Faces Places (2017)

Faces Places Movie Review

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Faces Places Movie Review

Faces Places is a 2017 French documentary film directed by Agnes Varda. It is a very overrated film with limited appeal.

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I’m feeling the sense of greatness.

I’m big, I’m strong

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Faces Places Movie Review

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By limited appeal, I mean that the film is very much just for the artists and those interested in art. I am not particularly interested in art and thus I found this film unappealing and very dull. Certainly it has its moments and some portraits are beautiful, but I just wasn’t fully invested in these people or their job.

Agnes Varda directed the film really well and she is definitely a great presence felt throughout the film. She has a great personality and some of the things she had to say are great. JR is not as memorable as she is, but the relationship that develops between the two is fantastic and those two share some wonderful moments with each other and most of the film’s highlights concern the two of them chatting.

Faces Places (Visages Villages) promised me a look at the lives of rural people in France, but I didn’t really get that. I got that in its first act, but the rest of the film was more concerned with art which is unfortunate. I liked some of those experiments quite a bit, but for the most part the conversations intrigue me more personally and stories and those are rarely present in the second half.

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Faces Places Movie Review

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Some of the conversations and stories are very interesting and I liked some of the places and people the two visited, but mostly the movie deals with not particularly interesting people and half of the dialogue here wasn’t all that profound. The film is short, but it still felt long to me owing to its slow pacing and limited appeal. But I loved how it was shot as the cinematography is particularly strong and some scenes here are certainly very artistic which was the intention from the director all along.

Faces Places is very well shot, it has some interesting conversations as well as some fine experiments plus the relationship at the center of the film is great, but this movie nonetheless has a very limited appeal, it doesn’t have enough powerful conversations and overall I found it not particularly engaging.

My Rating – 3.5

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Kedi (2017)

Kedi Movie Review

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Kedi Movie Review

Kedi is a 2017 Turkish documentary film directed by Ceyda Torun. It is the best documentary of the year and such a fascinating look at the cats of Istanbul.

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Communication with a cat is the same as having an alien friend.

You make a contact with a different form of life,

open a portal and start a conversation.

They are weird to us, different,

yet we are capable of making a connection

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Kedi Movie Review

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So the film follows the various cats who live on the streets of Istanbul. None of them live in houses or have masters, but most of them have people who care for them, cuddle and feed them. The film is thus a simply fascinating look at Istanbul’s wonderful obsession with these felines and how they also enrich everyone’s lives there.

There are a bunch of memorable sequences here and the highlights include all of the wide shots of the city itself as well as cat fights, cat cuddling and of course their various hunts for food. The film so perfectly and thoroughly explores cats that even I as a dog person loved every second of it. I loved that it was filmed from their point of view and that we got to see their way of living and relationship with humans. Only the history of cats and the city was missing.

Kedi, however, is even more fascinating as a look at humans than as cats. Let me elaborate. The movie showcases cats beautifully, but it also shows how they impact the lives of humans who live with them or care for them. Or live in their vicinity which is the closest depiction of these Istanbul’s relationships.

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Kedi Movie Review

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Every one of these interviewees has a very personal reason for loving and caring for cats and that was beautiful to witness. They fixed their broken lives by caring for these animals and thus enriched their lives and had a better understanding of the world and the cats made them better people and helped their relationships with humans too.

The film features a variety of excellent interviews, but most importantly a bunch of memorable quotes and beautiful, truthful messages that ring true and are important for everyone to hear. The one which states how people who do not like animals don’t really like humans too is such a great observation. It showcases how having a relationship with an animal is intertwined with having a relationship with a human being and how both enrich people’s lives significantly.

And I also loved the comparison with aliens as having a loving relationship with animals would almost certainly be comparable to that with an alien. We are very different from each other, extremely different even, but we can still manage to find a unique, shared language and communicate together and help each other. I loved that comparison. The film truly has smart, sophisticated speeches and many beautiful quotes.

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Kedi Movie Review

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Kedi is also beautifully made. It is not all too greatly paced and some scenes are more memorable than others, but the direction from Ceyda Torun is excellent and she has a bright future ahead of her as she made such a terrific first feature here.

But the highlights are the score and the cinematography. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic as it is the kind of Turkish pop that is universal in its appeal, catchy and quite charming in a way. It accompanied the imagery on screen so well. The film is gorgeously shot and even inventively as it follows the cats from their point of view and that lent a lot of authenticity to the picture. And again those wide shots of the city are amazing.

Wonderfully scored with such a charming soundtrack and inventively filmed with a lot of amazing shots of the city and the felines, Kedi truly is a fascinating look into Istanbul’s relationship with cats which is fueled by a lot of insightful interviews, observational quotes and some beautiful messages as well.

My Rating – 4.5

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Born in China (2017)

Born in China Movie Review

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Born in China Movie Review

Born in China is a 2017 documentary film directed by Lu Chuan. It is a Disneynature film which is another good addition to their roster of documentaries.

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They were born in China

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Born in China Movie Review

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This film has its problems and more on that later, but it is overall pretty good that I was satisfied in the end. The biggest and most refreshing thing that it does right is that it changes formula by following a couple of species and not just one. That led to a lot of variety in the film and to a more interesting, diverse experience.

Some people may have a problem with the crew not helping the mother snow leopard when she injured herself on the rock beneath the snow. I do have a problem with that, but I can see why they did not help her as they wanted authenticity for the film and certainly this is not as drastic of an example of that as the one in ‘Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness’.

I liked those snow leopards and the cubs are so cute. Golden snub-nosed monkeys are endearing, but the weakest part here as their story was the most childish one with the most annoying narration from John Krasinski. I liked the pandas and they were so cute albeit somewhat anthropomorphized maybe. Still the scene where the mother embraces her baby in a hug warmed my heart.

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Born in China Movie Review

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But I loved that the pandas did not take away too much runtime here as the standout part is actually the chiru one. These Tibetan antelopes are so cute and lovable that I adored watching them. The highlight of the entire film is the scene where the little one tries to walk and stand still eventually falling on its back. That was so funny and cute.

Born in China is a family film for better and for worse. Certainly it isn’t authentic as it is staged a lot and there is no violence or death to be found anywhere in this film, but I also liked that as it led to a much more innocent, charming and endearing film. So that decision remains a mixed bag for me.

As for its narration, again it is as troublesome as you would expect from Disneynature, but still one of their better efforts so far as in my opinion John Krasinski was overall solid in the role. Sometimes his comments and lines were cringe-worthy, but for the most part he did an okay job and wasn’t too annoying.

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Born in China Movie Review

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The film definitely needed more facts in it. It does teach us some things about these four animal species, but not enough owing to its short runtime and an emphasis on pleasing the children with the strong, evident cutesy factor. The score is very good and the cinematography is absolutely terrific as some shots and takes are brilliant. The scenery is beautiful to watch and the photography is polished and simply breathtaking. The film has such a fantastic cinematic feel to it that I guess it was beautiful to watch in the theater.

Born in China is a family flick for better and for worse with sometimes annoying narration, but it is for the most part a very endearing, cute film which is refreshing in its formula as it follows four instead of just one animal species. Some scenes here are incredibly heartwarming. The cinematography is so strong and the film is so well photographed that it makes for one beautiful and very cinematic viewing experience.

My Rating – 4

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness is a 1927 silent documentary film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. It is a very strong early documentary.

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But Man must live…

So Man fights on

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

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It follows the lives of Thai farmers and their relationship with various animals, especially leopards and elephants. So this film is basically a feature documentary, running at only around an hour, but that is still considered a feature. But it is interesting that for its time this was considered a live-action feature film as the documentary term was not yet invented.

In that way, Chang is very groundbreaking, especially in its portrayal of nature and a different culture. It was actually filmed on location and the action is pretty real and the danger was palpable for the filmmakers. Although I respect that, I still have a problem with them basically killing animals for just the movie and I think most audiences today would have a problem with that too.

It has a problem of focus as it doesn’t focus on just one thing and presents too many animals and Thai characters. It should have focused solely on one character and one coherent journey. It is also definitely too short as the material was ripe for at least twenty more minutes.

But I still enjoyed Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness quite a lot. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the 1st Academy Awards which were the only awards which had that Best Picture equivalent category and I have to say that the nomination is much deserved.

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness Movie Review

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The movie looks absolutely splendid. The cinematography is simply gorgeous and the natural landscapes and the animals looked magnificent. I do realize that it lost its edge nowadays and that many would not find it as fascinating today as it was back in its day, but to me it is still very intriguing to watch.

I liked its fittingly Thai score and I adored some scenes here – the highlights include the iconic elephant stampede sequence brilliantly filmed as well as all of the scenes with the monkeys, especially the one with the dogs. Very cute and funny. The intertitles are also solid and the direction from Cooper and Schoedsack is so strong and it is easy to see why they were chosen to direct ‘King Kong’ afterwards.

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness lacks focus and is too short, but it is a groundbreaking early documentary feature with excellent direction from Cooper and Schoedsack, a couple of wonderful and brilliantly filmed sequences, great score and fascinating scenery.

My Rating – 4

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The Salt of the Earth (2014)

The Salt of the Earth Movie Review

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The Salt of the Earth Movie Review

The Salt of the Earth is a French-Brazilian 2014 documentary film directed by Wim Wenders and it is about the works of Sebastiao Salgado, the famous Brazilian photographer. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 87th Academy Awards.

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We are a ferocious animal.

We humans are terrible animals.

Our history is a history of wars.

It’s an endless story, a tale of madness

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The Salt of the Earth Movie Review

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This movie is another bad example of the Academy’s tendency to go into the typical political territory when nominating films for their Documentary category. It is super frustrating and they continue to do it. And yes, this film feels way more like a politics than art movie which is really problematic. It is also preachy, somewhat full of itself and way too boring and frankly immensely dull from start to finish. It needed better direction and more energetic approach.

The silver lining here lies in the technical categories, mostly the cinematography and imagery which is absolutely stunning and fitting within its subject matter perfectly. There are many really beautiful scenery present here and the black-and-white photography is really professional and done beautifully. However, although the film looks excellent, that doesn’t change the fact that the story is incredibly boring, uninspired and downright tedious. It also goes for too long and rarely documentaries that are over hour and a half can remain interesting and this is unfortunately not that case.

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The Salt of the Earth Movie Review

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With uninspired, boring and slow story which is never particularly engaging or thought-provoking, The Salt of the Earth does have some good technical categories including the terrific black-and-white photography and some striking imagery, but the direction is pretentious, the subject matter is tedious, the running time is way too bloated and it is way too political and preachy instead of being about art that it promised. This is another forgettable Best Documentary Feature nominee, a movie that is easy on the eye, but way too dull and uninspired to recommend otherwise.

My Rating – 2.5

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Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

Finding Vivian Maier Movie Review

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Finding Vivian Maier Movie Review

Finding Vivian Maier is a 2014 documentary film chronicling the life and art of the recently discovered title artist.

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We have to make room for other people.

It’s a wheel. You get on. You go to the end.

And someone else has the same opportunity to go to the end.

And so on. And somebody else takes their place

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Finding Vivian Maier Movie Review

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The film begins somewhat abruptly and it is rushed failing to explain what the subject matter is, but it is also intriguing from the early start certainly making you interested for the rest. Then it starts to unravel the story as some sort of mystery and that is the biggest reason why this film works so well. It serves as a puzzle that you uncover more and more until you learn who this person is. And the ending is very beautiful concluding it wonderfully.

The direction is incredible here as well as the cinematography. But of course the editing is remarkable, it’s so fast paced and edited that it does not become obnoxious but rather entertaining and always very involving. Also, the whole documentary is so wonderfully crafted all around that it is easy to see the evident care that went into production.

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Finding Vivian Maier Movie Review

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What I found fascinating is the use of her photographs, but most importantly the interviews with the people who knew her and had some sort of relationship with her, because she was so introverted. The speeches and interviews are very warm and emotional because it is evident in their talk that they knew and cared for her and that is the finest aspect that distinguishes documentaries from biopics – the interviews are with real-life friends or relatives who knew the person thus achieving the very emotional and undoubtedly personal  approach helping you better understand the person.

What is also great here is how the filmmakers didn’t shy away from Vivian’s darker side exposing her unfortunate awful things she did to some of the kids she took care of. It adds to the realism of it all and makes the film such a great character study making you know the person as if you had met her.

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Finding Vivian Maier Movie Review

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The problem here is that they didn’t show much of the art aspect to the story and although what they showed is great, it should have been more. And the running time could have been longer given the fascinating subject matter. But the question it poses if it is okay to expose this person’s work after her death is thought-provoking as well as the nuances in her personality and of course the mysterious side to her. It makes you question her decision not to share her art with the people and if it is a necessary step in the artist’s life or if some of us are not like that and maybe she would find that intruding and would not want all the attention. Those are all fascinating questions making you think. The film is certainly smart.

Finding Vivian Maier could have been longer and should have delved deeper into the art aspect, but it is a magnificent documentary with a mysterious, puzzle approach to it, wonderful technical aspects, excellent personality study, some thought-provoking questions and all in all fascinating subject matter.

My Rating – 4.5

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Citizenfour (2014)

Citizenfour Movie Review

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Citizenfour Movie Review

Citizenfour is a 2014 documentary film about Edward Snowden and it received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

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We are building the biggest weapon

for oppression in the history of mankind

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Citizenfour Movie Review

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This is the kind of documentary film that I was not thrilled to see, but had to anyway. In the end however, I found it to be a pretty interesting film even if I am not into politics. There are many observant lines here and it is definitely thought-provoking. It seriously asks the question of privacy today and if it is okay to be constantly monitored online and that all your questions are being followed. And I found the comparison with earlier times without internet and the early internet age as well very truthful and fascinating.

But the film lacks real interviews in favor of computer screens which are stupid and really annoying but are done here because of the cheapness factor. And the real-time, almost thriller, aspect to it is appealing to many critics, but I was not the biggest fan of that approach to be honest. It should have gone full documentary route.

The film is very boring at some parts, especially in the slow and very unappealing beginning. And of course those computer screen sequences definitely ruined the movie. But what is the biggest problem I have with Citizenfour is of course the filmmaking. I find this film subpar in all the technical aspects. The direction is nothing to write home about, the cinematography is standard and the whole picture definitely should have had better and more professional people involved.

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Citizenfour Movie Review

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I find the Academy’s choice to award this film Best Documentary very upsetting and it again showcases the troubling attitude the Academy has towards this category. They always award the political or patriotic documentaries and while this movie is certainly and thankfully not patriotic, it is however very one-sided and also so-so made. They should have given the award to much better ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ or the snubbed ‘Life Itself’. A very poor and quite frankly awful choice even if the film itself is solid. But that is also the problem here, they should give awards to excellent films and not those that are just good.

All in all, Citizenfour is of course very relevant and incredibly important to watch and it has some thought-provoking and quite interesting things to say, but it is never as interesting or as intriguing as it should have been and it is not particularly well made. A solid film, but nothing more than that.

My Rating – 3.5

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Virunga (2014)

Virunga Movie Review

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Virunga Movie Review

Virunga is a 2014 documentary feature about conservation work of rangers in Virunga National Park.

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You must justify why you are on this earth –

gorillas justify why I am here, they are my life.

So if it is about dying, I will die for the gorillas.

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Virunga Movie Review

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I was very disappointed with this movie. It lacks any kind of energy or originality and authentic approach to set it apart from other films of the type of which there are many. The direction is not a bit remarkable and even the imagery fails having in mind its great environment.

But what is the worst is its approach which is very troublesome indeed. It focuses more on politics of oil exploration and armed conflict in this region instead of focusing on the animals and especially gorillas which I expected. But no, that never happened. Instead, we get the boring politics which get tired pretty soon. And also it fails on that ground as well because the movie wants to do both the politics and the gorillas and it of course fails at both because it doesn’t focus on any of the themes and subject matter nearly enough.

There are some beautiful moments here and those are of course the ones with the gorillas showing their humanity and the relationship between them and humans. Those are some beautiful and really touching sequences that are a saving grace here, and those sequences highlight what I expected from Virunga, but that never happened unfortunately.

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Virunga Movie Review

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Focusing more on boring politics instead of the gorillas, Virunga is an utter disappointment of a documentary because it fails to do the politics as well for it focuses on both things thus never exploring either of them properly. There are some beautiful and very warm scenes with the gorillas, but those are in minority unfortunately, the rest is just a boring political and economical film with uninspired direction and imagery thus ending in a huge disappointment and one of the most overrated documentaries recently.

My Rating – 2.5

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Life Itself (2014)

Life Itself Movie Review

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Life Itself Movie Review

Life Itself is a 2014 documentary film directed by Steve James and it tells the story of one of the most famous, probably the most famous, film critic of all time Roger Ebert.

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All I require of a religion is that it be tolerant

of those who do not agree with it

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Life Itself Movie Review

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This film is so masterfully well crafted and directed and that is evident throughout the whole movie, right from the beginning. It combines the personal life of Roger Ebert with his work along with his relationships and friendship with Gene Siskel. Speaking of Gene, that is the aspect I liked most in the whole movie, their troubled relationship. When it started, it was quite troubled and they honestly did not get along well which was somewhat evident in they work together. But, it became very beautiful and sad when Gene died and when Ebert talked about him when you see how much of a friend he was to him and how much he cared for him. That was the film’s most beautiful moment in my humble opinion.

Although there is less of the criticism parts in this film, those are also terrific. Every movie they chose was excellent and every point others and himself made really made you think. There are some really thought-provoking lines and thoughts here about the filmmaking and movie reviews. The interviews are also great and there is just enough amount of them in the film along with pictures and footage which really makes you realize how perfectly edited the movie is.

I honestly had a couple of problems with the documentary, two to be exact. First is that there is not enough footage, pictures or talk about his earlier career and life. And second is that the movie can jump too many times from time to time, from his early reviewing days to his illness days. But those two are the only flaws I found in this otherwise remarkable picture.

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Life Itself Movie Review

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Life Itself is, along with being very insightful and definitely engaging, also very emotional and even heartbreaking sometimes. The later scenes when his illness progressed are definitely hard to watch, but also inspirational when you see how strong and full of life he was as a person, even in the darkest hours. His relationship with his wife and the interviews with her are truly beautiful and extremely sad as well. It is all so heartwarming and sad without ever going to maudlin territory.

In the end, Life Itself is a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking, a movie that captures so many aspects of Ebert’s life and really makes you understand and care for him with a wide variety of interviews, footage, thought-provoking points, emotional as well as intriguing and even funny moments. It is very well crafted and directed, wonderfully made all around, involving from beginning to end and it is, without a doubt, one of the very best documentaries of 2014.

My Rating – 4.5

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Cameraperson (2016)

Cameraperson Review

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Cameraperson Movie Review

Cameraperson is a 2016 documentary film directed by Kirsten Johnson. It is an interesting, albeit flawedly executed experiment.

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I hope you bring your kids and they see

where their mom was and what she was doing

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Cameraperson Review

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Basically the movie consists of various conversations and scenery that the director had been filming for many years. She has visited a lot of different countries, met a variety of people and traditions and this is an account of all that.
That ambition certainly makes Cameraperson an admirable, truly special experiment. Rarely have I seen a documentary of this magnitude. I loved the epic feel of the movie and I liked that it was diverse both in time period and in setting.
To me the most interesting scenes were with just the shots of some interesting imagery and that observational aspect to it is quite strong. I also liked that it mostly dealt with women and their troubles and thus it achieved some sort of thematic connection between all the different segments.
However, it isn’t as thematically connected as I wished it to have been. And yes, that is the problem of the editing. I don’t know why the editing here is so lauded among the festival crowd when it is problematic to me. Certainly the segments are sweet and short and mostly quite engaging which I did not expect, but they weren’t well connected both in imagery and thematically. Sometimes it just jumped to totally different, unrelated scene and that was troublesome.

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Cameraperson Review

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Cameraperson is well shot owing to Kirsten Johnson being a great cinematographer, but I disliked the use of shake camera from time to time as it felt amateurish. The film is quite interesting and rarely slow and it can even be fascinating at times. I liked its emotional approach and some interviews were so heartwarming leading to an overall pleasing film.
Cameraperson isn’s thematically connected particularly well and some segments are more interesting than the others. However, as far as experiments go, this one is certainly admirable in its ambition, wonderful in its emotion and pleasantly diverse in time and place with more than a couple of beautiful scenes.

My Rating – 4

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