Sunday, June 28, 2020
Director: Nadia Hallgren
I'm aware Michelle Obama is a polarizing figure, what with encouraging kids to eat healthy and being an interesting, intelligent counterpart to her husband. But, hoo boy, in a period of American journalism which seems distant and we can hope is on the ash-heap, the press sure tried to find ways to make her a villain.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Director: Charlotte Zwerin
I am not a jazz aficionado - that's NathanC's gig. I honestly haven't put on a Thelonius Monk album in a while - maybe years. I did go through my jazz phase twenty years ago, so, yeah, I still have those albums.
TCM has been doing a series called "Jazz in the Movies", which I haven't watched much of, but decided to record a couple of films one night, and had heard that Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) was an exemplary doc. This reputation was earned, and I am sure jazz fans all know it.
For folks like myself who are only vaguely aware of Monk, it's a fascinating crash course to get you past simply enjoying the music and understand the man who made it. Shocker of all shockers - a pre-eminent jazz artist has a complicated life and personal issues. Unlike Miles Davis, the wounds aren't as self-inflicted, but they do weigh on him.
Culled from footage shot on a late career tour and post-death interviews with colleagues, the doc paints a portrait of a complicated man who was *loved* by the people who knew him and couldn't help but stand in awe of his genius. And, yeah, I don't use the word genius a lot - but the names tied to Be-Bop sure seem like they deserve it.
It wasn't hurt at all by the intro and outro conversations on TCM by Eddie Muller (who knew he knew jazz?) and his majesty Wynton Marsalis (and, yes, I've see Marsalis play live once and it was worth every penny).
The doc gives the music room to breathe, and reminded me how and why I went through that jazz era. And what I'll be listening to after Jamie turns in tonight.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Format: Amazon Streaming
Director: William Conlin
There's not much to spoil here - it's a fact based documentary on the people behind the iconic make-up for the run of the original 5 Planet of the Apes films, the TV show and more. It does a good job of contextualizing the state of the art in the mid-60's and how they got there, starting in the Lon Chaney era.
Really, what I liked is that - as much as it's about the make-up and creation of - it gives personality and stories to the people who were there and made a vision a reality. We sometimes forget there are minds and lives behind the people who aren't the writers, directors and actors - but those unseen wizards who rise at 2:30 AM to be at work by 4:30 AM to get the actor on the set by morning, looking like a gorilla? Those are people who fell in love with monster make-up to such a degree, that's how they love and what they've chosen to do.
And, of course, for the people involved, Planet of the Apes - which won an honorary Academy Award for make-up before it became a staple of the Oscars - was a major turning point in the lives of a lot of people in the Hollywood make-up industry. It was sort of the digital T-Rex of its day.
It's currently streaming on Amazon, and if you're any kind of POTA fan, I recommend giving Making the Apes: The Artists Who Changed Film a go.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Format: Amazon Streaming
Director: Jack Bennett
I forgot to write this up a month ago when I watched it. A really fun doc on a great movie, and with terrific participation from darn near everyone who was in it or worked on it. And, as always, Sigourney Weaver is the coolest.
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Format: HBO Streaming
A while back our own PaulT - who does many things in the film and TV industry - worked on a documentary called Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops (2019). I believe he was a/ the sound mixer on the film, which - in documentary land - is no small feat. Especially when you're talking police situations, moving cars, and open classrooms. So, hats off to Paul.
The movie is currently streaming on HBO, and, if you get a chance, give it some time. The movie follows two police officers from the San Antonio Police Department's Mental Health Unit at work and in their lives.
Monday, November 18, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
It's odd how little we talk about cinematography. Of course we discuss actors and dialog. FX are a big topic. We talk about soundtracks and directors. When we're feeling like showing some insidery-type knowledge about film, we'll talk editors. But I'm not sure we always notice the names of the people who actually sit behind the camera, working out the actual look of a movie, which, as we're not listening to radio or watching a play, seems kinda key.
From composition to placement to depth of focus to lighting to movement of perspective... and probably 9 or 10 other factors I'm not thinking of, what we see in a movie is defined by someone who thought about every shot (in theory). Sometimes it draws attention to itself, but more than 95% of the time, when we talk about a movie, we seamlessly discuss story and how we felt, basing it on any of those factors above, but how often do we discuss what the camera did? Or where it was placed?
Monday, November 11, 2019
Decade: 1970's/ 2010's
If asked to compile a list of the greatest popular American singers of the 20th Century, I'd assume Aretha Franklin would make the top few - if not the number one slot - for much of the US populace.
We lost Franklin in 2018, and it's unclear who can begin to fill her role in the zeitgeist, but maybe it's too soon, and maybe we don't need to. Maybe she was a singular talent.
Shot in 1972 and unreleased until the last 12 months or so, Amazing Grace (2019) is an attempt by Sydney Pollack to record and capture the experience of Franklin recording a live Gospel album at a church in Los Angeles over the course of two nights. Backed by a local choir and supported by the Reverend James Cleveland, Franklin takes to the pulpit and - as one would expect - nails every song before her.
Sunday, July 28, 2019
The past couple of weeks marked the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing, thanks to the crew of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Plus, the might of NASA, contractors to NASA, government bureaucrats, politicians and, us, the voting and tax-paying public.
From July 16th to July 24th, 1969, three brave people hurled through the void of space, two walked the face of an alien landscape, and then all returned, safely, to Earth. All of this just sixty-six years after the Kitty Hawk Flyer took to the sky and 27 years after the first V2 rocket. The scope of progress and achievement during this window was unprecedented in human history as two nations threw down the gauntlet to see who could place a boot onto lunar soil.
Monday, April 1, 2019
I'll be honest - after watching the Netflix doc The Inventor, I'm still stuck on the saga of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes.
At Maxwell's recommendation, I turned to a multi-part podcast called The Dropout to see what wasn't in the Netflix doc, which seemed to just raise questions without ever really providing answers. Produced by ABC news, The Dropout covers much of the same territory and the same figures, gets more on-the-record interviews, details more of what occurred, giving specific stories, certainly revealing points that I'm surprised the Netflix doc left out, and generally does a good job of building a solid case for what - at least transactionally - happened at Theranos.
But... I'm still baffled by how this even got started in the first place.
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Format: HBO Go
A few years back I recall reading about Theranos, the "disruptive" tech company getting into the ultra-sexy field of phlebotomy. The articles were fawning, talking about a young genius inventor out in Silicon Valley who had dropped out of school to start a tech company that was going to change... something. The article was a little vague on how smaller blood draws were the biggest thing since sliced bread, but it insisted - no, really, this is it, and we all need to get excited about the company, Theranos, and - really - the head of the company, Elizabeth Holmes - a prodigy who apes the fashion sense of Steve Jobs and who dropped out of Stanford as an undergrad to pursue her vision.
I wanted to check my biases on age and gender, shrug a bit at someone cosplaying Steve Jobs, and admit I don't really know much about phlebotoy other than watching a whole lotta blood draws when Jamie has been in the hospital. Which is: a lot.
At the same time...
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Format: Hulu streaming
This post will make no sense unless you go back and read my post from yesterday on Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019) , the other documentary about this same subject that was released on Netflix earlier this month. So, please do go and read it, because I'd prefer not to rehash a lot of what was covered in that post.
After my initial post and exasperation with the Netflix doc and spending most of the post leveling suspicion at the motives of the doc makers, Paul dropped a note to me saying "hey, I think people who are involved with Fyre Fest were involved in producing that doc", which... indeed they were. Which confirmed all my worst suspicions and made me hate everyone involved even more, but at least made me feel less paranoid and crazy.
Format: Fathom Events at Arbor Cinema
It's fascinating to see Peter Jackson turn his eye for detail and technical achievement to the discipline of documentary film-making. In many ways, They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) could herald a new era of popular documentary as important as the narrative innovations of Ken Burns, which have become the de facto mode for serious historical documentary for those of us who watch PBS. Frankly, from an historical/ accuracy perspective, I have a *lot* of quibbles with Jackson's approach - but we'll get to that after praising his achievements.
Monday, January 21, 2019
(late edit: shortly after posting my initial, pretty visceral reaction to the doc, I got some new info that will show up later in the post. It's always nice to feel less crazy. And certainly learning what I did colors and informs literally everything about the doc. Basically - it may be somewhat true, but it's also deeply skewed and can't be seen as having any journalistic integrity.
While I recommend reading this post first - and watching the Netflix doc first - the post on the Hulu Doc is here.)
I'm no commie, but few things leave me wanting to declare "let's just eat the rich" like the film I just finished. And not just the subject matter they covered, but the way in which the filmmakers themselves covered it.
The lack of ability to reflect and look at the *source* of the issues around the notorious Fyre Festival is probably the weirdest part of watching Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019), the Netflix documentary that's been grabbing headlines.
At the end of the day, I'm just left thinking:
Thursday, December 13, 2018
Format: Amazon Streaming
Hal (2018) is a documentary about prominent 1970's film director Hal Ashby, best known these days for, probably Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Coming Home and Being There.
Friday, September 7, 2018
Monday, August 7, 2017
We watched a lot of television this year, and in our reduced content mode, we haven't talked about the usual favorites - so just assume we enjoyed both Fargo and The Americans.*
Way back in high school I recall coming home one afternoon and somewhere between TaleSpin and The KareBear rolling into the driveway/ me starting homework, I was flipping channels when I stumbled upon an edition of Family Feud in which the new-ish World Championship Wrestling league was squaring off against a league I'd never heard of - G.L.O.W., or, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
As colorful as the fellows from the WCW were, I was shocked to find out that there was an all-women's wrestling league and I had never heard of it.
I was never *that* into wrestling. As a very young kid I was part of the wave that saw Hulk Hogan and JYD and Jake "The Snake" Roberts rise to stardom on Saturday broadcasts, but I'd moved on fairly quickly, watching WWF only occasionally. But when I was 14, for some reason Steanso, his pal Lee and myself jumped in Lee's car and drove downtown and watched the show - and, man, live - wrestling is @#$%ing bonkers. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The next year we also attended a taping of an episode or two of regular WWF and NBC's Saturday Night's "Main Event", which was neat just because we saw all the flagship wrestlers of the era. Yeah, I've seen Hulk Hogan from the 13th row.
But... that was kind of it.
Needless to say, by age 15 or so, the notion of lady wrestlers held some appeal. And, as I watched what turned out to be a week's worth of episodes, the ladies of GLOW seemed way (waaaaaaay) crazier (and, honestly, smarter) than their male counterparts over the the WCW.
But I don't think GLOW ever aired anywhere I lived, either when I'd just previously lived in Austin, or when I moved to Houston between 9th and 10th grades. Texas, especially before, say, 10 years ago, was a place where you find strip clubs the size of a warehouse, but there was also a church on every corner - the net result that TV stations probably decided it wasn't worth the letters and complaints from folks getting the vapors from witnessing ladies in high cut leotards jumping off turnstyles. Believe me, I would have watched the living hell out of that show. (edit: Steven has written in to tell me he recalls seeing GLOW air in Houston circa 1987. I was living in Austin at the time.)
Consequently, I've always had a deep-seeded curiosity about GLOW, but was unable to turn up much the few times I thought to Google it.
Of course, when Netflix announced it was putting out a show about GLOW featuring no less than Alison Brie, heck, yeah, I was in.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
I spend some amount of time (read: all of my time) online, and thus was aware, somehow, of the fictional boogeyman, The Slenderman. It was one of those things that I said "what is that?", Googled it, saw it was a meme sort of thing the kids were into, and went about my business.
The Slenderman was created in the world of online fictional storytelling, and as these things sometimes do, it took off and became an idea that flooded outside of the scary-stories site where The Slenderman first appeared. A quick Google search will turn up thousands of hits. He's an otherworldly figure who haunts children once they become aware of him, and will either murder them or befriend the most pitiable (I think).
In 2014 a new story broke out of Waukesha, Wisconsin that two 12 year-old girls had lured their friend into the woods and then attempted to stab her to death in order to impress/ appease "The Slenderman", which... to an adult sounds a bit like committing attempted murder to appease a movie or television character like The Cryptkeeper or something. I don't want to belittle any of this, because two little girls really did have some sort of break and a third was gravely injured and will no doubt suffer longterm effects, but as someone well beyond the age of the girls who made this decision and with a "I existed before the internet" point of view, it's very hard to imagine the world that created this tragedy.
The HBO Documentary Beware the Slenderman (2016) dissects the scenario that led to the incident, looking into the world of the girls, what's online and how they related to it. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a doc that had this sort of access to the parents of perpetrators of an act like this who were clearly involved and participating in the film within a couple of months of the girls' incarceration and into the trial.
Monday, October 24, 2016
About thirty minutes into Tower (2016), I realized that the soundtrack to the film included the ever-present sound of cicadas, a tree-dwelling insect which emits a steady humming that all Central Texans know as the droning background noise of the hottest days of summer. I'd tuned the sound out the same way we all do, and I began to realize part of why the film felt so immediate - and why the film is so effective. What the film captures is very real, from glimpses of the University of Texas campus to the sound to the casual chatter about campus life, torn apart on August 1, 1966.
I'd wanted to see this film from when the producers first released footage maybe a year ago. Then friends saw it as SXSW and had positive things to say, and I was encouraged that the documentary would do the event whatever justice could be done.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
At some point, you start to notice that actors have a limited shelf-life in Hollywood. As the years pass, those talented girls you found so attractive in movies just stop appearing in anything, even though they were kind of a big deal and in quite a few pictures for a stretch there. The birth of IMDB really brings the idea home if you do what I do mid-way through most movies and start checking up on actors you're enjoying in a movie but haven't seen in much else - where did they go? There's almost always a petering out of roles and then *poof* some final role and then nothing. They threw in the towel rather than play yet another character called "So-and-So's Mom" or the equivalent. Some go on to other lives (Justice Bateman just got her CS degree. I mean, talk about a kick-ass second chapter), some marry well, and some - even screen legends like Veronica Lake - have sad, obscure ends that don't ever seem to get remembered.
But that's not the sort of Hollywood messed up story that Vampira and Me (2012) tracks. That's a story of illusion, delusion and the disposable nature of fame for (especially) female actors when a dream is realized in part, but is taken away.
It's hard to call the movie a documentary, exactly, and it certainly isn't journalism. It feels like a bit of a memoir, an apology and a posthumous plea for sympathy for a third-tier icon most people have never heard of or forgotten about except as a shadowy Halloween-type bit of imagery not associated with anything in particular.
Monday, September 12, 2016
When I was in high school, I'd quit playing officially sanctioned sports about 3 games into the basketball season my sophomore year (that's a whole other story, but let's just say - that was my first experience in recognizing an adult had no idea what they were doing). I was kind of between activities at one point, and somehow heard about this thing where people were hitting each other with foam swords and shields - Society for Creative Anachronism. I briefly considered getting involved - I mean, who doesn't want to smack someone with a sword? - but then had a thought that maybe this was not going to be the thing I would do, even if it were fun. It sounded like something that would start off exciting and then devolve into nonsense.
Watching 90 minutes of the 2006 documentary film Darkon has not cleared up much of how that would have gone for me.
Darkon (2006) follows the better part of a year of an intricately designed and played Live Action Role-Playing game (aka: LARPing) and the lives of the folks who partake in the... activity? Lifestyle?
"Darkon" is the name of the fantasy continent inhabited by the players of the game. They keep a map of spaces broken out into hexes (a common sight to anyone who played table-top RPG's) and battle in real-space for those hexes with a set of seemingly well-agreed upon battle rules. Armies of folks representing nations (armies seeming between 15 and up to 75 people) whack at each other with foam covered weapons and an array of objects meant to represent everything from catapult missiles to wizard-cast "fireballs" or, more infamously, "lightning bolts".
The players take on characters - lots of Lords of Realms and whatnot. Magical beings. Wizards. If it showed up in a fantasy novel in the past 40 years, it's probably something someone is pretending to be.