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They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings Trilogy fame creates a technically marvelous documentary by using 100-year-old footage from World War I and telling a story about what it was like for the soldiers who enlisted and went to the front lines. He does this in a very innovative way by colorizing the film (the scene where he switches to color is breathtaking), slowing it down to real-time, and overlaying stories told by WWI vets in the 1960s and 1970s. His team also incorporates many of the posters of the era and overlays moving footage, which creates a very unusual …

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Free Solo

This documentary film tells the story of Alex Honnold’s success as the first person to scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes. This is an amazing, multilayered film that gives us much more than just the big climb. We get to really know Alex, who is rather quirky, what drives him to climb, and the ways his love of the sport impacts his relationships. We get to see how cameramen who are also experienced climbers prepare to film a dangerous event of such magnitude and the psychological aspects as well; they all know that they could be filming …

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Love, Gilda

This is a documentary of the life of Gilda Radner, one of the original Saturday Night Live comedy crew and who died young from ovarian cancer. The film uses a lot of archival footage of home movies to show her growing up in Detroit and footage from several of her best Saturday Night Live moments. The film also examines some of her demons, including her struggling with an eating disorder. I really liked the movie; her story deserves to be told for a younger generation that may not understand how groundbreaking her work was. Several more contemporary SNL comedians, including …

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Bisbee ’17

In 1917, nearly 1200 mostly immigrant miners (and many were neither strikers nor miners) were rounded up at gunpoint in Bisbee, Arizona and were dropped off in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. This documentary is the story, told partly by a narrator and partly through the words of the Bisbee locals, of that event. To commemorate the centennial, the town re-enacted the event; the documentary in effect becomes a “movie within a movie”. I enjoyed the film, mostly because this was a story with which I was not familiar but has such contemporary relevance. The movie represents …

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Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

This documentary is about Scotty Bowers and based on his book, “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.  Scotty is a World War II Marine Corps veteran who went to Hollywood after the war and became the confident (and lover) of many well-known actors and actresses. The gas station at which he worked became a front for helping them to connect with same-sex lovers at a time when people involved in Hollywood motion pictures were bound to strict ethics codes. The movie should have been very interesting; I was expecting a movie complementary …

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Three Identical Strangers

In 1980, one of the boys, Robert, goes to college where everyone confuses him with a guy named David. David and Robert meet, and their story becomes national news. As a result of the news coverage, Eddy realizes that they look just like him.  In 1961, three boys were separated given up for adoption to three different parents. I won’t say anything more, and I strongly recommend if you plan on seeing the movie to not read anything about it beyond the basic premise. It is one of the most fascinating documentaries I have seen in quite some time. It …

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King Corn

This light, entertaining, and balanced documentary has as its subject corn, an all-American crop. Two young men decide to return to Iowa, where their families are from, and rent an acre of corn to better understand how it has taken over as the premier cash crop. Through their journey, the men examine how corn has become a staple of almost every food product; the primary sweetener used in sodas and so many foods, and the principle part of the diet of cows and pigs. They also examine how subsidies help farmers to make money on corn when it otherwise would …

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This documentary chronicles the life work of Fred Rodgers who for decades enacted his vision of children’s programming through Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood, a show broadcast on PBS. It was really fascinating how he took his concept, with simple staging, the use of puppets, and the routine of changing into sneakers and a cardigan when coming on stage and turn it into something that impacted children all over the country (and, as we see in one scene, public policy). His shows approached issues of inclusion as well as dealt with current events with concepts that children could understand. It is really …

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R.B.G.

This film documents the professional and personal life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It tells the story of how she graduated from law school at a time when women were not welcomed in the law profession, her rise as a lawyer who successfully argued 5 out of 6 cases in front of the Supreme Court, was eventually confirmed to the Federal Court by President Carter, and eventually was nominated and appointed by President Clinton to serve on the high court. While the film isn’t a perfect documentary, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about her. It serves as …

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Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

The subject of this documentary is the story of Native Americans who influenced various genres of American music. Musicians with Native American ancestry Included are, among others, Charlie Patton, generally recognized as the father of Delta blues; Link Wray, rock guitarist noted for his instrumental piece, Rumble; Jimi Hendrix; folk singer Buffy Saint-Marie; Robbie Robertson; and the jazz singer Mildred Bailey. I loved this film. There are a lot of music and concert clips that introduce us to many of the different sounds that I either did not know, had forgotten, or did not realize were from Native American musicians. …

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