Archives for posts with tag: Documentary

The wife and I have been watching the Lindsay Lohan docu-series on Own:


Guilty pleasure, sure, but we’re not ashamed. This is what celebrity culture/fascination should be – a look inside her life, with her permission. All of that in a decent package. Lots of single camera shots, a question or two from the camera wielding producer, some planned meals (read: multi-camera shots) with her family and life coaches and assistants. A wise word or two from Oprah herself.

This is exactly what I need in these last cruel throes of winter.

We get the sense, as viewers, that we are getting an inside look. A peek into the mysterious celebrity life. Lindsay knows we’re watching but she’s relaxed enough to give us a little. More, at least, than the annoyed but pleased look she gives the paparazzi-hoard as she leaves a restaurant:


My real complaint with the show comes at the commercial break. We start with some plugs for the channel – Oprah interviews and Oprah specials. Fine, that’s fair. Then we get a little sales pitch for the Malibu rehab facility where Lindsay stayed. Ok, a little tacky, but whatever. Then we start slipping. A do it yourself legal kit. What looks like a hometown used car add? That can’t be right. A legal settlement announcement for transvaginal mesh ruptures. What the hell, Oprah?!

Can Oprah’s still fledgling OWN network really be struggling this much? Is she (are they) this money hungry that they’ll take on any advertiser? Whatever the reason, I don’t think they understand how much these adds flavor how we watch the show. If I didn’t already feel a little sleazy watching this voyeuristic celeb-drama, hearing the word transvaginal half a dozen times took me over that edge. Thanks, Oprah.

Not that I’m going to stop watching, not yet.


In recent years the wife and I have made an effort to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible, including the shorts. This year we saw the short subject documentaries for the first time. If this is an option in your town go see it. Fill your pockets with candy. Buy some popcorn. Settle in.

In case you don’t get a chance (or maybe to start a conversation if you do) here are my mini reviews:

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life


Going into a film about a Holocaust survivor, one expects tears. This documentary however, delivers those tears on more than one level. At 110, Alice Herz Sommer is the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor. She and her son lived through the war due in large part to Alice’s skill as a pianist. If you’ve read Victor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning or you just want a dose of positivity you’ll dig this uplifting film.

Karama Has No Walls


Shot during the early days of Yemen’s 2011 student uprising, this film shook me to my core. A peaceful protest turns violent yet the protestors, students and journalist don’t flee. They walk towards the violence. They bare their chests and carry away the wounded. This is a revolution.

Cave Digger


Ra Paulette is republican nightmare (or wet dream). He is an archetypal hippie. He makes his living, however meager, as an artist whose art is digging caves into the malleable sandstone of the New Mexico desert. Something about this man rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t quite pin it down. Though the caves are indeed beautiful, my official review is, meh.

Facing Fear


Conceptually powerful, this film reaches for a lot. Twenty years ago a group of neo-Nazi teens nearly beat to death a young gay hustler in LA. Now, one of those teens is a former neo-Nazi and that hustler has gone legit. They both work at the Forgiveness Museum in LA. They present to groups on how they have grown into the people they are now. It seems like both men know what they are supposed to say, hell maybe they even know what they will say in few years. I’m just not sure how honest it is yet.

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall


More than twenty years ago, Jack Hall, a veteran of WWII, killed a man. He would spend the rest of his life in prison for that murder. This film catalogs his last days in one of the nation’s only prison hospices. Emotions are raw. Edges are unhewn. I fucking loved this documentary. That’s all I have to say.

Buzz continues to grow around the documentary, Blackfish, since its release in July of 2013 yet, I’ve avoided the movie. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’ve always feared opened water. The unknown beneath your feet, beneath the boat. That water is like a great height. One misstep and you could plunge to your death.

Enough about me. Back to the movie.


Blackfish profiles an orca named Tilikum from his capture in 1983 off the coast of Nova Scotia to his 2010 killing Sea World trainer, Dawn Brancheau. The movie is as much about how inhumane the confinement of killer whales is as it is about orca research. That’s really what makes this movie watchable. You know you’re going to be horrified but you may not expect to learn anything.

One of the most heartbreaking revelations of the movie is why, in the moment, Tilikum decided to kill two of his handlers. The question isn’t explicitly addressed but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. He pulled each of the trainers under at the end of a show. Each trainer died right before Tilikum was scheduled to go back into a tank with the female whales who abused him, who raked him with their teeth. The one joy in this giant animal’s life seemed to be spending time with humans and he didn’t want it to end.

Jesus that’s depressing. I think I just talked myself out of watching it.

My reviews are generally positive. I like to find the good in books, movies, life. It just feels better to finish something and feel like you haven’t wasted your time. On that note, I did not care for The Human Experience.

Jeffery Azize and his brother set out from Brooklyn, New York to discover, “What it means to be human?” They spend time with the homeless of New York, the orphans of Peru and the Lepers of Ghana. In concept, I’m sold. Not so much in practice. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes and saying, “Oh fuck off, buddy,” in the thickest Minnesota accent I can muster.

Here’s why:

First, Azize’s revelations are childish at best, “You become more humble…you can feel the humility that homeless people go through,” he said after two nights on the street. Seriously? Did he grow up in a cave? Second, where does his funding come from? I’d sure like to fly off to Ghana for a visit. It’d be nice to hear a little acknowledgment that this brand of soul searching costs money. Finally, Azize’s motivations end up sounding alternatingly confusing and inauthentic. He wants to find a purpose in life or understand the meaning of life. Maybe his father was abusive. Maybe his parents just got divorced.

That’s a big sticking point for me. I have little patience for people who blame their adult problems on divorce. Get over it. I know some people have a rough time of their parent’s divorce but lives change. Relationships evolve. People don’t end their marriages to screw with their children, they do it to save them.

Hell, maybe I’ve just gotten my fill of the supposed search-for-meaning documentaries.

Once, at a bar, I told the lead singer of the Des Moines based band The Nadas that he was my new hero. The sweet, tired man listened to my drunken ramblings and asked, “Who was your old hero?” Without skipping a beat I pointed to my friend – standing an embarrassed yet protective distance away – and said, “Trina Lutes.”

Buck Brannaman – of the documentary Buck, which I put off watching for no good reason – is a different kind of hero.

Buck tells the story of Buck Brannaman, the real life “horse whisperer”. Buck’s patience with even the most stubborn horse proves the potential for human goodness. He is compassionate and kind and even though I don’t know anything about horses his methods have plenty to say about dealing with people: Be patient. Be kind. Remember that your energy/mood impacts the world.

I need to be reminded of those simple things once in a while. I think we all do. If you need a life affirming movie, give this a try. It’s sweet and quiet and beautiful.

I’ve seen a lot of movies – and TV shows and books and miniseries – that reaffirm the potential for human goodness. So much compassion. So much kindness. Obviously, I was due for a glimpse of the other side to that coin. The Imposter delivered:

I knew nothing about the movie going in other than the status of kind-of-documentary. (Some scenes are reenacted) In case you want to see it – thought I’m not sure you should – I won’t totally ruin it for you but here is the set up: A 13 year old boy goes missing in Texas. Nearly four years later a man in Spain claims to be that boy. Go.

Actually don’t go. It’s an interesting concept but I found myself left with no one to root for. The family has issues. The boys has issues. The government fails everybody. Oy. Maybe – as usual – that’s just me.

Sometimes I like to wander around the internet and watch movie trailers (reason #462 why I’m a nerd). I stumbled across this today:

While eating a classic Midwestern dinner of pork chops and applesauce, the girlfriend and I watched it. The dog was busy murdering her toy raccoon in another room. Turns out we are pretty happy as a household. ANYWAY, the movie was great. In short, we as humans need variety and family to be happy. The slightly academic narrator says that this guy:

is probably happier than you. That seems to say something.

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