By Gregory Crofton
40 years in the making, “KURT VONNEGUT: UNSTUCK IN TIME” was worth the wait. It is charming look at the full life of this world famous writer, a man maybe be best known for his books, “Breakfast of Champions” and “Slaughterhouse-Five.” The film offers up an abundance of footage all-things Vonnegut gathered by Robert B. Weide, who became good friends with the writer as he worked for decades on this project. Previously Weide directed the first five seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as well as the documentary “Woody Allen: A Documentary.” The best part about “Unstuck in Time” is that it doesn’t shy away from Vonnegut’s flaws, and this helps create a better sense of the man. The film includes interviews with Vonnegut’s children and content from Vonnegut himself — gems like “What are People For?” and “There is no Why.”
“BECOMING COUSTEAU” is remarkably boring despite the fact it offers fascinating information about a very important man. I went in not knowing much about this undersea hero, Captain Jacques Cousteau, but quickly learned he valued one thing: the element of water. Somehow “Becoming Cousteau” ended up being a dry film about water. This Frenchman was an inventor (aqua lung, underwater photography gear), an explorer and ultimately a person determined to help protect the Earth from degradation by humankind. Director Liz Garbus (There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane, Bobby Fisher Against the World) is typically hard to beat, but she’s been involved in so many projects maybe she’s overextended, or an archival film produced by NatGeo isn’t the best environment for her skill.
“CITIZEN ASHE” was equally numbing. The most compelling part of the doc comes when you find out that Ashe had a heart attack at 36 even though he was a professional tennis player. Heart disease at a young age ran in his family, but apparently Ashe was mostly unaware of the danger. An argument could be made that this type of “blinders-on” temperament was something that helped him navigate a meteoric tennis career, despite treading a dangerous path to become the first Black man to win a major tennis championship (Wimbledon) in 1975. This focus and drive also likely made him a difficult subject for a documentary.
Thankfully I’ve got good things to say about “A DECENT HOME.” Have you ever thought that trailer parks were the country’s best option for affordable housing? I hadn’t, even though I lived at a small private one for five years at Lake Tahoe. This film shines because it reveals the true value of mobile home communities. Director Sara Perry also uses her doc to expose how private investors are gobbling up these parks only to sell the land for redevelopment. They wring millions in profit from the land while leaving hundreds of their tenants out in the cold. Regulations to protect the rights of mobile homeowners are needed, especially in an age where the one percent holds most of the money.