Wednesday, December 20, 2023

film review: Anselm (3D)

Directed by Wim Wenders

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

Wim Wenders returns to the 3D documentary form with a portrait of German painter/sculptor, Anselm Kiefer. Few will know his name outside the art world, though Kiefer has a celebrated body of work spanning half a century.

Kiefer peaked in the 1980s after retrospectives in Chicago and New York where critics heralded that “America has a new superstar.” His sculptures and giant canvases made of materials like straw, ash and clay, depict barren fields and empty rooms. They are moody and haunting. Some evoke (some say, provoke) Germany's Nazi past, such as his photos posing in the Nazi salute. Kiefer's intent is to force the German public to confront its dark past, though the film deflects accusations that these images can be misconstrued as pro-fascist.

As with his previous, stunning 3D documentary, Pina, Wenders does not editorialize nor intrude with narration or with titles on screen. Instead, he presents vintage footage of Kiefer, seamlessly blended with contemporary footage of the 78-year-old, intercut with that of his adult son, Daniel, portraying a younger Kiefer.

The documentary flows elegantly and in 3D offers a feast of visuals. You can see in dazzling detail for miles across a snowy forest illuminated by sunlight. The 3D opens up the detail in Kiefer's artwork, particularly his sculptures. 

That said, I would have liked to have seen more biography on Kiefer and other voices to comment on his work. Anselm is entirely seen from the artist's point of view, presumably to let his art speak for itself. Indeed, the 3D format presents his work in the finest way, far better than any future TV screening will.

Released by Mongrel Media, Anselm opens December 22 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

film review: Immediate Family

Directed by Danny Tedesco

ChinoKino rating: B

Review by Allan Tong

This music doc is the logical and spiritual sequel to Danny Tedesco's impressive The Wrecking Crew from 2008. Both films profile groups of top session musicians, unsung heroes in the L.A. rock business who reflect on their past glories. Immediate Family are drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, and guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel.

Starting in the early 1970s, they as individuals performed on landmark albums, including Carole King's Tapestry, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, Joni Mitchell's Blue, and into the late-1980s played for many stars, such as Neil Young, Keith Richards and Don Henley. They also went on tour with some of them, like Wachtel for Linda Ronstadt in her heyday. Hands-down, these are top-notch players and they step out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this enjoyable film.

If you've seen Tedesco's previous doc, you know what to expect. Interviews are generous as are music clips, over 80 in fact. Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett and producer Peter Asher are among the parade of rock legends who sing the Family's praises. It's entertaining to hear tidbits like the one of headstrong Wathtel insisting on a guitar solo to replace a planned saxophone one in Steve Perry's hit, Oh Sherrie (a good call). Another highlight sees Wachtel recalling Linda Ronstadt singing her way into a strip joint in the middle of nowhere while on tour, because she wasn't carrying any I.D. to get past the door.

In fact, the entire film is fun and nice. Perhaps too nice. Apart from a brief mention of butting heads in the studio, the Family come across as nice guys. But the music business is a place notorious for clashing egos and where sex, drugs and greed rule. There's none of that in this film. Kunkel confesses his one regret that he didn't spend enough with his children when they were growing up. However, we don't hear from any of his children or spouses.

Another weakness of the film (not fault of the filmmaker) is that Family aren't a self-contained unit like the Wrecking Crew of the 1960s and beyond. Sure, they are now officially a band, playing gigs under that name in New York. However, this doc comes across as a collection of personalities who cross paths over the years, but were never a unit like the legendary Wrecking Crew.

That said, Immediate Family is a fun film to watch and listen to. It'll hit home to those who grew up on this music and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Immediate Family opens on Dec. 15 in Toronto (at the Hot Docs cinema), Vancouver (at Vancity)! and is also rent or buy across Canada on the Apple TV app/iTunes and Google Play. It is being released in Canada by Mongrel Media.