Charles Ferguson’s Timely ‘Watergate’ Doc Is Routine But Vital [NYFF Review]

It’s been a hell of a week. A divided, partisan country ripped at the seams and what was once a split has become an unnavigable chasm. The protracted and ugly Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh turned into a culture war — left vs. right, men vs. women — when a courageous woman came forward with sexual assault allegations against the nominee and instead of a thorough investigation from the FBI, the country was given a contentious set of hearings Thursday. And while it might seem naive or Coastal, it’s hard to imagine that anyone out there didn’t already have an unyielding opinion that was only exacerbated throughout this whole, repugnant process.

From the depths of this collective despair, it’s hard to see the light on the other side — some sort of unifying kinship that allows us to no longer detest (or at least lack respect for) our neighbors, though it is easy to remember less contentious times (both those fueled by war and those that just simply weren’t batshit crazy). It is therefore easy to forget that this level of chaos has consumed our government and our country before: Watergate. The scandal of all American scandals, Watergate truly was the sort of Constitutional crisis that people claim is encroaching today. This impossible-to-miss parallel is a good portion of what gives Charles Ferguson’s new six-part docu-series “Watergate” its urgency. It’s also what is most likely to glue you to your seat for 260 minutes of this thorough and engaging, but generally uninspiring, film.

Keep reading…

Buster Keaton Crashes Through Exalting Doc ‘The Great Buster: A Celebration’ [Venice Review]

Few, if any, forms of art have changed as fast as cinema. From the beginning, it was married to the greatest boom of technology the world has ever known. From the Kinetoscope and the Lumière Brothers to the birth of studios to talkies to color to 3D and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Movies have always been changing as fast as they could be made, which, generally speaking, has left audiences rapt. But this avalanche of change — like the gloriously unhinged avalanche in “Seven Chances” — has had little regard for the norms and the people in its way. Buster Keaton, the indelible king of physical comedy danced around the boulders in “Seven Chances” but was thoroughly bulled over by the changing industry. While his legacy remains intact, the arc of his career is one of painful, if humble, desperation. But while “The Great Buster: A Celebration,” a new documentary about Great Stone Face, covers the arc of his life, it aims for simplicity, for a celebration of his unrivaled talents, and often fails to explore the complexity of the very man at its center.

Keaton was born into a pratfall. His family was a touring comedy troupe and the young Buster was on stage before he was two. He transitioned into films under the guidance of Fatty Arbuckle before rocketing to fame as the director and star of his own two-reel shorts. Stardom came quick, of course, and Keaton was soon writing, directing and starring in his own features, most of which he made during the 1920s. His fall, though, began in 1927, with the birth of sound. That alone might have been a storm Keaton could have weathered, but he also signed a disastrous deal with MGM that robbed him of his creative agency, divorced his wife (who changed the last names of his children), and sank into alcoholism. That he bounced back to rebuild and sustain a reputable, if, at times, unworthy-of-his-former-glory career, is no small feat.

Keep reading…

‘This Is Congo’ Is A Devastating & Unsettling Portrait Of A War-Torn Nation [Review]

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.

Keep reading…

Ranking The Best ‘Spider-Man’ Movie Characters

Martin Sheen has had his ups and downs, but throughout his career he has played the stern-but-loving father figure with grace and menace in equal dose. His Uncle Ben is no exception. Unlike the Ben in Raimi’s (superior) film, Sheen imbues the character with rough edges; he’s a man of principle who believes in the responsibility of good, but falls victim to the petty whims of anger. This, of course, is best exemplified in the scene where Ben, full of rage and righteousness, recounts to Peter the “moral obligation” of doing good — the embodiment of the difficulty to live up to your principles. Basically Sheen turns an iconic character into a living, breathing man, and Webb’s film is better for it.

The rest…

Fresh & Diverse ‘Signature Move’ Is Also Overly Familiar [BAMcinemaFest Review]

For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been living in a post-“Wonder Woman” world. A world which, you can be certain, is a better world. One where the genuine hunger for a female (super)hero has been served a tasty menu and a collective appetite has been whetted. One where doors are likely cracking open for female directors and female-centric stories and narratives are being considered more seriously (if only because studio execs are seeing the piles of cash “Wonder Woman” is raking in). These are, of course, generous assumptions about Crusty, White Hollywood. But, what can’t be denied, is that the film filled a void and people were genuinely happy to witness a reflection of a more diverse world. Basically, no matter what banal stories Hollywood studios are greenlighting, people are actually looking for fresh, heterogeneous narratives. They are looking to see themselves on the screen (and not all people are white men) and “Signature Move,” is, in so many ways, just the sort of film some people are looking for. The rest…

Task Force 1

Missouri Task Force 1 deployed during weekend flood watch

I wrote this story without even really thinking about what it meant. Which is unfortunate. I would have liked to be more careful and deliberate.

Which isn’t to say that I think I did something wrong, or misreported anything.

But I don’t think I understood the gravity of what it meant for this task force, these specially trained men to be deployed, the sort of damage and destruction that would require their services.

I suppose, then, that I would like to be a more thoughtful and deliberate reporter. Whether or not it would directly impact the information I include in a story, I would like to look to consider the forecast — what does it mean for the people of southern Missouri when an elite task force is deployed to be ready to assist them? — and ensure that I am doing everything in my power to be as thorough and thoughtful as possible.

Younger than myself

UPDATED: Three men charged in armed bank robbery

This story was both disheartening and fascinating.

There is the inherent interest in the story of three men robbing a bank. A high-speed chase. A spike strip. A foot chase. Plus the fact that at the start of the morning we were trying to stay ahead of the story and figure out if three men in the county jail were those arrested on suspicion.

But at the core was a deeply sad story about three men younger than myself robbing a bank with a girlfriend’s car while looking after a girlfriend’s baby, all for less than $3,000.

I came to study journalism because I want to write about why these things happen. What drives this sort of crime. To use language and reporting to keep these men, and their very prevalent struggles human.

So, I have to remind myself that this is part of the story. And I can do a service by doing the best possible job I can. By staying sharp and looking to the details and turning over the best, most accurate story I can.

Then, in the future, I can play Al Baker and try to do more.