Showing posts with label docs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label docs. Show all posts

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Doc Watch: Harlan County, USA (1976)




Watched:  01/14/2023
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Director:  Barbara Kopple

One of the things I wonder about as The Kids have decided that labor movements are a fine idea and that they should unionize is if they're well educated on the incredibly bloody history of labor movements in the US.  I'm not recommending one path or the other (I am, but this isn't that blog) but things tend to get really dark when the operators see the minions getting organized.  

To a 20-something working at Starbucks in 2022 or 2023, it may seem like the good fight, but in the places Starbucks tends to exist, you can usually just pick up and go work somewhere else if the deal isn't what you want.  And, of course, 1972 is ancient history when old-timey things happened.  Like the events of the documentary, Harlan County, USA (1976) a film about striking coal minors in Kentucky and the various factors at play and persons involved. And it's as far removed from today's labor conversations and the way work once worked in the US as the Pullman Strike is to organizing baristas.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Doc Watch: Call Me Miss Cleo (2022)

except, literally everyone knew she was a fraud and the network a scam?



Watched:  12/28/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First

I dunno.  

This doc is weirdly under-developed and under-researched for something that's getting a fairly well-promoted release on HBOmax.  If I was Perry White to this team's Lois Lane, I'd say "you have a lot of facts.  You haven't proven anything and there's no story.  Get back out there."  The doc feels like it's something handed in at a deadline, not something actually something complete, and the final bit that tries to give Miss Cleo absolution feels like the last great con a successful con-artist pulled from beyond the grave.

Maybe the spirits DO talk to us!

But you'll get more facts without any of the tediously dramatic build up out of the anemic Miss Cleo Wikipedia article.  Somehow the doc misses that she had a child?  

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Doc Watch: Idina Menzel - Which Way to the Stage? (2022)

...i guess she found it



Watched:  12/15/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Anne McCabe/ Eric Maldin

This is a thing I watched.  I guess it's a documentary?  It's 90 minutes (which I missed when I turned it on, thinking it would be short) and that's movie length.  So here we are.

The film follows Broadway, movie, recording, etc... star Idina Menzel as she tours across the US, heading toward what the movie posits is a lifelong goal of Menzel to perform at Madison Square Garden.  The tension is a bit undercut by:  She will absolutely do this show.  And:  We see her do the same show in 30 cities before hitting NYC.  But, no, I get it.  She's a New Yorker from birth.  That's a big deal.  It's like me getting to, uh...  blog at a coffee shop in Austin?  I have no idea.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Doc Watch: Santa Camp (2022)




Watched:  12/3/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Director:  Nick Sweeney


The basic concept for Santa Camp (2022) contains all the volatility you'd expect of a movie that decides to use the familiar cultural touchstone of Santa Claus and the people who play him in malls, parades, personal appearances, etc...  to explore modern social wars and challenges of diversity and inclusivity.  

The movie clearly has a POV, but it's also one that is never stated directly by the filmmakers - this is a doc that lets people be themselves for good or ill on camera.  So, it lives in editorial choices.  Who knows what was left on the cutting room floor?  Maybe some stuff was worse?  Maybe items that were innocuous are cherry picked for context?  But when you're letting Proud Boys speak for themselves, it's hard to say how much nuance you're losing.  

Opening with a meeting of a grand council of Santa's of New England, a role and career choice for aging white men who have a very certain look, we get an idea of who has been a Santa - who embodies jolly ol' St. Nick in our physical space rather than paintings and cartoons.  To my surprise, this group of very similar older guys have already decided that maybe Santa needs more options for the public than just older, white, paunchy men, and they're in agreement that they need to start diversifying by inviting new recruits to their annual weekend retreat known as "Santa Camp".  

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Doc Watch: Paris is Burning (1990)





Watched:  08/20/2022
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jennie Livingston

I remember seeing the trailer for Paris is Burning (1990) when we went to see Slacker at the River Oaks in Houston in summer of 1990.  A straight white 15-year-old from the suburbs of Austin, recently transplanted to the suburbs of Houston, the world of gender-bending queer Black culture was - you will be shocked to learn - not on my radar.  It was so utterly alien to my experience that I was wildly curious - but I also was not going to have a ride back down to the River Oaks and asking to be taken to such a movie would be wildly transgressive, no matter how open minded my mom was.

I remember seeking out the doc a few times in college and being unable to find it, but mostly I'd forget about it except when it was mentioned in cultural touchstone moments, like pretty much anything having to do with Madonna post Vogue.  But by and large, I just forgot about trying to watch it until I saw Alicia Malone was hosting it on TCM as part of the style-centric "Follow the Thread" programming series, and I set the DVR.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Doc Watch: Closed For Storm (2020)





Watched:  06/07/2022
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jake Williams


While I've been sick, I've been watching some urban explorer videos and whatnot, and one of the videos I was watching pitched a full documentary the team had put together about the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans.  It's one thing to make a YouTube video with some footage of derelict buildings and combine it with found images and video, and whatever history you can piece together from the internet (which is often shockingly in-depth), so I was curious to see what a full doc looked like when these same folks put in some doc-style labor.  

Closed for Storm (2020) is a solid feature-length-ish effort.  Like the short-form videos by the same team, it chronicles the intentions, financial big movements that impacted the development of the facility, the actual use of the facility, and the factors that led to the decline.  In prior shorter videos, those factors are usually directly economic paired with bad luck and one or two other things, forseeable and otherwise.

Closed for Storm has to grapple with 2005's hurricane Katrina and the impact on New Orleans and the rise and abrupt end to Six Flags New Orleans.  It documents the bizarre purgatory of the property as it sits, rotting more every year, no one making any moves to level the place or do something with it.  The film winds up being a microcosm of the well-documented perfect storm that is Louisiana politics, callowness of big business, economic disparity in action, and the undealt with trauma of a region

As a micro-budget production by folks doing their best, not all of the film feels as polished as it could be.  I was expecting as much.  But it shows promise for the filmmakers if they can continue to elevate this core concept of using something as crazy as an abandoned theme park as a story telling device to illustrate how shit kinda really works/ doesn't work.  

Unlike Astroworld, which was apparently simply financially failing (news to me), Six Flags New Orleans was lost to the storm and given up on by new owners of Six Flags.  From 2005 to the release of this film, the city of New Orleans, never famous for its decision-making, has left the remains of the park to simply rot, rejecting all proposals.  And if you've ever sat through a bureaucratic process like an RFQ proposal, you know there's intense disinterest and misunderstanding by the persons involved.  So, instead of having literally anything else there, the park has just rotted.

Interviews include attendees, former employees, and the folks trying to find ways to revive the property.  Everyone is deeply sincere, and it's a layer to the usual "why it failed" and "urban explorer" videos you see all over YouTube.  We're not just guessing, the video is talking to people who were there, who lost jobs and who saw a good thing for the community abandoned rather than rebuilt, like so much of New Orleans.  But it seems they couldn't get any of the city-folks who so cavalierly dismiss the park year after year.

If I felt like one major point roughly implied, but not directly stated:  the kinds of people who are making decisions about the future of the amusement park shown in the video are not the kind of people who would give one much thought.  I'm not saying they need to be amusement park nerds, but.  They strike me as the sorts of folks who can take days of vacation and jump on a jet and go to Disney if they want to see an amusement park, or go skiing or do whatever.  But vast parts of the population can't afford to and don't do those things.  In a city like New Orleans, which is largely aimed at adult entertainment or expensive pro sports, an amusement park is no small thing.   

Anyway - I hope these folks keep working on their films.  It feels like there's a lot here to consider, and using specific examples of entertainment properties and resorts is fascinating way to consider economic and cultural forces.


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Doc Watch: American Grindhouse (2010)




Watched:  04/08/2022
Format:  Amazon?
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010
Director:  Elijah Drenner

This doc felt weirdly slight, and I see now it was 80 minutes.  It traces the history of film from its origins to what sorts of theaters carried schlocky, sexy, or violent films not produced by the studios.  

But... it's weirdly focused on just New York and LA, forgetting these movies had audiences all over, and never curious about how they were (or were not) seen in the rest of the country.  I'm not sure I buy of the main theses of the film, that the studios started making "grindhouse" movies because of the end of the vertical integration of studios and theaters that dissolved post WWII.  But I would agree that eventually studios got involved with content formerly reserved for the grindhouse market.  I'd just point to studios trying to differentiate from what was on TV once the Hays Code fell apart and the rating system came to be.  

There are pretty good interviews, including Eddie Muller, and some creators of some classic schlock, much of which I haven't gotten around to seeing (pitching a 'Women in Cages' movie to Jamie is not as easy as one would believe).  And I've never come across availability of Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.  But I was pleased with which ones I'd seen.  I think they gave Russ Meyers and his real legacy basically no consideration, and it's weird.  There's no mention of kung-fu or other genre.  Instead, they seem to want to follow a thread to porn that I'm not sure works if you remember actual porn theaters existing and that was an adjacent but not entirely related thing.  

In short - it's fine, but feels... debatable?  Like the narratives only work if you aren't thinking too hard.




Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Doc Watch: Summer of Soul (2021)




Watched:  03/30/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Questlove

I started watching Summer of Soul (2021) last year on Hulu, but got in trouble with Jamie for starting it without her.  But somehow we never circled back and watched it.  

Well, I guess it won an Academy Award, so that's a feather in Questlove's cap.  And well deserved.  But it also means there's no real reason for me to further discuss or sell you on this movie.  Or even explain it.  

It's a really beautiful, amazing thing.  Watch it.


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Doc Watch: You Don't Nomi (2019)




Watched:  03/29/2022
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jeffrey McHale

After watching and podcasting Showgirls, I believe Justin (and then Paul) suggested I watch the documentary You Don't Nomi (2019) a sort of retrospective investigating how we can view the 1995 film, seen as a catastrophe at the time of release but which has been reconsidered as a camp classic in the intervening years.  The doc features multiple reviewers, entertainers and others engaging with the film.  No small amount of the original film is seen as the movie leverages the idea of fair-use in investigating and transforming the source material - and so too does it liberally borrow from other films by Paul Verhoeven.  

In many ways, it's like a bit of film school packed into a tidy 1:38 or whatever it was.  Opinions are applied as fact, schools of thought as dogma.  But almost no one speaking is in total agreement.  We look at what else Verhoeven has done, we look for things he returns to, what his films say on certain topics (women!  violence!  seeeeeeeexxxx!) and try to draw conclusions.  And with Verhoeven, the answer is often that, no, he's not making a mistake or doing something goofy, he meant something specific and it wasn't there to make you feel better or confirm your biases.  All of which, were I to watch Showgirls sober, would definitely make me re-evaluate the film.  

Friday, March 11, 2022

Doc Watch: Lucy and Desi (2022)




Watched:  03/08/2022
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director/ Producer:  Amy Poehler

I don't know that I would have looked at Amy Poehler standing on one leg on SNL a couple decades ago and thought "documentarian", but - apparently along with her skills as a comedian/ actor/ director/ writer/ improviser/ producer, we can now include documentarian.

I had no interest in the recently released biopic by Aaron Sorkin.  I'm not a Sorkin-head, and I generally find biopics of well-documented people are really about something going on with the creators, not the actual subjects.  Maybe it's the history major in me, but coming up with make-believe scenes to illustrate some fundamental message imposed on people's lives, you're going to wind up with something between an impression and a grotesquerie.  But, I dunno.  Sometimes it works.  

Documentary, done well, tends to surface actual themes and truths about the subjects as directors find their story in repeated beats in research and interviews.  And when it comes to real people who, once upon a time, were routinely covered in tabloids even after their deaths, who were in our living rooms for decades (I watched reruns of I Love Lucy as a kid), give me some talking heads, production stills and 8mm family movies every time.  

There's a lot here I didn't know, much I did through osmosis mover the years.  But it's well done and - with so many years since the passing of both Lucy and Desi, can afford to be fair-handed as possible while being sympathetic to certain quirks and challenges of both personalities.  That Poehler would see some of her self in Lucille Ball, as a comedian who has been at the top, continues to enjoy celebrity and side projects that are not the heights of what she's known for, but which are solid nonetheless...  I am not entirely shocked she picked Ball as a subject worth of research with whom she could spend time.

The one thing I found profoundly odd that the doc doesn't mention is that Lucy was about 40 when she started working on I Love Lucy.  She was giving birth to children in her 40's, starring in her show and building Desilu essentially in the back-half of a career.  I don't know if Poehler thought it was ageism or sexism or something that need not be discussed, but frankly I think it's vital information for how remarkable Lucille Ball was, because I've seen a few of her films from before the crafted I Love Lucy persona, and it's a different actor.  And second acts should always be celebrated.

Anyway, I'm thrilled Poehler made the doc, and it's as well done as I think you could hope for.  


Saturday, March 5, 2022

Doc Watch: Class Action Park (2020)




Watched:  03/01/2022
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Director:  Seth Porges

In the way of so many documentaries, this one was about 85% of the way there, but I couldn't go with them the last stretch of the film when they try to "make sense of it all".  Class Action Park (2020) is a feature-length doc about the notorious amusement park, Action Park, formerly located outside of New York City that has, since the early 00's, spawned legends of how out of control the place was, and, in fact, dangerous.  Open through the 1980's, the park was one of hundreds, if not thousands, dotting America.

The first half of the film is hysterical as you take a look at the rides and hear tales of how the place was owned and operated by a former penny-stocks Wall Street tycoon banned from the market by the SEC (I think).  He took his Randian concept of personal risk and responsibility as a businessman, applied that to amusement park attendance, and built a two-sided theme park - one side water-based rides like slides and wavepools, and the other being go-karts.  For anyone growing up in the 1980's, you'll see a lot of things you also took part in.  Bumper boats, go-karts, water slides.  But our go-karts at Malibu Grand Prix had speed governors.  Theirs did not.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Doc Watch: "The Rescue" (2021) - A National Geographic Documentary




Watched:  01/20/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Directors:  Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi/ Jimmy Chin

Back in 2018, I recall a story breaking on the news about 12 Thai soccer players and their coach trapped in a cave that had been flooded by summer rains.  I'm going to be completely candid:  I heard the details and immediately tuned out the story afterwards.  Everything I heard told me that this story would end with 12 dead children and a dead coach.  And probably some rescue crew.  In what seemed a bleak year (ha ha... how little we knew then!), signing myself up for updates on what seemed a deathwatch just seemed morbid.

And then someone told me "no, they got out.  Yes, all of them."

I read some details of what had happened and it seemed like madness, but I wrote it off as "boy, I guess Navy SEALS really know their stuff."

Forget all of that.

The Rescue (2021), knows you know those broad strokes, but recreates the timeline of the story through interviews, actual footage from the participants, some occasional recreation footage (using the actual participants), news footage and some excellent graphics.  And the story is both one-hundred times more unbelievable than you're expecting and ultimately, that same level of magnitude a story of the best in humanity.  

I hesitate to talk too much about the logistics or even about the participants, but it is fascinating to find out that the main divers to assist in the search and rescue were private citizens, mostly from the UK, cave diving hobbyists who put everything on the line for this effort.  And you may ask yourself "what sort of person scuba dives in caves?"  And that would be a *great* question, because these are not extreme sports enthusiasts, but an assortment of misfits and the kind of people who will go into a body of water completely surrounded by rock on all sides.

It doesn't matter that you know that the kids made it out.  The movie broke me with footage of a young mother standing at the cave's mouth calling to her son to come home, and just kept whittling me down from there.  Yes, the divers are remarkable, but 13 boys also held together, monumental efforts took place to move rivers, to find alternatives and support the ongoing work.  

I very much remember the drama of Baby Jessica's rescue from a well in West Texas and how the people of West Texas pulled together to save one child.  Here, an international collective and thousands of locals pitched in.

Give it a shot.  You might momentarily have faith in us as a species.  You might also believe some cosmic convergence is possible.



Monday, January 3, 2022

Doc Watch: Beanie Mania (2021)




Watched:  01/01/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Director:  Yemisi Brookes

Hoo-boy.  I think I have more to say about the topics covered in Beanie Mania (2021) than I have to say about the film itself.  

But, so.  

Beanie Mania covers the 1990's Beanie Baby fad and tulip-like frenzy around the little doorstops that became an obsession with some people at the time.  There are interviews with people who were Beanie celebrities, former employees of Ty (the company that made the bean bags), with distributors and a last, passing glance at how YouTubers are maybe reviving Beanie Mania.  

It collects news stories and people who were there at the time are remarkably candid about what they did and why and what was happening.  And many of them are still in the Beanie Business, which is still a thing, I guess (look, eBay has taught us secondary markets are there for *everything*).  There's no gory murders of sex scandals, but it is fascinating to remember that this really was a nation-wide obsession for a minute there, and that it really tapped into so many parts of how we can project our hopes and dreams into something as ridiculous as a bean bag made to look like a frog.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Doc Watch: Street Gang - How We Got to Sesame Street (2020)




Watched:  12/29/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Marilyn Agrelo


Of the near universal experiences of my generation (that being the generation known as "X") was the certainty that you were plopped down in front of a television as soon as you could sit upright and you were a fan of Sesame Street.  It was partially a product of the fact we usually had three networks and a PBS affiliate on our TV's and very little else, but also because it was recognized by our parents as both entertainment and a source of education.

As a kid, I remember the combination of Muppets, kind adults and kids, animation and music made it a variety show that I personally wanted to watch.  I am sure I had favorite bits and characters, but that's all been lost to time as all I can remember is a general warm spot for the show, the actors and the Muppets.  And, now, the nostalgia when seeing footage from that era hits me like a wave.  It's tapping into brain cells that haven't been accessed much in years, and related feelings both directly and indirectly tied to the show.  

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Music Doc Watch: The Beatles - Get Back (2021)




Watched:  12/3/2021
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  uhhhh...

I have what I'd describe as a non-relationship with The Beatles.   

I can't remember a time I wasn't aware of the existence of The Beatles, and since middle-school, I could pick out one of their tunes playing on the radio or over Muzak - but at some point when I was getting into music, I think I found the enormity of The Beatles as cultural force daunting, and their discography too big for me to get my head around.  I also think I had a hard time - as a high schooler - reconciling the Ed Sullivan Beatles with the late-years Beatles.  It was just so much.

I do know that in 1984 my parents took me to the movie theater to see Give My Regards to Broad Street. (That was when I first heard Eleanor Rigby and my wee brain was blown).  But they, themselves, weren't huge Beatles fans.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Doc Watch: Dean Martin - King of Cool (2021)




Watched:  11/20/2021
Format:  TCM 
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Tom Donahue

Like any other self-respecting 1990's hipster, I have a warm place in my heart for Dean Martin.  I spend less time thinking about Martin than I do Bing Crosby, who was a huge inspiration to the Rat Pack, but - hey - one of my earliest memories is my dad singing the intro to "That's Amore" to me as he tucked me in.  

I would see Martin in Rio Bravo back in college, as well as Ocean's 11, and I started to get a picture of Martin and how he fit into the culture in ways that Frank Sinatra did not.  Probably the easiest analog for us Gen-X'ers is Brad Pitt to George Clooney in the Soderbergh Ocean's films.  

As a doc, Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021) works as a no-consequences sort of film.  No one is out there debating Dean Martin in 2021.  He was.  He is.  He's heard on the radio to this day, and his films are still okay.  So it's about painting a portrait of a guy who was maybe a bit unknowable, even by his own children.  And in that, what you wind up doing is - metaphor 1:  seeing the silhouette of the guy against the backdrop of what we do know, and - metaphor 2:  starting with the stone of what we know and chipping away til the statue of Dean Martin presents itself.

Doc Watch: Malfunction - The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson (2021)




Watched:  11/20/2021
Format:  I saw it on TV, but I believe they're trying to get you to watch it on Hulu
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Jodi Gomes

I was flipping channels and somehow caught what I thought was someone's rushed attempt to get in front of the "coming to Hulu" documentary by the New York Times about the fateful Super Bowl performance in which Justin Timberlake removed an item from Janet Jackson's wardrobe, exposing her breast on TV for a blink-and-you-miss-it moment.  But, no, it was the actual doc.

I am not sure that Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson (2021) is the final word on the incident.  I think it has a lot to say that I think is worth reflecting on, but at the center of the doc are a few gigantic questions it won't/ can't answer, and I am unsure some of the arguments are fully explored.  What the doc manages to do is paint the most complete picture of the Super Bowl incident and the fallout, giving detail I'd not heard, following the incident's years-long legacy.  But I can't quite sort what the doc is trying to say.  Nor am I sure revisiting the incident is as compelling as cultural conversation as we'll treat it for a few weeks here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Doc Watch: The Celluloid Closet (1995)




Watched:  11/07/2021
Format:  TCM 
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1990's
Directors:  Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

This doc came out while I was in film school, and I remember it being suggested viewing, but I don't recall an actual theatrical release locally, and then I just never got to it.

As a cultural touchstone, this film feels like it needs a review by The Kids(tm).  It captures a moment in time, just before Gen-X would start driving the cultural conversation and the ending, cast as hope, now seems quaint in some ways and like a ship was missed in others.  But if nothing else, the film shows the realities of what things came before the mid-90's and - extrapolating to the modern era - how much has and hasn't changed in what is a relatively brief period.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Doc Watch: 15 Minutes of Shame (2021)




Watched:  10/19/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Max Joseph

There's something weirdly "student film"-ish about this documentary.  From the "let's start this with a quote" business to a third act diversion that isn't actually on topic, as interesting as it is.  It's the sort of "this is too good not to rationalize its inclusion" stuff I found myself doing when working on docs in college.  It also locks into a political POV that I think keeps the film from reaching a necessary and broader audience, undermining its impact.

But - the overall premise and most of the talking heads are great.

Co-Produced and narrated by Monica Lewinsky, the film looks into how the internet has weaponized shaming/ cancel culture, but really how you can wake up one morning and your whole life is now public and awful, and you have absolutely no say in how it plays out.  

Monday, August 2, 2021

Doc Watch: Chris Claremont's X-Men (2018)




Watched:  08/02/2021
Format:  YouTube
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Patrick Meaney

Chris Claremont didn't invent the X-Men, but he did turn them from a middling Marvel team book that could have/ should have disappeared into a sprawling mythology with beloved characters that became a multimedia franchise (that Disney is probably losing a lot of sleep over how to properly exploit).  Chris Claremont didn't introduce me to comics, but he did write comics that hit me like lightning, over and over again, and made me a devoted comics reader - a habit that has lasted 35+ years.

While everyone is still young and healthy, a documentary crew put together what is really a remarkable doc explaining what Claremont's X-Men was, why it was so unique in the world of comics, and what eventually broke it.  Including interviews from people who broke it, still totally unaware of what they did 25 years after the fact, still high on their own supply.