Rivers and Tides

rivers-and-tidesInteresting look at a somewhat unique artist. Andy Goldsworthy creates works of art using only natural materials. Many of these pieces are ephemeral – a sculpture of ice that lasts only until the sun rises, or an arrangement of driftwood pulled apart by the rising tide. Some of them are quite permanent – a wall of rock inspired by a serpentine river. While the pieces were interesting, I had to wonder… how to do the finances of this work? When the artist is out stitching 500 leaves together & sending them down a whitewater stream, is someone paying him for that? Sure, he does get commissions, and probably publishes some stuff… but is that enough to raise 3 kids on? I just wish I knew the full story about some of these people. I mean, more power to him, but… really?

Finding Vivian Maier

finding-vivian-maierA well-done documentary about a fascinating woman. Vivian Maier was a nanny for most of her life, with a mysterious past, a bizarre personality, and a knack for taking extraordinary photos of everyday life. This would have been an interesting documentary even without one photo, but the photos aren’t just a cute side-note. They’re really good – and there are tons of them. I really don’t care what kind of mini-industry the person who found these photos has made for himself. If it wasn’t for his careful eye, all of the photos would have been lost to history. In my opinion, he deserves whatever he gets (monetarily) from them.

Meet the Patels

meet-the-patelsThis documentary is about an Indian-American (from India) trying to find someone to date & marry. It’s basically an exploration of the Indian dating scene, from arranged marriages in India to the parental-fax-net dating service here in the US. I just wanted to grab this guy by the shoulders and tell him “dude, marry the girl you love, no who your parents think is right”. Of course, if he’d done that, there would be no movie. So, I have to wonder… was this guy so crass that he had his true-love wait for a year while he made this movie?

One interesting side-note… much of the filming in this movie was admittedly dreadful (done by the director’s sister), but that didn’t detract from the story much at all. It might have even given it more authenticity. Funny how that works…

I Am Big Bird

I Am Big BirdAll about the man inside Big Bird. I never really gave it much thought – that there is a human inside there, not only operating the bird, but playing the part too – walking, talking, improvising. And I suppose the fact I never thought about it says a lot about how good he is. What kind of a person could do this for 40-some years? Well, a guy like Caroll Spinney. When I first started watching this, something seemed a bit “off” about him, but as the movie progressed, he grew on me… and I suppose you’d have to be just a little odd to be a good Big Bird (not that there’s anything with being odd). Surely, a documentary like this is going to present a positive picture, but that’s fine – and who’s to say it isn’t 100% accurate? Anyway, after all those years in the suit, he deserves a bit of adulation – well done Caroll.

Tim’s Vermeer

Tim's VermmerAn inquisitive inventor/engineer/entrepreneur turns the art history world on its head with his theory about how Johannes Vermeer created his master works. He makes a very compelling argument, and goes to the extreme length of replicating not only a Vermeer painting (The Music Lesson), but the entire live scene as Vermeer saw it, which involves building all the items in the scene from scratch.

He postulates that Vermeer painted using a setup of mirrors & lenses. This setup enabled Vermeer to produce paintings that have a unique photographic quality. The argument is compelling. Not only was Tim able to create an impressive painting with no previous experience, but all kinds of ancillary evidence is presented as well – such as how Vermeer’s paintings have many qualities unique to photographs.

The documentary rightly addresses the question of “what makes an artist great?”. If Vermeer used this method, that makes him no less visionary & talented. Instead, it adds to his genius – he was able to come up with a system so impressive, it remained secret for hundreds of years. As the movie rightly explains: art, science, engineering… they are not separate fields. To be a good artist, you need a broad base of knowledge about materials and techniques. I have to wonder, if Tim was able to create a pretty good replica with no experience… what might a talented artist be able to produce with these same tools? Perhaps a body of work like Vermeer’s.

As for the documentary itself… It’s done by “Teller” of Penn & Teller fame, and it’s about as impressive as Tim’s painting. The style, pacing, storytelling, and shooting are all spot-on. It was a joy to watch.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro has devoted his life to being perfect at what he does. It so happens that what he does is make sushi. It can make you wonder though; is the purpose of our lives really to excel at a skill? To what end? I suppose that is one way to make the world a better place… to have a positive impact.

Anyway, the movie was fun to watch (a little repetitive at times – I mean, how many ways can you say someone’s sushi is great via the medium of film?), and an interesting study of a man who seems equal measures of humble and tyrannical.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

What a fantastic window into our past… and amazing to think that this cave was sitting undisturbed for so long… and in such pristine shape today. Herzog manages to stretch out what could be a 30 minute movie to feature length, without making it seem longer than it needs to be. To hear about these caves is one thing, but to see one like this is simply breathtaking – these people lived like this for centuries… enough time that they knew no other past; no other future… just the endless cycles of the seasons and of life.

The September Issue

The only person who seems to understand the fashion industry is the daughter of the Vogue “boss”. There’s more to life. Indeed, just about anything is more real, and more objectively important than the world of fashion. Still, with that critique understood, this was a well done documentary about a world few outsiders really know.

Kings of Pastry

Nicely done documentary about the pinnacle of pastry chefs… In a way, I had the impression that this thing just goes way beyond pastry… in the end, it’s almost like they expect these guys to be sculptors and mechanical engineers. Anyway, I guess you can’t really complain – they all go through this voluntarily, and the end results are pretty striking (I have no idea how they taste though).

One of my impressions seeing the displays on the final tables though was that few of them had a theme that tied the individual pieces together. Sure, they were very nice on their own, but there were these tables filled with wondrous, yet incongruous creations. I would think that a series of pieces that all told a story, and had a common aesthetic, would make a big impression.


Ever wonder if someone could make an entire movie about a font? Well, someone did. There’s more material to work with than you might think, but maybe half of what they needed to really fill a full 1.5 hours. It’s worth watching though… Might make you think on a whole other level about what you read.

Man on Wire

For all those people who are told “no” again and again… But refuse to give up because there is something stronger in their heart telling them “yes” 11 times more… This is your movie. For the rest, let this be a lesson on breaking the rules.

Good Hair

What is the matter with people? Can’t they just love who they are? It is a fascinating look into a subculture I never gave much thought to… But left me scratching my bald head. Hmm… Maybe I should get a weave.

The Cove

Just when you think that people can be despicable, ugly creatures… This movie comes along to prove that you’re right. But, there is room for redemption as well. I just hope that some day the ugliness illuminated by this movie will come to an end. See it.

A Man Named Pearl

Sweet movie about… well, a man named Pearl. He’s learned the craft of topiary – shaping plants into fantastic shapes – and in the process taught the town a lesson in the real measure of a man’s worth. My only complaint about this film is that it’s perhaps too long. It’s a great story, but gets a bit repetitive… like the director just couldn’t bring themselves to cut scenes of some local booster or far-away expert singing glowing praises of Pearl. Well, I suppose that’s not so bad.

Dog Town and Z-Boys

Documentary about the birth of modern skateboarding. This was really intriguing. I don’t think skateboarding has changed the world like some of these people think it has, but it’s certainly a big deal, and worthy of the treatment it gets here. It’s really fascinating how many of the people are alive today, and how well everything was documented as it happened. It’s also quite interesting to see how each person involved has been affected by the choices they’ve made in life. This is the kind of movie that kids should see… sure there are bad words and adult themes and such, but the lessons of real consequences to one’s actions are really brought home be people who’ve lived it.

Cry of the Snow Lion

A documentary about Tibet. Everyone should see this movie. We in the US have sacrificed our “moral principles” for the lure of money – in the guise of a billion Chinese consumers. This is a very troubling thing. How can we ever expect any justice in the world when we encourage unjust regimes (like the Chinese)? I can only hope that the Chinese economy will collapse sometime soon, and the political reality there will fundamentally change. That seems the only practical hope for the Tibetans, who are extremely lucky to have the wisdom of the Dalai Lama to carry them through this difficult time.


Wow! this was so warped it was hard to believe it was real.  I really really really want to see what Crumb’s sisters have to say though.  That’s one messed up family.  I’m so glad there are people like Crumb out there, completing the full spectrum of humanity.

Control Room

There just wasn’t any real drama. In some sick sort of way, it seemed like the Al Jazeera people wanted the situation in Iraq to devolve into chaos. And that made me really lose a lot of potential respect for them. I mean, I don’t agree with what’s happened in Iraq, but we have to remain hopeful that things will turn out OK. And when we criticize, it should not be out of spite, but rather to get at the truth.


Documentary about a clash of cultures. The small town old-timers don’t like it when the big city outsider moves in and asserts himself. So, they play the money card, and the kids are caught in the crossfire. I saw this in a small screening with the director, so we could ask him questions and such – that was pretty cool. It was really well done, and thoroughly explores the issue without really finding any good answers… kind of like real life – things are just kind of left in a continuous state of being unresolved. Anyway, the movie is a good metaphor even if you’re a world away from rural Oregon.

Boys of Baraka

A decent and honest documentary. I sometimes wonder though, subjects like this are so easy to shape into a compelling drama – I mean poor kids from Baltimore whisked away to a school in Africa? It almost smells of reality TV – where do you draw the line? I wish the documentary had more about previous classes of the Baraka school, and the history of it. Also, if the school was “closed” after 1 year due to non-financial reasons, why couldn’t they use that money & talent to move it to another location?