‘Elvis Presley: The Searcher’ Ignores The Ugly Details In An Attempt To Redeem The King’s Legacy [Review]

There’s only one Elvis. A titanic figure, who, for America’s formative pop culture years, was the biggest and most influential star in the world — bringing rock n roll to the masses and crooning his way through dozens of Hollywood hits. He was, in many respects, the first superstar, blazing a dangerous and lonely trail to the top, where he was vulnerable and isolated. Even today he is Elvis, not Elvis Presley, a persona that grew out of personhood and into the mythology of America.

How, then, do you make a movie about such a legend? How do you whittle down the facts of such a life into something consumable? How do you make sense of his rise and his stardom and his tragedy? The answer, according to Thom Zimny’s documentary “Elvis Presley: The Searcher,” is that you strive to capture the magnetism that radiated from Elvis, and you hope the rest comes along naturally. Unfortunately, for all the joys woven into Zimny’s film, it doesn’t ever feel like the seminal Elvis doc that it wants to be, and even for those viewers without a deep knowledge of The King, nothing feels particularly new or revelatory.

‘The Searcher’ is told in two parts: Elvis on his way to stardom and Elvis fighting to regain his status after returning from his U.S. Army deployment. Still, “The Searcher” is only a little over three hours, which means it packs a lot in very quickly. Elvis was born and raised poor in Tupelo, Mississippi, and got his first taste of music from church. As a teen, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where his taste and experience with music thrived — nourished in part in the Black blues clubs that he frequently visited.

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‘Alt-Right: Age of Rage’ Is An Unsettling, But Familiar, Portrait Of American Extremism [SXSW Review]

Since August of last year, the so-called alt-right has become an unavoidable tumor on the American conscience. In the wake of the Charlottesville protests, where Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, coverage of, and conversation about, the alt-right has grown tenfold. Profiles of the likes of Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos appeared on front pages everywhere and, at a point, some began to argue that such journalism was normalizing these extremist ideologies. Into this contested landscape comes the documentary “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” a film that dives headfirst into the fierce and ugly battle of the alt-right and their polar opposite, Antifa, which has spilled from the internet and onto the streets. Of course, the question that has to be asked is: Does anybody want to spend any more time with Spencer and his belligerently bigoted ilk?

‘Age of Rage,’ of course, is banking on the fact that people are still interested in hearing what the faces of the alt-right have to say. Particularly, what they have to say about their opposition, Antifa — the anti-fascist left-wing activists that act as a counter to the alt-right, who also take up a good chunk of ‘Age of Rage.’ This fierce opposition between the far right and the far left forms the backbone of the film: Spencer and fellow white supremacist Jared Taylor are thematically paired against Antifa activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Mark Potok, a former senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, among several others who populate the film. But instead of deeply investigating the complex and often toxic ideology behind the alt-right, the film is more interested in exploring how exactly these groups feel about each other — an interesting but far less gratifying angle.

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Netflix Doc ‘Wild Wild Country’ Is A Wild, Unnerving Journey Into An ’80s Oregon Utopia [Review]

In the years since “Serial” and “Making a Murderer,” the limited series true-crime documentary has been booming. “O.J. Made in America” won an Oscar, “The Vietnam War” built a new narrative of America’s ugliest war, and “American Vandals” skewered the whole genre in a delightful comedic send up. But despite the deluge, people still seem to be hooked. It’s this momentum that “Wild Wild Country,” the new Netflix doc series, wants to ride all the way to cult status. And while it’s got all the right ingredients to be the next jaw-dropping TV event, the production, at times, falls short of the mesmerizing and absurd story at its heart.

In broad terms, “Wild Wild Country” is a series about generational divides, religious animosity, and the hate cast upon those who you don’t understand. But what makes the series stand out from others in the genre are the strange and hard-to-believe details that make up this very true story — the inundation of Rolls Royces, the biological attacks, the wild orgies, the violent meditation, the million dollar watches and the central figure, who doesn’t so much as speak for three years.

All of which makes the narrative of the series chaotic and overstuffed — which is hardly a fault of the filmmakers, Chapman and Maclain Way (the excellent “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”), who do good work translating a messy, years-long trainwreck into a compelling and almost-sensible story. Put simply, though, “Wild Wild Country” follows the Rajneesh movement and the utopian city of 10,000 they tried to establish in the early 1980s in rural Oregon.

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‘The World Before Your Feet’ Is A Delightful Stroll Through The Pleasures Of Walking [SXSW Review]

Matt Green seems to get asked a lot what he does for work. The answer, which he repeats well over a dozen times in the new documentary “The World Before Your Feet,” is “nothing.” Not because he can’t, isn’t qualified, or is independently wealthy (though it often feels that way), but because he just doesn’t. This answer, of course, leaves people feeling incredulous. Because how else do you define Matt? Sure, he’s walked across America, from New York to Oregon, and is currently walking every block, sidewalk, bridge, and park in New York City, but if he doesn’t work, who is he?

Matt and his lack of employment is only a small part of ‘The World Before Your Feet’.  Written, produced, edited, and directed by Jeremy Workman, it’s representative of both him and the film, mostly because both seem adamant to defy the conventional rules they are supposed to conform to. Not only does Matt not work, but he doesn’t really have any reason behind why he has undertaken the six-plus-year task of walking every inch of New York. He doesn’t plan on writing a book or turning his experience into anything monetary (though this film seems to be doing that for him), and he claims to lack any guiding philosophical motivation. He’s just doing it because he wants to. “The World Before Your Feet” is similar in that it eschews a traditional narrative: it picks up with Matt in the middle of his journey and ends far before he does, opting for mosaic experiences over anything linear. The point is never to understand Matt or his adventure, but simply to experience it alongside him. And maybe, if we’re lucky, to see New York (or the world) through the loving eyes that he does.

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Netflix Doc ‘Take Your Pills’ Is A Dizzying But Thoughtful Look At The Adderall Generation [SXSW Review]

For a few years now, headlines around the world have made note of the Most Medicated Generation, the millennials who have been prescribed pills for everything from behavioral issues to depression and anxiety. By some estimates, nearly 25 percent of university-aged kids are on some form of prescription drug — a sharp uptick from any previous generation. These facts and figures, of course, make a movie like “Take Your Pills” — a potent but messy documentary — inevitable. It’s inevitability, though, doesn’t make it any less necessary, as “Take Your Pills” takes aim at Adderall and Ritalin and the mind and mood altering realities such drugs have created for millions of Americans — for better or worse.

“Take Your Pills” starts with the obvious: Adderall’s ubiquity on college campuses, both as a necessary prescription drug and an illegal substance that students buy under the table to fuel all-night study sessions and end-of-term finals. For anyone who’s been anywhere near a college in the last decade, nothing about this will be surprising, but the candid nature of the students put on screen is still startling. What’s even more fascinating, though, is the introspection and reflection that director Alison Klayman (“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”) manages to make clear. Adderall, it becomes painfully clear, is not always the super drug it’s purported to be for those who have relied upon it for years — in fact, for many, the person they are on Adderall is not exactly the person they want to be.

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‘306 Hollywood’ Is An Experimental, Tender Exercise In Coping [Sundance Review]

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that in the weeks and months that follow, after the most intense spasms of grief have subsided, that the question of how exactly to remember that person remains. It’s a tremendous question that has no universal answer, that everybody and every family must find for themselves. And it’s this question that sits at the heart of “306 Hollywood,” an experimental documentary that attempts to both craft a vivid portrait of a grandmother through the treasure trove that was her house and to reconcile with what it means to lose someone you love. And despite its tendency to lean upon self-serious reimaginings, it is nonetheless an engaging and tenderly drawn film that is likely to resonate with anyone who has had to do the tireless work of sorting through an estate of a family member.

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‘This Is Home’ Is A Harrowing Take On Refugee Life In America [Sundance Review]

In the year since the cultural shift ignited by the 2016 election, there have already been a handful of films that have taken on the ongoing war in Syria and the refugee crisis it has sparked. (Two of them — “City of Ghosts” and “Last Men In Aleppo” — made our list of the best docs of 2017.) These films, which are often painful to watch, let alone to capture on film, paint a shocking picture of pain and suffering while simultaneously indicting the global community for its failure to act (or even sustain interest). Taken together as a body of work they draw a portrait that spans from the origins of the devastating war, to the ruins of once-great cities, to the harrowing journeys that hundreds of thousands of families have made across seas and mountains and borders all in the name of safety. But what happens when a family finds itself, after years in a refugee camp, finally on its way to America? To the land of freedom and opportunity? What’s it like to finally make itAlexandra Shiva tackles these questions in her new documentary “This Is Home,” but the answers she offers are anything but comforting.

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