Category: Documentary


Enemies of the State

August 8th, 2021 — 8:52pm

***

This is an unusual documentary film, which not only recounted the story from actual film clips but was interspersed with some reenactments based on actual events. The main character is a young man by the name of Matt DeHart who is a known hacker with ties to WikiLeaks, which is an international non-profit organization that publishes news leaks and classified documents provided by anonymous sources. The question that is raised is whether this young man is antagonizing the US government by publishing secret documents and is the US government spreading false information that Mr. DeHart is involved in child pornography? We meet this young man and his family who support him and believe he is being set up by the government. The viewer is torn between these two possibilities as we ponder what is the truth. Sonia Kennebeck is the director and producer and has masterfully weaved this story together. We have our own opinion who is telling the truth and as realistic as the film may have been, we did not think it was worth the hour and 45 minutes.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Road Runner- Documentary Film About Anthony Bourdain

July 15th, 2021 — 5:52am

ROADRUNNER-Documentary Film About Anthony Bourdain
***

Morgan Neville, veteran documentary filmmaker, has just come out with a new documentary about author, TV host, food expert, and documentary filmmaker Anthony Bourdain who has been featured on CNN with his very popular series about food around the world. He has interviewed and interacted with people from all four corners of the earth. We had the opportunity to preview this film and see an interview with the filmmaker by Steve Farber as part of his series Reel Talk. Bourdain had a way with connecting with people from numerous countries and cultures, albeit frequently around food. He had two marriages and one daughter, but we are told that he was away from home 270 days of the year, which says a lot about his family relationships. The film also suggests that a troubled relationship with a girlfriend actress, may have contributed to his final spiral out of control which led to his suicide at age 61. Although the film leaves many unanswered questions about this brilliant and enigmatic man, it is interesting and worth seeing.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Steal A Pencil For Me

May 22nd, 2021 — 1:00am

Steal A Pencil For Me-nf
****

As have so many stories about the holocaust, this film produced by Michel Ohayon has touched our hearts. It tells a true story about a man Jac Polak and woman Ina Soepwho met in Holland shortly before the Nazis took over. He was infatuated with her although he was married to someone else. When their time came and they were deported to a concentration camp, they kept in touch with each other through clandestine letters and notes (hence the movie title). Through this continued relationship (along with film clips of various cattle cars whisking the Jews away and pictures and clips of the horrors that went on during those terrible years), we ultimately learned that this unusual couple never lost hope that they might reunite. Sure enough after liberation, they found each other and have had more than 60 years of marriage. It is no surprise that this is a moving story that not only tells about enduring love, but reminds us about history that we must never forget.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, Romance

The Center Will Not Hold

May 18th, 2021 — 1:58am

May 16, 2021
The Center Will Not Hold
***

This is a 2017 biographical film about the story of the iconic writer, Joan Didion. It is directed by her nephew actor, Griffin Dunne, and was produced by her cousin, Annabella Dunne. This probably explains why the filmmakers appeared to have such easy access to the main subject as well as so many personal videos and footage of her life. While we are contemporaries of the main subject and we are familiar with the various cities where she has lived on both coasts, our lives have been quite different. We were in San Francisco at the same time as she was. While one of us was a newly married intern at San Francisco General Hospital and the other was a newly minted social worker, Ms. Didion was at parties with Janis Joplin, Harrison Ford, Brian De Palma, Martin Sarkozy, and Steven Spielberg. The film gives us a very intimate portrait of this amazing talented writer who is married to John Dunne, a very talented writer himself. Whereas some well-matched couples can finish each other sentences, this dyad were able to edit and finish each others manuscripts.

It is clear that Ms. Didion was an extremely talented sought after writer from top magazines such as Vogue and has written some very well received novels. Her personal experiences and her emotional life is clearly captured and reflected in this film and includes the very meaningful relationship that she had with her husband and her adopted daughter who died at the age of 39 shortly after the death of her father and Ms. Didion’s beloved husband.

What makes this movie a meaningful cinematic experience is not only the words and life story of the main subject, but how well personal film and video footage is weaved into the storyline along with contemporary clips reflecting the times and life of this amazing woman.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Giving Voice

January 26th, 2021 — 4:42am

Giving Voice – nf
*****

This is a documentary film released in 2020, which pays tribute to the late, revered playwright, August Wilson and to the devoted talented young students who compete in a yearly national acting competition. The film follows the lives of six such students from all over the country as they prepared their monologue and vie to be the finalist in the August Wilson competition, which will take place on Broadway in New York City. The audience gets a meaningful insight into how the words of this great playwright resonate with these young actors who were chosen among a thousand entries. Not only does the film give us a glimpse into the lives of each of these talented young finalists, but we are also able to appreciate the relevancy of Wilson’s words to the contemporary black experience in America. We found the performances of these young people to be riveting. It was complemented by appearances by Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Gerardo Navarro. There was also an opportunity to see and appreciate the late great playwright, August Wilson in archival footage, being interviewed and also giving a graduation speech. The words of Wilson remain quite relevant today and seeing these young people enthusiastically embrace them was a wonderful cinematic experience. Kudos of course of the director Fernando Villena and Jamie Stern and also to Viola Davis, John Legend, and several other executive producers.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

What Happened Miss Simone?

November 29th, 2020 — 12:52am

We also reviewed this film a few years ago when it came out. We suggest that you also look at that review ( What Happened, Miss Simone? )which also has a link to one her outstanding performances.

****
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix)

This 2015 documentary film was directed by Liz Garbus and is nominated for best documentary film at the 88th Academy Awards. Nina Simone is a little girl who appeared to be destined to become a child prodigy classical pianist. Her natural talents as a pianist as well as a singer diverted her into performing as a jazz artist. Being a young black woman, she used her musical talent to be an important voice in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. She would often be singing in a musical manner what the black leaders were saying in so many ways, especially as she came forth and performed her classic song, Mississippi Goddamn! Ms. Simone’s personal life was complicated as the man whom she married and became her manager also physically abused her.

The editing of this film was magnificent as there were clips of her performing and talking as well as segments of observation by people who knew her including her husband and most important, her daughter. These were all blended together with wonderful clips of performances by this great artist.

Sadly, it turns out that Ms. Simone appeared to have had an underlying depression, which dominated her later years. She died at the age of 70, but her music will never be forgotten.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

My Octopus Teacher

October 15th, 2020 — 5:24am

My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
***
My Octopus Teacher nf

This is a documentary film directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed. It stars Craig Foster who also produced the film. He appears to be a marine biologist who spends close to a year following a single octopus for most of her life living under water in a South African kelp forest.

The film shows Foster mostly by himself swimming deep in the water without an oxygen tank following the life of this one octopus. We learned about the life cycle of this creature and how it hides from sharks, appears to feel comfortable with the film marker, and ultimately reproduces and dies. The impression that the film is trying to make is that Foster felt an emotional connection with the octopus and he felt that likewise it felt a connection with him. While we understand the two-way connection, we cannot help being aware that there always had to be another person nearby (the always present cameraman). The film also briefly shows Foster teaching his son the secrets of connecting with the creatures below. This is a unique and unusual movie.(2020)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Mucho Mucho Armor – The Legend of Walter Mercado

October 15th, 2020 — 4:51am

***
Mucho Mucho Amor – The Legend of Walter Mercado nf

This is a documentary film that takes place over several decades about someone who is apparently one of the most well-known Latin stars in the world. He was born in modest circumstances in Puerto Rico and from an early age had been seen as having “something special,” to which people gravitated. He was an actor who became interested in astrology and due to a various circumstances he appeared in various short television segments telling fortunes according to the astrological stars. At one point, he had 120 million viewers. People all over Latin America became enthralled with his pronouncement and his performance and he became loved and sought after celebrity. He dressed in extravagant costumes with magnificent capes that became an essential part of his shows. He spent a lifetime as someone who loved to look glamorous in his feminine/masculine attire and who only wanted to spread love and good feelings. The documentary allows the viewer to see into his rise as well as the betrayal by his manager, which almost destroyed him. Yet, he lived to see better days and to enjoy once again his status as a unique icon within the Spanish speaking community. Seeing the film, you are left with the feeling of having witnessed someone totally unique and full of love (2020).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

The Great Hack

September 18th, 2020 — 10:56pm

The Great Hack (Netflix)
*****

As the internet and Facebook have become a part of our everyday life, most of us have no idea how much information about each of us is being saved and potentially available. It happens that a political consulting company based in England named Cambridge Analytica whose CEO is Alexander Nix has been accumulating such data. This information was used to influence BREXIT (the vote allowing Great Britain to leave the European Union).

It turns out that Cambridge Analytica was also providing data to influence the US elections. They apparently have 5000 points of data on every American voter. Initially, they were using this information to target voters and support the reelection of United States Senator Ted Cruz of Florida. Subsequently, this information was put to use to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump.

Various journalists discovered these activities and began to report on them. Special note was the work of Carole Cadwalladr who reported for The Guardian and The Observer. Some of the other heroes featured in this film include Professor David Carroll who tried to legally obtain the data that Cambridge Analytica had about him. There are also whistleblowers Christopher Wylie and Brittany Kaiser, a former director at Cambridge Analytica. These people and others cooperated with the filmmakers in this very well done documentary as they followed them around all over the world including their testimony before the US Congress. There is also a piece showing Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) testifying in front of a special Congressional Committee.

This documentary film was put together by directors Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim and they produced and wrote it along with Geralyn White Dreyfous, Judy Korin, and Pedro Kos. This movie was released in the United States in July 2019 and has been nominated for an Emmy to be announced next week (September 20).

This is a very engrossing documentary film, which deserves the attention of every American. As the documentary unfolds, you have the feeling that you are watching the reveal of a very important event.The Great Hack!(2020)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Rising Phoenix

September 15th, 2020 — 1:50am

Rising Phoenix – (Netflix)
*****

This is a truly amazing documentary film about a group of remarkable athletes who have participated in the Paralympic Games. In it we meet athletes some without legs or arms and some without both. We get a chance to learn about their personal stories. Some were born without limbs or suffered the loss as children. We see how each person faced his or handicap with the support of parents, sometimes adopted parents, their coaches and eventually with the support of a stadium filled with screaming fans. This was a beautifully done documentary which grips both the viewer’s mind and heart.

This Netflix documentary film was directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui. Included among the featured athletes was Tatyana McFadden who spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage with not even a wheelchair. She was paralyzed from the waist down and with no other way to move. She learned to walk with her hands to keep up with other children. Subsequently, competing in a wheelchair, she has won 17 Paralympic medals in multiple Summer Paralympic Games. There was Jonnie Peacock who at the age of 5 contracted meningitis resulting in the disease killing tissues in his right leg, which was then amputated just below the knee. He eventually received a prosthetic leg and won gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Paralympic Games representing Great Britain. There was also Bebe Maria Vio who at the age of 11 contracted a severe form of meningitis, which caused her the loss of both arms and legs and severe facial and body scars. After months of intense rehab treatment and thanks to a special prosthesis, she could return to the love of her life, which was fencing, a discipline that she had been practicing since she was five years old. She won a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games.These athletes and others narrated much of this film, which also included a narration by Prince Harry of Great Britain, which added authenticity as well as his warmth.

The film also takes us into the history of the Paralympic Games and how they have come to occur in the same year as the regular Olympic Games and in the same city with one exception. In 1980, we learned that when a Soviet official was asked whether or not the Paralympic Games would occur in his country, he said “There are no invalids in the USSR.” That attitude has changed considerably in modern times as athletes from that country have actively participated in the Paralympics.

The authors particularly appreciated this film since it happens that during the summer after we were married, we were camp counselors at Camp Oakhurst, a camp for orthopedically handicapped youngsters and young adults and we came to appreciate how the love of sports can transcend physical handicaps. We also over the years have had the opportunity to attend five summer Olympic Games throughout the world, although none were the Paralympic Games, which we now are inspired to consider visiting in the future.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary, Sport

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