The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Frederick Wiseman's four-hour documentary "At Berkeley," about the University of California at Berkeley during the 2010 state budget crisis, makes me wish this site had a dual rating system: one for people who like a certain sort of film, another for people who find that same sort of film intolerable. In such a scenario, the rating at the top of this page would be aimed at the first group, and there'd be a zero star rating for the second group, which wouldn't willingly get within ten miles of a movie like this.
Wiseman wouldn't lose a wink of sleep over that second group. He's been making documentaries like this one for 50 years: long films with no narration, no talking heads, no identifying titles or timestamps, indeed nothing to anchor you but the title and whatever the people onscreen are saying and doing.
"At Berkeley" isn't mainly interested in summarizing the state of public universities, though in its roundabout way, it does that. It wants to put you in the middle of a certain place and time and let you marinate in it, through quiet montages and long scenes. Some of these long scenes let an academic, administrator or student make a point, then stay with them for another minute, or three minutes, or five. Wiseman's not just giving you a sense of the issues facing Berkeley and the people who go to Berkeley and work at Berkeley. He's giving you a sense of what it means to be at Berkeley, and to be of Berkeley—what it's like to be Berkeley righteous, Berkeley caring, Berkeley clueless, Berkeley irritating. (At universities, says former U.S. Treasury Secretary turned Berkeley professor Robert Reich, “faculty meetings go on twice as long" because participants "are used to hearing themselves speak, and they are used to seeing people nod in response.”)
At the same time, though, Wiseman gives you a sense of what Berkeley looks and feels like: the gorgeous campus with its mix of old and new buildings, some elegant, others characterless, and the way light bathes them when the sun slips behind a cloud, and the way shadow-fingers caress the quad and glide across fountains and bike racks and ivy-covered walls.