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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > History > Sexual Harassment > Politics > Music > Blues > Industry > Environment > Anita: Speaking Truth To Power (2013/Anita Hill/First Run DVD)/B.B. King: Life Of Riley (2014/MVD Visual Blu-ray + DVD)/Watermark (2013/E1 Blu-ray)/Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (2014/HBO DVD)

Anita: Speaking Truth To Power (2013/Anita Hill/First Run DVD)/B.B. King: Life Of Riley (2014/MVD Visual Blu-ray + DVD)/Watermark (2013/E1 Blu-ray)/Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (2014/HBO DVD)

Picture: C+/B- & C+/B-/C+ Sound: C+/C+/B-/C+ Extras: B/C/B-/D Films: B-/B/B-/B

The following documentaries have something to say more than worth your time...

Frieda Mock's Anita: Speaking Truth To Power (2013) tells us the story of how Anita Hill decided to speak out against her boss, now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, when he was being nominated for that job. With nothing in it for her, she told Congress how she had been sexually harassed and otherwise by Thomas in a job where their office was supposed to prosecute crimes where people were supposed to be sexually harassed. Of course, it was a politicized fiasco where Thomas (picked by Neo-Conservatives so he could not be as easily blocked as Bork had been, at least as qualified for the job, but..) made it personal, brushing off the allegations.

The biggest problem was, politicians and the media never allowed that Hill was telling the truth, instead allowing Republicans to insert the idea that she was a liar and playing on built-in sexism and racism to discredit her. Democrats did nothing to protect her and we see her endure this all-male affair that sometimes gets ugly. That had an effect on women in this country, especially non-conservative and this documentary shows the activism that resulted, along with subtly showing how the country changed in a way that if this happened again, a female discourse of some kind would have to be present because women are not going to take this anymore.

That's good news for female politicians running for office, we get to see those changes and Hill opens up in extensive interviews telling of the whole affair and how it changed her life. In recent years, what definitely sounds like Thomas' wife leaves a voice mail message to Hill asking her to think about how wrong she was and why she made up the allegations, but this is not a case of denial not just being a river in Egypt. Neo-Conservatives in particular love to talk down to those they hate as if they were idiots, lie to them blatantly and then ask/tell them to accept their lie as if the accuser was insane, phony, flawed, etc. Mrs. Thomas can go on dreaming; Hill is never recanting, nor should she and well will not even go into the betrayal of women issue. After all, she was telling the truth, so why should she? I just wish this was a longer work.

Extras include two hour-long featurettes: Finding Home with a keynote address by Hill and Speaking Truth To Power featuring women speaking aloud about the injustices connected with Hill's testimony and why they believe her.

Jon Brewer's B.B. King: Life Of Riley (2014) is a remarkable documentary look at the giant of Blues music through interviews and songs as expected, but the biographical section is particularly deep and at a healthy 119 minutes, really gets to the heart of the legend with amazing stories throughout. Riley B. King (his actual name; the subtitle is the same as an old radio sitcom) had an amazingly tough early life he is lucky to have survived so well, but his journey to greatness is just as amazing and as is often the case in this kind of work, we also get a rare look inside the arts, innovation and the music industry in the process.

Interviews are extensive and include Bill Cosby, Eric Clapton, Bono, Ringo Starr, narrator Morgan Freeman and even Bruce Willis, plus a long line of King's friends and relatives. This one is done with great energy, joy and makes it one of the best such music releases in the last few years. Even if you are not a Blues fan, it is that good and you will not be disappointed.

Extras include Extended Interviews and a performance Live From The Royal Albert Hall where King is joined by the likes of guitarist Slash.

Jennifer Baichwal & photographer Edward Burtynsky's Watermark (2013) goes around the world to show how water is being overused, abused and in more than a few cases, suddenly missing from entire rivers, et al. We have seen some of this before, but the 91 minutes is good with its focus on how this works, does not work and is not working. The overcast look throughout is here to make the point that something is wrong, but it backfires on the credibility of the piece, yet enough truth comes through still. Sometimes, it is more like a Qatsi or Ron Fricke (Baraka, Samsara) film than an outright documentary, not working to its advantage. Otherwise, I agree with its thesis for the most part and you should see it.

Extras include a Making Of featurette, Deleted Scenes, In Discussion segment with the co-directors and the highlight of the while release, Burtynsky narrating a Picture Gallery of his work with important facts and observations.

Finally we have Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (2014), directed by Goldberg herself telling us about the groundbreaking stand-up comedienne from her early days on stage in segregated stages across the country to her late boost as a TV personality, et al, as The Civil Rights movement and the country finally catch up with her and how ahead of her time she was. The footage is great, including stills, especially the early rarely-seen ones. We find out she was openly gay and her comedy never pulled any punches.

I remember her back then and she was amazing, including in her boldness. Though many things are not known about her, Goldberg puts together as much of a biography as she can figure out and the great interviews here include with the likes of Bill Cosby (again!), Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffith and more. This runs only 71 minutes, but more could have been shown and said. Still, you should go out of your way for this one too so you can see a legend that might be too easily forgotten.

There are no extras.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on the King and Watermark Blu-rays are the best here by default, as King has vintage footage and Watermark has a slightly overcast look in all its new footage created on purpose, but one that is not very intellectually honest for a project trying to sound the alarm on water shortages. It can also look a little metallic, which extends to the Picture Gallery stills section. Its softer, anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image is the same, but poorer in playback, again equalled by DVD documentaries with vintage, older footage like the King DVD, plus Anita and Moms.

As for sound, Watermark is the only lossless presentation here with a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix that includes narration and music while being quiet in nature. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on both format versions of King rank second place, but are still tied by the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Anita and Moms despite having more music because King is not as music-based as you might expect despite having plenty of his songs in it, including live performances. Bet a lossless track on the Blu-ray would have worked better.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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