(Yes, I am so behind on posting that this is actually last weekend's viewing, but I was too busy to see anything this weekend anyway.)
Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, 2001)
I saw the narrative version of this film, Lords of Dogtown, last year, and found it to be pretty boring and uninspired. But my friend practically worships this movie, and I have to say that it's a perfect example of a great story that just doesn't translate well to Hollywood-style filmmaking. Peralta covers ground that was very familiar to me from watching Lords of Dogtown, but he does it in a much more engrossing and creative way, putting much more invention into the documentary format than he did in his bland screenplay for Lords. He's lucky to have so much actual footage from the early days of the Dogtown skateboard revolution, but he's also incredibly adept at editing it together in an exciting way, along with interviews and Sean Penn's narration and some awesome classic rock that must have cost him more to license than the entire budget of the film. The thing I liked most about this movie is that it's incredibly cinematic, taking full advantage of the visual nature of the medium and not just showing us a bunch of talking heads. It did strike me as a little odd that Peralta never acknowledged that he was essentially making a documentary about himself, even in his own interviews, which was maybe a little disingenuous but did make everything flow more smoothly.
Orwell Rolls in His Grave (Robert Kane Pappas, 2003)
I saw this only because I did a story for the Weekly about hanging out with the activists who got together to watch it, and I doubt otherwise I would have ever seen it. It's yet another left-leaning documentary, going over many of the same points that Michael Moore has been making for years, and doing so in a much more clumsy and less entertaining way. If Dogtown and Z-Boys is impressively cinematic for a documentary, this film is just the opposite, shot without grace or style, full of talking heads and clunky graphics (complete with a typo). A few of the "interview" subjects don't even sit for interviews; Pappas just shot them giving speeches to unseen audiences. His points about media hegemony are extreme but not entirely off-base; his method of delivery, though, leaves a lot to be desired.
Secret Things (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2002)
This is clearly a pretentiously overwrought film, but I sort of enjoyed it anyway, since I have a soft spot for snooty French art movies. Plus, it has hot lesbian sex in it. I couldn't quite decide if Brisseau is a raging misogynist or a subversive feminist, but the fact that the movie theoretically supports both reads makes it interesting regardless of its increasingly ridiculous plot. A number of critics have compared this to Eyes Wide Shut, except this is what that film should have been if Kubrick weren't so cold a filmmaker and didn't have censors breathing down his neck. I'm still not sure if this was a good movie, but it was worth watching, and it's too bad that none of Brisseau's other films appear to be available on DVD in the U.S.