Netflix’s ‘Bobby Kennedy For President’ Documentary Series Is A Portrait Of What Could Have Been [Review]

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.

Keep reading…

Advertisements

Documentary ‘Cuban Food Stories’ Plays Like An Extended Travel Network Show [Berlin Review]

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.

Keep reading…

‘Loveling’ Is A Tender Family Drama Of Great Highs & Awkward Lows [Sundance Review]

Inevitably, families fall apart. Not all of them out of malice or spite, but more because of time and growth. At the very core of raising a family is the idea that someday you will watch your children leave you, and this, of course, will upend the very thing you have been trying to hold together for so many years. But what happens when that upending moment comes early, when the eldest on his way out the door is only 16 years old, but the opportunity he’s granted is once in a lifetime? This is the question at the heart of “Loveling,” a small-scale family drama from Brazil that suffers under the weight of its lack of narrative ambition and uneven quality, despite the revelatory performances at its core.

Keep reading…

Enjoyable ‘The Newspaperman’ Toasts Journalism Legend Ben Bradlee [Review]

This year, more so than even the chaos that was 2016, has been the year of fact vs. fiction. A divided country has strayed away from agreeing upon facts and debating action, to being unable to even agree on what exactly constitutes a fact. An obvious proponent, of course, has been the push by many to discredit the media industry at large. It’s already served as fodder for a bevy of uncomfortable holiday meals (with plenty more to come later this month, I’m sure), but, to brave optimism, it’s also provided us with some truly revelatory filmmaking. That such films — like Steven Spielberg’s hotly buzzed “The Post” — were in production long before turmoil struck, is worth noting. But, happenstance aside, the gravity that films about journalism have taken on in light of the political and societal climate of the moment, is real, and it’s more important than ever that the diligent reporters and editors that populate newsrooms the world over get their due. The HBO doc “The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee” mostly succeeds at doing just that.

Keep reading…

‘Unfractured’: An Underwhelming Portrait Of Protest & Sandra Steingraber [DOC NYC Review]

Advocacy documentaries are a huge risk — such blatantly opinionated content risks alienating viewers, playing to an already established audience, and, in the end, failing to educate anyone. Still, some manage to make a big splash, for better or worse (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “Super Size Me”), but others can truly be sickeningly partisan garbage (anything by Dinesh D’Souza and his manipulative ilk). It’s quite a wide spectrum, but how could it not be? The medium of film is undeniably powerful and people with money have always been eager to exploit it. But the far more mundane reality of advocacy documentary is that so many such films are middling, mediocre exercises that will never find an audience besides those already invested in the cause. Which is likely the fate of “Unfractured,” the new doc that chronicles the life of Sandra Steingraber — a scientist and leader of the anti-fracking movement.

Keep reading…

‘Along For The Ride’ Needlessly Adorns Dennis Hopper’s Legacy With Saintliness [Review]

Dennis Hopper was a legend. His tumultuous career — replete with soaring highs and harrowing lows — was matched only by his turbulent and unruly personal life. The director behind the prototype for American independent cinema, the classic “Easy Rider,” Hopper’s career began alongside that of James Dean, whom he shared the screen with twice, before bottoming out with his ambitious disaster “The Last Movie” when he was blackballed by the industry for his indignance and difficult attitude. His story for the next two decades was basically cyclical: the dizzying highs of cinematic masterpieces (“Apocalypse Now,” “Blue Velvet”) and plenty more ghastly misfires and personal woes. His life, as he lived it with passion and abandon, was an imposing story just waiting for the right documentary to piece it together. “Along For The Ride,” from director Nick Ebeling, is not that doc, for better or worse.

Keep reading…

Card Mechanic Documentary ‘Dealt’ Plays A Winning Hand [Review]

The nature of the medium of documentary is built around an unknown. Filmmakers journey into a subject or a life without all the answers (the worst documentaries purport to hold all the cards), and what often makes a good documentary riveting is the narrative of exploration, the uncovering of a truth. But, what often defines the best documentaries is their ability to pivot and spot, mid narration, a wellspring of truth more compelling than that of the original focal point of the film. In Luke Korem’s new documentary “Dealt,” that’s just what happens. What is, at its outset, a rather charming film about the world-famous card mechanic Richard Turner and the obstacles he has overcome, winds up being a searching study of the painful nature of coming to terms with your own vulnerabilities.

The rest…