Category: Documentary


Won’t You Be My Neighbor

April 13th, 2018 — 7:54am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Open in the United States on June 8, 2018

*****

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Film maker Morgan Neville did an extraordinary job in delving into television archival material to reconstruct the story of Mr. Rogers. If you were a child watching television in the 1960s and 70s or thereabouts or are a parent of such a child, then you must know who is Mr. Rogers is and have very warm feelings about him. He had a unique approach to children and spoke with them on their level. He was able to convey that each person has self-worth and should be treated that way. He practiced what he preached not only because he himself had graduated from a seminary but because he truly respected children of all ages.

The film was beautifully put together to give great insight into Fred Rogers. It showed how seriously he took striving for equality and mutual understanding and how that always came across.

Viewing this film was like meeting an old beloved friend from many years ago. It will be interesting to see if millennials will be able to relate to this movie when they met Mr. Rogers for the first time.(2018)

 

 

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Tre Maison Dasan

April 13th, 2018 — 7:36am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Unknown opening date for USA

***

Tre Maison Dasan

Tre, Maison, and Dasan are three boys each of whom has a parent who is in prison. First time documentary filmmaker Denali Tiller has taken on this project to follow these three youngsters and show the often tender visitations that they have with their parent while in a Rhode Island prison. These take place in a large child friendly area where many children are having visits with a parent. She also follows these three youngsters at home with their families. Some of the footage is quite an accomplishment as she follows her subjects for almost three years and captures tender personal interactions between child and parent.

In a post film discussion, we become aware that one important goal of the filmmaker was to advocate for such visitation programs in a suitable environment in prisons throughout the country as well as education for parents on the importance of such interaction for children who have a parent in prison. Unfortunately, this message was not made clear in the film and we believe this was a lost opportunity (2018).

 

 

Comment » | 3 Stars, Crime, Documentary

The Rescue List

April 13th, 2018 — 7:27am

Screened at 2018 San Francisco Film Festival

Unknown opening date in USA

****

The Rescue List

This documentary film takes place in a rural area in Ghana where Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the world, is located. There is a terrible situation where young children are abducted or even bought from their parents in order to be used as slave labor working on fishing boats in this lake. Film makers Zachary Fink and Alysous Fedele made this heart wrenching but yet beautifully done documentary film. It followed a group led by a man by the name of Kwame who was once one of these children and now is a college educated leader of the group. Their mission is to rescue these children and provide education, rehabilitation, and in many cases return them to their families. The filmmakers obtain very good cinematic portraits of individual children and capture the story of what they have been through at the same time showing their childhood innocence. Hopefully before this film is released to the public, the filmmaker will put an “ask” and a place for viewers who will be moved to make donations to this very worthy group (2018).

 

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary

I Am Not Your Negro

January 9th, 2018 — 9:14am

**** 

I Am Not Your Negro-sp

In 1979, the esteemed writer, James Baldwin, proposed a book to his agent which would deal with the life and death of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. He only got around to completing 30 pages of this book and he died eight years later in 1987. Director and Screenwriter, Raoul Peck, picked up the ball and constructed this documentary film using the beginning 30 pages plus clips of Baldwin and other important voices on the subject and brought in Samuel Jackson to do the voice over. He constructed a story that highlighted the oppression of blacks in this country dating back to slavery and moving forward to the modern civil rights movement in which Malcolm X, Evers and King made such major contributions each in his own way.

This is more than a review of history. It captures how Baldwin and others have felt as they were denied the freedoms (overt and subtle) that so many Americans take for granted. His passion comes across so clearly whether it is in viewing clips of interviews with him on the Dick Cavett Late Night Television Show or the voice of Samuel Jackson as he speaks through the written words of Baldwin and the director/writer Peck. There are appropriate film clips from classic American films which include well-known actors, as well as newsreels which show Evers, King and Malcolm X making their indelible mark on American history.

We would like to say that this is all past history. Baldwin died 30 years ago and the three subjects of his proposed book are gone even longer. While these great men and many others have brought us much closer to a time when racial discrimination would be ancient history, we are not there yet. This documentary film which was nominated for an Oscar as best documentary film last year will allow its viewers to reflect about contemporary times and consider what still has to be done. (2017)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History

The Florida Project

January 8th, 2018 — 12:23am

***

THE FLORIDA PROJECT-nf

The amazing aspect of this movie is the great accomplishment of director Sean Baker, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch, in assisting six or seven-year-old Brooklyn Prince to play Moonie, the perky daughter of an immature but loving tattooed mother (Bria Vinaite). They live in a motel named Magic Castle Motel, a stone’s throw from Disney Land. You may remember Mr. Baker’s previously well-received low budget movie titled Tangerine which was about transgender prostitutes and was shot with cell phones. The budget for the current film has obviously been upped and brings aboard William Dafoe who does a great job as the kind, compassionate motel manager. There are a bunch of cohort children living in the motel and they are partners in crime with lovable Moonie. Mr. Baker has once again shown us the underbelly of society which is before our very eyes but most of us never see it. We wanted the film to end in a happy romp in Disney World but imagined some terrible accidental or purposeful tragedy would occur. We didn’t leave the theater with any satisfaction but imagine some of you might find it in the spotlight that the movie puts on our societal shortcomings. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

The Post

December 29th, 2017 — 7:29pm

****

The Post

This movie tells a great classic American story with outstanding lead actors a strong supporting cast and of course it has Steven Spielberg as director. We approached this film with very high expectations. After its sluggish start, where we weren’t sure who were all the characters and what exactly was going on, we soon got with the flow and we were not disappointed. We trust the filmmakers, so we believe this is a true behind-the-scene story which those of us who can recall the time and the events, did not know all the details.

If you know anything about these historical events, a government worker by the name of Daniel Ellsworth (Matthew Rhys) leaked secret documents to the New York Times and Washington Post which reveal a government study showing that the United States could not expect to win the Vietnam War. This had tremendous implications since this would mean that subsequent United States military deaths and casualties would serve no purpose.

The drama centered around Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) who inherited the ownership of the Washington Post and had to make the decision whether or not to publish these papers and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) the heroic editor of The Post who advocated publishing the story despite possible risks to the newspaper and staff. There was an important back story as the viewer came to appreciate that Graham found herself in the unexpected role for a woman of her time and rose to the occasion. One of us was disappointed that part of the story, which involved Daniel Ellsworth’s psychiatrist, was not explored. Much of the drama in the movie involved phone calls often in the evening, which will have to be explained to any younger generation you might bring to the theater as they used “dial phones” “Princess phones” “payphones” which will be totally unknown to anyone under 40 who of course only has been familiar with cell phones (2017).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Battle of the Sexes

December 28th, 2017 — 4:12am

***

Battle of the Sexes-sp

Most of you may know about the story of the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1993. We have memories of the time and the famous event that took place. However this movie does capture more than a battle between a talented, skillful female tennis champion standing up to an older male, retired professional tennis player who was a male chauvinistic showman who thought he could laugh his way to making money and putting down women. This story and this well-done film shows us the beginning of the Women’s Movement and also the glimmer that eventually grew to a shining light where gay women could eventually be themselves. This goal still had a long way to go in the 1970s when this story took place.

Emma Stone was excellent as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell could not have been better as the clueless self-proclaimed, “Man” of the hour. Andrea Riseborough was very good as Billie Jean’s intimate confidant and hair dresser. The excellent supporting casts included Nathalie Morales, Bill Pullman, Elizabeth Shue, Alan Cumming and Eric Olsen. The movie was directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris with the screen play by Simon Beaufoy. The dramatic tennis matches which were shown in the film may have used actual archived footage, which certainly added to the excitement of the movie. This story deserved to be told and we are sure that it will have an important place in cinematic history about the role of women in sports and in American culture as well as memorializing an exciting key moment in time. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama, Sport, Uncategorized

California Typewriter

August 23rd, 2017 — 3:57am

***

California Typewriter-sp

If you get sentimental when you think about your old typewriter, this documented film may be for you. Director/Cinematographer/Editor/Co-producer Doug Nichol obviously felt this way as he examined the significance of the old fashion typewriter from a historical point of view as well as its emotional meaning. This movie shows how some people still believe this is the best way to create and communicate with others. These people include author David McCullough, playwright Sam Shepard, singer/songwriter John Mayer and a very enthusiastic, and thoughtful Tom Hanks.

In this movie you will learn about different typewriters throughout the ages and what they have meant and mean to their owners. One of the most articulate explanations of how people love and treasure this writing machine is one of the disappearing breed of typewriter repairman who is still holding his own in San Francisco and that is Mr. Ken Alexander. In addition, there is a good amount of time spent following Mr. Jeremy Mayer who actually destroys typewriters. Mr. Mayer is a very skilled artist who exclusively uses mostly metal parts of various sizes from typewriters to create often very large, unique, and magnificent and beautiful artistic creations resembling animals and birds as well as various designs. His work receives commissions from all over the world.

In a post film discussion about whether the typewriter will survive, Mr. Mayer, Nichol and Alexander seem to be an agreement that despite the fact that the typewriters are not being manufactured anymore, they will live on for the foreseeable future. They discussed how this machine is treasured by a certain segment of the population and that parts will be available from those typewriters that are discarded by other people and also will be available made by current and future 3D printers. They also will live on by Mr. Mayer’s unique creations.

You would think that it might be a portion of the older population which grew up with the original “QWERTY” (first line of letters) keyboard that would hang on to this remnant from the past, but we have personally seen how a very bright high school student we know treasures having this retro machine as part of her life alongside her trusty iPhone and the latest computer. (2017)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

August 13th, 2017 — 12:30am

*****

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power-rm

What makes a great documentary film? Does it show its subject matter clearly and in an interesting dramatic manner? (Check) Is it about an important subject that has worldwide significance? (Check) Is there a person in the film who is very knowledgeable, likeable, empathic and has great passion for the subject of the film? (Check) Are there some conflicting issues shown in the film that need to be overcome? (Check) Is there a sense of urgency about the subject? (Check) Finally, at the conclusion of the movie, do you find yourself talking about the film and even moved to action? (Check and double check)

Ever since Al Gore lost the presidential election by a Supreme Court vote (and even before that time), he has been a passionate spokesperson about the reality and the danger of climate change, as well as what can be done about it. Eleven years ago, the first version of this film won an Oscar for Best Documentary Film. Many people believed it was a major factor in the recognition of climate change throughout the world. This sequel documentary has become necessary, as it has clearly been shown that the battle for clean energy has not been won and in some areas, including some close to home, it is not only at a standstill but even going backwards. The unbelievable action of President Trump in withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 has become a call to action for everyone concerned about climate change. Al Gore is an inspiration for Americans of all ages to become involved in this movement. His behind the scenes negotiations with far reaching parties to allow India to get financial backing to build sustainable energy in their country, namely by developing solar and wind energy and to scrap plans to keep their country dependent on fossil fuels, was well-documented in this movie.

One of the most important accomplishments for Mr. Gore has been his training programs for advocates from all over the world, who want to learn about fighting climate change. As a viewer of this film, we cannot help but leave the theater wanting to support these people and address this very clear inconvenient truth. (2017)

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Get Me Roger Stone

June 29th, 2017 — 6:52pm

The following is a guest review  by Larry Hott,  a prominent film maker and movie critic with whom we are very close. (see his bio and link to radio interviews about this film at the end of this review)

****

Get Me Roger Stone -nf

Review by Larry Hott

Have you heard stories about a political operative who has a picture of Richard Nixon’s face tattooed on his back? Roger Stone is that guy. He’s the protagonist of the new Netlfix documentary that’s out in theaters right now and online on Netlfix.

Some reviewers say you’ll feel the need to take a long hot cleansing shower after watching this snake and I couldn’t agree more. The filmmakers, (three are named directors – Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme) let you know that they think Stone is responsible for the rise of Trump and virtually every evil that’s happened in American politics since the age of Goldwater.

Stone, who is this weird looking guy who kind of reminds me of Julian Assange (in fact there’s a Julian Assange connection) gets his start by befriending the infamous Roy Cohn, the chief counsel to Joe McCarthy and also, by no coincidence, an advisor to Trump.   Stone helped run the Reagan campaign, was instrumental in defeating Gore in Florida during the 2000 recount, and has been involved deeply and malevolently in the Trump campaign from the start. “The New Republic” called him “The State of the Art Washington Sleazeball.”

This movie has amazing interviews, including a sit down with Trump that almost makes him, Trump, seem like a reasonable person. Maybe it’s by comparison to Stone, who keeps spouting his personal rules, which include “The Past is F-ing Prologue,” and “Hate is a more powerful motivator than love.” Trump loves this guy and owes him a lot. It’s not clear if Stone really believes in anything but himself and winning and making a ton of money. This is a guy who got caught advertising sex parties with his wife and him online and then denied it, then admitted it, and thinks now that it serves his brand. He’s in deep with Alex Jones, the delusional Info Wars conspiracy theorist and that’s all you really need to know about his mentality.

It’s fun to watch this film if you’re both a political junky and a masochist. It’s weird to see Trump talk about someone other than himself, to see Paul Manafort spill the beans on their strategy and then have every move picked apart by the extremely articulate writers Jane Mayer and Jeffrey Toobin, who should be given the documentary award of merit for demonstrating some sense of decency and honesty around these cynical and hateful political manipulators.

If you need a primer on the last election, the film will do nicely, but it’s also very up-to-date, with a mention of Stone connection to Julian Assange and the possible Russian collusion with both of them to release documents about Hillary Clinton’s emails. (WikiLeaks published emails related to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign that intelligence agencies say were hacked by Russian intelligence.)

As a documentary it’s not perfection by a long shot. You have to know the characters and there’s no scorecard. It’s a bit like switching channels from Fox News to MSNBC to CNN and PBS News Hour back and forth for 90 minutes. Like Laura Poitra’s Julian Assange documentary “Risk,” however, you do get to know the personalities and you’ll be a better informed political junky if you watch it through the painful recap of the 2016 election. As a filmmaker there is fun recurring bit – Roger Stone, who seems to enjoy being on camera more than screwing his enemies, introduces the film crew to everyone they meet as a bunch of liberal, commie pinko filmmakers. It’s nice to be in such good company.

One more thing, there is a piece of music the filmmakers use that is eerily similar to Errol Morris’s soundtrack in the classic film “Fog of War,” the portrait of Robert McNamara. McNamara comes off as a saint compared to Stone, who is Machiavelli’s love child, no doubt.(2017)

Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey began work­ing together in 1978, as members of the Florentine Films consortium.  They formed Florentine Films/Hott Productions in 1981. Since then they have produced two dozen films for national PBS broadcast as well as several productions for web and educational distribution. Their awards include an Emmy, two Academy Award nominations, a duPont -Columbia Journalism Award, the Erik Barnouw History Award, the George Foster Peabody Award, five American Film Festival Blue Ribbons, and 14 CINE Golden Eagles.  Their films have been broadcast internationally and Hott and Garey have presented their documentaries in special programs in Canada, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Algeria, Great Britain and Vietnam.

You can hear two Larry Hott interviews about this film on WHMP Radio at http://whmp.com/podcasts/vaya-con-munoz-6-17-17/ and http://whmp.com/podcasts/who-framed-roger-stone/

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

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