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

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.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Doc Watch: The Last Blockbuster (2020)




Watched:  05/08/2021
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's


This one was kind of weird.  And this post is mostly about how much I hated Blockbuster and didn't care when it folded.

Look, by the time Blockbuster Video went out of business, I'd intentionally not gone of my own free will into a Blockbuster in 10 years and had pretty much broken with Blockbuster as far back as the mid 1990's.  

So, a feature length doc talking about the death of Blockbuster as some sort of tragedy that was just an accident but something we all loved?  I was pausing the movie and making Jamie listen to me as I debated the film's non-stop nostalgia and love of the corporate behemoth, which - starting in the summer of 1994, I saw as actually very bad for movies when I tried to rent Breakfast at Tiffany's and (a) the clerk had never heard of it, and (b) looked it up and explained to me they used to have it, but they got rid of it.  But they did have 45 copies of Pauly Shore in Son In Law.  

Like, you don't have to be a snob to find that a little sad.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Doc Watch: Dangerous Days - Making Blade Runner (2007)




Watched:  04/21/2021
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2000's

For, really, the hardcore Blade Runner fan, Dangerous Days (2007) tries to put the documentary treatment to much of the same ground as Paul Sammon's book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner.*  It's definitely its own thing, and they cover different but overlapping territories.  There's participation from darn near everyone - and who knows who they left on the cutting room floor.

But, yeah, from coffee shop conversations about "you should adapt this novel" to "huh, looks like we made a cultural juggernaut", and everything inbetween, it's an expansive view of not just the vision and why's and wherefore's of this very special film, but a look at the machinery of movie-making that's only got one layer of gloss.  25 years after the fact, people are more generous with each other, even if you do wind up with conflicting versions of events here and there.  

Worth it for the behind-the-scenes looks as much as the interviews, but... just know as I did not when I started the doc - it's 3.5 hours.  Break it up into a 2 or more viewings.  It has handy chapter sections, so feel free to turn it off and come back.  




Coincidentally, this is the first book I ever purchased through Amazon.  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Doc Watch: Pumping Iron (1977)




Watched:  04/15/2021
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's

So, I finally watched Pumping Iron (1977)!  It was super good.  I'm not spending the energy to write it up, but if I liked Arnie before (and he's my imaginary friend, so, yes), nothing has changed.  Also, it was wild to see young Lou Ferrigno.  

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Doc Watch: Tina (2021)




Watched:  03/29/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's

I've never been a hardcore Tina Turner fan, but like everyone of my generation I am familiar with her work, and have some idea of her pre Private Dancer life through cultural osmosis.  The first one of her albums I ever purchased was greatest hits collection, Simply the Best because I *loved* "Simply the Best" as a song, and figured "can't hurt to own the greatest hits".  And I have no timeline of how I came to really understand Tina Turner's story.  I *do* remember watching the video for "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and my parents sort of watching in amazement that (a) Tina Turner was on MTV and (b) their kids, 9 and 11, were like "this Tina Turner seems cool".  And then my folks saying something about a creep of an ex-husband.

And, we lost our minds over how cool she was in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  And she is.  Go back and watch it.    

I confess, I never had much affinity for biopics - 2 hours is not enough time to show a life, let alone how botched the movies tend to be vis-a-vis actual facts (which are always more interesting than the invention of the movie) - and I wasn't super interested in watching someone dressed up as Tina Turner get beat up for two hours.  But hearing about the movie is how I came to understand exactly how bad Ike Turner had been.  But I've still never seen What's Love Got to Do With It.

It seems I'm not alone in this opinion.  

Tina (2021) is a roughly two hour doc that uses intervies, original and archival, that charts Tina Turner's course from abandoned child in Nutbush, Tennessee to living in Zurch with her dedicated husband.  And it's a goddamn shattering ride.  And, as it turns out, possibly Turner's final word on her life to the public.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Doc Watch: Operation Varsity Blues - The College Admissions Scandal




Watched:  03/22/2021
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Chris Smith

Full disclosure:  My current role is in IT management at a major American university, and part of my portfolio includes Admissions.  I haven't worked for this office very long, just about a year and a half.  But I do interface continually with the folks who process, review and make admissions decisions.  

If you followed the story of actresses Lori Loughlin or Felicity Huffman as they were exposed and charged with participating in, essentially, a massively scaled bribery scandal in which coaches provided entrance to kids as walk-ons to their teams in exchange for cash, you know the broad strokes of what broke in the news back in 2019.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Doc Watch: The Pixar Story (2007)




Watched:  03/01/2021
Format:  Netflix?
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2000's
Director:  Leslie Iwerks

Biggest complaint:  not enough Michero

A weird movie only in that it's already 14 years old, and it's interviewing Steve Jobs, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Roy Disney and I am sure others who are already passed since.  And, of course, this is well before Lasseter was shown the door.

But it does a phenomenal job of explaining how Pixar even happened.  Which was a wild mix of "right place/ right time" in the sense of chaos theory, and then key people who made some very right choices at the right time - from Lasseter to George Lucas to Steve Jobs to Bob Iger.  Heck, Tom Hanks' involvement and his delight at his involvement is evident.

Looking behind the scenes of what almost went wrong here or there is curious, but I wish they'd spent more time on Pixar story-management processes as part of the secret sauce.  They go into it very briefly and almost obliquely, but it's there.

Anyway, just to see who all was involved is a trip.  And, of course, to know what was coming after just heightens the joy of the thing.  And, of course, I am certain the place is no longer quite as "start-up-y" as the doc captured.  Sooner or later, efficiency needs and people needing to get home to kids is going to kick in.

But now I want to rewatch Monsters, Inc.