Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I have a very scientific view of the world and thus am highly skeptical of any claim that doesn't have good evidence to back it up. So it usually bugs me a little when people buy into beliefs that seem like bullshit, but I know they're just humans like me.

In this film, a man creates a persona of a guru from India and gets followers who buy into it, even though he's a fake. That's not really the whole story, though; you should just watch the film yourself.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Philip Glass: a Portrait in 12 Parts

I haven't actually watched this one in some time, but "Philip Glass: a Portrait in 12 Parts" gives us a view into the life and mind of a brilliant composer. Especially memorable is Philip Glass making pizza- he doesn't feel like he quite knows what he's doing, but he trusts that it will turn out okay. You get the sense that his approach to composition is not that different.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hands on a Hard Body

No, it's not a porn. It's a film about a bizarre contest in which participants keep one hand on a pick-up truck for as long as possible. It's a somewhat older film but has a big reputation (deservedly, in my opinion).

"Okie Noodling"

I had no idea that grabbing a fish and letting it chomp down on your arm was an accepted (though rare) method of fishing. You learn all about it and get to know some of the best noodlers in this doc. They're interesting people.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters

Like Spellbound, Word Wars, Word Play etc., this documentary shows us high performers, but I particularly like this one because the game in question is an old NES game.

Monday, August 5, 2013

"Dark Days"

This film shows us what life is like for a group of people who live literally underground, in an Amtrak tunnel. We see the human desire to survive and have a home (pets too!) even in crazy circumstances.

I really like how they hung out with each other, and I really enjoyed hearing the way they talk and express themselves. They may be homeless (in a way), but they don't seem lonely.

In fact one fellow said that they were a bit like a big family. As someone who often feels alone and isolated in NYC, I'm actually envious of this part of their otherwise very difficult lives.

I'm earning less and less money recently and have to find more work soon, so it was a little scary to see where I could end up if I don't keep working.

The soundtrack is great too- familiar music from DJ Shadow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Doing Time, Doing Vipassana " and "The Dhamma Brothers"

I'm putting these two films together because they cover similar material, and you might get a lot out of watching them both (or either one, really). The subject is the transformative power of meditation and how it works even for hardened, angry criminals who are locked up. It's so effective it's startling. Afterwards these guys hug and are much more peaceful and present.

I'm hoping to do a Vipassana course myself someday- it's a ten day, silent meditation retreat, and there is no fee (but you get lodging and delicious Indian food).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Dr. Bronner's Magic SoapBox"

I'd seen Dr. Bronner's soap and the label, heavily dense with text, and wondered: what the hell? After watching this documentary, I have an excellent answer. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Dr. Bronner is a real character. I found him absolutely mesmerizing, though he is literally crazy (I'd hypothesize schizophrenia). But he has a way of speaking with his German accent that I just love.

We also meet and spend time with one of his sons, whose gentle kindness I see in myself. Ralph Bronner talks to and connects to people in such a genuine way that it warms my heart. He gives them soap, too, and tours the country talking about his dad.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Touching the Void"

It's actually been a while since I watched this film, but I remember it being intense and gripping. I'm not usually crazy about reenactments, but they worked for me here.

This film is essentially the story of two extreme climbers doing a climb as partners, but one of them gets injured. How he survives is unbelievable, but apparently it's true.

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Kinshasa Symphony"

This film is seriously one of my favorites ever. I've recommended it a lot.

Basically, it's a look at a symphony orchestra in the Congo. The dedication and passion that the musicians have in such a difficult environment deeply touched me- yes, I cried. It's inspiring and beautiful. They're making serious effort to create beauty together and are finding meaning in doing so.

I personally spent some years learning viola and am now trying to learn cello, and this makes me appreciate even more what they're doing here. From what I recall, the conductor wasn't classically trained and had retired from a non-creative job (pilot?), but now look at what he's created; it's amazing.

I also loved seeing the luthier (instrument maker/fixer) work, in awe at what he was able to accomplish with limited resources, much like everyone in the film.

I'm fascinated by dedication (especially to the arts) and what life is like in other cultures, and this film has both.

This film does make me think of African music vs European music, and how the richness of African music should be appreciated and preserved. For whatever reason, though, these musicians have found fulfillment and meaning in European classical, so more power to them. The two styles need not be mutually exclusive, but I certainly would never want classical to somehow take over or replace the music unique to Africa. I don't see that happening any time soon, though.

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement"

This is a film about an old couple who is still in love despite old age and disability. They also happen to both be women and are now historically important because of the recent DOMA Supreme Court decision.

But politics aside, this is a beautiful film about love. It made me cry. I hope I will be lucky enough someday to have a relationship like this.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


This film should be required viewing for all humans. It shows you what's important in life to find happiness.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"First Position"

I don't actually have that much to say about this film other than it fits into a sub-genre of documentary that profiles high-achievers (e.g. "Spellbound") which I find fascinating. You get to know the young dancers and some of their parents and teachers.

"Chasing Ice"

I expected to be bored by this film (I don't find geology particularly exciting) but was instead fascinated and horrified. I was in awe of the main dude's tenacity to capture time lapse of our disappearing glaciers. It's horrifying how fast they are dying and really illustrates in a visceral way what climate change is doing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Persistence of Vision"

Richard Williams is famous in the animation community. His book on animation is considered the best available and a lot of people have seen his work on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", which was to direct the animation. Basically, he's incredible.

But something went wrong with his personal project, "The Thief and the Cobbler". This film goes back to Richard's earliest animations (which are breathtaking) and tells the story of his masterpiece and his life so far. It's a fascinating story.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"Under African Skies"

This film is about Paul Simon's collaboration with South African musicians to make his album "Graceland" and reuniting with them twenty-five years later. But it's also about the power of art to endure beyond politics and the human connections that occur with music. Music can touch hearts on a deep level.

I didn't expect to be so moved by this film, but I was. Maybe partly because I have some memories with the music- I remember listening to a few songs repeatedly from "Graceland" as a kid, probably on cassette. My mom's a Paul Simon fan. I also have memories of hanging out at home, being lazy on a Sunday, hearing Ladysmith Black Mambazo CDs that my parents would often play.

Aside from my personal memories, there's something moving to me about artists connecting with one another, collaborating and looking right past politics, race, gender, cultural background, even language, to make beauty together. And then to share it with the world- besides a successful cross-cultural collaboration, "Graceland" was a huge commercial success.

One of the scenes that really got to me when they play Saturday Night Live. The album hadn't been released so nobody had heard any of the music, but the audience went totally crazy. They knew immediately that there was something special there. They loved it.

As a very picky consumer of music now, some of Paul Simon's Western musical style doesn't do much for me personally- I find rock structure and convention pretty boring, but I loved the African elements of the music. Of course Paul Simon deserves full credit and praise for doing this crazy "Graceland" album, for putting it all together despite a difficult political environment on top of the regular work of art. And I also realize that the folk/rock is his contribution, just as Ladysmith contributed their beautiful singing. That's what he does, even if it's not my favorite aspect.

Anyway, great film!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Monster Road"

"Monster Road" (2004) - Directed by Brett Ingram

The film centers on two men: Bruce Bickford, an artistic genius, the in-house clay animator for Frank Zappa from 1974-1980, and his father George Bickford, the self-proclaimed “smartest person around.”

The film captures a short period of time in the lives of father and son. Footage of Bruce’s earliest work is woven with stories of his childhood. His most recent work, which he spends hours creating in his studio (the basement of his childhood home outside of Seattle) is a window into the mind of an artistic genius. He is childlike, in the sense that he seems unaffected by the stress of typical American adult life (as he has managed to avoid it) and is captivated by the wonder of it all. A huge element of his work is his fascination with being a “little dude.”

George, a former Boeing engineer, faces the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. What remains of his vast knowledge and skill is behavior reminiscent of Cold War era paranoia. The walls of his home are filled with magazine cut-outs of “honest men” and hand-written notes like, “what will we do when the oil runs out?” The moments where George speaks are some of the most profound moments of the film. Bruce speaks about his father’s disappointment in him, and how he couldn't get over the fact that Bruce didn't have a real job until he “got Alzheimer’s and forgot.”

Bruce’s animations are surreal, psychedelic, beautiful, terrifying, and utterly otherworldly. Everything George says is a perfect little gem, worthy of hanging on the fridge. The original music by Shark Quest is brilliant. The pace is perfect.

It’s hard to talk about this film. Just see it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


"Cinemania" shows us the lives of a handful of obsessive film watchers. One guy is so dedicated that he eats food to constipate himself so he can keep to his viewing schedule with no prolonged bathroom breaks. Each person is quirky, fascinating, and definitely not quite "normal".