Screening Room: ‘Sea of Shadows’

The new documentary Sea of Shadows uses the incredible story of how environmental activists and the Mexican military are fighting cartels to save an endangered whale to highlight what the extinction of one species means for the future.

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Richard Ladkani (The Ivory Game), Sea of Shadows opens this Friday. My review is at Slant:

The whale in question is the vaquita, a dolphin-like creature endemic to the Gulf of California. At the time of this film’s making, there were most likely less than 15 left alive. Not a target of hunting themselves, the vaquitas had the bad luck of swimming in the same waters as the heavily fished totoaba and dying in the nets meant to catch their more valuable neighbors. The vaquitas are ultimately collateral damage in an illegal fishing scheme driven by greed, economic insecurity, failing security apparatuses, interstate organized crime, and more…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Woodstock’

No, not that movie called Woodstock. This is a different documentary, much shorter, and more about the planning and execution. So, less music. But, still: Hendrix.

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation opens this week in limited release, and should be broadcast in August on PBS’s American Experience.

My review is at Slant:

According to Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation, the 1969 Woodstock festival seemed fated to fail. But a rare convergence of good luck, good intentions, and good vibes somehow snapped into place and crystallized over a few days in August the aspirations of a counterculture about to hit its peak…

Screening Room: ‘In the Intense Now’

In Joao Moreira Salles’ beautifully wrought documentary, In the Intense Now, an impressionistic flow of amateur footage captures the joy and despair of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. It’s an incredible trip.

My review is at PopMatters:

The movie’s first half (“Back to the Factory”) starts with the street battles that ripped through Paris in May 1968. As far as Salles tries to explain it, narrating with a sonorous moodiness and marveling wonder, the protests were a sudden flaring crucible in which all the ferment of the Sixties burned white-hot over a few short weeks…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Combat Obscura’

During 2011-2012, cameraman Miles Lagoze tracked the lives and deaths of his fellow Marines as they battled the Taliban, boredom, rage, ennui, and bafflement at what the hell they were even doing in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. When he came back home, there was a lot of footage the Corps didn’t want the public to see.

The result is his documentary Combat Obscura, which is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

The best and most vital documentary about front-line combat in the never-ending Wars on Terror since Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo (2010), Combat Obscura comes in swinging, with something of a chip on its shoulder…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Brink’

In Alison Klayman’s new documentary The Brink, she follows ex-Trump strategist and burgeoning nationalist power broker as he trots the globe fomenting populist revolt.

The Brink just opened in limited release and should be expanding soon. My review is at Slant:

To paraphrase Fran Lebowitz on Donald Trump, conservative firebrand Steve Bannon is a nitwit’s idea of an intellectual. A semi-book-smart gadfly with a decent sense of humor, the vainglorious Bannon thinks in century-spanning terms that always involve him and his cohorts standing heroically at the barricades defending Western civilization. This portrait of Bannon comes through with sharp clarity in Alison Klayman’s immersive documentary on the Republican party’s new Lee Atwater—or maybe their Sun-Tzu, as Bannon would likely prefer…

Screening Room: ‘The Inventor’

(Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Drew Kelly)

The latest documentary from the ever-prolific Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Going Clear) digs into the dark, weird, and ultimately all-too-familiar story of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who promised a miracle.

The Inventor premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will be broadcast this Monday on HBO.

My review is at Slant:

Elizabeth Holmes, the Steve Jobs-aping wunderkind who launched the radically innovative and radically deceptive blood-testing company Theranos when she was just 19, claimed to have a thing for Thomas Edison. Most inventors do. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This Edison quote is one that director Alex Gibney puts on the screen in his substantively hard-edged, if somewhat generically constructed, documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, to remind his audience of at least one source from which the dogged Holmes drew her inspiration…

Screening Room: ‘Fyre’

Fyre was supposed to be the great music festival of 2017. Instead it turned into a social media schadenfreude disaster. Now Chris Smith (of American Movie fame) made a documentary out of it. Sometimes we get lucky that way.

Fyre opens in limited release and will be available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Slant:

The video ads for the Fyre Festival looked amazing when they first rippled through the Instagram feeds of influencer models like Bela Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski in late 2016. For a certain kind of status-seeker, marooned somewhere cold and just waiting for the next warm-climate EDM gathering, the marketing for the music festival promised a bro heaven populated only by models…

Here is the trailer: