Tag Archives: Documentary films

A Hard Day’s Night-1964

A Hard Day’s Night-1964

Director-Richard Lester

Starring-The Beatles

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Reviewed August 18, 2014 

Grade: C

Why this rock documentary, day in the life style film is considered among the Top 100 films of all time completely escapes me. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles, but found the film a disappointment.

The segments consisting of musical numbers performed by the band are excellent and, humming along, I enjoyed the black and white filming of the “documentary” as well, but the film is not a documentary in the traditional sense and is very difficult to categorize.  Is it a rock opera?  Is it a comedy? Is it a documentary? Is it a musical? It is somewhat of a hybrid as the viewer journeys through a typical day in the life of a Beatle. But all else seems fluff to the point of silliness. Countless scenes of the band running through the streets with adoring fans screaming and chasing after them become irritating. There is little plot to the film. The Beatles were a huge band. We get it.

Paul, George, Ringo, and John do a capable job in the film, considering they are non-actors, but I’d much rather have been exposed to a straightforward documentary focusing on the background of some of the songs or of the band members themselves instead of a lightweight tale of a day in the life of The Beatles with silly attempts at humor thrown in.

A Hard Day’s Night reportedly influenced the 1960’s television comedy starring The Monkees.

After Tiller-2013

After Tiller-2013

Director-Martha Shane, Lana Wilson

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Reviewed August 13, 2014 

Grade: A

After Tiller is a brilliant and thought provoking documentary about the controversy of abortion. The issue presented is not whether abortions should be performed, but rather should they be performed late term (beyond 20 weeks). The Doctor Tiller mentioned in the title was the Doctor who opened the handful of clinics that perform late term abortions and who was murdered outside of his church by fanatics before the documentary was made. The 4 remaining protégé’s of his are Doctors who now openly perform these controversial procedures and who are presented as, not monsters as some would think of them, but as sympathetic, kind professionals who put the pregnant mothers’ needs first.

As I assumed before seeing the documentary, the Doctors are not strictly performing the abortions for mothers seeking a way to get rid of a “problem”, but rather, in most cases, the baby will lead a life of pain, misery, and health problems and typically the parents do not learn of the problem until late in the pregnancy which adds dimensions and levels to the issue at hand. The viewer is left wondering, what would I do? Most of the parents struggle with the decision to terminate the pregnancies. These Doctors (and their families) constantly receive death threats from pro-life groups who do not comprehend the issue and the Doctors are harassed by people who do not want their abortion clinics anywhere near them and as a viewer this is painful to watch. Any viewer who is pro-life or pro-choice ought to watch this for a better understanding of the complexities of late term abortions. After Tiller is absolutely riveting, but has shamefully been seldom seen by audiences.

Room 237-2012

Room 237-2012

Director-Rodney Ascher

Starring-Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks

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Reviewed August 6, 2014

Grade: C-

My viewing of the documentary Room 237 resulted in mixed emotions. On the one hand it is an interesting glimpse into the world of the classic, horror masterpiece The Shining, with many clips and film facts presented. It also features other works by Director Stanley Kubrick and compares them to each other, which is interesting to fans like me. I loved the passion from the fans of this film and admire how they know every intricate detail of The Shining.

But at the heart of this documentary lies conspiracy theories from the fans and theorists, regarding The Shining, that are downright wacky and become redundant after about 15 minutes. What makes these people credible? Only their voices were heard and the audience did not see their faces. Who are they? What walks of life are they? Most of these conspiracy theories are much ado about nothing. Somehow a camera angle or a photo of a surfer or an expression on the face of Jack Nicholson turns into a mythological meaning? There is also some gibberish about moon landings and the holocaust that did not interest me. I bought very little of it if any. I would have been quite content with a documentary solely focused on the making of The Shining or interviews with the cast and behind the scenes facts, or even bloopers. It would have been more realistic, interesting, and plausible.

As a tribute to the excellence of The Shining this documentary succeeds; in all else it fails.

How To Survive a Plague-2012

How To Survive a Plague-2012

Director-David France

Starring-Bill Bahlman, David Barr

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Reviewed May 20, 2013

Grade: A

A wonderful thing about documentaries is that they can be a learning experience and a teaching tool. How to Survive a Plague is one such type of documentary. It is an authentic, real, gritty piece of work and that’s what makes it so powerful.

The AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s was a monumental and devastating time in social history and this documentary chronicles a group of advocates tirelessly fighting  to convince the Government (at that time less than sympathetic towards victims of the disease) to approve and administer drugs to combat AIDS. This organization was named ACT UP and it brought the gay community together as well as sympathetic members of the straight community. Good people fighting against the establishment for change. Nearly all the footage from the film is from the time period in question and the activism is both heartbreaking and inspiring to witness. The Pope, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush are not portrayed in a positive light, but rather as uncaring and unwilling to help those dying from the disease.

A moving and inspirational film that teaches one never to give up or back down from what you stand for. Nominated for the 2013 Best Documentary Oscar.

Undefeated-2011

Undefeated-2011

Director-Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Starring-Montrail “Money” Brown

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Reviewed June 2, 2013

Grade: B

Undefeated is an emotional documentary, a true story of a high school football coach brought in to a struggling, poor, suburban Memphis area high school and leading the team to a championship title. The story of the coach taking various students under his wing, father figure style, and helping them succeed in, not only football, but scholastics as well is inspiring and heartwarming. The coach’s passion really shines through to the viewer in this story.

As wonderful a story as it is, I felt slightly let down by it is as, yet again, the slant on the story is of an affluent white family swooping in to a poor black neighborhood and saving the black kids with their mighty influence. Why can’t we see a film that is the reverse? In the 21st century this is becoming slightly offensive and one-sided. It is The Blind Side with real people! With that rant made, the documentary is pretty awe-inspiring and the coach portrayed as a fantastic, truly caring human being. I laughed, cried, and rooted for the struggling football team to victory. The portion on what has since happened to the football players is interesting to see.  Undefeated won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2012.

The Central Park Five- 2012

The Central Park Five-2012

Director-Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon

Starring-Antron McCray

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Reviewed June 17, 2013

Grade: B+

The Central Park Five is a very interesting documentary surrounding the infamous 1989 events of the Central Park jogger, who was raped, beaten, and left for dead one night. Personally, I remember the case well, but was too young to know the details and circumstances involved. If one is to believe the documentary presented, then one is to be outraged and disgusted by police, detectives, and attorneys who railroaded and influenced the youths found guilty in this case because they assumed they were guilty…..youths who were later found to be innocent after years wasting away in prison. It saddens me how the media at the time turned the case into a witch hunt and sensationalized the story. What is sadder still is this happens today.

I like documentaries that present both sides, but according to the film, no attorneys, detectives, or police would comment, so I will accept this as truth. After the youths were exonerated, no apology was ever issued. It is sad day when detectives can pressure and threaten someone into a confession. Thank goodness, in modern times, DNA evidence has come to the falsely accused rescue. Certainly, as with anything there are two sides to every story, but one can’t help but wonder if the police did no wrongdoing why not comment on the events?  The Central Park Five is a shockingly truthful, informative documentary.

The Gatekeepers-2012

The Gatekeepers-2012

Director-Dror Moreh

Starring-Ami Ayalon

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Reviewed July 15, 2013

Grade: B-

I truly wanted to love The Gatekeepers, an Oscar nominated documentary from 2012, but only mildly enjoyed it. I find the nominating process and the award determination for documentaries baffling. In recent years it is beginning to mirror the Foreign Language film selection process. The one documentary of the five that is brilliant (How to Survive a Plague) did not win and the documentary that did win (Searching for Sugar Man) was good, but not great.

The Gatekeepers explores an important, informative topic-the Israeli Secret Service. The documentary consisted of interviews with 5 former Secret Service members and was a tell-all of past situations and how the members handled the matters. The documentary also uses real footage and computer animation to explain how the Secret Service becomes involved in military activity. Important stuff, but it comes across as a bit dry and relatively dull. After 30 minutes I found myself looking at the clock and somewhat tuning out. I respect the documentary for its subject matter, but it could have used a bit of spice to keep things moving along.

The Waiting Room-2012

The Waiting Room-2012

Director-Peter Nicks

Starring-Cynthia Y. Johnson, Eric Morgan

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Reviewed November 6, 2013

Grade: B+

The Waiting Room is an interesting documentary that takes the viewer on a day in the life shift in a very busy public hospital in a poor section of Oakland, California. Most of the patients are uninsured, low paid or unemployed workers, who are sick and in need of medications and treatment and in some cases are quite ill.

The documentary balances the perspectives of both the patients and the weary hospital staff, who strive to prioritize cases and treat everyone, which is not easy due to overcrowding and under-funding. I found the documentary quite fascinating and felt like I was an actual observer during a chaotic, yet every day experience in the busy and stressful Emergency Room. The situations that arise are heartbreaking and the staff does their very best to accommodate each patient, but many times tragedy ensues or tempers flare due to frustration.

It speaks volumes of the shameless world of insurance company profits and selfishness at the cost of human lives and patient suffering.  Sadly, this documentary was overlooked by the Oscar academy, but did receive an Independent Spirit nomination.

20 Feet from Stardom-2013

20 Feet from Stardom-2013

Director-Morgan Neville

Starring-Bruce Springsteen, Sting

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Reviewed April 15, 2014

Grade: B

Must-see for any lover of popular/rock music as so many songs have background singers that nobody realizes let alone knows their names. It is sad that many of them didn’t do much “past their day”, but Hollywood is littered with thousands of broken dreams. Nice that some of them still perform to this day.

A reality check in the documentary that was brought up many times is that you need to be egotistical and narcissistic to be in the spotlight. Makes you look at many of the big stars a bit differently. Sometimes they are not so nice when the cameras are not rolling and have tremendous egos. No names were revealed-This is an interesting documentary to watch.