Right on the heels of last month’s The Central Park Five comes another scathing indictment of our judicial system. It’s one thing for a documentary film to merely inform and educate the viewer on a particular subject. When director Linda Goldstein Knowlton and her husband adopted an infant Chinese girl, she had concerns about the challenges her daughter would face as she got older.
On April 19, 1989, a 28-year-old investment banker was violently assaulted and raped while jogging in Central Park. Somewhere, Al Gore is shouting, “See, I told you!” in response to the subject matter of Chasing Ice, a new documentary about the effect of global warming on the glaciers of the world. I will not reveal any of the secrets that director Sarah Polley (Away from Her, Take This Waltz) reveals about her family in Stories We Tell, a mesmerizing documentary about her late mother Diane and her everlasting impact on all who knew her.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that former NYC Mayor Ed Koch was a real character. Anybody expecting to see the deeply guarded secrets of magic revealed in the new documentary Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay will be sorely disappointed. If you’ve ever attended a Jewish wedding, then you’ve most likely danced to the folk song “Hava Nagila”. One of the former heads of the Shin Bet intones, “In the war or terror, there is no morality”, a statement that many will feel inclined to agree with after viewing The Gatekeepers, a riveting documentary about the secret Israeli counterterrorism agency charged with the safety and security of their nation. It only took me about 10-15 minutes to identify Visitors as yet another sad case of artistic masturbation. The idea Reggio tries to get across is that we humans are just visitors on planet Earth and we’re making a huge mess of it. West of Memphis examines in great detail the case of the West Memphis Three, a tragic case in which three young men were wrongfully convicted for the triple murder of three little boys. I recently reconnected with him after obtaining a copy of Celluloid Bloodbath: More Prevues from Hell, the sequel to 1987’s Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell. Surely, she will have questions about where she came from and the circumstances that led to her being adopted by an American family.
The subsequent case became a media sensation as five African-American youths stood trial for the brutal crime. Completely free of dialogue, it’s composed of a series of striking images from all over the world.
The Shining is my favorite horror film, but I’ve never analyzed it as deeply and as thoroughly as the five subjects in Room 237, a mostly compelling documentary from Rodney Ascher. Polley points her camera at her own family and gets them to talk about things better left unsaid. The self-described “liberal with sanity” is the subject of a riveting new documentary entitled, appropriately enough, Koch. Ricky Jay, that Renaissance man of the magic world, talks a lot about the men who influenced and shaped him while saying very little about his own personal history. For the uninitiated, it’s a series of documentaries that follows the lives of 14 people from different parts of England starting at childhood. It’s largely considered a tradition at celebratory events like wedding and bar mitzvahs, but where did it originate? It covers their role as the main protectors of Israel from the Six-Day War (June 1967) to present day. Specifically, it’s a pretentious and redundant slice of self-indulgence topped with a great big “SFW?” (So F**king What?). If it isn’t the man-made structures deteriorating into ruin, it’s the massive amounts of garbage that pile up. Werner Herzog’s documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga follows the lives of sable trappers and fishermen over the course of a year.
In addition, it’s usually a given that a documentary will present both sides of an issue and ask the viewer to pick a side. I’m also friends with Mad Ron who is NOT involved with this new collection of exploitation horror movie trailers (63 in all) from the 60s and 70s.
The controversy surrounding this case is the subject of the riveting new documentary The Central Park Five.
Director Ron Fricke (Baraka) shot the movie in 25 different countries (100 different locations!) over the course of five years. Director Jeff Orlowski seeks to accomplish this with images rather than words and, for the most part, he succeeds. Is the man who made classified government documents pertaining to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars public somebody to be admired or despised? Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and still can’t decide whether their theories represent brilliance or the complete absence of a life. Director Dror Moreh managed to convince six former Shin Bet heads to sit down and speak candidly about the clandestine operations that they oversaw and the bad decisions made by those in charge that would ultimately backfire. I’ve traveled to Denali National Park, Churchill and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge just to see grizzlies, polar bears and black bears in the wild. This review won’t be very long; there really isn’t that much to say about Visitors, a crushing disappointment from director Godfrey Reggio (the Qatsi trilogy- Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi). There, I just saved you 87 minutes that you’d never get back if you sat through this nonsense. Nature is a subject often tackled by Herzog in documentaries such as Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Encounters at the End of the World. In May 1993, three young boys (Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers) went missing from their Blytheville, Arkansas homes.
However, if a documentary makes you care about its subject and the people involved, as is the case with How to Survive a Plague, then the filmmakers have gone above and beyond the call of duty. I should also mention that, like its predecessor, it was shot at the nearby Lansdowne Theater.
It’s the subject of Somewhere Between, a moving piece that has the four girls talking about their personal experiences and revealing their most intimate thoughts.
The five defendants claimed that the police coerced false confessions after several hours of interrogation during which they lied to and threatened the youths.
The countries represented in this impressive production include the following: Angola, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Myanmar (Burma), Namibia, Nepal, Palestine, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey and the US.
The cinematography (also by Orlowski) in Chasing Ice is very impressive; the visuals are among the most striking that I’ve ever seen. D’Souza doesn't have nice things to say about our 44th President and he makes his feelings quite clear as he speculates about what would happen to the US should Obama be elected for a second term in the White House.
Going in, I had no idea that the man was such a divisive figure, especially in the African-American community.


As it stands, Deceptive Practice is a reasonably entertaining and engrossing documentary about a truly fascinating figure. I tend to stay away from politically-oriented documentaries like The Gatekeepers, but this one is a truly compelling piece of work that’s also quite haunting at times.
Much like his previous films, Visitors is a dialogue-free visual essay about how screwed up life is on our planet. The movie opens and closes with a shot of a gorilla which can only mean that Reggio is bringing Evolution into the equation.
The filmmaker has a knack for presenting honest depictions of nature and the cruelty often associated with it. It reminded me of the excellent 1990 drama Longtime Companion which concerned a close-knit group of friends affected by the AIDS virus. It follows each of them on their own personal journey to gain a greater understanding of their identity. In addition, the names of the underage suspects were released to the media before any of them had been formally arraigned or indicted.
A great deal of the action takes place in locations seldom seen by a majority of the world’s population. At least, that’s what I thought this documentary would be about, that’s the impression I got based on what I’ve been hearing about it.
Still, Room 237 managed to hold my interest and you can’t ask for much more than that from any film, particularly a documentary. Without revealing any details, there were others outside of the family who knew about Polley’s secret but respected her wish to keep the matter private until she was ready to talk about it publicly. The movie opens at a council meeting where they’re voting on renaming the Queensboro Bridge after the former mayor who brought the city back from the brink of financial destruction in the late 70s. Quietly commanding, you might recognize him from his appearances in movies like Boogie Nights, Tomorrow Never Dies, Mystery Men and The Prestige.
Each subsequent installment catches up with the subjects at seven-year intervals (7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, etc.) and allows the audience to observe how much their lives have changed (or haven’t changed) over the years. These questions and more are addressed in Hava Nagila(The Movie), an engaging new documentary that proves you don’t have to be one of God’s Chosen People to appreciate Hava Nagila (The Song). It makes a nice companion piece to Zero Dark Thirty in the way that the human subjects speak so openly about the questionable methods used to elicit information from prisoners and suspected terrorists. The life of the inhabitants of the Siberian village of Bakhta is hard and demanding, but they’re not complaining about it. It was believed that the boys had been sexually assaulted and killed by members of a Satanic cult. In this new documentary, we meet the people who founded ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987 and follow them over the course of eight years as they did whatever it took to call attention to the epidemic that was killing off members of the gay community in alarming numbers. It’s the perfect setting for this collection of trailers for macabre and gruesome low budget horror flicks that most often played at urban grindhouse theaters and drive-in movies.
One of the girls refers to herself as a banana (“yellow on the outside, white on the inside”) thus revealing a sense of humor regarding any questions about where she fits in. The word samsara (it’s a Sanskrit word) literally means “continuous flow” (according to Wikipedia) or “the ever-turning wheel of life” (according to the press materials). Orlowski follows nature photographer James Balog as he documents the melting glaciers of Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana. Most of the movie focuses on Obama’s early life and the various aspects that made him the leader he is today. It focuses primarily on two key figures, the elusive Assange and Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence officer who illegally passed the classified material to the “crazy, white-haired Aussie” in 2010. It’s clear that these people are passionate about the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film, an adaptation of the best-selling Stephen King novel. Stories We Tell is that public revelation; Polley uses the art of cinema to make sense of it and put it in some kind of perspective. However, many folks still remember the racial tensions that flared in the city during his three terms (1978-89) and opposed the renaming on those grounds. It’s been covered by many diverse artists who range from calypso king Harry Belafonte to 60s pop singer Connie Francis.
As a service to my readers and the moviegoing public in general, I’m going to tell you what the point of Visitors is. This lead to the arrests of three local teens- Damien Echols (age 18), Jessie Misskelley Jr. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to look at the people closest to you and realize that you come from a much different world.
Fricke describes Samsara as a non-verbal guided meditation that encourages the audience to contemplate the strange and beautiful world in which we live. The project is called the Extreme Ice Survey and it works like this: Balog sets up still cameras that take hourly pictures of the same glacier from a fixed spot. D’Souza compares his own early life with Obama’s and points out the various similarities between the two of them. Directed by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), We Steal Secrets is as tense as any given espionage thriller, made more unnerving by the fact that every word of it is absolutely true. Councilman Charles Barron refers to Koch as a “nemesis for the black community” and labels the proposal “a disrespect for our community”.
I was reluctant to see any of them as I hadn’t seen the first films and it just seemed pointless to walk in mid-story so to speak.
Jo Anne Worley belted out a funny version on Laugh-In and Gregory Hines used it to great comedic effect in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I (1981). Another one of the girls like to joke with her adopted older sister (also Chinese) about the fact that they’re the only Asians in their community. He does this over a period of three years, returning to check the cameras every six months or so.
A native of India, he immigrated to the US to attend Dartmouth College and ended up working at the White House during the Reagan administration. What’s even more frightening is some of what the American government never intended to reveal to the public.
Rather, their commentaries and theories are heard over a variety of film clips from many of Kubrick’s other movies (most notably, Eyes Wide Shut). Polley interviews family members, close friends and business associates of her mother’s to get their take on something that happened before she was born.
Director Neil Barsky (former reporter for the Wall Street Journal) has been granted access to the intensely private public figure and it’s fascinating stuff. Very little is said about Jay’s acting career here, we only see a brief but memorable clip from 1987’s House of Games.


Luckily, Apted provides a frame of reference for newcomers by juxtaposing clips from the older films with the current interviews. The movie has a lulling effect; it makes you feel very sleepy even if you chug a 5-hour energy drink beforehand. That leads to something that I don’t like about this movie, but I’ll hold off on that for now. My wife and I went to see Somewhere Between with a couple of friends (Shout-out to Bob and Sharon Farrell!) who adopted an infant Chinese girl about eight years ago (Hi Dorrie!). The idea is that the pictures, when played back sequentially, will prove what he’s been saying about the shrinking glaciers. Who can ever forget the disturbing footage of an Apache helicopter open-firing on a group of Reuters war correspondents in Baghdad whose cameras were mistaken as weapons?
I really tried to generate some interest in Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s but gave up after about 30 minutes. It’s an interesting creative choice, ones that proves effective and entertaining after an initial feeling of confusion. Deceptive Practice is all about the magic and the amazing tricks he performs with a deck of cards.
Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life without parole while Echols received the death penalty.
They liked the movie very much as well and thought that it raised some very relevant issues. Butts says it best, "The first thing you do in the United States of America when a white woman is raped is round up a bunch of black youths, and I think that's what happened here." The crime sparked a great deal of outrage among the law-abiding citizens of New York who called for the boys’ heads on a platter as well as supporters who claimed that the youths were being railroaded due to their race. As a result of this error and a second attack on the van trying to take one of the wounded for medical help, eleven innocent people died. Simply put, I found this documentary about the famed, high-end department store (located on New York’s Fifth Ave.) incredibly boring. I couldn’t understand, for the life of me, why the first narrator (Bill Blakemore) looked so much like Tom Cruise. And to think it all started for Polley when one of her siblings jokingly made an offhand comment about ….. Overall, it’s a pretty compelling movie although not too different from something you might see on the Discovery Channel. Over the years, their claims of innocence prompted Echols’ girlfriend Lorri Davis to initiate an independent re-investigation of the case.
I tried to appreciate that it provides a glimpse of the inner-workings of one of the world’s most prominent fashion meccas. I thought that maybe Ascher was attempting to recreate key passages of Eyes Wide Shut as we see Cruise walking the nighttime streets of New York.
This man is a true master in a way that eludes show-offs like Criss Angel and David Blaine. Director Roberta Grossman has composed a short and sweet valentine to the song that’s not as old as one might think. Not long after, prominent filmmakers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) got involved.
It never occurred to me that the director would incorporate footage from other Kubrick films into Room 237. She traces it back about 150 years to the Ukraine where it was first sung as a wordless prayer (or nigun) to honor God. The new investigation subsequently uncovered a great deal of police and prosecutorial misconduct as well as the fact that none of the DNA found on the boys matched the alleged killers.
That must sound horrible, especially coming from one whose profession requires him to remain objective about movies and their subjects. Once I realized what Ascher was doing, I started to understand that his film didn’t merely address the subjects’ obsession with this one film.
The comment would become a running joke in the Polley household for several years before she started taking it seriously. At one point in Koch, he responds to the question in a way that provides a very definite (and very unprintable) answer without confirming or denying anything.
There’s a much bigger picture in that it also addresses the passionate appreciation felt by several movie lovers for the late filmmaker and his entire body of work. Barsky follows him through his everyday life as a retired politician who still remains very much in the public eye. There are two male brown bears who battle fiercely for the rights to mate with the females in the area, with the assumption being that the winner– a massive behemoth the filmmakers nickname Chinook– will kill Amber and Scout so that Sky will go into heat. The final shots express a hope that the same mistake won’t be repeated should the world start over. That would be 1995’s Unzipped, the one about famed designer Isaac Mizrahi who makes an appearance (alongside many, many others) in this movie.
One of the best scenes finds the family by a river, where Sky turns over huge rocks in search of oysters and other aquatic delicacies to tide them over until the annual salmon run begins. Curious cubs get a little too close to the action, and plucky Scout winds up getting his claw stuck in a clam shell. Every year, thousands of salmon instinctively return from the sea to the rivers from which they came. It may not revolutionize the genre, but it’s a classic throwback to the those True-Life Adventures of old, and a portion of all first-week ticket sales will be donated to the National Park Foundation.
I remember seeing a documentary of David Attenborough that talks about bears and their journey in arctic.
It was fascinating to learn so much about them, and how they survive the harsh winters with almost no food, and try to bring up their cubs and train them to catch fish and swim! I know some people might consider that a mild spoiler, but as a parent myself I know that it’s good to be aware if there are emotionally upsetting moments we need to prepare our kids for. Though there are parts of the film where their survival is in doubt, there are no shocking moments parents should be concerned about. Required fields are marked *Comment Notify me of followup comments via e-mailName * Email * Website Sign up for exclusive content, giveaways & discounts!



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