In a recent Doc Talk column, I wondered if documentaries can still function as educational media, especially after all the dubious films released in 2010 that made us question truth in non-fiction cinema. Now, only a couple weeks into 2011, I have to admit that I learned a lot from two new documentaries, 'I'm Dangerous with Love,' and 'Plastic Planet,' both of which open theatrically this week.
Neither of these films are amazing, in fact they each suffer from overuse of weak first-person voiceover narration, but they both deal in very compelling and topical subjects. 'Dangerous' looks into the illegal and therefore underground use of the hallucinogen ibogaine in treating heroin addiction, through the focus on junkie punk-turned-spiritual guide Dimitri Mugianis. 'Plastic Planet' searches around the world (the travel budget must have been enormous) for proof that some commonly used plastics are hazardous, if not lethal, to humans and the environment.
Each doc is frightening in its own way, too. For instance, there's a part in 'Dangerous' where a patient basically dies. Also, there's a lot of vomiting, seizures, tripping, moaning and more vomiting. It's kind of like an exorcism movie, but real, and with African shamans instead of priests. 'Plastic Planet,' on the other hand, will scare you into worrying about your sperm count and all the synthetic trash floating just beneath the surface of the ocean.
It's kind of funny that 'Plastic Planet' uses fear tactics, because the onscreen presence of director Werner Boote (who used to work for filmmaker Ulrich Seidl) is particularly comparable, much to his dismay, to that of anti-fear monger Michael Moore. Judging by his narration, Boote probably wants to be more like Herzog, but he's really somewhere in between Moore's obnoxious antagonist -- particularly during an ambush on PlasicsEurope president John Taylor -- and Ross McElwee's ancestral investigator -- Boote's personal connection to plastics comes from his grandfather, who worked in the synthetics industry.
As for 'Dangerous' director Michel Negroponte, who last gave us the equally informative HBO doc 'Methadonia,' his voiceover sleepily sounds like McElwee on drowsy medication and is only helpful as an overbearing expositional tool when explaining that he allowed himself to be a guinea pig in order to adequately describe, and visualize, what it's like to be on ibogaine. And, no, it doesn't seem like a good time. But fans of Gaspar Noe's 'Enter the Void' should appreciate the more genuine hallucination sequences depicting geometric shapes and embryos.
More mainstream movie geeks will appreciate a little section in 'Plastic Planet' that shows us a heavily polluted desert location used in 'Lawrence of Arabia' and allegations that settings seen in 'Star Wars,' 'Prince of Persia' and other blockbusters have been equally affected by leftover garbage.
'I'm Dangerous with Love' opens in NYC January 12, 2011 with other cities following in coming weeks.
'Plastic Planet' opens in NYC January 14, 2011.
And if you aren't able to see them theatrically, see them on DVD soon enough.