A big week for documentaries, there a total of 5, four excellent ones to choose from. If you can bear to watch another film on Trump's mishandling of his adminstration, then watch TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL.
BELLY OF THE BEAST (USA 2020) ****Directed by Erika Cohn
If the title BELLY OF THE BEAST sounds like a horror flick, this powerful expose of human right abuses on women in the Criminal Justice System is indeed a horror story.
The California Central Correctional Facility prison, the world’s largest women’s prison is the BELLY OF THE BEAST of the doc title. It is here that female prisoners undergo surgical operations that will prevent them from future reproduction without their consent.
A courageous woman, Kelli Dillon who was involuntarily sterilized at the facility, teams up with a radical lawyer, Cynthia Chandler to stop these violations. They spearhead investigations that uncover a series of statewide crimes, primarily targeting women of colour, from inadequate access to healthcare to sexual assault to illegal sterilization. Together, with a team of tenacious heroines, both in and out of prison, they take to the courtroom to fight for reparations. But no one believes them.
Cohn’s doc features the two heroic women. Cohn also devotes screen time to each one of them. Dillon was convicted for killing her abusive husband which she claims she did to protect herself and her children. The children are also featured, the elder now totally grown up. Chandler is also shown in her youth as a punk rocker who hung around street kids, sporting Mohawk hairstyle.
It should be noted too, the director’s commitment in telling a story that needs be told. Cohn herself was a volunteer legal advocate in Justice Now, where Chandler works. The motto for Justice Now is to build a world without prisons. Chandler is also shown working too hard for the cause neglecting her two daughters. The elder says of her mother: She cries a lot and for a long time.
The story gets more moving when the trail results are announced when the jury takes the prison’s doctors’ side. “Thank you for fighting for me,” Dillon says. It is tough for Dillon to testify of her past as it brings back bad memories.
The story is aided by a nurse whistleblower who reveals events in the prison.
Director Cohn delves deeper into the problem. Is removing or prosecuting Dr. Henrich, a surgeon in the prison who performed the sterilization the solution to the problem? She notes that Dr. Henrich is part of the legacy. It is the Cost/Benefit Evaluation of the procedure that is the main fault of the system. The villain of the pice is clearly not one individual but one system that is at fault that needs to be corrected. The film ends with the bill being passed with sterilization of women in prisons being totally prohibited. But, not revealed in the review, are a few twists to the ending of the story.
Stay to the end to hear Mary J. Blige’s excellent song: “See What You’ve Done”. The melody and lyrics are deeply moving. In these times when black lives matter, and when the main victim who speaks out is of colour as well as Blige, it is almost a sure bet that the song might win the next Academy Award for Best song.
BELLY OF THE BEAST opens nationwide (United States) theatrically on October the 16th.
Directed by Nathan Grossman
The image reads 'School Strike for Climate Change'. The film (doc) begins with Greta sitting alone outside Stockholm Parliament with the sign making a statment for climate change. This is obviously a re-enactment as it is doubtful filmmaker Grossman caught her doing his on camera the very first time. The scene looks really silly and unimportant but climate-change advocate Greta has to start somewhere. Very soon, an adult sits next to her, asks her questions and tells her she is doing the right thing.
A doc is often as interesting as its subject. Greta Thunberg a 15-year old Swede child climate change activities could not be a better find. Great eventually gets to speak at U.N. conferences on climate change, and even having an audience with Pope Francis and French President Emanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace. And she says it as it is, shocking many. She scolds dignitries on doind abyting and failing mankind. These are really tough words. But dignitries listen as these are sincere words from a sincere person, be it a child. Director Grossman captures both the intimate moments and big moments of her speeches.
Director Grossman also covers the issue of how her parents cope with Greta, who can become quite rpecocious at times. That is understandable from all the attention she is getting. At one point, her father is exasperated with her for not eating. And she has Asperger’s, Still the moments where she admonishes the world leaders that they have failed their people are incredibly moving and well worth the price of the ticket. Like Jesus says in the Bible: “ and a child will lead them.” and the world might be ‘Greta’ again.
The doc is a good illustration of how a single person can make a difference. It gives encouragement to the protestor who has taken his or her time too often join in a demonstration agains the big bullies - the corrupt corporations and governments and Donald Trump.
The doc premeired at this years Toronto International Film Festival 2020 and opens in theatres.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Carolyn Jones
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY is a documentary that paints a startling picture of America’s ERs stretched to the breaking point and exposes the extent of our nation’s broken safety net. All of the country’s biggest public health challenges—from COVID-19 to the opioid crisis to gun violence to lack of insurance—collide in emergency departments. According to the doc, nearly half of all medical care in the U.S. is delivered in ERs and nurses are on the frontlines, addressing the physical and emotional needs before sending patients back out into the world. The doc follows 16 emergency nurses (concentrating on 5) across the U.S, shedding light on their efforts to help break a sometimes-vicious cycle for patients under their care.
When one enters ER in the United States, one might encounter one of these 5 front line workers at a hospital. The first might be the ER receptionist. Or a Thai immigrant male emergency nurse, or a female with red hair or two other female nurses. They share one common trait. They love their job and adrenaline flows when they do good. The film opens in May 2020, right in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic before moving one year earlier.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY is a simple but earnest well-intentioned doc that pays tribute to the front line workers in the country - a doc that everyone needs to see to appreciate what these front line nurses do. As they say, they do not bring their work (which includes gun shot works, cardiac arrest and fractures tint no day looking the same) home. They see a whole spectrum between birth (of a new baby) and death. They are sort out the mystery of what needs to be done and very quickly. They say that the environment has been more aggressive, because of technology and they appreciate patients (mainly the older) expressing their gratitude. Simple stuff like sitting and chatting can find out a lot about the patient. Nursing is different from currently and 30 years ago, as the nurses claim. Nursing has progressed from Florence Nightingale to M*A*S*H* As is so important, it is the giving that counts.
And a bit should be down about the woman of the hour, Carolyn Jones, the director who matters. Jones is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker who specializes in telling stories that shed light on issues of global concern. From people “living positively” with AIDS to women artisans supporting entire communities and nurses on the front lines of our healthcare system, Jones has devoted her career to celebrating invisible populations and breaking down barriers. She has also founded the non-profit 100 People Foundation which creates educational films and curricula and has students participating in thousands of schools in over 90 countries worldwide.
The doc’s best parts deals with what the nurses do when death is inevitable. They stop, take a breath and remain silent out of respect for the life of the late patient.
The doc returns to the setting of May 2020 at the end, when Covid-19 has hit the United States hard. This forms the film’s climax. Selected nurses speak candidly of their experiences, many in tears, speaking from the heart.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY might not be the best doc of the year, but this feel-good doc is just what the doctor ordered during the difficult times of Covid-19.
MAKING MONSTERS (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Justin Harding (co-directed by Rib Brunner)
Winner of two horror film festival (Best Actor Tim Loden ‘Nightmare Film Festival’ and Best feature ‘Shriekfest Film Festival’) awards, MAKING MONSTERS is a horror film that blends in bouts of humour. It also combines several themes such as social media, privileged hunts of human beings (THE HUNT, THE PREY) and slasher killings. Though not entirely original, the film is aided with bits of violence such dismembering of hands that should make audiences sit up from their seats periodically throughout the film.
The film begins like the recent THE HUNT where a bloodied naked man is running in a field trying to reach the woods where he can safely hide from his predator. The scene is observed in a long shot and from the lens of a rifle. As expected, the prey does not make it, his body dragged away by the hunter on a tractor, the tractor and hunt again coming into focus after half the film has progressed.
The film shifts to the couple of Chris (Tim Loden) and Allison (Alana Elmer). Allison is in a bridal store trying out wedding dresses. The two are about to be married. Chris makes a living from doing social media pranks and making money from the number of followers he gets. According to the story, they decide to take a break from pranks by going to another couple’s (a gay one) cottage. David (Jonatahn Craig) is only present while his partner is delayed. The horror begins after Chris and Allison partake in substance abuse. They wake up, apparently 4 days later, with their car gone and cellphones missing. This is when the mystery slowly unravels. Before their awakening, there are no supernatural elements in the story. But then, ghosts and ghouls appear. The clever insertion of the substance abuse allows the film to have more horror alternatives to scare the couple.
The insertion of humour lifts the film from going into the route that causes many horror flick to fail, “I’m seeing shit! I’m fucked!” Dialogue like this are not super hilarious but enough to enliven the film. The film also allows the audience to see things that the characters are yet to see, creating more thrills as the audience have premonitions of what might happen to the couple.
The title MAKING MONSTERS come from Jonathan’s occupation. He makes monsters paraphernalia for a living. On display in the house are gruesome looking masks, ornaments and such.
It will strike the audience how everything can be explained in the film as there is a lot going on. All the ends of the story are actually nicely tied together by the end of the last frame. The story is credible though not totally believable, but at least no stone is left unturned.
One might be put off by the film’s start of the premise of horror pranks. Chris then promises that he will do no more during the time at the cottage. And there is none. So if one is patient to enough overlook that part, director Harding’s film ends up an ok horror flick.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (살인의 추억)(South Korea 2003) ***** Top 10
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
MEMORIES OF MURDER is the re-release of director Bong Joon-ho’ second movie, the director who had won critical acclaim after he and his film, PARASITE came away with Oscars for Best director and Best Picture. In my opinion, MEMORIES OF MURDER is the better film. Co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, it is loosely based on the true story of Korea's first serial murders in history, which took place between 1986 and 1991 in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province. Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung star as Detective Park and Detective Seo, respectively, two of the detectives trying to solve the crimes. The crime was not solved at the end of the film but in real life the killer confessed and the crime solved a year ago.
Rural detectives with their eccentricities have made good movie fodder. In Bruno Dumont’s 1994’ s P’TIT QUINQUIN and last year’s COINCOIN ET LES Z’INHUMAINS, he used Police Captain with a tic disorder and his odd looking assistant as investigators to a series of murders in the North of France. In MEMORIES OF MURDER, the rural detectives, Park and his side-kick are equally odd. Their social status is contrasted just as the poor and wealthy families were in PARASITE. The rural detectives have little education and go about with silly theories of the murders. When the Seoul detective, who is college educated arrives, all they can envy are the college parties where they hear sex orgies are common.
Bong’s film follows the investigation into the serial murders. The murders are apparently committed on rainy days when a particular song is heard on the radio. The victims who wear red, are sexually assaulted and left dead. Detectives Park and Set have different theories and often end up psychically fighting. The behaviour of the detectives are as entertaining as the whodunit. Several suspects are questioned and tortured, especially a local retarded teen, who turns out to be innocent but later discovered to be a witness of the killing and one who has seen the face of the murderer. In their haste to get him to tell more, they chase him on to a train track resulting in his untimely death. These are odd occurrences, and one wonders how much of these are true or made up. However, the antics are marvellous to watch making the 2 hour 10 minute running time fly.
What is impressive is the film’s cinematography by Kim Hyung-koo though the film is based on the play. Taking the film out in the open, the sight of the wide wheat fields at the film’s start is a stunning landscape to behold. The night and rain scenes are also worthy of mention. Kim also alternates between long shots and closeups, which are very effective registering emotions across to the audience.
Director Bong has complete control of his material. His actors deliver nothing short of masterful performances. The script, direction and cinematography are great. What more can a viewer want?
MEMORIES OF MURDER won the Korean equivalent of the oscars and this film is on the list of Quentin Tarantino’s 20 top films of al time. And second viewing reveals the film just as good if not better than PARASITE.
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Ryan Spindell
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION is a 2019 horror anthology written and directed by Ryan Spindell fro SHUDDER.
Horror anthologies have been favourites with cinema fans, my favourite ones being Alberto Cavalcanti’ s excellent and most famous 1945 DEAD OF NIGHT and Freddie Francis’ 1972 TALES FROM THE CRYPT. The thing is that one knows that if one story is not that good, the next one around the corner could be better. The shorter stories also prevent them from dragging on too long. The new horror anthology to be screened on SHUDDER this week contains 5 stories. The best is reserved for last.
The main thread concerns a young woman, Sam (Caitlin Custer) attending the funeral of a small boy. After the funeral, she approaches the mortician Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown, an actor who one might recognize from all the bit parts he has played over the years) about a job opening. During the interview, she challenges him to tell her the scariest stories about death that he has witnessed in his position. What follows is four short stories. The fifth one is one Sam tells herself which is mixed into the main thread leading the film to its climax and conclusion. The length of each story increases as well.
The first is about a '50s housewife who discovers something disturbing in the bathroom. It is the shortest and meaningless tale which Sam dismiss as ‘the octopus in the cupboard’. The second follows a handsome college boy in the '60s who gets his comeuppance, when he refuses and fools his girl that he is wearing a condom during their sexual intercourse. The roles are reversed and he gets impregnated. The story is simple, but director Spindell makes it creepier from the details proving that the devil is in the details. Next is the story of a man in the '70s who must make a tough choice about his ailing wife. The beautiful wife has degenerated into a vegetable and the man decides to euthanize her, but with horrific consequences. Throughout the stories, Sam criticizes their predictability and tameness. She tells the final tale set in the '80s, titled "The Babysitter Murders”. This tale is smart as it plays with the role of the killer, though it also plays as a slasher flick Director Spindell keeps his horror stories smart and funny.
Each of Spindell’s tales are better than the last. The anthology works well with the best for the last.
THE MORTUARY COLLECTION might not be the best hour him of the year but writer/director Spindell shows promise. By setting his film in the earlier years peers in the 60’s to the 80’s when TV was just on the market, he clearly has fun with his period horror piece. The last story drags on a little but as he has his main character say in the film: “Do not underestimate your audience”. Spindell keeps ahead of his audience throughout his film.
The film premiered at Fantasia 2020 and is available on Shudder Oct 15th.
THE RIGHT STUFF (TV Series/Film - 8 Episodes)(USA 2020) ***
Directed by (Various Directors)
THE RIGHT STUFF is a Warner Bros. TV production series that premieres on Disney+ beginning October 9th. On October 9th the first 2 episodes premiere followed by a new episode every week till November the 20th.
This review is for the first 2 episodes only. The article will be updated each week, with an additional review for the additional episode screened. Each week, the new episode can be read under ‘This Week’s Film Reviews’. Only this first article appears as a separate article.
THE RIGHT STUFF 2020 is based on the famous Philips Kaufman 1983 film THE RIGHT STUFF and the 1979 Tom Wolfe novel of he same name. Kaufman’s film was the rave of the time, and was indeed an excellent film, as I recall, though I do not remember much of it after close to 40 years. The film was a financial flop though it received excellent reviews while winning 4 Academy Awards in the process.
That movie runs 192 minutes, 2 hours shorter than the 8 episodes combined. With 5 minutes or so credits and recap of the previous episode, this means 30 - 40 minutes additional material, which is not that much.
The series is quite different from the film. The film began with one of the greatest pilots of all time Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), the first test pilot to break the sound barrier who refuses to be in the NASA program. The series goes straight into the NASA program with the recruitment of the 7 astronauts starting in the year 1961 then moving back 2 years earlier.
As expected, there is different emphasis to the adaptation of the book. The Kaufman film is a minor masterpiece so dabbling with the best is prone to asking for trouble. But it is what it is and the TV series should be examined on its own merits.
Please read review of each episode for more details.
Review of Individual Episodes
EPISODE 1: SIERRA HOTEL
Directed by Chris Long
Teleplay by Mark Laffery and Will Staples
(release Oct 9)
The words at the start inform (warn) that the series is a dramatization of fictional events that are based on true events. The first episode totally omits what occurred in the original film, the brief story of pilot Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier. That part of the story depicted in Kaufman’s film was not really historically accurate, so omitting that section, one can assume that the filmmakers of the new series are attempting a more accurate account.
The episode is called Sierra Hotel because that is the venue of the briefing of the pilots that have been picked for selection for the Mercury 7. The pilots are subjected to rigorous scrutiny both physically and mentally while their family background also examined to determine whether they have THE RIGHT STUFF. The 7 are eventually selected at the end of the episode.
Of all the candidates, the episode concentrates on John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams) and Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman). The two are depicted as totally different personalities - Glenn the ore stable one with Alan as the troublemaker. But both are treated as white heroes, making American great and putting down the Russians. The emphasis on this fact would likely upset many viewers.
It appears that the episode is gearing up for the pissing contest between Glenn and Shepard. The episode lets the viewers take which side they prefer as the teleplay is generally impartial between the two, though favouring Glenn just a little.
The first episode is an introduction and plays as one. Th aim is to show the rigour these men have gone through. Whether they have THE RIGHT STUFF is primed to be determined in the next few episodes.
EPISODE 2: GOODIES
Directed by John Coles
Teleplay by Lizzie Korder
(release Oct 9)
The first thing to note is that this episode was written by a female. The episode shows more of the astronaut’s wives points of view and how their lives are affected by the sudden fame, which might not be their liking. When a reporter repeatedly shows up on one of their doorsteps, things turn ugly. A deal is reached with LIFE Magazine to give each astronaut $25 grand and they keep all other reporters away in exchange for exclusives with LIFE. This references to the GOODIES of the episode’s title.
The soundtrack is full of 60’s tunes though it is quite annoying that the songs are picked to tell the audience exactly how to feel at each point in time. For example, when an astronaut purchases a brand new fast car, the song “Call me Irresponsible” is heard on the soundtrack.
The astronauts are moved to Florida in this episode. There is nothing really outstanding in this episode which concentrates on just three of the men - and their wives.
Again the episode lauds America, how great it is, how this astronauts are heroes etc. Americans will love it!
So far, flaws and all, the first two episodes are extremely watchable.
EPISODE 3: SINGLE COMBAT WARRIOR
EPISODE 3: SINGLE COMBAT WARRIOR
Directed by Louise N.S. Friedberg
Teleplay by Howard Korder
(release Oct 16)
The third episode is kind of egoistic in approach. It is America being number 1, all the astronauts trying to be number 1 and the most important thing in the world is to prove America is number 1 with their first man in space. Helping poorer countries in need or even poverty in the U.S. are ignored. The only time the episode talks about teamwork, the segment ends with the boss being hit on the head by a volleyball and the launch exploding, emphasizing the failure of teamwork and again lauding individuality.
The case is made stronger by the episode concentrating on Alan Shepard, the most obnoxious and loud-mouthed of the Mercury 7. He is the ‘single combat warrior’ of the episode title, which shows that one can overcome adversity which in this case is his ability to succeed in one of the anti-gravitational test units by sheer perseverance.
If the episode is to show how self-centred America can be, it succeeds dutifully. This third episode is the wrong stuff!
THE SECRETS WE KEEP (USA 2020) **
Directed by Yuval Adler
It is post-WWII America, a woman, Maya (Noomi Rapace) is rebuilding her life in the suburbs with her husband, Lewis (Chris Messina). When she recognizes her neighbour, Thomas (Joel Kinnaman) as the German soldier who had raped her and killed her sister during WWII, she kidnaps her neighbour and seeks vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her. Maya want closure as to what really happened by means of Thomas’ confession. Maya’s mind is foggy as to what really occurred. When husband, Lewis finds out, he is torn into believing her or believing that she has some mental problems. Sounds very interesting.
While watching THE SECRETS WE KEEP, it would not be surprising to find something similar to what have been experienced before. The reason is that THE SECRETS WE KEEP bear similarities with Roman Polanski’s 1994 film DEATH AND THE MAIDEN with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley playing the Rapace and Kinneman roles. DEATH AND THE MAIDEN was based on the play of the same name by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman. There is no mention in the credits of any reference to the play or the 1994 film.
The setting is different. THE SECRETS WE KEEP moves the despicable war crimes from an unknown dictatorship in South America to WWWII by the Germans. Other facts of the story remain the same.
Similarities aside, almost 25 years has passed since the 1994 film and it is doubtful that many might recall Polanski’s film. But watch the trailer and the similarities become apparent.
The period atmosphere (production design by Nate Jones) is convincing nevertheless. The setting is 1959, the year of the Hitchcock thriller NORTH BY NORTHWEST, the word Northwest seen on the sign of the local movie theatre. The similarities of the two films are the male characters, Cary Grant’s advertising executive and Kinnaman’s Thomas mistaken (or not) for spy, Richard Thornhill and German soldier respectively. Rapace’s Maya is supposed to be a Romanian Roma (gypsy). Rapace must be given credit for the worse performance of the year, sporting a horrid accent, rolling her ‘r’s and incessantly smoking cigarettes. Rapace is Swede and so is Kinnaman who portrays Thomas who is supposed to be German pretending to be Swiss. All these foreign personalities result in a mess of accents by the actors. Messina, however is not bad, delivering a performance of calibre, quite different to his lawyer character in the upcoming film, I CARE A LOT.
Director Adler’s film contains a few unrealistic segments. One involves a gun carelessly left behind on the table in the basement where kidnapped Thomas is kept. It is obvious he will take possession of the gun. When he does, he uses it and stupidly misses hitting Maya even after firing all the shots. Another flaw invovles Maya's indecison as to what to do with Thomas after kidnapping him. Initially she takes him to a ditch to shoot him. Then unable to kill him, locks him in the house basement, suddenly deciding that she wants a confession from him to unfog her memory.
The big secret kept here is the blatant plagiarism of Dorfman/Polanski’s DEATH AND THE MAIDEN. Everything else that transpires then matters to nought.
THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. MELISSA (USA 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Sabrina Van Tassel
THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. MELISSA, though sounding like a courtroom drama is not. It is a very, very sad film about Melissa and her family after the tragic death of her two-year old baby daughter, Mariah. On the night of the tragedy, Melissa was taken away by police for questioning. She never returned to her children and the family has never been the same since.
THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. MELISSA explores the life journey of Melissa Lucio, the first Hispanic woman to be sentenced to death in the state of Texas. For over ten years she has been awaiting her fate, and now faces her last appeal.
Director Sabrina Van Tassel (THE SILENCED WALLS, 2015) is a French American filmmaker and journalist who has directed over 45 documentary films for the last 15 years for major television programs, focusing mainly on social and politically motivated matters such as women forced into marriage, underage sex trafficking, post-traumatic stress, children in the white nationalist movement, women in prison and the holocaust. Her film, as expected is sympathetic towards her subject Melissa though she leaves it open and probably for the audience to decide on Melissa’s guilt or innocence. Van Tassel presents two points of view.
Arguing for Melissa’s defence, she interviews her family members and friends who ascertain that they had never seen Melissa be violent towards her children. A licensed psychologist testifies that a murderer falls into several categories, none of which match Melissa’s personality. One of Melissa’s daughters talk of her sister Alexandria who likely could have beaten the baby. This testimony was never made known to the court.
Against Melissa’s innocence, Melissa’s mother believes that Melissa could have done it, being swayed by the judge and the verdict of the jury. The bruises on the baby Mariah also indicate that she was likely beaten. It is also brought to attention that Melissa did drugs and her use of cocaine was determined from her blood test samples.
The film is terribly sad. Van Tassel interviews Melissa in prison, Melissa speaking through the prison telephone receiver, on her sadness on not being able to be with her children and of her 12 years wasted in prison. No one benefits, least of all Melissa’s other children from her imprisonment. Melissa was also abused since the age of 7. The film’s saddest part is the segment where Melissa’s letter is red allowed when she speaks about lost hope and the absence of a future because the past has engulfed everything.
The doc takes a turn (not to be revealed here) in the last 30 minutes into suspense/mystery mode just when one would think it would run out of steam.
The doc which was an Official Selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, has a Virtual Screening and Q&A Friday, October 16, 2020 @2:10PM ET / 11:10AM PT. Screening of the Film Followed by Q&A with Director Sabrina Van Tassel, Melissa's Lawyer Richard Ellis and Witness to Innocence Speaker Joaquin Martinez. The film is available on demand October the 20th.
TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL (USA 2020) *** 1/2
Directed by Directed by Alex Gibney, Suzanne Hillinger and Ophelia Harutyunyan
TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL is the phrase quoted from President Donald Trump regarding the Corona virus. A liar though and through he says that the Corona Virus was TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL. That was when no deaths were recorded in the United States. The very next day, the first death was recorded. As of the time of writing, there are 213 thousand deaths including the fact that Trump who got infected. Under control? The liar should never have recovered from Covid-19 as he is now minimizing the effect of the pandemic once again and putting millions of American lives in danger. Writer/director Alex Gibney’s (his best films: TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM) TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL is an in-depth look (filmed in secrecy during the initial 5 months of the pandemic) at how the United States government handled the response to the COVID-19 outbreak during the early months of the pandemic.
Principle director Alex Gibney claims in the press notes: “I started this project when I was just so outraged by the federal response.” Needless to say, his film is doc that matters that should be seen. For myself, I am already so outraged at Trump and his behaviour, I wanted to skip the doc as I know that there is only so much anger I can handle.
As the doc was filmed during the pandemic under pandemic restrictions, and had a really tight schedule, Gibney enlisted two collaborators, directors Hillinger and Harutyunyan who both brought extraordinary skills to the production. This is evident in the scene where interviewees are conducted where the interviewers sit behind barriers and the camera crew all donning PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
The film gets most effective when it compares, on a day to day basis how South Korea successfully handled the pandemic compared to the United States. South Koreas has PPE, test kits, lock downs and an effective government that took responsibility and warned its citizens of the seriousness of Covid-19. In contrast, the doc shows Trump lying that everything is totally under control, that the U.S. had faulty test kits, and also of Trump’s replacing of competent medical staff with his own loyal cronies who end up lying as much as the master liar.
It is the obvious goal of the filmmakers to have the American people particularly Trump supporters realize how much they have been lied to as well as to acknowledge the incompetence of the Trump Administration. Trump will do and say anything to get elected. As in one of the books that his relative wrote, Trump has no principles.
It is also clear that the doc had a lot of challenges in being made. The Covid-19 news was constantly changing as the doc was being made. As expected, a lot of interviewees were afraid of losing their careers if they spoke candidly. But the directors managed to get inside the federal response to find two people in particular, Rick Bright and Max Kennedy, who helped give a blow-by-blow for what was going on inside some of the administration activities, as well as Michael Shear, a white house correspondent who was talking to a lot of people behind the scenes. Rick Bright was removed from his office after he spoke out against the use of hydroxychloroquine, the drug that the Trump Administration put forward that had no proof or test of effective. The witch doctor who discovered and proposed this drug is also interviewed in the film.
The doc clearly achieves its goal of revealing the scale of incompetence and political corruption by the Trump Administration in the face of a global pandemic. One can only hope the liar will make a good clear loss in the November elections.
Ironically, which the doc was quick to note and displayed in the closing credits, Trump was tested positive for the virus one day after the film’s completion.
The film (doc) is available On Demand October 13th, 2020
WHEN THE STORM FADES (Canada 2018) **
Directed by Sean Devin
WHEN THE STORM FADES begins with an aerial view of Tacloban City in the Philippines in the year 2013 - during the destruction created by Typhoon Haiyan. The doc moves 3 years after depicting a family's attempts (the Pablo family) to recover from the disaster.
The real-life Pablo family is from Leyte, and is improvised in part around their own real-life experience of the typhoon. Although the film's primary themes address climate change and the effort to recover from grief and loss, the film includes a secondary storyline which depicts two Canadian aid workers (Aaron Read and Kayla Lorette) whose attempts to play the "white saviour" backfire.
It does not help that director Devlin’s doc appears to be all over the place. If he does have a certain goal, he sure does not make any attempt to show it. At one point in the film, the story goes completely off tangent when Trevor is asked about the afterlife and what happens then. And at yet another point in the film, Trevor asks the locals where he can whale watch.
The lazy script does not contain information of how the two Canadian aid workers got to be to chosen or what the aid organization that hired them is all about.
There is something to be said of the two characters. Clare is depicted as the tower of humanity. She stands for the right and speaks out for the locals. When an American insurance guy talks about investing, she tells him off. She goes jogging to keep fit. Trevor is depicted as a negative character. He looks a little like actor Jack Black and is just as annoying. He gives advice on nutrition to the local while his flabby body shows otherwise. When Clare stands up to the obnoxious American, Trevor remains silent like a intimidated mouse. The film shows Trevor and Clare as a reluctant couple. But what Clare sees in Trevor, a unattractive guy with no backbone is beyond anyone’s guess. In the evening, Trevor goes spear hunting for fish with the American while Clare joins a local to appreciate the starry night. Trevor ends up cutting his feet on a coral reef proving that Karma always comes back and bites you in the ass.
Described as both a docudrama and dramedy, the film is hardly funny. There is only once that I laughed and this is when Trevor falls down the stairs while leaving to go back home in Canada.
The doc fares better when it looks at the local real life Pablo family. One of the members of the family Nadia has recently passed on and the film is dedicated to her.
The film contains one puzzling scene. The Pablo family is depicted as Christian - Christianity being one of the major religion in the Philippines 90% or so are Christian with 80% Catholic and the remainder Protestant. The family quotes scriptures and indulges in saying grace during meals. But there is a scene where lavender is used in ancestor worship which is not a Christian practice.
Despite the filmmakers good intentions, WHEN THE STORM FADES is quite the mess, all over the place, the message of the film coming through only by reading the closing remarks just before the end credits.