25 Best Documentaries

indieWIRE has a list of the International Documentary Association’s 25 best documentaries.

I’ve seen many of these films, but am glad to have this list on hand for future reference.

Do you have any personal faves that aren’t represented on this list? Please share in the comments. And yes, I’m aware that the wonderful “Trekkies” (sample YouTube clip — best part comes at 1:18) isn’t in this top 25. For shame.


Vintage Mobile Phones

Vintage Mobile Phones

For sale in the UK: Vintage mobile phones. What more is there to say? Simply awesome.

The Motorola DynaTac 8000, pictured above, is reminiscent of the model that Michael Douglas (aka Gordon Gekko) barks into while walking along the beach in 1987’s Wall Street*.

*How come no one told me there’s a sequel in the works?


Rambo in Thailand: The Reviews Roll In

When I heard that Sylvester Stallone’s new “Rambo” flick takes place right here in Thailand, I knew it’d be a must-see. I haven’t laid eyes on the film yet, I’m sad to say, but some early reviews have just rolled in:

Joel Stein, writing in Time, interviews Stallone and opens with this exceptional lede:

Sylvester Stallone has memorized a lot of Procol Harum lyrics, and for the next two minutes I’m going to hear them. Because if you want to know what inspires a man to write a movie in which hundreds of people are blown up and which, by his own estimate, contains only three pages of dialogue between the two main characters, apparently you have to listen to the lyrics of a psychedelic 1968 song called In Held ‘Twas in I: Glimpses of Nirvana. This is the song that made Stallone want to be a writer, which is surprising because while it contains one Zen koan and mentions the Dalai Lama three times, it does not allude to firing a rocket launcher through a helicopter window.

And then there’s this:

Sure, Stallone agreed to do the movie before Rocky Balboa was approved, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t find something to say. Like Procol Harum, Stallone is not afraid of metaphor, of being opaque, of answering some questions with questions and other questions with a hail of bullets. What he wanted to say in the new Rambo came down to one smart speech: “Old men start wars. Young men fight them. And everyone in the middle gets killed. War is natural. Peace is an accident. We’re animals.” Stallone eventually cut all that dialogue out because Rambo is a silent man, and blurting out your thesis is for college papers, not movies.

And finally:

The guy who created Rocky is a cheery pessimist who believes that despite an ugly world, you can make incredible things happen with great effort. “Rocky represents the optimistic side of life, and Rambo represents purgatory,” he says. The world, Rambo realizes, is perpetually chaotic and dangerous. “If you think people are inherently good, you get rid of the police for 24 hours—see what happens,” Stallone says. “I could start a war in 30 seconds. But some countries spend 100 years trying to find peace. Just like good manners, peace has to be learned.”

I also like A.O. Scott’s story in the NY Times:
“Rambo (2008): Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Jungle”:

When we first encounter him, this weary warrior has retreated from geopolitics, passing the time at a remote river station in the Thai jungle, where he hunts poisonous snakes and dabbles in blacksmithing. Old Rambo seems kind of depressed, to tell the truth, until his wrath is stirred by the viciousness of the Burmese Army.

Burma? But why not Burma? (In this movie, no one calls it Myanmar.) As a precredit montage of actual news clips reminds us, the military government of that nation has been engaged not only in widespread authoritarian abuses but also in a brutal, long-running campaign against the Karen ethnic minority. And it is with the Karen that Rambo, once roused from his weary cynicism, throws in his lot. No longer the bloody avatar of wounded American pride, he seems more inclined toward humanitarian intervention — a one-man N.G.O. with a machete. Will he show up in Darfur next?

The review ends on this surprisingly upbeat note:

Mr. Stallone is smart enough — or maybe dumb enough, though I tend to think not — to present the mythic dimensions of the character without apology or irony. His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back.

Other reviews, however, aren’t as kind:

Hollywood Reporter/Reuters: “Rambo should have left sleeping dogs of war lie”

SF Chronicle: “‘Rambo’ – There will be blood. And rippled muscle.”

Kansas City Star: “GRAMPO! At 61, Rambo is in fighting form, but does America still care?”

(Emphasis mine.)

Have you seen this flick? What do you think?

“Withnail and I” Redux

"Withnail and I"

“Withnail and I” have been reunited. Times Online:

We last saw them together by London Zoo’s wolf enclosure, parting mournfully in the rain at the end of the most memorable drink and drugs bender in British cinema.

One film – Withnail and I – was enough to place Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann among the great screen double acts in the eyes of generations of fans who still “demand to have some booze” and smoke “Camberwell carrots”, echoing memorable lines from Bruce Robinson’s film some 20 years after it was made.

It was assumed that the pair had grown apart or fallen out because they have not worked together since, but Grant and McGann have been reunited at The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival after a young director plucked up the courage to ask them to appear in his short film…

(Via Kottke.)

Stallone: I Received Death Threats on Thai-Myanmar Border

Rambo IV. Baby

Sylvester Stallone — who, you’ll recall, has weighed in on Myanmar before — says he received death threats while filming his upcoming flick, “John Rambo,” here in Thailand. Times of India:

Actor-director Sylvester Stallone has revealed that he received a series of death threats while filming upcoming sequel John Rambo along the troubled Thailand-Myanmar border.

The 61-year-old star said that his crew was filming on the Salween River when they were warned that they would be shot if they did not leave the place immediately.

“We were on the Salween River and we were told to get out because we were going to be shot,” Contactmusic quoted him as telling American TV show Entertainment Tonight .

Stallone also claimed watching refuges fleeing from Myanmar to Thailand during his stay at the location.

“It’s the most brutal regime in the world and the most secretive. It has an oppressive regime that (keeps all riches) for themselves. Everyone is forced into drugs or prostitution or slavery,” he said.

“People are escaping all the time (from Myanmar), coming over with gaping, maggot-infested wounds, their ears being cut off. You saw a lot of suffering, a lot of malnutrition,” he added.

Wes Anderson’s New Flick: Set in India

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson, the auteur behind “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” among other films, has made a new movie set for release in September.

It’s called “The Darjeeling Limited,” and it features Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. They play brothers who take a train trip though India. Here’s the trailer.

(Our trip to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur last year piqued my interest in all things India.)

Bangkok 8: Coming to the Big Screen

Bangkok 8: Coming to the Big Screen


Millennium Films has optioned “Bangkok 8,” the first in a three-book bestselling mystery series by John Burdett. “V For Vendetta” helmer James McTeigue is attached to direct.

In “Bangkok 8,” a detective with the Royal Thai Police Force tracks the murderers of his partner, and also a U.S. Marine. The trail leads through Bangkok’s drug and sex trade, and corrupt colleagues. Burdett, who just published “Bangkok Haunts,” the third Thai-flavored novel in the series, lives in Bangkok and knows the terrain. ICM auctioned the books last week, and Millennium’s Avi Lerner stepped up and got the property over several studios. Lerner will produce with Boaz Davidson, John Thompson and Joe Gatta.

The intention is to adapt several of the books and shoot in Thailand.

I recommend Burdett’s books highly.

And by the way, speaking of Thai-related flicks, when does that new Rambo movie open? May of 2008, according to Wikipedia.

Thai Film Blog

Thai Cinema [not my image]

I’m interested in learning more about Thai cinema, so I was happy to stumble upon a great blog called Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal. From its description:

Regularly updated news on Thai cinema from Wise Kwai, a Thai film fan and copy editor for an entertainment weekly in Bangkok. Featured films include Ong-Bak, Tropical Malady, Suriyothai, Monrak Transistor, Last Life in the Universe, The Eye and of course the greatest of all Thai westerns, Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone).


New Documentary about Long-Term Travel

In my latest Gridskipper dispatch, I interview the creator of a new documentary about long-term travel and provide my thoughts on the film.


Rambo in Thailand — Update

New Mandala:

It was only a matter of time before more stories about the planned filming of Rambo IV: In The Serpent’s Eye started seeping out. This action flick is slated to be “shot” in a Thai national park in the far north over the coming dry season. The global media just gorges on this kind of story and, well, why not?

According to a Sydney Morning Herald report headlined “No violence please, we’re Thais“, director of the Thailand Film Office, Wanasiri Morakul, has said:

We have warned them that any violence has to be reasonable because we care about young people.

In another report, this time by the Associated Press via WTOP, Wanasiri continues:

Some scenes might be a little bit violent, so we asked them not to make it too violent because if we say that the ethnic minorities are violent, it might be inappropriate.

According to the reports, in this fourth installment of the Rambo franchise the title character has retired to Bangkok. Rather than haunting the bars, or running a gem racket, Rambo is, according to the plot leaks, working as a military boat repairer in the “City of Angels”. I guess they needed some reasonable justification for putting him in Thailand. In so many ways, though, being a boat repairer is pretty far-fetched. Why couldn’t they play it safe? Couldn’t they make him a sports instructor at ISB? An English teacher at ECC? Or a restaurant owner down Sukhumwit way? Those are the sorts of things that the average retired American soldier ends up doing in Thailand.

But I digress, Rambo isn’t average. It shouldn’t need repeating – we all accept that realism isn’t the strong point of this remarkable cinematic franchise.

(Emphasis mine.)

Related: Rambo: Coming to Bangkok (and Burma)