– ponderous biopic documentary contains some magnificent and remarkable footage, but Herzog’s gift for matching imagery to words is undermined by his robotic narration and indulgent operatic score. While modern nature documentaries spoil us with 4K or 8K scenes filmed on lenses that produce mindbogglingly high fidelity footage, it’s only really the audacity of the Krafft’s work that lets it compete, and it still comes up short, unable to sustain awe (or interest) for its runtime.
Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer
– compelling though this true crime story is – and it is very gripping – the pretext immanent in the title of the doc, that a bunch of “internet nerds” (as they describe themselves) tracked down and helped catch a killer, is revealed to be BS. Ultimately, the police put out a notice on Interpol and the guy was recognised and arrested. Further, the ethical dilemma the series raises about whether it’s ever appropriate to revel in and elevate the stardom of a murderous narcissistic sociopath is presented as an afterthought, and comes after three hours of glorifying, breathlessly excited footage doing just that. This is a show literally interspersing the killer with his favourite films and cinematic icons, it highlights hundreds of posed and aggrandising pictures of him, it plays extracts of his grotesque home videos, it literally spells out his names in capital letters across the screen for added emphasis. It’s insulting then, not to mention offensively hypocritical, for the series to end by insinuating that the viewer is pandering to the fame-seeking desires of serial killers by watching. Though I enjoyed the ride, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d rather have been nudged to read a Wikipedia article instead. Consider this the nudge.
Three Identical Strangers
– interesting documentary about triplets separated at birth is a thought provoking conversation starter, though the absence of conclusive facts limits its insight, so the conclusion it confidently draws feels flawed at best and unfair at worst.
– harrowing true story of the Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the orders of Mohammed bin Salman. The CGI infographic style of presentation didn’t really do it for me, but the story, CCTV and transcript footage is so jaw-dropping the alternative visuals really aren’t that relevant. Definitely worth watching, if only to remind yourself what individuals in positions of power get away with.
– tightly gripping true crime documentary shows the extraordinary plight of two oblivious girls caught up in one of the most high profile political assassinations of our time – Kim Jong-Nam. Though staid in style, the story is so captivating it really doesn’t need added panache. Brilliant.
My Octopus Teacher
– a documentary about a man who falls in love with an octopus (his words, not mine), and in the process gains more of an appreciation for the natural world. Somewhat less revelatory than I had anticipated given the acclaim it received, this is, nonetheless, a unique insight into an octopus’ world.
Merchants of Doubt
– documentary about the lobbyists hired by corporate behemoths to cast doubt on scientific consensus somehow manages to elicit extraordinarily candid and revealing interviews from the paid spin doctors themselves, leading to some jaw dropping confessions. It imparts great insight into why, despite the facts, progress addressing major health issues is so slow. Everyone should watch and learn from this, especially students and journalists.
– ironic that two of the best documentaries of our era each stem from passionate, articulate and inspiring individuals intent on highlighting the overreach (and in this case, murderous intent) of their respective enemy countries: Snowden in Citizenfour, and Alexei Navalny, with his extraordinary investigations into Putin and the Kremlin. That Putin can be so thoroughly exposed as he is in this documentary and remain in power goes to show the formidable death grip he has on Russia and its people. Hopefully this will not be the end of Navalny’s story.
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing
– not to be confused with the famed WW2 film that prompted one of the internet’s most famous memes, this documentary reveals the astonishing failures and deliberate cover-up that took place at Boeing causing two fatal crashes and the needless deaths of 346 people. While it doesn’t innovate as a documentary, the story it tells is jaw-dropping, and also heavy going at times (fair warning!)
The Sparks Brothers
I’d heard Edgar Wright’s doc was a ‘come for Wright, stay for the Sparks’ type deal, but despite my best effort, the subject matter was simply not interesting enough and the music not to my taste. It’s inventively directed, and I’m sure if you’re a fan of the band, this is exactly what you’ll be after. For the rest of us, it’s a music documentary about a semi-obscure band.
The Mole: Undercover in North Korea
– an astonishing fly-on-the-wall account of a ten year mission to infiltrate North Korea, so far fetched as to be entirely unbelievable without the visual evidence documented here. Jaw dropping and totally gripping. The only question left is where is the accountability?
TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay – Away From Keyboard
– interesting fly-on-the-wall style documentary about the immortal file sharing site and its founders trial and fight back against copyright. Definitely worth watching for people interested in the subject matter, otherwise probably quite dull! Watch free on YouTube…
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
– should probably be mandatory viewing. Attenborough highlights the folly of man’s disregard for the natural world and offers solutions to make amends.
Tiger King S01 (TV)
– batshit crazy biopic cum true-crime documentary about the deadly rivalries between private zoo owners in the USA. Definitely unique and worth watching for the extraordinarily eccentric characters and the eye opening lives they lead. The chronology is chaotic though and the whole series too drawn out. It also feels a little manipulative, as these shows so often do, withholding key information or revealing it in drips to frame audience opinion and maximise shock factor.
– Joaquin Phoenix narrates this sadistic abattoir of a documentary, which throws nauseatingly graphic, savage butchery at you while his Eeyore tones describe it. Too repulsive to actually watch most of the time, I didn’t finish it, and I still feel traumatised. Though no less shocking, in most instances the footage used lacks a source or date, which undermines its integrity somewhat.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator
– documentary is well produced but could be summed up in one paragraph. In fact, the title basically does the job. Not worth the time investment.
– documentary about climber Alex Honnold scaling El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes is nail-biting, edge of the seat, stress-saturated brilliance. The vistas, the personalities, his philosophy and, of course, the feat itself are all profoundly affecting, and together make for an introspective and inspiring piece of cinema.
The Great Hack
– documentary raising the alarm on data manipulation and election rigging is certainly timely (if anything, belated – Twitter just banned political advertising). It deserves viewing, particularly by big data skeptics and critics of Carole Cadwalladr, but in its efforts to be mainstream and accessible, it barely scratches the surface of these major issues, with a narrow focus on a small cast of characters.
Searching for Sugar Man
– unremarkable documentary about a remarkable man.
– the best documentary I’ve ever seen and a fascinating expose of Russian doping. Whether it’s a subject that interests you or not, the political ramifications and behind the scenes machinations by Putin’s government are a stunning reminder that conspiracies do exist.
Banking on Bitcoin
– Interesting but forgettable documentary making the argument for Bitcoin. Mostly subjective content.
– pretty bog standard documentary, carried by the majesty of the genius at its core rather than any cinematic flair
Before the Flood
– basic but accessible documentary about climate change
We Are Legion
– quite an enjoyable documentary about the hacktavist organisation Anonymous, from their beginnings as internet trolls on 4chan and other message boards to the headline grabbing hacking collective
– fascinating and troubling Netflix documentary about the state of race relations in America and how it’s exacerbated by the justice and penal system.
– interesting documentary, not exactly original in the lines it covers, but very worthwhile. Good to hear such experts speak on the subject of privacy, surveillance and copyright.
– gripping documentary but thin on detail. Could have done with a season to thoroughly explore the case and the people.
– amazing, insightful and inspiring documentary about Ross Ulbricht and the Silk Road, and more broadly, the war on drugs
Exit Through The Gift Shop
– weird, but strangely gripping documentary about street artist Mr Brainwash, considered by some to be an elaborate prank by Banksy
– horribly graphic documentary exposing, again, the savagery of the war on drugs, from the perspective of the vigilante groups battling the cartels.
– interesting, if not exactly gripping, documentary
Making a Murderer (TV)
– Gripping court room true crime documentary. Builds steam to around episode 8, but the final few are superfluous.
– Eye opening, astonishing documentary coursing a series of interviews with hero of our time, Edward Snowden. Essential viewing.
– Extraordinary and curious documentary of a reverend and his quest to offer a home to the homeless. Oddly compelling.
Into The Abyss
– disappointingly generic death row documentary, with often seemingly irrelevant and invasive questioning from Herzog. There are vastly superior documentaries. Not ideal Christmas day viewing!
The Act of Killing
– Exceedingly impactful, unique and compelling documentary about the genocide in Indonesia, in which killers reenact their war crimes. Horrifying and unsettling, but somehow very human (perhaps for this precise reason).
Bobby Fischer Against The World
– Interesting and detailed documentary about the chess legend
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
– Illuminating albeit not especially compelling documentary delving in to the secretive heart of the MPAA and their proscriptive rating system.
The Frozen Ground
– Moderately wearisome attempt at a thriller. Cage and Cusack carry it. The script is too revealing to be satisfying, devoid of the intrigue and suspense that’s vital for an effective thriller and without a twist or a solid finishing blow it’s simply too forgettable. The most emotive scenes of the whole film are the factual closing titles.
After Porn Ends
– Boring documentary about the lives of porn stars after they finish porn: spoiler – most of them are real estate agents…
– almost documentary-like conspiracy thriller using a considerable amount of original footage surrounding JFK assassination
– boring, almost documentary style approach to the damage of a global epidemic virus, no Outbreak