Saturday, April 10, 2010
After blogging about the first day of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival I crashed into a deep slumber last night. So much so that I forgot to recharge both my cellphone and my camera's batteries.
Turns out that the only thing that really got recharged was me. Good thing too, because I had a particularly strong day of documentaries to take in. So let's get to them:
CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (Dir. Alex Gibney, 2010) The twisted path that led lobbyist/businessman/sleazebag Jack Abramoff to his current incarceration is laid out thoroughly here by noted documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON).
It's a compelling story from Abramoff's days as the Chairman of the College Republican National Committee, through his late 80's production of the Dolph Lundgren action cheapie RED SCORPION (one of the funniest bits in the film) on to his tangled dealings with Chinese chop shops, Native American casinos, and cruise ships.
We're talking political corruption of the higest, er, lowest order. Unfortunately this strong narrative is packaged in wrapping that makes it resemble a Michael Moore movie. Segments are punctuated with pop songs, scenes from classic films like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON are too obviously interspersed throughout, and unnecessary computer animation polishes up photographs.
It's a shame because Gibney has used these types of embellishments sparingly, and successfully, before, but it's as if he thought the material needed sexing up when it really doesn't. However there's enough pure infotainment here to justify its 2 hour running time (most of the docs I've seen at the fest clock in at 90 minutes).
NO CROSSOVER: THE TRIAL OF ALLEN IVERSON (Dir. Steve James, 2010) Not being a sports fan I didn't know anything about this film going in, but I'm really glad I picked it. HOOP DREAMS director Steve James again turns to basketball with this exploration of the racial strife surrounding professional basketball player Allen Iverson.
As a fan of Iverson, James is his opening narration asks the question: "Was he an icon who stayed true to his roots, or a thug in basketball shorts?" Produced by ESPN for their 30 For 30 series, NO CROSSOVER gives us, via brief grainy indecipherable videotape, the tale of the 1993 bowling alley altercation that made Iverson a hugely divisive figure in the communities of Hampton, Virginia then shortly the rest of the country. Former coaches, team mates, family, and friends testify about the astounding skills and sometimes brutal attitude of the budding star creating fascinating contrasts of his character.
After spending four months of a 15 year sentence in a cushy country club prison, Iverson returned to the game, but his transition has been heavily stunted by past demons as he's gone from team to team. James' film asks the right questions, and even if it doesn't come up with definitive answers it's a pointed discussion starter of an engaging documentary.
DIRTY BUSINESS: CLEAN COAL AND THE BATTLE FOR OUR ENERGY FUTURE (Dir. Peter Bull, 2009)
I'll never again think the same way about the concept of "clean coal" after this globe-trotting poli doc written, produced and directed by Peter Bull and narrated by writer Jeff Goodell. Just as scarily credible as AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, this film has a good balance of opposing point of views and a calm unpretentious tone.
The camera swoops over charred landscapes of once proud mountains blasted away by major coal companies, activists fight for limitations on greenhouse gasses, and several times from different voices comes the powerful argument that the secret long term costs will severely offset the cheapness of coal that corporations wish to still exploit. Not light viewing by any means, DIRTY BUSINESS is a sharply sobering and essential experience. Okay! After hours of political corruption, racism, and the environment I was ready for a good ole rock doc. But wait, this is no ordinary ole rock doc at all!
DO IT AGAIN: ONE MAN'S QUEST TO REUNITE THE KINKS (Dir. Robert Patton-Spruill, 2010) Being a huge fan of the The Kinks I've been anxiously awaiting this film for a while. The film focuses on Geoff Edgers - a Boston Globe reporter and author of a few children's books -who decides to shake up his life and career by trying to get his favorite band back together.
Why? Because it's needed he tells us more than once.
He sinks his life savings into the project and comes up with a hook for each interview he conducts on his way towards the seminal British band: he asks almost everybody he encounters to sing a Kinks song with him.
Some like Sting, Zooey Deschanel, and Robyn Hitchcock go along with this resulting in enjoyable covers of such classics as "You Really Got Me", "David Watts, and "Waterloo Sunset" (which most folks say is their favorite of their catalog). It's a crazy concept, but it works. It's padded with great Kinks songs, footage, and video and Edgers has a nervy edge in attempting to reconcile his heroes (the estranged brothers Ray and Dave Davies) and at times he hilariously owns up to the possible shortcomings of his endeavor in a endearing manner.
It's not really a Spoiler! to say he doesn't succeed in his quest, but it would be to tell you how close he actually gets. I can't say if this movie would mean anything to folks unaware of The Kinks, yet I'll guess that as a chronicle of a musical obsession, there's plenty of relatable passion for anybody to chew on.
Everybody's a fan of something, but how many would go to these lengths? Nice to know there's at least this guy. After the movie a Kinks cover band from the Triangle area, The Kinksmen, played a sweet set of their best loved material including "Picture Book", "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", and "Low Budget."
They were accompanied for a few songs by Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple (The dB's). Mitch Easter (Let's Active, too many production credits to list) also joined in for a rousing rendition of "Til The End Of The Day." It was such a cool thing to see this day of docs morph into a full throttle rock concert.
Great way to end out the evening - which is what I got to do now. Another day of docs awaits tomorrow so sleep awaits momentarily.
I bet I'll sleep well tonight since I'm sure this time that all my devices are recharging.