Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart (dir. Jeremiah Zagar)
Appropriately titled Jeremiah Zagar brings us back into the salacious case of Pamela Smart whose 1990 murder of her husband and three teenage killers convicted inspired massive pre-OJ media coverage as well as the Gus Van Zant film To Die For. Emulating the style and tone of Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line, Zagar crafts a masterful twisty story from the various narratives at play in this case. At core Zagar lasers in on the effect of the media on our collective opinions on the case as well as the jury which convicted her. Less partisan than Thin Blue Line and Paradise Lost, the triumph of Captivated is the open mystery surrounding all details of the case, and let down a tad by an excessive running times which unnecessarily hits the nail on the head. Captivated is a production of HBO Documentary Films will air later this year.
It's now been three Somali pirate movies in the past couple years, including Captain Phillips and A Hijacking and so what's as impressive as the film itself is the number of angles this relatively local phenomenon can be told. This film will likely be positioned as the Captain Phillips taken from the Somali point of view. Abdi is the hero here, a desperate father and husband who resorts to pirating to feed his family. It's not hard to humanize these motives and from the beginnings we're sympathetic to his plight. Within the pirate team conflict emerges from a number of sources thus placing Abdi as a fly on the wall of the intense power struggle. Reda Kateb is the revelation here as the Kaht-addicted maniacal mutineer who commands the screen as intensely as the Oscar nominated Barkhad Abdi. Director Hodierne as a first feature manages to execute the film with muscular panache within what I presume would be a restrained budget compared to say, Phillips. Narrative loses some focus during it's stretched running time, but an intense breathless finale makes up for any deficiencies along the way.
Last Days of Vietnam (dir. Rory Kennedy)
The last frenetic day of the Vietnam War as a metaphor for the entire US engagement is the appropriate theme of this picture. It's articulated by one of the last Marines to leave the Embassy in April if 1975, a moment documented heavily by press at the time and exquisitely reassembled to form a powerful film. Rory Kennedy masterfully brings us back to those last few days and hours to craft this stunning procedural documentary. Moments of impossible heroism, tragic emotional drama play out in the moment by moment procedural techniques employed. With almost endless footage available and all the right people to recall the memories (including Henry Kissinger), it's feels like the last word on the subject of the Fall of Saigon. Kennedy's editors and composer pulls out all the gravitas of the events. For most of the living participants the film becomes a platform to express their frustration and guilt for not being to get everyone they wanted out of the embassy. The tragedy of the remaining Vietnamese who worked closely with the Americans who didn't get out exemplifies the tragedy of the War as a whole. Kennedy's film lingers greatly even causing a smattering of rare applause from the normally hardened press and industry personnel who were at the screening.