Posts Tagged ‘documentaries’

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Amy (2015)

December 22, 2015

Starring: a documentary about Amy Winehouse
Director: Asif Kapadia (Senna)

Bottom Line: It’s hard to believe that Amy Winehouse has been dead for nearly five years. It’s even harder to believe that her tremendous 2006 classic Back To Black, the first album that really helped me realize that I could fall in love with music that wasn’t hip-hop, came out almost ten years ago. In fact, with all the media attention focusing on her addiction and public meltdowns the last few years of her life, making her out to be a joke, I wouldn’t be surprised if more people remember her for being a total mess than for being one of the best songwriters and singers of the 21st century. Amy should help rectify that negative image and paint a clearer picture of what exactly pushed Winehouse to the edge.

Amy is filmmaker Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the rise and tragic death of British superstar Amy Winehouse. And it’s stunning. And absolutely brutal. Scary even. It’s like watching Requiem For A Dream – except real. Amy paints an honest and accurate portrayal – with the help of a plethora of home video featuring a pre-stardom Winehouse and tons of interviews with those closest to her – of how a happy-go-lucky, seemingly ordinary British teen with a great voice becomes arguably the greatest jazz singer of her generation and how the unwanted and enormous fame she rose to, the unrelenting paparazzi and attention she received everywhere she went, and, drug and alcohol addiction ultimately killed her.

Early in the documentary, long before Winehouse releases Back To Black, she predicts how she would react to fame: “I don’t think I could handle it. I would go mad.” It’s an unfortunately accurate prediction and it becomes clear that while Winehouse absolutely loved making and performing her music, she had absolutely no interest in the cultural responsibilities that came with it – and that’s a question that Amy effectively raises: musicians, athletes, actors, and other celebrities are often faulted for being poor role models, but is it one’s responsibility to be a good role model or a good ambassador simply for doing what they are passionate about? And should the media be allowed to make their lives hell every time they slip up or don’t welcome them with open arms? Like normal humans never make mistakes?

Of course, Amy’s path towards addiction goes a bit deeper than that. Back To Black was largely inspired by her relationship with Blake Fielder, her future husband and this film paints that relationship as anything but rosy. Winehouse seems plenty happy and totally in love, but to call Fielder an enabler would be putting it mildly. Someone in the film, a doctor, even goes as far as to say that Fielder treated Winehouse as a means to keep the free high going with little regard to the awful affects it was having on his wife. Regardless of whether any of this is truly accurate information, I can’t help but wonder how Amy Winehouse’s inner circle could ever let things get so bad. Her parents… her husband… her manager…? The rest of her team? No one saw this coming? No one cared enough rescue her from herself?

I knew Amy Winehouse was going to die. I just couldn’t see any way that it wasn’t going to happen. I don’t mean to say that with judgement or because the media was influencing my thoughts due to their portrayal of her. I knew it as a fellow alcoholic. I knew that if she didn’t figure things out and didn’t get help that stuck, she wasn’t long for this world. I knew, and still know, that I would die or be in jail if I didn’t give up alcohol. And perhaps it’s unfair to point fingers at the people around her – I could never get help unless I was forced to make a decision between jail or sobriety – but I don’t understand how anyone in her inner circle could be surprised that she’s gone today.

Amy is a tough film, but it’s an essential one. It manages to provide a condemning narrative without coming across as biased. Kapadia doesn’t inject his own opinion into the film much, but allows real footage and interviews to tell the story for him. Amy is a sad and tragic, difficult watch, but after you see it, you can put on Back To Black and remember that this wonderful musician has left her mark on this world forever.

Replay Value: Definitely won’t be something you want to watch over and over – and maybe once will be enough.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: I like its chances for Best Documentary.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Catfish (2010)

February 17, 2011


Starring: Real People?
Director: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Quick Thoughts: My first question was: is this for real? Catfish is a story so outrageous and conveniently conceived that it’s a fair question to ask. A duo of amateur filmmaker’s start documenting their friend’s relationship with an 8 year old girl named Abby and her family that he’s met through a social networking site, or more specifically, Facebook. Yes, in the same year that The Social Network, a movie that details the creation of Facebook, is likely to win Best Picture, we get a documentary that shows just how far some people will go to fulfill missing elements in their lives via the internet. What starts out as a seemingly harmless relationship turns into something darker and… sad. Without spoiling where the story will take you, I’ll just say that everything isn’t as it seems. Like I said earlier though… is it for real? These guys just happened to start filming these somewhat meaningless events that wind up turning into a completely compelling story? That’s pretty lucky and pretty tough to swallow, but if you can’t choke that down, then you have to admit these people with absolutely no acting credits under their belts are giving some pretty convincing performances. Personally, I find the latter harder to believe because as unbelievable as the story might be, none of the people involved give any indication that things are being staged… and that extends to the bonus features I watched as well. I haven’t done a lot of research on Catfish, so if it winds up being a known fact that this is a hoax, then I guess I’m an idiot, but after watching it, I think it’s legit. And that makes it creepy. And good.
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: A film that definitely draws most of it’s strength on that first viewing. Once the cat is out of the bag, the intensity and mysteriousness disappears.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: No Best Documentary nomination? Fishy… Catfishy.
Nudity: None.
Grade: 7/10 (Must See)
Recommendation: Regardless of whether Catfish is a legit documentary or clever storytelling, it’s an interesting movie that explores the depths of the human psyche and the lengths someone will go to in order to cure their own loneliness or dissatisfaction in their life. Impressive filmmaking either way and the best documentary from 2010 I’ve seen.

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The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters (2007)

June 17, 2009

The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters is a documentary about competitive video gaming that centers on two men battling it out for the all-time world record on the original arcade version of Donkey Kong. If it all sounds a little nerdy, that’s because it is; but the story is compelling nevertheless. One of the men the film focuses on is Billy Mitchell, a man that set a record on Donkey Kong in 1982 that wasn’t even approached before Steve Wiebe came out of nowhere in the mid-90s and claimed to have toppled a million points, a new world record. Unfortunately for Wiebe, Mitchell is highly beloved by the circle of geeks in control of the record books and his record is said to be invalid unless he can prove it in person. The film is often described as a battle between the two Donkey Kong masters–hell, I just said that myself in the first sentence–but to call this a “battle” would be giving too much of a backbone to Billy Mitchell. I get the impression that the filmmaker was a bit biased against the man, but rightfully so. Mitchell barely acknowledges Wiebe’s presence when they are in proximity of each other and is snootily evasive whenever talk of a friendly competition is mentioned. Not once during the doc, does Mitchell sit down and play a game of Donkey Kong in public after his record has been toppled. Instead, he sneakily sends in a taped session in which he sets a new high score and is rewarded for the same act that got Wiebe’s record overturned. It’s quite a depressing turn of events and one can’t help but hate the men behind the decision just a little bit, especially after watching Wiebe sit for hours on camera putting his skills on public display only to come up short in the end. Is it possible to feel emotional resonance watching a grown man crying over a video game? I think so, because I was genuinely sorry for the guy and I wanted nothing more than to see Billy Mitchell get his dubious record shoved up his ass. Does this story have a happy ending? Well, I guess you are going to have to see for yourself… or spend three seconds on Google and get your answer.

Grade: 7 out of 10 (must see)