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I’ll be honest with you – I’ve never really been much of a music guy. I simply don’t feel the same connection to music that so many people do. It’s not that I don’t like music, mind you. I just don’t need it in the way that true musicophiles do.

That said, I definitely dig a good music documentary. Even without that visceral, cellular-level type connection to the music, the stories behind the music – the people and places and influences that brought that music to life – remain fascinating to me.

As you might imagine, the new Todd Haynes documentary “The Velvet Underground” – currently streaming on Apple TV+ - fits the bill perfectly. To have someone like Haynes, a filmmaker with an idiosyncratic eye and an obvious adoration of music that permeates his filmography, take on one of the most influential rock bands of all time? What kind of wonderful result could we expect?

An apt one, as it turns out, a perfect marriage of documentarian and subject. Haynes proves to be just the right person to capture the frenetic bohemian energy of not just The Velvet Underground, but of their surroundings. The pieces will be familiar, but the whole into which they have been assembled is unlike any music documentary you’ve seen before. In many ways, this film is an experience – an evocative reflection of the band’s place in the cultural zeitgeist.

Published in Movies

Everyone loves Bob Ross.

The soft-spoken host of the long-running PBS program “The Joy of Painting” was an iconic figure to many, a person who celebrated the utility and democratization of painting. His attitude was simple: If you want to be a painter, paint – and then you’re a painter.

Even now, more than a quarter-century after his too-soon passing in 1995 at the age of 52, Ross is a familiar presence in pop culture. Through merchandising and reruns and references across assorted media, he is well-known – even to those who might not have even been born when his popular show was airing.

But in a new documentary, we learn that while he might have been a beloved icon in life, in death, he became the subject of far more contention.

The film – “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed” – is currently streaming on Netflix. Directed by Joshua Rofé, the film looks at the life and times of Ross, documenting his unconventional rise to fame and the people who accompanied him on that rise. And for the first hour, that’s what we get – a very human portrait of a man who is both decent and flawed – but as we go, it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right.

Indeed, when we get to the latter part of the documentary, where Ross’s very legacy – and to whom that legacy rightly belongs – becomes controversial in its own right, well … things get complicated. And one thing is for certain – the chicanery and manipulation that went on behind the scenes was neither happy nor an accident.

Published in Style

There are two kinds of documentaries about famous people – those made from an outside perspective and those made from an inner one.

Outside perspective docs are driven by talking head interviews and other interactions, making an effort to gain insight into a person by engaging with those who knew them. Inner perspective docs are built around the subject’s own perspective, finding their insights via their own introspection.

“Val,” the new documentary about actor Val Kilmer, falls very much into the latter camp. The film, directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott, features Kilmer looking back over the course of his life and career. The actor, whose recent dealings with throat cancer have left him with a tube in his throat and immense difficulty with speaking and being understood, has apparently spent much of his life with a video camera in his hand. The result is a wealth of archival footage – we’re talking everything from childhood on up – that offers a unique and wide-ranging perspective on the life that he has lived.

Interspersed with that archival footage are scenes that follow Kilmer as he lives now – engaging with his kids (his son Jack serves as the film’s narrator, speaking Val’s words) and dealing with the realities of his condition.

“Val” is an interesting dichotomy, a film that manages to somehow be equal parts self-aware and self-mythologizing; the juxtaposition of the person he was and the person he is results in a film that is compelling, darkly funny and – at times – deeply sad.

Published in Style

For two decades, Anthony Bourdain was an icon. From the publication of his 1999 best-selling memoir “Kitchen Confidential” through his evolution to culinary and cultural adventurer in his television work, Bourdain brought a combination of passion, intelligence and no-bulls—t attitude to the zeitgeist. He was coarse and foul-mouthed and utterly fascinated by the world around him, capturing what he experienced with a punk rock intimacy unlike anything we’d seen before.

When he took his own life in 2018 – on location in France to film, no less – people from all over the globe mourned the loss, even as many of them were left both shocked and somehow unsurprised that this was how the end of his story played out.

Morgan Neville’s new documentary “Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain” is an effort to delve deep into the mystique of the complicated figure that was Anthony Bourdain. Through a tight and thorough assemblage of archival footage and interviews, Neville finds a way in, presenting a sort of outsider’s introspection, a look within a man who was often moving far too fast to look within himself.

Through moments poignant, darkly funny and occasionally both, Neville puts together a portrait of a man whose combination of pop cultural wit and charismatic presence turned him into a star, even as he fought against the more shadowy impulses that drove him to reach the pinnacle, and perhaps ultimately, to his tragic demise.

Published in Adventure

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a music guy. For whatever reason, music had never resonated with me in the way it did so many of my otherwise like-minded peers. It wasn’t my thing. But sometimes, I’d experience something that would give me a clearer sense of that passion.

Maybe it was a song I heard at a party or at a bar. Maybe I was sitting in a theater – movie or stage. Maybe it was someone feverishly proselytizing about a band they loved that I’d never heard of. Maybe someone showed me “Stop Making Sense.” Maybe it was as simple as: “You need to hear this.”

I always cherish those moments when I have them, the gooseflesh-raising instances when music gets inside me.

“Summer of Soul” was one of those moments.

Published in Style

For many high schoolers, interscholastic athletics are a highlight of their young lives. The joy of competition intermingles with the many lessons that can be learned on the playing field – lessons of determination, of sportsmanship, of the value of hard work – and sports become an integral part of the overall school experience.

But those opportunities don’t always get extended equally.

“Changing the Game,” a documentary currently streaming on Hulu, takes a look at three individuals who are dealing with the struggles forced upon them due to their respective identities. These three young people are transgender, attempting to navigate high school sports in a landscape where different states have different rules and different attitudes about how (or even if) transgendered kids are allowed to compete.

The film, directed by Michael Barnett, follows these three athletes through their sporting journeys. Each of them is faced with prejudices regarding who they are and questions about the fairness of their presence, even as we see the support systems at work around them. It’s a thoughtful and well-executed piece, an at-times heartbreaking examination of the politicized chaos drummed up by fear and lack of understanding that also finds time to celebrate the victories of its subjects, both on and off the field.

Published in Sports

Like a lot of people, I went through a pro wrestling phase. From the mid-1980s up into the early ‘90s, I watched and enjoyed the sports entertainment stylings of WWF and WCW titans. After that, my direct attention tapered off, but my indirect awareness of the sport never really went away – I had friends who remained engaged and my general pop culture consumption meant that I was always at least tangentially up on the scene.

My affection for pro wrestling remained, though it did evolve over time, eventually morphing into an appreciation of it as one of the last true bastions of American melodrama (alongside the soap opera) as well as a repository for physically impressive feats of undeniable athleticism.

Too often, the personal stories of these wrestlers devolve into sadness and/or mayhem – there’s a whole cottage industry of documentary reckonings with the behind-the-scenes tragedies that accompanied the successes of some of wrestling’s most iconic figures.

Jeremy Norrie’s new documentary “The Other Side of the Ring” is different. This film isn’t about digging into the bleak seediness beneath the over-the-top glitz; instead, it’s about spending time with wrestlers from varying levels and discussing how they got here and why they’ve stayed.

Oh, and they’re all women.

Norrie sits down with a handful of women who have invested their blood, sweat and tears into the wrestling world. They come from all levels of the sport, from the top of the mountain that is WWE to the down-and-dirty indie scene, but the one thing they all share is a passion for the sport that they love – a passion that is brought forward through a collection of interviews.

Now, there’s not as much actual in-ring action as you might expect for a wrestling documentary – the realities of filming during COVID meant that Norrie was forced to largely rely on preexisting footage and some of the promotions that his interviewees worked with didn’t necessarily have a lot in the way of video. While this lack does undercut the film’s effectiveness somewhat, there’s no denying the compelling nature of the stories these women tell.

Published in Sports

I grew up on “Sesame Street.”

Obviously, I’m hardly alone in that. Generations of children spent large chunks of their formative years engaging with that unique blend of education and entertainment that sprang onto the public television airwaves in the late 1960s. Honestly, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone out there without at least a passing awareness of “Sesame Street.”

That kind of pervasive cultural omnipresence is a thing of the past now, with ever-increasing striation and stratification greatly reducing the potential footprint of any creative content. Still, there’s no doubt that “Sesame Street” remains an important touchstone for millions of people.

“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” a new documentary about the show, attempts to break down the origins of what would become a phenomenon. It’s a look into how the project came to be and features interviews – both new and archival – with some of the primary figures responsible for making it all happen.

Now, this film could easily have coasted on the nostalgia wave inspired in so many of us by the mere mention of the show. And one could argue that by ending the story when it does – with the passing of Jim Henson – it avoids some of the thornier aspects of the show’s later years. However, this is not a viewing of the show’s history through a rose-colored prism – the film treats those first two decades honestly, the deep-dive ethos of director Marilyn Agrelo focusing on embracing the positive and not-so-positive aspects alike.

Published in Movies

True crime has become a thriving subgenre of programming across all media. Podcasts, TV shows, books, articles – we as a people love engaging with the deconstruction of heinous acts. What that says about us, well … your mileage may vary.

One of the hallmarks of true crime content is the idea that what we think we know can be upended at any point. The supposed truth at one point in the story can easily veer in an entirely new direction. It’s all about the deeper surprises dredged up once we delve beneath the surface of a story.

And when you throw Bigfoot into the mix, then all bets are off.

“Sasquatch” is a new entry into the true crime oeuvre, a three-episode docuseries on Hulu. Directed by Joshua Rofe, the series begins as an effort by one man to uncover the truth behind a decades-old murder whose initial explanation defied belief. But as he digs into the bizarre-on-its-face story, he begins to learn far more than he ever expected.

You’d be forgiven for expecting that this series is about, well, Sasquatch. And for stretches, it is. But what it’s truly about is the shadowy and sinister reality of the world of cannabis farming in Northern California, as well as the fact that the most frightening monsters of all are the ones that look just like us.

Published in Adventure

“Every dog must have his day.” – Jonathan Swift

I love dogs. I love my dog Stella and every dog I ever had growing up. I love dogs I pass on the street. I love dogs that bark and dogs that whine and dogs that growl. I love them all, regardless of whether or not they love me back (although they usually do).

So it’s no surprise that when the opportunity was presented to me to review the new documentary “We Don’t Deserve Dogs,” directed by Matthew Salleh in collaboration with his partner Rose Tucker. It’s a voyage around the globe, looking at the various ways that dogs impact the worlds in which we live. Across borders and cultures, dogs are present, helping us by simply being the wonderful creatures that they are.

From country to country, from circumstance to circumstance, we bounce from place to place, encountering our four-legged friends in various environments. And even in those spots where the life of a dog is difficult, these wonderful creatures find ways to shine their light upon us. It is heartfelt and charming and uplifting – and don’t forget the tissues, because if you’re anything like me, you are going to need them.

Published in Movies
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