Category Archives: Documentary

The Act of Killing

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

In 1965 Indonesia was overthrown by the military and death squads killed over a million communists, native Chinese and intellectuals with the knowledge/approval of the military.  None of these people have ever been brought to justice and are still treated as heroes and with respect in Indonesia.

The Act of Killing is a fascinating and disturbing documentary focusing on some of these murderers.  They have no remorse and this film puts a human face on these people who have performed inhuman acts.  They recreate some of these acts for the film because they think it is necessary to resent their side for history.   At the end of the recreations you see the impact of these acts of horror on the people acting in the scenes even if, for the most part, the original perpetrators still don’t.

Some of this movie is tough to watch.  other parts are actually funny (as when one person decides to run for elected office).  Before the film stated there was a short intro by the director.  He said he didn’t really expect people to enjoy the film but hoped they would find it interesting and thought provoking.  This film isn’t for everyone but it is definitely achieves the directors goals.


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We Steal Secrets – The Story of Wikileaks

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

Bill C would probably rate this higher than I did ’cause he loves documentaries. I just “like” them, and this is an excellent one, but maybe a little long at 130 minutes. It’s very timely (I sat through a panel discussion beforehand) given the Snowden situation going on now, with many parallels to Bradley Manning releasing tons of US government classified documents to Wikileaks, who then partnered with some major new organizations (including the NY Times) to publish the information. I thought this would be a very liberal take on it, lionizing Julian Assange, but it certainly is not that. It’s a very even handed take on all parties, and by the end reinforces my suspicion about Assange’s character, which is that he’s not so honorable (“all information should be free”), and ended up turning into what he was supposedly fighting, namely someone who is not transparent about information that he considers private (sexual assault charges against him). Even his former founders speak against him. Alex Gibney is the talented director/writer and he is a master at telling this story. Most interesting to me is Bradley Manning, whom I knew very little about. You will be shocked when you hear from him. He’s the real hero or villain, and you will wonder how different Assange is from the NY Times. The Times scrutinized and redacted information it deemed dangerous to people’s lives, while Assange did nothing of the sort, although he claimed to have a process – he lied.

A Band Called Death

A Band Called Death – 4 out of 5

I originally reviewed this movie back in March during SXSW but it is opening this coming weekend.  I think it’s also already available on Amazon and DVD as well.  The Alamo Drafthouse has a screening on 6/26 with the band in attendance and doing a Q and A.  The band also played last night at the Parish and put on a great show so if they tour they are worth checking out.

This documentary is the year’s ‘Searching for SugarMan! Three brothers from Detroit weren’t into the Motown scene and recorded some punk music in the mid-seventies.  35 years later they become overnight sensations!  They were probably a little ahead of their time with pre-Ramones punk and they weren’t helped by their name. Their journey is an emotional one and luckily they were rediscovered a couple of years ago after detouring unsuccessfully into reggae music.


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The Gatekeepers

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

The Gatekeepers is a very good but unfortunately depressing/pessimistic documentary that explores Israel’s war on terror through interviews with all surviving ex heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency.  The documentary does a great job of using (sometimes graphic) archive footage of some of the agencies successes and failures.

The movie goes through the history of Shin Bet focusing on the period after the 1967 war and issues that resulted with the Palestinian refugees.  The film also explores internal political conflicts within Israel that resulted in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the derailment of the peace process.

The movie leaves a pretty pessimistic view of the future in the region.   It’s fascinating to listen to these interviews with Israelis who hunt and often times order killing of others with Israelis discussing the need to not just focus on security but also to resolve some of the valid grievances of the Palestinians, the difficulty to do that in Israel today and how Palestinians are at times more interested in inflicting pain upon Israel than reaching a long term peace that will benefit everyone. This is definitely worth seeing.


Rotten Tomatoes


56 Up

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Time marches on!  56 Up is the latest installment in the documentary series that has visited the same people every seven years to see how their lives have evolved. The series started with when they were seven years old. This airs as a TV special in the UK, but is released here as a movie. The series started out to look at class differences in England, but has evolved to show how people evolve, with the many twists and turns that life takes.  The first installment had 14 participants; of those, 13 are still participating. Some have been successful and others not so successful. Many have had ups and downs, with divorces, physical and mental health issues, etc.

Michael Apted directs and he does a fine job of including clips from previous films and different ages. It is not important to have seen previous movies. This is the type of movie that makes you reflect on your own life (especially for those like me, roughly the age of the participants—if the initial show had been in N.Y. it could have been little Billy and Billy being followed and giving our views on movies all these years!). The folks in the movie have definitely started to age and they are now at a time in their lives where they look back on their successes and failures,  the choices they could have made, and how their view of the world has changed over the years. Many reflected on how their kids are doing and the job they did raising them.

It takes a few minutes to adjust to the British accents, and the movie could have been a little shorter than 2.5 hours, but I’d definitely recommend seeing 56 Up if you get the chance.


Rotten Tomatoes


Searching For Sugar Man

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

‘Searching for Sugar Man’ played at this year’s SXSW.  I had heard a lot of good things about this documentary about early 70s musician Sixto Rodriguez but wasn’t able to make it to the screening.  I was looking forward to it’s opening in Austin this week and was listening to my ipod in shuffle mode when ‘Sugar Man’ (listen here) by Rodriguez started playing.  This increased my anticipation for the movie as I had no idea that I knew or had any of his music.

This movie did not disappoint.  Sixto Rodriguez, from Detroit, had two albums released in the early 70’s.  They were total flops in the U.S but somehow, unbeknownst to Rodriguez, became  incredibly influential and successful (despite some of the protest songs being banned from the radio) in South Africa during  apartheid.  Rodriguez was dropped by his record company and while his popularity continued in South Africa there were numerous rumors about his fate.  Two South African fans looking successfully search for Rodriguez.  While Rodriguez in many ways remains an enigma the story of what he did with his life both before and after he was found is fascinating especially considering what his life could have been if he had been successful in the U.S.  The music is good and it’s interesting to see the power that music can have (in this case in South Africa).

This is definitely worth seeing and I am now looking forward to Rodriguez coming to Antone’s in Austin this October.


Rotten Tomatoes

The Queen of Versailles

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Sometimes documentary film makers get lucky and they are at the right place at the right time. In this case, the documentarian set out to make an entertaining movie about a uber- wealthy time share magnate, his much younger wife (by 30 years), and their family as they build the largest private residence in the U.S., a 90,000 square foot house to replace their already ridiculously large mansion. This probably would have turned into a decent and entertaining movie. But then the real estate bubble/financial crisis hit and this became a very good, very different movie.

As a result, the movie explores issues such as: class differences in the U.S.; how people/families handle pressure; the cultural phenomenon of many people in the U.S. living beyond their means (and these people had means); and the crazy growth of some businesses when banks made money so easy to get and how quickly those businesses crumbled when money credit was not available.

While how these people lived didn’t generate any sympathy, the people themselves were very interesting and you did hope things would work out for them. The coming attractions made me expect mostly comedy and there was plenty of that, but the downward trajectory of their situation made this much more of a downer than I expected. Very interesting movie and worth seeing if you like docs.

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I agree with Bill, it’s a captivating documentary, where the director, Lauren Greenfield, certainly lucked out when the economy tanked. Her cinema verite style is amazing, in terms of the access she gets and the way her crew must blend into the background because the people don’t seem to be playing to the camera at all, and it’s not scripted reality like you see on TV. There’s some sit down interviews, but 98% of it is just what happens. The husband and wife are not cliches: David Siegel, the 65 year old timeshare magnate is a self-made man, workaholic and sensitive to his many employees. He tends to ignore his many kids, and treat his oldest son as the executive employee that he is, certainly not as an affectionate father. The mom, Jackie Siegel, certainly loves the spotlight and her shopping, but is very down to earth, also rose from a blue collar background and claims believably that she loves her husband, will stick with him through thick and thin, and would be able to move to a 4 BR house without too much trouble. Contrast this character with the Cate Blanchett character in Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, where she is the opposite of Jackie Siegel. I laughed out loud when she is forced to rent a car at Hertz when visiting her childhood friend in upstate New York, and asks about the driver that comes with the car. This obliviousness shows how much she’s living in a different world, but she seems like a nice person, not a phony, and a good mother (albeit with multiple nannies!).


Rotten Tomatoes


Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

A film about a baseball pitch? What’s next, Sky Hook about Kareem? Crossover Dribble about Iverson? There’s already been Slapshot…Actually, this is a superb documentary about that small fraternity of otherwise ordinary athletes who have mastered that freak pitch that moves in unanticipated directions and makes big sluggers look foolish as they swing at empty space. The two pitchers that are focused on, Tim Wakefield (long-time Red Sox ace) and R.A. Dickey (current Mets star), are interesting people with good back stories and of course happy endings (in Tim’s case he retired last year, and in R.A.’s case, he pitched in this year’s All-Star game). We see insights from famous old-timer practictioners such as Phil Neikro, Charlie Hough and Wilbur Wood, who act as mentors passing on their wisdom. At the screeing I attended last night, Tim Wakefield attended and answered questions from the audience. He’s a classy gentleman, and I am now a big admirer of him. He’s most proud of receiving Baseball’s Roberto Clemente award for his off the field contributors to charities and his communities. And R.A. Dickey also seems to be an admirable character, with his wife that he met in 7th grade (he was also in 7th grade, so he’s no cradle robber!). I don’t know if non-baseball fans will find this as captivating as the rest of us though.


SXSW – Reviews Part 1

Here are just a few thoughts on the festival and the movies I’ve seen so far.

The BabyMakers – 2.5 out of 5 – A raunchy, farcical comedy starring Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn.  It picks up in the 2nd half as the main male character decides to steal back previously donated sperm from a sperm bank when he learns that his sperm count is now too low.  The raunchiness reminded me of There’s Something About Mary (but not nearly as good).  This movie was ok but not very memoable..

Indie Game: the Movie – 3 out of 5 – A good documentary about the making of video games. This is not about the big corporate teams that make games but the individuals who have grown up playing video games and now have a dream of creating their own games that will have mass appeal. This is about rue geeks/nerds who get caught up in their dreams with different levels of success.  The focus are the authors of Braid, Super Meat Boy or Fez. Has anyone played any of these games?

Waiting for Lightning – 3.5 out of 5 – This was a very entertaining documentary about Danny Way and his attempt to skateboard down a huge ramp and jump over the Great Wall of China!  It jumps back and forth between preparations for his jump and telling his life story.  His story is interesting with lots of obstacles he had to overcome.  Lots of great footage of his daredevil jumps (including successes and fialures and  jumping on to a skateboard ramp from a helicopter!) and his dedication to his sport(s).  It’s a great story and good tension as the jump approaches and the building of the giant ramp completes.  I give this one 4 out of 5 and recommend it for everyone – you do not need to like or even care about skateboarding.

Safety Not Guaranteed – 4 out of 5 – I really enjoyed this comedy. Excellent performances by Aubrey Plaza (similar to her Parks and Rec persona), Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson.  The plot focuses on 3 reporters following up on an ad looking for a person to join Mark Duplass’ to travel back in time.  But it’s really the characters interactions as they move forward with their lives and overcome some of their problems. The comedy is good and you develop a connection with the characters.  Definitely go see it when it comes out.  This had an excellent Q+A afterwards with the director and stars.

Girl Walk // All Day – 4 out of 5 – This is an exuberant, fun and totally unique ‘dance music film’ set to the latest mash up album by Girl Talk in the streets of NYC.  The music is awesome. There’s not much of a plot.  It’s basically just 3 people (other professional dances sometimes join them) as they dance to Girl Talks’s latest album throughout the  bustling city.   Some people join in, some are oblivious and some enjoy watching. The energy never ebbs. Some of the locations included the subway, Yankee Stadium (during a game), Staten Island Ferry and many more.  I wonder if this will have copyright issues with all the music but hopefully they have those resolved.  Below is a picture of several in the audience dancing during the final credits!

I did not see the Joss Whedon produced Cabin In The Woods as I am not a big horror genre fan but I heard a lot of good things about it from people on lines.  So Keep your eyes out for it.

For those in Austin, I attended a movie last night at the new Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane.  It is the best drafthouse yet.  They didn’t put seats where the first 2-3 rows would normally be and each table is just for 2 seats so there’s no more need to climb past people or crawl under the table! Check it out.


Man on A Mission

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Man on A Mission: Richard Garriott’s Road to The Stars is a documentary about Richard Garriott’s visit to the international space station as one of the first space tourists.  He paid the Russians $30 million to take him up on a Soyuz rocket.  I saw a special screening that included a Q+A with the director and producer.  It’s an entertaining movie that gives good insight on Richard’s preparation and his visit to the space station.   Richard also left his camera on to get some interesting footage during the re-entry and landing. In addition to Richard the movie features several interesting characters (including his retired astronaut father).

This movie opens in N.Y. next week and in Austin the following week.  Richard will be at the Austin premiere (he lives in Austin).

This is a must see for anyone with $30 million considering a space trip and recommended for others just interested in the space program from afar.

As tis has not opened in New York Bill I. has not had a chance to review this one.