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‘ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL’ — Story Needed to be Told, But Not as Full-Length Feature

Posted on May 11th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

By Gregory Crofton

Kartemquin Films’ Steve James had an epochal impact on the world of documentaries when he made “HOOP DREAMS” in 1994. His latest feature film “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” will not leave the same mark.

This film is important because it tells a key and largely unknown story from 2008 financial crisis era — a family-owned bank in Chinatown is prosecuted for mortgage fraud when it should not have been. But its 90-minutes is about 60 minutes too long. It’s a courtroom drama without any real drama, and it includes more scenes of the same family eating at different Chinese restaurants than ANY film should.

What the documentary does well is provide access to the little-seen world of Chinatown, and it reveals that the relationship dynamics of a successful Chinese-American family seems to be the same as any other successful … Read More »

‘BURDEN’ — Fascinating Biographical Doc Shows Journey from ‘Evel Knievel’ Days to Beloved Installation Artist (Review, Trailer)

Posted on May 5th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

A promotional still for the new documentary “BURDEN,” which made its theatrical premiere May 5th in New York City, shows artist Chris Burden wearing Speedos with his hands tied behind his back. He’s lying on his chest, struggling across a parking lot covered in broken glass using his hips, legs and feet to squirm his way forward. The image is part of a piece of performance art Burden made in 1973 called “Through the Night Softly.”

Burden had the piece filmed and paid for it to be broadcast five times a week for a month on television after the 11 p.m. news in Los Angeles. This was not the only time in Burden’s career he used television to make his mark. But this piece could certainly be used as a metaphor for Burden’s determination to make a name for himself, … Read More »

‘DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE’ – For Once, Looking at Lynch from the Inside Out (Review/Trailer)

Posted on April 16th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

By Gregory Crofton

What’s best about this documentary are the dozens of David Lynch’s paintings displayed on the big screen, but that’s if you’re lucky enough to see this film in the theatre as we did last weekend at the Chattanooga Film Festival.

And as you learn intimate details about Lynch’s childhood in Idaho and later Virginia, the beautifully displayed art — generally very dark paintings/sculptures — become easier to understand. This glimpse of how great art is created is fascinating, especially when the work being considered is important to a generation and has become in essence its own genre.

The film has a languid pace that works well. It starts with his family life, covers his relationships with both parents and ends as he’s completed his first film “ERASERHEAD,” one that the great Stanley Kubrick has said is his favorite. There’s plenty … Read More »

‘TICKLED’ is Not a Doc About Competitive Tickling — Whew (Review/Trailer)

Posted on March 14th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

By Gregory Crofton

Who wants to watch a documentary about competitive male tickling? I might be the last one to get in line for that movie, even if it’s the only film playing.

But I found it on HBO’s video on demand, and having read in several places that people liked the film very much, I dove in.

After struggling through an early but over-long section about, yes, male tickling, the doc became something more like a very good episode of the CBS’ crime show 48 Hours. Heart-poundingly tense in several spots, this movie is about real confrontation in a world that grows more digitally removed every day.

The filmmakers — David Farrier and Dylan Reeve — are entertainment reporters from New Zealand who take stab at covering a strange “competitive tickling” story they discovered on Facebook. Farrier’s media request is coated with … Read More »

‘KEDI’ is a Hit Documentary that Will Make Your Cat a Movie Star (Review/Trailer)

Posted on March 12th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. Comments Off on ‘KEDI’ is a Hit Documentary that Will Make Your Cat a Movie Star (Review/Trailer)

By Gregory Crofton

Want to see your cat trotting by and think ‘well … there goes my movie star?’ Watch “KEDI,” an 80-minute documentary about the cats and kittens that live, and live well, in Istanbul, Turkey, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Just a little more than month into its U.S. theatrical release at a limited number of arthouse spots and “KEDI” has already raked in nearly $2 million at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo, making it a hit in the world of documentaries.

The movie is about the people of Turkey treating their cats differently than in other places. Homeless cats aren’t strays, but rather lovable animals that might need a little food and attention from those they live around.

Director Ceyda Torun, who lived the first 11 years of her life in Turkey, began shooting the film … Read More »

‘GLEASON’ — Unflinching Portrait of a Football Hero Faced With His Own Demise (Review/Trailer)

Posted on March 1st, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

By Gregory Crofton

I didn’t feel like watching “GLEASON,” a documentary about a retired professional football star who is diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). The film seemed like it would be depressing enough not to want to turn on.

But it is a tremendously powerful piece of work, one of the most honest and personal documentaries I’ve ever seen. “GLEASON” takes you on an explicit and emotionally jarring journey to one of the darkest places that families have to go together — toward death.

1,300 hours of video were shot for the film. Clay Tweel, who worked on two highly acclaimed docs “FINDERS KEEPERS” and “THE KING OF KONG: A FIST FULL OF QUARTERS,” sorted through it all. Much of it shows the growing terror of how the disease is stealing Gleason’s speech and mobility as he awaits the birth … Read More »

‘SHELTER’ — Watch a Trailer for First VICE Full Length Documentary Film

Posted on January 20th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

The Renaud brothers are making a film called “SHELTER,” about a homeless facility in New Orleans, to launch VICE’s new documentary film division.

“SHELTER” will be theatrically released sometime this year. The Renaud brothers, Brent and Craig, have won numerous journalism awards and are the founders of the Little Rock Film Festival and the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute.

“LITTLE ROCK: 50 YEARS LATER” and “DOPE SICK LOVE” are among their best known films. You can read more about the brothers in Filmmaker Magazine.

‘GRINGO: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee’ – New Documentary Reveals What Really Happened in Belize (Review/Trailer)

Posted on December 7th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

By Gregory Crofton

This new Showtime doc by Nanette Burstein (ON THE ROPES, THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, AMERICAN TEEN) is on a VICE-like topic except it’s much better than anything produced by that network. Why? Because Burstein spent longer than three days investigating the complicated story that is John McAfee.

VICE’s work often sails past the standard of evening news but ultimately lands far from where a great documentary, which often takes years to produce, does. Burstein travels to Belize and unravels the story, or in this case, multiple stories. She doesn’t get a sit-down on-camera interview with … Read More »

Herzog’s ‘INTO THE INFERNO’ Delivers Funny, Profound Insights from Volcanic Worlds (Review/Trailer)

Posted on November 23rd, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

By Gregory Crofton

The best sections of Werner Herzog’s new Netflix documentary “INTO THE INFERNO,” come from the footage shot by two French volcanologists, the married couple Katia and Maurice Krafft.

Glorious opera music accompanies a scientist wearing a heat protective silver suit and walking awkwardly on black lava next to a river of quickly flowing molten rock. It’s a striking image, surely science fiction. But in reality, the Kraffts died in 1991 studying a volcano and collecting such pictures.

Herzog puts it best.

“They were both instantly killed by a pyroclastic flow in Japan together with 41 other people,” he says in the film. “This is the very avalanche of super-heated gases that killed them. What is rushing down this slope at over 100 mph has a temperature of more than 800 degrees fahrenheit.”

When his brilliant narration and writing combine with … Read More »

‘CONNECTED BY COFFEE’ — Cooperative Farmers Explain Critical Role Coffee Plays in Their Lives and Economies (Review/Trailer)

Posted on October 28th, by admin in Doc News & Reviews. No Comments

by Gregory Crofton

Every morning people around the world reach for coffee. Brewed hot, and now even cold, coffee helps us wake up and feel excited about the place we find ourselves in life.

But it has a darker side too, one that requires farmers to do the hand-hardening labor of growing, picking and processing quality ripe coffee cherries only to meet with a dismal price at market (about $2 to $4 a pound depending on the variety).

Still the world is flooded with coffee. Coffee production for 2016-2017 will total 156 million burlap sacks, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Each sack contains about 140 pounds of coffee. But often the best specialty coffee, called arabica, is grown by farmers who work only a few acres of land in the mountainous regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia.

In … Read More »