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Confession time: I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever stood on a skateboard. It was an activity that I always admired from afar, but never felt compelled to participate in myself. And yet, even with that limited connection to the sport, I know who Tony Hawk is.

I’m far from alone in that, by the way. Hawk has become a semi-ubiquitous pop cultural figure, an athlete who has transcended his sport in a way that few ever have. Even if you’ve never skated, you know the name.

The new documentary “Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off” – directed by Sam Jones and currently streaming on HBO Max – tracks Hawk’s incredible journey from the homemade ramps and empty swimming pools of late-1970s/early-1980s California to the pinnacle of global superstardom (with plenty of ebbing and flowing along the way). It is a well-crafted portrait of a guy whose singular obsession with the skateboard carried him to dizzying heights.

We hear plenty from the man himself, of course, as well as his family, but it is in the conversations with Hawk’s peers, the guys who came up with him, who performed alongside him, that we get a wider sense of just what his place is within the context of that community. Those interviews – plus the absolute treasure trove of archival footage – result in a compelling and thoughtful documentary.

Published in Sports

Hollywood history is littered with stars, icons and influencers who have left their marks on the entertainment industry. These are people who have used their talents – both in front of the camera and behind it – to change the game and fundamentally alter the landscape.

And yet … has anyone had the level of outsized influence of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz?

It’s a debatable question, of course, but after watching the new documentary “Lucy and Desi,” directed by Amy Poehler and currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, you might well find yourself thinking that the answer is no.

Published in Style

Social media has fundamentally altered the way we interact with one another. The internet has pushed its way into almost every interpersonal connection we make. Our professional relationships, our friendships, even our romantic lives – all beholden to the internet. In many ways, that has proven beneficial.

But not all.

“The Tinder Swindler,” a new documentary streaming on Netflix, looks at what happens when someone proves willing to utilize lies and deception to weaponize dating apps – specifically Tinder – for their own profit … and how that can impact the people who have been deceived.

Directed by Felicity Morris, the film purports to tell the true story of a man who used Tinder to find and seduce women, only to turn around and pull them into a complicated web of lies and half-truths in order to exploit them for their money. Through conversations with two of his victims and some dramatic recreations, the story of an opportunistic grifting Casanova is rendered clear … even if the consequences of his actions are not.

Published in Style

What does it mean to be a pop culture punchline? Specifically, how does an artist deal with the idea that their creative output is sneered at and viewed as somehow lesser by those “in the know” while also being consumed and enjoyed by a significant fandom?

Let’s hear it from a primary source – Kenny G.

“Listening to Kenny G,” a documentary from filmmaker Penny Lane, is the latest installment of HBO’s ongoing “Music Box” series of music-related docs. It’s a surprisingly compelling dive into what it means to be Kenny G, the best-selling instrumental artist of all time and the bane of many a jazzhead’s overwrought aesthetic.

Over the course of 97 minutes, we’re given insight from both sides of the Kenny G debate – a debate that remains surprisingly polarizing considering how long the saxophonist has been part of the pop culture firmament.

Published in Movies

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
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