Tag Archives: documentaries

Whitney

The tape deck in my mom’s forest green Ford Aerostar minivan ate a tape and never spit it out, so I spent my childhood listening to one album and one album only in the car: The Bodyguard soundtrack. Whitney Houston was no stranger to us at home either. I think my Mom had all her CDs, and our home was almost never without music, and therefore, rarely without an impromptu dance and singalong. It was very exciting when the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack came out but much less exciting when the movie did; my mother and I rented it from the local Blockbuster, not understanding what we were getting ourselves into. Sex scenes go on forever when you’re a kid watching them with your mom. FOREVER. Some part of me is still on that sectional sofa in our basement, stiffly watching, rapt, but trying to seem uninterested, and maybe a touch confused, for my mother’s benefit. And some part of her is still there too, trying to breathe normally and appear blase while secretly inching her hand toward the fast forward button on the remote.

Anyway. Whitney Houston. A luminescent talent that captured the whole world’s attention. She was a model, a singer, an actress, and an undeniably massive talent. But despite her fresh and innocent image, her success was often eclipsed by damaging headlines. Her marriage to Bobby Brown being a big one. And her drug use an unfortunate other.

mv5bodbiztq2nzctmte4ns00yje3ltk5mwmtywe0nde0zde0ytjjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodazodu1ndq40._v1_sy999_sx648_al_This documentary explores the highest highs and lowest lows of her life and career. Featuring archival footage of Houston herself and lots of interviews with friends and family and those who knew her best, the message is often complicated and conflicting. Did she have a hard childhood? Yes and no. Her mother was also a professional singer who groomed her for a career in the industry. She proudly sang in the choir of her church – where her mother had an affair with the pastor, ultimately causing the collapse of her marriage and Whitney’s parents divorced, leaving her devastated. Whitney director Kevin Macdonald manages to find new ground, and to probe beyond the headlines.

There’s rare concert footage and resurrected recordings and plenty of joy, but the whole thing still feels a bit macabre. In life, her increasingly erratic behaviour tainted her image and her downfall felt, if not inevitable, then at least unsurprising. It’s a painful reminder of how little it takes to extinguish even the brightest of lights.

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The Bleeding Edge

Medical devices. We can’t help but be grateful for them. You may have a grandparent kept alive by a pacemaker or a friend kept mobile with a metal plate holding pieces of bone together. I’ve been bodily attached for months to a device that kept my wound from going septic and though it was a pain in the ass, it’s sort of a miracle to even have access to it – a piece of motorized equipment that hadn’t even been around during a similar surgery 5 years prior and sped my healing by quite a wide margin. The reason my mother walks around at all today is that both her knees have been replaced by metal ones. They make a ruckus at the airport but I know she’s happy to have them. Think about how many people you know who would be dead today if they’d been born just a few decades earlier. Science advances, technology advances, and the medical field innovates to keep our bodies running more smoothly.

But The Bleeding Edge is here to warn us that the for-profit world of medical devices isn’t just here to do good. In fact, it often feels that any good they do is secondary, an afterthought to simply churning out products that make money. You’re probably used to thinking about big pharma in this way, but medical devices may be even more guilty, especially because they’re less regulated. You wouldn’t be crazy for assuming that the FDA regulates them the same way they do drugs and vitamins, but this is not the case. These things may be made to go inside your body, but few tests are done to see how they actually fare inside there. And this documentary unfortunately finds a lot of people who’ve had their lives ruined by untested devices – things as simple as contraceptive devices. But in a rush to sell as many of these devices as possible to doctors, sales reps don’t actually care whether or not a doctor can safely use this new device. And the scarier thing is, when something goes wrong, there’s not a single doctor who knows how to take them out.

This is one of those documentaries that makes us all uncomfortable because we’ve likely all be complacent about asking the right questions before we consent to medical intervention. We do assume that someone has done their due diligence, and I think that should be a fair assumption, but it isn’t. So what a film like this is an important reminder that we are all our own best advocates. We have the right to be concerned about what goes on in our bodies, and perhaps we should slow down a bit when making these life-altering decisions. We can do our own research. We can ask the right questions. And we can demand stricter guidelines and regulatory bodies. Because medical ‘innovation’ isn’t good to any of us if it’s making things worse.

Abducted in Plain Sight

OH MY GOD!

If you love true crime, you need to stop what you’re doing right now and run, don’t walk, run to your nearest Netflix portal.

Abducted In Plain Sight is about a pedophile who cozied up to a nice suburban family in order to have access to their young daughter, Jan. Lots of pedophiles know that you catch more flies with honey, and this guy was the whole damn hive. Apparently charming as hell, the “fun dad” from across the street, “B” would do mv5bnjk3njfjyzatmgizzi00ywnkltgymzatmmu2zdvlmjc5zdazxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndm3mtm2nza@._v1_sy1000_sx750_al_anything to get close to Jan, and Jan’s parents were naive and trusting and just plain dumb. I mean, dumb enough that they BOTH had their own sexual relationships with this man when all the while all he cared about was screwing their kid. Which they basically invited to happen as they allowed him to sleep beside her in her bed because he asked nicely.

He kidnaps her eventually, and I’m not sure why since he had such cushy, unfettered access to her even in her own home, but he clearly had this elaborate hoax ready and was intent on seeing in through. He gets aliens in on the scheme, and a winnebago in Mexico. It’s pretty sordid stuff. But eventually Jan is returned home, months later, and apparently married to this guy even though she’s all of 12, and the parents drop all charges. But they don’t understand how brain-washed Jan is, and how motivated B is to continue their relationship. It just goes on and on and on. I guarantee you you’ll scream at your TV. How could any parent be this stupid, this cavalier with their daughter’s body, her well-being?

This film is bananas. You can’t and don’t want to believe it’s true, and yet here is Jan, all grown up, very neatly and intelligently laying the story out for us. And even more amazing than her survival is her forgiveness of her parents who failed her on pretty much every level a parent can, and then when they ran out of ways to fuck her over, they went ahead and invented some more for good measure.  And the film goes out of its way to assure us that THESE ARE GOOD PEOPLE. Sure they are. But…but what the hell? How could this happen? Honestly, this story is so crazy you’ll need to hear it from Jan’s own lips to believe it, and then you’ll need to scrub your brains out with soap just to go on with your life because seriously dudes, WHAT THE HELL? You could make a legit drinking game out of just seeing how many times you mumble WHAT THE FUCK while watching this thing. It’s only 90 minutes long BUT YOU WILL DIE OF ALCOHOL POISONING FOR SURE.

I CAN’T EVEN with this review. It’s been a few days but I’m still reeling, and still really wanting to subject as many people as I can to this, because I shouldn’t have to experience this haunting on my own.

The American Meme

Has there ever been a film so tailor-made to make me feel smug and superior?

Our culture has devolved into phone-obsessed automatons, but some of us are not content to simply post and share memes – some of us want to star in them.

Bert Marcus’ documentary focuses on 4 such persons, intent on their 15 minutes of internet fame:

Paris Hilton (@parishilton) of course blazed the blue print for internet stardom, for “reality” stardom of any kind, really. But she parlayed her hit TV show persona into an empire that she rules from social media. Her fans are her kingdom and she lives for them. She relates more to her followers than she does to her own friends. Perhaps the line between the two has been permanently blurred for her.

Brittany Furlan (@brittanyfurlan) moved to LA to be an actress but as for many others, her auditions went nowhere. But she was intent on becoming famous at any cost, and Vince was a platform where 6-second videos could net millions of views if they were funny enough. So Brittany embarrassed herself for the camera and the people came to laugh and point. And rack up views.

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Kirill Bichutsky  (@slutwhisperer) took that one step further. He was an almost-legitimate photographer who recognized that he got way more attention by posting pictures of nearly-naked women with his infamous “champagne facials.”

With interviews with other internet-enabled celebrities like DJ Khaled, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Baldwin-Bieber, and Dane Cook, Marcus explores the dark corners of internet fame, and how quickly it is changing. When social media was young, you could go viral by stuffing as many of your friends as possible in a phone booth. Now you have to risk your life by eating Tide Pods. Which really makes you wonder why internet fame is so damn alluring that these stupid kids will go to such lengths. And yet, go anywhere. Anywhere. And try your best to spend 10 seconds without getting bumped by someone who insists on being ambulatory while staring solely at their phone. And I don’t mean to single out the young folk, because older folks are just as guilty. I love a documentary that can reflect our culture and make us think about it critically. Marcus doesn’t ask a lot of questions, he mostly just leaves the evidence there on the table, and it’s up to you to take the picture and post it.

 

Root Cause

Back pain. Breast cancer. Panic attacks. Arthritis. Chronic fatigue. Bladder infections. Emphysema. Autoimmune disease. Herniated discs. Heart attacks.

Would you believe they’re all related to bad dentistry? In no other branch of medicine would a dead body part or tissue be left to fester. But dentists perform root canals all the time, and there’s just no way to keep a root canal completely sterile. Each tooth has 6-8 miles of tubules, tiny, tiny little tunnels that are basically only big enough to house gif-1-unicorn-1503393855bacteria and not much else. But a root canal keeps the tooth but cuts it off from the body’s natural immune system so if bacteria gets in, there’s no good way to get it out. And teeth are living things; they are connected in to the larger system of the body. According to the doctors in this documentary, every tooth is connected to particular organs and glands. And it’s weird to really understand the connection, but they’re telling me that, for example, 97% of breast cancer patients between the ages of 30-70 have had either a root canal or a toxic tooth. The worst part is the infected root canals are often asymptomatic. You’re not necessarily feeling tooth pain, so you never even think to have it checked.

A couple of things you should know about me:

  1. I’m a member of the No Cavity Club, which is an actual club at my dentist’s office. He posts my polaroid proudly.
  2. I married the son of a dentist, so my excellent teeth have often been remarked upon.

My dentist growing up, and his hygienist wife, were family friends of ours. I’ve had cleanings but no big drilling procedures so I never developed any of the dentist phobias that so many people seem harbour. That said, this film was occasionally difficult to watch, even for me. There is some actual footage of root canals, and that’s pretty gross.

The thing is, I think I have a healthy amount of skepticism and this all sounds pretty simple and easy for something that continues to cause so many problems. Most dentists are still performing root canals. Most patients are still asking for them: it “saves” the tooth (well, allows the dead tooth to remain). But the evidence presented is convincing: of 30 000 root canals studied, and every single one of them without exception was infected. These are not performed badly, it’s just that root canals are just inherently toxic.

I have no science or medicine credentials. I write movie reviews. As a documentary, this film is fairly well-made, with tonnes of qualified experts weighing in. The science is careful. It adds up. But as viewers, you and I need to exercise our judgement. I can’t tell you how much to panic about your root canals, but the truth is, right now I’m awfully glad I’ve never had one.

Fyre

I don’t know if you remember the fuckfest that was Fyre, but for some reason it caught my attention at the time, and Matt and I killed a lot of time at “work” gossiping about it. And the dirt was legendary.

Fyre was meant to be a music festival, the first of its kind, a high-end music festival on a private island in the Bahamas. The tickets were outlandishly priced in the thousands upon thousands of dollars, and they got you not just access to a concert, but luxury accommodations, fine dining, and the ability to cavort with bikini-clad super models. The festival was the brainchild of Fyre’s young, maverick CEO Billy McFarland. He had partnered with Ja-Rule to form a company that would make it easier to book musical acts, and what better way to brand a new company than to throw the world’s most IG-worthy, FOMO festival? They went after the young and stupid rich kids through Instagram’s influencers, and they sold out in days thanks to a single promotional video that featured the likes of Bella Hadid and Chanel Iman romping around on white sand beaches and yachts with just enough scraps of swim suit to keep things legal.

But other than knowing how to package things through the heavily filtered lenses of super models, McFarland’s secret was that he’d never been successful at anything before. And he was using finds collected for Fyre to pay off the debts of his last business venture. With just a month before the festival was to begin, not a single shred of work had been done on it. And remember we’re talking a Bahamian island that has no infrastructure or even electricity and plumbing.  With the clock ticking, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened shows McFarland’s despotic tendencies, firing anyone who voiced concerns, and insulating himself with anyone foolish enough to believe in his pipe dream.

Of course it all falls apart in the end. Or rather, it had failed to come together since the fyre-festival-documentary-netflix-tweets-1547562032beginning. They erected a few hurricane-issued FEMA tents as the “luxury” digs, enough for a only small fraction of attendees, and that’s if they weren’t rain-soaked and slicked with mudslide, which of course they were. There wasn’t enough food. There weren’t enough toilets. And then there wasn’t any music.

I remember seeing the statement when Blink 182 pulled out, just the day before the festival was meant to begin. They didn’t have faith that the festival could provide them with the necessities for their show. Understatement of the year. They were failing to provide the necessities of life. But they let hundreds of kids arrive anyway, and they were stranded without food or water.

For the rest of us watching from home, it was all kinds of fun to watch their increasingly desperate tweets about the crap food and the chaos. Keep in mind these were the painfully rich, spoiled beyond belief kids, a bunch of entitled millennials with such unfettered access to mommy and daddy’s accounts that they could wantonly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a weekend they knew little about. The best thing about it was that it was okay for the rest of us to have absolutely no sympathy for them. This was likely the worst thing that had ever happened to them, and they’re clearly still dining out on the story 2 years later.

Nor do you need any sympathy for McFarland, wanted on charges of fraud. Of course, McFarland hasn’t learned a lesson, the extent of which is revealed in the Netflix original documentary (Hulu has its own doc on the subject, but it’s more montage-driven than interview-driven, so a little less informative). But this documentary has taught me where to expend any welled-up sympathy that I may be hoarding: on the poor Bahamians who worked tirelessly to build a festival from the ground-up and never saw a penny. The scam artist known as McFarland has of course left unpaid bills all over the place, but the only ones you’ll care to see paid are the local Bahamian ones, innocent people taken down by a stupid white boy from New Jersey with an inflated ego and a golden touch. But it takes a village of idiots to go along with it and make it happen. McFarland didn’t act alone.

The Bill Murray Stories

Bill Murray is a unicorn among movie stars. No other person in the history of fame gives such good celebrity encounters. But he’s also sort of a recluse and an intensely private person. He doesn’t have an agent. He’s notoriously hard to get a hold of. Major directors have failed to cast him because he’s elusive as hell.

But the thing about Bill Murray is, SO many people have a story about him. He’s photo-bombing their wedding pictures, or playing tambourine in their band, or bar-tending at the local watering hole. He just spontaneously joins in and leaves joy in his wake. Because what other celebrity in the whole entire world is as beloved as Bill Murray? His 615x330_bill-murray-1.0energy is just so open and guileless that you can’t help but admire him. But he receives all this love and instead of it bloating him, he reflects it back at the world. He’s literally just having fun. I guarantee nobody else handles fame half as well as he does.

Anyway, you only have to type half his name into the Google search bar before these crazy Bill Murray stories start to pop up. Hundreds or thousands of them. So documentarian Tommy Avallone decides to tackle them in The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man. Bill Murray is our generation’s big foot. Sightings are legendary. Stringing together a bunch of Bill Murray encounters actually starts to feel really meaningful. It’s just a few moments from his life that makes one person’s day extra special. He lives a lot like some of our favourite characters of his: he just really throws himself at life, he lives in the moment. And shouldn’t we all? Is Bill Murray showing us how to live life?

Avallone is not a terribly good film-maker. He inserts himself into the story a little too much for my taste. But his subject is near and dear to my heart, so I watched, and I’m glad I did. Bill Murray is uniquely able to cut through this weird fame barrier, reach across it and just be a guy among guys. I particularly like a story about Bill at SXSW. In fact, Sean and I saw Bill at SXSW just last year, and heck yes, you bet it made our day.