Midnight Family Director/ Luke Lorentzen Watched on Amazon Rating 3/5 “Terrifying and exhilarating.” –The New York Times “Fast-paced mayhem.” –Indiewire “Profound and thrilling.” –RogerEbert.com “Eye-opening.” –Rolling Stone This is not a knock against director Luke Lorentzen, but if the film I saw is the same film the quotes above are referencing, then I’m not sure who to blame: The more than one hundred film festivals who made Midnight Family a must-have selection for their line-ups? The reviewers who were so relieved to see a documentary without the usual pro forma menu of talking heads and relentless music cues that they rushed to out-superlative each other? The awards committees who loaded the young director down with so many accolades that there weren’t any left over for other filmmakers? Midnight Family is solid work, to be sure, but it is neither terrifying, fast-paced, profound, or thrilling. And the only eye-opening thing about it is explained in the film’s synopsis: “In Mexico City, the government operates fewer than 45 emergency ambulances for a population of 9 million. This has spawned an underground industry of for-profit ambulances often run by people with little or no training or certification. An exception in this ethically fraught, cutthroat industry, the Ochoa family struggles to keep their financial needs from jeopardizing the people in their care. When a crackdown by corrupt police pushes the family into greater hardship, they face increasing moral dilemmas even as they continue providing essential emergency medical services.” That’s a compelling set-up for any documentary, and Lorentzen–energetic and talented– [...]
Hi all, I'm putting all further Lean Team Pro Tips on hold during the pandemic. It doesn't make sense to promote a way of filmmaking urging you to get close to your subject material when we're supposed to be staying away from each other. If this continues for longer than we hope, I will need to re-frame my filmmaking experience for a new, distanced approach to documentary films. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please check out the trailer for my film in progress, Slow Revolution.
Caniba Directors/ Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel Watched on Criterion Channel Rating 2/5 This text below appears on the Criterion website accompanying the streaming version of Caniba: In 1981, as a thirty-two-year-old student at the Sorbonne in Paris, Issei Sagawa was arrested when spotted emptying two bloody suitcases containing the remains of his Dutch classmate, Renée Hartevelt, whom days earlier he had killed and begun eating. Declared legally insane, Sagawa now lives as a free man in Japan, earning a living off his crime by writing novels, drawing manga, reenacting the murder for documentaries and sexploitation films, and even working as a food critic. Apparently, the information above originally appeared in on-screen text introducing this film to festival audiences. Perhaps directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel felt this gave away too much information, or it somehow tainted the rigorous artistic sheen they were striving for, or maybe they just wanted to fuck with their viewers. With or without this knowledge, the experience of watching this uniquely repellent work remains the same. It is nasty, grueling, unpleasant in the extreme, and also, inexplicably hypnotic. But with some information filled-in regarding the backstory of the film’s “star,” Issei Sagawa and his caretaker brother, Jun Sagawa, you’ll at least have a clearer picture as to how Sagawa, the titular cannibal, managed to go free after committing the murder and partial eating of Hartevelt, referred to only as “Renee” in the film. I watched the film not having read the Criterion text, but I was able to piece enough of the [...]
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice Directors/ Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman Watched on Amazon Rating 0/5 Does it matter that I endured only 17 minutes of this film before switching it off, yet here I am still writing a review? Frankly, I don’t care, because it must be stated somewhere, loud and clear, that Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, directed haplessly by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is an atrocity. Stuffed to the rafters with the hoariest clichés of the trendy documentary bio-pic genre, the movie rushes forward from one superficial soundbite to the next, stuffing sequences with generic archival stills and meaningless old footage, tied together with a ghastly middle-school caliber narration from Ronstadt herself. Granted, the singer suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, and she may have not wanted to appear on camera, but the choice to have her deliver her own story with an affectless monotone, set to a bland array of grab-and-go imagery, proves to be a disastrous directorial decision and an insult to Ronstadt’s legacy. What’s so damning and dumb and obvious about this picture is that Epstein and Friedman couldn’t care less about Ronstadt’s life story, her music, her influence, or even the craft of her songwriting. It’s as though they have plugged in a readymade formula that could be applied to any musician–Alice Cooper, Jackson Brown, Emmylou Harris, you name it–and then dropped it on unsuspecting fans like a K-Tel rip-off. God help us if they ever get ahold of the recently departed John Prine. By applying [...]