285 posts categorized "Documentary"

March 26, 2017


Always For PleasureLegendary documentarian Les Blank’s roughhewn social study soaks up New Orleans’ vibrant culture of traditions, parades, music, food, and joyful people in 1978. Learn the proper way to eat a crawfish, and dig the festive vibe in a doc that is a little bit history lesson and a lot of fun.    

Les Blank’s intuitive sense of documentary filmmaking is purely organic. His films allow for a natural symbiotic exchange to occur between the viewer and the work at hand. You can feel it happening when “Always For Pleasure” gets into the Second line musicians and partiers at a funeral procession.

Irreverent joy overflows into Blank’s wanton absorption of a melting pot made up of Black, White, European, French, Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, Mexican, Appalachian, and West Indian influences. Outside of society, and yet minted within primal human instincts for shared communal experience, the Second line musicians and their followers give back all that has been taken away from most of America’s citizens. You can guess the rest, with a smile on your face.

Always For Pleasure

Not Rated. 58 mins. (A-) (Four stars — out of five / no halves) 


February 25, 2017


KEDICeyda Torun’s filmic love letter to the feral cats of Istanbul, and to the community of local residents they inspire, is cinematic ice cream for the soul.

Cat-level roaming photography contrasts with helicopter-views of this beautiful old port city to give audiences a visual sense of how seven feral cats command their territories with agility, charm, and persistence. Generous fishmongers make for prime stalking.

Local shop owners keep a running tab with multiple vets that they frequently visit for the sake of their feline pals. The community’s willingness to care for the cats that share their streets, apartments, and shops, speaks volumes about the culture and people of Istanbul.

The filmmakers make spritely connections between cats such as the charismatic Gamsiz, a black-and-white smooth slinky operator who keeps more than a few humans at his beck and call.

There are even a husband-and-wife couple of cats whose female counterpart keeps her male partner under close watch, lest he be tempted away by the charms of another cat.


The film’s insights come from locals who have a lot to say about their cat companions.

“People who don’t love animals can’t love people either” makes sense on a fundamental level. “Kedi” is an ideal family documentary that captures the beauty of Istanbul from a cat’s eye perspective. And yes, there are plenty of kittens bouncing around in various predicaments for survival in the crevices of Istanbul’s (mostly) welcoming streets.


Not Rated. 80 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


February 13, 2017


Decline-of-Western-CivilizationPenelope Spheeris’s infamous documentary of L.A.’s hardcore early ‘80s punk scene was banned by police chief Daryl Gates after the film’s premiere.

If that isn’t reason enough to watch this essential punk document, seeing staged performances by The Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, Fear, Germs, and X will surely do the trick. Spheeris captures the humor, energy, and mindset of L.A.'s short-lived punk scene between interview clips and live music footage.

You can't put a price on a filmic document such as this one. Also, you can plainly see and hear how much better X was than most of the other bands in the film. 

“We’re desperate, get used to it.”

Not Rated. 100 mins. (A-) (Four stars - out of five / no halves)


In episode #30 we give a big shout-out to FilmStruck with their currently streaming THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION over a ROGUE DEAD GUY ALE — an homage to Darby Crash. Cole's early '80s San Diego punk band The Rockin' Dogs make a couple of guest appearances. Eat.


The Decline of Western Civilization 2

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February 12, 2017


I_am_not_your_negroSamuel L. Jackson’s pitch-perfect rendition of James Baldwin’s unmistakable voice is as pure as Baldwin’s memoir recollections of his murdered civil rights peers Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., as collected in his unfinished manuscript “Remember This House.”  

Haiti-born filmmaker Raoul Peck not only captures the essence of James Baldwin’s fearless perspectives on racial injustice in America, but he breathes fresh historical perspective into the harsh realities that too many Americans mistake for justice so many decades later. Fiercely articulate, handsome, and perfectly dressed, James Baldwin comes across as a bantamweight intellectual poet-warrior prepared to command the center stage of whatever arena he enters.

A clip of Baldwin’s debut (1968) appearance on the Dick Cavett television show speaks volumes about the mindset of liberal (white) culture at the time. You will never think of Dick Cavett the same way again, but you do come to understand the nature of James Baldwin’s magnetic, if heroic, attraction to truth that led him to abandon America for France where he lived as a writer-in-exile until the end of his life. Only in America would James Baldwin be considered a radical. 

I Am Not Your Negro

“I Am Not Your Negro” is as bold and forthcoming as its uncompromising title. It is one of the best 10 films of 2016. You might want to watch it more than once.

Rated PG-13. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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January 02, 2017


MifuneWhile not the in-depth character study of the prolific Japanese actor that its title implies, “Mifune: The Last Samurai” is a rollicking survey of the gifted artist who played muse to Akira Kurosawa for much of the director’s storied career.

Keanu Reeves provides charismatic voice-over narration in telling an abbreviated (read sanitized) version of Toshiro Mifune’s transition from son to Japanese missionaries living in China, to Japanese Imperial Army soldier during World War II, and on to becoming one of Japan’s most highly regarded actors.

Predictable interview segments with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese put Hollywood’s stamp of approval on Mifune’s well-crafted character creations in films such as “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” "Yojimbo," and “Throne of Blood,” all of which are referenced in essential clips. Never mind that Hollywood only recently included Mifune in their "Walk of Fame," long after his death in 1997.


“Mifune: The Last Samurai” functions best as an introduction to one of Cinema’s most disciplined and unique actors. Watching this documentary should have the desired effect of inspiring its audience to seek out some of the more than 150 films that Toshio Mifune starred in, to witness the nuance, humor, and untamed fury of his dynamic performances. There are only a handful of actors in the history of Cinema that have created anything close to the number of indelible characterizations that Mifune made palpable on the big screen. Indeed, no other actor embodied the tragic face of the samurai legend and legacy as did Toshiro Mifune.

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 11.57.08 AM

Not Rated. 80 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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October 26, 2016


Best Democracy Money Can BuyIf you don’t know who Greg Palast is, you should. This (64-year-old) New York Times bestselling author and freelance investigative journalist for the BBC and for the Guardian dresses like a gumshoe detective from a Dashiell Hammett novel for good reason; he can back it up. This background information is important to take into account when watching “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” because Palast’s presentation comes on strong. In this day and age, such trappings could be confused with caricature, rather than character — by which I mean a person with integrity. There’s a word you don’t see very often because every time such a human being exerts his or her attempt to free the truth (see Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald, Ted Rall, etc.) they are slandered and demonized by both sides of America’s neo-liberal media and its corporate fathers.

Palast makes Michael Moore look, well, small by comparison. Moore (two years Palast’s junior) has partaken in so much of the Hillary Clinton Kool-Aid that he may as well throw in the towel. Check out Palast’s investigation into the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Voter fraud in America is the focus of Palast’s bumpy documentary, which Palast co-directed with David Ambrose. It would have behooved Palast to hire a more experienced director to take on those duties, but the meat of this film far outweighs its filmic weaknesses. Odd how in the few weeks since this film’s release, all sorts of news outlets have been jumping on the band wagon to state that Donald Trump’s version of voter fraud — namely where citizens cross state lines to vote twice — is microscopic as to be nonexistent. What Palast shows, describes, and tracks down are the billionaire corporate raiders (see the Koch Brothers, John Paulson, and John “The Vulture” Singer) who fund insidious things like Interstate Crosscheck, which effectively blocks non-white voters from casting their votes.

Screen Shot 2016-10-26 at 8.30.18 PM

“The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” isn’t a great documentary, but it gets the job done. From its title, you know that democracy isn’t real. So if Greg Palast and his girl Friday (Ms. Badpenny) seem over the top, well it goes with the territory of a country on the verge of yet another fraud-based election. As always it isn’t the voters you have to worry about, it’s the perpetually rigged system that will deliver Corporate America’s latest puppet. Sometimes you need to hear such bitter truths from a private-dick-styled journo like Palast. Check it out.

Not Rated. 114 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

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October 25, 2016


13THSteven Spielberg left out a glaring aspect of the 13th amendment in his film “Lincoln.” The amendment states that slavery and involuntary servitude be abolished “except for punishment for a crime.” Let that sink in. Lincoln didn’t so much “abolish” slavery as give his white capitalist brethren an expedient way of using prisons as a profitable slave industry. While filmmaker Ava DuVernay doesn’t fully articulate the incremental genocide that blacks in America have suffered since the first slaves were brought to this country from Africa, she spells out the reality in no uncertain terms.

DuVernay opens the film with Obama speaking on the subject of American prisons. “So let’s look at the statistics. The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. Think about that.”

It’s an especially provocative remark coming from a black President under whose watch incarcerations of blacks have skyrocketed while blacks have continued to be systematically murdered on American streets by police officers who never go to jail for their crimes.

With the aid of African-American Studies historians, activists, and politicians DuVernay traces the propagandistic influence of D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” that escalated mass killings of blacks throughout the South by racist whites paying heed to Griffith’s dog whistle. Many more such coded signals, such as “war on crime” and “war on drugs” enabled deranged politicians like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to ravage black communities while feeding a prison industrial complex that continues to grow. Naturally, this crisis links directly to modern corporations such as Google, DirectTV, eBay, GM, Wendy’s, Coca-Cola, Johnson&Johnson, Altria, Pfizer, Walmart, the Koch Brothers, American Bail Coalition, McDonalds, Kraft, P&G, Google, Shell, Jpay, Aramark, Sprint, PG&E, Ford, and of course Facebook.

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A major flaw in the film arrives via fleeting chyrons identifying a plethora of articulate interviewees that populate the film. It would have been helpful for the audience to know whom we’re listening to onscreen. Nonetheless, “13TH” is a vital documentary toward understanding America’s systemic abuse of blacks that takes on many nefarious forms, not the least of which is this country’s prison system that forces prisoners to produce goods for companies like Victoria’s Secret. This Netflix-produced documentary isn’t the best doc you’ll see this year, but may well be the most important.

Not Rated. 100 mins.  A- (Four Stars — out of five / no halves)

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