Films viewed in 2011

Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

493. Helvetica

In Documentary on August 20, 2012 at 11:17 AM

Dir. Gary Hustwit

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.


Forget what’s in a name, how about what’s in a font? Gary Hustwit’s unlikely subject for a documentary about Helvetica, the teacher’s pet of typographers and designers around the world, will appeal to more than just sans serif addicts. The film may not earn its full feature length runtime, but there are historical lessons about modern aesthetics that will interest most modern artists. Keeping the approach and length minimal, however, might have made for a perfect one-hour TV doc instead. So don’t feel bad if you scroll through the film for the fonts that interest you.


485. American Movie

In Documentary on February 17, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Dr. Chris Smith

An aspiring filmmaker attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.


I don’t know if I’ve ever loved two “characters” in a documentary more than Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank. The hell-bent hero and his loyal sidekick make American Movie so damn touching, hilarious and determined that I wanted to cry. Director Chris Smith brilliantly goes behind the scenes of an average man’s dreams to craft a cautionary tale and love letter to filmmaking.  If Ed Wood managed a career, it seems unfathomable to me that no one has given Borchardt his big B-movie shot by now. My constant pleasure and (nervous) laughter watching the film, however, was probably reminding me that if I had never left Saskatchewan, that could have been me and my buddy up on screen.

471. The Devil and Daniel Johnston

In Documentary on February 2, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Dir. Jeff Feuerzeig

Daniel Johnston, manic-depressive genius singer/songwriter/artist is revealed in this portrait of madness, creativity and love.


Who the hell is Daniel Johnston and why should we care? Director Jeff Feuerzeig answers these obvious questions and many more with fantastic and fascinating results. The Devil and Daniel Johnston is, at it’s most trivial, a movie about “The guy who made that T-shirt Kurt Cobain often wore.” He’s also, by numerous passionate sources, considered a pure musical genius. By all accounts, he’s absolutely unique with a sound that makes Ween feel like bubble gum pop. Adored by a legion of underground fans and endured by parents who begrudgingly still let him live in the basement, the film is as much a biography as a challenge to our understanding of artists and mental illness. At least you don’t need to be a music snob to get something out of the film.

416. Client 9

In Documentary on December 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Dir. Alex Gibney

An in-depth look at the rise and fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.


Sex and politics are like the peanut butter and jam of democracy – their combination will always be a delicious scandal the media can’t resist. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney goes a step further and hypothesizes about the seedy activity and dirty tricks at work both in bedrooms as well as boardrooms. In addition, by interviewing the man at the centre of the storm, Spitzer makes a compelling argument for the selective reasons he was exposed. without trying to absolve himself from wrongdoing. The unusual tactic of having an actress stand-in for a call-girl who wished to remain anonymous (instead of blurring her face and distorting her voice) is also a welcomed fit of innovation for the genre.

386. Tabloid

In Documentary on November 16, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Dir. Errol Morris

A documentary on a former Miss Wyoming who is charged with abducting and imprisoning a young Mormon Missionary.


Simply put, Errol Morris is today’s greatest living documentary director. His films are entertaining and artful without exception, and feature some of the most bizarre and compelling personalities you can imagine. Tabloid certainly fits that description, even if this film doesn’t rank among his best. Former beauty queen Joyce McKinney is introduced as having an I.Q. of 168, yet she quickly comes across as crazy, before unexpectedly turning sympathetic, and eventually ending back in crazyville via some dog cloning. Along the way is a frenzy of sexual deviance and depression, but the full story is just a collection of he said, she said. But, to the film’s detriment, mainly “she”, since “he” (Kirk Anderson) still won’t talk.

381. Page One: Inside the New York Times

In Documentary on November 14, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Dir. Andrew Rossi

Unprecedented access to the New York Times newsroom yields a complex view of the transforming media landscape.


Director Andrew Rossi embedded himself inside the New York Times for a year to reveal that newspapers are dying. What a scoop. Page One is not without interesting points, such as the segment on WikiLeaks, but overall the film is chasing it’s tail with a lot of old news. David Carr and Brian Stelter represent the two schools of journalists and bring much needed colour to the piece, but can’t help the story get past the nebulous nut graph.  As a journalist grad myself, I strongly believe the Fourth Estate needs respected sources and establishments to rise above gossip (or today’s social media). But no matter how relevant the issue, the art of journalism is to present the facts and people in a compelling way, which the film too often fails to do.

375. Forks Over Knives

In Documentary on November 9, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Dir. Lee Fulkerson

Proclaims that most degenerative diseases can be controlled, or even reversed, by being a vegetarian.


Activist documentaries have their place in the world, but it’s usually not in front of my face. Unapologetically biased interviews and information can’t help but put me on the defensive of an otherwise respectable concept – that eating meat is unhealthy. Anecdotal insight and broad claims raise so many periphery questions that I quickly stopped heeding the central argument. Much more offensive, however, was the feeble attempt to put a painfully average an unconvincing personal case study at the centre of the story, but only after bouncing around from one redundant point to the next. Instead of trying to harvest a new crop of followers, Forks Over Knives is only interested in feeding vegetarians what they want to hear.

349. Marwencol

In Documentary on October 25, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Dir. Jeff Malmberg

After a vicious attack, a man seeks recovery in a miniature World War II-era town he creates called “Marwencol”.


Grown men aren’t supposed to play with dolls, but Mark Hogancamp’s therapeutic fantasy world certainly makes a case for itself. His best friend insists that the plastic-figure war is in fact a real battle, and by the end I believed him. By role-playing retaliation and rescue stories, the victim of a devastating real-life attack also rehabilitates his dexterity, patience and creative skills. A late twist revealing a passion for cross-dressing adds depth to Hogancamp’s story and personality, but we’re only ever allowed to enter so far into that world. Finding a way deeper into the emotions of what happened, or finding a more compelling resolution than an art show could have pushed Jeff Malberg’s first film into the big-leagues.

344. Project Nim

In Documentary on October 21, 2011 at 12:02 PM

Dir. James Marsh

A chimpanzee taken from its mother at birth is raised like a human child by a family in the 1970s.


Academy-Award winning director James Marsh combines found footage, dramatized scenes and new interviews to reconstruct the real-life version of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The climax even gets violent, although the retelling feels too light and apologetic. But the film is filled with both human and animal interest, with a simple and effective technique of tracking out of interviews to signify people’s departure from the story. The visual cue helps us understand the hot potato lifestyle Nim suffers at human hands.  And although the chimpanzee learns limited sign language, the final results are most telling. Ultimately though, I don’t care how silly the 70s were, I can’t get my head around a woman breast-feeding a chimp for the first year of it’s life.

336. Senna

In Documentary on October 18, 2011 at 3:43 PM

Dir. Asif Kapadia

A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.


I confess to being almost completely ignorant about racing (does that make me a racist?), but Asif Papdia’s Senna is a pretty exciting and emotional entry into Formula One. The documentary omits talking heads altogether in favour of an interview-based audio track that help us around every corner of the archival footage. The rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost is compelling, but the controversial role of technology and Senna’s personal battle for acceptance in a culturally biased sport is the most telling. I’m surprised the film is not part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, but it certainly has a lot to offer audiences unfamiliar with the sport.