Archive for the Documentary Category

Moonage Daydream

Posted in Documentary, Music with tags on September 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Moonage Daydream” is the third track on David Bowie’s seminal 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Yet, if you asked any casual fan to name 10 of his songs (even 20), it probably wouldn’t get a mention. Still, it’s a perfect title for this cruise through Bowie’s career, which is less a documentary and more of a feature-length music video.

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Brett Morgen, this is a sonic collage by the documentarian that weaves Bowie’s music, concert footage, and performance with various unrelated films. You’ll see snippets from Metropolis, Ivan the Terrible, Triumph of the Will, Nosferatu, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Plan 9 From Outer Space. The images will pop up again and again but without context. Are these his favorite movies? Did they inspire him? Are they merely pretty visuals? Who knows?

We also get cinematic examples of the man himself. Snippets from The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Hunger, and Labyrinth show up. Behind-the-scenes footage from Gerry Troyna’s Ricochet — which chronicled Bowie during the tail end of the “Serious Moonlight Tour” in 1983 — makes an appearance too. The artist wanders around Bangkok, staring blankly as he rides up and down escalators at night. The scenes are utilized so frequently that they gradually lose their impact.

The cinematic journey is a stream-of-consciousness head trip without regard for time, order, coherence, or details. It inundates the viewer for 2 hours and 15 minutes. The chronicle covers roughly 1969, when “Space Oddity” was released, on through the massive “Glass Spider Tour” in 1987. There is no narrative, although subtle points are made. He was an artist that constantly evolved, and a nomadic lifestyle reflected this — moving from the UK to LA because he hated the city (!) to Berlin. The gender-bending persona of Ziggy Stardust at the beginning of the film juxtaposed with a man that sold Pepsi in 1987 while dancing with Tina Turner. It’s a shocking dichotomy. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never found that poverty means purity,” he defends.

The inclusions are just as telling as the omissions. Any direct mention of his cocaine addiction from the 1970s to the early 1980s is absent. However, he’s clearly under the influence in a limo while drinking from a carton of milk (in a scene from the 1975 documentary Cracked Actor). Bowie’s marriage to Iman is presented as the realization of a life in search of love — a feeling he once called a disease. “Word on a Wing” underscores these images in the final quarter. It’s a touching moment. However, his equally famous marriage to Angela Bowie, a significant influence on him throughout his career in the 1970s, is wholly stricken from the record.

This production is simply an invitation to bask in the music of a legend. Under the full cooperation of the Bowie estate, Brett Morgen was given unprecedented access to his archives which included his journals, photography, and art. You’ll hear rare or previously unreleased live tracks, as well as newly created remixes. The soundscape of musical mashups and live performances curated by longtime producer and friend Tony Visconti looks and sounds as pristine as if it were recorded yesterday. There is an immediacy to the effort that excels. These are interspersed with monologues from Bowie himself. His observations are often delivered to interviewers like Dick Cavett. Bowie speaks timidly, in stark contrast to his avant-garde identity on stage. His thoughts are coherent and polite, although not particularly groundbreaking.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a casual observer is irrelevant to what you’ll glean from this. You won’t learn much. If anything, this document renders Bowie’s life even more confusing — a life lived as a fever dream. But hey, what a fantasy! Director Brett Morgen has cited Disneyland as an influence in his filmmaking. “I like to think of my movies as theme park rides where you’re getting all the sights and sounds and scents.” This is appropriate. I learned as much about NASA while riding “Space Mountain” as I did about David Bowie while watching this. But oh boy, what a ride!

09-27-22

Valerie

Posted in Biography, Documentary, Shorts with tags on May 2, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In the 1970s the definition of feminism was changing. The idea that a woman could reclaim her sexuality by exploiting it to her advantage was becoming a thing. Few women better embodied this ideal than Valerie Perrine. The actress was certainly comfortable in her skin. She was never afraid to flaunt raw, unbridled sensuality. This documentary short does not shy away from that reality.

Born in Texas, Perrine began her path to stardom as a Vegas showgirl. Early on, she was cleverly cast as stripper Honey Bruce in the 1974 biopic Lenny. It was a raw, credible performance. In fact, she was so memorable she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Later parts would also often rely on her physical assets. She was fully aware of this. However, she was much more than a voluptuous beauty. She gave authentically earthy performances in many movies and held her own alongside some of the biggest names of the decade. These include Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), Jeff Bridges (The Last American Hero), Robert Redford (The Electric Horseman), and Jack Nicholson (The Border). I was a child in the 1970s. She will always be Miss Teschmacher in Superman and Superman II to me. She made the character iconic.

Valerie is the celebration of the life of a star. She is currently 78. Perrine would continue to act well after her 1970s and early 80s heyday, but would ultimately fade from the limelight. In a heartbreaking development, Perrine was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. The chronicle opens with her voice narrating how she ended up in the hospital. We see a daily struggle with illness. The film then flashes back to the beginning of her Hollywood career. The contrast between the past and the present can be jarring. Yet she consistently remains a vibrant and compelling personality.

Valerie is a complimentary account — occasionally excessively so. In archival footage, photos, and memorabilia, we are presented with a flattering homage. Interviews with celebrities including Jeff Bridges, Angie Dickinson, George Hamilton, Stacy Keach, Richard Donner, Loni Anderson, and David Arquette attest to a life lived on her own terms. What comes through is the humanity of a talent who understood her charms and utilized them to the fullest. I now understand what made this woman tick a little better than before. Director Stacey Souther (an actor in his own right) presents this intimate portrait as a friend. This warm and loving memoir is like hanging out with Valerie for 36 minutes. It was time well spent.

Valerie is streaming Tuesday, May 3 on Amazon, iTunes, AppleTV, YouTube, and Google Play. Available for pre-order on DVD through Amazon.

04-19-22

Lucy and Desi

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Documentary with tags on March 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The fascination with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is stronger than ever. Coming on the heels of Aaron Sorkin’s drama Being the Ricardos, which was released in December 2021, we now have this documentary about the duo. Lucy and Desi debuted on Amazon Prime Video on March 4. The documentary is one of the better things I’ve watched this year. I figured I should sing its satisfying praises.

Lucy and Desi is a record of how the two met, started their TV show, formed Desilu studios, and their eventual breakup. This is comedian Amy Poehler’s third directorial feature (Wine Country, Moxie) but her first documentary. It also includes a lot of archival footage which is pretty standard for these kinds of records. What elevates the profile is her access to previously unreleased audiotapes recorded by the couple. They occasionally narrate the corresponding video. We get a nice feel for their offscreen personalities. We are privy to the events behind the scenes while they were filming their sitcom. The innovations they introduced during their professional careers are lauded. Meanwhile, home movies shed light on their private life as well. This includes time spent with their kids.

I’m a huge fan of I Love Lucy. I’ve seen every episode to the point I can recite the dialogue from most of them. The TV program ranks up in my personal Top 10 of all time. As such, I’ve read a fair amount about her life and the series in general. There aren’t any revelations in this chronicle. People unaware of how integral Desi Arnaz was to the making of the sitcom may be surprised. Overall it’s a pretty conventional retelling of their story, but it’s thoughtful too. Fans will enjoy it especially because it highlights what made Lucille Ball such a revolutionary talent. Luminaries like Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, and Norman Lear wax rhapsodic over her impact on them. Lucy and Desi’s daughter Lucie Arnaz was an executive producer on Being the Ricardos and here she is an interviewee.

Lucy and Desi is a loving tribute. There’s overlap between the recent drama Being the Ricardos. Events like Lucille Ball’s pregnancy with Desi Arnaz Jr, accusations that she was a communist, and Desi Arnaz’s alleged affairs are all mentioned. However, where Aaron Sorkin’s biopic simply focused on one turbulent week in the making of their hit television show, this covers a much wider part of their lives. This is a varnished portrait. It promotes the two stars as TV legends and rightfully so. The narrative details their lives with the requisite ups and downs. Any knowledgeable fan will already know this stuff so the info isn’t earth-shattering, but it is entertaining. Sometimes the cinematic version of comfort food can really hit the spot.

03-06-2022

Flee

Posted in Animation, Biography, Documentary, Drama with tags on January 25, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“What does the word home mean to you?” an inquisitor asks. “It’s someplace safe,” the subject responds. The interviewer is Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen. The man he’s talking with is 36-year-old Amin Nawabi, although that is an alias. A title card informs us “This is a true story.” However, “some names and locations have been altered in order to protect members of the cast.” Flee is the saga of a man born in Afghanistan who fled his native land to preserve his own life. It was a difficult journey, but he found sanctuary in Denmark as a refugee. Jonas and Amin met in the 1990s when they were teens. They have remained close friends ever since. This is Amin’s tale.

Amin is a now successful academic on the precipice of marriage. He lives a good life in Denmark though he hides a painful past. The sacrifices of his family weigh heavily on him. Here he publicly reveals his hidden trauma for the first time to anyone. That includes his partner. He begins 30 years prior. As a little boy, he enjoyed flying kites, listening to A-ha, and wearing his sister’s nightgowns in public. Jean-Claude Van Damme fascinates him. However, they weren’t all happy times. The Mujahideen seized the capital city of Kabul in 1992. His father was seen as a threat and was arrested by the communist government.

The family had to leave. Conditions in Afghanistan were simply too dangerous. Initially, Amin joined his brother, two sisters, and mother on a perilous expedition across countries. First a terrifying getaway to Moscow. Then Amin escapes to Estonia via corrupt human traffickers and winds up in prison. His brother Abbas makes arrangements to get him to Sweden. Amin ultimately finds a literal home in the Danish countryside with his fiancé Kasper. What makes the chronicle so compelling is the vivid recreation of a trek. Flee is a unique depiction in that it presents these recollections as an animated movie rated PG-13. Visually the drawings are simple but realistic and immersive. Occasional live-action newsreel footage of Kabul and Moscow are inserted throughout.

The intimate narrative vividly conveys Amin’s traumatic ordeal. One harrowing nightmare follows another. It is an experience that many refugees must endure before finding asylum in a new country. Its scope is impressive. Flee is a captivating portrait of self-preservation that has attracted widespread attention. Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau serve as executive producers. It has acquired unanimous acclaim from film festivals and critics winning numerous awards. As such it’s a potential Oscar contender for Best Animated Feature but as a factual account made in Denmark, it could also compete for Best International Feature and as Best Documentary. In that respect, it shares a kinship with the Israeli animated war documentary Waltz with Bashir which earned a nod for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. Will it be the first picture to make history with a nomination in all three categories? I’d love to see it.

12-20-22

Val

Posted in Biography, Documentary with tags on September 8, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Val of the title is actor Val Kilmer. You know his films: Top Gun (1986), Willow (1988), Tombstone (1993), True Romance (1993), Heat (1995), The Saint (1997) are just a few. The star appeared in some of the biggest Hollywood movies during the late 80s and on through the 1990s. He perhaps achieved the apex of celebrity when he played Batman in Batman Forever in 1995. He may have never received an Oscar nomination, but many thought his role as Jim Morrison in The Doors was worthy of one.

Val is a documentary assembled from 40 years of 16mm home movies of his life shot by the entertainer himself and saved over a lifetime. This includes thousands of hours of footage, everything from time spent with his family to the on-set experiences on his many productions. This is the first-person narrative of a celebrated performer as told through his cinematography. Filmmakers Ting Poo and Leo Scott are producers, directors, and editors of the feature. What they’ve done is the impossible. They’ve scrutinized over four decades of material and put together an insider’s view of what it’s like to be him. The task had to have been daunting, but the filmmakers are successful in distilling a coherent and interesting movie from that footage.

The best moments are little vignettes that shine a light on his interactions with other people. Throughout his life, Val Kilmer has always been known as intensely dedicated to his craft. However, his reputation for being a moody and demanding personality often preceded his renown as a gifted thespian. Some labeled him difficult. In 1996, Kilmer appeared in a remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau with his idol Marlon Brando. It was a notoriously troubled production. Kilmer’s strained relationship with director John Frankenheimer is captured. This is painful to watch but oh so transfixing. At one point, he refuses to act or take direction. Instead, he turns his camera on the director and videotapes him while voicing his disapproval. I wish there were more candid episodes like this. The acrimony is a rare exception.

Val is a largely sympatric portrait. It is a most heartbreaking coda that Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014. Following radiation and chemotherapy treatments, along with a tracheostomy, he is now cancer-free. However, he has great difficulty speaking. The movie uses captions when he talks. His son Jack is his voice as the narrator for much of the documentary. His participation is deeply poetic. In a more recent development, Kilmer travels to Texas for a public appearance at a screening of Tombstone. He is warmly greeted by a large gathering of enthusiastic and idolizing fans. Addressing the viewer directly, he admits “I don’t look great and I’m selling basically my old self, my old career.” Yet the image of the actor today in front of an adoring crowd is so poignant. It’s scenes like this that make Val such a fascinating watch.

08-09-21

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed

Posted in Documentary with tags on August 29, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Whenever I need to relax and unwind, I queue up an episode of The Joy of Painting. There’s nothing more therapeutic than listening to the reassuring voice of Bob Ross as he manifests one of his spectacular landscapes. It’s as if he’s talking directly to you and only you. His official YouTube channel has nearly 5 million subscribers and features all 31 seasons. Best part? It’s all free! Fun fact: “Island in the Wilderness” (Episode 1, Season 29) is the most-watched segment with over 37 million views.

If this were an appraisal of his television program, I’d give it a perfect 5 stars. I am a fan. This however is a review of a documentary that debuted on August 25 on Netflix. Bob Ross was an artist on television who did an instructional program on how to draw from 1983 to 1994. Sadly he is no longer with us, having died in 1995 from cancer. Bob was talented to be sure because he could finish a beautiful oil painting in under 30 minutes right before your eyes. What made him a personality was his unbelievable calm and placid demeanor and his soothing voice. He also loved nature and this was evident when he was rendering one of his landscapes. He charmed the audience with his artistic skill but also with his gentle presence.

The words “betrayal” and greed” in the title would imply some salacious reveal that the man wasn’t as saintly as he seemed. I’m happy to report Bob Ross was just as kindly off-screen as he was on. There are some tidbits of information about his life, but nothing uncovered here is shocking. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest bombshell — dropped less than 10 minutes in — is that his signature Afro was a perm. His hair wasn’t natural! I’m gutted.

The provocative title refers to the fact that his company — which includes his image and likeness — is now owned by people who do NOT include his son Steve Ross. This has occurred through some bewildering legal shenanigans. Some of this is a bit murky because — as the investigation points out — many people declined to participate due to the fear of being sued. Bob’s half-brother, Jimmie Cox, turned his majority interest in Bob Ross Inc. over to the people now in charge of his company: co-founders Walt and Annette Kowalski. They refused to appear as well. As such, it’s an incomplete picture.

As an admirer of Bob Ross, I enjoyed the movie because I am fascinated by the man, but I wanted to know so much more. There are some biographical details I learned, so it is indeed interesting. Bob Ross and his “happy little trees” were never taken seriously by the art world. Yet director Joshua Rofé interviews art historians who respectfully discuss his wet-on-wet approach. Also known as alla prima the technique speeds up the oil-painting process considerably by applying pigment to still wet layers. The Impressionists (among others) utilized the style.

One day a more definitive profile will decide to focus more on what made this man tick. Conversely, this feature creates more questions than it answers. Then ends on a distressing note. There’s a great documentary to be made about this individual. Unfortunately, this portrait falls short.

08-26-21

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Drama, Shorts on April 9, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (documentary, animated, live-action) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

DOCUMENTARY

This is my 9th year watching the documentary shorts. I’ve seen every Oscar nominee in this program since 2013. I must say, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. The Oscar voters in this particular branch overwhelmingly favor stories of hardship. Topics of this year’s nominees include the Holocaust, civil unrest, starving children, discrimination and racism. Injustice is an underlying theme in all 5 docs. I did rank these, but I appreciated them all more or less equally, so my order is somewhat arbitrary.

A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
USA/19 MINS/2019
Director: SOPHIA NAHLI ALLISON

The life of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins is celebrated. She was shot to death in March 1991 after an altercation escalated between the owner of a South Central Los Angeles store. She believed Latasha was stealing a bottle of orange juice. Many believe the tragedy — which occurred just 13 days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King — partly fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The portrait is focused on the joy of Latasha as a human being. Her best friend Tybie O’Bard and her cousin Shinese Harlins recount touching memories in gentle narration. Fictional and non-fictional storytelling elements unite in a reflection of what could have been, in order to remember the young girl. More of a meditation than a conventional bio, the flow of thoughts and feelings are presented in a stream of consciousness. Actors, animation, and music converge in a visual pastiche. It’s somewhat disorienting but undeniably poetic.

A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION
USA/13 MINS/2020
Directors: KRIS BOWERS, BEN PROUDFOOT

A discussion between jazz pianist/composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather Horace Bowers Sr. sheds light on Kris’s career. Kris scored the Oscar-winning Best Picture Green Book. He also had a successful premiere of his violin concerto “For a Younger Self” that was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on January 28, 2020. Kris himself co-directs this conversation on his achievements made possible by the life of his 91-year-old grandfather.

The African American business icon left Jim Crow Florida by hitchhiking across the country at age 17. Years later in 1960, Horace purchased the small dry-cleaning plant in South Los Angeles where he had worked. Today he owns the entire block. A two-hander featuring admirable protagonists separated by over six decades. The sacrifices of one undoubtedly contributed to the advance of another. The most upbeat entry in the program.

COLETTE
USA/25 MINS/2020
Director: ANTHONY GIACCHINO

Another year, another entry about the Holocaust. Colette Marin-Catherine is a 90-year-old French woman and one of the last surviving members of the French Resistance. She came from a family of fighters that included her older brother Jean-Pierre who she last saw in 1943.

Lucie Fouble is a young history student who is investigating the story of Jean-Pierre. At her behest, Colette begrudgingly agrees to visit the concentration camp in Germany where he died. Colette is an irascible individual. She most definitely has every right to be bitter. I’m just surprised because these docs so often feature individuals with sanguine views on life and Colette is a bit edgier.

HUNGER WARD
USA/40 MINS/2020
Director: SKYE FITZGERALD

One minute longer and this short would have had to compete in the FEATURE category.

Unflinching portrait highlights the admirable efforts of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi, a couple of health care workers who tirelessly dedicate their lives to help starving children. The two pediatric malnutrition wards are unquestionably a blessing in war-torn Yemen. However, seeing hunger-stricken kids so frail they can barely stand is a horror few people will be able to bear. Days later and I can still see the heartbreaking faces of these youngsters.

The resulting famine is a direct result of the Yemeni Civil War which has been an ongoing conflict since late 2014. Most of the world has forgotten about their issues. Luckily this documentary shines a brighter light on this humanitarian crisis. I’ll forewarn you though: “tough to watch” doesn’t even begin to describe the weight of this tragedy.

DO NOT SPLIT
USA/NORWAY/35 MINS/2020
Director: ANDERS HAMMER

Beijing is censoring the 2021 Academy Awards. This inside view of the front lines in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy is the reason why.

Before the British government handed over Hong Kong in 1997, China allowed the region considerable political autonomy for 50 years under a constitutional principle known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong enjoys some independence but it is still not full-fledged democracy. These limitations on their freedoms have only gotten worse over time. I’m simplifying things, but the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests focused around an Extradition Bill that Hong Kong citizens believed would further undermine their autonomy from mainland China.

Norwegian filmmaker Anders Hammer often inserts himself in dangerous environments. The clash of citizens and the police is extremely chaotic and confusing. However, a documentary about the revolt shouldn’t be. More detailed background information would have helped to fully comprehend the issues at stake here. Viewers already well versed in the antagonistic political relationship of Hong Kong and China will appreciate this more. Incidentally, the bizarre title refers to a rallying cry of demonstrators. That is, to maintain solidarity against the repressive regime of China.

04-06-21

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Posted in Crime, Documentary with tags on October 11, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

True crime documentaries are all the rage. Nowhere is this more evident than on Netflix. Recent titles include: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. As you can see, “killers” seem to be a focus. The list goes on and on. There are hundreds of titles available. The genre has become something of a cottage industry for the streaming service. This latest one was released on September 30 and quickly captured the public curiosity as it immediately shot to #1. This one is particularly haunting. The documentary does a great job of explaining “what” happened. It’s the “why” that left me confused.

The chronicle concerns the disappearance of Shan’ann Watts and her beautiful daughters: 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste. She was also nearly 4 months pregnant at the time with her son Nico. Shan’ann was a big user of social media. She posted photos and videos online often to document her life. Director Jenny Popplewell utilizes this archival footage to construct an intriguing story. From the outside, it appears that she had an attractive picture-perfect family with husband Chris and daughters living in Colorado, but as we delve deeper, two extremely unhappy people within a disintegrating marriage are revealed.

This is a disturbing window into the annihilation of a family. Text messages between Shan’ann and her best friend are displayed across the screen popping up like real discussions back and forth. They discuss intimate matters and we are eavesdropping. I felt a little uneasy reading these confidential particulars. It’s a tragedy that Shan’ann is no longer around to object, so I sadly acknowledge they’re more like evidence at this point than a private chat. They do shed some light. Her fabulous marriage by all outward appearances wasn’t wonderful. She too is baffled by her increasingly distant husband. The portrait also highlights the idea that reality vs. an online persona can be wildly different things. Given that this largely details a police investigation, it effectively presents the facts, emphasizing certain developments, the subsequent procedural, and how they were able to secure a confession. The underlying psychology behind the murder is less clear. It feels incomplete. Perhaps that is a question that cannot be answered. However, the eerie feeling remains long after this unsettling account is over.

The Social Dilemma

Posted in Documentary, Drama with tags on September 15, 2020 by Mark Hobin

STARS3

Any relevant documentary that sounds the alarm on a societal ill should satisfy at least two prerequisites: (1) Does the negative conduct actually exist? And (2) if it does, is that behavior shocking? I’d say The Social Dilemma supports a clear YES to the first question and a hard NO to the second.

This chronicle is presented as an expose as well as a cautionary tale. The creators of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other interactive media have purposefully designed their products to be “addictive” so that you keep using them. Successful social media platforms are essentially “guilty” of creating a product people crave. No surprise there. The supposed insight is that they do this by getting to know the things you like and then promoting those things so you keep using their service. Of course, these channels are free so perhaps an even bigger epiphany is that we, the “users”, are the products being sold. Advertisers are the consumer buying the information we provide. The more we interact with social networks the more advertisers can sell us products. Are you surprised? Then I have another revelation: the more TV you watch, the more likely you will be exposed to commercials.

The Social Dilemma did its research. Many of the bigwigs being interviewed here are former high ranking leaders at technology companies and picking their brains about these subjects is indeed fascinating. Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist (!), makes a memorable appearance. His and others’ disapproval at the persuasive techniques employed may sway you. However, I don’t think it’s outrageous that content on these services is manipulated toward the user. I expect to see different ads and information than others. This happens everywhere. The commercials during cartoons advertise toys and those during sports programming promote beer. If that concept is unfamiliar, then this docudrama might be alarming, but I keep coming back to TV because the comparison is so apt. Intellectuals regarded television as the Big Bad for years until the internet came along.

This account discusses a lot of topics over the course of 89 minutes. I reacted to most of it with a shrug and a lot of “I already knew that.” However, it briefly touches on the effect of social networks on teens. If this document should scare anyone, it’s parents whose impressionable children might be more deeply affected by these tactics. Mental health is the most interesting aspect and a worthy subject of a separate study. Dramatic reenactments sprinkled throughout are supposed to show in a concrete way how agents behind the scenes target us. Actor Vincent Kartheiser portrays the human embodiment of the artificial intelligence inside your phone. Skyler Gisondo and Sophia Hammons play teen victims. Most of these conspiracy theory dramatizations are unintentionally funny but they do sort of undercut the solemnity of the atmosphere so I kind of appreciated them. Conspiracy theories are powerful stuff and this movie has supposedly caused a large number to delete their Facebook. I have no proof as to whether that is in fact true. If it is, then perhaps this documentary is contributing more to the common good than I realize.

09-11-20

You Don’t Nomi

Posted in Documentary with tags on June 14, 2020 by Mark Hobin

you_dont_nomiSTARS3.5Depending on how you approach it, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls could either be the worst movie ever made or the most hilarious.  The highest-grossing NC-17 rated film was critically reviled when it was released back in 1995.  In the ensuing years, however, it was been reevaluated by a large segment of the population as a cult classic.  The cleverly titled You Don’t Nomi is a fairly scholarly examination of cinema.  If you love Showgirls, you should appreciate director Jeffrey McHale’s documentary as well but even if you don’t, you still might savor this intelligent assessment.

Were the creators aware of the camp appeal in their work?  McHale considers the idea. I’m convinced that screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven had every intention to do a serious drama.  A rags to riches tale that utilized the blueprint of All About Eve.  A portrait of one Nomi Malone and her drive to claw her way into the starring role of a Las Vegas spectacular called “Goddess”.  The movie was not well-received initially.  Paul Verhoeven was able to put the setback behind him but star Elizabeth Berkley wasn’t so lucky.  Her career was completely derailed in the aftermath.  There is a happy ending of sorts though.  As we see here, she ultimately found peace from the adulation of the fans who have embraced the film.

Director Jeffrey McHale’s is clearly an admirer.  Who else but a true fan would dare to subject themselves to such a detailed study of something they hated?  Nevertheless, he concedes the more ridiculous aspects of the production.     He celebrates the film for its style and panache.  Along the way he presents a studious consideration not just of Showgirls but of Paul Verhoeven’s entire oeuvre.  He holds a genuine appreciation for the auteur’s work but also understands why people dislike some of this particular picture’s more unsavory aspects.  I do wish You Don’t Nomi had taken a harsher condemnation on the rape scene though.  Truth be told, I actually own the DVD.  I freely admit that.   However, I always fast forward over that reprehensible part — my own bit of removing something that is extremely unwatchable.

You Don’t Nomi isn’t a revolutionary appraisal. Showgirls has already undergone a critical reassessment in the 25 years since it came out.  It has earned a devoted cult of enthusiasts.  McHale’s assessment is still enjoyable.  He asserts it’s well-made but he also pokes fun at the unintentional comedy.  A winking screenplay that is knowingly awful is never as entertaining as the big-budget efforts that attempt something great and fails miserably.  Valley of the Dolls, Can’t Stop the Music, Xanadu, or Mommie Dearest all exist in the rarefied air of hilariously bad cinema.  This documentary reinforces the belief that Showgirls is a worthy addition to that tradition.

05-17-20