The U.S. and Canadian teams of quadriplegics compete in a rugby-like… MoreThe U.S. and Canadian teams of quadriplegics compete in a rugby-like game called murderball in the paraolympics.
The first impression of some of these people is not positive, but nonetheless interesting: they come off as testosterone-fueled assholes, but they're in wheelchairs, so all expectations of this being a feel-good Lifetime after-school special are shot to the moon the first time an paraolympian tells a story about threatening to kick the ass of a random bar patron. But as the film goes on, we get underneath the veneers of these players. There are a few vulnerabilities, but what they want more than your pity is your respect, your fear, and your recognition that their injuries do not threaten their masculinity.
The film tries to fashion a sports story out of its subject, but it doesn't work. There isn't a lot of suspense in the games' outcomes.
Overall, documentaries often open worlds that we never imagined existed, and what is true of those documentaries is doubly true of Murderball.
A group of Trappist monks must decide to flee or remain when a nearby… MoreA group of Trappist monks must decide to flee or remain when a nearby village is threatened by Muslim extremists.
As slow burns go, Of Gods and Men is one of the most compelling. Tightly scripted and slowly but tensely paced, as this story unfolds, the film's themes emerge subtly: the film portrays the austerity of faith and how faith leads to a sense of security and conviction. While I'm not personally committed to these theses, the film's portrayal is richly textured and compelling. By the end of the film, we get to know these monks about as well as we get to know anyone in an understated French film, and it's hard not to admire them.
Overall, this is profound and compelling story well-told.
Marlene Dietrich narrates this documentary about the rise of Hitler… MoreMarlene Dietrich narrates this documentary about the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, comparing Hitler's ascension to a fable about a fox.
If Hotel Terminus explodes the Nazis and WWII into all its complexities, this film does the polar opposite, reducing political rises to sophomoric fairy tales. It's a metaphor that gets tired after ten minutes but stretches for interminable an hour and a half.
Overall, while Hotel Terminus may have been overkill in its rendering of WWII's complexities, this is overkill in simplicity, which is a far greater crime.
A French documentarian copiously researches the life and death and… MoreA French documentarian copiously researches the life and death and career of Klaus Barbie.
Most narratives about World War II and the Nazi regime are whittled down to rather simple documentaries of Nazi atrocities and good finally prevailing over evil. But Hotel Terminus, at an excruciatingly thorough four and a half hours, does not boil anything down. It's difficult to understand the documentarians' point, and I think the film would've been improved with a voice-over that allows us to understand how each piece of testimony fits in with the larger picture, but what I gather from the film is that the aftermath of WWII is more complicated that a mere triumph of good over evil. In fact, when it comes out that the CIA had dealings with Klaus Barbie, it seems that the film reveals that sorting out the good guys from the bad guys from the useful guys from the ugly guys is more complicated than one might expect. Not everyone wearing a swastika was evil, and not every evil person wore a swastika. I think that's the film's thesis, but I can't be sure.
Overall, after watching a five-hour documentary on Nazis, I don't know if I can handle The Sorrow and the Pity, which is coming up ...
A group of juvenile criminals is berated and verbally abused by a… MoreA group of juvenile criminals is berated and verbally abused by a group of hardened criminals.
At first, this documentary is just a bunch of people screaming at a group of petrified children, but by the middle of this film, there are enough levels in the convicts' threats to keep this film compelling. And the tales they tell would scare anyone straight, even though the film doesn't account for the various socio-economic realities that might drive one to crime.
Overall, there's a moment when one of the convicts is whispering, "I really want to hurt you," right into a kid's face, and that's a moment that I'll remember for a long time, and when a film has that type of effect, it's a powerful film.
This documentary chronicles the numerous broken treaties that have… MoreThis documentary chronicles the numerous broken treaties that have crushed Native American culture and destroyed their homeland.
First, I guess I have to say that I agree with this film's thesis: the U.S. government has fucked over the Native Americans and we as Americans are complicit in anti-Native injustices. That said, this film sucks. Its presentation of this thesis is bland, repetitive, and maudlin with a repeating song that might as well be a broken record over the broken rainbow.
Overall, agreeing with a film isn't all it takes to make a good film.
Teachers in inner-city Philadelphia with exclusively poor… MoreTeachers in inner-city Philadelphia with exclusively poor African-American students struggle to inspire and educate their students.
Deploying the concepts of educators as heroes and education as inspiration, the subjects of this documentary encounter all the problems that you'd expect. While I normally reject the idea that education and inspiration are related, the context of this film and these teachers makes me challenge my own ideas. The principal of this school, Deanna Burney, must convince the students and their parents that they aren't categorically doomed to repeat the lives they see in their environment and that education has the power to take them beyond what they see. And at times she even has to convince teachers to believe in the "power of education." These are all idealistic notions that don't always hold up in real life, but it's hard to argue with her in the context of this film.
Overall, my cold, dead, cynical heart was almost warmed by this film.
An attorney defends an African-American fifteen-year-old accused of… MoreAn attorney defends an African-American fifteen-year-old accused of the murder of a white tourist.
This documentary is pretty plain-Jane. There aren't many flashy edits or creative story-telling gimmicks. And that's appropriate because the film's subject is compelling on its own. Will the accused Brandon Butler be proven innocent? What are the racial implications of this case? What are Pat McGuinness's strategies throughout the trail?
Overall, for students and critics of the American criminal justice system, this film is required viewing.
Stacy Valentine, a successful porn star, started as an Oklahoma… MoreStacy Valentine, a successful porn star, started as an Oklahoma housewife.
This documentary's behind-the-scenes reveals about Stacy Valentine are fascinating, but when Valentine wonders about why she's so depressed and where all her personal, emotional, and professional strife comes from, it becomes evident that she isn't a remarkably deep or intelligent human being. She's interesting because she's hot and willing to fuck in any and every which way people can imagine. She's interesting because she's in an interesting industry (say what you want about porn, but it's at least interesting that people pay money to watch other people do something that is generally considered private). But her context is where her fascinating qualities begin and end.
Overall, there are interesting parts about this documentary, but its central subject can wear on anyone's patience.
An illiterate half-Arab, half-Corsican serves a prison sentence and… MoreAn illiterate half-Arab, half-Corsican serves a prison sentence and rises to become a mob leader.
This film is mediocre Martin Scorsese -- wait, it's not directed by Scorsese? Shocking! Then I guess this film is mediocre imitation Scorsese. It dark, depressing, virile, and remarkably violent. I make the Scorsese joke because films like Goodfellas and Casino achieve an impossible ethical feat: they make being a mobster seem cool; they make us say, "Gee, if I were a mobster, I'd be that cool, dressing in sherbet-colored suits." And A Prophet wants us to make the same type of ethical leap: they want us to sympathize with a character who goes through a profound ethical transformation from doe-eyed innocent to cold-blooded killer. But unlike the charming Ace Rothstein, Malik doesn't inspire, intrigue, or charm.
The film's portrayal of Muslim fundamentalism doesn't get a lot of traction and its aim isn't that clear to me.
Overall, Scorsese has done better - wait, are you sure he didn't direct this?