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


Nothing but a “Flock of Dodos”

Flock of Dodos Movie Poster

FILMMAKER: Randy Olson
REVIEWER: Katy B. Jones

I was so looking forward to watching this movie, it’s been on my Netflix list for weeks. It’s got stuff I like – sciency goodness, humor, and friend recommendation. The story is about the fight between evolutionists and those nutty folks who want to teach Intelligent Design in science class.

Unfortunately, it had three major “ugh” factors:

1. Ugh for being our second film in as many weeks with a first person narrator. I just generally dislike first person narrators, they’re usually annoying. I didn’t care about his mother, I didn’t care about his background as a scientist, I didn’t care about his friendship with his crew. Get yourself out of the way and tell the story.

2. Ugh, for really poorly directed camerawork. It was shot like a student film – with weird two shots because you just HAD to frame the filmmaker in the shot during an interview, and poor planning during action scenes. If a character so much as wiggled during a sequence, boy, the whole thing was a mess.

3. Ugh, for cleverness at the expense of storytelling. Funny animated dodos aside, there just wasn’t a carefully constructed story. It was just loosely constructed thing with a filmmaker a little too in love with being funny without construction. Really used that poker game gag too much and should have edited more tightly. It was a bit student-filmy.

It was kooky, yes, and clever, yes, Continue reading “Nothing but a “Flock of Dodos””

Drink Review > Winter Wonderland Beer

 documentary becky beamer Doc and a Drink

DRINK: Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

There’s a feeling to winter.  It’s a time when you want to be warmed by a fire while looking outside to a winter wonderland.  I fell victim to these wintery  feelings recently –  at the shopping market.

I looked around the Harris Teeter beer selection and noticed that everyone was picking up Sierra Nevada’s WInter Ale : Celebration Ale.  Check out the label.  It’s a perfect sell for the seasonal winter ale.

I had high hopes that were quickly dashed.  Don’t fall for the label.  The beer is just average – nothing special.

Learn More about the Celebrational Ale.

2 out 5 Cheers

FILM REVIEW: Encounters at the End of the World.

Encounters at the End of the World Movie Poster
Encounters at the End of the World Movie Poster

FILM: Encounters at the End of the World

FILMMAKER: Werner Herzog

REVIEWER: Katy Jones

Werner Herzog “Encounters at the End of the World” is an…interesting movie.  Imagine giving a quixotic filmmaker an amazing camera, sending him to Antarctica and letting him wander around aimlessly at whatever thought pops into his head. Viola! “Encounters at the End of the World.” Strangely the most obviously directed and aimless, beautiful and possibly useless documentary I’ve ever watched.

The story begins on the transport plane – wandering about with a fisheye lens.  Herzog narrates – and promises that he will be making a different kind of Antarctica film.  He’s curious about “deeper” questions – like why some ants milk other insects – what? No, I’m serious, that’s his deeper question.

After landing at McMurdo, the launch point for all Antarctic research, he wonders what sort of strange characters he will meet in Antarctica – who goes there and why?  Ah, a plumber, a truck driver, an iceberg geologist!  Shocking to find such people here. Only the iceberg researcher is actually allowed to speak during his interview.  Herzog graciously summarizes the other interview subjects for us, in voiceover, while the subjects are still speaking on screen.  It’s like saying (in heavily accented German) “Dis person talked TOO LONG.”  Wasn’t that what editing was invented for?  So you don’t have to narrate? Is this a comedic element?  Because it’s weird and kind of rude.

So for seven weeks he wanders aimlessly about the South Pole from McMurdo to Mt. Erebus and cuts off at least 50% of the people he interviews.  I have to give him credit for going up to a penguin researcher and asking (German accent), “Ar dere any gay penquins?” and “Ken PENquins go IN-SANE?” – questions which I have never seen asked of any other penguin researcher on film.  It is most certainly not your “typical” film about Antarctica.

While I have some issues with the story, which was really more travelogue than documentary, there is no doubt that the footage is outstandingly beautiful.  Even a sequence of events at a training camp in which the trainees were trained for “white out” conditions by wearing a bucket on their heads was fantastically well-shot and conceived. One of my favorite segments is a conversation with seal researchers who, after shoving a bag over a nursing mother seal’s head and forcibly extracting her milk so they can analyze it, go on to talk about the “Pink Floyd” quality to seal calls swimming in the ocean beneath the ice they stand on.  The shots of these scientists putting ears to ice to listen to seal calls were obviously directed, and yet, strangely appealing.

The most outstanding, eerie, and breath-taking footage was definitely the underwater footage.  Every time the ice covered underwater world was revealed to the camera I could feel my eyes grow large and the critic within me quiet down.  There is nothing comparable to that world.  And the scientists working in that world are astronauts as much as biologists.  One scientist said it was a nasty, violent world, and supposes that this is why mammals evolved – to escape.

I couldn’t quite figure out whether this was a comedy or a documentary.  The characters had kind of a weird mockumentary quality to them.  Like he just picked the craziest people and moments to speak to.  He included such awkward interviews, and then clearly didn’t even find them interesting enough to let the characters speak for themselves.  The moments at the research station McMurdo are occasionally laugh out loud funny.  And he is critical of the station for having luxuries like a yoga class so close to the end of the world.  Um, please come to my small town and criticize us, Mr. Herzog, for trying to make our lives enjoyable.

This film was nominated for last year’s Academy Award for “Best Documentary Feature.”  The previously reviewed “Man on Wire” was the winner that year.  I am glad, because I liked that movie better.

For me, Encounters at the End of the World just didn’t puzzle itself out into anything at all other than man wandering around with camera.  Occasionally, there are great moments in the film.  Occasionally, there are crappy moments in the film.  It all seems so accidental it wasn’t that much fun to watch even for the good moments.

Two out of five cheers.