Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Review: "HEARTS AND MINDS" Still Condemns with Power

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 61 of 2021 (No. 1799) by Leroy Douresseaux

Hearts and Minds (1974)
Running time:  112 minutes (1 hour, 52 minutes)
MPAA – R
DIRECTOR:  Peter Davis
PRODUCERS:  Peter Davis and Bert Schneider
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Richard Pearce
EDITORS:  Lynzee Klingman and Susan Martin
Academy Award winner

DOCUMENTARY – War, Politics

[The recent ignominious end of the “War in Afghanistan” (October 7, 2001 to August 30, 2021) got me to thinking about America's involvement in Vietnam decades ago because … you know … people never learn and they never change.  In military conflicts, if you run on up in there, you gonna eventually run on up outta there.  So anyway, I remembered the gold standard in theatrical Vietnam documentary films, Hearts and Minds, and it was time to see it again.]

Starring:  Captain Randy Floyd, Sgt. William Marshall, Lt. George Coker, George Bidault, Father Chan Tin, Daniel Ellsberg, David Emerson, Mary Cochran Emerson, Senator J.W. Fulbright, Sec. Clark Gifford, Corporal Stan Holder, Mui Duc Giang, Walt Rostow, Vu Duc Vinh, Vu Thi Hue, Vu Thri To, Gen. William Westmoreland, and Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson

Hearts and Minds is a 1974 documentary film directed by Peter Davis.  It is an antiwar movie that examines the Vietnam War (1955 to 1975) and confronts the United States' involvement in the civil war within the Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam.  The film's title, Hearts and Minds, is based on the following quote from U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson:  “the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.”  Hearts and Minds won the Oscar for “Best Documentary, Features” at the 47th Academy Awards, which were presented in 1975.

During the time of its release, critics of Hearts and Minds complained that the film was two one-sided, but from the beginning, the film's stated and obvious premise was that the United States should not have been involved Vietnam and in the strife between the governments of North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  Director Peter Davis recounts the history of the Vietnam War by examining the history and attitudes of the opposing sides of the war, and he does this by interviewing government officials and military leadership and personnel from both sides of conflict.  He also uses archival news footage, specifically featuring the U.S. Presidents whose actions started, sustained, and/or exacerbated the conflict and violence that marked the Vietnam War.

It is in that way that Davis presents what I see as the film's key theme:  American attitudes and goals were the reason that a Vietnamese civil war became an American-driven Vietnam War.  After World War II, the leadership of the U.S., both government and military, decided to make the world in its image.  American's imperial ambitions had been long-simmering, seeing a number of nations as rivals or obstacles, especially the Soviet Union and China, the faces of “international communism.”  Such imperialism found a proxy war in the struggle between communist North Vietnamese and its South Vietnamese allies, the Viet Cong,against South Vietnam (or the State of Vietnam).

Hearts and Minds emphasizes how the the United States helped to create the bloody conflict with Vietnam and how it ultimately prolonged the struggle.  In interviews with such people as General William Westmoreland, the American commander of military operations in the Vietnam War during its peak period from 1964 to 1968, not only does the self-righteous militarism of the U.S. reveal itself, but also American' racist attitudes about the Vietnamese people.

This militarism and racism is also exemplified in another one of the film's interview subjects, American prison of war (POW), U.S. Navy pilot, Lt. George Coker.  The film includes footage of Coker making public speeches after his release from six-and-a-half years in North Vietnamese captivity.  Coker's racism and jingoism are repulsive, which, to me, are obviously the result of his upbringing (brainwashing) and military training.  However, I'm not sure that it was a good choice to include him in Hearts and Minds, as the film's detractors have used Coker's status as a POW to criticize the film as being “too one-sided” and anti-war propaganda.  One could always say that the attitudes Coker reveals in his return to the U.S. are, to some extent, the result of the degradation he experienced as a POW.

That aside, what makes Hearts and Minds one of the greatest American documentary films of all time (if not the greatest) is director Peter Davis' willingness to give voice to the Vietnamese people through interviews and film footage.  One of Hearts and Minds' most shocking and controversial sequences shows the funeral of a South Vietnamese soldier.  His grieving family includes a sobbing woman (his mother?) who has to be restrained from climbing into the grave after his coffin is lowered into the ground.  The cries of a grieving boy, perhaps his son, are like that of a wounded animal.  I first saw Hearts and Minds a few years ago on TV, and that scene stays with me, even as I write this.

Americans sometimes remember how many Americans died in the Vietnam War (over 58,000), but almost three-and-a-half million Vietnamese civilians and soldiers died during the war (according to numbers provided by Vietnam in 1995).  An example of the wanton death and destruction is personified in a North Vietnamese farmer who loses his eight-year-old daughter and his three-year-old son because of an American bombing campaign.  His anger and grief, especially at the death of his daughter who was killed while feeding pigs (all of which apparently lived), encapsulates the wrongness of American involvement in Vietnam.

Two other interviews of American servicemen stand out to me.  First, Sgt. William Marshall, an African-American from Detroit, offers a bit of levity in the film by the way in which he describes his experiences.  However, he also condemns Americans, demanding that they witness in his war injuries a guilt from which we may not turn away.

The other is Hearts and Minds' concluding interview, which features US Vietnam veteran, U.S. Navy pilot, Captain Randy Floyd.  One of his statements summons up the feckless relationship that Americans have with their militarist and imperialist government.  Floyd says, “We've all tried very hard to escape what we have learned in Vietnam.  I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy makers exhibited.”

With those words, Hearts and Minds makes itself both timely and timeless, although the American “Global War on Terror” of the twenty-first century also helped to keep this film timely.  It is left up to academics, film historians, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' (AMPAS) “Academy Film Archive,” and the “National Film Registry” to save Hearts and Minds from being entirely forgotten.  Still, we movie fans, or at least some us, must make an effort to bring Hearts and Minds back into prominence.  America has need of this work of art and of this lesson in history.

10 of 10

Sunday, October 17, 2021


NOTES:
1975 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win for “Best Documentary, Features” (Peter Davis and Bert Schneider)

1975 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Documentary Film”

2018 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  “National Film Registry”



The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Monday, February 1, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION"

[Stanley Nelson Jr. is an acclaimed and multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker (The Murder of Emmett Till, Freedom Riders).  Instead of only relying on academic and official history for his 2016 film, Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution, Nelson fashions history from the many stories of many of the individuals involved with the Black Panthers.  When these people are onscreen, that is when this Emmy-winning documentary is at its best, and that is why I think Nelson's film would be even more illuminating as a television series.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 4 of 2021 (No. 1742) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)
Running time:  114 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes)
Rating: Not rated by the MPAA
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Stanley Nelson
PRODUCERS:  Laurens Grant and Stanley Nelson
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Antonio Rossi, Rick Butler, Allen Moore, and Clift Charles
EDITOR:  Aljernon Tunsil

DOCUMENTARY – Race, Politics

Starring:  Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver, Flores Forbes, Emory Douglas, Mike Gray, Jeff Haas, Erika Huggins, Phyllis Jackson, Jamal Joseph, Akua Njeri, Donna Murch, and Marvin X

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is a 2015 documentary film from writer-director Stanley Nelson.  The film uses archival footage and interviews of surviving Panthers and law enforcement officials to chronicle the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, one of the most controversial and captivating organizations of the 20th century.  The filmed premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and later received a limited theatrical release in September of that same year.

Originally called the “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense,” the Black Panther Party (also known as the  BPP or “Black Panthers”) was a revolutionary Black organization that was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California.  Considered by some to be a “Black nationalist and socialist organization,” the Black Panthers core practice was to monitor behavior of police officers against Black people and to challenge police brutality in Oakland.  The group also created  a number of community social programs, the best known being the “Free Breakfast for Children Programs” and community health clinics.  The group had chapters in several cities and municipalities in the United States and also an international chapter that operated in the country of Algeria for three years.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution provides a broad overview of the BPP, while specifically focusing on key moments and occurrence's in the group's history.  One of those moments concerns J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and his extensive program to destroy the Panthers.  This program (COINTELPRO) included police harassment, infiltration of BPP membership by FBI informants, and surveillance and tactics to discredit and criminalize the Panthers.

I think what best makes The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution successfully work as a documentary film are the interviews.  There is something about hearing the words of former Panther members; law enforcement that had interaction with the BPP; journalists and reporters who covered them; and historians who continue to study them that brings this documentary's story to life.

Some of the best known Panthers:  Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Fred Hampton are seen only in archival footage because they are no longer living.  [Chicago police killed Hampton in what is considered an assassination by many former Panthers and people who study the BPP.]  Another famous Panther, Bobby Seale, is still living, but apparently did not participate in this film.  This archival footage is informative, but I did not take to it the way I did the interviews.

The interviews of living subjects turns The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution into a kind of oral history.  When oral storytelling is told by someone who is good at it or really has a sense of the story he or she is telling, it brings history and even myths to life, perhaps, even giving them a new life.  At the beginning of this documentary, someone says that the history of the Panthers is unique to individual members, because that history reflects an individual's experience as a member of the BPP – what he or she saw being inside the BPP.  The oral history and interview aspect of this documentary exemplifies that.

I think The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is the first step to getting a deeper understanding of the Black Panther Party.  The next thing to do is to make available each history or her-story of BPP members.  That is the flaw in this documentary.  Sometimes, it approaches the sweep of history by sweeping past a lot of it – perhaps, understandably for practical reasons.

Still, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution reveals that the story of the BPP is not simply one of Black militants posturing with guns or acting like criminals.  It is more intimate and complex, made of many stories, not just one history.  This documentary is smart enough to recognize that.

8 of 10
A

Thursday, September 29, 2016


NOTES:
2016 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Documentary” (Stanley Nelson-Director)

2016 Image Awards:  1 win: “Outstanding Documentary (Film)”

2016 Primetime Emmy Awards:  1 win: “Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking” (Stanley Nelson-produced by, Laurens Grant-produced by, Sally Jo Fifer-executive producer, Lois Vossen-executive producer, and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)


The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Review: "Bush's Brain" Also a Karl Rove Movie

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 51 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Bush’s Brain (2004)
Running time:  80 minutes (1 hour, 10 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for brief strong language
PRODUCERS/DIRECTORS:  Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob
WRITERS:  James C. Moore and Wayne Slater (based upon their book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Joseph Mealey
EDITOR:  Tom Siiter

DOCUMENTARY

Starring:  Jacques Vroom (narrator), James C. Moore, Wayne Slater, Max Cleland, Richard Edgeworth, Bill Miller, Molly Ivins, Richard Leiby, Dave McNeely, and Glenn Smith

Bush's Brain is a 2004 political documentary film from writer-directors, Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob.  The film is based on the 2003 nonfiction book, Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential, from writers James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, who adapted their book for this film.  The film received a limited theatrical release on December 31, 2004, before becoming available on DVD in 2005.

Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob's 2004 documentary, Bush’s Brain, takes a hard look at Karl RovePresident George W. Bush’s closest advisor, Rove has almost single-handedly shaped the policies of our nation under President Bush.  Rove has perhaps been the leading mind behind the “Republican revolution” since the mid-1990’s, and he has certainly changed the way the Republican Party runs its campaigns both nationally and locally.

However, Rove’s extremely close relationship to President Bush (who has called Rove his “boy genius”) has raised a question that disturbs some Americans, particularly those on the left of the political spectrum: Who really runs this country?  Is Bush an hand puppet and Rove the hand, or to put it nicely, is Bush a not too bright a mouthpiece for Rove’s political agenda?

Bush’s Brain features interviews with a number of journalists, reporters, and political pundits – many from Rove’s former base of operations, Texas.   A few of Rove’s former colleagues and opponents also weigh in on the man, and the directors also include much archival footage and material of Rove – who declined to be part of this film.

While Bush’s Brain does explore Rove’s political journey to the top of the heap as the presidential advisor (mostly through interviews of people who have worked for and against him), the film is soft on coverage of Rove’s part in the rise of George W. Bush from a man who frequently bankrupted the companies he began as a young businessman to a two-term governor of Texas and a two-term President of the United States.

This film, at 80 minutes, is probably about 40 minutes too short.  In order for Bush’s Brain to really explore Rove and his influence on President Bush, the film not only had to talk about the controversial 2000 Presidential elections, but also Rove’s influence on policy during Bush’s first term.  The film actually spends a little time on the Iraq War – not enough, but there is a lot more to Bush’s first term than a war.  Quite a bit of domestic policy changed – some of it at the behest of Bush’s religious supporters, some of it for corporate donors, and others for individual wealthy supporters.  Much of that likely had Rove’s fingerprints on it.

This film’s obsession with Iraq (which it shares with other film and TV about Bush) overshadows the social and political changes that the country has undergone since George W. Bush became President.  Rove’s fingerprints are also all over that.  Perhaps, the next Bush’s Brain could turn away from war and Rove’s alleged dirty tricks election campaigning and take a deeper look at national policy – post election scandal.  Still, what is here is quite good.  The talking heads that directors Mealy and Shoob parade before us are intelligent, engaging, and have some damn good Rove stories to tell – some sad and others quite pitiful and tragic.

7 of 10
B+

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Re-edited: Friday, June 21, 2019


The text is copyright © 2019 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review: "Jodorowsky's Dune" Documents the Beautiful Madness of an Iconoclast

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 2 (of 2016) by Leroy Douresseaux

[A version of this review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
Running time:  90 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for some violent and sexual images and drug references
DIRECTOR:  Frank Pavich
PRODUCERS:  Frank Pavich, Stephen Scarlata, Travis Stevens
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  David Cavallo
EDITORS:  Paul Docherty and Alex Ricciardi
COMPOSER:  Kurt Stenzel

DOCUMENTARY – History, Film, Art

Starring:  Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Devin Faraci, Chris Foss, Jean-Paul Gibon, H.R. Giger, Gary Kurtz, Drew McWeeney, Diane O’Bannon, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Richard Stanley

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a 2013 American documentary film from director Frank Pavich.  This movie is the story of film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ambitious plans to adapt the seminal science fiction novel, Dune, into a film during the mid-1970s.

Dune is an epic science fiction novel that was originally serialized in the American science fiction magazine, Analog, over a two year period, from 1963 to 1965.  Chilton Books published Dune as a hardcover in 1965.  It won the first Nebula Award for “Best Novel” in 1965, and it shared the Hugo Award for “Best Novel” in 1966 (with …And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny).

In 1971, film producer Arthur P. Jacobs optioned the film rights to Dune, but died before he could develop a film.  In 1974, a French consortium purchased Dune’s film rights from Jacobs’ production company.  Alejandro Jodorowsky was set to direct the film.

Jodorowsky was born in Chile in 1929.  At a young age, he began writing poetry and later also became involved in theater.  He moved to France in 1959, where he continued to work in theater and also made his first short film.  He moved to Mexico and continued his work in avant-garde theater, but he later gained tremendous fame and notoriety for his work in film, beginning with Fando y Lis.  His fame grew with the midnight movie cult classic, El Topo (1970), and with Holy Mountain (1973).

In 1974, Jodorowsky began writing the massive script that would be his adaptation of Dune.  He approached progressive rock (prog rock) groups like Pink Floyd and Magma to provide the film score.  He sought out Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger, among others, to act in the film.  Jodorowsky hired French comic book artist Jean Giraud a/k/a Moebius (1938 to 2012) to draw the film’s storyboards and to provide concept art and designs.  He hired British science fiction book cover artist, Chris Foss, to design space ships for the film, and Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger (February 5, 1940 to May 12, 2014), to provide conceptual art and designs.

After producing a massive hardcover book containing the script, the storyboards, and conceptual art, Jodorowsky and the film’s producers went to Hollywood, but were unable to convince any studio or anyone, for that matter, to finance the film.  Jodorowsky’s project ultimately failed, but Jodorowsky’s Dune became a film legend.

Director Frank Pavich interviews Alejandro Jodorowsky and the people who were his collaborators on the stalled Dune project to tell the story that is Jodorowsky’s Dune.  The interview subjects include Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis, who was going to play Dune’s lead character, Paul Atreides.  Producers Michel Seydoux and Jean-Paul Gibon talk about the overall process of trying to create such a large-scaled film.

Film critics Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeney and film directors Nicolas Winding Refn and Richard Stanley talk about the project from a broader standpoint of art and of making movies in Hollywood.  They also comment on how this failure still managed to be potent and influential.  Artist Chris Foss and H.R. Giger talk about the sense of freedom that Jodorowsky gave them, and how he encouraged their imagination.

When a director makes a documentary about a person, that person must be a fascinating or compelling figure.  Alejandro Jodorowsky is both, and really, Jodorowsky’s Dune is as much about Jodorowsky as it is about his attempt to film Dune, if not more so.  Jodorowsky might be insane or be a madman, but he is an artist and a cinematic visionary.  Best of all, he wants to make the people who work with him reach for the genius inside themselves.  That is the kind of guy around which a director can build a great or, at least, exceptional feature film.

The other interview subjects, for the most part, are guys that I could listen to for hours as they talk about film, art, work, and life.  However, the absence of Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, is conspicuous.  Herbert died in 1986, and I can’t believe that there is no video or audio of him commenting on Jodorowsky’s attempt to make a film out of his epic novel.  Dan O’Bannon, whom Jodorowsky hired to produce the special effects for Dune, died in 2009, but this documentary features audio of him talking about working on Dune.  His widow, Diane O’Bannon, is featured in an on-camera interview in this film.

The lack of Frank Herbert in this film is a minor complaint.  Jodorowsky’s Dune is one of the best documentary films that I have ever scene.  It inspires me to be creative, and it makes me wish I could find a way to get Jodorowsky’s Dune produced.  I really want to see that movie.  Maybe, if it had been made, his Dune would have been an overblown epic, but just listening to Jodorowsky makes me believe that the film is a lost masterpiece, although it doesn’t exist.  Perhaps, the magic that director Frank Pavich performs in Jodorowsky’s Dune make me want to believe that this film project is still alive... somewhere.

9 of 10
A+

Monday, November 2, 2015


NOTES:
2013 Cannes Film Festival:  1 nomination: “Golden Camera” (Frank Pavich)

The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: "Citizenfour" Records the Revolution

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

[A version of the review first appeared on Patreon.]

Citizenfour (2014)
Running time:  114 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes)
MPAA – R
DIRECTOR:  Laura Poitras
PRODUCERS:  Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras, and Dirk Wilutzky
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Kirsten Johnson, Trevor Paglen, Laura Poitras, and Katy Scoggin
EDITOR:  Mathilde Bonnefoy
Academy Award winner

DOCUMENTARY – Politics, Society

Starring:  Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Ewan MacAskill, Jeremy Scahill, Jonathan Man, and Julian Assange with Laura Poitras and Barack Obama (archive)

Citizenfour (stylized as CITIZENFOUR) is a 2014 documentary film from director Laura Poitras.  The film focuses on Edward Snowden, who provided the information that revealed the illegal wiretapping of American citizens' communications by American intelligence agencies.  Citizenfour won the Oscar for “Best Documentary Feature” at the 87th Academy Awards (February 22, 2015).  Oscar-winning director, Steven Soderbergh, is one of this film's executive producers.

Citizenfour's narrative begins in January 2013 when documentarian Laura Poitras receives an encrypted email from an unknown person who calls himself “Citizenfour.”  He offers her inside information about the illegal wiretapping practices of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies.  The NSA was recording and observing the phone calls of American citizens beyond the scope of what the U.S. Congress had authorized.

In June 2013, accompanied by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter, Ewen MacAskill, Poitras travels to Hong Kong for the first meeting with Citizenfour, who identifies himself as Edward Snowden.  Edward Joseph Snowden works for the CIA via his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, a job that gives him access to highly sensitive and classified information about the wiretapping practices of the NSA, both in the U.S. and abroad.

On Monday, June 3, 2013, Poitras uses her camera to begin filming what would be a four-day interview, in which Snowden reveals to Greenwald and MacAskill the details of domestic surveillance of American citizens.  When Snowden's information becomes “breaking news” around the world, however, none of the participants in this interview feel safe in The Mira, the Hong Kong hotel where Snowden is staying.

Although it chronicles a momentous time in American history, Citizenfour is strangely quiet, even intimate.  This movie is not an all-encompassing survey of domestic surveillance and spying; it is the story of the first quiet days and then, frantic weeks when Snowden whispered the sour nothings that fully revealed the deceitful face of the American government.  It is as if Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald said to us that we, the people of the United States, should finally, finally and really pay attention to that man behind the curtain.

Even if one is familiar with Edward Snowden and the furious sound of his whistle-blowing, Citizenfour still feels shocking.  Perhaps, this is because Poitras is recording the revelations and the resulting media and political fallout in real time.  This immediacy makes paranoia seem like a more than sensible and reasonable state of mind for any American and even for the rest of the world.

Citizenfour is one of the best films of the year (2014), and it is probably the most important film of the year.  Poitras proves that the documentary and the non-fiction film narrative are more important than ever.

9 of 10
A+

NOTES:
2015 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win “Best Documentary, Feature” (Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, and Dirk Wilutzky)

2015 BAFTA Awards:  1 win “Best Documentary” (Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, and Dirk Wilutzky)

Monday, September 7, 2015


The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: "The House I Live In" Remains a Timely Documentary

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 42 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

[A version of this review first appeared on Patreon.]

The House I Live In (2012)
Running time:  108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
Not rated by the MPAA
DIRECTOR:  Eugene Jarecki
WRITERS:  Eugene Jarecki with Christopher St. John (additional writing)
PRODUCERS:  Sam Cullman and Christopher St. John
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Sam Cullman (D.o.P.) and Derek Hallquist (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Paul Frost
COMPOSER:  Robert Miller

DOCUMENTARY – Race, Economics, Politics, Society

Starring:  Eugene Jarecki, Nannie Jeter, David Simon, Michelle Alexander, Charles Bowden, The Honorable Mark W. Bennett, Mike Carpenter, Charles Ogletree, Carl Hart, Shanequa Bennett, Kevin Ott, Anthony Johnson, Maurice Haltiwanger, and Richard Miller

The House I Live In is a 2012 documentary from director Eugene Jarecki.  The film chronicles the War on Drugs in the United States.  Danny Glover, John Legend, Brad Pitt, and Russell Simmons are among the film's executive producers.

Eugene Jarecki's examination of the War on Drugs spring from a deeply personal place.  He takes notice of how drugs have affected Nannie Jeter and her family.  Ms. Jeter was the housekeeper in the Jarecki home, and she was the caretaker of the Jarecki children, especially of Eugene.

From there, The House I Live In shines a harsh light on “War on Drugs” in the United States and both its immediate and long-term impact on American society, especially at the bottom rungs of society where the working class, poor, and destitute reside.  Jarecki's film tells the stories of dealers, of police officers and other law-enforcement officials, of prison inmates, and of other people affected by this decades-old crusade against the sale and use of illegal narcotics.  Through these stories, the film reveals the profound human rights implications of America's “War on Drugs.”

Some documentary films are packed with information via interviews, archival information, omniscient voice overs (usually provided by the director or by a celebrity, usually an actor).  Some films have to be packed with information, simply because their subject matter is complex or because the subject is an event or program that has been occurring over several decades.

The House I Live In tackles subject matter that is both complicated and that is long ongoing.  When President Richard Nixon began what we know as the “War on Drugs” in 1971, people probably thought of it as simply “the war of drugs,” no capital letters.  At some point, however, the war of drugs became the “War on Drugs,” with capital letters.  This “war” was all-encompassing, becoming the biggest fight against crime in the U.S.  According to Jarecki, the country has spent over one trillion dollars on the War on Drugs, with something like 45 million people have been convicted of drug-related crimes.

More than anything, families and communities have been affected, and by affected, I mean damaged, ruined, and even destroyed.  That is where The House I Live In turns darker and becomes a little more complicated and controversial.  I don't want to spoil the film for those who have not seen it (and please, do see it), but this documentary flat out states that the beginnings of the “War on Drugs” goes back farther than many people realize and that the early battlefronts usually involved various minority and outsider groups.  What people did not realize in the past was that eventually this war would ensnare those who never thought their little tribes would be the focus of a state-sanctioned, destructive crusade.

As with many such documentaries, Jarecki includes interviews with numerous people who study or are involved directly or indirectly in the War on Drugs.  I suggest that viewers pay special attention to Michelle Alexander, a civil rights litigator and the author of the non-fiction book, The New Jim Crow.  She is one of most important voices in matters of civil rights and of American history concerning the lives and the oppression of slaves and their African-American descendants.

Once again, Eugene Jarecki has delved into the dark side of official America, the powers-that-be, as he did in his documentary film, Why We FightThe House I Live In is one of those documentaries that should be considered an educational film, a must-see for all middle and high school students across the country.  It wouldn't hurt for the general public to see this film; in fact, it might help the country.  The House I Live In is an engrossing, engaging documentary film that refuses to let you turn away, and most importantly, it is truly an “important film.”

9 of 10
A+

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Documentary "Dirty Wars" Sheds Light on America's Covert Wars

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 46 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Dirty Wars (2013)
Running time:  87 minutes (1 hour, 27 minutes)
Not rated by the MPAA
DIRECTOR:  Rick Rowley
WRITERS:  David Riker and Jeremy Scahill
PRODUCERS:  Anthony Arnove, Brenda Coughlin, and Jeremy Scahill
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Rick Rowley
EDITORS:  David Riker and Rick Rowley
COMPOSER:  David Harrington
Academy Award nominee

DOCUMENTARY – War

Starring:  Jeremy Scahill, Hugh Shelton, Matthew Hoh, Andrew Exum, Malcolm Nance, Sheikh Saleh Bin Fareed, Abdulrahman Barman, and Senator Ron Wyden

Dirty Wars is a 2013 documentary film directed by Rick Rowley and written by Jeremy Scahill and David Riker.  The film accompanies Scahill's 2013 book, Dirty Wars: The World is a BattlefieldDirty Wars the movie follows Scahill as he tries to find the hidden truth behind America's ever-expanding covert wars.

Jeremy Scahill is an investigative journalist, perhaps best known for his book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.  He is also the founding editor of the online news publication, The Intercept.

Dirty Wars begins with Scahill's investigation of a series of night raids in the country of Afghanistan, and one particular raid captures his attention.  It occurs in Gardez (the capital of the Paktai province) on February 12, 2010, in which five people, including two pregnant women, are killed by armed men.

Scahill's investigation leads him to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is charged with identifying and eliminating terror cells worldwide.  Scahill learns that JSOC's mission is expanding to more countries and includes a constantly growing “kill list.”

Dirty Wars provides an overview of America's covert wars, beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.  Scahill, who narrates and stars in the film, presents a gripping premise, but his subject or topic is too big and too broad for a film that does not last an hour-and-a-half.  Scahill names specific players, points to specific victims, and seems to be traveling back and forth over half the world.  Still, everything seems a bit vague, as if some kind of context is missing.

Perhaps, Scahill should have focused on fewer victims and targeted specific American politicians and players in the covert wars for longer on-camera interviews.  I think that what is on-screen in Dirty Wars is investigative journalism that is important for everyone to see, and not just Americans.  Scahill's story also makes for a riveting movie narrative.  The look on Scahill's face during an appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher” is priceless and says a lot about the sorry state of American political commentary.  Dirty Wars is, however, a small movie that is a bit too sweeping in its scope.

7 of 10
B+

Thursday, October 9, 2014


NOTES:
2014 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Documentary, Features” (Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill)

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: "The Act of Killing" Delves into Mass Murder and Mass Murderers

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Act of Killing (2012)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  Denmark/Norway/UK
Running time:  122 minutes (2 hours, 2 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Joshua Oppenheimer with Christine Cynn and Anonymous
PRODUCERS:  Christine Cynn, Anne Kohncke,Signe Byrge Sorense, Joram ten Brink, Michael Uwemedimo, and Anonymous
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Carlos Arango De Montis, Lars Skree, and Anonymous
EDITORS:  Niels Pagh Andersen, Erik Andersson, Charlotte Munch Bengtsen, Ariadna Fatjo-Vilas Mestre, Janus Billeskov Jansen, and Mariko Montpetit
Academy Award nominee

DOCUMENTARY – History

Starring:  Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Ibrahim Sinik, Yapto Soerjosomarno, Adi Zulkadry, Soaduon Siregar, and Sakhyan Asmara

The Act of Killing is a 2012 documentary film from director Joshua Oppenheimer.  A co-production of Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom, the film concerns the Indonesian killings of 1965-66.  In The Act of Killing,  former Indonesian death-squad leaders reenact the mass-killings in which they participated by imitating their favorite Hollywood films.  Acclaimed filmmakers, Werner Herzog and Oscar-winner Errol Morris, are executive producers of this film.

The genesis of the story told by The Act of Killing began in Indonesia in October 1965.  There is an intra-military dispute that leads to a failed coup.  The army overthrows the government.  It then uses paramilitaries and gangsters to form death squads to lead an anti-communist purge of Indonesia.  Anyone opposed to the new government could be accused of being a communist, and that included union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and ethnic Chinese (according the the film's foreword).

From 1965 to 1966, death squads killed people, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  The Act of Killing's director, Joshua Oppenheimer, places the number of deaths between one to three million people.  An accurate count of the actual number of deaths may never be known.

Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn began researching the Indonesian killings of 1965-66 over a decade ago.  Eventually, interviews Oppenheimer conducted led him to Anwar Congo, who had been a “movie theater gangster,” selling black market movie theater tickets to popular Hollywood films showing in Indonesia.  Congo and his partner, Adi Zulkadry, were promoted from gangsters to leaders of one of the most powerful death squads in the North Sumatra region of Indonesia.

Invited by Oppenheimer, Congo and his friends, especially a man named Herman Koto, recount and reenact their experiences killing people for the cameras.  The idea is to turn their memories into a movie in which scenes of torture and murder mimic their favorite Hollywood films.  However, the more he recollects his murderous deeds, the more Anwar is haunted by nightmares and guilt.

The word “shocking” is overused, but The Act of Killing is shocking.  The matter-of-fact and nonchalant way in which the death squad killers recall their murderous work can be off-putting.  The film takes the concept of the banality of evil and makes it mind-numbing.  The Hollywood-style reenactments of interrogation, torture, and murder are a collision of the absurd and the god-awful that could lead the audience to eye-rolling... that is when they aren't being repulsed and infuriated.

The problem for The Act of Killing is that after an hour of watching, all these recollections of the acts of killing become tedious.  At just over two hours in length, The Act of Killing is about a half-hour too long.  Honestly, I can see why some people think of this as a great film.  I think it tells a hugely important story, and the result is harrowing and intense.  I think it is an exceptional film and an important document (as far as documentaries go), but is it truly great? ... not quite.

8 of 10
A

Friday, September 26, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


NOTES:
2014 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Documentary, Features” (Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen)

2014 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Documentary” (Joshua Oppenheimer); 1 nomination: “Best Film not in the English Language” (Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen)



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: "Bettie Page Reveals All" is as Good as Her Looks

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 25 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Bettie Page Reveals All (2012)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPAA – R for sexual content and graphic nudity throughout
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR:  Mark Mori
WRITER:  Doug Miller
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Grant Barbeito, Angel Barroeta, Doug Miller, and Jay Miracle
EDITORS:  Julie Chabot, Douglas Miller, and Jay Miracle

DOCUMENTARY – Biography and History

Starring:  Bettie Page, Hugh M. Hefner, Paula Klaw, Greg Theakston, Harry Lear, Art Arnsie, Olivia De Berardinis, Steve Brewster, and Richard Bann

Bettie Page Reveals All is a 2012 documentary film from director Mark Mori.  The film is the life story of the late Bettie Page (April 22, 1923 to December 11, 2008).  It also examines Page’s cultural influence.  Page was famous in the 1950s for her pin-up photos, and she is still often referred to as the “Queen of Pinups.”

Considered by fans and admirers as “the world’s greatest pinup model,” cult icon Bettie Page recounts the true story of her sometimes drama and strife-filled life.  It is a story that took place in front of the camera, as Page’s willingness to model for racy fetishistic photos earned her a huge following of admirers and of those who collected pin-up photography.  Page battled censorship, including a United States Senate investigation.  Along the way, Page helped launch the sexual revolution in the United States.

Bettie Page Reveals All is an adoring documentary in which Bettie Page tells all.  She only appears on screen in archival photos and film footage.  Director Mark Mori conducted an audio interview of Page, and he used that as the film’s voice-over narration through which Page tells her story.

Bettie Mae Page was an American model whose career began in 1950 when she met Jerry Tibbs, a police officer with an interest in photography.  Tibbs took pictures of Page and also put together her first pin-up portfolio.  Tibbs suggested that Page style her hair with bangs in front, and those bangs soon became an integral part of her distinctive look.

Through “camera clubs,” Page entered the field of “glamour photography” and became a popular camera club model.  Her lack of inhibition in posing made both her name and image a hit in the erotic photography industry.  Images of Page soon appeared in men’s magazines such as Beauty Parade, Wink, and Titter, among others.

From 1952 through 1957, Page posed for photographer Irving Klaw and his sister, Paula Klaw.  The Klaws owned a mail-order business that sold photographs with pin-up and BDSM themes, and those photographs would also make Page the first famous bondage model.  Page continued to model and pose for other photographers, and attracted the attention of Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner.  Page was one of Playboy magazine’s earliest “Playmates of the Month” (“Miss January 1955”).

However, a Senate committee, an FBI interview, and an upsetting experience with a group of photographers seem to have led Page to retire from modeling and pin-up photography.  Her life out of the public eye was filled with bad relationships and divorce.  There were encounters with law enforcement officials that led to a stay in a mental institution.  Her conversion to evangelical Christianity also caused her some trouble.

Meanwhile, the Bettie Page that was an image in pin-up photographs retained a cult following.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, various book companies published books that collected pictures of Bettie.  At the same time, cartoonists, painters, and other artists began to use Bettie Page as an inspiration for their work and some even started painting images of Bettie Page.

Perhaps, the person that really launched the Bettie Page revival in the 1980s was cartoonist and illustrator, the late Dave Stevens.  In 1982, Stevens introduced his comic book character, “The Rocketeer,” in a backup feature in issues #2 and #3 of the comic book series, Pacific Comics.  Stevens gave his star, Cliff Second a/k/a The Rocketeer, a love interest based on Bettie Page.  The Rocketeer, which would eventually be adapted into a film by Walt Disney Pictures, is how I first learned of Bettie Page.

Bettie Page Reveals All is like an open letter from Page to her fans, but the film is also like a love letter from director Mark Mori to both Page and to her fans and admirers.  Bettie stated that she wanted fans to remember her as the Bettie Page in the pin-up photographs taken of her in the 1950s, so we do not need to see her as a senior citizen in this film.  Pin-up Bettie was one of the most beautiful women ever to be photographed.  Her unique looks, curvy figure (measurements: 36-24-37), and innate sexiness and attractiveness practically shine in those photographs.  Even seeing the photos via a movie cannot diminish their power to attract both male and female admirers.

This is my recommendation for Bettie Page Reveals All.  See it because it is a unique story about someone who truly deserves to be described as an icon.  Most of all, see Bettie Page Reveals All so that you can see a matchless example of true physical beauty and perfection in American popular culture.

8 of 10
A

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Amy Berg's "Deliver Us from Evil" is Powerful and Pointed

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 90 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
Running time:  103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
MPAA – (Not rated)
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Amy Berg
PRODUCERS:  Amy Berg, Matthew Cooke, Frank Donner, and Hermas Lassalle
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Jacob Kusk and Jens Schlosser
EDITOR:  Matthew Cooke
COMPOSERS:  Joseph Arthur and Mick Harvey
2007 Academy Award nominee

DOCUMENTARY – Religion and Crime

Starring:  Oliver O’Grady, Thomas Doyle, Jane Degroot, Case Degroot, Anne Jyono, Bob Jyono, Marie Jyono, and Nancy Sloan

Deliver Us from Evil is a 2006 Oscar-nominated documentary film from writer-director, Amy Berg.  The film focuses on a Catholic priest whom the Catholic Church relocated to various parishes around the United States for the better part of two decades in order to cover up his rape of dozens of children.

Berg has recently gained notoriety because of a documentary film upon which she is currently working.  The unnamed film reportedly contains sex abuse allegations made against director Bryan Singer.  Singer is best known for his work on 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film franchise and for the Oscar-winning film, The Usual Suspects.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, Catholic priest, Father Oliver O’Grady moved about Northern California molesting and raping countless children.  With her unsettling documentary, Deliver Us from Evil, director Amy Berg exposes the corruption inside the Catholic Church that allowed O’Grady to abuse children (and sometimes their parents).  Berg conducts a series of disturbing interviews with the pedophile priest that seek to provide a window for the viewer into the mind of this deeply troubled man, and Berg also mixes that with his victims’ stories.

Deliver Us from Evil attempts to construct a portrait of O’Grady as a spiritual leader who moved from church parish to church parish and gained the trust of various congregations, only to later betray so many of them by abusing their children.  Berg thoroughly investigates O’Grady’s past as a priest and speaks with many of his victims and parishioners, as well as participants involved in O’Grady’s legal cases.  Later in the film, she broadens her approach to take a look at clergy abuse of children in Boston, and she interviews people who believe that the problem of abuse is international and may have begun as early as the fourth century.  Experts on theology and law speak to the doctrinal, legal, and theological issues that establish an environment for abuse.

Although the film seems to lose focus the last 20 minutes or so, Deliver Us from Evil is as mesmerizing as any great film thriller or as riveting and frightening as any great horror movie, and it exposes evil that is widespread and even more destructive.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2007 Academy Awards:  1 nomination for “Best Documentary, Features” (Amy Berg and Frank Donner)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Updated:  Saturday, April 19, 2014


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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review: "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners" Reveals Angela Davis

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 74 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012)
Running time:  102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Shola Lynch
PRODUCERS:  Carole Lambert, Shola Lynch, Carine Ruszniewski, and Sidra Smith
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Sandi Sissel and Bradford Young
EDITORS:  Lewis Erskine and Marion Monnier with Sheila Shirazi
COMPOSER:  Vernon Reid

DOCUMENTARY – History, Politics, Crime

Starring:  Angela Davis, Leo Branton, Deacon Alexander, Bettina Apthecker, Judge Richard E. Arnason, Lowell Berman, Margaret Burnham, Earl Caldwell, Elisabeth Coleman, Fania Davis, Robert McCartin, Stephen Shames, and Doris Walker

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners is a 2012 documentary film from writer-director Shola Lynch.  The film focuses on a young college professor named Angela Davis and how her social activism led to her being implicated in a botched kidnapping and being placed on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.

The film opened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, and made its theatrical debut in the United States in April 2013.  Free Angela and All Political Prisoners gained some notice because director Shola Lynch received financial backing to make the movie from actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who later brought in her husband, actor Will Smith, and recording artist and businessman, Jay-Z, as additional backers.  Oscar-winning filmmaker, Paul Haggis, was also a supporter of the film.

Born January 26, 1944, Angela Yvonne Davis, best known as simply “Angela Davis,” is an American political activist, scholar, and author.  During the 1960s, Davis returned to the United States after spending time in Germany.  She became a nationally known activist and radical; she was also a leader in the Communist Party USA.  It was her close relations with the Black Panther Party (although she was never an official member of the party) and her work for prisoner rights that brought her to prominence and earned her notoriety in establishment circles.

On August 7, 1970, at the Marin County court house, a botched kidnapping attempt ended with a shootout that left four people, including a judge, dead.  Davis was a close associate of one of the dead kidnappers, so the state of California brought conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder charges against her – all of which were punishable by the death penalty.  Davis became a fugitive and, at the time, the third woman to have her name appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners gives an account of the kidnapping, Davis’ flight from arrest, the FBI manhunt for her, her arrest and imprisonment, and the subsequent trial.  The film also chronicles Angela Davis’ life as a youth, a young scholar, and as a controversial young college professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The pivotal events of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners begin with events that took place in 1969, when Davis was hired by UCLA.  Her time as a professor is not the film’s central narrative, although this is not to say that the film is dry and boring for a time.  However, this documentary does not really come to life, in a way that reflects the fiery young radical that Angela Davis was, until it starts to recount the various events related to Davis that occurred in 1972.

In early 1972, Caruthers, California dairy farmer, Rodger McAfee (or Roger McAfee), with the help of a wealthy businessman, paid just over $100,000 in bail money to get Davis released from the county jail, while she awaited trial for the Marin County courthouse incident.  For me, this is when Free Angela and All Political Prisoners becomes energized as a narrative.

The elements of which director Shola Lynch makes best use in her film are the interviews, both new and archival.  As by chance or by destiny, the subjects of the new interviews are either good storytellers or are exceptionally good at conveying information.  I could listen to many of these interviewees for hours.

Archival interviews and news footage are also illuminating.  Then California governor (and future President), Ronald Reagan, does not come out looking like a good guy in this film.  He comes across as a pro-segregation-pro apartheid type who believes that Black people are second class citizens who don’t have full citizenship, and that outspoken people of color deserve imprisonment or even death.  As for President Richard Nixon, the side of him that is an authoritarian, paranoid psycho is fully in evidence.

Simply because of the story it tells and the incidents it recounts, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners should be treated like an important book – available in every public library in the United States.  All African-American parents should make sure that their children see this film.  Even conservative Black people whose Uncle Tom tendencies might make them act as if what happened to Angela Davis never happens to black people should show this film to their children.

7 of 10
A-

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review: "Iraq in Fragments" Gives Voice to the Voiceless

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 80 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Iraq in Fragments (2006)
Running time:  94 minutes (1 hour, 34 minutes)
MPAA – Not rated
DIRECTOR:  James Longley
COMPOSER/CINEMATOGRAPHER:  James Longley
PRODUCERS:  James Longley and John Sinno
EDITORS:  James Longley, Billy McMillin, and Fiona Otway
2007 Academy Award nominee

DOCUMENTARY – War, Politics, Religion

Starring:  Mohammed Haithem and Suleiman Mahmoud

The subject of this movie review is Iraq in Fragments, a 2006 documentary from filmmaker James Longley.  The film offers stories from modern day Iraq, as told by Iraqis living in a time of war, occupation and ethnic tension.

Iraq in Fragments earned an Academy Award nomination.  The film also won 3 awards at the 2006 Sundance Festival:  “Cinematography Award,” “Directing Award,” and “Documentary Film Editing Award,” as well as being nominated for the “Grand Jury Price."

In his Oscar-nominated documentary, Iraq in Fragments, director James Longley presents a portrait of Iraq, a nation divided, one at war with itself after the United States invaded the country won Operation: Iraqi Freedom.  Through a collage of images and commentary from ordinary Iraqis, Longley illuminates post-invasion Iraq in three acts focusing on different regions of the country.

In Part One, entitled “Mohammed of Baghdad,” Mohammed, a fatherless 11-year old boy is apprenticed to a dictatorial garage owner, who is outraged that after several years of schooling Mohammed cannot read.  In, “Sadr’s South,” the followers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rally for regional elections, but also enforce Islamic law at the point of a gun, which some residents see as similar to things Saddam Hussein did and the American are doing.  In the final act, “Kurdish Spring,” a family of farmers welcome the American presence because it brings them a measure of freedom Kurdistan never knew, but one boy, Suleiman, will still see his dreams of an education dashed as he remains trapped in his elderly father’s meager occupations as a sheepherder and brick maker.

Through these interviews with Iraqis (although neither his nor his translators’ voices are ever heard), Longley, via words and images, captures the discord in the war-torn country – both in the abstract and in the literal that give the effects of war, political unrest, religious feuds deeper meaning.  In this way, Longley helps the audience to understand how living in uncertainty and deepening poverty drags on the people physically and spiritually.

Sometimes, the film seems to hunger for a historical context (especially when an Iraqi subject mentions distant historical events), and the near-absence of Americans in this documentary is noticeable.  That doesn’t really hurt Iraq in Fragment, for it remains a riveting film in which the images and subjects stick with you in an insistent fashion.  Besides, with this documentary, Longley forces us (at least the ones who do bother to see Iraq in Fragments) to do something more Americans should – see things from the ordinary Iraqi’s perspective.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2007 Academy Awards:  1 nomination for “Best Documentary, Features,” (James Longley and John Sinno)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Updated, Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: Morgan Spurlock Made a Star Turn in "Super Size Me"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 195 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Super Size Me (2004)
Running time:  96 minutes (1 hour, 36 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for language, sex and drug references, and a graphic medical procedure
PRODUCER/WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Morgan Spurlock
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Scott Ambrozy
EDITORS:  Stela Georgieva and Julie Bob Lombardi
Academy Award nominee

DOCUMENTARY - Food

Starring:  Morgan Spurlock, Bridget Bennett, Dr.Lisa Ganjhu, Dr. Daryl Isaacs, Alexandra Jamieson, and Dr. Stephen Siegel

Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me dips into a controversial issue:  how much does the fast food industry contribute to America’s obesity “epidemic?”  The question is a national debate that usually centers on the personal responsibility of consumers versus the omnipresent advertising of producers and marketers of convenience foods and of fast food chains, in particular McDonald’s.

In the Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock is the star, writer, producer, and director.  He, as the lead character (and he is indeed that in this film), eats McDonald’s food products three times a day for 30 days.  The experiment is more like a dangerous stunt, but it sheds more light on an important matter.  Over the course of the film, we get to watch Spurlock’s body and mental fitness literally change as he eats more and more of the poisonous (but surprisingly tasty) slop that is McDonald’s food products.

McDonald’s is an obvious choice, being that they are the biggest fast food chain in the world.  Many people automatically associate the corporation’s name with the term “fast food,” and the corporation is a lightening rod for media attention, something a documentary sorely needs.  Truthfully, few people eat three meals a day at McDonald’s, but many people eat there at least once a day (to which I can personally attest to knowing some) or at least once a week, which many nutritionists consider too often.  However, by going overboard by eating McDonald’s so often, Spurlock makes his point.

Super Size Me isn’t anti-McDonald’s, so much as Spurlock is speaking against the overwhelming marketing presence of the giant corporations that spend over a billion dollars a year in advertising.  His argument is partly that if adults must exercise personal responsibility, don’t fast food companies have any responsibility in selling food they know to be (to put it mildly) unhealthy.

In the end, the most important thing is whether or not Super Size Me works as a documentary.  The film takes an irreverent look at both obesity and at one of the main causes of obesity, fast food chains.  However, the film is a little light on expert testimony.  For all the doctors and nutritionists that appeared, it would be better if Spurlock had interviewed more historians and specialists on the effects of advertising on both adults and children.

Still, Spurlock made a very entertaining, a very informative, and ultimately very convincing film.  He’s is a great lead, very open and giving to both the camera and audience, and that helps to sell his Super Size Me.  If he didn’t give a lot of hard science, he certainly gave a hard reminder about how bad it is to eat too much crappy food.  Super Size Me does that in an engaging, informative, and hilarious way; that counts for a lot.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2004 Academy Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Documentary, Features” (Morgan Spurlock)

Updated:  Friday, August 30, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: "Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin" Shames Us for Forgetting

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 59 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2003)
Running time:  84 minutes (1 hour, 24 minutes)
PRODUCERS/DIRECTORS:  Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Robert Shepard (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Rhonda Collins, Veronica Selver, and Gary Weimberg
MUSIC:  B. Quincy Griffin

DOCUMENTARY – History/LGBT/Civil Rights

I was recently searching Netflix, looking for a movie I could review in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (also known simply as the March on Washington).  I suddenly came across the name of a person involved in the American Civil Rights Movement of whom I had never heard.

That man is Bayard Rustin, and he turned out to be the perfect subject matter for this remembrance for several reasons.  One of them is that Rustin was the chief organizer (official title: Deputy Director) of the March on Washington (August 28, 1963), where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous and historic “I Have a Dream” speech.  The second reason is that there is an award-winning documentary about Bayard Rustin.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is a 2003 documentary film from the producing and directing team of Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer.  Brother Outsider was originally broadcast as an episode of the long-running PBS documentary series, “P.O.V.” – Season 15, Episode 9 (January 20, 2013).  The film was also shown at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, where it received a nomination for the festival’s “Grand Jury Prize Documentary” award.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin presents a broad overview of Rustin’s life.  Rustin was an American leader and activist in several social movements, including civil rights, gay rights, non-violence, and pacifism.  Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1912, and Brother Outsider follows his life from there.  West Chester is where Rustin began his life as an activist, when as a youth he protested Jim Crow laws.

The film chronicles Rustin’s arrival to Harlem, and his subsequent involvement in communism and later in the anti-war movement.  The film also recounts Rustin’s run-ins with the law enforcement officials over his activities and also how he was monitored by the FBI.  The film discusses Rustin’s life as an openly gay man, which got him into trouble, both with police and with his colleagues and contemporaries.  Of course, the film’s centerpiece is Rustin’s long involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, so the film covers the March on Washington.  There is also an examination of Rustin’s relationship with Dr. King and with his mentor, A. Philip Randolph.

Rustin’s friends, family, companions, and figures from the Civil Rights Movement speak on camera about Rustin.  That includes Civil Rights figures such as Eleanor Holmes Norton, Andrew Young, and actress Liv Ullmann.  The film uses a lot of archival footage, which includes film and video of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Strom Thurmond, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Robert F. Kennedy, and President Lyndon Johnson, among many.  Brother Outsider also includes a sequence from the 2001 HBO movie, Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright.

In a recent article for CNN.com, writer and CNN contributor LZ Granderson talks about Bayard Rustin’s marginalization in Civil Rights history, which Granderson attributes to homophobia among some African-Americans and in some segments of the black community.  Running through Brother Outsider is the question asking why Rustin remained in the background of the Civil Rights Movement, never really coming forward.  I don’t think the film ever directly answers that question.

Watching the film and understanding the pariah status that gay people had in the United States for the majority of Rustin’s life, one can understand that Granderson is likely right.  Rustin’s status or lack thereof in Civil Rights history has been affected by his being openly gay.  Rustin was both a “brother,” to many in the social movements in which he participated, but his sexual identity also made him an “outsider.”  For portraying this, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin won the GLAAD Media Award for “Outstanding Documentary” in 2004.  Rustin’s place in history is being restored.  On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin (who died in 1987) the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is essential, not only because it brings Rustin to light, but also because it is a good overview of the movements that preceded the Civil Rights Movement.  The film also draws attention to the figures that both influenced the movement before it began and also built the movement in its early days.  Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, as a documentary, is essential Civil Rights viewing.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
2004 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Black Reel Television: Best Original Program” (Public Broadcasting Service-PBS)

2004 Image Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding TV News, Talk or Information-Series or Special”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

http://rustin.org/

For the time being, LZ Granderson’s CNN.com column, “The man black history erased,” can be read (as long as the article remains posted) here or http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/21/opinion/granderson-rustin-erased

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog for syndication rights and fees.



Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: "The Original Kings of Comedy" - Remembering Bernie Mac

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 3 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
Running time:  115 minutes (1 hour, 55 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and sex related humor
DIRECTOR:  Spike Lee
PRODUCERS:  David Gale, Walter Latham, and Spike Lee
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Malik Sayeed
EDITOR:  Barry Alexander Brown
Image Award nominee

CONCERT/DOCUMENTARY

Starring:  Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac

The subject of this movie review is The Original Kings of Comedy, a 2000 concert film and documentary from director Spike Lee.  This stand-up comedy film featured Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac, who at the time, were probably the four major African-American stand-up comedians.

First, I must note that I liked half this movie – the half with Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer.  I like D.L. Hughley as a political and social commentator, but not so much as a stand-up comic.  I have mixed feelings about Steve Harvey, and I’ll leave it at that.

For two years in the late 90’s into early 2000, comedians Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac toured the United States in a comedy show called “The Original Kings of Comedy.”  Director Spike Lee (Malcolm X) captured a two-night performance by the “Kings” in Charlotte, North Carolina on digital film, which became the documentary/concert film, The Original Kings of Comedy.

All four of the performances have film and television backgrounds in addition to their stage work, but they are best known to and most liked by urban i.e. African-American audiences.  In fact, the huge success of the concert tour so surprised mainstream i.e. white news media that the tour was the subject of numerous stories.  Those writers expressed shock at how the Kings played to packed houses, but there wasn’t really a secret to their success.  Tickets prices were cheap (usually around 10 bucks), and tours of King’s were kind of geared toward the so-called urban audience are rare.  Some concert venues consider large gatherings of African-Americans a security risk and demand exorbitant insurance coverage from tour promoters.

I can only hope that the Charlotte shows were not indicative of the tour as a whole.  Much of the performances were thoroughly dry and not funny.  It’s hard to chose between who was worse - tour “host” Steve Harvey (of TV’s “The Steve Harvey Show”) or D.L. Hughley (of TV’s “The Hughleys”).  The audience seemed to like them.  Maybe it was a black thing, or perhaps a certain “class” of black thing – not so monolithic, after all, eh?

Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac were hilarious, especially Mac.  They are gifted both as comedians and storytellers, something that is important for all the Richard Pryor wannabees to remember.  Pryor just didn’t tell jokes; he told hilarious, often uproarious, stories.  Many of the profanity junkies that currently pass for comedians would do best to understand what made Pryor so funny and why he enormously crossed over to white audiences.  Cedric and Mac are funny storytellers, and their humor, laced with tales about black folks, actually reaches to a larger segment of the black population.  In fact, a lot of people from different backgrounds can relate to Bernie’s tales, which is why he has the most diverse work history as an entertainer of all the “Kings.”

Much of the comedy here deals with black culture, black folks, black people’s habits, black people who grew up in the 70’s versus young blacks of the 90’s, old school versus hip hop, and, of course white people.  And they deal with white people rather stiffly.  It’s telling that many of the white faces in the audience were not smiling.  Some of the barbs against white folks were mean, and mostly not funny.  When Redd Foxx, Pryor, and Eddie Murphy joked about whites, it was funny and dead on true.  Mac approaches their touch.  The rest of these guys act as if they’d never met a white person.

Lee covers the stage, the audience, and to a lesser extent, the backstage very well – just enough directing not to take away from the main show.  The performances don’t live up to the hype.  I will recommend this to people who want to see the work of a fine entertainer, and that’s Bernie Mac.

5 of 10
C+

NOTES:
2001 Image Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Motion Picture”

Updated:  Friday, August 09, 2013



Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Street Fight" is a Heavy Weight Political Documentary

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 222 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux


Street Fight (2005)
Running time: 82 minutes (1 hour, 22 minutes)
(Not rated by the MPAA)
PRODUCER/WRITER/DIRECTOR: Marshall Curry
EDITOR/CINEMATOGRAPHER: Marshall Curry
Academy Award nominee

DOCUMENTARY

Starring: Cory Booker and Sharpe James

The subject of this movie review is Street Fight, a 2005 documentary film from director Marshall Curry. The film received a best documentary film Oscar nomination and was also aired on the PBS series, P.O.V.

In 2002, documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry followed Cory Booker, a candidate for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, taking viewers behind the scenes in what turned out to be a cutthroat 2002 mayoral race. Booker, a Newark city councilman, was an Ivy League upstart who’d only won a single political race prior to his 2002 mayoral campaign – that of the city council seat he held at the time.

The incumbent Sharpe James was a four-term, old-timer who represented the old-fashioned political machine’s way of running a political campaign and managing a government. That old political machine will try to win by any means necessary. James was the undisputed king of New Jersey politics, and some called him a “king maker.” James was also not above using down-and-dirty tactics to win, and he was not above bringing forth race and skin color as divisive issues he could use to defeat his opponents.

Booker and James are both African-Americans, but Booker has a lighter skin complexion than James. James, who at the time of the film had been in politics for 32 years, was one of the politicians that enjoyed the first fruits of the hard fought Civil Rights battles. Booker, on the other hand, represented the new generation of black leaders born after the Civil Right movement. These young African-Americans want to bring new ideas to government, and race (skin color, ethnicity) is less of a factor in how they run their campaigns, manage government, and operate in the public arena. Just being one of the father’s of Civil Rights or being a first generation beneficiary of the movement doesn’t make one untouchable or above criticism from these young black leaders.

Such an attitude rankled supporters of Sharpe who saw Sharpe and his career as the epitome of the struggle for civil rights and what the movement wanted to achieve. So Booker, who wasn’t born in Newark (whereas James was) was seen as an outsider. James encouraged that sentiment and went so far as to suggest that Booker wasn’t black or, as a light-skinned Negro, not black enough. James also liked to accuse Booker of being Jewish (he’s not) and a lackey of right wing, white Republicans. Booker often struck back by pointing out Newark’s problems and how the city had languished under James’ stewardship.

Raising hard questions about American politics, race and racial identity, and democracy, Street Fight earned a 2006 Academy Award nomination (“Best Documentary, Features”) for its story of a bare-knuckles political race. Marshall Curry’s brilliant follows it all, letting his camera record something uniquely American and rarely shown to the country at large – an inner city political campaign in which two black candidates go after each other for blood. The film’s one flaw is that Curry deliberately avoided covering the issues and focused on the “street fight.” Curry has said in interviews that in the battle, in which both men went into the neighborhoods of Newark canvassing for votes and feting voters, he saw the true story. It’s debatable if issues such as poverty, gang violence, municipal construction, etc. weren’t as important.

Still, anyone who likes politics and documentaries will find that Street Fight is a gourmet meal and a lavish dessert in one.

9 of 10
A+

Thursday, October 26, 2006

NOTES:
2006 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Documentary, Features” (Marshall Curry)