Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Drivers Wanted (2012)

Fascinating observational documentary about a NYC taxi garage, following a group of drivers as they tell their stories and how they came to drive cabs. 

The director rides around with some of the drivers, filming from the front seat, which lends a real sense of immediacy. The drivers themselves are an interesting group. One driver has the distinction of being NYC's oldest cabbie, working since 1939. Another, on his first night on the job, struggles with directions and a malfunctioning fare box. 

Perhaps most interesting of all is the cab company's owner and dispatcher, who oversees his team of current drivers while also recruiting new ones, keeping order and taking care of various emergencies with a good sense of humor. 

Directed by Joshua Z Weinstein. Here's the trailer:

DRIVERS WANTED (Teaser) from Joshua Z Weinstein on Vimeo.

Missing 411 (2017)

Watched this on Tubi tonight. I've been following the work of David Paulides for the past several years, which investigates the unexplained disappearances of children that happen each year in America's national parks. He's uncovered quite a few mysterious stories in his Missing 411 investigations, and this documentary examines a couple of the cases through interviews with the families and others involves in the investigations.

For anyone familiar with Paulides' descriptions of similar cases in various podcast appearances, the documentary doesn't cover too much new ground, but for anyone unfamiliar with his research, it will be a good introduction.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Men O'War (1929), Little details

Early Laurel and Hardy short I caught on TV this morning. It's funny, there's a scene early on where they're talking with the girls in the park. Since this was an early talkie, shot on location, they were still working out some of the issues with shooting with sound outdoors. In the background, you can hear someone playing a ukulele, which cuts in and out between shots. Interesting how that little, real-life detail was picked up in the background. I don't suppose anyone gave it a second thought until they were in the editing room. It gives it a sort of immediacy that would be lacking once the technology became a bit more polished.

The Last Blockbuster (2020)

Watched this doc on Netflix last night, about the last remaining Blockbuster video store franchise in Bend, OR. Just a few years ago there were three remaining stores in Alaska, but now the Oregon store is the last one standing. The format of the doc follows those VH1 "I Love the '80s"-type specials, with a lineup of celebrity commentators offering their memories of the video store experience, about the value of in-person browsing at the video store and the kinds of organic, word-of-mouth recommendations that can occur as a result. The thing is, the experience they describe seems to be true of the smaller, independent video stores, but not so much the large corporate experience offered by Blockbuster. 

I can't say I share the affection for Blockbuster. Unless you were looking for recent Hollywood hits, it was unlikely you were going to find what you were looking for. I do remember one local Blockbuster had a selection of foreign films, where I found movies like Fritz Lang's M, Fellini's The Clowns, and The Private Life of Henry VIII for the first time, but they later did away with these titles. It seemed like, at some point, they ditched a lot of the videos, probably those that weren't renting out regularly. I also remember finding Buster Keaton's The Cameraman there when I was first discovering his films. I also remember talking with a clerk at another Blockbuster who expressed his own disappointment that they didn't carry more of Chaplin's films, after I asked about those.

Still, if Blockbuster was your only option in your area, then it served a good purpose. I've read several comments from librarians, in response to this doc, pointing out that DVDs are still available to rent from your local library, often for free and from a greater selection than Blockbuster ever offered. And that's to say nothing of the selection of films now available through streaming. I remember that several video stores used to carry a selection of old public domain titles, on labels like Madacy, Hollywood Classics, etc. Now, of course, all of those can be found online for free. I imagine what it must be like being a young film fan today, having all of those films easily accessible to explore at no cost.

Although I like the idea of the in-person interaction that video stores could provide, I can't say the doc really made me miss the video store experience. Sure, there's a nostalgia factor to them, but at the end of the day, I'm glad that we have greater access to films than ever before.