Tag: Documentary

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

Growing up, at some point, my parents watched West Side Story, and although I never watched the whole movie (still true to this day)  from start to finish, I have seen all parts of it at various points of time, also while growing up. Some parts I liked more than others as a kid. Namely, Officer Krupke, Tonight, and of course, America.

Such high energy, early on, led by Rita Moreno, a name I didn’t know in my youth, but would grow to know later on in life.

Still to this day, this is the only song from the soundtrack that will randomly get in my head is America (and never re-watching it in the last 20 years will do that. I should see it again before the remake later this year). But other than that song, I didn’t know much about her life, what else she has done, or looked into her career ever. I knew she won an Oscar for that role, and that is it.

Needless to say, this was actually a great subject for a documentary for me, because I had a lot of information to learn about Moreno, and a decent amount of interest in finding this information out. Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It, tell me how you went for it.

rita moreno
Oh what’s that? That is the name of the movie!

Moreno has been in a whole lot of films, and got her start really early. She was in musicals and films for a whole decade before West Side Story, including big ones like Singin’ In The Rain and The King and I. And of course she did a lot after that, despite not being super popular after her win. Usually actors/actresses go up in stock after an Oscar, but she seemed to hit a drought.

Throughout the decades she has had roles or not had them. She earned the EGOT, and did continue to kick ass, as a singer, dancer, and an actor. She even had a big recurring role on Oz that I definitely didn’t know when I saw the show (well, I knew the character was there, but WHO it was) and the voice of Carmen Sandiego in the 90’s. Honestly, this feels like finding a treasure that was always in front of my eyes, and realizing how deep those roots actually go.

And shockingly enough, by the end of the documentary, I felt such joy and full of hope, that I did cry as well. Crying during a documentary is incredibly rare, and if it happens, it is likely due to already being deeply in touch with the subject, and not just really learning about it deeply for the first time. A strange experience, but a welcome one.

Out of celebrities from the past, Moreno is definitely one of those who deserves it the most. Also features some words from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, and Morgan Freeman.

4 out of 4.

The Sparks Brothers

WHO ARE THE SPARKS BROTHERS?

A question I had to ask myself, and likely you did too. But it turns out, there are no The Sparks Brothers. There is a band though. It is called Sparks. And yes, the two main members of the band are indeed brothers. But they don’t go by the term The Sparks Brothers, that is some media shit.

Ron Mael and Russell Mael, the real life American brothers, saw The Beatles live in the 1960’s, and the rest was history. A history no one knows about.

Before we get into this story, I want to point out that this documentary is directed by Edgar Wright. Yes, that Edgar Wright. A dude who definitely loves music, we know that from films like Baby Driver, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and the fact that he has directed music videos before. But this is his first documentary, and it is over two hours long. I can only imagine the reasoning behind this film, not knowing who’s idea it was, had to partially be because Wright loved Sparks and wanted to give them a documentary they deserved based on his own nostalgia or music tastes.

mysterious
Who are these mysterious masked figures?!

The band actually started as Halfnelson and had an album produced by Todd Rundgren, but it did bad. So they changed labels and names, Sparks. It was supposed to be a play on words like the Marx Brothers and the Sparks Brothers, because they liked film and comedy, but the brothers didn’t want brothers in their name, damn it. Whether the media listened to them or not is nothing they can control.

This tells the story of them leaving America to go to Great Britain, to seem like a British Rock Band to be cooler, and it kind of working. To helping lead a synthetic revolution of music, they were one of the trend setters with a very unique sound. They got some amount of famous in the late 70’s and 80’s, changing their genre style a few times. They went into more obscurity for awhile, before coming back in the 90’s with some hits and picking up steam. Then they also did a collaboration album with Franz Ferdinand in the 2000’s, yes, that Franz Ferdinand. No, the band, not the dead guy. The album is called FFS which is a great title. And then bringing us to today, where they are still working on music, and also were working on a musical film that has been their dream from some time, Annette.

Wait, hold the biscuits. Annette? The musical coming out THIS YEAR with Adam Driver was made with music by Sparks? Oh fuck yeah. Is this documentary just another form of advertisement for Annette? Because I was already excited to see Adam Driver in a musical, no question about that.

These dudes have done it all. But this documentary, goes into the details of the ups and downs, their humor plays out as they narrate large chunks. We get to hear from former band members, managers, collaborators. We get to hear from a lot of musical and acting celebrities who liked the band growing up and have a bit to say in it too. There is a huge production behind a band you likely never heard about before, but who helped influence a ton of musicians. How can someone so popular be somehow be forgotten from pop culture consciousness? That is the question…

I never heard about Sparks before, but I like them now, at least as people, if not some of their songs. They definitely have to grow on you. This is a musician documentary I can get behind,

3 out of 4.

Final Account

Final Account was directed by Luke Holland, a man who likely have never heard of before. He has directed two documentaries before this one, in the 1993 and in 2000, and this one he finished production in the first half of 2020, after a decade of work and interviews. And then he passed away in June, soon after, before the documentary would premier anywhere.

That is very sad of course, but not the first time this has happened. Just sure hope it is good, you know?

Final Account actually has a very cheery subject matter. Nazis! A relic of the past and yet something so modern and relevant, yay.

Specifically, this documentary features interviews from German citizens who were part of Hitler’s Third Reich movement in Germany. Most of the people involved are dead now, it being 80 years ago roughly at this point. So the people who are still alive and who were involved tend to be the youth who were caught up in the movement, with their Hitler Youth camps and so on. I am sure their memories of World War II and all of that will be just swell.

finalaccount
Those are some weak ass Hitler salutes. What are you, kids?

There isn’t a lot to say when it comes to the plot of this documentary of course. Here are people who did some Nazi stuff, and here are their stories. Their reasoning behind getting involved. What they believed, or at least, what today they will say they believe. You aren’t going to get a lot of old people in here saying “Oh yeah, Hitler was the best, we should have won the war!” or anything like that. Instead we have people who have lived long lives since then, dealing with guilt, regret, sadness, and hopefully, growth.

Although some of their stories are quite powerful, and they are stories that should have been recorded down and preserved, it still doesn’t necessarily make a great documentary.

Documentaries should teach and put a spotlight on something happening or that happened in the world. It should feature people involved. And this one definitely does these things. But is the type of thing that makes a worth while watch for an hour and a half?

Really, this type of documentary is the type that you have to know you are getting in to. If this sounds like a good watch, you will likely enjoy it. If you couldn’t care any less about what these people have to say, then watching it won’t change your mind either.

I can think something is important, but not necessarily worth while documentary material. It could just be videos on YouTube. Or a collection of interviews in a book. But not really a theatrical experience one would worry about.

2 out of 4.

The Crime of the Century

The Crime of the Century is one of those titles often shouted about so many things, it is really hard to come to some sort of agreement. They might have agreed during it that the Trial of the Century was the O.J. Simpson case. I think the Middle of the Century was agreed to be somewhere in the 1950’s. The World War II of the Century went to Vietnam, strangely enough.

But what is the crime of the century, and why is that the signifier? Is it supposed to be the worst crime committed in the 100 year span of a century? Or maybe it is a crime that started awhile ago and has been going on all century.

It is probably just hyperbole, now that I think of it. Which is potentially dangerous if you want to expose truths. Don’t exaggerate your claims and then say you speak the truth, when the impact of one crime might have to be compared to another.

Oh, and in case you are curious, the crime of the century is drugs. 

pills
Pills pills, the more you eat, the more you… kill?!

Don’t worry, the crime of the century isn’t selling drugs, or doing drugs, it is the pharmaceutical companies for creating drugs and lying about drugs to get rich. That’s right. We are talking about opioids.

Most of this opioid crisis my head has been in the sand in regards to all of the…stuff about it. I literally know most of my knowledge on this subject from recent films, so I didn’t know how long this was a big problem. Ben is Back is about the topic. The film that just came out Crisis is about it. All of them mad at doctors and pharmacists, so I feel like the news on this has already reached levels that we know that there are people at the top who are to blame and haven’t yet.

And what is this documentary about? Yeah. That. The history of opioids, of advertising with drug companies, of how they get rich, of the science that got ignored, of the lies that have been proven to be lies in emails and trials. Yeah, it is all right there, out in the open, not even a conspiracy at this point. Big Pharma went out of there way to get rich at the expense of others and barely anyone has been punished for it in any real significant way.

This documentary (mini-series?) goes into a lot of the details, including stuff that was released in court rooms that hadn’t been seen in news reports yet. It goes really deep into it and is quite convincing. I don’t know if there is anyone who would disagree with this documentary? This is pretty straight forward and I think we can all get on the same side with this one.

Oh yeah, there are those people who believe drug abusers and addiction is a personal choice. Those people suck. And I am sure some of them are pharmacy CEOs.

Well, let’s hope this changes some things legally. It probably won’t, but there is a hope!

3 out of 4.

Dope Is Death

Dope is Death? Yeah, I can imagine that. I assume we are talking about heroin and not cocaine, although I am sure they are both overall death, but based on this movie, I don’t think there was a cocaine problem in NYC in the 1970s and 80s, but I could be wrong there as well, since I wasn’t alive then and I am not a drug expert.

But there was a drug problem, and there has generally been a problem with how the government responded to the problem. Addiction sucks. It usually is hard to break, especially without help.

And if the government treats you like a criminal for being an addict and doesn’t help? That is worse. If the government refuses to provide services to get you off of the drugs that have shown to help? That sucks too.

So this is a story about how a group of people took their health and their communities health into their own hands, because they were tired of being ignored, arrested, and left to die.

refugees
words

In the 1970s, the Young Lords took over a hospital in NYC. They held everyone “hostage” (no one is in danger) and the hospital still functioned, but they had demands. Demands to the police were heard and they opened up a detox center in their neighborhood to help get people off of drugs. It was busy, it was helping, and they also used it to help educate the youth and citizens of that area.

They focused on making sure whatever they could do to get people off dope, that they would try and learn from. The detox usually used methadone, but people became addicted to that instead, or quickly ended up back on the drugs after they finished. It was just a revolving door.

So based on knowledge from China and acupuncture, they copied and used a strategy to basically use acupuncture to detox off the drugs. It seemed to work, it didn’t mess with people emotionally and people seemed happy and content.

And then what happened? Well things got shut down cause of the man I guess, but I will leave what happened with that story for the documentary.

One of the notable people involved with this was Mutulu Shakur, step-father to Tupac, as one of the leaders of the movement before he got arrested in the 1980’s for unrelated reasons.

This documentary tells me a story that I certainly had never heard before this day. It interviews a lot of people involved in the process and gives those first hand expectations. These are all good aspects. But I will say, the clinic story and acupuncture learning and methods was a bit more of the…duller side of this story. I don’t know much about alternative healing, but I am pretty suspicious of it. And to have so much dedicated to that it just becomes something I can daze out a bit more.

I would have liked a lot more about the Young Lords and other movements at the time. More build up to the hospital take over and the other classes and community events they had to build and bring people together. Getting off drugs is cool, but you know what’s cooler? Seeing the positivity a community can generate and grow before the fuckers in charge mess things up.

Dope Is Death does still earn points for actually being about an event I haven’t heard about before, which is fascinating in its own right. A lot of docs tell the obvious story with slight new details, but this one was full of new stories for me to learn.

2 out of 4.

WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

I always love it when I can watch a documentary that actually teaches me about something I knew nothing about. Not just one that reaffirms, or improves, or challenges my believes. So I am often looking for random documentaries that give me a topic to teach me something.

Which is why I wanted to see WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, also known colloquially, as WW:oTMaBoa47BU. Fuck that’s an acronym.

What is WeWork? A really profitable company that died? Recently? What the fuck? Do I only not know this because I am not hip and cool and know nothing about the financial concerns of the 2010’s? Yes. Yes likely.

So what is WeWork? I guess that is the main question.

wework
Oh, they are a strange billboard company. 

Adam Neumann, an entrepreneur, was the creator of WeWork. His initial, basic concept, was to get an office building in NYC, redo it, make it modern, and then fill it up. Not with large companies. With small, young companies. Companies that currently have 1-2 employees. Filling a floor with all these young, talented, determined mines, to all get rich, and get them cheap office space that is well furnished and awesome, was meant to build not his own empire, but to help others. It also had a sweet summer camp of fun and drinking too, everything pre-paid for. Party hard, work hard.

This expanded to more buildings/floors and more clients, and bigger summer festivals. Hell, they even had a WeLive thing, where they had a residency building, like a hotel, and just filled it with these same young tenants, fully furnished, full of like minded individuals, everything they could want in the building.

It was like building a cult.

They kept referring to themselves as a tech company, not a real estate company, which helped get investors and expanded their worth. And then? and then I don’t know. Maybe you can watch the documentary and tell, it definitely gets lost on me.

I really can’t describe what WeWork eventually became or what was promised, it is hard for me to tell. I don’t know if it is the documentaries fault, or if that is the point of the documentary, that WeWork is sketchy and hard to understand. Probably a little bit of Column A and B there.

The documentary was okay, but it never fully grasped me and I do think it had a problem tell the complete story. I also thought the makers behind it were being a bit misogynistic. There is a not disputed plot line in here that seems to blame their unraveling on Adam’s wife, and his inability to not ignore her ideas. Because he was cool at the beginning, but then became lame. But it sounds like overall, he was lame the whole time. I really don’t remember anything taking away those claims about his wife, and that is fucked up.

Fine, I won’t invest in this company, that still exists. I guess the documentary worked?

2 out of 4.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

Hey! Remember the College Admissions Scandal? Hopefully, that news only broke out in 2019 and it was a big deal.

A lot of rich people had paid people to help their kids get into more elite universities. This news never came across as shocking, because people have already figured this out. But some people got really upset. Really, really angry. Especially at the actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who helped get their own kids into college through it. Because they were celebrities (And women??) they probably drew the most scorn. But there were other famous people on the list. Coaches, CEOs, business executives.

Operation Varsity Blues was an attempt by the FBI and the Department of Justice to punish the rich and specifically, maybe, this guy named Rick Singer, the ringleader behind all of this.

OVB
Fun fact, I proctored an SAT test today. 03-24-21. Same day as review.

So who is Rick Singer? A former basketball coach at the collegiate level, who eventually got canned, he turned his attention towards college admissions. He was just going to help parents give their kids an edge. You know, help them pick better classes, extra curricular activities, maybe a few more points on a test, or those sweet sweet recommendations.

And overtime this apparently shifted, where sure, he would have contacts in colleges who would agree (due to personal donations or donations to their clubs/sports) to say they totally scouted a potential walk on athlete and encourage admissions to accept them should they apply. And then the student, who wouldn’t know about this and likely has never done that spot, will never walk on try out for the sport, oh well.

That is bad yeah. A bit worse is when he started getting parents to have their kids “Tested” for learning difficulties, to get extra time on their tests. This eventually led to proctors who would take the test for them without the students knowing. I’ll save those details for the doc.

And so this guy sucks right? Where is all his national scorn? We should know his name. But the DoJ used Singer early on, he was now a cooperating witness. He was used to get more past clients to admit to wrong doing, and that, at this point, is where all the focus has lied. And that is pretty fucked up.

I honestly never cared this scandal, at all. I thought it was weird the disgust those two actresses in particular. I wondered when are the actual colleges going to be punished or changes made to make sure “side doors” don’t exist. (Hint, nothing really happens to them). The documentary makes this same point (which I totally thought before I heard I swear!) but this is like using the drug dealer to punish the drug users. And not the drug dealer or the drug dealer’s supplier. It is going after low hanging fruit, that frankly, feels like a mostly victimless crime.

I am not defending the rich. Go ahead and tax and eat them or whatever. But a privileged kid getting a spot at a college doesn’t have to actually take it away from someone else, because the colleges themselves choose to limit things. I’d say it is more likely they just let these extra people in through this methodology (that likely is still happening at many places) than filling in some specific number of spots available.

And so what about Singer? Well, cases are still going on, so nothing yet, but he likely won’t have a punishment either, just like the colleges, and that is what we are left with.

The documentary does mention these things, but in small amounts and I don’t think attacks it enough. A lot of the documentary is actually just recreations of phone conversations between Singers and clients, with actors playing them to let us see it somewhat naturally I guess. It was an okay method, and clearly the main goal of the documentary. But I don’t need to see actors acting out phone conversations, I’d rather go more into the history of this sort of thing, the trials around it, what is going to happen and what could happen to fix this sort of thing in the future.

Some of the actors in this documentary were played by Matthew Modine, Jillian Peterson, David Lloyd Smith, and Roger Rignack.

2 out of 4.

Stray

This is a very important issue to talk about. Did you know that packs of stray wild dogs control most of the cities in North America? It’s true, I saw it in a PSA.

But in Istanbul, there are also lots of stray dogs. And cats. You may have known about the cats, thanks to the documentary Kedi from 2016. It was just about some stray cats, doing cat things in Istanbul and observing their world as we observed them. People loved it. I didn’t review it. I watched it, and I might have liked it? I honestly don’t know. I definitely liked the idea of it.

So why am I talking about dogs? Because the movie Stray is coming out now, five years later. It is about…dogs! In Turkey! Same deal! Just three of them though, as they wander and we over hear other people and just see how they hang out and do dog things. I hope none of them get in trouble during the filming of this documentary.

doggo
How could they get in trouble when they are all good boys? 

So what’s life like for three little Doggo’s in the middle east? Since there are laws protecting them, not much. No dog catchers to ruin their days like so many American films. Just living their best live, with fleas, and dog bros, and food where they can find it.

Despite a 70 minute run time, I still found myself quite bored with the whole thing. And maybe that is all on me. The documentary is definitely about what it said it would be about. It also has some random quotes about dogs throughout, and subtitles so we can also overhear some  conversations.

My problem is that they apparently filmed the dogs over a two year period. But if this is the best material they got after two years, I am just shocked. If they are going for an average day look at their lives, they should only spend a day and give it to us straight, not edited to look normal. It just….it lacks a purpose for me. I don’t get anything out of it. I don’t think I understand more about the world around me, or about human nature at all.

Instead it just fleeting images of the lives of stray dogs in a country I have never been. And again, that is exactly what was advertised, but I still find myself surprised at the results. You might like it for a hardcore chill film. But if you don’t want to chill, and are hoping for anything more, you will find yourself disappointed like me.

1 out of 4.

A Glitch in the Matrix

So far I have seen three documentaries directed by Rodney Ascher, not his entire body of work, but probably his biggest titles. The first one, Room 237, I definitely did not get. I have only seen The Shining once anyways, so watching people talk about its metaphors for what feels like forever wasn’t something I could get behind.

What I could get behind was The Nightmare, about people describing their sleep paralysis. A terrifying thing, that I had only heard about years prior, and I was so glad to never experience it personally (although I think maybe I did once? Just once). It’s use of visuals to go with the stories just really got me in the fears. And it might have made my best of the year list, or at least the honorable mentions.

And the third documentary of his? Well, it is A Glitch in the Matrix, the one I am reviewing right here, right now. And sure, let’s talk to people and “Experts” about why they definitely have arguments that we are likely stuck in a computer simulation and not the base level world. That won’t give me extra nightmares at all, no.

glitch
Glitches be like.
Now, experts is a loose term. We get people who really believe that we are in a simulation, describing why, what makes sense, what doesn’t, and moments when they have had an out of simulation experience and their expectations from when they die.  Some are more ingrained in it than others.

And uhhh, one of the people interviewed is actually a guy who thought he was in The Matrix so much that he killed his family. And that isn’t a joke. It is a real person, and they describe their experiences and he went to jail. I wasn’t expecting that part of the story, it was dark. It fits, but I still feel a bit conned that I heard the disturbing tale without like, a real warning on that, so not sure if it is spoilers, but there is warning on that. If you want to hear a recount of someone who killed his family, because of computer simulations, you will get it in this documentary.

Overall, the whole thing is a bit disjointed. It is a few people having conversations that are somewhat related, but it just feels like I am being ushered around the room to hear different people talk about things. It doesn’t fully answer the question (because it couldn’t), just gives some snippets that someone could probably find with some googling.

And apparently this documentary is all Elon Musk’s fault, for talking about simulations in interviews and really driving up that theory. I’m not saying we aren’t. I am not saying we are. But I am saying, this documentary could have had a lot more going on for it.

2 out of 4.

The Mothman Legacy

Ya’ll ever hear about the Mothman? You know, the large moth like creature the size of the man? With its glowing red eyes and soft gentle plan? With its wings like a moth and its chicken frying on the pan? With its beacon of doom and its skin never tan?

Sorry, I wanted to rap a little bit about Mothman.

A lot of people know about the Mothman thanks to the book and movie called The Mothman Prophecies. It had Richard Gere and Laura Linney! That is definitely when I first heard about it, dealing with events leading up to a bridge collapse in West Virginia in the 60’s.

Maybe if you read the book before that you heard of it, or lived in West Virginia, or near West Virginia. It is there Loch Ness Monster up in the woods. It goes back decades and people like to talk about seeing the Mothman and how it is a bringer of doom, or a warning, or a symbol.

In this documentary, The Mothman Legacy, they examine the legacy of the….uh….Mothman.


Actual Mothman picture. No, just kidding, just another graphic.

In this documentary we have interviews with people who claim to have seen the Mothman when they were younger, or when they were old, and how it led to something in their life. How they can swear they never heard about it before but described it to their siblings who say they saw the same thing.

We also have interviews with people who were there in the 60’s and saw or dealt with the bridge collapse, and the mood of the town at that point. We have people who have their own Mothman museum and the Mothman festival that happens yearly. And heck, we even got an expert about Native American tribes in the area and the reason why their mountains were left alone.

And that is what the documentary gives you. If that sounds like a hoot and a holler, then go for it. But I can only take so much ominous noises as background music, with artist rendered Mothmen, and hear these stories over and over before wanting something different.

And sure, it tried to break it down into sections and themes, but they didn’t feel different enough to me to basically keep giving the same format. Sure, they had a specific topic or time frame or whatever. But by golly, and I don’t mean to swear, it was a bit drab. Boring. Sleep inducing.

I wasn’t going into this expecting to be convinced about an urban legend or anything. I was expecting just…something more exciting. But this is presented in its best made for TV special format, with easy to insert commercial breaks, like something that could be on the History Channel. And I mean the modern History channel, not the old one.

Moths were already relatively uninteresting to me, but I guess so now are the Mothman stories.

1 out of 4.