Movie Review: Zimbelism (2015) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Z” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Z” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Title: Zimbelism
Release Date: September 2015
Director:  Jean François Gratton and Matt Zimbel
Production Company: Bunbury Films | Ready to Shoot Studio
Summary/Review:

This biographical documentary focuses on the life and work of freelance photographer George Zimbel.  From the 1950s to the present, Zimbel has taken evocative photographs of celebrities and ordinary people.  Some of his most famous photographs feature Marilyn Monroe, John and Jackie Kennedy on the campaign trail, Harry Truman in his retirement years, and street scenes from gritty old New Orleans.

The Monroe photographs are particularly interesting since they are from a promotional event for the Seven Year Itch with the famous moment of Monroe standing over a subway grate. Zimbel’s photographs are different in that he stands back a bit and captures the sea of other photographers taking their photos, as well as capturing Monroe in a quiet moment thinking to herself between photoshoots.  Zimbel’s street photography of ordinary people is also quite excellent.

One flaw with this movie is that it’s framed with the reading of a series of letters Zimbel exchanged with The New York Times regarding the ownership of a print of a photo of the Kennedys.  The long, snarky letters add nothing to the story and both Zimbel and the Times come of sounding like petty jerks. Oh, and Zimbel really hates digital photography.  He’s entitled to that belief, but until I have the money and space for my own darkroom, I’ll stick with my digital camera.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Finding Vivian Maier tells the story of a street photographer who, unlike Zimbel, received absolutely no recognition during her lifetime.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: **1/2


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty
X: Xavier
Y: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (2004) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Y” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Y” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Yellowstone: The World’s First National Park.

Title: You Can’t Be Neutral ona Moving Train
Release Date: June 18, 2004
Director: Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller
Production Company: First Run Features
Summary/Review:

This biographical documentary covers the basic moments in the life of historian and activist Howard Zinn:

  • grew up in working class Brooklyn
  • first job at Brooklyn Navy Yard where he’s exposed to labor activists and socialists
  • enlists during WWII to fight facism
  • disturbed by being part of a napalm bomb attack on a German holdout in France that had no strategic importance, only a demonstration of the USA’s new weaponry
  • after the war becomes a professor at Spelman College
  • supports students active in Civil Rights protests and becomes and advisor for SNCC
  • after fired by Spelman, joins the faculty at Boston University
  • becomes a leader in the movement against the Vietnam War
  • publishes A People’s History of the United States to offer perspectives from oppressed people on the nation’s history
  • also focuses on his personal life including his long marriage with Roslyn Shechte

The film follows the typical format of interviews with Zinn and others like Alice Walker and Daniel Berrigan, mixed with archival photographs and video.  It’s a good introduction to Zin if you don’t have time to read his books.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Even this is a movie about Howard Zinn, he has a way of redirecting the discussion to the front line activists in whatever cause it’s being discussed.  It’s a good lesson in using one’s talents and privileges to elevate others.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Read the autobiography this is based on, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.  And read some Zinn classics like A People’s History of the United States and A People’s History of American Empire.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: ***


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty
X: Xavier

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Xavier (2007) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “X” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “X” documentaries I’ve reviewed include XXXY.

Title: Xavier
Release Date: September 26, 2006
Director: Jeremy Zipple
Production Company: Fourth Week Films
Summary/Review:

Francis Xavier was born in Navarre (now in northern Spain) as a member of minor noble family.  As the youngest son, he followed his duty to study for the priesthood, with the expectation he could return home and live a leisurely and comfortable life as a prelate.  While studying at the University of Paris, he met an older student, Igatius of Loyola, who had begun to attract attention and followers with his Spiritual Exercises.  Xavier was initially resistant, but eventually joined Ignatius in his devotion and was among the first members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

His first mission was to Goa in India where he attracted people to listen to his instruction by walking the streets and ringing a bell.  He found himself in-between the poor Indians and the Portuguese colonists, the latter who lead lives that were less Christian, in the strictest sense of the word.  His willingness to interact with the lower castes also turned off the Indian Brahmins.  Later he became the first missionary to go to Japan, attempting to win converts by analogy to Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. Xavier hoped to continue his mission to China, but died on the island of Shangchuan, 14km away from the Chinese mainland, while awaiting for a man who promised to take him to mainland China.

Stylistically, this isn’t the best documentary.  There are several dramatic reenactments by actors playing Xavier and his contemporaries that just look cheezy.  Also, it felt like a quarter of the live footage was just shots of churning ocean waves. The filmmaker, Jeremy Zipple, is a Jesuit priest and former editor for America, so one can expect that this story is a bit somewhat biased.  The history of Christian missionaries to non-Western lands is one that often goes hand in hand with brutatlity and colonialism.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but a little inspired by Xavier’s attempts at honest cultural exchange and to live a Christian life of humility and poverty.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Xavier is a name I associate with Catholic schools that play basketball, so pretty much all of this story was new to me.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch The Mission, a classic movie that tells the story of Jesuit missionaries who find themselves caught in between the indigenous South American people they’ve come to teach Christianity, and Spanish imperialists who want to eliminate the indigenous people. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a science fiction novel about Jesuits leading a space mission to meet the inhabitants of an alien planet, very much a symbolic story of the missionary experience.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: **1/2


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “W” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “W” documentaries I’ve reviewed are WattstaxWhat Happened, Miss Simone?, Wild AfricaThe Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Word Wars.

TitleWaking Sleeping Beauty
Release Date: September 6, 2009
Director: Don Hahn
Production Company: Stone Circle Pictures
Summary/Review:

Waking Sleeping Beauty is the behind-the-scenes story of the Walt Disney Animation Studios from 1984 to 1994, a period known as the Disney Renaissance. At the beginning of this time period, Disney animated films were commercial and critical flops, budgets for new movies were slashed, and the animation division had fewer than 200 employees, and the animation division was even kicked out of their traditional building at the studios. There was an uncomfortable divide between a few older animators left from the time of Walt Disney himself, younger recent graduates of the Cal Arts program who wanted to try new things, and lingering effects of Don Bluth leaving and taking several animators with him to create a competing studio. There was talk of closing the animation division for good, which may have also signaled an end to animated feature films throughout the industry.

At the end of this period, Walt Disney Animation Studios had released a string of commercially and critically successful films that equalled, and perhaps even surpassed, anything produced during Disney’s lifetime.  These movies include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  Music from these Broadway-style movies became part of the American songbook, awards were received, and Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature nominated for a best picture Oscar. The animation division grew to five times as many employees, got a brand new building, and satellite studios opened in Florida and Europe.  Animated feature films were once again recognized as culturally and fiscally viable for wide audiences.

Waking Sleeping Beauty documents these changes relying on archival footage, especially home videos the animators made while working in the studios.  The film is also illustrated with caricatures that the animators drew of their bosses at the time, which provide a comical and insightful view of what they thought of tensions within the studio at the time.  Don Hahn, who produced many successful Disney Renaissance films, directs and narrates the documentary and Hahn co-produces Waking Sleeping Beauty with Peter Schneider, who was president of Walt Disney Feature Animation from 1985 to 1999.

Key figures featured in the film include Roy E. Disney (son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney and Walt’s nephew who served as  vice chairman and chairman of the animation department during this period), who sought to fend of corporate takeovers of Disney by bringing in Frank Wells from Warner Brothers as President, and Michael Eisner from Paramount as CEO.  Eisner also brought Jeffrey Katzenberg with him from Paramount to take over the motion pictures division.  Over the years tensions grew as Roy E. Disney saw Katzenberg as taking too much credit for Disney’s success, and Eisner and Katzenberg’s relationship also became strained.  Wells was the peacemaker, but died in a tragic helicopter crash in 1994, and Katzenberg left Disney when Eisner refused to promote him to Wells’ position.  This signaled the end of the Disney Renaissance.

The movie focuses Howard Ashman and Alan Menken who composed and wrote the music that was a key factor to the success of the Disney Renaissance film’s reinvention of animated features in the Broadway musical style.  Ashman’s death from AIDS in 1991 is also a solemn and tragic moment during the film.  While The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King are the key movies of the Disney Renaissance, other films in the period are documented for their importance to the studio’s revival.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is recognized for its innovative hybrid of animation and live action (and also was a big money-maker).  The Rescuers Down Under, while not commercially successful, introduced the new CAPS system, making it the first fully computer animated feature, and the first time Disney worked with Pixar.  Tim Burton, seen as a young animator at Disney early in this movie, returns to collaborate with Walt Disney Studios on his stop-motion animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

While not in-depth, this is an interesting glimpse into the animation process.  One particularly poignant scene discusses the effects of working on hand-animated films, with Disney animators dedicating long hours to drawing, and developing carpal tunnel and other injuries.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The most obvious thing to do is watch a Walt Disney Animated Feature! Or several!

Source: Hoopla


 

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Unforgivable Blackness (2005) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “U” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “U” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Unrest.

Title: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
Release Date: January 17, 2005
Director: Ken Burns
Production Company: WETA | Florentine Films
Summary/Review:

This is the longest documentary I watched for this year’s A to Z series.  Generally, I would find it difficult to interest myself in nearly 4 hours about boxing, but Jack Johnson’s life is a fascinating story that could fill an entire mini-series. Johnson, a heavyweight boxer in the early 20th century, broke the color barrier as the first black heavyweight boxing champion.  He became America’s first black sports star, and one of the nation’s earliest black celebrities.  His affinity towards finely tailored suits, fast cars, drinking, gambling, and enjoying the company of multiple women (especially white women) also made him a controversial figure at a time when black men were expected to be subservient.

Johnson worked his way up the ranks in heavyweight boxing, defeating black and white opponents until it was clear he was one of the best boxers in the world by the early 1900s.  The heavyweight boxing champions had traditionally set a color line refusing to fight black challengers, and the current champion James Jeffries continued that practice.  Instead, Jeffries simply retired as champion in 1905.  Finally, in 1908, an Australian promoter was able to provide a big enough payday to the new champion Tommy Burns to convince him to fight Johnson.  The fight was a mismatch, and Johnson easily took the title.

Over the next few years, the white boxing community put up several “White Hopes” to challenge Johnson, but Johnson was able to retain the title.  Finally, Jeffries was convinced to come out of retirement to challenge Johnson in 1910 for the “Fight of the Century” in Reno, Nevada.  Johnson once again dominated, and in the wake of the fight race riots broke out in cities across the country.

All of the above is detailed in Part 1 of the movie called “Rise,” while the aftermath of the 1910 title defense begins the “Fall” part of Johnson’s life story, although that’s a somewhat simplistic division.  Like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson would be in the future, Jack Johnson was much more than his fists, but a man with complex interests and interior life.  He played the bass and enjoyed automobile racing.  Born after the abolition of slavery, he never felt the need to behave himself any other way than the way he was, thus displaying his outsized personality.  And – most scandalous for the time – he dated and married white women, at times traveling with a coterie of several women.  When asked why white women were attracted to black men, Johnson mysteriously and poetically responded “We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts.”

In 1912, Johnson’s wife Etta Terry Duryea, her depression accelerated by loneliness and Johnson’s infidelity, committed suicide.  Later the same year, the government used Johnson’s relationships with prostitutes to charge him under the Mann Act for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes, a law never intended to target individuals in consensual relationships.  After an all-white jury convicted Johnson in 1913, he decided to flee the country while waiting on the appeal and spent several years in exile. Johnson continued to defend his title while abroad, until a 1915 bout against Jess Willard in Havana, Cuba.  Ten years older than his opponent and tired by the intense heat of the outdoor bout, Johnson was knocked out.

Johnson returned to the US in 1920 and surrendered to the authorities, serving a one year sentence in Leavenworth Penitentiary.  He continued fighting up into the 1940s, although generally in exhibition matches, in order to make money.  Johnson offered his assistance to Joe Louis when the latter was contending for the heavyweight champion in the 1930s, but was disappointed when Louis and his manager rebuffed him.  Johnson’s flashy lifestyle made him persona non grata as Louis was trying to portray himself as a “respectable” black athlete. Jack Johnson, a man who lived a fast life, tragically died in a car crash in 1946.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This movie is an entry into race relations in early 20th century United States history. It’s amazing that someone like Jack Johnson could’ve existed at that time considering the virulent racism, strict segregation, and risk of lynching.  Johnson certainly suffered a lot from a racist system, but it is amazing that he suceeded as much as he did, and did it with a smile.  That he was hated by white Americans was not a surprise, but the fact that black Americans also condemned him for his personal life as much as they did was unexpected.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Another one of my favorite documentaries is also about boxing.  When We Were Kings is the story of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s championship bout in Zaire in 1974 and uses boxing as an entry into bigger issues of race, colonialism, and celebrity.  Last year, I watched No-No: A Dockumnetary about Major League Baseball pitcher Dock Ellis, a pioneering black athlete similar to Jack Johnson in that he did not hide his personality and was criticized and condemned for it.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Titicut Follies (1967) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 13th, Tower, and Trekkies.

Title: Titicut Follies
Release Date: October 3, 1967
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Production Company: Zipporah Films, Inc.
Summary/Review:

This is a hard movie to watch and its even harder to believe it exists.  Frederick Wiseman filmed his first verite-style documentary with a single-camera and only existing light sources over 29-days at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  Bridgewater  State is far more prison than hospital and Wiseman documents how the patients are frequently stripped of clothing and left in bare rooms (reportedly as a cost-saving measure).  Guards mock and taunt patients. In a particularly grueling sequence, we see the prison staff rather indifferently force feed a patient.  The same patient died later on and images of his body being prepared for burial are intercut with the force feeding segment.

Not surprisingly, Massachusetts banned this movie and it was not made viewable by the general public until the 1990s.  The argument that it violates the patients’ privacy has its merits, but more like it was a cover your ass measure to hide the cruel treatment at Bridgewater State. In the decades after this movie was filmed there were cases of wrongful death as well people being held at Bridgewater past the end of their sentences, and some people sent there who never should’ve been there at all.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This film documents another instance of how the word “criminal” can be used to justify the cruellest treatment of human beings.  A psychiatrist frequently appears in the film, but he seems only interested in agitating the prisoners and often he speaks nonsense.  The point is made that if you weren’t insane when you arrived at Bridgewater State, it is the type of place that would drive one to insanity.  Whatever your thoughts on crime and punishment, I hope you can agree that the cruel treatment documented in this film doesn’t do anyone any good.  I’m certain that even though this movie is 50 years old that there are prisons and “hospitals” that still function like this in the United States, and we need to work past incarceration and towards transformative justice and treatment.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

“Like” may not be the right word in regards to this documentary, but if you feel moved to do something to help the incarcerated, I believe the Prison Book Program is an excellent cause to support.

Source: Kanopy

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Soundtrack for a Revolution (2009) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “S” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “S” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Searching for Augusta: The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne Secrets of Underground London, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, and Stop Making Sense

Title: Soundtrack for a Revolution
Release Date: April 24, 2009
Director: Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
Production Company: Freedom Song Productions
Summary/Review:

This documentary traces the Civil Rights Movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the March from Selma to Montgomery through the songs that sustained activists during marches, sit-ins, and jail sentences. These songs include “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Eyes on the Prize,” “Oh Freedom,” and “We Shall Overcome.”  Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement including John Lewis, Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte, Lynda Lowery, and Lula Joe Williams share stories of the Civil Rights Movement and the specific instances of singing the songs.  The movie also includes performances by contemporary artists such as Wyclef Jean, Richie Havens, The Roots, Joss Stone, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and John Legend recording their interpretations of these freedom songs.  I have to say that the polished performances of these artists lack the passion and joy of the amateurs singing them in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

The power of song is strong and fueled revolutionary changes to our nation, and can do so again.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

If you have any interest in learning more about the Civil Rights Movement, I highly reccomend the documentary series Eyes on the Prize.  The docudrama Selma is also a good movie and it captures the importance of music to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many others who marched from Selma to Montgomery.  The radio show/podcast Sound Opionions also did an excellent episode about the music of the Civil Rights era.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: ***


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “R” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous ”R” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Rape of Europa.

TitleRestless Creature: Wendy Whelan
Release Date: October 9, 2016
Director: Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger
Production Company: Abramorama
Summary/Review:

I don’t know much about ballet but it’s something I’m interested in learning more about. The subject of this documentary, Wendy Whelan, is considered one of the top dancers of generation during her 30 years with the New York City Ballet.  This film captures the end of those 30 years.

Whelan had remarkable durability, avoiding the injuries that plague many dancers until her mid-40s.  At the start of this film, she’s getting surgery on her hip injury and then beginning her recovery.  Her anxiety about being away from the stage is palpable, especially as rumors spread that she’s already retired.  Her physical therapist actually has to pull her out of a ballet class to keep her from aggravating her injury.  Whelan’s commitment to physical therapy and dance rehearsal show that she is definitely a “restless creature.”

But she is also a genuinely kind person, and her colleagues and friends think highly of her.  Part way through this film, Whelan comes to a decision.  First, she is going to perform in her final season with the New York City Ballet.  Second, she is going to transition into contemporary dance, with a tour called “Restless Creature” featuring four different dance performances choreographed by four differen male choreographers.  For her final performance at the New York City Ballet, she does a one-time performance of a number choreographed just for her.  The scenes of the performance are hair raising in their beauty.  Wendy Whelan gets to go out on her own terms and its perfect.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I’m in my mid-40s and I found this movie strangely relatable.  I mean, even when I was young I physically couldn’t do the things Whelan does, and in my own chosen field I should be able to continue into old age.  Still, there comes a realization in one’s 40s that you can’t physically do the thing you used to do, and it comes time to make decisions about how you want to go forward in your life.

I also found it interesting the distinction that Whelan makes between ballet and contemporary dance.  I mean to my novice eyes they look very similar, and a dancer like Whelan makes it look effortless despite energy exerted.  I’m glad that Whelan finds that contemporary dance is way for her to continue in a way that is more friendly to her injury.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The documentary Ballerina shows a different side of the ballet world, focusing on the young dancers in Russia’s highly competitive Kirov Ballet.

Source: Netflix

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family (2017) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “Q” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z.  This is the first “Q” documentary I’ve reviewed.

TitleQuest: A Portrait of an American Family
Release Date: 2017
Director: Jonathan Olshefski
Production Company: First Run Features
Summary/Review:

Quest is an intimate, vertite-style documentary focusing on several years in the life of the Rainey family of North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The movie covers the years 2008 to 2016, although most of the film’s action is from 2012 to 2016.

Christopher Rainey, aka Quest, is a music producer and engineer, who supplements his income with side jobs like delivering newspaper circulars. Quest’s flair at tossing newspapers onto stoops in the early morning darkness is one of the great cinematic images of the film.  Christine’a Rainey, aka Ma Quest, works long hours in a shelter for domestic violence survivors and is generally regarded as a mother figure in her community, whether she wants to be or not. Christine’a’s interviews provide some of the film’s greatest moments of introspection.  Their daughter Patricia, or PJ, is a teenager with a talent for basketball who is seen seeking out her identity.  Christine’a’s oldest son Will, is 21-years-old and simultaneously being treated for a brain tumor and becoming a father for the first time.  We see the absolutely adorable Isaiah grow from baby to toddler, and generally steal the scene when his father or grandmother are trying to give an interview.  One other figure figure in the film is Price, a talented rapper who Quest records, but also has substance abuse problems that test Quest’s patience.

The film shows many everyday moments in the family’s lives such as Quest walking PJ to the bus stop or repairing a leaky roof.  It’s clear that the Raineys are an important family in their community. Quest holds open freestyle sessions in his basement studio every Friday night where neighborhood rappers gather.  They also organize neighborhood events ranging from street parties to anti-violence demonstrations. Remarkably, the Raineys are open to even have the most traumatic event in their family life documented (HUGE SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH).  On a greater scale, the film represents a slice of life for African Americans during the Obama presidency, as the movie is bookended by the 2008 and 2016 elections.

Obama is heard speaking in part of the film as he talks about the Newtown Massacre and the greater scourge of gun violence in the United States. “These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods. These children are our children,” he says.  This is immediately followed by the shocking incident of PJ being hit in the head by a stray bullet from a gun fight in the neighborhood. Blessedly, PJ recovers from the bullet wound although she permanently loses an eye.  The scenes of PJ attempting to put in her prosthetic eye and coming to terms with feeling safe in her own neighborhood.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Quest captures the beauty and love of family and community in North Philly, tempered with the constant threat of violence. The police officer who responded to PJ’s gunshot is warmly thanked, but nonetheless the police are also seen holding Quest for questioning since he meets the description of a black man who commited a crime.  Quest laughs at the meaningless of the description of a black man in a white t-shirt and jeans since it can describe just about every man in the neighborhood.  Late in the film Quest and Christine’a watch Donald Trump describe African-Americans as living in hell, and Christine’a angrily responding “You have no idea how we live!” It’s easy to recognize Trump as being willfully ignorant of the lives of African-Americans, but I believe a lot of well-meaning white Americans also have no idea how they live.  Quest is an entry point to beginning to learn.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Earlier in this A-to-Z, I watched High School, which was set in Philadelphia 50 years before Quest and is in interesting comparison of the same city at a different time.

Source: Kanopy

Rating: *****


019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Pelotero (2011) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “P” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “P” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Paris is Burning, Pete Seeger: The Power of SongProhibition, and Punk’s Not Dead.

Title: Pelotero
Release Date: 2011
Director: Jonathan Paley, Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin
Production Company: Makuhari Media
Summary/Review:

The Dominican Republic is a small nation on an island in the Carribean, yet it produces 20% of the professional basebally players in the United States. Pelotero, also known as Ballplayer, focuses on two young prospects who hope to be signed by a Major League Baseball team, Miguel Angel Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista.  Historically, Dominican players have received smaller signing bonuses than players in the United States, Candada, Japan, and elsewhere, but in recent years new records for bonuses have been set. Sanó is expected to challenge that signing record.

July 2nd is the big date in the Dominican Republic when 16-year-old players are able to sign with major league teams.  We watch Sanó and Batista over several months of early 2009 as they practice and audition for several teams.  They speak of their bonuses which they expect will be able to lift their entire families out of poverty.  The bonuses will also be used for the coaches who run the training academies on the island who do not get paid except for a comission if the player gets a bonus.  Because players cannot sign until they’re 16 and bonuses are smaller for older players, there is a history of fraud, where players (and their families, coaches, and agents) fake their ages and/or use performance enhancing drugs.

Unfortunately, both of Sanó and Batista fall under suspicion of age fraud, and undergo lengthy MLB investigations.  Due to the ongoing investigations, no team will sign them on July 2nd.  There’s a suspicion in Sanó’s case that the investigation is being used to force him to sign for a lower bonus, and the effort to prove his age involves a series of humiliating medical tests and confirmation of official documents.  In the end, Sanó is signed for less than expected to the Minnesota Twins, while Batista is suspended for one year, and signs with Houston Astros the next year.

Just a side note, this documentary has some excellent reggaeton tracks deployed in the soundtrack.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

The grim, exploitative reality of Dominican baseball is played out on the screen.  There’s a lot riding on the hope of a signing bonus, although only a smal portion of players will be signed, and then a tiny fraction of them will make it to the major leagues.  Many people in this film use terms that make these young men sound like commodities, which I find very disturbing.

Miguel Sanó made his Major League debut with the Twins in 2015, and played in the All-Star Game in 2017, and is still with the Twin but starting the 2019 season on the injured list.  Jean Carlos Batista played a few years in the Astros’ minor league system, but doesn’t appear to be in professional baseball anymore.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The most direct comparison to Pelotero is the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams which focuses on two boys from Chicago who enter into prestigious high school basketball programs with expectations for the future in college and NBA basketball.

The Arm is a book that focuses on programs – sometimes exploitative – that focus on training young players in the United States and Japan to become effective pitchers.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: ***1/2


019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.