Hot Girls Wanted (Film Review)

Hot Girls Wanted (Film Review)

Netflix offers up a pretty poignant view of young girls looking to break into the massive porn industry, all starting with ads on Craigslist in the documentary, Hot Girls Wanted. The story follows a handful of young girls, mostly just 18-years-old, who have left home for Miami, to live in a house where they will go through photoshoots and the rigors of booking gigs in order to become porn stars.

hot4The documentary does an excellent job of demonstrating the harsh nature of the business, and provides a ton of stats on the sheer number of young girls who use porn as an escape from their regular lives, only to wash out of the industry in a matter of months. Hot Girls Wanted does not show the perceived glitz and glamour of the porn stars that have almost become mainstream, household names, but the struggle and work that goes in to making it in any kind of way in a brutal business.

The girls work hard, all day, in order to promote themselves. The online community plays a massive role in porn stardom, and the importance of Twitter is examined in the film. The girls, all of them, come to Miami with stars in their eyes, with the dream of being famous, of being rich, and of being stars. For the majority of them, the reality sets in awfully quick, once hte true side of the business reveals its ugly head to them.

hot2Some of the more poignant, and difficult to watch, scenes come when the girls begin to describe, and snippets are shown, of some of the brutal acts that they must endure in order to get a paycheque. Disdain with a sex scene, or the sheer aggression and brutality of some forced scenes, are difficult to watch, and to hear about. The girls are abused, but in a shocking way, they believe that doing these things are needed in order to make it in the business that has momentarily trapped them. The veneer of girls who are in it because they want to have fun, or because they love sex, is thrown out the window, and we understand that many of these stars in pro-am porn (now the most common type, as people want to see “amateurs” in semi-real situations instead of established porn stars) are just trying to pay the bills, and make it through the day. They are not becoming rich off of this job, even though the potential for big paydays is there.

hot3Hot Girls Wanted is a stark view of the porn industry, on one of its lower levels. It is not parties and limos, but a run down house with too many dogs, and too many girls living together, with their recruiter, who spends the majority of his time throwing lines in to the water to obtain new talent that will make him money.

It is very interesting to watch the quick rise, and quicker downfall that these girls go through. The feeling of fame comes quickly, buoyed by an increase in Twitter followers, and the feeling of being wanted, and desired. This evaporates suddenly, once the girls begin to feel that they are simply being used, and that the advantages of the industry are far fewer than they ever would have imagined.

hot5This is an excellent documentary, and well worth a watch, consider the size of the porn industry. Hot Girls Wanted does a very good job of putting a human face on the films that are seen and downloaded at incredible paces, but also in providing the kind of information that is not usually know. Well worth a watch.

Showrunners (Film Review)

Showrunners (Film Review)

There is a lot going on behind the scenes of your favorite television show.

Hundreds of people are required to do a myriad of different jobs, long before the highly paid actors ever stroll on to the set and start to act out the episode that you will see on air months later.

Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show is a fascinating documentary that takes us around Hollywood to see the people that truly are in control of shows, and some of the work that needs to go into the toughest job in television: running an entire show.

show2With a host of interesting and hard working show runners being interviewed, we are shown just how tough their job really is, how everything is questions that they must somehow come up with the answers for. From scripts to directing, plotting out episodes and seasons, casting, balancing their personal vision with that of the studios and networks…it is a ton. It truly is amazing the amount of time and effort that goes into bringing our favorite stories to life each week. And it is a miracle that there are still people out there who want to run their own shows.

The amount of stress on these people is incredible. And with such a quick-to-judge audience, even more so with social media picking at every move that is made on screen, the pressure to be successful, and remain that way, is enormous. Running one small scale show is an incredible balance. Seeing people like J.J. Abrams, who seems to be the executive producer for every show on television, the workload is unfathomable.

show3Showrunners is definitely interesting. While we are provided with behind-the-scenes information on actors and directors all of the time, and with a renewed focus on the writers of late, it is great to go behind even those important people to finally give some notice to the people who really make a show tick. Actors are famous. Some directors achieve a level of fame, and there are some writers who have truly made a name for themselves out there. But there is very little attention paid to the showrunners, and perhaps this documentary will give them some of their due. Seeing how they come up with ideas, and get scripts written (usually themselves) in a short time frame, going through re-writes, and the endless meetings with their teams, it kind of makes it amazing that TV shows are still done in this manner.

We get to see some of their ups and downs, from a hit series, to one that has run its course, to one that is flat out cancelled. How far should these people pursue their dreams? When do they know when it is time to give up, and if you are lucky enough to have a hit, what do you do next? (This last one is of particular interest for fans of the show Lost.) We are told about the debacles that can happen when a network becomes to involved with the vision of the writer, and that moment when they need to cave to get something done, or stand up for their beliefs, and scuttle something that they love just so it can be done in the way that they perceive as being right.

Definitely worth checking out, Showrunners will, if nothing else, provide you with some insight into TV, and give a new perspective and respect for those who care enough about an idea to try and make it happen week after week, season after season.

K2: Siren of the Himalayas (Film Review)

K2: Siren of the Himalayas (Film Review)

There are a ton of options out there for people who are interested in mountaineering documentaries, especially about the world’s most dangerous, and second tallest mountain, K2.

Despite having seen a number of shows about the perilous, and often unsuccessful, climb to the top of the mountain, each one of these documentaries offers something different. K2: Siren of the Himalayas is no exception, and it, like many others, offers incredible views of the mountain as a group of expert climbers make their assault(s) on the summit in hopes of getting to the top of the mountain with the highest death rate and fewest summits (barely over 300) of all the 8,000 meter monsters.

k22The film begins with the trek to base camp, where things become very real almost immediately, as the group watches a man skiing down a portion of the mountain die. From there, we are provided with insight into the methods and routes that can be taken to get to the top of K2. Going up to camps and back down, simply to acclimatize the body for the oxygen deprived ascents is grueling work, and by the time a group tries to go for the summit, they have already basically climbed the lower portions of the mountain several times.

K2 is a fascinating beast. It has been determined that there really is no easy route to the top, each one providing climbers with its own unique set of dangers and perils. K2 is definitely not Everest, where a parade of people manage to summit the mountain on a daily basis during the peak climbing season. K2 is a wasteland of destruction, serving yearly reminders of just how dangerous it is, despite not being the highest peak on the planet.

k23Siren of the Himalayas is a solid documentary, full of interesting mountaineers, and it does a good job to parallel their current trip to the original journey on K2, 100 years prior to their attempt. This provides us with not only the modern view of climbing the mountain, but the original perspectives of just how difficult the mountain is, from a far more primitive time. From the original journey to attempt to map out the mountain and find routes up in 1909, it still took nearly half a century before someone was able to make it to the top, which speaks bluntly to the difficulty of the mountain.

As badly as we may want our group to make it to the top, they are an intelligent and experienced group of climbers, and are smart enough to know when their bodies have simply had enough, and when the conditions are dodgy enough that they have to turn around. We aren’t provided with a bunch of brainless adrenaline junkies, but people who love the experience, and respect the environment. The hardest thing must be to be at the fourth and final high altitude camp, with the summit only a few hundred meters away, and realize that today simply isn’t your day.

k24But when it is a matter of life and death, as it so often is on K2, these decisions need to be made.

K2: Siren of the Himalayas provides us with the breathtaking sights seen from K2, including the famous pyramid shadow from the summit. It is always wonderful to look at, and has done a good job of capturing just how tough some of the sections of the mountain are, with its massive incline and waist deep snow.

For those who enjoy these types of adventure documentaries, you might as well add this one to the list, as it adds to the lore of the world’s most dangerous mountain. A good view.

The Other Dream Team (Film Review)

The Other Dream Team (Film Review)

Most North Americans know the story of the use of professional athletes in the basketball tournament of the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. The United States basketball team, known as the “Dream Team,” consisted of the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson, all together on the same team for the first time. They demolished the competition on their way to the Gold medal, to the surprise of nobody on Earth.

dream2But there was another story going on at the same time, and one that was more important for the political state of the world, and for basketball itself. It was the other dream team. The group of men from the new sovereign state of Lithuania, who had taken an unprecedented route to make it not just to the Olympics, but to that point in their lives altogether.

The Other Dream Team is a documentary that tells the story of what eventually becomes the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, and the journey that they, and their country, took to get there.

This film seamlessly blends the political story of Lithuania and its quest for independence from the Soviet Union with the stories of the players, who went through lives that cannot be imagined by most Westerners, just to play the game that they love.

dream4During the heyday of the Soviet Union, the majority of its “national” basketball team hailed from Lithuania, the small Baltic nation that had been annexed by the USSR during the Second World War. They had grown up under the harsh foot of communism, and they weren’t allowed to play for their own country, because essentially, their own country did not exist. But they felt that it did. Basketball gave some of the players the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world, enabling to see how Western life compared to their dreary Soviet existences. And it provided them with dreams, not just for themselves, but for the freedom of their country.

Lithuania was the first nation to try and break away from the Soviet Union, declaring their independence before anybody else. They were a tiny nation, just hoping for the freedom that had been taken from them against their wills. This led to revolutions on the streets, and the world rallying around the case of this little country that most people had never even heard of before. Lithuania was making a stand on the international stage, and people understood their plight, and rallied for their cause.

This also led to the decision that Lithuania needed to have a basketball team at the Olympics, to announce their presence to the world, as a unified, and free country. With all of the political upheaval at home, there was no money for this, but the team found an unlikely source to help them out: The Grateful Dead.

dream3The Other Dream Team is an incredible story, about how this team took the world by storm. They were beloved at the Olympics, for their fun attitudes, and for their crazy tie-dyed shirts they wore, which had been given to them by the Dead, and had become their uniform off the court. The team embraced their new personalities, and the world ate it up. They were not underdogs because of their skill, but because of where the political landscape had placed them.

This documentary takes us from the childhoods of the team, where they would build their own nets in dreary playgrounds, and the importance of the game in their lives. We see them grow, playing for the Soviet national squad and being tremendously successful there. The Soviet pro leagues are also shown, including the heated rivalry between the Lithuanian team and the menacing Red Army team, and the intense battles on the court they would face. The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the independence of Lithuania is woven perfectly into the storyline, as the battles on the court were always representative of the political battles being fought for the small nation. There was a feverish national pride in the country, and an intense love for the sport at the same time. We are also taken to the NBA, where some of the Lithuanian talent was being recognized by the biggest pro league in the world, and players were getting drafted, and slowly trickling over to America.

The story crescendos to the Olympics, where the Lithuanians roll through the tournament, only to get wiped out by the American team. But that game did not really matter to them. Nobody thought that they were going to beat the US, including the Lithuanian team. That was not their goal. As usual, they had fun with it, even taking pictures of the famous American basketball players while the game was still going on. The Lithuanians were free, and they were representing their brand new country, and the millions of people back home, who had just had their hope restored.

It was not the game against the US that mattered, it was the Bronze medal game against the Soviet Union (playing as the Unified Team, due to the collapse of the USSR), that would make all the difference. This was it. The small child playing against its imposing father, the one who had controlled it for so many years.

It was absolutely more than just a game for a medal. For Lithuania, it was everything.

And The Other Dream Team manages to chronicle that struggle, both on and off the court, perfectly. A great sports documentary.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film Review)

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film Review)

This documentary had been sitting in my Netflix queue for quite some time, and I finally got around to watching the film made about a Class-A baseball team that started playing in Portland, Oregon, during the 1970’s.

And boy, was I glad I did finally watch it.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is an exceptional documentary about baseball, about the minor leagues, about one man’s baseball dreams, a city embracing the ultimate underdogs, taking on the system, and having fun playing a game. It is definitely worth watching.

Bing Russell managing the Portland Mavericks in the Battered Bastards of Baseball documentaryWhen the Portland Beavers left for Spokane, the city had lost its AAA baseball team, and the sport was essentially dead in the Oregon town. But one man, actor Bing Russell (father of Kurt), decided that he wanted to bring baseball back to Oregon, in the form of an independent Single-A team, which he named the Portland Mavericks.

Russell was obsessed with baseball, and had spent his youth around the famous New York Yankee teams of Lefty Grove and Joe DiMaggio, and had spent some time playing in the minor leagues himself. He was a true student of the game, analyzing it to death, and going to far as to make baseball documentaries that would teach others how to play the game the right way. He wrote about how to play in every possible situation.

This was not some actor trying to recapture his youth, it was an actor with a baseball dream, and one that he understood incredibly well.

Buying an expansion franchise for a miniscule price, he held open tryouts for the Mavericks, which led to the team being stocked with a bunch of no-names and men whose dreams of baseball had seemingly died when they were never drafted or signed by a big-league club and allowed to play in their massive farm systems.

By being an independent team, meaning there was no affiliation with a major league club, meant that the Mavericks were going to be playing against developing major league players, and the bonus babies that the big teams had down in the minors, to learn the game. They would always play with a chip on their shoulder.

And the Mavericks made the big league teams look bad. Because they were good. Russell assembled a team that would win, playing their hearts out to prove that teams made mistakes in not drafting them at some point during their careers. They weren’t all pimply-faced college kids, as many A teams are, but a mixture of youth and veterans. But they all held one thing in common: they all loved baseball, and they just wanted to play.

Since there was no MLB affiliation, Russell had to foot the bill for everything himself. And it took some time to build up a fan base in Portland, but when they did, they set records. The city began to truly embrace their gang of miscreants, the team that would go out on the field, play the game the right way, and have a ton of fun doing it.

battered3The Mavericks didn’t play for long in Portland, because the Pacific Coast League, the largest AAA league in baseball, eventually decided that they wanted back into Portland after seeing the massive crowds that were attending the Mav games. Due to baseball legislation, they were allowed to do this, and they simply had to buy back the territory owned by the Mavericks. This lead to a court battle based on the price they needed to pay, and here we see Russell standing up to the PCL, because he had built up something incredible for the low minors, and they just wanted to take it away from him.

The return of the PCL signaled the end of the Mavericks, but their legend can now be seen by everyone. They set attendance records for A ball, the team had winning records that were unmatched, and some of the players from the team went on to do big things (including an Oscar-nominated bat boy, and of course actor Kurt Russell, who was a player on the team, the inventor of Big League Chew, and a pitcher who made it back to the majors). The Mavericks proved that even as the only non-affiliated minor league team in the country at the time, they could make it work, and they could play the game that they loved.

The story is told through interviews with some former players, the commissioner of the league, the bat boy, and others, and they all look back fondly at their time with the Mavericks. Their individual stories are great and compelling, as are the results of some of their lives.

This is an excellent documentary, and a definite must-see for any baseball fan. It shows the possibility of the love of the game, and has a great us-versus-everyone storyline that is undeniable. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is well worth the time to check out.

Deep Water (Film Review)

Deep Water (Film Review)

I often go on kicks where I watch a ton of films of similar stories and subject, and become obsessed with that topic for a while. Right now, it is movies about sailing. There are so many fascinating stories out there, about people facing the great oceans of the world, on boats that barely seem like they will be able to keep it together, staring up at the massive swells of some of the most dangerous waters on Earth, trying to things alone.

And through this, I came across Deep Water, a documentary that retells the story about an around-the-world, solo, non-stop sailing race that was held in 1968. At the time, people had become fascinated that it was possible to sail solo around the world. But it was time to kick things up a notch: it was time for someone to do it without stopping on land. At all. A complete circumnavigation without the ability to stop to resupply, or to fix any of the many, many things that could go wrong on a boat trying to accomplish this.

The race was sponsored, and would hand out two prizes: the first person to finish the race (they could leave at their own times, as long as it was before a certain date), and the person who had the fastest time around the world.

A handful of experienced sailors undertook the task. And one who had very little experience at all.

deep2Donald Crowhurst entered the race as the least experienced sailor, a kind of nerd who liked the water, but had never done any sailing of major significance. He was the last one to leave England, still trying to get things together until the last minute before his departure. For those who had never heard the story before, we kind of get the feeling that he is doomed.

But the story gets better.

With so much riding on his successful circumnavigation, Crowhurst knows that he cannot fail. If he does, his family will be in financial ruin, and he will be humiliated. He must succeed. So once things start to go wrong near the start of the journey, in the Atlantic Ocean, he chooses what he must have felt was his only option: cheating.

From here, Deep Water becomes incredibly fascinating. Largely told through archival footage and interviews with the people who were closest to Crowhurst, we see how this man attempted to cheat his way into a respectable finish in the race. He didn’t want to win, for that would be too obvious, and he was never interested in the fame. He just wanted to grab a third or fourth place finish, maintain his respectability as a man, and continue on with life.

In order to do this, he would have to fake months upon months of logs that would track his journey, all the while hanging out in the South Atlantic, close to Brazil, while he waited for the other competitors to round the southern tip of South America and pass him. From there, he would be able to turn north once again, and get home in just enough time that his ailing boat wouldn’t sink on him, and just slow enough that he wouldn’t win either of the prizes.

The next twist, makes a great story even greater, as Crowhurst slowly went insane while waiting for months on his boat, alone at sea. His diary entries became scary, yet fascinating, as he was forced to consider what he was doing, having left his family and small children behind, constantly bent by the weight of trying to get away with his ploy, and maintaining his sanity while all alone in the middle of the ocean.

Deep Water is an absolutely fascinating story of life at sea, and the pressures that it can cause someone. With so many very good documentaries about successful and not-so-successful attempts to circumnavigate the globe, such as the fantastic Maidentrip, or Wild Eyes, this one provides us with something completely different, and the story is nothing short of compelling. It is very suspenseful, and there are plenty of twists and turns to make this true story better than fiction.

This is definitely a winning documentary, and for anyone else who is obsessed with film about sailing, Deep Water is a definite must-see.

Maidentrip (Film Review)

Maidentrip (Film Review)

Films about sailing are awesome. I always enjoy watching people take to the seas, and undertake these massive, often solitary, journeys to the far reaches of the world. There are some really good films out there about sailing, and there are some mediocre ones.

One of the best that I have seen is Maidentrip, a documentary about the sailing travels of Laura Dekker, a (at the beginning of the film) 14-year-old Dutch girl who wanted to sail solo across the world, over the course of approximately two years.

maiden3There are many great things about this documentary. First, all of the footage at sea was shot by Laura herself. She was not followed around on her journey by support boats, planes, of helicopters. She really was out there, all on her own. Secondly, there isn’t a ton of information prior to the beginning of the trip. We don’t have to take all the time to learn about the sponsors and whatnot, but we do get to see the issues with her voyage. The Dutch government actually tried to prevent her from doing the trip, trying to prove that is was neglectful parenting to allow someone so young undertake such a dangerous journey, all by herself.

The filmmakers don’t let the legal wranglings slow the story down, however. They provide nice amounts of background information, without preventing us from getting to the part that we really want to see: the sailing.

With no media fanfare, Laura eventually pushes off to sea, to start her two year journey. Only her father is there to see her off. It is strange to watch, actually, considering the fanfare that many other journeys like this have received. An example of the opposite can be seen in Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story, another sea tale about a young girl trying to circumnavigate the globe on her own.

At sea, we truly get to learn about Laura. And she definitely undergoes a transformation. While she begins by missing things from home, and wanting to see people on her occasional stops, she slowly stops missing things, and truly embraces and loves being on her own. Even during her longest stretches at sea by herself, she is quite satisfied with it. She doesn’t crack; she doesn’t go insane. She keeps moving. And we, as an audience, respect her for it.

Laura’s maturation on the the waves of the world is impressive, and interesting. She stops missing her father, she explains the separation of her family from a very young age, and while we may think that she has a somewhat cavalier attitude towards it all, we often forget that she is just a teenager, figuring out her place in the world.

Eventually, Laura turns her back on the Netherlands, no longer flying their flag off the back of her small boat. She claims that she no longer has anything in common with the Dutch people, aside from speaking the same language. She instead flies the flag of New Zealand, the place she was born, but never got to spend any time there. New Zealand became a place of dreams for her, somewhere she had never really been, even though it was the place of her birth.

maidenShe struggles with the massive issues of her identity, and she does it all alone. And she does it impressively.

There are so many impressive things about this kid. Her reasons for being out on the seas are not for fame, or the record of being the youngest solo traveler to go around the world. She is doing it because she loves to sail.

So much so, in fact, that when her trip is concluded, she doesn’t stop.

She keeps on sailing.

This is a kid who knows what they want, and is going to stop at nothing to achieve their goals, and find what they are looking for. Her time at sea made her wise beyond her years, and at the end of the film, as a sixteen-year-old, she has truly become independent, mature, intelligent, and fearless. To have the chance to watch this journey is amazing, making Maidentrip such a good film. She really does get to that point where she doesn’t need anybody else to help her. She knows that she can do it on her own. And so she does.

This documentary is definitely a must watch for those who like films about sailing, like Wild EyesDeep WaterKon-Tiki, and the like.

Just a head’s up, much of the movie is spoken in Dutch, so there are subtitles. But Laura also speaks English in parts of the movie, specifically with the people that she meets along the way, on her stops in various parts of the world.

30 for 30: Elway to Marino (Film Review)

30 for 30: Elway to Marino (Film Review)

One thing that has been consistent with sports television over the past while is that ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is always good. Almost regardless of the topic, they have come up with interesting stories, and turned them into full documentary films, all of which have proven to be interesting, and at times, incredibly well done.

30Another entry into the lexicon of the series is Elway to Marino, the story of the fabled 1983 NFL draft, that produced a crazily high number of legendary players, and featured six quarterbacks being taken. Three of those six would end up as legends, and in the Hall of Fame in Canton.

The story here really shows us as viewers the behind-the-scenes dealings during the draft. Elway had made it no secret that he didn’t want to play for the terrible Baltimore Colts, and their dodgy owner. Regardless, the Colts drafted Elway with the first overall pick, and the intrigue began.

It was really interesting to hear about all of the deals that had been proposed, and failed, during the first round picks. There were several teams that were interested in Elway, and several of them made some very serious offers. The intrigue comes from how many times he was almost traded, but different things got in the way: the owner nixed the deal, the league interfered, a star quarterback caved to pressure and resigned, the offers were confused, the offers were never quite enough. If Elway had ended up on any of the teams that had tried to get him, it would have reshaped the league for quite some time. Elway as a Raider? Or Charger? Or Bear? Or would Elway, the California golden boy, just pout his way out of the league and end up playing baseball for the New York Yankees? The backroom dealings provide some of the most interesting parts of the documentary.

With the other quarterbacks, there was also some cool stories. We always think of Jim Kelly being a hero in Buffalo, the place where he spent his entire career and led the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances. But hearing him discuss how crushed he was to be drafted by them created another layer to his story.

303As for Marino, one of the all-time great quarterbacks, who left behind him a list of league records upon his retirement, he experienced a tremendous fall during his senior year at Pitt. Having a poor season, he fell all the way to the Miami Dolphins, who were able to grab him near the end of the first round. Stories of potential (and never proven) drug use, as well as his poor season, scuttled Marino’s reputation, and left him as the last QB standing in the draft. Of course, mistakes were made, such as the NY Jets taking Ken O’Brien (out of a Division II school!) ahead of Marino. But it is such stories in which legends are made.

The documentary succeeds in revealing the stories that took place over the phone, and behind closed doors, drawing us into the amazing draft, and the fallout that followed it. Interviews with the people involved, some GMs, some owners, and the players themselves, does what 30 for 30 always does: lets us, the casual sports fan, behind-the-scenes of something amazing, just to see just how much more amazing it really was.

Elway to Marino is another winning documentary from ESPN, and for those who are fans of the series, it definitely is one not to miss.

Mile…Mile & a Half (Film Review)

Mile…Mile & a Half (Film Review)

This adventure documentary, which can be found on Netflix, is about a group of friends, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and sound technicians, who set out to hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) in California. The hike is over 200 miles, crosses snow and desert and mountain passes and rivers that are bigger than they might seem. It will take the group 25 days to cross the entire trail, and show us their adventures along the way. 

Mile…Mile & a Half works for two simple reasons: 1. the scenery is absolutely incredible. Having talented people on the hike means that there are beautiful panoramic views of waterfalls and mountains throughout the film. It is incredible to see the untouched nature that lies in California, a place we often imagine with only beaches, surf, and bustling cities. But there remains a massive part of the state that is open to those who want to see it, and the JMT is a great example of that. The second reason this film works so well is because of the people. They are fun, and enjoyable to watch throughout the film. These are not jacked-up adrenaline junkies, doing crazy things that normal people could never pull off doing. They are regular folks, who love the outdoors. This is not a life-testing hike, and despite a couple of dangerous spots, we know that they are going to come out alive on the other side. There is nothing terribly extreme about the JMT, just a ton of natural beauty, enjoyed by some pretty fun people, that by the end of the film, we totally wouldn’t mind meeting along the way on a hike. 

mile2Perhaps the best part of the documentary is the other people that the group encounters along the trail. They aren’t making a film selfishly, about themselves, and about overcoming the obstacles of nature. They are making a film about being in it, and loving it. And a part of that is the lives of the other people that they meet along the way. They give them screen time, and we get to know their stories as well. The teachers from Colorado who join up with their group. The young painters, who hike every day with heavy loads of canvas and paints on their backs so they can get some incredible views in the early morning light. The musicians, who they meet near the end of their journey. And the Japanese woman, who is doing the trail alone, but in the end realizes that she really wants to share in her success, and wants the camaraderie.

While the film is about nature, it is about people too. And that is what makes it such a fun watch. While they challenge themselves, they remain real people, and they like to have fun. They get goofy, give each other nicknames, make bets, and play games along the way. 

For those who love nature, and perhaps have never seen the incredible, pristine beauty that California has to offer, Mile…Mile & a Half is a worthy film for you to watch. 

Downloaded (Film Review)

Downloaded (Film Review)

Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker changed the world. There is no way to even argue that. With the development of their Napster software in the late 1990’s, they managed to change the way we listened to music, and in turn, they completely changed the music industry, the effects of which are still being felt today.

With the concept of peer-to-peer sharing, users were able to access the hard drives of all Napster users, and download music from them. For free. This allowed people to build up massive collections of mp3s that they would have never been able to afford had they been forced to go out and buy all of that music.

The advent of Napster also created a massive war in the music industry, as some were in favor of people being able to “share” music, while others were completely against it, as it was a form of stealing and piracy. Basically, at its core, Napster was copyright infringement.

down2Downloaded is a documentary that tells the story of Shawn and Sean, and their meteoric rise to the top of the music world. It is fascinating, how people with no training came up with an idea, then worked endlessly to get it to work, to the point where it had millions of users worldwide. The movie provides us with tons of interviews, both then and now, of the main players in Napster, and the controversy it sparked.

The interviews are insightful, and we get a complete picture of the story of Napster. From its beginnings, to the rise and height of its fame, to the massive fallout when it was shut down by the courts. There are legal ramifications, as well as financial ones, to the point where the music industry began suing thousands of users of the service, usually winning the cases, and collecting an average of $4,000 from users.

I liked that this documentary described what the guys were doing in detail. It doesn’t shy too much away from the technical aspects of it, allowing us to understand how Napster worked. It also uses a lot of archival footage from the time, especially the court battles, which adds more realism to the story telling. This not only allows us to hear people reflect on the impact of Napster, but to see the circus it had created at the time, and how it was, in fact, changing things.

It is also very interesting to learn a few things about the service, such as that the founders never made any money off of it. Creating something that millions of people use usually means somebody is getting rich, but in the case of Napster, it really was only the lawyers fighting for and against it that made any money. The post-Napster ventures of Shawn and Sean are also quite interesting. We know that Sean Parker made his millions from his involvement in Facebook (his involvement is chronicled by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network), and in the end, Fanning was able to make his money as well, in a video game venture. Agree or not with what the two did, and regardless of the validity of the service that Napster provided, it was an ingenious idea, and it was kind of satisfying to see these guys get their money, even if it was for something different. They are very good thinkers.

Downloaded provides a pretty good, unobscured view of Napster. They present both sides of the argument, and even Shawn and Sean are able to see both sides of the argument. They wanted a place where a network of people could share music, and learn about new music, and love new music. They had never planned on it being so massive, and the legal issues quickly caught up with them. It is up to us to decide if we believe that Napster was a good thing, since we got a free product, or a bad thing, because it was essentially stealing from musicians. There could have been more about the artists who openly spoke out against Napster, and those who fought tooth and nail against it. Metallica, Dr. Dre, and Trent Reznor, all have snippets in the film coming out against Napster, but no current interviews were conducted. They all appear in archival footage, which is great (specifically when Reznor is trashing Fred Durst for being an idiot), but it would have been really cool to see their reflections now on the Napster issue, if their views had changed, if they regret anything, and how it all changed because of it. These artists won the war, but they all surely faced fallout in what was perceived as actions against their own fans (I personally don’t believe what these artists did was wrong, they only wanted the credit for what was their hard work).

Now that CDs are pretty much dead, and we get the majority of our music from the Internet, at more legal places such as iTunes, the impact of Napster is plainly visible in our daily lives. Downloaded does a great job at telling the story fairly. By the end, we like the reflective nature of Fanning and Parker, having them realize what they truly had done, and how they overcame the obstacles of doing it in the first place.

As far as documentaries go, Downloaded is great at describing something that is not yet ancient history, but had a dramatic effect on the way the world works now when it comes to music and the Internet. very interesting, and very informative.