Oscar Nominees, Redux: Two More Documentary Reviews

Following Hell and Back Again and If a Tree Falls, LJ presents two more of the five finalists for the 2012 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, to be announced on Sunday, February 26. Per our information, these two are not yet available in DVD format for purchase.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. color & b/w. 2 hrs. Bruce Sinofsky & Joe Berlinger. HBO Documentary Films. 2012. CRIMINOLOGY
This is the final film in a trilogy on the well-publicized case of the West Memphis 3, a trio of young men who were convicted of the 1993 murder of three cub scouts, despite alibis, a coerced confession, and a paucity of evidence. Its first order of business is to recap the events surrounding the crime and what has taken place subsequent to two earlier documentaries (The Paradise Lost Collection, LJ 10/1/09). That is accomplished so effectively, it is not necessary to view the previous films, letting filmmakers Sinofsky and Berlinger proceed with explorations of the implications of updated DNA evidence, fresh witnesses, possible jury misconduct, and the emergence of a new suspect, all of which point to fatal flaws in the case. The film employs many kinds of footage to lay out the chain of events and review the complex legal situations, skillfully combining grisly crime scene images, media reports, press conferences, legal proceedings coverage, and interviews with the principals. The interviews offer a wide array of encounters with the various players, helping to clarify key pieces of the story while illuminating the hearts and minds of the subjects. The accused are shown to be thoughtful and acutely aware of the effects of the passage of time and their youth while they were unjustifiably imprisoned for 18 years. Though the men are ultimately released based on time served in an unsatisfying legal maneuver known as an Alford plea, their final, haunting moments on screen make it clear that there was no justice for them or for the victims. VERDICT This film, a tribute to the perseverance of talented documentarians, is a cautionary and powerful reflection on our way of justice and should be required viewing for anyone at work in the legal system.‚ Joan Pedzich, formerly with Harris Beach PLLC, Pittsford, NY

Undefeated. color. 113+ min. Dan Lindsay & T.J. Martin, Weinstein Co., www.weinsteinco.com. 2012. Rated: PG-13. SPORTS
Clichés are hard to avoid in sports documentaries‚ the inspirational tone, the limited range of outcomes, injury, racial politics, slo-mo, the focus on a few individuals. Mostly, one hopes for a great subject and events that can be shaped into a compelling narrative. Bill Courtney is that great subject. He’s the big-hearted volunteer football coach at Manassas High in economically depressed North Memphis, traditional doormats, with a promising team in 2009 that just might make the state playoffs. Stressing character, determination, commitment, and team values, Courtney guides his team through the ups and downs of a season. His star lineman needs better grades to play in college. His undersized right tackle tears up his knee and temporarily quits school. Another potential star seems more interested in fighting teammates and coaches than playing ball. VERDICT Undefeated breaks no new ground but stands as an exemplary sports chronicle, with a few truly moving moments. The Memphis-based soundtrack is a plus. Recommended for all viewers.‚ John Hiett, Iowa City P.L.

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"