Category Archives: Documentary
RESTING outside on a sunny day I gaze up at the bulbous clouds drifting by. If I look long enough I can make out images among the folds of the clouds. I get a kick out of seeing what might not initially be seen at first glance. As the wisps of cloud matter slowly swirl about, I can make out what looks like an eagle with outstretched wings. Continuing to stare at the same spot the eagle soon disintegrates and becomes the face of a rabbit with attentive ears. Since I was young I have always looked at things with an eye to reality and one to fantasy. Even when I am stuck in traffic I try to keep myself busy by scanning the landscape around to see if images can appear based on how I focus on the shadows or the bright spots of an area. Once there was a flatbed truck alongside of me that had crushed automobiles stacked up to haul to a scrap yard. With traffic barely moving I was able to find outlines of a variety of different objects like a leopard and a clown. THIS ability, if you will, helps me I believe in my attempts to understand modern art. I am fortunate to live in a city that has a modern art museum and some of its exhibits have been a fascinating experience for me. There was the artist who created large sculptures of ordinary things like monkeys and dogs; however, they looked like they were made out of blown up balloons. You know, like the kind a clown or magician would make at a carnival show. I can appreciate the effort and work that went in to create such a piece. Now there have been some shows where I feel clueless with what is on display. A canvas covered totally in black paint doesn’t move me; I wonder if I should focus on the brushstrokes, the consistency of the color or its relationship to its surroundings. My confusion can supersede my involvement with a work of art or what someone is saying is a work of art. I felt the same towards some of this extraordinary artist’s works in this film festival nominated documentary. PERFORMANCE artist, visionary, crazy, unorthodox are some of the terms one can apply to Chris Burden. Whether you understand his craft or not, you will certainly get a reaction from it. I had never heard of this artist until I watched this film, directed by Richard Dewey (The Leisure Class) and Timothy Marrinan (Invisible Lives). Right from the start there were times where I sat and thought this man has a death wish and then another scene would take place where I was amused with his creation. As the movie continued I found myself more and more intrigued with learning about Chris and his motivations. The raw footage interspersed with his current life provided a well rounded presentation of his growth and legacy I thought. Though I did not understand what he was trying to do with some of his performance pieces (if that is how he classified his “live” pieces), I certainly had a reaction to them. Maybe that was the point he was trying to make all this time; I honestly cannot give an answer. I will say I certainly walked away from this picture with a new appreciation for people who want to be artists.
3 ¼ stars
THERE were so many people watching April the giraffe’s pregnancy that the computer servers became overloaded and the park had to shut down the live video streaming. I only saw a bit of it on the news; but I was fascinated with the attention April was getting from all around the world. What is it about an animal giving birth or more directly the immediate mother/child bond that gets formed that makes us humans stop and take notice? One thing that comes to mind is the pureness in animals’ behavior. Seeing the way a mother protects her child is amazing, especially when the animal’s instincts are being formed. The reason I use the word pureness is because I do not recall ever seeing an animal putting its offspring in harm’s way. Every action and reaction has a purpose as far as I can tell; unlike some of the things I have seen human parents do with their children. PLEASE understand I do not mean to disrespect parents and parenting skills, but there have been times where I witnessed something that was puzzling and/or troubling. Sitting at a casual fast food restaurant I once saw a mother give her infant child a cola drink. The child must have been no more than 2 years of age; am I old fashioned or mistaken in my beliefs that giving a sugary soft drink to an infant is not a good idea? Personally I would never reprimand a child by slapping them across the face, yet I cannot tell you how many times I have seen it being done. And as I have said before children are born into this world without having the awareness of hatred, prejudice or discrimination; it is something that is taught to them. So you see why I say there is a pureness in the animal world that I do not easily find in the human one. This documentary will show you what I mean. SET in the outer remote reaches of China director Chuan Lu (City of Life and Death, The Missing Gun) follows the lives of three different species (snow leopard, golden snub-nosed monkey and panda) and their babies. Narrated by John Krasinksi (13 Hours, Away We Go) I found his telling of the story was okay; he did not have the dramatic appeal compared to other actors I have heard in similar roles. There were two big reasons why I enjoyed watching this film. The first one was the cinematography; it was not only gorgeous, but exciting for me to see places in China that were so far removed from the familiar locations that are associated with the country. The other reason to see this film was the animals, of course. Sure the movie studio did its spin in creating a human emotional story onto the creatures, but ultimately it came down to the bond a mother and child have with each other. Compared to the previous movies done in this category there was really nothing new; the audience here witnessed the usual animal antics, danger and thrills. However it did not matter too much for me, though I was surprised there was a scene of sadness included in the story. I enjoyed this documentary about three species of animals that may not be residents at my local zoo, but I clearly understood what they were doing for their young. There were extra scenes during the credits.
RARELY did I ever pass by the gleaming glass ball, filled with chewy delights. Since I always made sure I had change in my pocket before I would go, it was a given I would stop in front of the gumball machine. There were six colors used for the gumballs: blue, red, yellow, green, orange and purple. Here is the thing though; out of the colors I only wanted a red or blue colored gumball. Since I could not choose which gumball would get deposited into the metal cup hanging below the metal slide that came out of the machine’s lower jaw, I would keep depositing coins into the machine until I got one of the 2 colors. Sometimes I would have depleted all the coins in my pocket and still not get the “right” gumball. In my young mind I assumed each colored gumball tasted different based on its color. I had no desire for the green or yellow ones and the others just did not appeal to me. It wasn’t until a friend of mine bought me a gumball because I had no change and told me to at least try the purple colored one that came out of the machine. It was then that I discovered all the gumballs tasted the same; I was making a judgment solely on the outside color. GRATEFULLY a lesson like that was a good start in becoming aware that there is more behind the surface of people and things. An example I have used before is, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Recently a friend was telling me about the injustice taking place in their department. They were in the middle of hiring new people and one of the employees on the hiring committee mentioned they should hire a particular person because of the candidate’s skin color. I immediately assumed everyone on the committee would be shocked like I was by such an offensive statement. Instead imagine how stunned I was when my friend told me that was not the case; only a couple of the people on the committee offered a disparaging look in response to the ridiculous statement, nothing was said by anyone. This reminded me that just because I may not see discrimination does not mean it does not happen. I think that is why this Oscar nominated documentary is an important film. BASED on an unfinished manuscript by author James Baldwin (Where the Heart Is), the words in this movie are just as current now as when they were first spoken. Directed by Raoul Peck (Sometimes in April, Lumumba), this film festival winning movie was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Legend of Tarzan). I enjoyed the way the director pieced together archival clips of James speaking and debating at different venues. His manuscript was going to be a narrative piece about the assassinations of his three friends Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers; though the piece was written years ago the discussions in this movie were just as relevant today. A well done film like this one is worth a look and would be a good reminder that society still has a long way to go to with focusing on the things that lie below the surfaces of people.
3 1/3 stars
AS I was led down the street I came up to a row of stores. One had a large picture window with black letters outlined in gold that made me stop. What I saw inside both scared me and fascinated me at the same time. Sitting in a row alongside one wall were women wearing tall hats that looked like silver ice cream cones turned upside down. I could not tell if they were locked in because each of them sat perfectly still as if they were in a trance. Suddenly it occurred to me they may have gone through surgery and were now recovering from their procedure. As quickly as that thought entered my mind another one popped up; maybe these women were being fitted for uniforms they needed to travel to outer space. My imagination took off with all kinds of possibilities those silver cones could have been and the image of those women sitting underneath them has stayed with me all these years. THAT was the first time I had ever seen a beauty shop. Memories of that shop came back to me when I started working at a company who had a receptionist with red hair that was piled up, I swear, at least 15 inches above her scalp. Her hair never moved because the amount of hair spray she used on it which always caused a brief fog around her sealed each strand of hair in place until the entire hairdo looked as if it had been covered in varnish. Hearing the amount of time she spent each week at the beauty shop was hard for me to comprehend; though if I put it into movie viewing time it did not seem so long, maybe one very long feature film. Now that I am “follicularly” challenged I have a whole different outlook on hair which made me more curious about the things I saw in this documentary. HAIRSTYLES were never looked at the same way after a young British man named Vidal Sassoon picked up a pair of shears and starting cutting women’s hair in a mathematical, precise way. I did not realize the impact Vidal had on the hair industry; for the most part I just remember seeing his hair care products on store shelves. His story was interesting to me; it had this “rags to riches” element that played out predominately due to Vidal’s determination. Another aspect I enjoyed was seeing where he fit into pop culture during his time. There were many curious elements in this film that was written and directed by Craig Teper (Hit and Runaway, No Way Home). As the movie progressed I started feeling as if the story was turning into a self promoting piece; the majority of Vidal’s story was kept at the surface. I never got a sense of the why and how he was so fascinated with hair. Except for a couple of scenes everything was kept upbeat and cheery which after awhile started to become monotonous. For those interested in hairstyles and even just the curious, this DVD would be an easy viewing experience and if nothing else seeing what this one man did to the fashion world and pop culture might even surprise you.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
SOME ancient cultures thought cameras were evil devices that stole people’s souls. At least that is what I saw in several films. Truthfully that is not too far off; cameras do not actually rob an individual’s soul but they do capture a moment in the person’s life. Now I have to tell you I am biased about this subject since photography was my minor in college. Ever since I received my 1st camera when I was in elementary school, I have used my cameras to document events and occasions. Imagine being able to see 4 generations of a family in one photograph; the history of that family being handed down generation to generation is a powerful moment for me. I was part of the last group to visit a remote area of Alaska that was being closed off to humans for the damage they had caused the area. My camera never stopped as I shot as many photos as possible. SADLY I am concerned a whole generation of people will miss out on the power of photographs. These days a majority of pictures posted on social media sites show food, in poor lighting I might add. When did this practice take on such importance? A recent survey discovered 2 out of 3 millennial choose recipes specifically to share their food photos on their social media sites. I just do not get it. Whenever a friend or relative returns from a vacation I am the first one who wants to see their photographs. In fact, I have been part of a small group of friends for years that get together every three months to share our latest photographs; it has been a way to stay in touch and experience new places without the physical demands of traveling. And when we all react in a similar way to one of our photographs we know that photo captured a memorable moment in time. HARRY Benson may not have been considered a good student in school but he certainly had a way of taking the perfect photograph. Many of us including myself may have never heard of photographer Harry Benson but all of us are familiar with his photographs. This documentary for me was sheer joy since I love photography. The amount of iconic photos this man has shot was amazing. Imagine what it must have been like to have been part of so much history; some of the people he has had close contact with have been The Beatles, Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Robert Kennedy, Michael Jackson and Greta Garbo. I have to tell you the amount of photographs shown throughout this movie was staggering. Being able to hear the behind the scenes stories to these photos added an extra thrill for me. Written and directed by Justin Bare (Coked Up, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s) and Matthew Miele (Crazy about Tiffany’s, Everything’s Jake), I found the flow to this film easy to follow. There was nothing deeply expressed except when the story brushed by the ethical aspects of a few photos. I would have appreciated more conversation about this subject. For those of you who may not remember when cameras and film were used to take a photograph you might not enjoy this movie as much. I, however, felt like I was taking a walking tour through history.
3 ¼ stars
ONE of my first supervisors in fitness was a woman; I was one of only two male fitness instructors on staff. It was not a big deal to me because I did not care about my boss’ gender. My concern was having a boss who would support me since the job there was early in my health and fitness career. All went fine for the most part, but I have to say the staff meetings annoyed me and the other male instructor. Half the meeting the two of us would sit there as the other instructors talked about their kids, hot looking celebrities, fashion and female health issues; in other words, nothing about the health club or its program. Gratefully this was not the norm because as I added more health clubs to my schedule I had other female supervisors and that type of conversation never happened during our meetings. GOING on a parallel course was my business career. I will never forget one of my first jobs where I was hired around the holidays. At a family function I mentioned the new job and a relative asked if I liked my boss. I used a pronoun to refer to my boss by saying, I thought she was cool. The relative had a puzzled look on their face and asked me if I felt okay having a woman as a boss. In my head I was screaming, “Are you kidding me!?” I told them it made no difference to me if my boss was a man or woman. As far as I was concerned good or bad bosses are not based on gender. Since I am speaking about gender in the work place I cannot confirm if true but I read a statistical piece that stated, based on current trends, women will reach parity with men in the workplace in 170 years. That means women will have equal pay and ½ of the bosses will be female. With that little tidbit how can you not love the 13 year old girl in this film festival winning documentary? HAVING been born into a family with a long line of eagle hunters all Aisholpan wanted to do was be one of them. The only problem with that was her being a female. This family adventure film was absolutely gorgeous to watch on the big screen. The aerial views of Mongolia’s landscapes were beautiful to me. I have always been a fan of eagles, ever since a camp counselor brought one to our class one day, so this story intrigued me greatly. What I found charming about this film was its simplicity. Seeing and hearing about the townsfolk along with me witnessing a lifestyle foreign from mine, I found myself being drawn into Aisholpan’s life. Especially with our current times this coming of age and female empowerment story seemed so appropriate. Let me add I thought it was genius to have Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) narrate this documentary. One of the best things about this movie happened at the end; all the women and men in the audience applauded during the ending credits. Kazakh was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars
Something must have changed this summer that caused a large influx of skunks in my neighborhood. I never saw them but smelled them. Plus it did not help that my neighbors’ dogs tried playing with one, got sprayed and came back into the house through their doggie door while their owners were at work. When I came home the stench was overwhelming, spewing out of my neighbor’s house. But do you know what, once I am in my kitchen preparing for a dinner party all of that nasty smell dissipates as my food is cooking. There is something about home cooking that instills a sense of peace throughout the house. I cook very simple dishes, nothing fancy. My tastes run closer to diner/cafeteria food than haute cuisine. It is the same when I go out to a restaurant. I enjoy food that has a personal touch to it, where it looks like it was hand chopped or sliced. Not to sound disparaging but I have seen some restaurant chains where the food always looks the same no matter how many times I have been there. The main entrée is perfectly shaped, the vegetable slices are identical; just look at the difference between machine and hand cut French fries and you will understand what I am saying. Another reason I enjoy home style cooking is the history behind the meal. Imagine sitting at a table with friends and sharing a dish you made from a recipe that was handed down to you from your grandparent or great grandparent. I think that is one of the coolest things about cooking in the kitchen. There is nothing more exciting than making something and it comes out the same way you remembered it as a child; I love when that happens. With everything I have just told you I want you to know that I am very picky about my food, beyond finicky. Despite it I would still follow the Pulitzer Prize winning food critic in this delicious documentary. WHAT Los Angeles represented to food critic Jonathan Gold was one huge scavenger hunt in search of a perfect meal. There was nothing he would not try. This film festival nominated documentary was a feast to watch, pun intended. Written and directed by Laura Gabbert (Sunset Story, No Impact Man: The Documentary) this film had multiple interviews with a variety of people in the food world such as chef David Chang and chef Roy Choi. I know this movie is a biography but to me it played more like a historical drama. The stories behind the restaurants, the food trucks or one item on the menu were all fascinating to me. Listening to pieces of Jonathan’s reviews was similar to having a bedtime story read to you. Honestly there were many, many dishes displayed throughout this film that I would never touch; but it did not matter, I was in awe of the elements that got that food to its customers. This man Jonathan Gold must have a stomach made of iron; I do not think he ever backed away from a meal. Whether made in some remote out of the way area of the city, a hole in the wall place or a food truck; it is obvious he loves food.
3 ½ stars
With pen in hand the blank paper lies in repose for its infusion. For some writers once the tip makes contact with the paper the pen becomes a syringe, injecting the mind’s thoughts and words into the page. It flows freely, creating a world for all visitors. There are writers out there who walk a fine line between truth and fiction when they are writing a story. I know how that feels because I used to be scared to reveal too much about myself in my writings. It was in college where I broke through my paper walls and let myself be heard in class. I wrote about an incident that happened to me and instead of writing the event in 3rd person (using a fictional name and pronoun) I wrote a sentence that started with, “I fell down from the fists that punched into my back.” The scariest part about writing this story for me was knowing I would have to read it out loud to the class the following week. Not that I was singled out, everyone in the class would be reading their stories. It turned out to be a cathartic experience. Listening and working with my classmates that semester taught me how to present a story. Some students were able to express themselves on a deeper level when they wrote about a character; others did it with actual people in their life. I guess it comes down to finding balance. There are some things that happened to me that I know would lose some impact if I were to create a surrogate of myself. That is the beauty about writing, authors can create any world they wish to and call it whatever they want it to be. The story behind the story in this documentary will show you one way on how it is done. BURSTING onto the literary scene was JT LeRoy (The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, Sarah), but who really was this person? This film festival nominated movie was written and directed by Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese: The Band that Would be King). With appearances by Winona Ryder (Black Swan, Edward Scissorshands) and writer Dennis Cooper (Frisk, Luster), this film started out slow for me. There was a mixture of actual footage and interviews throughout the documentary, but for some reason I was not following the story at first. However something took place and this picture took on the persona of a suspenseful mystery. The story became interesting and fascinating to the point I had wished I had been aware of the events when they actually took place. By the way I am not familiar with any of the author’s writings. Even after seeing this film I still am a bit confused on a few points and may seek out one of the books to see if it will help me get a better understanding on all the hoopla. This may be a picture that is more suited for writers than the general public.
2 ¾ stars
I wonder what the results would be if I posed a question on this movie site’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, asking people if they feel they can be themselves at their place of work. Every time I walk up to a teller at my bank I am always told I qualify for some promotion and debit card. After declining their offer several times I finally had to firmly ask them not to ask me anymore, to have it pop up on their computer screen that I do not want a debit card. Do you wonder if they did not have to stay professional what they might have said to me instead? I know with my job I have to endure customers cursing and bad mouthing my company; yet, I have to remain calm without going off on them. Trust me there have been times where I just wanted to tell the person they were acting like a rectum’s orifice (fill in any curse word); however, I contain myself. Even when there was that one customer who threatened to come to my office to beat me up because I would not release their order until they paid us for their past due invoices, I still remained calm. This explains why I teach fitness and yoga after work; it is my way of getting rid of the day’s negativity. Though there have been times where I have seen a member in class being disrespectful to someone and the real me just wants to tell them to knock it off. The persona I wear at the club doesn’t allow such language so I have to adjust what I say. Unlike the star of this documentary who only acts one way, her way. TONY and Emmy award winning actress Elaine Stritch (Monster-in-Law, Autumn in New York), holds nothing back in this intimate and close-up documentary directed by Chiemi Karasawa (Meet the Midtown Men). I knew only a little about Elaine and her reputation, but watching this film festival winning movie was a real treat for a variety of reasons. Being a big fan of live theater, I enjoyed seeing the backstage doings as well as seeing at her age how she still could command an audience. The attraction for me regarding Elaine is I found her to be authentic. She tells it like it is; which is an attribute that sits high in my plus column for describing a person. Speaking of pluses I found the archival footage used in this movie to be a real bonus in telling Elaine’s story. I do not think one needs to be a fan of Broadway to appreciate the dedication and drive Elaine has inside of her. This documentary also included footage of other actors such as Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 30 Rock-TV) and James Gandolfini (The Drop, The Sopranos-TV) which added to the portrait being painted of Elaine in this picture. Considering her age during the filming some viewers may look at her as being a character; I have seen that type of description used when an older person has dropped their filters. For me I felt I was watching a person who was just being herself at home and at work.
3 ½ stars — DVD
One of my mantras in life is no one has the right to tell someone how they should feel. Everyone has the right to feel the way they wish without judgment. I feel all emotions are valid; there are no good or bad ones. There was a portion of my life where this was not the case and it had to do with the emotion of sadness. There were many reasons for this but there was a time where I would never cry. Hearing taunts such as “crying is for sissies” or “you’re such a crybaby” affected me and taught me I better hide my emotions if I did not want to become a target. Seeing a baby bird fall out of its nest and die is sad to me. I have always found it curious why people would comment by telling you not to cry. At one point in time (I hope no one still believes this) it was assumed girls were more emotional, so that is why they cry. Boys were perceived to be tougher if they did not cry. Can I ask you; where did this idea come from? Why was it important that boys be tougher than girls? I could get into a lengthy debate about stereotyping but I prefer not going down that path at this time. I feel it is healthy to express one’s emotions. In fact, when I see someone laughing, crying or feeling depressed I feel a kinship with them. I felt this on such a strong level while sitting in the movie theater watching this incredible documentary. FORMER New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason found out he and his wife Michel were going to be parents a week after he was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s disease. He wanted his child to know what type of man was its father. Written and directed by Clay Tweel (Print the Legend, Finders Keepers), this film festival winner was extremely hard to watch; but it was so worth it. Not being a team sports fan, I have to tell you the way the director interspersed sports footage with current reality was the ideal way to blend the two aspects of Steve and I was quickly sold early into it. On one side there was the hero Steve who sparked a city into healing civic pride after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and the other side was Steve watching his body shutting down. It was such a stark contrast, but what the movie audience saw was this thoughtful, insightful, inspirational human being. As I mentioned earlier this was a tough picture to sit through; not only was I crying, there was out loud sobbing from audience members. Everyone was experiencing the same emotions at the same time. By the way sadness was only one of many emotions; I do not want to paint a picture of us sitting and crying the whole time as if we were at a funeral of a loved one. Though this film may be challenging to watch it is worth seeing, just bring a handkerchief with you.