“I want to tell America’s story in a way that’s never been told before,” says Oliver Stone, director of “Wall Street” and “JFK.”
And in “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States,” Showtime’s densely packed 10-hour documentary series, he does -- at length and in impenetrable, see-what-sticks fashion.
Narrating over old newsreel footage and archival photos, the sonorous Stone recites a detail-packed leftist history, disputing notions of American exceptionalism.
Written by Stone and American University professor Peter Kuznick, “Untold” bloats with details from the duo’s 700-plus-page companion tome. It’s like watching an audio book.
The four hour-long episodes available for review span World War II through the early years of the Cold War.
Recounting the minutiae of wartime pacts, political maneuvering and battlefield victories, Stone challenges, for example, the claim that “Americans won World War II.”
The Soviet Union, he says, was the deciding combatant. But does anyone really claim that the U.S. single-handedly defeated the Axis powers?
Straw man arguments are as plentiful here as claims to originality. Indictments of empire-building and American militarism might not be common in grade-school history classes, but Howard Zinn’s oeuvre is only an Amazon click away.
“Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States” airs Monday on Showtime at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
Remarking on humanity’s Darwinian sprawl across the planet 70,000 years ago, NBC’s pithy Brian Williams sums it up: “We are a restless bunch.”
History’s “Mankind: The Story of All of Us” doesn’t get much deeper than that, though covering the Big Bang to the Atomic Age in 12 hours merits a little slack.
A follow up to the channel’s popular 2010 series “America: The Story of Us,” the slick, silly new miniseries broadens its scope (if not its formula) to include, yes, all of us.
CGI effects, historical (and pre-historical) reenactments and Dr. Oz-level celebrity interviews keep things moving fast, from cave drawings (“The first example of individuality,” says Williams) to the pyramids, all within the first hour.
“New technologies and new people change things” is a typically duh-inspiring bit of narration. But those Phoenicians sure knew how to build a ship.
“Mankind: The Story of All of Us” airs Tuesday on History at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2
“It’s all a bit of a kaleidoscope,” says Keith Richards in HBO’s Rolling Stones documentary “Crossfire Hurricane,” trying to recall a moment or two from the early 1970s.
“I was definitely on another planet by this point.”
Fortunately, the band rarely shied away from cameras chronicling every move, lick and scandal.
“Crossfire Hurricane,” though hardly essential (what new Stones film could be?), compiles enough terrific footage from previous films to fill in Keith’s blank spots.
If nothing else, we’re reminded that for a good long time, the “greatest rock and roll band” hype was deserved.
Filmmaker Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”) scored the band’s blessing and conditional participation -- every living Stone, including former band mates Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor, provide off-screen commentary.
Subtitled “The Rise of the Stones,” Morgen’s film aims at the band’s gloried 1965-72 period, focusing particularly on the frenzied energy, onstage and in the audience, of the group’s live performances.
The riotous vibe is there from the beginning, with early, pre-”Satisfaction” footage of fans storming the stage and fighting police, all but warning that Altamont was coming.
“Crossfire Hurricane: The Rise of the Rolling Stones” airs Thursday on HBO at 9 p.m. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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