Posts in DOCUMENTARY REVIEW
DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Penguins

Penguins represents the combined work of over a dozen cinematographers documenting the miraculous and treacherous annual life cycle of the Adelie penguins of Antarctica. The two directors sought to give this circle of life character. That’s where the affable Ed Helms comes in as a narrator. He provides color commentary as “Steve,” one such Adelie penguin who is a first-time father for this annual journey. High and low, dry and wet, close and far, and through every blizzard in between, Penguins presents this apprehensive newbie with education and entertainment combined together.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Apollo 11

There are about three levels of “how in the hell did they do that?” that come from watching the sterling documentary Apollo 11. That exasperating and jaw-dropping question comes out often when we watch fantastical cinematic tales of fiction. But it’s different with Apollo 11 because of the non-fiction nature. Dozens of brilliant-yet-unassuming scientists, engineers, and specialists poured their lives and livelihoods into this mission and the entire program. In their honor, the documentary team led by director/producer/editor Todd Douglas Miller, have now echoed that monumental achievement with an artistic one of their own.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: They Shall Not Grow Old

Free of labels and talking heads and clean in ambiguous anonymity, They Shall Not Grow Old is entirely composed of footage and voiceovers restored and transformed by current production technology. The documentary takes viewers through the enlisted man’s journey through the Great War from sign-up to homecoming in vibrant color and 3D, a theatrical event (presented by good people at Fathom Events) like no other you will find this year.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Mountain

In contrast to the informational methods of most common documentaries, poetry is the point of view within Mountain. Featuring towering imagery enriched by a sumptuous narration from recent Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe, Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom’s follow-up to Sherpa is a testimony to what draws people to the mental and physical summits they seek to conquer. The size of this film demands the biggest screen you can find.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? presents the core of that incomparable man with an impenetrable reputation of tolerance, even against criticism and cynical parody of his message.  Fred Rogers’ lasting achievement wasn’t years of fame or fortune. It was the mission to mold others that could share the same.  Morgan Neville’s film nails that without fail. What that man did to love cannot quantified, but this film can sure try with shattering emotional sentiment.

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DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM REVIEW: Donald in Mathmagic Land

Frees’s voiceover goal is to change Donald’s mind about math, to ruffle his feathers of antiquated ideas, false concepts, superstitions, confusion, and general bungling (all revealed in pseudo-analog-Inside Out fashion).  Whether the knowledge of these “boundless treasures of science” stick in his bird brain remains to be seen.  Spirited and pristinely stylish animation, dancing shapes, and moveable manipulatives fill the screen backed by music from Buddy Baker, a veteran of 26 Disney films of the era.  

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: 42 Grams

Through 42 Grams, documentary director Jack C. Newell muddles away the self-importance and crafts his own dish laced with affinity and rapport.  Following the trials and tribulations of gifted chef Chicago chef Jake Bickelhaupt and his wife Alexa, Newell’s film looks beyond the culinary decadence to reveal a core essence of ambition as relatable as any other version of the American Dream.  The captive fascination swelling from that gathers attention and an audience where it normally would not.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Asking someone if they subscribe to the science of climate change might as well be as tenuous as asking a person if they believe in God.  Climate change has become a divisive firebrand topic like few others in the decade since the Oscar-winning and punctually motivating documentary An Inconvenient Truth.  In several ways, the topic has come a long way in some places only to slip backward in other measures.  An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is a persuasive update on the matter.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Score: A Film Music Documentary

This writer is an unabashed film music lover.  I owned more film score CDs than ones of popular music back in the day and that ratio hasn’t changed with digital media.  Hell, I wrote a long-form editorial three years ago proclaiming film music as an improvement of the Mozart Effect for babies and children which led to a playlist afterwards that I still use to this day.  I am a mark for what Score: A Film Music Documentary was selling and many of the names and talents featured in the film are found on that personal playlist.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Faith in the Big House

No matter what faith (or absence of faith) you carry into this film’s experience, you will respect the positive efforts of the real-life ministries featured in “Faith in the Big House.”  Lives are changed before your eyes and it’s not all Bible-thumping.  To that end, it is wholly refreshing to observe a Christian point-of-view that holds its peers of different denominations and, more importantly, itself strictly accountable for this kind of communal service.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: I Am Not Your Negro

The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” from director Raoul Peck unearths “Remember This House,” an unfinished 1979 manuscript of the James Baldwin’s recollections of Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin.  This outstanding and informative film presents Baldwin’s musings alongside sobering imagery of both the turbulent history of the era and parallel occurrences of modern racial unrest that echo the same violence, inequality, anger, and sorrow.  As an Oscar nominee in a banner year for feature documentaries, “I Am Your Negro” is essential viewing.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Resilience: The Biology of Stress and Science of Hope

The light shed by the shared research, connections, and testimonials of James Redford’s documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” opens eyes and stirs immediate personal reflection.  Toward your own self or in the role of a parent, “Resilience” puts the right mirrors in front of faces.  It is a worthy alarm notification that encourages more character building than being told to “pull up your bootstraps.”

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: The Lark's View

Ireland is a proud country where a pagan history has been blended with Christianity for two millennia.  Mythology has merged with scripture and history has absorbed legend.  “The Lark’s View” is a documentary reflecting the current and lost traditions on the century anniversary of the significant Easter Rising conflict of 1916.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: A Doctor's Sword

A masterfully powerful documentary, “A Doctor’s Sword,” chronicling the reflective and jarring tale of Irish World War II veteran Aidan MacCarthy, recently played as part of the second annual Irish American Movie Hooley at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.  One half of this fine film is an astounding you-wouldn't-believe-it-if-I-told-you true story of World War II survival that would make "Unbroken" look like a nursery rhyme.  Its calmer other half takes place in a present day where two proud families and two proud countries are forever bonded by shared history.

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CAPSULE REVIEWS: The 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley

The second annual Irish American Movie Hooley at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.  Presented by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey and produced by Hibernian Transmedia, the spirited mini-festival has a slate of three films, two making their Chicago premieres between September 30 and October 2.  This very writer and website was privy to viewing and reviewing this year’s Irish American Movie Hooley selections in advance.  Here are my capsule reviews and recommendations.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Leave it to renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog to hit you with a buffet's worth of food for thought.  His musings on the origins of the internet and its growing ramifications, both positive and negative, on this modern world are sternly served in his new documentary "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World."  Scintillating one minute and sobering the next, this film is required viewing for anyone who has seen how far we've come with connectivity and wonders fearfully just how high this Icarus of technology can fly towards the Sun before it melts and crashes back to Earth. 

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

The adjectives "titan" and "humble" are not commonly found together.  Famed television producer Norman Lear is an iconoclast in every way.  His successful shows and the waves they created are forever chiseled into that industry.  Away from the his seat as a creative czar, the man remained a hard-working and vigilant self-made man of activism and integrity.  In his 90s, Lear has crossed unimaginable measures of impact and history.  The new documentary "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You" stylishly chronicles his vast contributions.

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Life, Animated

This website has been moralizing for six years now its central message that "every movie has a lesson."  As an educator, it is something that I firmly believe and stand by with every possible film, good or bad.  I don't think, in all of my years of movie-going, I have ever seen a more real, living and breathing example of the power and magic of my website's theme than in the compelling and emotional new documentary "Life, Animated."  A story like this is why I write.  If that message speaks to you, go find "Life, Animated" immediately.

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