By G. Michael Dobbs
An outstanding documentary and a very funny comedian are featured in this week's movie review column.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
If you follow news from China, you may be aware of that nation's best-known artist Ai Weiwei and his on-going efforts to call out the Chinese government on its oppression of free speech and harassment of dissidents.
If you haven't heard of the artist and his struggle, I urge you to seek out and watch this documentary that took several years to complete. The film not only chronicles the evolution of the artist from his time as the son of an intellectual persecuted in the Cultural Revolution, to his stint in New York City as a student and emerging artist, to his first exposure on the international stage as the artist who helped design the "Bird's Nest" stadium used during the Beijing Olympics.
While director, cinematographer and producer Alison Klayman clearly admires her subject, she certainly shows his human side, such as fathering a child outside of his marriage.
Although he began his efforts to question the status quo in China before he was internationally known, Ai has cleverly used his fame to play an increasingly more dangerous game. When the Chinese authorities banned his website, he went to Twitter to get the message out about government repression. His rallying cry has been "Don't retreat, Re-tweet!"
One of Ai's greatest efforts was to assemble the names of the thousands of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Since the quake happened during a school day, the children were attending classes in shoddily made government schools. The Chinese government tried to suppress the facts, but Ai traveled to the district to make a documentary about the aftermath of the earthquake as a way to make people aware of the truth.
Klayman shows that although that Ai wasn't prosecuted for his opinions, the Chinese government certainly reached a point when they flexed their muscle. They seized Ai and held him captive for 81 days in 2011 without filing any charges.
This action did slow the artist down a bit, but he is still fighting the government.
The film might certainly challenge our perceptions of China. Viewers might be inspired to think about the implications of the United States being tied financially so close to a Communist dictatorship that jails people for just asking questions.
Craig Shoemaker: Daditude
Although he is no newcomer to comedy, I hadn't seen Craig Shoemaker perform before and this DVD of his Showtime special was my first exposure. I was happy to discover he is one funny guy.
Shoemaker mines some pretty traditional veins of comedy including relationships between men and women and parents and children, but his approaches to these subjects are fresh and singular.
While Shoemaker isn't afraid to use adult language, his act is far more about observations than shock.
A solid hour and a half of comedy, "Daditude" is worth discovering.