documentary

[Docudrama] Soaked in Bleach (2015)

I have been on a Kurt Cobain film kick lately, but this is my last post for now. In case you missed my other three posts on Kurt films, check them out:

Kurt and Courtney

Last Days

Montage of Heck

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Soaked in Bleach is a film I had never heard of until one day I was reading a thread on Reddit that talked about conspiracy flicks (that site is always a fun source…). I checked out the trailer and it sucked me in right away.

In the Spring of 1994, Tom Grant, a Private Investigator, was hired by Courtney Love to locate her husband, Kurt Cobain, who had gone missing shortly following his escape from a rehab centre he was in for heroin addiction. This film documents, in Grant’s own words, the play-by-play of his dealings with Courtney during this period, as well as Kurt’s best friend Dylan who helped Grant gain access to Kurt’s home to search for clues of Kurt’s whereabouts. The whole film seeks to prove that Kurt’s suicide was a murder, and tries mightily to implicate Courtney in the murder.

Soaked in Bleach is a docu-drama; real-life interviews are juxtaposed with lookalike actors used to reinact Grant’s experiences. Because Grant tape-recorded all his conversations with Courtney, the film was able to fashion a somewhat hokey, yet drama-filled story that reminded me of a TV movie. Let me tell you, this film is engrossing…For all the films I have watched on Kurt Cobain recently, and some addressing the possibility that Kurt’s suicide could have been a murder, Soaked in Bleach presents the strongest argument to that claim by picking apart the evidence at hand, including Kurt’s drug levels at death, the suicide note and even more morbid, looking into how Kurt was found holding the rifle he used to kill himself, complete with mockup and animation (not an easy watch). Grant has his own ideas of how things went down, and also a lot of questions that make him want someone in the Seattle Police Department to re-open the case. His questions are further supported by major strongholds in law enforcement and forensics, including the former SPD Police Chief, Norm Stamper, and high-profile Forensic Pathologist, Cyril Wecht.

Grant himself was once a very respected Los Angeles Police Officer, and later became a P.I., considered by many he worked with to have staunch integrity and a real nose for the truth. Grant comes off as egotistical, yet several character witnesses are interviewed in the film that corroborate his history and integrity. Of course, all this is used to bolster his case in an attempt to provide an impression that he is no flake.

But, I have to be honest here: although he brings up some interesting questions supporting his cause, I am not convinced Kurt was murdered, let alone by his wife. I only had to watch the way Grant told the story and how every actor on screen who was NOT Tom Grant acted guilty. No one person was above suspicion here – one might even think watching this film that Grant’s business partner murdered Cobain. At the same time, I have to remember, this story is being presented through the lens of a former police officer- an eye that naturally looks at everyone as suspicious from the start. If one were to listen to Courtney on those tapes, she sounds desperate, affected and coming down from a huge high. Was she able to plot a murder in that state? It’s possible, but in my opinion, doubtful. I have never been Courtney’s biggest fan, but being a drama queen does not a murderer make, and the evidence that attempts to implicate her just isn’t that strong, in my opinion.

The facts as we know them is that one of the most influencial musicians of the 20th Century is dead and the official word is suicide. Should Kurt Cobain’s case be re-opened? If there is any creedence to Grant’s suspicions, I think the truth has a way of worming out without Grant’s obvious witchhunt. Until then, I personally think we need to let Kurt rest in peace.

3.8 / 5

Soaked in Bleach
Dir. Benjamin Statler
2015

[Documentary] Kurt and Courtney (1998)

Kurtandcourtneydvd

I have been on a Kurt Cobain film-watching kick lately. In case you missed my last two posts on Kurt, check them out:

[Documentary] Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

[Film] Last Days

I remember when the documentary, Kurt & Courtney was released… It was March 1998, and I was living in North Bay, Ontario, attending college there. Down the street from where I lived was Video World – a movie rental place I frequented every weekend. It was a great place to rent all sorts of obscure films. For whatever reason, Kurt and Courtney caught my eye, but at the time I was completely burned out on Kurt Cobain’s story, and definitely on Courtney Love. I just didn’t care to watch this film.

Throw forward 15 years later, and my husband and I had a 30-day trial of Netflix. Being a doc junkie, I tried the best I could to get as many documentaries in as I possibly could before the trial ended. At this point, I had loosened my grip on that whole Kurt and Courtney thing and decided to tune in. I have since watched it again recently for this write-up.

Directed by and starring British journalist, Nick Broomfield, Kurt & Courtney follows Broomfield as he interviews people in Kurt Cobain’s life who knew him best, like his ex-girlfriend, Tracy, his best friend, Dylan, and his aunt, Mary, a musician herself, who fostered Kurt’s musical talent in a big way by allowing him to record using her equipment and musical instruments.

At the heart of the film, is the theory that Kurt did not commit suicide, but was murdered. There is the accusation that Courtney is partly responsible for Kurt’s death, either through collusion with someone who she paid to murder him, or as an accessory to his murder. This is brought forward by Courtney’s own father, Hank Harrison, who proudly vilifies his own daughter. He says he doesn’t know if Courtney is responsible, but believes Kurt was murdered, and suspects Courtney knows what happened. Another character, someone who went by the name El Duce, claims Courtney paid him $50,000 to have Kurt knocked off, but never went through with it. The film attempts to cast a shady light onto Courtney herself, who at this point in the timeline has totally changed her image from gutter punk to affected Hollywood starlet. In a brief guerrila-style interview in the film, Courtney is deflective, shifty and dismissive, refusing to answer any questions about anything (which was her right). Although the film brings up some interesting theories on Courtney, I am no further convinced that Kurt’s death wasn’t a suicide. But, then again, I think Broomfield had a hard time not being biased against Courtney. Evidence to this is demonstrated when Broomfield shared the challenges he faced in making Kurt & Courtney; you could definitely hear the disdain in his voice for Courtney from the get-go as she refused to license any Nirvana songs for his film. Further still, when she managed to sic some of her lawyers onto his film’s financial support system in an attempt to halt production, putting the whole documentary’s budget in jeopardy.

Broomfield produced an okay film here; I wouldn’t say Kurt & Courtney was the best film on Kurt, or the most interesting. The off-beat cast of characters in Kurt’s life moved the film along and brought some real humanity to such a tragic story.

3/5

Kurt and Courtney
Dir: Nick Broomfield
1998

[Documentary] Life Itself (2014)

life-itself-poster

I had the love/hate feels for Roger Ebert when I first started watching Siskel and Ebert on TV. Although I had been going to the show from early on in my life, I didn’t take an interest in film criticism until my teens. And, Siskel and Ebert’s show was something I would catch on the tube from time to time. Frankly, early on, I didn’t like Ebert much when he worked with Siskel. He was opinionated (a trait expected from a critic) however, it seemed like he liked to egg Siskel on into a heated argument every episode.

As I got older, I grew into the flavour Siskel and Ebert were aiming for – two duelling critics competing for airtime, each having something important to say. With time, I grew to respect the two, to the point that I shed a tear when Siskel passed away in 1999, and a waterfall when Ebert finally left this mortal coil in 2013. Since both have gone, big film critic shoes are asking to be filled.

Life Itself is a documentary that tells Roger Ebert’s story, from his beginnings growing up as an only child delivering newpapers, to becoming an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, and then a movie critic. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie), we are shown the last few months of Ebert’s life, as he is at the end stages of cancer. The disease had already claimed his jaw, and at the point of filming, he had suffered a fractured hip and was in hospital. I am not going to say this was an easy film to watch. Ebert didn’t look his best (to respectfully put that mildly), but a strength of character was there, and he would convey his feelings often via his MacBook Pro, a text-to-speech program and synthesized voice. He also gained strength from his lovely wife, Chaz, who herself questioned her bravery throughout this ordeal. Interviews with his closest allies and colleagues are given, including Gene Siskel’s wife, who tells of the real-life rivalry between Siskel and Ebert, who both worked for rival Chicago newspapers, were fiercely competative, but who deep-down grew to respect and love one another like brothers, even though this was not seen on camera.

Above all, my takeaway from the film was how much he loved his life and career. The love for his wife was absolutely palpable, and the feeling was definitely mutual, which created a very emotional and endearing documentary. Prepare to have a box of tissues nearby!

10/10

[Documentary] The Hole Story (2011)

(Photo: qpirgconcordia.org)

The Hole Story is an absorbing documentary that explores the origins of mining in Northern Ontario and Quebec, the environmental impacts and the corporate greed associated with mining. The city of Sudbury is one of the main cities showcased, along with fellow towns, Timmins, Cobalt, and Rouyn-Noranda. This was a very eye-opening documentary that really hit me at my core. Let me explain why.

(Photo: Northernlife)

As some of you are aware, I was born and raised in Sudbury, Ontario. Let me share with you two points of what it means to be from this Northern Ontario town:

1. Sudbury is a mining town (The Nickel Capital of the world!) and if you are from Sudbury, you likely know or knew someone who worked for a mine.

2. There is a lot of rock in this town. I wish I was talking music here…

I no longer live in Sudbury, but the rest of my family does, and so does the hubs’ family (we didn’t meet in Sudbury, though). Basically, every time I return home, I am reminded of what Sudbury is about just by observing the landscape:

The Inco (now Vale) Nickel refinery Smelter Superstack* in the distance…

(Photo: wikipedia)

And rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. In fact, everything is built on a rock and what isn’t has been blasted through rock to create whatever.

Blackened rocks (Photo: upload.wikimedia.org)

Being from Sudbury, growing up, I never paid much attention to the landscape until an outsider describes your town differently than you’ve ever thought before. Their description: Barren. Rocky. Ugly. The fact that there weren’t too many trees and the granite that covered our fine city was black from the refinery fallout, and not pink-grey never crossed my mind, because, well, I lived in Sudbury an ignorant kid who didn’t know any different.

Not much was ever mentioned when in Elementary and High School in the 80s we talked about “the environment” as a concept and “acid rain” as a thing but would never utter the words “Inco”, nor ever point a finger towards the Copper Cliff refinery with a “THEM!!” on our lips. Nope. Not when a major employer kept the town going by providing families with a decent wage.

Eventually you educate yourself, or just plain pay more attention to what is around you. You grow up and get more environmental awareness. You read the news on environmental disasters… and then YOUR HOMETOWN is highlighted. The main employer in your old town has a spotlight shining brightly on it as a culprit for the world’s acid rain emissions, and responsible for killing off most of the vegetation around Sudbury by the 1950s, never to see a rejuvenation until 1978 when efforts began to re-forest the city. And what is that you say?? The rocks are NOT supposed to be black??

As this documentary states: “You can’t break the law when you are the law.” The mining companies hold a lot of power over the towns they operate in. Thanks to the Hole Story, if I wasn’t aware of what was literally going on under the shadow of the smokestack, I was certainly in for a shocking experience.

Sudbury has very much grown back most of the vegetation lost from the 50s. The black rock is also slowly gaining back its light pink shade, making the city more luscious and green.

I definitely feel that being from Northern Ontario had a lot to do with my interest in the Hole Story, but anyone who enjoys films on the corruption of “big smoke” capitalism and environmentalism would take away plenty from this film. The Hole Story is one of those rare films where you think the content is going to be heavy, but then 80 minutes go by effortlessly and you walk away learning a thing or two. I was seriously swept away by such an interesting piece of journalism and I truly recommend it.

Currently streaming on Netflix Canada, and free to watch on the National Film Board of Canada website: nfb.com @.

9.5/10

*Say Smelter Superstack three times. You’re welcome.

@ Sorry, I think this website is regional, so if you are from outside of Canada, you might not be allowed to watch the film on NFB.

[Documentary] Catfish (2010)

(Photo:ecx.images-amazon.com)

Nev is a photographer from New York who had one of his photos published in a magazine. Soon thereafter, an artist by the name of Abby sends him a painting inspired by this photo and the two begin an online friendship. Abby, he learns, is only nine years old – obviously a painting prodigy!

One of the paintings done of Nev (Photo:jwblackboard.com)

He soon gets involved with Abby’s family; her mom, Angela, her Dad, her brother and soon strikes up a relationship with older sister, Megan. Nev carries on these relationships on Facebook all under the watchful lens of his filmmaker brother Rel and close friend Henry – both eager for a story and to keep their cameras rolling as Nev grows very fond of Megan. Meanwhile, Angela sends him Abby’s paintings. Nothing is what it seems, however, as over time, innocent questions are asked and secrets and lies begin to reveal themselves.

The good: very intriguing, suspenseful and unforgettable story. Those paintings are great!

The bad: There is nothing feel-good about watching this film.

This film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. As the story goes, Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame reportedly told the filmmakers of Catfish, “Nice work of fiction, fellas.” I am paraphrasing here, but I can’t help but wonder if there is a little truth to that statement. The reason for the critique is that what happens in Catfish is unbelievable. How things play out is almost too perfect not to be scripted. Despite the comments about this film being fake, the filmmakers say this is a bonafide documentary.

Regardless of the controversy, Catfish is still a worthy watch. It’s shocking, and raises the question: do we really know who anyone is online? Do yourself a favour; don’t read any more on this film before watching it. Just check it out. You won’t be disappointed!

8.5/10

 

[Documentary] The Waiting Room (2012)

Who hasn’t waited hours to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic or emergency room?

I live in a small town that has one walk-in clinic only open on certain days at certain times. The next nearest clinic serves Boxgrove, a growing-by-the-minute community located in northeast Markham, Ontario; a bustling office that is efficient but very very busy. That said, where I’m from, it’s a very rare occurrence to walk in, register and see a doctor in 15 minutes.

The Waiting Room, a documentary by Peter Nicks showcases the daily comings and goings of an emergency room in Oakland, California. Most of the people highlighted in the film are those who are poor, mostly unemployed, and have no insurance to pay for treatment. It shows people in pain, people complaining about the wait, and some of them receiving treatment.

The good: I like slice-of-life docs, and this was…

The bad: While patients wait, so does the viewer…for something to happen!

The Healthcare system in the United States is not a foreign concept to me, but having to worry about paying the doctor at the end of a visit is something I have never had to worry about personally, being Canadian and living under a universal healthcare system. That in mind, having to wait hours to see a doctor is quite common where I am from, not to mention a patient’s lack of a family physician. Taking it from personal experience, it doesn’t matter how much money someone has. The similarities of having to wait for hours to see someone…that urgency to speak to someone that could help us feel better is familiar and palpable in a waiting room. But, as the saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads; If someone comes in behind me with a sucking head wound, they’ll be seen ahead of me. Guess I’ll be sitting on my bladder infection a little longer (and it’s as it should be.).

I must have had a larger expectation for The Waiting Room than what it gave me. The film was a slice of the daily happenings in the ER, but it was really just an overhead view. I didn’t feel I took anything away from it other than, yeah, ERs are busy, you’ll have to wait, and if you live in the States, you are on the hook for treatment. I knew this already. I wished at the end that the film went more into “it” somehow. “It”? Yes, meaning went more into ANYTHING. Claw back the curtain. Are there any secrets to tell? Cuts to funding? I noticed all the construction equipment going on outside – what’s that about? Or study the lives of the ER doctors – what have they dealt with working there? The film looks at the patients, but from a very top level “on the surface” perspective. Divorced father of three, unemployed for a year, brings daughter into ER for throat infection. I am sure there is a much larger story. The uninsured guy who had a mass in his testicles that needed surgery right away was interesting enough, but we never hear any more.  Am I watching a documentary or a security camera with the sound turned off?

The Waiting Room reveals very little extra to the whole North American ER experience.

6/10