Cert 15 Stars 4
Danny Trejo burst onto the global cinema consciousness as a knife-throwing killer in 1995’s scorching action thriller Desperado, and this fascinating and inspirational documentary explores his extraordinary life story of personal reinvention from teenage junkie to violent criminal and popular Hollywood hard man.
Raised by his extended family in a poor violent and semi-rural Mexican neighbourhood in Los Angeles, he spent much of the 1950s and 1960s in prison for armed robbery in the notorious San Quentin prison, and he’s great at describing the toxic atmosphere, the riots and his stints in solitary confinement.
Becoming the prison boxing champ in bouts where the Queensbury rules were pretty much optional, he cleaned up of drugs, found god and became a youth counsellor.
In Hollywood he’s worked notably with Charles Bronson, Salma Hayek and Robert De Niro, and his life experiences gave him a unique and very funny approach to dealing with actors.
There are interviews with his adult children, childhood friends, and co-stars, and a straightforward formula works because there’s absolutely no need to embroider his remarkable life.
Cert 18 Stars 4
Showgirls was an unforgettable sleazy and bare-cheeked erotic drama and the biggest box office flop of 1995, yet as this documentary shows it was far more knowingly subversive than credited at the time.
Derided for being crude and exploitative by those who failed to see the satire in the film’s madly camp excess, Showgirls made a profit on home video where people were able watch it in the seclusion of their own home, it’s second coming sees it enjoying sold out screenings, being embraced by the drag artist community and adapted as a stage musical.
Starring Elizabeth Berkley as a dancer trying to climb the seedy Las Vegas pole from stripper to showgirl, Showgirls was directed by Dutch master Paul Verhoeven flush with success from his Basic Instinct featuring a crotch-flashing Sharon Stone.
We see how Showgirls fits perfectly within the scope of his other deliriously over the top films such as Starship Troopers and Robocop which also heavily feature nudity, vomit and violence. You Don’t Nomi is so enjoyable immediately afterwards I re-watched Showgirls. Twice.
Cert 15 Stars 3
Fans of veteran British rock band Pink Floyd will enjoy this concert recording of former bassist Roger Waters filmed in Amsterdam in June 2018 as part of his sell-out arena tour.
It features songs from Floyd’s best albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon, and The Wall, as well as Water’s last album, Is This The Life We Really Want?
He’s clearly outraged at the state of the world though this a very safe, comfortable and corporate form of protest. State of the art stage visuals offer political commentary and include Pink Floyd’s iconic flying pig.
Cert 12 Stars 3
My favourite film from the 1980’s which didn’t star Harrison Ford, Ghostbusters was a box office supernatural smash featuring ground-breaking visual effects and a chart topping theme song from Ray Parker Jr.
12 years in the making, this affectionate, entertaining and remarkably self-financed documentary from filmmakers Anthony and Claire Bueno is a warm and heartfelt tribute and a joy for all fans of the first film.
Exploring its success and impact on popular culture, interviews include cast members Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Sigourney Weaver.
The next in the series, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is on hold until March next year.
Cert U Stars 4
Science and faith enjoy an unlikely love-in as this documentary about the Buddhist leader combines animation, interviews, and previously unseen archive footage, while revealing him to be a far-sighted and astute political operator on the world stage.
Exiled since 1959 when the Chinese army occupied his country the political and spiritual leader of Tibet took refuge in India, he cuts an attentive, polite, wily, charming and quite jolly figure.
A syrupy narration explains how his childhood interest in science has been the driving force for meetings with leading Nobel prize-winning scientists, and loose comparisons are drawn between buddhist beliefs and scientific such as quantum physics, cognitive science, and neuroscience.
I began watching with skepticism and ended in awe at the 85 year old, as his decades long strategy of Buddhist and Western scientific co-operation is now bearing fruit as he uses research projects to build bridges to the Chinese scientific community, a clear gateway to pressuring the Beijing authorities to re-examine their policies regarding Tibet.
Cert PG Stars 3
Sports fans who believe modern games are too regimented and unaccommodating of maverick talent will enjoy this inspirational and thought-provoking documentary from director Gabe Polsky, who previously made the little seen but brilliant Russian ice-skating doc, Red Army.
With loads of great footage and interviews with Serena Williams, Pele and Michael Jordan, it holds up legends such as boxer Rocky Graziano, and Brazilian footballer Garincha, as examples of great sportsmen who had to improvise new styles in order to overcome physical attributes which could have seen them rejected at the beginning of their careers.
Celebrating the behaviour of pioneering mavericks and diverse figures such as high jumper Dick Fosbury and err, musician David Bowie, the film argues though performance data is necessary in attainment, it can’t measure an individual’s competitive nature and creativity which are fundamental to achieving greatness.
Scathing of any educational system which demands conformity, the film claims unstructured play for the young is crucial for development, which means I’m totally ace-ing this homeschooling lark.
Cert PG Stars 3
Football and philosophy collide in this poignant documentary as a quirky take on the beautiful game morphs into a sad portrait of desperate middle age and a glimpse behind the former Iron Curtain into the Kafka-esque running of the Romanian state apparatus.
Director Corneliu Porumboiu visits his hometown of Vaslui, Romania, to interview the guileless, earnest and evangelical Laurentiu Ginghina, who boldly claims to have invented a new less violent and more creative sport by changing the rules of football.
However a professional football coach shrugs and says the innovations are merely a variation on longstanding training techniques.
There’s an air of Billy Liar and Walter Mitty about the nondescript Ginghina, who explains at length how a series of thwarted opportunities has resulted in his being trapped in the grinding life of a government bureaucrat.
And the newfound freedom he declares players gain from his improvements involve the imposition of complex and restrictive rules, a contradiction our daydreaming would-be sporting pioneer seems oblivious to.
Cert 12 Stars 3
Nazi atrocities of the Second World War will never lose their capacity to shock and horrify, and the focus of this brisk and grimly fascinating documentary is the trial of a 93 year old former guard.
Oskar Groning was responsible for collecting cash and personal valuables from prisoners as they arrived at the Auschwitz extermination camp, and in 2015 was charged with complicity in the murder of 300,000 people.
Exploring how subsequent changes in legal thought lead to Groning’s belated arrest, his case is used to reflect on the failures of the 1946 Nuremberg trials in their prosecution of war criminals.
Cert 15 Stars 4
I’ve only a vague recollection of controversial British fashion designer Alexander McQueen as someone who was on the periphery of the 1990’s Britpop scene.
However by using never-seen before home movies, interviews with family, friends and collaborators, and footage from his catwalk shows, this striking and intimate documentary shows he was a key force of Cool Britannia era and put me straight on the extraordinary talent the working class London lad possessed.
It also conveys the pressures he suffered to maintain his standing in the industry, which contributed to his shocking early death in 2010.
Cert 15 126mins Stars 4
This horrifying documentary explores how Cambodia swapped the tyranny of Communism under Pol Pot for the wild west corruption of a UN-sanctioned free market democracy.
Following the collapse of the brutal Khmer regime, corporate and political corruption was fuelled by the World Bank injecting massive amounts of aid money for urban development.
The forced eviction of citizens from land they had held for generations lead to the ‘Cambodian spring’ of political protest, marked by street demonstrations and a violent response by the army and police.
Award-winning filmmaker Chris Kelly spent the six years shooting this debut feature, which charts the lead up to the country’s 2013 election crisis.
He centres the narrative around two ordinary mothers-turned-activist leaders and a Buddhist monk. All three suffer in different ways for taking a stand against the authorities and vested interests.
There’s no shortage of ambition in his offering a wide-ranging look at these under-reported events, and it makes for a frequently shocking and often compelling watch.