Directed By Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb
Plot – A year in the life of a dying shopping mall in central Alabama.
Analysis – Documentaries anymore must possess with them a visual artistic flare to compliment and balance their extraordinary stories, and while “Jasper Mall” can momentarily seduce us with a unique immersive quality to the film’s echoing musical score meant to give off the feeling of being among the walkers of the mall itself, the abundance of this film left me often bored and seeking out reasons to care. The story itself is engaging enough, resonating expandingly to the dying consistency of shopping malls in the 21st century, and how the evolution of consumerism has surprisingly limited their appeal, but the lack of narration, minimal interview guests, and occasionally distracted storytelling leaves it feeling like the very uninspired shell that it documents. This is barely an 82 minute piece that feels twice of that because of the redundancy of the direction, which makes everything feel like it’s moving in slow motion. This could easily be interpreted as intentional with the mall’s slow decay often enveloping the tone of the movie constructively, and absorbing as much of the voiceless chill as its mics can articulate. The ultimate problem with this concept, though, is that it never materializes into anything meaningful by the film’s conclusion, undercutting the urgency of the problem with a complete absence of narrative paid toward past triumphs, which could’ve better articulated the depth and magnitude of despair. It’s very much a coldly bland, and inconsistently entertaining project that never quite caught my interest, and undercut so much of the dramatic tension of the structural victims of the technological age.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+
Netflix Vs The World
Directed By Shawn Cauthen
Plot – The story of how a tiny, broke Silicon Valley startup slew giants of the movie rental world, warded off Amazon and forced movie making and distribution into the digital age.
Analysis – In a year with an abundance of curtain-pulling documentaries shedding light on the stories and situations that defined a generation, “Netflix Vs The World” feels like one of the more important offerings. Simultaneously, from a business and entertainment perspective, there’s plenty for the audience to engage in and interpret from this complex portrait in history that helped shape the multimedia juggernaut that we know today as Netflix, but particularly it’s the abundance of guests from both sides, Netflix and Blockbuster, that better helps illustrate the balance of struggle, and helps to keep this from feeling like a one-sided argument presented exclusively from the victor of the spoils. This is anything but a Netflix fluff piece, complete with ill-timed economic strategies and pivotal public relations blunders that nearly cost them everything. Aside from this, the aesthetic presentation is creatively vast, and full of editing techniques that refresh our senses with an abundance of news and TV footage documenting every step of the technological dawn from within these two dueling companies. While the film does for the most part make the most of its minutes, the third act of Netflix celebratory victory feels a bit anti-climatic and abruptly concluded in the face of a story with such care and control over the thoroughness of even the most intimate of details. Even still, this is a high recommend for me. You’ll be entertained, educated, and entranced by how a company of a few employees overtook a home video giant, and forged their claim toward the next evolution in home theater.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+
The Last Blockbuster
Directed By Taylor Morden
Plot – A documentary on the last remaining Blockbuster Video in Bend, Oregon.
Analysis – There’s hope. Documentarian Taylor Morden has preserved the last bastion of my childhood, and it’s one that conjures up a sweet sentimentality for what Blockbuster Video meant to so many people. Stacked with an assortment of actors and familiar faces inserting their two cents to the Blockbuster experience, “The Last Blockbuster” takes us through the rise, fall, and perseverance of a rental legend, who even though their best days are behind them, still survive through an abundance of challenges in contemporary times. This is a documentary that not only surprised me with an abundance of knowledge that even a hardcore fan like me didn’t know, but also one that hit right in the feels of my heart, for how urgent the need to support the businesses we love is essential now more than ever. Aside from being a master storyteller, Morden’s presentation for the film is equally indulging, albeit for a minimal budget that he has no shame in poking fun at. In fact, the film is blessed with a rich vibrancy of personality that is plastered throughout the many dramatizations that mouth the words being deposited by an interviewed guest off screen, as well an abundance of visual gags conveyed within the occasional illustration. If there’s any nitpick negatives to the film, I’d say the technical spectrum of the movie is occasionally limited during interview scenes, when subtitles is a necessity with certain guests. Microphone levels as a whole are inconsistent throughout the picture, occasionally elevating and lowering at random, between each cut. Either way, this is essential cinema to fans who, like me, grew up in a video store, and yearn for a time when a little more effort wielded a much greater experience.
My Grade: 9/10 or A