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23 April 2006
This is clearly propaganda, but (unlike much of the genre) it doesn't stray into bad comedy from our viewpoint. By following a Pyongyang family through a "typical" day, it depicts North Korean life as hard-working, serious-minded, and humane. (Granted, the filmmaker never shows Kim Jong Il in anything but a positive light and never treats the fact that his likeness is EVERYWHERE as something suspicious.) It shows a nation of happy-well-adjusted people who seem content with the ways things are -- as is its the film's purpose. Fleury certainly had to cut a deal with the North Korean regime to even get it made, but he still discloses more about the place than the DPRK government would probably like, if they really knew what Westerners thought.
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Painfully bad. . . .
23 April 2006
I saw this at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Festival today, and while I have pretty tolerant tastes, this was HORRID. I couldn't even appreciate it from a camp/ironic viewpoint.

It's supposed to be about a Bay Area woman named Lavinia Hamilton who finds she's the reincarnation of Eo, a Tibetan monk sent to Berlin in 1933, just as Hitler takes power. I didn't get through the whole thing, since 15 minutes of this was more than enough.

Ms. Streit, the filmmaker, said beforehand that it was "non-linear," but there's a difference between non-linear and utterly stupid. The computer animation was pointless and absurd, the acting wretched, and the story nonsensical -- but not in an inspired way. It was bad in the Ed Wood sense -- where the filmmaker doesn't get how bad it is. (Actually, I've seen PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, and it was FAR better than this.) Bad can be good at times, but this is NOT one of those times. Ouch.
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Daley: The Last Boss (1996 Video)
A useful overview
6 May 2005
Granted, an hour-long film can't capture Richard J. Daley's importance as a political figure, but this documentary gives a solid, useful overview of the man's life and importance as Chicago's most controversial mayor in recent memory and, arguably, as the last old-style political city boss in American political history.

The film covers the scope of his life (from birth in Chicago's Irish Bridheport neighborhood in 1902) to his death in 1976 (in his doctor's office, while still mayor). It approaches his strengths, such as his ability to build on a large scale and make significant infrastructure improvements to Chicago, as well as his weaknesses, which include his inability to cope with changing race relations and his cronyism. History enthusiasts and instructors would likely get the most from this well-made documentary.
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Not neutral, and not required to be
24 March 2005
I found this film, with its blurred boundaries between thriller and documentary, rather compelling and hard to look away from. My comments here are really more about the criticisms of the film than the film itself. I've read several comments about ONE DAY IN September from Europeans lamenting its treatment of the Germans and Palestinians. As an American, I admit much more sympathy for Israel than Palestine (despite the USA's shameful record on race, at least we didn't launch the Holocaust), but the film is more about the killing of the innocent (and bungled German efforts to save them) than a deep historical treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (For that, I'd recommend FIFTY-YEAR WAR, a PBS Frontline documentary.) And I'm not sure it's totally unfair to condemn the Germans for failing to even have an anti-terrorist unit, considering that terrorism was already a rising problem in Europe by 1972. This film isn't objective and isn't obligated to be -- if a counterpart film appears, I'd certainly watch, but I don't expect it to elicit much sympathy on my side of the pond. (And, in case anyone thinks I'm a right-wing lunatic, I've never voted Republican and oppose the current war.)
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A useful overview
31 January 2004
Perry Wolff's hour-long documentary on Matisse is a good, light overview of the great painter's life and career. The narrative is a little uneven, but the visuals more than compensate, featuring a cross-section of Matisse's works. If you enjoy documentaries and the arts, this will be time pleasantly spent.
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The Civil War (1990)
The best thing ever aired on TV
19 October 2002
I watched THE CIVIL WAR when it first aired in 1990 and have seen it several times since, and it never seems to lose its impact. While it wasn't Burns' first film, it typified his style perfectly and was really the peak of his form. I enjoy how he uses accounts of both the great and the common participants, and how he doesn't offer an oversimplified account of either side or their motives. I doubt it'll ever be topped.
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A well-made, insightful documentary
31 May 2001
More than simply an account of the making of America's (arguably) greatest film, THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE studies the oddly parallel personalities behind the movie, as well as the politics of Hollywood circa 1940. Originally broadcast on PBS' AMERICAN EXPERIENCE series (one of the better things on American TV), it may pale in comparison to other arts documentaries but gives worthwhile insight to two of America's most complex and protean figures.
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A groundbreaking work of Soviet modernism
27 October 2000
This experimental documentary about life in the then-new Soviet Union is a dizzying masterpiece. The use of camera angles, editing, and visual narrative make it an engrossing experience, regardless of one's level of knowledge about film.
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