Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Latest News from the Cosmos’ and ‘Black Work’

‘LATEST NEWS FROM THE COSMOS’ (OVIDTV) French poet Babouillec isn’t well known outside her home country — I don’t see that her works have ever been translated into English — but the mysterious quality of her writing is revealed in this fascinating documentary film as an integral part of who she is. Babouillec is actually a woman in her [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ and ‘Island’

‘THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE) The most recent, as of this writing, in an apparently endless string of breakout documentaries, “The Biggest Little Farm” wears its crowd-pleasing qualities on its sleeve. If you like infused-sentimentality, then you’re going to love the film. If that’s not your thing, I’d suggest seeing [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘After Life’ and ‘Bathtubs Over Broadway’

‘AFTER LIFE’ (NETFLIX) Appreciating the work of Ricky Gervais has always hinged on your taste, and even then, some of his efforts over the years seem to have lost him fans. His problem is that he’s always pushing the boundaries of good taste in ways that some people find mean-spirited, focusing his comedy on concepts [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’

“THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON” (AMAZON, APPLE, IMDBTV, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE) Given the death last week of Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston at the age of 58, it seemed right to write about the 2005 documentary on his troubled life, “The Devil and Daniel Johnston.” I suppose there are many people out there who [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Alena’ and ‘Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle’

‘ALENA’ (AMAZON, OVIDTV, SHUDDER) Things aren’t right in a private boarding school for girls, but when are they ever? In this Swedish film, a disadvantaged girl arrives to find animosity among the existing student body, and her already damaged existence becomes further pummeled by elitist bullies. But there might be something else going on as [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Hail Satan?’

“ Hail Satan?” (Amazon, Apple, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play) Regardless of where you fall on the spiritual or political spectrum, it’s probable that you will be surprised by the revelation that a documentary following the creation of The Satanic Temple and its short history is easily one of the most feel-good, life-affirming movies to be [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘Braguino’

CHERNOBYL’ (HBO) It might be surprising that a mini-series dramatizing a devastating nuclear power plant accident in the Soviet Union in 1986 has met success, especially considering the show’s embrace of the gloomy and the grotesque, and rightfully so. But if it is a surprise, maybe you haven’t been paying attention to the state of [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Ministry of Evil’ and ‘The Nightmare’

‘MINISTRY OF EVIL: THE TWISTED CULT OF TONY ALAMO’ (SUNDANCE) We live in a golden age of documentaries about cults and one of the unavoidable thoughts to have once you’ve seen a bunch of them is to wonder when people are going to learn their lesson. Even if the circumstances of the cults are signposts [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘I Am Another You’ and ‘Rellik

‘I AM ANOTHER YOU’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE) In this haunting documentary, Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang heads down to Florida after moving to New York City, and decides to film every aspect of her visit there. She’s in search of some mythical America cowboy spirit that leads to total freedom without ties, and [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘51 Birch Street’ and ‘Making A Murderer’

’51 BIRCH STREET’ (APPLE, SUNDANCE) Thank goodness for people who like to work out their problems in public, because they have single-handedly enlivened the dysfunctional family documentary genre, and I’m a sucker for those. In “51 Birch Street,” filmmaker Doug Block mourns the death of his mother and then is blindsided when his father decides [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Mole Man’

‘MOLE MAN’ (AMAZON, SUNDANCE) Focusing on autistic 66-year-old Ron Heist, “Mole Man” presents a manifestation of compulsive creativity on a grand scale seldom witnessed. Heist qualifies as an outsider artist for sure, but he could also alternately be proclaimed an outsider architect with the huge structures he has crafted at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere’ and ‘Trust Me’

‘LOVE & TERROR ON THE HOWLING PLAINS OF NOWHERE’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, SUNDANCE, VUDU, YOUTUBE) In the winter of 2006, a college professor in Chadron, Neb., disappeared, and once he was found, created a mystery that the residents are still struggling with today. Pronounced a suicide by law enforcement, some in the town think [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Abducted in Plain Sight’ and ‘The Cry’

‘ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT’ (NETFLIX) Much has been made of this true-crime documentary in regards to the victim and her parents, with the idea that only stupidity on the part of Mary Ann and Bob Broberg could explain their gullibility in falling for the manipulations of sociopathic pedophile Robert Berchtold that led to his abduction [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Being Frank’ and ‘Doctor Who’

‘BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY’ (AMAZON) British oddball and Renaissance man Chris Sievey isn’t well-known in America beyond his image, which was used in the film “Frank” as a symbol of outsiders and oddballs who create music outside the norm. But his giant paper-mache head is cherished, especially by a generation of British children, [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Dear Zachary’ and ‘My Brilliant Friend’

‘DEAR ZACHARY’ (AMAZON, FANDOR, HOOPLA, SUNDANCE) Given the current frenzy for true crime, especially on streaming television and in podcasts, a documentary like “Dear Zachary” has a very specific, and very important, role to play — in reclaiming these stories for the families and friends of the crime victim. In that way, while it states the case [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Cassette: Documentary Mixtape’

‘CASSETTE: DOCUMENTARY MIXTAPE’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, PLAYSTATION, VUDU) Did you know that the man who invented the cassette also invented the compact disc? His name is Lou Ottens, a Dutch engineer who worked for Phillips, where he headed the teams that developed both audio items. This affectionate, gentle documentary by Zack Taylor devotes a [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Giuseppe Makes a Movie’ and ‘National Treasure’

Giuseppe Makes A Movie (Amazon, Apple, Fandor, Google Play, Sundance, Vudu) Everybody has a different idea of what makes a community or a family, and though that’s often a reason for conflict in the United States, it would be nice if more people could just let things be. The documentary film “Giuseppe Makes A Movie” [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Strange Angel’ and ‘Theory of Obscurity’

‘STRANGE ANGEL’ ( CBS ALL ACCESS) In the 21st century, there are multiple disciplines being sold that promise hopeful seekers a way to optimize their ambitions into reality, to realize their best selves, but so many of these philosophies are not new, merely transformed into current-speak. If you reverse engineer their conceptions, you find that [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Dreams of a Life’ and ‘Putin’s Kiss’

“Dreams of a Life” (Fandor, Vudu) Loneliness can be a hard thing to portray in a film. The challenge is to show what isn’t there and what the person is missing, to capture a negative space so that we not only understand the enormity of what is missing from the person’s life but what about [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Ministry of Time’ and ‘Three Identical Strangers’

“The Ministry of Time” (Netflix) This unassuming, slightly clunky, but entirely affable and often surprising Spanish science fiction show sits in an unnoticed corner of Netflix, away from most people’s sights, much like the central location of the series itself. But much like the secret headquarters of “The Ministry of Time,” bumbling upon it yields [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Hidden’ and ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’

‘HIDDEN’ (ACORN TV) The genre of European crime shows has been perfected to a science, usually combining a few of several possible elements into a narrative formula and then fleshing them out with some character particulars that often rely on the chosen actors to give them life. Among the elements are a moody setting, an [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Author: THe J.T. LeRoy Story’ and ‘Fangar’

‘AUTHOR: THE J.T. LEROY STORY’ (AMAZON, APPLE, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE) Somehow, the story of author J.T. LeRoy fell under my radar, so this documentary opened up entire worlds of fascination for me. LeRoy came to the public dye through his debut novel, “Sarah,” in 1999, a semi-autobiographical work that pulled from his background as [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Art and Craft’ and ‘Keeping Faith’

‘ART AND CRAFT’ (AMAZON, FANDOR, HOOPLA, SUNDANCE NOW) When I think of art forgers, I think of crafty con men who are in it for the big money, so Mark Landis, the subject of “Art and Craft,” went against what I envisioned. Landis is an art forger, but a quirky one. He gives his art [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘The Pain of Others’

“Killing Eve” (Amazon, Apple) “Killing Eve” manages the impossible by feeling fresh without actually doing much radical to the genre it inhabits, espionage. At least not much obviously radical — it’s the subtleties that do that work. This is the story of a woman operative for MI5 who feels she never gets her due and finds an [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘The A Word’ and ‘The Exhibition’

‘THE A WORD’ (AMAZON) Based on an Israeli show called “Yellow Peppers,” this British series centers a family in a small English village that would probably be considered typical as they face the autism diagnosis of their son. The focus here is Joe (Max Vento), at the start of the series 5-years-old and beginning to [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Faces Places’ and ‘Sacro GRA’

‘Faces Places’ (Amazon, Apple, Google Play, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube) This gentle documentary brings together 89-year-old New Wave film director Agnes Varda and 33-year-old street artist JR for a journey through France for a collaboration that captures what they see and who they meet, and what they decide to affix to walls in commemoration. Varda, who [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Ramblin’ Freak’ and ‘Wild Wild Country’

‘RAMBLIN’ FREAK’ (AMAZON, APPLE, VUDU) Neither the title nor the premise of the documentary, “Ramblin’ Freak,” gives much insight to what the film is about and if you take your cue from either, you’re probably going to be wrong. Sold on Amazon as a documentary about a guy who decides to take a road trip [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Casting JonBenet’ and ‘Hard Sun’

‘CASTING JONBENET’ (NETFLIX) There’s a surge in interest in true crime, and the deluge has revealed more than a few people creating works about a specific crime that don’t seem to know what makes true crime an alluring subject. Hint — it’s not just about the crime, it’s about the people. And I don’t mean only the [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: “The Man Who Would Be Polka King” and “The Sheik”

‘THE MAN WHO WOULD BE POLKA KING’ (NETFLIX) A recent Jack Black dramatization of the crimes of polka singer Jan Lewan has shined a recent spotlight on this 2009 documentary, and that’s a great thing since it’s an infinitely superior version of the story. During a time when we are trying to push uplifting tales [...]

Viewer’s Discretion: “On Body and Soul” and “Who Are You People?”

‘ON BODY AND SOUL’ (NETFLIX) Despite our scientific understanding of attraction, the specifics of why we fall in love with the people we do still command a mystical place in our experience. Some of us believe in soul mates, while others subscribe to more practical reasoning, like having the same interests. This Hungarian drama explores [...]