VOD Log: Three Identical Strangers

Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether.  Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter.  Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.

Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly.  Still, the content here is powerful and profound.  7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.

Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man

Advertisements

Innocence Lost: Making a Murderer Part 2

FOR FANS OF TRUE CRIME, THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote: “Making a Murderer on Netflix is a magnificently compelling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking series.”  Part 2, released in October last year, doubles down on being among the most riveting television ever aired.  And where Part 1 might have been shortened by a couple episodes, that is not at all the case in Part 2 — every minute is used to its full value.  For fans of true crime, this is as good as it gets.

SPOILER ALERT! — Referring back to my previous spoiler comments, I will add that the Avery case, in the absence of anything to contradict the evidence raised by Kathleen Zellner —  is even more solidly, and clearly, on the side of his innocence.  Zellner is in a different league than the original defense; we will see where she can take it.  Does this mean a Part 3 is in the offing?

[End of Spoilers]

* * *

So I never was able to produce a TV 2018 part 2 post as intended.  Those items, including Roseanne without Roseanne, are hereby tabled for a future post.

Film Brief: Free Solo

There’s no margin for error.  Imagine an Olympic-gold-medal-level athletic achievement that if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re going to die.

That’s pretty much what free soloing El Cap is like.  You have to do it perfectly.

At some point I will finally publish my Ratings Explained post.  Case in point is Free Solo: why is it less than a 9/10?  It’s completely gripping and a profound examination of life.  Answer: there are obvious comparisons to The Walk.  Free Solo is probably the best of the year so far, but I didn’t have that feeling of unbridled joy that The Walk gave me.  9/10 is a high bar — almost as high as El Capitan.

So, for now, Free Solo stands tall at the high end of 8/10.

Comparison Notes: Meru, Everest, The Walk

Docu-Log: The Act of Killing

Within 5-10 minutes of the beginning of this film, I knew what it was about and wondered where do we go from here? The answer is not very far.  Critics were besides themselves with this one; me, I like good movies.

I found the presentation ‘cute’ — and not in a good way.  A straightforward accounting of events would have been much better.  4/10

* * *

Comparison Notes:  The infinitely better Mr. Death

PBS Log: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Another recent PBS highlight was the airing of Janis: Little Girl Blue, which I had missed during its theatrical release a few months back.  I love good PBS programming, and American Masters is continually excellent, but it would be nice if they wouldn’t claim films as their own original production without a nod to prior release; this is not the first time they’ve done that.

* * *

WHEN JANIS SINGS, I’M GLUED.  At the program’s start, I said ‘ho-hum, I’ll flip between this and baseball.’  That flip never happened, and baseball took a night off.

This documentary ended up being one of the most magnificently compelling musical biographies I’ve seen — in a sense, much deeper than Amy.  It features a ton of never seen before footage (by me anyway).  Janis Joplin was a joyously, deeply talented performer, heralded in her lifetime as “Queen of the Blues.”  Little Girl Blue does a good job sticking to her life story, which is all that needs to be done.

One more dig though on the PBS airing: they kept bleeping out any one of the 7 words you can’t say on television.  Very annoying.  But a funny thing about those words.  Although I wish PBS would have some cojones, it’s almost always readily evident which one of those words is being bleeped.  So, annoying, but not enough to truly diminish the powerful story.  And then there is this on the PBS airing:

Never-before-seen extended cut features new interviews with Alecia Moore (a.k.a. Pink), Juliette Lewis, Melissa Etheridge, Laura Joplin and Narrator Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power)

These interviews are key, so kudos to PBS on that I suppose.  Make sure you see the version with them (I can’t imagine the film without).  I haven’t checked, but I would guess that if you watch it via PBS VOD, there should be a good chance of escaping the aforementioned censorship.  9/10

Availability: PBS

Film Brief: City of Gold

City of Gold is a fun film for foodies, and a refreshing chronicle of the ever-fascinating, eternal city of the angels.  A nice little follow-up to last year’s Tangerine, if you will.  From a documentary filmmaking point of view, no ground is broken, but the content is amply strong enough to propel the picture. Bethany Jean Clement for The Seattle Times:

It’s a testament to his (Jonathan Gold’s) prowess that the voice-overs of his writing are riveting; you may want to stop watching and just go read everything in his Los Angeles Times author archive. …While the film’s formula gets repetitive, little revelations peppered throughout keep it engaging. Gold’s the unlikely hero with the golden palate, but his work also involves obsessive scholarship and research, and if you don’t know about his background, surprises await.

I concur about this movie making you head over to LATimes.com to read his articles.  A great little character study, and a nice break in the otherwise vapid movie season we find ourselves in.  7/10