Born in China
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
“Born in China,” the latest installment in the Disneynature documentary series, is “Planet Earth” aimed at younger audiences. But any nature lover can find enjoyment here, especially in the stunning cinematography.
Earlier movies in the series have focused on specific species. This one, however, offers an overview of some of the unique creatures found in China: pandas, snow leopards, cranes, Chiru antelopes and golden monkeys. Filmmaker Lu Chuan and his team follow these incredible animals through the seasons and throughout the circle of life while incorporating Chinese spiritual beliefs about life and death.
John Krasinski of “The Office” fame narrates. While he doesn’t achieve that singular mix of gravitas and cheeky wit that Sir David Attenborough brought to “Planet Earth,” his homey stylings serve well in guiding us through the lives of these animals.
But Krasinski isn’t the star. Those honors go to a baby panda taking its first steps and the antics of a group of young golden monkeys.
The footage captured is breathtaking for its access and intimacy to these incredible creatures. During the closing credits, we get a small taste of the behind-the-scenes work that went into capturing these images, and it’s so fascinating that it makes us want to see an entire documentary just about the process.
The Disneynature films are always released close to Earth Day and typically strive to educate audiences about the importance of preserving nature. This one is surprisingly nonpolitical. From watching it, one wouldn’t know that these animals are endangered.
The film doesn’t leave the audience with a call to action about how to act to protect these animals, and that feels like a missed opportunity.
Katie Walsh,Tribune News Service
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for war violence and profanity
Love and laughter flow so naturally in “Their Finest” that it is almost easy to forget there’s a war on.
An unalloyed charmer, the movie tells a story of familiar British grit and resolve during World War II from an attractively different angle: that of an advertising copywriter, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), who’s recruited by the government to join the film industry. Britain wants the United States to enter the war and has decided cinematic propaganda is the way it can persuade the movie-mad Yanks to sign up.
The world is facing a historic catastrophe, of course, but for this ambitious young woman, it’s a golden opportunity. With the men off fighting the war, the film industry needs all the help it can get, even if it means deviating from its entrenched sexism. But Catrin is still outnumbered at work and is initially assigned to write “the slop,” or women’s dialogue.
Arterton creates a character who can hold her own against the free-ranging peacocks. To help her, director Lone Scherfig, a Danish filmmaker who has carved out a curious niche making British period stories, brings in reinforcements, including Phyl (Rachael Stirling), a dispenser of feminist truths in slacks. The character who most beautifully embodies the story’s ideals, though, is Sophie (Helen McCrory), who, as a talent agent, brings man and dog to heel in a few short, barbed scenes. “Their Finest” (as in “their finest hour”) is too understandably serious to be called a romp, yet it has a buoyancy that lifts you and, in McCrory, a woman who does, too.
Manohla Dargis, New York Times
I Called Him Morgan
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: Not rated
In 1972, jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan died after being shot in a New York City nightclub by his common-law wife, Helen. The shooting was traumatic for those who were there — one of his bandmates refused to return to New York for years — but for the rest of the world, it was just a sad, strange tabloid story.
“I Called Him Morgan,” a suave and poignant documentary by jazz buff Kasper Collin, brushes away the sensationalism. This is not a lurid true-crime tale of jealousy and drug addiction but a delicate human drama about love, ambition and the glories of music.
Edged with blues and graced with that elusive quality called swing, the film makes generous use of Morgan’s recordings. He played the trumpet with speed, precision and an infectiousness that Collin wisely pauses to savor.
The film also lingers over the reminiscences of Morgan’s colleagues — including Wayne Shorter, Paul West and Jymie Merritt — whose testimony provides a lesson in musical history and a primer on jazz aesthetics.
What happened the night Morgan died seems more a terrible accident than a full-blown tragedy. It’s startling to realize how young he was — 32 or 33, depending on which source you use — given how much he had lived. But that’s what art does, including documentary film: It expands the scope of life and distills its beauty and its pain.
A.O. Scott, New York Times