December 18, 2017

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights Doc on HBO

If you love Hollywood lore, the documentary Bright Lights featuring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds will touch you deeply.
Originally scheduled to be released in March 2017 on HBO, the project directed by Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom was sped up and released on Jan. 7, 2017 to coincide with the day-apart deaths of the famous mother and daughter.
In the footage, Reynolds appears to be a celebrity mother who was aware of the effect of her career on that of her children. Her relationship with daughter Carrie is warm and caring as you see them living next to one another in the same compound. Fisher demonstrates her incisive wit, her eclectic decorating taste and surprisingly good vocal skills. Her brother Todd also comes off as a good guy and proud of his mother. You just may laugh, cry and smile while watching this gentle slice of life program about two ladies who are part of cinema history.

Vice News on HBO

vice_news_og_imageDespite some minor quibbles, I find myself checking out HBO’s Vice News which premiered on Oct. 10, 2016, a nightly news show with no anchors, no desks, graphic novel-type visuals and long-form reporting. In just twenty-some minutes, one gets a stimulating overview of national and world news.

As opposed to network news, the broadcast is not “live” but taped in the afternoon so critics complain that there is a canned feel. I agree, but still find a certain freshness in this presentation of news.

The daily news show is a spin-off of HBO’s Vice documentary TV programs started in 2014. I do hope that the producers and writers fine-tune the program to give the viewer a stronger sense of immediacy, but in the meantime, this will be one of my news sources.

It is worth noting that HBO and CNN are both part of the Time Warner family. Perhaps CNN could benefit from some of the innovations begun by HBO Vice News?

The Jinx on Netflix

<a href="http://www viagra in usa×350.jpg”>We are living in a time when documentaries are going toe-to-toe with movies and television programs in grabbing our attention.

If you have developed a taste for docs that cover true crime stories, you may want to check out The Jinx on Netflix, the story of Robert Durst, part of a successful real estate family in New York who has been accused of murdering his first wife, his Texas neighbor and his best friend in California. He has never been convicted for any of the three crimes.

Director Andrew Jarecki interviews Durst throughout the film and we see the two develop a bond, of sorts.

The film methodically makes revelations that change how Durst is seen by the viewer, his friends and family, and ultimately, by Jarecki. The six episodes are addictive and chilling.

The First Monday in May doc on Netflix

My hairdresser recommended The First Monday In May,  a wonderful documentary by Andrew Rossi on Netflix that mixes art, fashion and a bit of world politics.

Film footage shows astoundingly beautiful clothing in inventive gallery settings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but we also get to see the backstage mechanics of creating this annual fashion fantasy.

Design powerhouse, Anna Wintour is shown in action as she determines what is tasteful. Interviews with clothing designers Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano are sprinkled throughout the film.

The real star of the costume exhibit is the Met’s Costume Curator, Andrew Bolton, a shy Brit who quietly works his magic behind the scenes.

The doc builds to the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass, the Met’s costume exhibit of 2014. Chinese government entities, Film director Wong Kar Wai and the Met staff reach a middle ground showing older Chinese fashions as well as current designs by Asian and Western clothing designers.

Those not mad about fashion might be titillated by the kick-off dinner’s celebrity red carpet arrivals including George and Amal Clooney and Rihanna, garbed in a most dramatic brilliant yellow gown with the longest train of recent memory.

Attending this annual summer-long costume exhibit at Metropolitan Museum of Art now goes on my “to do in life” list.  Anybody for a trip to New York next May?

Prisoner of Her Past, Howard Reich’s film and book

Chicago Tribune writer Howard Reich initially set out to uncover his mother’s past in hopes of understanding her erratic behavior in the present. Prisoner of Her Past is Howard Reich’s book and film about his mother’s World War II experiences creeping back into her life sixty years later.

The film is extremely moving, but the book benefits even more from Reich’s meticulous writing. Readers of his incisive musical criticism will delight in his own musical journey as he discovers Gershwin, Mendelssohn and other classical composers as well as his exposure to jazz, both live and recorded.

The book deserves a place on the shelves of readers interested in the Holocaust and World War II, of those curious about post-traumatic syndrome or of those wanting to read a son’s poignant memoir about his troubled mother.

To mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the film, Prisoner of Her Past, will be broadcast on WTTW HD, the Chicago PBS affiliate on Thursday, May 5 at 10 pm and on WTTW Prime on Friday, May 6 at 4 pm.

Shoot Me, Documentary on Elaine Stritch

You don’t have to be a theater buff to enjoy Shoot Me, a fascinating 2013 documentary on the legendary Elaine Stritch. Alec Baldwin served as an executive producer on the film project, no doubt as a result of Stritch brilliantly playing his overbearing mother on NBC’s 30 Rock.

We see her home life at the storied Carlyle Hotel in New York, scenes with music director and angel care-taker Rob Bowman and observe a frustrating recording session with Stephen Sondheim when he and Stritch were both much younger. The viewer is treated to interview clips with Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Cherry Jones, Nathan Lane, Harold Prince, George C. Wolfe, John Turturro and James Gandolfini, among others.

We see a brutally honest Stritch who quips that the footage is catching her at “almost post-time.” Indeed, she passed away just a few short months after the film was released in early 2014. If you want to see a one-of-a-kind entertainer from her performance genius all the way to her sometimes messy day-to-day life, this documentary on Netflix will captivate you.

“Making a Murderer” Mania: Popular Netflix Doc

I love watching crime tv drama, but now the true crime bug has bitten me thanks to Making a Murderer, the engrossing ten-part documentary series on Netflix. I know I must not be alone in this avid interest because I keep seeing follow-up articles in magazines and blog posts.

Film-makers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos filmed the plight of Steven Avery over the course of ten years. Avery was incarcerated 18 years for a crime he did not commit, with DNA testing exonerating him and getting him released from prison in 2003. Two years later, he was arrested again for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. By 2007, he was found guilty of murdering her with the help of his nephew, Brendan Dassey who likewise was found guilty.

The TV series provides fascinating footage and recordings of the police investigations, the suspect interrogations, interviews with family members of both the accused and the victim plus video footage of the actual trials. We also see the press dogging everyone for photos and quotes.

These criminal, legal, judicial and police activities are not happening in a big urban area, but in rural Manitowoc County in the state of Wisconsin. Aside from the guilt or innocence of the suspects, the film makes the judges, lawyers and police officers look either like buffoons or patently evil. One could hope that this is an aberrational situation. Or cynically conclude that our criminal and legal system is rigged against the poor, the less educated and the fringe members of society.

If you can stomach real crime, please watch this series and let me know who you think the guilty parties are.  As for me, the jury is still out. Sequel, anyone?

What Happened Miss Simone? doc on Netflix

I must admit that I put the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? on my Netflix watch list and then never seemed to find the right time to view it.

I rectified that situation last week and marveled at the performance clips of this iconic singer-pianist-songwriter. Yes, it is painful to see the downward trajectory of Nina Simone’s life and career, but filmmaker Liz Garbus allows us to see the joy and passion in Simone’s performances as well.

Music clips are interwoven with interviews of her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly and her ex-husband, Andrew Stroud, footage of Hugh Hefner introducing her before she entertains a Playboy televised party and stunning video of her civil rights involvement. The film depicts her life in Liberia, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland after the divorce from her ex-New York cop spouse who had also been her manager. Especially moving are the comments by her long-time guitarist Al Schackman.

The title of the documentary is a quote from literary giant Maya Angelou who uttered this famous phrase to the world famous musician. Simone most likely suffered from manic depression or bi-polarity which was not effectively treated most of her life.

Mental illness was not the only challenge for Simone. Her budding career as a young classical pianist may have been thwarted by her lack of funds, her gender and the color of her skin. The civil rights movement consumed her and she admitted to Martin Luther King that she did not espouse non-violence in the black struggle. Her husband served her well in business but according to Simone, was abusive both emotionally and physically in their marriage.

As counterweight to the heavy topics, there is the glorious music that still attracts both young and old alike: I Loves You Porgy, My Baby Just Cares For Me, Mississippi Goddam, Strange Fruit, the Janis Ian-penned Stars and the Lorraine Hansberry-inspired Simone composition To Be Young, Gifted and Black are among the many songs heard in the film.

What Happened, Miss Simone? has been nominated for a 2016 Documentary Feature Oscar.

Iris – Documentary on Netflix

Some have suggested that streaming services have helped create a documentary golden age of sorts. Iris, a doc currently on Netflix, is about fashion icon Iris Apfel. This grande dame of fashion is known for her short white hair, her over-sized black glasses and her love of colorful clothing and accessories. The Metropolitan Museum, no less, featured an exhibit of her madcap combinations of bracelets, necklaces and vintage as well as ethnic ensembles. This 79 minute by filmmaker Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens) will appeal to not only fashion fans, but to anyone who wants to see a seasoned woman still having the time of her life. Catch her husband’s outfits, too!