Archive for Documentary

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Jean-Michel Basquait:  The Radiant Child

Directed by: Tamra Davis

Produced by: David Koh, Lilly Bright, Stanley Buchthal, Alexis Spraic

Run Time: 88 Min

I’ll be honest with you; I think most modern art is pure rubbish. The last time I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was with my mom for her birthday to see a Yoko Ono exhibit. As I explored the museum, I found 3 blank canvases, a painting with some squiggly lines that you would see in a day care and a toilet in a glass maze which were all being debated by young people wearing sweaters that their grandparents gave them. Needless to say, I left the museum annoyed that I had wasted a day supporting talentless hacks and at the same time been forced to endure the sounds of people debating the social value of the “masterpieces” I had just seen. It didn’t take much time for me to realize the popularity of modern art, like the taste of wine(check out the studies showing how people think wine that costs more tastes better), is more subject to reputation and hype than it is actual talent. Why do I start off a review telling you about my opinion of modern art? I’m telling you because Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child is a journey into the modern art community and basically reinforces whatever you already thought about modern art. If you’re an avid art buff you’ll think the film is touching and if you’re like me, it’ll solidify your predisposition that artists and art critics are complete snobby asses.

Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child chronicles the rise and fall of Jean Basquiat starting from the time he left home in search of fame. The backbone of the film is a rare interview of Basquiat that his friend and director of the film Tamra Davis shot of him at the height of his career over 20 years ago. The movie is also packed with interviews with his friends and colleagues who either dated, worked or sold his art. The documentary itself feels more like tribute to the too short life of troubled Basquiat who some consider “the most influential artist of his generation.”

Tamra Davis has been directing movies for years and her experience shows with how well the documentary is produced and directed. Even though I’m not a fan of the artist, I am a fan of how the movie was structured. The music that played throughout the film fits perfectly and though I wasn’t wearing a beret was able to thoroughly enjoy it. The movie mixed archived footage with recent interviews seamlessly giving the film a terrific flow which kept it entertaining throughout its duration.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the film is unsaid commentary of how fame and wealth effects people and their relationships. Basquiat seemed to be more stable in the beginning of the movie, when he was a young struggling artist, than he was after he achieved his goal of being famous which is something we see with celebrities in general. It’s an all too common tragedy when people achieve their dream but forget those little things that make life worth living, namely friends, family and what inspired them dream in the first place.

Jean Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child does everything well, the story is seamless, the editing is superb and it’s a perfect film for those people who appreciate modern art. My only complaints about the movie are personal ones derived from my intense dislike of the subject matter and my own personal opinion of the modern art culture. This movie did absolutely nothing to make me question or change my opinion but, since it’s more of a tribute to the artist, it doesn’t have to. Again, I’ll be honest with you; while the subject isn’t for me, it still makes for a very good watch and is perfect for just about anyone who likes modern art or documentaries in general.


The Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

The Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Directed by: Jessica Oreck
Written by: Jessica Oreck
Produced by: Jessica Oreck (Myriapod Productions)
Run Time: 90 Min
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles

For thousands of years, mankind has been examining nature as a way to learn more about our self, our purpose and our destiny. The idea that everything in the world is somehow connected has inspired generations of Japanese philosophers, rulers and religious figures who look for answers in their quest to for the universal truths of mankind’s existence by looking at some of the smallest creatures on the planet: insects. The Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, even though it sounds like a B-Movie, examines Japanese culture and their fascination with insects, from the roles that these strange creatures have played in their ancient philosophies, to becoming modern day pets or collectors items.

The documentary primarily follows a bug catcher and several children, combining them with spectacular photography of Japan’s natural beauty as it tells the story of the insects influence throughout history. At the same time, the movie isn’t just about bugs or all of the deep philosophies passed down through the ages; it’s also about instilling the same sense of wonder and appreciation of nature that we all felt the first time we stumbled across a giant beetle on a hike or in our backyard. Even the tone of the movie is everything you’d expect out of eastern philosophy writings where calmness and being connected to the world around you almost makes the viewer forget the westernized world we live in.

The movie would be perfect except for that it might be difficult for some young children get into because they wouldn’t be able to read all of the subtitles. Luckily this flaw will be solved soon with the educational version of the film due to be released in the late summer complete with an English script. The $365 price tag of the educational version will however make it unobtainable for most people and is geared towards schools. Hopefully a more consumer friendly version of the film makes its way out so a younger audience or just those people who hate subtitles can enjoy it along with everyone else.

What else can I say besides I love this documentary? I know that not everybody likes bugs but I can’t picture a single person (even those squeamish people that hate spiders) who wouldn’t think some of the insects in this movie aren’t interesting. This movie is an awesome watch for anyone curious about exploring other cultures but I liked it for a completely different reason; it made me forget all of those things I don’t want to deal with in my everyday life. After a long day at work or just a day of watching the news, who wouldn’t want to leave all of that behind and go to a simpler place and escape for an hour or two? Now that I think about it, after watching this movie, I want to go outside with a net and see what kinds of weird bugs I can find. I hear you can make a good living selling them In Japan


America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful
Directed by: Darryl Roberts

Written by: Darryl Roberts

Produced by: Michele G. Bluthenthal, Roderick Gatlin, Stela Georgieva

Run Time: 105 min

The beauty industry encompasses almost every aspect of our daily lives and there’s no escaping it in the modern world. We’re surrounded by fashion magazines, bill boards, advertisements and television shows depicting what beautiful people look like. America the Beautiful investigates what effects the perception of beauty has on women, the consequences of trying to fit the image of what we think is attractive, how the fashion industry works and seeks an answer to the question of what true beauty is. While the documentary does ask some very important questions it also has many flaws ranging from bad camera work, a lack of information on important issues, emphasizing issues which any somewhat intelligent person already understands and includes segments which should have been cut out of the film completely.

The part of the documentary Darryl Roberts focuses on most chronicles an aspiring 12 year old model, Gerren Taylor, who has the potential to be the next big super model. At her age, Gerren must juggle her school work with her modeling career which is an insightful look into the fashion business. Ultimately this is left an incomplete portrayal of her personality; for example as her work takes off she also has problems at school to the point where she is forced to sign a behavior contract in order to return to her classes again. While the school segment gets a lot of time the film isn’t clear about exactly what her problems are. Did she miss too much class or was it her attitude that resulted in her being kicked out of school? Another aspect missing from her story is how her mother’s greed directly coincides with the downfall of her modeling career by taking Gerren away from the modeling agency she worked with. Her mother states that she has a vision of where Gerren’s career should go but her inexperience and attitude gets her virtually black listed in the United States.

The documentary also features interviews with editors of fashion magazines, modeling agencies, people on the street, parents who have lost their daughters to eating disorders, plastic surgeons and victims of botched surgeries. The interviews give a lot of information which for the most part is common sense but manages to remain informative for those people who haven’t put much thought into how the beauty industry works. Even though most of the interviews were informative, there were some that should have been cut altogether. One of these interviews is with Dr Stephen Marquardt showcases his lack of a grasp on human evolution and how society works making all of his points moot but for some reason this was kept in the film with a little blurb at the end informing us that he’s bipolar. Other interviews that should have been cut are the ones with school children who seem to have the perfect answers to the director’s questions making the segments seem rehearsed.

In the most impressive segment of the documentary, the director investigates the toxins in cosmetics and the lack of oversight over the chemicals that are in every day products. Roberts takes the time to interview chemists who make the products as well as get them tested for cancer causing pathogens. He finds out that the FDA doesn’t really regulate these products they test and they turn up positive for cancer causing materials. With his findings in hand he compares the way Europe and the United States regulate chemicals used in cosmetics showing the lax rules of the cosmetic industry in the United States.

One of the other flaws in this film is the unprofessional camera work which is rampant throughout the movie. There are numerous occasions where the camera is in too close and cuts off the top part of the person in the interview’s head or the shot isn’t centered well. The camera work does get better but unfortunately the viewer gets distracted in interviews by the sound equipment bobbing down into the shot frequently. Since the same interviews are cut apart and presented in different segments of the film these problems occur during the entire duration of the documentary.

The subject of beauty is so massive that it would be impossible to get all of the aspects covered in one film but with that in mind the documentary still doesn’t achieve what it intends to. While it does show the evils of the beauty industry it fails to go in any real depth of what true beauty is. Instead of showing what it intends to the director interviews celebrities about what they think is attractive and repeats sappy things like “everyone is beautiful in their own way.”