Andre the Giant

André the Giant is a man who lived up to his stage name. A giant was he, his disease for us to enjoy.

He wasn’t always giant. He grew up normally, but it was discovered in his later teen years. He grew up in a small French village, but once he became large, he got into smaller wrestling leagues around the world. Like Japan, where he was big in Japan. Eventually, he made it to the USA, and the rest is history.

Andre the Giant is a documentary that not only tells of the career and life until his death of Mr. The Giant, but also the rise of wrestling in the United States, the rise of the McMahons, and the rise of cable TV.

All of these stories intersect and tell a complete picture of America and wrestling over the decades.

ATG
And they all loved him for his big shoes.

It still yet tells an even bigger picture than all of that. This documentary questions what it means to be a legendary entity, to be a real life tall tale, still before everything was shared across the world. All we have now about Andre are his clips and the stories his friends have told about him.

Featuring commentary from some of his friends and coworkers, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes, Hulk Hogan, Rob Reiner, Robin Wright, and Vince McMahon.

Overall, I don’t think this is a documentary that you will only enjoy if you like wrestling. I haven’t liked wrestling in a long time, but the stories make it worth it.

Andre had a big heart. He touched a lot of lives. And shit, there is not a lot you can say in analysis about this documentary.

3 out of 4.

Strong Island

Strong Island came out on Netflix sometime in 2017 and honestly, I never noticed it. I never would have noticed it unless it was nominated for an Oscar.

This one was a big surprise to me that it was nominated, as I expected a few other bigger titles in the documentary world to get praise. Netflix is no new girl to the Oscar world when it comes to documentaries, as I feel they have gotten 2 or so the last few years. Documentaries can really thrive in the Netflix world.

But still, I never would have even heard of it without this sudden announcement, which beings my surprise. About a murder, a small murder that only affects the family involved. No one famous, no big news articles, nothing. However, it obviously affected those in the family a shit ton. It basically destroyed their family at the injustice they found in the criminal justice system. In their neighbors, in their community, and in all of America.

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Yes, time for you to get some sad feels.

Yance Ford‘s older brother was murdered outside of their home, due to an argument between their family and an auto shop. An accident occurred, it was not the Ford’s fault, and the other family offered to fix up the car for free as long as it was not reported to the authorities.

The auto shop took a long, long time though. It started to anger people, it started to piss them off. The auto shop was a white family, and the Ford family was black, new to the Long Island community in one of their newly built black areas, for fake diversity.

And the white man took a shot at Yance’s brother, as a threat to his life, killing him. The cops didn’t arrest him on the spot, they said it would have to go to trial, and the family had to wait for the trial to come. Just waiting. No way they would be ignored. Except first a grand jury had to indict, and the grand jury did not indict the culprit, not enough evidence, thinking it was self defense, blah blah blah. And you know they were white.

This is Ford’s journey, decades later, trying to get to the bottom of it. Trying to talk to the prosecutors, the legal team, find out what the hell happened, why they called it self defense, what lies were told to let her brother’s murderer go free.

And just how her family felt about the whole thing.

Strong Island is a powerful and a personal story. It is one that takes awhile to really kick off, but ends with tears. It is just one of the many stories out there about injustice against black families across the year that are ignored and swept under the rug because racism totally ended in the 1960’s.

It is the type of documentary one should be able to watch and realize that if it happened to this one, technically insignificant family, it had to have happened to a lot more just because they could get away with it.

These are the stories that need to come out for people to realize just how little has progressed over they ears, and I can both hope that more of these do come out, and also wish that they don’t because I can’t imagine that amount of injustice.

3 out of 4.

Last Men in Aleppo

There is a lot going wrong in Syria, and shit, it definitely sucks. It sucks a lot and is still being ignored by regular media. Well, in America it isn’t ignored, but its focus is wrong. It is on ISIS and the the other large forces fighting in Syria, including Russia and America. It is on refugees, but rarely in a positive light. And it is almost always never on the regular Syrian citizens, brought into this war against their wills and fighting for their lives just to exist in the home they have known all their lives.

That must be why there are so many documentaries about it. Hell, we had City of Ghosts come out in 2017 as well, I reviewed it halfway through the year. It was the true story about the Syrians who became journalists to reveal the problems with ISIS to the world, the torture and brutality of their regime.

It was amazing.

And two years ago we had The White Helmets, which was nominated for and won Best Documentary Short. It was about the civilian group of volunteers, The White Helmets, who run to blast sites to check for injuries, look for survivors, and help those who were hurt. They are heroes!

And this movie, Last Men In Aleppo is about…um, The White Helmets again.

Aleppo
Yep, white helmets alright.

For real. This documentary ends up following along members of The White Helmets, as they hang out with their family, as they save other families, and as they put their lives on the line and die to help others.

It is a life of messes and chaos and sadness. And yet, unfortunately, I have already seen it all before.

Thanks to the docuemntary short, this group is already known. They won a goddamn award for it. And this documentary just told more of their story. It didn’t give me really new information, just new people doing the same things.

And maybe that is a bad way to grade this. Doesn’t matter though. I want to see documentaries to learn things, and this one didn’t really let me learn anything.

2 out of 4.

Icarus

Urine has always been an attention grabbing headline. Whether it relates to the president peeing in some sexual act in Russia, or R. Kelly peeing on a fan who isn’t at the age of consent to be peed on.

People love hearing pee stories, because people generally love peeing, it makes sense.

But people were quite upset at Lance Armstrong when his pee story hit the news. Everything was a lie, nothing was sacred, and all of those drug tests he passed could not detect his doping problems. Fuck.

What now? Are all professional dopers just waiting to get caught? (Yes). And should we care? (Eh, maybe not?). Bryan Fogel, who you definitely do not know, is an amateur bicyclist who went and did a big hard race in France that lasted only a short amount of days. His goal was to top 100 and he ended up in the top 20, but he was playing against basic machines. People who should have been pro.

So he wanted to find out if he could beat the drug tests, if he should take steroids since “Everyone does it” and if it was known out there how to do it. He didn’t call it Icarus for that reason, but for the other reasons that will maybe be made apparent.

It took him some time to find someone to help him, but eventually he found Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian scientist. He was very interested in doing tests with Fogel, telling him exactly what to do, when to pee, and how they might try and beat the system. And then, a lot more started to happen.

Urine
Look at all this urine! Hooray science!

You see, Dr. Rodchenkov was in charge of the Russian center for testing for drugs for their athletes. He had a long storied career, working around the world, and he was in charge in Russia for a bit now. And it was coming out, rumors, that the entire Russian Olympic program was doping, sponsored by the Russian government. Oh shit!

This is news that would affect the 2016 Olympics! And other programs. But it didn’t happen, and Rodchenkov was feeling breathes down his back in Russia. So he got out of town, joined Fogel in America, to go into basic hiding. He then told his story to the New York Times and the FBI. And the rest is history.

Just kidding, the rest is still getting started, what with the Russian ban in the 2018 Winter Olympics and all.

Fuck! I love the Olympics, and it is crazy that something like this can actually come to the forefront after all these years. I am talking decades, especially when there was talk of them doing it when they were the USSR. All of my pop culture knowledge has brought me to this moment and it just makes since. We had to know it from Rocky IV, right?

This is one of those documentaries that just feels so lucky. Fogel started it with one purpose, and it grew into something so much larger. It is just so goddamn lucky. It starts off strong with good ideas, and builds into something so complex and politically wonderful. In fact, we need an Icarus 2 in some years just to see what came of everything. Solid documentary, overall.

3 out of 4.

Faces Places

The year of 2017 wasn’t great for me and watching documentaries. I didn’t do it as often as I used to (as I used to force one a week for review). I decided I needed them to come more naturally, to see what I wanted, what looked interesting, and sure, some that didn’t look interesting.

But still, I didn’t see too many. So I had been keeping track of the movies on the Shortlist for Oscars Best Documentary. I saw titles that seemed interesting and plots that I couldn’t wait to see. I was trying to guess what might be the top five picked.

And then Faces Places was picked. It was one of the ones on the shortlist that I just did not expect overall. The documentary just felt like something that could be a one season show on The Travel Channel, and not something that might change the world, like some of the titles on the list.

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Yep, I see many faces and…wait, what’s that in the background?
Oh yeah, that’s a place.

Agnès Varda is a really old woman, but a famed director in her country of origin. She has directed many films and has had a wonderful, personal career. JR is a photographer, much younger, and a bit eccentric. The two met and decided to work together on this documentary project.

Basically, they were going to travel the French countryside, small villages and towns, meet people, hear their stories, and enhance their community through their faces. They drove around in a vehicle with a large camera on the side. You could go in, get your picture, and a large picture would print out that you could put somewhere.

They decorated the sides of homes, monuments, to honor individuals and make unique artwork for the folks who lived there.

And it was cute, it had some interesting moments, and overall, it just felt…pointless. I am not saying there is no point to bring niceness to the world. It is just that there are so many documentaries that bringing up untold stories, important political and social events, that this one just feels off in its own little happy world.

I wish the world didn’t have so much fucked up shit in it. And really, the rating comes from these two individuals who just wanted to make people happy and increase their own happiness. The relevance and importance of the documentary is just less than others.

Faces Places will probably be on Netflix, eventually. And it isn’t even one you can sort of put on and half ignore to just see moments of happy, given the subtitles.

I can’t imagine this one winning anything. I hope I still get around to watching Kedi.

2 out of 4.

Abacus: Small Enough To Jail

When America shit itself economically, back in 2008, I didn’t know a whole lot about money. I knew I didn’t have a lot of it, and I wanted more. Ten years ago me and current me are very similar in that regard.

I knew that the banks were bailed out, that people were angry about this, that people occupied Wall Street, and eventually I got to see The Big Short. The Big Short was, at the time, my favorite film of that year, but since then it has been surpassed by Steve Jobs.

But I still only knew a little bit, just what some movies told me. I did learn enough from the movie to give me the buzz words and sort of explain what everyone was doing to cause it.

That leads us to Abacus: Small Enough To Jail.

Abacus
Shit, all those boxes, he must be hiding something. A ton of tiny somethings.

Abacus was a small bank located in Chinatown in NYC. It had a staff of Chinese Americans, it served the local Chinese community and little else. They didn’t bar other people, but other people just generally didn’t come to them for banking needs.

The founder made it to be able to help members of his community, by providing them loans to start their businesses. These businesses would strengthen their community, increase everyone’s revenue, and bring the bank revenue as well. A win win win. However, at one point they found out that one of their employees had been lying on loan forms for mortgages in order to get loans out to people.

So the bank fired him, wiped their hands clean of the situation. It wasn’t until later, during the financial crisis, when anyone cared. That employee became an informant, and Abacus was brought to court. In fact, they were seemingly trying to blame the entire financial crisis on what a few of their employees were doing!

Needless to say, this documentary is about their trials, the trial itself, and how the government tried to make an example of these Chinese Americans, and perhaps why they were made the target.

Overall, it is a wonderful story, and one that folds out very nicely on the camera. It has some legal drama, some race drama, a lot to make a good, and possibly tragic story. I didn’t know how it would end, but it captivated me the whole way.

It did feel a bit “made for TV special” at times, so an increased in production value would have made it bigger. I have to assume when it was made it was not sure how big this story would blow up or what it would mean for America.

Definitely a story worthy of being told as a documentary and one that is worth a watch.

3 out of 4.

Oklahoma City

Oklahoma! is an old famous musical about the state above Texas. People love Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City is the capital of Oklahoma, and it has more mixed reviews when compared to the old musical about the state.

The Oklahoma City Bombing is a tragic event that took place in the 1990’s. It has very strong reviews that are not favorable at all towards the events that took place. Some people like it, but those people are assholes.

And this documentary, Oklahoma City, is not just about the bombings that people really disliked, but events that led up to the bombings, where the people involved got their ideas and the big events that made these people take action.

OKC
And apparently there are a decent amount of people you may not know anything about!

The reason I wanted to see Oklahoma City was because I was very young at the time of the bombing attack. I heard about it occasionally, the name Timothy McVeigh was one on my subconscious. I definitely remember it being a big deal when he was executed, although I still didn’t fully understand why. And then 9/11 happened later that year. It sort of took over the world in terms of disasters by terrorists, and the OKC bombings were just not important news anymore.

So due to all of this, my knowledge was lacking, so why not a documentary to not only catch me up, but tell the entire story and make me very well informed. After all, the event is done, it has been fully investigated, there isn’t anything new anymore to learn.

We can find it all in one condensed documentary place!

And it definitely had a lot of information, but information that just seemed all over the place, in my mind. We started way back, getting a lot of information about people I had never heard about before. It just took so long to finally feel connected to the bombings themselves and to McVeigh.

If the documentary had done a better job relating these previous events, like Waco, to OKC, then it might have felt more coherent. Unfortunately, it told a very linear story (which I admit, totally makes sense). It just started so far away that I was quick to learn interest.

Shit, I want to know about McVeigh’s life in particular, and his youth, and then introduce these other characters. And these other events.

But instead, this just felt like a history lesson. A lesson where you even knew the end goal, but totally still felt lost along the way.

I think I just need to really read a Wikipedia page to get the information I wanted. That will make me feel content.

1 out of 4.

Unrest

I know we have all thought about it in our lives. It would be sweet to kind of just, lay around all day, not having to stand up to shower, or do chores, or work, or take care of the kids or pets, or adult at all. It would be swell!

You would be able to stand up or move if you wanted to of course. You would just limit it for being lazy for a good few hours or days. And then sure, back to normal.

But what if you were on bed arrest basically, for most of your life. Your legs were not broken, your nerves work, but you are just so damn weak your body cannot support you. Not only that, but you were always tired, it hurt to lift really any body part, and your entire survival was based on the kindness of others who took care of your basic needs. Worst of all, this condition is hard to detect from regular doctors through regular methods. In fact, a lot of them might say it is entirely in the patient’s head and they will get over it eventually, even if they have to force them.

That would be the life for individuals who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, of which their story is not generally known. And of course, that is why this documentary, Unrest, exists.

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This just looks like a great Sunday morning, to be honest.

Jennifer Brea used to be a go-getter, a mountain hiker individual, who married a husband with similar issues. Then one day, she got a lot more tired. She couldn’t be as active as she once was. Standing started to get hard, and she would rather roll or crawl along the floor. At some point, she decided to start filming her life in order to tell a story about her condition, which again, doctors were very unhelpful.

In this documentary, we see Brea become more and more bed only, as she struggles with her relationship with her husband (where Brea feels terrible and like a burden), while she discovers more about CFS and the people who suffer from it. We get first hand accounts from individuals and interviews, including a mother who did have a husband who left her, leaving her daughters to take care of her (and one of her daughters gaining CFS as well). And another girl who has spent most of her life now in a bed, getting CFS at a young age.

These are extremely sad stories, as long as you are paying attention, it will break your damn heart. While at the same time, you can see the hope in these individuals, who clearly don’t like their position, but still feel positive that they are loved, that they can love, and that one day they might be back on their feet again.

Admittedly, the purpose of this documentary is just to raise awareness. It is certainly something I never knew about and would have easily just brushed it off as something that sounds made up (which makes the whole thing harder on the individuals). On those levels it fully succeeds.

Personally it took me a long time to really get invested into it, and for documentaries that can be really hard on viewers. If someone just scrolling isn’t hooked early on, they will likely pass it to go onto a different one. I’d have liked more information on current curing efforts (which I know are small) and their protest/march/demonstration, which ended up being a very powerful moment. Or hell, just more personal stories, because that is where the tears come from.

3 out of 4.

Human Flow

Initial thoughts about the documentary Human Flow is that it sounds a bit sexual. Don’t laugh, you thought so too.

I quickly realized (because I read a plot description) that is only sort of had to do with sex. You see, sex leads to pregnancies, and pregnancies usually lead to babies, and babies usually lead to adults. And sometimes there are too many adults. Sometimes these adults are mean, rude, or ruthless. Sometimes adults force other adults (and babies!) to leave their homes due to force, threats, or just general hysteria. These adults (that were made by sex) now find themselves homeless and on the move, looking for a place to call home as their previous home was torn apart by terrorists, warlords, and drones.

These adults, and tiny adults, and babies, are now refugees, and fleeing the world. However, with the amount of angry adults there are, the refugee amounts are growing at extreme levels. These refugees need places to go, and the places to go are filling up quickly. This is leading to stricter border control measures, more fences, and now refugees are finding themselves between countries. Sure, there may be countries available for these refugees to go to, but if they have no way to get there due to the other country walls, then it is as if they don’t exist at all.

So yes. In a way, Human Flow is a justified, sexual, title.

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What would be sexier if a city planner got in on one of these tent cities.

The director, Ai Weiwei, goes to great pains to make sure this isn’t some exploitation documentary, where he would gain acclaim, fame, money, off of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of individuals. He seems to be a man who truly cares about their plight and is using this documentary to help get the world to understand what is going on in their lives.

In fact, we get to see Weiwei on camera, interacting with the refugees, getting some personal stories, exchanging passports even. That passport scene was absolutely heart wrenching for me, and it must have been terrible for the director and crew to be there. We have all of these people who want homes for their families, doctors for their new babies for vaccinations, things like soap, and in comes a crew of people making money and able to leave whenever they want. Of course they would latch onto that group, because hey, if there is a wall in their way, they will do whatever they can to protect their families.

Unfortunately, outside of a few select scenes of interest, the documentary felt incredibly boring. It was hard to get through, and still hard to be empathetic to their flight, maybe due to the sheer number of people and how numbed I am through the news. But it felt like a chore to get through, with an over 2 hour run time. It just dragged.

Basically, if it wants to get people involved with this thing, it has to get the common man more excited and riled up during it. They needed to make it sexier, at least the introduction or something. I spent a lot of time talking about how technically, this is a sexy topic. But when watching it, it feels entirely unsexy, and that is something they need to work on in the future.

2 out of 4.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

“I once was a dumbass,” could be the name of mine and many other people’s autobiographies. That is just a part about growing up. When An Inconvenient Truth came out, I didn’t watch it. I knew what it was about, but I didn’t care. After all, I was a senior in high school and I was pretty sure Global Warming was fake.

I wasn’t going to let some guy known for not wanting to give up an election tell me what to think. I had other people for that. Like Penn and Teller! And South Park, namely their quite famous and still amusing episode, ManBearPig. You see, that episode had Al Gore running around Colorado, talking about some mythical ManBearPig. He was super cereal about the whole thing, this threat that no one believed, and he did more damage than good.

I got it, I got the joke, I was super cool and I knew things. Then I eventually did know things, quickly changed my mind, realized that I was just being a stupid. It is especially dumb since I went into the Geology field, where of course we all know and agree that Climate Change is happening and it sucks. Even the oil companies.

But still, I did not see the documentary. At that point I didn’t need to. However, a sequel to that documentary? A new thing? An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power?

Yeah, I was going to jump on that moment.

Inc
And it looks like he has a lot of fans at the doors just happy to see him!

The sequel title calls itself inconvenient, because ideally the first one would have been enough for the world. But no, global warming was politicized, it became a Democrat versus Republican issue, despite being virtually 100% agreement amongst scientists. And plenty of easy to understand data for everyone else to get the main themes. The sequel title maybe should have added that they are pissed off they need to make another documentary.

Anyways, a lot of this documentary covers the efforts they have done since the last documentary. How their efforts have changed and grown since the documentary and Peace Prize. And how major storms have grown and impacted more and more areas, more often than ever before. Of course also, the dumbfucks who refuse to listen to any amount of reason, yet still get elected into the higher positions of power in the United States.

That is the entire documentary in a nutshell. It only had limited information based on Trump’s actions, since it takes time for this stuff to get out and shown in festivals, but it did highlight some of them.

And yet the main issue with this documentary is just how boring it made everything seem. Maybe it is due to the fact that I am so knowledgable now, I don’t know. But I could not get into this story at all. It just lacked a lot of passion (we got some at the end) throughout the film and I just didn’t care.

If you want people to like your documentary, you gotta get them interested in the topic, factual, and keep it interesting. Destruction of all mankind on its own isn’t enough for most of us, unfortunately. Just a dull, dull, documentary.

2 out of 4.

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