Sunday, November 9, 2008

25 documentaries in 30 days

My girlfriend Kelsey, and myself are determined to watch as many documentaries as possible in the next 30 days. Typically, I rent movies (mostly documentaries) from the library, you can read more about how and why I do this in my invisible cage blog. In the last ten years of my life, I have leaned more and more towards watching solely documentaries (besides a few select filmmakers and films) since I value their base in truth. 

This month, Kelsey and I, have signed up for NetFlix's free first month. We are planning to cancel right before the free trial ends. In the meantime, we are getting as many good documentaries that we have been wanting to watch, and watching them. I am going to keep a running list of all the documentaries we've watched and my 1-10 rating. (1 = horrible/  10= perfect)

When the Levees Broke by Spike Lee
Rating: 8.5

My only argument with this thrilling look at America's worst natural disaster was length. Although, it was created for television, which is why it was not edited to feature length for DVD. I thought the stone cold look into the facts was extremely well done. I found the results chilling. The people interviewed were very real, and fun to watch. I consider this a MUST WATCH for anyone wanting to learn more about Hurricane Katrina and everything if affected.

I Like Killing Flies by Matt Mahurin
Rating: 7.5
I think this is a worthwhile look into a very individually brash character. The cook named Kenny Shopsin was the main character, and was the inspiration for the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. Kenny kicks people out of his store, yells at them, and has some interesting philosophies about food and the world around him. He reminds me of Francis Bacon, except instead of painting, Kenny cooks. I did not like Kenny as a person, but loved learning about his temperaments, watching how he ran his shop and cooked his food.

Rating: 10
It is hard to rate a video like this, there is no storyline, there are no humans, just the simple beauty of the insect world and nature. The music and images blew me away, over and over again. It was like photos in the National Geographic came alive. Everything was shoot with a super micro lense, making moths look like birds, centapedes look like buses, and ants look like human sized crowds of city goers. Seeing nature at such large and detail scale was simply astonishing. The slug sex was jaw dropping. I am going to try to own this amazing work of film.

Best Boy by Ira Wohl
Rating: 8
A gripping look into a families struggle with giving their middle-aged mentally challenged son a chance at independence. I thought this was a great story, and a great documentary which holds up after nearly 30 years after completion (1979). This is a touching story, worth watching.

Best Man by Ira Wohl
Rating: 8
This is the sequel to 'best boy', listed above. A look into Philly's life twenty years after the last documentary. I admit, this was a good as the first. We came to love and care about the characters in the first movie, and Best Man is a new look at their progression, or in some cases a tragic look at a lonely age. The movie is centered around Philly's progression and decision to celebrate his late Bah Mitzva on his 70th birthday. As a viewer, you are along for the joyous ride.

Word Wars by Erik Chaikin
Rating: 7.5
I consider this movie to be a lot like 'Spelling Bee', and Wordplay (which is about crossword puzzles). I prefer both of the other movies to Word Wars, however I enjoyed this movie very much as well. These expert Scrabble players are quite fun to watch, much like the slightly nerdy, slightly crazy 'King of Kong' players. This genre of odd sport competitive documentaries seem to always follow the same pattern, and its the entertainment value of the individual players that make the movies so engrossing. Word Wars is the same, and if you enjoy any of the movies listed above, or think you are good at scrabble....think again and see this movie.

9/11 Press for Truth by Ray Nowosielski
Rating: 9.5
I've seen 'Farhenheight 911', 'Loose Change' and a few other 911 documentaries, and this one is the best I have seen. I really enjoyed both Farehheight and Loose Change, but Press for Truth is an astonishing look at the actions taken by four widows of the 911 tragedy and how they basically were the driving force for information that the media was not pursuing. This film had a lot of incredible information, and each time I thought the movie was going to hold back, it delved deeper and deeper into the controversy and condemnment of the US government. Brilliant.

Dark Days by Marc Singer
Rating: 7.5
This 2000 film, looks into a subculture of (literally) underground drug addicts and homeless. The abandoned subway becomes a living society, with structures, concrete yards, working electricity, jobs, pets, and relationships. This was a very disturbing insight into the personalities of the homeless. The movie was very well done, featuring some incredibly compelling characters and how and why they have found their selves living deep underneath society in the dark tunnels of New York. My only complaint with the movie, was my own desire to understand more about the layout of the tunnels, how people came and went, and basic statistics about the insane living conditions. A great look into the lives of the homeless.

Children Underground by Edat Belzberg
Rating: 8.5
I found this documentary to be a heart wrenching look into a very unusual lifestyle. A group of homeless Romanian children (ages 8 to 15) who have run away, or been kicked out of their houses live in the subway, huffing paint, begging, stealing and fighting while the rest of society turns their head. It reminds me a great deal of the beginning of 'Ender's Shadow' (a great sci fi book by Orson Scott Card). Because of the similarities between this film and that book, everything felt oddly like deja vu, except the book was science fiction, and this movie was non fiction. I don't think anyone can not fall in love with some of the children in this movie, and hope for the best for them. It is also a good look into what not to do in a society.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Jonathan Harris
Rating: 8
The Holocaust is one of the most horrible event in the history of human beings. I think it is crucial that was learn as much as we can about this horrific experience and make sure we do not repeat ourselves (although I would compare GW Bush with Hitler). This film delves deep into the problem, but more specifically into the kindertransport, a program that saved 10 thousand Jewish children from certain death (1.5 million Jewish children were killed). The film featured interviews from a hand full of survivors and their experiences. It is sad, yearning look at death, hope and coping with loss.

Brothers Keeper
by Berlinger and Sinofsky
This 1992 documentary was a cross between cops, a news broadcast and a judge show. I really enjoyed getting to learn about three new york farmers, one of which, whose brother had just passed. The police accuse the brother of murder, even though he is an uneducated kind man. The story takes you into their lives as uneducated farmers, that seem to be living in a century long ago. The town jumps to the accused defense and fight back.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
by Stanley Nelson
Let me tell you, this situation is so messed up. If you are not familiar with the Jonestown cult or the Peoples Temple, this movie you need to see. I knew very little about any of this, besides a few references in the news. The entire film I was stunned to learned what an absurd and scary man Jim Jones was and how he came to force 900 people to commit mass suicide (or murder- depending on your view). The most horrifying thing about this movie for me, was watching how similar practices Jones uses on his followers are also used on the American people....and how those same practices were used by another egomaniac killer that goes by the name...Adolf Hitler.

The American Drug War: The Last White Hope
by Kevin Booth
Rating: 8.5
I found this 2007 film to be a very surprising look into the most expensive war in US history, the war on drugs. The amazing thing I learned in this movie is the corruption of the US government to sell us illegal drugs, then arrest us for it, and essentially make us slaves. It is Americas way to get rich and keep slaves. The jail industry is an industry just like any other, and neither the republicans or the democrats do anything but poor more money into the problem and enjoy the profits. I think everyone in the US should see this movie. The documentary was very well made and effective, and I am now a STRONG advocate for legalizing pot.

The Cats of Mirikitani
by Linda Hattendorf
Rating: 7.5
What a fun movie to be writing about. I myself am an artist, struggling to get known in the art world, struggling to sell art to the public, struggling to simply live my life as an artist; yet Mr. Mirikitani is one hell of a great example of the sacrifices of an artist in a tough society. A true outcast. I felt the actual documentation was a bit crude, editing, sound work was not very professional. However, I felt like I reallt understood with what Linda Hatterndorf was going through by filming this homeless artist, and eventually taking him into her life and giving him a new life altogether. Her sacrifice is truly commendable, both by taking him in, and by making this film. Mirikitani, a American Japanese artist, struggling with the aftermath of living in a country that performed the holocaust on his people. In his art, he loves painting cats, depicting concentration camps, animals, and works tirelessly to create these works no matter the situation: on the street, in the rain, in the park, in a foreign apartment. His devotion, in his very desperate minimal way of life is quite fascinating and inspirational.

F is for Fake
by Orson Welles
rating: 5
I admit I enjoyed War of the Worlds, the entire idea behind it. I did not care for Citizen Kane much. I found it odd and confusing. F is for Fake is very similarly odd and confusing. Welles seems ahead of his time with jump cutting and interesting dialogue segways from one scene to another. The overall topic, about master artist fakers, was very interesting to me, except the film did not hold my interest. My girlfriend and myself decided to end the movie once it seemed the sexism was unbearable. It was overwhelming and unneeded. I just did not get into this film, and its very possible that I just do not fully understand Orson Welles.

Genghis Blues
by Roko Belic
rating: 9
Out of all the free documentaries we got over this 30 days, which will be less than 25 as hoped, I knew less and had less expectations for this odd movie about a blind blues singer, Paul Penna and Tuva throatsinger, to be the least valuable. Boy was I wrong. Throatsinging is a great nitche in the music world, and both skillful and beautiful to hear. Konga-Ol Ondar (click his name to see him on Letterman) is one of my favorite people ever, he is talented and always smiling and laughing. Paul Penna is a great tragic character who travels to Tuva to enter a throatsinging contest. Americans are rarely permitted into Tuva, and even more rarely speak the Tuvian language AND can throatsing with any skill. Penna is a master. The movie is a gem and everyone should watch this uplifting movie, even if just to hear the amazing noises and see some amazing Tuvan fashion, with cool hats and robes. A great documentary!

More to come, check back soon.


C. L. DeMedeiros said...


Anonymous said...

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