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’.

FOR MORE INFO: http://www.peterson-staircase.com/

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

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Give Joan Rivers a Chance!!!

FILM: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

FILMMAKER: Ricki SternAnnie Sundberg

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

Summary: Documentarians Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg provide an uncompromising glimpse into the personal and professional life of comedian and red-carpet mainstay Joan Rivers, a woman clinging stubbornly and steadfastly to the pop-culture bandwagon. Stern and Sundberg — whose previous film, The Devil Came on Horseback, covered the Darfur genocide — take a no-less-intensive approach to their subject here, taking a hard look at fame’s bitter toll.

Joan Rivers surprised me.  Before seeing this movie I had zero interest in Joan RIvers as a person and certainly didn’t care about her career.  But now … I think she’s super hard working, strong woman, who deserves appreciation for more than her comedy.  Can someone out there try her in drama?  Her stand up is hilarious.  She can laugh at herself but, takes working very seriously.  I had no idea that she thinks “no job is too small”.  She comes across as lovable and impressive.

I totally forgot about the camera work or composition.  I was sucked into her character.

Come on everyone … give Joan Rivers a chance.

And guess what? You can stream it on Netflicks.

4 out 5 Cheers.

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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.

Teen Angst Survives in American Teen Movie

Last weekend I was on Grease overload – the soundtrack, the movie, a pizza night sleepover party with more singing.  The teenage angst rolled into this weekend with the documentary selection…..

FILM: American Teen (2008)

DIRECTOR & WRITER:Nanette Burstein

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

The documentary was exactly what I remember of highschool rolled into all of my favorite movies from the same time.

I don’t mean to give anything away but yes there was the faithful school announcements (Grease), followed by the introduction of the stereotypical characters (breakfast club), and their peer pressured ways (Pretty in PInk).  It’s an easy to watch documentary.  I liked it.  I don’t think it was exceptional or revolutionary but, dependable and liable in all its clichéd glory.

Don’t be thrown off by the animation appearing randomly about an hour into the film.  I think it smoothes itself into a purposeful normalcy – like the super dork – in the end.

If you were worried there wouldn’t be a final basketball dual (Teen Wolf), Prom NIght (Pretty in PInk) or Graduation Speech (Say Anything) – don’t worry they are all in there too.

Rock on!

I feel the need to end this posting with a cheer – from none other than Shaker Heights High School’s Field Hockey Team to another rival Field Hocky Team.

U

L

G

Y

You ain’t got no alibi – you ulgy – Aye – Aye – You Ugly- (clap clap clap) GOOOOOOO Raiders!

4 out of 5 Cheers — b.b.

FILM REVIEW: Dogtown and Z-Boys

FILM: Dogtown and Z-Boys

FILMMAKER: Stacy Peralta

REVIEWER: Kathleen B. Jones

I am revisiting some of my favorite docs while I’m on the road.  (All praise Netflix Instant!).  Most recently I rewatched every 90s teen punk skateboarder wannabe favorite Dogtown and Z-Boys.  I remember this doc as being super awesome when I first saw it (it was realeased in 2001) but wasn’t sure I wasn’t viewing it through the lens of a 20-something media student who totally like thought boys who skateboarded and listened to Black Flag were like totally hot.  Tastes haven’t changed.  Movie is awesome, still like dude who listens to Black Flag.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is the story of a skater gang from California who defined 70s skateboard culture.   The fact that the filmmaker, Stacy Peralta, was one of the Z-Boys, could have made it suck (there’s a rule about being too close to what your filming), but instead it makes it awesome.  The other members of the team talk to him like a person, like, “you remember how Johnny was” and it makes you the audience feel like you’re a part of the experience.  Like you totally know these guys, even though they would totally never actually talk to you.

Peralta himself appears as one of the interviewed characters, as he should since he was a part of that experience, but he doesn’t narrate. Sean Penn does the narration as an omniscient 3rd person narrator.  So you get to feel how much Peralta is personally involved in the story, and cared about making a great film about an experience he was part of, but it’s not like just wanted to talk about himself.

Now, these were a violent bunch of kids who broke into people’s homes and damaged property and ran from the cops and had a total subculture to themselves.  As adults, they don’t lie about it, or hide from it.  The interview with Jay Adams whose life after the crew broke up descended into drugs and jail is a really powerful experience.

It’s a great film, with an authentic voice, great story, thoughtful filmmaker, fantastic historical footage and kind of inspiring subtext.  Kids follow their passion and achieve greatness, with some consequences attached.  They are a totally multi-cultural crew, and they had a chick on their team.  I dug it so much I think I’m actually going to buy it and it will be one of the few docs I keep around to watch over and over again and analyze.   I’m giving it one less than five stars because there were a couple interviews I couldn’t figure out – like why Henry Rollins was in it.

I found the Z-Boys story and Peralta as a filmmaker intriguing. I’m also really interested in seeing what Peralta did next, which was make a film about the Crips and Bloods.  I’m interested in seeing how his life story as part of a gang helps to inform his choices as a filmmaker.  So hopefully I’ll watch that next week.

Four out of five stars.

Katy B. Jones

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

Exit through the Gift Shop

Doc: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

Filmmaker: Banksy  (Click to Learn more about this flash Street Artist )

Reviewer: Becky Beamer

Man o Man > I’m out of blogging practice. I’ve been so caught up in moving from DC to Dunedin,NZ that I haven’t had a chance to write about all of my documentary viewing. And, I have been busy starting up another blog (shameless plug) http://nzexpat.wordpress.com/.

But, I was snapped back into reality because Dunedin’s annual Film Festival just so happens to be July
Curious? Need to know more ? Check it out:  http://www.nzff.co.nz/n4339,209,region=3.html

As far as Exit through the Gift Shop, I thought it was very entertaining. I missed it at the E Street theater in D.C so I was psyched to cath it in Dunedin.

The trailer doesn’t do this film justice.

The first 30-40 minutes was awesome.  I won’t ruin the surprise but there was a nice twist to the film followed by a series of hilarious interviews from Banksy.  If you are a fan of street art you will not be disappointed.  I was not impressed by the shooting of placing the pieces in their environment – seen it BUT I was impressed with the artist’ studios and moments of true bonding between the characters.   I also appreciated the cameo by street artist – Swoon – who I love (and went to school with).

The audience was beyond receptive – laughing out-loud and (Shout out to Jane and Anya) who I continued to discuss the film with into the next afternoon.

My biggest criticism – I wanted to see Banksy’s face already! Not even a peek in the credits? Come on Banksy!

Also, not to harp on negativity but, if I was wearing a watch I would have looked down at my watch starting about an hour into the film. Once distracted, I also felt shiftiness in my legs as my butt started falling asleep. Other than the seats – I thought about the venue (see pic below). It was so fantastic I kept thinking “what a gem – I love watching movies here”.

4 out of 5 Cheers.

b.b

Doc of the Week : This Film is Not Yet Rated!

Becky Beamer Doc and a Drink Review documentary www.beckybeamer.com

FILM:  This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

FILMMAKER:  Kirby Dick

REVIEWER:  Becky Beamer

This Film documents a history of the MPAA ratings board. Talks to numerous directors and actors about the censorship of their movies before they could be released. Includes directors, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, John Waters, Darren Aronosfsky, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan. Director, Kirby Dick hires a lesbian family of private investigators to find out the names of the MPAA ratings board and see if the raters are actually parents of children 5-17 like the MPAA tells American parents they are.

I love when documentaries make me think about something I’ve taken for granted.  Case and point – the MPAA rating system.  I started thinking about censorship and the all-powerful studios.

Knowing me, if my film was critiqued in an unfair way by the MPAA, I also would have felt the need to push boundaries and boycott the system by rolling with the “NR” or not rated cut of the film.  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy in “real life”.  The “real life” in which your film rating means distribution, marketing, and making a living.

Sad.

I feel the need to mention that this documentary had great interviews with many well-known filmmakers.  The filmmakers speak quite frankly about censorship of their films by the MPAA.  Even This Film is Not Yet Rated had more than a handful of scenes that needed editing before the NC-17 rating could be removed.

Personally, I do believe that American’s can be prudish.  The MPAA is a reflection of this majority.  The MPAA is not the first system set up to regulate a type of business that ends up favoring big business.  (Check out our review of Beers Wars for another story of conquering big business).

I wish this film actually changed the ratings process.  It didn’t – but maybe it will start the ball rolling…..

4 out of 5 Cheers

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Doc of the Week > Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

becky beamer painting of pollock

FILM: Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?

FILMMAKER: Harry Moses

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

What’s Art worth?  This painting worth is so controversial – a feature doc was constructed around it.

After semi-truck driver Teri Horton bought a large splatter painting for her friend for $5, she was forced to sell it in her own garage sale when her friend said she had no place for it. Eventually someone commented on the painting stating it might be an original Jackson Pollock. This documentary follows Teri, her son, and a forensics specialist as they attempt to prove to the world, or more specifically the art community, her painting is a true Jackson Pollock.

I really thought the movie was fun.   It was riddled with talking heads but, unlike other docs we’ve reviewed, the interviews were shot with great lighting and composition.  The characters were quirky and the soundbites were well thought out.  The length was perfect – not too long – and plot continued to build through out the 70 minutes.

I walked away with a new appreciation for Jackson Pollock’s’ work and character.  (spoiler alert – next sentence)  I personally think 1. Teri should have taken the 9 million offered for the painting and 2. I think it’s totally real 🙂  I also feel like taking some paint to canvas – if you know what I mean!

4 out 5 stars

– b.b

becky beamer painting of pollock documentary filmmaker

Doc of the Week > Adventure is my Middle Name!

FILM: Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale

FILMMAKERS: David Shapiro &  Laurie Gwen Shapiro

REVIEWER: Becky Beamer

 documentary becky beamer Doc and a Drink

In 1955, while a Fulbright scholar, a Manhattan painter named Tobias Schneebaum spent seven months in the Amazon basin with the Harakambut. When he returned to the US, he could no longer paint. What happened? Nearly 45 years later, filmmakers want Tobias, now 78 and suffering from Parkinson’s, to return to Peru & New Guinea.

This documentary is an adventure.  It will whisk you away to far away lands and answer cannibalistic curiosity.  Tobias’ story is exciting and nostalgic.  It’s infused with primitive culture and extremes but it’s just plain humanity that shines through.

Tobias is a wonderful painter, explorer, and anthropologist.  My heart was touched when Tobias re-unites with his ex-Lover who he thought had passed. I appreciated Tobias’ interview candor.   He speaks from an acceptance of dying and with an open mind .  Tobias had the opportunity to explore many cultures before they were severely influenced by Western Culture.  I envy that.

Through out the documentary – Tobias expresses a mental battle regarding returning to the jungle in Peru where he witness and participated in murder and cannibalism.  In fact – I was so distracted by the story – I hardly noticed the constant soft focus and poor framing.  I just wasn’t impressed with the camerawork from any angle.  I guess that just goes to show that the most important thing is putting the story to tape and not fretting over “what you are shooting on”.

I really enjoyed the journey – being exposed to traditions passed down through generations.  The tribes display their dancing, sculpting, their sexuality and language.  I like that this documentary will keep some of these traditions “alive”.

AND Don’t worry – you won’t fall asleep for this adventure.  But, you may think about death, watching National Geographic, and taking a holiday to a far away land.

Verdict?

4 out of 5 Cheers

— b.b.