Obviously the most important losses from COVID19 is the human life that was taken across the globe. Almost everyone knows someone who was taken too soon from the virus and this number would have been even more without the brave essential workers who helped treat the ill. However, this was not the only loss we experienced as a country. Movie theaters, restaurants, entertainment, theater and more were all shuttered down and in a lot of cases faced irreparable harm.
Marcus Mizelle’s new documentary Belle Vie showcases this nightmare through the perspective of Vincent Samarco who started 2020 running a popular bistro called Belle Vie.
Samarco is a cheerful fellow and he tries to do everything he can to save the bistro including building an outdoor patio area so patrons can be socially distanced. It even seems like they are going to be successful but then the second wave hit California and they were forced to shut down. This is all chronicled by Mizelle in as bright and happy a tone as is possible given the circumstances.
It’s ironic that Belle Vie lies between a McDonalds and a KFC. Such large corporations were able to weather the pandemic (of course) but it’s hard to not feel like we let the small people like Samarco down. They face not only bankruptcy but also in many cases deportation when they aren’t able to run their businesses like normal. It’s very sad but like I said Samarco is such a cheerful guy that it’s easy to forget the sadness while following his story.
For some people it might be hard to watch Belle Vie. The pain from the lockdowns and pandemic might be too fresh but I found it to be an enlightening and poignant documentary. Now that we are moving from a pandemic to endemic phase we need movies like this to chronicle what happened over the last 2 years and the price ordinary men and women paid for safety from the illness. Whether it was the right call or not is for others to decide but the cost was definitely a high one.
Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well and having a great weekend! Yesterday marked my first day attending the virtual edition of the SXSW film festival. I thought long and hard about attending the festival but with a New York trip already planned for March I didn’t feel like I could do it. Unfortunately that means I miss out on some of the films being screened but there are still many worthwhile films to watch.
For the first day I watched 3 documentaries and I’d actually recommend all 3. They are each very different from each other but found them all rewarding and worth watching.
Here are my quick thoughts:
Your Friend, Memphis
Like many indie documentaries I do think Your Friend, Memphis would be better as a short. It’s subject Memphis DiAngelis is compelling but the events of his life can drag in spots (as would be the case with most of our lives). Memphis has cerebral palsy but he doesn’t want that to define him. Film is his passion but his struggle to be taken seriously is often met with patronizing speeches if not outright
I appreciate Your Friend, Memphis avoids maudlin or inspirational disability weepie traps but some of the time spent on his crush with a singer named Seneca don’t go anywhere and could have been lessened or removed. Still I overall recommend Your Friend, Memphis and would be a good double-header with The Peanut Butter Falcon from 2019.
6 out of 10
Anyone who might have been tempted to say ‘skate like a girl’ as a term of derision will want to shut their mouths after seeing the new documentary Skate Dreams. In the film director Jessica Edwards chronicles the history of female skateboarding and it’s engaging interviews and great skating footage make for an entertaining watch.
For some this might be old news but I knew nothing about the start of this sport so I found the stories of early skaters to be very interesting. It was also honest about the challenges and blessings of increasing popularity including the recent addition of the sport to the Olympics.
If you like skateboarding at all Skate Dreams is a winner.
7 out of 10
Crows Are White
The final documentary of the day Crows Are White proved to be something special. Ahsen Nadeem’s film starts out as a simple story following the monks of Mt Hiei, Japan but then morphs into a personal story about his own faith journey and the acceptance he years for from his traditional parents.
While I do think the film drags on in sections (although even the slower parts can still be delightful like a whole scene with a monk going gaga over ice cream sundaes), when it works it really works. There is a scene where Nadeem finally is honest with his parents and you want so much for him to be accepted by them, so when he isn’t it’s quite devastating. I loved the dynamic between Nadeem and his wife and the ending is very fulfilling.
There are parts in Crows Are White that feel staged but never so much it took me out of the moment or made the story feel illegitimate. This is a moving, emotional story that is worth searching out and supporting.
8 out of 10
I’d say day 1 was a pretty good start to SXSW. Hopefully in day 2 I will get some narratives to recommend. If you saw any of these films let me know what you think!
Hey everyone! Welcome to my coverage of the Sundance Film Festival! This is my 7th year covering the festival and we started Day 1 pretty well (2/3 ain’t bad). Of course the festival itself got started off badly when the in-person portion got canceled and Sundance refused to give us our money back. It never feels good when an organization steals from you and then says ‘but you can use it as a donation if you want’. Thanks a lot!
Anyway, that’s not the filmmakers fault so I am trying to go in with an open mind to everything I watch. I even recorded a preview show with my friend Justin profiling 12 films we are looking forward to
Like I said, my first 3 films were a pretty good start to the festival. Here are my quick thoughts on all 3:
When You Finish Saving the World
Unfortunately the festival started with a disappointment. I had high hopes going into When You Finish Saving the World. It’s A24 (which I admittedly have a mixed report card with but it’s at least usually intriguing) produced film written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg but it was not for me. It tells the story of a Mother and teenage boy who can’t stand each other and turn to replacements that they think will better fit. Julianne Moore plays the Mother and her fixation on a young teen boy staying at her domestic abuse shelter is creepy and honestly predatory. If it was a man playing the same role with a young woman everyone would be repulsed.
Finn Wolfhard plays a teen youtube music star who is terrible at writing songs and doesn’t have near the talent or chemistry to be a star. He becomes fixated on a liberal activist classmate of his and that’s just as annoying as it sounds. This movie is everything I hate in a Sundance movie. Smug, weird for no reason with narcissistic characters devoid of charm. No thank you.
3 out of 10
With everything from Diana: the Musical to Spencerto The Crown we have gotten so much Princess Diana coverage in the media lately. The latest is a new documentary by director Ed Perkins. His new fresh take is the film is made completely of edited clips from media coverage of her life from dating Prince Charles to the aftermath of her death. This is an effective technique particularly when it comes to the chilling scenes of paparazzi eating lunch together chatting over her life like it is a big joke.
I don’t know if I learned anything new from The Princess but it was engaging enough to recommend. That said, can we give Princess Di a rest for a while? Everything that needs to be said has been. Let’s move on and make a Fergie movie for once 😉
6 out of 10
The highlight of day 1 is the drama Emergency by director Carey Williams. It tells the story of 3 black college-aged friends (RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, and Sebastian Chacon) who end up having to deal with a young drunk white girl in their apartment after a big frat night partying. Each young man has a different solution for dealing with the girl based on their differing upbringings and world-views. This leads to all kinds of craziness and confusion.
Similar to 2017’s Get Out, Emergency manages to combine a message with tension and humor. It’s a dynamic which is very difficult to pull off but I was engaged almost the whole way through. The movie starts off with a classroom scene that I thought was a little heavy-handed but it gets its groove once the boys start dealing with the young lady. It also has one too many puking scenes for my liking but it’s still an excellent film that should inspire a lot of conversation especially amongst young college students.
For a tense, exciting and funny time at the movies check out Emergency
Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am writing this review update from Los Angeles, California. I am in town for the Animation is Film Festival, which showcases the best of animated films from this year. I am super excited to see Luca and Mitchells v the Machines on the big screen as well as new films like Mamoru Hosoda’s new film Belle.
In the meantime I have also been to a lot of screenings lately so I have some catching up to do on reviews. I wish I could write whole posts on each of these films but I am only one human and I simply run out of time. So here goes! If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think.
The Last Duel
We don’t get many medieval epics these days so one has to admire director Ridley Scott and the team at 20th Century for even greenlighting The Last Duel. It is a sweeping story of war, revenge, friendship and betrayal. Unfortunately some decisions from the director with the storytelling kept me from loving the film.
The positives are like I said the scope of the filmmaking and the attention to detail with costumes, battle scenes and sets. I also thought Jodie Comer and Adam Driver did a great job in their roles. Matt Damon works hard but is miscast and given one of the ugliest haircuts of recent memory. Ben Affleck’s character and performance is very strange but effective.
The problem with The Last Duel is they tell the story of a rape 3 times and I don’t think there is enough to be gained from each perspective to make the storytelling choice worth it. It feels repetitive because it literally is repetitive. Plus, the fact they show the rape twice feels gratuitous and unnecessary. It’s not like each side has radically different takes. It’s clearly rape in both versions.
The Last Duel is not a terrible film. I am sure many will enjoy it but the story structure sank it for me. No thanks
4.5 out of 10
For many of us the name Jacques Cousteau is synonymous with the ocean and marine conservation. During the 1960s and 70s ABC ran a series of documentaries from the French explorer called The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Now we have a documentary about the Cousteau’s life and it is a fascinating look at both a media figure and the environmental activist movement.
Part of what makes a documentary like this work is the footage the filmmakers have to use. Fortunately for this film they have tons of footage, Cousteau being a documentarian himself. It’s sad to see the deuteriation of the ocean from when he starts filming to the 80s and even 90s. It’s even more sad to see the toll that causes for Cousteau who takes the polluting of the ocean as a personal failing on his part when even he could only do so much to prevent humans from hurting the ocean.
I assume Becoming Cousteau will end up on Disney Plus so you can wait to see it then or if it is a theater near you check it out.
7 out of 10
The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson is similar to Zack Snyder in the fact they both make very stylish films with a near cult of personality that devours their work. It almost seems futile to write a review on either of their films because their fans are already signed up to see them. What I say won’t matter.
Anyway we have the latest from Anderson, The French Dispatch, and it’s very Wes Andersony… It has all of his best and worst qualities and in the end I thought it was…ok.
To start with the production design in the film is immaculate. The camerawork is fantastic and the score does a lot of the heavy lifting. The cast is impressive but many of the actors feel underused. When someone like Edward Norton appears for under 2 minutes it’s distracting. We keep waiting for such a big name actor to appear again and when he doesn’t it’s disappointing.
The short stories in The French Dispatch are hit and miss. My favorite was the prison chef story with Jeffrey Wright especially the animated section but then others went on too long like the story of Timothee Chalamet’s rebellion with Frances McDormand overstayed its welcome.
Nevertheless, if you like Anderson than you’ll get something out of The French Dispatch. It’s uneven but worth watching.
6 out of 10
Ron’s Gone Wrong
For animation fans the new film Ron’s Gone Wrong is an exciting release as it is Locksmith Animation’s first feature film and the only CGI animated film to come out of the UK this year. It is also a 20th Century Studios release, which is now a part of Disney.
My favorite part of the film is the animation and the design of the b-bots (named Ron in this case). I honestly would like to have one of these robots- and not the ones at the end but the ones that work the way they should at the beginning. I also liked the lead character Barney and his Slavic old-fashioned family.
Unfortunately it is impossible not to think of Big Hero 6 when watching Ron’s Gone Wrong. The movies are so similar but Ron doesn’t hold a candle to Baymax. I mean who could? Barney also doesn’t have to deal with the same level of loss (at least on screen. His Mother has passed on but that isn’t a part of the plot like it is for Hero).
All that said, the film does get intense and may be too much for very small children. I would say 8 and up should be fine.
Despite its flaws Ron’s Gone Wrong has enough imagination, creative character designs and heart to make it worth a recommendation.
Hey everyone! I hope you are all doing well. I am extremely busy right now with my podcasts, open water swims, traveling and more. I am also covering both the Annecy Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival so things are busy for yours truly. Today I have 3 mini reviews for you with much more to come. Enjoy!
Wish Dragon isn’t terrible but I found it to be bland with slow pacing. I liked the bright and colorful animation but the script was lacking. It seemed to take forever to get to the dragon and when he appeared he certainly wasn’t as funny as the Genie in Aladdin but I’d put him below the recent dragon in Raya and the Last Dragon.
The story gets lost in the relationship between Din and Li Na and his attempts to impress her business-man father who has some shady deals behind him. Maybe the humor will work better for a Chinese audience but it didn’t work for me.
Other than the dragon Wish Dragon did nothing for me and I found it kind of a chore to get through. I hope you all enjoy it more than I did but it’s not for me.
4 out of 10
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway
I wasn’t the biggest fan of 2018’s Peter Rabbitbecause I felt it wasted all the sweetness of the original stories for this slapstick creation. However, I will own it did have some laughs and I can see why other people enjoyed it and why it was such a big hit.
Now we have the inevitable sequel and I honestly don’t think fans of the original will enjoy this film. It seemed like a big mess if you ask me. The strangest part of this sequel is they take themselves seriously instead of just being the romp people are expecting. They have Peter full of existential dread and worrying about the meaning of life and how he can fit in when aren’t people just expecting a lot of silliness?
They also go meta by the end with David Oyelowo playing a publisher who wants to make Peter Rabbit crass and commercial with rabbits in space all the while them winking at the camera that they know this is what they have done with Beatrice Potter’s sweet books. To say this fell flat would be an understatement.
Peter Rabbit 2 is also part a heist film and I don’t think kids will be all that entertained by Peter and his friends stealing dried fruit from the farmers market. The only part I laughed at is a comedic sequence where Domhall Gleeson rolls down a hill in an attempt to be more free spirited. Isn’t this what people are expecting from this movie?
There are so many good entertainments for children right now so I would give Peter Rabbit 2 a pass
3 out of 10
The First Step: Tribeca 1
My first film of The Tribeca Film Festival is a documentary called The First Step. It follows political commentator and activist Van Jones as he seeks to pass criminal justice reform in the era of Trump.
I have to admit I had no idea Van Jones was the way he is portrayed in this documentary. I thought he was much more radical than this but he tries his hardest to be a ‘bridge builder’ during the years of Trump,which I really admire.
Some on the left condemn him for this but he managed to get all but 12 senators to vote in favor of his bill. That’s pretty impressive and 10k inmates were released as a result. Obviously a documentary like this is going to portray him in the best light possible but he gets so much flack on either side it felt pretty even-keeled in my opinion.
If you want to see a fascinating a look at modern day politics watch The First Step.
Hey everyone! After a rough start to the South by Southwest Film Festival Day 2 proved to be much better. In fact, I liked all 6 films I watched today to one degree or another. Hooray!
So let’s get started with the recaps!
I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)
I have to say COVID is proving to be a better setting for storytelling than I might have guessed. In this first entry writer, director and star Kelley Kali gives us a day in the life of a grieving widow trying to get housing for herself and her daughter during the pandemic. She travels around down in roller skates and does various gig work and gets more desperate as the day goes on.
It’s a sobering film but Kali is such a likable presence on screen it keeps us invested. It kind of reminded me of the first act of Moonlight in a lot of ways. Some will find the slice of life concept to be a dull but I enjoyed it.
7 out of 10
Twyla Moves is a documentary done by PBS for their American Masters series (it actually airs this weekend on TV). I really enjoy American Masters and this goes right along with what they do. It kind of reminded me of Ailey about Alvin Ailey from Sundance 2020 (which was also for AM).
This one is about choreographer Twyla Tharp who I had never heard of but is absolutely incredible. They listed off her resume and she had major projects every year since the 70s including films like Hair and Amadeus. I kind of wish it had gotten into more of her backstory and personal journey but it stays mostly in the professional realm but still fun to watch.
6.5 out of 10
United States vs Reality Winner
From the minute I heard federal secrets dropper Reality Winner’s name I wanted to learn more about her and that’s what this documentary does. It’s fairly basic in its presentation but the story is so strange and compelling it doesn’t need much manipulation to work. If you want to learn more about Reality than give this one a watch.
5.5 out of 10
If you are looking for an artsy thriller at the festival Here Before may be the movie for you. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a woman who becomes convinced her new neighbor is actually her dead daughter reincarnated. This is a beautifully made film with an excellent performance by Riseborough (who is almost always good even in Birdmanwhich I do not like). The pacing is very slow in this one and there were times my attention drifted away but still enough good to recommend.
6.5 out of 10
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free
Obviously this Tom Petty film will be a must watch for fans of him and his music. However, I also think it will be interesting to anyone who has a love of music and is curious to go BTS of the making of an album. In this case it is his ‘Wildflowers’ album and of course everything is touched by the knowledge of his sudden passing in 2017.
If you are looking for Tom’s backstory or how he became a musician that’s not what this is. It’s a showcase of the making of an album and all the people and hours of work that went into it. As a lover of music I enjoyed learning about the process and hearing lots of great Tom Petty songs!
7 out of 10
My friend Jonathan actually told me this movie was premiering at the festival. It stars Mallory Everton (who also cowrote and directed) and Whitney Call. They are both stars of the comedy skit youtube show Studio C and they bring that zany energy to this hilarious comedy.
Recovery is definitely a hair edgier than what you get on Studio C but it should be fine for adults. It’s about 2 sisters who have to go get their Grandma from a nursing home infected with COVID. A comedy like this comes down to the writing (which is very funny) and the chemistry which these 2 have in spades. I loved i! You may think it’s too soon to laugh at COVID but give it a chance. I bet you will find yourself cracking up just like I did.
It’s definitely the best of the festival so far. I loved it!
Hey friends! I just wanted to tell you quickly about 2 documentaries that are worth your time.
M.C. ESCHER:JOURNEY TO INFINITY
The first is available for rental and in some called M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity. This tells us about the artist (or mathematician as he says) M.C. Escher but it does it through his own letters and diaries read by actor Stephen Fry.
Written and directed by Robin Lutz isn’t very concerned with Escher’s life. It’s concerned with his work and if it counts as art or not. Most of us would look at his woodprints and drawings and say of course they count as art but the artist himself didn’t see it that way.
There are a few interviews from fans like Graham Nash explaining why they feel the work is art which makes for a fascinating contrast with the words from Escher himself. They also use Escher’s work to create new art and animation throughout the piece, which was very effective because I have a feeling they didn’t have many archival photographs to work with.
It is $12 to rent the documentary but you are supporting small local theaters that are struggling so much. Here is a link through Park City Film.
7 out of 10
Next up we have a new sports documentary from HBO Max diving into the world of golfer Tiger Woods called Tiger. This documentary is particularly chilling given Tiger’s recent car accident and injuries. He’s already had a dramatic fall from grace and a return. One can’t help but wonder if he can do it again?
Before continuing on with this review I should clarify I have almost no interest in golf. I recognize the skill that goes into the game. It is just not something that interests me to either play or watch. Nevertheless, I found Tiger to be a very well done and gripping documentary.
The most chilling part of Tiger is the audio they use repeatedly of Tiger’s father Earl talking about his son as a great gift to mankind, a Messianic like character that society better treat right.
“He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before.
“The world will be a better place to live in, by virtue of his existence and his presence.”
This is my treasure; please accept it and use it wisely.”
Tiger tries to brush this aside as the words of a proud father but it can’t help but feel like such lofty expectations were doomed to fail. Who but God himself can live up to such promises?
As we all know Tiger did live up to the expectations when it came to golf but his personal choices caught up to him causing a moral implosion and scandal. All of this is dealt with in the documentary and I found it fascinating.
It’s too bad, unlike The Last Dance, which had Michael Jordan himself in the docuseries they couldn’t get Tiger in Tiger or anybody in his family. That would have added some authenticity but overall I still enjoyed watching the documentary. I appreciate it tried to look for broader themes rather than a more sensationalized TMZ like approach.
Tiger is available on HBO Max and I recommend giving it a watch.
It’s no secret how much I love documentaries about new and fascinating people and events. The political propaganda films aren’t my favorite but when they can shed light on unique individuals and interesting phenomenon they can be fascinating. One such example is The Ringmaster, which is directed by Dave Newberg and Molly Dworksy but is the brain-child of filmmaker Zachary Capp. The focus of the documentary is on onion rings- believe it or not. However, it is actually much more than that. It also speaks to themes of addiction, obsession and when to stop pursuing a dream.
It all starts with the best of intentions. Fresh out of rehab for a gambling addiction Capp decides he wants to make a Food Network type show on his neighborhood food destination Larry Lang’s onion rings. At the same time Capp inherits some money and decides to bump the project up into a documentary. As his gambling instincts take over Capp becomes obsessed with creating the perfect ending for Lang’s creation; thereby, giving a happy ending to the movie.
It is this dual aspect of The Ringmaster that makes it interesting. At the same time you are learning about Lang’s onion rings and his simple life you are diving deeper into the obsessive tendencies of Capp and his willingness to manipulate the narrative however he can. And yet we don’t feel angry at Capp because his motivations are so understandable. The promise of the American dream is intoxicating and it’s hard to let go of a project- especially one we’ve been invested in for over 2 years.
The filmmaking and editing of The Ringmaster is pretty basic and low budget but the story is very interesting. I can see them making a feature film on this story and it being quite riveting.
You can rent The Ringmaster on amazon (affiliate link) or at streaming service. Let me know what you think of it if you get to see it.
Due to the effects of COVID 19 and quarantine lockdowns most of us have let fashion fall to the wayside. Or at the very least fashion below the waist go. As long as we look good for the zoom or skype chat that is all that matters! This means most women have stopped wearing high heeled shoes that can make a bold fashion statement but also cause loads of pain. A new documentary short (44 minutes) entitled High on Heels looks at high heeled shoe phenomenon and asks: are they good for women or not? The answer might be more complicated than you think.
On one side you have women who love wearing heels. They feel the posture and shape the heel gives them boosts their self-image and makes them feel more confident. In the documentary we go through the history of heels and why additional height came to be seen as empowering and beautiful.
On the other hand you have doctors who see the impact of the shoes on women and the pain they can cause. My problem is I have a high arch so I can’t walk well in heels. They just don’t fit my feet well. Heels can cause all kinds of problems like plantar fasciiitis, bunions, blisters and more. Ask any woman and they will tell you the pain-stories of her feet.
High on Heels has a small budget and it does show from time to time but I still thought it was very informative and entertaining. If you like consumer reports style documentaries you will enjoy this one.