Icarus starts with director Bryan Fogel deciding to inject himself with doping substances and participate in a biking race undetected. By accident, he ends up in contact with a Russian scientist. This man transforms the movie from a personal experiment to a highly relevant political thriller. Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the scientist is at the center of accusations in Russia of a virtually impossible state-sponsored doping scheme. With links to the Russian president Putin himself, the movie keeps getting more and more interesting as the relationship between Fogel and Rodchenkov develops. Aside from all the madness that unfolds, Rodchenkov’s likeable personality makes the story more relatable and humane, and gives an insight into the pressures of working in the regulatory body in a country like Russia. You will be astonished by how much material this movie has. A must-watch.
The Salt of the Earth is a 2014 biographical documentary about famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Directed and narrated by Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, the film tells Salgado’s life story from his childhood in northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and ultimately the shift to photography that would lead him to over 120 countries as a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capturing humanity and nature in remarkable states of peril, compromise and elegance. From the Brazilian gold mine of Serra Pelada to the Yali Tribe of Papua New Guinea to the war-ravaged people of Rwanda (to name just a few), the film follows Salgado’s career through his photography, accompanied by his personal accounts of his many encounters and impressions. It’s Salgado’s grace, empathy and kindness that shine the brightest—remarkable for a man who has seen (and photographed) the worst of humanity over the course of his lifetime. It’s an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war and death, but it ultimately serves as an exemplary presentation of Salgado’s work and his intimate reflections upon a career dedicated to truth, awareness and beauty.
From countries like Finland to North Korea, this amazing documentary explores the most fascinating active volcanoes on our planet. But as it unfolds you realize that Into the Inferno is a movie as much about volcanoes as it is about the people obsessed with them. And who can be called obsessive more than the film’s own director, Werner Herzog, who, with such an explosive career had to eventually make a film about volcanos (bad pun intended). Beautiful scenery, interesting interviews, and Werner’s majestic delivery all make Into the Inferno both an interesting and satisfying documentary.
Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that raised red flags throughout the cyber-security world in 2010 due to its complexity and ambiguous threat. Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days details the efforts of analysts to painstakingly dissect the Stuxnet code, and ultimately determine that it was the wayward product of a joint effort between the U.S. and Israel governments to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran's Natanz nuclear plant—in the hopes of slowing their development of nuclear weapons. The unfolding mystery of this story plays out with urgency and dismay, as the implications of this covert operation unfold, including the legitimate threat of retaliation by the Iranian government. It’s a stunning real-life thriller from renowned documentary Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that not only details the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative visual manner, but also spells out much of the modern espionage involved in making such an elaborate operation even possible. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much our new reality, and this film deserves to be seen by anyone with any degree of concern over our safety and security in the 21st century.
How to Change the World is an insightful and candid documentary about the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 by a small group of environmentalists and activists in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beginning with their attempt to disrupt U.S. nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska, the film follows their subsequent efforts to thwart commercial whaling in the Pacific, their anti-sealing campaign in Newfoundland, and their ongoing efforts to defend the natural world against what they perceive as excessive human intervention and abuse. How to Change the World is as much a poignant tale of inspired activism as it is an interesting study of the organization’s early tribulations: idealism vs. anarchy, social movement vs. organizational structure (or lack thereof) and leadership vs. disunity. The voice of co-founder Robert Hunter (de facto leader of Greenpeace from inception) is heard posthumously throughout via narrator Barry Pepper, and it adds an impassioned air of gravitas to the film, detailing the many complexities Greenpeace experienced over the course of its early years of growth and development. A compelling and educational viewing experience.
When Russian director Vitaly Mansky is commissioned by the North Korean government to make a documentary about an average Pyongyang child, he follows their every guideline. Except the end result, Under The Sun, is the complete opposite of what they had intended. For example starting every take earlier than they thought, he makes the documentary about the watchdogs around the child and other mechanisms of propaganda. He uses quiet storytelling to expose how brainwashing in a fascist regime takes place, and how the people caught in it function. May just be the smartest, most important film you can watch on North Korea.
An extraordinary documentary full of drama, comedy and heartbreak. It follows two penguins, a couple, for a year as they migrate, give birth and face hardships and tragedy. It captures never seen before moments that stand as a perfect illustration of survival in particular and life in general. All in a very well crafted documentary that you will find both instructive and deeply moving. Won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
From Steven Spielberg, Munich is the sharp and thrilling depiction of Mossad agents on a mission to avenge the Munich Massacre, the killing of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Despite being based on real events, it’s a work of fiction. This allows the film to stand on clear yet nuanced grounds, focusing on the moral dilemmas that may rise for the secret agents and the perpetrators, now targets. The ensemble cast including Daniel Craig and Eric Bana allow Spielberg to deliver the film you can tell he wanted to make. A personal and striking effort.
Based on Michael Lewis’ 2011 non-fiction book, The Big Short follows several disparate Wall Street insiders who predicted the housing market crash of 2007-2008, and bet against the market for huge financial gains. It’s a fascinating look into the inner workings and disrepair of the modern banking industry. A great cast of big names (Bale, Carell, Gosling, Pitt) carry the viewer through all of the intricate complexities of mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, etc.— and make it all both enthralling and highly enjoyable. Kudos to director/co-writer Adam McKay for making it work so well: balancing the humor, frustration and absurdity, punching it up with off-the-wall yet effective asides, and giving us a comprehensible education on the economic meltdown that affected so many millions of people so dramatically. It’s a legitimately important film that everyone should see.
A documentary that is immediate and plays out like a thriller. Beautifully shot in Virunga National Park in the Eastern Congo, the story focuses on the struggles between Park Rangers and a list of adversaries including poachers, oil company goons, and an Islamic revolutionary army. The stories of the endangered gorillas and the people who struggle to protect them will break your heart and at the same time give you hope in humanity. On top of this, the editing is superb and gives the film an intensity that rivals any recent thriller.
A thoughtful drama about the financial crisis, Margin Call is gripping. Seriously, even something as convoluted as the 2008 global economic meltdown is not only accessible and understandable, but it's gripping. Margin Call transports you to the heart of Wall Street, both the financial institutions and the street, literally. It is exciting, well-acted and informative. Uh, also: Kevin Spacey.
An Academy Award nominated documentary about the genocide committed against nearly a million "communists" in Indonesia in 1965. Still in power, the paramilitary of Indonesia commonly known as the gangsters, call themselves "free men" and glorify their acts of government-sanctioned blatant extortion and heinous cruelty while the film cleverly juxtaposes them against the nation's scarred history. The corruption, fear and violence that characterizes the figures of authority in the Indonesian military government are revealed in a raw manner in the film.As its name suggests, the film will take you through the actual act of forcing a human to die. The gangsters that committed all those murders speak about and recreate the gruesome details of the circumstances, methods and experience of taking a life. Even more interestingly, they explore whether they believed it to be the right thing and how their conscience copes with the aftermath.In its dark and abstract ways, it will have you question what you know not only about war crimes and government corruption, but on a much grander plane, about the treatment of the truth in history.