Harsh Texture

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    • documentary
    | Sept. 6, 2016, 11:05 p.m.
    Baltimore nurtured a love of dirt bikes since the late nineties. They called themselves the 12 O’Clock Boyz, so named for the trick that surpassed the wheely by raising the front wheel until the bike rides perpendicular to the road below. Bootleg videotapes circulated in the poor black communities. Popularity built up in the ensuing years, as videos of the riders’ exploits proved popular among Youtube’s global audience. What started as a handful of riders ballooned into dozens, a pack of young men riding through the streets en masse. When 12 O’Clock Boys opens the pack has grown
    • documentary
    | Nov. 26, 2017, 1:10 a.m.
    Although the focus of this film is fairly explicit in its title what really stuck with me after walking out of the theater was the slight reggae act Lambsbread. That’s the group formed by a couple of the Hackney brothers after Death’s ill fated rebranding as the gospel rock “Fourth Movement”. This is a group I’m intimately familiar with. How many of our parents, aunts, and uncles wound up in a similar state? The last refuge for their dreams of rock stardom as a residency playing island-themed bars in furthest reaches of the suburbs. You can appreciate
    • documentary
    • musical
    | Feb. 25, 2018, 7:14 p.m.
    Music documentaries have never been out of fashion. It's a reliable format that adopts an equally familiar template: open with a dynamic performance piece, then a series of talking heads gush over the as-yet introduced subject with all manner of hyperbole, finally the film contextualizes and proves the worth of the subject. In all the films released on musicians, none ever began with the subject physically assaulting the film crew until “Beware of Mr. Baker”. He’s just been told that other people will be interviewed about him to round out the feature. Baker responds by splitting open the
    • documentary
    | Aug. 10, 2016, 10:23 p.m.
    Charles Bradley may be the only 62 year old to release a debut album, but there is some precedent for older performers breaking into the popular music business. The folk boom of the 60’s brought with it a newfound appreciation for the acoustic blues of the twenties and thirties. Howling Wolf got his first record contract with Chess while in his forties; artists such as Skip James, Furry Lewis, and Mississippi John Hurt were invited back into the studio for the first time in three decades. In the late aughts, the record industry is in a similar
    • concert
    • documentary
    • musical
    | April 8, 2018, 12:24 p.m.
    Elvis and John Lennon loom over Hail Hail Rock and Roll like spectres. Chuck Berry may be the only other rock star of their pedigree and stature. The two pop up constantly when the interviewees search for a suitable comparison for Berry. Via archival footage John Lennon proclaims that if Rock ‘n Roll had another name it might be called “Chuck Berry”. Among the talking heads Hail Hail marshalls, there’s Berry’s contemporaries Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. They all seem to shrink in Berry’s presence. All their dalliances as chart toppers on the forefront
    • documentary
    | Aug. 16, 2016, 10:24 p.m.
    The Newport Jazz Festival was one of the most important cultural institutions of mid 20th century America. It resuscitated Duke Ellington’s career, and hosted the opening salvo of Bob Dylan’s electric period while affording dozens of musicians an appreciative mainstream audience. Jazz itself was still a ways off from its designation as America’s Classical Music, and events like Newport went a long way to bolstering its credentials. In it’s first half “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” is as much an advertisement for the Newport community as a historical record of important artists. Jazz never feels like an
    • documentary
    • musical
    | Nov. 19, 2017, 2 p.m.
    Normally posthumous bios exist to perpetuate myths, turning their subject into saints or demons. Mr. Dynamite pulls in the opposite direction. Almost a dozen of Brown’s associates work at stripping away the misconceptions and legends until we get an idea of the real man underneath. This may not have been possible during Brown’s lifetime. As the film makes clear, Brown’s life work was to recalibrate how the world viewed him. The means to this may have seemed subtle but were the product of meticulous discipline. He made sure his band always dressed in suits, even while traveling through the
    • documentary
    | July 4, 2016, 1:39 p.m.
    Jason Holliday speaks in paragraphs. He finds a train of thought quickly, often before the camera can focus, and plows through the topic. When he begins an anecdote, his voice starts with a faint lisp before settling into a hearty baritone and finally finishing in belly laughs. Does this make Jason Holliday ideal as the sole subject of a feature length documentary? Unfortunately the old adage about never laughing at your own jokes seems to hold here and would be prudent advice. It’s clear that no one could be more amused by Jason Holliday than Jason Holliday. Or perhaps Aarron
    • documentary
    • musical
    | Jan. 21, 2018, 4:08 p.m.
    “Seymour: An Introduction” concerns itself with Seymour Bernstein. A small man who eeks out a modest living in a one bedroom rent-controlled apartment in New York City through providing piano lessons. However for decades Seymour was one of the preeminent classical pianists of his generation. He toured the world, received rave reviews from the notoriously gruff critics of the day, and enjoyed the patronage of wealthy dowagers. He is the subject of Ethan Hawke’s first documentary feature. It's clear Hawke views his subject with a mix of awe and respect. Seymour’s interviews are filmed in comfortable quarters.
    • documentary
    • superhero
    | June 10, 2017, 4:41 p.m.
    I love the new era of micro documentaries. Seemingly everything of any significance gets a feature-length retrospective. My favorite among these act more as self promotion platforms and invitations for audience involvement. Even if they don’t work as films, I still feel invested in the outcome. After watching “Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth” I wished I had a club to book him. “Searching for Sugarman” of course incites a righteous rage to recover Sixto Rodriguez’s royalties. “Starring Adam West” frames its structure around the quest to get West’s career recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk
    • crime
    • documentary
    | Aug. 1, 2016, 9:31 p.m.
    “The Imposter” poses a much more realistic and insidious version of that old logic question:  you’re presented with a party that will only lie, often for purely self serving and malicious ends; and another party that’s withholds the truth about a key event.  How do you determine what happened?
    • documentary
    | Sept. 15, 2016, 11:52 p.m.
    It was after the military broke up one of the sit ins by driving through the crowd with armored vehicles. The Square caught footage of a man staring ahead, his skull split and face bent. At that point I started to suspect the old saying, “history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce” doesn’t apply to the events of Tahrir Square. This is tragedy begetting tragedy. There’s certainly repetition. The protesters reach their limit with the establishment. They fill the square. Slogans, chants, and songs. The leader falls. The constituencies reassemble remaking the leadership out of the same
    • documentary
    • military
    | June 4, 2017, 10:21 p.m.
    The Unknown Known is a sequel of sorts to Errol Morris’s Fog of War. Both deal with disgraced secretaries of defense who oversaw failed wars that proved the limitations of US military might. In a way both films were about the invasion of Iraq starting in March 20th, 2003. The Fog of War was released on March 5th, 2003, but the lurch towards war with Iraq had been building since the Clinton administration. The film was structured as a series of lessons Robert McNamara learned over the course of an impressive career with an ignominious end.
    • documentary
    | April 1, 2018, 2:35 p.m.
    There’s no shortage of families that pull themselves out of American society. In media accounts they are often cast in a positive light: keeping their children out of public schooling that’s fundamentally flawed either due to its secular nature, or to save their children from mixing with undesirables. When these families pop up on TV they tend look similar: mid-western, protestant, white, well-spoken. At this point “home schooled children” don’t draw images of urban environments, public housing, child abuse, or near-total societal isolation. Fearful of the outside world, and eager to build his own family into an ideal society,