Minimalism: A Documentary (good New Year’s Resolution Ideas for everyone)

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Happy New Year, everyone! Today’s review is of a movie that I actually watched right before Christmas on Netflix. I felt that it would’ve been the perfect antidote to the excess of that holiday. Unfortunately, the excess of that holiday kept me from getting to this blog. But in the spirit of making resolutions, and offering ideas for people looking for resolutions (realistic resolutions: you may say you want to spend more time at the gym, but do you really want to? Do you really want to spend more time on a bench with anonymous sweat? NO! You don’t! Sorry, getting off topic and making up your mind for you), I recommend giving Minimalism: A Documentary about The Important Things (2016) a try.

In fitting with minimalism, this documentary is only 1 hr 19 minutes. It just scratches the surface of a “movement” that decries materialism in favor of less possessions and more life experience. So it’s somewhat odd that perhaps too much time is spent following two former materialists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ray Nicodemus, as they go on tour promoting their book about minimalism. Of course, it would be more minimalist to just hand out free flyers to people instead of going on and on for a whole book, but hey, even minimalists need to make a living. Despite my snark, these guys are sincere, have good insights into what made them unfulfilled in their professional life, and they meet interesting people along the way. However, they seem to be less interesting than a lot of the other people in the movie who get much less screen time. For example, people familiar with Dan Harris and his book 10 Percent Happier will enjoy hearing about his experiences with mindfulness, but won’t hear anything new of course. I can’t expect the film to delve into the details that a book does, but you feel like they barely scratch the surface when it comes to the connection between minimalism and mindfulness. Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, also gets too little screen time.

Of course, a documentary about minimalism would have to touch on the tiny house movement. If you watch HGTV or DIY channels, you can’t go too long without seeing shows like “Tiny House Hunters” (not good, really. too often hipsters settle for a camper or what is basically just a small apartment). One of the better Tiny House shows is on the DiY channel. I think it’s called “Tiny House, Big Living” but it deals more with the design and building of tiny homes, and it’s inspiring to see the innovative designs that are aesthetically pleasing, yet functional for a tiny space. I bring this up because this movie does touch on the tiny house movement in relation to minimalism, and I think it does an adequate job of explaining what that’s about very succinctly. However, there is an apartment design in New York that is shown ever so briefly, where you see the same space being transformed into a dining room, a bedroom, a living room, and how what is also a closet can be turned into a guest room. Yet there is zero follow up on this design- it’s shown and then the director moves on. I actually think this could be more revolutionary than tiny houses, because having a multifunctional space in an apartment is easier than buying a tiny house, and then finding land to put the tiny house  on (which is not an option for many urban Californians like me).

Somehow this documentary still worked for me, perhaps because of its weakness. By touching the surface only, it feels like a briskly-paced, yet not hyperkinetic, film. I supposed you could go to the website at https://minimalismfilm.com/ and purchase bonus interviews to get more in depth. There’s also a female professor (unfortunately I can’t remember her name) who probably has the best insights of anyone in this film, and also the best one-liner about how kids are inundated with commercials these days that are trying to convince them they need to buy “crap.” As she says this, we’re shown several toy commercials in rapid succession, most all of it stuff I’ve never seen before. I wondered if my Transformers and Star Wars toys were also crap when I was a kid. At least there was some kind of “story” to the commercials that sucked 5-year old Aaron into convincing his parents to GET THEM ALL! Anyhow, her take on how we are not really true “materialistic” people in the sense that we don’t really value the material at all, we value what it symbolizes, is just one of the little moments in this documentary that should make you think, and should make you want to take steps to simplify your life by getting rid of stuff you don’t need or value.

Unless of course you enjoy “crap” as much as the next person. But according to Nicodemus and Milburn, your book collection is okay if it brings you joy. Just don’t overdo it. Luckily, streaming does provide us with the ability to ditch the DVD collection (DVD’s? What are those?) somewhat. You should check this documentary out rather than watching more Fuller House.

IMDB rating: 7 out of 10

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My First Amazon Prime Review: 3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy (2015)

I’ve been contemplating changing the name and the focus of this blog so that I can include other streaming options. Currently, besides Netflix, I only subscribe to Amazon Prime. Hulu seems to be more for TV series viewing, and their selection of movies seems to be largely the same as Prime’s. If anyone has Hulu, I’d be interested in hearing if my impression is wrong. But I think two streaming services are good for now.

The pros of Amazon Prime:

  • Free shipping: This has nothing to do with movies of course, but if buy a lot from Amazon anyways, I question why you wouldn’t just sign up for this service. It pays for itself in just a few months in our household.
  • Movies that disappear from Netflix often end up here. They also have the option to buy or rent movies, so if you’ve cut the cord, you might like having that option.

Cons:

  • I have yet to have enough interest in their TV Shows to watch one (although there are some that seem interesting, there aren’t any that I felt compelled to watch right away, like Netflix’s Stranger Things and Making a MurdererThat may change soon, if I ever get some free time.
  • At least on my Blu Ray player, which is how I access the service, the way they organize their categories is sub-standard compared to Netflix, and makes the service seem more limited than it is. Amazon really seems to make sure that you know that you can watch Interstellar  for free, as it shows up in several “recommended” categories. But Obvious Childwhich IS a Prime title, shows up nowhere, not even in the comedy category. You have to search for it specifically by its title, which I did a week ago only because I remember it was on Prime months ago and I never got around to watching it. That’s why if you use Prime, I suggest making use of the Watch List, so that if you see something that interests you, it’s not lost forever if you forget about. But then the watchlist makes it clear that just like Netflix, titles are removed from Prime (such as Under the Skin and A Royal Affairboth of which I wanted to watch but now you have to buy or rent)
  • At the current moment, Amazon Prime has a weak selection of documentaries, which led us to watch the Documentary Short 3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy

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Viewers are sure to be engrossed by this documentary detailing the horrific case of one Dr. Gosnell. The documentary does an excellent job of keeping you in suspense during the first half of the film, methodically doling out details to keep you wondering what exactly made this abortion clinic stand out from others. Quite early on, the filmmaker speaks with Dr. Gosnell on the phone, and he explains who he is, and why, despite his Christian beliefs, he believes his actions are defensible based on his interpretation of the bible.

As we learn more about what Dr. Gosnell actually did, we find there is a huge disconnect between what he was accused of and what he felt was permissible as a “Christian” to do when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. The documentary’s huge first failing is to not ask him about these contradictions. SPOILER: It would seem obvious if you manage to talk to him on the phone, you would ask him what medical necessity required him to keep the feet of fetuses/babies in jars. And that’s just the most obvious question they could have asked him.

The other huge problem with this film made me question the motive for this film. The end of the film expands the scope to include gross misconduct at a Planned Parenthood in Delaware. While at first I was willing to go with this direction, it became problematic. They interview several nurses who worked at this Planned Parenthood, who say they are pro-choice. Fine. Perhaps the filmmaker’s point was that refusing to oversee abortion clinics can lead to problems even at a well established and funded facility such as Planned Parenthood, and not just a gross “hole in the wall” abortion clinic such as Gosnell’s. But the actions at this Planned Parenthood, while despicable, do not come close to the actions of the psychotic butcher at 3801 Lancaster. It also creates somewhat of a false equivalency, as if all abortion clinics are just looking to cut corners and do as many abortions as quickly as possible. And then it mentions how Planned Parenthood is fighting legislation that would force them to have the same standards as a hospital in states such as Virginia and Texas, as if the whole organization was trying to shirk their responsibilities as a provider of medical services. Anyone who does a cursory investigation into the Texas legislation will find that there is much more to the legislation than just keeping the clinic sanitary. (I believe there was an informative 60 Minutes piece about this law). The law is so restrictive that you couldn’t possibly operate a clinic outside of a hospital setting (and guess what, you can’t perform abortions at a hospital in Texas). To misrepresent the Texas legislation in this manner makes one question the filmmaker’s intent. If you want to make a pro-life film, that’s fine. Just be honest and upfront about the film you’re making.

If you want a lighter-hearted look at this issue, check out Obvious Childwhich I recommend. Or, if you want to really make the most of your Prime membership, and don’t like anything the least bit controversial, check out Happy Gilmore.

IMDB Rating for 3801 Lancaster: 5 out of 10

Foxy Knoxy Rox Docs!

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My apologies for such an awful title for this post. But if you’ve seen Amanda Knox (2016) on Netflix, which a lot of people probably have, it fits right in with all the ludicrous tabloid coverage of her trial. We finally got around to watching this last night. It’s a solid doc that follows the format of The Fog of War (2003), where the principals just tell their story, and there is no narration (just occasionally a question asked offscreen). Actually, it even seems like they might have used the same set for the interviews.

Anyways, as this news story unfolded, I casually followed itbut never really learned about the details until viewing this documentary. I just remembered something not adding up about the supposed story of her being a sex-crazed killer. This film, compared to the epic length Making a Murderer (2015) feels like True Crime Cliff Notes. Yet unlike almost every episode of Dateline, I didn’t have any lingering or unanswered questions, excluding the usual “How could anyone believe that?” or “How could they be so careless?” etc. I felt I understood basically what happened, when it happened, how it happened, etc. You know, the basics of reporting.

The basics of reporting seemed to escape Nick Pisa, the British journalist who comes across as much as a villain (to me) as does the lead prosecutor, Giulano Mignini, whose wild fantasies created this nightmare for Knox and her Italian boyfriend (of just 5 days!) Raffaele Sollecito. Anyone who has watched Making a Murderer or similar true crime/innocent man falsely convicted docs or dramas should expect a villainous lead prosecutor. But really, if you call yourself a “journalist,” and invoke the names of Woodward and Bernstein early on in this film, you should do more than just regurgitate whatever the prosecution feeds you,  and then printing it as the unvarnished truth. Even a non-journalist should have had questions about why Knox would want to kill a roommate she’s lived with for only 2 weeks (I’ve had bad roommates before, but come on), or why a boyfriend of only 5 days would be so willing to murder for her. But Pisa and the media get a pass, because according to Pisa, if he didn’t print it, then someone else would get “the scoop.” But I still don’t understand how printing allegations made by prosecutors means you have to present it as truth. It’s called critical thinking, Pisa. Anyhow, he’s a tool. And for those who think this is a British tabloid problem, news in the US (and probably everywhere) works the same way. Prosecutors call up a reporter, feed them their version of what happened, and it goes to print. “Journalist” has a story without having to leave his desk.

As I was writing this, I’m reading a lot of anti-Knox threads on IMDB. Also, there are complaints about this being one-sided. Well, yeah, it’s called Amanda Knox after all. But also, if half of your movie is spent letting the lead prosecutor explain himself, is it one-sided? I just don’t understand how people think these days. I guess if you watched Making a Murderer (2015) and still thought he was guilty, don’t watch this. Sure, both Steve Avery and Amanda Knox behaved in an odd manner, but that isn’t evidence in and of itself. If you already know everything about this case, this probably won’t break new ground for you (You’ll probably feel like I did with The Beatles: Eight Days A Week). I wish it had explored more about Amanda Knox, both past and present, but I got the sense that despite being interviewed for the film, she values her privacy.

For what it does in just 90 minutes, I give it the following ratings:

Netflix: 4 stars (out of 5)

IMDB: 7 out of 10

Review: The Act of Killing (2012): Pure Torture

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Let me just cut straight to my opinion of this film: I hated it. I will make it my mission to see it destroyed, and all its critical acclaim go the way of The Birth of a Nation‘s.

The Act of Killing (2012)  is the fifth and final entry of my reviews of the 2013 Oscar Nominated Documentaries. Given all the rapturous acclaim for this film, I was expecting it to contend for my top pick up to this point: The SquareThe premise seemed insane and unbelievable, or as one IMDB reviewer put it, “it needs to be seen to be believed.” True, but that doesn’t make this a good film. The idea of allowing mass-murderers to re-enact their crimes seemed too surreal and interesting to fail, yet it does. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are producers for this film, and if either of them had tackled this subject matter, then it could have been the film I imagined it would be, or the film that critics think they saw. But Joshua Oppenheimer is a hack, offering the viewer nothing but indulgence and wallowing in other people’s depravity, and making us feel complicit in their crime. If that’s how the viewer should feel in watching this, then of course you have to question how Oppenheimer can sincerely believe “There’s no good guys, there’s no bad guys, there’s just people.” [1]

Bullshit!

Oppenheimer must not have even watched his own film, and must be blinded by his “contact with Anwar (the centerpiece of the film and one of the murderers), with whom he’s grown close” [1] Either that or he’s a hipster, trying to maintain an ironic distance from the horrific implications of his film.

I unfortunately have to review this film, develop an opinion of it, and decipher the filmmaker’s intentions by seeking sources outside the film, because we are given virtually no context for what we see in the film. The film begins with a quote from Voltaire: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”. We then see what seems to be a structure for an abandoned amusement park that is in the shape of a giant fish. Cut to a waterfall where Anwar, the “conscience” of the film, and Herman, the grotesque pig of a man that is dressed in garish drag, are motioning as if they are sirens luring ships to the shore. They are surrounded by ornately costumed dancers. But there is no music, just a director shouting directions. We will come back to this scene towards the end of the film, but when the director shouts “Cut” you see the young dancers stretching to get their coats- they are uncomfortable and cold. The fantasy quickly gives way to reality. We then are given the only historical context to the film: “In 1965, the Indonesian Government was overthrown by the military. Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese. In less than a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million ‘communists’ were murdered. The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings. These men have been in power, and persecuted their opponents- ever since.” The film then goes on to give their film its current context, which is where they claim to do things that the film won’t end up doing: “When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did. To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever way they wished. The film follows that process, and documents its consequences.”

Not really, Oppenheimer. If you were to truly have documented the consequences of their actions, you would have at least partially stuck with your original intentions for the film, as chronicled in The Australian: “When the filmmaker tried to explore the truth about what happened in 1965 through the experiences of survivors in the plantation belt outside Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, he found: ‘They were too scared to say what had happened to them because the killers were living all around them.’ Police threatened the filmmakers with arrest, while plantation bosses and civic leaders regularly found ways to interrupt shooting. Eventually, the survivors asked Oppenheimer: ‘Why don’t you film the killers?’ Suddenly, ‘all the doors flew open.’ Whereas his original subjects had feared reprisals, the men who’d helped bathe Indonesia in blood were eager to talk about their achievements.” 

And we are treated to their boasting for 2 hours, while the victims and their suffering become an abstraction, and even a source of amusement. Herman, the fat pig of a paramilitary leader, enlists locals to help recreate scenes of terror and kidnapping in the streets. It’s a spectacle to everyone involved, with laughter and joy taken in the recreating of their own country men’s misery. “They burned our house down!” Herman says, mocking and mimicking the families of victims, while people in the street laugh and laugh. They calmly recount how they strangled “communists” using wire. Anwar tap dances on the same roof where he supposedly killed thousands. We meet a newspaperman, who occupied the same building that they killed people in, who claims to be ignorant of what was happening under their shared roof. The Pancasila paramilitary group to which they belonged still thrives, and essentially rules the streets. We see their rallies, which seem stuck in a time warp, as they rail against communists, and claim that the origin of the word “gangster” is “free man” over and over again. In case you thought they were just violent, we are treated to their leader playing golf and making disgusting comments about the female caddie’s genitalia. So we learn they are sexist too. Anwar, Herman, and others begin recreating interrogation scenes quite convincingly, but in a very movie-like exaggerated manner.

Given very little context for what is happening, things become very confusing at times. When we are introduced to Anwar’s neighbor, who tells a story of how his relatives were killed, I didn’t know if that was part of the movie they were making or not. Some of the recreations have a nightmarish quality to them, that frankly felt like what a self-indulgent director would do given an unlimited budget. But we never get a sense of how the film they think they are making comes together, or how the “scenes” relate to the historical context we are not given.

We eventually also learn that the killings may have been a cover for the genocide of the Chinese population of Indonesia. When Herman runs for office, we learn that the populace can be bribed for their vote, and he who bribes the best will win the election. Herman loses, and we lose respect for the general populace of Indonesia for seemingly accepting and participating in the corruption that they are essentially victims of. We get to see the members of the paramilitary shake down business owners for protection money, so some sympathy may remain.

Everything I mentioned up to this point happens in the first half of the film. At the hour and 15 minute mark, we got antsy, wondering how much longer this indulgence in depravity could last. I have to admit that I stopped watching at that point, and watched the last 45 minutes just today, a week or so later. Despite several scenes highlighting the natural beauty of Indonesia, the whole country seems like a place to never visit. Oppenheimer treats the viewer to repeatedly observing the actions of people who are the opposite of self-aware at best, and the worst of humanity at worst, without challenging them in any way, shape, or form. I can imagine Herzog taking the same material, and giving it shape and form, and purpose. I can imagine the director of The Devil Came on Horseback or even The Square allowing these people to have their say, but placing their actions in the context of the misery and strife they create. With The Devil Came on Horseback, it was clear what the benefit of the film was. No one would have heard about the suffering in Darfur without it.

And to those who might say that I missed the point of this film, I would point them to Errol Morris’ own The Fog of War, which essentially is a long sustained interview with a “villain” who may have also been to some a mass murderer. The implications, context, and consequences of one man’s actions are clear, even if what we do about it is not. But we inherently as Americans should have wrestled with what we saw because we understood its context and significance. And for what it’s worth, we see a man genuinely wrestle with his conscience, in an understated but genuine way, quite the opposite of the showiness of Anwar’s coming to terms with his actions. So then what is the point of this film? What was the point of going on for 2 hours, letting these people take joy in recreating their own murderous crimes? What are we supposed to learn? What are we supposed to do?

I must quote the following from Jennifer Merin, who quotes her colleague, who also sums up my feelings about the film: “During a post-screening conversation I had with BBC Commissioning Editor Nick Fraser, he commented. ‘It’s as though a documentary filmmaker went down to Argentina, found some ex-Nazis and gave them some money to make a film about how much fun they’d had killing Jews during the Holocaust. Everyone would be horrified. But in this case, it’s about Indonesia. People don’t know as much about it, so they don’t take exception in the same way.’ Insightful and pithy, as always, Fraser’s take on the film and the general response to it just about sums up my own” (2).

But Oppenheimer has the nerve to say the message of his film is “there’s just people.” No, there are people who murder and get away with it, and boast and revel in it. But allowing them to revel in it, without ever really questioning them during the whole process, should leave Oppenheimer with a dirty feeling. Sorry, Oppenheimer, Anwar does not truly come to terms with his actions. A few minutes of hacking up phlegm, or wretching, or whatever he does, does not even begin to count as contrition. If Hitler had come to terms with his actions by getting a little sick, would that mean anything to anyone?

Even better than that, put Hitler in place of Anwar in the penultimate scene of the film. Remember the waterfall fantasy scene at the beginning of the movie? We return to that scene, this time to the tune of “Born Free” (there they go again with the whole “free man” thing) where Anwar is a god like figure, Herman is a grotesque drag queen, and beautiful dancers surround them. Insert two downtrodden dirty people who have wire around their neck, which should immediately for the viewer place these as two of Anwar’s victims. They remove the wire from their neck, and thank Anwar for “sending them to heaven.”

Grotesque. Indulgent. Complicit. Depraved.

Anyone watching this film should read the following, which calls into question the veracity of the claims of the participants in this film:

BFI Review

Also, read the few negative reviews I could find for other reasons to not praise this film:

About.com Review

Filmracket Review 

So that leaves us with the Oscar Documentary Challenge, that I should have finished a month ago. The good news is that 20 Feet From Stardom is now on streaming! So you can decide for yourself on how to rank all five documentaries nominated by the Academy. For me, the order from best to worst would be:

1. The Square

2. 20 Feet from Stardom

3. Dirty Wars

4. Cutie and the Boxer

5. The Act of Killing

Methinks that Blackfish could have been a nomination. I will have to watch that soon.

My IMDB Rating of The Act of Killing: 1 out of 10

My Netflix Rating: 1 out of 5

References:

1) APPLEBAUM, STEPHEN (13 April 2013) Indonesia’s killing fields revisited in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary. The Australian

2) MERIN, JENNIFER (2013) The Act of Killing- Movie Review- 2013. About.com

The Square (2013): Oscar Documentary Challenge Entry #3

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I feel a bit like a student who knew when their big assignment’s due date was, and kind of did a lot of work, but didn’t quite finish, and therefore won’t turn in the assignment at all, and then hopes the teacher doesn’t notice (as if teachers just forget these things). Maybe I was hoping to distract everyone with the Arrested Development posts. Did it work?

In an earlier post, I committed to watching all the Oscar nominated documentaries (4 out of the 5 are on streaming, with the 5th being one I’ve seen in the theater). I knew I was giving myself a March 2nd deadline, which seemed like plenty of time. It was plenty of time, but I couldn’t manage to find the time in my busy schedule (it’s almost like I have others thing to do besides watch movies!)

I’ve gotten so close, watching The Square (2013) last night. The only one I won’t finish in time for the Oscar ceremonies tonight is The Act of Killing, which according to a friend, made him “lose faith in humanity, and I’m a community college teacher, so that’s saying a lot.” So that movie is a definite contender and will be something I review later on this week. After watching The Square, I’d have to say the competition is between those two movies.

I’ve been eager to watch this one for months now, ever since it drew attention for being distributed exclusively through Netflix. The movie starts where many others might have ended- with “revolutionaries” gathered in Tahrir Square, the most important and symbolic public space in Egypt, celebrating the removal of the corrupt despot Hosni Mubarak from the presidency. The music at this point is hopeful, the participants speak optimistically, and in broad terms about their success. Seeing that there was still an hour and a half left after this opening segment, I hoped that the tone wouldn’t remain constant, or else this movie would have been a long pat-on-the-back fluff piece saying how great everyone was in bringing about change.

Thankfully, the director Jehane Noujaim, stuck around for the aftermath, the part of most films that you have to fill in yourself by searching on Wikipedia or Google for the latest, or reading the postscripts at the end of the film before the final credits roll. We see change does not come so easy. The first ominous sign of what is to come is when the crowds disperse after the removal of Mubarak, at the request of the Egyptian army, who say they will never hurt Egyptians, but they can go home. The principal characters in the film (one of which is the star of the film The Kite Runnerrealize their mistake, with several of them independently verbalizing that they should have never left the square until a new constitution had been drafted. 

I was reminded of Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude while watching this film, as the same things continue to happen over and over again, this time not generation after generation, but leader after leader (or lack of leader). Not much has changed after six months of military rule, and whereas you are shown at the beginning sympathetic, idealistic, intelligent, and mostly secular Egyptians fighting for change (with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood joining the revolutionaries because it’s the right thing to do as a human, not as a Muslim), opportunistic members of the Muslim Brotherhood move in to the vacuum and begin co-opting the movement for a new Egypt. Anyone who has been brainwashed into believing that government and religion are actually separate in this country should see parallels between what the Muslim Brotherhood does and what the Christian Right has done in our country.

The consequences of this development of course are more drastic and deadly for Egyptians, and even if you are intimately familiar from watching or reading the news about Egypt for the last couple of years, you will see things you probably have not seen before, and get a close-up and graphic view of events that probably were censored by our media here in the United States. The film does bring up the fact that the USA and other nations actually supported indirectly the killing of Egyptians, but doesn’t dwell on that. The real strength of the film, besides having a ground view of history in the making, is that it lets those involved in the democracy movement tell their story. It doesn’t need voice-overs, or to bring in swelling music to make us feel something.

At the end, the optimism of the beginning of the film remains, while being tempered by the reality that bringing about true change requires persistence and dedication to your guiding principles and beliefs. One revolutionary bemoans the fact that they are not successful because they don’t know how to compromise. But on the other hand, that is exactly what makes them extraordinary and worth watching, and supporting in real life in any way we can.

So, after watching 4 out of the 5 entries, The Square is my pick for Best Documentary. IMDB rating: 9 out of 10. Netflix rating: 5 out of 5.

A not so distant, but not really that close either, runner-up would be 20 Feet from Stardom (available on DVD only)

A really distant third would be Dirty WarsBringing up the rear is the modest in its ambitions Cutie and the Boxer

Look for an updated ranking when I post about The Act of Killing later this week.

Dirty Wars: Oscar Documentary Challenge Entry #2

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So, if your country kept you in solitary confinement for 17 months without even charging you with a crime, and after that confinement you spoke against your country, which led your country to target you for assassination, how would that make you feel? That should have been the lead for the next entry in my Oscar documentary challenge, but unfortunately, the plot was lost…

Of the five nominated documentaries, Dirty Wars seemed to be the entry that is not as shocking as it thinks it is. I’ve pulled some quotes from the movie, and if these comments on the war on terrorism indeed are surprising, then Dirty Wars may be what you need if you have just come out of a coma:

– After Jeremy Scahill, the investigative reporter at the center of this film (and who you may have seen on talk shows and cable news outlets), asks a question about lethal operations (aka drone strikes) to a government official, another government official off-camera says:

We can’t acknowledge that a lethal operation outside of a war zone has occurred.

The on camera government official eventually says the following (paraphrase):

There are almost like there are two laws… Americans would be extremely surprised if they knew the difference between what they believe a law says and how it has been interpreted in secret.

Scahill bravely goes to Somalia to find more information, describing Somalia as a testing lab for the future of war, and the future looks bleak. He interviews a Somali warlord, who has been used by the American government to interrogate “suspected terrorists”:

America are the war masters. They know (killing) better than me. They are teachers. Great teachers.

Scahill also says that “America has been trying to kill its way to victory” in the war on terror, but they have created more terrorists in a self-fulfilling prophecy. He also ponders on when a war on terror ever ends. Again, not revolutionary ideas or questions.

All this makes for a weird viewing experience. Everything you see should make you enraged, sad, and completely fed up with our government and its lack of respect for the laws and the Constitution it purports to uphold and protect. Scahill briefly returns home to the United States, and describes how unfulfilling “normal” life is after being out on “the front” of the war. But perhaps he and the director should have spent more time in his home country. He touches on the complete unresponsiveness of our Congress (again, no surprise there), and that the shows he goes on to discuss issues are more about being combative than actually thinking through the issues being discussed. But what about the outrage deficit, or is it outrage fatigue, that informed Americans have to be feeling? And that they have to be feeling when watching this movie? Our government and military has targeted innocent civilians in foreign countries where we haven’t officially declared war, and done their best to cover atrocities up or create suspicion about who they killed (kind of hard to do when it’s women and children). There seems like there is nothing to be done about a government that is creating its own problems, and has no problem crossing the line for “the greater good.” We sit helpless while our government targets and kills its own citizens with drone strikes in foreign countries without so much as a trial or even a specific description of the charges justifying his execution. Dirty Wars isn’t the first place I’ve heard of these things, and the problem with the documentary is that is doesn’t give the viewer something they can focus on, so that they can maybe get beyond the outrage fatigue, and feel like they or someone will be doing something about all of this. It is like Scahill and reporters like him are in a bubble where to them this is all news, because it should be, but the populace greets such news with a shrug and a “What can you do?”

This is not to say that Dirty Wars is a bad film. It finds its stride a little too late, with the last 25 minutes being what the director and Scahill should have spent more time on- how the killing of Bin Laden turned everything on its head, and what was once in the darkness became celebrated in the light, and created an expansion of the war on terror. The true heart of the film is the transformation of Anwar Al-alawki from moderate to extremist. Al-Alawki was a US Citizen who imprisoned for 17 months in solitary confinement without any charges being made against him. I would have started the film with him and ended it with him as well. I won’t go into too much detail, but what happens to him and his family truly is shocking and surprising. And for every US Citizen, it should sadden and frighten you as well.

My IMDB rating: 7 out of 10 (7.5 if that existed)

My Netflix rating: 4 out of 5 (3.5 if that existed)

Mitt Romney documentary debuting January 24 on Netflix

Documentary about Mitt Romney and his run for presidency. I’m not sure if I’ll find Mitt Romney interesting enough to watch. If you watch the trailer, he or someone else mentions “flipping” several times. I’m not sure that was my biggest issue with him as a candidate. I flip-flop on issues myself. I just don’t think he was sincere when doing it. I think his original positions were the ones he believed in and he, like John McCain, changed to make himself viable to a Republican Party that will continue to lose elections because what’s important to them is apparently not important to more than 50% of the voting population.

The Short Game Trailer

I saw another bus stop ad for Netflix. Apparently Netflix has the exclusive rights to this documentary. I am not interested in golf at all or children, but I do have a love for documentaries. This is available December 12. When I saved it to my Netflix queue, it saved it as a DVD, and I later saved it to my instant queue. I would think it would be streaming only, but I guess we’ll find out in a couple days. Been busy the last few days. Reviews of a couple movies will be coming soon.