Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hot Docs -- Reviews (May 4-6, 2012)

  Charles Bradley: Soul Of America

With North By Northeast this week about to take up all my time, I figured I finish up the last of my reviews from this year's Hot Docs:

Welcome to the Machine [ROM, May 4, 4:00 pm]

This was an interesting documentary interweaving director Avi Weider's own story of the premature birth of his newborn triplets and their subsequent dependence on a high-tech neonatal unit with commentary from various individuals and academics on the relationship between humans and technology. I don't know if the documentary so much seeks to answer the question whether technology is good or bad as much as it provides a forum for both sides of the argument to be presented. The documentary no doubt shows that technological developments have led to great advances in human history but at the same time, mostly through the words of the Unabomber's manifesto, presents technology as the source of many ills in society.

The Relationship Doctrine Of Don Blanquito [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 4, 7:00 pm]

I'm not sure of director Roger Nygard's premise with this short. Rio de Janeiro-based rapper Don Blanquito is by all accounts crude, misogynistic, and chauvinistic and this documentary short has him talking about his views on women, and relationships and having sex. You can't help but laugh at much of what Blanquito says but was it Nygard's intent that this be humourous for humour's sake or was this suppose to be ironic? I couldn't tell but in 7 minutes it was over anyway.

Sexy Baby [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 4, 7:00 pm]

Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus who met while working for newspaper The Miami Herald have crafted an interesting documentary in Sexy Baby. Three seemingly different females are presented - a 13 year-old Manhattan-nite going through that difficult parental phase, a retired porn star who now teaches pole-dancing and seeks to be a mother and wife, and a young adult female about to go through labiaplasty surgery as she feels it would boost her self-esteem. But as the documentary attempts to illustrate, there is a similarity between all three. The sexualization of females in the media and the prevalence of online porn have been contributory factors to sexual attitudes amongst females and as I view the documentary the sexual attitudes of the three females in this documentary have walked a fine line between exploitation and empowerment.

Radioman [Cumberland, May 5, 4:15 pm]

I don't recall if the documentary ever mentioned his real name, but to most he's only known as Radioman. Formerly a homeless alcoholic although eventually establishing housing [inheriting his deceased mother's house], he has been a fixture on NYC film sets for many years, been an extra in over 100 films and hobnobbed on film sets with many a celebrity. The documentary shows Radioman [known as such because of the radio that is always to be found tied around his neck] to be an unusual character - unkempt, loopy, filled with a bit of piss-and-vinegar, but at the same time intelligent and strangely charming. The documentary follows Radioman to Hollywood in his attempt to get into the Oscars, and his ultimate disappointment when he never makes it in, realizing that his privileged status within the NYC film-set industry won't cut it on the west coast. Back on the film sets of NYC is where Radioman finds his true happiness and calling. What's revealing about the documentary is Radioman's home life, capturing the life of a hoarder in movies and film memorabilia. The documentary shifts to a discussion of the passing of his mother many years ago and at this point I wonder whether underneath Radioman's unusual behaviour and his compulsion for film's and being part of New York City's film industry lies an anguished man. After the film, there was a Q & A with the directors who subsequently were able to get Radioman [who was back in NYC] on the telephone and one thing was for certain from that conversation - Radioman exudes true contentment and that was truly admirable.

I Beat Mike Tyson [Cumberland, May 5, 6:30 pm]

Every one has a story, and for boxer Kevin McBride it was that he beat Mike Tyson. But rather than that be the catalyst for acontinued and winning career, Mcbride never fulfilled that and may have to hang up the gloves. There's only so much beating one man can take. This 13-minute documentary short, tells McBride's story efficiently, almost poetically, and displays a loving husband and father who may have never had the might as much as other contenders in the boxing world, but did definitely have his heart in it.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America [Cumberland, May 5, 6:30 pm]

Brooklyn-ite Charles Bradley is the subject of this fine documentary. What's so intriguing about his story is how long his soul vocalist talents went un-nurtured. Yes, he'd been a fine James Brown impersonator under the name of "Black Elvis" playing some local establishments but it wasn't until New York City soul record label Daptones Records' Gabriel Roth discovered him that he got the opportunity to develop his talent for a wider audience. It's not a comprehensive biography of his life by any stretch but rather touches on milestones and painful episodes on his life which defined him as an individual while at the same time focusing on some of Bradley's live performances as well his home-coming show preparations for the release of his debut album "No Time For Dreaming" released through Dap-Tone Records. This is a gem of a story, and really it's just the beginning for Mr. Bradley. Here's to many more years.

Tchoupitoulas [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 5, 10:00 pm]

Directors, brothers Bill and Turner Ross follow three African American brothers as they venture into the night life of the French Quarter in New Orleans. With the ages of the brothers ranging from approximately 10-14 years old, the adult night life world they enter is a source of discovery and wonder. Seeing things they shouldn't be seeing and hearing things they shouldn't be hearing, it's a coming of age event enfolding in front of the camera. The youngest brother approaches the situation with more innocence as one might expect and when the boys miss the last ferry home, there's a heightened sense of anxiety from the youngest, extending their night mission to an all-nighter and making it a night they likely remember for the rest of their lives. I have no idea as to how the directors removed their liability had the boys been harmed during the filming (as apparently the boys had snuck out of their house for this) and while there were some slow moments during the film, this was a generally intriguing idea.

Planet of Snail [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 6, 2:00 pm]

The most poetic of all the documentaries I'd seen this year, director Seung-Jun Yi observes the life of an inspiring young Chinese couple, both with disabilities (the tall lanky husband who is deaf and blind, and his much shorter wife whose height is a result of a spinal deformity) as they navigate day-to-day tasks and obstacles which most of us take for granted, and as they lean on each for support, both physically and emotionally. The camera follows the couple with a non-intruding lens, observing the couple as well as individually during the most routine of tasks (changing a light bulb, eating) as well as during almost spiritual moments such as their afternoon walk during which the young man's experience of nature is both auditory and tactile. Theirs is an almost symbiotic relationship, and at times the issue of their relationship as one of convenience, rather than love is discussed. However as the documentary will reveal, this really is an extremely tender portrait of a couple who love each other and who want to take care of each other and experience life together.

Only The Young [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 6, 4:30 pm]

That a camera was present to catch the transformative summer that the three teenagers (the subjects of this documentary) experience was the most surprising element to me in this documentary. The camera captures life in a desert town, where there's not much to do, alternating it's focus between the friendship between two skater, punk-rock boys, Garrison and Kevin, and the friendship and on-again-off-again romance between Garrison and a girl named Skye. Garrison is the level-headed one between the two boys, and relatively more introverted than Kevin who's more spontaneous and a bit of a goofball. Skye is much like many young girls at her age, interested in boys but also with hopes of her own, looking forward to adulthood when she can hopefully leave the confines of her desert town. Emotional moments abound throughout the film, as the teens experience one last summer together with events in each of their lives that will lead to them parting ways. Literally in the making is their transition from the innocent facets of their youth (budding romances, skateboarding, punk rock music, dressing up for Halloween) to the unknown trappings of what their oncoming adulthood will bring. I was surprised by how comfortable each of them were in front of the camera, to the point I questioned how much direction they may have been taking from the characters, but that aside, this was a poignant coming of age tale. And on a musical note, the obscure soul songs that peppered the soundtrack were superb. Must find the names of those songs.

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