Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

I cannot tell you about the moments in Faces Places that brought me the most happiness. This is partially because those moments are clustered in the film’s last 30 minutes, and they are far too wonderful in their little surprises for me to dare spoil them. This is partially, also, because they are so pure […]

First things first: director Amanda Lipitz’s first documentary feature, Step, is about the first graduating class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a charter school opened in 2009, and initially founded by Brenda Brown Rever. Lipitz is Rever’s daughter. Maybe this means nothing at all, and maybe it completely invalidates the film’s arguments […]

Any historical film movement is usually going to get discussed in terms of the biggest name-brand directors responsible for the biggest name-brand films, and so it was with the Soviet Montage movement. Any cinephile worthy of the name will know Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov at least by name, and anyone who likes their work […]

I don’t quite know how the career of Frederick Wiseman works – why 2015’s In Jackson Heights seemed to rate such a tiny speck of a release, and now his follow-up, Ex Libris – The New York Public Library is getting substantially more exposure. At least, more exposure by Frederick Wiseman standards, which is to […]

The most interesting thing about Dawson City: Frozen Time, by far, is the real-life history that enabled its existence. This is not to slight docu-essayist Bill Morrison, of the very highly-regarded 2002 Decasia (which I haven’t seen), among a couple dozen other films that are, as I understand it, mostly rather like this: moving collages […]

I will say this, and say it sincerely: Rat Film is definitely a weird film in all the right ways. On paper, director-writer Theo Anthony’s documentary argues a basic-unto-banal chain of causes and effects: systemic racism keeps black communities in the United States mired in poverty, urban centers that are mired in poverty tend to […]

We come now to one of the odder curlicues in the world of Amityvillania, a film that I wasn’t sure I was going to include in this retrospective until the moment before I hit “play”. I speak of My Amityville Horror, a 2012 documentary (and a little bit to my surprise, I don’t even feel […]

In ten feature-length documentaries made over a 35-year span, Errol Morris has played with different styles, different tones, different genres (he is, in no small part, the reason we can speak about “different genres” of documentary film in the first place), and different intentions, but one thing has remained constant. Ten times out of ten, […]

The vibe one gets from the conversation around Kedi – not least because there are obvious economic advantages to the distributor in letting this vibe happen – is that it’s basically a feature-length version of a cute cat video on YouTube. To be entirely fair, if you’re the kind of person prone to spending 80 […]

A review requested by Alison with thanks for contributing to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser. The 1991 document Madonna: Truth or Dare is a fascinating artifact, one that I honestly can’t quite figure out how to even describe. Despite existing for very nearly no other reason than to carefully manage and sell […]

Ironically, given that it is a movie expressly and entirely about the communicative power of the moving image, Cameraperson gives us the answer key to understanding everything about it in the form of a title card that precedes any other footage: “For the past 25 years I’ve worked as a documentary cinematographer. I originally shot […]

A review requested by Jakob G, with thanks for contributing to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser. It’s a bad habit to compare one film to another and count that as a review, but oh, how hard it is to talk about Baraka without constantly checking it against Koyaanisqatsi. The two films, released […]