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Again, another movie that deserves a lengthy write up.  Again, I’ll try and do what I can with it.

I will say this from the beginning: this is probably one of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year (and there have been plenty of good documentaries).  That should set you forward in seeing this.

Vik Muniz, an artist, decides for his next series to involve the trash-pickers at Jardim Gramacho, one of the world’s largest landfills, in the hopes of giving back to his native country.  He meets a small sampling of the workers there, each with their own story and reasons for working the landfill.  He photographs several of them – Taio, the president of the trash-pickers union; Zumbi, the intellectual; Suelem, an 18-year old mother of two; Isis, a lover of fashion with a tragic past; Valter, the vice president and the oldest worker at the landfill; Irma, the cook; and Magna, who took a job there when her husband lost his.

Muniz’s work often involves materials that represent each aspect of his subjects.  Prior to this series, his most famous was one based with sugar and children (again in his native Brazil).  For this series, he plans on using recyclable materials to create pieces of art from portraits taken of the workers.  The trailer is just a small sampling: seeing the reactions of everyone being turned into art is astounding.  Taio is especially happy: his piece was selected for direct auction at a London auction house.

Each of the people highlighted in the film have aspirations outside of the landfill.  With the exception of Taio (who continues to represent the workers even though the landfill is scheduled to be closed in 2012) and Valter (who passed away during the filming of the documentary), most of these people aspire to move beyond life at the landfill.  There’s a major discussion between Muniz and two others about the impact they’re having on the workers, and whether it’s good or bad.  They definitely want to make their lives better, but what would the cost be?  Muniz, more than anything else, wishes to inspire these people to live better lives.

At the end of the film, Muniz explains a basic philosophy that many people often have in life.  When he was poor, he wanted everything when he had nothing.  Now that he’s successful, he has everything and wants nothing more.  It’s a dilemma that drove him to help people in Brazil, and he did so at his own expense.  All of the sales from the auction and the various prints went to the landfill, helping to build a library and purchase computers for general use.

What happens after 2012 is anyone’s guess.  Taio seems to hold a lot of influence in Rio, as he’s quite popular with the workers and people in general.  One can imagine that he would continue to find work for the workers, either in another landfill or towards other employment within and around Rio.  People has said he should run for office of some form, either as mayor or even as president.  Whether or not Taio as such lofty goals remains to be seen, but he is charismatic and, as I mentioned, inspirational.

There is more to be said, but it’s better to just see this film.  You won’t be disappointed.

A

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I need to learn to write reviews sooner, like, right after I see them, and not a week after the fact.

Anyway, brief synopsis of Countdown. It’s primarily a documentary about the history of the nuclear bomb, from inception to modern day, where currently 23,000 bombs are thought to exist in some form. The movie, for the first three quarters at least, presents itself based on a speech President Kennedy gave to the United Nations back in the early 1960s about the proliferation of the weapons and the danger posed by various groups of people or instances: mad men, rogue nations, accidental push of the buttons, etc.

The documentary succeeds in scaring the audience quite effectively: most noteworthy is the fact that a developed cylinder of plutonium or uranium can be shipped in a package of cat litter, on a freighter, without detection. Unfortunately, there’s little in the way of any human reaction or interaction: interviews are conducted on the street with regular people (who basically just respond to the questions asked them), an imprisoned man who was convicted of selling stolen uranium offers his own views, and various unrecognizable people give a voice over explaining the consequences of a detonation in a modern society (the consequences of which could cause the complete collapse of a major industrialized society). Everyone that offers facts is either a scientist or a government agent (a politician, for example). The solutions at the end flash by far too quickly too; there is brief moment showing the recent disarmament signing between Obama and Medvedev, but different ideas and solutions are practically spewed out without pause.

In the end, it’s well made, effective, and downright scary at times, but lacking a human voice to it. Your standard documentary, but still an important one.

B-