An Honest Liar
James “The Amazing” Randi is an 85-year-old magician who has been at the forefront of a movement to debunk frauds and phonies for decades. After dedicating his life to the magical arts from a very early age, Randi became a sensation mainly due to his impeccable skills as an escape artist. Randi has always referred to himself as being a “liar, cheat and charlatan.” But when the leading crusader against false propaganda is found to have been holding a secret for the past 26 years, will Randi be able to remain an honest liar?
Featuring appearances from other famous magicians, mentalists and skeptics like Penn and Teller, Banachek and Adam Savage from Mythbusters, An Honest Liar is an excellent time capsule looking at the past couple of decades of magic and deception while also proving to be a very effective character study of Randi himself. The film is buoyed by a considerable amount of archival footage that’s edited and culled together in impressive fashion. The film’s pacing is excellent and keeps the audience immersed throughout the entire running time.
As Randi’s epic battles with Peter Popoff and Uri Gellar are explored (with Gellar still coming off as a pompous ass even in new footage), we see the passion that Randi puts in to everything he does. That passion shows in the sequence in which the director films Randi’s big reveal. Its equal parts heart wrenching and manipulative, but like the film as a whole it all works incredible well. (Kirk Haviland)
James “The Amazing” Randi will participate in a Q&A on August 8, at 6:30 p.m., moderated by NOW Magazine’s senior film writer Norm Wilner.
The Anonymous People
A deeply well meaning and emotionally charged documentary, Greg D. Williams’ look at how people enable the stigmatization of addiction doesn’t particularly break any new academic or cinematic ground on its subject. It is, however, a great primer for people with friends or family members who either don’t understand that addiction is a medical problem or how so-called anonymous treatment programs work.
Williams interviews subjects from NBA players and former Miss USAs to state senators and everyday working types to show that addiction knows no societal barriers. After spinning its wheels for about 30 minutes with largely anecdotal tales of struggle, Williams finally gets to his main point: that if more people were to actually come out and talk about their battles with addiction publically, then maybe people would start listening to concerns about a disease that touches almost two thirds of the world’s population.
Again, there isn’t much of anything new here, but Williams does a great job of outlining historical instances where addicts have been shamed into hiding or further addiction by “wars on drugs” and a largely uncaring media. His case that a unified action amongst the gay community helped to bring AIDS and HIV awareness into the public consciousness is a good way to start talking about how people in recovery can help those in need.
There’s a difference between keeping the location of a recovery program secret and keeping the recovery process secret from friends and family. In fact, as the film shows, you literally can’t do that if you want the process to work. Or as one person of recovery states, “It’s easy kicking it. The hard part is living it.” Williams does a decent job of showing just how hard that can be when everyone treats even the most put together addicts as potential wastes of life.
Elena is named after director Petra Costa’s sister, but it’s much more than a simple profile of a loved one.
Elena took her own life in 1990 and two decades later Petra made this beautiful film to honour and explore her life. This deeply personal and moving film proves that you can do a lot with a little. It’s mostly put together from home movies that are contextualized and enriched by Petra’s poetic voice over. The original footage blends nicely with the archival, which is one of several ways that this film is not unlike Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.
Petra was quite a bit younger than Elena, but she has followed her footsteps in her artistic pursuits. At times it is unclear whose voice is guiding the action or who we are watching. In a sense, the subject and filmmaker become one. Films that are both avant garde and autobiographical often end up being self indulgent, uncomfortable and perplexing. Fortunately, Elena is none of the above. (Noah Taylor)
Also at The Bloor this week:
The musically minded This Film Should be Played Loud series continues this week on Saturday at 9:30pm with one of the greatest documentaries ever made, Gimmie Shelter. The Albert and David Maysles shot masterpiece documents The Rolling Stones’ infamous 1969 concert at the Altamont Motor Speedway that led to a clash between concert goers and the Hell’s Angels. It’s one of the most brutally honest and harrowing performing arts films ever made, and even though these screenings come with their own drink specials and a DJ playing hits before hand, this was a film that’s meant to be seen in a cinema.
There’s a repeat screening of the Exhibition on Screen walkthrough Munch 150 on Wednesday at 6:30pm.
Finally, there’s a special screening of Return To Homs (as part of the new Films Changing the World series) on Thursday at 6:30pm with a Skype Q&A with director Talal Derki. Fresh off a great reception at the Hot Docs festival this past spring, the film deals with a young man living and trying to survive with his friends in a constantly attacked Syrian community.