Our weekly doc roundup collects critical reactions to some current documentary releases in the theaters and on DVD.
IN THEATERS NOW
Helvetica, the documentary about a typeface, gets four stars from the Chicago Tribune, which calls the film “…80 unexpectedly blissful minutes.” But apparently, 80 minutes was too long for the New York Times, which said Helvetica was “overlong but fascinating.” Overall, the film garnered very positive reviews, so even if you can’t tell the difference between a serif font and a san serif font, you might want to check out Helvetica.
Doc Blooger A.J. Schnack’s Kurt Cobain About A Son is based on the more than 25 hours of audiotape from interviews journalist Michael Azzerad conducted with Kurt Cobain shortly before he committed suicide in April 1994. Made without permission to use the music of Nirvana on the soundtrack, the film, says TV Guide, is “austerely beautiful and deeply moving.” The L.A. Times says that “…the film will likely appeal to the type of completist who covets alternative takes of previously released songs or collections of obscure B-sides”, and in an otherwise positive review, the Onion A.V. Club seems to agree that the film is only for those who are already fans of Nirvana, stating that “About A Son [does] not let in anybody who doesn’t already have one foot in Nirvana’s doorway.”
Lake of Fire, which offers graphic, inflammatory images from the abortion wars in black and white, gets a remarkable 100% rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critics almost unanimously recommend the film, with New York Magazine calling it “a sprawling, scary, nearly unbearable film [that’s] more important than ever.” In a thoughtful review full of both praise and recriminations, Manhola Dargis of the New York Times points out that the film, which she calls “fascinating, discomfiting, at times unpleasant, confused and confusing…,” “…has an awful lot of men talking about what women should and should not do with their bodies.”
Four-year-old Maria Olmstead has sold over $300,000 worth of paintings. In My Kid Could Paint That, filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev tries to figure out if Maria really painted the canvases, or if the entire thing is an elaborate con by Maria’s parents. Variety says the filmmaker handled a “fascinating subject … with intelligently provocative care,” but some critics bemoans the open-endedness of the film as less than satisfying while others appreciate the opportunity to draw a conclusion for themselves.
In 51 Birch Street, Doug Black examines his parents’ 54-year marriage and uncovers long-buried family secrets. A.O. Scott of theNew York Times called the film one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries [he’s] seen this year.”
God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys from Sudan follow three young men who fled from Sudan to Ethiopia to Kenya and finally, to the United States. The Washington Post called the film “…affecting and engaging.” For more on the subject of African refugees, check out the 2004 POV film Lost Boys of Sudan, which also followed young refugees from the Sudan, and 2007 POV film Rain in a Dry Land, which followed two Somali refugee families to Springfield, Massachusetts and Atlanta, Georgia.