Posts Tagged ‘documentary


Movie Review: Capitalism: A Love Story



Would Jesus be a capitalist?


Directed by Michael Moore.


After a “stock footage” disclaimer that the following film may be too shocking for viewers, we’re treated to closed circuit camera video of people robbing banks. Following that a British short film about life in Rome. Moore juxtaposes images from our current society into the short film with the narrator’s dialogue backing up the images of both old (Rome) and new (America). Yes, we are the “second” Roman Empire and yes, it’s all over…


The question above, “Would Jesus be a capitalist?” is one of many that Moore poses to us as he turns a gigantic mirror not just on Wall Street, but on Main Street (but he is more bias against Wall Street). Moore waxes nostalgic about growing up in the Fifties; his dad worked every day while his mom could stay at home, they bought a new car every three years, and the family went on trips to NYC every other summer. Now his hometown of Flint is on the list of the worst places to live in the U.S., millions of jobs have been lost, etc. What happened?


Toning down the humor and the “kid picking on the bully” that Moore can be known to exhibit, he instead chooses to investigate just exactly what placed us on this point of the economic map. One of those offering answers is William Black, the guy who exposed Charles Keating in the Eighties. Black talks about the de-regulation of the early 2000s which has led to the mortgage crises and current foreclosures affecting the nation.


Showing the effects on the underdog, Moore visits a family in Illinois whose home is being repossessed by the bank. The house has been in the family for over 40 years. The husband, a big, MidWesterner, was put on disability years ago after a workplace accident. His wife does part-time work. Having to pay for doctor bills he took out a home equity loan (“your home is a bank!”) and as the variable rates grew higher, he could no longer afford to pay them. He is forced to vacate and clean out all his belongings. For doing both, the lender gives his family a check for $1,000. The wife cries as a grand is pittance for having to fork over the home she’s been in for decades.


And the lenders aren’t the only ones “making out like bandits.” A group called Condo Vultures in South Florida capitalizes on the fact that people “overleveraged” themselves and are buying up property left and right for the eventual resale. Conversely, there is a family living in storage truck in South Florida who was evicted from their home. The neighbors gathered around, broke into their old home, and let them move back in. 9 police cars showed to try and evict the family again.


Moore delivers a soft blow on what should otherwise be a Mike Tyson TKO. I’m not mad at how he presented the information, because a lot of this needed to be said, but Moore could’ve gone deeper and harder-hitting; that’s something I find lacking in his last few documentaries. On this “go” Moore makes it more personal and more mature. Instead of running around with a camera crew and forcing people into answering questions he lets people tell their stories which are more effective. There are a few signature “Michael Moore moments,” like when he uses yellow Police Crime Scene tape and wraps it around Wall Street, or takes an armored truck to Goldman Sachs and AIG to get our money back, but they’re embedded later on in the movie.


Another ingredient of a Michael Moore film is presenting you with the information you didn’t have or realize. This comes in two points: a) The Corporation you work for may/probably has a Dead Peasants policy on you and b) the guy flying you to your destination is making less than the manager at the McDonald’s. An example of the first point comes in the form of a woman whose bank notifies her that the company her late husband worked for had an insurance policy on him for $1.5 million, none of which she will ever receive. Apparently corporations have monthly “mortality rate” projections and they’re not happy if it’s about 50%


The second is that yes, the people flying us from Boston to L.A., L.A. to New York, etc. make LESS than I do (which IS saying a lot). Several of these pilots have second jobs such as teaching, babysitting, working at a coffeeshop, etc. just to get by. Moore shows Captain Sully, the airline pilot who saved the lives of 150 passengers, testifying before Congress that the airlines have cut pay by 40%. Nobody listened or even if they did, they weren’t wanting to.


While this film may not have been as hard-hitting as I would like it to be, it’s still an important movie to watch. This isn’t about socialism, democracy, plutonomy, etc. It’s about straight-up greed. Moore does exhibit two instances where democracy works for companies, which is promising. My only other real complaint about the film is that it shuttles back and forth, not giving you the identity of certain individuals or why they should be important to the narrative until much later.


Should you see this movie? Yes. It’s important. Maybe you’ll find empathy or sympathy. Maybe you’ll wake up and see what’s really going on. Maybe you’ll start a discussion on complacency, collusion, and how much either side has to do with it. Just a thought.


One final note: there’s footage of FDR reading his proposed Second Bill of Rights. This bill guaranteed health care, education, a job, and a home to U.S. citizenry. After Word War II Japan, Germany, and Italy drew up new constitutions that included some of these provisions. Incidentally, these ideals have never been presented for inclusion in our own Constitution.


My grade: (adjusted for inflation) A


For information on whether the company you work for has a Dead Peasants policy on you, check out


P.S. If you’re interested more in “how we got here,” check out the documentary “The Corporation.”


Movies on DVD Review: Man on Wire



A wirewalking documentary.


Stars Philippe Petit. Directed by James Marsh.


“Man on Wire” is a look back at Philippe Petit and his accomplishment: wirewalking between New York’s (then) newly created Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. With the help of friends and contacts, he and his team pulled off what some have called “the greatest artistic crime of the century.”


Petit is a Frenchman who grew up to be a street juggler and wirewalker. One day while sitting in the dentist’s office he sees a picture of the proposed Towers and has a vision, a manifest destiny if you will, of walking between them (nevermind the fact that it hasn’t been built yet). From that point on his wirewalking career is taking steps toward achieving that goal. From wirewalking between the towers of Notre Dame to Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge, Petit daredevils and crosses the law as he builds up to his goal.


The movie flashes backwards and forwards, showing events in Petit’s life that influenced why he did what he did as well as portraying the wirewalk feat itself like a heist movie. From making scale models of the building tops to flying back and forth to the U.S. from France, to making fake IDs to get into the Towers, to evading guards and finally stringing the cable in the early hours of the morning amidst thick fog, this achievement was cut-out for him. Current day interviews are inter-cut with re-enactments of scenes, as well as original footage taken at the time.


So, how is the film? I thought it was alright. The back-and-forth-and-back editing got to me a little; sometimes telling the story forward is a better idea. The achievement was great, no doubt about that, but I wish the film would make it feel greater. It’s a worthy documentary, but winning an Academy Award may have been a bit much.


My grade: B-




For Those About to Film: Five Docs on Filmmaking

Where would the world be without the crazed “filmmaking” instinct? Grabbing a camera and some friends you know, making them do things they would normally not do, then sit back and watch it all unfold. Priceless.


Then again there is bad weather, actor and actress personalities, lack of funding, events you can’t control, script problems… you name it.


Below are the Officially Endorsed Top Five Documentaries on Filmmaking. Watch and enjoy, and maybe learn.


5. “Mule Skinner Blues” – I initially caught this one on Cable, and I put it on my Netflix queue. This is truly the little indie movie that could, or rather, the little group of indie people that tried to. Jacksonville, FL is not your typical filmmaking hotbed but several of the locals could cite to you when and where the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” was shot. A group of them living in/around a trailer park get together and make a film called “Turn About Is Fair Play,” about an armless guitar player who turns into a gorilla swamp creature from “pre-history” in order to exact revenge. Note: you can watch the film on the DVD.


4. “American Movie” – For those struggling to make the Greatest Horror Movie Ever Made, this is your doc. Struggling Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt has a dream: filming his horror opus “Coven” (pronounced Cove-in). Through documentary footage we see that Mark has made several small films, but this is his baby. He wants to be the next George Romero, and will do it at all costs (including cashing-in his life savings). For those who have dared to dream, Mark Borchardt joins the cause. Note: you can watch the film on the DVD.


3. “Full Tilt Boogie” – Robert Rodriguez (“Desperado,” “Spy Kids”) gave Sarah Kelly the opportunity to capture the ups, and downs, of independent filmmaking on his collaboration with Quentin Tarantino called “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Watching this film gives you a new respect on what Rodriguez/Tarantino had to do to get where they are. Favorite part: when production assistants built the bar (“The Titty Twister”) in Barstow, CA before Rodriguez has secured the location from the town.


2. “Lost in La Mancha” – Terry Gilliam invited filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe to film the “making-of” “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” since they had done a “making-of” for his previous film, “Twelve Monkeys.” Murphy’s Law is in full effect and what follows is equipment being washed away, jets flying over during a pivotal shot, nearly all of the people funding the film pulling out, etc. On a plus note, there was good footage from Johnny Depp. Speaking of which, he is trying to get the project off the ground again.


1. “Hearts of Darkness” – The “behind-the-scenes” of behind-the-scenes movies. Filmmakers Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper chronicled the 3-year making of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” From dug use to mistresses to budget and script problems, this is the ultimate documentary of a movie that just barely made it to the screen. I’ll shut up now; the movie speaks for itself.


Movies on DVD Review: Grizzly Man



Not quite as grizzled as I had hoped.


Directed by Werner Herzog.


I probably won’t be the last to say that Timothy Treadwell was a complete nutjob.


For those not in “the know,” Timothy Treadwell was a guy who spent 13 summers in the Alaskan wilderness with bears. In September of 2003 him and his girlfriend were attacked, killed, and partially eaten by a wild bear. In this documentary famed filmmaker Werner Herzog examines the life and death of Timothy Treadwell.


I had problems with watching this documentary. It’s difficult not to watch this film and make a judgment on the guy; his presence really does ask for it. In one moment Treadwell is enthusiastic and talking about how being around bears is dangerous; that they’ll decapitate you, eat you, etc. The next moment he’s trying to hang out with them and you have the feeling in the back of your head that at any time he could break out a guitar and sing, “Kumbayah.”


But Herzog thanfully never lets the film get to that point. With 100+ hours of footage to use Herzog shows a man, a guy, who borders on megalomania in the field of bears. In Treadwell’s world he’s right and everyone else is wrong. He strives to become a bear and leave the trappings of human existence.


And who is Timothy Treadwell? In the beginning a bright, young kid named Timothy Dexter who was a star athlete and received a swimming scholarship. Once in college he got into drug abuse and dropped out, moving back home. He then moved out to San Diego and changed his last name to Treadwell, auditioning for roles and supposedly coming in second to Woody Harrelson for a role on “Cheers.” Following that he fell into alcoholism until he saw a bear and realized that, in order to understand the bear, he had to shed his limitations.


The documentary tries to even-out the scales by interviewing others who met, or knew of, Timothy Treadwell. The pilot who flew him in and out was quiet but showed Herzog to the places Treadwell camped at. A former girlfriend of three years explained how she met him and was given the watch taken from what was left of his arm after the bear ate him. Another friend spoke of how she would see him each summer and keep his stuff over the winter. The coroner who examined his remains described what was on the final moments of audio taken when Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked. And finally, there was a helicopter pilot who said that the bears probably left him alone for the most part because they “probably thought he was retarded or something.”


My minor gripe on the interviews is that they seemed “staged.” It’s as if Herzog told them “you are playing the character of you. I have a camera. Now, react.” Maybe others like and/or appreciate this style, but I found the coroner “acting” out what happened to Treadwell and his girlfriend unintentionally funny. Whether or not this is what Herzog was going for, you be the guess.


What Herzog leaves the audience to do is to make up their own minds about Treadwell. Doing this review it’s hard for me to hold back how much I disagreed with how Treadwell went about doing what he did: staying among the bears. I cite the late Steve Irwin (“The Crocodile Hunter”). Irwin may have been crazy, but for every ounce of crazy he was intelligent. Irwin had friends and comrades within the ecological community who knew him. Not everyone approved of everything he did, but he was applauded for bringing attention to the public about the dangers of wildlife. Irwin may have been a TV personality, but he had the years of experience and background.


And that’s the failure of Timothy Treadwell; the belief in image. The W’s and H questions can and probably will continue as to his reasoning for wanting to become a bear. Was he on a suicide mission? Trying to do the impossible? Did he not care about other people? Much like any other person who has taken a personal journey I’m inclined to believe that in the end, Timothy Treadwell found exactly what he was looking for, and in the darkest part of his mind, expected to find.


My grade: B-


Movie Review: Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?


Not what I expected.


Starring Morgan Spurlock. Directed by Morgan Spurlock.


I remember back a few years ago when a documentary called “Super Size Me” was released. In it a guy from New York City (Morgan Spurlock) wanted to see what would happen if he ate McDonald’s fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a period of 30 days. Contrived, true, but never before had a documentary shown as what we do to ourselves. Following that FX network gave him a show and he produced “30 Days,” where various people did things for 30 days to see what would happen to them: one mom did binge drinking to show her newly college-attending daughter would would happen, a guy became Muslim, and even Morgan and his wife decided to see if they could live on minimum wage (both him and his wife ended up in the hospital). When he announced he was going after Public Enemy #1, Osama Bin Laden, I had high hopes for what he would find, if anything.


“Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden,” falls short of expectations. Spurlock, expecting a baby within a few months, decided that he could try making the world safer for his kid if he could hunt down and bring to justice OBL. Whether you believe in his reasoning or not (a little past contrived if you ask me) you’re in for a trip to countries that hate us, or rather the American government (a resentment felt even inside the U.S.)


From New York to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tora Bora, Tel Aviv, and back Spurlock finds what citizens in other countries really think about us: they hate the American government, not so much the people. Through animated sequences an explanation is given as to who the U.S. Sided with and why, which leads to understanding why others can be so pissed at us. And with the fact that the American people are shielded from this information (or blissfully ignorant) we have a deeper look into ourselves.


My complaints about this movie: the beginning starts with immature computer animation. In it a CG Spurlock does battle with a CG Bin Laden “Mortal Kombat”-style, using everything from “Redneck Power” to a “power mustache.” This would have worked better if it had been restructured to the end of the film; it was amusing, but not needed.


Once you get past that Spurlock goes on the hunt for OBL but twenty minutes it becomes “I’m an expecting father. What advice to do you have for me? By the way, what do you have against America?”  The actual “hunt” seems to be derailed by constant worry about becoming a dad and missing his wife’s delivery which brings me to ask, why did he leave so close to the end of his wife’s pregnancy?


What did impress me about the film is the fact that rich people not caring about the lower levels/citizenry is a concept not confined to the U.S; the Middle East has malls as well as shantytowns. Then again, they also have villages wiped out by tanks and artillery. If Spurlock wants to visit places that have that “third world feel,” he should do more traveling across the States.


I’ll recommend this film for people who want to see what other cultures think of us. For those who already know here’s another factoid for ya: they love wrestling. Who knew?


Does he find the Notorious OBL? His “journey” ends in Pakistan where all “intelligence” points to (except the Pakistanis, who say he’s in Afghanistan). Looking at a giant metal sign that says “Attention Foreigners: No trespassing beyond this point…” Spurlock stops and turns around. “I’ve got a kid coming. It’s not worth it.”


My grade: C+/B-