Monday, October 17, 2011

Garbage Warrior

Release Date: 2007
Production Company: Open Eye Media UK, iTV2 International, and Sundance Channel
Director: Oliver Hodge
Run time: 84 minutes
Seen on: Sundance channel, also available on Netflix DVD
Recommended: Enjoyable, but you would not be missing anything by not watching it
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80%

This documentary focuses on the work of New Mexico based "maverick architect" Michael Reynolds. He was a professionally trained architect who came to view traditional architecture as wasteful and hurting the planet. He developed "Earthships" made out of garbage and natural materials to create self-sustaining homes.

He believed that cities were dying and there should be a movement to self-sustaining homes outside of cities. While I applaud his efforts, there is an intrinsic problem with that theory. Everyone cannot afford to move out of cities and become self-sustaining. People in poverty in cities cannot afford their own "earthships." Even if they could, eventually we would run out of space. I was also skeptical of the homes being able to withstand the extreme cold of northern states. However, New Mexico gets surprisingly cold in winter. One can forget that deserts can be cold as well.

The house he was working on at the time of filming was named "Phoenix." It had no water or power lines going in, and no sewage lines going out. It was completely off the grid. It had its own greenhouse growing fruits and veggies. There would also be goats and chickens for the family.

The techniques to build the structures is interesting. He used garbage to create well insulated experimental homes. Glass bottles were used as bricks within concrete walls. The varying colors created a stained glass effect. Two plastic bottles were cut and placed together to create "bricks" placed within concrete walls. Used tires were packed with earth to create a insulated wall.

Because Reynolds' work was experimental, it often had problems. Roofs leaked. South facing window walls overheated homes to dangerous levels. Reynolds had numerous lawsuits against him.

Overall, I enjoyed this film. It was an interesting study in sustainability and made me think about how I can change my everyday life to be more ecological.

After forgetting to blog after a busy fall, I hope to have more posts soon. My recent viewings have included several episodes of Vanguard and The Tillman Story.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Disney Docs: Part 2

Waking Sleeping Beauty

Release Date: 2009

Studio: Stone Circle Pictures
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director: Don Hahn
Run time: 86 minutes
Seen on: Netflix
Recommended: Highly, especially interesting special features on the DVD

This doc was also distributed by an arm of the Disney corporation. It chronicles the Disney Feature Animation Department when it was moved off the main lot after disappointing movies in the early 1980s. The movie does not use new interviews. Rather, it relys on new audio only interviews, vintage interviews, press-kit footage, in-progress and finished animation, and personal films. The personal films taken (often against company policy) are often the most telling footage. Shortly after the Animation Department was moved, the animators were convinced their days were numbered. They chose to spend their time in a full re-creation of the film Apocalypse Now. This "end of days" feeling was evident through the change of location and management. Fortunately, Roy E. Disney was the champion of the department and saved it from destruction.

It shows the effect and discord of the new corporation team of Michael Eisner, Frank G. Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. This was an interesting element of conflict. Behind all these fluffy and pretty animated movies is corporate politics.

This documentary covers The Fox and the Hound in 1981 to The Lion King in 1994. You learn about the time-consuming and labor intensive process of making an animated film. Animators work on several films at the same time, all at different stages of the process. You see behind-the-scenes meetings, song recordings, and the creative process. You learn about the relationships between animators, lyricists and composers, and the studio heads. The combination of archival films and interviews makes you feel as if you get to know and care for those involved. This makes it all the more heart-wrenching learning of composer Howard Ashman's illness and death before the amazing success of Beauty and the Beast. (He was posthumously awarded Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Beauty and the Beast.")

This was a frank and interesting look at how these best loved films were created. Politics, sweat, blood, and ink created these masterpieces. You get a look at the private elements which produced these very public films.

Disney Docs

So this past weekend, I watched the latest in what I call "Disney Documentaries." They are docs about the people who produced the world's best loved movies. The topics range from music, artists, the (almost) lost art of hand-drawn animation, and Disney artists abroad during WWII. There have been several produced by Disney itself. This gives an easy ability to show clips, original artwork, and music. However, the movies do seem a little santized. There is no real criticism, outside of shifting loyalties to different projects.

Frank and Ollie
Release Date: 1995
Production Company: Buena Vista Pictures
Director: Theodore Thomas
Run time: 89 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD
Recommended: Highly, especially if you a fan of the Disney movies
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%

Frank and Ollie was the latest "Disney Doc" I saw. It tells the story of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two animators at Disney. The two college friends started at Disney shortly before the release of Snow White. It begins with the two veteran animators still living next door to one another after years of working together. The documentary switches effectively between their common histories, clips of their work in movies, and their re-enacting of important scenes. In this documentary, one learns about how these men were great animators because they were great actors. They figured out an animal could move and react to give it life and personality. Little things, like the placement of their hands or reaction to another character can bring a flat character to life. My favorite example of this is adding character traits of their young children to animate a petulant Prince John in Robin Hood.

The doc also shows them in their leisure time. We meet each of their wives and dogs. We learn how their carpooling allowed them an extra hour a day to confer and fine-tune their projects. Ollie Johnston had a model railroad large enough to ride through the countryside. Frank Thomas was a pianist who played in the band "Firehouse Five Plus Two," a Dixieland band of Disney animators popular in Hollywood in the 1950s. Unfortunately, their last contribution to Disney films was voice cameos in The Incredibles.

I recommend this documentary for those who grew up on the Disney films. It was an interesting and entertaining look into the work of Disney animators.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mighty Uke

Mighty Uke
Release date: 2009
Production oompany: Tiny Goat
Director: Tony Coleman
Run time: 79 minutes
Shown on: Ovation, channel 155 Comcast Baltimore city

This doc was about the resurgence of the ukulele as a serious musical instrument. It had fallen out of favor for several decades. The ukulele is now being used by artists, Hawaiian people, and the Canadian educational system to teach music to its students. This was an interesting doc. It shared the history of the instrument, as well its as falling out of favor. The doc was a way to pass the time and informative, but I would not watch it again.

My DVR is full of documentaries since I found how to search the listings for them. I think my next one will be "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," recommended by "50 Documentaries to See Before You Die."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Docs in a Year - First Post

So, I have become aware of just how many documentaries I watch. What is the cause? Too much time on my hands? Overabundance of Documentaries on Watch Instantly on Netflix? Great documentary series on PBS and CurrentTV? Or the desire to enrich my mind? In any account, it is probably a combination.

According to my Netflix history, between DVDs and Instant, I have watched 47 documentaries since June 2010. That averages out to about .76 per week. Since my roommates are getting tired of hearing about what new documentary I just watched this week, Steph said I need to write a blog. Sounds like a good idea. I always have too much to say. This way I can get it all out, without driving my wonderful roommates crazy.

Out of the 47 documentaries I watched last year, some still stand out. Others were simply a way to pass the time. I may revisit some of the best documentaries of my past year because they are too good not to mention. These were entertaining, interesting, or emotionally exhausting.

My last doc was "Between the Folds": a film by Vanessa Gould. It is available Instantly on Netflix and was shown on the PBS series Independent Lens. This film shows the numerous artists and surprisingly, scientists who practice origami. There are more approaches to origami than folds in a piece of paper. Some MIT students use planning and theory to create increasingly difficult pieces. Some mathematicians use it to illustrate complex geometric problems. And some artists use massive sheets of paper to create intricate, layered pieces which take hours to create. This documentary was a fasinating look at students, engineers, and artists all taking their own road with the same medium. An interesting and inspiring look at creativity.