Author Topic: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary  (Read 23145 times)

zarodinu

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #60 on: March 01, 2009, 12:26:23 PM »
Great review gman, I am glad you liked the film.

I think Herzog is fascinated with this drive that causes people to do crazy and exceptional things.  He makes movies about visionaries and madmen whose obsessions consume them.  Its a common thread in many of his films.  In Timothy Treadwell, he found a real life Fitzcarraldo or Aguirre.  I suspect that Herzog himself is such a man.  Thanks for the great review.

...and just so this post doesn't get too pretentious, here is a great parody of Grizzly Man.

Iíve lied to men who wear belts. Iíve lied to men who wear suspenders. But Iíd never be so stupid as to lie to a man who wears both a belt and suspenders.

FifthCityMuse

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #61 on: March 02, 2009, 09:01:01 PM »
Murderball
My first dictation, and damn, it was a good one. A cheat in some ways, as it was a film I heard about when it had theatrical release, and I was keen to see it then. That said, getting it as a dictator film pushed me into seeing it probably months, if not years, earlier than I wouldíve otherwise. And for that Iím glad, cause this is in a lot of ways an exceptional doc.

I will note that major spoilers will follow. Iím not gonna be coy and dance around things. If you havenít seen it and want to, you may want to not read the following. Of course, I donít know that knowing the outcome of the film would change the impact of the learning that takes place.

The film focuses on several people involved in the elite levels of a sport known as wheelchair rugby, quad rugby, or, by itís initial name, Murderball. This includes Zupan, a current player for the US team, Andy, Scott, and Bob, who also play for the US, Joe, once the worldís best player, and then also Keith, newly quadriplegic, and Chris, who was directly involved in Zupanís injury. It charts the subjects in the lead up to the 2004 Paralympic games, the games, and the immediate aftermath.

The first thing that is of course, hugely obvious, is that this is a fascinating subject for a doc. How many of us go and sit in a hugely customized wheelchair and ram into other people in similar chairs? How many of us even know this goes on? So thereís a lot to be learnt here, and itís stuff thatís interesting, and the subjects are as fascinating as the other elements.

The thing is tho, the filmmakers have managed to take this, and make a strong, well-crafted doc. Itís fantastically constructed, well edited, and provides an insight that is just fascinating.

My first experience with a doc was Bowling For Columbine, and itís sort of made me wary. The first time I saw Columbine I laughed, I was shocked, and then I saw it again and was just horrified at how manipulative it was, and how much Moore plays us for suckers.

This is where Murderball is a far superior film. It is manipulative, of course. In the opening scenes, when Canada beats the USA at the 2002 World Championships, despite only a small amount of time dedicated to the players, we are made to feel upset that the US hasnít won. Itís the same at the end, when the US team doesnít win the gold at the Paralympics.

That said, this isnít unreasonable. Of course we should create an emotional connection to these characters. Itís a sign of good doc making, at least to my mind, that we do manage to make emotional ties to characters.

I think the subjects are perhaps one of the most interesting things present here. Zupan is a really fascinating main subject (although Iím not sure that he is the main subject - more on that later). Early on, he swears. A lot. Heís an angry guy, heís a strong guy, heís a very outspoken personality. Yet, as the film progresses, he matures. The person we see at the 2002 world champs is not the same person that competes at the 2004 Paralympics. He stops swearing in front of camera, he mellows, he is less outspoken, and it makes for a great profile across the film.

Kieth, the young man who has just been injured, also presents a fascinating view. He only becomes directly related to the sport late on, but through him we learn what it means to become a quadriplegic, and how big those changes are. Itís nice to see some hope at the end.

Of all of this, Joe is easily the most fascinating subject on show here. Previously the player in the world, he was passed over for selection in the US, and so went and coached Canada. Right at the beginning we see him lead the Canadian team to victory at the World Champs, the only time the US has only been beaten, at that stage. He says to the US team, who are drinking their sorrows away, ďIíd be happy for you if youíd beaten us by one point.Ē Which is fantastic, because later, in a competition to decide the seedings for Athens, the American team does beat the Canadians by one point, and Joe isnít happy for them.

Still, some of the best stuff with Joe is what we see of his son. Joe is a strong, athletic man. His son is not. He gets very good grades. He plays the viola (thatís right, not even the violin, the viola). He wears glasses. Heís a quiet kid. And itís obvious that Joe doesnít know how to respond to this kid. How to react to him. How to give him what he needs, as such. The scene at the BBQ is so fantastic. Then we watch the son dust his fatherís trophies, of which there are many, and we get the impression that this is a regular thing.

And then Joe has a heart attack. Itís an amazing turning point, and just like Zupan, Joe mellows. When he goes home to his childhood home, we watch him talk to his old neighbours, and he talks of his son, and he does it with pride. Itís really, really great. Joe even makes an effort to get home from the competition in Vancouver to go to a concert, and heís late, but heís there, and this is obviously huge.

To me, Joe is the main subject here. I would say he gets more screen time than anyone else, and his journey is the most fascinating. Itís a joy to watch, and I had such fun with him.

There are, of course, other things going on in here. There is a sense of education. Within the first half hour or so, a group of the US athletes talk about how they live. They speak of the issues they have, the adjustments they have had to make, the reconciliations that have gone on within themselves. They talk candidly of their accidents, their illnesses, their rehabilitations, not leaving the house through fear and shame, public reactions to their disabilities, their annoyances, itís all fantastic. They even talk candidly of sex, and dispel a lot of rumours and miseducations.

This is so fantastic because it is genuine education. These people talk to us in a way that is never condescending and the filmmakers give them the space to do that while making sure that it never overstays itís welcome.

It is also a very well structured film. It almost doesnít work, but it has a short attention span that works in its favour. It stays on subjects just long enough to provide the current insight, then moves to the next. Itís great editing that ensures the success of the disparate elements.

All in all, itís a thoroughly fantastic, incredibly engaging and informative doc. More than worth a look. Many thanks to THATguy for a benevolent dictation.

THATguy

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #62 on: March 02, 2009, 09:36:42 PM »
It sounds like you liked it even more than I did, Muse.

So I'm glad I dictated it to you.

Originally, I found several of the characters kind of annoying, but they endeared themselves to me by the end of the story.

I also really, really liked the Keith scenes.

joem18b

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #63 on: March 03, 2009, 12:30:55 AM »
Murderball
My first dictation, and damn, it was a good one. A cheat in some ways, as it was a film I heard about when it had theatrical release, and I was keen to see it then. That said, getting it as a dictator film pushed me into seeing it probably months, if not years, earlier than I wouldíve otherwise. And for that Iím glad, cause this is in a lot of ways an exceptional doc.
Good stuff! Thanks for the great review.

Mandrake

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #64 on: March 05, 2009, 10:43:53 PM »




A little bit of gonzo doc!

From IMDb:

"The documentary caused significant controversy when Eric Steel revealed that he had tricked the Golden Gate Bridge committee into allowing him to film the bridge for months and had captured 23 suicides which took place during the filming phase of the project.  In his permit application to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Steel said he intended "to capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge."
 Steel interviewed relatives of the suicide victims, not informing them that he had footage of their loved ones' deaths. Later, he claimed that "the family members now, at this point, have seen the film, [and are] glad that they participated in it."
 The filmmakers captured 23 of the 24 known Golden Gate suicides in 2004."



The film opens with a beautiful montage toggling between tourists and would be victims competing for space on the Golden Gate Bridge.  There is early emotion and eerie juxtaposition of witness testimony and bucolic nature scenes in San Francisco.  The eyewitness accounts are very effective early on and the family member accounts so creepy, sad and very difficult to watch.  Heartbreaking to hear these folks describe, in detail, the nature of the victims' behavior up until death. 



However; the stories, given the nature of the affliction these poor people suffer, turns out completely unsurprising and this is the biggest fault of the film Ė the filmmakers forgot the distinction between making a film about suicide and making a film about a bridge where people commit the act.  And in between dramatic bits we get rather stock footage of the bridge at its eerie best Ė fog, wind, rain, whatnot.  And the sound editing, wellÖ.(technically the film is a disappointment).

15 minutes in the filmmakers build the blocking of shots to allow the viewer to slowly adjust to the projective of the bridge in all its massiveness.  But I wanted to see more history of the bridge Ė the history of what had taken place.  30 minutes in I am ready for a new story.  The prophetic observations of the victim when he visited the bridge for the 1st time fell flat.  In the last 1/3 of the film itís still engrossing particularly the details of victims', friends' and familiesí plight (other than two interviews with friends who acted oddly complicit).  The woman preparing for another chance to illegally give a friend prescription medication and trying to talk him out of doing himself in is genuinely unhinged.



Thank you FifthCityMuse for the assignment!  Overall, I give the film a cautionary recommendation.

** 1/2 / *****





« Last Edit: March 24, 2009, 03:25:09 PM by Mandrake »

Colleen

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #65 on: March 05, 2009, 11:38:28 PM »
The Kid Stays in the Picture

This documentary tells the story of Robert Evans, small time actor and big time Hollywood producer and studio head.  Evans started out as a successful businessman (helping found the design house Evan-Picone along with his brother) and was "discovered" by Norma Shearer in the 1950s and invited to be in a movie she was making.  For a time he worked in several movies while continuing as a businessman but then moved to Hollywood and threw himself completely into the show biz life.  He made the move into producing by purchasing the rights to a best selling book (The Detective) and hanging onto them until the movie was made in the late 1960s.  At the same time he became involved in development of movies at Paramount, ultimately heading up a legendary string of Paramount hits from Rosemary's Baby through The Godfather movies and Marathon Man.  AT the same time he himself was a celebrity--good looking, popular, he became gossip magazine and tabloid fare with his many romances and his marriage of several years to Ali McGraw when she was at the peak of her own fame.  Eventually hard living and cocaine took their toll, and Evans was in the wilderness through most of the 1980s, making a comeback in the 1990s although his credits in the 1990s and 2000s have been nowhere near his renowned heyday.

The documentary is an adaptation of his memoir of the same title, which was published in 1994.  This is both the major strength and weakness of the movie.  The strength is that Evans is a classic old time Hollywood raconteur and can tell stories naturally.  The narration is all in his own voice and the accompaniment is documentary minimalism--clips and still photos that illustrate the spoken narrative.  The main thing is the storytelling in Evans' own voice, complete with its raspiness and his impersonations of other speakers in his recounting of conversations.  He provides an overview of a fascinating time in movie history--the transition out of the studio system into more independent production; the generational transition of the late 1960s from the moviemaking sensibility of Hollywood's golden age, reaching its last gasp in productions like Paint Your Wagon to the sort of movies Evans produced--Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather. 

Most of the time in the documentary is spent on this period and Evans lovingly narrates the details of production of the movies, including his take on his handling of Mia Farrow during her marital crisis with Sinatra in the midst of production of Rosemary's Baby, his romance and marriage with Ali MacGraw in the midst of the Love Story madness, his legendary battles with Coppola over the Godfather movies, and the development of Chinatown.

He glosses over the downward slide of the 1980s, focusing on his struggles to retain his beloved home while throwing out only tantalizing asides about the real source of his problems--ongoing addictions and a drawn out murder case in which his involvment remains murky. 

Thus the close focus only on Evans' own version of events ultimately left me frustrated because he does gloss over so much.  It feels like there is much left unsaid about his experiences in the 1980s and more reasons for his exile than he gives.  And his return is less than triumphant (Sliver? Jade? Really?) as much as he tries to pump these movies up with focus on the grosses when these films are largely forgotten movie-channel fodder and come nowhere near the level of a Chinatown or Godfather.  In the end its a bit pathetic.

More bothersome was the streak of misogyny that runs through his ramblings.  He constantly refers to women as "broads" which is consistent with the parlance of the time he was talking about, but still.  He is proud of his manipulation of Mia Farrow, proud of his reputation as a playboy (there are LOTS of paparazzi shots of him dating LOTS Of women, some quite famous).  The only relationship he dwells on is his failed marriage to MacGraw which ended when she left him for Steve McQueen.  From the documentary you would never know that he married again, yet he's been married 7 times all together.  The omissions and what he does tell about his relationships seems significant--they are much more an accessory to his fabulous lifestyle than anything else.  He spends more time dwelling on his beloved home and its loss in the 1980s than on any of the women in his life.

The filmmaking style is uninteresting, about the level of your average A&E Biography episode.  It's more nearly an illustrated audiobook than any vision of a documentary filmmaker.  The story itself is compelling to a point, but Evans' egomania really began to grate on me as did the way he was obviously editing a great deal of detail out of the bad times that would make the fact that he was virtual exile for over 10 years more understandable.  Thus it wasn't even as informative as it could have been even given the limits of Evans' own viewpoint as the sole focus of the movie.

It's something I have meant to see for years so I'm glad I had this dictation, but its not one I'd be all that interested in revisiting or heartily recommending to others.  I would grade it a C+.

The fact that I was not blown away by the movie should in no way suggest that I didn't like it as a dictation or that it wasn't a good choice.  I always appreciate the push to watch something that was on my back burner or off my radar all together, and this month is no exception.  Thanks for the dictation and thanks for the opportunity to participate!


Clovis8

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #66 on: March 05, 2009, 11:58:22 PM »
All this talk of Hoop Dreams has me ready to post a reflection on it, I guess...

Hoop Dreams - I have come to understand that this documentary carries a ton of weight around these boards, and going over previous reviews elsewhere it seems to critically carry a load of high opinion as well. The film is the welcoming bell for the resurgence and recent Golden Age of newer documentaries, it is one of those films that tackles so many issues that it can be compared with many modern and classic cinema epics, and it is filmed with great care and beautiful style. I can agree with the majority of that, the film does so much right as a documentary that it is hard to fault it, so many techniques seen here have made appearances in other documentaries that I have seen this past year and from years after this film was released, granted that number is not incredibly high, but still, the influence that this film has clearly had on the medium is noticeable, for the better, and commands a good deal of respect. Sure there are talking head portions, but they feel like something more, allowing the viewer to get close to these people and understand the problems they are going to encounter while still remaining in the position of observer. Hell, it even works on an emotional level, relying on the viewer to pull for William and Arthur despite the two just being common children who do not directly play a role in most audiences's mind. It does tackle a various number of social topics too, ranging from the high school experience, the dirty manner in which sports operate even from such a young age, and the class issue in the country. These are heavy topics to cover, and to imagine that the filmmaker could hit them all in a film following two boys playing basketball in high school for four years is incredibly impressive. And then there is the style with which the film is shot, a roving camera that conveys the beauty of the sport along with the harsh reality these children and their families face, even that surgery scene had me both engaged and horrified. A ton is done right with this film and I can understand why it is considered so great and such an important film.

However, it is far from flawless and for everything great the film does at least one aspect is handled with little care and does not work. While the film does tackle a great number of subject in the hefty three hour run time, very few seem to be fully explored and would have benefited with, and I know this sounds hypocritical, a bit more time. Both Arthur and William were captivating figures and I was glad to spend time with them, I never minded watching them on screen and the film seemed to flash by when they were on there, which was great, I would have taken more of that. Still, the filmmaker seemed to scratch the surface of so much without ever going too deep on any particular issue that I found myself only gaining surface knowledge of most of what the film was talking about rather than being able to explore the corruption fully, or the high school experience, or the family turmoil, or anything really. Even that thing between Arthur and Shannon and William's problems with the coach in regard to his family, as well as the problems he had with his own father, were only mentioned shortly. The film also felt very constructed at times and the natural feeling was displaced, particularly later when William and Arthur reunited in their senior year. I guess they could kind of relate to each other, but they never were seen interacting as freshman so the idea that one had any sort of investment beyond passable interest in the other was unbelievable and unnecessary. Oh, and that voice over thing during the games, it was painful and detracted from some great sequences. The film was capable of speaking on its own, no voice over was needed.  There is a lot of good, there is a lot of bad, and I guess I can agree with the film's importance, but it is far from flawless. And that music that started playing during the credits seemed like it would fit better in one of those late night HBO movies rather than this documentary. Still, I am glad I got a chance to watch the film, it drew me in emotionally and given how detached I am from the basic premise that is impressive in itself, but the film has power far beyond that, and that is great stuff too, but it either needed to be more compact and to the point or longer to give the needed attention to everything the filmmaker attempts to tackle.

B-/B or 3.662134953201532


zarodinu

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #67 on: March 06, 2009, 12:22:56 AM »


Is a documentary about a woman named Susan Tom and her eleven adopted "special needs" children.  I have encountered a few such people in my health care career and always wondered what makes them take on such a burden.  I guess I always assumed it was religious zeal, or a welfare scam of some sort.  The movie really opened my eyes to the challenge of taking care of such children.

Susan has done something no government institution could ever do; she forged these disabled kids into a family.  There is clear camaraderie and friendship among the children, they may have terrible disabilities, but they go to school, have Halloween parties, even participate in community theater.  The movie stresses the individuality of the children, and shows how beneath the most terrible physical conditions there is a human soul yearning to be loved.  Susan is also selfless when taking care of the physical needs to the children including a frequent wound washing ritual for one of the boys that takes hours at a time.  The fact that these kids receive this kind of close medical attention, as well as a genuinely loving environment, clearly makes a huge difference in their lives.

Not everything is well in the home though.  There is a constant health care crises brewing since several of the kids have life threatening conditions.  Susan's oldest adopted daughter who is not disabled and shares the burdens of taking care of the kids, has a breakdown.  Susan is unable to console her because of other domestic crises.  There is a pretty clear implication that the house is overcrowded and Susan is struggling to keep control.  The biggest crises is a meth baby named Joe who grows from an aggressive, and unbalanced child, into a dangerous teenager who is increasingly out of control.  Joe is being verbally, physically, and probably sexually abusive towards the other kids, and should not be living with the rest of the children.  I started getting the feeling that perhaps Susan was doing harm to the kids by hanging on to a child that clearly should be institutionalized.          
    


My biggest problem with the film is that while it shows a great portrait of this family, it is too wide is scope.  It skips from one narrative to another, often touching on some great thread only to move on to the next thing.  The best documentaries explore the human soul, and this one misses some great opportunities to do so.  There are at least three absolutely amazing characters in the film Susan, Susan's adopted older daughter, and little Joe.  Each one of these could be the subject of a documentary focusing solely on him or her.  What drives Susan to adopt all these kids?  We get hints here and there, but never anything deep.  How is Susan's daughter handling the demands of college and the burdens of taking care for her adopted siblings?  We see the breakdown but its handled as just another one of a series of crises.  Lastly Joe is an absolutely fascinating child, we get a feeling for his complex psychological problems, but so much more time could have been spent with this one child, we only get a few seconds of interview which is just a shame.

I would have loved to see what a Herzog or an Errol Morris would do with this subject.  
Either way an interesting documentary.

7/10  
« Last Edit: March 06, 2009, 12:38:20 AM by pixote »
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pixote

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #68 on: March 06, 2009, 12:40:27 AM »
I haven't seen Flesh and Blood yet, but the 1977 Oscar-winning documentary Who Are the DeBolts? (And Where Did They Get 19 Kids?) would offer a good companion screening.

pixote
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

FifthCityMuse

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Re: Feb MDC write-ups: Documentary
« Reply #69 on: March 06, 2009, 12:49:06 AM »
Thanks Mandrake, I'm pleased to see we had a pretty similar reaction. I too had problems with the fact that there was a lot of time spent with stories we had heard before. I did perhaps think some of the interviewees were slightly more interesting tho.
Here's a few more thoughts I had:

The Bridge
It's strange to watch a documentary that is about submitting immediately after one about overcoming.

Again, it's an interesting topic in it's own right. But unlike Murderball, I don't think the craft on display here is as strong. At times it is morally and emotionally complex in a massive way, but it often labours under bad interviewees. That said, some of them are brilliant and add so much, and in those moments, there is a glimpse of what this movie may have been.

I'm a bit shamed to have dictated this without having seen it, but I think there is perhaps enough here to make it not a total waste.

2.5/5