Category Archives: Documentaries

Tabloid (2010)

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Tabloid (2010)

Tabloid

A documentary on a former Miss Wyoming who is charged with abducting and imprisoning a young Mormon Missionary.

This was not a great documentary, but that won’t detract from your enjoyment of the story. A story that seems unfathomable as fiction but, as they say, the truth is stranger.

A beauty queen meets the “love of her life” – then loses him. Rather than accept that life goes on, she decides to track him down, kidnap him, and ‘deprogram’ him with sex. I have actually heard people refer to Mormonism as a cult, but I have never heard that particular cure mentioned.

Sex Slave HeadlineThe details of the story would be enough for an entertaining biography. Errol Morris ups the ante by having the beauty queen and her “co-conspirators” discuss those details for the camera. Throw in the salacious photos and tabloid headlines of the time and you almost feel for the girl in her quest for everlasting love. At the very least, you have to admire her moxie.

The main failing of the movie is how the victim gets lost in the hoopla. I can understand his reluctance to participate, but I wish we could have been encouraged to feel for what he went through. I wish we could know what ‘rebuilding’ his life looked like – though I suppose that would have just violated him further.

Though the events Tabloid recounts took place in the pre-digital age, the film also functions as a kind of prehistory of modern celebrity culture and tabloid journalism. ~ Dana Stevens, Slate

Despite the decidedly sexual nature of the story, I think it is a film most in my circle could enjoy. 3.5 on the Word of Mouth Scale.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 91%; Audience 74%

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow. — (C) Magnolia

Who would have thought a film about a man making sushi could be so intriguing. Jiro’s singular focus on perfection is fascinating and inspiring. He is revered and respected, and perhaps a bit feared, by his apprentices, his children, his vendors, his customers…

At the start of the film he tells us, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.” We see that is exactly what he has done, and he is both successful and honorable.

The film covers more than sushi, obviously, but in my non-sushi eating mind, I expected to see the creation of complicated and creative rolls. After all, I enjoy watching that process when we visit our local sushi bar. What Jiro makes is sushi in its purest form; rice, fish, serve. Apparently that is enough – when you do it so well.

The lessons of life, the insight into Japanese culture, the idea of “perfection”…all make this a worthwhile film. There were a few scenes that were tough for me, though. For instance, some of the sushi (the mackerel?) is cut from the fish while it is still alive, pinned to the cutting board through his gills. Only after removing all the filets is his head cut from his body, an unnecessarily painful end, I imagine.

For that reason, and the need to read subtitles which turns off some potential viewers, Jiro Dreams of Sushi gets just 4 of 5 on the Word of Mouth Scale. It is a thoughtful, engrossing documentary, but it isn’t for everyone.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 99%; Audience 92%

First Position (2011)

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First Position

Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix, where lifelong dreams are at stake. In the final round, with hundreds competing for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. Bess Kargman’s award-winning documentary, First Position, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, First Position paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow. — (C) IFC

D picked this documentary for me knowing how much I love ballet. Though the dancing here is, of course, paramount, there is so much more to these stories. If any of you doubt the athleticism of ballet dancers, this movie will make you a believer.

I found myself laughing, cringing, crying, and cheering as we meet the dancers; young phenom Aran Bell, survivor Michaela Deprince, siblings JJ & Miko Fogarty, high school “princess” Rebecca Houseknecht, struggling for a better life Joan Sebastian Zamora, and Aran’s young Isreali friend Gaya Bommer Yemini.

At just 11 years-old, Aran is a powerhouse, spinning and leaping like a mini Baryshnikov. As a military brat, the sacrifices his family members are willing to make differ from the others, but you can see he is not about to let those sacrifices go to waste. I would love to see how he grows and matures in the dance.

Michaela, adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, combines her fierce determination with explosive strength in a graceful package. She is the embodiment of a childhood fantasy brought to life – through incredible hard work and commitment.

JJ & Miko‘s pursuit of balletic perfection is encouraged by their tiger mother, and financed by their entrepreneur father. You will be wondering if both of these children are as jazzed about a future in the arts as their mother is.

Of all the dancers, Joan Sebastian seemed the least inspired by dance. His motivation tips strongly to the financial. For him, a good showing at the Grand Prix means the opportunity for “nice things, his own apartment” (as his mother back home in Colombia reminds him).

Least interesting was Rebecca. She is, to me, the stereotypical privileged, suburban, high-school dancer. She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s spoiled, she’s a bit grating…I couldn’t really get invested in her story. She is a lovely dancer, though.

As our main dancers make their way to the competition, we meet Gaya, a young friend of Aran’s. She is introduced as almost an afterthought, but quickly earns her place in the spotlight. Though her classical ballet is beautiful, she truly shines when performing modern works. I am generally not a fan of the disjointed, dissident contemporary dances, but Gaya’s performances are mesmerizing.

If you are a dance fan, do yourself a favor and check out the bonus features; the full-length performances of our competitors, and some additional dances including Gaya’s Cartoon Girl, Aran’s Mad Hatter.

A dance-centric film would generally suffer on my Word of Mouth scale, not everyone appreciates the arts, after all ;-). This documentary, however, is about dreams and the dedication and hard work that goes into achieving them. I think anyone in my circle will find this movie interesting – and perhaps inspiring. I’m giving it the full 5 of 5.


First Position Official Trailer


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Audience 87%

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The Conscientious Objector (2004)

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The Conscientious Objector

If Hollywood were to make a feature based on the heroics of Desmond Doss during World War II, most viewers would dismiss it as far-fetched nonsense. Terry L. Benedict’s documentary about Doss, “The Conscientious Objector”, illustrates how truth can often outdo fiction.
 
It’s hard to imagine a greater combination of morality, religious faith and courage than that which emerges in this story of an aging Virginian who received a Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman.

D has a great talent for finding small movies, indie gems and documentary gold. This week he found the compellingly told story of a Medal of Honor winner that NetFlix was streaming. When he put it on, I didn’t expect to be sucked in to the narrative. Boy was I wrong.

I found myself exclaiming “Wow” out loud, more than once. Truly a story that sounds like the stuff of a dime-store WWII paperback novel, told here by the men that actually lived through it.

If you want to know the specifics of the CMH citation, you can read it here, but I would recommend watching the film. So much more compelling to make the full journey with Doss from childhood through “outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty”.

A rare 5 of 5 on the Word of Mouth scale because I can’t imagine anyone in my circle who would not appreciate this well made flick.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics N/A; Audience 88%

Capturing The Friedmans (2003)

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Capturing The Friedmans

Capturing The Friedmans

I had heard a lot about this movie when it first came out and always meant to watch it. However, knowing the subject matter would be heavy and disturbing, I had never gotten around to it. When it came on satellite we tuned in – and climbed aboard a roller coaster.

The film propels you through the story without a firm foothold on the outcome – is he a monster? are they all? were they railroaded by the system? At various points you believe all those things and none of them. And at the end you are still left to wonder because this film does exactly what a documentary should do; it gives you all of the facts, but none of the answers. Those conclusions you must draw on your own.

I give it a rare 5 of 5.

From Amazon:

“Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and with over $3 million at the box office to date, Capturing The Friedmans is nothing short of the most riveting, provocative, and hotly debated films of the year. Despite their predilection for hamming it up in front of home-movie cameras, the Friedmans were a normal middle-class family living in the affluent New York suburb of Great Neck. One Thanksgiving, as the family gathers at home for a quiet holiday dinner, their front door explodes, splintered by a police battering ram. Officers rush into the house, accusing Arnold Friedman and his youngest son Jesse of hundreds of shocking crimes. The film follows their story from the public’s perspective and through unique real footage of the family in crisis, shot inside the Friedman house. As the police investigate, and the community reacts, the fabric of the family begins to disintegrate, revealing provocative questions about justice, family, and -ultimately – truth.”


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 97%; Audience 86%