True Films

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great


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This program is how classical history should be taught. Amateur historian Michael Woods demonstrates the power of knowledge gained when you live out the past exactly. Forcing himself to follow the actual footpaths of Alexander the Great on his 10,000 mile march — at least as much as politics, research, and geography would allow — Woods uncovers all kinds of insights about Alexander’s personality and tactics, while providing viewers an amazing journey of their own — starting with caravans in the Sudan and ending with caravans in Pakistan, gliding across river crossings in Russia and in river boats down India, stretching from the mountains of Macedonia to the mountains of Afghanistan. Beautifully written, expertly hosted, magnificently filmed, and wonderfully enlightening — this BBC-produced film is simply the best short course (3 hours) in ancient history that I’ve yet seen.

– KK

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In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great
Directed by David Wallace
1998, 240 min.
$90, DVD

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Posted April 24, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category History


No Direction Home: Bob Dylan


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The first Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, revealed far more about Bob Dylan’s character, but this one fills in more of his history. It covers his transformation from an unremarkable wannabe musician from Minnesota into a prophetic, enigmatic, world-class poet and artist in the late sixties in Greenich Village, New York. In future centuries I think Dylan will come to be regarded as a genius on the order the greatest poets of all time, and this documentary will be a near-official record of his genesis.

– KK

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No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Directed by Martin Scorsese
2005, 207 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted April 20, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Aliens of the Deep


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Who knew that James Cameron, the director of the Alien films and Titanic, was a hopeless science nerd and submarine groupie? Cameron uses his extensive resources to hire four cute mini-submersibles, staffs them with good looking astronauts and exobiologists, and then sets off to explore the bottom of the ocean as if it were another planet. And it is! There is a weird world down there, entirely separate from the solar powered ecosystems on the rest of the planet. In the oceanic deep, this alien world is chemically- and heat-powered, which makes for very bizarre creatures, seen up close and personal. Cameron makes the controversial case that archaic life may have begun in this non-solar environment first and then later migrated to the lighted world. The drama of surviving bone-crushing deep dives is just a rehearsal for future expeditions to the other moons in our solar system that may have water and underwater alien life. The science is well done, very engaging, and very imaginative. It’s done with such impeccable Hollywood filmwork that it feels like a science fiction film. Be sure to watch the extended, and not the short IMAX, version.

– KK

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Aliens of the Deep
Directed by James Cameron
2005, 47 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted April 19, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill


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An articulate and overeducated man, but a drifter and nearly homeless, finally finds his calling in life: to feed and befriend a flock of escaped parrots on a high-priced hill in San Francisco. Like Francis of Asisi, he gently delves so deeply into the lives of these exotic birds that he can identify them individually, and over time follows their saga through generations as they multiply and take over the neighborhood. Through him you get to watch a parrot soap opera — who died, who’s with whom, she said, he said. It’s a wonderful natural history mystery, and as therapy, the parrots seem to liberate our saint from his stagnation. Enlivened by this wild bunch, he steps out and becomes an expert — on parrots. In short, a man is tamed by wild parrots; and the parrots become as interesting as people.

– KK

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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Directed by Judy Irving
2005, 83 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted April 18, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Grizzly Man


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The joy of the wild can melt our hearts so that we feel completely at one with nature. Sometimes that joy is so great it can send us over the edge into madness. That’s what happened to Timothy, who fell in love with the Grizzly Bear. His zeal to protect them from other humans led him to spend 14 summers in their feeding grounds where he became their friend. He came to see his defense of them as heroic and began filming himself as the star of his own movie while living among them. In his own intimate video tapes, we hear his confessions, dreams, and scripted scenes as gonzo nature host. We also watch close up and personal as he gradually becomes unhinged in his connection to the bears, and late one fall, Timothy is eventually eaten by one of the grizzlies he was filming. Later, Timothy’s footage was masterfully edited and supplemented with interviews by documentarian Werner Herzog into one of the most memorable true films in years.

– KK

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Grizzly Man
Directed by Werner Herzog
2005, 100 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted April 17, 2006 at 7:05 pm | comments
| in category Extremists


Murderball


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Man, these guys are tough. They play take-no-prisoner rugby in wheelchairs. They are rams with wheels. No special allowances or protective gear for these quadriplegic cases, even though a lot of them have broken their necks once before. They overturn each other on their way to the Olympics in a sport called, affectionately, murderball. Several of the more colorful characters on the US team are featured in depth. We hear the story of how they wound up severely disabled (thrown from a car, crushed in a brawl, crashed a motorcycle), and what they’ve done to transform their lives since. It is clear that for this team, most of them are living fuller lives than before they were chairbound. The serious competition through the Olympics is great fun. Their success in living, inspirational. It’s an entertaining documentary.

– KK

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Murderball
Directed by Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
2005, 85 min.
$6, DVD

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Posted April 14, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


On Any Sunday


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By the same guy who did the Endless Summer. What that classic documentary did for surfing, this one did for motorcycling when it was released 35 years ago. It made a somewhat fringe activity appealing to the mainstream. And like the Endless Summer, this film is almost as enjoyable now as it was in 1971 despite the many decades of technical improvement in equipment and the film’s jaunty oh-so-seventies soundtrack. It’s hard to remember that motorcycles were once esoteric, rare, and underground. This film recaptures the sudden exhilaration and freedom that regular people discovered by zooming along on two powerful wheels. On Any Sunday was the first of all motorcycle films, and may still be the best. It features some obsessive and legendary motorcyclists, as they became one with their bikes, practically living on them. They were some new kind of creature, human above, wheels below. Their relentless search for new ways to ride a cycle, and new races to join, keep this vintage film fresh and fascinating. Obsessive passion never ages, and never fails to fascinate me.

– KK

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On Any Sunday
Directed by Bruce Brown
1971, 96 min.
$3, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted at 12:10 am | comments
| in category Sports


Little Dieter Needs to Fly


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Few lives are as dramatic as Dieter’s. Born dirt poor in Germany, he was starved to eating wallpaper during the bombing of his village in WWII, endured beatings as an apprentice blacksmith, arrived penniless in America in the hopes of being a pilot, peeled potatoes for two years in the Air Force, enrolled in the Navy, got to fly in Vietnam, was shot down in Loas, endured torture and starvation in Vietnam, and escaped in a series of unbelievable adventures to return to the US as a Purple Hearted hero. This documentary by Werner Herzog retraces Dieter’s life, including a journey back to Loas, where Dieter re-enacts his capture, and months of torture in a mountain prisoner of war camp. Naturally Dieter is quite a character, and his charisma is evident in this excellent portrait of an unusually observant and hardened survivor.

– KK

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Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Directed by Werner Herzog
2002, 74 min.
$10, DVD

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Posted April 6, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


In the Realms of the Unreal


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A poor old man lives 50 years as an absolute recluse without a single friend or family. He speaks to no one; he talks only to himself in his room. Using different voices, he acts out his rage at the mistreatment he experienced growing up in orphanages and institutions for the mentally handicapped. When he finally leaves his room to die in a hospital (where he once worked as a janitor), his landlords discover in his room the longest novel ever written — a towering stack of 15,000 pages. His tale recounts an imaginary, nearly endless series of battles between evil adults who wage war against innocent children — specifically, seven angelic sisters. Despite its stupendous length, this story and the man’s life would have been utterly forgotten except for one amazing wrinkle. The man, Henry, painted hundreds of scenes from his ‘realms of the unreal’ on long scrolls in amazing detail. His paintings were immediately recognized as a work of art. He had gift: an exquisite sense of color, an eye for composition, and a true artist’s vision. There was a touch of genius in him, one that not a single other human had ever known about. The one or two others who had any contact with him were shocked. This clever films manages to digitaly animate Darger’s scrolls so their enhanced scenes represent the battles which consumed Darger, and through his zany colorful images you enter into his strange world, which he spent 50 years building in complete secrecy. His is not a welcoming world, born out of the pain of his own history; it’s truly weird. But instead of spending 50 years in his room consuming TV, he spent 50 years producing his own fantasy, in great curious detail, and for that achievement, he deserves this worthwhile journey into his world and back.

– KK

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In the Realms of the Unreal
Direct by Jessica Yu
2005, 82 min.
$20, DVD

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Posted April 5, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments


Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age


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In this short film “hackers” is used in its original MIT meaning for someone who comes up with an ingenious or daring “hack” or invention, shortcut, or prank. Not coincidentally, some of the hackers here are legends in the digital era: Steve Wozniak, Ted Nelson, Andy Hertzfeld. This records the first time three generations of hackers meet each other. They gather in a camp to relive old exploits, show off recent hacks and plot the future. I was involved in organizing the event in 1984 and appear briefly in the part about the first multiple player game.

– KK

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Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age
Directed by Fabrice Florin
1986, 26 min.
$30, DVD

Watch the whole thing on YouTube.

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Posted April 4, 2006 at 5:00 am | comments