Sunday, October 25, 2015

Netflix Documentary Hits and Misses Vol. 13 (October 2015 Edition)

October is crazy. In addition to it being every kind of awareness month [Tangent: When your day job is with a disability organization, you become keenly aware that every disability or ailment has chosen October to make you aware of it. Breast cancer, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Dwarfism, Mental health...oh and it's Disability Employment Awareness month, too. So now you're aware...do with it what you will.], it's my favorite month and this year I have taken on fun new challenges of participating in Drawloween on Instagram and helping my boyfriend watch 31 Scary movies in the month of October. Yes, I am clearly off my rocker and don't know the meaning of biting off more than I can chew. [Tangent: Which is probably why both quests were fizzled by poor time-mangement skills mid-month.] But fear not, I have not forgotten to watch documentaries, because dangit, I love em. My 'to watch" queue is getting lengthy because apparently the Netflix execs have invented some device to spy on my dreams. Oh, and this month I have really gotten edgy as a butter knife and thrown a few docu-series into the mix! Whoah, one ticket to Crazytown!


Spark: A Burning Man Story- B
I am lame squared, so although I've heard about Burning Man and what it's all about before, I feel like I never truly 'got it' before. I just pretty much knew that it sounded cool, but kind of like my worst nightmare at the same time. If you aren't familiar, Burning man is a basic free for all of art, music and free-spirited craziness in the desert every year. Nudity, sex, fire and giant art installations are everywhere you look, and everything is communal. Everything is shared and nothing is left behind. This movie takes you behind the scenes with the wacky hippies that dreamed it up as well as the artists who contribute every year. [Tangent: My favorite was this long haired former military guy who didn't really believe in the "share and share alike" mentality, but more was interested in buildlng something giant and burning it to the ground. A little bit of a red flag, but oh well. He made for interesting TV.]  It's the perfect doc for people like me that know there is no way in hell they will ever go to the event itself, but have a healthy dose of curiosity.   

Iris - A
This movie has been on my radar for quite some time. [Tangent: I know what you are thinking..."Of course it is, you are like a moth to an eclectic geriatric flame!"] Since I missed seeing it at our local independent theater, The Belcourt, it was instantaneously played when it popped up on Netflix this month. As expected, I fell butt-crazy in love with Iris Apfel, the film's titular subject. [Tangent: It was also done by the Maysles, who made the very famous doc Gray Gardens. It has the same kind of feel. Drawing you in to an environment completely and allowing you to really get to know a personality in a very natural organic way.] She had just the right amount of kook and sass and I loved that she had so much fun with life and fashion in her "More is more" philosophy. SO. MANY. BRACELETS. She was so much hipper than I am that I almost forgot she was 90. What I loved even more than Iris was her doting hubby, who happily allowed his long-time wife to style him...even in a studded red baseball cap and paisley velvet pants.  If you watched Bill Cunningham's New York and Advanced Style (which you totally should..and they are still streaming!) and loved them... then make it a trilogy and watch this too!  

Nightmare- C
Jamie had been hearing a lot about this doc all about sleep paralysis and I remembered when he showed me the preview on YouTube, it looked oddly dramatized. My sister used to experience sporadic sleep paralysis, so the whole thing was not that novel a concept to me, which may have affected how I felt about the film. [Tangent: Sleep paralysis, as the doc explains, is basically like having a nightmare, but feeling awake and unable to react with your body. It is often linked to other sleep disorders. It's pretty terrifying. My sister used to feel like things were flying around her room or like someone was in her closet, and was unable to move. A doctor later linked it to a previously undiagnosed sleep issue. ] The whole thing was shot in a very unorthodox style for most docs; the reenactments were laced with special effects and weird camera angles. Having known someone who had these episodes made it both interesting and hard to watch. I felt like it couldn't decide if it wanted to be informative or purely entertainment, but I have heard lots of people love it. If you want to watch a entertaining doc about a sleep disorder, I would go with Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me instead.

Remembering Robin Williams- B-
Netflix has just gotten a whole slew of PBS docs, which I love because they are short and cover everything that I wish to indulge in for exactly 50 minutes. [Tangent: Be forewarned I have one about John Denver on the docket!] I love Robin Williams, so naturally, this was a good default choice when I couldn't decide. It basically covered most of the bases that were rounded many times by every media outlet after his untimely death. The footage and interviews dealt with the early years...it was Mork and Mindy heavy...but a nice tribute to a comic genius. 

My Monkey Baby- A+
OH. SWEET. GOD! This BBC documentary is bonkers. I loved every minute, and kept wishing that it was longer than 45 minutes. Can you really fully delve into the psyche of people like this in under an hour? Absolutely not.  The premise is self-explanatory and if you like tiny monkeys and people who lack mental stability, then prepare to be delighted. I really couldn't narrow it down to a favorite moment, when the woman had to call an animal psychic because her hormone pills went missing or when the older couple said they expected their monkey baby to take care of them when they were unable to care for themselves. Delusions a plenty! [Tangent: If you have ever seen Monkey Shines, then you know that latter premise will not play out favorably.] Also, I am in no way above the film's subjects, because if given the chance to be parent to a monkey baby, I would not flinch in saying yes. 

This is Life (series)- A
OK. So this is a docuseries, so I know what you are thinking, "Woah! What a rebel!" [Tangent: I have loved Lisa Ling since High School- watching her on Channel One when Anderson Cooper was just beginning to turn prematurely gray. Because my history runs so deep with Ms. Ling, I would probably buy anything from her...even maybe scratch and sniff tie-dyed fanny packs.] After several people recommended these, I got on board and am so glad I did. She covers a lot of different subcultures and explores some aspect of it. She follows sugar babies/sugar daddies, Mormons who are addicted to pain killers (apparently not an anomaly but a reoccurring trend I was unaware of), young men who are joining the priesthood etc. At about an hour, they are engaging and easy to digest. The only road bump I found was that Lisa Ling sometimes talks like she is delivering a Eulogy, even when talking about strippers. I yearned for her to loosen up a bit. 

McConkey- B+
WHAT?? A SPORTS DOCUMENTARY!??! [Tangent: OK, so this was one my brother-in-law actually selected and I have watched in chunks, but I enjoyed it and it is nudging me ever-closer to delving into the ESPN 30 for 30 selections. Suggestions for which of those to watch are welcome. Of course I've watched The Price of Gold, but what would you recommend to someone that knows nada of sportsball!] This was a great pick for someone like me that is kinda athletically meh. Through extensive interviews and archived video, the film tells the story of extreme athlete, Shane McConkey, who was constantly trying to up the ante to be even more extreme. [Tangent: Since I am scare shitless of 90% of non-life threatening scenarios (birds and pictures of the holocaust are scary, ya'll!), his whole "go big or go home" mantra made me nervous as hell..but it was entertaining.] I knew nothing of McConkey before this viewing, but about 5 minutes in, you get the impression he has died because loved ones constantly speak of him in the past tense. [Tangent: I don't think that's a spoiler alert; you can't really miss the foreshadowing.] It was riveting; the whole time I was on edge wondering which stunt would be his last. Sure, that's exceedingly morbid, but that's pretty much the nature of his life.

Art & Copy- A
Confession, this wasn't my first viewing; I went with a fellow advertising design nerd to see it on its opening weekend at The Belcourt. [Tangent: I mean I had multiple viewings of the doc Helevetica back when Netflix was a DVD in the mail situation, so don't be shocked. And yes, fonts are riveting. Suck on that.] I'm likely very biased on the subject matter, but feel like everyone is interested in commercials and advertising in some capacity, right? Of course, it goes in depth behind the ads that changed the scene like Volkswagon and Apple and Coke, but it also tells why it was so groundbreaking that art directors and copywriters share an office and work together. Are you bored by my assessment? Yeah, I probably am alone in the boat of loving this movie.
 

Unplanned America- A
This slice-of-life docu-series is very similar to the Lisa Ling program, only instead of being narrated by a stoic journalist, your travel companions are a crew of rowdy Aussies. The formula for this show is basically simple fish out of water type stuff, only these strangers in a strange land are thrown into the worlds of things like underground voguing in NYC and Insane Clown Posse gatherings in...wherever the hell those happen. To be fair, I haven't watched all of the installments yet, but the Faygo soaked ICP festival was enough to give this a series a strong A. It gave me conversation fodder for months. 

The Drop Box- A
Oh dear. So many tears. Not Dear Zachary or Bridegroom level, but it was an emotional one, so prepare your lacrimal glands for a major workout. [Tangent: Make sure you are not watching this as background entertainment, it will need your full attention because it's 90% subtitles. My plans to multitask were dashed.] The movie profiles a pastor and his wife in Korea who began to take in unwanted children from parents who wanted to give them up and remain anonymous. This happened so much that they installed a drop box on the front of their church. Yes, I know a baby drop box seems crazy barabaric,  but it filled a niche and saved a lot of lives. Many of the children they "acquired" had a range of disabilities and the movie profiled each child and their story. If you know how much I love tiny Asian children (and disabled ones at that) then you will know that I loved this movie. I was very impressed by the way it told it's story. After you watch a lot of documentaries- they can get quite boring, but this film took a lot of great care to use music, beautiful shots of the city and even animation to bring the story of the pastor and his wife to life in a very dynamic way. 

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