Category Archives: Documentary
EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS DURING A TRAGIC event; I do not think anyone would disagree with this statement. The news agencies are quick to report such events, sometimes right as it is happening. More so now than when I was younger, some sad occurrences get the star treatment. I am referring to telethons. Over the past several years there seems to be more of them; I have seen some for childhood hunger, hurricane and flood victims, the homeless and a variety of others. The goal for all of these is to get people to pledge money to their cause. Usually they will get a stable of celebrities to help; some to perform, others to say a few words and some to help on the phones. It will get reported how the celebrities gave their time to the cause. There is a part of me that appreciates their effort; I have always assumed the celebrities have waived their fees, but I do not know for certain. But here is the thing and maybe I am wrong to think this way. Having a celebrity get up and ask the public for money is not a tough job in my opinion. Truthfully, a star could limo over to the broadcasting site, walk right through to the stage, read from a teleprompter, thank everyone, turn around and walk right back to their limo to take them home. That is essentially it. I feel it would have so much more meaning if they would also pledge their own money to the cause. MAYBE I AM TOO MUCH A skeptic, but there are times I see these celebrities on these shows, and I feel they are just being self-serving. It looks good to be charitable and maybe they are in their own way; however, some do not come across as being genuine to me. I feel the same way about celebrities in commercials. Just because they are pitching a product does not mean I am going to run right out and buy it. Unless there is proof the celebrity is a user of the product, all I think they are doing is getting an easy paycheck. I remember after Hurricane Katrina, there were several celebrities who flew down to Louisiana to help the victims. Some started companies with their own money to help rebuild the city. To me, that is a celebrity who puts their money where their mouth is, as the saying goes. A celebrity like that is someone I can admire. I also have a whole new appreciation for the celebrity in this amazing documentary. Especially, because this is the first time I am hearing about this aspect of their life. FROM PLAYING A FICTIONAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER on a television show to changing the minds of space scientists, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) redefines the term “working actor.” Directed by Todd Thompson (Christmas for the Nations-TV movie, Pre Fab!), this film surprised me in the most positive way. First of all, I found Nichelle to be such an engaging and likable individual. Listening to her talk about what she had planned to do for a career and then what she wound up doing totally shocked me. Then to hear what she did to alter the mindset/perceptions of people/organizations was incredible. There was not one time I lost interest in listening/watching her unfolding story. The director did a perfect job of mixing old clips with interviews from scientists and celebrities such as George Takei and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse. Seeing how history unfolded behind the scenes made me feel like I was an insider who was told a secret. This was such an enjoyable movie watching experience about a remarkable woman. From playing a character on a game changing TV program to becoming a game changer in real life; she has an amazing story to tell.
I AM SITTING IN A TINY NIGHTCLUB at a time when people could still smoke inside. The air is hazy, making the stage look like it is behind a translucent veil. Everyone in the place is squeezed around small black tables; I can barely get my hand up to take a sip from my drink. I agreed to go the club to see what magazines were referring to as an “up and coming” comedian. When he got to the stage, the crowd was still somewhat noisy with conversation. It did not last long. He quickly commanded everyone’s attention with his ability to quickly change from one dialect to another in his stories and jokes. At one point he was speaking like a Russian; he then quickly changed to a British accent before talking like an innocent 5-year-old. It was extraordinary to witness the lightning speed he jumped from one character to another, all the time zinging out joke upon joke. The crowd, including myself, was mesmerized with his performance. Sweat had formed on his forehead and was slipping down his face while his shirt darkened with the sweat being generated over his torso. The evening was a major triumph; I thought for sure this guy was going to be a major star. It was not a long wait before my thought became reality. The comedian was soon after performing at major concert halls, starring in movies and even became one of the founders of a televised charity event. I felt so lucky that I was a witness to his historic rise. I AM NOT SURE EVERYONE FEELS this way, but I love being a witness or participant at an event that becomes historic. Having been part of a peaceful march that became a bellwether to changing times makes me feel honored and proud. Something as simple as a museum exhibit’s record-breaking run gives me joy when I can say I was there. There is an iconic singer who has sold out the world’s biggest stadiums, who starred in film and even has been the subject of a Broadway musical; that I can say I saw her when she was a warmup act. I was there at the beginning; I like the way that sounds. The other aspect about this that gives me such pleasure is the randomness of it all. One might not know they are becoming a witness to a monumental event. Think about those who were at the Berlin wall when it toppled or saw Elvis’ last concert or saw The Beatles when they first were starting out in Liverpool; it absolutely excites me to no end. I feel the same way about this documentary; how I wish I could have been there live to see history being made 100 miles away from the Woodstock festival. ON A HOT SUMMER DAY, A PROMOTOR created and put on a festival in a park in Harlem. What was recorded at that time has never been seen before, until now. Directed by musical artist Questlove (The Roots), this movie was a treasure trove of gold star musical performances. I thought for a directorial debut Questlove did an amazing job of mixing the footage with current scenes; especially when the current artists were seeing themselves from 50 years ago. Some of the musical acts shown were Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, The 5thDimension and Nina Simone. I loved everything about this musical picture; the way it weaved in history, politics and the magic of music. The thing that I found most startling was the fact that this festival footage has never been seen before. Nowhere in history have I ever heard about this festival that was created to celebrate African American music. I hope the entire concert footage comes out on DVD or streaming; I would love to see what took place back in that park in 1969. Too bad, I no longer have any bell bottom pants to wear.
THE ELEVATOR DOORS OPENED AND I immediately knew who was walking in. I was a big fan of hers, having seen her for many years on various television programs and specials. Now, I was seeing her in person. It was funny; if one did not know who she was they would have thought she was just a regular guest at the hotel. She was dressed in dark colored slacks, blouse and a cardigan sweater. Around her neck she wore several thin gold chains and her pierced ears had diamond stud earrings. Standing in the elevator with her and the two men who had accompanied her, I did not know whether I should say hello or not. I didn’t want to come off as a typical fan who asked for a photo or autograph, even though that is exactly what I wanted to do. Instead, I stood there listening to their conversation. With the elevator not stopping on any other floor, I only had less than a minute to hear what they were talking about. Surprisingly, their conversation was an easy exchange about what each were going to do for the upcoming holidays. It sounded like the 2 men were part of her staff; yet, what impressed me the most was the fact the comedienne did not put on any “airs.” She sounded genuinely interested in what each of the men were saying. When the elevator came to a stop, she turned to nod at me before exiting the elevator. I became an even bigger fan of hers right there. WHEN IT COMES TO CELEBRITIES, I can appreciate what they do; however, I understand just because they are gifted in one area does not mean they are an expert in another. I may think some actor does incredible work; but if they choose to stand on a soapbox and spew ignorant things, then there is no reason I should spend my time and money on them. There are a couple of long-time actors that I stopped seeing their movies years ago because of their personal beliefs. One is highly prejudiced, and the other has uttered nonsense during his interviews. This would explain why you never see me reviewing any of their films on this site. I am offended when a celebrity gets on stage to except an award, then lets their true nature come out, babbling about some cause they believe, in hopes of convincing their captive audience. Just because they have money does not give them the right to tell people how to act, in my opinion. For these reasons, I found an even higher level of admiration for the musical artist in this wonderful documentary. THE VIEWER IS GIVEN AN INSIDE view on the delicate balancing act between business, family and performing as the musical celebrity Pink begins her world tour that will lead her up to performing at London’s Wembley Stadium for the first time. Directed by Michael Gracey (The Greatest Showman, Naruto), I enjoyed how the cameras followed Pink (Alecia Moore) and her family from the stage to their off-stage lives. From what I saw, I believe Pink is no different between the two environments. Her work ethic is beyond impressive. I have only seen her perform on TV shows, never in concert and I have to say, she is 100% dedicated to putting on a great show. Now granted, the writers never delved deep into her life and I get that because she would want to be cast in a favorable light; otherwise, why would she agree to such a project. If one is not a fan of Pink’s work, then I am not sure they would care to sit through this picture. I enjoy her music and after seeing the work involved and her concert performances in this film, I would love to see her one day live in concert.
AS MY EYES SLOWLY OPENED, I saw something large and white outside my window. Getting out of bed, I walked over to the window and saw the whiteness was part of a glacier. Overnight our cruise ship headed to Glacier Bay and now in the morning light, it looked to me like we were blocked by white cliff mountains. I quickly dressed and went out on deck to see as much as possible. The silence was noticeable; the ocean water was still except for a periodic shudder from time to time, as if the water had gotten a chill. Admittedly, the image of the Titanic crossed my mind; however, our cruise ship was sitting in place as it slowly turned like a clock dial, to give the passengers as much of a view as possible. The slow spin and silence were lulling me into a calmer state when suddenly I thought I heard a bolt of lightening crack the air apart. To my left, a portion of a glacier snapped off and was falling into the ocean. Many of the passengers on deck oohed and aahed as they watched with me this “baby” glacier slipping under the surface, only to rise back up in a horizontal position. I remember reading in one of the tourist books that this act of ice breaking away from the glacier was called calving. Just as quickly as the silence was broken by the falling ice chunk, it reverted to its peaceful quiet place. HAVING EXPERIENCED SUCH AN EVENT SPURRED me on to plan another trip back to Alaska. For this next trip, I wanted to go to places I had not seen before; so, I researched cruise lines to see what my options would be. I found one line that incorporated a land portion that sounded intriguing to me. Because I am someone who does not take advantage of all the cruise line offers, such as eating volumes of food or participating in group activities, I see cruise ships as floating hotels. Instead of me packing and repacking from city to city, my room travels instead. After choosing the cruise line and picking out the extra excursions, my date was set to return to Alaska. I was so looking forward to my trip and the possibility of getting some incredible photo shots that I bought an extra rechargeable battery for my camera. Everything was falling into place; however, there was one thing I had not planned. As my cruise departure was looming closer, the news started reporting on a mysterious virus that was getting people sick to the point of killing them. Every week there were more and more instances of people getting sick until states and countries were telling its citizens to stay home. I spoke with the cruise line and after a time I realized I would have to put off my trip until it was safe. After watching this documentary, I am not sure I will ever see Alaska again by boat. AS PEOPLE WERE STARTING TO GET deathly sick, an unknown virus made its way onto a cruise ship. At the time, it would turn into the largest outbreak outside of China. This film festival winner was directed by Hannah Olson (Baby God, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.-TV series documentary). Using passengers’ and crew members’ personal video clips; this simply made film packed a powerful punch. Not knowing what we know now, seeing the individuals on the Diamond Princess cruise liner struggle through the beginning stages of what was to become the COVID-19 virus was horrifying. I could not even imagine how I would have handled myself if I had been in their situation. As a movie watching experience, I cannot say this fulfilled everything I expect in a film. At times I felt I was watching people’s video clips posted online. However, I do not want to take anything away from the delivery method which was intimate and personal. Because of everything I saw in this picture, I must tell you I am hesitant to begin traveling in such a way again.
THE OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE FOND memories the past year has been a challenge for many of us. The ability to be with friends and family was hampered because of the restrictions placed due to the pandemic. I realized this when I tried carryout food from an unfamiliar restaurant for the first time. When I walked into the place to pickup my order, I was struck with the similarities the place had with a restaurant I used to go to when I was growing up. There were orange, fake leather booths along the walls with various sized tables in the middle of the room. They even had the same kind of lighting hanging down that I remembered when I was a kid. They were oversized, circular colored paper lanterns that gave off a subdued warm glow. I was so surprised by the restaurant’s interior that I felt like I had been transported back to my youth, sitting in a booster chair at our neighborhood restaurant. Adding to my memories, was the food I had ordered. When I brought it home and opened all the packages, the aromas and look of the different foods reminded me so much of the food I enjoyed years ago. It was almost like I was having an out of body experience. It was this that made me realize how much I missed not socializing with friends and family over food, let alone just doing things together. THAT NUDGE OF A MEMORY LED me down a path filled with nostalgia. One weekend I bought one of my favorite childhood cereals. When I was little, I would pour the cereal in a bowl, then fill the bowl up with milk and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I wanted the milk to sweeten up from the sugar that was a major ingredient of the cereal. My favorite thing to do after I had eaten all the cereal was to ladle the remaining sweet milk into my mouth. If I did not have the time, I would just drink the milk right out of the bowl. Weirdly, I can still remember the commercials that aired back then that were for my favorite cereals; favorite meaning any cereal that had sugar. Besides visiting the foods of my childhood, I started going through my photo albums; yes photo albums, that date back to when the only option to take a photograph was the use of a roll of film. There were so many memories stored in my photo albums that the past months seemed to go by faster and easier. And just as things are beginning to open back up around me, I find this documentary to watch that reminded me of one of my favorite pastimes. BEFORE THERE WAS SUCH A THING as streaming or YouTube, there was a blue and yellow store that was filled with every movie you could ever have imagined. It was my 2ndhome. Narrated by Lauren Lapkus (Jurassic World, Orange is the New Black-TV), directed by Taylor Morden (Here’s to Life: The Story of the Refreshments, Project 88: Back to the Future Too) and written by Zeke Kamm (My Life as a Teenage Robot-TV, The Weird Al Show-TV); this film festival winner was such a treat for me to watch. I cannot tell you how many times I would stop at a Blockbuster store to rent a film. The largest number of movies I rented at one time was 10. If you are at all familiar with the Blockbuster store, then you will enjoy seeing this movie. For those who are not familiar, chances are you will get bored with parts of this picture. There was a repetitive quality to the script, where celebrities like Kevin Smith and Jamie Kennedy were essentially saying the same thing about their experiences going to a Blockbuster store. Still, I had a good time remembering all the things I would do in search of a movie to rent. And I am not going to lie here, but if the opportunity presented itself to me, I would absolutely love to visit this last Blockbuster store.
2 ½ stars
THERE WAS VERY LITTLE I LIKED about day camp and absolutely nothing I liked about overnight camp, except for toasted marshmallows and s’mores. My one and only time going to an overnight camp was during the summer months one year. I remember I had little to pack because it was going to be just a couple of days; there was no way I would have agreed to anything that would have kept me away any longer. The bus ride up was spent singing songs and looking out the window at the changing landscape. The campgrounds were in a wooded area that had a lake. I remember the main building was made to look like a log cabin, except it was 2 stories high and extremely long. The rooms took up half the length of the structure on both floors, with 4 kids assigned to each room. I was curious about the bunkbeds in the room because I had never slept in one. After we unpacked our bags we were to meet outside by the flagpole, where the camp director would highlight the activities that were available to us. My biggest fear was that most of the activities were going to be sports related. As luck would have it, each of the activities had a sign-up sheet; so, it wasn’t going to be something that I would be forced to do. When I was finally able to pick our activities, most of the ones I wanted were already full in several time slots. I wound up putting my name down for fishing; something I had never done before. I HAD TO GET UP EARLY the next day; so, I would be ready to be taken down to the lake for, what I guessed, would be a fishing lesson. The lake was still except for the occasional shudder due from the cool, morning breeze. The small group of us congregated around the counselor who was handing out fishing poles, after he explained the parts to us. I was assigned to a spot at the end of the dock. Sitting down on the wooden boards with my feet hanging off the side, I cast the fishing line into the water with a plopping sound. With both hands clutching the rod in anticipation of having to battle an aggressive fish, I sat and waited and waited and waited. At one point, I looked down the length of the dock to see if anyone had caught something; it did not appear so since I would have thought I would have heard some commotion or excitement about catching a fish. After watching this emotional documentary, I am so glad I never caught a fish that day. FROM HIS LIFELONG LOVE OF OCEANS and sea life, director and cinematographer Ali Tabriz decided to document how humans were affecting the oceans and its inhabitants. He would discover something more in the process. With Richard O’Barry (Founder of the Dolphin Project), Lori Marino (Founder of the Whale Sanctuary Project), Tamara Arenovich (The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) and Gary Stokes (Co-Founder Oceans Asia); this adventure film stunned me in so many ways. At first, I was not sure where the story was going; I was sensing some manipulation taking place. However, as the story began to unfold, I found myself being swept in both literally and figuratively. There was a range of emotions I was feeling as scene after scene presented more and more incredulous depictions. At times, it felt I was watching a mystery, other times an action adventure. I must tell you this might not be an easy watch, but it will be worth it. By the time I got through the entire movie, my outlook on marine life had changed as well as my eating habits.
3 ½ stars
TIME IS SUCH A CONSTANT PRESENCE in our lives. We will at times have either too much of it or not enough; I do not know if a day goes by without it being thought of at some point, even when on vacation. Speaking for myself, I am always wishing I had more time. It seems to me I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. So, what I wind up doing is spending a little time on one activity, then moving to something else for a while, followed by another thing and so on. Two things that make me forget time are movies and books. Lost in a good book or swallowed into a great movie, I will have no sense of time. You may notice in my reviews, I reveal very little about the film. This is because I myself do not want to know a thing about it when I see a movie; I prefer patiently biding my time as the story unfolds. It is funny, I have a friend who cannot stand not knowing what will take place in a movie. They will constantly ask me what I think will happen next, which drives me crazy. Sometimes it gets so bad I threaten to move my seat away from them. I HAVE ANOTHER FRIEND WHO READS the last chapter of a book first, before starting it. They say they cannot wait to find out what happens in the story. What these two individuals have in common is a lack of patience. I have a mercurial relationship with patience. Prior to the pandemic, when a new movie would come out, I wanted to see it right away. Yet, I can spend months and months going thru photographs to see which ones I would want to enlarge and hang on a wall. Where certain things trigger impatience in me, I know some people that are always impatient. I am friends with the head of a company who wants an answer by the time they finish asking the question. They get antsy if they must wait for an employee to research the question before giving back an answer. The saying, “patience is a virtue,” comes to mind. And what is that other saying that is similar, “all good things come to those who wait?” Where I thought I knew people from all parts of the spectrum when it came to patience and impatience, none of them compare to the remarkable family in this Oscar nominated documentary. HANDED DOWN A 60 YEAR PRISON sentence, a young wife will not give up on helping her husband, Rob Rich, get out of jail. Directed by Garrett Bradley (Below Dreams, Cover Me), this film festival winning biography’s story was incredible. The wife, Fox Rich, was fascinating to watch as a good portion of this movie had her own handheld footage. Besides the personal journey being depicted, I was also interested in the way the American Justice System was presented in this film. Now I do not want to take away from the family’s journey; but from an entertainment standpoint, I felt something was missing from the story. It seemed as if I was watching scenes replayed, which did not always keep me engaged. I will not go into the ethics of this picture, but I noticed my mind drifting at times. Granted I cannot imagine how the family in this documentary survived the years and maybe that is part of my issue. It seemed as if the family members were acting in ways that came across as unreal, based on the circumstances. If the film had been any longer, I might have gotten impatient waiting until I got to the ending.
2 ¼ stars
WE WERE PART OF AN ELITE group, though none of us would ever admit to it. I do not know any other way to say this, but we were easy targets. We were always the last ones to be picked for a team in PE class. Because I was overweight, the athletic boys assumed I could not do any of the sports that we played in class. They were half right in some cases; but it was okay, I had no desire to be part of any team. I saw what happened to those who did not meet the jocks’ standards. One of the students in our elite group was picked on in brutal ways. In the locker room it was rare a week went by without him getting his head slammed into a locker door or being tripped in the shower room. One time a group of bullies waited for him to completely disrobe at his locker before grabbing him to hang out the window. To this day, I can still hear him screaming as they dragged him to the open window. I was frozen with fear because I had my own hell, I was going through, with some of these same bullies. Some of the less harsh treatments I endured were being shoved into lockers, punched, slapped with textbooks and stabbed. WHEN I WENT TO SCHOOL OUT of state, I decided to reinvent myself because I never wanted to go through what I did previously in school. I got a handle on my eating habits and started exercising properly, none of the competitive crap that was offered in my past schooling. It took a long time, but I started noticing the difference in my weight loss. By the time I finished up my studies and returned home, I looked quite different. Friends and relatives would get surprised when they saw the “new” me. One Saturday night, I was at a party and bumped into a guy who was part of our elite group from school. Back then he used to get bullied because he was extremely skinny (go figure) with these super long legs and short torso. Because he had not matured the same time as most of the boys in class, he was picked on and called names. Looking at him now as an adult, I was amazed at his transformation. From that gangly, prepubescent looking boy, who always carried a baseball mitt in his backpack; I was looking at a tall handsome man with a warm smile. We were both survivors who got to the other side of what life was meant to be. Having that survivor mentality, I immediately felt a connection to him, just like I did when I saw the musical artist of this documentary perform live in concert. ON THE OUTSIDE NO ONE COULD imagine what life was like for Anna Mae Bullock after she got off the stage. From this musical biography, this Grammy award winner will show you how to live a different life. Written and directed by Daniel Lindsay (Undefeated, LA 92) and T.J. Martin (Undefeated, LA 92), this film featured Angela Bassett (Black Panther, Contact), Oprah (The Color Purple, A Wrinkle in Time) and Kurt Loder (Get Him to the Greek, Airheads) talking about their feelings about Tina Turner. Right from the start, I was glued to this film. Granted I am probably biased, having seen her perform in concert 3 times. Out of all the musical artists’ concerts I have attended, she was the hardest working performer I had ever seen. From watching this thoroughly entertaining film, I can see where she gets her strength. It was obvious to me that this movie was made as a love letter to her fans and a goodbye; there were intimate scenes as well as tough ones. The concert footage was enough for me to want to see this film again. As far as I am concerned, she needs to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a single artist. It would be the perfect topping to an amazing life.
I CAN APPRECIATE AND RESPECT ALL animals, but the one I like the least is an octopus. Seriously, I do not know why I have had this attitude since I was a little boy. Whether an octopus or squid and I immediately get a feeling of disgust and dread. Whenever I had a school field trip to the aquarium, I would always quickly walk past the exhibit that had live octopi. Back then I would tell people the creatures were gross. I do not know, but there is something alien about them; as if they were dropped down from outer space to lurk down at the bottom of the seas, being sneaky and sinister. Even when they were depicted in movies in a friendly way, I did not care. There were enough films already where they were mean man eaters, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Though I loved the movie The Little Mermaid, I did not care for the character Ursula with her long tentacle legs. And do not get me started about calamari, UGH! I cannot sit with anyone who would order that dish; it just sounds and looks nauseating to me. My apologies to you foodies who love the “delicacy.” BY NOW YOU MUST BE WONDERING why, with my strong dislike of squids and octopi, would I ever sit and watch a film that has the word octopus right there in the title. It is a very good question; one I myself do not have a good answer for. I was between chores over the weekend and wanted to take a break. My time was limited, so I did not want to sit through a long movie. Going through the search function, the streaming service had a list of recommendations for me based on the things I had already seen with them. There was a sci-fi picture that looked okay, but it was over two hours long. When I moved the cursor off that selection, the next one was for this film. Before I realized what the title was, my eye was attracted to the blues in the trailer. The narrator was calm as he spoke with the slightest of accents. I saw that this picture was just shy of an hour and a half which was a plus; maybe, most of the story was done on land, I hoped. Another plus was the fact it was a documentary, set in a different part of the world. I hit play on the remote and settled into what would become a revelation for me. WHILE SWIMMING IN THE WATERS OFF the coast of South Africa, cinematographer and director Craig Foster (My Hunter’s Heart, Into the Dragon’s Lair), discovered the oddest thing sitting at the bottom of a kelp forest. It looked like a ball of seashells until it moved. Written and directed by James Reed (Rise of the Warrior Apes, Jago: A Life Underwater) and newcomer Pippa Ehrlich, this film festival winning documentary provided me with the biggest surprise this past year. Here I was ambivalent towards this picture and after several early scenes I was pulled into another world beneath the ocean. Because Craig came across as vulnerable and looked like just an average guy, he was perfect to spearhead this production. The cinematography was gorgeous, both in vast wide angle shots as well as the intimate ones. There was very little dialogue that could be considered cutesy or pandering to the viewer; the entire time I felt I was privileged for being allowed to watch Craig’s life as he encountered this amazing creature. Yes, I said amazing because I now have such a new appreciation for an octopus. I can go on and on praising this unbelievable, wonderful movie; however, all that needs to be said is the number of stars I am giving it. When was the last time you saw me give this rating to a film; it has been such a long time, but with this documentary it has been worth the wait, in my opinion.