About A Son

2019-12-02T21:37:25+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

About A Son Director/AJ Schnack Watched on iTunes Rating 4.5/5   This is the other Kurt Cobain documentary, the one released in 2007 and now being ignored in the wake of the so-called “authorized” doc, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. For my money, About a Son is the far superior film. Directed by AJ Schnack, the entire movie rests on audio interviews with Cobain recorded by journalist Michael Azerrad for his book “Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana,” and supported by a vivid tapestry of iconic, Northwest imagery. From Aberdeen to Olympia to Seattle, Schnack and his cinematographer Wyatt Troll weave together gorgeous visuals and Cobain’s intensely intimate recollections of his childhood and rise to unexpected fame to craft a poetic, cinematic essay, an impressionistic version of Cobain’s too-short life that is both exhilarating and heartbreaking. Schnack was operating without access to Cobain’s journals, home movies or music. The songs on the soundtrack are by the bands that influenced Kurt, and they provide more insight than the repeated spins of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in Montage of Heck. The director also avoided interviews, press clippings or photographs. A brief series of Cobain pics at the very end is the only time we see him. Schnack turns these limitations into a powerful expression of place: the fecund isolation at the perpetually damp bottom end of the Olympic Peninsula which fueled Cobain’s outsider philosophies; the tantalizing promise of a future he saw in the bustling college town of Olympia; and the starry-eyed dreams of true rock-n-roll success he hoped to attain in [...]


2019-12-02T21:36:27+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Watermark Director/ Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky Watched in Theater Rating 3.5/5  The report known as the National Climate Assessment predicts a near future of massive drought, raging wildfires, torrential rains and heavy flooding. In other words, we’re fucked. But rather than taking a desperate approach to our impending doom, the ruminative new documentary Watermark details our implicit connection to water, the lifeblood of the planet, in a series of dreamy, contemplative vignettes. Directed by Canadians Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, an environmental photographer who collaborated with Baichwal on the stunning 2006 picture, Manufactured Landscapes, the film meanders across the globe, dropping in on Arctic scientists studying ice cores to determine ancient patterns of global warming, observing millions of Indian pilgrims bathing in the Ganges and depicting the grotesque polluting of an urban bay in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I hope you didn’t see the film when it recently played at Seattle’s Varsity Theater. Thanks to an outdated projector screening an inferior video version, it looked scuzzy and washed-out. (Shame on you, Landmark Theaters, for charging full price!!) Too bad, since the film was shot in gorgeous high-def by Nicholas de Pencier, and imagery is everything in this movie. Majestic scenes of waterfalls and dam flows accentuating the enormous power of water are contrasted with other scenes of humans contorting mother nature to fit our needs, for both pleasure and business. The movie is murky and beside the point in some scenes, especially those in which we see Burtynsky looking at contact sheets or setting up his expensive camera equipment. [...]

Finding Vivian Maier

2019-12-02T21:38:10+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Finding Vivian Maier Director/ John Maloof Watched on Netflix Rating 3/5   Finding Vivian Maier is an often fascinating film of anthropology, an investigative peek down the rabbit hole of one eccentric and very private woman’s life. Vivian Maier worked as a nanny for several wealthy Chicago families. She was, by most accounts, responsible, dutiful, imperious, harsh and intrepid. She took her young charges on outings throughout the rougher corners of the city, bringing along the usual accouterments of the nanny trade: strollers, diapers, baby bottles and snacks. She also carried a Rolleiflex camera, a boxy big cousin to the old Brownie cameras of 50’s and 60’s era childhoods.  With it she snapped thousands upon thousands of pictures, most of them black-and-white, many of them left undeveloped in their canisters. Nearly all of them are astonishing. Maier was not famous. She never received a penny for her photographs. She shared very few of them. Hardly anyone was aware of the staggering quality of her work. She died a hoarder’s death in a cramped apartment, surrounded by towering stacks of newspapers. When John Maloof, who co-directed this film along with Charlie Siskel, bought several boxes that belonged to Maier at an estate auction, he also had no idea who she was or what the boxes contained. He was just a guy who grew up going to swap meets and enjoyed sifting through the artifacts of other people’s lives. When he discovered the massive trove of pictures, he quickly turned to the Internet to help piece together Maier’s background in an attempt [...]


2020-06-14T22:21:31+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Anita Director/ Frieda Lee Mock Watched in Theater Rating 3.5/5 Where were you in October 1991? I know where my daughter was. She was asleep in her car seat while my wife and I sat in our SUV during a weekend vacation, ears glued to NPR’s live coverage of Anita Hill’s testimony during the confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “Anita-who?,” my daughter asked me, 23 years later. “Clarence Thomas? Him?” she said, when recalling a few articles she may have researched about the Hill-Thomas episode while in college. If nothing else, the documentary, Anita, will thrust this now celebrated author, law professor and women’s rights advocate back into the spotlight, and illuminate for an entire generation of young women the antediluvian attitudes toward sexual harassment that persisted a mere 20-some years ago. Anita is not groundbreaking as a documentary, but Anita Hill the person was, even though the idea of becoming a cause célèbre was the farthest thing from her mind. Anita opens with a recorded message that was left on Anita Hill’s home phone in 2010. Alert viewers will remember the minor kerfuffle surrounding this call; others will be taken by surprise. Either way it’s a jaw-dropping way to start a story that still has the power to provoke shock, anger and disbelief. While Hill, now an Oklahoma law professor, toiled as an assistant to Clarence Thomas at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she endured unwanted flirtations and outright sexual misconduct from the man who, a short time later, was [...]

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