“This Is Congo” is not an easy documentary to watch. And anyone who knows anything about the tumultuous, war-torn country would understand that from the get-go. Still, despite expectations, it is an engaging, if unsettling, film about the decades of violence that have ravaged the central African country, the poverty and displacement that has abounded, and all the stolen promise of a land so rich in culture and resources. Which, it might be argued, is to say it is a film about the Democratic Republic of Congo. And while “This Is Congo” is an immersive and captivating film that features incredible and upsetting footage of bloody battles filmed by director and cinematographer Daniel McCabe, it is a scattershot of characters and consequences that manage to capture what is undoubtedly a piece of the truth of the region, while also somehow feeling incomplete.
“This Is Congo” starts with the war. It is a war that has been raging for at least two decades, mostly between the government forces and the many rebel groups that control vast swaths of the resource-rich eastern portion of the country, which is far-removed from the capital of Kinshasa. Trapped in the grips of this conflict are four people upon whom the film builds its story: a young and popular military commander, a whistleblower elsewhere in the army, an illegal mineral trader, and a displaced tailor. Their stories, without ever overlapping or connecting, come together to paint a grisly picture of the war — both of those who fight it and those whose lives are irrevocably impacted by it. The conflict at the heart of the film is over the battle for Goma, a city situated in the North Kivu province on the border with Rwanda. When the film begins, in 2012, rebels are threatening the town and the young military commander, Mamadou, is tasked with pushing them back.
Netflix has become the new home of the true crime documentary series, the tightly knotted, edge of your seat sort of documentary that has as many cliffhangers as it does chapters (“Making a Murderer” and “Wild Wild Country” most recently). Which is what makes the streaming service’s newest edition, “Bobby Kennedy For President” such an anomaly. Certainly, there is plenty of crime, conspiracy, and murder in the life of the lesser-known Kennedy, but the series, as directed by Dawn Porter (“Trapped,” “Spies of Mississippi”) is more of a PBS docuseries than anything else. At least until the fourth chapter when Porter dives headfirst into the unseemly underbelly of RFK’s assassination and the plots that may have been behind it.
Porter’s series starts off much like Bobby Kennedy’s political career: unmoored and focused on someone else’s fame. The four-part series’ first chapter has the unfortunate responsibility to set the stage and introduce the boyishly good-looking politician in his ascendant years, as he grabbed onto the coattails of his elder brother, Jack, who rose to the highest office in the land. It’s hard to recap just how much is packed into the first chapter, which leaves the hour feeling like little more than exposition to set the stage for the real meat of the story: Bobby’s transformation, after his brother’s death, into the face of the progressive left, a senator from New York, and eventually the Democratic frontrunner in the 1968 presidential primary. What seems most important to Porter to establish early on in the first chapter, is that Bobby wasn’t a saint. He was a ruthless campaign manager for his brother and a hardliner Attorney General who was more interested in getting results than doing things by the books. His shrewdness, according to “Bobby Kennedy For President,” is integral to understand just how large his metamorphosis was into the radical humanitarian he became.
There’s only one Elvis. A titanic figure, who, for America’s formative pop culture years, was the biggest and most influential star in the world — bringing rock n roll to the masses and crooning his way through dozens of Hollywood hits. He was, in many respects, the first superstar, blazing a dangerous and lonely trail to the top, where he was vulnerable and isolated. Even today he is Elvis, not Elvis Presley, a persona that grew out of personhood and into the mythology of America.
How, then, do you make a movie about such a legend? How do you whittle down the facts of such a life into something consumable? How do you make sense of his rise and his stardom and his tragedy? The answer, according to Thom Zimny’s documentary “Elvis Presley: The Searcher,” is that you strive to capture the magnetism that radiated from Elvis, and you hope the rest comes along naturally. Unfortunately, for all the joys woven into Zimny’s film, it doesn’t ever feel like the seminal Elvis doc that it wants to be, and even for those viewers without a deep knowledge of The King, nothing feels particularly new or revelatory.
‘The Searcher’ is told in two parts: Elvis on his way to stardom and Elvis fighting to regain his status after returning from his U.S. Army deployment. Still, “The Searcher” is only a little over three hours, which means it packs a lot in very quickly. Elvis was born and raised poor in Tupelo, Mississippi, and got his first taste of music from church. As a teen, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where his taste and experience with music thrived — nourished in part in the Black blues clubs that he frequently visited.
Since August of last year, the so-called alt-right has become an unavoidable tumor on the American conscience. In the wake of the Charlottesville protests, where Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, coverage of, and conversation about, the alt-right has grown tenfold. Profiles of the likes of Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos appeared on front pages everywhere and, at a point, some began to argue that such journalism was normalizing these extremist ideologies. Into this contested landscape comes the documentary “Alt-Right: Age of Rage,” a film that dives headfirst into the fierce and ugly battle of the alt-right and their polar opposite, Antifa, which has spilled from the internet and onto the streets. Of course, the question that has to be asked is: Does anybody want to spend any more time with Spencer and his belligerently bigoted ilk?
‘Age of Rage,’ of course, is banking on the fact that people are still interested in hearing what the faces of the alt-right have to say. Particularly, what they have to say about their opposition, Antifa — the anti-fascist left-wing activists that act as a counter to the alt-right, who also take up a good chunk of ‘Age of Rage.’ This fierce opposition between the far right and the far left forms the backbone of the film: Spencer and fellow white supremacist Jared Taylor are thematically paired against Antifa activist Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Mark Potok, a former senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, among several others who populate the film. But instead of deeply investigating the complex and often toxic ideology behind the alt-right, the film is more interested in exploring how exactly these groups feel about each other — an interesting but far less gratifying angle.
In the years since “Serial” and “Making a Murderer,” the limited series true-crime documentary has been booming. “O.J. Made in America” won an Oscar, “The Vietnam War” built a new narrative of America’s ugliest war, and “American Vandals” skewered the whole genre in a delightful comedic send up. But despite the deluge, people still seem to be hooked. It’s this momentum that “Wild Wild Country,” the new Netflix doc series, wants to ride all the way to cult status. And while it’s got all the right ingredients to be the next jaw-dropping TV event, the production, at times, falls short of the mesmerizing and absurd story at its heart.
In broad terms, “Wild Wild Country” is a series about generational divides, religious animosity, and the hate cast upon those who you don’t understand. But what makes the series stand out from others in the genre are the strange and hard-to-believe details that make up this very true story — the inundation of Rolls Royces, the biological attacks, the wild orgies, the violent meditation, the million dollar watches and the central figure, who doesn’t so much as speak for three years.
All of which makes the narrative of the series chaotic and overstuffed — which is hardly a fault of the filmmakers, Chapman and Maclain Way (the excellent “The Battered Bastards of Baseball”), who do good work translating a messy, years-long trainwreck into a compelling and almost-sensible story. Put simply, though, “Wild Wild Country” follows the Rajneesh movement and the utopian city of 10,000 they tried to establish in the early 1980s in rural Oregon.
Matt Green seems to get asked a lot what he does for work. The answer, which he repeats well over a dozen times in the new documentary “The World Before Your Feet,” is “nothing.” Not because he can’t, isn’t qualified, or is independently wealthy (though it often feels that way), but because he just doesn’t. This answer, of course, leaves people feeling incredulous. Because how else do you define Matt? Sure, he’s walked across America, from New York to Oregon, and is currently walking every block, sidewalk, bridge, and park in New York City, but if he doesn’t work, who is he?
Matt and his lack of employment is only a small part of ‘The World Before Your Feet’. Written, produced, edited, and directed by Jeremy Workman, it’s representative of both him and the film, mostly because both seem adamant to defy the conventional rules they are supposed to conform to. Not only does Matt not work, but he doesn’t really have any reason behind why he has undertaken the six-plus-year task of walking every inch of New York. He doesn’t plan on writing a book or turning his experience into anything monetary (though this film seems to be doing that for him), and he claims to lack any guiding philosophical motivation. He’s just doing it because he wants to. “The World Before Your Feet” is similar in that it eschews a traditional narrative: it picks up with Matt in the middle of his journey and ends far before he does, opting for mosaic experiences over anything linear. The point is never to understand Matt or his adventure, but simply to experience it alongside him. And maybe, if we’re lucky, to see New York (or the world) through the loving eyes that he does.
For a few years now, headlines around the world have made note of the Most Medicated Generation, the millennials who have been prescribed pills for everything from behavioral issues to depression and anxiety. By some estimates, nearly 25 percent of university-aged kids are on some form of prescription drug — a sharp uptick from any previous generation. These facts and figures, of course, make a movie like “Take Your Pills” — a potent but messy documentary — inevitable. It’s inevitability, though, doesn’t make it any less necessary, as “Take Your Pills” takes aim at Adderall and Ritalin and the mind and mood altering realities such drugs have created for millions of Americans — for better or worse.
“Take Your Pills” starts with the obvious: Adderall’s ubiquity on college campuses, both as a necessary prescription drug and an illegal substance that students buy under the table to fuel all-night study sessions and end-of-term finals. For anyone who’s been anywhere near a college in the last decade, nothing about this will be surprising, but the candid nature of the students put on screen is still startling. What’s even more fascinating, though, is the introspection and reflection that director Alison Klayman (“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”) manages to make clear. Adderall, it becomes painfully clear, is not always the super drug it’s purported to be for those who have relied upon it for years — in fact, for many, the person they are on Adderall is not exactly the person they want to be.
Cuba, in many ways, has long been a place of lore. An isolated Caribbean island that has been systematically secluded by its ideological foe to the north, Cuba has often been cast as a victim of circumstance, a child caught in a petty argument between petulant parents. But such narratives remove agency, such stories make Cuba a place where interpretation is cast upon it without Cuba itself having much of a say. It is a colonial perspective and one that is becoming ever more fraught. This perception — or at least a small fraction of it — is what the documentary “Cuban Food Stories” seeks to challenge. The film, which aims to catalog the myriad cuisine from around the island, also wants to recast the country as a historied place full of vibrant culture and marvelous uniqueness. For all it’s goodwill, though, “Cuban Food Stories” never feels like anything more than an appetizer to whet your appetite.
There are few genres that are more firmly established and more at ease with the uncouth than erotic thrillers. Born from the same cocktail of romance and danger as the post-war noir thrillers, it was only a matter of time – as popular cinema became more and more liberal – before the softcore delights of the ‘80s would turn up the heat and give birth to the erotic thriller. At the heart of the best erotic thrillers, is the blurring of the lines between sex and violence and the exploration of the base carnality of human beings. It’s a tenuous — and thrilling — duality. The titillating mixing of danger and pleasure and the complex concoction it takes to strike the right balance is exactly what makes the genre so exciting (and what makes so many erotic thrillers disappointing bombs). The Quad’s “Crimes of Passion: The Erotic Thriller” will bring some of the best — and some of the most unfairly overlooked — of the genre back to the big screen: “Basic Instinct,” “Cruel Intentions,” “Fatal Attraction,” “In The Cut,” “Cat People,” “Bound,” “Body Double” and “Dressed To Kill.” The list, of course, goes on, including a handful of genre precursors like “Double Indemnity,” “Trans-Europ-Express” and “Vertigo,” which alone should make the series worthwhile.
Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that in the weeks and months that follow, after the most intense spasms of grief have subsided, that the question of how exactly to remember that person remains. It’s a tremendous question that has no universal answer, that everybody and every family must find for themselves. And it’s this question that sits at the heart of “306 Hollywood,” an experimental documentary that attempts to both craft a vivid portrait of a grandmother through the treasure trove that was her house and to reconcile with what it means to lose someone you love. And despite its tendency to lean upon self-serious reimaginings, it is nonetheless an engaging and tenderly drawn film that is likely to resonate with anyone who has had to do the tireless work of sorting through an estate of a family member.