Category Archives: Documentary

Inside Job (2010)

Inside Job won the Best Documentary award at last year’s Oscars over such notables as Restrepo and Exit Through the Gift Shop. I was surprised when it won, because I have never heard of the movie until it won. Like most documentaries, it was not played in regular theaters during 2010. Watching this movie made me angry that people are profiting over other’s suffering.

Writer/director Charles Ferguson takes a pointed look at the genesis of the economic meltdown in 2008 that lead to the recession that the world is now under. Matt Damon narrates all the keys components of how greed would drive people to do dangerous things that affect peoples’ jobs, homes and life savings.

It all stems from the deregulation of banks which have destroyed the way that they are being run. If there are no regulations on loans, then the head honchos wouldn’t gobble up private banks like a midnight snacks to grow bigger and bigger. Banks have borrowed money from the people who they serve to spend it on themselves, fellow business partners and their friends.

During that faithful days of September 15, 2008, Lehman Bros and AIG filed for bankruptcy. They knew that their clock was ticking down months before everything turned to shit. Nothing was being done about it. There were insiders that predicted the way that Wall Street conducted their business practices would result in an economic collapse of global proportions three years before it happened.

When the banks collapsed, trillions of dollars were lost, unemployment tripled, people lost their houses, and the top CEOs are ranking in millions of dollars to live off of it. Some of the people that were responsible for the collapse are currently serving under the current administration to help with the crisis.

It pisses me off that people could be so greedy and heartless that they would break the law or sense of mortality to stay rich. It boggles the mind that they are people struggling to sustain themselves that there are people who were responsible for it and have not been brought up on charges.

Judgment: If you have affected by the recession in any way, you must see this movie.

Rating: 9/10

The Boys of Baraka (2005)

I have never heard of The Boys of Baraka until I picked the DVD at my local library. I thought it was a film about the Mortal Kombat character. Nope. It’s something much different from that.

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady spent three years following the lives of at-risk youths from a Baltimore ghetto. The only options the young boys have are either jail, death or graduating from high school. In their neighborhood only 76% of boys drop out of school.

A recruiter from the Baraka School, Miss Jackson, tells the potential students about the school in Kenya, Africa that would change their attitudes about getting an education and change the course of their lives. Only twenty students will chosen to take part in the school program.

Out of the twenty students selected, the filmmakers follow four boys. There is Richard, the boy with the determination of not being like the drug dealers that hang around every corner in his neighborhood and his little brother, Romesh. There is Devon, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up. Last, there is the troublemaker, Montrey, who wants to a chemist when he grows up.

The trouble is that most of these boys are not the academic levels that they should be at twelve or thirteen. Miss Jackson conducts the summer orientation for the Baraka School before the boys leave for Africa in September.

When the boys arrive to the school, they are greeted by the headmaster, Ray Berttula who explains the rules of the school. They have to do their work and not be physically violent towards each other of they will sent back home.

The boys explore their new surroundings by taking hikes to local villages to see other kids, play in the streams and watch the native animals roam around. Their time there makes them homesick and some of the kids act out in frustration. Will the school actually changes these boys before it’s too late?

When I heard that the y filmmakers spent three years filming this movie, I had to ak myself, “Where is it?” It feels like a hollow documentary that barely scratched the surface of what these boys are going through.

Judgment: I felt that I was cheated out of 1 1/2 hours of my time.

Rating: 4.5/10

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

Yeah, I was faced with that terrible thing, when somebody shows you their work and everything about it is shit… so… you don’t really know where to start.

Banksy

I  heard about this documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop over the summer from some of my LAMB comrades and they seem to love it. I am a very artistic person and this movie is about the fine line between art and graffiti. I was glad that the movie was being shown on Hulu. I was intrigued by it.

Narrated by actor Rhys Ifans, this story was originally focused on the street art movement of the last nineties. An amateur filmmaker named Thierry Guetta filmed everything around him with his video camera. He taped anything and everything that was around. One day, he stumbled into this underground world of street art where Thierry was introduced to such characters as Space Invader, Zeus, André and  his cousin, Shepard Fairey (the one that made the Obama “Hope” posters) who was one of a few people who allowed their faces to not be obscured in the film.

Thierry documented the adventures he and his cousin went on when they scaled walls and climb on top of buildings. It wasn’t until the world got a taste of a mysterious ballsy street artist named Banksy who showed his subversive take on pop culture and turning art on its head. Banksy singlehandedly thrust street art into the mainstream.

Thierry made it his goal that he would befriend the elusive Banksy and follow his process. Fate crosses paths when Shepard asked Thierry to show Banksy around the prime locations in LA to display his art. Banky came to trust Thierry and let him in his world. The tables turn when Banksy wanted a lot of Thierry than he realized than to just tape him. He wanted Thierry to experience what he does every time he puts his art up; invading the police, watching his back for angry landlords, etc.

 There is a debate about the merits of this movie whether it is a hoax. Personally, I don’t know if Banky and Mr. Brainwash are the same person. Who knows if Thierry Guetta is as eccentric as he is portrayed in the film? I did feel a sense that something is not right with Guetta and his motives about making a documentary or the way that he life was going? I cannot dismiss a movie just because some parts of it was supposedly falsified. That is not my call. My job is to gauge that I enjoyed the movie for entertainment value.

Judgment: Look beyond the conspiracy theories and see what this movie is trying to say.

Rating: ****1/2

Of Time and the City (2009)

I have never heard of Of Time and the City until I noticed that this was on Michael Phillip’s 2009 list on the now canceled At the Movies. Let’s have a moment of silence. It came highly recommend with a Metacritic score of 81. I knew very little of the movie until I saw it. I don’t get what the fuss is all about.

British actor/director Terence Davies wanted to transport the viewer to his childhood when he was growing up in Liverpool. Instead of writing a memoir recounting every detail of his life, he decides to create a documentary using newsreel and documentary footage from that era to illustrate his narration.

It starts like a secret movie club with a screen uncovered from behind a curtain. The movie starts with the said footage as Terence recounts growing up in a time where strict religious upbringing clashes with hedonistic pleasures, the daily struggles of the working class, the Korean War, mocking the Queen Elizabeth II, the privilege of the royal family, the rise of The Beatles, the decay of his town and the resurgence of the city now.

I thought it was be a journey with Terence Davies physically goes back to Liverpool and recounts his life and how the city has changed. It felt distant. Sometimes I felt bored. There were minutes were you saw endless footage and swelling music. The movie peppered with prose and Davies reciting poems and quotes, but it felt like it has times undeserved praise.

Judgment: You could only enjoy this movie if you are from that time and era.

Rating: **

Touching the Void (2003)

I didn’t put a knot into the end of the rope. If there was nothing down there, I would fall, and it would be quick.

– Joe Simpson

Kevin MacDonald’s film, Touching the Void has been on lips of film buffs everywhere saying that anybody who hasn’t seen it should. I have heard nothing but praise for this documentary that infuses re-enactments to the talking heads. I thought that it was a harrowing account of survival, but I thought it was anticlimactic.

This movie re-tells the story of three people trying to attempt to climb the 20,813 ft Siula Grande Mountain in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. Based on the book of the same name; Joe Simpson, Simon Yates and Richard Hawking recounts their harrowing seven days ordeal. As the talking heads are speaking, the events are dramatized with Brendan Mackey as Joe, Nicholas Aaron as Simon and Oliie Ryall as Richard.

Other climbers had attempted to climb to the summit of Siula Grande. These relative strangers could together to climb it. Richard stays behind at the base camp while Joe and Simon climb up. They want to climb the mountain Alpine style, which means that they are climbing the mountain non-stop with their essentials taken with them.

Joe is the climber and Simon is taken the slack to him. They get a feel of the terrain which was mostly very steep with rocky portions in them. On the second day, a powerful storm hits the climbers where the snow froze on contact with their clothing. They didn’t realize that not having enough gas to melt the snow for water or having adequate food with prove crucial for what was about to come up when they dug a cave to sleep in.

The storm passes the next day and they climb up to the summit. They bask in the glory of their feat. When the two try to find a way back down, a patch of clouds roll in, losing their way down the mountain. They are taken to the most dangerous part of the mountain where on the descent down, Joe looses his grip and begins to fall. He stops only to find that he broke his leg that shattered his kneecap in half.

Simon tries to find a way to get an injured Joe down the mountain alive without causing more to the leg. Simon decides to have all of the available rope they have to give enough slack for Joe to slide down the mountain. The trouble is that by nightfall, Simon lowered Joe so much that Joe was dangling off the side of the mountain.

I thought that this was a good movie, but I had a bring problem with the people recounting the story. This is the same problem that I had with Man on Wire where they have the person there with an actor re-enacting what is being said. It took away the suspense of did this person survive this ordeal. For me the first thirty was mind-numbingly boring that I almost turned the movie off. I thought when is the guy gonna break his leg already. I also had a problem with the over-swelling score. Cue the violins. Come on, every time that a tense moment comes up the score had to suck the tension out of the moments.

Judgment: All in all, I’m glad that I saw it, but it’s not the greatest documentary of all time.

Rating: ****

Food, Inc. (2009)

There are no seasons in the American supermarket. Now there are tomatoes all year round, grown halfway around the world, picked when it was green, and ripened with ethylene gas. Although it looks like a tomato, it’s kind of a notional tomato. I mean, it’s the idea of a tomato.

– Michael Pollan

Food, Inc. is another documentary that flew under the radar to general audiences. I have heard about this movie before it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Numerous podcasts were talking about that when you see this movie, it would make you a vegetarian. While this film didn’t make me a vegetarian, it made me sad for the fried chicken that I had for dinner that night.

Director Robert Kenner delves into world that Americans don’t know about the food that they have been ordering in fast food restaurants across their country. Where does the meat in those Big Macs or Chicken Club Sandwiches come from? This documentary sheds light on the notion that we think that when we goes to grocery stores there is a lot of varieties on the shelves. The truth is that four companies control almost of all of the meat that is served to Americans everyday.

Corporations like Tyson are placing growth hormones in feed to make chickens grow rapidly. The chickens’ bones cannot support the weight of their ever changing bodies. The beef industry has a huge slaughterhouses that are force feeding cows to eat corn so they could grown big and fat to be slaughtered. The problem is with these huge slaughterhouses is cows are cannot digest the corn in their four stomachs, they stand in their own shit, when they are slaughtered nobody is testing for any contamination.

You think that the FDA or the USDA would step in to regulate the food industry? Wrong. The corporations are trying to force the feds out of their plants. They are turning to high tech solutions to try to solve the country’s problem. There is still leaks in the system where the Mad Cow’s Disease was found in tainted meat, the E.Coli scares in the past couple of years in ground beef and spinach or the salmonella poisoning in peanut butter.

The companies are buying independent farmers to work for them by forcing them into massive debt to upgrade their chicken coops or the way their crops are utilized. The ways that corporate products like soda, hamburgers, etc are cheap and fresh vegetables are expensive. The average American family has to go to the drive thru than buy fresh vegetables, because it’s cheaper. The chemicals in the food are focusing the obesity epidemic and are leading the diabetes in most people.

This movie is a call to action for farmer to stand up to the corporate greed, to go to the farmer’s markets for organic foods. Personally for me, I understood for a long time that there were growth hormones in meat, genetic modified crops, pesticides and all that. I am not one of those people that eat a lot of vegetables. I’m a carnivore. Do I wish I changed my eating habits? Of course. I think that Americans are complacent about the way things are going that nobody is realizing that the corporate chokehold is killing us with the infrequent inspections of products or putting ammonia in the meat to “kill the E.Coli” in it.

Judgment: This movie will make you think about the monopolizing of how the food supply is being handled.

Rating: ****1/2

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (2008)

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country is a documentary that has been getting rave reviews since the past summer. It was released in three theaters in May. It was recently nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary with a Metacritic score of 82; I wanted to check it out. I realized that the movie has been given a DVD release, so I had to watch the film online. (I wish that these documentaries are shown to the general public at least, so people don’t have to download torrents of it.)

Director Anders Østergaard reconstructs the events of a protest taking place in Burma circa 2007. The movie is constructed out of smuggled footage taken my small digital video cameras from 30 underground video journalists called the “Democratic Voice of Burma”. The leader of the group is called “Joshua” who is documenting the unrest of the Burmese people after a 40 year military regime is taken over their lives.

There was a well-documented uprising in 1988 where a student-led demonstration happened on the streets. They thought that they would get democracy in their country, but the regime had military force and gunned down three thousand of them.

The video journalists’ faces are hidden to protect themselves from jail time. In the summer of 2007, the people of Burma were fed up with the regime inflating the cost of living. Public unrest soon followed. The regime did not want any outside influences in their conflict. Any person that this is filming the protests who had their cameras confiscated, the footage destroyed and face a long jail sentence.

The VJs document the protest by hiding the cameras in tents or under their arms. They send the footage via the internet to outside news outlets like the BBC or CNN so they could find out the latest developments.

The people felt like all hope is lost when an unmistaken force joins the protest. Hundreds of Buddhist monks who don’t involve themselves in political activities marched, because they felt that the country was suffering and that they should do something about it. The presence of the monks inspires the people, a hundred thousand strong, to rise up against the corrupt regime.

I was fascinated by this movie. I never heard of this protest with all coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The movie was reconstructed and re-enacted from the footage of what happened. That didn’t take away from the impact of wanting change when all seems lost.

The first part of the doc was meh in my opinion. Hearing “Joshua’s” broken English didn’t help matters that much. When they got into the meat and potatoes of the documentary, that when it really revved up for me.

Judgment: This documentary is about a subject that you might not get to see without the determination of these fearless VJs.

Rating: ****1/2

Loose Change: Second Edition (2006)

First of all, I want to say that I do not support the rhetoric that was presented in Loose Change. I think that blaming the government for 9/11 is utterly ridiculous, but I decided to hear the infamous conspiracy theory that will not go away. That there are internal memos amongst government officials to stage fake attacks against the United States. I don’t know credible their “sources” are, bit I am not buying it.

The documentarian Dylan Avery gives faint examples in history of high-ranking officials staging attacks circa the Cuban Missile Crisis, the military manning remote control Boeing jets, the Twin Towers encircled in crosshairs, military jets were pulled from being close to the Pentagon, there were training exercises to crash planes into the Towers and the Pentagons.

There are some phone interviews with different people giving their descending opinions on the motives of the attack. There was an interview with Hunter S. Thompson that was spliced in that talks about his opinion that President Bush had an agenda on that day.

Avery tries to paint a picture that events that had been relayed on the news were inaccurate. Talking about the flight training of one of the hijackers, painting a picture that a missile was fired upon the Pentagon, not a 747 jet. Avery is also saying that the intense heat the planes did not make the buildings collapse, but it was explosive devices implanted in the towers when the planes hit to make the falls quickly.

Okay, let’s say that all of Avery’s fact are correct. Bombing devices were at the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers, why would the government do this to their own people, why the cover it up?

Throwing a bunch of quotes taken out of context will not convert me to the other side of the argument. Where there a bunch of inconsistencies with the news report covering the story? Of course. One station could say one thing; another will say something different. It’s not new.

People were in shock and they convey what they thought they saw or heard. Was it an accurate depiction of what happened? Probably not, because they were under stress. I heard people said it sounded like firecrackers when shots rang out. It doesn’t mean that a prankster lit a couple of firecrackers. I want Mr. Avery to be at the WTC site on that day and tape himself on camera about what he thought he saw.

I have theory of my own. Did Mr. Avery forget to mention about the aborted terrorist on the WTC back in 1993? If it was an inside job that he says, what if an Al Queda agent infiltrated and planted the explosive devices in the buildings? He was so certain that the government was entirely behind the attack that he didn’t explore all the possible explanations? If commercial airplanes were not used on all of the attacks, what happened to the passengers and crew of those American 11, 77, United 175 and 93 planes? Did they simply disappear? Were they killed?

Is this propaganda? Absolutely. Is what Dylan Avery saying could be taken a fact? Not certainly. There is reasonable doubt. Conspiracy theorists almost had me convinced that the moon landing 1969 was no real. They would trick you with their distorted facts, doctored images and misquoting sources. He was even taking his quotes from Wikipedia. Yes, the most credible of sources. You are reaching, sir. You think we created a real version of Wag the Dog or Dr. Strangelove.

Should we ask questions about that day? Yes. Should we get all the answers? No. The public will be in a panic that the government is coming to get them. Some secrets need to be hidden the American people.

Judgment: I don’t agree with the statements presented here.

Rating: **

Every Little Step (2009)

Eat nails!

– Baayork Lee

Every Little Step is on the shortlist of possible Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Film. This movie was in limited release in April of last year. Where the hell was it playing my area? This movie came out on DVD in October. It chronicles the journey from the potential cast and crew prepping for the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line” in 2006. Being a former dancer/actor myself, I completely understood the journey of dancers in this movie.

The movie shows the audition process, where the auditioned tells their tales about auditioning. Talk about their experiences of being struggling dancers trying to get their big break.

There is a massive cattle call open auditions for available talent in New York City. People come from around the world to audition for the musical. Three thousand people show up. The producers see equity professional actors, then the amateur raw talent performers. Who is the right person for the two dozen speaking roles? The original Connie, Baayork Lee is the choreographer of the revival. She wanted to remain true to original director/choreographer, Michael Bennett’s original vision of the show. She takes the dancers through the backbreaking choreography that you have to learn in thirty minutes.

There are talking head interviews with Donna McKenchnie who played the original Cassie, Bob Avian, the new director of the show, was the co-choreographer at the original production, and John Breglio, the producer, who talk about the genius of Bennett.

The genesis of the original Broadway production in the early 1970s where taped a twenty-four hour session with the twenty-two dancers for this show that wasn’t written yet. It intercuts to the revival as it parallels the lives of the dancers auditioning to be dancers auditioning in the show. Michael Bennett took the dancer’s stories where turned into the actual dialogue and numbers in the show with the help of three-time Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch.

As the original performers reflect on Bennett, the movie intercuts to the audition process where thousands are culled down to hundreds for the callbacks. It was a sixteen-month process from the first casting call to being on the main stage.

Little background info on me—I was in my high school production of A Chorus Line a decade ago, I was psyched that I was a part of it when I was devastated that I had to leave the show because I was failing English. Damn! I still remember the choreography. Hell, I still have my dancer’s outfit, which I can still fit by the way. I even had the god-awful movie adaptation on videocassette.

I understood how they performers are going through. It’s the duality of wanting to get the job, but not be invest so much you will be hurt when you are not cast. You will hear a hundred no’s before you hear that one yes. I am so glad that I am not in that world anymore. It was nice to revisit that time again.

Judgment: This movie is for the performing arts geeks only.

Rating: ****

The Cove (2009)

The Cove is a movie that has been getting a lot of critical acclaim in all the various film critic circles. This documentary may be in contention of winning the Oscar this year. I heard some blurbs about what the central story is but I want to be surprised about what I saw. I didn’t read any review, see the trailer or anything. I went into the documentary fresh, but the result is a heart-wrenching that makes you want to take immediate action.

Documentarian Louie Psihoyos wants the take the world on a journey that few have thread. He is the co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society with Jim Clark that funded this film. They are concerned about the state of the oceans and how they are deteriorating.

Louie is fascinated by Ric O’Barry, an outspoken dolphin advocate from the Earth Island Institute that is hated among his peers against speaking about a ritual in Japan that locals have known for centuries which is considered inhumane by most. There is a place where over 23,000 dolphins are brought in be slaughtered for food. Even though, most experts stress that dolphin meat contains high levels of mercury, the practice was still being done. Nobody in other cities in Japan know about the killings talking place in Taiji. They are horrified to hear the news.

Ric wants to expose the dolphin killing grounds to the world in order for the operation to be shut down. Psihoyos wanted to film the documentary through legal channels, but he got resistance from local officials.

His crews tactics are to wear masks all times to keep from being detected by the constant police presence around the area, to venture at night with hydrophones, a blimp shaped as dolphin, night vision and thermal cameras to where the dolphins are kept in Taiji, Japan. Louis had the ingenious idea of someone’s rigging the rocks with hi-def cameras so they could record what’s going on without getting arrested.

This whole crusade started with O’Barry time as a dolphin trainer on classic show, Flipper. Spending time with the dolphins made him realize that they should not be in captivity, trained as circus performers. They are intelligent creatures that deserve to be in the open ocean. Also with the suicide of “Flipper” aka Kathy in his arms turned his life around. He made it his life’s mission to correct what he has done and save the dolphins.

O’Barry relays the systematic process of wrangling up the dolphins, by creating loud sounds to stress them out, drive them towards the shore, and seal them there. The dolphins are picked out females for seaquariums or some for “swim with dolphins” programs around the world. The one left are taken to the secret cove to be slaughtered out of the public eye.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) that doesn’t protect dolphins or porpoises banned whaling in 1986 except for a small loophole for killing for scientific purposes. People jumped on that bandwagon.

You might think that this is environmentalist propaganda, but you must watch it to feel the dolphins’ pain. Hearing the cries as they are taken in the cove, seeing the blue water turn red, and your heart is breaking when the cries suddenly go silent, it does something to you.

Judgment: Run, don’t walk to this movie. A must see.

Rating: ****1/2

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