FilmWatch Weekly: Just the facts, man–documentaries dominate

With Hollywood churning out glorified video games and unasked-for sequels, reality is better than fiction this week

Describing this week’s wide-opening movie releases feels a bit like eavesdropping in a Hollywood studio pitch meeting: it’s the same old story.

A special effects-laden mediocrity based on a video game franchise and two sequels that exist only because their predecessors outperformed expectations at the box office—that’s what America’s multiplexes will be serving up to content consumers, or what used to be called “audiences.” If these pallid excuses for narrative don’t float your boat, though, the week does offer an unusually diverse array of documentaries to devour. Dig in!

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FILM REVIEW: “Weiner” is a vérité look at a veritable scoundrel

This fascinating, hilarious, disturbing look at Anthony Weiner's 2013 mayoral campaign is a time capsule piece on today's politics

56 years ago, the documentary “Primary” offered a then-unprecedented look behind the scenes of a political campaign. Produced by Direct Cinema pioneer Robert Drew and shot by non-fiction filmmaking legends Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles, and utilizing new, more mobile equipment, it afforded a ground-level look at the race between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic Party primary.

24 years ago, directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker got even more unfettered access to BIll Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign to make “The War Room,” which made stars of strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos.  In the years since, we’ve grown accustomed, inured even, to the lack of traditional media filters between voters and candidates in an era of omnipresent cameras, hot mics, and “gotcha” journalism.

Even so, the new documentary “Weiner” makes those once-revolutionary films seems like something from North Korean state television. This fly-on-the-wall look at disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner’s 2013 quest to become the mayor of New York City will confirm every cynical thought you’ve ever had about the narcissism and desperation of the political class or the piranha-like instincts of today’s media. In other words, it’s morbidly hilarious. Some of this stuff would fit right in on the HBO show “Veep,” except it might not be believable enough.