Saving All Her Love (Film Thoughts: Whitney)

large_whitneyWhen I saw ads for ‘Whitney,” I thought to myself: didn’t I see this film before? Well, it turns out I was kinda right – there was an earlier documentary about her life, and I remember it was on Showtime. This is a different one (there are always competing ones, I just saw today that there is another Christopher Robin film) and is directed by Kevin Anderson. I didn’t know if I wanted to see this, but there was an LA heatwave, and two hours inside the movie theater sounded good.

I am glad I did – this was a well-done take on her life. Just like the earlier documentary, it focuses on the road to her demise – how did it get there, what really happened, etc – and her life here is as sad. (An older lady sitting behind me probably uttered ‘So sad’ more than a dozen times) Houston was such a special woman, with a God-given voice that touched hearts, and to this day I can and do listen to her songs regularly. Ultimately, like all great artists, she had a troubled soul, and in the end was unable to fight her demons. And those demons would be drugs, and poor life choices – entrusting her matters to the wrong people (His father squandered her millions, for example)  Add to that her inability to accept her sexual orientation (her hairdresser said she was definitely bisexual) and you have got the worst recipe for a disastrous life. The big reveal in this piece is the revelation that she and her brothers were sexually molester by her aunt, the singer Dee Dee Warwick, and unfortunately, that’s just a small footnote in a life full of triumphs and tragedy. The film doesn’t dwell much on her artistry – that’s probably a film still waiting to happen – but I can imagine it is hard not to focus on the salacious matters of her life. This film, even as it clocks at 120 minutes, is never boring because Whitney is never boring, and that is what makes her, and this film, special.

Love Thy Neighbor (Film Thoughts: Won’t You be My Neighbor?’)

large_neighbor-9I didn’t think I would love ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor,’ the documentary about Mr. Fred Rogers/ Even though everyone I know has raved about it, I never really watched the show, and the couple of times I did, I just didn’t like it – it felt too slow, like the kind of show that made kids want to take naps in the afternoon after watching. But I was at Arclight and it was the movie that perfectly matched the time I wanted to go, so…

And I was a sobbing mess by the end of the film. Truly, his life is something that should be celebrated, and I am glad this documentary is there for people to see, and I am elated that this is a hit, and everyone is watching it. Basically, the film tracks him and how he started his show from nothing but just his vision and talent. Compared to what kids are watching nowadays. the show defines ‘simple,’ but as well know, in simplicity is clearness of message – and he just wanted to spread his brand of acceptance and love. And of course, as we can see in the documentary, Republicans hated him because they didn’t like that he was giving that message that everyone should be special as they are – they were picketing his funeral, even. The one thing I got from this is his message will never go out of style and in this crazy combative divided world we live in now, we can all use a little bit of what he is preaching. I think everyone should see this film, and not just watch it, but understand and internalize his message. I bet the world will be a more peaceful place.

Unsolved Mystery (Television Thoughts: Jon Benét: An American Murder Mystery, Investigation Discovery Channel)

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Twenty years ago, Jon Benet Ramsey died. And even though two decades has passed, the case is still unsolved, and on its twentieth anniversary, there are a slew of ‘specials’ dedicated to the murder. I saw ‘Jon Benét – An American Murder Mystery’ from the Investigation Discover Channel, which I guess is an offshoot of the Discovery Channel. This three part series is very comprehensive, but I don’t know if I learned anything new from it. The main point of the documentary seems to be that after reviewing the facts, people tend to be polarized, and are divided into two groups – those who believe that her parents had something to do with it, and those who think otherwise.

Lump me with the first group. I don’t know why – and this is just more gut instinct – but something is off there somewhere, and apparently a grand jury had recommended that John and Patsy Ramsey be charged, but the district attorney was against it, and some key people are saying that it is because the Ramseys have gone friendly with her. Not on this special is the ‘revelation’ that when Patsy placed the 911 call, she thought she had already hung up and was asking two other people “Now what?” This bit of information seems to have come from the CBS special tackling the same subject (Actually, I thought this special had that info, and was the driving factor behind me watching this)  I think it is bewildering that this case has never been solved over the years, and a lot of that stems from the fact that Boulder police made a lot of mistake when they were first conducting the investigation.

i wish I could say that this three part series was riveting, but it was not. I felt a lot of it was padded, and I almost stopped watching. Maybe I should have researched more and watched the CBS one.

The Candidate (Movie Thoughts: Wiener)

Weiner-Film-PosterDidn’t I just write about a movie about a politician with the zipper problem?  I think I just saw the documentary about the guy with the biggest zipper problem of them all: Anthony D. Wiener. ‘Weiner,’ a film by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg documents Weiner’s failed 2013 mayoral run. It starts after Wiener has resigned from Congress because of a sexting scandal. He then tries a run for Mayor of New York City, and that seems to be the best idea – because he does have an overflow of charisma, and as a politician, has bright ideas. And yes, I do agree with his politics, so he is aces in my book, in that regard. But wiener s will always be wieners, and in the middle of his campaign, more of the zipper problem surfaces: photos of his member, and extraneous activities under the guise of one Carlos Danger. We have all seen it, we have all joked about it, ha ha ha. This sinks him, and his campaign, with him landing in last place. It is a fascinating watch, and this definitely makes us think. I myself have not been happy with how Bill De Blasio has performed as Mayor, and this really made me wonder – what if, what if, what if? Wiener seems to still be ticking, and is still doing the pundit circles defending the Democratic party. And we go back to the aged old question of – do the private lives of these candidates really matter? “I lied to the people,” Wiener muses toards the end of the campaign, and ultimately,  that really was teh crux of his demise. But again, I still wonder what if, what if, what if.

Everything Must Change (Movie Thoughts: All Things Must Pass)

all-things-a-435Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a big collector of music. And I was a collector of compact discs. I have thousands of them, and I still consider it my life long goal to digitalize them. I remember that I was such an obsessive CD collector that I would spend my weekends scouring through bins at various used CD stores in New York City, from East Village to Midtown. I knew all the spots – most of the people who worked at these stores knew me, and there cam a point they would put aside titles they think I would like. I was a rabid fan of jazz vocals, and you should only take a cursory glance at my music thoughts here to see I still listen to them.

So of course I would be so interested in Colin Hanks’ documentary about the rise (and demise) of Tower Records, a store that I visited so frequently I could close my eyes and still imagine every nook and cranny of two of my favorite branches – The one on Broadway and 4th, and the one on Columbus Avenue. And the documentary did not disappoint. it tells the story of the store from the very beginning – when Russ Solomon started the store as an offshoot of his father’s drugstore, and called it Tower Record Mart. And it skyrocketed to one of the biggest stores, if not the epitome of the ultimate record store. It was a billion dollar business in 1999, and the documentary points out the five years later it went bankrupt.

So what went wrong? From the looks of it, a combination of a couple of things: the company expanded too much, which put it in a lot of debt. Add to that big box stores like Best Buy and Walmart would sell discs at cost just to get traffic, something Tower couldn’t do. But the biggest factor? It did not know how to move with the times – the next generation no longer wanted to buy music, when it is freely accessed via downloading or streaming. (As much as my love my discs, I can’t help but think they are a bit of excess baggage in my life)

It’s all very sad, and the film feels like a part of my life that’s ended. i cannot help but agree with Elton John as he laments in the documentary: “When the doors closed, I feel like part of my life ended.” But, everything must change, and there’s still music in my life, only no more Tower.

Love On The Spectrum (Movie Thoughts: Autism In Love)

510a7WPn1KL._SX200_QL80_What is that saying? Every pot has a lid? Well, that’s certainly true in some cases, and in others, not so much.  In Matt Fuller’s documentary, “Autism In Love,” he centers on a couple of autistic people in different places in the spectrum, and show us how they – just like anyone and everyone in the world – look and find love in the world. It’s sort of an eye-opener for me. One of the mothers of these special people even said she never thought her son would ever find love, and there he is, partnered. There’s Lindsey and Dave,  who met at an autism conference and is now living together. They talk about all the adjustments they make in their lives to make their relationship work, and their story is framed in a rom-com angle. Their happily ever after? He proposes to her at the end of the documentary.

Some of the other stories aren’t nearly as cheerful. Lenny is so classic male chauvinist, and is unrelenting on his quest to find a girl who has to make less money than he does, so that he becomes the ‘main provider’ for their family.  And there’s Stephen, who is married to Geeta, but she has been battling cancer, though still upbeat. Does he provide her the emotional support needed in her condition? I doubt it, but what do I know as she seems happy.

But overall, it made me think. People are people, even if they are on the spectrum. They look for love, and some are more successful than others. Just like us, just like me.

The Art Of Making Art (Film Thoughts: Dior And I/Ballet 422)

I found myself watching back to back two documentaries about the process of making art.

large_hnEJ4vlhPlxwE41kr4K47v2eeVw“Dior and I” chronicles Raf Simons as he prepares his first collection for Dior. He replaces John Galliano after the later was fired from the fashion house, so there is a lot of pressure for Simons to perform: he is an underdog choice for the brand, as he is known for his work in menswear and for his minimalist style while working for Jil Sander (He dispels that accusation) Moreover, he has to finish his collection in two months, whereas normally a designer has at least six months to prepare. We see the creative process here, and the result is a mixture of an expanded Project Runway episode and a commercial for the house itself. Frederic Tscheng is no stranger to fashion documentaries, as he was involved previously in ones about Diana Vreeland and Valentino, so he knows what he is doing here. He documents all the drama, and as we get closer to reckoning day, we feel the tension and suspense, even though I remember reading Cathryn Horn’s New York Times rave at the time of the show, so it’s not like the outcome is a surprise to me. When I finally saw the dresses on the runway, I found myself weeping – I know, I’m dramatic – because of the sheer beauty of them, and the work and love that went into these creations.

large_large_KcEAR9iBOYld8V8A4bKCEmuQzE“Ballet 422” is a lot more subtle. Director Jody Ann Lipes documents the proceedings here cinema verité style – there are no talking heads or narrations here. We see exactly how Justin Peck creates the 422nd ballet of The New York CIty Ballet. He is the youngest choreographer commissioned to create one, and at the same time he is still a member of the company’s corps de ballet (sort of like a chorus member if this was a Broadway show) We see the creative process here more subtly. Just like ballet as an art it is more refined, and the most conflict we get is when one of the principal dancers has to try three times to get a specific move. This doesn’t make the whole process less emotional, as we still get to go along the creative process. And there’s a sweet irony towards the end when, after taking a bow for his work as a choreographer, he takes off his suit and changes into his costume and dances a part of the company for a piece after showcasing his work. It’s poignant, and touching and while it was never shown, Peck gets the ultimate silver lining: he was promoted to soloist for the ballet company. An arresting piece of work all around, this film.