Top Docs: The Life of L. Frank Baum; a Wild Ride into the World of Simulation Theory Believers

LJ’s documentary film reviewer picks four stirring new works, now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

Ghost Fleet. 90+ min. Giant Interactive. In Thai w/English subtitles. 2020. DVD UPC 759170452040. $19.99.
In 2021, slavery still exists. This film is a shocking and disturbing look into the illegal fishing industry off the shores of Thailand. The workforce supporting the billion-dollar market for Thai-sourced fish is made up of tens of thousands of boys and men who have been kidnapped and coerced to live harsh lives aboard ships that rarely see land. This forced labor, also known as sea slavery, can last years, viewers learn, as they meet numerous men held over a dozen years. This is the stirring story of Patima and fellow labor rights activists who try to find former captives in remote outposts far from Thailand after they escape sadistic captains. The men, dealing with emotional trauma they can’t shed with new freedom, struggle to return to their pre-captivity lives. VERDICT Exposing a topic that deserves wider attention, this work is a gripping indictment of an industry’s shameful and criminal actions.
The Mole Agent. 90+ min. Gravitas Ventures. In Spanish w/English subtitles. 2020. DVD UPC 810047231240. $14.99.
Early on, this seems to be the story of a Chilean investigative firm that hires an octogenarian to live in a nursing home and spy for a client who suspects their mother is being abused or robbed. Viewers follow Sergio, a quiet, sweet 83-year-old widower, as the investigators teach him how to use spy cameras and an iPhone and as he embeds in his new residence. It’s all charming and a bit humorous. But Maite Alberdi’s film shifts away from the quirky and focuses on something much more substantial: the yearning for friendship and companionship among this small group of older adults in Chile. By the end, it has become a powerful and intimate meditation on loneliness. VERDICT A tender, touching portrait of what it is like to be aging and alone in the world.
A Glitch in the Matrix. 109+ min. Magnolia. 2021. DVD UPC 876964017213. $19.99.
Are humans real? More importantly, is anything real? Rodney Ascher’s film takes viewers on a wild ride into the concept of simulation theory and the idea that we are all part of a massive computer simulation. Talking to various believers (who strangely appear as outlandish CGI constructs rather than humans), Ascher melds heady topics such as probability theory, copious footage of Philip K. Dick in the 1970s, and retro-futuristic animation to convince us that it is indeed something to consider. Billionaire futurist Elon Musk shows up multiple times, coyly talking simulations. VERDICT For adventurous viewers looking to combine philosophy, science fiction, and a lot of discussion about the film The Matrix.
American Experience: American Oz. 113+ min. PBS. 2021. DVD UPC 841887045384. $24.99.
This episode of the PBS series tells the life story of children’s author L. Frank Baum before, during, and after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became a bestseller and cultural touchstone after its publication in 1900. Since it’s a PBS production, expect an impressive collection of images. interviews, and narration vividly illuminating Baum’s life of ups and downs along his journey to the yellow brick road. Not only does it delve into the world of Oz but it also unhurriedly spends time considering how the rapidly changing landscape of American society influenced the story. VERDICT Baum’s books remain popular, and this work about the man who wrote them would be a nice companion for those wanting to dig deeper into the world of Oz.
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