Category: Documentary


Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

July 7th, 2019 — 5:01am

*** 

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold – nf

Joan Didion is an accomplished writer who for the past 50 years has written novels, essays and screenplays including many pieces for Vogue and Vanity Fair Magazine. She has lived and written about the literary scene in New York in the 1950s and ‘60s as well as about her home State of California in the 1980s and 1990s. She has partied with Janis Joplin and has hung out with Jim Morrison.

This documentary film is made by Ms Didion’s nephew, Griffin Dunne, who is a well-known actor, director and producer. It is co-produced by his wife Anna Dunne and Mary Recine. The film was narrated by a somewhat frail elderly Ms. Didion who seems as sharp as ever. It begins when she must have been a toddler and her mother gave her a book and a pencil and told her to record her thoughts and feelings. She still has that book and of course has filled that book and many others. There are wonderful film clips and photos from past decades which reflect the times as well as the personal remembrances of Ms. Didion. This includes images and the words of her husband, John Gregory Dunne who was also a writer. During their long marriage, which included one dearly beloved daughter whom they adopted shortly after her birth, they always would read and edit each other’s writings even if they didn’t fully agree about everything.

We were captured by this review of this woman’s life and also how it reflected her perspective through Ms. Didion’s words and thoughts along with images of the time. (2019)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Sea of Shadows

June 18th, 2019 — 8:18pm

***

Sea of Shadows-sp

This is an interesting documentary film which is at times quite exciting and dramatic although some of the fine points were difficult to understand. It appears that in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, the vaquita, a small whale-like mammal, is on the verge of extinction. The reason being that a Mexican cartel encourages rogue fishermen to set up fishing nets to capture another species, the totoaba, since the Chinese mafia will pay very large sums of money for the bladder of the totoaba because of supposed medicinal powers. The vaquita which die in these fishing nets are now near extinction with only 15 or 20 of them still alive. A group of environmental activists attempt to rescue the few remaining vaquita. Things get exciting as the Mexican navy gets involved, responding when the environmentalists identify the rogue fishermen. There are some very dramatic scenes shot by a drone as the criminal fishermen are confronted. But things become more complicated and quite scary as there is a sinister crime boss involved. The director and filmmaker, Richard Ladkani, risks his life along with the environmentalists as they, at times, arrange undercover meetings which are secretly recorded with the various participants and criminal elements.

This film project which was mostly supported by one of the executive producers, Leonardo DiCaprio, at times becomes an expose of the Mexican navy and the Mexican government itself. This film may make a difference in exposing corruption in Mexico as well as in saving a species on the verge of extinction. (2019)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Leaving Neverland

March 16th, 2019 — 8:54pm

****

Leaving Neverland-nf

Four-hour two-part documentary film directed by Dan Reed

Ten years ago, Michael Jackson, “King of pop”, one of the greatest entertainers of all time died at the age of 50 of a combination drug reaction and a fatal heart attack. He had been married twice, once to the daughter of Elvis Presley and had four children. He himself as a child was the youngest member of a musical group known as, The Jackson 5. Michael Jackson endured two criminal trials with allegations that he had committed child abuse and was found not guilty.

This four-hour documentary (divided into two 2-hour segments) focuses on two men probably now in their 30s who described in great detail their relationship with Michael Jackson. As young children, they had won dance contests in the style of their idol. Michael Jackson then befriended them both and their families, at different times. He brought them to his palacial home in Los Angeles known as Neverland. The boys were ages 7 and 10, when they met Jackson.

This documentary film focuses mainly on these men with camera close-ups during most of their speaking. They recounted their childhood and their relationship with Jackson and how he befriended them despite their wide age disparity, along with their families. There were also interviews with family members including the boy’s mothers, siblings and the film also had various film clips. There was a haunting musical score in the background throughout the film.

Both men clearly and unequivocally described how Jackson became their close friend and their buddy, but also frequently would sleep in his bed with them in his Neverland estate. Jackson made them feel he loved them and they loved him. This continued with various intervals between the ages of seven until they were in their mid-teenagers and even then, they kept up a relationship. The young men also described how Jackson sexually molested them from their earliest relationship which included touching, kissing, masturbation, as well as oral and anal sex. These encounters occurred while the boy’s mothers and other family members who believe Jackson was a great family friend were often in a nearby room. These relationships continued for years and included talking on the phone and traveling to various cities staying in great hotels and frequent dinner together with their families. The story is amazing. It is also heart wrenching as we see as adults both men now married with their own young children now struggling with their awareness of what they have gone through. You can imagine how devastating it became not only for them and for their mothers who realized that they had unwittingly allowed their sons to be subject to the most severe deception and molestation.

Although the film was quite convincing, it should be mentioned that there are still Jackson supporters who dispute the veracity of the accounts of these two men. The story was quite riveting and conveyed so well the joys followed by the pain of the young men and the families of those involved.

The film was well done.Perhaps at times it dragged a little, or was too repetitious. However, the viewer cannot help, but be amazed how these two boys and obviously many others were deceived, seduced, and deprived of their childhood innocence by the actions of a man who himself must have been a very damaged person.(2019)

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary

Icarus

February 6th, 2019 — 1:58am

**** 

Icarus-nf

 The title of this documentary film comes from Greek mythology where Icarus was the son of a man who created a huge maze under the court of King Minos of Crete where a half man half bull creature lived. While the connection to this film may be somewhat convoluted there are at least two characters in the movie who can be viewed as larger than life evil people. One being Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who is in charge of the anti-doping lab for Russian athletes and the other I would identify as Russian premier Vladimir Putin who supported and promoted this immoral and illegal activity.

We may have missed the exact details how and why the producer first became connected with Dr. Rodchenkov. It appears that the movie maker Bryan Fogel was an amateur competitive cyclist. He somehow learned that Dr. Rodchenkov located in Russia not only ran the Russian testing labs for Russian athletes but also knew how to have athletes inject themselves with performance enhancing drugs and not be caught when there was subsequent urine testing. We are not sure how and why the good doctor, after several Skype conversations with Bryan Fogel, agreed to teach him how to inject himself and significantly improve his competitive cycling performance.

However this amazing film then goes on to show in vivid documentary form how the Russian competitive athletes who are competing in a variety of international sports including the Olympics regularly, illegally injected themselves with performance enhancing drugs. In addition, Dr. Rodchenkov was the person who designed an elaborate testing procedure for all athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The procedure as it appeared to the outside world was foolproof with several techniques to guard against illegal cheating and manipulation of urine samples. However, in fact, the set-up allowed the Russians to cheat and have their athletes test clear while they were doped up with these illegal drugs. The movie ends with Dr. Rodchenkov going into the witness protection program in the United States and Bryan Fogel producing this award winning, fascinating and very revealing documentary movie. (2017)

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Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Documentary, Sport

Fahrenheit 11/9

September 24th, 2018 — 12:41am

****

Fahrenheit 11/9- rm

This is a documentary movie by filmmaker, Michael Moore. So, if you know anything about him, you can expect a strong political statement reflecting his views. However, we found that he took us some places we did not anticipate and we were emotionally moved by several points that were being made.

While the title (One Day After Trump’s Election) and introduction zoomed in immediately on the election of Donald Trump, which surprised most everyone, probably including Trump and his supporters. Moore did not let us forget that there was a clear majority of voters supporting Clinton and of course, the Electoral College, which allowed Trump to be elected president, is a remnant of a compromise made to appease the slave states.

As we settled in to see a further dissection of Trumpism in this country, the movie took us on a somewhat different journey than we expected. We ended up in Moore’s homeland of Flint, Michigan where we were told the story of one of the most horrendous acts of deception ever played upon American citizens. The water supply of the city was changed and then came from a new river source, which was polluted with lead and other substances that were an irreversible poison to the residents of that city, especially impacting children. The governor of Michigan, Jim Snyder, even when he knew about the facts, hid the truth from the people in order to protect corporate interests who were benefiting by the status quo. He did make some changes, so a General Motors plant would have clean water so as not to damage the cars that were being made. Apparently, even President Obama did not understand the true gravity of the situation as we see him speaking in Flint, Michigan minimizing the seriousness of this issue.

This movie also took us to West Virginia, where we met poorly-paid teachers who defied their own union and were going on strike for a 5% raise in salary for themselves, school bus drivers and kitchen workers in the schools. We saw how their brave acts of defiance were then copied by teachers in other states, giving a picture of how people can rise up for their rights.

Seen through the eyes of this documentary filmmaker, the human elements of such events can be very well conveyed. However, nothing was more moving than the depiction of the well-known story of the children of Parkland, Florida who rose up to capture the hearts of the entire country as they exposed the self-centered actions of the gun lobby in this country who have resisted changes in gun control despite the massacre of the Parkland children by a crazed killer with an assault rifle.

The ending of this film brought us back to Trump with Michael Moore’s eye-opening clear comparison of the rise of Donald Trump and the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism as seen in Germany. This documentary film pulls no punches and it will hit you in the gut, bring tears to your eyes and give you a great deal to think about. (2018)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

Far From The Tree

August 25th, 2018 — 12:28am

***

Far From The Tree-nf

What happens when a parent realizes that their child is quite “different”? How do they feel, and of course how does the developing child experience life when he or she realizes there is a major difference in themselves and most of the people in the world? Andrew Solomon, the author of a well-received book with the same title of this movie, opens this documentary film by reflecting on his struggle and that of his parents as he became aware that he was gay.

The focus of filmmaker Rachel Dretzin was to also examine the real life examples of families and children with Dwarfism, Autism or Down Syndrome, as well as a situation of a seemingly normal teenager who for no apparent reason murders an eight-year-old child and is sentenced to life in prison.

Needless to say, each of these situations present a different set of circumstances in regard to the physical attributes, speech, intellectual ability and other life circumstances. We also can’t ever generalize how everyone will respond in each category. But what we were shown in these real life examples, was that all the children were ultimately shown unconditional love and acceptance by their families.

One very interesting situation was that of a young couple, both of whom had Dwarfism and were happily married. The wife becomes pregnant. At this point, they were not sure if they wanted the child to be normal or to be a small person like them.

The filmmaker did a very good job showing the viewers the dilemma and the feelings of all the parents and children. The analogy between the developmental disability and being gay on one hand seem to be a stretch, but yet, when seen through the eyes of the parents, gave us some worthwhile insight. On the other hand, each category depicted could have been examined in much more depth, perhaps in a separate documentary film for each one. We also felt we needed more insight into why and how the murderer came to do his deed. However, we saw the unconditional and continued love of the parents for their son as they had periodic phone calls with him as he served his life sentence. In fact, the strength and endurance of parental-child love in each family depicted was the real theme of this movie. (2017)

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Love, Cecil

July 18th, 2018 — 5:49pm

***

Love, Cecil-sp

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) is the subject of this documentary film by Lisa Immordini Vreeland. Beaton was a legendary fashion photographer, renowned portrait photographer as well as a war photographer. On top of that, he was an Oscar-winning stage and costume designer for film and theater. He was a painter and a diarist who wrote several books about his own life. He was apparently gay or at least bisexual and he also called Greta Garbo one of the true loves of his life. Filmmaker, Ms. Vreeland was clearly all in with her attention to detail as she certainly creatively brought Beaton’s artistry to the screen with a full array of pictures, photographs and a narrative (much of it taken directly from Beaton’s diaries). Whether it was photographing the Queen of England or legendary movie stars, this man seemed to always have the full confidence of his subjects. One cannot wonder if he felt unfulfilled himself as he always seemed to be searching for some elusive satisfaction. Certainly, this is a very well done, somewhat unusual, documentary film that many people will enjoy and appreciate the many accomplishments of this artist made to the creative world of the 20th Century (2018).

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Three Identical Strangers

July 15th, 2018 — 6:58pm

***

Three Identical Strangers-rm

This is the true story of three identical triplets (Eddie Gallland, David Gellman, Robert Shafran ) who were separated at birth and raised by different families. How they discovered each other and how well they related is a fascinating story which also has a tragic component. This documentary film also reveals how their early lives were part of a secret experiment run by a prominent child psychiatrist with the cooperation of  The Louise Wise Adoption Agency, one of the leading adoption agencies in the country. Just knowing any of the above information would have drawn us to want to learn more about the story and view this movie.

In our opinion this movie raised several stimulating questions, which were not answered or only superficially addressed. These were as follows. 1. What was the exact nature of Dr. Peter Neubauer’s experiment and was it within the ethical guidelines of the time? 2. If this experiment were to determine which is more important in a person’s development, nature or nurture, what was a reasonable conclusion from what was learned about these three triplets? 3. What was the nature of each of these young men’s psychiatric issues as they were all were mentioned to have had psychological treatments in the past. 4. Is it true that if they were not separated at birth, it would have been difficult to adopt the three triplets by one family together? We believe that a very good magazine article with good photographs probably would have dealt with this topic perhaps even in more depth than did the movie. However, director Tim Wardle deserves credit for delving into this story and capturing on film many of the people including family members and other’s firsthand accounts, as well as using film and video archives, in order to tell this fascinating story.

In the past MB has written about this overall subject in his psychiatry blog particularly in an article titled “Discussion of the Phenomena of Unknown Family Members.”( click to see) It turned out to be the most widely read of the many articles on the blog and received over 3,000 hits and over 20 people made comments on the blog about it. There was another article that he wrote titled “The Search for a Personal Biological Identity” ( click to see)which also dealt with this subject. It is also of note that various aspects of this topic were covered in at least seven films which we have reviewed on our movie blog. They were: ( click title to see reviews) Philomena, The Kids are All Right, People Like Us, Bad words, Admission, Mother and Child” and Stories We Tell. (2018)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

RBG

May 16th, 2018 — 3:48am

*****

RBG-rm

When you view an outstanding documentary film such as this one, you might wonder whether it was excellent because of the subject or was it mostly due to the work of the filmmakers. In this case it was clearly both. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable woman who came from Brooklyn with the support of family and a brilliant mind. She attended Cornell University a few years before one of us was there(SB) and was one of the increasing number of her generation who was not just going to accept the traditional role of women. She was one of the few women to be accepted to Harvard Law School. She married a great guy who encouraged her career early on and throughout their lives. They were able to jointly raise their children in a very successful marriage. She even transferred from Harvard to Columbia Law School so her husband could accept the job at a New York firm. She soon found her issue which was close to her heart and which deeply resonated within her. That was the equal rights for everyone, including women. She ultimately  became the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court. 

The filmmakers, Julie Cohen and Betsy West, didn’t just tell us about her brilliance but made it come to life with film footage, of her and others discussing court decisions in addition to painting a wonderful picture of her personal life. The movie was interspersed with familiar faces such as Gloria Steinem and Nina Totenberg who were able to reflect and put her ongoing life in perspective. The viewer could experience her life and the development of her thinking almost as if we were living with her. Great job. Great film. Great person. (2018)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Little Pink House

May 4th, 2018 — 6:02am

****

Little Pink House

Whether you are an on-the-ground activist, a student of law, or an activist at heart, you will be drawn to this movie. It is a docudrama that tells the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a woman who worked as a dedicated EMT, had just been through a second divorce and found a quaint fix-up house in New London, Connecticut on the water where she decided to settle and build her life. Needless to say, the finishing touch on her hard work of fixing up the house was to paint the exterior pink (hence the film title).

And now the plot thickness. Pfizer pharmaceutical company begins to work out a plan with the town fathers to build a new large plant in New London. This has the potential to bring new revenue and jobs to this town which could well use the infusion. The viewer then becomes introduced to the term from the United States Constitution called Eminent Domain. A group of home owners, mainly elderly, are now threatened with either being forced to sell their home or be evicted.

Ms. Keener plays her character quite well as she becomes the symbol of the embattled home owners with the support of her boyfriend, Tim (Keith Rennie) and her lawyer Scott Bullock (Giacomo Baessato) against the Director of Corporate Development (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the city attorney (Jerry Wasserman), and the governor (Aaron Douglas).

Director and writer, Courtney Moorehead Balaker, leads this band of actors to the Supreme Court of The United States where the case is settled (at least for the time being). This adventure is a worthwhile cinematic experience (2018).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama, History

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