Sunday, May 9, 2010

DVD Reviews

Off the Grid- Life on the Mesa:
Very interesting documentary about people who live on a mesa in an isolated area of New Mexico and live off the grid- socially and politically. What results is a very anarchistic community where individuals help one another and settle disputes peacefully.

The Bicycle Thief:
This 1949 Italian movie follows a man looking for his stolen bicycle in post-war depression Italy- a bicycle necessary for the work to feed his family. A starkly told and filmed tale of desperation.

Dirty Country:
This documentary explores the life and “talent” of a songwriter in Indiana whose specialty is composing bawdy, dirty country music. Though his songwriting shows some cleverness it amazes me how people can spend an entire evening being entertained by potty talk.
Not recommended

War Dance:
A very powerful, moving documentary that tells the story of a tribe in northern Uganda that has spent years being persecuted by anti-government rebels. Children tell their own stories of watching their parents being murdered and being kidnapped themselves and even being forced to kill. As therapy for their suffering, the children that managed to survive and escape become involved in their school’s song and dance program and travel to Kampala to compete in its prestigious music festival. A very uplifting story that illustrates the power of beauty to defeat evil.

Soul Power:
A recently released documentary of the three day music festival that preceded the Mohammed Ali-George Frazier fight in Zaire in 1974. James Brown leads the long cast of artists. The music is great but too little is shown of it. We see too much of the behind the scenes preparation, including discussions that the viewer would not understand or even care about. It’s inexcusable that we see only one number each from giants like Bill Withers and B.B. King. Despite the weakness in editing, the disc is still worth viewing.

The Informant!:
Based on a true story, Matt Damon stars as an executive at Archer Daniels Midland that turns FBI informant to expose the company’s illegal price fixing scheme. The trouble is, Damon’s character has a few honesty issues of his own.

Pete Seeger- The Power of Song:
An enjoyable and uplifting documentary about the life of one of America’s premier folk musicians. The film’s title is appropriate. Seeger has used that power to inform, motivate, and organize people to improve their world and appreciate the inherent value of other individuals. Even if you don’t always agree with Seeger’s objectives, you have to admire the peaceful tenacity with which he pursues them.

Up In the Air:
George Clooney is a man whose job is traveling the country firing people on behalf of companies. He also enjoys his life of constant travel and casual relationships. All is well until he develops an emotional attachment to a woman- BIG mistake! Excellent, intelligent dialogue throughout.

A Man Named Pearl:
An inspiring documentary about a man in a small town in South Carolina that has excelled in the art of topiary. Over the years he has created a magnificent, multi-acre garden on his property, despite no formal training in the art and a bit of racial resistance from neighbors (at least in the beginning). His garden becomes a popular destination for tourists and a source of personal motivation for people of all ages.

An American soldier, traumatized and presumed dead while fighting in Afghanistan, returns to his family. All sorts of conflicts ensue. A great dramatization of how war screws up people’s heads and relationships to create havoc “back home.” Excellent acting from the entire cast, particularly the two young girls who play Toby Maguire’s daughters.

Make it Funky!
A very entertaining, informative, and detailed documentary describing the history of New Orleans music. A multitude of racial and ethnic musical influences combined over the years have evolved into that distinct “New Orleans sound.” Lots of great music throughout.

This documentary is a narrative of the life of Marta Becket, a talented dancer and artist who moves from New York to Death Valley Junction to rehabilitate an abandoned theater and perform her one woman dance routines. A great story about following your dreams, inspired by imagination, no matter how eccentric they appear.

The Endless Summer:
One of the early great surf films created in 1964. The film also doubles as a travelogue as it follows two California surfers as they travel around the world following the summer season and searching for the best waves- some in places that, up to that time, no one had surfed before.

Punishment Park:
British director Peter Watkins filmed this documentary style feature in 1970 and couldn’t find anyone that would play it. It was too controversial. In order to fight radicalism among the young people, the government creates civilian tribunals that cast sentences on those found guilty of attempting to overthrow the government. They’re given a choice to serve their prison time or take their chances playing “capture the flag” in the California desert while being hunted by police and national guardsmen. Very interesting.

Pirate Radio:
It’s 1966 and a motley, entertaining group of DJ’s are operating a pirate radio station on a ship, just off the coast of Britain, where rock and roll has been banned from the airwaves. The state’s powers that be work relentlessly to end the fun and find a way to shut down their broadcasting. The film includes several very funny individual performances. Lots of great 60’s rock and roll music (the best kind) is played throughout.


Don Emmerich said...

Where do you find the time to watch all these movies? I'm jealous. I definitely would love to see some of these.

Saw 'The Bicycle Thief" some time ago. Some critics believe it's one of the greatest films ever made. I can't say I saw why they felt that, but I'd definitely like to watch it again.

Been wanting to see 'The Informant,' 'Up in the Air,' and 'Pirate Radio.' Never heard of the Pete Seeger documentary; I'll definitely check it out.

Enlightened Rogue said...

Where do I find the time? My entire entertainment budget is the $25/month I spend on Netflix. There’s my weekend fun (if not working). I don’t watch television, so I sometimes I have a free hour or so on a weekday evening to watch a documentary.