Samsara

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best Alex (Ryan O’Nan) is booted from his band, dumped by his girlfriend and fired from his job singing songs dressed like a dayglo moose, and he has no idea what to do next. Luckily, a stranger named Jim (Michael Weston) does, and soon the two set out on a multi-city tour singing original songs backed by a selection of children’s musical instruments/toys and learning the value of friendship and being true to yourself. O’Nan also wrote and directed this low-fi gem, and the result is a sweet and funny look at lives in flux. It also features a handful of incredibly catchy songs that may have you checking Amazon or iTunes for availability. (Yes, there is an album.) You’ll find yourself smiling through most of the film, either from the simple and addictive songs or from the familiar faces sharing the screen for a few minutes here and there including Arielle Kebbel, Jason Ritter, Christopher McDonald, Andrew McCarthy and others. [Extras: Featurette, outtakes, live performance, Q&A, short films, trailer]

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Last night, at a special event in conjunction with the AFI FEST, the nominees for the 2013 Cinema Eye Honors were announced. And once again, the titles contending for the ten feature categories, all of which focus solely on nonfiction films (to make up for the Oscars’ minimal recognition), represent the year’s best in documentaries. As someone who professionally concentrates on docs elsewhere, I tend to feel kinda useless or redundant when Cinema Eye names its nominees, because now when someone asks me what’s great this year I can just point to their list of 31 features. Of course, some of these films are only up for specific honors, like those for original music score and graphic design, and may not be quite as necessary as the six up for the top award or the 10 nominated for the Audience Choice Prize (which sadly, for publicity-sake, lacks a Justin Bieber movie like last year). Also, I could name a bunch of exceptional docs that haven’t been recognized, such as This is Not a Film, The House I Live In, Under African Skies, Beware of Mr. Baker, Last Call at the Oasis, The Queen of Versailles, Girl Model (though its directors are up for Downeast) and The Invisible War. Still, I’m very excited that one of my top three nonfiction films of the year, The Imposter, is one of the most-nominated titles, while I’m even more ecstatic that the CEH could bring more attention to brilliant, lesser-known works like Only the […]

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One of the most difficult Oscar categories for pundits (let alone regular folk) to predict is the one for feature documentary. And this year more than ever it’s going to be hard to pick the five nominees, because changes to the rules of qualification and voting have given the race an extra element of complication: there is no precedent for how things turn out with this particular selection process in place. In a way, it’s a wide-open field with no certainty that higher-grossing films or more issue-oriented titles or discernibly cinematic works have the greater chance at a nod. Some expected the number of contenders to be cut in half as a result of the new rules; instead it grew, much to the chagrin of branch leader Michael Moore. And until the annual shortlist narrows them down to 15, we have 130 eligible films to choose from. But most of those docs aren’t plausible nominees. Many of the kind that Moore gets upset about for paying for a screen rental to qualify aren’t likely to go all the way. So they qualified. Now they have to be good and popular enough for people to notice.

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Because so many great films have their world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s not surprising to see a lot of documentaries celebrate anniversaries around this time. For instance, Ron Fricke’s Baraka turns 20 years old today, having debuted at TIFF back on September 15, 1992, when the event was still known as the “Festival of Festivals.” It’s a special time to celebrate the non-narrative, non-verbal masterpiece, and not just because Fricke’s follow-up (he doesn’t consider it a sequel), Samsara, is currently wowing audiences around the country in a just-expanded theatrical release. Thanks to a fashionable interest in 70mm exhibition right now, Baraka (the first movie in twenty years shot in the Todd-AO 70mm format) also just finished up a week-long re-release at the Alamo Drafthouse and has screened recently in other cities in the format, as well. If you missed or are unable to see Baraka on the big screen, though, the film’s Blu-ray is a more than acceptable substitute. It was on FSR’s list of the 15 must-own discs of 2008, where it was called “the best Blu-ray transfer, ever.” That status possibly remains unchallenged. Fricke and producer Mark Magidson are perfectionists when it comes to digitally scanning their works. They even recommend seeing Samsara projected digitally as opposed to on celluloid, despite the fact that the new film was also shot in 70mm.

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Samsara

The massive, imagery-and-contemplation-fueled Samsara expands into a bunch of markets this weekend, and we have an opportunity for fans to get a seat for free. We’re giving away 5 pairs of tickets to see the movie (in the eligible markets below), and it couldn’t be easier to win (unless you don’t have internet, which means you’re probably not reading this). Here’s how.

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Samsara

From the filmmakers behind Koyaanisqatsi (a movie I love but have to look up every time I need to spell it) and Baraka, the 5 year’s worth of filming that is Samsara is a meditation along the same massively gorgeous lines. Huge human set pieces, pristine imagery and sweeping music to underscore the complexity of our crazy, profound little lives. The film is in limited theaters August 24th, but we’ve got an exclusive look at the film that includes a stunning time-lapse attack on an opera house performing “La Scala.”

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In 1982, Ron Fricke wrote, edited and directed photography for Koyaanisqatsi, a movie that’s become a modern experimental classic that sought to create a pure sensory experience beyond what narrative storytelling could do. It’s the kind of film that audiences have to yield to, letting it wash over them like color-wrapped sound waves, and it seems likely that Samsara will be artistically related to Fricke’s early work. He re-teams here with Mark Magidson to create something that – if the movie delivers on its trailer – has to be seen and heard to be believed. The pair are most known for their work on the short doc Chronos and the feature Baraka, and their style is one that mashes moments together in order to find a sense of meaning. They’re incredibly good at it. Plus, the imagery! It’s amazing. The kind of stuff that steals your heart right out of your chest and makes you wish your whole body were made of eyeballs. See it and marvel:

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published: 04.19.2014
A-
published: 04.19.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.18.2014
C

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