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Three Documentaries from Mongrel Media

The Age of Stupid (January 8/10)

The Age of Stupid is essentially a run-of-the-mill documentary revolving around the impact that humanity's progressively bad decisions are having on the environment, with the catch being that the movie unfolds entirely from the perspective of an archivist living within the year 2055. The character, portrayed by Pete Postlethwaite, offers up a random series of clips designed to illustrate just how dire the contemporary climate crisis really is, which effectively ensures that a viewing of The Age of Stupid is initially akin to watching a garden-variety news program. It's only as filmmaker Franny Armstrong settles down and offers up a handful of actual stories that the film improves (albeit minutely), as several of these true-life tales are admittedly far more intriguing than one might've anticipated (ie the ongoing efforts of a British man to erect an energy-saving wind farm within his community, a New Orleans-based paleontologist who rescued more than 100 people after Hurricane Katrina hit, etc). There is, however, little doubt that The Age of Stupid's consistently hit-and-miss atmosphere becomes increasingly difficult to overlook as time progresses, with Armstrong's creative and energetic directorial choices ultimately unable to compensate for the almost pervasively stale nature of the film's content (ie it's not a stretch to envision these profiles popping up on an episode of 60 Minutes). The strong finale notwithstanding, The Age of Stupid would hardly be worth mentioning were it not for its imaginative (yet fairly needless) central gimmick - thus cementing its place as another in a long line of one-sided documentaries revolving around the climate crisis.

out of

Blood on the Flat Track (January 12/10)

With its in-depth, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, Blood on the Flat Track certainly stands as an effective primer into the world of women's roller derby - as directors Lainy Bagwell and Lacey Leavitt offer up an all-encompassing look at the sport from the perspective of several Seattle-based athletes. The movie documents the rise of numerous teams within Seattle's recently-formed Rat City Rollergirls league, with a specific emphasis on such colorfully-named members as Basket Casey, Burnett Down, and Shovey Chase. There's little doubt that Bagwell and Leavitt's thoroughly comprehensive sensibilities are initially responsible for cultivating an almost overwhelming atmosphere of freneticism, as the filmmakers doggedly introduce the sport's rules, regulations, and players with an absence of context that proves frustrating (and far-from-enthralling). It's not until the directors start to delve into the personal lives of the various competitors that Blood on the Flat Track becomes more than just another run-of-the-mill sports documentary, with the incredibly affable nature of some of these people - Basket Casey, especially - ensuring that the movie is at its best when focused on the personal lives of its various subjects. It's subsequently not surprising to note that, ironically, the actual roller derby sequences aren't quite as compelling as Bagwell and Leavitt clearly believe them to be, which effectively cements Blood on the Flat Track's place as a passable documentary that's clearly been geared primarily towards fans of the up-and-coming sport (although, to be fair, neophytes will probably walk away with a newfound respect for the game).

out of

The Day After Peace (September 28/09)

Infused with an earnestness that's almost palpable in its intensity, The Day After Peace nevertheless remains an utterly underwhelming endeavor virtually from start to finish - with filmmaker Jeremy Gilley's closeness to the material ultimately ensuring that the movie boasts the feel of a recruitment tool rather than a fully fleshed-out documentary. More than 15 years ago, actor-turned-activist Gilley set out to establish a day dedicated to peace across the globe and the movie essentially details his ongoing efforts at accomplishing his goal by enlisting the help of folks from all walks of life (including such celebrities as Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, and Jonny Lee Miller). Though it's clear instantly that Gilley feels very strongly about the movement, there's never a point at which the documentarian is able to effectively convey his passion (or the reasons behind it) to the viewer - which ensures that the film comes off as a stagnant and relentlessly superficial piece of work. Gilley's penchant for repetition makes it clear that the subject matter hardly lends itself to the feature-length treatment, as the director offers up sequence after sequence of his efforts at trying to pull the admittedly massive undertaking together. And although some of this stuff is fairly interesting (ie Gilley attempts to sell the idea to dozens of Coca-Cola marketers), The Day After Peace is simply unable to establish itself as more than a promotional reel for Gilley's Peace One Day organization - thus cementing the movie's place as a sporadically intriguing yet far-from-cinematic introduction to the cause.

out of

About the DVDs: All three films arrive on DVD courtesy of Mongrel Media, and although The Age of Stupid and The Day After Peace come up empty in terms of special features, Blood on the Flat Track boasts a commentary track, an update on the players' lives, a look at their tattoos, and a theatrical trailer.
© David Nusair