In the Dark (2016)

Categories: 2016, Non-Fiction, and Podcasts.

I forgot to review this when I finished listening to it (and I presume I have forgotten to review a bunch of other podcasts I finished). This is a frustrating, devastating and infuriating portrait of a child kidnapping in the 80s, the near-absolute power of country Sheriffs in the US (and their general incompetence) and how badly things can go when something seizes national attention in a democracy. Read More

Masterminds (2016, Jared Hess)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

Masterminds is one of those films you marvel about how it got made. Despite the rather incredible comic cast, this is a film that feels like it was dumped on an unsuspecting public once the people making it realized how much of a disaster it nearly is. It is a film full of very funny people that is only sporadically funny. It is a film that is ostensibly based on a true story that feels like it was made up on the fly, from a series of scenes the writers thought were funny (or were improvised) that were then stitched Read More

Amanda Knox (2016, Rod Blackhurst, Brian McGinn)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

If you are like me, you paid little attention to all the stuff around Amanda Knox, the American 20-something who supposedly killed her roommate because of her deviant sexual interests and other odd interests and beliefs. If you’re like me, you didn’t even know what she was supposed to have done, beyond murder, because I don’t follow these kinds of stories. But, if you’re like me, you knew she was guilty, because the media told you she was guilty for years and years. And wasn’t she convicted before she returned to the US? SPOILERS to follow, if you knew as Read More

The Witness (2016, James D. Solomon)

Categories: 2016 and Movies.

We’ve all heard the story of the woman who was murdered in New York City in sight of thirty eight people who did nothing, a story that told us all of the moral degradation of modern urban society. Well, this movie is about her brother, his quest to find out what really happened, and to finally come to terms with the death of his sister. SPOILERS Read More

Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger (2014, Joe Berlinger)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

Somebody once said, it’s not integrity that matters, it’s the perception of integrity. One of the reasons people freak out at the more minor of political scandals – the ones where there are only hints of impropriety, or where bureaucrats or politicians are accused of over-spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when the budget is in the billions or higher – is that the assumption of integrity, the appearance of integrity is violated. We are supposed to be able to trust our government and the perception of corruption is, in some ways just as bad as corruption itself. Read More

The Great Train Robbery (2013)

Categories: 2013 and TV.

I like the conceit of this very brief miniseries (two episodes): first, tell the story of the crime, then, tell how it was solved. And the results are reasonably good, the show is well acted and reasonably well made (for TV, of course). There are a few issues with the direction – particularly in the second episode – but overall it’s entertaining and avoids the usual desire to spice things up. Whether or not this is an accurate telling, it feels accurate. Worth your time on a lazy long weekend if you’re into true crime stuff. 7/10 Read More

Bernie (2011, Richard Linklater)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

This is one of those films that is played so straight you aren’t sure whether or not it’s a comedy. It’s also rather unique in the sense that, though it is a fictionalized version of a true story, it’s not only partially told as if it was a documentary, but it features interviews with numerous real people. It’s a daring approach, and it’s a testament to both the skill of Linklater and the performance of Jack Black that it works. (This may be the best performance of Black’s career.) The story is a rather weird one, of the kind that’s Read More

American Experience: The Poisoners Handbook (2014, Rob Rapley)

Categories: 2014 and TV.

This is a fascinating history of both the emergence of forensic science in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, but also of homcidal (and accidental) poisonings in NYC. It’s a useful reminder about how much we take for granted in the criminal justice system but also in our food and other safety laws – we’re protected now, but we once weren’t, when people were able to sell radium-based “tonics” and cosmetics, for example. (Jesus tapdancing Christ.) Anyway, it’s interesting stuff and it’s on Netflix. 8/10 Read More

Biggie and Tupac (2002, Nick Broomfield)

Categories: 2002 and Movies.

I don’t mind Broomfield’s annoying narration voice (which is noticeably different from his interview voice…why?) and his informal style when his material’s good. But here, it’s a mixed bag. He conducts numerous interviews with people involved or interested in both murders and those interviews, you would think, would certainly provide enough reason for a less vested party – say, the State of California or the State of Nevada – to re-open the investigations, but beyond that, I’m not sure there’s anything revelatory here. The thing is, it’s all circumstantial: it’s just a bunch of people telling you stuff, and maybe Read More

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003, Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill)

Categories: 2003 and Movies.

The follow up documentary to Selling of a Serial Killer is not of much interest if you’ve already seen that first film, as this one rehashes a lot of what is portrayed in the first film, with nothing new to add, really. The production values are better and this time the focus is more on the question of “Should the death penalty apply to people who are clearly insane?” but I’m not sure this movie brings anything new to the case, beyond once again highlighting the incompetence of Wuornos’ first lawyer and giving us more of a biography of her Read More

Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992, Nick Broomfield)

Categories: 1992 and Movies.

This is a fascinating and outrage-inducing film about the exploitation of Aileen Wuornos after her arrest and conviction by the police, her adopted mother and her lawyer. The film doesn’t seek to prove that Aileen didn’t do it – like most films of this type – but rather raises questions about the severity of her sentences and about the conduct of both the police investigating her and the lawyer and adopter mother supposedly on her side. Regardless of the crimes she committed, she was not treated fairly or properly by the system. And this film – like many great true Read More

Making a Murderer (2015, Moira Demos, Laura Ricciardi)

Categories: 2015 and TV.

This is a documentary in the grand tradition of The Thin Blue Line, Paradise Lost and Brother’s Keeper, but with the time-span of something like Hoop Dreams or American Promise. And, as a 10-episode TV show, it adds nearly unprecedented depth to its subject, comparable only to a Ken Burns documentary series, or Shoah. SPOILER ALERT!!! Read More

TIFF 2015: The Clan (2015, Pablo Trapero) (7/15)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

Though I see a lot of movies – and I mean a lot of movies – and I can usually articulate what I like and don’t like in a particular film, there are always one or two where I feel like there is something wrong but I can’t articulate it, I just feel it. This is one of those movies. This is the apparently true story of a family that… Read More

TIFF 2015: Jack (2015, Elisabeth Sharang) (3/15)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

What do we do with fictional films that drastically deviate from the truth? I am a strong believer that, in the right circumstances poetic justice is not only a right of the artist but a necessity. However, I do feel like there is a line between the search for poetic “truth” and being disingenuous, being willfully ignorant and being deceptive. So, uh… Read More

All Good Things (2010, Andrew Jarecki)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

Now that The Jinx exists, and I unfortunately know of the relationship between that show and this movie, it’s kind of hard to think about this in isolation, but I will try. The film is very well acted: this is another one of those Gosling roles that he handles so well, even if, by this point, he’s sort of been type cast as the conflicted, silent type; Dunst is also excellent. And the supporting cast is fine. The film feels a bit too clinical for much of its run, and frankly I blame Jarecki, who seems to think it’s a Read More

30 for 30: The Two Escobars (2010, Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist)

Categories: 2010 and TV.

This is a fascinating, if a little scattershot, documentary about the infamous Pablo Escobar and the almost as infamous killing of a Colombia soccer player. The film mostly deftly balances the drug and violence problem in Colombia that coincided with (and funded!) the Golden Age of Colombian Football. The only real problem I have with the film is it’s rather naive acceptance of the US position on Colombia, as if Colombia and its drug cartels were the source of this problem, not, you know, demand in the United States. I understand that this film isn’t about that issue, but a Read More

Serial (2014)

Categories: 2014 and Podcasts.

I have never been a big podcast person. In fact, I think it was only in 2014 when I regularly started listening to them – I know, I missed the bus – and then, mostly just the Lowe Post. But Serial has changed all that. Moderate spoilers may follow. At least initially, podcasts seem to have been more forums for discussion, or for vignettes, or for archiving and syndicating radio shows, rather than for long-form narrative. Even the multi-part podcasts I am aware of are not the kind of serialized narrative that you associate with old movies and radio, or that Read More

American Hustle (2013, David O. Russell)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

I don’t really know where to start with this strange and kind of brilliant film. It’s a con film, but it’s a con comedy. Russell reveals the fates of characters well before he should have. If this were a serious movie, such decisions would be fatal. Because it is played for laughs, this trick diffuses tension in scenes that would otherwise be tonally inconsistent with the rest of the movie. There are multiple narrators, but we aren’t ever introduced to that concept properly – say through a device where someone is interviewing those narrators – and it’s just assumed that Read More

The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris) and Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996, Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky)

Categories: 1988 and Movies.

Nothing in the CD player because it’s too early. Yes, I’m procrastinating again. (spoilers?) Taking what’s in The Thin Blue Line is much easier when you’re familiar with what happened as a result of the movies’ release. As the saying goes, it is perhaps the only movie to ever reverse a court decision. It obviously didn’t do it on its own, but it started the appeals apparently. Therefore, even though the movie is about injustice and it appears as though nothing can be done, you know (if you’ve read about the movie) that there was eventually a happy ending. (9/10) Read More