Chasing Asylum Review: The Real Truth

Director: Eva Orner

Stars: Mark Isaacs, Martin Appleby, Michael Bachelard, Malcolm Fraser


Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Cinema Plus

Country: Australia

Running time: 96 minutes


Review: Chasing Asylum

Article: Docos: In Cinemas This Month


Article: Docos: In Cinemas This Month

Amy Audio Review: The B-Side

Director: Asif Kapadia

Stars: Amy Winehouse, Mitch Winehouse, Janis Winehouse, Raye Cosbert


Release date: July 3rd, 2015

Distributors: Altitude Film Distribution, A24 Films

Country: UK

Running time: 128 minutes




Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Audio Review: Cult Classic

Director: Alex Gibney

Writer: Alex Gibney

Stars: Lawrence Wright, Paul Haggis, Mark Rathbun, Mike Rinder


Release date: March 29th, 2015

Distributor: HBO Documentary Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes




Stories We Tell Review – Climbing the Family Tree

Director: Sarah Polley 

Writer: Sarah Polley

Stars: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Rebecca Jenkins

Release date: May 17th, 2013

Distributors: Mongrel Media, Roadside Attractions

Country: Canada

Running time: 109 minutes



Best part: The catchy soundtrack.

Worst part: The never-ending ending.

The holiday season, though imbued with joy and charm, can become a tiresome chore. Transporting us between realistic and heart-wrenching realms, independent drama darling Sarah Polley has returned home. With family reunions normally regrettable and unintentionally laughable, Polley prevents family members and friends from starting gigantic feuds and running jokes. Here, Polley’s immense talents are applied to her confident and loveable family. Her latest effort, Stories We Tell, paints an emotionally charged portrait of life in the Polley household. With serious Oscar contention in sight, Stories We Tell is a frontrunner for this season’s generous rewards.

Sarah Polley.

This dramatic-documentary delves into several noteworthy and confronting topics. With Polley embracing her directing, writing, and acting chops, the movie is unlike any other released this decade. Despite its relevance, the story necessarily and patiently absorbs its subjects’ enthralling words. Stories We Tell is about Polley’s assortment of charismatic relatives and the documentary filmmaking process itself. Challenging herself throughout each extraneous step, Polley’s motivations specifically rely on honouring her late mother Diane. Having died when Polley was eleven, Diane’s overt generosity and happiness touched many lives. Taking on this immense task, the movie kicks off with its subjects facing up to Polley’s talented production crew and intense questioning. Once the filmmaking boundaries are established, the movie allows each subject to open up about the pros and cons of family values, responsibility, and trust. Providing a memoir-like narration, Polley’s father Richard sits in a recording studio. Waiting to talk into the microphone, Richard deliberates on everything embedded in his consciousness. Providing a poetic foothold, his words soon delve into the infectious tale of Polley’s childhood. Not to be overshadowed, her siblings are given room to breathe. Her brothers, Mark and John, discuss important issues developed during their childhood years. These undead titbits, though simultaneously hilarious and distressing, develop the intriguing narrative.

Michael Polley.

Despite her brothers’ good-natured attitudes, Polley’s likeable sisters, Susy and Joanna, further develop this expansive and mystifying tale. Deliberating on love, divorce, and redemption, the sisters’ testimonies link certain situations to Polley’s life story. In addition, she interviews several people involved with Diane’s acting and singing careers. With familial ties an out-stretched theme this holiday season; Stories We Tell is an ambitious, realistic, and loving portrait of an infectious ensemble. Guided by experience and will power, Polley conscientiously seeks out the truth. No matter the cost to her family’s brick-wall-like structure, she explores every nook and cranny of her subjects’ lives. This honest and dense documentary hurriedly grows a brain and heart. It’s easy to connect to this bunch of charming and surprising subjects. Polley’s career, ranging from star-studded directorial efforts (Take this Waltz) to acclaim-worthy performances (GoSplice), has blossomed into a commendable and impassioned artistic endeavour. Here, Polley tirelessly pushes herself to honour her family’s name. After the comedic and fourth-wall-breaking opening, the movie delves into anecdotes and points of view. Objectively presenting Diane’s friends and relatives, this performative/investigatory documentary highlights the genre’s raw potential. Elaborating on this format’s glowing intricacies, Stories We Tell provides a though examination of art, life, secrets, and the human spirit. Ably presenting each step of her grand methodology, the end profoundly justifies the means. With a close connection to these subjects, Polley’s style lures us into this family’s past, present, and future. Thanks to its empathetic and heartening narrative, the movie’s cracking pace and revelations comfortingly push it along. With each twist and turn, I heard titters, gasps, and cheers from several overly-enthused, surrounding audience members. Despite the disturbances, it inexplicably enhanced the movie’s hard-hitting narrative. With its pleasant tone and messages, it reminded me that life’s smallest intricacies are immensely important to the bigger picture.

“I’m interested in the way we tell stories about our lives.” (Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell).

Rebecca Jenkins as Diane Polley.

Continually sidestepping documentary movie-making’s restrictions, Stories We Tell discusses subjectivity, memory, and humanity’s overwhelming importance. The medium, considered plain and tiresome by some, is pulled apart with Polley’s ingenious directorial nuances. With some pans, zooms, and tilts, the movie hysterically shatters its own immersive effects. With each subject questioning this topic’s worthiness, the movie develops engaging, definitive, and intelligible layers. While peeling back these layers, Polley’s quirky style draws a profoundly sentimental line between her latest work and its commendable Oscar-hungry competition. Thankfully, the movie’s visual touches don’t overshadow the all-important messages. Developing a titanic, tug-of-war struggle between archival footage and elaborate dramatisations, this drama-documentary constantly plays tricks on the unsuspecting audience. With seamless aesthetic ticks, the flashbacks sit comfortably with this tender and enrapturing story. Revealing the movie’s own secrets during the conclusion, Polley’s filmmaking techniques stand up to this extraordinary tale. Handheld cameras, distinct film grains, and period piece settings are key aspects of Polley’s impressive vision. However, despite obvious visual flourishes, this trip down memory lane almost unravels during the final few minutes. The ending, relaying the movie’s seminal themes with incessant monologues and symbols, throws this heartening documentary off balance. Despite this, the interviewees solidify Polley’s ambitious and conquering investigation. Revealing secrets and in-jokes to the world, her relatives laugh with, and at, Polley throughout this unique production. Anecdotes and revelations aside, certain interviewees’ characteristics make for intriguing and unsettling highlights. Sporting beaming smiles, hearty laughs, and kinetic personalities, Polley’s family members are engaging and likeable people.

Flicking through interviewees, anecdotes, and opinions, Stories We Tell provides one of modern cinema’s most dynamic and baffling stories. Polley – holding her family, friends, and colleagues in high regard – injects sensitivity, intelligence, and wit into this tear-jerking adventure. With its engaging visual style, interesting interviewees, and determined direction, this drama-documentary proves that truth really is stranger than fiction.

Verdict: A touching and intelligent documentary.

20 Feet from Stardom Review – Love Ballad

Director: Morgan Neville

Stars: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill

Release date: June 13th, 2013

Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes



Best part: The interviews.

Worst part: The overt symbolism.

The best documentaries take subjects of little commercial interest and thrust them into the spotlight. With each production, these informative works may inspire or disgust. Despite cynical preconceived ideas about documentary filmmaking, movies like 20 Feet from Stardom are far more entertaining than many expansive Hollywood efforts. Peeling back layers developed by heartache and fond memories, this well-crafted and ambitious movie explores a vital strand of popular music. This documentary, thanks to its informative structure and unique interviewees, is one of 2013’s greatest surprises. I could talk all day about this movie’s glowing highlights because, honestly, positive word of mouth is needed for this year’s most ground-breaking documentaries.

Darlene Love.

As the unsung heroes of modern music, backup singers support popular groups. Despite the overwhelming talent at the front of each stage, backup singers bravely place themselves in full view. Movie and live music audiences generally focus on both art forms’ most controversial and appealing aspects. However, like character actors, backup singers provide heart, character, and consistency. This documentary, focusing on several inspirational African-American women, is an intriguing and heartfelt examination of pop culture. In the opening scenes, we are welcomed into this interesting and engaging world. Soul singer Darlene Love reunites with her backup-singer companions. Reflecting upon fond memories, Love and co. relay vital information about their connections to music, family, and spirituality. Merry Clayton, a gospel singing icon, reflects upon great musicians including The Rolling Stones. Starting out with church choirs and ceremonial performances, the interviewees deliberate on transitioning from first recitals to overwhelming stardom. The gorgeous Claudia Lennear discusses her relationship with the ‘sexiness’ of pop culture and Mick Jagger’s stardom. Lisa Fischer deliberates on her professional and personal livelihoods. Fischer’s determination and energy, encapsulated by powerful vocals, places her in the all-important spotlight. On the other side of the coin, 29-year-old Judith Hill, workaholic and optimistic soul, speaks out about the modern music industry’s wheelings and dealings. These singers, with several engaging similarities despite the generational gaps, focus on their frustrating yet engaging profession.

Our singers in action.

From the first second, 20 Feet from Stardom establishes itself as a profound and in-depth analysis of music, culture, and hope. This art form, placing a powerful stranglehold on every demographic throughout history, is depicted as a source of knowledge, happiness, and inspiration. Veteran music documentary director Morgan Neville (Johnny Cash’s America) reminds us that individuality and rebelliousness cause ripple effects. For these select few singers, their ripples hit family members, friends, fans, and music industry types. For the most part, Neville presents these interviewees as fair and honest individuals. After efficiently establishing their career highlights, the movie delves into far more sinister territory. In the opening few scenes, Neville focuses on the present. With little knowledge about influential backup singers, I found an enlightening avenue to explore. Thankfully, the movie chronicles each subject’s enviable and empathetic traits. Love, for example, is presented as an ordinary citizen with magnificent memories. Neville, optimistically, presents these subjects as humble and bright figures. They, despite their brushes with fame and fortune, view the world like everyone else. From an early age, family, religion, and artistic value influenced these subjects to pursue this career. Here, certain origin stories are compared to one another. This style, highlighting choir and gospel music’s immense value, links these influential artists. Ultimately, intertwining strands illuminate 20 Feet from Stardom‘s narrative and themes. Born from hilarious anecdotes and fond friendships, the movie examines art, culture, and equality’s historical and thematic relevance. Neville’s work also delves into personal stories and race relations. Neville, infatuated with each subject, focuses on every profound word. Taboo subjects, including Lennear’s controversial Playboy shoot, are tenderly and stylishly reflected upon. Neville, Love and co. present several opinions and anecdotes for viewers to analyse. However, despite the glowing interviewees and over-whelming musical montages, the movie isn’t perfect.

“How can you logically not have a diva have her music on? I don’t get that.” (Merry Clayton, 20 Feet from Stardom).

Merry Clayton.

The structure, despite touching upon the 20th Century’s greatest musicians, wavers throughout the final third. The movie, without delivering a satisfactory conclusion, is occasionally presented as generic PR material. Despite these gripes, the minor flaws are matched by the stellar direction and production design. Neville – presenting his subjects as saviours, sisters, queens, and warriors – douses the screen with selective visual flourishes. After the engaging opening credit sequence, the movie delves into stardom and pop culture’s most enlightening aspects. Consistently, Neville plays archival footage and classic tunes. Reflecting upon several glorious and influential moments, this style highlights Love and co.’s stranglehold upon music history. However, in the second half, the snappy visuals are replaced with confronting personal stories. These moments, though dour, deliver several necessary gut punches. Placed in a specific timeline, these scenes outline the pros and cons of this alluring profession. Unfortunately, despite each anecdote’s worthiness, Neville’s heavy handedness sticks out. With ludicrous symbolism under-cutting several points, the final third belabours the all-important messages. Fortunately, in the movie’s most subtle moments, the interviewees are engaging, enthusiastic, and likeable. Love, known for her profound artistic endeavours, is a warming presence. Defined by her distinctive chuckle, her stories – describing everything from house cleaning to Lethal Weapon supporting roles – will lift audience spirits. The same goes for Clayton’s baffling tales of stardom and rejection. With her awe-inspiring vocals, Clayton brought one of The Rolling Stones’ most popular hits to life. Playing ‘Gimme Shelter’ back to Clayton, Neville illustrates her cultural importance. The song’s standout line – “Rape, murder! It’s just a shot away” – sends chills down the spine. In addition, renowned and caricature-like musicians including Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting support the documentary’s many stirling points.

With a heartfelt narrative, intriguing interviewees, and pulsating visuals, 20 Feet from Stardom is an underrated documentary delving into an obscure art form. Delving into race relations, fame, and femininity, Neville’s work pushes boundaries whilst delivering an entertaining thrill-ride. Oscar consideration is around the corner for this transcendent, tender, and enjoyable trip down memory lane.

Verdict: An inspirational and energetic music documentary.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction Review – A Profound Portrait

Director: Sophie Huber

Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Sam Shepard, Kris Kristofferson 

Release date: June 16th, 2013

Distributor: Adopt Films

Country: USA

Running time: 77 minutes



Best part: The interviewees.

Worst part: The confused visual style.

Character actors are an important and tenacious bunch whom heartily focus on playing background roles. However, their presence may be so effective as to overshadow the lead actors. Actors like Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Melissa Leo have all made the leap to stardom after many years playing supporting roles. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction paints a portrait of, arguably, one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Juggling singing, acting, and being the friendliest man in showbiz, Harry Dean Stanton is almost depicted here as a wandering spirit touching the hearts of those closest to him (much like his character in Paris, Texas).

Harry Dean Stanton.

With his alarming physical features and potent performances, Stanton sticks out in any film he wanders through. Partly Fiction honours his unique personality and dense career (spanning over 250 feature films). The documentary’s ambition is to take Stanton from being remembered as ‘that guy from…’, to being seen, deservedly, as a tinsel town icon. For the most part, it succeeds in developing this enigmatic persona into a hilarious and thought-provoking character. This portrait travels from childhood to the present – chronicling how a seemingly normal youngster travelled America and became a Hollywood star. This journey features interviews with Stanton and many of his famous friends including legendary director David Lynch and actor Kris Kristofferson. Director Sophie Huber explores one day in the life of one of Hollywood’s most mysterious figures. Despite his many cherished memories and friends, not to mention hit songs being written about his unusual persona, Stanton remains startlingly humble throughout the film. In particular, Stanton’s transition from supporting actor to leading man for Paris, Texas is discussed by director Wim Wenders – providing a passionate description of Stanton’s work ethic.

Kris Kristofferson.

I went into the screening unsure of what would come of it. Having seen Stanton in such movies as Alien, Cool Hand Luke, The Avengers, and Pretty in Pink, I already understood why he was lauded as an inspirational actor. Thankfully, Partly Fiction doesn’t shy away from showing us clips highlighting some of his many powerful performances and classic features. This choice could’ve been pandering, but, thankfully, each clip is short and concise (his death in Alien still gives me chills!). Huber chooses to stay away from expository documentary elements, allowing Stanton to speak for himself. If he wanted to talk about something he would happily spill the beans. However, there are some topics Stanton is uninterested in diving into. Any mention of his parents was treated with a slight grunt and short response. These moments may seem awkward, but make for some of the doco’s funniest moments. Looking back with fond memories, he lights up whenever he is with one of his closest friends. For example, the dynamic between him and Kristofferson proves that friendship is significantly more powerful than fame or wealth. Their anecdotes paint a disturbingly realistic picture of what big guns like Jack Nicholson and Johnny Cash were like in their heyday.

“They say when you’re truly at home, there’s no more suffering. No more leaf on the wind. No more crying, crying to get back to where you came from. “ (Harry Dean Stanton, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction).

An underrated Hollywood legend.

In fact, Stanton is presented as a hilariously modest and honest person. It’s easy to see why he has garnered the cult fan-base and high profile colleagues/friends he currently holds onto. This is no more apparent than in the bar scenes. The room and Stanton’s friends light up whenever he walks in. At one point, Stanton’s buddy, known simply as ‘Mouse’, reflects on how important his friendship with Stanton has been. This moment becomes touching and awkwardly hilarious due to Stanton’s bumbling reaction. However, the brightly lit bar scenes are distorted by frustrating camera and editing tricks (there should be a drinking game based on how many focus pulls occur in these scenes). Thankfully, the black and white aesthetic beautifully contrasts the brightly lit/coloured bar scenes. This style smartly depicts that Stanton brings multiple shades of grey to everything he does. Throughout the interview, Stanton’s renditions of notorious folk/blues hits tug the heartstrings. Every note rings like the howl of a lone wolf. His emotions and desires are encapsulated in these renditions. These renditions are so effective they lend the doco. a consistent tone and pace that sorely could’ve been absent.

Much like Stanton’s favourite tunes, this doco. contains a significant amount of soul. Stripping away assumptions, and obvious iconic elements synonymous with Stanton, the doco. creates a mesmerising and meticulous portrait of Stanton that would’ve been extremely difficult to pull off. Honouring his legacy, this is a fun love letter to his professional and personal lives.

Verdict: A touching and somewhat gritty portrait.