Amy (2015)

51qTjmoHjhL._AC_UL320_SR228,320_MovieAmy Winehouse lived a short life. In the documentary Amy, the director, Asif Kapadia tries to tell a story of someone looking for help but not being able to help herself during good times.

The documentary follows the short life of Amy Winehouse as told through clips of personal home movies, pictures, performances, interviews, and backstage footage at the Grammys. Winehouse was a troubled soul trying to make it through a life that may have been more than she could handle. Her music came from the depths of emotional suffering. Her gift to transfer those emotions into song gave her the break she was looking for into the music scene. It was also the reason she could not continue.

Throughout the film, the director uses interviews with Amy’s parents, husband, and friends to narrate Amy’s story. They paint a picture of someone who was a free spirit, a good singer, and a troubled person looking for some guidance. The director paints her family as people who did not step in when Amy needed them the most. Her parents, mainly her father, did take offense to his portrayal in the film. Her mother did not object to her portrayal.

The film will cause you to analyze Amy’s life and those around her. Questions will arise about the role her loved ones played in her life. Finger pointing will definitely happen. In all the viewer will need to come to their own conclusions on why Amy’s life was cut short. Fans of the singer, and people who enjoy biographies of celebrities will enjoy this film. There is no speculation of who is to blame in the death, only a story being told of someone who was enduring deep sadness and how she coped with it.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

going_clear_blue_poster_285Movie –Going Clear is a documentary about scientology. It is told from the perspective of former members. The director, Alex Gibney gives the viewer a history of the organization, its founder, the current head of scientology, what is expected of its members, and tactics employed to address critics. Two celebrity members are showcased momentarily. But just enough to keep the viewer interested and with enough information to ponder as the film goes on.

The topics mentioned above are weaved into the film as former members reveal their experiences in scientology. They each bring a different perspective due to belonging to different sectors of the organization. The viewer is given a different look at what scientology was for each member, and how and why the members chose to leave. The film flows very well and kept me interested throughout. With much of the narrative being told by former members, I feel the film gives them an avenue to inform people why they should steer clear from the organization.

Scientology is shrouded in controversies due to treatment of members, what it expected of said members, their beliefs, and tactics of attacking it critics, as well as members who have chosen to leave the organization. As a result of this film, the director, HBO, the former members in the films, and critics who have reviewed the film have all been threatened with litigation from the organization. This is one of the tactics mentioned in the film, “Fair Game”. Meaning everyone is fair game when it comes to criticizing the organization.

As a kid I remembering seeing commercials for Dianetics. The erupting volcano, with the title of book coming into the frame. I remember wondering what it was and it must be a good book if it has a commercial. That’s as much thought a ten year old kid raised Catholic put into it. After seeing Going Clear, I’m so glad it never went any further.

The Imposter (2012)

Movie – There are some who feel truth is just as good as fiction and at times better. The Imposter is one of those stories that may be better than fiction. For watchers of Spanish cinema, like something out of a Pedro Almodóvar film. It is a documentary about a missing child, Nicolas Barclay. In 1994 a family in Texas reported their son missing. He turns up three and a half years later in Spain. Or does he? The Barclays do not see their “son” for the first time until he is back in Texas. Their child was a blond hair blue eyed boy. The person they are reunited with is neither blond nor blue eyed, with a profound Spanish accent, and seems to look older than 16, which is the around the age Nicolas should be.

The Imposter will take you on a trip with twists and turns throughout only to leave you with more questions. There are questions about the person claiming to be Nicolas. Who is he, what is he doing, and why is he doing this? In addition, why does the family accept this stranger as their son? Serious criminal accusations will keep the viewer questioning what is going on in this family. All of this will leave you with more questions that may or may not be fully answered by the end of the film.

Whether you like true-crime or enjoy fiction, The Imposter will give you a good story, almost as good as, or even better than most mysteries. This one is for those who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, true-crimes, and love plot twists.

Inequality for All (2013)

inequalityMovie –This is the award winning 2013 documentary about the widening income gap and its devastating impact on the American economy.  It features Robert Reich, an American political economist, professor, author, and political commentator.  Time magazine named him one of the Ten Best Cabinet Members of the Century, and the Wall Street Journal placed him sixth on its list of the “Most Influential Business Thinkers.”  Inequality for All is both an interesting history of the life of Rhodes Scholar Robert Reich, and a penetrating explanation of the erosion of the middle class in America.  The film is an intimate portrait of a man whose lifelong goal remains protecting those who are unable to protect themselves. It describes the historical events that have led to massive consolidation of wealth by a precious few and why this threatens the viability of the American workforce and the foundation of democracy itself. Dr. Reich is funny, engaging, critical, realistic, and humane in his moral message about the current crisis of the U.S. income gap and the growth of poverty in the United States. Reich has published 14 books, including Reason, Supercapitalism, and the best selling Beyond Outrage. The film is well researched and valid and throws a very bright light on why ordinary people can barely make ends meet. Reich is currently Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer (2007)

anita o'dayMovie – This is the award-winning documentary about the life of the great jazz vocalist Anita O’Day (born Anita Belle Colton in Chicago). Anita provides reflections and candid recollections on her life and music, and the documentary is packed with interviews and performances. Her career was long and eventful, spanning seven decades; her last album recorded when she was 84. She left an unhappy home at age 14 and toured the Midwest “Walk-a- thons” as a marathon dancer and singer. Then, she started singing in little clubs around Chicago from 1936 to 1939 – clubs in Uptown, such as the Ball of Fire, the Vialago, the Planet Mars, the Off-Beat and the Three Deuces. At the Off-Beat she met Gene Krupa, and in 1941 he asked her to start touring and recording with his band. That year, Down Beat named her “New Star of the Year.” She sang with the Woody Herman band in 1943, and then joined the Stan Kenton band in 1944, where she recorded several hit songs and rose to fame. Subsequently, she became a solo artist. Many placed her in the same category of such jazz vocalists as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, saying her talents matched theirs. She toured Japan for three decades with a big band and was hugely successful. Along with Mel Torme, she is often grouped with the West Coast cool school of jazz, and her skills in improvisation of rhythm and melody put her squarely among the pioneers of bebop.

Fed Up (2014)

fed upMovie – This 2014 advocacy documentary was produced by journalist and TV personality Katie Couric, who narrates it. According to this movie, the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other serious conditions is due to the high-sugar diet consumed by millions of Americans, especially children. Fed Up blows the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and exercise, and exposes the hidden truths contributing to our serious health crises. The film features interviews with the country’s leading diet experts, as well as former President Bill Clinton, who is now a vegan. Sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, “pure” cane sugar, and similar sweeteners are found in countless products, which are constantly marketed to small children. The fast food industry is pushing these products on all of us in the same way that the tobacco industry used to glamorize cancer-causing cigarettes. It shows why ‘calories in, calories out’ is a useless model for explaining why we’re growing around the waist as a society. The basic premise of the documentary is that sugar is the primary culprit in our diet, and that the big sugar lobby in Washington mitigates against efforts to challenge this problem. We need to improve education and get consumers to demand products that have less sugar. Similarly, the documentary posits that a return to cooking real food in our school cafeterias, and in our homes, instead of buying processed food, would result in healthier kids, and save money. Fed Up accurately highlights the multiple factors which directly interfere with getting to the truth about obesity.

The Rolling Stones 1969-1974: the Mick Taylor Years

rollingMovie – This is an interesting documentary of a time period, after the death of Brian Jones, when Mick Taylor became the fifth Rolling Stone. If you look at the overall history of the Rolling Stones, the depth of musicianship in the late 1960s (post Brian Jones) to the mid-1970s (pre-Ron Wood) was unmatched, and they were arguably the best live band around. At that time, a young Mick Taylor was regarded as the best guitarist in the UK, and bringing in his talent to the band was a great move. Taylor’s brilliant guitar virtuosity greatly complimented the tough blues guitar riffs of Keith Richards. Mick Taylor’s presence on guitar gave the Stones a depth that allowed them to tighten up, explore different musical genres, and produced the Stones two most wholly realized albums: Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers.  The documentary uses penetrating interviews with noted rock music critics, remarkable behind the scenes film footage, and discussions of the group’s problems with finances, drugs and girlfriends.  The Rolling Stones are ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as fourth on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and their estimated album sales are above 250 million. They have released 29 studio albums, 18 live albums and numerous compilations. Sticky Fingers (1971), for example, was the first of eight consecutive number one studio albums in the US. This documentary is not as good as Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones (1974), but it is certainly a must see.

Listen Up: the Lives of Quincy Jones (2008)

listenMovieListen Up is the documentary that provides an intimate look at the life of multifaceted music icon Quincy Jones, who shaped four generations of American sound. In an unusual, kaleidoscopic way, this movie takes you on a journey from Quincy’s early life of poverty on Chicago’s south side, to his move to an all-white environment in Seattle, and his life on-the-road as a trumpeter with Lionel Hampton. It follows him as he leads his own big band, and moves into production, arranging and film composing. Filmmaker Ellen Wiesbrod gets very close to Quincy, capturing many moods and remembrances. There are many comments from the great stars that he worked with, i.e. Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Oprah Winfrey, Dizzy Gillespie, Steven Spielberg, Miles Davis, and many others including Jones’  family. Listen Up is a fascinating summation of his career in jazz, pop, R&B, hip-hop and other styles, and his film composing (In the Heat of the Night, Roots, In Cold Blood, The Color Purple and many more). He was the 1st black to write movie scores and the 1st black VP of A&R for a major record label. He produced Off the Wall and Thriller, the two albums that launched Michael Jackson into the pop stratosphere, and was the musical mastermind behind We Are the World. Only Sir Georg Solti has more Grammy Awards than Quincy Jones, who has 27. Listen Up is like a fine jazz number, layered and intricate with rhythm, flow and nuance.

Muscle Shoals (2013)

muscleMovie – This is the new documentary history of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studios. It is the story of how Rick Hall founded FAME Studios in the unlikely small town of Muscle Shoals, along the Tennessee River, and a group of white farm boys (known
as the “swampers”) became The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section session musicians. Countless major hit songs and great albums were subsequently recorded in these studios – as amazing as it seems. Many great recording artists are interviewed in the documentary, such as:  Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, Alicia Keys, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Gregg Allman, Lynyrd Skynard, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and many more. It is the remarkable story of how initial successes in soul and R&B led to the arrival of more mainstream rock and pop performers, and how the Muscle Shoals vibe produced so many great hits. Literally every big name wanted to record in Muscle Shoals, and to “get down and get greasy.” Filmaker Greg Camalier premiered Muscle Shoals at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, and the soundtrack alone will give you goosebumps. I loved this documentary and all the incredible vignettes, such as how Aretha Franklin just blossomed for the first time, when she got into the Muscle Shoals studios.

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

louisa may alcottMovie – Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women is based on the biography of the same title written by Harriet Reisen. The docudrama gives us an intimate look at the great American author Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). She was raised by transcendentalist parents and grew up living near many of the well-known intellectuals of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. The documentary uses dialog taken from diaries and letters, as well as interviews with scholars of American literature. Poverty made it necessary for her to go to work at an early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, Civil War nurse and writer. It was the tremendous popularity of her most famous work Little Women that lifted the family out of poverty. Alcott became the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime, based on the astounding sales of her books. Most surprising is that she led, anonymously and under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, a literary double life, not discovered until the 1940s. As Barnard, Alcott penned some thirty pulp fiction thrillers, with characters running the gamut from murderers and revolutionaries to cross-dressers and opium addicts. The documentary is a remarkably detailed portrait of a strong-minded woman who was far ahead of her time and much more complex than the dainty lady others have presented.