REVIEW: The World Before Your Feet (2018)

Directed by: Jeremy Workman
Genre: Documentary

Written by Jessica Peña

For no other reason than curiosity’s sake, Matt Green has embarked on a mission to walk every block of New York City, passing through all five boroughs of the bustling, diverse metropolis. You may think he’s chasing and finding nothing with this project, but in reality, he’s found the infinite wonders of his lovely town and the people and historical places that make the experience rewarding. Director Jeremy Workman begins to follow Matt on his intrinsic voyage and lets us take a peek in this uplifting, vérité story about a man’s journey.  

The World Before Your Feet is sublime in the way it appreciates location and culture that’s just around the corner. Matt Green is one of a kind, although human all the same, and his perspective in life has geared him up for this passion project (which at the time of the film’s release, is still going!). He was working as an engineer when he decided to just quit his job and begin this tiny project that’s brought on a lifetime of discovery. Some will think he’s a bum for living this way, and on his small blog, he invites you to tell him that. It’s not without good intentions and his sense of community and respect is contagious.

From Flushing, Queens, to Governors Island, the documentary begins and we’re already following Matt on the streets of a beautiful day. He’s observant, friendly, and full of magnificent insight. He sees nature and people mix on a daily basis, sharing the space with them, strolling by every block and corner. He’s even got a keen awareness to it all, even birds. “A lot of times, you don’t hear them ‘cause you’re not listening for them,” he tells the camera as he’s walking along a South Bronx neighborhood. It’s kind of like living in a neighborhood all your life and never noticing the things around you, the cool things just around that corner you never come to pass by. For Matt Green, it comes naturally and Workman makes it so easy to watch and experience it with him.

Influenced greatly by the documentaries from director Werner Herzog, Workman draws out the interesting in people and spotlights that individuality to the big screen. It also helps to have Jesse Eisenberg as an executive producer of the film, seeing as he’s a New York native and fell in love with the film’s rough cut. The most populous city in the U.S. is home to the things that come to dub the country the “melting pot” itself. It’s the people, the culture, the history, the natural elements, and the way they all come together. With the discoveries of culture, Matt stops at a moment’s notice to say hi to kids playing, offer help to others, and check out community gardens all the while documenting his routes by taking pictures and blogging his research onto his site, “I’m Just Walkin.”  

He’s essentially homeless, couch surfing at friends’ homes, house sitting for people, cat sitting regularly as a source of income. It explores parts about him as much as the love for the city. We see how this personal endeavor attracted some into his life and for the same reasons, pushed those relationships away. Of course, he’s a three-dimensional guy and the road to his oddly joyous plan to walk 8,000 miles in New York City has taken its minor hits. Nonetheless, Matt finds joy in learning more about the layers of the city’s history and memorial landmarks. The amount of history in one block alone is remarkable. His pictures of local barber shops, plants, buildings, old tulip trees, and piles of trash bags speak for themselves. He’s finding victories in these moments of appreciation and time frames of the unexpected that he comes by. The film chronicles his project in a multitude of interactions, both the retrospective instances and the curiosities from his bystander audience and background.

The World Before Your Feet is as curious for the intangible as it is reflective of blossoming culture and history. It’s an invitation to simple pleasures. The documentary coasts along for an enjoyable watch as this Virginia man turned New York streetwalker explores and relishes in his findings. Workman’s film is a lovely take on the busy city and finds warm spirits all around, as told through Matt Green’s delightful walking project. It’s us observing a wander-lusting, happy wanderer and it’s kind of absorbing.

 

JESSICA’S VERDICT:

3-5

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REVIEW: Three Identical Strangers (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Tim Wardle
Genre: Documentary

Written by Bianca Garner

Imagine waking up one day believing you were completely unique, truly one of a kind. Then suddenly realising that you were actually part of identical triplets. And not only do you all look alike, but you also share the same interests, have the same mannerisms and even smoke the same brand of cigarettes. Now, if this sounds like it’s a plot of a crazy larger than life comedy, then think again.

This extraordinary tale actually did happen to three young men and their story is explored in Three Identical Strangers. Directed by Tim Wardle, this extraordinary documentary starts off as a feelgood human interest story, but by the end, it will leave the viewer questioning “what makes you, you?” Wardle’s approach to telling this story is highly imaginative and visual, allowing the images and footage to speak for itself. It is clear that Wardle is interested in the subject matter (or should that be subject matters) and even those who aren’t the biggest fans of documentaries will find this one, very appealing.

Three Identical Strangers begins in 1980, with 19-year-old Bobby Shafran. Bobby attends his first day of university only to find his new classmates greeting him as ‘Eddy’, acting like they’ve known him for years despite it being the first time that they have met. In order to capture how surreal this even must have been, the director decides to tell the first half of the documentary through narration and recreated scenes. The viewer becomes immersed in this moment and is invested in the events that are playing out. Bobby and Eddy are introduced face to face, and there’s no denying that these two young men must be related. However, things take another unexpected turn when Bobby and Eddy meet and are contacted by David, whose adoptive mother noticed a pair of twins in the newspaper who looked exactly like her son.

What followed after the reunion, was a period of (pre-internet) immense fame that took the triplets from the Phil Donahue Show to a cameo alongside Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. The general public and the media were fascinated by the brothers’ likeness. The triplets played up to this act: they finished each other’s sentences, smoked the same brand of cigarettes, even had the same taste in women (“We prefer older ladies”). When one brother crossed his legs, the others followed. A decade later, the triplets us their fame to open they a steakhouse in Soho, New York, called Triplets (of course!), which was a hit. However, then their tale took an unexpectedly dark turn.

As the narrative unfolds, a shocking discovery is made concerning the truth about why the triplets were separated. It’s best not to give any of these details away, but it is truly disturbing to think how others could get away with meddling in the lives of newborn children. The shift in tone is at first quite a shock at first, and it will take some time to progress all the information that is being provided to you. Perhaps the documentary could have benefitted from a long run-time or being a television mini-series, simply because this story is so vast in scope. This is not a critique of the film, but rather praise. The story and the subjects are so interesting, that you want to see more of them. Wardle’s strong director and eye for detail help keep the viewer on the edge of their seat as they absorb everything that is occurring on screen, soaking in every last snippet of detail. In a year of strong, moving and well-directed documentaries, Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers certainly stands out from the rest with its distinct look and well-crafted use of editing, music, and visuals.

Not only is this a highly enjoyable and entertaining documentary; but is, more importantly, an educational and thought-provoking one. Three Identical Strangers asks the viewer to question and debates ideas (like the idea of nature vs. nurture and how far can the boundaries of human psychologically be tested). Wardle shows his capability as a compassionate director, and never does the documentary feel manipulative or false in order to provoke deep emotional responses from its viewer. This is a genuinely moving documentary, that does this extraordinary tale justice. This story is like nothing else you will see on screen this year, and you have to see it, to believe it.

Three Identical Strangers is truly identical and original in its own right.

BIANCA’S VERDICT:

4

LFF 2018: They Shall Not Grow Old

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Written by Sarah Buddery

Back in 2001, director Peter Jackson made huge technological advancements with his groundbreaking fantasy trilogy Lord of the Rings. Similarly, his latest film, WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, breaks new ground from a technical aspect, albeit with a very different subject matter.

Fusing previously unseen archive footage from the Imperial War Museum, and interviews recorded by the BBC and IWM, Jackson has lovingly restored and colourised footage of the Great War to present a vivid, immersive and enthralling documentary, unlike anything you will have seen before.

Marking the centenary of the end of the conflict, this film is also a personal passion project for Jackson, dedicated to the memory of his Grandfather, one of the many who perished during World War I. Narrated by the real voices of those who fought in the war, and through technological wizardry, the flickering black and white images are presented in vivid yet grim technicolour to give an honest and unflinching take on life in the trenches. Working with lip-readers, Jackson has also provided voice and sound to the silent footage, and the result is simply breathtaking.

Beyond its unquestionable achievements in film and technology, They Shall Not Grow Old succeeds in bringing to life the stories which run the risk of being forgotten. The ghostly apparitions of the soldiers on screen, the narration of those who lived through it, and the grisly tales of lice, rats, trench foot and death combine to present a “warts and all” telling of history. This film feels important, yet has no sense of self-importance or condescension. The soldier’s accounts are honest, surprising in many ways, and there is the hope that this film will be viewed for many years to come so that their memory lives on.

The film feels vast in scope, yet also candid and intimate. It covers wide ground right from the outbreak of war, recruitment and training, through to Armistice Day, yet it also maintains the deeply personal stories and accounts from the real people who lived through it. It certainly doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war as well and there are some grisly images expertly juxtaposed with the smiling faces of the soldiers. The effect is undeniably harrowing.

Perhaps one of the most harrowing moments occurs towards the end, however, and it is when the soldiers describe what it was like to return home. Many felt relief, but few felt victorious, and indeed the majority felt that their life no longer had purpose now the war was over. It is a sobering and sombre moment and its moments like this that might just change your perspective as the war is remembered going forward.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a triumph of documentary filmmaking, an entirely unique experience and a fitting tribute to the men who served; both the ones who returned and the ones who sadly did not. In the words of the poem by Robert Laurence Binyon from which the film takes its title, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”.

Sarah’s Verdict:

5

LFF 2018: After The Screaming Stops

Year: 2018
Directed by: Joe Pearlman, David Soutar
Genre: Documentary

Written by Dave Curtis

From what I remember when I was a young boy, “Bros” were the biggest band in the UK. They were always on ‘Going Live‘ with Phillip Schofield and Sarah Green on a Saturday morning. Sadly I only recall one of their songs; ‘When Will I Be Famous?’ (I’ve been told they did have other hits). It turns out the band spilt up and haven’t performed together for over a quarter of a century. Originally the band consisted of 3 members: Matt Goss, Luke Goss (twin brothers) and Craig Logan, who quit the band in 1987. So in 2016, the two brothers announced they would be playing a date at the O2 in 2017. One problem – the brothers aren’t really on talking terms and don’t exactly see eye to eye.

After the Screaming Stops‘ picks up with Matt and Luke in the run-up to the big reunion gig. Matt Goss is now having a very successful career as a Frank Sinatra type singer in Las Vegas and Luke Goss is now a Hollywood actor. You may have seen him in Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Blade 2‘ and ‘Hellboy 2‘. Each brother is now living their own life. The documentary follows the brothers as they try and rehearse for the reunion show. It’s fair to say that it doesn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Having little to no knowledge of Bros doesn’t dampen the enjoyment for this rather surprising documentary. It is definitely a film of two halves which play very differently.  The first half an hour or so is more like a real-life mixture of ‘Spinal Tap’, ‘Alan Partridge‘ and David Brent from ‘The Office’. Matt Goss comes out with some truly memorable quotes which I think are unintentionally funny. Sometimes the laughing seems cruel but it is unavoidable. It seems he is trying to play up to the camera, after all, he is the frontman. The second half gets a lot more serious. Finally the two brothers are in the same room and years of pent-up anger and jealousy spills out in front of the camera. There are huge arguments which come close to punch-ups, but there are also sweet, tender and heartbreaking moments.

It is clear that the brothers love each other but with years of built-up emotions it was never going to be smooth sailing. What’s great about ‘ATSS’ is that the camera never shies away from anything. It’s all caught on camera. It could have been heavily cut. Props should be given to the filmmakers Joe Pearlman and David Soutar for that but it should also be given to Matt and Luke Goss. It is a brave thing letting the world see you like this and they come off the better for it. In the end you can’t help but root for them.

If you are a Brosette then you will come out smiling but luckily for everyone else, there is a lot to get out of this. It’s not so about the music itself but the relationship of the two brothers and luckily that is enough.

DAVE’S RATING:

3

Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

Year: 2018
Directed by: Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Written by Jessica Peña

Three years since the alleged suicide of Sandra Bland, the new HBO documentary Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland looks to explore the varying angles and perspectives surrounding her case. On July 15, 2015, Bland was found hung in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas after being arrested at a traffic stop just three days prior. Her death was ruled a suicide but has since left too many questions unanswered. Seeded within a culture of grizzly police brutality and growing racially-motivated violence, her case sparked immense outrage and grief. In this documentary, there’s so many things to unpack about the case, but more than anything, we get a personal glimpse into who Sandra Bland was as she tells her own story.

Co-directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner allow Sandra to become a charismatic presence in the documentary, letting her welcome us and showing us the things that enraged and engaged her. “Good afternoon, my beautiful kings and queens,” she’d say all through her personal vlogs. She didn’t believe in the silence that tainted closed minds; she was putting herself out there as a voice to enlighten the masses. Sandra was standing up for things such as children’s education on black history, learning to love the skin you’re in as well as one’s natural hair, and pushing to open the conversation of racial privilege. She was an activist, an empowered woman of color, an aunt, a daughter.

A glaring, yet powerful, approach is how the documentary treats all sides of the case. Davis and Heilbroner devote a spotlight to both sides of the sphere, interviewing Texas authorities as well as following the Bland family closely through legal affairs. It’s at times unsettling to be watching those who surrounded her within her last hours take the screen to explain their circumstances. Details become blurry and the pulls of this sudden legal thriller tips on the edge. This unfavorable perspective of the story prompts viewers to dissect the parallels in police misconduct and the systemic shortcomings that led to Bland’s life being cut short. The film makes an effort to reach out and inform you. Her ”Sandy Speaks” video series alone proves the relevance in her word, the hardy attitude that makes her reported death an unbelievable happening

Hearing first hand from Bland’s family as early as ten days after her death (the time filming began) is an emotionally powerful stance on this wonderful woman’s legacy. Patience and care blossom in the structure of the film and it blends Sandra’s strong-willed personality into a message of unashamed activism and strength. This film is a thoughtful ode to Sandra’s life and it’s just as powerful and important as she was.

Say Her Name is a momentous piece of documentary filmmaking that’ll no doubt bear a cultural impact, as it should! During the runtime we learn more about Sandra and are shaken to the core at just how much of a loss her death has truly signified. Through this documentary we remember her for who she was, what she stood for, and how the fight for justice is never truly satisfied. HBO has produced a powerful documentary to add to this already stunning year for docs.

Jess’ Rating: 

4.5

Steven Tyler: Out On A Limb

Year: 2018
Directed by: Casey Tebo

Written by Jessica Peña

Tune in to any classic rock radio at any given day and it’s likely you’ll hear an Aerosmith ballad. Next thing you know, it’s reeling you into car karaoke. So infectious, so energetic. Lead singer Steven Tyler is sort of that way, too. At 70 years old, there’s no stopping him. He’s come a long way from the rowdy early days of Aerosmith and is looking to spread his wings and welcome a new musical vitality, a new passion route like nothing before— country music. Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb documents the singer’s journey of self-discovery, his country roots personality, and his new lease on the music landscape. These behind the scene quirks blend seamlessly into live concert footage of his Out on a Limb tour at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, where he now calls home. A concert film in its own right, this documentary has a lot to admire, root for, and engage with.

Directed by former Aerosmith roadie, Casey Tebo, the film features his friendship with Steven, talking head interviews of industry peers such as Slash and Robert DeLeo, and Steven’s bond with Nashville-based Loving Mary Band as they tour his solo album ‘We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.’ After hearing stories of band conflicts you’re met with wildly spirited performances of Steven’s newest album throughout the film. It’s his antidote to industry wrath and negative energy, things the legendary singer-songwriter no doubt experienced in his 30 years with Aerosmith. His constant willingness to create and perform become second nature and his move to Nashville proves to be one of the best things in the documentary. The collaboration with Loving Mary Band is highlighted in the second half as we lean more into discovered roots and how the sound of country music has become the basis for Steven’s new creative freedom.

Whether his solo country album is your cup of tea or not, the performances featured from the concert are quite alive and eerily nostalgic, thanks in part to his unmatchable rockin’ voice. And that’s another thing: his voice, grounded in its raspy, soulful glory, almost hasn’t aged as he reaches the high note of Dream On in this concert. He’s still so dedicated to the songs as if it’s still Aerosmith’s career peak and that’s what keeps the documentary moving along. Steven can only be true to himself and so sparks the continuing ride of forming new ties and solidifying his vow to make roots in Music City. For those craving to see more about the singer and the ins and outs of his career that led to this album, it’s a nice glimpse. The doc is also a pleasant enough portrait that will bring in long-time fans of his into welcoming this new angle of his life.

Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb is a lively, vibrant showcase of the singer’s personal career, offering insight to his love of life, people, music, and calling these passions home. There’s no denying the appeal of someone so intent on molding their forever happy environment and finding the grounds to stand by it. If nothing else, this documentary helps fixate the notion that life experiences carry so much weight on who we are and sometimes it’s worth it to break out of your norm and leap into something new. Steven Tyler’s new story is not necessarily a groundbreaking one but it’s definitely here to please and inspire, and that gets some respect.

Jessica’s Rating: 

3-5

Whitney

Year: 2018
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Written by Sarah Buddery

Cited as the most awarded female act of all time, legendary singer Whitney Houston’s celebrated career and her subsequent tragic death are the latest subject for master-documenteer Kevin Macdonald.

With previous credits including heralded documentaries Touching the Void, Life in a Day and the Oscar-winning biopic The Last King of Scotland, Macdonald is undoubtedly the right man for this job, stepping in to shed new light on the already well-documented story of Houston’s rise and devastating fall.

I should point out at this point that I am a huge fan of Whitney Houston, so of course this documentary was high up on my most anticipated films of the year. Having very recently watched the 2017 TV documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me? I had been concerned that Whitney would just be a carbon-copy of this, another run-of-the-mill documentary with nothing new to say that would merely leave audiences wondering why it needed to exist. Of course, in the safe hands of Macdonald, this should never have been a concern, and what he has managed to craft is a film which has enough sense of familiarity but yet also delivers shocking and perhaps previously unknown revelations about Whitney’s life.

The documentary, for the most part, covers Whitney’s life chronologically, however, it cleverly leaves certain things open and ambiguous; a proverbial trail of breadcrumbs which are picked up later on. Similarly to Amy Winehouse documentary Amy (an Altitude release, as is Whitney), there is the horrible powerless feeling of watching a car wreck in slow-motion, but the way Whitney unfolds and the way the story is constructed with these aforementioned breadcrumbs ensures that there are moments which still shock and surprise. The revelations, when they do come, are devastating and gut-punching, and Macdonalds methods mean this is a story thrillingly told, expertly paced, and positively electric in its execution.

There is always the risk with a story like this that it’ll become sensationalized, but that is never territory that Whitney strays into. The immense talent and tragedy of Whitney Houston are given an equal share and the film goes to incredible lengths to ensure that all sides of the story are covered. It inevitably points the finger in some ways regarding Whitney’s spiral into drug addiction, but also never in a way which is conclusive. This could have come across as frustrating, but again it is so well-handled by Macdonald that it leaves you with the feeling that all factors were in some way contributory to Whitney’s fate.

For this reason, and many more, Whitney is a breathtaking documentary that manages to deliver a fresh take on a person whose life has already been the subject of so much scrutiny. This probably won’t be the last time a documentary examines her life, but Whitney, for now, succeeds in being the definitive Whitney Houston documentary; sensitively told yet with undeniable fire and passion. This is not just one of the best documentaries of the year, but one of the best films of the year. For fans and newcomers alike, Whitney offers a personal and captivating snapshot of a talented and tragic figure; unmissable.

Sarah’s Rating: 

5

 

Competition: Win A Copy Of ‘Fred’ on DVD!

We recently reviewed ‘Fred’ and thanks to the kind folks over at Lionsgate UK, we have a DVD copy up for grabs! All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to make sure you’re following us on Twitter and retweet the following tweet!

Former London gangster Freddie Foreman is nearing the end of his life. A heavyweight villain with an unbelievably bloody past, Freddie is the last living legend of the Krays’ London underworld. A ruthless criminal, still feared and revered to this day. Freddie now lives in a retirement home: alone with only the memories of his former crimes to look back on.

DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 28TH MAY & DVD 4TH JUNE

With strained family relations and increasing health issues, Freddie finally tells all and revisits his old haunts in an attempt to understand what pushed him towards a life of crime. From his impoverished childhood, to traumatic memories of the Blitz and WWII, Freddie is a fascinating character study. Can a man accused of over forty murders, known as the Godfather of London, really find redemption?

Fred is written and directed by Paul Van Carter (‘The Guv’nor’) of Salon
Pictures.

Starring Freddie Foreman.

Amazon pre-order: http://amzn.eu/epJwobn

100 Years of the RAF

Year: 2018
Directed by: Richard Jukes
Narrated by: Sir Martyn Lewis

Written by Tom Sheffield

To celebrate 100 years of courage, perseverance and innovation, Richard Jukes directs a brand new documentary on the Royal Air Force. The documentary introduces us to former service men and women who discuss what it was/is like to be a part of the RAF, a look at how innovative they’ve been over the last 100 years and why that has been important to their continuous success.

Sir Martyn Lewis lends his voice to this documentary as it’s narrator. Lewis is best known for his for his news reporting for the BBC back in the 80’s and 90’s – Fun Fact: he also had appeared in ‘The World is Not Enough’ as a newsreader.

Admittedly, my knowledge of the RAF (and aeroplanes in general) is fairly lacking, which is why I was keen to watch this documentary. Thankfully it was as insightful and eye opening as I’d hoped it would be, and the mixture of footage with narration and interviews with former and present service men and women managed to maintain my attention throughout – which is quite a rare occurrence for me when it comes to documentaries.

The beginning of the documentary focusses heavily on the World War 1 & 2, showing some incredible footage of how the RAF was constantly innovating their planes to make sure they had the upper-hand against the country’s enemies. The documentary takes a look at some of the incredible machinery the RAF developed and piloted, including Hurricanes, Meteor F3’s, Vampires, and the iconic Lancaster Bombers and Spitfires. Former service men and women are introduced and share their experience of their time in the RAF and what it was like to fly into war.

The World Wars are obviously subjects that were touched upon during my school years, and there are numerous films and other documentaries that focus on them, but I’ve never watched anything before with the sole focus on the RAF during this period. The interviews with some of the men and women that piloted these incredible pieces of machinery were incredibly touching because you can really tell how proud they were to serve their country and they’re incredibly modest about their roles.

The documentary then continues to discuss how the RAF has continued to grow and innovate through the years, including their involvement in the Iraq War and the current fight against so-called Islamic State, and how they’ve played a key role supporting ground forces. During this section we’re given a greater insight on how the RAF’s role has grown over the years and how they had to adapt and innovate to new challenges and new threats. A number of current service men and women of various different rankings are interviewed and discuss their role and the challenges they face.

Drones are also discussed towards the end of the film. This technology is fairly new but there have already been huge leaps in this unmanned technology already, with a couple future hopes touched upon by Lewis.

Of course, the RAF isn’t just for war purposes. The documentary makes a great point of reminding us of the invaluable Valley Mountain Rescue (RAFMRS) division, the RAF’s involvement delivering aid to countries following disasters, and the iconic Red Arrows. Having this section towards the end of the film feels makes for an effective reminder after the first hour is mostly spent telling us their use during wars and conflicts.

The narration and footage is often accompanied by some inspirational sounding music, but it never distracts you from what’s happening on screen or from what Lewis is saying. I often find that music in documentaries can be quite off putting and distracting, especially when directors use it during real footage, but I can happily say I didn’t think this was the case for here.

With a centuries worth on innovation being discussed, this documentary manages to be incredibly informative and eye opening within it’s 94 minutes runtime. My initial fear before watching the documentary was that it might just focus on one aspect of the RAF – the pilots. Thankfully Jukes ensures there is a variety of service men and women from all ranks and time of service are interviewed, with each of them giving us an insight into their role and teaching viewers that each role they have is equally as important as their peers.

Innovation has and always will underpin the success and ethos of the RAF”

Tom’s Rating:

4