Category: Documentary


The Eyes of Tammy Faye

March 6th, 2022 — 6:57am

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

****

Even if they are not our religious cup of tea, we all have heard about the famous TV evangelists such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, and, of course, Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy Faye. This film, directed by Michael Showalter, takes a deep dive into the lives of this duo played by Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain. They both were fantastic in their roles and Ms. Chastain is being recognized with an Oscar nomination. She clearly was able to sing, be the voice of puppets and play the role of a wife demonstrating the complicated relationship with her husband as well as their work as a famous religious duo.

This film gives us a view of the behind the scenes evangelical politics. The storyline traces Tammy Faye’s life from being a little girl, to becoming part of this famous couple and of course her very complicated interaction with her husband. The film allows us to get some insight into the politics, corruption, infidelity, and many other fascinating aspects of their lives. Interestingly, we know very little about the two children of this couple. We see her giving birth to her children, but there is no further mention of them during the film

The movie is unique, well done, and we strongly recommend it.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Te Alta

March 1st, 2022 — 7:10am

Te Ata
****

Generally, there is not as much attention paid to the historical treatment of Native Americans as there is to other groups. This film focuses on a young girl growing up in Oklahoma in a small poor town made up mostly of Native Americans from the Chickasaw Nation tribe. Orianka Kilcher inhabits this character magnificently. As we see her growing up, she is drawn to acting and story-telling. She convinces her parents to let her go to a college in Oklahoma on a scholarship, where she comes under the tutelage and encouragement of some of her teachers. She develops a mission to tell the story of her people and does it extremely well. The trajectory from a poor Native American girl to an actress who appears on Broadway and eventually performs at the White House for the President of the Unites States is heartwarming and unforgettable.

This is the true story of Mary Thompson Fisher, best known as Te Ata. She is shown as a beautiful person who is portrayed magnificently by Ms. Kilcher in an unforgettable performance. Both mind and heart are captivated by this important film.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Documentary, Drama

Being The Ricardos

December 25th, 2021 — 12:19am

Being the Ricardos
****

If you grew up in 1950s as did we and were fortunate enough to have a TV set, you certainly watched “I Love Lucy” every week. Lucille Ball played a flakey red haired woman who was married to Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban bandleader. Their neighbors were Fred and Ethel Mertz, and in every episode there was something interesting happening in their lives and with their relationships. It was probably one of the all-time most popular television programs and certainly at the time there was very little competition.

Aaron Sorkin, best known for creating West Wing, wrote and directed this biopic and cast Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Ricky, with J. K. Simmons taking on William Frawley who played Fred Mertz in the TV series while Nina Arianda covered Vivian Vance who was the actress playing Ethel Mertz.

The filmmakers condense their story into a one-week period during which time, some seminal events actually occurred and had great meaning in Lucille Ball’s life. She was falsely accused by Walter Winchell, the famed newspaper columnist, of being a communist (which was a big deal in the 1950s). Also, Lucille Ball became pregnant and wanted this worked into the storyline whereas pregnant women were never shown on TV at that time. Also, there were rumors of infidelity on the part of Ricardo. There was also an attempt to explore the relationship between Ricky and Lucy. This was all done supposedly showing one week in the life of this couple.

If you have any memory of being captivated by the most famous couple on TV, you will most likely be completely engaged in this film. You will also be blown away by the concluding words on the screen about what happened to the relationship of this couple one week after the TV series completed its final show.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Uncategorized

Rita Moreno-Just a Girl who Decided to Go For it

December 14th, 2021 — 2:48am

Rita Moreno – Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
****

The title of this movie is the iconic actress’ self-proclaimed model. This film traces the famed actress from her humble beginnings to the gigantic success that she was on Broadway and Hollywood. She initially accepted the stereotypic roles as a Puerto Rican woman who could dance and sing and when she wanted to do so, could have a Spanish accent or not. This documentary film records her life going back to when she was a co-star with Marlon Brando and they were also lovers. It traces other relationships including her long marriage to a Jewish man who was not in show business and her raising of her one daughter. There are comments by people who knew her and worked with her such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Norman Lear, Gloria Estefan, and many other well-known names. The movie was directed by Mariem Pérez Riera. The release of this documentary coincides with Steven Spielberg’s new film, which is a remake of the 1957 famed musical West Side Story in which Ms. Moreno had a major role. She has a strong part in the new West Side Story as well. This documentary is a loving and carefully curated depiction of Rita Moreno’s life story.
Certainly, her warmth and her talent burst forth in this most enjoyable film. We especially appreciate the vibrant personality that she has now as an octogenarian and it is clear that she is one of great talents of our time.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Speer Goes to Hollywood

November 6th, 2021 — 6:04am

SPEER GOES TO HOLLYWOOD-sp
***

The title of this film suggests that somehow the story of this major nasty figure has been jazzed up or perhaps has been fabricated to make it a Hollywood production. However, the director and producer, Vanessa Lapa and Tomer Eliav, producer and sound designer whom we met after seeing the film at Stephen Farber’s “Reel Talk” film series, claim the story is factual and true to life. They report how they had meticulously have gone through the archives of film about World War II including recordings of the Nuremberg Trials in which Albert Speer was one of the defendants. Interestingly, they did not use the voice of Speer but rather they hired a voice actor to speak the words of the real-life players mostly German with subtitles. The rationale was that the audio quality of these old tapes was too poor to use.

We mostly follow Speer during World War II as a designer and builder of prison camps as well as confidante to Hitler and his inner circle. The prisoners (obviously mostly Jews) are seen and there was indication of forced labor and exhausted emaciated prisoners. The actual crematoriums were not shown in much detail as they deserved to be shown. The fact that we were seeing actual pictures of the inhuman treatment of the Jews makes the film riveting even if we don’t fully appreciate Speer’s role in carrying out Hitler’s extermination plan.

Speer was apparently the only major figure not to be sentenced to execution at the Nuremberg Trials, but rather served 20 years in prison. He even subsequently wrote a successful book once he was released. The film does not clearly address why he was spared execution. There was some mention how he provided some valuable information for the allies and not to the Russians.

It is also interesting that in response to a question to the film makers they stated that the initial funding for the film was provided by the Israeli Government. Any new insight into the Holocaust even years later is still riveting. Although the film did not go as deeply as it might have done and did leave many unanswered questions, it still is a major contribution, so we will “never forget.”

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, History

Enemies of the State

August 8th, 2021 — 8:52pm

***

This is an unusual documentary film, which not only recounted the story from actual film clips but was interspersed with some reenactments based on actual events. The main character is a young man by the name of Matt DeHart who is a known hacker with ties to WikiLeaks, which is an international non-profit organization that publishes news leaks and classified documents provided by anonymous sources. The question that is raised is whether this young man is antagonizing the US government by publishing secret documents and is the US government spreading false information that Mr. DeHart is involved in child pornography? We meet this young man and his family who support him and believe he is being set up by the government. The viewer is torn between these two possibilities as we ponder what is the truth. Sonia Kennebeck is the director and producer and has masterfully weaved this story together. We have our own opinion who is telling the truth and as realistic as the film may have been, we did not think it was worth the hour and 45 minutes.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary, Drama

Road Runner- Documentary Film About Anthony Bourdain

July 15th, 2021 — 5:52am

ROADRUNNER-Documentary Film About Anthony Bourdain
***

Morgan Neville, veteran documentary filmmaker, has just come out with a new documentary about author, TV host, food expert, and documentary filmmaker Anthony Bourdain who has been featured on CNN with his very popular series about food around the world. He has interviewed and interacted with people from all four corners of the earth. We had the opportunity to preview this film and see an interview with the filmmaker by Steve Farber as part of his series Reel Talk. Bourdain had a way with connecting with people from numerous countries and cultures, albeit frequently around food. He had two marriages and one daughter, but we are told that he was away from home 270 days of the year, which says a lot about his family relationships. The film also suggests that a troubled relationship with a girlfriend actress, may have contributed to his final spiral out of control which led to his suicide at age 61. Although the film leaves many unanswered questions about this brilliant and enigmatic man, it is interesting and worth seeing.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Documentary

Steal A Pencil For Me

May 22nd, 2021 — 1:00am

Steal A Pencil For Me-nf
****

As have so many stories about the holocaust, this film produced by Michel Ohayon has touched our hearts. It tells a true story about a man Jac Polak and woman Ina Soepwho met in Holland shortly before the Nazis took over. He was infatuated with her although he was married to someone else. When their time came and they were deported to a concentration camp, they kept in touch with each other through clandestine letters and notes (hence the movie title). Through this continued relationship (along with film clips of various cattle cars whisking the Jews away and pictures and clips of the horrors that went on during those terrible years), we ultimately learned that this unusual couple never lost hope that they might reunite. Sure enough after liberation, they found each other and have had more than 60 years of marriage. It is no surprise that this is a moving story that not only tells about enduring love, but reminds us about history that we must never forget.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, Romance

The Center Will Not Hold

May 18th, 2021 — 1:58am

May 16, 2021
The Center Will Not Hold
***

This is a 2017 biographical film about the story of the iconic writer, Joan Didion. It is directed by her nephew actor, Griffin Dunne, and was produced by her cousin, Annabella Dunne. This probably explains why the filmmakers appeared to have such easy access to the main subject as well as so many personal videos and footage of her life. While we are contemporaries of the main subject and we are familiar with the various cities where she has lived on both coasts, our lives have been quite different. We were in San Francisco at the same time as she was. While one of us was a newly married intern at San Francisco General Hospital and the other was a newly minted social worker, Ms. Didion was at parties with Janis Joplin, Harrison Ford, Brian De Palma, Martin Sarkozy, and Steven Spielberg. The film gives us a very intimate portrait of this amazing talented writer who is married to John Dunne, a very talented writer himself. Whereas some well-matched couples can finish each other sentences, this dyad were able to edit and finish each others manuscripts.

It is clear that Ms. Didion was an extremely talented sought after writer from top magazines such as Vogue and has written some very well received novels. Her personal experiences and her emotional life is clearly captured and reflected in this film and includes the very meaningful relationship that she had with her husband and her adopted daughter who died at the age of 39 shortly after the death of her father and Ms. Didion’s beloved husband.

What makes this movie a meaningful cinematic experience is not only the words and life story of the main subject, but how well personal film and video footage is weaved into the storyline along with contemporary clips reflecting the times and life of this amazing woman.

Comment » | 3 Stars, Biography, Documentary

Giving Voice

January 26th, 2021 — 4:42am

Giving Voice – nf
*****

This is a documentary film released in 2020, which pays tribute to the late, revered playwright, August Wilson and to the devoted talented young students who compete in a yearly national acting competition. The film follows the lives of six such students from all over the country as they prepared their monologue and vie to be the finalist in the August Wilson competition, which will take place on Broadway in New York City. The audience gets a meaningful insight into how the words of this great playwright resonate with these young actors who were chosen among a thousand entries. Not only does the film give us a glimpse into the lives of each of these talented young finalists, but we are also able to appreciate the relevancy of Wilson’s words to the contemporary black experience in America. We found the performances of these young people to be riveting. It was complemented by appearances by Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Gerardo Navarro. There was also an opportunity to see and appreciate the late great playwright, August Wilson in archival footage, being interviewed and also giving a graduation speech. The words of Wilson remain quite relevant today and seeing these young people enthusiastically embrace them was a wonderful cinematic experience. Kudos of course of the director Fernando Villena and Jamie Stern and also to Viola Davis, John Legend, and several other executive producers.

Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

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