Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label documentary. Show all posts

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Documentary Review-The Secrets of the Tower of London

Image result for the tower of londonPBS' The Secrets of the Tower of London is a delightful documentary that would have won my heart for the footage of ravens doing raven things to jazzy music alone. But in addition to some awesome raven footage, this film also uncovered some of the little known ceremonies and secrets of the Tower.

This was an awesome film, and I don't want to spoil it, but just to give you an idea of why this is worth watching, let me just give you a short list of awesome things you'll see.
  • Bones hidden in the Tower walls.
  • Gargoyles getting their teeth brushed. (I'm serious)
  • Recently discovered medieval artwork.
  • The ceremony of 'The Queen's Keys'
  • The living quarters of the chief Yeoman Warder
There were also mentions of secret Beef Eater ceremonies, which you bet I will be researching.

There was also a random detour to Tower Bridge. Now Tower Bridge isn't part of the Tower of London, but it's right next door, and apparently it was designed to fit in with its medieval neighbor. The documentary shows much of the original Victorian engineering at work as the bridge raises.

This was a great documentary. If you're looking for something light and enjoyable to watch, I can't recommend this more.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Documentary Review-Warrior Women

Image result for warrior women netflixWarrior Women with Lucy Lawless is an awesome 5 part documentary series that I literally watched in one sitting because I liked it so much. It was interesting, visually pretty, and, best of all, actually taught me things I didn't know--something I always appreciate. The documentary covers five women in depth--Joan of Arc, Grace O'Malley, Boudicca, Lozen, and the 'Real' Mulan, and I HIGHLY recommend that you go watch it right now. It's on Netflix, so it should be pretty easy.


I do have some warnings, however. This show is very addictive. You will be sad when it's over. This show will suck you in, then spit you out wondering what exactly you're supposed to do with your life now. You may not be able to watch another historical documentary again without feeling the bitterness of dissatisfaction. Further side effects of watching Warrior Women with Lucy Lawless may include:

  • A crush on Grace O'Malley
  • A desire to fight the Roman Empire
  • Seeing Boudicca in a different light
  • A desire to fight the US Government
  • Learning how to actually pronounce 'Boudicca' and 'Iceni'
  • A crush on Lucy Lawless
  • Increased knowledge about swords and other weapons
  • Procrastination of other responsibilities to watch this documentary
  • Frustration that it only has five parts
Image result for warrior women with lucy lawlessHyperbolic silliness aside, this is a fantastic documentary. It's very well researched, it's well presented, and it keeps your attention the entire way through. I honestly, have no serious complaints about this show, only the wish that it was longer. So if you're looking for an amazing history show to watch, definitely watch this one.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Documentary Review: Dear Albania

This short, but enjoyable, film is the perfect thing to watch while doing laundry, dishes, and other household chores. It's informative and interesting, but not so academically complex that you need to give it your whole attention.

Image result for dear albaniaProduced and narrated by American-Albanian actress Eliza Dushku, Dear Albania documents the visit of Eliza and her brother to Albania, the homeland of their grandparents. It looks at Albanian culture and people from the lens of a semi-outsider--someone who is at once part of the culture, but has been geographically removed from that culture for most of their lives.

It starts in the capital city of Tirina, where Dushku and her brother track down some family. From there they explore the lovely beaches, as well as the vibrant city of Tirina. However, they don't stay in one place for very long. From Tirina they explore other large cities in Albania, as well as several large cities with significant Albanian communities in the neighboring country as well.

To be entirely honest, there wasn't a lot of substance in this film. There were stunning visuals, small amounts of tourist information, along with a large amount of Dushku family history. This movie gives just enough of a taste of Albania to get the watcher interested, but the lack of actual information leaves you dissatisfied at the end. It was more of a travel diary than a proper documentary, though it tried very hard to fit into the documentary category.

Overall, it was a mildly entertaining film to have playing as background noise while I performed household tasks. While it might have been light on information, it has left me with a burning curiosity to learn more about Albania, as well as ideas for a few research topics, so keep an eye out for more Albanian history in the future!

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Documentary Review: They Call It Myanmar

I'd heard of Myanmar before. I knew it used to be called (or is still currently called--that's still fuzzy) Burma. I knew that the US, along with several other members of the UN didn't recognize the current government (which actually turned out to be incorrect) and I knew that it was in South Asia. That was about it, so watching this documentary was an excellent learning experience for me.

Image result for they call it myanmarThis documentary was put together by a Cornell Physics professor, who also, in his spare time, writes novels, makes films, and assists the US Government in humanitarian work overseas. He was working for an NGO in Myanmar when he made the film. When making this documentary he took advantage of his connections with the locals to interview them about their opinions about the direction of Burmese politics, and to get the opinion of people living in one of the most isolated countries in the world.

So Myanmar, like so much of Southern Asia, was absorbed into a colonial empire, in their case the British Empire. Around 1940 the Burmese government reached out to the Japanese for help liberating them from the English. The Japanese obliged, but they also made things a whole hell of a lot worse, so the Burmese had to call on the English again for help. With the help of the allied powers, the Burmese were able to kick the Japanese out of Burma, and establish their own independent government. All was going well until 1962 when the military took over the running of the government.

After taking power, the Burmese military quickly cut all ties with the outside world. They isolated themselves as a group, making it difficult for normal people to have their voice heard in government. Due to their isolation and some poor economic decisions, Myanmar is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Image result for myanmar mapThis film explores the day-to-day life of the Burmese, and what they have to do to survive. Blankets and bedding are pawned in the morning to pay for bus fare, children rarely go to school past the first or second grade, and most laborers make less than $1 USD a day.

But in addition to the extreme poverty, this documentary also explores the strong spiritual life of Myanmar. Myanmar is, essentially, a Buddhist state, and the Burmese are a very religious people. According to the film, many Burmese attribute their poverty to mistakes made in past lives, and try to live better lives by weekly worship.

This is a very interesting documentary, and a good introduction to modern Myanmar. I have to admit, I didn't 100% understand everything that was shown, simply because I didn't know much of the history of post WWII South Asia. There was also a lot of political information in the film, that I didn't summarize here, simply because I wasn't quite sure how to. Which is why if you have a couple hours, and are interested, I would highly recommend watching it.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Documentary Review-The Truth Behind: The Dead Sea Scrolls

So today's documentary was one put out by The National Geographic Chanel. However, unlike the last documentary I watched that was put out by them, this one didn't want to make me tear my hair out.

Image result for dead sea scrollsI'd heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls in passing before. They were mentioned in religious classes when I was younger, and I'd read historical fantasy books where they played a role, but I didn't know too much about them. Until now, obviously. Now I know like, three things about them.

This documentary starts out in solid historical fact, detailing the discovery of the scrolls in 1947 by a Bedouin boy who was chasing after a lost goat. After detailing the excavation and recovery of the scrolls the film starts to delve into theories about the origins of the scrolls, and then some wild speculation.

There are several theories about where the scrolls came from, but the common theme seems to be that they were put there by the Essenes, a Jewish sect who decided to move out into the desert to escape the evil shenanigans going on in Jerusalem. There are several people who theorize that Jesus himself was an Essene, and that they were put there by some of his disciples.

Image result for dead sea scrolls copper
The copper scroll couldn't be unrolled, so the archaeologists
had to cut it open.
My favorite part of this documentary is when they talked about the 'copper scroll', a scroll made out of (you'll never guess it) copper, which contains a treasure map. In my opinion, the only thing better than treasure is a treasure map, so you can see why this might excite me. One of my only complaints is that I wish the documentary had spent more time on the copper scroll, and on the many people who have tried to find the treasure. But I suppose that that would be an entirely different documentary, eh?

Overall, it was a fantastic documentary that I highly recommend watching if you have an hour or so to spare.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Documentary Review- The Irish Pub

So I was scrolling through the search results on Netflix for Michael Palin. There was absolutely nothing streaming by Michael Palin (or Monty Python for that matter), but I did find an interesting number of travel documentaries, including this one.

Image result for the irish pub'The Irish Pub' is about, well, if you can't guess what this documentary is about from the name alone you may wish to go back to school. It's about pubs. In Ireland. This documentary visits several historic and still functioning pubs from around the island. Interviews with the proprieters and long time staff members give a view into the cultural importance of the pub in Irish society.

The pub, in Ireland, is just as much a community gathering place as it is a place to purchase and imbibe alcohol. It's a place to talk with old friends, meet new ones, and listen to some good music. Several of the pubs shown in the documentary are centers of culture as well. De Barra's, a pub known for it's musical excellence, was shown, as was the pub where the famed Irish writer, James Joyce wrote parts of Dubliners and Tipperary Tales.

History is as much a part of pubs as alcohol and culture is. Many of these pubs seem to be a curious sort of local museum, filled with objects donated by locals that showed the history of the area. A couple of items of note were a traveling alter- a throwback to the times when Irish Catholics had to practice their religion in secret, and a door bar that had been bent by English soldiers during the black and tans occupation.

Image result for de barras pubThere was also a lot of discussion about how the pub, as a fixture, is being threatened by modernization. Tales of people ripping out historic doors and bars to replace them with plastic and stainless steel, as well as stories of movie studios offering to literally buy the stone floor right from underneath a bar. It is clear that a lot of these pubs are disappearing and being replaced by fancy nightclubs and American style bars. Most of these pubs exist only in small towns in the countryside, and this documentary is an attempt to revive interest in these establishments, and provide a reason as to why they should be restored.

Overall, it was a good documentary. It wasn't terribly exciting--you can only look at so many pubs before they all start to look the same--but it was interesting enough. Watch this if you're in the mood for something calming, and for something that isn't too taxing on the brain.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Documentary Review- The Polar Sea

Something you may not know about me is that I am in love with the arctic. I think it's beautiful, and completely improbably that people manage to survive there. And for someone who starts complaining when the temperature drops below 73 degrees Fahrenheit, I want to go there a whole lot. So when I saw this documentary on Netflix, naturally I watched most of it in a day.

Image result for the polar sea 360
"The Polar Sea" chronicles the adventures of Richard Tegner and various companions as he sails through the Northwest Passage. It chronicles his journey as an 'arctic hitchhiker' from Reykjavik Iceland to Dutch Harbor, USA.

For those of you who are unaware, the Northwest Passage is a sea route that stretches from Baffin Bay to the Aleutian Islands. It weaves its way through the many islands and ice floes of Canada's northern territories: Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon. The Northwest Passage is frozen for most of the year, and when it's not frozen it has some of the most treacherous waters in the world.

Tegner, originally from Sweden, was persuaded by a friend to undertake the journey. An inexperienced sailor, Tegner departed with his friend on the Dax, a small sailboat. Sailing from Iceland, the Dax broke down around Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Tegner's friends returned to Sweden, while Tegner decided to stick it out, and hitch a ride through the passage.

Image result for northwest passageAt first, I was really worried for this dude, because hitchhiking is known to be notoriously unreliable below the arctic circle, and I would think that it would be even more so above, but Tegner made it work, hitching a ride first with a Russian cruise ship, then with a Swiss catamaran, which, I take, is a type of boat.

(It is a type of boat, and that particular catamaran was the first boat of its kind to sail the Northwest Passage, sailed by the youngest sailors to make the journey)

Along the way they stopped at multiple Inuit communities and research stations. One of the biggest focuses of this documentary, or really, the main focus, was how global warming has changed the arctic.

It's climate change that made Tegner's journey possible. The ice in the passage has started melting earlier, and freezing later every year. This has had a bad impact on the Inuit who live in the arctic regions. While this does open up streams of ecotourism to boost the Inuit economy, it is driving the local wildlife from the region. As the Inuit have traditionally relied on hunting to survive, this is something of a problem.

Image result for narwhal
Narwhal are real?? And they live in the arctic?
Additionally, erosion is threatening Inuit communities. The ice melting leaves their communities vulnerable to the explosive autumn storms. The documentary focused on the town of Kivalina in Alaska, which experienced extreme flooding in 2004, but a quick google search turns up dozens of other towns with the same plight.

If you've ever doubted that climate is changing, this is a good show to watch. If you've ever wondered about Inuit culture, and the history of the Inuit in the arctic, this is a great show to watch. If you just really like the arctic, this is a good show to watch. It can be a bit of a bear to get through, but it's well worth it.

If you want to learn more about the show, and more about Tegner's arctic experience, you can visit their website here.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Documentary Review-The Russian Revolution

So, I'll admit it, my thirst for information on Russian history has only intensified since watching Empire of the Tsars. This is probably no surprise for anyone who's been following this blog. So, as you might surmise, I sat down to watch this short documentary on Netflix, and, let me tell you, it was really, really okay!


The Russian Revolution is an uncreatively named 2017 documentary on, you'll never guess it, the Russian Revolution! It was created by filmmaker Cal Seville

He did a good job on coming up with a unique title, eh?

That triviality aside, there are two things I really liked about this documentary:

  1. It put the revolution in context. 
  2. It contrasted the lives of Lenin and Nicholas II, and analyzed how that led to the revolution.
Image result for nicholas ii of russia
Nicholas II
Instead of starting around the turn of the century, the documentary started in 1881, with the reign of Czar Alexander II. It explained how the assassination of Alexander II led to the severe autocratic policies of Alexander III, and how Alexander III's early demise led to the awful mistakes and general tone deafness of Nicholas II. 

And one of the things I appreciate about this documentary is that it's openly critical of Nicholas II. So often in history texts and films Nicholas II is treated with kid gloves, like he was unjustly dethroned by an evil communist populace.* Not in this film. This documentary lists off the mistakes Nicholas made that led to his people being unhappy with him, instead of putting the blame entirely on the Bolsheviks.

Also, it's nice to see how the lives of two opposing leaders intertwined to create the explosive consequences of 1917. A large part of Lenin's communist policies stemmed from the influence of his older brother Sasha. Sasha was later executed for treason by Czar Nicholas. Lenin spent so many years hating the Romanov's, and the Romanov's were completely unaware of his existence until it was too late.

Image result for Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Overall, it's a good show. It doesn't do too much to add to the discourse surrounding the Russian Revolution, but it does cast the events in a less biased light. And, if you're still on the fence, it was really short, about 45 minutes. In just 45 minutes, you can learn just enough about the Russian Revolution to be able to know what you're talking about when the topic arises at the next family reunion. Because what family reunion is complete without a heated discussion of European history?

*Take a big guess what notoriously communist hating world power is putting this myth out. (Hint, it's the United States)




Thank you to commenter Bobart for correcting us on the maker of this film. This article was revised on October 12, 2018 to reflect the correct information.

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