Category Archives: Documentary
THERE WAS NOT AN ANNOUNCEMENT, LET alone any acknowledgement, but I knew someone had walked into the ballroom. There was a shift in the air, like that moment before lightning strikes when the air has an electrified, static crispness. I was attending a fundraiser that was being held in the ballroom of a downtown hotel. Easily, there were over two hundred people in the room, dressed in tuxedos and evening dresses. When I felt that shift in the air, I started to look around the room. My gaze shifted to the far end of the ballroom when my ears detected a low buzzing sound from that direction. It was the crowd murmuring to each other as President and Mrs. Obama had walked in. The two who were tall compared to the guests around them, were easy to spot. I am not exaggerating when I say there was a definite shift of energy in the room; a building excitement and respect as the guests started to nonchalantly shift around to get a better look at this couple. The term “power couple” was something I had heard before, but I had never experienced it live, until now. These two were a major power couple; one could feel it on and below the skin surface. It was an extraordinary feeling, I have to say. It was as if the energy in their bodies was emanating out to every person standing in the room. THE TERM “POWER COUPLE” TO ME is more of a modern term. I cannot recall it being used back even in the 1970s or 80s. It seems as if a marketing department created the title to bestow on a couple where both participants are active in their fields of interest or work. One of the earliest couples I can remember who were considered a “power couple” was Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I remember how the news reported on them, from walking the red carpet of a movie premier or awards show to a humanitarian trip at a place that had experienced a natural catastrophe. For some reason, I never thought of a king and queen being a “power couple,” though I guess it could happen. By my definition, Eva and Juan Peron of Argentina would be labeled a “power couple.” It is funny, I never thought of the couple in this documentary as a “power couple;” however, after watching this movie I have to say they were most definitely a strong, dynamic couple who deserved to be called a “power couple.” WITH SO MANY TV SPECIALS AND articles having been done on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, one would think there was nothing more to learn about them. Luckily, it turns out not to be the case with the release of this intimate, biographical comedy. Directed by Amy Poehler (Baby Mama, Parks and Recreation-TV) and written by Mark Monroe (The Cove, The Dissident), this film focused on honoring the celebrity couple. With the blessing of Lucy’s and Ricky’s daughter Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, never seen footage was expertly mixed within the story and celebrity interviews, which were given by such celebrities as Carol Burnett and Bette Midler. It was obvious while watching this movie that Amy has a strong fondness for Lucy. But I also appreciated how Amy handled Desi’s successes and demons; he does not always get the credit he deserves for the new and progressive things he did for the industry. The home footage used was wonderful to watch. I felt like I was seeing Lucy and Desi in a fresh, unique way. Part tribute, part history; this was a well-done film that provided not only entertainment but unknown facts about one of Hollywood’s true “power couples.”
3 ½ stars
THE STORY HAD MAGICIAL ASPECTS THE more I listened to it. A friend of mine had met someone on one of her social media sites. They started a conversation that went back and forth in an easy, rhythmic way for a short time, before they advanced to video chats. When both were comfortable, they agreed to meet at a popular park in the city. They wound up from walking around the park to sitting on a park bench for a total of 4 hours; never was there a lull in their conversation. The way she described it was saying he showed her the part of his heart that had been healing from a past hurt. She added that he was a sensitive man who teared up when they were talking about their pets, and he spoke about the pain he suffered when he had to put down one of his cats. Evidently, the four hours flew by, and they agreed to go out on a longer date for a meal. A week later they met for dinner then afterwards, walked down to a coffee shop where they sat and talked for two hours more. As I was listening to her tell it, it did cross my mind that all of it was too good to be true. I felt I needed to play the devil’s advocate to make sure she was not missing something about him. It turned out things just got better and better for the two of them, to the point where they decided to get married. I WAS SO HAPPY FOR MY friend and that everything fell into place for her with this man she met online. This was in such sharp contrast to another friend of mine who has had no success meeting people online. Every time we get together, she always has a new story about one of her online dates. There was the one guy who was too eager to date, texting her everyday with little “inspirational” messages and quotes. Then there was this fellow who never mentioned having any friends, along with having no outside interests from his day job as some type of buyer for a company. She always carries pepper spray on her and once, she almost had to use it on a guy she had met who got aggressive with her on their 2nd date. I know how difficult it can be trying to meet someone online; one needs to go through a lot of choices before finding one that clicks and moves in synch with you. If you want to see what I am talking about then feel free to watch what happens to the women in this unbelievable documentary, when they thought they had found the perfect man. WITH ONE SWIPE A PERSON’S LIFE can change drastically when on a dating app. Directed by 1st time director Felicity Morris, I could not look away from this film that at times played out like a crime thriller. The story was so outrageous that there were moments I thought this could not be real, yet it kept on going. I was not sure how authentic all the re-enactments were, but it did not matter to me. However, the way the scenes tightly unfolded added believability to what was taking place. Also, I enjoyed the way the director built up the story; it took me from one emotional extreme to another. I felt the story would be relatable to anyone who watched it. Maybe not on the same level, but everyone has their level of trust. It is funny; when I asked people who had seen this film what they thought, they were divided into two camps. One group sided with one side and the other group felt it was the other side. I will leave it up to you. This movie can be watched by anyone, but especially those who have used dating sites.
3 ½ stars
I HAD TWO TYPES OF BABYSITTERS. There were those that were living and there were those that hung on the walls of our home. For the ones that were alive, I had a couple of great babysitters and one who was horrible. She was so awful, my family came home one time and found me hiding from her in the stairwell of our apartment building. The inanimate babysitters were the artwork that was placed throughout our home. On two end tables sat two tall lamps shaped like Grecian urns. Around the circumference were the heads of golden lions holding a chain in their mouths, that formed a circle. I would sit and imagine a variety of fantasies where the lions were my pets/protectors. On the walls there were framed paintings and sketches, done in a variety of genres. There was Ludwig van Beethoven looking down on me while I had my piano lesson. A boy dressed in a raincoat and rain hat peered out at me. I had to come up with ways to save him from the impending storm that was sweeping over the ocean. A long-necked woman kept watch over me while I would play with my toys on the floor; her eyes appeared to follow me wherever I moved in the room. Another painting on the wall was a forest scene where all the leaves were turning autumn colors. I considered it one of my hiding places because the variety of colors would always keep me hidden. MY IMAGINATION BEING QUITE ACTIVE ALLOWED me to spend lengths of time in the presence of these pieces of art, creating an alternative world while playing with a toy or acting out make believe. I did not have a total understanding at the time of what the entire process was to create a painting. They were borderline magical pieces in my mind since they were the catalysts for my imagination. Imagine, at a young age, discovering a television show that showed me how a painting gets created. I do not remember my age at the time; but I can see myself sitting close to the TV to watch this artist with the big hair create what I thought were masterpieces within 30 minutes. It was pure magic to me. Springing solely from his mind and memories, this man would quickly create a beautiful landscape. It did not matter if it was a winter or summer scene, he could do anything as far as I was concerned. I especially loved watching him paint clouds because they were some of my favorite fodders for daydreaming. When I discovered this documentary was playing, I could not wait to see it. BELIEVING EVERYONE HAD CREATIVE TALENT INSIDE of themselves, painter Bob Ross wanted to find a way to convince them. All it took was one television station giving him 30 minutes of time, to show the world what could be done. Directed by Joshua Rofe (Swift Current, Lorena-TV), this film was created with the help of Bob Ross’s son Steve. Knowing it is being told from one point of view, did not distract me from seeing the journey of Bob’s life. I came into this with a fondness for Bob and his show; so, seeing some of the events that took place behind the scenes was troubling for me. Not due to any type of blood or gore, but due to the circumstances that befell him. The live footage was fascinating to me; part of it was due to seeing him outside of his studio, among his fans. It was like being at a rock concert for art; how often does one get to see that?!?! Overall, I found this movie to be entertaining; there was drama, sadness, humor and surprises, at least for me. My guess is that this film will appeal more to those gifted with an artistic flair.
MY FIRST APARTMENT WAS IN A neighborhood known for its nightlife. There were a multitude of bars and clubs, with most of them all on the same stretch of road. Though they each served pretty much the same alcohol and beverages, they were distinct based on the clientele. There were the clubs that attracted the young crowd, those barely legal by the state’s standards. Other bars were known to attract minorities which I always found odd. There was one place where the patrons were Hispanic for the most part. When I would go there, I would sit and try to figure out what made the place attractive for Hispanic people. It had a similar setup to other bars with colored flashing lights, a dance floor, mirrors and a live DJ. It made no sense to me; yet there was another club where the patrons were mostly Black. Again, I did not find anything distinctive about the place that would, to tell you the truth, attract any minority. Now before you think I am some big-time drinker; let me tell you, I do not drink alcoholic drinks; I never liked the taste of them. If I did not ask for a glass of water, I usually got a clear carbonated drink with no ice or straw. It is weird, but I have encountered people who would get an attitude if I did not have a drink in my hand. It was as if they thought I must be there for some nefarious reasons because I was not drinking anything. DESPITE THESE ESTABLISHMENTS DRAWING DIFFERENT CLIENTELE, there was one place where everyone was welcome, and they showed up in droves. It was the disco. I had never seen such a place; walking into it was like entering a different universe. There were the usual-colored lights and mirrors; but they had fog machines and confetti canyons, besides live statues. I still remember this one statue who was dressed all in silver including painting their skin in the same color. They stood perfectly still on top of a large pedestal for several minutes before moving stiffly like a robot, into another position. Periodically they would burst into a dance routine, then suddenly come to a dead stop and be motionless again. The dress code was anything and everything. I had a couple of pairs of shoes that I would only wear when I visited this club. Looking back, I cannot believe I used to wear these copper-colored metallic looking pants that appeared iridescent. Funny, no one even batted an eye when I was on the dance floor. There was such an energy in the place with people moving on the massive dance floor; I used to think I wanted a job there because it was an uplifting place. It has been years since I have been to a club, but I felt like I had while watching this fun, musical documentary. ONE MAN HAD THE IDEA TO sell the music first before coming out with the movie and it changed the whole world. Directed by John Maggio (The Perfect Weapon, American Experience-TV) this film was about Robert Stigwood, the producer for such films as Evita and Tommy, besides being the manager for the musical groups the Bee Gees and Cream. This movie focused on the creation of the hit film Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta (Grease, Pulp Fiction). If you were not a fan of disco music, I do not know if you will enjoy this picture as much as I did. Honestly, I can remember buying the musical soundtrack to this film and hearing the songs playing wherever I went; that is how popular it was. Seeing how the movie came into existence, with the little tidbits of information scattered throughout this film, I enjoyed watching this documentary. I will say it did start out a bit slow, but just hearing the music from that time and seeing the archival scenes; this was just a great blast from the past that I settled into for the night. And who knows, if you choose to see this movie, you might want to get up out of your seat and dance for a bit.
I JUST DO NOT GET THESE extreme sports/activities that people willingly do. There is High Lining which is crossing from one cliff to another by balancing and walking on a single rope. Free solo climbing is another activity that makes no sense to me, as well as a 6-day marathon that crosses 154 miles through Morocco, I believe. Why would anyone want to do something so dangerous? There was a documentary I reviewed some time back about a man who does free solo climbing. Seeing him climb without any safety apparatus seemed crazy to me. Granted, the extent of my climbing achievements was climbing trees when I was a kid. The highest I ever went was to the level of a 2nd floor of an apartment building. I understand a person who wants to be the fastest runner in the world or hit the most home runs in baseball; but doing something just for the sake of saying you did it, is not a good enough excuse for me to risk my life. I hope this is not coming across like I am judging, because it is not my intentions. I just do not understand the appeal of such an activity and to tell you the truth I am sure those who participate in such activities do not understand why I like to sit and watch movies. ON THE OTHER HAND, I APPRECIATE individuals who do remarkable things. For example, I enjoy more individual sports than team ones. Someone who can lift more weight or run the fastest or hold their breath underwater the longest are things that I admire because it is humans doing nearly unhuman things. Since I have been active in the fitness field for decades, I appreciate such activities because I am looking at the upper limits of what a human body can do. Seeing the body do unhuman things fascinates me; I think that is the main reason why I like that traveling circus with the different acts from around the world. The acts seem to be always pushing the limits of their bodies. I can remember a student from elementary school who was double jointed. They could bend their arms and legs in all these weird positions that no one else in class could do. So, you might be wondering why, knowing what you know about me, would I sit and watch this documentary. It was not on my radar; however, someone told me about it, and I was curious to see the scenery. And let me tell you, climbing a mountain would be the last thing I would want to do, unless they had a designated easy trail and gift shop/restaurant along the way. But I must tell you I was mesmerized by what I was watching in this thrilling adventure film. WITH SOME OF THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN peaks in their country’s backyard, a man from Nepal feels the world does not fully recognize what role his country has played in the activity of mountain climbing. He wants to change the perception by doing the unexpected. Directed by Gabriel Clarke (Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, Finding Jack Charlton) and Torquil Jones (Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager, The American Fall), this award nominee was a thrilling and awe-inspiring movie. Nirmal “Nimsdal” Purja, the mountaineer from Nepal, was something to see with his infectious personality. The filming was exquisite to the point I felt I was experiencing the location without leaving my couch. I admit the idea for this audacious project was borderline insane; but I appreciated the message Nirmal was trying to convey. And a shoutout to his wife, who at least in the film supported his plan. I know it is hard to compare any one feat from another person; but I have to say, this movie will show you something that you have never seen before and I am guessing will be glad you got to see it. Several scenes had Nepali spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars
I KNEW GOING IN THERE WOULD be a good chance my ears would be ringing by the end of the night. It was part of the event. We would be sitting with anticipation in a cavernous stadium with 20,000 people who all came for the same reason. Sometimes there would be a wall of speakers on both sides of the stage; other times, they would be hidden behind some type of fabric or paper scenery. I knew if there were added speakers suspended from the ceiling then the sound would be massive. Either way we knew we were going to hear music; we just did not know if it would be clear based on the acoustics of the arena. I loved going to concerts so much, that at one point, I was going nearly every weekend during the summer months. The places would be either enclosed or outdoor spots, though I preferred indoor so I would not have to worry about any precipitation. Those times when we could use public transportation to get to the concert, were extra memorable because the train cars were usually full of other concertgoers. There was such a festive atmosphere on the train; some people singing, others dressed up like one of the members of the band. Going to a concert was truly an event. WHAT DRIVES ME TO ATTEND A music concert is the theatrics of it. I expect to experience more than just the artist singing their songs. I once went to a concert where the singer either sat on a stool or stood up to the microphone stand and sang a list of their music hits, with little talking between the songs. It was like listening to their album, which I could have done at home. Though they had an abundance of top ten hits, I never went to see them again because their concert was boring. After attending concerts where I witnessed a laser light drawn eagle take flight above my head and where King Kong appeared with the singer draped over the gorilla’s hand like Fay Wray, I want to be totally entertained. For that reason, I have seen a few of Madonna’s concerts. Putting her singing abilities to the side; she is nothing but one of the best at marketing her brand. Full dance numbers, costume changes and acrobats are just a few reasons her concerts tend to be spectacular. Going to one of her concerts one never knows what to expect, except for a full theatrical production. And for that reason, I was excited to see this musical documentary. MADAME X, PLAYED BY MADONNA (EVITA, A League of Their Own), is a secret agent who travels the world fighting for freedom. Directed by Ricardo Gomes (Union Bay, Urban Sea) and newcomer SKNX, this concert filmed in Portugal was filled with a variety of singers and dancers who joined Madonna on stage. Both the video clips and stage productions were tight and well performed; however, I found the filming of the concert annoying. It was choppy due to the quick shots jumping from front to back and side to side. The music predominately consisted of Madonna’s more current music which was not as appealing to me as her earlier stuff. In her earlier days her political statements were fresh and heartfelt; at this stage they came off a bit to theatrical and seemed as if they were on a long list that she was checking off as the show went on. I never considered her a great singer, more a great performer; but in this concert tour, I never felt the sense of excitement like I experienced in her other ones. Maybe if the editing had been less frenetic and she had included a few of her older songs, I would have enjoyed watching this film. Standing on its own, I know I would have been upset if I had paid for a ticket to go see this show in person.
2 ½ stars
WHILE WE WERE LINING UP INTO groups, the line monitors kept reminding us not to engage with any protesters. I thought it was ironic since we were about to stage a protest march. There were thousands of people maneuvering into place; I had two friends with me in my group. The volunteers who were chosen to be the line monitors were handing out a list of safety tips to everyone who walked into the staging area, along with reminding us to stay hydrated. Every group I could see from my location had people in them holding banners and signs. While we waited for our start time, volunteers dressed in those yellow hazard vests kept walking by to remind us that this was a peaceful march. Since I was curious about what kind of protesters are we supposed to not engage with, I stopped one of the volunteers to ask him. He told me there was a group of protesters who were known to instigate physical encounters so they could then file legal suits against individuals, protest organizers and city officials in the hopes of getting money either by winning the lawsuit or agreeing to a settlement. I was appalled by this and had to ask how these protesters incite reactions. He said they shout out a variety of vulgarities to rile up a person, besides spitting at them. I was not looking forward to crossing their path. WE WERE ALL IN PLACE BY our start time. There was a certain energy in the air that felt exhilarating to me. Being in the middle of a mass of people with like minds was heady; each of us were there to focus on a common issue we all shared. The beginning of our walk was easy to navigate as we had quickly moved from a park to a main thoroughfare. There were photographers and news reporters scurrying back and forth as they were trying to document and catch a perfect moment. It was not long before I heard a different tone of sound coming up ahead. I was used to the different chants and sayings being uttered around me; however, this sound had an ominous note. A line monitor was shouting reminders to not engage. There up ahead was the group of protesters we were warned about. They were pointing at individuals in the march, yelling obscenities at us. The homemade signs they held in the air depicted vile images. The level of hatred being displayed was unsettling to me. We were protesting for better rights and these people were wishing us dead; it made no sense to me. It was so extreme that I could not wait to pass them by. I did not think I would see such extreme behavior on display ever again, but that was not the case since I watched this eye-opening documentary. WHILE ELECTED OFFICIALS WERE INSIDE THE capitol to certify the presidential election, a mob of people were outside trying to get in. Directed by Jamie Roberts (The Fires That Foretold Grenfell, War Child), this film used a variety of footage and recordings from both the individuals inside and outside the capitol building. I am sure most of us have seen footage shot on January 6th; but I must tell you, the scenes and conversations I saw in this movie were a different level of disturbing for me. It did not appear as if the movie studio tried to sway the story favorably to one side or the other; it just came across as a series of live events that got captured on camera. While I try to avoid any political debate, I just want to say I still cannot get over the level of extreme emotions I saw in this picture. It left me sad that there seems to be absolutely no middle ground in this country. I will keep my personal feelings to myself and simply say I am not comfortable seeing hatred at such an extreme level.
3 ¼ stars
THERE ARE TWO MEMORIES THAT ARE as vivid and fresh in my mind as when they occurred, when I was in kindergarten. I remember I was the only one in my class who was left-handed and there was only one student who had red hair. He stood out more than I did. His hair was the type of red that looked like flames, bright with an orange tint. There was a smattering of freckles across his face that looked like one of those connect the dot coloring books. He wasn’t the nicest of students but looking back I now may understand why. Rarely was he asked to come play with someone on the school’s playground. While students were playing tag or tossing a ball back and forth, he was sitting on the school’s stairs or on the ground with his back up against the playground fence. The other students, I do not want to say avoided him per se, would interact with him if they were together on an art project or at assembly. However, I think he was a loner not by choice but because of the students confused with his red hair. I know that sounds silly, but I cannot come up with another reason. Maybe kids did not like the way he looked; to me even back then that would be a ridiculous notion. THE IDEA THAT A PERSON IS judged by their looks is something I find appalling. Back in that kindergarten class, I remember tearing up when the teacher was teaching the class how to use a pair of scissors to cut colored, construction paper. I saw the other kids were able to do it, but the scissors felt funny in my left hand when I held them the way the teacher told us. The boy sitting next to me asked me if I was dumb because I could not manipulate the scissors like the other kids. The tears were increasing in size, ready to fall out of my eyes. Luckily a girl on my other side showed me how I could cut paper using my left hand. From that incident, I have never forgotten what it feels like to be different. That red haired boy who stood out in class, me being a lefty and the girl who wore unusual clothes; we did not fit in the way people felt we should fit in. The arguments I hear about people’s looks or actions that they were born with are completely offensive in my opinion. What does it matter what two consenting adults feel for each other or someone has a different skin color? There is only one classification and that is human. Watching this documentary was a disturbing experience. I felt I was witnessing a crime. A MOVEMENT FORMED THAT WAS RELIGIOUS based, that believed a person could pray away something they were born with. This group would try to make a person conform and fit in, no matter the cost and the cost was high. Directed by Kristine Stolakis (Where We Stand, The Typist), this was a startling revelation for me. I will do my best not to give much away, but I have a hard time with anyone who tries to convert someone to their own religion or control someone else’s body by creating laws or considers a person less than themselves because of their skin color. This was a powerful and frightening story. Though I was fully engaged in this movie, I wished they had devoted more time to the victim’s stories or should I say journeys. The impact would have been more powerful in my opinion. The scenes that had the sermons in front of the congregation were sad to me; all I saw was hatred for someone being different than themselves. I appreciated seeing the interviews with the individuals who came to terms with themselves and survived; however, it would have been interesting to talk about the ones that did not survive. Once again, we are all human.
3 ½ stars
AFTER THE MEAL WAS DONE AND the dishes were washed, the lights would be turned down and the show would begin. Except for dessert, this was my favorite part of family get togethers. The first movie projector I ever saw was at a relative’s house. I cannot remember how young I was when I saw my first home movies, but I know it was before I was in kindergarten. The movie projector would get set up in the living room; opposite of it, my relative would unroll a movie screen that was perched on top of a tripod. All the kids would be sitting on the floor while some of the older relatives squeezed together on the sofa. The other family members would either sit on one of the various chairs that were set up around the room or simply lean up against a solid surface. Every time the movie projector was turned on, I enjoyed hearing the film reel being spooled through the projector because it sounded like the sound I would get when I clipped a playing card to the spokes of my bicycle wheel. With the tick, tick, tick sound steady in the background the first few frames of each movie reel always had what I took to be static; random scratches and lines briefly appearing on the screen before family members would materialize. MY COUSINS AND I WOULD GIGGLE whenever we saw a much younger version of one of our relatives. No matter where or what was being filmed, every reel always had scenes of family members waving at the camera. I discovered that waving usually meant they did not want to be filmed, especially anything that required any physical exertion beyond waving. Then there were some relatives who loved to perform in front of the camera by either singing, dancing, demonstrating a tool, cooking or some other type of activity. To me, I did not care what they did because I was just excited to see a piece of family history. I had this fascination with studying the relatives who had died before I was born. It was one of my ways to find a connection to the past. Not that I wanted to live in the past, I just wanted to see the same things my older relatives had seen. Being able to see a past relative in one of these movies brought life to the photos that we had in our old family photo albums. I can not only appreciate what the subject in this documentary has done throughout his life, I can also relate to it. THROUGHOUT HIS ENTIRE LIFE VAL KILMER (The Doors, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) filmed everything he was doing, even when he was the one being filmed. Directed by first time directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott, this biography was a fascinating study of an actor’s life. Spanning approximately 40 years, I enjoyed the cameos from movie actors such as Kevin Bacon and Marlon Brando. The idea of Val having not only filmed so much of his life, but to have saved all of it was remarkable; but seeing it in contrast to his life now was especially emotional. I felt I was getting a history lesson in multiple subjects and I mean that in a positive way. Seeing a brash young actor at one moment, then realizing the scope of his acting journey as it unfolded in this movie provided a solid base for Val to touch on many subjects which I appreciated. Hearing what he wanted to make a particular scene more authentic gave me new insight into his capabilities and insights. Even if one is not a movie fan, this film provides enough entertainment along with poignant moments for any type of viewer.
3 ½ stars