Opinion, Review

Montage of Heck Review (HBO)

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My Rating: 5/5

After his death, Kurt Cobain reached icon status as the champion of the misunderstood and the photogenic front man of 90’s grunge band Nirvana. Though many documentaries have been made about the meteoric rise of Nirvana as a rock band with Kurt at the helm, Brett Morgen managed to peel away at the glorification of his life and show us Kurt Cobain through his own thoughts and videos in this chaotic, magnetic and powerful documentary.

Montage of Heck features exclusive home videos and recordings of Kurt Cobain that reveal the most intimate details of his thinking. Starting with his childhood, the film fearlessly outlines the defining moments of Kurt’s life in all their beauty and ugliness. An energetic child, Kurt is deeply affected by his parents divorce. We witness pivotal events during his upbringing that are painful and contribute to an internal feeling of shame and self-loathing that sadly followed Kurt through super stardom to his death.

If you’re looking for a straightforward bio-pic with a play by play of the defining moments of Kurt Cobain’s career, this isn’t it. Instead, it’s a vivid and highly visual portrayal of Kurt’s notebooks and thoughts. His journals were at times very funny and sarcastic. He was filled with ideas and an internal drive to prove his worth. Some of it was shocking and very dark. After watching this film, I felt like I could finally begin to understand some of the pain and shame that Kurt was going through.

Brett Morgen chose to highlight Kurt Cobain’s drug addiction. Seeing home videos of Kurt strung out and nodding off while holding baby Frances Bean was a stark reminder of how unglamorous his final days really were. He was not an icon, or a hero or an anti-hero. He was a human being that was deeply affected by his experiences growing up and filled with an incredibly amount of potential but also with a deep sadness. I saw myself in part of his struggle and I think that’s why his music affect so many so deeply. Which brings me to the take away from this whole film, it was a great tragedy that his life was lost at such a young age and there’s really nothing cool or epic about it.

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Review

Saturday Night Review (Hulu Documentary)

Saturday Night Live

My Rating: 2.5/5

Saturday Night follows the making of an episode of the sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live hosted by the legendary John Malkovich. A grueling week long process, the making of an episode of SNL requires many sleepless nights and a litany of sketch ideas that most likely than not get cut. Though the film is worth watching just to see some of the incredibly talented and overworked comedians that make SNL what it is, it largely feels like a missed opportunity on the part of director James Franco to capture the high stakes of the show.

Saturday Night highlights the incredibly difficult task of making people laugh and the reality that failure is a likely outcome. Starting with the pitch meeting on Monday, writers and performers begin the nerve-wracking process of teaming up and writing material in time for the table read the next day where some fifty sketches get cut down to nine. The tension is high as each performer and writer nervously reads their material for the first time with no idea whether they will tank or make people laugh. The selected skits make their way to rehearsals and dress rehearsals where ultimately some still get cut as late as Saturday afternoon. John Malkovich is a great sport and his incredible talent makes for one of the more memorable hosting jobs in recent memory.

Though the subject matter of the film is inherently interesting (it brings to light a process mythologized but not often seen), the film’s style and direction ultimately fail to capture the spectrum of emotions involved in the production process and skates over the more interesting parts. The film is shot mostly handheld and switches often from color to black and white giving it the experimental feel of a student film. James Franco, an SNL hosting alum, directs the film and we are constantly aware of his presence behind the camera. The result is that the interviews are more of a conversation with a well-known celebrity and lack any sort of real depth. Often times Franco is referencing his own experiences on the show. This gave me the feeling that this documentary was more like a jog down memory lane for the actor rather than a real exploration of what it’s like to be a part of such an iconic show. Unfortunately, this rare opportunity for access inside the walls of 30 Rock felt like a wasted opportunity. Franco himself asks Lorne Michaels towards the end of the film “Maybe we’re not getting the full experience?” and I would have to say no, we’re not.

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Review

Closure Documentary Review (Netflix)

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My Rating: 3.7
This is an emotional documentary about a young woman’s search to find her birth parents after growing up in a large multiracial family in Washington State. Angela, an African American woman that was raised by Caucasian parents has always felt a need to connect with her birth parents and find out more about herself. This documentary is a personal and heartfelt story that takes the viewer through the spectrum of emotions felt by adoptive children and their families. It touches upon issues of identity related to race, family and sense of belonging without delving too deep in any of these topics.

This film begins with a pivotal moment when Angela finally strikes up the courage to call her birth mother for the first time. The phone rings and we hear a “hello” from the mother that she so desperately was trying to find. The film then launches into the back story of a young girl adopted as a baby with special needs. She was told that she would never walk. We discover that not only does she walk but she becomes a basketball player. She is a psychology major and works in the adoption agency that her parents adopted her from.

We follow Angela and her family’s journey to find her birth parents. The eventual meeting is complicated and filled with nervousness, joy and, as the title suggests, closure for Angela and her family. Undoubtedly the heart of this film is Angela. Throughout her journey of self-discovery, she remains effervescent and positive. The combination of her vulnerability and simultaneous strength is what really resonated with me. The director of the film is her husband, Bryan Tucker, who serves as a narrator of the story. This adds to the extremely personal nature of the film. If there is one criticism that I could give to this movie is that I would have wanted to hear more of Angela’s story and experiences in her own voice. We saw her go through all these life changing experiences and I wanted desperately to know what was going through her head.

Though the film could have dug deeper into the underlying effects and ramifications that the adoption process has on families and individuals, this film manages to take us on a personal journey that is certainly worth watching and reminds us that coming to terms with your history and roots is an important part of self-acceptance.
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Opinion, Review

Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story Review (Netflix)

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My Rating: 4/5

Lance Armstrong is sitting in the conference room of his lawyer’s office under deposition aggressively, unapologetically denying any use of performance enhancing drugs during his career. And so starts the film about an arrogant bully who would do anything to get what he wants including deceiving the public and destroying anyone who gets in his way. This film does a brilliant job taking the viewer into the secret world of back rooms and team trailers where some of the world’s top cyclists were shooting up steroids and EPO’s while reaping the benefits of million dollar sponsorship deals.

This film highlights the media’s role in buying into the Lance Armstrong “hero” story. How his struggles with overcoming cancer and his incredible against all odds comeback made him untouchable. The media routinely ignored clues that something more sinister may be going on and continued to present Lance Armstrong as the ultimate sports champion. Those who dared to question him publicly were shunned and personally targeted by Lance.

Director Alex Holmes starts with Lance’s meager beginnings in Texans with dreams of making it big. He paints Lance as an incredibly ambitious man who saw the cycling world as a way to make huge fortunes. When the opportunity presented itself, Lance seemed to think it was a no-brainer that he would enlist the help of one of the most notorious suspected doping doctors in the cycling world; Dr. Ferrari (Yes, that is his real name). His rising momentum came to halt when he received a startling testicular cancer diagnosis. It was in an Indiana State Hospital room that Betsy Andreu and her husband overheard Lance admit to a group of consulting doctors that he had taken a variety of performance enhancing substances.

Lance made a recovery and soon returned to the sport of cycling. And when he returned, it was with a vengeance. It’s here during the seven Tour de France wins that the film gets juicy describing scenes almost too salacious to believe of midnight steroid pickups in a McDonald’s parking lot and last minute blood transfusions in hotel rooms all during the most watched and speculated event in cycling. Regardless of the rightness of his actions, the man sure was bold.

After his wins, Lance Armstrong had practically achieved God status in American sports and his brand was as big as ever. As meteoric as his rise was, so was his fall. A disgruntled former member of his cycling bitter from his firing came out and publicly attested to participating in doping and watching Lance Armstrong do the same. Armstrong was enraged and did everything in his power to fight the truth. A federal investigation was remarkably dropped against Armstrong despite first-hand witnesses to his fraud. But after a follow-up investigation was conducted by the U.S. anti-doping agency, he could no longer lie to the public. Cue Oprah and her now iconic interview in which, within the first several minutes, Lance Armstrong admitted to everything he had fought so hard to hide.

I found this documentary to be incredibly enraging and a fascinating study in what happens when we want so hard to believe in a miraculous comeback story that we are willing to ignore the flaws of our hero. There were many journalists who had sounded the alarm about the deceit but that was a narrative the mainstream media did not want to know. The more I watched, the more I was shocked at how cocky and frankly scary Lance Armstrong behaviors were. As disturbing was this story was there was one hero that emerged from it all: Betsey Andreu, the wife of a former Postal Service team member who for a decade dared to expose Lance’s conduct. While everyone else that knew of the fraud was scared into silence, Betsy Andreu remarkably stood strong and was never willing to back down. As Betsey says in the documentary, “what Lance never hard was the truth.” If there is one clear conclusion to be drawn from this, it’s that Lance Armstrong no doubt was a talented athlete but an even more talented liar.

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