Tag Archives: what to watch on Netflix

Oklahoma City

We’ve all got points of history that fix us to a certain date and time: maybe you remember where you were when JFK was shot. Maybe it was Prince Charles marrying Diana, or the day the Challenger blew up, or baby Jessica down that well. Certainly 9/11 is fixed in our public conscience. For me, the first news event that really hit me was the bombing in Oklahoma City. I was young, but even in Canada the coverage of this tragedy was electrifying and horrible. I remember learning that there was a daycare in the building, and that feeling in my stomach, a hard pit that formed in my inability to fathom the kind of person capable of this.

MV5BYTJmNWRkYmEtMmU5MC00YzczLTk5NjEtODg3NjFmZTNiNjI0L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjc5MTQ1ODY@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_This documentary places the bombing in Oklahoma City within the context not just of Waco, but of a growing movement within white “christian” “patriots” – white supremacists who distrusted government and valued guns, apparently above all else. The aryan nations held their head quarters of hatred in northern Idaho and things went bed. Of course they did: that many guns in the hands of that many idiots always does.

Meanwhile: who is Timothy McVeigh? Anti-government, conspiracy theorist, sure. But also a soldier, one the government was willing to promote. McVeigh was a loser though, and when he flunked out of ranger school, he hit the road and traveled gun show to gun show. Unsurprisingly, he met with white supremacists, distilling and reinforcing his craziest notions. He washed up in Waco during the siege, selling racist bumper stickers to other lookey-loos, and raged against the government holding its own people hostage, as he saw it. It’s easy to dismiss him as a crackpot, but he’s a crackpot who built a bomb that he knew would claim innocent lives, the lives of children, and felt justified doing it.

When he was arrested and America got their first glimpse of the terrorist behind the atrocity at Oklahoma City, people were astonished to find that this was not some sort of “foreign threat” but one of their own. Fuck.

Over two decades have passed but it’s still hard to look back. Director Barak Goodman offers a restrained, though not bereft of emotion, look at those events, and it’s still hard not to flinch.

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Tower

August 1, 1966: a gunman opens fire from the clock tower of the University of Texas. No one can get near him. He’d hold not only the campus but much of the surrounding city of Austin hostage. Bodies lay in an open court yard, a pregnant woman bleeding out, but no one could risk rescue. The sniper had vantage and advantage, and the shooting went on forever – 90 long minutes in real time, but a lifetime for those who lay bleeding, and those who watched in fear from the sidelines.

towerThe documentary Tower tells of the people there that day – the students, the injured, the reporters, the cops, the citizens. Those listening on the radio knew that the local police didn’t have weapons that could reach the clock tower, so lay people took up their rifles and rushed to the scene. When a couple of cops finally did breach the clock tower, they had to duck not only the shooter’s bullets, but those of all the well-meaning “helpers.”

It’s a beautiful documentary. My words will fail me. If you have Netflix, only watching it can do it justice. Director Keith Maitland uses animation to bring the events to life, to put us in the shoes of survivors. Tower is a portrait of courage. It’s also agonizing in its recriminations, doubts, and guilt. It’s very human. The story is told with grace and sensitivity, with new perspective and the benefit of time. But no amount of time has erased the trauma of that day, and this documentary reveals how many have buried the worst memories of that day.

I doubt if the shooting at UT was the first U.S. school shooting, but it certainly wasn’t the last. In that kind of historical context, it’s uncomfortable to measure just how long it’s been since this, the most American of crimes, has been allowed to gain epidemic proportions, virtually unchecked. The fact that there is still today no memorial for those who died, or those who survived, that day at the University of Texas, reminds us of the lurid headlines school shootings inspire, but within days, weeks at most, the tragedy is swept under a rug, not to be revisited until the next shooter opens fire. Perhaps a little remembrance is exactly what is needed. Tower remembers.

The Discovery

How would your life change if tomorrow you read in the newspaper that science had confirmed the existence of an afterlife?

A scientist does just that in Netflix’s The Discovery, and his announcement shakes the world. Suicides skyrocket immediately. Is he responsible?

Robert Redford plays Thomas, the scientist in question. A year after the big announcement, he’s basically a recluse, still working on his theories in secret with his son Toby (Jesse Plemmons) and a cult’s worth of helpful believers. He’s pushing the envelope, wanting and needing more and more confirmation – if not for the world at large, at least for himself. It’s personal.

1393540Another son, Will (Jason Segel), estranged from his father since the discovery, returns home. On the return journey he meets a woman named Isla (Rooney Mara) who has her own reasons for questioning the afterlife.

This film provokes a lot of existential questions that not everyone will be comfortable with. But there’s a beauty in finding meaning in life. Believer or not, it draws you in to its essential mystery. Unfortunately, the seed is strongly than the story. It’s a great what-if idea but lacks the terrific follow-through I was hoping for. Your enjoyment of this film depends on how well you deal with great thoughts vs great plots. If you like the ethereal quality of Vanilla Sky, this might be your jam. I certainly enjoyed it, perhaps especially for the thoughtful discussion it generates after viewing.

Would such a discovery be best kept secret? Can you even keep something like this secret? And if the meaning of life and death are in flux, is suicide even the end game – mightn’t some take it a step further? This movie’s a little ambitious for its britches, but I admire that.

Redford does great work in his juiciest role in quite a bit – the mad scientist is off-kilter and complex, and perhaps hasn’t quite thought through all the consequences. His sons provide interesting counterpoint: Toby’s adoration and Will’s skepticism temper Thomas’s zeal. Plemmons is delightfully madcap while Segel plays the stoic. The Discovery is well-cast and thought-provoking and worthy of your time.

SXSW: Win It All

Eddie’s friend asks him to babysit a duffel bag for him, while he’s in prison. He’s not to touch it, not to open it. Just house it for the duration of the prison sentence, and he’ll be handsomely rewarded. But Eddie’s an addict. He’s not good at resisting temptation. He certainly doesn’t resisit this one, at least not for long. And when he finds loads of cash inside it, it triggers his gambling addiction, never exactly dormant, always waiting for a cash infusion.

Cut to – you guessed it – Eddie’s lost everything. He’s deeply in debt. He is drowning in regret. Win-It-All-MovieAnd also debt, duh. Eddie (Jake Johnson) takes his sob story to his older brother Ron (Joe Lo Truglio) who’s heard it all before but takes pity on him, and offers him a job in the family business. If Eddie works as a landscaper for the months remaining on the prison sentence, Ron will make up the difference in whatever else he owes. It’s a great deal, and Eddie throws himself into the honest work for the first time in his life, extra determined to turn things around because of a new woman on the horizon. But guess what? Prison buddy is getting out early! So the months-long plan to make the money back is now completely fucked, and so is Eddie. What shall he do?

Director Joe Swanberg is known for his low-budget, genre-blending stuff. He had such a good time doing Drinking Buddies that he decided to keep the mojo going with its star, Jake Johnson, and the two became a writing team who eventually came up with the script for Win It All.  Jake Johnson is extremely charismatic, which helps sustain his losery character through lots of personal ups and downs. Pairing him with Joe Lo Truglio is the real stroke of genius. He’s affable and earnest, the exact opposite of the sleaze that pops up in Eddie’s other life. Keegan-Michael Key also pops up as his sponsor, who is sometimes shockingly and hilariously very un-sponsor-like.

The script is true to addictions without getting lost in their seriousness. It does go to some dark places, inevitably, but you can feel Johnson and Swanberg always tugging the reins back toward the light. It’s the little field trips from expectation that elevate this material about the normal schtick. Win It All ends up being a little slice of human nature with room for some character work. Falling into this film is a heady experience; it keeps subverting its own subversion, which keeps you on your twinkle toes. And possibly casting some side-eye to whatever duffel bags are in your closet.

 

Catch this film April 7 on Netflix.

SXSW: The Most Hated Woman In America

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was an activist. For atheism. Perhaps you remember her? She was reviled by some and praised by others, I suppose depending on which side of god’s fence you sit on, if you believe there’s a fence, and whether you believe other people have the right to picket that fence. She took pride in being a nonconformist; it suited her already abrasive personality. When she was unable to defect to the state atheist USSR (they wouldn’t have her), she moved in instead with her mother in, and took on the Baltimore public school system. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and led to prayer being banned in schools. Hate mail sometimes contained actual shit but praise mail sometimes contained cheques. Her penchant for nonconformism led to “creative accounting” with her so-called non-profit.

large_MHWA-posterAnyway. This movie is NOT the story of Madalyn’s gleeful adoption of a derisive nickname given to her by Life magazine on its front page (“The Most Hated Woman in America”). No, this film instead focuses on that time in 1995 when Madalyn (Melissa Leo) was kidnapped from her own home, along with her son (Michael Chernus) and granddaughter (Juno Temple) by the likes of Josh Lucas and Rory Cochrane. A friend of the family has trouble convincing anyone that a crime has occurred, and only a reluctant journalist (Adam Scott) pursues their disappearance.

O’Hair was clearly a complicated individual but this film is not the best gauge. Narratively it’s full of jumping beans, skipping around like it can’t find an interesting thread even though actually any thread would have been fascinating if only the film had the courage to stick with it. Melissa Leo and cast are able enough; Leo serves this prickly character rather perfectly but the rest are more or less wasted. This film only manages to scrape the tip of an ice berg, story-wise, but if you’re surfing Netflix looking for some true (ish) crime and an Oscar-winning barbed tongue, you could do worse.

Girlfriend’s Day

Bob Odenkirk is a poet.

Well, poet is the word he uses for the ladies.

By poet he means greeting card writer. And by greeting card writer, I mean ex greeting card writer. He’s just been fired, a dinosaur in a dying industry. Once the “Bill https-%2f%2fblueprint-api-production-s3-amazonaws-com%2fuploads%2fcard%2fimage%2f382405%2fac0a1e1b-8957-4c65-8491-fe26b36c8841Shakespeare” of greeting cards, he lost his mojo when his wife left him. It’s kind of too bad because the mayor has just proposed a new holiday that could revitalize the greeting card industry and and get ole Bob the redemption he’s after.

It’s not going to be easy though. Competition’s going to be tough: there’s a lot of old hacks who’d like another shot at glory. And the greeting card industry’s about to get surprisingly bloody.

This is light fare, but fun. An oddball cast including Amber Tamblyn, Stacy Keach, Alex Karpovsky, Andy Richter, and Natasha Lyonne casts a quirky golden hue over the whole thing, which stitches together the nonsensical in the simplest way. This is by no means a workout for your cerebellum. Odenkirk is the man when it comes to laughs, and there are plenty here. Not a whole lot more, but late at night, surfing Netflix, sometimes that’s enough.

The White Helmets

The White Helmets is a short, 40 minute Oscar-nominated documentary that’s available on Netflix right now, and here’s why you should watch it:

My amazing godson is into many things: Ghostbusters, Paw Patrol, trampolining, and putting Sean in jail (aka my mom’s closet) are just a few. When he was one, I remember sitting out in the backyard on a sunny summer day, and marveling at his chubby little finger pointing at the plane leaving a white cloud across the sky. None of the adults would have noticed it, but at one he was fascinated with planes and trains and automobiles and had a habit of pointing them all out with unabated fascination.

The White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, are a group of volunteers social-share-01known for the white helmets they wear while rushing into the crumbling buildings and raging fires left after an airstrike. They live in and around Aleppo, and are committed to saving as many of the innocent but somehow still targeted civilians that get attacked every single day in Syria.

Over 400 000 Syrians have been killed in the past 5 years. The city of Aleppo is in ruins. There are no more services, no more infrastructure. Ordinary people – a tailor, a blacksmith, a builder – are learning the art of first response because they must. No one else is coming.

This documentary doesn’t touch the terrorism, it tackles instead the every day heroism of those who pull bodies from the rubble. The white helmets are of course not exempt from the violence. Their homes are just as likely to be bombed as anyone else’s. They pull family members from the wreckage. They know pain. And they risk everything to help. 154 White Helmets have died to save others, but 78 000 others have been saved to date. They have been nominated as a group for the Nobel Peace Prize but are banned from entering Donald Trump’s United States of America.

One man, a devoted White Helmet volunteer, tells the camera of his young son who crawls into his lap, cowering in fear every time a plane goes by. To him, plane = bomb. And that’s what tore me to shreds. By accident of birth, by geographical lottery, I am privileged. My godson is privileged. He thinks planes are wondrous. This little boy knows planes only to be destructive. It isn’t fair.

 

 

 

To donate: https://peoplesmillion.whitehelmets.org/act/peoples-million

 

 

Social Anxiety & Celebrity

Sean and I watched Neal Brennan’s stand-up special 3 Mics on Netflix earlier this week. Neal Brennan was the co-creator and co-writer and co-everything else on Chappelle’s Show, which meant a whole lot of success all at once, and then even more abruptly, nothing at all. He has since reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian, but what you get from watching 3 Mics isn’t your typical routine. It’s got plenty of laughs, particularly from the “one-liners” mic, but he’s most riveting when he’s at another mic, a less funny mic, the one where he talks about  “emotional stuff.”

He talks candidly about his depression, his childhood, his career, his father’s alcoholism and emotional abuse. He talks about the void where self esteem usually goes, and how he spent many years all too happy to hide behind his more gregarious partner, Dave Chappelle. Still fighting his demons, he is nonetheless up on the stage, and he’s getting very honest about how hard it is for him to be there, and why it’s so important that he stay.

Which set me to thinking a couple of days ago when I was at a USS concert. Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker is the best band you’ve never heard of, an electronic-based alt-rock duo (comprising a singer-guitar player named Ash and a hype man called Jason) who describe themselves as “camp fire after-party” and sound kind of like if kurt cobain and kanye had ever met and made an album – only not, it’s way more unique than that, and so, so listenable. Singable. Danceable. Turn-uppable. Bliss outable. And it just so happens that the singer-guitar player dude, Ashley Buchholtz is a notoriously shy “hyper-introvert” who’s battled his own demons, struggled with self worth, and even now, to a crowd of adoring fans, admits that singing the songs we paid to hear is hard for him – his greatest fear, actually.

So that made me think about how we view performers as people who are outgoing, and who seek the spotlight, even though that’s not always the case. And as I read up on actors I’d heard were particularly shy, I heard over and over that performing was a way to overcome shyness, but for a lot of people, it’s never completely overcome. Carol Burnett felt she could only perform “in character” and would clam up if she was just being herself. Barbara Streisand rarely performs live because even after decades of super-stardom, she’s still a pack of nerves before every show (so, reportedly, is Adele).

Adam Sandler is so shy he rarely does press and when he does, it’s almost always in character. You’ll notice that when he sings, it’s almost always in another voice; funny accents help him overcome his nervousness.

Kim Basinger struggles so much that when she won her Oscar in 1997 (best supporting actress – L.A. Confidential), she was hardly able to speak. She has agoraphobia, panic attacks, and social anxiety: some days, leaving the house is more than she can bear.

Kristen Stewart has a reputation for being cold and distant, but the true source of her reserve is crippling shyness. She worries so much about what others think of her, she can barely stand to talk about herself, and comes off guarded and sullen in interviews.

Nicole Kidman has overcome the stutter that made her so shy as a child, but even now there are days she can’t stand to walk into a restaurant or a party alone. Richard Gere was so shy as a child that his parents wondered if he could even speak. Evan Rachel Wood was too shy to even order a pizza.

Courtney Cox has said that her shyness has limited her career. Being too nervous to audition, to risk rejection, she hasn’t pursued a movie career like other Friends.

Mark Ruffalo describes himself as an introvert and a bit of a “depressed person” who negotiates happiness for himself on a day to day basis. Director Tom Ford thinks of himself as a loner, and  “Very introverted. I’m very shy. I’m very emotional.”

Of her anxiety, Jennifer Lawrence says “I have a prescription.” She doesn’t think it’s likely to get any easier, either: “No, I’m always just very nervous. I never feel like, ‘I’ve got this.’ I’m always very nervous and aware of how quickly people can hate you and that scares me.”

Sarah Silverman adds “People use “panic attack” very casually out here in Los Angeles, but I don’t think most of them really know what it is. Every breath is labored. You are dying. You are going to die. It’s terrifying. And then when the attack is over, the depression is still there.”

Emma Stone’s panic attacks were so intense when she was little, it led to agoraphobia. She manages them better today, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get them, it just means she’s learned some ways to cope. The red carpet life must be extra-stressful for anyone who suffers with social anxiety. I think it’s really cool to pursue your passion even when it butts heads with your fears. I applaud anyone who has to work hard just be among people, and I’m even more impressed with those who find a voice with which to speak out, and to remind us that we’re never alone. Someone else is feeling it too.

Words of wisdom from USS: Chill out. Be easy on yourself.

Divines

Shit. This is not some easy-breezy coming of age story, I’ll tell you that much for free. You’d be forgiven for assuming as much when the camera originally picks up with two teenaged girls who goof off in class and daydream about making big money, but that’s just the first sign that you should buckle the fuck up.

Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maiimouna (Deborah Lukumuena) are from the shanty side of Paris, where they’re expected to train as receptionists at school. The teacher is as clueless as divines-movie-download-english-subtitlesthe class is hopeless, and you can’t quite bring yourself to blame these girls for dropping out. But then Dounia meets two people who might potentially change her life:  Djigui, an untrained but talented dancer, who makes her think a different kind of life is possible, and Rebecca, a glamorous young drug dealer\sex worker who makes that different kind of life accessible.

Dounia is nothing if not an upstarter. With boundless energy and roiling teenaged cynicism, she and her friend put themselves in situations they’re too stupid to realize are crazy dangerous. They’re both too mature and too naive, eager to make their mark but easily manipulated. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, even if ours is not. No matter how big and bad the girls pretend to be, their youth and inexperience betray them.

Writer-director Houda Benyamina gives a  gritty but sympathetic look at the less polished side of Paris, where money, race, and power are unapologetically at the forefront of everyday existence. The film is raw and filled with rage, which means it’s got this really buzzy undercurrent that makes you feel like anything is possible and you have no idea where it’s all going. The energy is astounding, especially from a largely unknown cast (Amamra is Benyamina’s little sister), and even though this isn’t a typically “enjoyable” film, I felt pulled inside of it, headlong, and we all just prayed that we’d make it out alive.

Sour Grapes

Rich people problems.

Do I have a wine cellar? Yes I do. It’s quite nice. On any given day it houses exactly the number of bottles I neglected to drink last night. We are not wine snobs. We don’t even aspire to be. But as Sour Grapes will tell you, the world’s already got enough of those. Too many, maybe.

In the 90s, during the tech boom, people had too much money. “Fuck you money” they call it, the millions in excess, to be pissed away rather than spent. The kind of money I will never see and have a hard time just reading about. Riches needed to be conspicuous, so after the cars were bought and the art hung and rare coins sought out, they turned to wine, which can be literally pissed away given a certain amount of time. Wine became such a commodity that auction houses made bundles selling the stuff. Rare bottles were gobbled up; demand was high but resources extremely finite.

The “angry men” (so called because they’re the ones who bring exceptional bottles of wine to the dinner party while the rest of us just pick up whatever’s on sale at the grocery store and this makes them ANGRY) began hosting wine tastings where $200 000 worth of wine was consumed in a night. Auctioneer John Kapon pushed this new culture of big wine being sexy and exotic, and why not? It’s not like auction houses make a 20% cut on whatever they sell. And by golly did they sell: millions at a time.

Rudy Kurniawan was a buyer and a drinker. He chased the elusive bottles and dropped big cash on them. His palette was legendary. In fact, he was legendary. He was deliberately mysterious, and a mythology built up around him. But he was generous, gracious, and extremely well-liked and respected. He bought wine compulsively; some he drank, some he shared, and lots he turned around and sold for profit.

103503968-koch_cellar_1-530x298Until Bill Koch noticed something peculiar in his wine cellar that has more square footage than my house.  Among his 43 000 bottle collection (including 4 bottles reportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson for which he paid $100k per bottle) he started to notice some fakes. Those fakes were traced back to none other than Rudy Kurniawan.

It’s thanks to Koch and an honourable vintner named Ponsot that Rudy was eventually brought down (justice for Burgundy, Ponsot passionately believes). The story is pretty engrossing, and it turns out that even more fraudulent than the wine is Rudy himself.

The documentary also explores the collaboration between forgerer and dupe – obviously lots of people wanted and needed to believe their wine was real. Otherwise it’s just a bottle of vinegar the price of a Ferrari. They all wanted to possess something rare – maybe so rare that it didn’t even exist anymore. Or ever.

Bill Koch seems to have lost the taste for wine collecting since these events; he just sold 20 000 bottles for $22 million dollars at Sotheby’s. And yourself? What’s the most you’d ever pay for a bottle of wine? Go ahead and uncork (unscrew?) your favourite $10 bottle and watch this movie. It’s streaming on Netflix right now and it’s worth savouring.

 

 

“Buy ’96 champagne. If you can’t afford that buy ’02. If you can’t afford that, drink fucking beer.”