The Doc Option

Sabine Films

This is another Doc Option that requires a “yes I’m serious” disclaimer. How, you may ask, can a documentary about a WWII-era social program that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany possibly be compared to a whimsical stop-motion animated film about cute trolls that wear boxes? All shall be explained! The Boxtrolls is a delightful romp, and in addition to engaging any child who sees it, the movie will gently introduce them to certain darker truths about the world. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport can then help them understand those truths as they apply to real life. The story of The Boxtrolls focuses on the struggle of the eponymous race of creatures to survive while human exterminators are trying to hunt them all down. These villains use propaganda to demonize the boxtrolls so that the common people solicit their efforts. They round up the boxtrolls and put them to heavy labor in a factory. And their ultimate goal is to destroy all the boxtrolls en masse. The movie is, essentially, a beat-for-beat primer on how pogroms against minorities are born and enacted, even if that isn’t evident to any kid who doesn’t know their historical context. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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The Flat documentary

If you are in the mood to see a film about a Jewish family coping with the death of a loved one, then there is, believe it or not, a documentary alternative to This Is Where I Leave You that falls under that extremely specific set of parameters. Granted, that premise is pretty much all that The Flat shares with the new drama, but it is by any metric a more interesting use of one’s time. The most consensus on This Is Where I Leave You is that it wastes a good cast on standard faux-indie story tropes. The Flat, meanwhile, goes nowhere the viewer expects it to. After the death of his grandmother, director Arnon Goldfinger set to cleaning out the Tel Aviv flat in which she lived for more than 70 years. It was in the midst of this cleaning that Goldfinger and his family discovered some stowed-away documents that baffled them. Goldfinger’s grandmother and grandfather had fled Germany to escape its persecution of Jews ahead of the instigation of the Holocaust. But the two had remained in contact with an old friend, both during and long after the war. This friend was a high-ranking Nazi official. Goldfinger documented his long quest to figure out just what had happened all those years ago, and this film is the result. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Rick O Barry in The Cove

The first Dolphin Tale got surprisingly strong reviews for an innocuous family flick. While as of yet there is no verdict in for the film’s sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, it seems widely agreed upon that the fact that there is a sequel at all is rather baffling. Like it’s predecessor, the movie is based on true events that took place at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, but there’s no hook to the story of (part 2’s) Hope the dolphin the way there is to that of (part 1’s) Winter, who needed to be fitted with a prosthetic tail by the Aquarium after losing her real tail to a crab trap. Oh wait, Hope was a baby when she was rescued, so the movie seems to be nakedly playing for “aww”s. If you’re in the mood for a movie about dolphins — and why wouldn’t you be? dolphins are great — but aren’t interested in a redundant feel-good movie, then you might want to consider a necessary though dire documentary about them. The Cove was able to ride a wave of controversy to an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature after its release in 2009, and with good reason. It’s full of stomach-churning imagery and immense urgency, and it exposes a subject that many people know nothing about. Everyone loves dolphins, which is why a movie like Dolphin Tale can be a success, but most are content to coo at them in aquariums or at TV and Internet footage of the creatures. Few actually truly care about dolphins, which is how people can get away with […]

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Let the Fire Burn

A few days ago, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed, his apparent crime walking in the street with a friend instead of on a sidewalk. Citizens in Ferguson congregated in justifiable anger to protest, and they were met with a police response of jaw-droppingly draconian proportions. Tanks and tear gas were rolling through the streets. Air traffic was been shut down to limit press access, and reporters were detained for no reason. At every turn, the police escalated the situation, and looting and clashes between them and citizens peppered the city. This was happening this week. In 2014. In America. But if you’re shocked at all by this, it’s only because you haven’t been paying attention. Wednesday, a movie called Let’s Be Cops hit theaters. The title alone would make it the most unfortunately ill-timed release of the year, but given the film’s dismal reviews, there’s likely no good time for it to have come out. Again, while Ferguson is an awful exemplar of race-related police brutality on a massive scale, there are no shortage of such incidents to pick from. American culture’s goofy cartoon trope of policeman in comedy films becomes garish when set against the reality. And it’s not as if our dramas do any favors to the realities of those who live in constant fear of law enforcement. Pop culture, for the most part, glorifies the myth of a brotherhood of noble officers facing down monsters in the streets. Depictions of police brutality are few […]

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Marjoe DVD Cover

Oh hey, it’s that time of year again where we get another Woody Allen movie. What better way to celebrate than to tell people not to watch it and recommend a documentary to watch instead? Even for one of the director’s latter-day films, Magic in the Moonlight is especially airy and forgettable. It involves many of the philosophical ideas with which Allen is so enamored, such as the search for meaning in a godless universe, but makes none of them stick. Which is a shame, since the film’s story, about a 1920s magician who seeks to debunk a young psychic, had potential. As an alternative, check out Marjoe, another film about exposing religious fraud, albeit in a radically different context. While Moonlight is set amidst the spiritualism craze of the early 20th century, Marjoe deals with revival evangelism, which was the choice avenue for hucksters of that era (and whose spirit continues to a certain extent today). The title character, Marjoe Gortner, was a brief sensation in the late 1940s as a child preacher. At just 4 years old, he was preaching complex sermons to the masses, his parents claiming him to be a divinely-touched prophet. In reality, he was just preternaturally gifted in mimicry, memorization and stage acting. Even as a tot, Gortner didn’t believe a word he spoke. When his voice cracked, his gimmick was gone, and his abusive parents absconded with the millions he’d raised, and he spent his adolescence as a hippie. He returned to the preacher game as an adult, modeling himself after rock stars, to great success. But his conscience weighed on him, and […]

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American Promise still

The raves are flying thick around Boyhood, the long-time-in-the-making new film from director Richard Linklater which finally opens in theaters this weekend. Linklater and his crew shot the movie over the course of 12 years, so that they could capture the main character age in real time, from a young boy to a high school graduate. I can vouch for pretty much every good thing you’ve heard about the movie. It’s a fantastically moving, incredibly true-to-life piece of work, and an impressive accomplishment. It is not, however, a unique accomplishment, no matter how many critics may think it is. While the scope of Boyhood‘s production period may rival any completed fiction film, there are numerous documentary projects of equal or greater scale. An easy example is the Paradise Lost trilogy, which revisited the same legal case over a 17-year period. An even easier example is the Up series, which has been revisiting the same set of subjects every seven years for the last half century. But this week’s Doc Option is a film whose structure hews remarkably close to that of Boyhood. In fact, these two movies were trying to do almost the same thing — and with a significant overlap in the time during which they shot — but on opposite sides of the fiction/nonfiction coin. American Promise was shot over the course of 13 years instead of 12. It has two protagonists, not one (though with both movies, you can argue that the parents are just as important as the main characters are). And while Boyhood is concerned with a variety of subjects that have to do […]

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Deliver Us From Evil Documentary

The “deliver us from evil” segment of the Lord’s Prayer has been used as the title of at least five movies, two albums, one song, and two books. It’s an evocative phrase, so it makes sense. The latest movie called Deliver Us from Evil comes out this week, and it’s a hybrid of the horror, crime and “based on a true story” genres. It’s adapted from “Beware the Night,” a book by NYPD policeman-turned-demonologist Ralph Sarchie, which details his supposed encounters with the paranormal in the course of his police work. How much credibility the viewer lends to Sarchie likely depends on their flavor of religious belief. Regardless of how believable the film is, its reception has not been kind. So instead, seek out an Oscar-nominated documentary with the same name. This one is about real religion-related acts of evil. The 2006 Deliver Us from Evil looks at the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal by focusing on the case of one man: Oliver O’Grady, who raped at least 25 Northern California children between the late ’70s and early ’90s in the course of his service as a priest. As both he and his now-grown victims and their families attest, his hideous crimes were never particularly well-hidden. Whenever his offenses came to light, O’Grady’s superiors would hush things up and move him to a different parish. It is a micro view of how institutions work to protect themselves, and how ordinary people are the ones who suffer the consequences. READ MORE […]

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All This And World War II

Pop nostalgia is an odd thing. It’s the connective tissue between the new movie Jersey Boys and this week’s Doc Option, the tremendously obscure 1976 film All This and World War II. Jersey Boys is based on the hit 2005 Broadway play of the same name, a dramatization of the rise and fall of The Four Seasons. All This and World War II features the music of The Beatles, the act that dethroned The Four Seasons from their perch at the top of musical popularity in the mid-’60s. But the doc also incorporates The Four Seasons and its perpetual frontman Frankie Valli into its mix. If you’re wondering what kind of a production would concoct such a situation, well, the answer is stranger than anything you’re probably expecting. All This and World War II is an 88-minute recap of World War II, consisting of newsreel footage and clips from movies and propaganda films of the period, all set to covers of Beatles songs. Ambrosia’s cover of “Magical Mystery Tour” plays as Hitler and his cronies go about their day in Berlin. “I Am the Walrus,” as played by Leo Sayer, scores the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And Japanese-Americans are rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps with Sayer intoning “Let It Be” in the background. Valli’s cover of “A Day in the Life” scores a montage of military fortifications and soldiers going about their daily work (the Four Seasons track is “We Can Work It Out”). So on and so forth. If all of this sounds incredibly crazy, well holy shit you don’t know the half of it.  […]

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Pink Ribbons Inc.

Telling stories about cancer is a hazardous endeavor. So many books, movies and television episodes have exploited the subject for easy, mawkish sentimentality. It’s almost reached the point of dog whistle manipulation — “Look, this person has cancer. Now cry. Cry.” John Green’s young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars was written as a conscious effort to avoid these pitfalls. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know if he succeeded. But I have seen the new movie based on the book, and I know that it does not. The Fault in Our Stars opens with the main character narrating to the audience how the events that follow are “The truth. Sorry.” That “sorry,” a semi-ironic wink, is there to immediately set the film apart from, say, a Hallmark movie. But while it tries to talk a tough, emotionally honest game, it doesn’t follow through on it. The truth is that the movie is just as nakedly, unashamedly manipulative as any other critically derided cancer movie. And no amount of philosophical pretension can cover that up. I choose Pink Ribbons, Inc. as a documentary alternative not because it is also a movie about cancer but because it really picks apart the way we treat cancer in our culture. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Sherman

While it’s sold as a comedic Western, A Million Ways to Die in the West is not a very good Western at all. Oh, it may take place in the 19th century American frontier and feature pistol duels, saloon brawls and farming, but its story is completely 21st century romance. The movie is your standard “nice guy loses girl, tries to win her back and discovers a much better girl in the process” affair. The setting is nothing but window dressing. It isn’t even exploited for very many jokes, good or otherwise — and most of the jokes are bad. But there’s one upside to this misaimed move on the part of writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane. He’s put himself in similar thematic territory with an already existing film. And that film does relationships and humor much, much better. Sherman’s March is a supremely strange piece of work. Originally, director Ross McElwee set out to retrace the route General Tecumseh Sherman took on his March to the Sea during the Civil War. Sherman earned the eternal enmity of the American South by ruthlessly razing everything in his army’s path. But McElwee wreaks a very different kind of destruction, endless self-scrutiny. Early on in production, his girlfriend dumped him, and the documentary became something new. In the film, he interviews his family and friends, with a special emphasis on the women he has known and tried (and/or failed) to romance. This offbeat journey takes him and the people he meets through a wide variety of 1980s subject matter, from nuclear war to the career of Burt Reynolds. […]

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the-atomic-cafe-poster

“When not close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.” That quote, from a 1950s military instructional video, sums up not only the American attitude towards nuclear warfare during the Cold War but also our current fascination with mass destruction in blockbuster filmmaking. Audiences are in love with collapsing buildings, with clouds of debris flooding city blocks, with fire and shredded metal blotting out the sky. From the safety of the cinema seat or the couch, it’s all so exciting, rather than the pinnacle of horror. But when the original Godzilla came out in 1954, its scenes of mass destruction were anything but entertaining. The titular monster’s rampage across Japan was played completely seriously and for all the terror it could muster. It tapped a deep vein of contemporary anxieties in a culture that had been hit with two nuclear weapons and then had to watch as the country that dropped said weapons on them tested even more powerful bombs in the ocean nearby. Godzilla’s first attack is against a fishing vessel, a direct reference to a real-life incident in which a Japanese ship was caught in the fallout of an American nuclear test. The first of those Pacific tests was Operation Crossroads, in 1946, in which two atom bombs were dropped in the Bikini Atoll. That incident is the subject of Robert Stone‘s Oscar-nominated 1988 documentary Radio Bikini, which relates the events through primary footage, with minimal added commentary. The government lied to the citizens of the islands […]

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Jump London

To some, the new film Brick Mansions is notable as one of the final projects starring recently-deceased actor Paul Walker. Others know of it as a remake of the French film District B13. Or, you might not be familiar with it at all, given the somewhat muted promotional push. Like the original, the movie acts as a showcase for parkour, the physical discipline of getting from one point to another as quickly as possible, often utilizing impressive acrobatic techniques. But if you want better examples of the sport in action, then it’s best to turn to a documentary. After all, the stunts in these nonfiction films aren’t performed by doubles and there’s no safety apparatuses in play. That’s much more in the true spirit of parkour. While Hollywood generally sees parkour as a means to an action scene end, there is in fact a philosophy behind it, and each of these docs get into that to one degree or another. Jump London, a 2003 film widely credited with causing an explosion in popularity for the sport in the UK, didn’t appeal to youth just because of the cool tricks. Its message of reclaiming locomotion in an era dominated by traffic jams pushes traceurs, the French practitioners of the form, as true free spirits. Seeing them bound around famous London landmarks is absolutely exhilarating. That theme is continued in the film’s 2005 sequel, Jump Britain, which follows the traceurs to new places all over the country. Watch Jump London in full, care of director Mike Christie, by clicking through below. He also uploaded the sequel here. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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published: 10.30.2014
B-
published: 10.29.2014
D+
published: 10.27.2014
C-
published: 10.24.2014
C-


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