Bias


Biases are shoot first and ask questions later.

(2018) Documentary (1091) Robin Hauser, Iris Bohnet, Mahzarin Banaji, Anthony Greenwald, Heidi Roizen, Ronald Tyler, Howard Ross, Allyson Robinson, David Rock, Judith Michelle Williams, Krista Morgan, Promise Phelon, Aileen Leo, Malcolm Gladwell, Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, Jerry Kang, Shikira Porter, Nirav Tolia, Lois James, Steve James, Angéle Christin, Abby Wambach. Directed by Robin Hauser

 

We all have pre-conceived notions of one sort or another; African-American males are criminals, women are too emotional to lead, liberals are elitist snobs, conservatives are ignorant rednecks. Sometimes our biases are so subtle we are unaware that we even have them.

Documentary filmmaker Robin Hauser examines the biases that are in all of us. I think most of us like to think of ourselves as unbiased and objective but there are online tests that you can take that will quickly disabuse you of that notion. The tests are part of a study that confirms that most Americans – and indeed, most humans – have some sort of bias. Maybe we favor a certain political philosophy. Maybe we are suspicious of people of a certain ethnic background. Maybe we believe women are less capable than men. Hauser was shocked to discover that she herself had that bias, that men were more career-oriented and women more family-oriented. As a woman who has a career, she thought she’d have a different viewpoint.

Hauser talks to a number of researchers, authors, psychologists and social engineers, people who shape viewpoints. We are shown how biases form a part of the fabric of society and how many people are even unaware that they have them.

The documentary can be a bit dry in places, and there are a lot of talking heads, but there are also some impressive animated sequences as well as some information that is sure to make you raise an eyebrow if not drop your jaw. Hauser is an engaging host, taking front and center in her documentary as she talks to people on the street, takes the online test in the presence of those who created it, and engages in a police exercise meant to focus on police biases and help cops overcome them.

It’s a fairly short watch and for those who think that they are pretty much objective, this can be a game-changer. While I didn’t take the online test myself (the documentary shows you how you yourself can take it), I did recognize some of my own political biases rearing their ugly heads. While the film asserts that we can “re-program” ourselves to eliminate biases, it doesn’t really explain how too deeply and does mention that it is an extraordinarily difficult process, but knowing that those feelings are there is the first step in dealing with them.

REASONS TO SEE: Eye-opening. Some nifty animation.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lots of talking heads giving dry information.
FAMILY VALUES: There is occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Hauser’s third documentary feature.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: This Changes Everything
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Sharks (Los tiburones)

Ray & Liz


Liz is not someone that you want to cross.

(2018) Drama (Kimstim/1091) Ella Smith, Justin Salinger, Patrick Romer, Tony Way, Joshua Millard-Lloyd, Sam Gittins, Richard Ashton, James Eeles, James Hinton, Andrew Jefferson-Tierney, Deirdre Kelly, Michelle Bonnard, Jamie-Lee Beacher. Directed by Richard Billingham

 

It is very hard to look at our parents with any sort of objectivity. Often, we see them through rose-colored glasses as superhuman beings who can do no wrong, but more often we see them as absolute screw-ups who can do nothing right. We rarely see them as human beings.

Richard Billingham, an art photographer turned film director, has made his career by turning his lens on his family life. This movie is largely autobiographical, looking at his parents Liz (Smith) and Ray (Salinger), who live in Birmingham’s Black Country in Thatcher’s England. Ray is on the dole, having lost his job. The family gains additional income from taking in a lodger, Will (Gittins) in their dump of a home. Liz, deciding that young Rich needs shoes, troops off with him and Ray in tow to the shops, leaving the younger brother Jason in the care of Lol (Way), Ray’s brother who is developmentally challenged.

Liz – who apparently has had issues with Lol in the past – leaves with a stern warning not to get into the booze but when Will arrives home, he sees a golden opportunity and finds the liquor, bringing up a crate full from the cellar. He manages to get Lol drop dead drunk, then paints Jason’s face with boot polish and sticks a carving knife in his hand, then quickly leaves, returning to see the follow up which is a terrifying beating from Liz.

The neglect – leaving one’s child with a mentally challenged individual – proves to be a pattern as we follow the family as the boys age into their teenage years. The family now lives in “council housing” i.e. government subsidized apartments for us Yanks. Studious Richard has a chance to get out but young Jason (Millard-Lloyd) is getting involved with delinquent behavior. Ray has become a raging alcoholic, and Liz self-medicates, smoking like a chimney and doing jigsaw puzzles. After a terrifying night when Jason ends up spending a frigid night in a neighbor’s shed, the authorities are forced to step in.

The whole movie is framed with scenes of Ray in his later years (Romer), living in the bedroom of his council flat, the room infested with flies as Ray’s mate Sid (Ashton) delivering bottles of some sort of carbonated home brew. Ray continues to be deep in the clutches of alcoholism, but now he is utterly alone. He is separated from Liz, who comes around once in awhile to cadge money from him, but there is no love between them that’s apparent. The family has completely disintegrated.

There’s no way around it; this is a bleak film filled with unlovable characters trying to make do in an intolerable economic situation. Liz and Ray seem genial on the surface, but both are completely self-absorbed, caring only about having enough cigarettes, booze and whatever distractions they are into at the moment. Their kids barely get a second thought.

Billingham gives us endless close-ups of the flies in Ray’s room, of Ray’s aged and booze-ravaged face. He seems to take delight in showing Ray’s awful situation; one wonders if he is getting back at his parents for the neglect he clearly feels. I don’t doubt that Liz and Ray were far from ideal parents, but they don’t get a voice in this thing; it seems clear that they are both suffering from depression but that’s not the kind of thing that was diagnosed commonly 30 years ago, and it doesn’t feel like Billingham would have forgiven them for it in any case

Smith gives an unforgettable performance as Liz; she stands out in the cast. Salinger is kind of lost as the less assertive Ray, although the actor has had some impressive performances in his resume. Billingham, with a photographer’s eye, composes his shots artistically and the movie, as bleak as it is and as squalid as the settings often are, is a pleasure to watch from a purely technical point of view. Still, there is so much lingering on the flies and on the anger that one wonders if Billingham wouldn’t have benefited more from a therapist than from a feature film.

REASONS TO SEE: Ella Smith is an absolute force of nature.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many extraneous shots of flies.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of profanity, some violence, plenty of smoking and drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Billingham is a photographer making his feature film directorial debut. His photographic essay Ray’s a Laugh is the basis for this film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Kanopy
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews, Metacritic: 81/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sorry We Missed You
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Possession of Hannah Grace

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind


Angels and aliens.

(2020) Documentary (1091) Dr. Steven M. Greer, Jeremy Piven (narrator), Daniel Sheehan, Adam Michael Curry, Stephen Tyler, Tom DeLonge, Joe Martino, Dr. Russell Torg, Jan Harzan, Jim Martin, Marcel Vidovic, Richard Doty, Dr. Edgar Mitchell, David Marconi, Ignacio Mollere, Marian Kramer, Raven Nabulsi. Directed by Michael Mazzola

 

Steven M. Greer has made a name for himself as a proponent for the idea that UFOs are real and aliens are visiting the Earth. Now, mind you, I don’t particularly find the idea all that far-fetched; after all, the odds are in a universe the size and age of ours that there are going to be life on other planets, perhaps far more advanced from a technological standpoint than our own.

Certainly, according to Greer, the government has been taking the idea very seriously. According to his new documentary, a sequel (of sorts) to his previous works Sirius and Unacknowledged there has been a conspiracy of disinformation by the government, aided and abetted by the mass media, to whip up fear that the aliens are out to get us. He links President Trump’s call for a “space force” to this mindset, arguing that the motivation for this is to create a one-world hegemony whose purpose is to go to war with extraterrestrials.

He constantly uses the term “national security state” to describe this government-media collusion. Greer, a former physician, has given up medicine to take up this crusade. He has a fairly large group of followers, including noted constitutional lawyer Daniel Sheehan, Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler  and former Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge in his corner. He does show a lot of grainy clips of lights moving about in the sky which are not unlike the UFO clips of 50 years ago.

Greer and his supporters make some compelling arguments, but as the film progresses it becomes more of a paranoid conspiracy theory shitshow. There’s also a good deal of mystical content, talking about contacting aliens through meditation and using a sort of telepathy to “call” the aliens to our spot in the galaxy. It’s at points like that in which I find my eyes beginning to roll uncontrollably.

I am an open-minded skeptic when it comes to paranormal phenomenon, up to and including ghosts, life after death, UFOs and so on. I have no illusions that we as humans know everything there is to know about the universe and I will grant that it’s possible that these things exist. HOWEVER, if you want to convince someone like me, you have to at least come off sounding reasonable and logical. Sheehan manages to do so, but the longer the film goes, the more Greer – who seems to be an intelligent and reasonable guy when this begins – starts to sound like he’s gone a little further around the bend than he should.

I have a streak of Missourian in me. Show me the facts. Don’t try to dazzle me with lofty and unprovable theories. Greer claims he has directly communicated with alien lifeforms. I am willing to believe him…if only he didn’t end up sounding like a cross between a new age hippie and a paranoid militia member.

The title refers to the series of protocols that were partially explained in Steven Spielberg’s classic movie. Close encounters of the first kind are a sighting of an extraterrestrial object within 500 feet. Close encounters of the second kind are physical evidence left by one of these objects. Close encounters of the third kind are the sighting of an extraterrestrial being. A close encounter of the fourth kind is a human being taken aboard an alien spacecraft. Finally, a close encounter of the fifth kind is human-initiated contact. That is what Greer’s organization is attempting, and I think it’s truly a laudable goal. At times, he (and especially Sheehan) make their case well. I just wish they would have presented themselves with a little less hysteria.

REASONS TO SEE: Greer comes off as very intelligent.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loses credibility.
FAMILY VALUES: There is occasional profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Greer got involved in the alien intelligence/UFO community after a near-death experience in his teen years.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Love and Saucers
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Celebration


The grace and elegance of French fashion.

 (2007) Documentary (Kimstim/1091Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint-Laurent, Loulou De La Falaise, Catherine Deneuve, Laetitia Casta. Directed by Olivier Meyrou

 

The great Yves Saint-Laurent was a fashion icon, one of the last of the great haute couture fashion houses and certainly, as he expresses mournfully in an interview sequence during the film, the last with a living couturier (his fashion house would be sold to Gucci the following year).

Despite the title, this documentary is not so much a celebration as it is an elegy, a look at a great lion in the winter of his life. Shockingly, Saint-Laurent appears almost drugged in much of the film, sometimes appearing to be nodding off, other times being remonstrated with by his business partner and life partner Pierre Bergé not to lean over the podium before giving a speech so as not to appear as a doddering old man.

Most of the film revolves around a show the old master is putting together, what would turn out to be his last (although nobody knew it at the time). We see the apparatus of a major fashion hose humming at the top of its game; the seamstresses, chafing at near-impossible deadlines and an endless series of revisions, the models preening and cooing in the presence of the great man, the publicists trying to make order amidst the chaos and Bergé.

He also doesn’t come off particularly well, often boorish and condescending in his behavior, throwing a temper tantrum due to the presence of a photographer, often making snide and passive-aggressive comments about his partner “He is a sleepwalker, one who should not be awakened.” There is one unbelievable sequence late the film where Saint-Laurent has just won a prestigious award, only to have it nearly ripped out of his arms by Bergé, who says “I probably had a hand in it.” And yes, he probably did but it comes off seeming mean.

The film was screened only once, at the 2007 Berlinale, the year before Saint-Laurent passed away from brain cancer, only to have Bergé sue to have the film suppressed. It wasn’t until after Bergé himself passed on two years ago that the rights became available. After a brief New York theatrical release last October, the film is finally making its way to home video.

Is this an essential documentary? If you are a fashion junkie, no doubt. I don’t know if this is the most flattering portrait of Saint-Laurent possible and it certainly says nothing about his contributions to the industry, which among other things included the introduction of the pantsuit, for which Hilary Clinton should be grateful if nobody else. There is very little context of any sort given here; it is cinema verité in its purest form. That is both good and bad; if you don’t have much knowledge of fashion, you will undoubtedly feel lost and even bored while watching.

Meyrou alternates between using color and black and white in his footage; color for the reality of the work, black and white for contemplation. The music score is a problem; it is often jarring and intrusive, meant, I suppose, to symbolize the frail mental state of Saint-Laurent but coming off largely as inappropriate for the film. You’re better off turning the sound off and reading the subtitles.

One of the more delightful sequences is showing a couple of the seamstresses who return to the fashion house after it had been shuttered, remembering where their desks were, where the time clocks were, remembering a fellow seamstress who had a bad temper nearly clocking one of the two of them with a window.

It is on the one hand a fascinating portrait of Bergé but as for a legacy film for Saint-Laurent, it doesn’t work all that well. In a sense it is a look at the way fashion houses worked in times gone by but it may seem quaint to modern fashionistas. Nonetheless, if you have any sort of interest in the subject at all, it is well worth your time to rent this. If you’re like me and don’t have the interest in women’s clothes, you still might find some fulfillment in watching the interpersonal relationship between Bergé and Saint-Laurent.

REASONS TO SEE: Essential for fashionistas.
REASONS TO AVOID: The musical score is unsettling and at times inappropriate.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a surfeit of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The documentary was filmed back in 1998 for what would turn out to be St. Laurent’s last show before his house was sold to Gucci. It was kept on the shelf by Berge who felt that it revealed too much about the reclusive fashion icon.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/3//20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic:  No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Gospel According to Andre
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Johnny English Strikes Again

Over the Rainbow


In this warehouse is stored the Ark of the Covenant.

(2017) Documentary (1091Lara Anderson, Dr. Susan Clancy, Karen de la Camere, Jeffrey Augustine, Barrett Brown, Shane Clark, Sarah Seltzer, Nathan Tompkins, Joke Reedor, David Gartrell, Bill Franks, Christopher Hartney, Janette Haugen. Directed by Jeffrey Peixoto

 

Some movies are easy enough to review. Others are “I can’t even.” This is one of them.

This documentary purports to be about fringe beliefs and it starts out that way, with psychologist Susan Clancy talking about clinical studies done on people claiming to be alien abductees who called the experience both the worst thing that ever happened to them as well as the best thing that ever happened to them. This non-sequitur moves from there to art dealers who handle Thomas Kincaid paintings – essentially the Muzak of art – who then start waxing poetic about the blessings of Scientology.

From there it goes into a fairly fawning look at the pseudo-religion/pseudo-science that feels more like propaganda than information, following several members who refer to founder L. Ron Hubbard as almost a God-like figure. It is somewhat disturbing in some ways.

Some time is spent in Clearwater, a town here in Florida which is largely owned by the Church of Scientology – whose members are made to be so busy they can’t even enjoy the beautiful beaches there. However, most of the interviewees live in Southern California and they are as pretentious a group of people you’ll ever see in the same movie. They use a lot of spiritual aphorisms and essentially come off as the stereotypes of SoCal nutjobs. Having grown up there, I can tell you that people like this do exist although they aren’t the norm; several times I felt my palm making the journey to my face, in violation of medical advice in this era of viral contagion.

The movie then takes a darker turn as Lara Anderson, who grew up in Scientology with her parents who were deeply into the cult, being reported by her own father to church officials for the sin of speaking to former members who left the Church to try and discover what prompted them to leave. A phone call with her indoctrinated Pa is shown here and it may very well be the most disturbing thing you see in the film.

I’m really not sure what Peixoto was attempting to do here, and I suspect neither was he. At the end of the day, this is scattered, poorly organized and scattershot. Is this a puff piece on Scientology, or a documentary showing the disturbing side of the cult? I don’t know; following the Anderson sequence the film returns to the art dealers lovingly demonstrating the pseudo-scientific “E-meters” which are used in “audits” to determine….oh, I don’t know what. And I don’t care. And neither will you.

REASONS TO SEE: A good opportunity to make fun of Southern Californians.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times feels a bit much like Scientology propaganda. Some of these nutjobs are outrageously pretentious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity as well as descriptions of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to IMDb, this is the first film of any kind by Peixoto.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Scientology Movie
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Extra Ordinary

Toxic Beauty


There is truth in beauty; there are also lies.

 (2019) Documentary (1091) Mel Lika, MyMy Nguyen, Deanne Borg, Mary Kaplan, Shaeda Farooqi, Beverly Robinson, Claudette Dupris, Emily Nguyen, Dr. Shruthi Mabaiangala. Directed by Phyllis Ellis

 

Beauty may well only be skin deep, but the products that men and women use for beauty and hygiene have effects far deeper than that in this chilling documentary. Revolving largely around the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson that claimed that the company knew that there were carcinogens in their talcum powder that were routinely used not just for baby care but also for skin care – one woman remarked that she liked to sprinkle the stuff in her bed because she like the scent, the film builds its case much like a trial lawyer – with plenty of anecdotal evidence backed up by science.

There are several compelling characters to be found in the film, among them former intelligence officer Mel Lika who found herself, once thought to be something of a superhero among her peers, stricken by ovarian cancer. Likewise was the case of Deanne Borg, the South Dakota mom who instigated the suit against Johnson and Johnson. My favorite though is med student and fashion/make-up influencer MyMy Nguyen, who was brought up to admire the European standard of beauty and was urged by her mom to lighten her skin and dye her hair blonde. When a tumor was found in her breast, rather than chalking her experience to bad luck she decided to run some tests to find up if her make-up routine was contributing to her disease. She approached it logically and thoroughly and the results that came back were definitely disturbing.

We hear from litigators, legislators, medical professionals, researchers, scientists and of course, victims. Ellis doesn’t shortchange her audience with facts, although the parade of testimony can be overwhelming, and the scientific evidence presented can be on the dry side. Some may find themselves getting glassy-eyed at times, but stick with this – it’s important stuff. Men who may be thinking “well, that’s a woman’s problem,” should think again; toxic chemicals like mercury, formaldehyde, arsenic and lead can be found in shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste.

Readers who live in the European Union may be pleased to know that stricter regulations there make this particular problem more of an American issue. Lobbyists and lawyers have essentially suborned the FDA and Congress into writing legislation friendly to large corporations so that they may continue to maximize profits by using less expensive materials and processes at the expense of human lives, and as we meet some of the women involved here and discover how these products that are supposed to be safe have destroyed lives and yes, taken them (one of the victims here passed away shortly after filming was completed).

There is unlikely to be any help anytime soon, particularly with the business-friendly Republicans in power. The corporations have the kind of money that buys politicians; consumers do not. The short-term solution is simple; stop buying this shit. There are clean products out there; find out what they are and start using them. If enough people start doing it, either these businesses will adjust to the new paradigm or fail. Survival of the fittest applies to consumerism as well.

This isn’t an easy documentary to watch and at times you may feel like you’re back in high school chemistry and just as clueless now about it as you were then. Hang in there; it is important that you know what you are putting on and, in your body, information big corporations (and some little ones) don’t want you to have. Knowledge is power; use it.

REASONS TO SEE: Presents a powerful case.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be guilty of overkill – some of the information presented gets a little bit dense.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scientific studies on the subject warned about toxic substances in beauty and hygiene products as far back as 1933.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING:  Stink!
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Olympic Dreams

Afterward


Ice, ice baby

(2018) Documentary (Abramorama/1091) Ofra Bloch, Rassam Ajamin, Raneen Jeries, Basel Alyazoum, Samah Jabr, Mohamed Dajari, Johanna Rodenstab, Horst Hoheisal, Alaa Shebada, Anja Behm, Ingo Hasselbach, Thomas Casagrande, Alexander von Plato, Hussain Mbarkhi, David Bloch, Zoe Sloan, Audrey Jacobson. Directed by Ofra Bloch

 

Can a victim become an oppressor? Is there a difference between the Jewish holocaust and the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe)? Is it possible to forgive systematic oppression?

Psychoanalyst turned filmmaker Ofra Bloch was born in Jerusalem and lives currently in New York City with her husband, a Holocaust survivor. She had been raised to hate the Germans for inflicting the Holocaust on her people; she had also been raised to hate the Palestinians who, it was drilled into her, would bring about the next Holocaust.

She began to become aware that the Israelis had moved at some point from the oppressed to oppressors. Fascinated by this turn, she decided to talk to Germans, Israelis and Palestinians to get their opinions on the Holocaust and the nakba, the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes that they’d lived in for generations.

The results are fascinating. It’s not a question anyone wants to tackle; suggesting that the Israelis are being oppressive is often met with accusations of antisemitism. Palestinian activist Samah Jabr puts it like this; “Whenever Palestinians have the conversation with Israelis about the conditions in Palestine, the Holocaust is inevitably brought up.” She also refers to the kind of professional victimhood that she and other Palestinians believe that Israel has adopted.

 

But it’s hard to feel that way when faced with footage of the horrors of the Holocaust. One Palestinian professor, Mohammed Dajari, was fired for setting up a trip to Auschwitz for his students. An inability to see the other side’s viewpoint isn’t just endemic to American politics.

Bloch comes off sort of like Michael Moore if the gadfly had been born a Jewish yenta. Her questions are intelligent and the discussions are compelling and these are the kinds of conversations that we need to have – but never do. Yes, the movie has a somewhat languid pace and there is a bit of meandering between the interviews – a tighter structure would have been appreciated. Nonetheless, this is one of the most powerful films of the new year and one well worth seeking out, particularly for those who want a different viewpoint of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

REASONS TO SEE: Tackles a question nobody wants to discuss. The interviews are very powerful, very revealing. Really looks at both Jewish and Palestinian viewpoints. Some of the footage is ghastly.
REASONS TO AVOID: Has a very measured pace.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some very disturbing images of violence and torture, as well as archival footage from the Holocaust.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its world premiere at DOC NYC 2018. It is only just now receiving a brief theatrical release from Abramorama, followed up by a home video/VOD release by 1091 Studios.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/29/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews: Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shoah
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Quezon’s Game

Dark Matter (2019 short)


What a rush!

(2019) Sports Documentary Short (1091Travis Rice, Elias Elhardt, Graham Tracey (narrator). Directed by Curt Morgan

 

Elite snowboarders Travis Rice and Elias Elhardt head up to the remote northern Alaska mountain range, most of which is only accessible by helicopter to shred down ridges that, some of them, seem to be only wide enough to walk single file along  Couple this with narration that talks about the insignificance of our place in the universe and you have maybe the most unusual snowboarding doc ever. Or maybe not. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t seen a whole lot of them

I guess it takes a special personality to want to get on a fiberglass plank and rocket down the side of a mountain at breakneck speeds. And, I suppose it takes a different but equally special personality to want to watch someone doing just that. The four different cameramen capturing the footage show us a pristine Alaska, beautiful mountains covered in snow. The helicopters that drop off the snowboarders capture some of the footage; some of the rest of it comes off of Go-Pros mounted on the athlete’s helmets.

The narration talks about carbon footprints and the effects of climate change on places like this, but the crew uses a helicopter to get where they’re going and to capture footage. That seems kind of at odds with the message of ecological responsibility, but maybe that’s just me.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not the target audience of these sorts of documentaries and I totally get that there are people who love these sorts of films. This is only 25 minutes long but there is a bit of repetitiveness to it; how many times can you see two snowboarders rocketing down the side of a mountain before it starts to blend together. The answer to that question is going to determine how much you’re going to be into this film.

REASONS TO SEE: Some spectacular footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat pretentious narration.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s nothing the entire family would enjoy (assuming the entire family is into extreme sports).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the fifth project that Rice and Morgan have worked on together.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Depth Perception
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
BlacKKKlansman

Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest


Your own personal Jesus.

(2019) Music Documentary (Trafalgar/1091) Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher, Cristian Flueraru, Dicken Schrader, Milah Schrader, Korben Schrader, Daniel Cassus, Indra Amarjargal, Elizabeth Dwyer, Carine Puzenat, Christian Eigner, Peter Gordeno. Directed by Anton Corbjin

 

Being a diehard fan of a band requires the kind of loyalty that most of us don’t ever give even our significant other. We stay with them through thick and thin, through albums that suck and even through band breakups. It’s a kind of unconditional love that is more than reciprocated; their music helps define us, sees us through our darkest moments, defines our identities. Not a bad trade-off, if you ask me.

Depeche Mode has come a long way in their nearly 40-year existence, from a New Wave cult band of upbeat synthesizer-based songs to a stadium band of portentous and deep, bleak pop hits. As a band, they’ve been through drug addiction, near-death experiences, fame and fortune (and everything that comes with it) and the complete makeover of the industry that they’re a part of. Through it all, they’ve had a connection with their fans that has bordered on religious zeal.

We meet six of them who are attending the final concert in their 2017-18 World Spirits tour in Berlin; Indra Amarjargal is a tour guide in Ulan Bator, Mongolia who lives with her grandmother in a “typical Communist apartment” where she has lived her entire life. Her stepfather introduced her to the music of Depeche Mode, watching concert footage on the Internet. The music connected to Indra initially before the lyrics since she spoke no English at the time; she is fluent in it now and the lyrics have only cemented her love for the band.

Elizabeth Dwyer is a half-African American, half-Irish-American who didn’t get the memo that people of color were supposed to be into hip-hop. She took a lot of grief growing up because of her love for New Wave music but when undergoing chemotherapy for a particularly deadly sort of breast cancer, the music got her through. Cristian Flueraru, who grew up in Romania during the dark days of Ceauşescu learned English by translating the band’s lyrics for friends who were also into their music.

Dicken Schrader became an Internet sensation when the Bogota-based dad made videos of he and his son Korben and his daughter Milah playing Depeche Mode songs with toy instruments. The band keeps the three united, even though the children now live with their mother in Miami. Daniel Cassus, growing up gay in Brazil, took solace in the band’s music, eventually moving to Berlin where he got the courage to come out to his parents. Carine Puzenat suffered permanent amnesia at age 25; the only memory she could retain was the music of Depeche Mode. That music got her through seven years of deep depression.

Much of the interview footage is intercut with concert footage. Strictly speaking, this is a neither/nor: not a concert film per se so while there is footage from the show, it might prove frustrating to fans looking to see a complete show. It’s not a band documentary; we never hear or see the band except onstage and don’t get any of their insight at all. This is a fan’s documentary, but then again so was 101 in many ways – a previous documentary made by Corbjin about the band.

This is very much a movie for fans of the band. Casual fans probably won’t find this as interesting. Certainly, there is a point to be made about the diversity of the types of fans the band has but that is true of any band of sufficient popularity. Yes, the stories are compelling but you could find six fans of just about any band of sufficient popularity that are just as compelling. So basically, what we are left with is a movie that is very dependent on your opinion of the band. Those who love the band will likely love the movie. Those who don’t likely won’t. This will neither make new fans nor alienate old ones. My recommendation to you depends on how into the band you are. Judge for yourself if the film is something that is essential viewing for you.

REASONS TO SEE: Comes at the concert from a fan’s perspective.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not a lot of insight into the band themselves.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fans profiled here were selected via a contest on the band’s Facebook page.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 101
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Christopher Robin

And Two if By Sea: The Hobgood Brothers


Seeing double.

(2019) Sports Documentary (1091) Daniel Tosh (voice), CJ Hobgood, Damien Hobgood, Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Carissa Moore, Sal Masakela, Mick Fanning, Jordy (Smith, Brett Simpson, Clifton Hobgood, Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, Jack Robinson, Khloe Andino, Tanner Gudauskas, Pat Gudauskas, Keanu Asing, Peter King, Charlotte Hobgood, Courtney Hobgood, Maureen Hobgood, Rachel Hobgood. Directed by Justin Purser

 

Having an identical twin must be somewhat mind-blowing. I don’t know about you, but I would find it a bit freaky if there was someone who looked exactly like me wandering around (poor devil) and if I was essentially lumped in together with him, often being mistaken for him? I’m sure it would get old pretty fast.

Then again, there are some advantages to having a twin. There’s always someone there to drive you forward, to give you motivation to outdo them. Plus, if you’re ever caught doing a crime, you can always blame it on the twin.

The Hobgood brothers CJ and Damien are both pro surfers, both world champions on the tour. They hail from Satellite Beach, Florida which also happens to be the hometown of maybe the most decorated surfer of modern times, Kelly Slater. This irreverent documentary stands out from all the other surfing documentaries (and brother, trust me, there are many) in that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Comedian Daniel Tosh provides the voiceover narration and the graphics identifying the various interview subjects are if not outright funny (for the most part they are) are at least snarky.

The surfing footage surprisingly doesn’t dominate the screen time; most of it is pretty gnarly (in the parlance) but in all honesty I’ve seen gnarlier (is that even a word?) in other films. For those who haven’t viewed many surfing docs, it might look pretty intense but those who have seen more than a few will likely find it solid but unspectacular.

I do like the insights we get into what it takes to be a pro surfer; how much sponsorship is required to get a surfer through the tour (over $90K minimum just for travel and expenses). Also, there’s an honesty to how the brothers are depicted here; they are presented not just as cool dudes on the beach but also as men who succumb to temptation, men whose competitiveness gets away from them from time to time and men who aren’t always prone to doing the right thing.

The abundance of talking heads may tire out some, but the irreverence helps combat that. I do like the attitude here; this is definitely something a little different. And I like different.

REASONS TO SEE: Not yo mama’s surfing doc. There’s a lot of straightforward honesty here.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loads of talking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mildly rude humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Hobgoods are the only identical twins to date to both win pro surfing tour championships.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Endless Summer
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Spirits in the Forest