Genre Bending? Yes, please.


Netflix’s six-part series, Wormwood, is brilliant. This is the documentary I’ve been waiting years to see hit popular culture.  Wormwood fits perfectly into the grey area at the intersection of fiction and reality.  And I am proud to argue against the critics who claim this series is anything other than the most inventive documentary they have seen in ages.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am an Errol Morris super fan – check out my previous post on Gates of Heaven. I fell asleep and complained about the film being a waste of my time.

Now, back to the gushing …

  • Impeccable story telling
  • inventive camera angles (I read there were 10 per an interview)
  • beautiful composition
  • seamless transitions from collage, to text, to dramatic interpretation, to interview
  • props for the continuous comparison to Hamlet
  • excellent usage and collection of archival materials

I could go on and on but, I’m sure you are just about ready to sign on to Netflix and binge watch the series. So, without wasting anyones time :

DRINK PAIRING: Prosecco! This calls for a celebration.  Pass the bubbly.

SCORE: 5 out of 5 cheers.

The Staircase – An EPIC doc

FILM: The Staircase

FILMMAKER: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

This is a true EPIC documentary.  Well, actually it’s a mini-series.  If you like 48 hrs mystery and Law and Order you will really enjoy this series.  It’s 8 x 45min programs on 2 DVDs.  This weekend I conquered the first half.

It’s a more honest look at a serious murder case in real-time.  The access is unbelievable on both sides but, specially the defense side.

You can expect the same twist and turns of a well written drama.  I jumped between the two “sides” several times.  I really became addicted to the series in the 3rd piece.

SUMMARY:   The Sundance Channel’s consistently absorbing, often riveting The Staircase chronicles a sensational North Carolina murder case from the crime to the verdict. When Kathleen Peterson was found dead in her Durham, NC mansion in December ’01, her husband, novelist Michael Peterson, claimed she had fallen down a narrow staircase. The authorities disagreed, and Peterson was charged with first degree murder.  The filmmakers follow the prosecution investigators to Texas, where we see a body exhumed; there’s even a trip to Germany to look into a previous death in which Peterson may or may not have been involved.  Only two key elements remain unexplained: What went on in the jury room during deliberations? And did Peterson do it, or not? Only he knows, and he ain’t talkin’.


4 out of 5 Cheers — Perfect for a long rainy weekend.  I only wish it was streaming on Netflicks.


The Topp Twins — True Kiwiana

FILM: Topp Twins – The Untouchable Girls

FILMMAKER: Leanne Pooley

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

This documentary is true kiwiana.  If you aren’t sure what that is – I guess you’ll have to watch.  The documentary was shown prime time on NZ Channel 1.  It’s a free channel here in New Zealand.  Actually, this documentary has taken nearly $2 million at the NZ Box Office making it the Top Documentary Film ever released in New Zealand !

Summary:  Leanne Pooley’s documentary – offers a revealing look into the lives of the world’s only yodeling lesbian twin country-and-western singers.

The documentary was shot and composed in a very traditional manner and thus a bit dry.  But, it was watchable because the twins have a good story.  They are unique and special.  I found myself downloading a few of their songs from iTunes.  If you notice them coming to a folk festival near you – most definitely check them out!

The official website and trailer for the movie:


Twins Rule !

3 out of 5 Cheers

b.b  (I may be a Twin)


More Family Drama in “Tarnation”















FILM: Tarnation  (2003)

FILMMAKER: Jonathon Caouette

This film was recommended by my friend – Craig G.  We got into a discussion about the most F*ed up movies/documentaries that we’ve seen . I think the conversation started with “Happiness” but, it definitely ended with the documentary “Tarnation”.He said “you have to see tarnation”.

General Plot:  Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette’s documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother — a mixture of snapshots, Super-8, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more — culled from 19 years of his life.

Yes, the story was sad.  But, I focused on the good things about the film.  I got to experience – first hand – how a person’s parents shape them as a child and continue to permeate their life as adult – even if they are nuts. The most impressive thing was the amount of video gathered from the main character’s childhood.  I was impressed by the density of footage, audio recordings, and photographs collected for the film.  He showed all of his family’s faults.  I am sure that wasn’t easy but, hopefully –it was therapeutic.

The film was all about the filmmaker.  This was the films advantage and main disadvantage.  I can’t imagine the director doing another film.  This one was so indulgent.  It was the type of indulgent usually reserved for well-known narrative directors like Quentin  Tarantino.

I do also really like the film’s tag line.  “Your Greatest Creation is the Life you Lead.”

Cheers and Beers — becky beamer

4 out of 5 Cheers.

FILM REVIEW: The Boxing Gym – punch it.

FILM: Boxing Gym

FILMMAKER: Frederick Wiseman

REVIEWED BY: Kathleen B. Jones

I’ve been on the road non-stop since August.   Finally got home this weekend and first thing I wanted to do was go see a doc in a movie theater.  I dragged my fella to go see Frederick Wisemen’s new film “Boxing Gym.”  I felt sorry that I made him sit through it with me.

“Boxing Gym” takes place at a boxing gym – shocking right? – it’s a gym in Austin, Texas with a diverse clientele ranging from children to the elderly, women and men, all races, who love to come into the gym and box.  The audience gets to be very familiar with the rhythm of the gym, the sound of punches, the increased skill of the characters.  That’s neat.  For an hour.

Frederick Wisemen is a known master documentary filmmaker.  Recently, he was the honoree at Silverdocs, the DC area’s biggest documentary film festival.  I know all that, but I have actually seen very few of his films.  They are not available on Netflix, they are only seen in the occasional library, once in awhile on PBS, and in theaters.   His style is pure cinema verite, i.e. filming what happens with no narration, no music, no additional lighting or sound effects.  It’s considered to be the most “true to life” style of filmmaking.

After an hour of no storyline, no sound but boxing and chatting, and no music, you get wicked bored.  I love the idea of pure cinema verite.  But in practice it’s just not much cooler than actually living.

I watch documentaries to experience a new life.  These characters in “The Boxing Gym” are just normal people – you know, people who like to work out, but that’s it.  Again, it’s neat for a bit.  It’s good to have a minute where you are present in a scene and really look at what happens in life around you.  But after an hour of someone else’s perfectly normal life passing by on a screen you start thinking, “Um, I could be outside experiencing my perfectly normal life instead of sitting here in this chair watching some guy jump rope.”

Nothing much happening.  Nothing’s at stake, nothing’s really changing.    And frankly, being stuck in a tiny gym for two hours – it’s actually kind of claustrophobic.  It’s not unlike watching someone type on a computer for about two hours straight.  There’s a rhythm to the typing, and a beauty to some of the angles, but do you really want to watch it for two hours?  And pay $11 for the privilege?

But I will give credit to the film because I did go home and try out some of the boxing moves I watched in the film – and I realized that it is pretty fun.  Boxing would be cool.  I might try it sometime.  Maybe I did get a little something out of it. So 1) you are person who likes boxing or are curious about it – you should watch this film or 2) you are a student of documentary film who wants to learn more about cinema verite – you should watch this film.  But if you are 3) a person who believes that if they spend $11 on something you should get some entertainment on that value – yeah, skip it.

–Two out of five cheers

–Kathleen B. Jones (Katy J)

Boston Globe review of “Boxing Gym”

The Washington City Paper review

IFC Conversation with Wiseman

Short list of UNfinishable DOCS

There are very few documentaries that I can’t finish.  Yeah, sometimes I take a quick cat nap in the middle or start and stop the DVD so I don’t lose my mind BUT there are very few that I don’t finish.  These are a few of the recent UNFINISHABLE.

Please – feel free to add to this list!


Filmmaker: Elliot BerlinJoe Fab

Description: Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee is the setting for this documentary about an extraordinary experiment in Holocaust education. Struggling to grasp the concept of 6 million Holocaust victims, the students decide to collect 6 million paper clips to better understand the enormity of the calamity. The film details how the students met Holocaust survivors from around the world and how the experience transformed them and their community.

Review: Try it if you dare.  The cute quaintness is deafening. The paperclip program is interesting – for an article – not a doc.  The documentary was irritating and bland.  The music was over the top.

1 out 5 Cheers.


Filmmaker: Kenneth A. Carlson

description: In the blue-collar Ohio town of Massillon, the most important thing is high school football — and the frenzy around the local team, the Tigers, is almost cult-like. Former Massillon resident Kenneth Carlson’s documentary follows the three stars of the 1999 Tigers team as they deal with problems such as personal injuries and the pressures of their economically depressed town’s high expectations.

Review:  I wanted to like this doc.  I grew up “around the corner” – Sorry Ohio.  The camera work was terrible – at points unwatchable.  I sat through about half waiting for the story to improve and waiting to care about the characters. Nothing.

Note: It’s rated “R” too – seriously.  I thought – this HAS to be good.  It’s made for adults! Let me know if you dare.

1 out 5 Cheers.


Filmmaker: Jonathan Berman

Description: In 1968, Elsa and Richard Marley founded an alternative-living community in the remote Northern California wilderness with the motto “Free Land for Free People.” This film tells the story of that intended utopia. Through archival footage and interviews with former residents, director Jonathan Berman explores the problems and realities of communal living and the evolution of a community that endured FBI harassment, cult leadership and more.

Review: Surprisingly, this is the best of the worst.  It includes some interesting archival footage and covers a topic that’s interesting since I know absolutely nothing about communes.  I think it was just too long.  If the doc was a 30 minute short – my final review would be different.

1 out 5 Cheers.

Reviewer: Becky Beamer

Deep Water – Deeper, and Deeper he went

FILM: Deep Water

FILMMAKER: Louise Osmond & Jerry Rothwell

REVIEWED BY: Kathleen B. Jones

I am on a bit of a nautical kick lately.  Recently watched Deep Water.  This 2006 film follows the story of a yacht race round the world.  I should preface with rather a sad failure of a yacht race round the world.  In 1969, in a twisted race of torture that humans sometimes like to create for the themselves, a race was created for who could conduct a solo circumnavigation of the globe – without ever stopping.  So, to be clear, you are talking about months at sea alone with nothing but ocean.  I like to be alone sometimes, but this is intense personal solitude.

There are nine people crazy enough to enter, and most of them fail.  Some are dead.  And one crazy fool named Donald Crowhurst enters with almost no sea experience and completely mortgages himself to the hilt in order to do it, leaving himself and his young family destitute if he fails.

The film is fascinating, because with no tools other than 60’s archival footage, a few interviews from people still alive four decades after this insanity, and some actors reading journals, the film creates a sense of extreme tension and drama.  And I found myself chewing through nails unable to sleep.  I don’t want to give it away, but it’s a true adventure film.   At the same time a testament to the greatest of human acheivement and the depths of human foolishness.   One of the best archival films I’ve ever seen.

Four out of five cheers.

–Katy Jones

Film Review – Kurt & Courtney

Warning – this is a total spoiler review –

Just hooked up Netflix streaming to the TV – and went crazy all Memorial Day weekend with all the cool stuff I could watch instantly.

One of the docs you too can watch instantly is “Kurt and Courtney.”  Like most teen angsters in the 90s, I was (am) a Nirvana fan.  So I’m curious about the subject. I was also curious about the filmmaker, Nick Broomfield who is repeatedly quoted in every book on documentary film that I own.  (If you know me, you know I’ve got at least more than one book on documentary film.) So I was as curious about him as I was about “Kurt and Courtney.”

This film is kind of a sucker punch.  It really got a reaction out of me.  Nick Broomfeld does a first person narration through the whole film – I believe I may have mentioned how much I generally hate first person narrators.  He’s driving around telling us about who he wants to interview, where we are, what we’ve learned about Kurt Cobain…yammer, yammer, yammer.  And the people he’s interviewing generally seem a bit off their rocker.  As you meet more people from Cobain’s life –  the more you think, “Wow. He was surrounded by nuts.”  (Except his sweet Aunt Mary, you really kind of wish you had a sweet Aunt Mary).

So I spent the first half of the film kind of hating it.  I was really mad at Nick Broomfield for making me watch a film that goes nowhere.  I wasn’t learning anything I didn’t already know about Kurt Cobain – everytime things got interesting, Nick Broomfield would say something like, “Well, I would have interviewed this guy…but Courtney Love stopped me,” or “I would have played a song, but Courtney Love gave me injunction,” “I would have flown here, but Courtney Love scared away my funders.” And then, “I would have interviewed so and so…but Courtney Love threatened her with death.” What?

So halfway in – this movie takes a turn, and you get where fearless leader Nick’s been taking you. Courtney Love really pissed off Nick Broomfield during the making of this film. So since she won’t let him make a film about Kurt (& Courtney) – he makes a film about Nick & Courtney, making sure the audience knows every way she gets in the way of his freedom of speech.  He includes every conceivable way she may have hurt people in the past. And includes recordings where she threatened music journalists with death if they wrote bad stuff about her, and scared one so bad she left town.

At the end of the film she is the invited speaker at the ACLU – the celebrated litigators of freedom of speech. Nick Broomfield puts it to the test – and after her speech HE GETS UP ON STAGE and questions the ACLU for having someone he feels is antithetic to freedom of speech as the guest speaker.  The irony of his being escorted from the stage for freely expressing his opinion at an ACLU meeting – is frankly beyond awe-inspiring. And strangely, I kind of loved this film.

I didn’t learn anything much new about Kurt and Courtney.  But I do know that I will never ever cock-block Nick Broomfield.  And he may be the most punk filmmaker I have ever seen.

–3 out of 5 cheers

–Katy J.

Joe Berlinger’s “Crude” – Film review

Film: Crude

Filmmaker: Joe Berlinger

Reviewed by: Katy Jones

Sunday, Becky and I finally got the chance to watch Joe Berlinger’s much-hyped film Crude. And dadgummit if it didn’t live up to the hype.   And thanks to Netflix streaming, you too can watch it immediately, and you should, you really really should.

Long ago, in the Ecuadorian rainforest, a young man gets a job working for the foreign oil company Texaco.  He witnesses countless atrocities, unsafe working conditions, toxic pollution, and abuses of power.  When he grows up, his church sponsors his education and sends him to law school.  He emerges with a mission.  To take Texaco to court and make them answer for the ruination of the rainforest in their pursuit for oil.

Crude follows three years in the life of that court battle.  In the rainforest itself, with evidence in the case coming forth from the ground beneath the judge’s feet.    The land is toxic, the water is poisoned, the children get cancer and die.  And there is nothing to do to stop it – except hit the oil companies where it hurts.

The complexity of this story – with it’s accompanying heart-break, humanity, and posturing-  is artfully portrayed in the Berlinger documentary.  In the initial few minutes, we see the Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo traveling to the rain forest to meet with members of the Cofan tribe to ask what they would need for restitution, what course of action could help make the deaths of their families and their culture “right.”   As the story follows Pablo, the audience is guided by his American counterpart, American lawyer Steven Donziger who helps to coordinate the American legal element of the case – which has become even more complex once Texaco merged with Chevron.

Pablo is our hero who is “the David in this David and Goliath story.” But for story purposes, his American counterpart Steven Donziger is the English- speaking guide who shows us the work that is being done on Pablo’s behalf.  The structure works well – following these two major characters helps to braid the multiple sides of the story.  We meet the voices of the Chevron company who insist that the fault of the degradation is not theirs to bear.  We have a guide through the rainforests and politics of Ecuador.  And guides through the legalese and urban landscape of the United States.  We even get the chance to see it through Pablo’s eyes.  We also meet the individual voices out of 30,000 constituents in Ecuador who have lost their children, homes, and livelihood to the destruction of the rain forest in the quest for oil.

I have been thinking about the issues for days – do I live in a toxic culture?  Am I contributing to it?   Am I to blame?  Would the destruction have been less pervasive if Chevron had stopped the court battle and offered to help?  Is the company to blame?  Or the government?  How do you make these things “right”?

And that’s the best part of this documentary.  It’s a skillfully told story, with something truly at stake, that introduces you to a culture and problem you couldn’t have truly understood before.  I loved it.

Five out of five cheers

Katy Jones

More about the film

Crude’s Blog

Chevron’s Comments

Event of the Month – Environmental Film Festival – Living Downstream

FILM:  Living Downstream

FILMMAKER: Chanda Chevannes

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

Based on the acclaimed book by ecologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., Living Downstream is an eloquent and cinematic feature-length documentary.  This poetic and character-driven film follows Sandra during one pivotal year as she travels across North America, working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links.

I am so glad that I took the time to attend D.C’s Environmental Film Festival’s Bonus Day on April 25th.   I saw a film that was very special.  My glowing review starts with the first scene –  The opening scene visuals are thoughtful and the narration is extremely well written.  The open also happens to be part of the trailer so I don’t feel like disclosing the narration (below) will be any kind of spoiler …

There was once a village overlooking a river.
The people who lived there were very kind.
These residents, according to parable, began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river’s swift current. And so they went to work devising ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them.

So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.
This film is a walk up that river.  The river of human cancer.

Finally, Doc&aDrink has experienced an intelligent Host-Main Character.  The documentary was filled with beautifully – well composed landscapes and solid science.  Simplicity & Style of the visuals just works.  The B Roll was clean and deliberate.  My favorite scene was the beluga whales.  The scene included beluga dissection in the name of science.  It was raw and interesting.  I’ve never seen anything like it – effective.

For all those who were wondering – the screening was free  and the location was wonderful.  Please keep an eye out for the festival next year.

It was well attended and the audience included Senator John Kerry.


5 out of 5 Cheers.