It’s the end of the year so we have a lot of movies to get through before voting. If I have to sit through them, you have to read about them. Everything discussed here is available on DVD or whatever new high-tech method you use to get your movies.
This week: Documentaries!
Ever wonder what “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” would have been like if it were a true story — without the genetic engineering and the ape rebellion? “Project Nim” is the bizarre story that shows truth can be stranger than science fiction.
In the 1970s Herbert Terrace, a professor at Columbia University, took a young chimpanzee out of a simian facility in Oklahoma (who knew there were ape refuges in Oklahoma?) and had it raised with a human family to see if it could learn to communicate via sign language.
The chimp — named Nim — picks up on signing but it’s debatable whether he understand what he’s saying or merely mimicking adults. When Nim turns 5 the professor decides he’s done and ships the animal back to Oklahoma, where he goes from being spoiled child to rat in a cage. And it gets more astonishing from there. Fascinating stuff and an emotional roller-coaster ride.
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
A fairly even-handed account of the rise and fall of the Earth Liberation Front, a bunch of tree-huggers who, a few decades back, went about setting fires when they realized protesting doesn’t get anything done.
The film centers on Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who faced terrorism charges for his role in torching a couple of places. The film presents McGowan in a sympathetic light but doesn’t try to make him a hero. He comes across as an activist who got carried away and by the time he realized he’d gone too far it was too late.
The film questions whether it’s right to label arsonists as “terrorists” and try them as such, but it also presents the views of law enforcement as well as the victims of the crime. Another intriguing look at a story I was largely unfamiliar with.
The Other F Word
A sometimes funny, sometimes poignant look at what happens when punk rockers become fathers. Since I’m not that familiar with punk rock, I didn’t recognize most of the people involved or the bands they play in.
This film centers on Jim Lindberg, lead singer for Pennywise, as he’s about to leave his young daughters for a long, grueling concert tour. Since most punk rockers don’t achieve the success of a U2 or a Springsteen, they spend countless hours on the road in “Spinal Tap”-like conditions.
Not only is rock-star touring and partying a young man’s game, but these musicians whose credo is “F— Authority” now find themselves as authorities and role models to their children. And since many of them came from broken families, they have a strong desire to get it right.
Also an interesting documentary, although I wish they had spent more time with some of the children and spouses to get their views. Hearing from some of the rockers’ parents would have added more to it as well.