Movie review by Greg Carlson

Featuring a deep bench of authorities, scholars, politicians, ex-convicts, and dissenters, Ava DuVernay’s outstanding documentary “13th” arrives on the eve of a national election. Put together in near secrecy and opening the New York Film Festival, “13th” uses as its starting point the titular reference to the United States Constitution’s amendment that abolished slavery – “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” That minor addition, many of DuVernay’s interview subjects maintain, has been used to systematically oppress, criminalize, and incarcerate black Americans at a grotesquely disproportionate rate in the years since 1865.

DuVernay reminds us that America has about five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Sobering statistics tallying the explosive growth in America’s prison population are represented onscreen in black-and-white motion graphics, and every time “criminal” is said in an interview, DuVernay and co-writer/editor Spencer Averick cut to an intertitle of the word to remind viewers of its loaded synonymity with African American “perpetrators.” The same parallels are traced to Richard Nixon’s use of “law and order” (another phrase resonating during this presidential election), and the later “war on drugs.” In one chilling audio clip, Reagan/Bush adviser Lee Atwater offers an ugly clinic on the socially acceptable use of coded language.

DuVernay makes the case that both the Democratic Party and the GOP have advanced candidates, policies, and legislation that perpetuate racist ideas. Hilary Clinton’s “super-predator” comment, along with discussion and context for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 signed by Bill Clinton, sit alongside a then-and-now montage of Donald Trump’s “good old days” invective targeted at rally protestors. The latter, toggling back and forth between Trump supporters harassing and haranguing people of color and images of white-on-black violence during the Civil Rights movement, speaks volumes.

A later section of the film focuses on the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a deeply conservative organization of corporate interests and legislators that propose policy for state sessions. ALEC works a lengthy set of initiatives that includes Stand Your Ground laws, mandated voter identification requirements, and perhaps most germane to DuVernay’s story, the privatization of prisons and the means to keep those prisons filled (via Three Strikes, Truth in Sentencing, and Tough on Crime models). An eye-opening description of increased home monitoring and digital surveillance of convicts paints a portrait of a terrifying future.

Like the equally stirring and interview-packed “The House I Live In,” Eugene Jarecki’s 2012 film addressing the prison-industrial complex, “13th” covers an astonishing amount of philosophical and historical territory without losing its grip or its focus. And while DuVernay’s underlying advocacy is embodied by speakers like Angela Davis, surprising commentary from unlikely participants such as Newt Gingrich attests to the director’s diligence, curiosity, and professionalism. “13th” makes a nice companion to National Book Award finalist “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi. Both works illuminate the sophistication of America’s capitalist reliance on discrimination-based systems that foster the proliferation of covert and overt oppression, and both are essential tools to help us understand the difference between All Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Ron Howard’s awkwardly titled “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” covers familiar turf for longtime fans of the band, but the film’s handsomely presented content may appeal to younger generations just discovering the music of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr. While the world might not exactly need yet another document in the expanding library of movies about the Fab Four, Howard approaches the theme suggested in the title with the exuberance of a devoted admirer. A more accurate description of the narrative would also include some mention of the incendiary immediacy that accompanied the U.S. wave of Beatlemania.

While Howard accesses sharp transfers of archival film coverage, along with fresh McCartney and Starr interviews, vintage Harrison and Lennon chats, newsreel footage, and some great audio, “The Touring Years” charts a safe course via several talking head encomia from the likes of Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard, Sigourney Weaver, and Whoopi Goldberg. The best interview subject of the batch turns out to be Goldberg, who speaks from the heart about her unforgettable concert memory. While Weaver and Goldberg are two very well known audience members, it might have been nice to hear from a few non-famous fans lucky enough to have seen a show.

Frequent Lennon and Beatle-focused author Larry Kane, the only broadcast journalist who made it to every single stop on the 1964 and 1965 American tours, is given a significant amount of time to share his own reflections. While Kane has already appeared in several Beatles docs, his proximity to the circus and his unusual role within Beatles history could sustain its own feature-length study. The same could be applied to one of the movie’s fleeting themes: the band’s refusal to play to segregated audiences. Along with comments made by Goldberg, historian Kitty Oliver addresses the appeal of the Beatles to nonwhite listeners.

Aside from the personally exhausting demands of concert performance and travel schedules, Howard covers four oft-cited factors that precipitated the suspension of touring: the outcry over the original Robert Whitaker-shot cover of “Yesterday and Today,” in which the Beatles wore butcher smocks and posed with baby doll parts and cuts of raw meat; the band’s accidental “snub” of Imelda Marcos; Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” flap; and the recognition that even with the addition of more powerful amplifiers, screaming crowds drowned out the music.

The presumptive focus on live performance receives Howard’s due diligence, but the movie occasionally ventures into broader discussions of the band’s musical maturation and evolution in the recording studio. Accompanied by interstitial album release timeline motion graphics that animate the iconic album covers, the well-traveled sonic journey from naïve mop tops to weary veterans is linked to the mental and physical toll of time spent on the road. And even though this particular Beatles story wraps up when they took a bow following “In My Life” at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, Howard can’t resist ending his film with footage of the Apple Corps rooftop set that would mark the final public performance of the Beatles.



Movie review by Greg Carlson

An intuitive and energetic coming of age drama that trades the Val Melaina neighborhood of Vittorio De Sica’s Rome in “Bicycle Thieves” for current day Richmond in the Bay Area, Justin Tipping’s “Kicks” marks one of the year’s most memorable features. Tipping’s directorial debut, “Kicks” hovers over the shoulder of teenager Brandon (Jahking Guillory) through an incident that quickly escalates to a series of choices that lead to mortal consequences. Operating at times like “Boyz n the Hood” realized by Larry Clark, “Kicks” also shares several points of thematic kinship with geographical sibling “Fruitvale Station.”

Like the trio of Doughboy, Ricky and Tre in John Singleton’s classic, Brandon is joined by close friends Rico (Christopher Meyer) and Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) as he navigates his day-to-day. Hoping that some fresh red and black Air Jordan 1s will lead to instant success, confidence, and appeal to potential romantic partners, Brandon tracks down a pair only to have the shoes taken from him in a humiliating beat-down just a few hours later. What follows is Brandon’s evolving odyssey to reclaim his sneakers, and Tipping laces the sense of compounding doom with interstitial screenshots of key song titles that complement the narrative as prophetic chapter stops.

With scant exception, Tipping deliberately omits older generations of institutional representatives and authority figures, a bold decision that infuses Brandon’s world with an almost surreal touch of dark fatalism. Calling to mind the same kind of wiser-than-their-years quasi-adulthood of the “Peanuts” gang, the absence of mothers, teachers, and police officers thrusts the young inhabitants of “Kicks” into an accelerated maturation process necessitated by their compressed life expectancy.

Instead of traditional elders, Tipping layers two of the film’s most important supporting characters with markers of patriarchal responsibility. In one of the movie’s most welcome surprises, predatory antagonist Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) challenges stereotype as a single father to a young son. Tipping insists that we see Flaco’s love for his child (even if that love manifests in a cascade of painful “lessons” that imply the perpetuation of violence), just as we are made to examine the parallel path of Brandon’s uncle Marlon (a riveting Mahershala Ali), who in one chilling scene comforts Brandon’s mute grandmother while discussing “business” with his nephew.

Unfortunately, the level of perspicacity that Tipping shares with the various circles of young men does not extend to the women in “Kicks.” While the males are constantly communicating and interacting with one another, females are primarily objectified for purposes of sexual gratification. In the sole extended sequence in which multiple women speak and interact, the object of Brandon’s desire – whose tender age is alluded to by an older minder – engages him with an easy hook-up. Tipping’s intent might have been to focus attention on the insidious ways that dire codes of masculinity govern a universe with a very precise concept of what it means to be a man, but in some ways, that very message might have been even more effectively conveyed had “Kicks” carved out some room for feminine voices and agency.

Life, Animated


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Based on Ron Suskind’s 2014 book “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism,” the documentary feature “Life, Animated” tells the story of Suskind’s son Owen, who at the age of three withdrew into a nonverbal world that devastated his family. Diagnosed with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Owen speaks only what his parents describe as “gibberish” until a viewing of “The Little Mermaid” reveals that Owen is capable of cognitively sophisticated communication through the dialogue of the Disney films that he repeatedly watches. Inspired by the breakthrough, the Suskinds forge ahead, even though a skeptical specialist advocates caution.

Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams closely follows the Suskind quartet, which also includes mother Cornelia and older brother Walt. Supplementing the interviews with footage of scenes chronicling the now grown-up Owen’s move toward greater independence from his parents (including a transition to an apartment of his own), Oscar-winner Williams develops the kind of working relationship with his subject that – even though the artificial presence of the camera never entirely disappears – suggests easygoing, comfortable intimacy. Home video clips of Walt and Owen as youngsters also add to the portrait.

While Owen’s remarkable progress via Disney is the movie’s hook, Owen’s tentative exploration of adulthood, employment, and romance is as engaging as any of the scenes that so bluntly stand in for complementary or parallel emotional beats (like Peter Pan not growing up or the separation of mother and offspring in “Bambi”). A plot involving Owen and his girlfriend Emily is adroitly handled by Williams, who in one memorable exchange at a mini-golf course challenges the wholesome image of Disney’s G-rated depiction of love and sex. A helpful Walt hints that people who kiss one another sometimes use more than their lips. They also use their… “Feelings,” is Owen’s reply.

One of the film’s central thematic concerns parallels the book’s report of Owen’s identification with Disney sidekicks, and Williams enlists the talents of Mathieu Betard, Olivier Lescot, and Philippe Sonrier to supplement the live action material with animated sequences illustrating a fantasy space where Owen interacts with the characters that have long inhabited a special sphere in his life as companions and friends. Back at the Disney viewing and discussion group that Owen organizes, a visit from Jonathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried provides another highlight but also raises the question of the notoriously brand-protective Disney’s relationship to “Life, Animated.”

While it is difficult not be caught up in the genuinely moving narrative of Owen’s personal journey, Williams fails to include even the slightest hint of critical counterpoint to the assumption that Disney films represent an unassailable moral position as a kind of righteous elixir. And though the purpose of “Life, Animated” is surely not to open up a critical discourse on the dark side of the corporation’s nearly monolithic historical position of power in key segments of our popular culture, some viewers will yearn for a more nuanced consideration. Fortunately, one’s attitude concerning Disney does not interfere with the movie’s rich understanding of meeting life’s challenges and obstacles with grace, humor, patience, and love.



Movie review by Greg Carlson

Winner of the grand jury prize for best documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s “Weiner” is one of 2016’s must-see features. Following the unbelievable NYC mayoral campaign of disgraced politician Anthony D. Weiner from the inside, Kriegman and Steinberg’s movie boasts a compelling up-close-and-personal take on high stakes elections and higher risk narcissism. Granted incredible all-access passes to Weiner’s life – Kriegman was a former Weiner aide and the filmmakers agreed to give Weiner’s camp footage at points throughout the race – the directors, along with their sharp editor Eli Despres, stitch together a wild snapshot of a man in flames.

Although the movie never breaks down in any kind of precise detail the number of “relationships” the married Weiner cultivated with women via text/sext, email, and social media, a deep well of cable news clips and quips from comics like Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher paint the picture of Weiner as an arrogant, libidinous adulterer jeopardizing everything that is good in his otherwise charmed life in exchange for the fleeting thrill of a new chat or picture. In one revealing sequence accompanied by motion graphics of a private message exchange, Weiner explains the progression of his online behaviors.

If the salacious and lurid partnership of sex and politics weren’t enough to pique interest, Weiner’s suffering spouse, Huma Abedin – a close friend to Hilary Clinton who served as deputy chief of staff from 2009 to 2013 while Clinton was Secretary of State – defies logic to also appear in the film. While Weiner has since claimed that the filmmakers did not, in fact, secure a release to include Abedin in the movie, her presence is essential to the strange success of the documentary. Calm and collected while her husband presents his combative “caged mongoose” (credit for that apt description to Mark Leibovich) persona, the mysteries of the opposites attract angle stoke the drama.

Filled with one brain-melting scene after another, “Weiner” reaches a fever pitch during a stop at a Brooklyn bakery. Following weeks of getting hammered by the press – and a decision to no longer remain in a “defensive crouch” – Weiner goes toe to toe with a loudmouth bully while the cameras have a field day. Once again, it seems like Weiner has blown it. But the microphone picks up Weiner’s antagonist disparaging the ethnicity of Abedin and the next thing you know, Jon Stewart is sympathizing with the perpetually ludicrous Weiner.

In a “Times” piece by Michael M. Grynbaum, Steinberg perfectly summarizes the appeal of Weiner as a subject: the “intense self-awareness, real insight and then complete blindness” that likens him to a tragic figure from Shakespeare. The nonstop fusillade of dick jokes and penis puns adorning the covers of the “New York Post” throughout the scandal (samples: “Beat It!,” “Weiner Exposed,” “I’ll Stick It Out”) casts the man as a royal fool. Less than one month ago, Weiner and Abedin announced a separation after yet another round of extramarital communications surfaced. Donald Trump, who has donated to Weiner multiple times in the past, used the occasion to suggest that “sleazeball and pervert” Weiner’s proximity to Clinton confidante Abedin could jeopardize national security.

Manchester by the Sea


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Longtime admirers of filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan will celebrate his third effort as writer-director when “Manchester by the Sea” moves into theaters, bringing with it plenty of buzz surrounding the performances of Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. Extending his reputation for astonishing voices and unforgettable characters, Lonergan also continues his unflinching affair with the darkness. Affleck’s morose, taciturn loner Lee Chandler faces a deeply buried personal tragedy when he is named as the guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The past intrudes on the present, and Lonergan weaves together the strands of several deeply moving stories.

Confidently structuring the events of the narrative to cleave along abrupt jumps back and forth in time, Lonergan’s bold choices pay off as the movie unfolds. While the central relationship between Lee and Patrick maneuvers around the sharp humor of the nephew’s amorous juggling of two girlfriends and the struggle of the two bereaved men to cope with loss, Lonergan’s ambitious agenda vaults into Lee’s history, initially presenting a happier man in a loving marriage with Randi (Williams). The marked contrast in Lee then and Lee now piques viewer interest, deepening our curiosity and tightening the suspense as Lonergan leads us toward the grim explanation for Lee’s metamorphosis.

Akin to the gut-wrenching personal devastation examined in great films like “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Rachel Getting Married,” Lonergan’s fascination is not so much with the details of the disastrous event itself but rather the ways in which life must go on. Lee carries with him a heavy burden, keenly felt given the amount of time we spend with him. But Lonergan lets us see how other family members and friends grapple with moving on if not moving forward. Williams is so brilliant you’ll wish she was in more scenes, but it only takes one late exchange between Randi and Lee – an absolutely fierce and emotionally raw admission – for her to establish another career highpoint.

For all his prowess as a crafter of beautiful exchanges of dialogue – comic, bitter, revelatory, and everything in between – Lonergan is just as capable of taking the tiniest, most mundane banalities and tweaking them into miniature epiphanies. A hockey practice interrupted with bad news, a fishing expedition peppered with good-natured teasing, a chilly exchange while trying to remember the location of the parked car, a vibrating cell phone during a funeral, a sickbed negotiation for sex – these seemingly insignificant flashes accrete into a memorable whole.

Lonergan knows exactly how to introduce information within the course of a scene that forces the viewer to recalibrate expectations. He also withholds enough exposition to keep the guesses coming. Rhythms and textures dependent on setting are infused with the same level of respect and importance the director showed to the fictionalized Catskill Mountains locales of “You Can Count on Me” and the New York City of “Margaret.” Not unlike Lonergan’s well-documented battle over the protracted running time of the latter film, several observers have endorsed cuts to the 135-minute length of “Manchester by the Sea,” presumably to brighten commercial prospects.

I wouldn’t change a frame.

Becoming Mike Nichols


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Building his narrative around a pair of onstage conversations between directors and friends Mike Nichols and Jack O’Brien just four months before the death of Nichols in 2014, Douglas McGrath creates an intimate, pleasurable portrait of the early years and first two movies of the emergent filmmaker and future EGOT collector. While several critics, including Guy Lodge in “Variety,” have cited the film’s abbreviated 72-minute length as a liability, McGrath’s sharp focus on the origins of Nichols’ career emphasizes the thrill of emergence and all that comes with sky-is-the-limit possibility. The film is, after all, titled “Becoming Mike Nichols.”

Released almost simultaneously with the Elaine May-directed “American Masters” season premiere profile of Nichols, McGrath’s project eschews interviews with celebrity collaborators to present Nichols in his own words. The successful Nichols-May partnership is explored with an unrushed reverence, and stories of the team’s approach to the high risk/high reward world of improvisational comedy are punctuated by some terrific bits, including the classic “Mother and Son” telephone conversation and “$65 Funeral.” Undoubtedly, an entire feature could be devoted to the pair.

Not unlike episodes of “Inside the Actors Studio,” the star of “Becoming Mike Nichols” shares witty, polished, and educational anecdotes that a certain kind of show business aspirant will commit to memory. To his credit, Nichols confesses some delightful and juicy tales of the on-the-job learning and training required to direct a studio movie. His neophyte ignorance of, for example, lens choices and camera distance to actors is made all the more fascinating by the knowledge that it was Anthony Perkins who brought Nichols up to speed in just three days. Time and again, Nichols reveals that it never hurts to have really good friends. Especially if those friends are more often than not rich, famous, or powerful.

In addition to his quick study of the technological aspects of production, Nichols came to cinema as a champion of performance. Illuminating details of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the set of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” are paired with a series of striking production photographs and corresponding clips. The same treatment is given to “The Graduate,” and Nichols singles out Dustin Hoffman’s skill with a suggestion about actors who get better “in the bath” – that is, the printed dailies reveal a kind of magic imperceptible on the set.

Nichols’ doesn’t stray too far from the lights of the stage and screen, although McGrath does squeeze in some personal family history and backstory. First as a fan – a spine-tingling appraisal of seeing Marlon Brando during the original run of “A Streetcar Named Desire” is breathlessly recounted – and then as a creator, Nichols maps his charmed route. The great play-by-play revealing Lillian Hellman’s suggested improvements to “Barefoot in the Park” illustrates the importance of humility and the suppression of ego, skills that Nichols knew how to exercise. A few of the legends (like the tale of the hasty Simon & Garfunkel rewrite that became “Mrs. Robinson”) have been around the block a few times, but Nichols doesn’t seem to mind taking a victory lap and neither will the viewer.

Elstree 1976


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Jon Spira’s “Elstree 1976” rounds up a group of bit players, extras, and background performers who just happened to be part of “Star Wars” before anyone had a clue that the film would become a popular cultural juggernaut. In the North London studio location where many sets had been constructed, some of the actors labored under the impression they were working on a minor entertainment designed for television broadcast. Others, however, grasped the possibility that George Lucas was in fact the real deal. Built primarily for fans but nevertheless enjoyable for space fantasy agnostics, Spira’s documentary poses some interesting questions about the elusive and mercurial nature of fame and the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time.

For the most devoted “Star Wars” fanatic (and I count myself among their number), “Elstree 1976” makes a few unexpected moves in terms of structure and content. Dominated by talking head interviews, the movie spends as much time listening to the participants describe in detail their personal journeys in stage, screen, and show business as it does unpacking any new or juicy tidbits of information about the making of “Star Wars.” That turn toward the quotidian humanizes the ten subjects, but rabid devotees will hunger for more insider talk of what it was like to spend time in the Mos Eisley cantina or Yavin 4’s rebel hangar.

David Prowse, who wore Darth Vader’s helmet, swung his lightsaber, and spoke his dialogue on set under the impression that his voice would eventually be heard onscreen, is the best-known member of the “Star Wars” cast to appear in “Elstree 1976.” Spira spends plenty of time with Prowse, rehashing the one-time bodybuilder’s notable role in “A Clockwork Orange” before addressing the feud between Lucasfilm and Prowse that has resulted in bitterness and acrimony unusual at Prowse’s level of importance within the “Star Wars” family. I wish Spira had probed the matter more deeply.

I am not sure whether the staged reenactments of stormtroopers and X-wing pilots standing around with sandwiches or scratching at the crotches of itchy armor adds value to the movie, but one imagines that any independent, non-sanctioned examination of “Star Wars” has to come up with some creative strategies to get around the lack of access to actual behind-the-scenes footage. The frequent macro close-ups of action figures in the likenesses of characters portrayed by the interview subjects is more interesting, particularly because Spira turns his attention to the proliferation of appearances at fan conventions by even the most tenuously connected “Star Wars” employee.

To that end, another of the movie’s most intriguing rabbit holes considers the unspoken – and apparently often violated – code of honor among those who make money by selling autographs at cons. Spira alights on a curious rift that sees a hierarchical pecking order of the lower tier personnel determined partially by just how much a person needed to have done to be afforded status in the exclusive “Star Wars” club (spoken line of dialogue vs. silent, masked appearance is one dividing line, for example).

That so many extras were hidden under Imperial helmets has only complicated the assignation of credit. The recent death of Michael Leader inspired multiple online obituaries identifying him as the stormtrooper who accidentally bumps his head while crossing through a Death Star passageway. In “Elstree 1976,” however, it is actor Laurie Goode who claims to be the clumsy soldier. That at least two people have become associated with such a seemingly insignificant gaffe says much about our ongoing fascination with a galaxy far, far away.

Beaver Trilogy Part IV


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Filmmaker Brad Besser unpacks the unbelievable story of cult moviemaker/artist Trent Harris and his best known work in “Beaver Trilogy Part IV,” an engrossing examination of underground cinema and the siren song of Hollywood fame. Starting in 1979 and concluding in 1985, Harris completed three movies revolving around a teenage dreamer known as Groovin’ Gary. While testing equipment at a Salt Lake City television station, Harris happened upon Gary (whose real name was Richard Griffiths), an affable kid captivated by the thought of being recorded on camera. The interaction resulted in “The Beaver Kid,” a nonfiction account of that first meeting and a later performance of Olivia Newton-John’s “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” made by Griffiths in drag as an alter-ego he called Olivia Newton-Dawn.

Among other things, the earnestness, sincerity, and vulnerability displayed by Griffiths as Newton-Dawn resonated with the storyteller in Harris, leading to a dramatized reinterpretation of the original movie. Titled “The Beaver Kid 2” and starring a young Sean Penn, who would later inject a bit of Groovin’ Gary into Jeff Spicoli, the second film walks a narrow line between respect for the original subject and a kind of ghoulish and exploitative fascination with Griffiths’ self-disclosure and naiveté. The latter charge, not directly confronted or deeply explored by Besser, manifests instead through a sense of gnawing guilt experienced by Harris.

Had “The Beaver Kid 2” concluded the odd saga of Groovin’ Gary, the tale might have been enough for the film’s fever dream status, but Harris cinematically returned to it one more time, making “The Orkly Kid” as his thesis at the American Film Institute. Shot on color film stock and featuring Crispin Glover in the lead role, the final chapter cemented the legend of Griffiths, now forgotten and out of contact with Harris. Although Besser plays fast and loose with his timeline, and punches up the melodrama with a comically heavy voiceover narration provided by Bill Hader, the best sections of “Beaver Trilogy Part IV” speculate on the feelings and motivations of Griffiths. Like all documentaries of this type, Besser saves a revelation or two for maximum impact.

Besser opts not to sustain the Griffiths thread as his movie’s sole subject, and turns to several of Harris’ other projects to pad the running time. Glover disciples who collected the fanzine “Mr. Density” in the pre-internet era of mom-and-pop video stores will especially enjoy the section on “Rubin and Ed,” the 1991 curiosity written and directed by Harris. The gonzo buddy movie, which tags along with Glover’s outré platform shoe enthusiast Rubin Farr as he seeks a final resting place for a frozen cat, was released too late to capitalize on a notorious 1987 “Late Night with David Letterman” appearance in which a fully committed Glover narrowly missed kicking the perplexed talk show host in the face.

“Beaver Trilogy Part IV” does not, unfortunately, include on-camera interviews with Penn and Glover, which for some will diminish much of the potential impact of the Groovin’ Gary metanarrative. A late section in which Besser recounts his own path to Harris, via the Utah filmmaking community, lacks the urgency of the movie’s previous content. The relationship of Harris to the Sundance Film Festival, which also factors in the saga, sparks additional interest, but like “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” “Winnebago Man,” and the found footage curated by the Everything Is Terrible! team, the very best part of “Beaver Trilogy Part IV” is the way in which the hidden treasures of the weird, the outside, the independent, and the low and no-budget got around in a time before YouTube.



Movie review by Greg Carlson

Finally making its way to HBO following a 2015 Cannes premiere and a festival run, Kent Jones’s “Hitchcock/Truffaut” (onscreen: “Hitchcock Truffaut”) demands attention from cinephiles of all ages. Bringing to life the 1966 book that emerged from a detailed series of face-to-face interviews conducted by Truffaut in Hollywood, Jones and co-scripter Serge Toubiana build a hagiographic monument to the filmmaker least in need of one. Even so, Jones makes a compelling case for Hitchcock’s lasting appeal as a master storyteller, and the tight documentary — which at 80 minutes will leave some salivating for more — serves as a visually engaging guide to one of the great directorial careers in motion picture history.

Crisply narrated by Bob Balaban (Mathieu Amalric in the French-language edition), “Hitchcock/Truffaut” cuts between key scenes from Hitchcock’s films — often accompanied by shrewdly selected audio clips from the 1962 meetings — and talking head interviews with a host of moviemakers inspired by the master’s techniques. Not surprisingly, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich are on hand to offer anecdotes and perspectives. They are joined by Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Olivier Assayas, and others, who frequently annotate unforgettable moments from “Sabotage,” “Notorious,” “The Wrong Man,” and on and on.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut” is not without significant shortcomings. While Hitchcock’s most important collaborator, his spouse Alma Reville, earns a brief, perfunctory mention, not a single woman is included among the contemporary interview subjects. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the only representative from outside America and Europe. Indispensable translator Helen Scott can be heard several times on the tapes, but unfortunately, we are offered no context for her key role in the original enterprise. By contrast, Robert Fischer’s “Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock,” in which terrific insights are shared by Madeleine Morgenstern, Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia, and Truffaut’s daughter Laura, accomplishes a more equitable representation of gender.

Another of the safe choices made by Jones is the emphasis placed in the second half of the film on “Vertigo” and “Psycho.” That two of Hitchcock’s most venerated movies feature prominently in the commentary is hardly a shock, especially given the longtime adoration of the pair by Hitchcock scholars and cineastes. The 2012 crowning of “Vertigo” in the number one spot on the Sight and Sound poll, which ended the fifty year record held by “Citizen Kane,” goes unmentioned in “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” but that “achievement” points to the unique position now held by the 1958 thriller. For the whetted appetite, Harrison Engle’s 1997 “Obsessed with Vertigo” makes a fine companion to Jones’s feature.

For the most devoted Hitchcock fans, Jones covers largely familiar territory. It is something of a welcome surprise, then, that the director deliberately omits explanations of the Bomb Theory and the MacGuffin, the latter of which is certainly a close cousin to Hitchcock’s fetishization of what Paul Schrader identifies as “dream objects,” those keys, handcuffs, ropes, lapel pins, and glasses of milk that, according to Assayas, may seem like minor details but “take a preeminent place” in the narrative, not unlike the way in which our own dreams govern what is important and what is not. In one delicious moment, Truffaut asks whether Hitchcock dreams much. The initial reply, in the negative, is only a surprise until Hitchcock slyly adds, “Daydreams, probably.”