46 Best Releases From the Genre Documentary
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
Despite a challenging premise and an overlong runtime, the Hunger Games prequel makes the most of the hand it’s been dealt.
The character of Coriolanus Snow is an odd choice for a Hunger Games hero. In the original books and films, as played by screen giant Donald Sutherland, Snow was a cold-hearted, cruel dictator clearly meant to echo real world fascist leaders. Here, in the prequel story The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (say that five times fast), Coriolanus (Tom Blyth) is just a sensitive, emotional teen dreamboat whose main goal is to provide for his family in the wake of the violent revolution that tore apart Panem, the country formerly known as the United States of America. Continue Reading →
Silver Dollar Road
Based on Lizzie Presser’s 2019 ProPublica/New Yorker article, Raoul Peck’s Silver Dollar Road starts by barreling headfirst. Its first 15 minutes are a crash course of talking heads, introducing family members with broad, expository precision. The film shows them but doesn’t fully introduce them. Rather, it relies on graphics to fashion a sense of context. What the subjects say to the camera may provide an identity for the story at hand, but Peck’s approach renders such words largely textual. The narrative may be propulsive. The film, however, tends to feel stagnant. Continue Reading →
Filmmakers and general film enthusiasts worldwide share a deep distress over the slow erosion of theatrical projection and film preservation. Most recently, Martin Scorsese spoke extensively about the state of cinema in a high-profile interview, sparking a round of online arguments. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur of the Film Heritage Foundation has been working to preserve much of India’s old film reels, previously left rotting away in government closets for decades. Restored film prints of previously thought to be lost or incomplete films like Mohammed Reza Aslani’s Chess Game of the Wind and Abel Gance’s La Roue (which plays this year at NYFF) have proven that, with dedicated effort, people can salvage film history. Continue Reading →
Case History of a Sales Meeting
No 21st-century filmmaker has a more accurate and forceful finger on the pulse of global political thought trends than Radu Jude. His movies brim with a completely black-pilled attitude towards his own country’s political and social state amid the populace and an affinity for using social media obsession as a cipher in his cinema. In his latest, he comes out firing in an ironic and didactic rampage unseen since Jean-Luc Godard’s La chinoise (1967). Both film and digital collide in the characteristically wry and unambiguously titled Do Not Expect Too Much of the End of the World. Continue Reading →
The Exorcist: Believer
If you like loud noise jump scares, you’re going to love The Exorcist: Believer. Continue Reading →
Welcome to Wrexham
Welcome to Wrexham Season 2 opens with Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney telling the audience, directly to camera, that they’ve spoken to the King of England. It’s a good gag, with both demonstrating their talents for comedic timing. It is also the kind of thing that makes avowed anti-Royalists and fans of Season 1—of which this critic is both—a bit nervous. Continue Reading →
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
The Inventor is an odd little film. It is a mess throughout, and there are many instances where I got the sense that writer/co-director Jim Capbianco did not know what kind of story he was trying to tell or who his audience was. And yet it possesses an undeniable charm, one that sticks with you. Continue Reading →
Our first dispatch from the festival highlights an important milestone in women's sports history, and two tales of queer resilience.
Ahh, the Toronto International Film Festival -- while we've got boots on the ground up in the chilly climes of Canada, those of us who can't swing the travel expenses are here, tackling the lesser-known releases that don't get the attention they deserve among the splashy awards campaigns and A-list stars. (Of course, there being an active strike makes that far easier, with these smaller works in even greater need of appraisal.) Continue Reading →
SORCERERS: Une conversation entre William Friedkin et Nicolas Winding Refn
Upon his recent passing, we remember the feisty & controversial director & his wildly diverse filmography.
The funny thing about William Friedkin is that if you ask six people what their favorite Friedkin film is, you’ll get six different answers. One (me) will invariably say The Exorcist. Another will say The French Connection and gladly get into fisticuffs over how its iconic car chase beats Bullitt's. A third will say it’s To Live and Die in L.A. (which has its own iconic car chase), and someone else will say Jade, but they’re just messing with you. Continue Reading →
An Appreciation by Ben Wheatley
We celebrate the British filmmaker taking his biggest swipe yet at the mainstream this month with Meg 2: The Trench by declaring him our Filmmaker of the Month.
Every month, The Spool chooses to highlight a filmmaker whose works have made a distinct mark on the cinematic landscape. With his love of mixing horror, dark comedy, and crime Ben Wheatley has been flirting with but never breaking through to the mainstream. However, this month that may all change. With that in mind, we're excited to dive deep into his eclectic filmography. Continue Reading →
The Deepest Breath
How long can you hold your breath? A minute? Maybe? Kids time these sorts of things when swimming, but it's not something most of us think about in our waking lives. But I know that when I swim and misjudge the time it takes to surface, panic sets in almost instinctively. The body wants to live. It takes a particular personality to ignore the body's demands in apparent life-or-death circumstances. Stephen Keenan and Alessia Zecchini are two such people. Zecchini's first words in The Deepest Breath, Laura McCann's documentary about Keenan and Zecchini's goal to become legendary deep sea free divers, are about how she's never associated diving with death. I'll grant a writer is more likely to associate everything with death. But I cannot understand plunging into the darkest depths of the earth while holding your breath for minutes at a time and passing out before you can return without thinking of your own demise. Some of us, I suppose, see a Way where the rest see a void. Continue Reading →
The YouTube Effect
Early in Alex Winter’s finely made and firmly inessential documentary The YouTube Effect, the edit takes the form of a firehose montage of the greatest hits of the nearly two decade old title video platform. The most striking edit places the viral phenomenon (and eventual NFT) Charlie Bit My Finger next to scattered footage of The Arab Spring, the global social media-mobilized revolution(s) from the 2010s. Despite a nearly boundless distance between these two subjects, The YouTube Effect pinballs back and forth between these two arenas of cultural influence, blurring the lines with a linearity that feels unsuited to a timeline in constant flux. Continue Reading →
Lakota Nation vs. United States
The difference between indigeneity and settler colonialism grows from a relationship with the land. The colonialist sees themselves as its manager, pledged to “improving” and extracting as many resources as possible from their private property to further their capital. As Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli poignantly articulate in their new documentary, Indigenous North Americans are of, from, and with the land. They are its caretakers and beneficiaries. Lakota Nation vs. The United States makes a passionate case that the US Government should return the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Lakota and their future generations. Continue Reading →
Tango en París: recuerdos de Astor Piazzolla
Alice Winocour’s Revoir Paris begins in a café. Mia (Virginie Efira), avoiding the rain, sits and drinks a glass of wine by herself, surrounded by other patrons. A birthday party for a middle-aged man, a few tourists, a couple having an argument, all of the classic situations are present. After spilling ink onto her hand, she heads to the bathroom, cleans up, grabs her belongings, and gets up to leave, when the two people in front of her are shot and killed. Continue Reading →
Thanks to decades of cameos in movies and promotional stunts intertwining him with the very word “Marvel,” audiences across the planet have a deep connection to comic book legend Stan Lee. Though he passed away in the final weeks of 2018, Lee’s legacy lives on. Marvel Studios even utilized existing audio of his voice in a special 2021 video. It helped them announce the return of its features to movie theaters. Artistic individuals like this tend to endure, no matter what happens to their physical bodies. Continue Reading →
Frank Marshall's documentary on the legendary newsman too often goes softer than the anchorman ever would.
This review is part of our coverage of the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. Continue Reading →
With a travel book in her hands and a cigarette in her fingers, Carmen (Aline Küppenheim) deliberates what shade of paint she’d like for her walls. She wants it like a sunset but not too pink. Maybe a bit blue. After all, it’s not like she goes outside too often. Even her commutes, now to her Las Cruces beach house, are isolated. It’s 1976 in Chile, three years into dictator Augusto Pinochet’s rule. While paint drips onto Carmen’s heels, defectors and accused communists fall in the streets. But hey, she’s got a home to renovate. Continue Reading →
The man behind the podcast An Invitation discusses how his appreciation of the director fueled his intensive dive into her films.
Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is a slow-burn horror about the dinner party from hell, one we should all be grateful not to attend, but podcaster Jim Penola thought otherwise. Instead, he invites listeners to sit down and stay awhile with An Invitation to the Invitation, a 15-part series that breaks down the 2015 film scene by scene. It’s full of thoughtful audio essays and radio-play style re-enactments set to an original score from his brother and composer John Penola. Continue Reading →
Judy Blume Forever
I think Blubber was my favorite Judy Blume book growing up, because it acknowledged the casual cruelty of adolescent girls. Or maybe it was Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, because it’s where I learned about slam books, and its titular character (like me) masked her insecurities with wisecracks. No, scratch that, it was Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, with a protagonist who (also like me) used her colorful imagination as an escape from a chaotic home life. Continue Reading →
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields
The acclaimed documentarian joins The Spool to discuss Brooke Shields, her work, her life, and her relationship to "Brooke Shields" the image.
In 1981, Roger Ebert wrote a profile on Brooke Shields in which he—quoting a press agent—said, “She will be with us for the rest of our lives.” That turned out to be remarkably prescient, but neither the agent nor Ebert could have anticipated the myriad number of ways Shields has been with us in that time. Yes, she is extraordinarily beautiful. But many equally attractive people have come and gone, while Shields remains a consistent part of pop culture’s firmament. From her early appearances in films like Pretty Baby (1978), The Blue Lagoon (1980), and Endless Love (1981) and her controversial TV ads for Calvin Klein jeans, all of which focused on her sexuality while she was literally a child, to her shift in the later Eighties to become America’s Virgin to her reinvention as a comedic actress in the Nineties to becoming an advocate for those suffering from postpartum depression (and suffering the slings and arrows of Tom Cruise in full asshole mode as a result), Shields has been a persistently relevant figure in the American popular consciousness. Continue Reading →
A Disturbance in the Force: How the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened
I remember parking my 7-year-old hinder in front of the television set on the evening of Nov 17, 1978 to bear witness to something that would presumably be unforgettable—a two-hour holiday special that set in the world of Star Wars, then pretty much the hottest thing in the universe. Like so many other people at the time, when it was all over, I was baffled by what I had just witnessed. Continue Reading →