Doc talk | peter keough

Films examine Vegas cops, Kim Jong-un, and a story from the Crusades

A scene from “What Happened in Vegas.”
Sicily Publicity
A scene from “What Happened in Vegas.”

A few years ago, while in Las Vegas, Ramsey Denison called 911 to report what he believed to be an incident of police brutality.

He didn’t get the response he expected. The police beat him up, arrested him, and jailed him for three days.

But they picked on the wrong guy. Denison is an experienced TV journalist and he grabbed his camera and began to investigate the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The result is “What Happened in Vegas,” an eye-opening exposé that purports to show a department rife with corruption and guilty of racism, police brutality, unjustified killings, falsified evidence, and cover-ups. This pattern of malfeasance, Denison argues, extends to the handling of last September’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, which killed 58 people.


“What Happened in Vegas” is available on VOD.

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Nuclear family

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It might not be the most festive film to watch during the holidays, but “North Korea’s Deadly Dictator” is an urgent and informative documentary about one of the greatest threats to world security.

He’s a threat to his own family as well. Kim Jong-un is suspected of ordering the murder of his half-brother Kim Jong-nam, who was attacked by two women with a lethal toxin in the Malaysian airport.

Jane McMullen’s film examines that allegation and investigates the capability of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and Kim’s other means of wreaking havoc on international stability. To do so she interviews subjects including a North Korean defector, diplomats, experts, some of Kim Jong-nam’s classmates, and a former North Korean secret agent. Might make a good stocking stuffer for our own commander in chief.

“North Korea’s Deadly Dictator” is available on DVD for $24.99. It is also available for digital download.

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Blessed are the peacemakers


The antithesis of Kim Jong-un might be Pope Francis’s namesake, the saint from Assisi and founder of the Franciscan order. Alex Kronemer’s documentary “The Sultan and the Saint” relates a little-known story about St. Francis that is especially germane to our times.

In 1219, as the Fifth Crusade battled to win back the city of Jerusalem, a Christian army attacked the Egyptian fortress city of Damietta. St. Francis thought he could help the cause by converting the Muslim army, and crossed the battle lines to bring up the matter with Muhammad Al-Kamil, Sultan of Egypt.

He may not have won any converts, but he did form a bond with the Sultan. At a time when then-Pope Urban II urged on Crusaders with the battle cry “Destroy that vile race,” acknowledging the humanity of the infidel enemy was unheard of. St. Francis returned to the Crusader camp with his new point of view but was not able to persuade them to seek peace and the army continued its campaign to Cairo.

But St. Francis did make an impression on the Sultan. Moved by his friendship with the friar, Al-Kamil showed mercy to the invaders when their army was surrounded and starving and allowed them to return to Europe. His reign lasted another 20 years, during which time he treated his Christian subjects fairly.

To bring this historical episode to life, Kronemer reenacted events with hundreds of extras, CGI, and the dulcet narration of Jeremy Irons. He also consulted with Muslim and Christian scholars to discuss what might be learned from this seeming anomaly in the centuries of strife between the two religions.


“The Sultan and the Saint” can be seen Tuesday at 8 p.m. on PBS, and online at Wednesday through Jan. 9.

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Peter Keough can be reached at