Archive for Documentary

Blackfish (2013) – Review

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It’s Free Tilly argues the riveting documentary Blackfish, which chronicles the 40 year captivity of a Killer Whale named Tilikum. This specific mammal has been responsible for at least three deaths in the last twenty years. A host of Ex-Sea-World trainers and OSHA expert witnesses recount horrifying and often touching stories about captivity conditions and a lack of safety measures for trainers in the pools with these 5,000 lb. fish.

Centering on the brutal attack and mutilation of trainer Dawn Brancheau during a training session gone afoul with Tilikum, this doc points a charged finger at the moral principles and practices employed by Sea-World. By exploring the history and hardship endured by this mammal, it becomes clear that Tilly has suffered severe psychosis and is not fit to be used in public showings any longer. However as of present he can still be seen in daily shows at the Sea-World park in Florida.

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Room 237 (2013) – Review

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Room 237 is an exhaustive glimpse into multiple theories examining the text and subversive sub-text of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, The Shinning. Running nearly as long as the subject matter, this nearly 2 hour documentary is an undeniably appealing conversation starter for any cinema-head. Using a savvy mix of footage from not only the source film but all of Kubrick’s film works, Room 237 blends VFX shots to manipulate the audience and create an experience similar to viewing a Kubrick movie for the first time, captivating and confounding in equal measures.

The documentary is broken into nine points, by six different interviewees each waxing philosophical on the true meaning of nearly every aspect of Kubrick’s 1980 film. Depending on your own affiliation with the notorious filmmaker or the (in my opinion) disappointing horror flick, this thorough examination is either going to inspire the viewer to re-visit the original film or shake their heads in befuddlement, as when one theorist argues that the film is to be played backwards and forwards simultaneously. That among a few others are some of the more outlandish theories floating around this slick documentary that plays like a well-produced bit of fan fiction filmmaking.

My favorite segment is the discussion that The Shinning is just a thinly veiled metaphor for the faking of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It has long been rumored that Stanley Kubrick replicated the moon landing telecast from a soundstage. Vehemently denied by all involved, one conspiracy theorist provides a compelling argument that the film is littered with hints that Kubrick was attempting to come clean about the whole messy affair but knew the danger of exposing such a secret.

Room 237 won’t hold much interest to those who haven’t seen the subject film, and for those (like myself) on the fence about it, this documentary at least sheds light on possible layers that hide in the dense and nearly un-penetrable movie. Was it Kubrick’s intention to make a statement about genocide? or perhaps NASA? or even Nazi German in 1942? Or is The Shinning just a really dull horror flick? It’s your call, but Room 237 wants you to think about it, exhaustively.

4/5

Director: Rodney Ascher
Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns

Click Here!In 1944, 22-year-old Hannah Senesh parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe with a small group of Jewish volunteers from Palestine. Theirs was the only military rescue mission for Jews that occurred in World War II. Both devastating and inspiring, BLESSED IS THE MATCH offers an intimate portrait of a singularly talented, courageous and complex girl who believed that one person could be a flame that burns brightly in even the darkest hours.

Synopsis
Narrated by Academy Award® winner Joan Allen, the multi-award-winning BLESSED IS THE MATCH follows the remarkable journey of this young Hungarian poet and diarist, paratrooper and resistance fighter. Told through Hannah’s letters, diaries, and poems, her mother’s memoirs, and the recollections of those who knew and loved her (including two of her fellow parachutists), the film traces her life from her childhood in Budapest to her time in British-controlled Palestine& — where she was drawn by the Kibbutz Movement that sought to build an independent Jewish state — to her daring mission to rescue Jews in her native Hungary.

There is really no area of history that holds my attention more than World War II. Whether it’s a big-budget movie or TV series, I’m almost always ready to watch something about that war (and, truly, even just about that time period—it’s all fascinating to me). So when a documentary came along about not only World War II but also about a young Hungarian poet, my attention was doubly rapt. Being half-Hungarian, I’ve always been interested in anything anyone has to tell me about the country and the people from there; while this isn’t the most accurate representation of the times and people over there (the pure usage of English is a bit distracting…not unlike the Tom Cruise Valkyrie movie), it does a solid job for what it’s worth. I know it can’t be hyper-realistic, but hearing “Budapest” pronounced in the more westernized vernacular (as opposed to the more accurate “Budapesht”…although it was referred to as that as well in the documentary, so it was kind of dependent on who was talking at the time) was another thing that just didn’t completely sell the authenticity of this piece. Those elements were far from enough to really ruin the piece for me, but they were just little quirks that dug at me throughout it.

The documentary itself is a mixture of re-enactments as well as old interviews and whatnot. Not unlike an average History Channel documentary, Blessed is the Match takes a slightly less poignant look at the life of Hannah Senesh in that it seems to just run through the bullet points. Granted this wasn’t a biopic, but it was very much like the recent Amelia film with Hilary Swank—a lot of the more specific things that she was known for and less about the actual person. Of course that may have just been a limitation of Senesh’s history—the interview with her mother included in the film is from 1981, so it’s doubtful there was anyone readily available that could really speak about her character. Not that it doesn’t speak volumes through the actions that ultimately led to her death, but the documentary did seem intent to focus solely in on one element of her life and little else. There are interviews with those she jumped with of course, which tell a lot about her character, but these instances just still didn’t really seem to paint a detailed enough picture. Perhaps I was expecting some kind of in-depth A&E biography or something; the film did do justice to her character, but while there was a lot of her character that was talked about, it was all very brief. Granted it was under an hour and a half long, so there was limited time to dwell on anything for any extended period of time, I suppose.

Those qualms with the film are really not enough to keep from watching it though; it may sound like a lot of complaints on my part, but it really is a truly amazing and moving story. It’s just bewilders me that so many stories can possibly come from the World War II-era—you’d think that stories like these would have been something that would be taught in basic high school classes. It’s definitely better late than never when it comes to these things and it’s certainly an amazing thing that docuramafilms has been able to do by spreading these lesser known documentaries around—I’ve learned more from these things than I have from any other medium in years.

This is definitely a documentary that is well worth watching, even if the narration by Joan Allen can get a bit melodramatic and drone-like at times. The music too can become a bit much, but again, these are just minor elements that ultimately are just tiny hindrances to an otherwise amazing story. While this definitely isn’t a perfect documentary in selling the whole authenticity of its tale, it is nonetheless a story that will make you realize just how amazing some of the lesser heard of tales from the war can be. Recommended.

The DVD
The documentary arrives in a standard DVD amaray case with an insert advertising other docurama films and nothing else. Video and audio are a fine mixture, but seeing as this is a collection of re-created sequences as well as very old interviews, they aren’t going to be the finest example of purity. There is definitely some dirt and noise throughout the documentary, but overall the A/V transfer is clean enough not to hinder your enjoyment of it (which is really all that matters).

Extras include:

Deleted Scenes (5 minutes)
Photo Gallery (2 minutes)
Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes)
Filmaker Bio
Docurama Trailers (four total)

Extras, as you can see, are brief, but the deleted scenes are worth watching as they include some new photos and interviews that actually expand on who she was as a person a bit more, which is something I felt was lacking in the film. Unfortunately they’re all very brief…but still, better than nothing.

Blessed is the Match arrives on DVD on April 13th.

“Herb & Dorothy” DVD Review

Click Here!Imagine having an eye for art so keen that you know who and what is going to be a future artist that is “going” somewhere. Such is (often, at least) the cast of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a married couple in New York who have amassed a large collection of modern/postmodern art that is all contained within their one bedroom New York apartment. Although they’re from modest working backgrounds, the Vogel’s had purchased pieces from the likes of Warhol and Tuttle, just to name a few, over the years. And just to be clear on the modest backgrounds: Herb was a postal worker and Dorothy was a librarian.

Synopsis
HERB & DOROTHY tells the extraordinary story of a postal clerk and a librarian who managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means. In the early 1960s, when very little attention was paid to Minimalist and Conceptual Art, the Vogel’s quietly began purchasing the works of unknown artists. Devoting all of Herb’s salary to purchase art they liked, they collected guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and it had to be small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Within these limitations, they proved themselves curatorial visionaries; most of those they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists, including Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Lynda Benglis, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi, and Lawrence Weiner. HERB & DOROTHY provides a unique chronicle of the world of contemporary art from two unlikely collectors, whose shared passion and discipline defies stereotypes and redefines what it means to be a patron of the arts.

Although I’ve no real opinion on the topic of art, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to this film. While the topic of art is, of course, one of the topics of the documentary, the main focus is on the Vogel’s and the incredibly impressive collection that they have amassed. The quality and caliber of art that they’ve collected over the years is really just almost breathtaking and it’s that quality of art that has made them so renowned among the art community. Once they were married in 1960, Dorothy and Herb began collecting pieces of art from unknown artists and the two slowly began to fill up their apartment with small but impressive works of art.

What I got most out of the film was not so much that they had an eye for art, but more that this whole hobby of theirs was just something that they genuinely and truly loved doing together. Rarely were they ever apart and it was always their love of art that kept them close together. Many individuals go through life looking for just one iota of a connection that these two have and it’s truly nice to watch them attend events together in this documentary.

While there are plenty of interviews with major art talent today, the documentary is also littered with vintage footage of old art exhibits and events’, giving the art and history buffs something to drool over in case the main topic of Dorothy and Herb bore them somehow. As I mentioned previously I really don’t have an opinion on the matter of art in general (although I do wonder how piles of laundry and/or scrap metal statues sell for thousands), but there is still plenty to enjoy in this documentary.

The documentary itself is of a fair lengthy (just a few minutes shy of an hour and a half), but it’s rarely something you feel that drags on or wears out its welcome. In all it’s a really interesting look at how two relatively mid-level-income individuals can support and purchase pieces from artists that later become some of the most well known and revered artists of the past few decades. It’s their love for one another and art that drive this piece and Overall a Recommended documentary to be sure.

The DVD
docuramafilms brings Herb & Dorothy to DVD in a standard amaray DVD case. Nothing overly special about the presentation of the documentary here—no fancy exterior cardboard slipcase and the cover itself looks like a rather laid back BBC special documentary release more than anything. Video and audio is a solid presentation overall and about what you’d expect from a documentary with vintage footage spliced into it. Overall a solid visual and audio presentation.

Extras are limited but include:

Deleted Scenes
Festival Appearances
Theatrical Premiere
Theatrical Trailers

There’s some good stuff in here, especially the “Premiere” featurette which, while not overly lengthy, was a nice look at all who turned out to check out this film. Overall a Recommended package for art enthusiasts, but the general public will probably be satisfied with a Rental.

Herb & Dorothy arrives on DVD on December 15th.

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Click Here!Documentaries have always been big business for film festivals and independent movie theaters, but rarely have they had such a presence on DVD lately as they have from documramafilms. In the past couple months alone they’ve pounded out several award winning documentaries that had previously only been seen by a few in local theaters and, very rarely, on television/PBS airings. Now, docuramafilms is bringing to DVD the Béla Fleck documentary Throw Down Your Heart, which has already accumulated several awards and nominations over various film festivals. Now those unable to see the film in its limited theatrical runs can now witness the inspiring documentary for themselves.

Synopsis
“Throw Down Your Heart” follows American banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck on his journey to Africa to explore the little known African roots of the banjo and record an album. Béla’s boundary-breaking musical adventure takes him to Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali, and provides a glimpse of the beauty and complexity of Africa. Using his banjo, Béla transcends barriers of language and culture, finding common ground and forging connections with musicians from very different backgrounds.

Occasionally I let out strings of questionable words when I receive certain DVDs to review. Having not heard of Fleck or this documentary, such a string emitted from my mouth that would have no doubt been perceived as offensive by some. But that’s to be expected from time to time and with a title like the one this documentary has, can you really blame me? Still, I’ve long since learned not to judge a book (or DVD, in this case) by its cover and even after reading the somewhat strange sounding synopsis, I dove into it.

I have to say that I’ve never heard of such a strange idea for a mash-up as an American banjo “virtuoso” playing in Africa. But I was really taken aback by how much this film had to offer. It was more than about the music that Fleck played with the multitude of African musicians, as it ended up showing just how universal the sound of music really is. Fleck didn’t speak any of the language so while he was at a loss for communicating with words to the other musicians, he was able to speak to them fluently through music.

It may sound a bit hokey and cheesy to say that this film is about communication through music, how beautiful and simple a medium it is and how uplifting this documentary was but…man, it really was all of those things. I was really impressed by not only how real the whole situations that Fleck was in, but also how evident it was that he was really not in his element at all in terms of culture and language, but once the music started the divide between him and the African musicians just dissipated.

I was completely unaware as to who Fleck was prior to this documentary, but I have to say he seems like a genuinely great guy. Just how humble he is throughout the entire documentary is simply outstanding; as much as people praise him throughout, he’s never anything less than gracious. Fleck himself is almost as inspiring s the documentary, as so often we’re shown how ugly the world is but this piece is a great bright beckon of light.

Speaking of light, the cinematography in this film is brilliant. Africa has always been an amazing visual landscape and the travels that Fleck and director Sascha Paladino go through is nothing short of brilliant. A truly amazing documentary from beginning to end and one I Highly Recommend.

The DVD
docuramafilms brings Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart to DVD in a standard amaray DVD case. Nothing overly special about the presentation of the documentary here—no fancy exterior cardboard slipcase (not that it needs one) and nothing to really pop out at you, although the blood red cover art is eye catching in its own way. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and the documentary style lends itself well in the basic transfer, with solid visuals throughout (speckled with grain here and there) and a strong audio track (which is important in a music based documentary) to back it all up.

Extras include:

Audio Commentary with Bela Fleck and Director Sascha Paladino
Deleted Scenes and Musical Performances

The commentary is an incredibly welcome piece, especially with both of the men responsible for this film on tap for the duration of the film. There’s plenty of additional insight and input on not only the documentary itself but the work that went into it as well. In addition the extra scenes and performances are incredibly nice as well, as even at an hour and thirty-seven minutes long, I wasn’t ready to leave the “world” that the documentary transported you to.

Overall a Recommended release.

Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart arrives on DVD on November 3rd.

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