Tag Archives: Documentary

Justice Denied Documentary Chronicles Racist Targeting of Chinese-American Bank

 

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Film Review by Kam Williams

Justice Denied Documentary Chronicles Racist Targeting of Chinese-American Bank

Asian-Americans are often referred to as the “model minority” because of their  success in the U.S. despite the existence of discrimination which has crippled other ethnic groups. However, the label has also led many a racist to misread Asian modesty as an invitation to treat them like doormats.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,  Film Review, Documentary, discrimination, Asian, Dr. David Dao, United Airlines, Thomas Sung

Consider the serious rudeness done to Dr. David Dao, the Vietnamese-American physician who was beaten to a pulp by the police and dragged off an airplane for refusing to surrender a seat that he’d paid for to a United Airlines employee flying for free. Lost in the sauce was the fact he and his family were very likely selected because of the color of their skin. After all, the airline employee probably specifically targeted the Dao family never expecting members of the model minority to put up much of a fuss about getting bumped.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a jaw-dropping documentary which chronicles an equally-outrageous example of bigotry, this time against the Sungs, a clan of Chinese-American immigrants. Inspired by the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” family Patriarch  Thomas Sung founded Abacus Federal Savings Bank in 1984 in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown.

He was motivated help his community after repeatedly witnessing how other lending institutions were willing take Chinese people’s deposits, but were very hesitant to let them borrow any money. Abacus flourished over the years, and his daughters, Jill and Heather, joined the family business as executives after becoming lawyers.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,  Film Review, Documentary, discrimination, Asian, Dr. David Dao, United Airlines, Thomas Sung

The world came crashing down around them all when the bank and 19 of its employees were charged with conspiracy, larceny and fraud in the wake of of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. What’s stunning is that Abacus was the only financial institution the government ever held responsible criminally for the collapse of the mortgage market. Furthermore, the case was based entirely on evidence which Abacus itself had turned over to federal regulators  upon unearthing felonious behavior on the part of a loan officer it fired on the spot.

Was the ensuing prosecution malicious or warranted? Judge for yourself. But don’t be surprised if this chilling expose leaves you convinced the Sungs were innocent victims of a thoroughly corrupt legal system doling out “justice” in color-coded fashion, even when it comes to white-collar crime.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

In English, Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles

Running time: 88 minutes

Production Studio: Kartemquin Films

Distributor: PBS

 

Source:  Baret News

DuVernay Documentary Indicts Criminal Justice System as Vestige of Slavery

 

13th,  Film Review, Kam Williams, Ava DuVernay, Criminal Justice System, 13th Amendment, documentary, Selma13th

Film Review by Kam Williams

DuVernay Documentary Indicts Criminal Justice System as Vestige of Slavery

A year ago, many felt that Ava DuVernay was snubbed when she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for directing Selma. Furthermore, none of the picture’s cast or crew members were nominated, despite the fact that it had been very well received by audiences and critics alike. But Selma apparently wasn’t being singled out, as African-Americans were entirely overlooked by the Academy for the second year in a row.

Since then, the Academy has taken steps to make the Oscars more inclusive, starting with inviting more minorities to join its ranks. That bodes well for Ava in terms of her latest offering, 13th, a searing indictment of the criminal justice system as a shameful vestige of chattel slavery.

The documentary’s title was inspired by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which  ended the institution of slavery “except as a punishment for a crime.” The movie’s basic thesis is that, after the Civil War, racists seized on that loophole to keep the black masses in chains.

The film features interviews with an array of luminaries, including Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Dr. Henry Louis Gates and attorney Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”         

Inter alia, 13th blames D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) for resurrecting the Ku Klux Klan by demonizing black males. It goes on to point out that over 300 Klansmen were elected delegates to the 1924 Democratic National Convention.

13th,  Film Review, Kam Williams, Ava DuVernay, Criminal Justice System, 13th Amendment, documentary, Selma

Though an arch-conservative, Newt Gingrich adopts a sympathetic posture regarding the plight of African-Americans, observing that “Virtually no one who is white understands the challenge of being black in America.” And former Green Czar Van Jones, who served in the Obama administration, asks a very thought-provoking question, namely, “Why is the black community so weak in defending itself?”

Part of the answer is revealed in the profit-maximizing agenda of the Corrections Corporation of America, a company which has successfully lobbied to expand and privatize the prison industry. The upshot is that today there are millions of blacks behind bars, a sad reflection of the reality that a defendant is way better off in the courts being rich and guilty than poor and innocent.

The incendiary expose’ closes with Jones asserting that the Black Lives Matter movement “is not a stoppable phenomenon” because it’s fundamentally about reshaping the country’s understanding of human dignity. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how things shake out, given the ascension of Donald Trump, who has taken the position that “All lives matter” while declaring himself the law-and-order president-elect. 

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated 

Running time: 100 minutes

Distributor: Netflix

Source:  Baret News

1st Amendment Documentary Indicts P.C. Police for Stifling Comedians\’ Freedom of Speech

 

Can We Take a Joke?,  Film Review, Freedom of Speech, censorship, documentaryCan We Take a Joke?

Film Review by Kam Williams

1st Amendment Documentary Indicts P.C. Police for Stifling Comedians’ Freedom of Speech

George Carlin (1937-2008) once said “It’s the duty of a comic to see where the line is drawn, and cross over it.” In many respects, he was merely doubling down on the philosophy of his mentor Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) who never saw a taboo he wasn’t willing to bust.

Lenny paid a steep price career-wise for walking the walk and talking the talk, as he was often arrested for obscenity just for doing his stand-up act. And although he was ultimately vindicated posthumously, having paved the way for future generations of irreverent entertainers, one can’t help but wonder whether those hard-earned advances might be in jeopardy.

That is the contention of a host of comedians appearing in Can We Take a Joke, a documentary suggesting that the current climate of political correctness is having a chilling effect on their Freedom of Speech. Directed by Ted Balaker, the film includes commentary by such outspoken 1st Amendment advocates as Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Adam Carolla and Gilbert Gottfried, who lost his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck over a joke that went too far in the estimation of his corporate sponsor.

Can We Take a Joke?,  Film Review, Freedom of Speech, censorship, documentary

They uniformly lament a recent cultural development reflected in members of the Millennial Generation’s being easily offended. “It’s almost like people have gotten soft,” observes one comic, adding “If you’re easily outraged, please don’t come to a comedy show.”

It’s not as if Carlin didn’t envision this development. For, before he passed away, he warned that “All the censorship is coming from the P.C. people on the left on college campuses.” This is ironic since universities once prided themselves on providing a safe space to express unpopular views.

A cautionary tale bemoaning the chilling effect of political correctness on free speech.

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 74 minutes

Studio: Korchula Productions

Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Source:  Baret News

Biopic Chronicles Hardy 88 Year-Old’s Path from Homelessness to Hollywood

 

Queen Mimi

Film Review by Kam Williams

Biopic Chronicles Hardy 88 Year-Old’s Path from Homelessness to Hollywood

Marie “Mimi” Haist began living in her car when she was in her 50s. That was after she lost her house in the wake of a nasty divorce. And when she could no long afford to keep up the car, she ended up struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles.

One day, the owner of the laundromat where she washed her clothes took pity on her. He not only gave her a job, but allowed her to start sleeping there overnight in a chair behind the first row of washers.

Queen Mimi, Film Review by Kam Williams, 30 years homeless, documentary

Because the store was in Santa Monica, it catered to a number of upscale clientele.  Zach Galifianakis and Renee Zellweger were among the many locals who came to befriend Mimi. Eventually, the two actors decided to help the down-and-out octogenarian, with the former renting her an apartment while the latter furnished it for free.

Zach also had her as a guest on his TV show and took her as his date to a red carpet movie premiere. But who was this woman who had spent over 30 years homeless?

What had her life been like before her fall from grace? Did she have any children or other loved ones?  Those were the sort of questions that intrigued director Yaniv Rokah enough to make her the subject of a biopic.

Queen Mimi, Film Review by Kam Williams, 30 years homeless, documentary

The upshot of that effort is Queen Mimi, a revealing documentary offering an intimate portrait of a feisty, yet very likable lady with a strong survival instinct intact. A heartwarming reminder that there but for fortune, may go you or I.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 76 minutes

Distributor: XLrator Media

Source:  Baret News

Mother-Daughter Documentary Chronicles Lifelong Dysfunctional Relationship

 

Look at Us Now, Mother!

Film Review by Kam Williams

Mother-Daughter Documentary Chronicles Lifelong Dysfunctional Relationship

Although Gayle Kirschenbaum was raised in the comfy confines of suburban Five Towns on Long Island, her childhood was anything but ideal. Trouble is, she never felt loved by her mother, Mildred, who favored her three sons over the daughter she apparently never wanted.

Why wouldn’t a woman want to bond with her only daughter? “I think she was jealous of you,” one of Gayle’s sibling’s reflects. But could that explain why the mistreatment had ostensibly started at infancy?

Look at Us Now, Mother!, Film Review by Kam Williams, Mother-Daughter, Documentary, Gayle Kirschenbaum, Mommy Dearest

“I feel like I’m adopted,” reads a journal entry she wrote as an adolescent. And her mother freely admits to having punished her as a toddler by giving her time out on top the refrigerator. “She was a bitchy, little girl growing up,” Mildred explains.      

Furthermore, mom wasn’t fond of the curly hair and prominent nose which gave Gayle “an ethnic look.” And when you factor in a “loud, shrill and unpleasant personality,” the poor girl was stuck under the thumb of a hyper-critical Mommy Dearest.

Unfortunately, for Mildred, her late husband’s hobby was making home movies. And  the reams of family footage he left behind are quite damning. There she is in her forties squeezing into a skimpy bathing suit, doing her best to upstage her bikinied daughter, radiant and full of the bloom of youth.

Gayle gets the last laugh in Look at Us Now, Mother, a documentary deconstructing their decades-long dysfunctional relationship. The film features a mix of those old family videos with the present-day reflections of Gayle, her mom, her brothers and other friends and relatives.

Look at Us Now, Mother!, Film Review by Kam Williams, Mother-Daughter, Documentary, Gayle Kirschenbaum, Mommy Dearest

A fascinating airing of dirty laundry leading to an overdue reconciliation between a browbeaten daughter and her merciless abuser.

Very Good (3 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 84 minutes

Distributor: Kirschenbaum Productions

To see a trailer for Look at Us Now, Mother, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRmyOUfItjE

Source:  Baret News

Documentary about Radical Political Party Premieres on PBS on February 16th

 

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

TV Review by Kam Williams

Documentary about Radical Political Party Premieres on PBS on February 16th

The late Stokely Carmichael is famous for coining the phrase “Black power!” What he might not be as well remembered for is founding the Black Panthers. Frustrated by the
tortoise-paced progress of the Civil Rights movement and by the number of martyrs dying and disappearing around the South, he decided to leave SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) to form a group for folks interested in self-defense.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, TV Review by Kam Williams, Documentary, PBS, February 16

“You tell the people of Mississippi that all the scared [N-words] are dead!” he announced. However, Stokely had little to do with the organization after opening that first chapter in 1965 in Lowndes, Alabama (an 80% black county where no African-American had ever been allowed to vote).

Instead, it would be fall to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to popularize the Panthers. They opened a storefront in Oakland in 1966, but they didn’t really catch fire until Martin Luther King was assassinated.  At that point, many young African-Americans became disenchanted, which made the idea of confronting the police by brandishing weapons very appealing.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, TV Review by Kam Williams, Documentary, PBS, February 16

Soon, Panther chapters began spring up all over the country. And it helped recruitment immeasurably when ex-con-turned-best-selling author Eldridge Cleaver came aboard as Minister of Information. After all, the media-savvy spokesperson gave good soundbite, even if it only served to antagonize the police and establishment.

For instance, he called then Governor Reagan “a punk, a sissy and a coward,” going so far as to challenge the Gipper to a duel to the death. And after Huey was arrested for the murder of a police officer, Eldridge threatened open armed war on the streets of the country, if  Newton weren’t freed.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, TV Review by Kam Williams, Documentary, PBS, February 16

Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover was cooking up a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) designed to bring down the Panthers. The FBI proceeded to embark on a surreptitious reign of terror which included frame-ups, disinformation, assassinations and infiltration. The ploy worked, as paranoia came to permeate the organization, which splintered when the leadership became suspicious of one another. Huey called Eldridge a coward. Eldridge then quit and called for hits against anyone still in the Party.

Thus unfolds The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, a warts-and-all documentary directed by Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders). The film is fascinating not only because of its copious archival footage, but on account of the many revelations exposing the dark underbelly of an outfit often given a pass in spite of myriad flaws in terms of misogyny and machismo.

The Black Panthers revisited less as a political party concerned about the welfare of the people than as an internecine power struggle between a couple of larger than life egos.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 113 minutes

Distributor: Firelight Films

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution Premieres on PBS-TV’s Independent Lens on Tuesday, February 16 @ 9 pm ET/PT (Check local listings)

Source:  Baret News

Cautionary Documentary Warns of the Demise of the Middle-Class

 

Requiem for the American Dream

Film Review by Kam Williams

Cautionary Documentary Warns of the Demise of the Middle-Class

MIT Professor Noam Chomsky has been an outspoken critic of the Establishment ever since opposing the Vietnam War way back in the Sixties. At 87, the controversial firebrand is now decrying the incredible gulf between the filthy rich and the rest of us.

Requiem for the American Dream, Film Review by Kam Williams, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, documentaryHe is the subject of Requiem for the American Dream, a cautionary documentary delineating the consequences lying in wait for a nation where wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 1/10th of 1% at the expense of the rapidly-disappearing middle-class. Co-directed by Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks and Jared P. Scott, the movie was culled from interviews conducted with Chomsky over the past four years.

Nevertheless, the talented trio managed to edit the footage into a very engaging and enlightening monologue bemoaning the current state of the union. The upshot is a fascinating film featuring a “less-is-more” format reminiscent of the one employed by Errol Morris in his Oscar-winning Fog of War (2003).

The picture basically consists of close-ups of Chomsky shot against a black backdrop as he talks about the Machiavellian manipulations employed by the power elite. It also intermittently interweaves illustrative file footage of suffering and decadence into the production to help drive home the aging grass roots activist’s salient points.

Chomsky begins by waxing romantic about the Golden Age of the Fifties and Sixties when the American Dream was still within the grasp of the Average Joe. He says that was the period when the U.S. populace benefited the most from the host of domestic programs implemented by President Roosevelt. However, the affluent have always hated the New Deal, especially Social Security and the Glass-Steagall Act, which explains why they have repeatedly attempted to repeal those measures.

Chomsky states that, in addition, the privileged have deliberately crippled our democracy to such a degree that public opinion no longer has any influence on politicians. Just consider how it has been impossible to get Congress to pass a bill making it harder for the mentally ill to purchase a gun, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters support the common sense idea. 

   Overall, what we have here is vintage Chomsky issuing a rabble-rousing, rallying cry intended to rouse the masses before it’s too late. America redefined as a civilization in sharp decline and on the verge of collapse because of the very greedy’s systematic elimination of class mobility from the society.

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated .

Running time: 73 minutes

Studio: PF Pictures

Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Source:  Baret News

New York Film Critic Annual Film Awards Voting Results

 

New York Film Critic Annual Film Awards Voting Results
 New York, Film Critics, 2015, Top Ten Pictures, Documentary, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Cinematography


New York Film Critics Online members held their annual awards meeting on

December 6, 2015, at the Furman Gallery inside Lincoln Center.

 

The following awards for films that opened in 2015 were voted:

PICTURE: Spotlight (Open Road)

DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (Open Road)

SCREENPLAY: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer, Spotlight (Open Road)

ACTRESS: Brie Larson, Room (A24)

ACTOR: Paul Dano, Love & Mercy (Roadside Attractions)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Rooney Mara, Carol (The Weinstein Company)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (DreamWorks)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.)

FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE: Son of Saul (Sony Pictures Classics)

DOCUMENTARY: Amy (A24)

ANIMATED FEATURE: Inside Out (Disney/Pixar)

ENSEMBLE CAST: Spotlight (Open Road)

DEBUT AS DIRECTOR: Alex Garland, Ex Machina (A24)

USE OF MUSIC: Love & Mercy (Roadside Attractions); Atticus Ross, Composer; Featuring the Music of Brian Wilson

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (A24), The Danish Girl (Focus Features)

TOP TEN PICTURES OF 2015 (Alphabetical)
45 Years (IFC Films)

The Big Short (Paramount)

Bridge of Spies (DreamWorks)

Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight)

Carol (The Weinstein Company)

Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.)

Sicario (Lionsgate)

Spotlight (Open Road)

Steve Jobs (Universal)

Trumbo (Bleecker Street)

 

Source:  Baret News

Challenge Authority Documentary Recounts How Radicals Uncovered FBI Cointelpro Program

 

1971

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Challenge Authority Documentary Recounts How Radicals Uncovered FBI Cointelpro Program

On the evening of March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared-off in a heavyweight championship bout billed as The Fight of the Century. At that very same moment, while the rest of the world’s attention was riveted on Madison Square 1971, DVD Review, Documentary, Citizens’ Commission, FBI Investigation, CointelproGarden, eight antiwar activists used that event as a distraction to stage a daring break-in of an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania.

The meticulously-planned operation went off without a hitch, and they managed to cram every file on the premises into suitcases. The audacious octet had no idea until later that they had purloined shocking proof of the Bureau’s wholesale violations of U.S. citizens’ Constitutional rights via an illegal counterintelligence program nicknamed Cointelpro.

Dubbing themselves, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, the group Xeroxed the evidence and mailed photocopies to numerous news outlets, most of which refused to publish them. But once one magazine finally did print it, a righteous national outrage ensued. And J. Edgar Hoover ended up with egg on his face, given how he had been using taxpayer money to entrap and spy on any liberals whose politics he did not share.

All of the above is recalled in fascinating fashion in 1971, a whistleblower documentary directed by Johanna Hamilton. What’s interesting to hear is how the participants in the theft eluded capture by the authorities for decades. In fact, the only reason their identities are even known now is because they decided to ‘fess up for the sake of this film. 1971, DVD Review, Documentary, Citizens’ Commission, FBI Investigation, Cointelpro

A belated tribute to some fearless patriots with the gumption to expose the FBI’s lawless ways and the wherewithal to evade apprehension by the Bureau to boot!

Excellent (4 stars)

Unrated

Running time: 80 minutes

Studio: Fork Films

Distributor: First Run Features

DVD Extras: 85-minute conversation with Edward Snowden about 1971 and the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI.

To see a trailer for 1971, visit:  https://www.1971film.com/trailer

To order a copy of 1971 on DVD, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B014LR01LA/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20

Source:  Baret News

DVD Features Historic Vidal-Buckley Debates

 

Best of Enemies

DVD Review by Kam Williams

DVD Features Historic Vidal-Buckley Debates

Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. were among the most brilliant and articulate minds of their generation. The pair were also polar opposites, politically, which made the idea of hiring them to appear in a series of televised debates an absolute stroke of genius.   

Best of Enemies, DVD Review, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jr., politics, documentary, moment in history of TV

This was the brainchild of ABC-TV back in 1968, at a time when the network’s news department lagged far behind both CBS and NBC in the ratings. The plan was to have the liberal Vidal and conservative Buckley square-off during its coverage of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions being staged that summer in Chicago and Miami Beach, respectively.

Arranging the showdown proved to be easier said than done, since the men not only hated each other politically, but personally as well. After all, Buckley saw himself as the defender of old-fashioned values and the status quo in the face of the Sixties’ counter-cultural revolution demanding equal rights for blacks, gays, women and other oppressed groups.

As expected, sparks flew during the spirited tete-a-tetes marked as much by effete Buckley’s arcane syntax as by firebrand Vidal iconoclastic comments. However, because neither participant wanted to lose, what began as sophisticated intellectual analysis eventually degenerated into an exchange of insults.

Best of Enemies, DVD Review, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jr., politics, documentary, moment in history of TV

When Vidal referred to Buckley as a “crypto-Nazi,” he lost his composure and called his opponent a “queer.” A defamation lawsuit and counter-suit ensued, and the litigation would drag on for years.

Co-directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, Best of Enemies is a fascinating documentary which revisits a seminal moment in the history of TV. For, the explosive Vidal-Buckley arguments over hot-button topics ranging from religion to sexuality served to usher in a new era in terms of discourse over the airwaves.

Best of Enemies, DVD Review, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jr., politics, documentary, moment in history of TV

Besides archival footage of the debates, the conventions and anti-war demonstrations raging right outside, the film features commentary by luminaries like Frank Rich, John McWhorter and the late Christopher Hitchens. A must-see account of the birth of passionate, television punditry.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated  R for sexuality, nudity and profanity

Running time: 89 minutes

Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment

DVD Extras: Interview with directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville; over one hour of bonus interviews with commentators; and the theatrical trailer.

  

To order a copy of Best of Enemies on DVD, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B013W7LS44/ref%3dnosim/thslfofire-20 

Source:  Baret News