True Films

Exit Through the Gift Shop


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Think of this as a documentary version of Inception. There are layers of truth and fiction that lead down many levels. The subjects being filmed are sometimes also making the film, and sometimes the subject of a real obsessive documentarian, but it is never clear what level you are watching. On the first level this is a documentation of street art beginning in the 1990s — and at this level alone it is worth watching. Street art means not just graffiti and stickers, but ironic stenciling, performance art, and even pranks in the manner of the guy who nailed his own painting on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art. That guy was the street artist Banksy, famous for both brilliant pranks and for keeping his real name and face unknown. For the first time Banksy is filmed in in action, pixelated. But who is filming him in this documentary? Is Banksy directing or someone else? This film itself is a prank about street pranks. It is a piece of street art, as much as a documentary can be, as indicated by its title reference to the moneyed art world of galleries (please exit through the gift shop). It is a fun ride and its intimate journey into late night urban art will really help you appreciate what street artists are trying to do (way beyond vandalism), and why it probably is the art of our times.

– KK

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Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy
2010, 86 minutes
$2, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm | comments


Restrepo


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This documentary about life on the battle field in Afghanistan gets high praise from soldiers as being “exactly what it is like.” The film begins with cocky young American rookies fresh off the plane getting shelled by insurgents before they reach their first destination. It may look like a first-person shooter video game, but the raw footage makes you quickly realize that this battle is far more pitiful than any game could be. It’s a game no one wants to play. When the besieged soldiers finally fight, their adrenaline peaks, but it peters out by the end of this story as they confront the head-banging futility of this war. (Later the outpost they so valiantly conquered is abandoned.) We are given faces to this, the longest war of the US. We get to know the comrades one by one, and the film is named after one beloved guy who is killed. The main achievement of this film (and the parallel book by the author/director) is to convey that what keeps the guys going, the reason they fight, is not any large idea, but to simply not let their comrades down. This movie is a real life Band of Brothers.

(Filming this was life threatening. The co-director was later killed in action while photographing the war in Libya.)

– KK

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Restrepo
Sebastian Junger, Tim Hetherington
2010, 93 minutes
$4, Amazon Instant Video rental

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Posted May 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm | comments
in category Investigative


Babies


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No narration, little dialog, much filming, all babies. Babies without a script. The camera focuses on four babies from four distinct regions of the world: Mongolia, Namibia, Japan and California. Quietly we watch them develop awareness, see them solicit reactions from their parents and siblings, and begin to impress the world with their wills. Each in their own habitat — as if this were a nature documentary, which it is. The baby of Mongolia shares the bath with a goat; the baby of Namibia eats dirt; the baby in California surveys an over-engineered environment. But as marvelous as these differences are, this wordless wildlife documentary shows that their commonality is even greater. We recognize the overwhelming babiness, or humanness, in each kid. Watching kids be themselves is so much more fun than watching TV, and here we have TV that is just watching kids be themselves. This film is a recursive nirvana!

– KK

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Babies
Thomas Balmes
2010, 78 minutes
DVD, $8

Official website

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Posted May 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm | comments


Last Train Home


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Here is a rare inside look at where your stuff comes from. The central event in China today is the mass migration of 100 million country folk to the cities to work in factories. This documentary follows one family out of those 100 million as it sacrifices everything to gain very little. Just getting the last train home at New Year’s is an ordeal worthy of arctic expedition. This raw and candid film is really a coming of age story about a typical teenage girl who can’t leave her boring farm quick enough, and the great pain her parents endure to help her succeed. But in the end it is a heartbreaking family drama — one played out millions and millions of times. With no preaching, you get to see the actual costs of the cheap jeans and electronics we purchase today. A big global picture is painted with this very intimate portrait of real life in the real China.

– KK

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Last Train Home
Lixin Fan
2009, 90 minutes
$4, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

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Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:15 am | comments