Category Archives: Documentary Films

Hitchcock/Truffaut-2015

Hitchcock/Truffaut -2015

Director-Kent Jones

Starring-Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher

Scott’s Review #933

Reviewed August 21, 2019

Grade: B+

A documentary about film and film-making is a worthy watch for any rabid lover of cinema, and when the subject at hand is Alfred Hitchcock, any fan must certainly chomp. I remember Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) appearing at my local independent theater at the time of release but missed my chance to see it. The misstep having been undone, the work is fine, and the result is an abundance of riches, serving as a fly on the wall for those wishing to listen to two geniuses speak, or merely observe the clips of great films and revel in the creativity.

Already possessing a hefty knowledge of Hitchcock does not dull my perspective a bit, nor do I take for granted the appreciation served. For an entry level fan of the director, or of French film director, Francois Truffaut, the title is a must to add to one’s “to see” list. The documentary serves as inspiration and fulfillment for cinema lovers. Billed as side-by-side directors in the title, the documentary treats Hitchcock as the teacher and Truffaut as the student, especially given the age difference between the two men.

Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock in 1962 during a lengthy week-long discussion that took place in a windowless Hollywood office, where the former soaked up the latter’s knowledge and points of view like a sponge. Truffaut was already a well-regarded film-maker at the mere age of thirty-two, with gems such as The 400 Blows (1959) already under his belt. Truffaut then wrote a book about the conversations with Hitchcock, and director Kent Jones brings it to life in documentary form, telling his audience why the book had a tremendous impact on cinema, as well as teaching the audience a thing or two about the movies.

The production is an analysis in film-making from technique to style to clothing, and actors, and anything and everything in between. The main crux though is the technique Hitchcock used to create tension and suspense, manipulating the audience every step of the way. A plethora of his films are featured which is a personal joy to see, but most importantly the documentary is clever enough to build to Hitchcock’s most memorable sequence of all, the shower sequence in Psycho (1960), the director’s most recent film, and now, easily his most notorious.

Hollywood titans such as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, arguably geniuses, explain the influence that Hitchcock provided them. Listening to these formidable director’s whimsically praise and dissect Hitchcock’s analysis and explain he led to their own blossoming is a wonderful aspect of the documentary.

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) is a treat for die-hard fans of Hitchcock or for Truffaut- or both. Through its conversations and interviews with other famous directors it shows the heavy influence and never- ending love and appreciation for an ingenious suspense director and an equally unique French New Wave director. A thirty-two-year age difference separated the two men, but they appear as natural as close colleagues. Great minds do think alike.

Free Solo-2018

Free Solo-2018

Director-Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Starring-Alex Honnold

Scott’s Review #920

Reviewed July 17, 2019

Grade: B

Free Solo (2018) is a documentary that takes a standard approach style, offering a traditional, yet informative piece about the perils and triumphs of rock climbing. More precisely, termed “free soloing”, a dangerous feat involving the lack of ropes or any safety harnesses, one false misstep can (and has) resulted in death. The film balances a nice humanistic approach of the featured daredevil with his girlfriend and camera crew’s individual perspectives.

Having personally scolded the Oscar Academy (in my own mind anyway) for omitting the wonderful Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) from the five documentary nominees, a “WTF” moment on nomination day, Free Solo would not be my choice as the winner, with RBG getting the honor from the choices provided. RBG is the more timelier and more important of the bunch, given the current state of United States political affairs, but nonetheless Free Solo was crowned the champion.

The likable young man at the forefront of the feature is Alex Honnold, a modest athlete from the west coast, United States, in his early twenties.  He has a low-key, almost morose personality and is his own person, shunning organized holidays like Halloween because he “doesn’t want someone else telling him when to have fun”. He is thoughtful and introspective and even a bit odd having sought climbing at a young age and never looking back.

Apparent is how he is not necessarily seeking the fame and fortune but has nonetheless become respected in his chosen profession, explaining that it is more a calling than any attempt to show off or boast of his achievements. As he admits to always wanting to climb the dangerously steep and world-famous rock, the 3,000 foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope, he is also concerned about the pressure of performing for camera crews and the responsibility that entails. The documentary stresses this point as Alex bails from the climb on his first attempt.

Throughout the documentary, the film-makers choose to focus on tidbits of story around his loved ones, specifically his girlfriend and mother, offering their perspectives of his dangerous activities. This is a nice added touch and gives heart and layers to the story making it more humanistic than simply watching an unknown person rock climb for an hour and a half. The audience gets to know Alex throughout the piece therefore making us care more about the peril he goes through as he attempts to triumph.

The production is superlative and quite engaging especially throughout the climbing sequences. Vast shots of the amazing views from the giant rock are plentiful and astounding making the viewer feel as if he or she is also climbing the treacherous monument but breathing a sigh of relief when realizing the safety of a sofa or chair is the preferred option. Seriously though, the camera work is a huge appeal of Free Solo and undoubtedly the primary reason it won the Oscar statuette.

The negatives to Free Solo are only slight and perhaps due to my own lack of appeal of rock climbing. During the documentary I kept asking myself why on earth Alex would attempt to achieve the feat and what possible purpose it would serve. From that angle, my attention tended to wander from time to time so the people with passion for adventurous experiences would be the target audience.

Secondly, there was nary a doubt in my mind that the final moments would result in Alex successfully reaching the pinnacle of his career safely despite the concerns of the crew that he could fall to his death at any moment. Sensible reasoning assured me the project would not have been released if tragedy had occurred.

Free Solo (2018) offers a solid and conventional documentary with enough outdoor sequences amid the standard interviews to satisfy all. The finale, while predictable in showing Alex’s successful climb to Mount, is photographed exceptionally well and professional in spirit. The documentary suffers from some predictability issues and a lack of any real cliffhanger (pun intended) but feels fresh and celebrates the human spirit in a big way.

Fahrenheit 11/9-2018

Fahrenheit 11/9-2018

Director-Michael Moore

Starring-Michael Moore

Scott’s Review #817

Reviewed October 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Controversial film-maker Michael Moore, who has been at the helm of other topical and lively works does it again with a politically charged documentary called Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018). Known for other substantial offerings like Roger and Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002), and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), the left-wing activist continues his aggressive and thought-provoking ways with a very good effort.

After the gloomy and divisive 2016 United States Presidential election, it seems inevitable for Moore to create another politically infused documentary. This important point in history is the primary focus of his work. Moore asks and analyzes two very important questions- how did we get here? and how do we get out?  In pure Michael Moore controversy he adds a couple of expletives for good measure.

The documentary itself does in fact begin with the surprising, and (to most), now dire buildup to the 2016 election with clips of Hillary Clinton’s assured victory and election night festivities interspersed with the expected loss of Donald Trump. The Republican party was not crazy about Trump as a candidate and the unexpected victory due to the electoral college rule left the United States shocked, appalled, and in a state of peril.

Moore does not simply create a documentary about the election though. Instead he crosses into territory including the creation of a dictator (Trump) and how this man’s rise to the presidency mirrors Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1930’s Germany. Hitler used a sense of fear and populism among the German people to his advantage and successfully created an “us versus them” mentality. Trump is doing the same with a sour and hateful propaganda.

The documentary feels very personal to Moore, as many of his others do. Fahrenheit 11/9 spends a good deal of time exploring the Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown) poison water situation and the ensuing cover-up by the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder. The largely working-class city (already decimated by numerous GM layoffs) faced a public health emergency due to lead contamination.

So that the subject matter is not completely dour and depressing (though admittedly I was depressed watching most of the documentary, for personal reasons), Moore gleefully adds in some humor. As a camera shot of the director lumbering towards the Snyder headquarters to confront him about the poisoned Flint water and the Governors reported cover-up, a Snyder employee refuses to drink the water Moore insists is directly from Flint and therefore must be safe. Moore later waters the lawn of the Governors home with a giant fire hose when Snyder refuses to be interviewed.

To be fair, as liberal minded as Moore is, he is not afraid to call out members of his own party- the Democrats. He shames President Obama for once appearing in Flint, viewed as a “saving grace” for the city folks, only to pretend to drink a glass of Flint water, while insisting it was safe to drink. Moore surmises that this stunt so turned off the people of Flint that they stayed home on election day, causing Clinton to lose the state of Michigan.

Moore has perhaps never made a more relevant or emotional documentary than he has with Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018). In a tumultuous time in United States history, his documentary is quite opportune to implore people to care what is going on. With the 2018 mid-term elections looming, the country is again in the forefront of a pivotal moment in history. Moore’s timing is flawless.

Faces Places-2017

Faces Places-2017

Director-Agnes Varda, JR

Scott’s Review #816

Reviewed October 3, 2018

Grade: B+

Fans of French culture, landscape, and sophistication will assuredly enjoy Faces Places (2017), a documentary that explores art and creativity.  With both humorous and touching moments, the work explores the friendship between two differing artists of vastly opposite ages. Some scenes of Paris and especially the French countryside make this a personal treat.

The documentary begins by showing its two main characters, thirty-something JR, and eighty-something Agnes Varda, beforehand not knowing one another, missing each other in a coffee shop. Both share their passion for images expressed in different ways- photography and cinema. They each enjoy expressing regular people’s stories by creating lavish portraits and exhibiting them on houses, barns, and the like. Both Varda and JR co-directed this documentary.

When deciding to view Faces Places, I did so with the anticipation that I would be treated to sightseeing type glimpses of both Paris and the surrounding areas- possibly even the south of France or Niece or Burgundy! Paris, however gets short shrift but this can be forgiven as rural France (not known as a tourist hotbed) is featured mostly. We experience many local French people living ordinary lives, but bringing something treasured to the film.

As Agnes and JR cavort around the rural roads in his pickup truck they stop in small towns where they have heard of an interesting story. In one town a farmer works alone and supports his village- a superhero of sorts, while in another town an old woman who has lived in the same house for decades is honored by Varga and JR as they brandish her portrait on the exterior of her house. The woman is tearful and emotionally touched.

The dynamic between Agnes and JR is the high point of the documentary. With more than one generation between them they begin as acquaintances, but their bond flourishes and grows as the documentary moves along. Think-the relationship between Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort featured in the 1971 masterpiece Harold and Maude, save for the romantic element. In a touching moment, JR introduces Agnes to his quite elderly grandmother and the two women hit it off tremendously.

Varda is particularly interesting to me for her contribution to 1950’s French New Wave cinema. Her usage of location sequences and non-professional actors were unconventional at the time and highly influential. In a tender scene Varda attempts to visit friend Jean-Luc Godard, but he refuses to see her, evidently now living as a recluse.

Faces Places (2017) is a rich and soulful experience, one with enough imagination and creativity to inspire its viewers. Perhaps not offering  as much of the vast French landscape as I had anticipated, instead the documentary offers a lesson in the importance of life. With a startlingly connected duo, contributing a whimsical approach to their passion, the result is an inspirational journey that everyone can enjoy.

RBG-2018

RBG-2018

Director-Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Starring-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Scott’s Review #810

Reviewed September 10, 2018

Grade: B+

In the aftermath of the tumultuous 2016 United States Presidential election that still resonates in 2018, making a documentary about one of the most senior members of the U.S. Supreme Court is perfect timing. The eighty four year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg is featured in this production, as the inspirational woman’s early life, rise to the top, and views on the current Trump administration are discussed, offering a fleshed-out chronicle of the inspirational figure head.

Directed and produced by feminists Betsy West and Julie Cohen, an enormously wise move in my opinion, much of the focus is on Ginsburg’s trailblazing reputation and her achievements with gender-discrimination law. The point is made more than once that Ginsburg, with her tiny stature, pulled back hair, and thick glasses, was not to be taken seriously in a world of men. The woman being of serious demeanor, she nevertheless was successful at proving herself against many odds.

The documentary wisely places most of emphasis on the current Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her life as a youngster, her parents, family, and friends are all discussed in detail, but the heart of the film is positioned at the here and now. This can only be assumed because of the volatile and relevant current political state and the importance of the Supreme Court in its current state of conservative leanings. Ginsburg is now the furthest left leaning judge- a point the documentary stresses not without some urgency.

The documentary begins as we see “RBG”, as she has adoringly been come to be known, working out with her trainer. At age eighty-four, this is remarkable and overall encompasses her hard work ethic- inside and outside of the courtroom. The film stresses her endurance and dedication to the job. One family member comments how Ginsburg will frequently work until four in the morning, staying up all night, and will then sleep for sixteen hours- to play “catch-up”.

RBG- the film- shares sweet moments alongside the legal courtroom facts, so that it is not over-saturated by too much legal jargon and terms. A nice touch is the focus on Ginsburg’s husband- a lively, boisterous, and comical man who balances his wife’s mannerisms and characteristics perfectly. According to many sources in the documentary they are a perfect match- this portrays a more romantic (and needed) element to the overall story.

Ginsburg was granted the highest honor during President Clinton’s term- a pivotal time in United States history- when the Supreme Court took more of a left of center turn. Presently, in 2018, the Court has harshly swayed in the other direction, making Ginsburg a tremendously instrumental figure. In the documentary, the courageous lady astutely points out that she “will do the job as long as she can possibly do the job”.

RBG (2018) is an incredibly important documentary in an incredibly tumultuous time. Not only are women’s rights, specifically Roe v. Wade, in serious trouble, but the country is also in danger of taking a stark turn right and thereby taking the country backwards. Leave it to a dear eighty-four-year-old woman with courage for miles to be leading the charge for freedom and the progressive movement. The years ahead will tell us how this all turns out, but the documentary excels at relaying its vital importance.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?-2018

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?-2018

Director-Morgan Neville

Starring-Fred Rogers

Scott’s Review #783

Reviewed July 5, 2018

Grade: A

As much as I enjoy the documentary genre, it has somehow never been close to the top of my favorites list. Many films of this ilk are very good, providing some relevant facts about a subject matter perhaps taboo to me, but sometimes they are somewhat interesting, few are great. Along comes a documentary that is emotional, inspiring, and lovely. Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018), based on the life of Fred Rogers is simply great.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? chronicles the life and rise to popularity of a kindly, mild-mannered man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a simple message of kindness towards children. Beginning as a local television personality, the show he created centered around children and producing positive messages for them. Universally known as Mister Rogers, the documentary explains his determination, eventual fame, his ability to enrich lives, and his need to introduce heavy subject matters to children in order to expose them rather than shelter them from it. In today’s tumultuous times boy is he missed!

Having fond memories of watching the PBS television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child, the program offered a feast of creativity in every half hour. Featuring the Neighborhood of Make Believe, a magical trolley would transport the viewer to a world of puppets (voiced by Rogers). Other poignant moments occurred when Rogers would sing the catchy theme song at the top of every show. The episodes were filled with simple yet important messages of self-acceptance, diversity, and kindness towards others.

At the conclusion of each episode Rogers would sing the song “It’s Such a Good Feeling” in such a way that any child watching would feel secure, loved, and embraced. Rogers sadly died in 2003- his wife, grown children, and various former cast members relay cherished memories and inspirational stories about the creative genius. Rumored to have had an insecure childhood, he was a champion at insuring children felt worthy and accepted for who they are. The documentary also shows via news flashbacks how Rogers fought in court for necessary funding.

My emotional reaction surprised me quite frankly. I expected a nostalgic trip back to childhood with flashbacks from the show, some interviews and a jovial good time. Instead, I was utterly blown away by how touching and humanistic the documentary was in addition to the aforementioned expectations. Sure, old clips (some black and white) brought a flood of memories as puppets Daniel Striped Tiger, Madame, and King Friday XIII, make appearances, but the flood of tears that accompanied the memories was unexpected.

Never at all preachy, the documentary holds the same level of genuine goodness as Rogers does. For audiences watching the film, the question of when someone will well up in tears is the wrong question- it’s how often? Examples of the most touching scenes are when a young, gay actor is accepted by Rogers for who he is when his own family members do not. A handicapped child confined to a wheelchair sings a heart wrenching duet with Rogers. Finally, as Rogers gives a commencement speech at a college university a teary graduate explains why he gave her a special preschool education.

Perhaps the most poignant moment occurs in the final moments of the documentary. When many of the film participants are asked to think for just a moment about someone who taught them kindness, whether they are alive or dead, the sequence is monumental in feeling. A quick foray into the current political climate in the United States is only briefly skated around, carefully so as not to ruin the sweetness of the overall experience.

Director Morgan Neville perfectly paces his documentary so that it never drags. At one hour and thirty four minutes the flow is perfectly structured. The first half is a bit lighter and fun while the second half culminates with a more serious and introspective tone. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is a brilliant documentary film and one of the best I have ever seen.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail-2017

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail-2017

Director-Steve James

Scott’s Review #768

Reviewed June 6, 2018

Grade: B+

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) is a compelling documentary that received a fair amount of notice after earning an Academy Award nomination. The straightforward story never dulls nor drags, but rather stays on point by telling a gripping courtroom style legal thriller of a Chinese family’s struggle to keep their small banking business from criminal prosecution.

The documentary features the Sung family, led by patriarch Mr. Sung who brought the family from China to start a banking business decades ago. Since then the family has set up roots in downtown New York City launching a community style bank to help people living and working in the Chinatown section. The bank had come to be tremendously popular and culturally centered as a way to help struggling neighbors and their business has thrived.

The Abacus Federal Savings Bank became the only bank to face criminal charges following the mortgage crisis in 2009. The documentary argues that this was because the larger banks were untouchable and prosecutors desired to make an example out of the bank because they were an easier target. The documentary wisely presents both sides featuring family interviews as well as the prosecutor’s arguments.

I found Abacus: Small Enough to Jail to move along quite smoothly and at a quick pace. The documentary mainly focuses on the Sung’s- all very driven people. They reside in upscale Greenwich, Connecticut, and consist of the mother and father and three grown daughters in their twenties and thirties. The daughters are highly intelligent and the entire family are intensely loyal to each other and their business despite scenes showing them bicker over trial strategies and take out lunch.

The documentary mainly chronicles the prolonged five year ordeal that the Sung’s endured involving a myriad of paperwork, trial dates, and other particulars. All the while the family continues to uphold their business with gusto, but the trial takes quite a toll on the individuals, particularly the elderly patriarch. It is tough to imagine anyone rooting for a bank, but that is exactly the end result.

Director Steve James is wonderful at portraying the Sung family sympathetically in his work. There is never a doubt that he feels they have been victimized and sought after because they are a relatively easy target compared to the big boys of the banking world- J.P. Morgan and Chase are deemed untouchable, which is a large source of the problem and the film’s main objective to show.

Heartbreaking is a scene containing footage of at least a dozen or so Chinese bank employees being led to processing all chained together- chain gang style. This scene, shown relatively early on in the documentary, cemented my support for the Sung’s. I asked myself, even if they were guilty, why the inhuman and racist treatment? When questioned about the poor treatment of the indicted all the prosecution could muster was that it was “unfortunate”, hardly an apology.

The key element here and the main point of the story is that wrongdoing was committed, but the question asked is if the Sung’s had knowledge of a few of their employee’s shenanigans and I truly think not. As the documentary explains, the jury had extreme difficulty reaching a concrete decision, which is why the trial dragged on and on. All the while I asked myself, “If the large banks were bailed out with no prosecutions whatsoever why should a mom and pop bank be targeted?”

Steve James creates an unexpectedly fast paced piece, tough to do with dry financials, spreadsheets, and other banking type particulars, but that is just what he does. Objectively presenting the facts on both sides and offering a multitude of interviews and court room drawings, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) is a treat to view and captures a terrible time in United States history and how the undertones of racism still exist.

O.J.: Made in America-2016

O.J.: Made in America-2016

Director-Ezra Edelman

Starring-Various

Scott’s Review #690

Reviewed October 8, 2017

Grade: A

Simply put, O.J.: Made in America is one of the greatest documentary films that I have ever scene- if not the best. The level of detail that is thoroughly explored without being over-inflated is to be marveled at. In fact, it is much more than a documentary, it is more a chronicle of one of the most talented professional athletes and one of the most controversial figures of our time. The piece dissects not only O.J. Simpson and his tumultuous life, but also how race, wealth, and celebrity factored into the infamous trial that took over the world in 1994. Basically, this story tells of the examination of the rise and fall of an American sports hero.

At seven hours and forty three minutes in length, I had no intention of actually committing to watching the entire saga, surmising that I could easily obtain a good grasp after watching only one disc, but it needs to be viewed in its entirety to be fully realized and appreciated. The documentary is an ESPN production and part of the 30 for 30 series plays out more like a mini-series, with multiple chapters (five in total) encompassing the entire chronicle. The title of O.J: Made in America is of vital importance and a powerful reason for the success the documentary achieved as film makers question whether many factors were instrumental in making O.J. Simpson what he became rather than creating merely an overview of the events.

An immediate positive, and successfully got me immediately intrigued, is how the documentary begins in present times, O.J. Simpson, now imprisoned and presumably at a parole hearing, he is asked about his duties in the prison and how old he was when he was first arrested- the answer is age forty six, when he was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. The documentary then immediately returns to Simpson’s humble upbringing in the ghettos of San Francisco and how, through scholarships, was able to attend and become a major star at University of Southern California in the mid 1960’s.

What I adore most of all about O.J.: Made in America is that it is a multi-faceted story. Instead of a straight up biography about the troubled celebrity, the film-makers instead choose to balance the documentary with related stories about racial tensions. Certainly, a chronological approach is taken when it comes to Simpson- yes, we learn his skyrocketing trip to super-stardom as a college football player and then professionally as a Buffalo Bill. We are educated of his achievements in commercials, films, and various endorsements, but the documentary relates this to what America made O.J. Simpson into- a beloved star.

Finally, the documentary explains his relationship and marriage to Nicole Brown and the dreaded death and subsequent trial that was sensationalized beyond belief. Lots of time is spent on the trial portion with oodles of interviews ranging from the prosecution- Marsha Clark, Gil Garcetti- as well as numerous friends and relatives of both Simpson and Nicole Brown. An astounding seventy two interviews were conducted.

Surprising to me at first, but making total sense in retrospect, is how the issue of race relations, especially in Los Angeles, have an enormous amount to do with the O.J. Simpson murder case. Film-makers draw many wise comparisons to the history of poor relations between blacks and the Los Angeles Police Department and certainly, the documentary explores the Rodney King incident from the late 1980’s and poses a crucial question- was O.J. Simpson found “not guilty” as a way of exoneration for Rodney King? More than one juror has admitted she refused to find O.J. Simpson guilty and send a black man to prison.

O.J.: Made in America is a superb, well-rounded, concise, and brilliant study of a troubled man- deemed a hero, who obviously had a dark side. The excellent documentary wholly explores his life and provides a fair, unbiased assessment of the events and the thoughts and opinions of those surrounding the case. It is a sad story, but one that is told in brilliant fashion.

I Am Not Your Negro-2016

I Am Not Your Negro-2016

Director-Raoul Peck

Starring-Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #674

Reviewed August 19, 2017

Grade: B

I Am Not Your Negro, a 2016 documentary created by director Raoul Peck, chronicles an unfinished manuscript written by social critic James Baldwin, entitled Remember This House. The memoir is a series of recollections by Baldwin, who died in 1987, of his experiences with famous civil rights leaders, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers.

Released in a year that saw similarly racial themed documentaries such as 13th and O.J.: Made in America emerge, all were recognized with award nominations in several year end ceremonies. If comparisons are drawn, 13th, the most similar in theme to I Am Not Your Negro, is the superior piece. While interesting, the latter did not quite grip me as much as the former. Still, I Am Not Your Negro is worth a watch if nothing else than to understand and be exposed to the continuing battle for racial equality in the United States.

The documentary itself teeters around discussion and back-story of all the leaders mentioned. Lots of location shots are used, as well as speeches made by and old footage of each of the men. A high point are interviews by Baldwin himself, and his insight about his own racial experiences, both positive and negative. Each of the leaders, King, X, and Evers receive roughly the same amount of screen time and the best part is Baldwin’s own dealings with each man.

I enjoyed immensely the multitude of scenes featured of racial history in cinema and the harsh reality is that blacks have not been given their due until quite recently in how their characters are portrayed. As recent as the 1950’s and 1960’s, and arguably later than that, blacks were demeaned or treated as nothing more than secondary characters. Worse yet, some were portrayed for laughs or as caricatures.

A startling admission comes from Baldwin himself. Having been an enormous John Wayne fan as a child, and reveling in the joy of his films, it was a harsh reality to understand that the Indians in Wayne films, seen as the “bad guys”, were really Black Americans- therefore himself. Certain films Baldwin watched were viewed through the innocent eyes of a child- real life was harsher.

Unnecessary is the narration by Samuel L. Jackson and the actor being a well known name, distracted from the message being told. Jackson seems to read Baldwin’s words as if he were acting, and Baldwin and Jackson are two very different types of men, so the result is disjointed.

The most important takeaway that I Am Not Your Negro left me with is a crucial one- better understanding of the historical plight of the Black American and how far the United States has come in better racial equality. Even more important, however, is the realization that we still have so much work ahead of us as a nation to ensure even better race relations and this is a sobering message.

Fire At Sea-2016

Fire at Sea-2016

Director-Gianfranco Rosi

Scott’s Review #671

Reviewed August 12, 2017

Grade: B+

Fire at Sea was honored with a coveted 2017 Best Documentary Feature Oscar award nomination, but despite this high achievement, was met with largely negative reviews from its viewers- this is not as surprising as it might seem. Furthermore, the documentary was also the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language film category, but was not chosen. In this way, the piece is rather a hybrid between a “typical” film and a documentary, making it all the more unique in itself.

The lackluster comments are undoubtedly due to both the very slow pace and the way the documentary is jagged- interspersing snippets of story not seeming to go together with the main message. Compounded by the sheer length of the film (one hour and fifty four minutes is very long for a documentary), the work will not go down in history as a rousing crowd-pleaser. But it is an important film.

The story tells of a group of modest individuals inhabiting a tiny Sicilian fishing island named Lampedusa, located somewhere between Sicily and Libya. The island is prominent for being a rescue area for migrants forging a treacherous journey from African countries (mostly Libya and Sudan) to the island for safety and medical treatment. It is implied that the migrants do not actually stay on the island for very long, but rather Lampedusa serves as a temporary sanctuary. It is not explained where the migrants go or what happens to them after medical treatment.

After a slightly tedious start, I began to become immersed in the various stories and began to appreciate the slow pace- I actually found this calming. We see snippets of the ordinary daily events of the residents: a young boy and his friend carve faces out of cactus plants, later the boy experiences an eye exam and is told he needs glasses- later we see a lengthy scene merely of his family eating pasta. We also get to know a resident doctor, grandmother, disc jockey, and scuba diver.

Admittedly, I began to wonder what a young boy preparing a sling-shot, or a grandmother preparing sauce,  had to do with the main content of the documentary- that of migrants coming to the island. Then I realized that director Gianfranco Rosi is telling a human story and witnessing the ordinary Lampedusa citizens going about their lives is in strong contrast to the fleeing and terrified migrants. I was able to put all the pieces together.

Told without narration and with the dialogue in Italian containing  sub-titles, additional unique aspects to the project, Fire At Sea is unusual, but I admired its important message.

The most powerful scene in the film is a quiet one- a resident doctor describing his experiences with the migrants. He professes how any decent person should help any needy souls and describes the grisly task of performing autopsies on the people (many women and children), who do not survive the harried journey across the Mediterranean Sea- many dying of hunger and thirst or being burned by the diesel fuels from the tiny boat they are stuffed into. His long, yet powerful account will move one to tears.

This testimonial by the doctor speaks volumes regarding the current influx of needy individuals, mainly from Syria, who need help from both neighboring countries and countries far away. Some have been kind and have let individuals into their countries, while others have shunned the migrants (namely in 2017 the United States). The honest account from the doctor summarizes the message of humanity that Fire at Sea represents.

Another powerful scene emerges towards the end of the documentary as several African men are rushed from their ship to another ship and tended to by rescue individuals. Sadly, the barely alive, yet conscious men are not long for this world as a few minutes later we see a series of body bags lined up containing the expired men. This tragic realization speaks volumes for the need for such humanistic individuals as some who reside on Lampedusa.

Fire at Sea, the title a World War II reference to the fiery waters that the residents could see from a far distance during that time, is a story that is worth watching. It provides a lesson in kindness and good decency and a reminder that some people are just good, generous souls, all but willing to help those in need. We can all learn from this documentary.

13th-2016

13th-2016

Director-Ava  DuVernay

Scott’s Review #669

Reviewed August 5, 2017

Grade: B+

Hot on the heels of her successful feature film Selma (2014), director Ava DuVernay follows up with another race relations piece- this time with an informative documentary entitled 13th, after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, freeing slaves and banning slavery.

The documentary, however, brings to the surface, loopholes to the constitution, and how progress has been too slow for black people following the Civil war and into modern times. It looks at the escalating incarceration rates of the United States black population over the years. and how the prison system as a whole has been used as both a money-making system and as a way of controlling minorities.

The United States prison system is examined throughout the documentary and gets off to a compelling start as we hear an audio clip of former President Barack Obama inform us that the United States has five percent of the worlds population yet twenty five percent of the worlds prisoners, a direct message to those convinced that the United States is the greatest country in the world. This powerful message sets 13th off right as we begin a journey into why the statistic exists.

I thoroughly enjoyed the high production values that the documentary offers, including modern graphics as the numbers of the incarcerated blacks came on screen in an edgy way. 13th does not feel dated or monotone as some documentaries do. Rather, it feels creative and nuanced with interviews and news clips of events such as the Civil Rights movement to Depression era footage and to very modern day footage so that over a hundred years of history is represented.

A great add on to 13th is the chronological path through history that the viewer experiences, beginning with the Civil War and ending with 2017- with the unpopular Donald Trump as President of the United States. In fact, the gloomy implication is that, with the current (2017) presidency, the minority population is still repressed and discriminated against by many political figures and that they are still largely feared and blamed for the “perceived” high crime rates.

DuVernay’s major point of her documentary is that many political figures use “scare tactics” to influence voters to vote a certain way and throughout history voters have fallen for this measure time and time again. She wisely goes through history and dissects several presidents terms and individual campaign messages. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Sr., and Obama are heavily featured. I loved this aspect since it was like a fresh history lesson for me and how the times have not only changed, but in some ways stayed the same.

13th avoids being too preachy, and, to its credit, presents “both sides of the aisle”. There are some who feel that political figures tough take on crime is not meant to repress minorities- a few of these folks are interviewed and given time to explain their viewpoints, but the film is largely left-leaning in tone and views- the negative portrayals of Trump, Nixon, and Reagan, are proof of this.

Enjoyable are interviews with prominent activists such as Angela Davis, leader of the Communist Party USA, and a woman with close ties to the Black Panthers. Considered a radical in her day (the 1960’s), the documentary features clips of her interviews both then and now. Current political figures Van Jones and Newt Gingrich are featured giving 13th a crisp, modern, and relevant feel to it, rather than a period of time long ago.

Overall, I found 13th to be an educational and historical lesson in the challenges and the race issues that people of color have dealt with over the years and how their world is still effected by current legislation and decisions by political figures (mainly white), who hold all of the cards and repress people who speak out against them.

Life, Animated-2016

Life, Animated-2016

Director-Roger Ross Williams

Starring-Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind

Scott’s Review #662

Reviewed July 9, 2017

Grade: B+

Autism is still a baffling disease to many people (myself included) since I know nobody personally who is afflicted with it and, before watching this documentary had many questions. How wonderful to see a documentary that not only teaches the viewer about autistic people, but presents a wonderful story of how Disney films helped an autistic child into a world of normalcy with the aid of loving parents. Life, Animated is an empathetic film with a positive and inspirational message.

The production is based on a 2014 novel, written by journalist Ron Suskind, entitled Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, in which Ron tells the story of his son Owen and how Disney films helped him communicate with the outside world. The documentary, however, is told from Owen’s perspective, through childhood years into adulthood. The story incorporates not only Owen’s challenges with autism, but also his love life, relationship with his brother and parents, and various other autistic people he has come to bond with. He also was fortunate enough to be invited to Paris, France to speak at a conference.

How Owen, an energetic and “normal” three year old, suddenly shrunk into himself and away from the rest of the world is mysterious, but also how autism works. Owen’s parents, baffled at the sudden change in Owen’s behavior, did the dutiful parental actions of doctors and studies, but, in essence, helped Owen on their own. When Ron, on a lark, and with some desperation, began speaking in the voice of a Disney character, Owen sprung to life like magic.

The film will please fans of Disney films since Owen lives and breathes the various classic movies, immersing himself in their worlds and memorizing scenes and dialogue alike. Specifically, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are heavily featured as reference points.

As a teenager, Owen sadly was tormented by school bullies, which caused him a setback. Fortunately, through his creative mind, he began to write stories and come up with his own characters as a sense of relief from everyday stress. The film intersperses various drawings of Owen and his family throughout, adding a creative edge to the documentary.

The documentary wisely does not state that Disney films will cure anyone with autism, but rather Owen’s love of these films served as a stimulus to bring him back to life. Presumably any autistic child could find a source or something he or she loves, to help build self esteem and achieve skills.

I highly recommend Life, Animated to anyone with an autistic child, sibling, relative, or friend, or anyone seeking an empathetic experience and a heartwarming tale of achievement. From a film perspective, the documentary is clear, concise, and to the point, with videotaped images of Owen’s life as a child through adulthood. Life, Animated received a 2016 Best Documentary Oscar nomination.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work-2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work-2010

Director-Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg

Starring-Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers

Scott’s Review #563

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: A

I found Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work to be a great documentary. For fans of Joan Rivers the film is obviously a treat, but for people unfamiliar with her, it is an amazing journey into her personal life, and we see her at her most vulnerable.

At the time of this documentary, she was a very busy seventy-seven year old entertainer. The film exceeds as it shows not only her stage persona, and her quick wit, but a more intimate, personal side to the woman. According to Rivers, the makers of the documentary were allowed free reign of what made the final cut, with no approval by Rivers.

Joan Rivers must be the hardest working, driven, seventy-seven year old alive. Not only is she the foul-mouthed, hysterical comedienne most know her as, but she also has an insecure, sensitive side that few see. Moments of this documentary are hysterical, others are heartbreaking. As she is heckled in a crappy club in the mid-west by a man offended by her jokes, Rivers lashes out at the man, and later shows a sense of regret as she speaks to the camera.

The documentary is basically set-up as a year in the life of Joan Rivers mixed in with her forty plus years in showbiz, how she got her start, breaks, etc. We experience the pain she felt when her husband committed suicide, forcing her to take almost any job as a way to pay her bills.

This is a documentary that reveals much, much more than the public sees her as. It is an intimate portrayal of a courageous woman that few wholly see. I loved it.

Inside Job-2010

Inside Job-2010

Director-Charles Ferguson

Starring-Matt Damon

Scott’s Review #552

Reviewed December 20, 2016

Grade: A-

Directly derived from the financial crisis of 2008, Inside Job explains what led up to, the factors involved in, and who is responsible for the 2008 crisis. The documentary is very important to see- if nothing else but a lesson in greed and corruption.

It is mainly divided into segments to make it less confusing and the content is easily digestible. The basic concept here is greed, and how people are predisposed to being greedy. Those responsible for the crisis and the subsequent effects on millions of people attempt to defend themselves and what they did to the end- sadly they are still in power, as immoral human beings as they are.

Many times the interviewer will either catch the subject in a lie or leave them tongue tied- one subject even threatens the interviewer. There is a sense of satisfaction that erupts as they squirm and attempt to quickly think of ways to evade the questions.

Inside Job shows how Wall street is incredibly powerful, and how most politicians are puppets, who are influenced greatly by them. It is a sad and discouraging documentary, but incredibly honest and thought provoking. I left the theater feeling angry and depressed, but feeling that the filmmakers do an excellent job of educating the viewer to the woes of the world.

Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job is one of the best documentaries I have seen in recent years.

Exit Through the Gift Shop-2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop-2010

Director-Banksy

Starring-Banksy

Scott’s Review #531

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Reviewed December 1, 2016

Grade: B-

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary from 2010. I am a fan of documentaries if the subject matter interests me. The topic of this documentary is street art, which is not especially appealing to me, but it is also nice to be open to new experiences and perhaps learn a thing or two.

Bansky, who both directed and starred in the documentary, is the main feature and his story is told. We meet a man from Los Angeles, who carries a camera with him wherever he goes. Through his cousin in France, he decides to do a documentary on street artists. He is fascinated by the mysterious and secretive, Bansky, until he manages to one day meet him. He then begins to film Bansky’s street art activity. So the documentary actually has some plot and is not the standard type of documentary.

Some claims that the film is actually staged and a bit of a hoax have run rampant, but have not been proven.

I respected this feature as a nice, telling, documentary, but it dragged a bit, which may be the result of my limited interest in the topic. Great for anyone into street art.

Restrepo-2010

Restrepo-2010

Directors-Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

Scott’s Review #514

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Reviewed November 10, 2016

Grade: B-

Restrepo is an informative documentary concerning a group of American soldiers sent into Afghanistan to battle the Taliban. Film makers spent one year in the life of this group of men, documenting their experiences, pains, losses, and joys throughout. Camera crews follow them almost non-stop.

The most interesting aspects of this piece are the camaraderie that is evident among the soldiers- a bond that is a brotherhood of sorts. Friendships that develop in the midst of peril that will undoubtedly never be broken or tarnished. Certainly, the fear and worry that these soldiers go through- under the constant uncertainty of attack, far away from their families, is powerful.

Slight gripes are the redundancy of the subject matter of the documentary itself. Seemingly endless are the projects developed surrounding one war or another. I freely admit this is an important matter, but while watching Restrepo, I could not help but feel that I have seen other incarnations of the same documentary before- not to mention in mainstream film. The war experience is a popular story to tell.

I also got the sense of an us against them mentality to this documentary, which is not always a good thing. More about the relationships with the “good” Afghanistan people might have been nice. Overall, though, a decent, interesting documentary.

Sweetgrass-2010

Sweetgrass-2010

Director-Ilisa Barbash, Lucien Castaing-Taylor

Scott’s Review #502

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Reviewed October 28, 2016

Grade: F

While generally I am an advocate and champion of the film documentary- I always love to learn something new- Sweetgrass had a strange effect on me- simply put-I despised the film. Even if the subject matter is such that it does not particularly interest me, it will usually garner at least some recognition and praise for what it is.

Sweetgrass is a documentary about a group of sheepherders from Montana transporting their herd to another location- it was unclear to me why the sheep were being transported or where to, but I assume rather close by. The documentary contains no narrative and little dialogue except one of the sheepherders ranting and raving about how tough it is to be a sheepherder, all the while smoking incessantly.

Most of the time is spent literally watching sheep and sheep and sheep and sheep- and still more sheep wandering about and drifting down a mountain range.  Then we see still more sheep moving about. As my mind began to wander, I began to wonder if the sheep were a metaphor of some kind. Then some dogs and horses were thrown in for good measure.

The location scenes are nothing special and after a brief five minutes of appreciation of the gorgeous landscape I was over it.

At 1 hour and 45 minutes in length- way too long for a documentary that moves along at a snail’s pace- it is about an hour too long for my tastes.

After pondering the film, my only determination is that the film makers were hoping to give the viewers a real-life slice of what it is like to be a sheep herder- snore! I would have much rather experienced interviews and commentary with some merit on the subject.

Worse than the redundancy of the pacing, the constant mistreatment of some of the sheep is inexcusable and really has no bearing on the topic at hand- which I confess to being unsure what the point of the documentary even was- other than as a cure for insomnia. Sweetgrass is a complete waste of time.

What Happened, Miss Simone?-2015

What Happened, Miss Simone?-2015

Director-Liz Garbus

Starring-Nina Simone

Scott’s Review #499

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Reviewed October 25, 2016

Grade: B+

Nina Simone, who died in 2003 at the age of seventy, was an iconic singer and pianist with a musical style all her own. As important as her soulful musical creativity, Simone was also a civil rights activist during the restless 1960’s, and was outspoken about black power and racial discrimination- leading to much controversy. What Happened, Miss Simone tells her story in a thorough, rich fashion.

Executive produced by her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, who is interviewed throughout the documentary, the piece is standard fare, using a multitude of interviews and performances by Simone. We experience her upbringing in North Carolina, her acceptance into the prestigious Juilliard, her families reliance on her for money, and her years of struggle performing in dingy night clubs.

I loved seeing the old clips of her performances- they are raw, gritty, and full of something special- poetic almost. Simone had trouble relaxing as she gave every ounce of energy in her shows and knew no other way to be.

Simone is like no other and the documentary does not need to explain this point- her performances tell it all. Not one to phone in a performance and arguably not really “performing” at all, Simone was as real as they come- immersing herself into her music – and often times seeming to drift off into another reality.

As an activist, Nina Simone is shown to be controversial- not against supporting violence by blacks against whites in the name of freedom. Simone had tumultuous relationships with both her husband and daughter- having claimed to have been beaten repeatedly and forced to work.

Clear comparisons to other singers such as Aretha Franklin are explored, but there is an edgy element to Simone that others singers of that day did not have- she had a style all her own and did not “play the game” to achieve her success- instead choosing to only be true to herself. This is not a slight against Franklin, but the documentary states that if Simone had been happier, she might have had more commercial appeal, but would she have been satisfied with that? I doubt it as she was an intense soul.

Shocking to me are claims of physical abuse vocalized by her daughter, but this is explained away as a result of her mental illness and not herself at times. Prescription drugs and diagnoses were not what they are now in those days.

From a critical perspective, the documentary delivers what it is supposed to- an overview of this amazing talent- warts and all. We basically see her from child until retiree, and cannot help but pity her in a way because of her apparent mental illness, which caused her not always to be the charming celebrity we would want her to be. What Happened, Miss Simone helped me to learn something fresh about an artist I was unfamiliar with and that is what a documentary should do.

Catfish-2010

Catfish-2010

Director-Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Starring-Henry Joost

Scott’s Review #489

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Reviewed October 2, 2016

Grade: A-

I loved this movie/documentary! I know some people were disappointed with the twist towards the end, but I thought it was interesting and made the film quite compelling- a surprise ending if you will. The shaky documentary style filming adds to the intensity.

The plot revolves around a young photographer, Nev, who strikes up an online Facebook friendship with an 8 year old artist- very risky, yes, but they discuss art and paintings. They chat regularly. Nev lives in New York City, while Abby lives in Michigan. Nev’s brother Ariel is shooting a documentary and thinks it would be perfect for the pair to drive to Michigan and meet Abby. Once they do, they are in for a surprise as the web of circumstances that follows make the film creepy, eerie, and mysterious.

Obviously, I do not want to give any more away, but Catfish is an interesting, well thought out story, which apparently is a true case. The presentation of the film is wonderful.

Best of Enemies-2015

Best of Enemies-2015

Director-Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon

Starring-William F. Buckley Jr., Gore Vidal

Scott’s Review #467

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Reviewed August 19, 2016

Grade: B

Best of Enemies is a 2015 documentary that transports the viewer back in time to the 1960’s, and specifically to 1968, during the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. I found the documentary to be a nice little history lesson for me  as 1968 was before my time and the timing of my viewing (2016) was perfect as at the time of this review we are in the midst of an intense presidential race. This is an adequate slice of political debate and rivalry- differing ideologies among the central figures.

ABC Primetime news, at that time a floundering network, needed something to attract viewers, and something to compete with competitors, the much higher rated CBS and NBC. This was a time when audiences had merely three networks of news offerings to choose from. The documentary references this fact as the power of the medium of television in 1968 was quite intense and still new. I looked back fondly on the limited choices of networks then, compared to the oodles of offerings now, but everyone watched the same programming, which elicited better conversations the next day it could be argued.

ABC concocted a scheme to bring together two bitter rivals, ultra conservative, William F Buckley, and ultra liberal, Gore Vidal. the pair, obviously of differing opinions, reportedly despised each other and the possibilities electric.

I found the documentary to be very genuine- 1968 was before reality television and mock feuds to garner ratings eve existed. Their heated debates are now legendary and there was authenticity to them. The documentary is told in a structured way- Buckley and Vidal faced off during a total of ten primaries- five for the Republican primary in Florida- five for the Democratic primary in Chicago. Other than their blowups, the conversations crackled with intelligence- both men obviously passionate, and well-educated in their views.

Best of Enemies also gives an overview of both Vidal and Buckley and how they  each had come to achieve their respective fame. Interviews with family members, colleagues, and friends are interspersed in the documentary among the constant barbs between the two as the debates ravaged on.

A monumental moment occurs during the final democratic debate that would cement the loathing between Vidal and Buckley for decades to come. Continuing to debate with a snarky, condescending tone by both, tensions came to a head as Vidal referenced Buckley as a Nazi and Buckley, in turn, called Vidal a queer and threatened to sock him in the mouth. The hatred in the eyes of both men are the central point of the documentary as their rivalry knew no boundaries. The fact that this all took place on live television (before tape delay censors) made it all the more shocking.

Strangely, the documentary chose to use narrated voices by Kelsey Grammar and John Lithgow  as Buckley and Vidal, respectively, for a few segments. I found this rather unnecessary and even distracting. The voices were surmising what each felt at the time and really did not work at all.

A smart, intelligent toned documentary that shows the real birth of political pundits (now a dime a dozen) and the realism that television was at that time period- still rather novel. Today it is filled with outrageous people and those looking for their ten seconds of fame. Best of Enemies shows us the authenticity of television back in the early days and sadly, reminds us what it has now become.

5 Broken Cameras-2012

5 Broken Cameras-2012

Director-Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi

Starring-Emad Burnat

Scott’s Review #452

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Reviewed July 22, 2016

Grade: B-

5 Broken Cameras is a 2012 documentary spoken in the Arabic language, which received critical acclaim upon release and heaps of award nominations.

A documentary about a Palestinian farmers- Emad Burnat- recount of Israeli soldiers overtaking his land over the span of several years, it became a Best Documentary Oscar nominee. Non political in his life, he is threatened as the Israelis build a wall through his land, which he refuses to part with.

As important as the subject matter is, it never really captures my attention and I found it to drag a bit, which pains me to say because I was hoping to be really into it given the topic.

This could simply be my opinion since it is a critically acclaimed piece. I would have definitely voted in the far superior Invisible War, from the same year, for Oscar glory.

Searching for Sugar Man-2012

Searching for Sugar Man-2012

Director-Malik Bendjelloul

Starring-Sixto Rodriguez

Scott’s Review #451

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Reviewed July 17, 2016

Grade: B

Searching for Sugar Man is a heartwarming documentary that tells the true story of a forgotten rising Detroit rock singer (Rodriguez) from the early 1970’s, rediscovered by South African DJ’s where he is a surprising legend in present times.

The documentary’s main talking point is how an icon can be idolized in one country, while living in utter poverty in another. Thought to be the next great thing in the 1970’s, his two released albums bombed and he subsequently faded into oblivion, until tracked down by the South African DJ’s, curious of his current whereabouts.

An inspiring documentary for any musician or fan of music as Rodriguez is a true artist, not in it for the money type or obsessed with attention nor fame, who finally receives some recognition for his talent. He is a free spirit, reminiscent of Bob Dylan, poet, whose story is a courageous one. Thankfully, this inspired documentary has brought some notice to Rodriguez.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present-2012

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present-2012

Director-Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre

Starring-Marina Abramovic

Scott’s Review #436

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Reviewed July 1, 2016

Grade: B+

The wonderful thing about documentary features is that they can introduce the viewer to a world of knowledge or provide an experience that you may not ordinarily be exposed to. This is certainly the case for me personally with Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.

Knowing nothing prior about this inspiring artist, I had no idea who she was going into this documentary and had no exposure to performance art. The film does a great job of telling Marina’s career history, extreme discipline, and the honesty of her work. The documentary is also a biography then, of sorts, as it gives a history lesson of who she is and various obstacles she has hurdled in her life.

Marina is portrayed as an extreme artist and it was a wonderful experience learning about her. Seeing video of The Museum of Modern Art in nearby New York City was a treat since I have been to the museum before.

Pina-2011

Pina-2011

Director-Wim Wenders

Starring-Pina Bausch

Scott’s Review #426

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Reviewed June 21, 2016

Grade: C-

Pina, a documentary, is a dedication to famed German choreographer Pina Bausch. The documentary and the way it is made, is a major disappointment.

I respect that Pina is a tribute to an obviously talented artist, but as a documentary itself it is a complete bore. I learned nothing about the art of dance or Pina Bausch herself, as the entire 1 hour and 45 minutes (quite lengthy by documentary standards) consists of a troupe of dancers performing a series of numbers with little or no explanation of what they are doing or what the dances mean.

Mixed in with the dances are brief snippets of commentary from the dancers expressing how sorry they are that Pina Bausch has died.

Nice tribute, but any viewer attempting to learn about the art form or artist are left clueless.

Janis: Little Girl Blue-2015

Janis: Little Girl Blue- 2015

Director-Amy Berg

Starring-Janis Joplin

Scott’s Review #420

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Reviewed- June 19, 2016

Grade: B+

As a fan of Janis Joplin’s classic 1960’s-early 1970’s brand of classic, bluesy, rock n roll, viewing a documentary of the stars life and times was a great experience. The film sheds a bit of light on the mysterious rocker- gone way too soon and with undoubtedly much more to say. Janis was one of the most authentic, real performers of her time. A big voice in a man’s world. Impressive still, is that she wrote all of her songs herself.

The documentary is well put together as it traverses Janis’s early days as an insecure teenager living in rural Texas. Never a beauty, Janis was insecure-as most teenagers are. She was always a pistol and prided herself at being different and outspoken, oftentimes ruffling feathers in her conservative town, especially given the time period. Janis preferred hanging out with males and being “one of the guys”.

An aspect I found interesting about this documentary is the exploration of Janis’s home life- well before she found success as a singer. Taunted in school for being different because she was a painter, and a thinker, she lived in a largely racist town and had conflict with others who were not as progressive as she. Janis’s sister and brother are heavily featured throughout the documentary and explain interesting tidbits about Janis’s home life and conflict with her parents. Sadly, they forged a pleasant relationship, but never really mended fences before Janis’s untimely death.

Her relationships with other rockers of the time are explored and more than one festival performance is shared- giving a glimpse of what type of performer she was- improvised, heart on the line, intense, and brutally honest.

A lost soul with enormous talent and raw capabilities, Janis Joplin is missed, but thankfully we still have her incredible music to carry on with. Janis: Little Girl Blue is a great documentary that gives a cherished overview of the life and times of a tremendous artist.