Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer Netflix Documentary Roundup

This summer I have gotten mildly off course with my power-watching of non-fiction films, because...well...summer. Despite being somewhat of an indoor kid, I am trying to veer out and get more melanin in my skin and vitamin D and all that good stuff [Tangent: Ugh. Who am I kidding? I have been watching a lot of Scandal and The League and then OITNB and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp came around. Too much to watch...not enough ME! I just learned about FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and I am definitely afflicted.]. By the end of June, I had only knocked out 2 Netflix docs, so I figured I would just do a summer roundup instead. [Tangent: Thanks to all those that checked in to see if  I was slipping or if you had missed it. Now I know you all actually are as into binging on docs as I am. Thanks for staying engaged and being awesome! ] Lots of these are fairly new, so I felt (for once) that I was in on the ground floor with the cool kids. 

Winnebago Man- B
This one is the exception to the cavalcade of newer docs; this one is an oldie [Tangent: I know I know, 2009 is not exactly vintage. I was working my 2nd post collegiate job by then...but realistically this documentary is now kindergarten age.], and truthfully I had seen it before. The first time around, I remembered really liking this film about a man named Jack Rebney, who is best known for freaking his freak out and being a real dick hole when making a Winnebago company sales video. His meltdown became viral and then became a bit of a cult classic. The subject matter seemed worth a revisit and I wanted to share it with Jamie,  so I watched it again. It's not the most fantastic doc, but I think it's always fascinating to watch someone who is dealing with being a celebrity, very much against their will. It reminded me a lot of Burt's Buzz, a film I reviewed here a few months back, because both men are old lovable grumps who don't want the spotlight, but are thrust into it. It made Rebney definitely more three dimensional and less of a caricature, which is the goal of most profile-style documentaries. I'm not sure if I would have liked it more or less if I had been super familiar with the Winnebago Man viral video before I seen this.

Tig- A+
Ah, Tig! Such a goodie! This one had been recommended to me by many people [Tangent: Thumbs up to the people who heeded my Facebook plea for viewing material.], and it didn't take much to talk me into it. Let me just get out of the way that I love Tig Notaro. Documentaries and biographies of famous funny people always intrigue me because the general unifying factor is that great comedy isn't possible without tragedy. Being an avid comedy podcast listener, I have heard all about her infamous "I have cancer" comedy set, so I was immediately on board and was eager to learn more about her.  Sometimes I watch a documentary and it's so perfect and riveting and the plot has so many twists that you'd swear it's scripted...this is one of them. I never once wished I was watching anything else. I loved it. Recommend 100% and I am a little jealous that she has this period in her life fully documented.

Bridegroom- A+
I have not cried this hard at a documentary since Dear Zachary. This one is a doozie and a must-see given this summer's supreme court ruling on gay marriage!  I almost wish all those people that are waving their anti gay marriage flags on social media were made to watch this movie.  I don't want to give too many plots points away, but I will tell you what you glean in the first 5 minutes. The story is told from the point of view of a gay man named Shane, who's partner, Tom, dies tragically well into their relationship...and aside from the grief anyone feels, Shane deals with some unimaginable fallout. The majority of the movie follows their middle-America backgrounds and their courtship in LA through interviews and recorded footage. As they were both filmmakers/actors, there is lots of material in the archieves. Bridegroom does a near perfect job of showing how normal love is, no matter who participates. I feel like it should be required viewing for bigots. Once again, I dehydrated myself with tears on this one, so stock up on Smart water prior.

Backstreet Boys: Show Them What You're Made Of- C-
Let me preface by saying I was never a huge Backstreet fan, so my thoughts are a bit skewed. [Tangent: By the time boy bands made their grand resurgence in the late 90's, I was well into high school and liked to pretend I was too cool/mature for them...though let's be honest- I know all the words to more than one song by O-Town, so clearly not that cool.] I watched it because I have a soft spot in my ventricles for a pop music doc. I was hoping this would join the ranks of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One Direction documentaries, which were excellent. I am not too proud to admit that. It didn't; I got bored. Even though most of the band members are not that far off from me age-wise, I couldn't relate to anyone, even though I think that was the movie's intent.  I was interested in the idea that they were finally getting some artistic freedom to record the kind of album that they never got the chance to make while under the thumb of their label. Unfortunately, I thought all their songs were cornier than the ones written for them in the 90s. No one is more disappointed in that then I am. 

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau - A

I first heard about this bat shit documentary (centered around an even more bat shit movie, the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau) on an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, How Did This Get Made? [Tangent: You can listen to the episode here.] The podcasters several times cited this documentary saying the behind the scenes goings on were so wildly out there that they made the on-camera work seem tame comparatively. [Tangent:...and just to be clear, the film itself is about an island of genetically modified beast people who are controlled by Marlon Brando in peak crazy and inexplicably in white face.] I remember the movie very well from being a teen with cable, but had no idea about all the twists and turns it took to get made. There was witchcraft involved, you guys!  I would absolutely recommend it, especially if you have seen the movie that it's based on. [Tangent: Although Jamie hadn't seen it, and he still sat fascinated watching the doc.] Heads up though... if you want to hold Val Kilmer in any kind of esteem, I might recommend you skip it...because he comes off less than savory.

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey- B+
Who doesn't love Journey? OK, probably a lot of people, but I am not one of them. I cannot get enough of the dulcet sounds of Steve Perry and was impressed when in the late 90s, they found a Steve Perry sound-alike [Tangent: ...and first name-alike] in Steve Augeri. However, I wasn't aware until this movie...that they had done it again...but with a fun-sized Filipino named Arnel Pineda. Be prepared that this movie is heavily subtitled because English is not Pineda's first language, but you will quickly fall in love with him. His rags to riches story is basically what docum-profiles were made for. It's also kind of fun to see a non-original band lineup selling out stadiums and having those stadiums half filled with Filipino fans. Also, LOTS of Journey jams, so buckle up!

The Queen of Versailles-A
A few years ago, Bravo was airing this doc on a never-ending loop because it appealed to the network's sensibilities i.e. "rich people problems."  Because Andy Cohen and co are my bedtime white noise, I remembered watching bits and pieces, but I was never intrigued enough to watch it from soup to nuts...even once it came on Netflix. [Tangent: I learned the term "from soup to nuts" recently and I love don't be surprised if I use it a lot and you get really tired of it. It sounded like someone a grandfather might say, which is basically right up my alley.] I'm so glad I finally gave this film the viewing it deserved; it's fantastic. Because I am intrigued by conspicuous consumption, I was sitting with mouth agape for 90 minutes. The movie is about the very eccentric Siegel family, who owns Westgate resorts. The A-story is about their attempt to build the largest inhabited single family home in the US, an over-the-top homage to the palace of Versailles. Spoiler alert: Their attempt is unsuccessful, and it's almost a little sad how in over their heads they become. The B-Story is the crazy day to day of the family; it's kind of like if Grey Garden's was inhabited by one one of the more clueless Real Housewives [Tangent: I'd almost venture to say a Sonja Morgan or Theresa Guidice type...yeah that's a nugget for all you RHONY/RHONJ fans!]. It's so interesting to see how delusional you can become when you have been extremely wealthy for so long; there is one scene where Jackie Siegel goes to rent a car at the airport and asks who her driver will be. There's a lot of that. It's one I would recommend, and would like to watch again. 

Little White Lie- B+
Maybe because one of my favorite courses in college was about Race, Class and Gender, but I am always intrigued by racial identity. The story is told from the point of view of a woman who was raised in a traditional Jewish family in a predominately white neighborhood, Woodstock, NY. The Shamylan twist in her life story is that as she gets into high school, she starts to realize she doesn't look like a white woman. Her traits have been explained away by her family as "a jew fro" or the result of having an olive-skinned Italian grandfather. It's the elephant in the room no one discusses, even after she is gets a minority scholarship to college based on admissions picture alone. I won't spoil the ending, but it definitely makes you consider how important it is to know your roots.

The Search for General Tso- A
It's my belief that I watched this doc the way it was meant to be viewed, after consuming 2 plate fulls of lo mein from Peking Palace and watching an episode of Fresh of the Boat. Although I don't really consider myself a "foodie", I know cheap Chinese food [Tangent: The kind that has been bastardized by Americans.....the kind that I eat voraciously even though I am slightly allergic to the spices and MSG.] This movie follows the origins of Chinese cuisine in the US and how dishes like the titular  chicken dish (and others previous fads like Chop Suey) came en vogue. I know it's hard to wrap your brain around watching a doc about chinese takeout for 90 minutes, but it was also a rivoting look at the struggles of immigrants coming to the US in the last 100 years. Oh, you also do find out who the eff General Tso actually is, and why he deserves a gooey dish in his honor. My mom, who watched this with me, thought she would hate it and grumbled throughout the whole beginning only to get deeply invested at the five minute mark. Her one word review at the end: "Fascinating!" [Tangent: Clearly she is much more succinct than her daughter.]

What Happened, Miss Simone?- A
This movie has been bleeping all over my radar since it premiered on Netflix last month. It seems it's on every must-list lately, so I had to give it a go. I'm ashamed to say although I knew the name Nina Simone, I only really knew one song she sang and beyond that - not much. Now I feel like I'm a legitimate fan and will be on the lookout for her albums. [Tangent: Gross. I know. I'm one of those tragically unhip people. I'm no better than all those kids under 25, who didn't know who Paul McCartney was until he did that song with Rhianna and Kanye.] I hate to use the word pioneer, because I think it's dreadfully overused, but I think Simone, who broke a lot racial and genre barriers,  definitely qualifies. She came from poverty to become an acclaimed pianist to discover she was a singer. Soon after,  she became a huge sensation, started hanging out with Malcolm X and became an activist for civil rights. Not to be a total spoiler, but she then basically gave it all up, fled the country and disappeareded from the spotlight for her own sanity. If you enjoy musical documentaries or even documentaries about mental health and fame, I would absolutely check it out. 

So what did I miss? 
What have you been watching this summer? 

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