Posts Tagged ‘Steve James’


I joined CP24 to have a look at new movies coming to VOD, streaming services and theatres.  Today we talk about the turtle power of “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem,” the shark-jumping “The Meg 2: The Trench,” the dramedy “Shortcomings” and the historical documentary “A Compassionate Spy.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!


I sit in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with guest host Andrew Pinsent to talk the new movies coming to theatres including the turtle power of “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem,” the shark-jumping “The Meg 2: The Trench,” the dramedy “Shortcomings” and the historical documentary “A Compassionate Spy.”

Listen to the whole thing HERE!

A COMPASSIONATE SPY: 3 ½ STARS. “plenty of unexpected twists and turns.”

“A Compassionate Spy,” a new documentary from director Steve “Hoop Dreams” James, should work as a compelling companion piece for audiences in an Atomic Age state of mind after seeing “Oppenheimer.”

Like “Oppenheimer,” the documentary’s main character is a nuclear physicist. Ted Hall was an eighteen-year-old Harvard undergrad when he was brought on to help Robert Oppenheimer and his team create a bomb as part of the Manhattan Project in 1944.

Three years later he met, and courted Joan, a left-leaning undergrad at the University of Chicago. They connected quickly, but his marriage proposal came with a catch. He quietly told her that he didn’t share the jubilation felt by his scientist colleagues for their part in ushering in the Atomic Age. Disgusted by the destructive power of the bomb he helped build, he attempted to level the playing field between super powers by leaking secrets to the Soviet Union. He felt if both countries had nuclear access the idea of mutually assured destruction would keep either from hitting the button.

(SIDENOTE: In “Oppenheimer” the Manhattan Project spy was reported to be German theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs.)

Joan, who appears in the film, agrees to keep Ted’s secret, and does as they raise a family under a campaign of intimidation by the FBI, in a marriage that lasts more than 50 years. Using Joan’s words coupled with (sometimes overtly) dramatic recreations, archival footage and a tell-all, never-before-seen video, taped before Ted’s 1999 death, “A Compassionate Spy” details their life together and the lengths they went through to keep their secret.

Set to a soundtrack of Ted and Joan’s favorite music—Mahler, Mozart and Schumann—“A Compassionate Spy” is part family drama, part historical drama and part hagiography of a controversial and complex person. Like any good espionage story there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, mostly told in first hand by people who were there. It’s the personal touch that elevates the story from historical and geopolitical tell-all to a different, and in many ways, more compelling story of intergenerational secrecy.

The political underpinnings of Hall’s actions are observed and commented on by historian Daniel Axelrod and physicist Michio Kaku, but the title gives away the filmmaker’s point of view. “A Compassionate Spy” is a forgiving look at Hall, painting him as a man who acted against zealous nationalism, not against his country.

“A Compassionate Spy” is a very compelling story knocked down a notch or two by an overuse of dramatizations. They don’t add much to the overall presentation, and often reduce the power of the interviews. Nonetheless, the story of one man who changed the world, for better and for worse, and why, is one worth telling.


Fast reviews for busy people! Watch as I review three movies in less time than it takes to turn on the lights! Have a look as I race against the clock to tell you about the turtle power of “TMNT: Mutant Mayhem,” the dramedy “Shortcomings” and the historical documentary “A Compassionate Spy.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

LIFE ITSELF: 4 ½ STARS. “never shies away from the difficult parts of the story.”

life-itself-2Can there be any more daunting an assignment for a film critic than to review a documentary about the life of one of the greatest movie reviewers of all time? “Life Itself,” is an affectionate look at the life and death of Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer and television host whose name has become synonymous with the film criticism.

Ebert lived a public life. Between television appearances—on his own show with Gene Siskel and hundreds of talk show visits—and countless words splayed across the pages of the Chicago Sun-Times, his books and later his website, it seems like there might not be much left that we don’t already know about Ebert.

Director Steve James, who also made “Hoop Dreams,” one of Ebert’s favorite films, digs deep to present something that is beyond a simple biography. We learn about how the critic wrote the screenplay for the Russ Meyer’s opus “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” the legendary ego clashes with his TV partner and that he met his wife at an AA meeting but that’s just trivia. Instead, using a mix of talking head interviews, archive footage, and most importantly, interviews with Roger and wife Chaz, James crafts an intimate, revealing and moving portrait of a complex man.

Ebert passed away on April 4, 2013 during the production of the documentary. Stricken with cancer, he knew he would likely not live to see the finished film, but communicated through his laptop (with voice translation) for as long as he was able. One of his last messages to James said simply and eloquently, “I’m fading.” It’s a heartbreaking and bittersweet moment in the movie that gives life to Ebert’s theory of movies being “a machine to generate empathy.”

“Life Itself” never shies away from the difficult parts of the story. Moments of frustration and pain are included but ultimately the doc is a wake for the late film critic. Stories are shared, secrets are told and a life is celebrated.