J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hot Docs ’14: Doc of the Dead & Whitey

Which could produce a higher body count, a potential zombie apocalypse or Whitey Bulger? Massachusetts gets it hard either way to judge from two documentaries screening at this year’s Hot Docs in Canada.

While it has already aired on Epix here in the U.S., Alexandre O. Philippe’s Doc of the Dead is only now shambling up north. Appropriately so, considering the debate over whether zombies should be fast or slow factors prominently in the film, along with the unholy trinity of zombie franchises: Romero’s Living Dead films, Max Brooks’ World War Z books, and Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead graphic novels and television series.

DOD offers up some amusing commentary, but Rob Kuhns’ Birth of the Living Dead remains a more satisfying zombie doc experience. However, the film provides a useful public service by establishing the state-by-state criteria for zombie survivor expectancy. Wyoming ranks highest due to its low population density and high degree of personal gun ownership, whereas New Jersey comes in dead last.

While the Bay State would not fare much better than Jersey for zombie survivability, they have also had the Winter Hill Gang to contend with. Unfortunately, the FBI was more of a hindrance than a help bring notorious South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger to justice. It is a shameful story of corruption and ambition detailed at length in Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger.

Unfortunately, in his zeal to expose the Federal government’s culpability, Berlinger lets off his ostensive subject pretty easy, even presenting Bulger’s self-serving myth-spinning calls recorded by his attorney stand without any rebuttal. Still, there are moments of shocking drama in the film, especially with regards to Stephen Rakes, one of Berlinger’s initial POV figures, who was murdered during the course of the Bulger trial.

Without question, Whitey will leave viewers convinced there has yet to be a full reckoning for Bulger and his high placed protectors. Recommended with reservations, Whitey screens this Sunday (4/27), Monday (4/28), and the following Sunday (5/4). Not as gripping or informative, Doc of the Dead is a relatively pleasant diversion specifically made for and by fans. It screens late nights tonight (4/26), Sunday (4/27), and next Saturday (5/3) as part of the 2014 edition of Hot Docs in Toronto.

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