Documenting Documentaries

I give up.

No longer will I rant about the documentary reviews that give us the spark-note version of the films. I embrace the critics’ betrayal of movie makers and audiences by giving us the facts so that we don’t have to learn the information from the film.


I appreciate the critics’ rescuing us from more reviews, entertainment news, and celebrity interviews that otherwise could have shared the space with a concise documentary review.

It’s all in the skim.

The central issue of my reviews of documentary reviews becomes how easy it is to skip over the spoilers and land on the opinions.

With that in mind, I review what look like three awesome documentaries, starting with the most compelling:

1. The Last Days of Vietnam

Topic: From Rotten TomatoesDuring the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closed in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempted to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confronted a moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens or risk being charged with treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they could. With time running out and the city under fire, an unlikely group of heroes emerged as Americans and South Vietnamese took matters into their own hands.

last-days-in-vietnam-title-cardReview from

by Godfrey Cheshire

Skimmable? Yes! In the first few and last few paragraphs, we get what Cheshire thinks about the movie, as well as an enlightening analysis. This is a beautifully written review.

Bottom Line: A Whopping Thumbs up: Riveting, wrenching and extraordinarily important, …[a] superb documentary….

Comment: Cheshire observes that there are “potential parallels between yesterday’s debacle and similar U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan today.”

Note: In limited release. Hopefully that will change as the buzz increases.

2. No, No: a Dockumentary

noTopic: Dock Ellis was a pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970s, who pitched a no-hitter while on acid (beats steroids). He had a volatile personality, but he was also an outspoken purveyor of civil rights at a time when racism in baseball continued to prevail.

Review from

by Joe Gross

Skimmable?: Not at all. Everything is a spoiler except for one paragraph in the middle, where you’ll find Gross’ opinion.

Bottom Line:  It’s “wildly entertaining” and “expertly made”: 4.5 stars out of 5, Grade A-

Comment: many of the reviews I have read state that Dock is the only pitcher in baseball history who has pitched a  no hitter while on LSD. Question: how many pitchers have ever pitched on LSD?

 3. Joan Rivers: A  Piece of Work

In memoriam. This movie came out in 2010.

Topic: The two directors follow Joan Rivers around for a year.

Review from Canada’s Globe and Mail

by Stephen Cole

Skimmable? Yes. But you’ll end up with only the first and last few sentences.

Bottom Line: It’s good, though “harrowing” in its unabashed look at Rivers’ personal life and the ups and downs of her career. She is “also hilarious, and dangerously so. You could break both funny bones watching her new documentary.”


I saw the movie and I take umbrage at this analogy:

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work succeeds because the subject knows she’s a showbiz monster and plays her role to the hilt. She’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. or Mommie Dearest’s Joan Crawford up from the grave.

Norma Desmond? Joan Crawford (as portrayed by Faye Dunaway)? These two movie characters were so obsessed about being on screen that they had no idea how grotesque they looked. I thought the purpose of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was to get beyond the plastic surgery. Stephen Cole should have done the same.

Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup!

2 thoughts on “Documenting Documentaries

  1. Thanks Cindy! I don’t see enough docs either. I really like docs about pitchers tripping on acid while they pitch their best, and I see that Last Days… will be here for six days in October. Lord help us if they make it a week. Ugh. Don’t they know that Seattle is the new New York?


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