Movie Review: Thor (2011)


Title: Thor
Release Date: May 6, 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Watching the MCU movies out of order means coming to Thor and realizing that at this point in the series they actually played it straight and with very little humor.  It comes off as odd, and less than satisfying and makes me grateful for the tonal changes they made to the characters in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok.  Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston just haven’t really found their way into the roles of Thor and Loki yet.  And from the retrospective view, the fact that they tried to hide Loki’s villainy and make his heel-turn a big twist is unintentionally hilarious.

The basic plot of the film is that Thor is eager to wage war, and uses the opportunity of a break in by some of Asgard’s ancient enemies The Frost Giants, to in turn lead a band of friends and Loki to attack the Frost Giants.  Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) punishes Thor by stripping him of his power, enchanting his hammer Mjölnir so that it may only be picked up when he is worthy, and exiling him to Earth.

On Earth he’s befriended by astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and Marvel once again admirally casts a talented woman in a role as a scientest and then shamefully underuses the character as mainly a love interest.  The movie could’ve also used more of Foster’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) who brings some needed comic relief to this overserious movie.  The plot is pretty boring and generic, and I think this movie is pretty skippable, even if you really love Thor and Loki in the latter movies.

Rating: **

Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)


Title: The Incredible Hulk
Release Date: June 13, 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

To prepare myself for Avengers: Endgame, I spent part of my April watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I hadn’t seen yet.  It helped that some of them recently became available to stream without a premium charge.

The Incredible Hulk is tonally unlike most every other film in the ongoing series.  In retrospect, the MCU pretty much disowned it so not much introduced in this movie was followed up on. Edward Norton would be replaced by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and while Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America would all get trilogies of their own, the Hulk would only appear in ensemble films.  I would say both of these decisions paid off.

The movie condenses the whole origin story of the Hulk to a wordless sequence of images in the opening credits.  The story begins five years later with Bruce Banner hiding in Brazil and working in a bottling plant while sending computer messages to a mysterious Mr. Blue who may be able to cure him of his Hulk-ism.  Banner is discovered and it leads to a cat and mouse game of chases in Brazil and then back in the U.S.

The Hulk takes his time to appear on screen. In the first action setpiece, we get glimpses of the Hulk akin to a horror film like Alien.  The second action setpiece presents him more like King Kong.  By this time he’s reunited with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), a scientist and love interest, who sadly doesn’t get much to do besides sterotypical women roles.  The final battle is set in New York City and brings a lot of collateral damage to Harlem, but somehow never gets mentioned in Luke Cage.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are sometimes the heroes, sometimes cannon fodder, and sometimes comic relief.  Here they are the bad guys, relentlessly hunting Banner down to use the Hulk as a weapon.  They’re lead by the villainous Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), who is one of the characters who’s gone on to appear in other MCU films, but I always forget about him.  Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is an even more ridiculous over-the-top character, a Russian soldier who becomes addicted to supersoldier serum in order to become a killing machine.  His plot is pretty much copied in the Jessica Jones series with the character Wil Simpson.

Norton does a good job of displaying the fraility and anxiety of Banner, but the film doesn’t really give him the opportunity to explore relationships or emotions.  And there’s none of the humor we associate with Ruffalo’s Hulk, as this film is basically humorless.  I have only vague memories of the 1970s Hulk tv series, but as this movie reminds me of contemporary MCU tv series like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (in both the good and bad senses), I wonder if Norton’s Hulk may have also worked out better as a television series.

Rating: **

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: Captain Marvel (2019)


Title: Captain Marvel
Release Date: March 8, 2019
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The latest Marvel superhero debut movie is kind of origin story in reverse where we meet a superhero in action and unravel her past along the way. Vers (Brie Larson) is a member of the alien people known as Kree, has superstrength, and serves on the Starforce, fighting a generational war against their shapeshifting enemies, the Skrull.  Vers cannot remember her past, but has a recurring nightmare about being in a battle with an older woman. On a mission, Vers is captured by the Skrull, and making her escape, crash lands on Earth in 1995.

Defying orders from her commander and mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers begins to investigate a link between her dreams and this strange planet she’s landed upon.  She also attracts the attention of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).  With Skrull on their heels, Vers befriends Fury (younger and more cheerful and naive than we’ve seen him in other films) and they head on a buddy road trip.  Along the way they pick up a clever, orange tabby cat named Goose (the MVP of this movie who deserves a spinoff), and  former Air Force pilot Maria Lambeau (Lashana Lynch), with her adorable and scene-stealing daughter Monica (Akira Akbar).

There are some big twists in this plot line, of course, which I’ll go into in the spoiler section below.  This is the first MCU film with a woman as the lead character which is a little bit surprising partly because Wonder Woman felt like it belongs in the Marvel universe and partly because there are a number of prominent women characters in the Marvel universe.  Nevertheless, this is an about time moment for Marvel, and the plot hinges on the fact that in patriarchical societies women with great talent, intelligence, and power are held back from reaching their full potential by men (and sometimes even by other women).  Apparently there are members of my gender out there who were too dim to see this plot, though.

The movie is set in the 1990s, so the soundtrack is scored well to some alternative rock hits of the era.  There are a few jokes based on being in that era (Vers falling into a Blockbuster video, Vers disguising herself in a grunge outfit, the great impatience of waiting for a computer to open a file), but they don’t everdue the nostalgic memory of an era in place of the reality that some movies do.  I’m particurlarly fond of how well Larson and Jackson work together, as they have a lot of chemistry, which is nice since they are basically the new kid and the veteran of 8 MCU films thus far.  Lynch is also a character who works well with both Larson and Jackson, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of her in the MCU.

There are a lot of action sequeneces as you would expect from a superhero epic, although I think they’re secondary to Vers journey to becoming Captain Marvel.  Although, as an archivist I do appreciate that there’s a fight scene set among compact library shelving.   This is an entertaining, humorous, and inspiring film, and among Marvel’s best work.

Rating: ****

 

SPOILER SECTION

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Okay, if you’ve scrolled down this part, you’re ready for my thoughts on some of the film’s plot twists.  First of all, I totally misled myself on where the story was going even though the clues were there.  I was convinced that Vers was actually a Kree and would take on an Earth identity as Carol Danvers as opposed to her being born on Earth.  Very dumb of me, I know.

I also felt that the transition from the Skrull being villainous and hunting down Vers to actually being refugees attempting to escape the Kree happened very suddenly.  Maybe there were clues and I just missed them, but it seemed abrubt when Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) wandered in wearing a turtleneck and sipping a soda, and suddenly everyone believed him.  They also laid it on thick with the cute Skrull kids in the refugee camp on the space station, which is just a cheezy the way to build sympathy.  I’m not saying I don’t like the way the story went though, just got a little whiplash.

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: Virunga (2014) #atozchallenge


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

Title: Virunga
Release Date: April 17, 2014
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Production Company: Violet Films | Grain Media
Summary/Review:

Virunga documents the efforts of park rangers at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to conserve the habitat of several endangered species, including the few surviving mountain gorillas.  From the start, the filmmakers embed the story in Africa’s history of colonialism, corporate exploitation, and war, particularly the recurring conflicts that have erupted since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  The park rangers are heavily armed, and we learn early on that 130 of them have died in the course of their duty.  Parallel scenes depict a funeral for a park ranger and the funeral of several mountain gorillas slaughtered by poachers.

The movie depicts ranger Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo at work and the director of the Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, overseeing how best to deploy limited resources.  We also spend time with the very warm and loving André Bauma and the orphan gorillas he cares for.  Current events change the focus of the film as there are even more grave threats to the park. First, the British corporation Soco International gains concessions for oil extraction within the park. Katembo and French investigative journalist Mélanie Gouby both meet with and secretly recorded Soco officials in order to uncover corruption and protect the park.  Next, an uprising by a rebel group called the M23, brings armed conflict right to the borders of the park.

Virunga is an absolutely visually-stunning film that ties together a nature documentary with current events and a dramatic throughline worthy of a scripted drama.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Nature documentaries set in Africa are often from the perspective of a white outsider, a David Attenborough or aJane Goodall.  Virunga stands out as a story that primarily offers the point of view of Congolese people and their concern for their national park and its animals.  That civil conflict and corporate malfeasance are so directly tied into the survival of the park also is unique in demonstrating that protecting endangered species is not separate from the greater human experience.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The Virunga movie website offers several options to take action and help preserve the national park and its animals.

Source: Netflix

Rating: ****1/2

 


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
U: Unforgivable Blackness

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.