Tag Archives: documentaries

Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce

Another sleepless night, Sean snoring beside me. Suddenly, around 5:30am, all the usual racing thoughts preventing sleep start to congeal into just the once: today is Beyonce day.

Beyonce has been Queen for a long damn time. She’s more Queen than the Queen of England, because that lady is a figure head and Beyonce is for real. Beyonce is not just a pop star, she is a cultural icon, more than her voice, more than her marriage, more than MV5BNWYwMTExOTAtNjVmYi00MWVjLTgzZWUtZTI0OTE3YTgwMjM3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_her style and her fame and her talent. She was a successful, powerful black woman, her success and power being so seemingly limitless that they transcended gender and race. And at the height of that power, Beyonce claimed both her blackness and her womanhood in a way that was political, artistic, and impossible to ignore. Now we need a word that is somehow more than Queen, and maybe the only name worthy is Beyonce itself.

Homecoming is a documentary detailing Beyonce’s brilliant performance at last year’s (2018) Coachella. But just as that show was more than a concert, the documentary ends up being much more than a recording. It’s a testament. This is Beyonce clearly comfortable in her strength, and the evidence is written in her lyrics, in her stage presence, and all over the damn screen. We witness Beyonce the businesswoman, Beyonce the workhorse, Beyonce the mother and wife, the artist and creator.

After a 22 year career, Beyonce has a whole lotta laurels upon which to rest her world-famous booty. Her name alone is enough to have Coachella gagging. Which is to say: she does not have to work this hard. She’s working like she’s NOT the most famous woman in the world. But Beyonce wasn’t going to just bring her music to the festival – she brought her culture, and she gave it to the people. She worked for 8 months to deliver a powerhouse 2 hour performance.

Fan or not, it’s completely impossibly to tear your eyes away from this woman so fully owning her power. A woman who – dare I say it? – is feeling herself, and not apologizing for it. Not one bit.

Advertisements

The Legend of Cocaine Island

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, then you probably know how it goes. There’s a story that everyone knows. It gets passed around the way stories do: neighbour to neighbour, senior to freshman, longtime customer to grizzled waitress, bored shopkeeper to just-browsing customer, and every single damn time there’s beer or coffee involved. The story, whether it is strictly true or not, is a fact. A fact of life, a way of life. It’s how small-town people connect.

The Legend of Cocaine Island is such a story, and you can tell by the title that it’s a pretty good one. It gets passed around central Florida, and the whole gang – a real cast of characters, believe me – is reunited to pass it on to us.

One of the guys tells us: “A northern fairy tale goes ‘Once upon a time…’ but a southern fairy tale starts ‘Y’all aren’t going to believe this shit.'” This is how our documentary starts, so gather round, get close to the fire, pour a little spirit into your coffee, and listen up.

The local barefoot hippie always tells the same story: he lived in Puerto Rico once, 15 years ago, maybe 20. One day, walking along the beach, he saw something large bobbing along in the water. It was a carefully water-proofed package. He opened it up, hoping for cash, but instead he found 35kg of cocaine. Nervous, and not trusting the cops, he hid the cocaine, and then hid it again, and again, until finally he buried it. And presumably, that’s where it is now. Worth, what, 1 or 2 million dollars? Just sitting in the ground.

All the locals knew the story; the hippie was fond of repeating it. But it wasn’t until the recession hit that it started to sound more like an action plan than a fairy tale. This is life-changing money to people who have been foreclosed and they’ve slid from the American dream down to a trailer park disappointment.

But, okay, even if they did some how find the coke and smuggle it home – what then? These weren’t drug dealers. How do you get rid of the stuff?

Well, the story snowballs into an open invitation to get rich quick. And pretty much a middle-aged dad gets in WAY over his head. He’s living his biggest Scarface fantasy. what can go wrong?

You have to watch this movie yourself, and it is eminently watchable. Director Theo Love weaves a very compelling narrative; this documentary tells a heck of a story. Is there actual buried treasure in Puerto Rico? Is it retrievable? Is this a terrifically terrible idea? Would greed and stupidity make criminals out of all of us?

 

 

Behind The Curve

I have a friend, Luc, who listens to talk radio. There are only two kinds of people who listen to talk radio: conservatives and masochists. And Luc isn’t conservative. Somehow giphy (2)he can listen to crackpots blowing steam out of their ears without losing his mind. Oh, he gets riled up – that’s kind of the point – but it doesn’t make him lose his faith in humanity. I cannot say the same for myself, which is why I avoid indulging in or even acknowledging this stuff in the least. People who are willfully ignorant really get my goat. Sean knows this, and it was not without a gleeful glint in his eye that he proposed watching Behind The Curve, a documentary on Netflix about the flat earth conspiracy.

Flat Earthers are…ugh. There’s no excuse and there’s no understanding them, not from a rational perspective. Although I did get the feeling that they, and conspiracy theorists in wp-contentuploads201306Brave1.giffit-in__1200x9600general, share a common mistrust for authority. They’re a group of outsiders who find a brotherhood in “believing” this stuff. And I’m still not 100% certain they’re not just having us on. I mean, can they truly believe that the Earth is not a sphere? That Big Globe has been the sinister force behind science and reality for hundreds of years?

Thankfully, this documentary doesn’t try to give credence to their impossible theories. But we do get a brief look into their psyches, into what might attract an otherwise 978672a0-cf17-0131-693e-423d576c0d42reasonable human being to the murky world of hating science and believing in baloney. And what we uncover are basically just some sad and lonely people looking for connection, and maybe a moment or two in the spotlight. On the fringes of society, there aren’t a lot of options for these people. How fantastic that all it takes is inventing an inflammatory piece of fake news, and building a community around it. That’s all it is – that, and making a few coins from the merch, which seems to double as evidence as far as these people are concerned.

The interesting thing about this documentary is that it doesn’t just give a soapbox to giphy (1)crackerjacks who put a little too much value into Youtube and not enough into critical thought. It tells us how we contribute to the problem – and I think the message transcends beyond just the conspiracy nutters. I think it’s also a reminder on how to speak to anyone whose views are polarizing to your own. It gives us all something to aim for as we hurtle through space on our beautiful, round planet.

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.

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.

mv5bmzrmztzkmtgtzgq2yy00zge4ltg5mtgtytk3mmy4ngq3mdvjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymty1njuwmja@._v1_sy1000_cr0,0,687,1000_al_Josh Ostrovsky, better known as @thefatjewish, is the king of displaying himself for the enjoyment of others. Often naked, nearly always disgusting, he became famous for stealing other people’s funny memes and making loads of money off them.

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.