During the 90s Boy band craze, I used to work a block away from Times Square in New York City. And everyday, I used to see thousands of girls lined up outside the MTV Studios waiting for these guys to show up for the afternoon show Total Request Live (TRL) and I remember it would be such a pain to get to the subways because of all the throngs of people blocking the street. But don’t get me wrong, I was a fan of both NSync and Backtreet Boys. I listened to their albums, and collected their CDs. I knew enough about the bands to know they were both formed by Lou Perlman, but aside from that knew nothing about him. and here we are, almost twenty five-ish or so later, and Perlman has now passed (in jail) and the boy band members? Some of them have been interviewed for ‘The Boy Band Con,’ a documentary produced by Lance Bass, one of the member of one of those bands, NSync.
The documentary is part ‘Behind The Music,’ and part dissection of Perlman and how he achieved what he did, both in positive and negative terms. Aaron Kunkler, the director, presents the facts in a mostly straightforward manner. It tries to dig deep on how Perlman was able to embezzle money by interviewing some of his investors. At the same time, interviews with boy band members shed light on the bands’ rise and fall. While the documentary is insightful, it lacks focus. I admit to being more interested in the ‘boy band’ part, but the finance part should have appealed to me just as well. It seems drier here, and felt not as sexy as, say, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi schemes when basically they did the exact same thing. Part of Perlman’s ‘sins’ is his alleged sexual predatory of soem of the young men in the bands. Aaron Carter vehemently denies that here (his aggressive apologist stand seems alarming) but besides that is only briefly mentioned here. Even if the information in the documentary is varied, it felt to me like that there’s not much new.
We have two competing documentaries on the failed Fyre Music Festival from 2017, and I have seen them both. So which one did I like better. I will give it to Hulu’s ‘Fyre Fraud’ by a small margin. It’s also a little lighter, and has a broader thing to say than Netflix’s ‘Fyre,’ which I thought was a little drier. I also saw ‘Fyre Fraud’ first and perhaos the Netflix one suffered because of that?
‘Fyre Fraud’ has an edge by having Billy McFarland interviewed – their competitors say that Hulu paid $250,000 for that, and if that’s is true, that would be disgusting. ‘Fyre,’ on the other hand has its own demons – it was produced by the media people who worked on the festival, and of course, it made the media company look good and less culapble for what happened. But for me, who cares? These rich people got scammed – boo hoo – and the social influencers got scammed boo hoo again. It’s not the end of the world for them, but how about the Bahamanian workers who shelled out money and never got repaid back. Why can’t Netflix or Hulu shell out some money for these people? In the end, I didn’t really have a lot of sympathy for some of these white entitled privileged people who got scammed.
Years ago there were competing films about Studio 54 and you think that would have been enough for this topic but here we are forty years later and we are still talking about the famed iconic club. This time, Matt Tyrnauer has directed a documentary that is so vivid that it will probably the definitive documentation of not only that club, but of that carefree era – someone described it as the hedonistic era between the birth control pill and AIDS. I don’t know how Tyrnauer compiled all his material, but he has a knack for choosing footage that best showcase how it was during that time. Plus, what adds value here is the presence of Ian Schrager, the ‘silent partner’ during those times. Steve Rubbell was obviously the more gregarious face of the club, and he thrived int he presence of all the major celebrities of the time (We see a young Michael Jackson being interviewed praising him to high heavens) I loved seeing all the pictures and videos of Liza, and Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol, and all the icons of the time. And the fashion – still very relevant, if you ask my opinion. I really can’t say that I learned a lot from this movie – except maybe that President Obama pardoned Ian Schrager before leaving office in January 2017 – but that is only because I have been fascinated by this topic for a while. I was born a little too late for its heyday, but I remember going to the space for a private party there in the late 80s and I could swear you could still feel the energy of the club. Rubell succumbed to AIDS in 1989, but there are most other names and faces who perished after that era. In some small way, this film keeps them alive.
A trans gendered Filipina was murdered by an uniformed American serviceman, and that is the back bone of P J Raval’s documentary ‘Call Her Ganda,’ (Call Her Beautiful) Filipinos have this love-hate relationship with the LGBT community – gays dominate society and their popular culture, yet the religious upbringing of most countrymen shuns them. They tolerate them but have a ‘not in my backyard’ policy towards them. In 2014, Jennifer Laude was murdered at a motel by a uniformed American, and it sparked a case that interested the people. At the center of it is the country’s ‘Visiting Forces Agreement,’ which protects American personnel accused of crimes, wherein they still fall under the jurisdiction of the American military. The documentary goes into the case specifically, up to its conclusion – wherein Joseph Pemberton, the American accused is found guilty of homicide (a reduced sentence) There was notion that he would be coddled by the American military, and that seems to be the case, as he got special treatment instead of going to the local jail.
It’s an interesting case, and obviously struck a chord with me as it happened in Olongapo City, which is where my family used to have a business. It also shows how Americans still try to bull doze their way into other countries by influence (Can you imagine if this happened in Singapore with their strict laws?) The documentary is a bit thin, and I wish had dug deeper into Jennifer’s life, as they had access to her family. But this was a very interesting watch.
I was at an event a couple of days ago and met this woman who told me that I should see Heather Lenz’s documentary ‘Kusama Infinity’ When I asked her why, she answered “because it’s a great movie.’ Okay, sure. The film focuses on the life and art of Yayoi Kusama. Told through interviews, the film mostly focuses on the art more than the woman, although we get a glimpse of who she is via her own words. Her art is quirky and oddly mesmerizing. As my friend says, these are the perfect backdrops for the selfie generation. Of course, they are much more than that, and we get to hear her inspirations, and her processes: a polka dot is not really just a dot. Still, the subject is a little sterile, perhaps: the biggest scandal here is that Andy Warhol once stole her ideas. Kusama suffered through mental issues, but that isn’t really a stretch for any artiste.
I have a friend who is a big movie lover and he has been imploring me to watch the documentary ‘Three Identical Strangers.’ He asked me if I knew anything about it, and I said that the only thing I knew about it is that it is about twins or triplets who found each other. He said, ‘Good, because the less you know about it going in, the better.’
He was right. This film is a thriller with the happy ending in the front. I was still out of the US when this story first broke out in 1980 about triplets who found each other by chance. They have been separated at birth and were reunited when one of the brothers attended found himself in the same college as the other brother. This was a feel-good story, with the ‘cute’ commentary of how they are all alike, they smoke the same cigarette brand, nature vs nurture! To capitalize on their celebrity, they even open their own restaurant in SoHo named ‘Triplets’
The film gets darker quickly, We find there’s more to them just being separated by the agency, as we find that they are part of a larger sinister scientific experiment. And the film goes into how children inherit depressive natures of their parents. I bet you will feel enraged and horrified as I was. I felt very uneasy after watching the film, and wonder how many other people out there, unaware that they have been part of this ‘experiment.’ And this makes for a real compelling watch. I have to call my friend and tell him, you were right, and thank him for the recommendation.
When 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.