Documentary quicktakes

Juan Catalan

I’ve seen a ton of great documentaries over the past few months. I don’t have time to review them all, but I would like to mention a few of the notable ones I’ve seen.

Energy

To start things off, I have two documentaries that deal with energy. The first is Al Gore’s sequel to an Inconvenient Truth.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power ā€“ Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk, and Al Gore
Rating ****

Less slideshow and more dramatic images of the ill-effects of climate change. This time Al Gore takes a closer look at the politics behind climate change. The conclusion he comes to is that the damage occurring under the current administration, especially Scott Pruit, will take years to undo. I especially liked the segments with the FOX news yahoos like Sean Hannity mocking anyone who even mentions the phrase climate change.

Newman directed by John Fox
Rating *** 1/2

This documentary tells the story of Joeseph Newman and his perpetual motion machine. It starts out with you rooting for the guy as he goes up against the United States Patent Bureau, which refuses to grant him a patent on his machine.

Does the machine work? That question is never answered. There are plenty of public demonstrations, but Newman’s machine is held together by duck tape and dangling wires. It’s all shrouded in mystery.

The last third of the film uncovers perhaps one of the biggest obstacles Joeseph Newman has in getting recognition for his invention ā€“ himself. It turns out that Newman is a narsacistic psychopath. All I can say is that I have never seen a mental breakdown like what was captured by the filmmakers when Newman goes ballistic.

Miscellaneous

Voyeur directed by Myles Kane, Josh Koury
Rating *** 1/2

A man buys a hotel for the sole purpose of spying on guests through vents in the ceiling. After doing this for decades without getting caught, he decides to contact a writer he admires, Gay Talese, to tell him about his years of “research.”

Talese writes an article in the New Yorker and then goes on to write a book about the man Gerald Foos and his years of watching guests from his secret observation platform. As a writer myself, I was drawn to how Talese would tackle the subject.

I ended up not caring much for either Foos or Talese. Talese came across as arrogant and above everyone, including the filmmakers who he called “just camera operators.” But Talese lost me for good when a reporter confronted him with a possible falsehood in his book. Rather than take the simple step of calling his source to get clarification he goes off the rails and tries to distance himself from the whole project.

Longshot directed by Jacob LaMendola
Rating *****

If you see only one of the documentaries listed here, see this one. It’s forty minutes long and available on Netflix. Longshot tells the story of Juan Catalan who was arrested for murder.

It’s part wrongful conviction story and part detective story. This story shows how easy it is for a wrongful conviction to happen and the difference a competent attorney can make.

I write a lot about crooked detectives, shortsighted prosecutors, and incompetent attorneys. The attorney in this case, Tod Melnik, demonstrates how its supposed to work. After watching this film, ask yourself if Juan would have had the same outcome with a public defender representing him?

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