16 November, 2006

Becoming a Documentarien

Netflix is a great service, and they happen to have a lot of documentaries that aren't carried at your local movie rental store. I've watched more documentaries this year than I have in my entire life. It's quite entertaining, and educational, too. These are some of the best ones I've seen.
  • Super Size Me - A lot of people have heard of this movie, but it's still one of the best documentaries around. This guy goes on a McDonald's diet for a month to see what happens. He has four doctors and a nutritionist monitoring him the whole time. He starts to have liver problems and the doctors tell him to stop; it's kind of alarming. He also talks about the meat industry, the environmental impact of these companies, what food in schools is like, and tons of other great stuff. The special features has an interview with Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation (which is an awesome book, too). This film won Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, 2004. Anybody who eats needs to see this movie. Website.

  • The Corporation - Right now, this is my favorite documentary of all time. It looks at the modern corporate world with a critical eye. Not only does it have an enormous amount of glorious information, it's put together extremely well and is very entertaining to watch. Interviews include Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, various corporate CEOs (some good and others not so good), victims of illegal corporate actions, stock traders, authors, the list goes on and on. They cover how corporations started, how they've progressed, and what they do now, being the world's premiere superpower. Once they tell you about how corporations are legally considered a person, they get a psychologist to evaluate this artificial "person." The diagnosis: A psychopath. Inability to feel guilt, disregard for people's feelings, these are all characteristics of the psychopathic entity that is a corporation. This documentary is an absolute MUST see, because it's not illegal to falsify the news (No, really; It isn't). Website.

  • Wal-Mart - I've also seen a couple different documentaries about Wal-Mart. The first was PBS Frontline Is Wal-Mart Good For America? It was made a few years ago, so some of the figures and board members have changed, but it's still quite enlightening. They actually interview the Wal-Mart spokesperson, and he doesn't give many definite answers. They have some very disturbing stats about Wally World, too. They can be seen here, on their website.

    The other film I watched about the great blue store was Wal-Mart: The High Cost of a Low Price. I don't think this film had quite as large of a budget as some of the others, but it's still good. It gives you a different perspective, actually talking with former employees of home-town stores that Wal-Mart put out of business, and former Wal-Mart employees who were discriminated against, and some wouldn't even show their face, they were afraid of Wal-Mart so much. It also has quite a bit of footage from Wal-Mart "pep-rallies," if you will. That's where a ton (probably around 2,000) associates get together in this stadium and hear about their "progress." It's pretty scary. Website.

    Both documentaries are good, and part of the reason I don't shop at America's favorite store.

  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - Oh, boy. I hadn't learned much of anything about the Enron scandal, but I've been educated now. What these guys did just earned one of them 12 years in prison. That would be Jeff Skilling, one of the main culprits in the economic disaster. It has footage from internal company meetings with employees, and you can see the progression from the happy money-making CEOs, to the distraught nervous CEOs that are about to be uncovered. A few days after the company went under, one of the executives committed suicide. 20,000 people lost their jobs; They were only given 30 minutes to pack everything up and leave. They have recordings of traders talking with each other about the California economy, the traders calling power-plant operators and telling them to shut down; It all seems unreal. This film is rated R because one of the former executives had an obsession with strippers. He left before things got bad and still lives happily in Hawaii. He wasn't fined, he didn't serve time, he just got a condo in Maui. This documentary is a glimpse in to the sickness of human nature. Highly recommended. Website.

  • Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion - Although I don't remember a lot of particular facts from this film, it made me realize just how easy we Americans have it, and how inconsequential the things I've done are. Talking about the history between China and Tibet, how they invaded and took over monasteries, tortured and killed the monks. One of the surviving monks goes all over the world now, speaking and showing the tools with which he was tortured; An electric cattle prod being the most prominent. Graphic pictures of people being prodded in the mouth, catching themselves on fire to send a message to the world. Another insight into human nature, and it makes you think about what you should do with your life. An excellent documentary. Website.

  • Word Wars - On a lighter note, this movie was about people completely and utterly obsessed with Scrabble. It follows four guys who are all working towards the national championships in San Diego. Some of these guys have no life at all. Zip, zero, zilch. Nothing but Scrabble. "G.I. Joel" is one of the main players, and he has the least life out of all of them. He got the nickname "G.I." which stands for gastro-intestinal. He has acid-reflux problems, and is constantly chugging Maalox throughout the movie. Parents be warned, although this movie is unrated, there is quite a bit of foul language, particularly from one of the main guys. This film didn't have any particular emotional impact on me, but it was entertaining and now I know what NOT to do with my life. Website.
There are a few others I want to see: Outfoxed, by the same guys that made High Cost of a Low Price, which is about Fox News; The Future of Food which a friend told me about; and An Inconvenient Truth which is Al Gore's documentary about global warming, and will be released on November 21st. They will all be in the Netflix queue soon.

There are thousands of documentaries out there. The good ones make you think about how you live, how to make a difference in the world, what not to do, and present it in an entertaining manner. Don't be like one of those Enron CEOs. Don't let your life be sucked away into a board game. Do help people in whatever way you can, do avoid Wal-Mart and McDonald's, and be a good person in general. The world will thank you for it.


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