MR UNTOUCHABLE (2007) — RetroReview by Jennifer Merin

MR UNTOUCHABLE (2007) — RetroReview by Jennifer Merin

He was the ultimate Harlem gangster. The New York Times Magazine dubbed Leroy “Nicky” Barnes Mr. Untouchable, and he lived large on the millions of dollars he made as head honcho in Harlem’s heroin trade. It was a business he ran ruthlessly, until 1977, when he was arrested, turned State’s evidence and disappeared into the witness protection program.

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PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011) — RetroView by Jennifer Merin

PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (2011) — RetroView by Jennifer Merin

All The News That’s Fit To Print? The New York Times continues to be the nation’s newspaper of record, although news gathering and publishing are undergoing rapid transformations, and the New York Times has had to cut its staff for economic reasons. The film looks at how the New York Times is handling the rise of new media, and considers what will become of the newspaper in the future.

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THE FENCE – Documentary RetroView (2010)

THE FENCE – Documentary RetroView (2010)

Do We Want or Need a Fence Along the US-Mexico Border? In 2008, the US government decided to build a 700-mile long fence along the 2000-mile border with Mexico. Intended to block terrorists and illegal immigrants from entering the country, the fence was built by 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers using tens of thousands of tons of metal — at a cost of $3-billion. Filmmaker Rory Kennedy uses statistics, archival and new footage, interviews with experts and humorous commentary to investigate the project’s impact and question its value, effectiveness and ethics.

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American: The Bill Hicks Story – Movie Review – 2011

American: The Bill Hicks Story – Movie Review – 2011

Bill Hicks, the famed American comedian and musician who died of cancer in 1994 at age 32, lives on in this documentary that uses archival footage of his childhood and his funny and irreverent stand up routines, as well as animated family photos and interviews with friends and colleagues to chronicle the comedian’s life and career.

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Ai Weiwei Never Sorry – Movie Review – 2012

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry – Movie Review – 2012

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is probably as well known for his protests against political repression in contemporary China as he is for his vastly variable works of art.

In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, first time filmmaker Alison Klayman chronicles the daily life of the artist as he uses his work and his notoriety to draw attention to his grievances against the current Chinese government.

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Biographical Documentaries by Film Title – A to Z

Biographical Documentaries by Film Title – A to Z

Some biographical documentaries investigate the inner life or underbellies of their famous subjects, others are tribute films that present celebrities in a (sometimes artificial) glowing light. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of some important documentaries about a wide range of celebrated personages — some contemporary and others historical, some famous and others infamous — whose biographies will fascinate and inspire you.

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Documentaries Watch List for Veteran’s Day

Documentaries Watch List for Veteran’s Day

On Veteran’s Day, as a way of showing respect for those who’ve returned home from war and their fallen comrades, take time to watch documentaries that tell true stories of combat veterans, and remind us that conflict resolution through peaceful negotiation is the better choice.
Here are my recommendations…

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Documentary Review: LIONESS

Documentary Review: LIONESS

Lioness, a documentary by filmmakers Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, profiles a group of courageous women soldiers who were deployed to Iraq as support personnel–mechanics, cooks, and clerks–but found themselves in actual combat situations. Known as Team Lioness, they are the first generation of American women to return home as combat veterans, and their debriefing in this film is enlightening. Presented in cinema verite style, this must-see film is a gripping and heartrending look at how war effects soldiers. Read my review…

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Documentary Review: THE GOOD SOLDIER

Documentary Review: THE GOOD SOLDIER

The Good Soldier is a powerful documentary in which filmmakers Lexi Lovell and Michael Uys present a cadre of highly decorated soldiers who’d fought valiantly in America’s wars — World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq — and, in doing so, came to the conclusion that warfare is neither a righteous nor effective way to resolve differences of opinion, ideology and/or national interests. Read my review…

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Documentary Review: THE TILLMAN STORY

Documentary Review: THE TILLMAN STORY

Director Amir Bar Lev incorporates archival footage and photos gleaned from the Tillman family, the NFL and news media sources with on-camera interviews with family members, friends and fellow soldiers who witnessed Tillman’s death, to present a comprehensive, compelling and truthful narrative covering Pat Tillman’s extraordinary life and lasting legacy. The documentary affords viewers the joyful experience of getting to an American hero. But be advised, The Tillman Story is not a light-hearted fan-pandering biopic. Read my review…

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Documentary Review: THE END OF AMERICA

Documentary Review: THE END OF AMERICA

Based on Naomi Wolf’s eponymous book, The End Of America presents the ten step blueprint that Hitler and other dictators used to subvert democratic process and put an end to personal freedoms. It compares, step by step, events leading up to establishment of the Third Reich with what has happened in the United States in recent years. Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the documentary is convincing and alarming. It should be required viewing for anyone old enough to vote or join the army. Read my full review.

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Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2016

Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2016

As proof positive of the trending interest in nonfiction film, the first-ever Critics Choice Documentary Awards (CCDA) were presented on November 3, 2016, at a gala event attended by leading documentary filmmakers, distributors and film critics. Presented by the BFCA and BTJA, the critics organizations behind the annual Critics Choice Movie Awards (to be presented on December 11), the documentary awards covered nonfiction films with theatrical releases and those shown on television or via online streaming. Read more…

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Documentary Review: SURVIVING PROGRESS

Documentary Review: SURVIVING PROGRESS

Based on Ronald Wright’s insightful nonfiction book, A Short History of Progress, this compelling thesis documentary presents convincing arguments that technology if not used appropriately and in moderation can lead to adverse conditions and the collapse of civilization — if not the actual demise of humankind. Surviving Progress leads us to examine the notion that progress is, indeed, progress — that is to say helpful to humankind. In our age of increasingly rapid technological advances, this discussion is timely. It is, indeed, a vital necessity. Read my full review.

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Documentary Review: JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS (2007)

Documentary Review: JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS (2007)

Before director Jonathan Demme signed on to helm a documentary about Jimmy Carter, he negotiated two important points: he would have unlimited access to the former president and he would have final cut of the film. As a result, Demme has produced an unusually intimate, insightful and revealing tribute to an exceptional elder statesman who, now in his 80s, continues to work tirelessly for peace. Demme chose to make the structural spine of his Jimmy Carter tribute the former president’s nationwide tour to publicize his 21st book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, in which he lays out his controversial opinion regarding Israeli behavior towards the Palestinian people. Basically, while rebuking Palestinians for provocation and violence towards Israelis, the book effectively faults Israel for encircling Palestinian territories with walls that create ghetto-like imprisonment for the people who live in them. Read my review>>

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Documentary Review: EL SICARIO: ROOM 164

Documentary Review: EL SICARIO: ROOM 164

Gianfranco Rosi’s gripping documentary is about the life and career of a former Mexican hit man who, while working for a Mexican drug cartel, murdered and tortured hundreds of people at the behest of his bosses. El Sicario (hit man) is the film’s sole protagonist. He appears as the only witness to his life in crime, and he is shot (with a camera, of course) at only one location, Room 164, a rather standard room in a motel that’s located we know not where. But, it is in this very room that the sicario, in days past, tortured and dispatched his victims. Read my review

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Documentary Review: OCTOBER COUNTRY

Documentary Review: OCTOBER COUNTRY

Taking place during the year from one Halloween and the next, October Country is the haunting tale of co-director Donal Mosher’s immediate family — at least of those who still reside in rural Mohawk Valley, New York, the Mosher clan’s ancestral turf. They are a collection of complex, emotionally compelling individuals who are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of spousal and child abuse, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, debilitating depression and other syndromes that haunt them like ghosts. Released in 2010, it’s no available on DVD. Read my review…

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Movie Review – AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY

Movie Review – AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY

Author: The JT LeRoy Story delves into the curiously confusing story of Laura Albert, the controversial (and secret) creator of the literary figure known as Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (aka JT LeRoy) and the writer of JT’s fan-gathering and cult-creating novels Sarah (2000) and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2001). Read my review…

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Movie Review: GOOD HAIR

Movie Review: GOOD HAIR

Chris Rock’s smart commentary on ‘good hair’ (ie straight hair) is hilarious and, alarming. Compelled by concerns about what his daughters will face in the future, he addresses the serious social, political and economic implications of the ‘good hair’ precept. Jeff Stilson perfectly captures Rock’s intent and delightfully subversive attitude. Good Hair rocks! Read the review

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Roger Donaldson Talks ‘Of Record’ Narratives: THE BANK JOB

Roger Donaldson Talks ‘Of Record’ Narratives: THE BANK JOB

Director Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job (2008) is a truth-based narrative feature that raises interesting issues regarding film and the public record. The movie is based on a scandal-clad heist known as the “Walkie Talkie Robbery,” a daring caper that was front page news for four days. Then mention of it abruptly ceased. If we’re to believe the film, that was because the British government stifled coverage–because M5 had engineered the heist to recover sexually explicit photographs of Princess Margaret that Michael X, a political activist (and drug dealer), was using to blackmail authorities to not prosecute him. Case records are sealed for another 50 years. Is the film the real story or a construct?

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Movie Review: GIULIANI TIME

Movie Review: GIULIANI TIME

If you’re doing due diligence about possible presidential candidates, this is a good time to take a look at Giuliani Time (2005, Cinema Libre), an in depth look at the origins of the Republican politico who gained fame as New York’s number one hero following 9-ll, and who is now championing Donald Trump’s current bid to be our nation’s leader.

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INAUGURAL CRITICS’ CHOICE DOCUMENTARY AWARDS NOMINATIONS UNVEILED

INAUGURAL CRITICS’ CHOICE DOCUMENTARY AWARDS NOMINATIONS UNVEILED

The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) have announced the nominees for the inaugural Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. The winners will be presented their awards at a gala event on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at BRIC, in Brooklyn, New York. Here’s a list of the nominees. DISCLAIMER: I was a member of the nominating committee and am a BFCA voting member.

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Movie Review: AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY

Movie Review: AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY

Author: The JT LeRoy Story” delves into the curiously confusing story of Laura Albert, the controversial creator of the literary figure known as Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (aka JT LeRoy), a literary sensation during the early 2000s, who turned out to be Laura Albert’s literary hoax.

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Movie Review: Bill Morrison’s THE MINER’S HYMNS

Movie Review: Bill Morrison’s THE MINER’S HYMNS

As a filmmaker, Morrison’s signature is the use of archival footage to create impressionistic, rather poetic portraits of bygone eras in different places. In The Miners’ Hymns, the place is County Durham in North East England, and the time frame is roughly from the middle of the 19th century to the 1990s, when operations ceased at the area’s collieries, and coal miners turned in their drills, pickaxes and shovels for jobs in service industries.

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Documentary Review: YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED

Documentary Review: YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED

As you may have assumed from its title, You’ve Been Trumped is about Donald Trump — or, more specifically, it’s about the environmental impact that is likely to result from the real estate mogul’s construction of a golf course complex along the scenic coast of Scotland, at the Menie Estate, near the village of Balmedie, just north of Aberdeen.

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Movie Review: CAMERAPERSON

Movie Review: CAMERAPERSON

Cameraperson “ is cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s extraordinary meditative autobiographical retrospective of her decades-long career shooting documentaries. The film is not only a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, it’s a must see artistic masterpiece.

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