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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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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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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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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Documentaries About the Holocaust and World War II

Documentaries About the Holocaust and World War II

As official records and personal stories about the Holocaust continue to come to light, documentaries serve as a vehicle for making them known to the public. There are documentaries that chronicle circumstances of horror and unfathomable human cruelty, of life in the ghettos and survival in the concentration camps. Others tell stories of Jewish resistance, of extraordinary courage and inspiration, of individuals who defied the Nazis and expresses their humanity through music and art. These documentaries are keeping knowledge of the holocaust alive, and will hopefully prevent a repeat of this devastating period in human history. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of excellent documentaries that present important holocaust stories — stories that must be remembered.

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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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Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 – Movie Review

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 – Movie Review

Kevin Rafferty, filmmaker and Harvard grad, uses archival footage and interviews with team members to ‘replay’ the legendary football game in which the undefeated teams of Harvard and Yale battled it out for the 1968 season’s final victory. The film’s title, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, may give away the results, but the football plays, commentaries and remembrances presented in this sports documentary are gripping–even if you’re not a football fan.

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Movie Review: RAFEA SOLAR MAMA

Movie Review: RAFEA SOLAR MAMA

It’s wonderful when filmmakers produce documentaries about social actions that better peoples’ lives. Such is the case with filmmakers Jahane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief’s extraordinary Rafea Solar Mama, which chronicles the transformation of a woman who felt she had no future into a self-confident, independent citizen with the means to support herself and her family. The film doesn’t cure all the ills in Rafea’s life, nor does it resolve all the issues that she and other women in her community face, but it strongly suggests that there are proactive ways to make a difference for the better.

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Margot Benacerraf on ARAYA, Documentaries and the Sun as a Protagonist

Margot Benacerraf on ARAYA, Documentaries and the Sun as a Protagonist

Milestone Films’ restoration of Margot Benacerraf’s Araya coincided with the 50th anniversary of the film’s premier at Cannes Film Festival, where it shared the International Critics Prize with Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Despite the win, Araya didn’t receive widespread distribution. Nevertheless, director Margot Benacerraf, now in her 80s, is a legendary figure in world cinema. Although she’s made few films, her work is compared to that of Robert Flaherty, Luchino Visconti and other master filmmakers.

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Casting By… – Documentary Review

Casting By… – Documentary Review

Casting Director Marion Dougherty didn’t invent Al Pacino or Bette Midler, but she certainly was very influential in the shaping of their careers. Pacino and Midler, and many other actors who’ve risen to super star status. Pacino, Midler and a long list of other movie stars and leading directors, including Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood appear in filmmaker Tom Donahue’s Casting By… to tell how Dougherty contributed to their success and to thank her for her invaluable input. Praise for Dougherty comes from a who’s who of Hollywood honchos. But, amid all of the headliners, Dougherty herself is actually cast as the central character in Casting By….

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Review: Jessica Yu’s PROTAGONIST

Review: Jessica Yu’s PROTAGONIST

Jessica Yu’s Protagonist is the sort of unusual documentary that tempts critics to try to show that they are smarter than the director–smarter not so much about the depth of their knowledge of the subject at hand, but about the lofty scholarly rightness of their own sense of cinematic form. The film is quite challenging–even heady–in its complexity, in its density of information and its innovate style.

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