Kids For Cash

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9.5/10

Ladies and gentlemen, i give you an early favorite for film of the year. It’s very rare that a documentary will hit me in such a way that Kids For Cash does. That’s not to say that i don’t enjoy documentaries, but when compared to the year’s best screenplay films, it never adds up. I think that is about to change with this enraging documentary about the 2007 Kids For Cash scandal that saw many innocent kids under the age of 18 go to jail for minor offenses. The film explores the huge holes in the American legal system and how we are one of the only countries to have no revisions to our original juvenile legal system. This is a film that i feel every parent should watch because it’s about those times when being our children’s protectors is taken from us due to corruption and greed. The story focuses mostly on two judges from Pennsylvania who accepted a 2.2 million dollar bribe from a prison owner to fill his prison in order to get a new prison built and more funding coming through the doors. The judges in question are Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. One thing that really impresses me about the story that director Robert May tries to tell is that he tells it with both sides debating their points. Ciavarella and Conahan are each given their time to explain why they accepted the bribes that they did, and the only small points that they did wrong. It’s interesting that they take no blame what so ever in sending these kids away and ruining their lives for small things like a stolen bike that the child had no idea was stolen property, a girl creating a fake Myspace page, and a kid getting in a fight at school. While watching this film, you will absolutely despise these two judges and there is no way around that. Without spoiling too much, i can say that one result of a child in particular will get you to the point that you feel like you are this boy’s parent and fighting and yelling against Ciavarella. I am getting off topic, but i promise you that the film itself is very stylishly shot. Screen text throughout the film will always keep the reader side by side with where the story is headed even if you don’t fully understand the legal mumbo jumbo of the lawyers and judges, respectively. There are lots of legal information about ours and other countries around the world when discussing child punishment laws. It paints the picture that even though we are one of the most lucrative countries in the world, and one of the most powerful, we are still years behind on a perfect system. The zero tolerance policy is not a system that will ever work well for children because you can’t compare them to adult criminals. The film goes as far as to explain that the teenage mind will never be fully developed when a child makes a terrible choice. They are literally still being molded into the people they will become one day, and grouping them with murderers and rapists probably isn’t the most logical choice. The background score is done very beautifully as well with lots of mellow tones to accomodate the parents when they tell the horrors of what their children went through. The ending credits are played off to a child choir singing Creep by Radionhead. This is quite appropriate for two reasons. The first is the sad tone coming from the choir voices, and the second is that it’s during that song we learn the fate of the two judges. In his directoral debut, Robert May examines hard hitting details as a result of over a decade of interviews. This is a film that wasn’t made in a year and you have to respect that with how fast films are thrown at the public in the course of a year. Kids for Cash does what any great advocacy doc does: give you the cold hard facts to get you angry and make you want to pay attention so that something like this never happens again. It’s a cruel look at a crime that will never happen again, but baffle you that it ever happened in the first place. No parent can miss Kids For Cash. I am glad that after a 5 month wait i was finally able to catch this film on Amazon Instant Video. INCREDIBLE.

Birth of the Living Dead

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6.5/10

This documentary about George Romero’s original zombie masterpiece shows us the struggles of introducing the world to zombies. It’s hard to understand today just how much Romero went through with trying to get this film into theaters and drive ins because the world as we know it today loves zombies. What i loved about this film was all of the stuff i learned about the cast, what it took to purchase the equipment and the copyright mistake that led to a horror classic possibly losing millions of the take it brought in. This documentary gives us some great in depth interviews with Romero. The master of zombies tells us that no one wanted to give a first time 27 year old director a chance, and how that was his motivation to get the film released. The only thing i didn’t like about this film was how many films outside of the horror world that it took credit for. I don’t exactly think The Godfather trilogy was made because of the negative ending in Night of the Living Dead. It’s a bit of a stretch to claim many cinematic classics, but i see what they were going for. Check it out if you are like me, and a big fan of the Romero zombie epics

Downloaded

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8/10

A great documentary about the rise and fall of the music sharing giant known as Napster. The film gives a great look into the battles and insight of the Napster employees and the war they fought against music industry giants. I think the story is told very well by both sides of the war, and shows you what the musicians were going through as well. It was also crazy to watch the last ten minutes and see the kind of successes and failures that Shawn Fanning and Shawn Parker accomplished after Napster. I definitely recommend giving this film a chance if you were a teenager like me in 2000 who grew up in a world where the technology was getting faster and smarter. Downloaded has 105 minutes of amazing footage that shows you the kind of world we were dealing with, and the ground that was being laid for internet giants like Facebook, Spotify and Itunes.