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: ‘Come Back Anytime’ is a Visual Feast with Charisma to Spare

Come Back Anytime

For more than forty years, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has been serving his legendary Tokyo-style ramen to a community of regulars who are not only his customers, but true friends.


Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best: good food, great friends, and a cold glass of sake. “Come Back Anytime” is a lovely tribute to Bizentei, a cozy ramen noodle restaurant located on a quiet corner of suburban Tokyo. Within this neighborhood gem, ramen master Masamoto Ueda has served comforting bowls of noodles for over thirty years while cultivating a cast of charming regulars that return week after week. While the lush cooking scenes bring to mind the much-heralded “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Bizentei has a relaxed communal atmosphere much more akin to “Cheers.” Serving a ramen style considered somewhat old-fashioned but with seriously upgraded ingredients, the regulars cherish the nostalgic qualities of the food as much as Master Ueda’s company. Through first-person interviews with the patrons, viewers gain privileged access to a cozy hub, and it quickly becomes apparent why it holds such a special place in the community. 

The film opens with the subtle ASMR of Chef Ueda opening his shop for the day. Beautiful cinematography captures both art and skill as Chef prepares delicate broths that simmer gently in the background forming swirls of quiet steam, then sharpens glistening knives on a dark stone before chopping picture-perfect vegetables into neat symmetrical rows. I was captivated less than five minutes in. 

“Come Back Anytime” grabs your attention with a stunning presentation of traditional Japanese cuisine, but it is the intimate portraits of friendship forged over crispy fried gyoza or melt in your mouth chashu that will capture your heart.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) short film reviews: ‘Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker ‘ & ‘Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma’

Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker  

This is what most short films aspire to be– a brief 30 minutes that conveys a story so completely it feels like a much longer narrative. An exposition on the homoerotic imagery within the art of J.C. Leyendecker, Coded excels at blending what is essentially an art history lesson with its present-day significance and with a deeply romantic love story to boot. As someone who is always here for a story about true love, this one left an impression that is unlikely to fade.


Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma

Overflowing with cool-kid energy, this short film dazzles and delights. A tribute to the Black ABCs and growing up in New Jersey, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma excels in quickly establishing a sense of place. This is a film about black people that is made for black people, i.e. Art that deeply respects its subject. The colors and angles of the shots are gripping, trippy, and mesmerizing. Viewing was akin to walking through an art exhibit: what do all the disparate clips mean? You get the sense of it but it’s mostly vibes.


For more info on DOC NYC 2021 click here!


DOC NYC (2021) review: Questlove Flawlessly Mixes Music + History in ‘SUMMER PF SOUL’

SUMMER OF SOUL

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.


Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut is simply brilliant. It might almost be a given that as a world-famous and beloved D.J., every musical and visual choice in Summer of Soul masterfully cultivates a vibe and maintains that dazzling energy for the length of the entire film. In addition to showcasing a great party, Summer of Soul provides viewers with the essential historical and cultural context to fully appreciate what they are witnessing. Through passionate first-person narratives from attendees, the film balances what in less experienced hands might have become merely a history lesson with one hell of a show. 

 Piecing together recently discovered footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a celebration of black culture as it transitioned from the tumult of the 1960s into the black liberation movement of the 1970s. In a time of great uncertainty and political unrest, the concert series set in Mt. Morris Park was a time for black pride and celebration. The film includes never before seen live performances by a young Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and many more. Every shot is colorful, powerful, and tells a story. The music is phenomenal. The costumes are dazzling– maybe men should reconsider brightly colored ruffle shirts?– the Black Panthers provided security in full regalia, including the berets. Each shot is a wonder and a visual feast. 

 Summer of Soul is a vital inclusion to narratives around the Summer of Love and essential addition to understanding the complete history of the era.


SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It is streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.


Review: Survivors & True Believers Look to the Future in ‘KEEP SWEET’ 

KEEP SWEET

Warren Jeffs was the Prophet of the FLDS, an offshoot of Mormonism. Jeffs demanded absolute loyalty, and instituted complete adherence to the religion, requiring strict dress codes, banishing community celebrations, and casting out followers who didn’t fall in line.

His controversial reign ended with a conviction for sexual assault with underage girls, landing him in jail for life. Jeffs’ downfall sent shock waves throughout the community, with some continuing to pledge their loyalty to him, while others turned their backs on Jeff’s and the FLDS religion altogether.

Ten years after his arrest, those left behind attempt to rebuild their community. KEEP SWEET is an allegory for the unsettling reality we are living through in America. Can we learn how to live with one another despite our different ideologies, or are we destined to live apart?


 

As the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) prophet, Warren Jeffs controlled every aspect of public and private life for his sheltered religious community. Now serving life plus twenty years for a litany of abuses, “Keep Sweet” explores what happens next for the town Jeffs reigned over and the true believers that he left behind. 

 In many ways, “Keep Sweet” feels like the second installment of a trilogy, where once the main antagonist is defeated, those that remain must sort through the detritus to find a way forward in an altered reality. Once a walled, isolated and semi-autonomous religious town, Colorado Springs is no longer only a haven for the FLDS. The influx of new arrivals is shaking up the traditional land use, politics, and mores that have remained stagnant for generations. The film seeks to discover if the community will survive this influx of diversity (using the term loosely) or if one culture will ultimately overwhelm the other. 

Director Don Argott excels in bringing humanity to both the survivors who left the FLDS and the sect’s steadfast believers that are now left adrift after its collapse. Though many choices by those portrayed in “Keep Sweet” are baffling to the extreme, the filmmakers treat everyone gently and take care that none of the subjects are made a mockery. 

By its end, I was rooting for everyone to make it past this transition period, and I am fascinated to learn which version of this town will ultimately take hold.


Streaming Exclusively on discovery+
Beginning This Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Directed by Don Argott (Believer, The Art of the Steal, Kurt Vonnegut: American Made)
Executive Produced by Rasha DrachkovitchStephanie Noonan DrachkovitchGlenn Meehan, and David Hale for 44 Blue Productions and Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce for 9.14 Pictures


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘GO HEAL YOURSELF’ takes a deep dive into alternative medicine.

GO HEAL YOURSELF

Against the wishes of her family, Yasmin sets out to find a treatment for her
epilepsy via alternative medicine. Meeting inspiring people all around the
world, she learns that this route is not as easy as simply taking a pill.


My aunt has always used homeopathic remedies. She’s beaten breast cancer twice. As someone with chronic pain from a neck injury caused by a car accident, anxiety since childhood, severe dance injuries, and phantom pain and diastasis recti from two C-sections, I would love to find ways to heal myself. You hear testimonials constantly on the internet or get messages on social media from women in health and wellness, aka the newest pyramid scheme. In Go Heal Yourself, filmmaker Yasmin C. Rams goes on a mission to explore alternative medicine for her epilepsy and her father’s Parkinson’s. It is a journey fraught with emotion. 

The argument of western vs. eastern medicine will never fade. Alternative medicine is a rare topic in my house. We believe in science, but that never discounts the science we aren’t familiar with yet. Although, my neck injury was so painful that I did my first and only session of acupuncture. It did not move the needle (pun intended) on my pain scale. I’ve since watched two aunts go through breast cancer treatments. Neither of their stories is the norm. While one used homeopathic medicine, the other did chemotherapy but never got sick. I’ve never heard of that before. 

In Go Heal Yourself, Yasmin’s father is skeptical. Her attempts to change his diet or convince him that his medication isn’t helping fall of deaf ears. Her epilepsy seems to reach a point of no return as CBD and herbal supplements become too expensive. In her search for answers, Rams reaches out to those individuals across the globe who claim their sickness wained due to a drastic lifestyle change and not medication. You cannot help but become emotionally attached to the people featured in Go Heal Yourself. You’d be hardpressed not to know someone in your life that isn’t afflicted similarly. While some of them heal, others struggle. Each believes that holistic medicine will lessen their ailments in the end. It’s the mental aspect that seems the most powerful. With mindfulness becoming more mainstream, those who practice may feel vindication from this doc.

We are fully invested in Yasmin’s journey. It’s a personal, oftentimes dark, diary of sorts. Undoubtedly, we’re hoping to find our miracle cure as we watch. Go Heal Yourself is going to rattle people, and there’s no getting around it. But if it causes us to stop and think for a moment about what our health means in our souls, then it has succeeded wholeheartedly. At the very least it opens up the dialogue.


Online Dates

Sunday, November 14 – Sunday, November 28, 2021


Director: Yasmin C. Rams
Producer: Yasmin C. Rams, Rodney Charles
Cinematographer: Vita Spiess, Nic Smith
Editor: Kirsten Kieninger
Music: Patrick Puszko
Language: English, German, Spanish, Mandarin
Country: Germany
Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘YOUNG PLATO’ dares kids (and audiences) to use their words.

YOUNG PLATO

An inspiring documentary from the filmmakers of School Life (Released by Magnolia Pictures), YOUNG PLATO charts the dream of Elvis-loving school headmaster Kevin McArevey – a maverick who is determined to change the fortunes of an inner-city community plagued by urban decay, sectarian aggression, poverty and drugs. YOUNG PLATO hums with the confidence of youth, a tribute to the power of the possible. 


Teaching is hard. It’s also perhaps one of the most underappreciated careers. You cannot fully comprehend the emotional and physical burdens if you’ve never been in a classroom. In Belfast, a headmaster named Mr. McArevey teaches Philosophy to his primary school students. He makes it approachable. He creatively breaks down ideas to facilitate communication and critical thinking. Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School could be a blueprint for schools all over the globe.

Dealing with their anger is a running theme. Considering the neighborhood’s history, this is vital for these boys’ survival. I’m 41 years old, and until watching Young Plato, I don’t think I truly understood the chaos of religious politics in Ireland. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath juxtapose volatile footage from 2001 with present-day footage of those same streets, now lined with school-age children. It’s a chilling effect.

 Holy Cross’s methods of discipline, under the guidance of McArevey, are fantastic, as the students actively and knowingly utilize philosophical strategies. The social-emotional impact that this could have in every school would be mind-blowing. In an area where violence is so prevalent, using the power of words is priceless. These young boys, even during reprimand, are unafraid to express their feelings. The intimacy and care that Young Plato takes in showcasing the children are beautiful. As a former teacher, this is a school that has all the tools. As a mother of a Kindergartener on the spectrum, focused, individual attention can change a child’s life. Holy Cross is a shining example. 

As the kids learn about their area’s recent violent past, the profound thoughts of peace from these youngsters give me hope. McArevey makes kids accountable for their words and actions. The staff does not let them off the hook while simultaneously extending consistent praise. Watching these lads progress through the school year, seeing the unique brand of teaching should inspire us all to do and be better with one another. Young Plato is a guide to a better world. 


For tickets to see Young Plato click here!


Director: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Declan McGrath
Executive Producer: Lesley McKimm, Justin Binding, Andrew Reid, Catherine LeGoff, Grainne McAleer
Producer: David Rane, Co-Producer: Hanne Phlypo, Jackie Doyle, Céline Nusse, Declan McGrath
Writer: Neasa Ní Chianáin, Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath
Cinematographer: Neasa Ní Chianáin
Editor: Philippe Ravoet
Music: David Poltrock
Language: English
Country: Ireland, UK, France, Belgium

Year: 2021


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Business of Birth Control’

The Business of Birth Control

Sixty years after the pill revolutionized women’s emancipation, THE BUSINESS OF BIRTH CONTROL examines the complex relationship between hormonal birth control and women’s health and liberation. The documentary traces the feminist movement to investigate and expose the pill’s risks alongside the racist legacy of hormonal contraception and its ongoing weaponization against communities of color.  Weaving together the stories of bereaved parents, body literacy activists and femtech innovators, the film reveals a new generation seeking holistic and ecological alternatives to the pill while redefining the meaning of reproductive justice.


Is “the Pill” killing us? Perhaps not, according to the innumerable doctors who prescribe it to 11 million women. 35% of which are for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. Anytime I heard about my girlfriends going on birth control in high school or college, it was the same complaints; weight gain, mood swings, depression, and suicidal ideation. I never went on the pill because I was terrified by the side effects. In The Business of Birth Control, get ready to have your mind blown because everything you think you know about contraceptives and The Pill is about to change. The entire FDA approval study was based on only 132 women in Puerto Rico. What?! Under the auspices of body autonomy, the side effects were hidden or swept under the rug by the medical industry. Not a damn thing has changed. Profit and politics and old white men making decisions for women. Follow the money. Why fix a $17 billion industry? 

The Business of Birth Control utilizes doctors, educators, activists, and people passionate about giving you as much information as possible. We also hear about the fatal links to products like Yaz and NuvaRing. Director Abby Epstein introduces us to a group of parents who lost their daughters to the side effects of these hormonal contraceptives. They have become activists and not by choice. They wonder why there aren’t clear visual warnings on the front of contraception packages, much like cigarettes. I always pause when I watch drug commercials, and they rattle off the giant list of potential side effects.

I struggled to get pregnant for eight months. Every month I cried when the pregnancy test was negative. Then someone turned me onto an app very similar to the method discussed in the doc. I tracked my temperature each morning and some other information because you cannot get pregnant every day of your cycle, but that’s not what has been drilled into our heads since Sex Ed class in 5th grade. Within three months, I was pregnant, and I knew because of my spike in temperature. I knew before taking a test because I had learned the natural cycle of my body. 

Abby Epstein and Executive Producer Ricki Lake (The Business of Being Born) have given us so much to consider with this doc. There are more ways to maintain reproductive autonomy than I ever imagined. The fight continues to bring these options to every corner of the country, and much like the battle to keep abortion safe and legal, we cannot slow down in educating the masses. This film is not strictly for cis-gendered women who menstruate. The Business of Birth Control is knowledge every person should consume. Let’s keep talking to each other because that is empowerment. 


November 10th – November 18th

For tickets to watch The Business of Birth Control click here!


Directed by: Abby Epstein (The Business of Being BornWeed The People)

Executive produced by: Ricki Lake (Hairspray)

Producers: Abby Epstein, James Costa (Lunch HourWelcome to Chechnya), Holly Grigg-Spall, Anna Kolber (Chasing the Present)


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘OBJECTS’ taps into our tangible sentimentality.

OBJECTS

Why do we sometimes save objects for years that seem precious to us, yet have no intrinsic value? For some, these mementos are the root of clutter and materialism, but for others, they are a treasured record of their lives. A way to hold on to time and life itself. A tangible nostalgia.

OBJECTS explores a very different kind of ‘collector.’ Through the lives of three unique individuals who have held onto a seemingly meaningless object – a fifty-year-old clump of grass, a sweater that once belonged to a French actress, and a forty-year-old sugar egg – the documentary explores how we find meaning. These objects are not things to be flaunted, rather they are items that profoundly touch their owners in ways that few others can understand.


Vincent Liota taps into our inherently sentimental human hearts. As someone who has a box of objects dating back to at least age 5, as someone who married a man with his own small chest of treasured things, and a mother that fills her home with memories (including a broken flamingo ornament that I would hide in the Christmas tree to avoid its demise), OBJECTS speaks directly to me.

While looking through the memories hidden inside his bookshelf, Robert Krulwich, former host of RadioLab and current NPR correspondent, says something that struck me, “That’s time travel.” Objects are stories. Objects are history. As for the doc, OBJECTS features items spanning from a clump of grass to a sugar egg. Hearing the meaning of these things directly from the people who keep them moves you. You are instantly invested in their safety and fascinated by their existence. The walkthroughs of spaces filled with memories create an emotional gravity that is undeniable. We all know the old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” OBJECTS proves just that.

I adored the time focusing on the methods of Marie Kondo. Like everyone else, when her series hit Netflix, I started to rummage through my drawers, cabinets, and boxes of things. I pulled all my clothes out of the closet and threw them onto my bed to decide what sparked joy. It was much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. In the end, I think I tossed things based more on logic and not at all on sentimentality. When it comes to my children, well, that is another story. I have a box filled with their sweetest baby outfits. 

OBJECTS captivates you with its ceaseless charm. Items that seem to have zero connection to the viewer go from innocuous to deeply meaningful. As we bounce from one unique narrative to the next, you cannot help but think about what is most important in your life. Perhaps it is not the object itself but the memory it envokes that we cherish so much. Regardless, OBJECTS reminds us that we are all connected, how a passing moment affects an entire lifetime. To quote Doctor Who, “We are all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?”


https://www.objectsfilm.com/trailer

For more information and tickets to watch OBJECTS click here!


Director: Vincent Liota
Executive Producer: Sally Roy, Vincent Liota
Producer: Vincent Liota
Writer: Vincent Liota
Cinematographer: Sam Cullman, Vincent Liota, Jason Longo, Bryan Margaca
Editor: Vincent Liota
Music: APM Library, Mark Orton
Language: English, French, Italian
Country: USA

Year: 2021


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.


Discovery + review: ‘SET!’ invites you to take a seat at one of the weirdest and most wonderful competitive sports you’ve never heard of.

Once a year, a group of feverishly determined table setters vie for the “Best of Show” ribbon at the Orange County Fair table setting competition. Often referred to as “The Olympics of Table Setting,” contestants can spend over 6 months preparing their table to compete and ultimately be judged. A merely misplaced soup spoon can mean the end for an otherwise perfect table. But like any competition, it is not without its dramatics. Old rivalries, controversy, and eccentric personalities come to a head as SET! explores topics far beyond the silverware.


Competitive tablescaping? Yes, you read that correctly. What, praytell, is competitive tablescaping? Well, it’s only the most amazing, strange, imaginative, cutthroat sport you’ve probably never heard of. Each year, under the guidance of a specific theme, competitors create place settings that will either wow or ward off a panel of judges and their fellow contestants. In SET!, director Scott Gawlik documents the six months leading up to the annual Orange County Fair table setting competition and its coveted “Best In Show” ribbon. 

Every inch and angle of cutlery and drinking glasses amounts to a point total. Scores are a cumulative system where one tiny mistake could cost you the top prize, which I think is bragging rights and not the 50 cent ribbon. What makes this sport so massively entertaining comes down to the interpretation of the theme and the competitors’ personalities. In SET!, featured competitors are not shy about sharing their opinions. More often than not, they’re downright catty. 

The judging is rigid. The rules are clear, but that doesn’t mean some of the comments aren’t questionable. Gawlik presents this aspect with glorious tongue-in-cheek energy through the film’s editing. But the drama pervades the entire process. A mostly female-dominated pastime, SET! also features a male competitor, Tim, who made his Dr. Suess-themed table on a literal dime. Others spend thousands on a single display. The snark, the tears, and the infighting make SET! something akin to Christopher Guest‘s Best In Show and The Real Housewives. The eccentricities of our featured contestants make SET! popcorn-worthy, high-stakes drama. The final displays vary in size, tone, and unconventionality. Some tables are complex, while others are simple and clean. But it’s the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of SET! that holds you captive. I never thought I’d be so invested in the placement of a water glass, and yet, here I am wondering what my holiday table will look like a month from now. 


Streaming on discovery+ on November 12th

Directed by Scott Gawlik

*Official Selection – Hot Docs 2021*
*Official Selection – Newport Beach Film Festival*


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘The Bengali’ breaks cultural and physical barriers.

THE BENGALI

Fatima Shaik, an African-American author (Economy Hall) from New Orleans, and whose family has lived in Louisiana for four generations, embarks upon an unlikely quest from The Big Easy to a part of India where no African-American (or American) has ever gone. Her search for the past is fraught with uncertainty as she looks for her late grandfather Shaik Mohamed Musa’s descendants, the land he claimed to own, and the truth behind the stories she grew up with. Her incredible journey is told in New York City-based award-winning filmmaker Kavery Kaul’s (Cuban Canvas, Long Way From Home) new feature documentary THE BENGALI.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people lost homes, heirlooms, family, and stories. In The Bengali, African American writer Fatima Shaik leaves her birthplace of New Orleans to follow the path of her grandfather, Shaik Muhamed Musa. His history becomes the mystery Fatima seeks to unravel. Director Kavery Kaul was born in Kolkata. These two women travel to India on a mission of recovery and emotional enlightenment.

I lived in India from the end of 2008 into the beginning of 2009. In many cases, I was the first Westerner many of the locals in Hyderabad had ever seen. Most certainly, the first white woman. I was fascinated by the lush history of my surroundings. I watched as the landscape changed around me, sometimes quite literally. I witnessed the erection of modern malls and office buildings, as tent cities surrounding the community we initially lived in were simultaneously bulldozed over. The difference in culture was overwhelming. But unlike Fatima Shaik, I had no familial connection to the country. In The Bengali, Fatima and Kavery are there to seek answers and validate the stories passed down from Fatima’s grandfather. The greater the roadblocks, the more she questions. The locals are suspicious, and rumors begin to fly about her presence. Is her entire family history a lie?

Watching The Bengali is like a time warp for me. Fatima is just as lost and overwhelmed in the country’s bureaucratic ridiculousness. It’s a palpable frustration I know all too well. Merely attempting to travel from point A to point B is a challenge. Never mind the daunting sense of direction within street signs and, in many cases, house numbers. The handheld camera work immerses you into the chaos. In most cities, the people speak at least a few English words. In a small village, that was always less likely. Thankfully, Fatima had Kavery to assist in translation. Attempting this journey without her aid would be near impossible. But, like my own experiences, the most intriguing conversations occur between her and the village women. Discussions of gender roles, education, arranged marriage vs. love marriage give us insight into rural Indian culture. Religion becomes a point of contention, but that should not be of any surprise. But it is the often forgotten story of immigrants that rings the loudest. There is an entire history of Indian and African American culture in America that I had never heard of. The documentary became a new page in our history. 

Finding roots changes a person, no matter the outcome of information. The Bengali is a candid and revelatory dive into past and present, and thus the future. It breaks social and physical barriers, showing the viewer we’re all part of a much larger community than we could imagine.


Director: Kavery Kaul
Executive Producer: Deborah Shaffer
Producer: Kavery Kaul, Lucas Groth
Writer: Kavery Kaul
Cinematographer: John Russell Foster
Editor: Lucas Groth
Music: Nainita Desai
Language: English, Bengali
Country: USA
Year: 2021

Winner of the Special Jury Award at Roxbury Film Festival and the International Humanitarian Award at Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, The Bengali will make its New York Premiere at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival. The film will screen in person on Saturday, Nov. 13th at 4:45 pm at IFC Center with additional virtual screenings from Nov. 14-28. For tickets, visit https://www.docnyc.net/film/the-bengali/.


 

DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS’ is a lesson in compassion and kindness.

MR BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS

Where does one feel at home? In Stadtallendorf, a German city with a complex history of both excluding and integrating foreigners, genial teacher Dieter Bachmann offers his pupils the key to at least feeling as if they are at home.


When children get caught in the crosshairs of sociopolitical complexities, it’s rarely a good thing. In one specialized German school, an extraordinary teacher treats his students like his own children. Through language, history, German, and music, Dieter Bachmann breaks down the walls of his classroom and the industrial landscape in which they reside. Their families mostly hail from Turkey, having left to find work at the local factories. They must learn to adapt to new languages and ideas, thus breaking a cycle for their generation.

Director Maria Speth immerses the audience in the cinema verite style, and the choice is perfection. As a former teacher, placing the camera inside the action gives the viewer a real sense of the minute-to-minute chaos of a classroom. Kids are laughing, rolling their eyes, struggling, learning, expressing opinions all at once. Their anxiety is palpable as we watch parent-teacher conferences. The heart of Bachmann is the purest. You are invested in these children as they navigate challenges in and outside of school. You get to experience the aha moments that are some of the most rewarding times as a teacher. The kids are bright and thoughtful. Their opinions often differ, but the conversations sparked from those differences are brilliant. Mr. Bachmann and His Class reminds us that the human spirit needs encouragement. We cannot do it alone. While it does take a village to raise a child, Stadtallendorf is lucky to have Dieter Bachmann. 


For Tickets to Mr. Bachmann and His Class click here!


Director: Maria Speth

Producer: Maria Speth
Cinematographer: Reinhold Vorschneider
Editor: Maria Speth
Music: Oliver Göbel
Language: German
Country: Germany

Year: 2021


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.


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.


Review: The kids are not alright. In fact, in Jesse P. Pollack’s ‘THE ACID KING’, the kids are very screwed up.

Dan Jones and Jesse Pollack’s powerful The Acid King, the story of Ricky Kasso, an American teenager who murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers, in an alleged “Satanic sacrifice” during the summer of 1984, premieres On Demand.


Pollack’s gritty documentary takes the viewer through the story of Ricky Kasso, a disaffected teen who took the media by storm in 1984 when he stabbed a friend to death in an alleged “satanic sacrifice.”

You can see why the media sniffed around. The few glances of Kasso the viewer gets are thoroughly terrifying – he’s got a wide-eyed stared frazzled by drugs and years of neglect. Add in some heavy metal, debts, and even more drugs? You’ve got a recipe for a sensational murder that added fuel to the “satanic panic” bonfire of anxiety that plagued the Regan-era suburbs.

Pollack seeks to paint with a broad brush; interviews range from friends and acquaintances to artists who were later inspired by Kasso’s story. While this shows how influential and far-reaching this tragedy became, it also results in an incoherent narrative.

The documentary can’t decide if it’s about a kid who was repeatedly failed by his parents, about mental illness, or about the start of the satanic panic. It gives you a little bit of everything. Rather than bringing a voice to the victim behind this story, it focuses much more on the myth and legacy of Ricky Kasso. This documentary makes clear that the satanic elements of the case were sensationalized but simultaneously give a platform to some interviewees to further perpetuate these very myths.

The Acid King definitely reinforces the twisted legacy of Ricky Kasso, as well as giving some insights into the tragedies that may have supported his downward spiral. I just wish it had gone a little further, been a little more decisive, and left me with a few more answers.


On Demand November 9 from Wild Eye Releasing.


Review: ‘Alice is Still Dead’ Grapples with the Limits of Justice

In an intimate and unflinching account dealing with grief, ‘Alice is Still Dead’ tells the story of a murdered loved one from the victim’s family perspective. From the detective’s notification to her family to facing the killer in court, we see the pain, anger, and heartbreak a family must endure while the nightmare is investigated.


In most true crime stories, the mystery of “what really happened” carries the narrative. Viewers are invited to reconstruct timelines and decipher motives, then try and solve the crime simultaneously with the professional investigators. Alice is Still Dead turns that formula on its head. For instance, what if there is a brutal murder, but the facts– while devastating– are relatively straightforward? What if the central protagonist is tragically incidental to the killer’s motive? What if the police and justice system function exactly as society intends them to do? This film illustrates that even without the standard narrative hooks of true crime, a shocking senseless death is still a story. There is still a family that must find a way to carry on despite their grief and try to find contentment with the limits of justice.  

 This documentary is a fascinating portrait of a family grappling with the shock and aftermath of the death of Alice Stevens, a young woman murdered in Thunderbolt, Georgia, in 2013. Through touching interviews with those that knew Alice best, Director Edwin P. Stevens (Alice’s older brother) tells the story of a murder from the perspective of the victim’s family. In this tribute, the filmmaker ultimately asks how and if it’s possible to move forward after such a traumatic event.

 Important viewing for true crime fans, this film explores angles that many projects in the genre leave unaddressed.


Alice is Still Dead will be available on Digital and VOD globally beginning November 5 from Global Digital Releasing.


Written by Meredith Mantik, Joe Raffa, and Edwin P. Stevens. Produced by Cory Pyke, Joe Raffa, and Edwin P. Stevens. Executive Produced by Edwin and Cecilia Stevens.


 

Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘Sisters With Transistors’ hits all the right notes.

SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS

Filmmaker Lisa Rovner follows the story of electronic music’s female pioneers, composers who embraced machines and their liberating technologies to transform how we produce and listen to music today.


Sisters With Transistors beautifully brings to life a niche history that you didn’t know you were missing but will surely recognize. The film seamlessly weaves together the personal stories of innovative composers like Clara Rockmore, Daphne Oram, Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, and Suzanne Ciani through live performances, archival footage, and visual interpretations of their music. Some pieces are moody and atmospheric; others are challenging and experimental. Yet, all of them reverberate with unique genius, creativity, and passion. The overall effect is a captivating documentary on an unsung history that is endlessly engaging to watch.

The documentary excels in exploring each composer’s source of inspiration and the theory behind her music. Delia Derbyshire, for example, was trained as a mathematician and drew inspiration from air sirens after surviving the London blitz. Using equipment borrowed from other departments while working at the BBC, she worked after hours shaping, molding, altering the speed, and adding new layers of sound to sirens, ultimately creating unique, futuristic scores. Iconically, Derbyshire is most well known for creating the original electronic music theme for Dr. Who. 

 While every featured composer drew from different points of inspiration, they all continually pushed the boundaries of what can be called “music” and who gets to create it. A mesmerizing opus into electronic music theory and the underappreciated role of women within it, Sisters With Transistors hits all the right notes.



Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘BUNKER’ is a remarkable eye-opener that will be your next obsession.

BUNKER

Bunker investigates the lonely lives of American men who have decided to live in decommissioned military bunkers and nuclear missile silos, and follows the process of building and selling these structures to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike.


From a 6000 sq ft hidden structure in Central Michigan to the luxury Survival Condos in Kansas, Bunker is a fascinating documentary screened at the Indie Memphis Film Festival 2021. Individual reasons for ownership range from a survivalist perspective to conspiracy theorist. Stock on the shelves varies from medications, rice, water, gas masks, tents, shelf-stable food, and weapons. Leave your assumptions at the door when going into this film. Director Jenny Perlin gives us access to the spaces and minds of those who purchase, create, and reside bunkers in these modern times.

One of the featured owners is 42-year-old Milton. He is the proud owner of a concrete bunker in a landscape of partially buried bunker hangars in South Dakota. He talks about his unstable childhood, three failed marriages, daughter, spirituality, and why he hasn’t yet seen a second sun appear in the sky. Perlin spends the day with Milton, waxing philosophical and highlighting the loneliness that seems to encompass him.

Ed in Kansas has an elaborate estate titled “Subterra Castle”. Above ground, it appears to be a menagerie of land gardens and outlying buildings. He equates the lifestyle to the fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant.” Ed is a crunchy kind of guy with his Tibetan flags, shelves of vitamins, and vernal Equinox gatherings. His abode is a multistory home. You’d be hard-pressed to say you were underground if not for the tunnel that leads you inside. When you realize what he’s inside, it will blow your mind. *Subterra Castle went on the market in 2020 for $3.2 million.*

A large portion of the doc is cinema verite style. Perlin plants the camera, and we watch the seemingly mundane. It draws you into a world that’s most likely foreign to the average viewer. As the film progresses, she follows builders and owners through tunnels and halls. My husband and I wondered where the crossover of buyers that could afford the high-end options and their politics? You cannot help but wonder. Full transparency, I live in Manhattan in a co-op building on the UWS, so you can probably guess where I’m coming from with this interest. I wish Perlin had a chance to speak with Survival Condo buyers (if they exist) to find out their motives. It is out of sheer personal curiosity since she establishes this with every other owner. But, I highly recommend Googling the company. It’s worth it after watching the film. Perlin delivers an in-depth look at a variety of structures and the people who call them home. You’ll shake your head, either in confusion or agreement, while watching Bunker. It is a one-of-a-kind film.



Review: The thought-provoking documentary ‘CIVIL WAR (OR, WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE)’ tackles the whitewashing of history. It airs tonight on MSNBC at 10 pm ET!

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CIVIL WAR (OR, WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE) Urgent and complex, Civil War (or, Who Do We Think We Are) travels across the United States, exploring how Americans tell the story of their Civil War. Filmed from the last year of Obama’s presidency through the present, it interweaves insightful scenes and touching interviews filmed North and South, painting a Read More →

Review: ‘Smoke And Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini’ is an ode to a living legend.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: The Story of Tom Savini

Special Makeup Effects legend, Actor, Director, Stuntman. Tom Savini has redefined the horror genre with his arsenal of talents. But who is the man behind the “King of Splatter?” From his childhood in Pittsburgh, PA; to his tour of duty during Vietnam, to his beginnings with George A. Romero and beyond. SMOKE AND MIRRORS is the defining documentary on the life and career of horror icon Tom Savini.

Featuring Tom Savini, Danny McBride, Robert Rodriguez, Danny Trejo, Alice Cooper, Greg Nicotero, Tom Atkins, Corey Feldman, Doug Bradley, Bill Moseley, and more!


The first time I noticed Tom Savini on-screen was when I saw From Dusk Till Dawn in theaters. Little did I know, my love of horror was in large part due to his legendary work in all aspects of the industry. In Jason Baker‘s new documentary, Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini, huge household names sit down and chat about Savini’s artistry. But mostly, we hear directly from Tom. His early influences came from each of his five older siblings. As we tag along with Savini, he shows us his old neighborhood, pictures from his childhood, and tells us stories about growing up with classic horror. That’s only the beginning of the mountains of information in this film. Savini’s time in Vietnam changed him. He talks about seeing human atrocities through his camera lens. Coming home from the war, he rediscovered his love of live theatre. After teaming up with George Romero, the two changed the face, in some ways quite literally, of horror. The entire genre suddenly became elevated and respected.
The doc stitches together interviews from across the years. While at times, this feels a bit chaotic, it gives us a plethora of tales. For example, Night of the Living Dead was a completely different experience for Tom than it was for fans. We get the chance to see all the things that he shot that were cut. He walks us through his original ending with side-by-side storyboards. We also get access to cut footage of his character Sex Machine, in From Dusk Till Dawn. The man was great at so many things! Watching his theatre work and the magic he instilled into his productions is astonishing.  Every talking head in Smoke and Mirrors explains that Tom is a genuine and gentle person. Hearing him talk about his work and family you get the sense that these aren’t just opinions.
Tom Savini‘s ingenuity and craftsmanship rightfully made him a household name. On a personal note, prior to this film, I didn’t have the faintest idea that it was Tom Savini who was responsible for traumatizing me in my youth. Creepshow changed my life. I cannot recall how many times I rented that video. Through my nightmares, some that remain to this day, I have come to adore the horror genre. It’s abundantly clear, Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini is special effects makeup and practical FX porn. It’s movie magic at its finest. Savini is a real-life magician.


From Wild Eye Releasing, director Jason Baker‘s SMOKE AND MIRRORS on Digital October 19.