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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Life, Animated (2016)

Life, Animated Movie Review………………………………………………………………..

Life, Animated Movie Review

Life, Animated is a 2016 documentary film directed by Roger Ross Williams. It is one of the year’s best movies.
It is about an autistic man who learned to communicate with the outside world through his love of Disney animated films. I am a huge Disney animation fan, I have been their fan for seven years now and I am going to remain a fan for the rest of my life. Those movies mean so much to me that I naturally loved Life, Animated. It showcased hot strong and beautiful Disney films are and how they can even help people overcome their fears and problems.

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“When I now look in the mirror, I see a proud autistic man.”

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Life, Animated Movie Review………………………………………………………………..
That aspect to the film is so good. Not only do they emphasize the importance of animation and especially Disney in such a wonderful way, but they also showcase it beautifully throughout a series of well edited and used clips from these movies. I especially loved the emphasis on ‘The Little Mermaid’ as it is one of my favorites and a film that holds a strong emotional grip with the viewer.
But I respected the film for not fully be blinded by Disney and that was important. It certainly isn’t a one-sided endeavor. While it shows its strengths, it also shows us how those movies can be harmful for autistic people and that is also applicable to children everywhere. That issue is explored in Owen’s conversation with his brother where he states afterwards how Disney teaches you absolutely nothing about real relationships and sex. That was brutally honest, but important to state.
But let’s talk about the other aspect of the film. It may be called Life, Animated, but it is at its core a film about autism and to me an essential one. I knew little about this condition before, but that all changed after seeing this movie and now I am fully aware of this whole issue.

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Life, Animated Movie Review………………………………………………………………..
That is what documentaries are supposed to do – teach us about its subject and explore it thoroughly and this film did just that. I not only now know a lot about autism, but I see how underrated a condition it is. And Owen as the film’s center is just so wonderful and such a kind soul that I cared about him and rooted for him throuhout the whole flick.
I love the Suskind family and their story is so strong. He overcame autism in such an admirable and interesting way that it fascinated me. It states that animation is suitable for learning emotion and communication skills owing to its exaggerated facial expressions and voices. That certainly makes sense and the film explored it wonderfully.
The issue of growing up, the fears of it and the importance of taking your own responsibilities felt strong to me as I am right now at such a crossroads myself. That is why, although I am not an autistic person, I still found the movie immensely relatable and emotionally powerful.

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Life, Animated Movie Review………………………………………………………………..
However, Life, Animated isn’t perfect. I would have liked to have seen animated segments of his condition and those scenes could have visually helped us see how he feels. Those original animated segments about Owen and his stories are definitely fantastic, but I wanted more nonetheless. And I have to say that the third act of the film is, apart from its ending, much weaker than the rest of the picture and it seems too real-time and less documentary-like. But still, this remains one of the best films of the years and certainly its finest documentary.
Owing to its emotional power, relatability in its theme of growing up and taking responsibilities for your life and such a wonderful person at the center of it, Life, Animated is simply a wonderful movie. The original animated segments are beautiful and the film showcases the strengths, but also the problems of Disney animated films in a great way. But it is above all a very thoughtful and factual examination of autism leading to 2016’s finest documentary and certainly one of the year’s best and most emotional films.

My Rating – 4.5

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Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

Waking Sleeping Beauty Movie Review………………………………………………………..

Waking Sleeping Beauty Movie Review

Waking Sleeping Beauty is a 2009 Disney documentary film directed by Don Hahn. It showcases the history of the Disney studio in the 80s and 90s with an emphasis on the beginning of the renaissance.

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I just don’t think anything is quite as magical as a Disney cartoon fairy tale.

There’s just nothing like that.

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Waking Sleeping Beauty Movie Review………………………………………………………..

I love this topic naturally as I am such a huge fan of Disney animation. The Disney Renaissance is truly a special period for the studio and for the American animation as a whole. I love all of the movies released there and although I would have liked to have seen the later Renaissance entries here as well, I still loved that I got to see the makings of ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’, four of their biggest movies.

That footage was fascinating and although I knew a lot of this stuff already, I still loved seeing it on the screen. Jodi Benson’s recording of Part of That World is definitely one of the highlights and of course watching those real lions in the studio was so much fun. I also liked that they showcased their rivalry during the eighties such as Don Bluth and Spielberg and we even got to see some 80s movies here such as ‘The Black Cauldron’ and ‘The Great Mouse Detective’. It is always tragic seeing how the former hurt the studio when it is such a solid film and of course the jokes about the latter’s title were so amusing.

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Waking Sleeping Beauty Movie Review………………………………………………………..

It was interesting learning a bit more about the studio’s troubled history. Of course Waking Sleeping Beauty glorifies a bit too much their own work, but that is understandable as they’ve had such enormous success during the nineties. Of course seeing the Oscar nominations and seeing that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ ended up in the Best Picture race was so emotionally rewarding and such a huge feat in the history of animation.

You learn a lot about Michael Eisner and Roy Disney’s roles which were very important and Roy always seemed so nice to me. But I also learned a lot about Frank Wells and his death was tragic. Jeffrey Katzenberg was well portrayed here and not in an overly toxic manner which they could have done, but thankfully did not. He remains a controversial, but still important figure for Disney and that was well portrayed here. And of course the movie wonderfully showcases the importance of Howard Ashman’s input and his untimely death truly remains tragic and you only can imagine how much more he could have done for Disney had he lived more.

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Waking Sleeping Beauty Movie Review………………………………………………………..

Waking Sleeping Beauty uses archival footage and interviews instead of new interviews and that was truly such a unique and different angle to a documentary feature. Very interesting and it ultimately worked really well for the film. However, the movie remains very troublesome for relying too much on archival footage of the filmmakers and animators and not enough on the films themselves. They should have showcased and emphasized the films more and how they were made and it would have been much more entertaining and much better. But the ending is really moving and the movie was so insightful and a great history lesson for an animation fan like myself so I forgive them for those flaws.

Waking Sleeping Beauty definitely should have focused more on the films themselves instead of relying so much on the filmmakers and animators, but it is still such an insightful and fascinating look at the Disney Renaissance and a big reminder of how important and great that period was. The movie showcased really well the troubled history of each film as well as the various troubles with the studio executives and animators plus it is a unique documentary that relies entirely on archival instead of new interviews.

My Rating – 4

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The Eagle Huntress (2016)

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review………………………………………………………………..

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress is a 2016 Mongolian documentary film directed by Otto Bell and telling the story of Aisholpan Nurgaiv. It is a pretty good, if inherently flawed flick.

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This is no ordinary bird.

This was a tough endeavor

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The Eagle Huntress Movie Review………………………………………………………………..

It is about a 13-year-old Kazakh girl in Mongolia who became the first female eagle hunter in her generation and country. Naturally it has a feminist message, but that message is conveyed in a good instead of overly aggressive or expected manner. She truly is an inspirational person and that is why she was a great center of this fascinating story.

The movie is controversial for supposedly featuring staged sequences and events and many even question whether or not it is a true documentary and whether it is factual or exaggerated. In my honest opinion, there are definitely some forced scenes here and I agree that it should have felt more like a documentary, but more on that later. However, I still think that those criticisms are a bit unfair and I choose to believe that the film is factual. And whether or not it is real, it still remains an inspirational story for women everywhere.

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The Eagle Huntress Movie Review………………………………………………………………..

There is no denying the film’s technical aspects. The Eagle Huntress looks amazing. Its cinematography is so good that it is one of the best shot movies of the year. Its crane and aerial shots are absolutely gorgeous and watching the snowy mountain imagery was beautiful. The film is also well directed and edited and although it should have been shorter, it is mostly really entertaining and interesting to watch.

It was to me interesting because I didn’t know anything about Mongolia and eagle hunters before and now I am acquainted with it quite a bit so the film did its job and succeeds as a good documentary. The highlights are definitely those hunting sequences which are phenomenal and so fascinating, if brutal to watch. I thought that the film explained to us the viewers everything we need to know about this interesting Mongolian tradition.

Where the film isn’t as great is in its interviews. As I said before, it isn’t much of a documentary because it plays too much like a live-action film and that wasn’t the problem, but my biggest issue was the lack of more interviews. I think the film does have enough of Aisholpan and her family, but the interviews with the other people are sparse and lacking.

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The Eagle Huntress Movie Review………………………………………………………………..

But it is so well made and it looks splendid. It deals with an interesting subject matter and was thus intriguing and always engaging to me personally. That is why I honestly think it was snubbed for Best Documentary by the Academy as its inclusion would have led to a much diverse list than the one we unfortunately got. Overall, I really liked this film and even though it is filled with some pretty big issues, the overall experience is wonderful, fascinating and ultimately emotionally rewarding.

Regardless of its controversy which is unfortunate, The Eagle Huntress is still such a good and mostly satisfying documentary. It needed to have more interviews, but it tells us everything we need to know about this Mongolian tradition and it is always fascinating and very involving to watch. It is also emotional and its biggest strength is the cinematography with aerial shots which are absolutely stunning leading to one of the best looking films of the year.

My Rating – 4

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Häxan (1922)

Häxan Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Häxan Movie Review

Häxan is a 1922 Swedish/Danish documentary horror silent film directed by Benjamin Christensen. It is a pretty good, intriguing experiment.

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Poor little hysterical witch!

In the middle ages you were in conflict with the church.

Now it is with the law

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Häxan Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

It is  a study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. Because I have always been interested in this particular subject matter, I found this movie to be quite fascinating at times. That is not to say that it is without its problems and there are many on which I will elaborate later, but the film is mostly a successful and definitely admirable experiment as rarely have I seen a film quite like this one.

It is a mix of documentary and horror which is, needless to say, quite authentic and interesting. I loved its distinctive visual style and how well thought out it is. It explains you almost everything you need to know about witch-hunts and the second half in particular is quite engaging.

But the problem with Häxan lies in its first half. Yes, the documentary approach here isn’t the greatest. And even though the mix of fiction and documentary is interesting, it definitely felt odd at times and tonally weird. Those passages where they explain this subject were overlong and filled with too many intertitles and not enough images. Some of the imagery was quite striking, but I still would have preferred to have seen real footage or fictionalized footage that is.

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Häxan Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Häxan is exceptionally well made and crafted. The problem is that it is just never as entertaining as I hoped it would have been given its fascinating subject matter and it disappointed me a little overall, but the direction from Benjamin Christensen is excellent and some scenes are just so memorable. And the special effects are simply outstanding and so revolutionary for its time period. In the end, even though it isn’t the best that foreign cinema of the twenties has to offer, it is still so intriguing and different that I admired it a lot.

Häxan definitely is tonally odd, it isn’t as engaging as it could have been and the mix of documentary and horror is weird, but that mix is still authentic and very interesting, some of the imagery here is quite striking, it deals with its interesting subject matter really well and it is mostly exceptionally well made and visually magnificent. It has its flaws, but it is certainly one of the most unique silent films.

My Rating – 4

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