West of Memphis Seeing this Peter Jackson-produced wrongful-accusation documentary is sort of like reading one of those really long, really elaborate stories in the New Yorker -- one of those intricately researched tales of injustice with equal parts procedural drama and anecdotal frill. There's even a point in the viewing experience akin to what some fitness freaks might describe as a "runner's high" wherein, despite the duration and complexity of the trial in question, you're so caught up in the quest for truth that you're somehow more energized after the 150 minutes it takes to sit through it.
The movie chronicles a criminal investigation in the aftermath of a grisly triple murder in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Three teenage boys were accused and sentenced — two to life imprisonment, one to death — for the crimes. The film walks through the courtroom proceedings of the original trial and then slowly (but persuasively) casts doubt on the outcome. Like the finest and most thorough investigations, a crackerjack team begins to overturn every single one of the prosecution's arguments, including some astonishingly ill-supported accusations of Satanism and sexual deviancy. The film is breathtaking in what it suggests about the functioning of the justice system in many parts of the country, and how persistently those in power keep the truth quiet.
It's not one for the whole family — or for a first date, say — but it'll generate some thoughtful discussion at the bar afterwards and it'll prove that "heavy" documentaries can be just as entertaining and much more meaningful than your big-budget action fare. Cedar Lee Theatre. (Sam Allard)
Beware of Mr. Baker In order to make this documentary, Jay Bulger first approached former Cream and Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker posing to be a Rolling Stone reporter (Bulger would eventually write an article for the mag about working with Baker on the film) and then flew to Baker's South Africa home to see him. Given that Baker has become a self-loathing curmudgeon who lives in a gated complex (a sign that reads "Beware Mr. Baker" welcomes guests), it was a gutsy move. But it paid off. While the film loses focus a bit in the beginning as Bulger lets Baker ramble, it ultimately provides a fascinating portrait of a musical legend who battles an array of demons on a daily basis. Cleveland Museum of Art. At 7 p.m. Friday, March 8. (Jeff Niesel)
56 Up Director Michael Apted returns to the documentary series that began in England in 1964 when the subjects were merely 7 years old. Since that time, he's returned every 7 years to track their progress. You don't have to have seen any of the previous films to get something out of this terrific movie — Apted provides enough contextual information (and shows clips from the previous films) so that we know something about the history of each of the 56-year-old participants. Cedar Lee Theatre. (Niesel)
Greedy Lying Bastards This documentary about climate change commences with graphic footage of the wildfires that ripped through Colorado in June 2012, burning some 300 houses to the ground. We then hear from a group of Midwestern farmers who complain about the unprecedented drought they've experienced and how it's likely to lead to price increases for food. Longtime activist Craig Rosebraugh directed the movie and puts forth very rigid, one-sided evidence, but it's hard to criticize him for his myopic view when the argument is so compelling. Cinemark Valley View. (Niesel)