Tag Archives: documentaries

Funny Tweets

So, Twitter.

This platform has changed the way we communicate. Originally you had only 140 characters to send out your thoughts, and today we’re up to 280, which is a boone to us long-winded folks. Something in the neighbourhood of 6000 tweets are sent every second. Nearly half of all Twitter users never send a single tweet, they’re just there to read. And man is there stuff to read. Read for days!

In Twitter’s early days, it was like the wild west: anything goes. And one of the things that really proliferated was comedy. There’s a special knack to writing jokes for Twitter, there’s a special pace, a special formula.

This documentary talks to a bunch of hella funny Twitter comedians, many of whom had their careers explode because of Twitter. Breaking into the writing world used to be hard, but now you can gain attention from your dead end job in Bumfuck, Nowhere. And it’s happened over and over! How cool is that?

Twitter also puts you in touch with tonnes of strangers who share the things you’re passionate about. Some of them hate you and what you’re saying, and they let you know, often more loudly than the people who love it.

And then there’s the celebrity content! You can follow whomever you please, including Ryan Reynolds, David Lynch, Patton Oswalt, and Conan O’Brien (all recommended).  And disturbingly, the current president of the United States is also a prolific tweeter. He likes creating evidence of his lack of intellect and filter, and posting it to the internet forever and ever. Because he’s an idiot. Danny Zuker, a writer for Family Guy, interacted with Trump frequently – his slams were popular and effective, but he likens it to “dunking on a toddler.”

This is an entertaining documentary and a great crash-course on the ins and outs of Twitter. Director Laurie McGuinness covers thinks like plagiarism on social media, how women are treated differently (meaning poorly), internet outrage, and the unintended consequences of thoughtlessly posting your basest instincts. Twitter can get you hired and it can get you fired. It’s a risk, it’s a connection, it’s a new way of thinking. It can open up your world, if you let it.

p.s. my super awesome Twitter can be found at @AssholeMovies – won’t you be my follower?


I Am Paul Walker

Can you believe it’s been 5 years already since Paul Walker died? This documentary is an homage to the man that was, and it may not be who you thought it was.

Described variously as “the 4th Paul Walker, in a line of badasses” and a “cute kid who stayed pretty his whole life,” Paul got into acting as a child because his mother encouraged him. The work came easily. It may not have been the career he dreamed of – he thought a lot about pursuing marine biology in college – but both the work and the money were hard to resist.

He grew up Mormon and maintained family values his whole life. He was always close to his 3 siblings, and was thrilled when his daughter, who he had young, came to live with paulwalkerhim full time. She made him conscious of time, and he wanted more of it with her. He contemplated quitting acting to have more family time. Notice I said quit acting and not quit Hollywood. He was never in Hollywood, never cared for the lifestyle. If he wasn’t working on a movie, he wasn’t in Hollywood, he was probably out on the water, out dare-deviling, living life to the fullest.

Childhood friends, family members, people he volunteered with, costars – I Am Paul Walker interviews everyone to get to the truth of a man who kept his private life private and his head out of the clouds. And by all accounts, it sounds like Walker was everyone’s best friend, a guy who had “real relationships with everybody.”

Tyrese Gibson, who turns out to have some pretty profound stuff to say about his friend and Fast and Furious costar, says “We’re actors in Paul Walker’s movie.” The directors who admired him and wrote roles for him remember him fondly, his mother aches over his loss, his little brother can’t help but tear up when he talks about the man he idolized.

It always sucks to lose someone so young, but the people who pay tribute to him here leave the impression of a man unlike any other. I wonder sometimes, how much documentaries like this eulogize and in fact lionize the dead, and I suppose it’s only natural that we do that to some extent. What would my documentary sound like? Not nearly as glowing, I’d wager. And yours?

Pick of the Litter

This documentary follows five puppies from birth as they train to become guide dogs to the blind. We literally do get to see Potomac, Patriot, Primrose, Poppet, and…Phil be born, all shiny and new and a little slimy to the world, and by the age of two months they’re already being placed in homes where raisers will abide by strict rules to bring up ideal candidates for the guide dog training program. As Pick of the Litter constantly reminds us, not everyone will make it. In fact, of 800 puppies born to the centre every year, only about 300 turn out to be suitable. The standards are exacting because the job is important. Matched with a visually impaired companion, these dogs will be the seeing eyes for their loved one, keeping them safe, but also giving them a sense of freedom that a cane just can’t mimic. Still, I find it a little heartless to keep throwing the “only the best of the best” tag line in our faces, like it’s a dog’s fault for not being the “ideal candidate.” Not all humans are cut out to be dog trainers, but the rest of us aren’t pieces of shit, we just have other things we’re good at. Can’t we maybe think the same for dogs?

The film is far-reaching, documenting and interviewing everyone involved in the process – the vets, the families, the future recipients. When a dog is deemed unsuitable for the program, there are a lot of broken hearts. “Career changed” is the euphemism employed, though I’m not sure the dogs care or notice as much as we may think. There are many MV5BN2EyMDA1NGMtZmMxNC00YTZjLTkyZDktYTBlMTVmYjkwODlhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEzNjYxMjQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_dedicated volunteers who invest a lot of time into these dogs, and getting cut from the program can seem like a failure; indeed, there are far more applicants for guide dogs than can be handled in any given year. But these are all smart dogs who work hard and do their best. I have four dogs at home: at least 3 of them are geniuses, but none of them would be guide dog material, not even if they’d been bred and trained for the job since birth. They’re hyper and they love to interact. We really do ask a lot of guide dogs, but I know that some dogs really love having a job to do, it makes them feel fulfilled, and I can’t think of a more important job or a more beautiful connection between dog and owner.

It is a testament to the filmmakers (to directors Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman) that I myself felt rather emotionally invested in the process. A lot of love and effort is poured into these dogs before they ever meet their partners. It’s interesting to see the ins and outs of the process, particularly as many of us have noticed little dogs in training vests out and about with their handlers during training. This documentary lets us into the family – right into the dog’s crate, in fact, over a period of two years. It’s uplifting, it’s adorable, it’s sometimes bittersweet. It’s got everything but the wet nose.

Valentine Road

Larry King (not that Larry King) had a pretty rough life. His adoptive parents had 22 complaints about abuse against them. Larry wore jackets at school to hide the bruises. But no one came to save him. When he was finally removed from the home, it was because he had “stolen” food from his adoptive parents’ refrigerator. How hungry was Larry? How sore? He went to a shelter for abused and neglected children where he struggled to identify his orientation. Small for his age, biracial, he experimented with makeup, crocheted scarves, and wore heeled boots to school. Everyone knew him as the gay kid, though he was possibly more accurately transgender, and it didn’t sit well with everyone.

On February 12, 2008, Larry King was shot and killed by a fellow 8th grade classmate – the classmate he’d chosen as his Valentine. A classmate who was so provoked by Larry’s sexuality that he brought a gun to school and shot him in the head, a hate crime that “shocked the nation” (except not really, as Americans have decided that adopting school shootings into their culture is just easier).

The documentary interviews not just students who discriminated against Larry, but teachers as well – one who is religious piece of shit and believes that Larry’s “actions” had “consequences” and a special ed teacher obsessed with weapons. The one teacher who supported him was summarily fired, and now works as a barista. The school has done nothing for grieving students and is tried its best to bury the execution that took place on school grounds.

Yeah, this shit is really difficult to watch. There are too many failures, too many shitty grownups doing nothing. Not just excusing homophobia, but espousing it. It made me sick. But this documentary does something unexpected. It has two victims, not one.

The boy who shot Larry was a white supremacist. But he was also occasionally homeless, with an abusive father and a drug-addicted mother. At the time of the shooting, he was living with his grandfather, who had a lot of weapons lying around. Is he just as much a victim as Larry?

The documentary looks behind the headlines but how much compassion can we really afford to expend here? This shit is unbelievable, and I think we all need to confront what goes on in it, because this film from 2013 was a better predictor of the 2016 election than any of the polls.

This movie made me mad, as it should. It upset me, as it should. It shocked me, as it should. But stories like these continue to fail to galvanize the dirty half of America who breed hatred and value guns over human life.

The Cleaners

Content moderators are the world’s defacto censors.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram have bigger populations than any country or state. Their editorial rules and standards moderate how the world communicates.

But who scrubs the Internet of all the dirt that shouldn’t be there?

The answer lies mostly in the Philippines, where tens of thousands of content moderators flip through 25k images per shift,deciding which to allow, and which to delete. Algorithms can’t scan a picture for what’s appropriate; that’s still a human judgement call. They stop child exploitation, cyber bullying, and terrorism. And, depending on the platform, they may stop a breastfeeding mother from sharing a picture of her son eating or an artist from sharing her painting of Donald Trump and his teeny tiny penis. Though this big business employs many, the content operators must do their work anonymously, for fear of corruption and reprisals. This work goes unseen, unrecognized, and for many of us, unconsidered. When you post an image, do you picture the person tasked with sorting through them? Someone on the other side of the world, unfamiliar with our politics and context – unfamiliar, until their training, with butt plugs and ISIS.

This documentary was fascinating to me because though it directly affects me, and how I navigate and experience the internet, I’ve never spared more than a thought toward these hard working people. It inspired me to imagine what kinds of images and videos they’re forced to watch: none of the flagged images are good, but which are acceptable and which are not, which are morally wrong, which are illegal, which will scar you for life? Because these people have SEEN SOME SHIT. 25 thousand images per day. Think about that. Think about how many beheading videos they’ve witnessed, how many torture videos. Or how much child pornography. For lots of us, even one image is too many. What does it do to your brain – your soul – to see image after image, and to be in charge of keeping the rest of them safe from them?

This documentary asks so little of us – only that we acknowledge that these people exist, and they’ve made our lives easier. But perhaps a thought or two should be spared for these new giants of social media who are deciding our values and attitudes for us; not merely hosting what we share, but shaping it and curating it. It’s dangerous work.

Letter From Masanjia

A woman is rooting through her garage, looking for Halloween decor she can repurpose for her daughter’s 5th birthday, which falls around the holiday. She retrieves a styrofoam grave marker that says RIP, purchased at Kmart 2 years prior but not yet used. Out of the box falls a note, a plea really, begging the recipient to turn it in to a human rights organization. The note details the abuses suffered by the man who made the decorative headstone; it is signed by a prisoner from China’s most notorious forced labour camp – Masanjia.

The woman is understandable freaked out but she complies with the note’s directive – she contacts Human Rights Watch but they are unresponsive. She goes to Kmart with it but they ballsily deny using labour camps, which are illegal. So she goes to her state newspaper, The Oregonian, and it publishes an investigative piece, and basically the story blows up from there – even reaching so far as China, where the people have to bypass a firewall in order to read western news. a man named Sun Yi is surprised to read the story and recognize his note.

Sun Yi had been released from the camp 2 years earlier, but is still haunted by the torture he suffered there. This documentary explores Sun Yi’s experience, the common labour camp experience. Director Leon Lee interviews prison guards, civil rights lawyers, and Sun Yi’s wife. Sun Yi suffered corporeally while in the prison, but his wife and their family faced raids, discrimination, and harassment on the outside.

Sun Yi is not a criminal. He’s a practitioner of falun gong, those slow exercise paired with moral philosophy that espouses tenants of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance – the mind body improved together. China’s communist party felt threatened by the sheer number of falun gong followers, and began persecuting them systematically. Since 1999, Sun Yi had been arrested, detained, or abducted 12 times. Pressure increased around the time of the Olympics (circa 2008) and Sun Yi was ultimately sentenced to two and a half years for being in the possession of printer paper, suggesting he’d printed materials about his beliefs.

To really understand the torture and the suffering of this labour camp, you simply must watch. Sun Yi is a wonderful subject but his stories are tough. His experiences are horrific. But this isn’t just about one man’s harrowing time. It’s about the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of news stories going viral; about paying attention to where and how things are made; about the China’s long arm and continued human rights abuses. Letter From Masanjia is the best kind of eye-opener, unsettling to its core.

Ronnie Coleman: The King

Ronnie Coleman ripped the bodybuilding world in two in 1999 when he appeared on the already crowded scene. A former cop and powerlifter, he ties the record for most Mr. Olympia wins with 8, count em – 8, victories. That’s how you get a nickname like The King.

But since his retirement, he’s been plagued with injury as a result. He’s had numerous back surgeries, and both hips replaced. He needs crutches just to walk. The documentary catches up with him on the eve of his 8th (count em – 8) surgery, and he’s crippled with pain. It’s awful to watch him walk.

His accomplishments are enormous (bodybuilding pun!) and veiny, but told through the MV5BN2M0YmFmM2MtNGIyZS00NjY4LTk1MjgtNGRmNjdjMjE1MDk5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDMxNTQ3MTk@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_prism of his disability, they’re not exactly dimmed, but the context is clearly costly. Too costly, some, in fact most, would say. But as Ronnie pulls up to the supplement store, he parks in the handicap accessibility parking – and even then he barely makes it in. But what is he even doing there? Well, despite the fact that he’s popping the max dosage in pain pills, Ronnie is still drinking his protein shakes because Ronnie is still training. It’s killing him, but he can’t stop.

It’s really interesting to watch someone attain the absolute top in his field, and it’s interesting in a different, guilt-laced way to watch him fall. But Ronnie Coleman with a broken body proves there are different kinds of strength. It’s a mental fortitude he’ll need to cope with his loss. His smile and positive attitude go a long way.

This documentary has everything – the highs and lows, tragedy and comedy. Well, this documentary has almost everything. You don’t achieve 300lbs of lean muscle, go down in history as the greatest bodybuilder of all time, without a little help. But director Vlad Yudin does not so much as whisper the word steroids. So no, there is not complete transparency here, perhaps an effort not to tarnish the king’s image. The picture is incomplete but on the whole it’s still an enjoyable, heartbreaking, uplifting (bodybuilder pun!) watch.