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“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

One of the realities of big business these days is that so much of what the money is buying doesn’t actually exist yet. Millions of dollars thrown at ideas that may or may not come to some sort of fruition, a quest to find the next big thing – the next “unicorn,” VC speak for a company worth a billion dollars. And when you’re operating in a world where ideas can be everything, there will be people who prove capable of talking their way to the top.

“WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” currently streaming on Hulu, tells the story of the bright burnout of the ostensible tech company WeWork and its CEO Adam Neumann. Directed by Jed Rothstein, the film depicts the company’s rapid rise and fall, from a peak value of $47 billion to near bankruptcy in a matter of weeks – illustrative of some of the dangers that come with investing in opportunities that seem too good to be true.

Published in Buzz

There are a lot of cautionary tales out there regarding the aftermath of child stardom in the entertainment industry. So many times, the Hollywood machine sucks them dry, chews them up and spits them out. Maybe they become punchlines. Maybe they become cautionary tales. Or maybe they just fade away, forgotten.

But what’s the view like from the inside?

That’s the perspective of the new Hulu documentary “Kid 90.” Specifically, it’s the perspective of Soleil Moon Frye, who rose to fame in the mid-1980s as the titular moppet in NBC’s hit series “Punky Brewster.” See, as it turns out, Frye spent much of her adolescence with a video camera in hand, recording the world around her throughout her teen years and into her 20s – and she kept all of it.

Published in Movies
Monday, 01 March 2021 12:42

The complicated greatness of ‘Pele’

There are many levels of greatness in the sports world. And there are many ways in which that greatness can be defined – and many ways to disagree with those definitions. For many, sports fandom is defined by such arguments.

But there are a handful of performers whose excellence is so profound, so paradigm-shifting, that they exist on a tier of their own. Icons of sport. All-timers. Legends. Players that redefine what we believe is possible.

Players like Pele.

“Pele,” the new documentary directed by Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn, takes a look at the Brazilian soccer legend. Specifically, it’s an exploration of Pele’s four World Cups. While we get some of his early life, as well as some current perspective, the vast majority of the film concerns itself with the period from 1958-1970, a dozen years over the course of which Pele became the greatest soccer player that the world had ever seen.

Published in Sports

At the top, fine art is big business.

One can argue about the ethical, moral and other ramifications that come with putting a price tag on creative work, but regardless of argument, there’s no disputing that the world of high-end art is one that is driven as much by economics as by aesthetics.

And any time there’s that kind of money involved, you can bet that there will bad actors seeking to cash in.

“Made You Look: A True Story of Fake Art” is a documentary devoted to relating the tale of the largest known art fraud case in United States history. Over the course of decades, dozens of forged works of art were moved through a famed New York City gallery. These paintings – ostensibly by noted Abstract Expressionists – would be sold to unsuspecting patrons for a total of over $80 million.

Written and directed by Barry Avrich, “Made You Look” – currently streaming on Netflix – walks the viewer through the long-running scam, introducing us to many of the principals along the way, as well as an assortment of experts. He paints a picture (sorry) of the vagaries of the art world, illustrating just what can go wrong when something that seems too good to be true is taken at face value – even if that face is an undeniably beautiful one.

Published in Style

There are a couple of different ways to make a documentary focused on a single figure. You can go the cradle to grave route. You can take the snapshot view, pulling a moment or moments to the forefront to serve as your foundation. Or you can mix it up, using the latter strategy to develop ideas within the framework of the former.

That last method is what Academy Award winner Freida Lee Mock has opted to do with “Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words,” the documentary newly available via virtual theatrical screening. The film takes a look at much of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life, though the primary focus is on her relationship with the Supreme Court, both in terms of arguing before it and serving on it.

Unfortunately, the film’s relatively lengthy quest for distribution – the film started making the festival rounds back in 2019 – means that in some aspects, it is a little dated. Specifically, it was completed before Justice Ginsburg’s passing in September of last year, leaving a few segments feeling a little askew.

Still, those off-key moments are relatively few and found primarily in the film’s final act. For the majority of the proceedings, we watch as the dynamic between the legal powerhouse that was RBG and the highest court in the land grows and evolves. And we get that through the standard talking head interviews, yes, but also – and primarily – through audio and video recordings of the woman herself, lending a proximity of perspective that invites the viewer in.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:52

Doing it for the ‘Gram – ‘Fake Famous’

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a tenuous grasp on the concept of what it means to be an influencer. While I recognize that it involves building a large following on assorted social media platforms, then using those platforms to promote both one’s personal brand and the brands of those companies willing and able to cough up free stuff and/or cash, what I don’t get is … why?

Fame used to be the byproduct of individual talent, whether that talent involved music or movies or athletics or politics. You were famous because you DID something. But here in the 21st century – and especially in the last decade or so – that formula has been inverted by many. That is, you do things because you’re famous.

Again – what does that mean?

That’s the central question that the new HBO documentary “Fake Famous” is attempting to answer. The film – which marks the filmmaking debut of journalist Nick Bilton, who wrote and directed – bills itself as a social experiment of sorts, an attempt to delve into what exactly it means to be an influencer and exploring whether they are born or made.

Published in Style

Last year, I watched and reviewed over 150 films. That’s a LOT of movies. And yet, I barely scratched the surface of what was available; last year saw hundreds of new releases that I not only didn’t see, but quite likely never even heard about. Making a movie is hard, but getting it seen is in many cases even harder.

No one understands that exponential increase in difficulty like an independent filmmaker, someone who has to constantly hustle to make even incremental advances with their projects. There are so many aspects of the movie business; the creative process is just one small facet of the overall machine.

In the documentary “Clapboard Jungle,” currently available on demand, director Justin McConnell takes the viewer on a five-year journey through the life of an indie filmmaker: namely, one Justin McConnell. Through a combination of recording his own experiences trying to get projects made and interviews with a number of successful industry folks with indie connections, McConnell seeks to break down for us just how difficult it all can be for those operating outside the traditional studio system.

Meanwhile, he also juxtaposes that difficulty with the fact that there are more films being made now than ever before. Of course, that explosive growth in content doesn’t necessarily mean a corresponding growth in audiences, resulting in circumstances where someone could watch a hundred movies in a year and not see a quarter of the new work available.

Published in Movies

Sports documentaries are always a mixed bag, but that bag is particularly mixed if the doc is about a single individual. It’s a fine line; a person isn’t going to sign onto a film that’s going to be a hatchet job, but venturing too far into the realm of hagiography undermines the credibility of the filmmakers and the credulity of the viewer.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot,” currently streaming on Netflix, manages to find its way into the middle ground, albeit considerably closer to the hagiographic side of the equation. Directed by French filmmaker Florent Bodin, it’s a journey through the career of Tony Parker, the retired NBA point guard who is generally considered to be the greatest player in the history of French basketball.

Published in Sports

Nearly half-a-century ago, an event took place that has captivated and confounded people ever since. Something so outlandish, so unbelievable, so inscrutable that it can’t help but be fascinating even now, almost 50 years since it happened.

All I have to say is a name: D.B. Cooper. If you know, you know. If you don’t, well – he’s the man who, back in 1971, executed what remains the only unsolved skyjacking in the history of American aviation. He leapt into the night carrying $200,000 dollars, the plane in the skies over Washington state … and was never seen again.

“The Mystery of D.B. Cooper” – written and directed by John Dower – is a documentary that offers its viewers a potential solution to its titular question. Or rather – four solutions. Dower’s film features four primary subjects, each of whom shares the unshakeable belief that they know who D.B. Cooper was.

And they have four different answers.

Published in Adventure
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