Shadows of Liberty (UK) (site)
It's difficult to talk about the changing nature of big media these days without coming off like some sort of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist. BUT THAT'S JUST WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK.
Seriously though, the media is as knackered now as it's ever been. And I don't mean that from an economic point of view (the big companies at least, are rolling in it), rather the impartiality of the 'free' press is going increasingly to the dogs.
This film focuses on the most vocal adherent to the concept press freedom, the United States, where successive presidents, beginning in particular with Reagan, have removed the regulatory chains that bound the large companies from merging, taking on multiple media outlets, and swallowing up any competition. Todays' press is controlled by five main players, and if you flip between the channels, you see carbon copies of the same things. News bundled as entertainment.
But that is only part of the story told here. Taking several examples of corporations and governments leaning on the press, including the Nike labour practices story that got Roberta Baskin fired for asking too many questions, the 1996 TWA Crash where eyewitness accounts were ignored and suppressed, and the story of Gary Webb, the journalist who shot himself because his expose of the connections between the crack cocaine explosion in US and the war in Nicaragua was shut down by the big papers, Shadows of Liberty presents an appalling state of affairs where slowly but surely, the corporations seize more power under the guise of the free market, and the will of the people is increasingly ignored.
The film ends with a cautionary note; the Internet is a massively free exchange of views and ideas that has opened peoples eyes like never before, and it must remain that way. Amendments such as ACTA and SOPA, made with the help of the largest corporate players have already attempted to put a leash on it, under the marketing speak of 'protection of the individual'. It is easier for the corporations to stamp any dissent and carry on their rise, than to change the ways that they work. 8/10
José and Pilar (Por) (wiki)
José Saramango was an outspoken author. Born in religiously conservative Portugal, his books questioning the existence of God ensures a constant stream of abusive letters to his door. These tend however not to hit their intended target, as Pilar del Rio, his passionate and formidable wife, gives them short shrift.
There is no time anyway, his mail is overflowing with gratitudinal essays, new story ideas by people with a lot of time on their hands, and of course, invitations to social functions. Lots of them. Saramango's publishing reach spans the globe, his many books translated into many more languages, and it has earned him a passionate following. His stories have been turned into theatre plays and films, and his mantlepiece is overflowing with awards, including Portugal's only Nobel piece prize for literature.
José and Pilar places us as companions on their hectic schedule, José's weatherworn wit and good nature shining through his weakened voice, and Pilar's job to carry his world on her shoulders. And of course, their unending love for each other, which during the course of the film strengthens considerably in the face of Jose's old age, causing a change in the way they live their lives.
More than just silently following two people, this is a beautiful journey of love and dedication. 8/10
The Rise and Fall of the Clash (UK) (facebook)
The Clash were a hugely influential punk rock band, although during their peak in the early 80's, I was just learning about crossing the road safely and not trying to eat electricity, so they went pretty much over my head until fairly recently, when a punk/80's revival of sorts came back into the charts. Even so, I had not bothered to pay much attention to them beyond the iconic album covers and the more well-known hits. Raw, angry youth bursting out of the dying screams of punk, just before the new romantics came along.
But the story of The Clash is much more interesting. Initially hitting the sweet spot in the late 70's both at home and over in the US, the band slowly destroyed itself due to internal bickering, often with their control freak manager, Bernie Rhodes acting as a catalyst in sending a wedge between two of the band's greatest players - lead singer Joe Strummer and bass guitarist Mick Jones. By 1985, the band was a pale shadow of it's former self, with half of the band replaced and the other half not talking to each other, and the most painful bit of all, they has become a cog in the capitalist machine they were forever railing against.
Yet another bio-documentary let loose into the festival circuit, it is difficult not to recommend even though it has many bedfellows (this festival alone, I've watched the Jason Becker and Bill Callahan bios, with Charles Bradley tomorrow, plus there was Blind Joe Death and Jobriath that I didn't even get to see). This is entertaining, loud and passionate, but not afraid to show the band in an unfavourable light that it's many fans might balk at. 7.5/10
Amour (Austria/Fra/Ger) (wiki)
Georges and Anne, an elderly couple clearly in love, live alone together in a comfortable apartment in France. Their retirement years have been comfortable and without any major stresses. Life has trotted along at a gentle pace, until Anne has an episode at the breakfast table. Silently staring into space for a few moments, scaring Georges half to death, she has just experienced her first stroke.
Amour is the tragic but all too common story of the last dance; the final years in the life of two people, bound together by a deep love for each other that outlasts everything that a decaying body and mind can throw at it. Anne's slow degeneration is handled sensitively and in it's 2+ hour running time, director Michael Haneke is not afraid to let the camera linger, static and silent, to underline the inescapable situation the couple find themselves in. This can be overused here and there, but it is an effective tool in pressing home the increasingly small world that they inhabit.
Amour is tragically beautiful and the subject matter will naturally cause some upset. It may hit too close to home to bear if you have loved ones currently going through this situation, but I recommend it to anyone who has considered the fragility of their lives to reflect on what it is to be alive and make the most of it while they can. 8/10