HBO Max Season 1 review: ‘JULIA’ cooks up drama and delight.

JULIA

JULIA is inspired by Julia Child’s extraordinary life and her long-running television series, “The French Chef,” which pioneered the modern cooking show. Through Julia’s life and her singular joie de vivre, the series explores a pivotal time in American history – the emergence of public television as a new social institution, feminism and the women’s movement, the nature of celebrity and America’s cultural evolution. At its heart, the series is a portrait of a loving marriage with a shifting power dynamic.


Before finishing the screeners, I told friends they had to start the new HBO series “Julia.” The most common response I received was, “Didn’t they do a movie on this?” To be honest, the answer is “kind of!” Have we seen this story before? Yes. Do I care? NO! 

Witty and full of complex cultural commentary, HBO’s “Julia” is an absolute joy. Exploring Julia Child‘s iconic rise with a sharp eye on how it fits into the rapid societal change of the midcentury period, “Julia” succeeds in presenting complex ideas while keeping the show fun. The series is a visual feast of charming period settings, costumes, and sumptuous footage of Julia’s home cooking, recipe creation, and inspirational fine dining. An example is a luxe scene where Julia and her editor Judith strategize in a crowded Boston bar — the only women in sight– dirty martinis in one hand and casually finishing a dozen icy oysters each with the other. Ultimately the chef brings out two whole Maine lobsters served on a large plate accompanied only by ramekins of melted golden butter just at the resolution of their brainstorming– perfection. 

 While the series naturally focuses on Julia’s story and the unique power dynamics shifting within her marriage,  I  found the character studies on the tribe of women that made up her inner circle most fascinating. Fiona Glascott, Brittany Bradford, and Bebe Neuwirth shine in showcasing their own stories as they build the iconic culinary brand together. 

While “Julia” doesn’t shy away from issues you expect for a series set in this period (i.e. egregious workplace sexism), I was intrigued when they also made room to explore more complex ideas about what Julia Child’s success means within the feminist agenda. Despite her own accomplishments, what does it mean to build an empire by motivating homemakers to prepare more elaborate home-cooked meals than ever and raising the bar for what it means to be an ideal wife? Late-breaking cameos from iconic figures of the time play a unique role in bringing many of these factors to light in a way that is bold to incorporate into essentially a tribute piece. 

 My recommendation: Mix yourself a proper cocktail, add a flourish whether the drink deserves one or not, and watch this series.

The eight-episode Max Original comedy series, JULIA is now available to stream in full.


Cast: The eight-episode series stars Sarah Lancashire as Julia, David Hyde Pierce, Bebe Neuwirth, Brittany Bradford, Fran Kranz, and Fiona Glascott. Guest stars include Isabella Rossellini, Judith Light, Robert Joy, Erin Neufer, Jefferson Mays, James Cromwell, and Adriane Lenox.


About HBO Max:

HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering with 10,000 hours of curated premium content. HBO Max offers powerhouse programming for everyone in the home, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs, and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more. #HBOMax #WarnerMedia

SUBSCRIBE TO HBO MAX http://bit.ly/HBOMaxYouTube

GET HBO MAX https://itsh.bo/ways-to-get


 

Review: HBO Documentary Film: ‘TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF’

TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF

Centering around intimate new interviews with Tony Hawk himself, the film is an all-encompassing look at the skateboarder’s life, legendary career, and relationship with the sport with which he’s been synonymous for decades. Hawk, a pioneer of modern vertical skating who is still pushing his limits at the age of 53, remains one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.


Tony Hawk kicks off his big HBO documentary by falling down. A lot. Like, 5 solid minutes of eating it all over the ramp. It’s a bold, remarkably human way to start a documentary about a 53-year-old icon who many in the non-skating community would still consider the most famous skateboarder of all time (this reviewer raises his hand). Heck, my wife knows more about Tony Hawk than I do.

The complete list of things I knew about Tony Hawk before watching this documentary:

  • He was (probably) the most prominent skater in the world
  • He was the first skater to land a 900 (a crazy trick where you shoot off a ramp and spin 2.5 times in the air before landing)  I also learned this from his video game series, Tony Hawk Pro Skater
  • He has a hilarious Twitter feed

And yet, I left Sam Jones’ Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off feeling pretty invested in skateboarding. Jones’ documentary benefits not only from extensive access to Hawk and his skating peers but also from a wealth of archival footage and clips that help these interview recollections resonate. Sure, you learn about Hawk’s upbringing in San Diego, and his dynamic with his strict father – but what really resonates is the sense of purpose uniting these passionate young skateboarders. You really get the spirit of the community. Tricks and success in this sport are the product of individual inspiration, yes, but also due to watching and learning from both your rivals and teammates. Hawks’ contemporaries are real unique characters, too. I particularly loved hearing from Rodney Mullen, who applies the principles of Nietzsche to the act of launching yourself off a skate ramp without a hint of irony.

I also appreciated the documentary’s balanced romanticism surrounding skateboarding. There are the obligatory skating montages, but there’s also a blunt assessment of the risks (and honestly, the near foolishness) of Hawk refusing to set aside his board at 53 years old. We’re talking about guys for whom broken bones and near-constant concussions seem to always be part of the deal – it takes a lot to make these folks nervous. Hawks’ peers speak frankly and graphically about the risks he’s taking on. Given Hawks’ prominent association with this documentary, I was surprised he didn’t push to edit some of those comments out of the final product. I appreciated that Jones included them.

Ultimately, this feels to be an honest portrait of a complicated legend who became a pro athlete before he had his learner’s permit. It strives to connect viewers to the deep connection skaters have with their art, it clues you in on Tony Hawk’s countless contributions to the sport, and acknowledges that most guys in their 50s shouldn’t be on fast-moving, narrow objects.

You see Tony Hawk falling down a lot. But he also executes tricks that seem to scratch the surface of immortality. Unless you’ve skated a mile in his shoes, can you really pass judgment? One thing’s for sure – after seeing this documentary, I’ll be firing up my wife’s copy of Pro Skater.


Debuts Tuesday, April 5 on HBO and will be available

to stream on HBO Max

Director: Sam Jones

Executive Producers: Mel Eslyn, Jay Duplass, and Mark Duplass


ABOUT SAM JONES
Sam Jones is a director of documentary films and narrative television. He most recently directed an episode of “Ted Lasso” and a film in post-production: “Running With Our Eyes Closed, A Film about Jason Isbell,” which is being co-produced by the Duplass Brothers and Jones.

Jones is the creator and host of the documentary series “Off Camera with Sam Jones,” which had a 219 episode run on DirecTV’s Audience Network from 2013-2020. Jones is also an acclaimed commercial director and recently wrote and directed a series of commercials for OnePlus featuring Robert Downey Jr. He directed the Showtime series “Roadies,” created by Cameron Crowe, and also directed and produced the feature-length Showtime documentary “Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued,” a film that reexamines Bob Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes.” In 2002, Jones started his documentary career with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” which chronicles beloved indie-rock band Wilco’s tumultuous recording of their acclaimed fourth album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Rolling Stone named “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” one of the best rock films of all time.

Jones began his career as a photographer and quickly gained acclaim for his seminal portraits of cultural icons. His work has appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Time, and many others, and he has had several books published. Jones lives in Los Angeles with his daughters and still loves to skateboard.


 

Unseen Films Sundance (2022) review: ‘NAVALNY’ (coming to CNN and HBOMax in the spring.)

NAVALNY

Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home.


My final film for Sundance was  NAVALNY about the Russian opposition leader whom Putin had poisoned with a nerve toxin that if administered correctly shuts off all of your nerves, killing you in a way that looks like a natural death because it dissipates quickly from the body.  The film is an examination of the poisoning by various places including the excellent Bellingcat coupled with a look at Navalny’s career.

Coming into the film after several days of my friends talking it up, I was initially rather disappointed. The early part of the film was kind of dull and run-of-the-mill. The film wasn’t doing anything bad, rather it was hitting the typical points of a story like this. It wasn’t until the poisoning happened that the film clicked and we were off to the races as the story of trying to find a smoking gun link to Putin gave a serious shot of adrenaline into the proceedings. Suddenly there was not only a mystery to be solved but also there was a real danger to the proceedings because other than a stupid person can see clearly how evil Putin is.

I really liked this film a great deal. It’s a compelling story with a connection to current events (the Russian threatened invasion of Ukraine).  You really get a sense of how bad Putin is for his country and the world.

If I have any reservations is that watching the film doesn’t always give us an entirely clear-eyed picture of Navalny. The filmmakers clearly love him, and there’s is no denying he’s at least a seeming better choice than Putin, but there are still questions about his past (links to ultranationalists) and he is a bit too smooth for me to entirely take the word of one film.

Reservations aside the film is highly recommended, if for no other reason than it’s a hell of a story.



To read all of Steve Sundance 2022 coverage, head over to Unseen Films!


HBO original documentary review: ‘ADRIENNE’ lets us peek inside the life of the immensely talented Adrienne Shelley.

ADRIENNE

As the muse of Hal Hartley’s indie classics and as writer/director of the critically acclaimed Waitress, Adrienne Shelly was a shining star in the indie film firmament.


Indie film darling, writer, and director Adrienne Shelley‘s tragic death in 2006 sparked immediate action by her husband, Andrew Ostray. His new documentary explores Shelley’s childhood, her artistic talents, and her legacy. What happened that fateful day? How would he explain everything to their then 2-year-old daughter? Andy sets out to let people into Adrienne’s world, her career, and to help his own family navigate their grief.

Adrienne’s rise to fame seemed written in the stars. Certainly in her diary entries. Her daughter Sophie, who bears a striking resemblance to her mother, reads passages from the diaries through the years. Andy talks to Adrienne’s childhood friends, co-stars, and former directors as they recall her talents and loyal friendship. He documented conversations he had with Sophie about Adrienne. Richard O’Connor creates beautiful line-drawn animation with Sophie and Andy’s voiceovers that become great transition moments. 

Adrienne was so self-aware. It’s inspiring to watch the interviews where she expresses her values. Her uniqueness and vision allowed her to make a space for herself in the entertainment industry and quickly. She was also making a doc herself about happiness. There is so much insightful footage of Adrienne being Adrienne. A repeating theme is a sadness that she carried with her for a great deal of her life. It’s a heaviness that hovers over the entirety of the film. But she and Andy’s love story is never diminished. It’s the reason we have Waitress; this glorious celebration of a woman breaking free and understanding unconditional love. 

The doc swells to the gut-wrenching moment when Andy confronts the man who murdered Adrienne. It is a powerful interaction that had me trembling. But, most likely, you’ve already wept while watching ADRIENNE. You cannot sit through Jessie Mueller’s rendition of “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress: The Musical and not be a complete emotional wreck. It’s not physically possible. This film is partly a gift to his daughter and Adrienne’s fans. It’s undoubtedly a physical catharsis, leaving the human experience of how one single person can impact everyone around them. It’s a legacy of an extraordinary woman and her story. ADRIENNE will touch your soul. 



Director: Andy Ostroy
Executive Producer: Marc Levin, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller
Producer: Andy Ostroy; Co-Producer: Jillian A. Goldstein; Supervising Producer: Daphne Pinkerson
Cinematographer: Trish Govoni
Editor: Angela Gandini, Co-Editor: Kristen Nutile
Music: Andrew Hollander
Language: English, Spanish
Country: USA

Year: 2021


So many stories left to tell. Adrienne, an HBO original documentary about the life and legacy of actress, director, and screenwriter Adrienne Shelly, premieres December 1 at 8 pm on HBOMax.


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘JAGGED’ is everything you oughta know about Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill.

JAGGED

JAGGED, directed by Alison Klayman, takes viewers to 1995 when a 21-year-old Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene with the first single off her ground-breaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” With a rawness and emotional honesty that resonated with millions, and despite a commercial landscape that preferred its rock stars to be male, she took radio and MTV by storm and the album went on to sell 33 million copies. Featuring an in-depth interview with Alanis, as well as never-before-seen archival material, JAGGED explores her beginnings as a young Canadian pop star, the rocky path she faced navigating the male-dominated music industry, and the glass ceiling she shattered on her journey to becoming the international icon and empowered artist she is today.


I went to rehearsal one night only to have my Mom hit play on the kitchen cd player to find my Jagged Little Pill album spinning. She’s cooking dinner and suddenly hears the lyrics, “Would she go down on you in a theatre?” That was an interesting conversation when I got home, mainly because I’m not even sure I knew what that meant at that point in my high school life. I was a pretty sheltered kid. Maybe that’s the reason Alanis’ music spoke to me. It was raw and emotional. JAGGED is Alison Klayman‘s new doc about one of my first feminist heroes, Alanis Morissette. As soon as the film begins, so do my goosebumps and unadulterated, joyful belting. That album gave me the confidence to be unabashedly me. I’ll be eternally grateful. 

JAGGED is a mix of sit-downs with industry greats, behind-the-scenes footage, and concert performances. The concert footage is so crisp you’d think it was filmed yesterday. As Alanis’s handwritten lyrics crawl across the screen in real-time, it remains clear that her writing is brilliant and forever relevant. The sit-down interviews with Morissette are insightful. Like her lyrics, she’s brutally honest, fearless, and funny. Alanis has a great laugh. It’s genuine and from the diaphragm. Watching her tell her own story feels incredibly relatable. In some ways, it adds more weight to Jagged Little Pill‘s lyrics. Twenty-five years later, screaming these songs with the knowledge of the emotion and experiences behind them, I love them even more. How could you not?

The juxtaposition of the bullshit from critics is glorious and pointed. Morissette flashes a middle finger to every single one of them. At the height of her fame, empowerment was not welcome. Certain critics don’t enjoy female artists talking about their love lives. It becomes misogynistic fodder. Ask Taylor Swift, who gets featured in the film. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Jagged Little Pill was, and continues to be, an anthem for so many women. Her audience spans generations. Because of her, women continue to cultivate and hold female artists in high esteem because their music represents the masses. Alanis a goddamn icon. Anyone who claims differently is wrong. I’ll die on this hill. 


For tickets to JAGGED click here!


Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Jaye Callahan, Alison Klayman, Kyle Martin
Cinematographer: Julia Liu
Editor: Brian Goetz
Music: Ilan Isakov, Tom Deis
Language: English
Country: USA

Year: 2021


#JaggedHBO, the second film in the #MusicBoxHBO series premieres November 18 at 8 PM on HBO Max.


DOC NYC (2021) review: Don’t you dare roll your eyes because ‘Listening To Kenny G.’ is freaking cool.

LISTENING TO KENNY G.

LISTENING TO KENNY G (December 2nd), directed by Penny Lane, takes a humorous but incisive look at the saxophonist Kenny G., the best-selling instrumental artist of all time, and quite possibly the one of the most reviled musicians today. The film investigates the artist formerly known as Kenneth Gorelick, unravelling the allure of the man who played jazz so smoothly that a whole new genre formed around him, and questioning fundamental assumptions about art and excellence in the process. In his own words, Kenny G speaks candidly about his musical background, his stringent work ethic and his controversial standing in the jazz canon.


Are you ready for a doc to charm the pants off of you? I don’t think you are. Listening to Kenny G. is no joke. It’s the name of a new HBO music documentary. Push aside any cliché you have in your brain when you hear the name Kenny G. because director Penny Lane wants to introduce you to the man and his music in an intimate fashion.

He’s so aware of his abilities, is self-deprecating, and undeniably talented. You’ll be blown away by his work ethic. He’s one of the most genuine guys. You cannot help but fall in love with him as you hear him talk about his history, his goals, and his astoundingly gracious aura. Watching him create music is nothing short of fascinating. You’ll find yourself transfixed by the melodies, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Lane includes sitdowns with critics and scholars, forcing them to confront their own biases. The film isn’t all sunshine and roses. Besides the eye rolls, critics seize on race and the history of jazz. None of that delegitimizes the massive fandom that Kenny G. maintains today. The evolution of his career is shocking. Clive Davis’ marketing ideas for Kenny’s music in the early 80s were wacky. But to both of their credit, Davis stuck with Kenny and vice versa. 

Listening To Kenny G., as a film, is undeniably enjoyable. Much like his music, it goes down easy. If you’re not smiling from ear to ear while watching, your cynicism has gotten the better of you.


For tickets to Listening To Kenny G. click here!


Director: Penny Lane
Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick, Co-Producer: Nick Hasse
Cinematographer: Naiti Gamez
Editor: Cindy Lee, Adam Bolt
Music: Charlie Rosen
Language: English
Country: USA
Year: 2021
“Listening to Kenny G” debuts on HBO December 2nd

DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, runs in-person November 10-18 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continues online until November 28.


‘The Matrix Resurrections’ Official Trailer 1 is here, and we have chills!

The Matrix Resurrections – Official Trailer 1

This epic journey began in 1999. It’s been 18 years since the last installment. After watching the trailer, we’ve got A LOT of questions. The plot is currently unknown.

The Matrix Resurrections will be released on December 22nd, 2021. This is going to be one hell of a holiday surprise.

Which pill will you choose?


From visionary filmmaker Lana Wachowski comes “The Matrix Resurrections,” the long-awaited fourth film in the groundbreaking franchise that redefined a genre. The new film reunites original stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in the iconic roles they made famous, Neo and Trinity.

The film also stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (the “Aquaman” franchise) Jessica Henwick (TV’s “Iron Fist,” “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton,” TV’s “Mindhunter”), Neil Patrick Harris (“Gone Girl”), Priyanka Chopra Jonas (TV’s “Quantico,”), Christina Ricci (TV’s “Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story,” “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles”), Telma Hopkins (TV’s “Dead to Me,”), Eréndira Ibarra (series “Sense8,” “Ingobernable”), Toby Onwumere (TV’s “Empire”), Max Riemelt (series “Sense8”), Brian J. Smith (series “Sense8,” “Treadstone”), and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Angel Has Fallen,” TV’s “Gotham”).

Lana Wachowski directed from a screenplay by Wachowski & David Mitchell & Aleksander Hemon, based on characters created by The Wachowskis. The film was produced by Grant Hill, James McTeigue and Lana Wachowski. The executive producers were Garrett Grant, Terry Needham, Michael Salven, Jesse Ehrman and Bruce Berman.

Wachowski’s creative team behind the scenes included “Sense8” collaborators: directors of photography Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, production designers Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole, editor Joseph Jett Sally, costume designer Lindsay Pugh, visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, and composers Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents, In Association with Village Roadshow Pictures, In Association with Venus Castina Productions, “The Matrix Resurrections.” The film will be distributed by worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. It will be in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan on December 22, 2021; it will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release.


 

Review: ‘Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes’ debuts parts 3 & 4 tonight on HBO & HBO MAX

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, a six-part, half-hour documentary series, brings to life Ronan Farrow’s intimate, revealing interviews with whistleblowers, journalists, private investigators and other sources, conducted for the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s podcast and best-selling book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and A Conspiracy to Protect Predators.

Directed by Emmy-winners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (HBO’s Carrie Fisher: Wishful Drinking), the series expands on the podcast and book with never-before-seen footage and new insights into this culture-shaking story. Interviews are interwoven with additional sound and imagery from documents, audiotapes, photos, archive footage, and illustrations. With fresh perspectives and detail — not just on the harrowing effort to expose one powerful predator, but on the systems that help cover up terrible crimes to this day — the series presents new revelations in the reporting on one of Hollywood’s most ungettable stories.

Reporters Ken Auletta and Kim Masters explore the roadblocks that stalled their years-long quests to expose Weinstein.​

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes is set during a period of recent history when the world seemed unrelentingly bleak. The documentary demonstrates that even during those dark times, however, courageous individuals worked hard to expose the truth for the sake of justice.

Throughout six 30-minute episodes, Ronan Farrow guides viewers through a complex web of conspirators fighting against his journalistic investigation into the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein’s rape offenses. While many may be familiar with the outlines of the case, like the many credible allegations of abuse and how Farrow’s New Yorker story helped trigger the #MeToo movement, the documentary focuses on many lesser-known aspects of the saga. 

Model Ambra Gutierrez reveals the high-stakes police sting operation that captured a chilling admission from Harvey Weinstein – and her plan to preserve the evidence after authorities declined to prosecute.

Each episode in the series uncovers a new layer in a complex web of protection, manipulation, and gentlemen’s agreements that Harvey and others have relied on to shield them from critique and consequences for decades. The thesis of this project is clear: Society should not be content with the conviction of high profile men like Harvey Weinstein alone. Instead, we must dismantle the complicit power structures that allowed Harvey Weinstein’s abuses to continue for years without repercussions. Farrow makes clear that media companies, attorneys, and literal spies worked together to shield powerful men from criminal prosecution and public contempt. 

Although I intended only to watch the first two installments, I ended up binging the rest of them in a single afternoon. Every chapter in the series is intriguing, closing on a cliffhanger that compels you to roll into the next. 

It is said that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Although there is still a long way to go, Catch and Kill instills a sense of hope that perhaps many of the traditional systems of power that have kept bad men on top for generations are more tenuous now than they have been before.

The documentary series debuted on HBO & HBO MAX with two back-to-back episodes MONDAY, JULY 12(9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), with new episodes airing back-to-back subsequent Mondays at the same time.

 

HBO Documentary films review: ‘The Legend Of The Underground’ Invites You to a Party and a Movement

The Legend of the Underground

This film is a searing and timely look at the struggle against rampant discrimination that exists in Nigeria today, as seen through the lens of several charismatic, non-conformist youth who fight to live life out loud. Through social media, celebrity and bold creativity, they spark a cultural debate that challenges the ideals of gender, conformity and civil rights in Nigeria.

The Legend of the Underground overflows with an unshakable optimism in the face of oppression that is mesmerizing to watch. Told by a tremendous ensemble cast, the film depicts the reality of a new generation of LGBTQ+ youth in Lagos, Nigeria, as they bravely push past a conservative cultural landscape in a quest for freedom and happiness. 

The film shows both the fight against rampant discrimination in Nigeria today and the LGBTQ+ community’s response– a defiant, dynamic, and endlessly creative counter-culture. While honest about the realities that these youth face, the film is not a slog through trauma and hardship. Instead, it is a fascinating deep dive into an in-crowd that is invite-only by necessity. Filmmakers Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey excel in contrasting exciting and brilliant underground club scenes with intimate portraits of human connection so much so that at times it feels like being immediately thrust into a deep friendship with the coolest kids you know. 

The dynamic is magnified by how the film spotlights naturally magnetic real-life characters like “World Famous James Brown”, or WFJamesBrown on his Instagram account (that I now follow). James’ snappy and legally sound retort to aggressive police brutality during a birthday party that local police condemned as a gay orientation(?!) went viral and helped to bring an international social media spotlight to the struggle of Nigeria’s LGBTQ+ community. 

No one can articulate what this film is about and who it represents better than the courageous individuals that make up its cast. Honestly, it was tempting to make this review solely pull quotes from the documentary itself because they are spectacular. There is local underground podcaster Tomi smartly setting the scene: “Lagos is not for vanilla cakes. Mm mm, no way. If you’re born with vanilla, keep those flavors in your house.” To James’ sincere hopeful mantra, “One thing about life is that you have to be extremely happy because happiness is the key to all things.” 

Although many may be familiar with what is happening in Nigeria from international headlines, the film aims to personify bland statistics by introducing faces, names, and stories to the discourse. Primarily, however, it portrays a group of brave young people relying on each other to create the community they need to survive.

Airing on HBO and HBO Max June 29th, 2021

Directed by Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah
Cinematography by Stephen Bailey
Edited by Rabab Haj Yahya
Executive Producers John LegendMike Jackson, and Ty Stiklorius

Review: Will HBO docuseries ‘ALLEN v. FARROW’ finally lead to accountability?

ALLEN v. FARROW

The four-part documentary series Allen v. Farrow, from award-winning investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, goes behind the years of sensational headlines to reveal the private story of one Hollywood’s most notorious and public scandals: the accusation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen involving Dylan, his then 7-year-old daughter with Mia Farrow; their subsequent custody trial, the revelation of Allen’s relationship with Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi; and the controversial aftermath in the years that followed.

There is a chilling feeling while watching this series. As a critic, I long fell into the same category as the journalists featured at the beginning of the episode. You grow up with the notion that Woodey Allen represented the quintessential essence of what New York City culture was. You’re enamored with it all. While inarguably furthering the early careers of actresses Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, and Mia Farrow (they made 12 films during their relationship), the pattern of behavior and theme of his obsession with young women run through his scripts. Woody Allen has somehow been allowed to continue to work mostly unscathed, even after the world knew about his relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi, even after the #MeToo movement continues to rain hell down on abusers. Allegations swirled about the sexual abuse of adopted daughter Dylan. This is the first time that Dylan gets to tell her story in earnest. This doc utilized Allen’s own words against him as excerpts of him narrating his 2020 memoir play in between intimate sitdown interviews with Mia, Dylan, Ronan, family, and friends of the once power couple. Mia took endless hours of home videos for years, adding to the amount of readily available footage from the media. Finally hearing all the details from the source is brutal. It’s a visceral watch.  As a parent, it is next-level painful. Watching the cycle of emotional abuse Mia endured from one man to the next, all while unconditionally loving her children adds another complex layer to this situation. This series will undoubtedly be controversial. It will be interesting to see the apologists come out loud and proud. There’s an enormous amount of evidence to digest. You will be shocked, sickened, furious, heartbroken. All this just at the end of the first of four episodes. ALLEN v. FARROW has to potential to reopen old wounds for a lot of trauma survivors. It also has the potential to knock another man off the pedestal we’ve kept him on for far too long.

The remaining episodes of ALLEN v. FARROW will air over the next subsequent Sunday nights on HBO at 9 pm.

HBO documentary series review: ‘The Lady and The Dale’ tells the unbelievably true story of a transgender entrepreneur.

The Lady and The Dale

This four-part documentary series from Emmy®-winning producers Mark and Jay Duplass (“Room 104”) traces the audacious story of Elizabeth Carmichael, a larger-than-life entrepreneur who took the world by storm with her promotion of a fuel-efficient, three-wheeled car known as The Dale in the middle of the 1970s oil crisis. Liz’s promotional zeal thrust her into fierce public and media scrutiny which uncovered a web of mystery and suspicion about the car’s technology and her own checkered past.

This HBO docu-series about a mad genius who happened to be a trans woman, The Lady and The Dale comes from Emmy-winning Mark and Jay Duplass and is co-directed by Nick Cammilleri and Zackery Drucker. Who is Elizabeth Dean Carmichael? Perhaps the first question should be, “Who is Jerry Dean Michael?” Smart, fearless, and loyal, Jerry might as well be the subject of Catch Me If You Can. Then everything changes as entrepreneur Liz arrives on the scene. She would be the one to rule. Using eye-catching 2D animation and archival footage to illustrate intimate sit-down interviews, it’s insanely engaging. The way this family was brought up sounds like it cannot be true but boy, is it entertaining. The FBI, the mob, the police, the media all wanted a piece of Jerry or Liz… or both. And this is only the first episode of this docu-series! To think this is merely a set-up for what is coming in Liz’s story is surreal. Last night, The Lady and The Dale debuted with back to back episodes. They are explosive and completely unreal. If you’re not completely hooked a few minutes into episode 1, I would be flabbergasted. The amount of information thrown at the audience is massive and completely intriguing. How do one woman and a three-wheeled car make history? Just you wait and see. This is a captivating story of a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Elizabeth Carmichael would take on the auto industry and the world, for better or for worse. The final two episodes of The Lady and The Dale will air over the next two Sundays and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

HBO Max original review: ‘Superintelligence’ reminds us to be grateful for Melissa McCarthy.

original
When an all-powerful Superintelligence (James Corden) chooses to study the most average person on Earth, Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), the fate of the world hangs in the balance. As the A.I. decides to enslave, save, or destroy humanity, it’s up to Carol to prove that people are worth saving.

75% of this film is Melissa McCarthy speaking directly into the camera and it’s brilliant. The social commentary is what grabs you. It’s presented in an accessible, funny, and genuine way. The script is straight-up hilarious. I mean ceaselessly laugh out loud hysterical. The timing of the release is frankly just what we needed in this dumpster fire of a year. McCarthy plays a woman who left big tech to do better. She is simply living her life when it is interrupted by an AI that doesn’t grasp the totality of humanity. And can you blame it? These days? Technology has caused a lot of drama, heartache, hatred, and sadness over the past few years in particular. Superintelligence tackles it all but makes it funny.

Bobby Cannavale is charming as ever. His chemistry with Melissa is enchanting. Jean Smart, clearly modeled after Hillary Clinton, is obviously incredible. Brian Tyree Henry as Dennis is magic. His comic timing is something a director dreams about. He is a delight. James Corden’s smart-alecky demeanor is the perfect foil for Melissa McCarthy. He pushes her buttons and her limits allowing the plot to barrel forward. As for McCarthy…You cannot help but adore the character of Carol. You will instantly connect with her. She is down-to-earth, anxiety-ridden, and sincere.  All of Melissa McCarthy‘s positive energy shines off the screen. She embodies all that is good. McCarthy proves, once again, she is a comic genius. But outside the laughs is a very human character that hits home, reminding us what a well-rounded actor she truly is.

At first glance, the script appears to focus on technology. At the heart of it, the story is about just the opposite. Superintelligence breaks down the human experience from the superficial to the profound. The small moments that become monumental in the grand scheme of life. It chooses kindness and self-sacrifice over hatred and selfishness. It will make you smile from ear to ear. It’s one of the year’s best family films. Superintelligence reminds us all of what we should be grateful for.

Premieres on HBO Max on November 26, 2020

 

DIRECTOR: Ben Falcone
WRITTEN BY: Steve Mallory
PRODUCED BY: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, and Rob Cowan
CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Brian Tyree Henry, and James Corden

HBO’s four-part Original docuseries review: ‘Murder on Middle Beach’ episode one airs tonight.

HBO Documentary Films’ MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH, a four-part documentary series directed by first-time filmmaker Madison Hamburg, presents Hamburg’s complicated journey as a young man determined to solve an unspeakable crime and absolve the people he loves, while looking for answers within his fractured family and community.

 

On March 3, 2010, single mother Barbara Hamburg was found violently murdered near her home in the upper-middle-class enclave of Madison, Connecticut. Investigators speculated her murder appeared to be a crime of passion, but without enough evidence, the case grew cold.

Over the course of 8 years, Barbara’s son, Madison Hamburg, interviewed his family members and many others, longing to learn more about his mother and gathering evidence in hopes of solving her murder, sending him into a deep web of buried familial secrets, connections to shadowy criminal figures, and the uncovering of years-old resentments in his deceptively serene hometown. While Madison wrestles with troubling revelations about his mother, the most unsettling conflict comes from Madison’s obligation to bring into question those inside his community and members of his own family.

Madison Hamburg wants to know what happened to his mother in 2010. Growing up in an affluent Connecticut town myself, I found it shocking that I had not heard about this case. Who would want to kill a stay at home mother? What are the motives for such a brutal act? The theories seem straight forward until you’re steered down another road due to lack of evidence. The things that went wrong in this initial investigation will frustrate you to no end. You have to give Madison credit for having the courage and, for lack of a more eloquent way of putting it, balls for putting his entire childhood and now adulthood on the line to solve this mystery and deal with his trauma.

Creative editing places you inside the family dynamic of the Hamburgs. Not just Madison’s odd relationship with his estranged father, but his aunt’s and uncles, grandparents, and his sister Barbara, the 4th of that namesake on his mother’s side. Madison uses home videos and still photography to invite you into the years he had with his Mom. Some of the most unique moments come in the form of vintage voiceovers from what seems like those creepy 1950s classroom movies. It is eerily effective. Intimate sit-down interviews play the largest part as the mystery grows. There are constant hints of family secrets but we only get a tease in the final moments of episode one. You’re so invested in this story, it’s frightening. There is no doubt Madison Hamburg wants the truth. I know I’ll be watching the final 3 episodes on HBO to find out if he gets it. Murder on Middle Beach will air episode 1 tonight at 10:00-11:00pm ET/PT.

Stream on HBO Max: http://itsh.bo/hbo-max

MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH debuts on November 15 on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

Review: ‘An American Pickle’ has you seeing double on HBO Max.

AN AMERICAN PICKLE

AN AMERICAN PICKLE, directed by Brandon Trost, is based on Simon Rich’s New Yorker novella and stars Seth Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, a struggling laborer who immigrates to America in 1919 with dreams of building a better life for his beloved family. One day, while working at his factory job, he falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. The brine preserves him perfectly and when he emerges in present day Brooklyn, he finds that he hasn’t aged a day. But when he seeks out his family, he is troubled to learn that his only surviving relative is his great grandson, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), a mild-mannered computer coder whom Herschel can’t even begin to understand.

The simple wonders of experiencing something for the first time is essentially the purest form of comedy in An American Pickle. Seth Rogen plays two distinctly different versions of “himself”. Having met Seth in real life, his Ben character feels very much like him. Down-to-earth, genuinely sweet, and very funny. As Herschel, he is truly astounding. The magic in his eyes, the reverent and tender respect for history and his family. I fear Rogen gets lumped into a certain category when you mention his name. While I love all his films, An American Pickle is different in a good way for him. It’s an engaging script with a funny concept. But really, the film is about family loyalty and pride. The jokes are whipsmart and insanely relevant to the absurdity of social influence and 2020 in general. This film lives and dies by the performances from Rogen. He needs more opportunities to show his acting chops in earnest. While the film has a lot of hilarious moments, as a whole it’s a little meandering for its roughly hour and a half runtime. Come to think of it, it might have fared better as a serial sitcom. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth your time. If you’re a Seth Rogen fan you will not be disappointed. An American Pickle premieres tomorrow exclusively on HBO Max.

“An American Pickle” begins streaming on HBO Max on August 6