True Films

Stone Reader


stonereader

Everyone has a book they read as a teenager that changed their life. When he was 17, the guy making this documentary read a book review in the New York Times that heralded a new first novel by a young author as the voice of his generation, and one of the greatest novels written. Our guy never finished the book, but later in his 50′s (that’s now) he finally reads the whole thing and decides that it was indeed one of the greatest novels ever written. But there’s not a trace of the brilliant author anywhere including the web. How odd! He writes one of the best books ever, which no one reads, and then disappears. None of the teachers, critics, editors who worked on the book, or even his agent knows what happened to him. The film then becomes a quest for this disappeared genius. The obsessed director travels all around the country trying to track him down. Along the way, he interviews book-nerdy friends, famous authors, librarians, wise old professors, writing teachers, and anyone else with something to say about the meaning of reading and novels, and maybe some clue on the destiny of this one-time genius. Perhaps he is still alive secretly writing great unpublished books in his drawer? The more elusive the author becomes, the deeper the filmmaker gets into the power of books to change our lives. This is a film about the love of reading, and the difficulty of making something worth reading. It’s quirky, vibrant, personal, and original. As a reader and devourer of books, I loved it.

– KK

Stone Reader
Mark Moskowitz
2002, 128 min.
$10, DVD, 2 discs

Official website

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted July 30, 2007 at 6:09 pm | comments
| in category Investigative


Endless Summer II


endlesssummerII

Bruce Brown repeats a world-wide surfing safari similar to one he pioneered 30 years earlier in his classic road trip documentary Endless Summer. This time he follows two young energetic kids as they bumble around remote reefs, get lost on the road, ride some awesome waves and have a jolly old time following the surf on four continents. Surfing is just an excuse to see some exotic places in the world closeup. This lightweight film has the same sunny cheerfulness, corny jokes, amusing high jinks, and silly quotient as his first. It’s fun, fun, fun. Nothing world changing; just world enlarging. Chill out and enjoy.

– KK

(more…)

Endless Summer II
Bruce Brown
1994, 100 min.
$17, DVD

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted July 23, 2007 at 9:21 am | comments
| in category Sports


Jonestown


jonestown

It’s so bizarre. On the command of their minister, nine hundred extremely happy people drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid and killed themselves and their children in group solidarity. The scale of this discombobulation is so huge that “to drink the Kool-Aid” is now shorthand for believing what the group says. But how could this happen? How could a black church lead by a white man build a model, indeed admirable, interracial commune in the jungle and then off themselves overnight? This very disturbing story is told in the words of members who survived. It’s about the dark power of faith and hope. It’s about cults and authoritarianism. It’s about how evil slips away from good, so that good people become monsters. It almost explains the Nazis. It’s a wrenching true film.

I find that the bonus deleted scenes on most DVDs are better off remaining deleted. But on Jonestown, some of the most telling interviews are inexplicably in the deleted-scene bin. I am thinking of the ones where the surviving members say, “If I had been there that day, there is no doubt in my mind that I too would have drunk the Kool-Aid,” and then explain why. No student of the human condition should miss seeing this story. This film might even save us from some future despot.

–KK

Jonestown: The Life & Death of Peoples Temple
Stanley Nelson
2006, 86 min.
$26, DVD

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted July 16, 2007 at 5:00 am | comments
| in category Extremists


The Boys of Baraka


boys_baraka

Extreme interventions in the lives of desperate kids in the hopes of turning them around are almost a sub-genre of documentaries (not to mention the two dozen Hollywood heartwarmers based on true stories). The techniques in real life are varied, and they all work to some extent. In documentaries we have heroic teachers ( A Touch of Greatness), neglected art programs (Something Within Me), visits to jail (Scared Straight!), juvenile detention (Girlhood), and now boarding school in Africa.

Twenty African-American 13-year-old at-risk boys in the projects of Baltimore, MD are sent to a remote boarding school in the countryside of Kenya. There they meet people superficially like themselves (poor and black) but with a whole different set of assumptions and perspectives. They also meet teachers who invest all their talents and attention on them. Of course it changes their lives. Even though political strife closes the school after one year, those 10 months of middle school is enough to turn most of them around. Considering the neighborhood and family dynamics the kids have had to battle, it’s an inspiring achievement. There’s an update on the kids as they head into high school in the bonus features that I wish had been part of the film.

–KK

The Boys of Baraka
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
2005, 84 min.
$5, DVD

Official website

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted July 9, 2007 at 5:00 am | comments


Planet Earth


PlanetEarth

This series should be required viewing by all inhabitants of Earth. Nearly every shot in this extravaganza 11-part BBC documentary is new, dazzling, and jaw-dropping wonderful. “Is that really on this planet?” you ask yourself. “How come we’ve lived here so long and no one ever showed us that before?” Because they didn’t have 4 years and 25 million dollars. This fortune was well spent on ingenious high tech cameras (slow motion, night seeing, telescopic, high definition) placed in the hands of photographers of infinite patience who provide a view of this earth that will both warm you up and wise you up. As a celebration of where we live, this true film won’t be outdone soon, if ever. And it is not just me who’s gaga for it. This is the first item I’ve encountered on Amazon that had an almost unanimous 5-star rating for 280 reviews.

You have a choice of formats for the DVD. You can get it in regular display mode, or in true high definition TV mode. (If you’ve been waiting for something to warrant purchasing a hi-def TV, here it is.) You can also get it with American narration (Sigourney Weaver), or in the classic David Attenborough British version. I recommend the Attenborough narration for his discernible passion. The Amazon and Netflix links below take you to the Attenborough narration on ordinary DVDs.

– KK

Planet Earth
David Attenborough
2007, 550 min.
$2 per episode, Amazon Instant Video rental

Official website

Read more about the film at Wikipedia

Rent from Netflix

Available from Amazon

Posted July 2, 2007 at 5:00 am | comments