Spettacolo (2017)

If there can be autobiographies, why not autodrama? Every year a rural Italian town writes and performs a play; what began as a means of recording history evolved into social commentary. It was never satire merely for laughs but what happens when meanings and motivations change? The irony is in the meta.

The purpose tradition serves is as varied as opinions about it. While it can preserve culture and thus unify a community, the very same can seem burdensome. There’s no easy answer to whether you should stick it out to protect history from being lost to modernity or embrace the future, which threatens/ promises to assimilate everything you’ve always known.

Since documentary filmmaking is mostly decisions about what to include, editing will spin a situation in a certain direction. Not that the tourists who visit the annual production don’t interpret things from their own perspective but surely for people to tell you about themselves in their own words goes beyond mere ritual…

Catch-22 (1970)

War is absurd in many ways, especially the unique subculture that forms in isolation. The very qualities that make this depiction stand alone keep it from being a favorite. Though adaptations of the novel abound– it’s easy to see why an Air Force pilot would be desperate for a diagnosis of “crazy” so he can get out of future missions– never has such a notable cast been assembled.

And unlike like modern stories that mostly highlight the seeming thrill of combat, this film’s non-linear structure gives a surreal quality to an ordinary routine, in which trauma blends with even the most mundane tasks, such as clerical duties and laundry. Unlike depictions of war that debuted around the same time (e.g. MASH), rather than merely utilize sarcasm, its unflinching dry humor highlights the same dark comedy found in the desperation, resourcefulness, futility (and, of course, the irony) of hollow victories.

Storm Boy (2019)

This realistic story is a blend of healing and compromise. The infusion of a conservation theme is quite different than typical films about animals, which tend to be preachy guilt trips. In this case, a fable bonds grandfather and granddaughter, who have more in common than she realizes, and serves as a bridge between past and present, which is a change of pace from the all-too-common use of random flashbacks to interject backstory. Furthermore, great pains were taken to respect indigenous culture, tradition and, appropriately, wildlife.

Helvetica (2007)

A movie about a font?? The history and evolution of typefaces is surprisingly complex. That we hardly (if ever) pay this one any mind is a testament to its prevalence. Some graphic designers love it; some hate it. But none can deny that its utilitarianism filled a void. Far beyond the fact of its existence, this fascinating documentary explores the nature of artistry and the creative process, the function of design and the impact of marketing, which is equally indicative of and influential to our culture.

The Iron Giant (1999)

This easily passes for a children’s movie given its young main character and sentimental tone. However, the historic context is noteworthy. Long before adventures were musical– certainly before computer animation, cartoons (such as the earliest depiction of the original superhero, Superman) were infused with a wariness of technology, especially in the era of McCarthyism.

This story captures the intrusion of industrial experimentation upon optimistic innocence, a concept lost on kids. Moreover, the military’s response to a creature capable of humanesque emotions will likely be disturbing to young viewers. But for a relatively mature audience, the theme of self-sacrifice will underscore the sweetness of friendship between a boy a robot during a time when the world needed it most. Perhaps it still does.

Saving Banksy (2017)

Whether or not you appreciate graffiti or even have a creative drive, existential questions arise about the nature of Art– mainly appropriation– and its place in Society.

Current street artists are generations of graffiti painters emerging from a covert subculture of gangs and indiscriminate vandals. To embellish a blank surface, they risk being shot/ stabbed by gangs or arrested by the authorities, one artist being imprisoned for 8 years.

The most famous street artist is the elusive, Banksy, who rose to prominence in San Francisco for images featuring simple yet poignant social commentary. Since few murals aren’t painted over to satisfy city officials who threaten massive fines and put liens on any property that leaves the images intact, they’re being removed to sell at galleries. Now fans were confronted by a new and confusing issue: vandalism and tagging of Banksy’s graffiti.

Trying to donate any of the world’s iconic pieces to a museum is a challenge (e.g. time constraints, artist permission, funds for scaffolding and lead abatement upon removal of historic material, transport, restoration, etc.), which is the primary focus of this film. “I have people who want to buy it for seven hundred thousand dollars but I can’t give it away for free.”

By the way, the DVD’s special feature– a deleted/ behind the scenes featurette– is interesting as a documentary in and of itself.

One, Two, Three (1961)

Don’t say I didn’t warn you: crisscrossed boisterous action and frenetic dialogue at breakneck speed are not for the faint of heart!

Mac, a driven Coca-Cola exec assigned to West Berlin is desperate to advance, which will ensure relocation to a better city, though he doesn’t share his wife’s preference. He agrees to host his boss’ teenage daughter, who turns out to be impudent and headstrong. Her antics, along with Mac’s priorities, further strain his troubled marriage.

Already juggling a mistress and business negotiations with some reluctant Russians, Mac finds himself the ringmaster of his own circus when the young socialite disappears. Then turns up married. To a Communist. And her parents announce they’re on their way to retrieve her. With only 24 hours to turn a Red beatnick activist into a Blue blooded Count, everyone springs into action to save the day (and thus their own skins).

The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story (2019)

Contributions from professional talent spanning 5 continents produced a stunning work of art in tribute to the legacy of an Australian who moved his family to India to tend to lepers there. Every effort was made to maintain authenticity, including casting real-life sufferers for a scene shot at an original setting. Regardless of your religious affiliation, this is a genuinely compelling story about humanity, forgiveness, truth, faith, hope and ultimately love filmed with breathtaking cinematography.

Mortal Engines (2018)

How to describe such a unique fantastical premise…

Entire societies are mobile; each hierarchical city functions within its own feat of engineering (think interlocking collapsible compartments). These giant robotic apparatuses roam the globe vying for power, forcibly assimilating anyone who gets in their way. The plucky young heroes could easily have been in The Maze Runner!

Until now, such an imaginative book series couldn’t have been adapted for the screen. Fortunately, The Peter Jackson specializes in bringing fictional worlds to life via intricately detailed sets and props enhanced by state-of-the-art computer animation.

Swing Kids (1993)

Pit any character against a Nazi and the audience will automatically know who to root for. It’s much harder to show how a reasonable person can become a cold-hearted monster. The zeal with which teenagers approach any popular interest makes them ideal recruits; it only takes a charismatic mentor to offer all the things the War has taken away, which no amount of Big Jazz, Swing dancing, and jive slang could provide. Friendships are strained as loyalties are tested. Could anyone/thing escape the grasp of the Reich?

Incidentally, (and thankfully) no one attempts a fake accent. They all speak American or British English and you don’t even notice.