REVIEW: The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker (2023 – Documentary)

Still image from the Netflix documentary, originally from a KMPH News interview.

Directed by Colette Camden.

Every once in a while, my sister will approach me and say: “smash, smash, smash!” or “no matter what you’ve done, you deserve respect, even if you make mistakes. […] You’re worthwhile.” That last quote goes on and on and on. I should explain. My sister doesn’t follow me around to deliver sitcom-like catchphrases or acknowledgments. Rather, she often quotes the ‘songified’ clips from the YouTube channel Schmoyoho. Back in 2013, Schmoyoho released the songified clip “smash. Smash. SMASH!” which featured a viral eyewitness account video of a hitchhiker who describes how he used a hatchet to hit someone, who had picked him up, in the head, when said person endangered a woman’s life. Now, almost exactly ten years later, Netflix has released a documentary about the hitchhiker who became an online sensation. 

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REVIEW: Mumbai Mafia – Police vs The Underworld (2023 – Documentary)

PHOTO: Netflix.

Directed by Raaghav Dar and Francis Longhurst.

To kick off the new year, you would expect that Netflix had a major 2023 film to release. Not so. Instead, their first major release of 2023, The Pale Blue Eye (review coming soon), is technically a very late 2022 film. But since they have released a new documentary straight to Netflix that I believe to be a 2023 release, I thought I would review it to get the 2023 list off and running. So, here we have Raaghav Dar and Francis Longhurst’s Mumbai Mafia: Police vs The Underworld, which, as you can probably guess, is the kind of documentary that gives the basic premise away right there in the title. 

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REVIEW: Fire of Love (2022 – Documentary)

L to R: Maurice and Katia Krafft, in blue winter jackets, gaze upon a volcano in the distance as smoke, steam and ash swirl behind them, in a scene from FIRE OF LOVE (Credit: Image’Est)

Directed by Sara Dosa — Narrated by Miranda July — Available on Disney+ now.

Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love chronicles the careers of famed French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft from their early blossoming romance that took them close to burning hot lava to the unpredictable dangers of the gray volcano eruptions that eventually took their lives. Along the way, the documentary makes sure to emphasize how they were somewhat different, but also how devoted they were to one another, and how they eventually dedicated their lives to communicating the dangers of certain volcanoes and the need for proper timely evacuation.

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REVIEW: NAVALNY (2022 – Documentary)

Alexei Navalny in NAVALNY — PHOTO: HBO / CNN Films / Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed by Daniel Roher.

A shoo-in for the documentary category at the upcoming Academy Awards and one of the best things I’ve seen this year, Daniel Roher’s NAVALNY, in case the title didn’t give it away or if you don’t know his story, is a documentary about imprisoned Russian opposition leader and anti-government protester, Alexei Navalny. The documentary has access to the titular politician and freedom fighter, and he answers all of Roher’s questions in a way that makes him come across as being surprisingly on top of things. Roher’s documentary also features illuminating footage of Navalny during protests, campaigning, essentially doing an edge-of-your-seat gripping investigation, and, of course, some footage of the time he was poisoned (allegedly on the order of the most powerful man in Russia who supposedly sought to silence him).

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REVIEW: Flugt (2021 – Documentary)

Amin in Flugt/Flee — Photo: NEON / Participant.

International Title: Flee — Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

The Danish submission for the upcoming 94th Academy Awards, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flugt, is a mostly-animated documentary film about the experience of one refugee on his bumpy outer journey from Afghanistan via Eastern Europe to Denmark, as well as his complicated inner journey toward acceptance of himself so that he can open up to others and become the man that he wants to be, instead of running away from the sense of normalcy that he may desperately need.

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Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ is the First Masterpiece of 2021

Still Image from Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ — Available on Netflix now.

To tell you the truth, I couldn’t possibly tell you how many times I’ve watched the ending of Bo Burnham’s previous comedy special, Make Happy. With his closing song “Can’t Handle This,” he showed everyone watching the kind of uniquely gifted talent he is. I remember thinking so many times about the line from the song that intimated that Burnham struggled to make himself happy, and I also learned since then that he quit stand-up comedy shows due to him having suffered from severe panic attacks on stage. But his talents off the stage have nonetheless shone since then, which was evident from his incredible directorial feature film debut, Eighth Grade.

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REVIEW: Billie Eilish – The World’s A Little Blurry (2021 – Documentary)

Billie Eilish and her father, Patrick O’Connell, in “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” now streaming on Apple TV+. — Photo: Apple / Apple TV+.

Directed by R. J. Cutler — Distributed by Neon / Apple TV+.

Veteran filmmaker and documentarian R. J. Cutler’s The World’s A Little Blurry is a fantastic year-in-the-life documentary about the rise to stardom for Billie Eilish, the immensely popular teenage singer-songwriter, who, in early 2019, had her debut studio album — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? — released to critical acclaim. Cutler’s film is — for the most part — a vérité documentary that allows you to experience several private moments, as well as critical moments in her — and her brother Finneas’ — creative process, as a fly-on-the-wall. It’s an eye-opening documentary epic (it even has an intermission) about the life of a somewhat anxious teenage superstar that cares deeply about her fans, precisely because she is still a fan at heart, and she knows what it’s like to need that kind of bond. Continue reading “REVIEW: Billie Eilish – The World’s A Little Blurry (2021 – Documentary)”

REVIEW: Collective (2020 – Documentary)

‘Collective,’ Still Image — Photo: HBO Europe / HBO Nordic.

Directed by Alexander Nanau — Seen on HBO Nordic.

It was inevitable that during this global coronavirus pandemic we would all start to think more about the state of our countries’ health systems and hospitals. During both the first and second wave of the pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about how many patients each hospital can take in, and so on and so forth. I thought about all of this as I watched the incredible and infuriating Romanian documentary Collective, which is an exposé of widespread corruption in Romania and a health system that, as one whistleblower puts it, has lost its humanity. Continue reading “REVIEW: Collective (2020 – Documentary)”

REVIEW: Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020 – Documentary)

Dick Johnson Documentary Poster
Release Poster – Netflix

Directed by Kirsten Johnson — Distributed by Netflix.

A couple of years ago, I saw Martin Scorsese’s documentary short film Italianamerican, which is basically a very personal documentary wherein the filmmaker films his parents, has them tell their life stories, and even reveal their best recipes. Since I first saw Italianamerican, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the best way to celebrate your parents in the documentary format. This made me very interested in Kirsten Johnson’s documentary about her father, Dick Johnson is Dead, but when I sat down to watch her documentary, I was slightly trepidatious about what film I was about to watch. The title is obviously ominous, but the poster looks more like a comedy than anything else. I eventually came to realize that Kirsten Johnson’s documentary was the total package. Dick Johnson Is Dead is one of the best documentaries of the year. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020 – Documentary)”

REVIEW: Boys State (2020 – Documentary)

Release Poster – A24 / Apple TV+

The following is a review of Boys State — Directed by Jesse Moss & Amanda McBaine.

Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s Boys State is a documentary about an American leadership and citizenship summer program that teaches young Americans about how politics, government, and campaigning works. Although the documentary focuses on a ‘Boys State,’ there are apparently identical summer programs for young women. The documentary focuses on the 2018 Texas Boys State and the gubernatorial campaigns of the competing Texas Boys State parties the Nationalists and the Federalists, during which it becomes clear that young Americans have learned a lot about politics from the difficult and contentious state of American politics. Continue reading “REVIEW: Boys State (2020 – Documentary)”