June 4, 2020: Documentary Recommendation: Curse of the Elephant Man (2003)
Poem used by Joseph Merrick to end his letters, adapted from “False Greatness” by Issac Watts
Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God; Could I create myself anew I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole Or grasp the ocean with a span, I would be measured by the soul;
The mind’s the standard of the man.
There’s not much to offer of this documentary when it comes to the people behind it. It was written by Malcolm Hall and Paul Trotman. The Curse of the Elephant Man has a running time of 49 minutes. The subject matter covers the debilitating disease Joseph Merrick had and his remaining family members. While it is still unclear what genetic mutation he had, scientists believe it was a combination of the Proteus syndrome (overgrowth of skin, bones, muscles, fatty tissues, and blood and lymphatic vessels) and neurofibromatosis (tumors growth on nervous system) that killed him at the age of 27 in 1890. It also includes currently living people with the same symptoms and appearances as Merrick. The most intriguing part is where they show what Merrick would have looked like if he wasn’t born with these mutations. If you don’t have Amazon, you can also find it online.
I rate The Curse of the Elephant Man GREAT at 90%.
May 20, 2020: Documentary Recommendation: Finding Oscar (2016)
Producers: Scott Greathead, Nick Loud, Frank Marshall, Martin Singer, Stephen D. Smith, Steven Spielberg, and Ryan Suffern
Director: Ryan Suffern
Writers: Mark Monroe and Ryan Suffern
I found out about this documentary by searching worthwhile documentaries to watch because let’s face it, I can only watch so many CSI episodes in any given time period. The title Finding Oscar is only part of the massacre that occurred in a small Guatemalan village of Dos Erres in December of 1982. This particular massacre was in retaliation of guerrillas killing 21 soldiers near Dos Erres and the Guatemalan Army’s response was to send in the Kaibiles, disguised as guerrillas, with the order to kill everyone. There’s knee and tearjerking footage and interviews of key members of the Kaibiles army and the few remaining survivors. The two children that survived was Ramiro Osorio Cristales and Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda. Despite the horrific devastation by the hands of the Guatemalan government, General Efraín Ríos Montt eventually lost his power and several presidents admitted the government’s responsibility for the massacre. Despite the formal apology, asking for forgiveness, and monetary retribution, the best part comes at the end where it becomes evident the circle has less of a gap and a little bit of justice has been achieved. I won’t spoil the ending except to say it ends on a high note.
I rate Finding Oscar: Four Fingers and One Thumb at 97%
March 31, 2020: Movie Recommendation: The Report (2019)
Quote by Daniel Jones
“No. If it’s gonna come out, it’s gonna come out the right way.”
Writer and Director: Scott Z. Burns
Executive Producers: Michael Di Verdi, Natalie Farrey, Vincent Landay, Tj Rinomato, and Lila Yacoub
Major Cast: Adam Driver as Daniel Jones, Jon Hamm as Denis McDonough, Jennifer Morrison as Caroline Krass, Annette Benning as Senator Dianne Feinstein, Ted Levine as John Brennan, Douglas Hodge as James Mitchell, T. Ryder Smith as Bruce Jessen, Carlos Gómez as José Rodriguez, Linda Powell as Marcy Morris, Pun Bandhu as John Yoo, John Rothman as Sheldon Whitehouse, Noah Bean as Martin Heinrich, Scott Shepherd as Mark Udall, Maura Tierney as Bernadette (based from Gina Haspel), Ian Blackman as Cofer Black, Dominic Fumusa as George Tenet, Fajer Al-Kaisi as Ali Soufan, Joseph Siravo as John Rizzo, Zuhdi Boueri as Abu Zubaydah, and Ratnesh Dubey as Khaled Sheikh Muhammaad
Genres: Biography, Crime, Drama
Running Time: 1 hour and 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some scenes of inhumane treatment and torture, and language
Watch the Trailer
A Short Summary
The motto of the CIA is “Ye shall know the truth and it shall set you free.” The current director is Gina Haspel and is the only government agency authorized to do covert operations. It doesn’t have law enforcement functions, unlike the FBI which operates under the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). What does this have to do with this movie based on real events and people? Because when one person, Daniel Jones, got an itch, it ended with 6,000+ page report and a condensed 600 page summary from the Democratic majority at the time.
The Report begins with Jones, a Senate staffer, leading an investigation into the CIA’s destruction of their videotapes, at the request of his boss, Senator Dianne Feinstein. This is when he discovers the Detention and Interrogation Program created after 9/11 wasn’t as successfully portrayed by the CIA. As he digs further into the operations, he uncovers the obvious contrast between the FBI and CIA methods to obtain information from detainees. With Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell in charge of the enhanced interrogation techniques as well as seeing how effective they are, Jones realizes this a conflict of interest.
Jones further researches into the interrogation techniques and reports his findings to Feinstein including false reporting by the CIA of Zubaydah. Jones and his fellow researcher uncover more stories including Rahman who died in 2002 and the problems that arose when interrogating Mohammad in that he lied to stop the torture. As the CIA feels cornered, two lawyers and three IT specialists access without permission the Senate Intelligence Committee closed faciliy. When the investigation is done, it works its way through the proper channels. By the end of the movie, it’s a kind of slap in the face reality. The performances by Adam Driver, Annette Benning, and Ted Levine (hardly recognized him as John Brennan) are enough reason to watch it and, of course, for the story itself.
Some Reactions from the Real People
Former AZ Senator, John McCain: “It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose — to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the US and our allies — but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”
Former CIA Director, John Brennan: “It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against [Osama] bin Laden.”
Former CIA director, Michael Hayden: “I think the conclusions they drew were analytically offensive and almost street-like in their simplistic language and conclusions.”
Former Vice President of the U.S., Dick Cheney: “What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation, and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it…I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”
Former Secretary of State, John Kerry: “It was right to end these practices for a simple but powerful reason: they were at odds with our values. They are not who we are, and they’re not who or what we had to become, because the most powerful country on earth doesn’t have to choose between protecting our security and promoting our values.”
Former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales: “My initial reaction was disappointment, disappointment about the report generally because I don’t know how much of it is true. Since it was signed only by Democrats, I don’t know whether information that was in the report was placed out of context. I don’t know what omissions of fact and evidence exists. And obviously, we know key participants, key witnesses, key players in this weren’t even interviewed and for that reason, I think the report is terribly flawed.”
Former President of the U.S., Barack Obama: “These techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners.”
Some Torture Report Facts
119 detainees were held at CIA sites between 2002 and 2008. This is 20 more than previously reported by the CIA.
113 individuals were captured between 2002 and 2004.
39 detainees were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. This included sleep deprivation, waterboarding, prolonged standing, and exposure to cold.
At least 26 detainees were found to be held without merit.
At least five detainees were subjected to rectal re-hydration.
At least three detainees were waterboarded.
At least one detainee died in custody, possibly due to hypothermia.
I rate The Report Four Fingers of GREAT at 90%.
February 26, 2020: Last Three Documentaries I Watched
I decided to do this a little differently this time around. I’m not going to list all the behind the scenes people involved and focus more on the content of each documentary and my short thoughts on each one.
Inequality for All (2013) is the first one I watched. It covers the former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, as he makes it his life mission teaching others about the dangers of the widening economic gap in the U.S. and its consequences. He brings up valid points and stresses the positives about a capitalistic society that can work for everyone instead of the top 1% of earners. They basically take up 20% of the income and as Reich points out the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. So long the American Dream, it doesn’t exist anymore, but hopefully change will not make things look so sour for most of us. The favorite part of it was the statistical data and graphics. My thoughts about the American economy: I hope I can retire at a decent age and where someone doesn’t have to bury me in a pauper’s grave. It is one hour and 29 minutes and watched it on Netflix.
Crime + Punishment (2018) is the second one I watched. It covers the 12 whistle blowers in the NYPD who exposed the illegal quota practices. Just because a piece of paper is passed around outlawing quota practices in 2010 doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur now. As interactions between superiors and street patrol officers are secretly filmed, retaliation for bringing this into the open manifests in obvious retaliatory ways. These quotas once used only by large police departments across the U.S. has seeped its way into smaller towns. It’s a brutal fact that New York City financial well being depends on arrests and summonses as well as other cities. My thoughts about this police policy is this: the whole criminal justice system needs to be gutted from top to bottom and for those police officers whose goal is to help people, it’s a shame they get caught in this net. It is one hour and 52 minutes and watched it on Hulu.
The House of Suh (2010) is the last one I watched. It covers the evolution or more de-evolution of a Korean family that immigrated to the United States. While it takes some time to get into the story, keep watching because it’s a fascinating story. You have old Korean cultural values intersecting with two different personalities growing up in America. One is a rebellious female teenager and the other a dutiful male that gets absorbed into the chaotic life of his sister. It this is a tragic story? Yes. Does this highlight family brokenness? Yes. Does this make for a good movie? Yes but only if Kristy Swanson can play the lead. The TV movie is called Bad to the Bone. My thoughts about this brother and sister relationship is this: the brother was blind to his sister’s intentions and because of his loyalty to her found himself in a bad situation. It is one hour and 30 minutes and watched it on Amazon prime.