Summer of Documentary Watching

For the past two weeks (during the hottest parts of the day), I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix. I’d grab my computer and browse the documentary category and load up my instant cue. Sometimes, I’d go through 3 docs in an afternoon. Some were meh, others lit a fire under me and a few were just plain entertaining.

Justin saw how many I was watching and after recommending a few to him, he suggested I write a post on them. So here is my take on some of the docs you’ll find on Netflix.

*I should preface this with a few things. First, the synopsis on Netflix is sometimes misleading. I’d go into a doc thinking “Oh, this might be too much for me,” and it’d be totally wimpy. Or “I can handle homeless kids,” and it disturbed me. Secondly, I’m not a professional reviewer.

In no particular order:

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.18.13 AMCropsey – I’m a fan of real-life crime stories so when I read about this one, I was interested. But I was also worried it’d be a bit scary. It sounded scary – I mean, the boogie man! Anyway, it actually gave a little history lesson about Staten Island. Staten Island was a dumping ground – literally – for everything. So when kids went missing, people started looking in one area, the grounds of an old mental institution (where people were dumped and “cared” for by the state. I say cared for loosely because you see a very young Geraldo Rivera doing his very first expose on the place. Nobody was cared for.).

The documentary covered the search for missing kids, the people involved with the search and the suspect who played the documentary makers the whole time. Creepy!

I liked it


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.17.46 AMDetropia – This was timely because not only did Detroit declare bankruptcy recently but Justin checked out a book from the library 2 days before that happened. So I figured I’d watch this doc. This was shot a few years ago so talk about the city being broke was a reality then.

The city attempts at salvaging what it can but sadly, nothing works. You see scenes from the opera throughout (who knew Detroit had an Opera) and it’s stated that 70% of the Opera season is funded by GM – if I remember the auto maker right. Anyway, I took that as a metaphor. The auto industry hires people. People spend money in the city. The city provides for the people. Without the auto industry, there would be nothing. And in some parts of the city, there is nothing.

I liked it


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.17.24 AMHot Coffee – This one got me angry. Remember the lady who sued McDonald’s for the coffee being too hot? Sounds frivolous, right? Did you know that she wasn’t driving (the car was parked) and that she had 3rd degree burns and had to have painful skin grafts? Now what would you say if McDonald’s KNEW their coffee was too hot and kept records of previous complaints?

Hot Coffee wasn’t just about this case. There were 3 other instances where without the full story, you’d think these type of lawsuits were frivolous. There was even a bill passed to limit these type of lawsuits in certain states. It was shocking to see the real victims, average Americans, not looking for a big payday, but for the big companies to pay for their lack of action.

Highly, highly recommended


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.17.03 AMThe Woman Who Wasn’t There – Oh boy, this one was crazy! Not too long after September 11, 2001, scams started to appear. I’d say all of them were about money. Except Tania Head. This woman came out of no where with an incredible story of survival and the loss of her husband. She eventually became the spokesperson for a survivors group in New York.

But her story didn’t add up. And when the New York Times wanted to do a story on her, she went crazy. Then the truth came out. This documentary is well told and I liked the animated graphics. It’s just an unbelievable story, please watch it!

Highly recommended


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.16.33 AMBernie – I threw this one in the mix. It’s not a documentary. It stars Jack Black and Shirley McLaine. But it’s based on a true story with real people who knew the main subjects. They are sprinkled throughout the movie.

Bernie is a funeral director who befriends a rich widow. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Shirley ends up dead but because everyone in the small East Texas town loves and adores Bernie, they refuse to believe he killed her. The case had to be moved to a nearby town.

There are many funny moments in this movie. I loved that they made fun of East Texas as well as other parts of Texas (panhandle…what’s it for?!). Jack Black makes a great funeral director, though at times, creepy because he’s so good. And as usual, Shirley plays a crotchy old woman masterly.

Hilarious. I recommend it


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.16.11 AMScience of Babies – This National Geographic documentary is all about the science of babies. From the first breath and how that happens instinctively, to how they think and reason. It’s a fascinating look at babies in their first year of life.

Interesting. Recommended (if you’re into babies and science 🙂 )




Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.15.45 AMGarbage! The Revolution Starts at Home – This was one of my first docs and it was a lighthearted look at the problem of garbage and how much people create. We follow a couple from Toronto with three kids as they collect their garbage for 3 months – the 3 most garbage inducing months – October, November and December. They cleared out space in their garage and kept every piece of garbage. Even when they go to school, work or parties, they bring home their garbage.

Our garbage affects everyone, everywhere. Entertaining and eye opening.



Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.15.16 AMHome – This was extremely low budget (pretty sure it was one guy and one camera). We follow a woman, Sheree, with 6 kids living in subsidized housing full of gang violence. She’s able to get into a new house but has to clear a few debts. She does what she can to clear them but her ex-husband causes problems. Eventually, Sheree feels pressured to clear one last debt and misses her deadline.

It’s a sad story and probably all too common in America today. She started off so hopeful, but eventually drove me nuts. If she really wanted to get out, she would have done everything – she was so close.

It was ok


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.14.53 AMThe Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby – Along the same lines at The Fog of War we follow William Colby’s career through the eyes of his son, wife and various people who knew him. A lot of the story is spent around the beginning of Vietnam and the CIA following Vietnam.

If you’re into American history from this time frame, you’ll enjoy this doc. I would have liked it more if I hadn’t started it at 9pm.

A little dry at times, but good


Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.12.24 AMChildren Underground – Oh dear. Homeless children in any country is sad but in Romania, it seems especially sad. It’s hard for us to imagine small children living on the streets but they are everywhere in this doc. This film follows a group of children who live in a subway station in Bucharest. They beg, they cry, they beat each other up, they sniff paint to keep the hunger pains away. Some of the girls have decided to look like boys to keep themselves safe. One boy has a dream of working and going to school – he’s the only one who doesn’t steal.

A social worker takes some of the kids to a medical clinic so they can get cleaned up, fed and possibly reunited with their parents. We follow a couple of the children home. Before they head home, we hear why these kids have left. The stories are the same. They say their life at home is horrible. Then we hear from the parents. One family stated they didn’t have money to care for them (a brother and sister) and the other family doesn’t know why their son left.

But all the parents said the same thing – their child had something wrong with them mentally. The kids blame the parents and the parents blame the kids. It’s a bad situation and for some kids, it only gets worse.

Highly recommended

So I don’t bore you too much, I’ve broken this up into two posts. Part 2 includes:

Forks Over Knives
Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
Following Sean
Happy People: A Year in Taiga
More The Business of Being Born
Beer Wars

Yes, I watched a lot of documentaries. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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