Thursday, September 08, 2011

TV Worth Watching

I normally don't watch television unless Jayson happens to accidentally be watching something that interests me, which is rare. But lately we've watched a few documentaries worth mentioning. I like documentaries because some of them are sort of like reality TV only more...real.

Here's what I've seen and what I thought about each one:

Three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas (The West Memphis Three) were convicted of murdering 3 second grade boys during a Satanic ritual. The little boys were tortured, sexually assaulted and horribly mutilated. The teens were convicted based on the coerced confession of one of them who had an IQ of 72 and had no parent or attorney present. They boys all dressed in black, listened to Metallica, and one was Wiccan so that was good enough for the prosecutors. After serving 18 years in prison, one of them on death row, the teens (now men) were released because DNA evidence not available at the time of their arrest proved that they were not the perpetrators.

Personally, I think everyone in law enforcement as well as the prosecutors in West Memphis, Arkansas need to be fired and replaced with people who actually have a clue. John Mark Byers, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys, is certifiably insane and although he looks like he could be the murderer, I'm not sure he has the mental capacity to have carried them out.

The documentaries were very good but beware of very disturbing details and photos of the murders. Rumor has it there is a third documentary in the works that will show the circumstances surrounding their release.

I can't believe BP is still allowed to exist. They are idiots. They were idiots before the spill and they're still idiots after it. The documentary shows their long history of negligence in safety and equipment maintenance. Idiots I tell ya.

Six hours of concentration camp atrocities is a lot for one afternoon but Jayson is very interested in the Holocaust for some reason. Obviously this was not a pleasant documentary but it was educational. Also, it's not one single movie, it's a 6-part series. It goes in chronological order from the birth of Auschwitz until its destruction after the war. It details all the people groups that were taken there, how they were treated, and how they were disposed of.

Several survivors were interviewed during the series and I was struck at how seemingly normal they all were. No doubt they were deeply scarred by what they lived through but I couldn't believe they weren't in a loony bin after all that. I also couldn't believe the interviews with some of the guards who had worked at Auschwitz. I had just assumed that all the Nazis had been convicted of war crimes and put to death. Apparently not. Of course they're very old men now but they admitted they hated the Jews and supported Hitler's Final Solution.

Another thing that struck me was how easily some countries, like France, gave up their Jews. And not just Jews but communists, gypsies, Slavs, and homosexuals. I also learned that Nazis weren't communists, something I had always erroneously believed. I don't know how I got so confused about that.

The series touched on the experiments done by Josef Mengele but focused mainly on the activities of Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, and Heinrich Himmler who was the overseer of all the concentration camps. Hoss (there should be two little dots above the 'o' but I don't know how to do that) lived in a house just outside the camp with his seemingly normal family. He gassed thousands of innocent children during the day then went home in the evening to play with his own. I couldn't reconcile that in my head. Himmler was just pure evil. 

The series is worth watching although we did skip over Linda Ellerbee's panel discussion at the end of each one because she just irritates me.

To offset the heaviness of the Auschwitz documentaries, Jayson chose this one next.  Can I just say, "HOLY COW!"? The Whites are a screwed up hillbilly family living in Boone County, West Virginia. If you think your family is a little dysfunctional and white trashy, just watch this movie and you'll feel tons better about yourself. Either that or you'll see too many parallels to your own family and will want to shoot yourself.

D. Ray and Bertie White had a son, Jesco, who was the subject of a documentary called The Dancing Outlaw. I have not seen that one and don't intend to since this one has completely filled up my white trash meter so I'm good. Jesco is apparently some kind of celebrity in Boone County but so are the rest of his brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, children, etc. based on various public displays of stupidity. They drink. They do drugs. They sell drugs. They go to prison. They have babies. CPS takes their babies. They name their daughters things like Sue Bob, Kirk, and Mousie. And they all have gravely voices like they've been doing heroin for the past 20 years. Because they have. They make one bad choice after another and are confused as to why their lives don't improve. 

I loved it. Two thumbs up.

You might have to be interested in advertising and marketing to enjoy this one but I am so I did. The filmmaker talked to some of the top creatives in the advertising industry including those from Wieden-Kennedy, Hal Riney, George Lois, Doyle Dane Bernbach, TBWA/Chiat/Day, and others. However I was astounded at the lack of representation from my personal favorite Crispin Porter & Bogusky. And that has nothing to do with the adorableness of Alex Bogusky. Honest.
Alex Bogusky

It was fun to hear the people behind some of the world's best known ad campaigns talk about how they came up with their ideas. Think about it. Most of the time it's just one or two people who thought up things like, Where's the beef?, Just do it, Got Milk? and I want my MTV!. Then they had to convince their client that their idea was good. That's where I would fail. I've often thought I should have gone into advertising since I usually describe my dream job as "thinker upper of creative ideas". However, when it came time to sell my idea to someone, I'd probably cave if they didn't like it. I'm not pushy enough and don't have enough confidence that my idea is the best idea cuz what if it's not? 

Anyway, interesting documentary for those who are interested.

Everyone should watch this one immediately. It was amazing. It follows Brazilian artist Vik Muniz over a three year period as he makes art in the world's largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho outside of Rio de Janeiro. I expected it to be a movie about art but it ended up being a movie about how art can bring about hope and change in people's lives.

The catadores are the pickers who work in the landfill to separate the recyclable materials from the trash. To give you an idea of the scale of their work, there are roughly 3000 pickers who collect 200 tons of recyclable material per day. Per DAY. The work is demeaning and unpleasant. They sometimes come across human remains. However for most of them their only opportunity for employment is as a picker, prostitute, or selling drugs.

Vik Muniz not only used some of the pickers as the subjects of portraits, he also allowed them to help make the actual portraits. During that process the pickers began to see themselves as more than just garbage workers but as whole people with skills and value.

Those who were featured in portraits were able to attend the show's opening at the MOMA in Rio which had an attendance second only to Picasso's show. The sale of the portrait and prints has netted approximately $300,000 which Muniz gave to the pickers' association. It has provided the workers with a medical facility, daycare center and skills training center.

Tiao Santos
The portraits are made entirely from the recyclable materials the pickers collect and I was amazed at the detail and beauty Muniz was able to pull from that. It's really incredible. And the president of the pickers' association, Tiao Santos, is an amazing young man and he can marry my daughter if he wants to. Everything in his face, his eyes, his smile, shows how much he cares about the people he works with and his determination to make life better for them.

Trust me. You want to see this one.

I didn't think this documentary was especially good but it's one of those where you get sucked in and can't look away. I'm debating on whether or not to ruin it for you. Okay, I'm going to ruin it so if you plan to see the film and want the surprise factor, stop reading now...if by some miracle you happen to still be reading this boring drivel at all!

Catfish documents Nev Schulman's social media romance with a girl he met on Facebook named Megan. He also befriends (virtually, of course) other members of Megan's family.  As the relationship progresses Nev begins to suspect that Megan isn't who she claims to be so he decides to find out for himself by dropping in on her unexpectedly.

He discovers that Megan is really her 40 year old mother Angela Wesselman who has gone through great lengths to create this imaginary daughter who she pretends to be. She sets up 16 different Facebook accounts so that "Megan" has lots of friend activity on her account. She even has a separate cell phone for Megan who frequently texts Nev.

In the end you feel really sorry for Angela who is obviously lonely despite a husband and a house full of children including two with severe disabilities. I think her social media activities were a way for her to escape her real life and live the one she wishes she'd had. Jayson said she's a nut job. I just think she feels trapped and unhappy and made some insane unwise choices.

There is a little controversy going on now with some people saying the film isn't a documentary but a mockumentary. The filmmakers have said that everything happened exactly the way they showed and nothing about it was contrived. However, the record company who owns the rights to the song that "Megan" wrote and sings in the film disagrees. If it's a documentary, they're not entitled to compensation under fair use laws. But if any part of the film is found to be fake, then the filmmakers will have to pay a licensing fee to the music studio.

My thoughts? Heck if I know! A lot of things about the story don't gel. Why didn't Nev just Google the family when he first had suspicions? That's what any normal person would do. How did they manage to capture every single important moment on film? Why does Angela's husband seem totally okay with Nev showing up and doesn't even ask any questions? But despite all that I suppose it's plausible.

I know this one isn't a documentary but it's recent television that I've watched so that makes it worth mentioning. When I say I've watched it I mean to say that I've watched all of it. All 53 episodes. In one weekend. A friend had been urging me to watch them for over a year but I kept putting it off since it's hard to make myself sit down and pay attention long enough to get through one program. However, my recent documentary marathon obviously retrained my brain on how to veg in front of the tube. And veg I did.

This is some of the best TV comedy I've seen in a long time. Each episode was completely insane, unbelievable and delightful. The characters get under your skin and you can't wait to see what they'll do next. I'm not a big Jason Bateman fan but he does a great job as the straight man in the cast. He's Marilyn Munster. He looks normal on the outside but he's still one of them.

If you watched Soap in the 70s you'll love Arrested Development. All of the characters are whack jobs but it works because the writing is so smart. I've heard a rumor that a movie is in the works. Come on! 


donnaj said...

Have you seen the movie "the boy in the striped pajamas"
? worth watching

Shannon Green said...

I've been avoiding it cuz I know what it's about and it will probably make me cry. I avoid those kind of movies if at all possible.