Eleven years ago, Teller, of the celebrated team of Penn and Teller, read David Hockney's book "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters." He became curious about 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. As Teller describes it, Vermeer's "inhumanly good" work "pops out at you from across the room," so extraordinary is the light and color depicted.
"The Trials of Muhammad Ali" begins with a jolt from 1968--a verbal denouncement of Ali by David Susskind speaking from London to Ali via live television satellite. Producer/director Bill Siegel immediately cuts to President George W. Bush bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Ali in 2005, juxtaposing jarring counterpoints of attitude as well as of Ali's physical presence.
As direct and candid as its subject, director Sini Anderson's "The Punk Singer: A Documentary Film about Kathleen Hanna" profiles this outspoken feminist's life. This includes her late 1980s days at Evergreen College, the formation of Bikini Kill with Hanna as the lead singer, her step away from performing in 1995, and her empowering involvement with Riot Grrrl.
As relevant now as when it premiered at New York's Philharmonic Hall in 1964, "Nothing But a Man" retains its amazingly, quietly intense appeal without a hint of sentimentality. Masterfully restrained, it never sacrifices communicating the deeply disturbing racist insults and pervasive inequities affecting Duff Anderson, introduced working on a railroad section crew in a town near Birmingham, Alabama.
Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki needs no introduction to animé fans. His latest film "The Wind Rises" will not disappoint with its exquisite animation in the story of Jiro Horikoshi, aeronautical engineer and designer of WWII Japanese navy fighter planes. The title comes from a French poem quoted several times, translated as "The wind is rising; you must try to live."
A documentary difficult to watch but essential viewing, "Fire in the Blood" charts the pharmaceutical industry's response to the AIDS antiretroviral treatment breakthroughs, beginning in 1996. Instead of embracing opportunities to save, literally, millions, young and old, dying excruciating deaths, U.S. Big Pharma companies worked nationally and internationally to protect their patents and profits.
Director Joel Allen Schroeder's documentary "Dear Mr. Watterson" delivers a 90-minute love letter to Bill Watterson, the creator in 1985 of the immensely popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Schroeder's sentiments are heartfelt, effusive, and dull. He makes the common mistake of enlisting Calvin and Hobbes' admirers for testimonial after testimonial when insight and analysis are needed to explain the praise.
An unlikely but most surprising and welcome protagonist, the title character in "Gloria" infuses this Chilean film with energy and heart. Fifty-eight years old, discouraged over the emotional distance between her and her son and her daughter, Gloria remains so alive, so honest, and so likable that I loved watching her and rooting for her.
England's enormously popular writer Charles Dickens (1812 to 1870) was also a multifaceted talent and a complex individual. In "The Invisible Woman" director Ralph Fiennes, who plays Dickens, shows just how busy and famous, visiting his lauded theatrical presentations and his mobbed public readings. But the film focuses on his secretive, 13-year affair with Ellen Ternan, called Nelly.
The film's title tells the tale: "Lone Survivor," but that revelation doesn't begin to convey the intense, gut-wrenching Afghan war mission of the four SEALs featured. Seldom has a film so powerfully thrust the viewer into the violent action, communicating desperation and determination as well as dedicated brotherhood. This makes the tragedy that unfolds all the more horrific.