Title: Zion Release Date: August 10, 2018 Director: Floyd Russ Production Company: Netflix Summary/Review:
Zion Clark is a young man who was born without legs who finds his place as a wrestler in high school. It pretty much leans into the inspiration cliches of both movies about sports and movies about people with disabilities. Which is fine, it is well done for an 11-minute film. But I do wish it had been more educational. Like, tell us a little bit about wrestling and how Zion adapts his body type to competing in the sport.
Title: 1991: The Year Punk Broke Release Date: 24 December 1992 Director: Dave Markey Production Company: We Got Power Productions | Sonic Life Summary/Review:
This concert/tour film follows Sonic Youth along with Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball and The Ramones as they tour festivals in Ireland, England, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands in the end of August of 1991. This occured as the same time as the hard line coup against Gorbachev in the U.S.S.R and more personally right when I started my first year in college. While I was never a big fan of Sonic Youth (nor did I dislike them), they were at the vanguard of what was called “college rock” at the time and soon would be “alternative rock,” so this film is a time capsule of an exciting period in my life.
There’s a homemade feel to the documentary that seems appropriate to an ethos that was against “selling out.” The concert footage is quite good and I like the disorienting effect of editing together performances of the same songs from different shows. The montages of the artists and their colleagues goofing off around Europe are also entertaining. There is however an element of cringe to how people behave that reminds me how stupid we were back then. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth is particularly insufferable. On the other hand, while Sonic Youth may seem to represent the voice of my generation, while researching this movie I learned that mindblowing fact that the members of the band were born in the 1950s. They’re all Baby Boomers who are closer in age to my parents than they are to me! I guess they’re literally Sonic Youthful!
Welcome to Panorama of the Mountains! My name is Liam and I enjoy watching documentary movies. This month I will be reviewing 26 documentaries from A-to-Z!
Since it’s so hard to find things starting with the letter X, I typically go algebraic and use X to represent a number. But in this case I have a movie title that starts with the letter X but is also part of the Roman numeral for “15.”
Documentaries starting with the letter X that I have previously reviewed include:
Title: XV: Beyond the Tryline Release Date: December 5, 2016 Director: Pierre Deschamps Production Company: RWC Legacy Productions (main) | Finite Films | Documentree Films | Scampy Jones Media Summary/Review:
I know next to nothing about rugby other than that there are two codes – rugby union and rugby league – and fans are fiercely partisan about which code is better. This documentary takes place at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England where national rugby union teams representing twenty countries participated. Your typical sports documentary would feature highlights with interviews with players, coaches, journalists, and maybe some fans. This documentary is different as it explores the game of rugby with interviews with a referee, the medical staff, stadium volunteers, choirs performing the national anthems, the locker room logistics expert, a photographer, amateur rugby players and coaches, parents, and the groundskeeper at Twickenham Stadium (Keith Kent, the groundskeeper was my favorite). I still don’t know much about rugby, but I found the enthusiasm that all these people had for the sport to be infectious.
Over the past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to watch lots of movies considered to be among the best of all time. Now, for the first time, I’ve made my own list of favorite movies of all time. Every other Wednesday throughout 2022, I will be revealing ten movies in my list of 250 Favorite Movies of All Time.
Title: Brave Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson Year: 2012 When did I first watch this movie?: January 2019 Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Pixar Animation begins to blur the lines with Walt Disney Animation by doing a story about a princess. In this case Pixar’s usual warmth and humor with amazing attention to detail in animation illustrates a story of the relationship between a mother and daughter which even as recently as ten years ago felt like something we’d not seen in animated features before.
Title: Nine to Five Director: Colin Higgins Cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, Elizabeth Wilson, and Sterling Hayden Year: 1980 When did I first watch this movie?: Sometime in the mid-80s Why is this one of my all time favorites?: With the combined talents of Fonda, Tomlin, and Parton as the engine behind this office revenge fantasy, Nine to Five is also a statement of a real life movement for women in the workplace. Over four decades later it remains hilarious and sadly relevant.
Title: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Director: Leonard Nimoy Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Catherine Hicks Year: 1986 When did I first watch this movie?: When it was released in the theaters in 1986 Why is this one of my all time favorites?: In Star Trek lore this is the “funny one,” a time travel caper in which the crew of the Enterprise (traveling in a stolen Klingon ship) are fish out of water in present day San Francisco. But it also contains an important environmental message about saving other species on Earth if we want to save ourselves that remains sadly relevant today.
Title: Vertigo Director: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, and Henry Jones Year: 1958 When did I first watch this movie?: circa 1989 in a high school film studies class Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Some lists place Vertigo as the best movie of all time, which I find a bit too much since I don’t even think it’s the best Hitchcock film. Nevertheless it is a tense and compelling drama about obsession with stunning cinematography, a chilling score, and the most iconic San Francisco film of all time.
Title: Toy Story 3 Director: Lee Unkrich Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Jodi Benson, and John Morris Year: 2010 When did I first watch this movie?: When it was released in the theaters in 2010 Why is this one of my all time favorites?: It’s a stunning feet to make a movie as perfect as Toy Story and then 15 years later make a sequel that’s almost as perfect. This is a good movie to watch if you want a good cry.
Title: It Happened One Night Director: Frank Capra Cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Jameson Thomas, and Alan Hale Year: 1934 When did I first watch this movie?: Mid-to-late 1980s Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This movie is one of the earliest romantic comedies set on an interstate bus journey of an heiress seeking personal freedom and a journalist looking for a story. Hijinks ensue on a series of improbable adventures.
Title: Good Will Hunting Director: Gus Van Sant Cast: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård, and Minnie Driver Year: 1997 When did I first watch this movie?: 1998 Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Kicking off two decades of a “Boston Movies” fad in Hollywood, this movie avoids Irish mob cliches and instead focuses on town and gown issues through the story of a young prodigy from the poor part of town. This movie kickstarted the careers of Damon and Affleck, and features one of Robin Williams most affecting performances.
Title: Psycho Director: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, and Janet Leigh Year: 1960 When did I first watch this movie?: Early 1980s when I was too young to be watching movies like this Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Before the slasher film had even really been defined, Hitchcock upended the genre with a tawdry, low-budget movie that defied all audience expectations.
Title: The Crying Game Director: Neil Jordan Cast: Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson, and Forest Whitaker Year: 1992 When did I first watch this movie?: When it was released in the theaters in 1992 Why is this one of my all time favorites?: Like Psycho, The Crying Game is known for an unexpected twist part way through the film, but also transcends mere plot mechanitations for a story of human kindness set against The Troubles of Northern Ireland.
Title: High Fidelity Director: Stephen Frears Cast: John Cusack, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Joelle Carter, Joan Cusack, Sara Gilbert, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Lili Taylor, and Natasha Gregson Wagner Year: 2000 When did I first watch this movie?: When it was released in the theaters in 2000 Why is this one of my all time favorites?: This adaptation of a book by Nick Hornby transplants the story to the USA and features peak performances by Cusack and Black. It’s a story of how a man can know a lot about music but be clueless about women and pulls no punches in allowing its protagonist to be a real jerk for much of the movie.
Title: We Were Here Release Date: September 2011 Director: David Weissman and Bill Weber Production Company: Weismann Projects Summary/Review:
We Were There examines the HIV/AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s through interviews with five members of the community who lived through the plague. The subjects include a counselor to gay men, a nurse, and a florist who ended up providing flowers for many funerals. They tell heart wrenching stories of the unfathomable numbers of deaths of friends, partners, and family members while at the same time facing stigmatization from a society that discriminates against queer people. And yet, there’s a lot of hope in these stories too. LGBTQ people often talk of their community as family, when their blood relatives may have shunned them. The epidemic brought this family in San Francisco together to care for one another and inspired a generation of activists. This is a very simple documentary in form but it contains a very powerful message.
Title: Val Release Date: July 23, 2021 Director: Leo Scott and Ting Poo Production Company: A24 | IAC Films | Boardwalk Pictures | Cartel Films Summary/Review:
What would it be like if you had a movie made of your entire life? Actor Val Kilmer answers that question in this unique documentary made out of home hundreds of hours of movie footage he shot starting in childhood. I remember really liking Kilmer early in his career when he starred in Top Secret! and Real Genius, and always wondered why he didn’t do more comedy. He became more famous for his roles in movies like Top Gun and The Doors, and starred as Batman in one of the 90s version of that franchise.
Today, Kilmer’s voice has been damaged by throat cancer. He wrote the narration for the film which is read by his son Jack, who sounds startlingly like a younger Val. In this film we see the surprisingly sophisticated movies he made as a child with his brother, his theater training at Julliard, and his ongoing frustration with a Hollywood system that has little use for his style of acting. This has given him a reputation as a troublesome actor, although there are also many actors and directors who’ve enjoyed working with him. The movie also delves into his personal life and doesn’t always show him in the best light.
This is a kind of fascinating movie which I think is more than your typical celebrity biography, but also an examination of an actor’s life.
Title: Uprising Release Date: July 20, 2021 Director: Steve McQueen and James Rogan Production Company: Rogan Productions | BBC | Lammas Park | Turbine Studios Summary/Review:
This three part documentary series details the emergence of a new civil rights movement among Black British people in the early 1980s. At the time, the fascist National Front was gaining support with their anti-Black and anti-immigrant views that were echoed in the opinions of the new prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The subjects of this documentary are primarily British-born children of West Indian immigrants who grew up in this atmosphere in the 70s and 80s.
The first part focuses on an event that catalyzed the movement, a fire at a house party in South East London in January 1981 that killed 13 children and young adults. Witnesses believe they saw someone throw a firebomb into the house (a tactic that had been used by racists elsewhere in London) but the police investigation focused on blaming the victims. Public officials and the news media responded with indifference and derision.
The centerpiece of the second part is the Black People’s Day of Action in March 1981 when 20,000 people marched through London. Black people from across England came to participate in the largest protest for racial justice in the nation’s history. With growing awareness of Black power and racial tension, the spring and summer of 1981 was marred by riots throughout England. The third part of the series focuses particularly on the riot in Brixton.
Along with a lot of phenomenal archival footage (and scored to some terrific reggae music from the period) this movie includes interviews with several survivors of the the New Cross fire and participants in the Brixton riots. There are also interviews with many white government officials and police officers, some of whom seem to have become more culturally sensitive as a result of their experience, and some who hang themselves with their own words.
I was not familiar with these events but they seemed sadly similar to racial history in the United States. I also noted some parallels with how British officials mismanaged The Troubles in Ireland and the Hillsborough disaster.
Album: Air Artist: Sault Release Date: April 13, 2022 Label: Forever Living Originals Favorite Tracks:
Time is Precious
The anonymous UK music collective Sault released two highly regarded albums in 2020, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise), and then Nine in 2021 which was only available to stream for 99 days (I missed it!). While their earlier releases were a mix of R&B, disco, and afrobeat with experimental touches, I’m not sure where to classify Air. I guess it’s experimental orchestral and choral music. Most of the songs have vocalizations but no actual lyrics. It could be the score for a movie, or perhaps a ballet. It’s definitely different from the pop mainstream of today!
Title: Tongues Untied Release Date: October 26, 1989 Director: Marlon T. Riggs Production Company: Signifyin’ Works Summary/Review:
This is not your typical documentary, but more of an art piece. Through poetry, music, performance art, and film footage Marlon T. Riggs explores the experience of Black gay men in America. Racial discrimination, homophobia, and the masculine desire to repress emotions all conspire to silence Black gay men. This movie is all about letting them speak out their pain, anger, joy, and love. It’s really hard to describe this movie in words, but it is very powerful – and unflinching – and worth the watch.