As last year's "Sicko" proved, if there's any issue ripe for a hard-hitting dissection, it's the business of illness. Unfortunately, writer-director Steve Kroschel is no Michael Moore (OK, few are), and his well-meaning documentary "The Beautiful Truth," which sheds light on the merits of the Gerson therapy, an organic food and juicing regimen designed to fight cancer and other fatal afflictions, comes off mostly like a hybrid of retro-style educational film and late-night infomercial.
Instead of tracking several current cancer patients' start-to-finish experiences with the Gerson therapy -- holistic healing concepts based on eminent German doctor Max Gerson's controversial book "A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases" -- or banging down the doors of the obstructive medical, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, the Alaska-based Kroschel blandly follows his home-schooled teenage son, Garrett, as "the boy" (as he's strangely referred to throughout) crosses America on a kind of junior investigation of Gerson's natural cure.
The teenage son meets with scientists, physicians and the late doctor's elderly daughter and grandson along the way.
Between Kroschel's drippy, grandiose narration, his "inspirational" filmmaking approach and young Garrett's stagy involvement, the whole enterprise, although not unenlightening (the sections linking MSG, aspartame and mercury-laden dental fillings to cancer are especially intriguing), feels too self-serving and prefabricated to have the profound effect its subject matter deserves.
-- Gary Goldstein
"The Beautiful Truth." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.
-- An exciting, unsettling quest
Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey's absorbing documentary "The Matador" doesn't avoid airing the protests against bullfighting that have increased in recent years. But the filmmakers never take sides, concentrating instead on their captivating subject, David Fandila, a bullfighter from Granada, who, five years ago, at the age of 21, set out to become only the 13th matador in history to complete 100 corridas in a single season.
Even if one is not a bullfighting aficionado, it is easy to get caught up in his quest. Fandila is as graceful and stylish as a dancer and rarely falters; he does seem to fulfill one observer's remark that the bullfighter is "a hero who confronts death for all of us."
When he arrives at a ring, David blots out protesters chanting, "Torture is not art nor culture." The bull's fate might be cruel, but surely Fandila is an artist and bullfighting has been deeply embedded in Spanish and Mediterranean cultures for centuries.
The filmmakers don't probe why this came to be and what it signifies, and their film would have been stronger had they done so. Still, they do capture the paradox of beauty and cruelty that charges their entire film. "The Matador" is rightly exciting -- and unsettling.
-- Kevin Thomas
"The Matador." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes. Exclusively at the Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869.