top picks of the fifteen titles on this list.

Note: I wrote on nine of these titles last July in “The Year So Far: Documentaries.” I’ve copied those entries here, with some revisions.

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78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (Alexandre O. Philippe, director)  As with Kent Jones’ excellent Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015), this film is for film buffs in general and Hitchcock fans in particular. 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene breaks down, in obsessive detail, one of the most iconic scenes in movies: the shower scene where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) gets brutally murdered. Everybody knows this scene even if they’ve never seen Psycho (1960) — if such a thing is possible. It’s embedded in a collective memory that transcends movies. As a followup to the glossy, user-friendly North by Northwest (1959), Psycho came as a big shock. This scene in particular was a hot jolt to what audiences had come to expect in a movie. As far as I know, killing off your ostensible heroine — especially one played by a Hollywood star — less than halfway through the story hadn’t been done before. It was very disorienting. The shower scene, which lasts 45 seconds, is made up of 78 camera set ups and 52 cuts. In 92 minutes, 78/52 looks at this scene and how it came to be from every possible angle. Thirty-nine directors, editors, sound engineers, authors and scholars weigh in with insights and trivia on the importance of the scene. Some of these people seem more justified in being in this documentary than others, but that doesn’t detract from the overall effect. I especially enjoyed learning that 27 varieties of melons were tested to find just the right sound of a knife tearing into human flesh. A cassavas was the winner. After seeing 78/52, I went home and watched a Blu-ray of Psycho. Had to do it.

 Abacas: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James, director)   Abacas Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank in New York City’s Chinatown, was the 2600th in size among U.S. banks, and was also the only financial institution criminally indicted in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown. The ensuing court case lasted five years and cost $10 million dollars, but it was a rare instance where the little guy wins. Steve James has had a long, distinguished career, with films such as Hoop Dreams (1994), Stevie (2002), and Life Itself (2014 — in which film critic Roger Ebert talks about his life with movies and the devastating illness that didn’t seem to slow him down much). James was also a producer, series editor, and segment director of the astounding multi-part television series The New Americans (2004). A strong sense of humanity and respect for his subjects is reflected in all of his films. Abacas: Small Enough to Jail is no exception.

 City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman, director)  Follows a number of citizen journalists who exhibit unbelievable courage in transmitting accounts of life in Raqqa, a Syrian city under ISIS domination. Their lives are at risk, even for those who have left Syria for other European countries. Seeing City of Ghosts made me realize I don’t have all that much to complain about in my life. This film makes a good companion piece to Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested’s Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis. 

 David Lynch: The Art Life (Jon Hguyen, Rick Barnes & Olivia Neergaard-Holm, directors)  I hadn’t known (or had forgotten) that David Lynch started out as a painter. Examples of his early work indicate a clear, if twisted, path to his films. The Art Life feels very intimate. We see Lynch in his home in the Hollywood Hills as he speaks in voice-over or directly to the camera about his early life as a painter and how he eventually segued into film. He’s very casual, yet quite precise. I loved listening to his voice and the way he expresses himself. The Art Life only takes us up to Eraserhead (1977),  but it provides a context for thinking about his subsequent work in film and television. If you have any interest in David Lynch, you have to see this, especially in light of his mind-blowing revival of Twin Peaks on Showtime. Trust me.

 Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, director)  My previous post on this film can be accessed here.

 Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, director)  Frederick Wiseman is one of the greatest American documentary filmmakers, living or dead. His recent films, which include At Berkeley (2013), National Gallery (2014), In Jackson Heights (2015), and Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, are as good as anything he’s ever done. He’s 88 and still producing great work. His films tend to be long; the titles just mentioned range from three to four hours each, with not a wasted minute among them. Starting with Titicut Follies (1967), Wiseman’s subjects have been social institutions. A glance at his filmography bears this out. Ex Libris is no exception. True to his style, there’s no narration, no one is identified with an on-screen title. He puts us in the middle of things and let’s us figure it out. Ex Libris is a must-see for anyone who loves books, libraries, and reading (our current president is obviously excused). We are taken to different library branches in the city, sit in on board meetings, attend events, and get an overall sense of how the organization operates. This includes a fascinating look at how books are sorted after being returned. Books in the stacks are but a small part of the NYPL today, which includes expanding educational and community outreach programs. A scene of seniors sitting in a circle who take turns getting up to dance nearly brought me to tears. It’s a wonderful film.

 Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR, directors)  Agnès Varda, an important figure in French cinema, has been making documentary and narrative features since 1955. Like Frederick Wiseman, she’s been at it a long time. She’ll be 90 this May, and shows no sign of slowing down. For Faces Places, she teamed up with a young French photographer/urban artist who goes by the name of JR. They travel the countryside taking very large format photos of people, which are then put on the sides of buildings, train cars, tanker trucks, and just about anything that has a large surface. Their relationship is simply wonderful, as are the people they meet along the way. Faces Places seems to engage everyone who sees it. It is life-affirming and filled with an optimistic spirit. Plus there’s the suspense of wondering if Agnès will ever persuade JR to remove the dark glasses he never takes off. Varda is amazing. I had an unexpected opportunity to meet her at a small press conference during last year’s annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series at Lincoln Center. She didn’t have a film in the series, but was in town and showed up apparently just to hang out. Before the press conference started, Varda came around to each of us in the front row to ask who we were and shake hands. It took me a moment to realize who she was. I was able to talk with her a bit afterwards. I feel this was all reflective of her open curiosity for everyone in the world around her. Faces Places is ample evidence of that.

Gilbert (Neil Berkeley, director)  Not so long ago I wouldn’t have had any interest in seeing a film about Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian I’d always found grating and annoying. Then in 2016, we saw a film about Holocaust humor called The Last Laugh, directed by Ferne Pearlstein. Gottfried was interviewed in the film, which gave me a totally different take on him. Several months after that, we attended a screening of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy at Film Forum that Gottfried was introducing. Again, I really liked the guy. A brief conversation with him in the lobby only reinforced that feeling. Last July, Gilbert was shown at the Traverse City Film Festival in Michiganwhere we were visiting friends and seeing movies. Gottfried, his wife Dara, and director Neil Berkeley were there for a Q&A after the screening. I loved Gilbert. Neil Berkeley had what seemed like unlimited access to Gilbert’s life at home and on tour. When he’s not “on,” Gilbert is very quiet, shy and thoughtful. He also has a few quirks. At one point, Dara pulls suitcases out from under their bed that are completely filled with all the shampoos, lotions, etc. that Gilbert obsessively takes from every hotel he stays in when on the road. There are hundreds of these items. It’s just a thing he does. The film has many clips, archival and current, of Gilbert performing in clubs and hotels. We learn how Gilbert and Dara met, and meet their two children (Gilbert Gottfried has kids!). Gilbert is an inside look at someone most people only know from his performing persona. He has an aggressive, profoundly profane style on stage that’s not to everyone’s liking. He clearly likes “crossing the line,” and has gotten into more than a little trouble for it, but I don’t think there’s a mean-spirited bone in his body. Now that I see him differently than I once did, I enjoy Gottfried immensely. Check him out on YouTube.

I didn’t realize until recently that Gilbert‘s director Neil Berkeley had also made Beauty Is Embarrassing (2012), a film that’s a total kick from start to finish. You can access what I wrote about it here.

The interview in the video below is preceded by the same trailer that’s above. After that, the interview itself begins.

 Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis (Sebastian Junger & Nick Quested, directors)  I hadn’t seen this truly powerful film until recently, after a friend urged me to watch it before finalizing this list. For someone as ignorant as I’ve been of what’s been going on over there, except in the most general sense, Hell on Earth is quite a wake-up call. This film puts us right in the middle of things, and provides context for the chaos. It’s largely a story of survival. We follow a Syrian family in a refugee camp in Turkey as they try to find a smuggler to take them to Greece. At one point the father and his kids are looking at videos they’d taken on their smart phone. “We are watching our memories,” he says. The al-Assad regime, along with Isis, has wrought a staggering toll on the people. An on-screen title states the following:

“More than half of the Syrian population has been displaced, and more than one million Syrian refugees live in Europe. To date, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have died during the civil war.”

Sebastian Junger narrates the film in voice-over. Near the end we hear this: “Any reasonable person would flee the kind of fighting that we’ve seen in Syria. They’d happily risk their lives to be smuggled across the border. They collect by the millions in neighboring countries, even living in squalid refugee camps. Eventually they’d make their way to the West to look for a better life for their children. People say, ‘Look, it’s not our problem.’ Okay, it’s not your problem, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be affected by it. You could say that you don’t actually care about human suffering, but the truth is that all violence and misery eventually affect the entire world. In that sense, there is no escaping the fact that we are all part of the human race. There is no escaping the fact that borders become irrelevant once people start dying and societies begin to collapse.”

This is heavy stuff. It’s not easy to watch because it really puts you up against it. Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis isn’t “entertaining,” but it is a great film. Everyone should see it.

Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance (Tomer Heymann, director)  I hadn’t heard of Ohad Naharin before seeing this film, but I definitely know about him now. His percussive choreography is incredibly exciting to see. He speaks eloquently in the film of his early life and how he came to be who he is. Mr. Gaga is powerful and often quite moving.

Obit (Vanessa Gould, director)  This fascinating film profiles several obituary writers at The New York Times and examines how they do what they do. The process is laid out from start to finish. We saw Obit at Film Forum last April on its opening day. I’d seen it the week before at a press screening, but I knew my wife Nancy, being a writer and editor, would love it. The director and two of the subjects in the film, Bruce Weber and Jeff Roth, were there for a Q&A after. This always adds a lot to anything you’ve just seen, and this was no exception. In the film, Bruce Weber is seen as he works throughout the day to finish an obit on time. Jeff Roth oversees the Times‘ morgue where thousands of clippings and photographs are archived, ready to be accessed as necessary. Roth is a live-wire presence in the film, and just as entertaining in person. Something I found especially interesting is that when a celebrity dies unexpectedly, such as Michael Jackson, and an obit hasn’t already been prepared in advance, as it normally is for luminaries of a certain age, the obit reporters have to work against the clock to artfully write the summation of a person’s life in a matter of hours.

Quest (Jonathan Olshefski, director)  We saw Quest last March at last year’s New Directors/New Films series and loved it. It’s a tremendously important social document. Jonathan Olshefski filmed the Rainey family in North Philadelphia over a ten-year period. The result is an intimate study of human beings through good times and bad. When we saw Quest, Olshefski went on stage after the screening and asked the Raineys to join him. It turned out the entire family had been sitting in the row directly in front of us. Considering the feeling the film generated for these people, this was quite a kick.

Here is a review of Quest from Slant Magazine, followed by an interview with the director at the Sundance Film Festival and another interview in Filmmaker Magazine that tell how the film came to be.

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (Linda Saffire & Adam Schlesinger, directors)  Just as I hadn’t been aware of Mr. Gaga‘s Ohad Naharin, I also knew nothing about Wendy Whelan until I started seeing trailers for this film, despite the fact that she had been the prima ballerina for the New York City Ballet for decades. She’s truly inspiring as the film follows her through a surgery that could end her career, and the challenges of transitioning from ballet to contemporary dance. As with some other films on this list, Restless Creature feels very intimate. Whelan is surprisingly open as she talks about her fears and anxieties. These are feelings we all experience to varying degrees. To hear someone who’s the best at what she does talking about this brings us closer to her.

 Spielberg (Susan Lacy, director)  Two and a half hours might seem long for a film about a movie director, but Steven Spielberg‘s career more than justifies it. He’s had an astonishing number of hits. Audiences have almost always embraced his films. Critics, I think, were more suspicious and skeptical of someone who kept quickly cranking out what seemed to be glossy entertainments. He more or less invented the modern blockbuster with Jaws (1975), then followed that with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). He strove for something more “serious” with The Color Purple (1985), and really got there with Schindler’s List (1993). It’s bizarre to think that he made that film the same year as Jurassic Park. Then came Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), and Lincoln (2012), with a lot of films in between. Spielberg gives an excellent sense of the immense impact he’s had on popular culture and the world of film. It’s hard to imagine the landscape without him. Spielberg makes me want to see the films again. His career isn’t close to over yet.

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (Barak Heymann & Tomer Heymann, directors)  What links many of the films here is a strong sense of humanity. This film has that in abundance. The Heymann Brothers are excellent filmmakers, as their earlier film on this list, Mr. Gaga, will attest. Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is a wonderful story of love, identity, and acceptance, but what really sets it apart is that the process of making the film influenced the outcome. If the Heymann brothers had not made this film, Saar Maoz’s story would not have gone the way it did. The title poses a question that engages us even before we know what it means in context. When we hear it asked in the film, it’s a punch to the heart.

Below are two trailers for the film. Even though there’s some overlap, I think they’re different enough to justify including them here.

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The following titles are available for streaming from Amazon:

Abacas: Small Enough to Jail

City of Ghosts

David Lynch: The Art Life

Dawson City: Frozen Time

Gilbert

Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of Isis

Obit

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

The following titles are available for streaming from Netflix:

Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?

Faces Places is still in theaters. As of this writing, it’s showing here in NYC at the Quad on West 13th Street.

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That’s all for now. Next up: Best TV & Cable for 2017 – Ted Hicks

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Posted in Documentaries, Film, Film posters, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 3 Comments