Monday, September 08, 2014

Documentary Review: Sherman's March: An Improbable Search For Love

Available for streaming on
Netflix as of 9/8/14
Ross McElwee's film is not what you would think. This soft spoken guy set out to make a historical documentary about General Sherman's destruction of the south during the civil war.. however he can't help from getting distracted by women along the way. This film was made in 1985 and it shows in the women he meets along the way.. giant glasses, giant hair, the whole thing!

Every once in awhile he tosses in a few facts about General Sherman, but mostly he follows a number of different women around like a stalker, filming their every move.
The film took me three days to watch it. It's 157 minutes long! I mean, McElwee must hate editors and editing because he seems to have just left in everything he filmed over his journey.

I have to wonder if he was ever truly planning on making the film about Sherman. Only a handful of times during this documentary did he actually set up the camera and start narrating facts about William Tecumseh Sherman.

So what I think this film does show is a lonely man whose girlfriend broke up with him just before he began to make his Sherman documentary, so he did what most of us do when we hurt and started to try and fill that void with the company of other women. And like most filmmakers he simply found everything too interesting to put the camera down.

As boring as the premise for this documentary seems, I found myself wanting to finish it to find out if he ever got back to making the movie he intended, or if he ever finds a lasting relationship. And unfortunately we are left unsatisfied on both accounts.

The only other redeeming quality of this movie is getting a glimpse of life in the true south with the "debutantes" he meets. And then the woman at the end who was psycho about getting him hooked up with a woman... to the point of making him and the audience feel uncomfortable.

Also, who knew that people in the South were still mad about General Sherman?

I give this documentary... 2 Stars.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Why Ayn Rand is Nonsense

I hope this makes Ron Paul supporters go insane! You cannot make sense without God.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 ALS Ice Bucket Alternatives For Raising Awareness For Your Cause

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is taking the nation by storm.. And say what you will about it, it has raised many many millions of dollars for ALS research. So I am guessing this is just the beginning. Many other causes are about to come out with creative challenges to raise awareness for their foundations. So I decided to help them out and give them ideas to start the next craze.

1. The Raw Onion Challenge -- Prostate Cancer
You have 5 minutes to eat a white onion like you would an apple.. Or donate $20 to Prostate Cancer research.

2. The No Selfie Challenge -- Cystic Fibrosis
You must go one month without taking ANY picture of yourself, taken either by yourself or by someone else. If you fail then you must donate $20 to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

3. The Slap In The Face Challenge -- Kidney Disease
A friend or family member must film you getting slapped in the face or else you must donate $20 to the National Kidney Foundation. Don't worry.. To ensure no one gets injured, if you suffer an injury as a result, the slapper has to pay your medical bills PLUS donate $200 to the NKF!

4. The Tic Tac Challenge -- Chronic Halitosis
This is a simple challenge.. How many Tic Tac's can you fit in your mouth at one time? (Not responsible for choking mishaps) If you decline the challenge, you must donate $20 to the ADA.

5. The Bucket Of Spiders Challenge -- The Arachnaphobia Support Group
Dump a bucket of NON-poisonous spiders on a friend to raise awareness and support for The Facebook Arachnophobia support page. If you decline the challenge then you must join their support page and also man up just a little bit.

You're Welcome America!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Documentary Review: Falling Up: A Story From The Streets

Currently Available For Streaming
On Amazon Prime As of 8/19/14
Falling Up is a short little one hour documentary that tells the story of a man whose real name is Johnny Popp. He is a Vietnam Vet who came back from the war traumatized. But he managed to find a wife and began attending church. I believe he had a son from that marriage. But shortly into his new life his wife was killed in a car accident. This turns out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
Johnny gave up material things, traveled around homeless, and ended up on notorious "Skid Row" where he was soon introduced to crack cocaine. And that where he stayed. He stopped getting haircuts or shaving. He slept in a shopping cart where he kept all of his material items.
The camera follows him on the streets through a typical day, and even as he smokes crack daily.
Then they lose him for about a month or two and find him again after he turns up in a hospital after being beaten quite severely by a group of either gang members or other homeless people. And he ends up needing a hip reconstruction. Then they release him to a nursing home for recovery. And this is where things make a sudden turn.
You'll want to watch the film to see if Johnny's transformation is genuine or short-lived.
The story is very compelling, and at times is well shot, capturing some genuine street life as it happens. The documentarian's point about how social services can serve a massively needed purpose is made in a few small commentaries. He makes a good point and shows one graphic that is compelling which shows that it costs more to keep these folks on the street than it does to get them into a home where they can receive medical care and get more independent as normal home dwellers. That was something I hadn't known before.
There is more to a documentary than the subject. And in this case the use of stock footage, the really lackluster narration, and the shallow musical score, kind of gave this film the feel of a undergrad's art school project. The narrator seems to be trying kind of a monotone approach since this is kind of a dark subject, but it comes off as seeming like his heart just wasn't in it, which I bet it actually was. So I think it may have been better if he had left those duties to someone else.
I don't want to be too harsh because I really stayed tuned because I wanted to see if Johnny stayed clean. Especially after he met and started a relationship with a recovering alcoholic lady that was with him in the nursing home. And my suspicion is that the budget was pretty small. So for what it was, it was a pretty good Doc.

I give this documentary....2 stars

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Documentary Review: My Name Was Bette: The Life And Death Of An Alcoholic

Available For Streaming On
Amazon Prime As Of 8/6/14 
My Name Was Bette: The Life And Death Of An Alcoholic is a film that showed up on Amazon Prime last week. I had never heard of it before and decided to give it a shot. It turns out that it is a great documentary. It's sad. Tragic even.

The story is about Bette VandenAkker, who was a beautiful woman who had a hard lot in life. This is not about some hobo who was drinking to get high. This is a woman who was trying to raise kids on her own in a time when that was an absolute taboo. Combine that with a really tough and broken childhood, a demanding job, and DNA that started her off with alcoholism already in her genetic makeup, and you have a recipe for the use of hard alcohol to numb the senses and hide from the hardships of life.

The film is not perfect. A lot of it is meant to be less story centered, and veers off into education about the disease of alcoholism itself. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but occasionally it will lose focus for a few minutes.

The director of the film is Bette's daughter who does a wonderful job with the interviews and the story and narration of her mother's decline. I think the educational parts of the film are important and needed to help those that may be struggling with this disease. So I can't fault her for adding those in at different portions of the movie. Alcoholism is a slow deliberate killer that ruins more than just the life of the drinker, but those around the victim are also affected in sometimes horrible ways.

Obviously, the film ends talking about the death of Bette VandenAkker and it is quite emotional. But that is the mark of good documentary making. And if this is Sherri VandenAkker's first attempt at filmmaking then she is to be commended for doing a great job of sharing her mom's tragic story with us in an insightful and entertaining way. It's just an hour long, and well worth the watch.

I give this documentary... 3 stars.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Documentary Review: Muscle Shoals

Currently available for streaming
on Netflix as of 7/30/14
Muscle Shoals is an unlikely story. This dinky little town in Alabama in the deep south, in the 1950's through the 1980's churned out hit record after hit record because one man had a vision and a talent for getting a certain sound out of musicians. That man, Rick Hall, was a white southern man who was able to produce and engineer #1 hits from black, southern soul singers. He named his studio FAME Studios.

It's a remarkable story. Back when the only places to find a studio to make your hit record was New York, Chicago, or LA. Rick Hall and his studio musicians, eventually named "The Swampers", were carving out this sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama that was launching careers and #1 records Wilson PickettJames and Bobby PurifyAretha FranklinClarence CarterOtis Redding Arthur Conleyand Percy Sledge, just to name a few.

The film explains how these white boys were able to get these sounds out of some of the greatest Soul legends of all time. Almost like they could understand soul music before anyone knew what it was. It didn't make any sense that Rick Hall had that sound inside of him, being raised a poverty stricken white boy in a state that was pretty oppressive to blacks.

Eventually "The Swappers" figured they could go out on their own and they left Rick Hall and set up shop on the opposite end of the small town. Hall was not happy, and told them they would never make it. They did struggle, mainly after Cher was their first customer, and her recording was a big bomb. And it seemed bleak, until a tiny band from England called The Rolling Stones wandered into their studio for a couple of days. Out of their session came "Wild Horses", and "Brown Sugar". And the Muscle Shoals sound was complete. They began to have many successes with  Lynyrd Skynyrd,TrafficElton JohnBoz ScaggsWillie NelsonPaul SimonBob DylanDr. HookElkie BrooksMillie JacksonJulian Lennon and Glenn Frey.

And Rick Hall's success continued as well as he successfully moved into pop and country music and recorded hits for too many groups to name.

I had a blast with this documentary from start to finish.. Being a huge fan of soul music I was lost in the studio stories and the music itself, as well as just amazed at the fact that none of this great sound could have happened if it weren't for these southern white boys who were thinking beyond what was acceptable at the time.

I give this documentary... 5 stars!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Documentary Review: Thin

Available for streaming on
Amazon Prime as of 7/28/14
Thin is a 2006 film that is set in a rehab facility for people suffering from eating disorders. The story centers around just a few of the girls at an in-patient treatment center.

Director   decided to not have any narration, and just let the cameras roll. So, except for a few narrative scripts on the screen we have to fill in the gaps by what the girls are actually saying to each other and to their caregivers.

It almost feels like a really long episode of MTV's The Real World with a little bit of anorexia and bulimia thrown in. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it made it seem a little shallow when it comes to understanding the actual disease.

What I got from this film is that an eating disorder is a mental disorder. The girls will lie, cheat, and steal to get their fix. In this case their fix is the high they feel from purging, not eating, or over exercising. They want to get better, for the most part, but their obsession and compulsion combined with a horrible body image simply will not allow them to just use will-power to make it work. I can hear people yelling at their screen "Just eat!!!". But if only it were that easy. I can relate to them some with the hypochondria and "bad thought" OCD that I had on a very minor scale in my younger days. It's not a switch you can just turn off.

It makes for compelling viewing. But it felt like watching addicts trying to kick heroin for 90 minutes. And if you are an Emetophobic like I am, Caution: You will see people vomit numerous times during this film.

Eventually all 4 of the girls who are the main subjects are forced to leave the facility either because their insurance runs out, or they were breaking the rules of the facility, which, of course, are very strict.

I don't want to spoil anything, but at least one of the post-scripts at the end of the film is very sad. But there are some that are happy as well.

Overall the film did a lot of the right things that compel you to want to watch to the end. There were some things that maybe could have been done better. For instance they gave very little camera time to the girls that seemed to be causing no trouble, and were actually benefiting from the program. To someone who is suffering from an eating disorder it may have left you feeling pretty hopeless. But then again, that may not have been the point of the film. Watching someone who avoids drama, and excels at getting better doesn't get you awards at film festivals.

I give this documentary...3 stars