The Shape of Things to Come

2022-01-13T02:33:04+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

The Shape of Things to Come Director/ Lisa Malloy, J.P. Sniadecki Watched on MUBI Rating 4/5   Whenever I ask my adult son the question “How are things going?” he likes to answer with a joke: “I’m livin’, that’s enough for me.” The lone character at the center of The Shape of Things to Come would answer the question the same way, and he’d mean it. Directed by Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki (El Mar La Mar) the film shares the same title as the H.G. Wells book published in 1933, which Wells wrote as a kind of “future history” depicting a benevolent 22nd century utopia of nations, one that has eradicated war and dictatorships. In this experimental documentary, the utopia is centered in a patch of sand and scrub in the Sonoran Desert, and it is inhabited by one man whom we learn, at film’s end, is named Sundog. Rangy and bearded and weather-beaten, Sundog looks like a crazy off-the-grid hermit, especially as he obsessively wanders the grounds doing his chores or when he is talking to himself in a kind of gibberish, whether he is disemboweling a javelina or collecting the poison of a toad. But he is not that far off-the-grid. He has electricity, a cell phone, and a pick-up; he visits the local library for his nightly reading; he spends a little time at the local bar listening to a live band and engaging is a bit of dancing, and he is remarkably coherent and well-spoken when having to communicate with others. [...]

Everything For All Reasons

2022-01-26T18:28:51+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Everything For All Reasons Director/Scott Ballew Watched on Amazon Rating 4/5   I'm not going to make the case that there is anything stylistically unique about this documentary profile of grizzled singer-songwriter Terry Allen. It follows the beats of the pro forma music documentary: a sprinkling of talking heads lauding the main character, scenes of him working in his home studio, old photos of the “early days,” several windswept shots of the West Texas landscape where he was born, and seemingly staged-for-the-camera concert footage. But what makes this documentary a refreshing change from the usual music doc banalities is that practically no one outside of the narrow sub-genre of outlaw country has ever heard of Allen, nor do many of those inside that sub-genre know that Allen was and is an accomplished visual artist and sculptor. Nor do they know that he has been married to the same woman for eons and that his two grown sons love him and perform with him and that his favorite band members are also like extended members of his family. And then there are the songs, not a hit among them, that tell miniature Jack London stories–raw and mystical and forgiving–about marginal characters who, like Allen, exist in a world of their own design, content to wrestle with the vagaries of living outside the need for ambition or fame or even recognition. Everything For All Reasons is the first film directed by Scott Ballew, a young fellow musician, and he could care less about seeking out soundbites from famous [...]

All Light, Everywhere

2021-12-30T19:12:40+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

All Light, Everywhere Director/ Theo Anthony Watched on Hulu Rating 3/5   Ambitious, full of ideas, visually mellow, and pungently up-to-the-minute, All Light, Everywhere could be so much better than it is. The movie takes us on a scattershot tour of the surveillance industry, spending time with a high-tech company manufacturing body cameras (that literally roll by on a conveyor belt, industry-on-parade style), a training seminar in the use of the cams for police officers, a crime-fighting spy-drone salesman, a community meeting considering the use of said crime-fighting spyware, a volunteer testing program for something I couldn’t figure out, a gathering of regular folks waiting for an eclipse, the history of the Gatling gun and a biographical sketch of the founder of eugenics, a few other details that seem to be tossed into the mix because, well, why not, and all of it oversaturated with an ominous, too-loud electronic score and/or an intentionally monotonal narrator riffing on cameras, lenses, photography, and trippy essay-like statements that don’t really congeal into an accessible throughline. The director Theo Anthony is like a kid I knew in the sixth-grade in Tacoma who, when it came time to pick a state for our big United States history project, chose the easiest one, our home state, Washington, which meant that instead of doing any research or actual writing of a report he simply threw every tourist brochure and pamphlet and local magazine and piece of government propaganda he could find into a big box and brought it to school on the day [...]


2021-12-30T16:49:16+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

Notturno Director/ Gianfranco Rosi Watched on Amazon Rating 3/5 Epicentro Director/ Hubert Sauper Watched on Amazon Rating 3/5   Two observational documentaries. One, Notturno, is so rigorously composed it sort of passes by like a series of naturally lit still photos. The other, Epicentro, is so undisciplined it careens across the screen like a drunken ex-pat. Both films are notable for their access, for their intrepid commitment to immersion, for their romantic allegiance to the image of the globe-trotting cameraperson blending travelogue and inquisition into cinematic essay. But these days this type of filmmaker–whose patron saints could be Werner Herzog, Les Blank, the late Michael Glowagger– is becoming an endangered species. There is a movement afoot within funding and film festival circles to institutionalize the following new requirement (paraphrasing from the Sundance Documentary Fund): All applicants must describe their connection to the story and to the specific communities of their projects, addressing issues of collaboration, authorship and representation. We are mostly interested in projects where the senior filmmaking team reflects the community represented on screen. While I understand and applaud, in general, this attempt by the doc industry to be more aware of where docs are being made and who is making them, to be part of the movement to, I guess, decolonize the documentary, I am concerned that this will result in the creation of yet another double-standard in the doc industry. A double standard where well-known, established, funded and/or trust-funded doc makers (i.e. Rosi and Sauper) will still be allowed to make and be [...]

The First Wave

2021-12-30T16:49:43+00:00Categories: Docs in Review|

The First Wave Director/ Matthew Heineman Watched on Hulu Rating 2.5/5   This film is like comfort food for the pandemic-obsessed. There is a quiet serenity to its emergency room scenes, its close-ups on the faces of coronavirus patients, its brief cutaway montages of New York streets and masked inhabitants. The movie stakes out no new territory in the de rigueur of sanctioned doc filmmaking. There is the ensemble storytelling involving four revolving portraits of a nurse, a doctor, two patients and their families; the polished and unremarkable professionalism in image and sound; the upswell of ominous low-volume drone music, waiting in the wings after every transition for a respectable three or four seconds before making its entrance, the music signifying nothing more than the presence of a composer and the hand-holding emotionalism these soundtracks represent; and there is the predictable, satisfying three-act rhythms of each scene within the larger triumvirate arc of the 90-minute film. After the prologue, in which a patient is first brought back to life on the operating table and then dies from sudden cardiac arrest, after all of the film’s forthcoming tropes and beats have been communicated to us, and the music crescendos before dilating to a suspended tonal note of fear and finality, followed by the obligatory drone shot of the Manhattan skyline and the film’s title card, and then the slow fade to black, I said to myself, “The very next shot will be a doctor in their apartment getting ready to go to work the next day.” Which [...]

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