Tag Archives: documentaries

TV Review – Team Foxcatcher (2016)

Have you ever looked the other way on a friend or loved one’s mental illness because they have money?

Maybe you rationalized taking an insult because they pay the rent.  Maybe you sucked it up and turned a blind eye to their abuse because you have nowhere else to go.

As the story of “Team Foxcatcher” unfolds, you realize that there were numerous early warning signs that multi-millionaire John du Pont, heir to the vast chemical company fortune, was one hair’s breadth away from snapping like a twig.

And while in hindsight, it’s easy to blame the wrestlers, the estate employees, the coaches, the local police, the Wrestling Association and so on, one has to remember that financial security is the end all/be all of life and few will be willing to bite the hand that feeds them until the abuse just can’t be ignored anymore.

The boiling point came when du Pont shot and killed Dave Schultz, an Olympic wrestler and family man who he’d invited to train on his property.  Once the gun was fired, everyone surrounding the murderous madman realized they should have seen it coming and yet, in the years leading up to it, no one did.

This documentary does a great job of telling the story of du Pont’s long descent into madness, and how so many people who depended upon him were willing to look the other way on his mental illness because he was their goose who laid the golden egg.  (And in many respects, while money initially got them into his life, love for the man got them to stay.)

We learn that Du Pont has been socially isolated and sheltered his entire life.  He grew up in posh wealth with his mother, but never had any friends and never met a sticky situation that he couldn’t buy his way out of.  Although a man of great wealth, it was his father and others before him that built the company and so, he has spent his life as an eccentric, awkward weirdo, desperately wanting to do something that would leave his own mark, earn him respect independent of his family name and money, and so on.

Ironically, he almost got there.  A sports fan who didn’t make it as an athlete himself, he builds an athletic complex on his large, sprawling PA estate and invites America’s greatest Olympians to come and train.  He is quickly hailed as a hero, especially to wrestlers, who are typically dominated by the Russians.  We are told that wrestling is a rather complicated sport, taking years to master, and by the time a wrestler really gets the hang of it, he has to quit and find a paying job to support his family.  Russia pays its wrestlers and du Pont solves the problem by paying the wrestlers a salary out of his own pocket and even given them homes on his property.

Though truly a loon, he might have gone down in history as a great benefactor for American sports.  But alas, as the documentary unfolds, he gets crazier and crazier until tragedy strikes.

The documentary tells the tale of a man coddled by everyone, for he has coddled them with his money and so they are essentially returning the favor.  Not happy to sit back and take praise the way so many other pro sports team owners do after a major win, Du Pont wants to get involved and train with the wrestlers, though he has zero skill to offer and is an old man.

He says weird things.  He does weird things.  He has guns.  A lot of guns.

The warning signs were there.  Perhaps not so much that he would kill someone, but there were situations where had it been a poor person doing what he did, people wouldn’t stand for it.

For example, du Pont develops a strange fear of anything colored black, and demands that anything black be removed from his estate.  No black clothes.  No black cars.  No black paint on buildings.  He even fires all the black wrestlers.  Du Pont argues it is nothing personal or racist, he just can’t stomach the color black anymore.  As a high ranking wrestling official (I forget the name of the organization) explains, that moment should have been the point where his group should have cut ties with du Pont but alas, there just wasn’t another way for wrestlers to train and afford a decent living.

Local law enforcement is aware that du Pont is a loon too but du Pont has helped them with his money over the years.

Du Pont becomes paranoid and hires serious, big time security agents.  He’s convinced there are secret tunnels on his estate and spies hiding in his walls and though they agents realize these beliefs are crazy, they investigate his strange claims anyway…and the viewer is left to debate whether or not they should have just told him he’s an idiot or if they were just doing a job they were hired to do.

It all comes to a head when du Pont becomes increasingly jealous of Dave Schultz, the wrestler that everyone on the team rallies around and views as their leader.  Du Pont wants to be loved just as much, but no matter how much dough he doles out, he just can’t get as much love…and eventually breaks down and sadly, shoots Schultz, killing him.

The Foxcatcher movie with Steve Carrell was great, but I think the documentary did a better job of showing how people around Du Pont realized he was nuts and should have removed themselves from him….but its one of those things where you support your crazy uncle figure until his craziness consumes him.

And ultimately, it is a sad story.  Schultz could have gone one last victory before retirement and being with his family.  Du Pont could have maybe seen a shrink and gotten some help and gone down as a respected sports philanthropist but…sadly, mental illness took its toll.

STATUS: Shelfworthy.

 

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Let’s Talk Making a Murderer

Thanks Netflix.  Thanks a lot.

Got no work done this weekend, ended up binging on Making a Murderer instead.

SPOILERS!  SPOILERS!  SPOILERS!

Don’t read on if you haven’t watched it yet.  This post is meant to be a discussion for people who want to talk about the series…WHO HAVE ALREADY WATCHED IT!!!

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I have no idea if any of the crap I am about to say is accurate.  I am just opining on the show.

So here we go.  BQB’s thoughts:

 The First Case – Penny Beernsten

So it’s clear Steven Avery is innocent here.  Testing that occurred years after his conviction due to advances in DNA testing methods indicated that the culprit was in fact Gregory Allen, a guy in the area who physically looked like Avery (same hair color, body type).

Allen, according to the documentary, had been known to local law enforcement, so much so that they kept him under surveillance.

Did the police act with malice?  (i.e. did they intentionally try to put Avery behind bars because they didn’t like him?)

There was the argument that one of the deputies was friends with a woman that Avery had run off the road and so on.

Personally, I think the issue might have been more about negligence – i.e. they found a suspect, they made it stick, and it was just too much of a pain in the ass hassle to go after someone else.

Is negligence better?  Well, it’s not great, and it thoroughly sucks that someone was wrongfully convicted.

At any rate, its impossible to deny the wrongful conviction.  The court set the conviction aside, Avery was released, even the victim acknowledged the mistake.

The Second Case – Teresa Halbach

A tougher case.

First, as the documentary starts to get into it, your gut begins to tell you maybe something’s up.  What are the odds of a guy wrongfully convicted of a crime being accused of another major crime?

  • Avery had become a public hero and a symbol for a justice reform.
  • The state legislature had been in the process of working on a bill that would compensate him $450,000.
  • A civil case was underway that’d likely have gotten him millions.

BUT…as much as the wrongful conviction sucks…people who have had sucky things happen to them don’t get a free pass or an excuse to commit a terrible crime.

In other words, your gut, or at least mine, began to tell me to keep an open mind on both sides:

  • Yes, it is odd a wrongfully convicted person got convicted again but…
  • It isn’t impossible for someone to be not guilty of a first crime and then be guilty of a second crime.

The Frame Defense

Hmmm.  This was a tough one.

This is where some may disagree with me but…

I don’t believe the officers framed Steven Avery.

Why?

  •  You see a hole in Avery’s blood vial from his first case.  You, like Buting, start to think, “Oh well, maybe that could have been used to put Avery’s blood in Teresa’s RAV4.”
  • OK…BUT – what about the fire pit with all the bone fragments?  And the barrels with all the bone fragments?

Someone tell me if I’m wrong but for the police to have framed Avery, they would have had to…

  • Dig into Avery’s life until they discovered that a photographer for Auto Trader was coming to the Avery property on a regular basis to take car photos.
  • Kill her.
  • Plant Avery’s blood in the car
  • Dump her car on the Avery property without the Averys noticing.
  • Burn her body somewhere else but then scatter bone fragments in a pit and in barrels on the Avery property, AGAIN without the Averys noticing.
  • Plant Avery’s DNA on the car key and plant it in Avery’s room.

BUT – Could someone else have killed Teresa and the police just took advantage to railroad a guy they didn’t like?

In my opinion, where the “Frame Defense” gets weak is the bone fragments.

Did the police have access to Avery’s blood? Yes. However, the FBI did run a test that showed some of the blood in the car did not have the testing chemical that would have been in the stored blood sample.

But ok.  Say you still think they planted the blood in the car.

How did the bone fragments get onto the property then???

I think if you accuse the cops of planting the blood, then you practically have to accuse them of planting the bone fragments too because if Avery didn’t do it then how else would the bone fragments have gotten there?

You could argue well some mysterious other murderer did it, then dumped the car and the fragments on the Avery property and then the cops were like “Yahoo!  We hate Avery so lets plant some shit to make this stick” but between accusations of cops planting a RAV4, putting blood in the RAV4 and then ANOTHER party dumping bones and making it look like a burning took place in the back yard…

…well, with all that happening I have to feel like the Averys might have noticed.

Was there a civil case?  Yes?   Were two cops deposed?  Yes?  Does that mean they’d go to the lengths of framing a guy?  I find that doubtful.  Cops, public officials, office holders, etc are sued all the time.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t envision cops being worried about a lawsuit enough that they’d frame a guy, plant evidence and somehow manage to either sprinkle the victims bones on the Avery property or benefit from some mysterious evildoer who did so.

So what the hell happened?

What made us all agree Avery was off the hook in the first case was the identification of another perpetrator.

Here, no other alternate suspect was found.

Brendan Dassey

Well, here’s where the case gets really complicated.  There’s another suspect and I suppose that means there’s room for theories that a) Avery did it and the nephew’s just a sap that got roped into it b) They did it together as the state alleged or c) maybe the nephew did it and Steven didn’t and well…while never Steven or Brendan came across as rocket scientists, I’m not sure Brendan could have pulled this all off on his lonesome.

The confessions are troubling.  Perhaps there should be a rule that kinds under 18 should always have a lawyer present during police questioning no matter what.

As a cautionary tale, if you’re a parent and your kid gets charged with something, insist you be there for any interviews and insist a lawyer is there too.

As for – is Brendan innocent?  I mean, he made statements he did it, and that he didn’t do it. He was clearly, for lack of a better description, not the brightest bulb, so yeah, he was probably manipulated into confessing and certainly the part where his own lawyer’s investigator is badgering him into confessing is troubling.

From the documentary itself, just as a pure question of whether or not he did it, I can’t tell.  What makes it hard for me is at one point he tells his mom something like he had to because Steven was stronger than him and then at another point he tells his mom basically that he just said what the cops wanted him to say.

In other words, in a very cloudy mind, his statements to his mother seem to provide the most insight into his head, and he made conflicting statements to his mother.

So who did it?

I think the bones on the property is the piece of info I can’t get away from.    The RAV4 on the property, the key in the room, the bullet in the garage, explain them all away but I just fail to see how the bones could have gotten there otherwise.

Does the documentary reveal a lot of things that law enforcement can do better? Yes.

But…absent evidence that someone carted a bunch of bones and spread them around Avery’s backyard, my gut tells me he did it.

Anyway, keep in mind I’m no expert and I’m just shooting my mouth off on a series.  Don’t take anything I wrote above to be accurate or correct.  Watch it yourself.

What are your thoughts?

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